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Tuition time bomb

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OCTOBER 27, 2016

Rising tuition and student debt is a pressing concern for college students but also society at large.

For future economic well-being, improvements in civic participation and social unification, we need a system that encourages those interested in pursuing higher education to do just that. Instead, the current system does the opposite: discourages through unaffordability.  

A report from Bloomberg shows that from 1985 to 2013, tuition skyrocketed 538 percent, after adjusting for inflation. On average, higher education experienced the largest swell in prices relative to all other goods and services. For example, during the same time period, medical cost and the consumer price index grew by 286 and 121 percent, respectively.

Increases in tuition, according to the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, have resulted in $1.3 trillion in outstanding student debt — four times more than it was during the previous decade.

There are multiple factors that prompt the continual increase in the price of higher education and student debt. As students, we have read, overheard and been outraged time and time again by them — state divestment, expansions in administrative budgets and increased access to student credit.

On paper, the increases in tuition and debt are clear, although the incentives that urged policymakers and administrators to bridge the financial gap through tuition and student debt are not as apparent.

Education has gone from a public good to a private investment.

Within the past 40 years, California state Legislatures went from allocating roughly 20 percent of the general fund to higher education to 10 percent. Yes, California has undergone massive changes over these 40 years, which has prompted the shift in state expenditures from higher education to other programs.

Although the ideological shift toward education from a public good to a private investment is what provided justification for policymakers to shift the burden of higher education from the state to the students to make way for other programs. When it comes to policy recommendations, this ideological shift is now rarely discussed — it had its brief moment in the national conversation during the Democratic primaries, but along with many other pressing topics, the conversation has waned since then.

An education provides more than just an improved skill set; therefore its value is greater than just a private investment.

Dr. Howard, president of Buffalo State College, states, “We cannot afford to undervalue access to higher education at a time when a nation is headed for a shortage of college graduates.” Surveys from the National Alliance of Business on employers show that of newly created jobs, roughly 70 percent require a college degree. And by 2028, the National Alliance of Business projects there will be a 19-million-person shortage of qualified individuals to fill those newly created jobs. It’s safe to say the role of a country providing an education “no longer ends with high school.”

The higher education system is integral to an economy’s stability, and the current affordability crisis has many fearing that negative economic outcomes will emerge. Even if one views education strictly in terms of its economic value, the projection from the National Alliance of Business provides sufficient evidence that education is not solely an individual investment but also a public investment that is necessary for stability.

And treating education as the National Alliance of Business does provides an undervaluation of the true returns from education because it fails to consider all the positive social and political returns that society reaps from education. Benefits include increased diversity in political representation, civic participation and holding elected officials more accountable. It’s difficult to quantify the true returns, but that does not evade from who will benefit.

Concerns in California have grown, and residents voicing their outrage have resulted in concessions. Residents have been concerned about the funding of higher education for years, although many Californians were shocked to find out that increased tuition was not the only obstacle faced in pursuit of higher education but also unfair treatment in the admissions process.

According to Stephanie Saul, from the New York Times, a “scathing report” from the California state auditor showed that the UC system disproportionately increased acceptance of nonresident undergraduate students, “reducing the percentage of resident applicants it admitted to 62 percent from 77 percent, while increasing the percentage of nonresidents it admitted to 56 percent from 48 percent.” Saul argues that the state audit provides evidence that thousands of nonresident students “were less qualified than admitted Californians,” and among those affected the most were low-income communities of color.

The uproar throughout the state caused policymakers to react, as shown through the fall 2016 admission statistics. The University of California reported that it had “increased admission offers to California freshmen by more than 15 percent.”

Further public unrest in California caused Gov. Jerry Brown and UC President Janet Napolitano in 2015 to place a two-year freeze on residents’ tuition.

Hans Johnson, a higher education expert at the Public Policy Institute of California, voices concerns that increasing state funding is the only way to maintain the tuition freeze. This is why, as Californians, we need to continue to lobby and advocate that our institutions — such as higher education — continue to serve those they were implemented to aid.

Jay Chotirmal writes the Thursday column on media and societal discourse. Contact him at [email protected].

OCTOBER 27, 2016