Blowback: Help California students by increasing UC tuition
Gary Fethke and Andrew Policano respond to two recent Times editorials on the financial crisis facing the University of California system. Fethke is a professor of management sciences and former dean of the University of Iowa's Tippie College of Business. Policano is dean of the Paul Merage School of Business at UC Irvine. Click here for more information on Blowback, our forum for readers to respond, at length, to Times articles.
The Times’ April 12 editorial weighs University of California President Mark Yudof’s five-year plan, which has the laudable goal of maintaining UC’s status as a top public university system. His idea is to obtain a credible commitment of financial support from the Legislature as a quid pro quo for tuition increases. Though he hopes to establish this deal with lawmakers, the reality is that California can no longer afford a taxpayer-funded premier university system when escalating costs for healthcare, public pensions and prisons are "crowding out" state appropriations for higher education. Any five-year deal struck between UC and Sacramento would not be credible.
More recently on the editorial page, The Times on April 19 wrote that UC is "doing the right thing" by increasing the proportion of higher-paying students from outside California. The editorial says such a move is the best of a bunch of bad choices. Not so. Though both of these editorials weigh solutions for increasing revenue, doing so by boosting out-of-state enrollment does not make sense.
At UC Irvine, applications now exceed student enrollments by a 10-to-1 ratio; almost every other UC campus faces excess demand. Still, the schools are being encouraged to accept a greater proportion of higher-paying students from neighboring states while qualified residents are rejected. In many cases, rejected California residents are indeed willing to pay higher tuition, but they cannot because the UC Board of Regents wants to keep tuition low for in-state students. Besides, many out-of-state students seek California residency after their first year in school and switch over to paying lower tuition.
The solution is to significantly increase tuition for California residents. A steady increase to at least $15,000 in tuition alone makes sense and would be in line with what comparable public universities charge. Over the next five years, tuition should be increased to about $20,000, which would almost replace the state subsidy apart from capital expenditures. These increases should be accompanied by generously boosting financial aid, similar to what Britain is considering. UC should be stronger and better financed than it is today, but to do so it must become more entrepreneurial and efficient.
Financial self-reliance is not yet common for public universities. But that should not stop UC from once again taking a leadership position and reaffirming its prominence as the most innovative and respected system in the world.
-- Gary Fethke and Andrew Policano
Photo: Royce Hall on the UCLA campus in Westood. Credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times