California: Charging More, Charging Differently

The continuing funding troubles at the public colleges in California is becoming a regular feature of the California press. The universities are too expensive for impoverished California to support. Politicians an academic administrators propose various plans to fix the problem, all of which might make the greater problem (college is becoming too expensive for Californians to afford) much worse.

Here’s another plan: different tuition rates. According to an article by Larry Gordon in the Los Angeles Times:

Leaders of the 10-campus University of California system are considering such questions as they grapple with state budget reductions that already have led to tuition increases, staff layoffs and cuts in class offerings.

Advocates of allowing undergraduate tuition to vary by campus say that the change would raise funds the schools could share and that consumer demand should play a bigger role in setting tuition. But opponents contend that the idea is inherently elitist and could harm the unified nature of the UC system.

Actually both of those things are true. Different tuition would raise money, which is the point, and it is inherently elitist.

Should an education at UC Berkeley cost more than one at UC Santa Cruz? Should a student pay $11,000 in tuition at UC Riverside while his friend is billed $16,000 at UCLA?

This question gets to a bigger problem with the different tuition rates: it will make college more expensive. It’s not “different” tuition; it’s higher tuition.

If it’s a priority for California to help students to go to college and graduate without assuming lots of debt or spending a lot of precious family money, tuition at UC Santa Cruz shouldn’t be $11,000 a year anyway. The whole public university system in the state is supposed to be free anyway.

Beyond this, however, obviously there’s a certain demand for Berkeley and UCLA that doesn’t’ exist for Santa Cruz or Riverside. There’s a reason Berkeley might want to take advantage of that demand and charge more. But that means that less poor, but intelligent and hard-working, people will be able to go to schools like Berkeley. Is that a solution?

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Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer