It seems that despite the best efforts of the student body to protest it, the dreaded tuition hikes will be implemented. Beginning next year, tuition will increase by up to 5 percent each year for five years, assuming the state will not increase funding beyond what is planned at this time. This translates to over $600 a year for each student.
There is nothing pleasant about any of this math. From the incoming freshman to the hard-pressed graduate student, everyone is going to be hit very harshly by the spike in costs (except those lucky enough to be graduating before the increase). However, nearly everyone overlooks both the importance of the tuition spike to the continuing function of the UC system and what can be done with this tuition increase for the benefit of the students.
For starters, the tuition increase is necessary simply to keep the UC system afloat as it is. The state only uses so much of the revenue it generates by taxes to pay for the UC system, so the rest has to come from the money the universities raise for themselves, namely, via tuition. Furthermore, the state has been spending less to fund the UC system in recent years, even though the student population continues to grow, from both in-state and out-of-state. If the state will not put the needed money in to run our school, then the school has no choice but to find the money it needs. The only way the school can obtain money at the levels it requires is a universal hike in tuition.
Indeed, raising tuition across the board is the only way UC can fairly acquire the millions needed to function, assuming the state will not increase its commitment to the UC. There are a few alternatives, but these would tend to affect only a subset of the UC population. For example, there could be a decrease on the amount of financial aid distributed. However, this policy would heavily affect the lower-income part of the student spectrum, as the UC’s financial aid system makes it possible for them to attend. Other options, such as raising tuition selectively for higher-income groups or perhaps raising the cost of on-campus housing, are equally discriminative to one group or another, and ineffective for covering the cost of the entire student population. Therefore, raising everyone’s tuition, though a harsh measure, at least ensures that the burden is carried by everyone in the UC system.
It is key to notice that the burden placed by this hike in tuition is, at least for part of the population, covered by the increase itself. Part of the function of the tuition increase is to add to the financial aid boost received by many students. This means that for those who will have to pay more in coming years, the cost they would have to pay is already paid by the collective cost of everyone else’s tuition hike. Of course, not being from the financial aid department, I cannot state with certainty how much an individual’s financial aid package might increase using the funds collected from the tuition hike, but I suspect that anyone who already receives money from the UC will get enough to cover their share of the cost increase.
The funding generated by the tuition hike can also be used to promote enrollment, from both in-state and out-of state, by advertising and whatever other means are used to entice students to choose the UC. If enough students (especially from out-of-state) are brought into the system, even after subtracting the amount that would have to go toward financial aid for some of them, there could ultimately be a decline in the amount all the students, both new and current, must pay as tuition. This might not eliminate the effect of the tuition hikes, but it could lessen them.
Of course, there would be no need to raise tuition if the state substantially increased the amount it gives to UC. However, given that the UC system has had to resort to a tuition hike to cover its spending in the first place, it seems unlikely that the state will be raising its own spending anytime soon.
Regardless of what factors mitigate the harm caused by the newly enacted tuition hikes, they will never be popular among the student body. Nevertheless, it is important to realize that it is for the greater good — the continued operation of the UC system, which allows students across the state to continue pursuing a quality education — that these hikes are in place; by propping up the UC, it is ultimately the student body that will benefit from the new policy.