California’s Tuition Freeze Dilemma

Watch out, warns the editorial page over at the Los Angeles Times, those tuition freezes—which promise families not to increase tuition from the freshman rate as long as students remain in school—are not such a great idea for the state colleges. This editorial apparently comes in reaction to the California constitutional amendment recently proposed by Christopher Campbell, the UC Irvine graduate.

According to the Times:

Tuition guarantees do nothing to prod colleges to manage their expenses better or otherwise control the price of higher education. Though they make financial planning more predictable, they could cost families more in the end. Colleges would have to guess at their own expenses over several years, which gives them an incentive to protect themselves against unforeseen costs by overcharging for the freshman year.

Well one hopes colleges are already guessing at their own expenses over several years; that’s how one runs an institution. It’s true that mere tuition freezes don’t really do much to address the structural causes of college costs, but they help families, which is the point.

The editorial also complains that,

Those problems are compounded by others that make a proposed initiative to force tuition guarantees on all of California’s public colleges and universities an unwise idea. Public colleges have no control over one major revenue source — the state. Should the budget rug be pulled out from under them while they’re forced to hold tuition flat, the results would be catastrophic, and the increases for future freshman classes would be astronomical.

That is, however, a continual problem for Golden State higher education. Perhaps the amendment might force change in California’s longstanding education financing problem.

If California’s college budget is so unstable that colleges can’t reliably predict their budgets from year to year the best solution is not to allow them to hike tuition at random; it’s to stabilize the higher education budget.

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