It’s no news to students in the U.S. that our education system, in its current state, is underfunded. This is evident even in day-to-day experiences; scantrons and bluebooks — necessary test-taking materials — are not provided with most courses, and many required textbooks are ridiculously expensive, the result of an astounding 1,041 percent increase in average college textbook cost in the last 38 years. Oh, and according to data from earlier this year, we are 14th in the world in terms of “cognitive skills and educational attainment” out of 40 nations ranked in that category.
So how do we fix this funding issue? An advisory panel has suggested that the Cal State University (CSU) system consider annual tuition increases. Although the proposition is only a small portion of a larger draft report being reviewed this month by the Cal State University Board of Trustees, It wouldn’t be the first time something like this has passed, as Cal State tuition rose from $1,248 in 2001 to $5,472 10 years later in 2011. Despite a stagnant Cal State tuition for the last four years, the real question that needs to be addressed is simple: will tuition increases really solve the funding crisis, or just scare more people away from higher education?
Yes, pouring more money into the system may fix some short-term problems that the Cal State University system is facing, but is pulling that money from students who rely on either financial aid (payed for through taxation) or heavy student loans really the best option here?
The public education system in the United States is not very efficient. In fact, according to a report released last year by London-based education consultancy GEMS Education Solutions, the United States ranks 19th on a list of 30 nations in terms of return on investments in education. Something needs to be done about our education system, but piling the burden onto students, those who actively seek out a better education, isn’t the answer.
What does need to happen is a reevaluation of expenses within the Cal State system, specifically, what can be cut, and what can be shifted around to maximize efficiency. Should we really pour a couple thousand bucks into re-painting an old building, or can it wait? Is it worth it to be watering acres of grass and plant life every day, or would switching to less water-reliant vegetation and astroturf be more cost-effective in the long run? There are countless ways that costs can be cut at both the individual university level, and system wide throughout the Cal State University system.These are the conversations that should be taking place, not “how much of our student’s bank account balance can we syphon without killing them, literally or metaphorically?”
This whole idea of meeting exponential spending with exponential tuition increases just makes things harder for students who already have enough to deal with. Students not only have to bear the burden of paying for tuition, but commuting costs and supplies can make a somewhat manageable price of attendance make the jump to a barely affordable cost. Many of the Cal State students I personally know have taken multiple jobs in order to afford their school and living-related bills. As tuition rises, fewer and fewer people will see the the financial viability of pursuing higher education, as the return on investment decreases. Ultimately, people that would be dedicated members of the CSU undergraduate community will go to community college, transfer out of state or simply jump into the private sector just to get by. This is an issue that’s noticeably worse in the UC system (which was initially intended to be free for California residents), but if history is any indicator, Cal State tuition will likely catch up with time.