According to the think tank Demos, $2,100 was the average price of tuition for an academic year when I was in college in the late 70s and early 80s. With the recently approved tuition increases, UC students will be paying more than $15,500 for the 2019-2020 school year.
These tuition hikes are unfair and should be reversed.
In the past 10 years, the total amount of student loan debt has ballooned from $240 billion in 2003 to more than $1 trillion dollars in 2014. Additionally, the number of student borrowers has increased by 66 percent, from 23.3 million in 2005 to 38.8 million in 2012, and the average student loan balance increase by 49 percent, from $16,651 in 2005 to $24, 803 in 2012.
What is even more concerning is who owes the most in student loan debt. Those in the bottom 25 percent of household net worth (lower than $8,500) owe an astonishing 58 percent of the student debt in our nation.
When the Great Recession hit in 2007, the UC system had its funding cut by more than $800 million. In order to make up for these cuts, the UC Regents felt that they had no choice but to increase fees and tuition to make up the difference of the shortfall.
But over the last few years, California’s deficit has turned in to a surplus and funding to the University of California has increased – by $125 million in 2013 and by $142 million this year.
So why are they choosing to increase tuition at a time when our state is in much better shape than it was several years ago?
In my opinion, we should be doing more to increase access to higher education. Raising tuition to more than $15,500 a year will turn many away and in an area like the Inland Empire that was hit particularly hard by the Great Recession, we can’t afford to turn away those who are looking to improve their lives through higher education.
While the opportunity to reform the funding of the UC system resides at the state level, there are things Congress has done to ease student debt. Last year, Congress changed the way student loan interest rates are calculated by pegging them to the 10-year Treasury note rate. However, with this new calculation, it is possible that rates can surpass what they would have been if Congress did nothing. I believe that Congress should set a low, fixed interest rate and do away with the current calculation that resets every year. Congress can also increase Pell Grants for low-income students but such legislation faces many political hurdles from Republicans in Congress.
However, changes in the interest rate and increasing support will not solve the root of the problem – the principal cost of going to college, which must be addressed by the leaders of the University of California system and our state legislators.
I encourage our elected officials and Governor Brown to do what they can to reverse the tuition hikes and figure out a long-term solution. No longer should young people be forced to shoulder the burden of $1 trillion in debt. Such a large debt load will affect their ability to own a home, start a business, begin a family or pursue whatever their version of the American dream may be.
In the meantime, I will be supporting the students who are fighting these increases and creating awareness around campus. I hope that you continue to make your voices heard and continue to fight for your future. Our nation depends on it.