To begin, the Fix UC proposal isn’t trivial in the least. Eventually levying 5 percent of graduates’ income for two decades of employment—this idea would fundamentally change what higher education represents to students of the UC and Californians alike. On paper, the proposal, if implemented, would effectively reduce state contributions to the UC system in favor of funding from recent graduates. Once in full force, it’s quite conceivable that the generated fees would ostensibly cover for any and all conceivable needs for maintenance and expansion of the UC system as necessary or imaginable.
Critical to the success of this plan, however, is the assumption that under the proposal, student enrollment and graduation rates do not significantly change. Additionally, the plan would have to be amenable to future students who would eventually absorb the full brunt of student fees as graduates. None of the suppositions on which the proposal rests should be taken for granted; the full implementation of Fix UC represents an experiment in every sense of the word.
For students considering a UC education, the Fix UC proposal would give high schoolers pause by dividing them along how they want to pay. Regardless of how or when fees are paid, the final cost of attending always plays a major factor in which college to attend. Prospective students may simply balk at the UC, believing that their income out of college would result in them paying far more into the UC than they would have by paying at flat tuition rates elsewhere, even with private loans. Along the same lines, a student whose family can afford to pay upfront would probably prefer to do so, preferring a fixed cost to the variable fee posed by Fix UC. While the total cost would probably remain below that of a private university, the uncertainty associated with the cost of a UC education under the proposal would cause some potential students to think twice about considering the UC.
Regardless of how the plan might influence enrollment figures, how Fix UC might influence the treatment of a UC education should also be considered. Presently, the costs associated with a collegiate education serve as an impetus to maximize course load and graduate inside of four years. Under the proposal, students, who would become free from the most serious financial considerations, would ostensibly take more risks with choices of courses and majors, take fewer courses per quarter, exercise somewhat less rigor in coursework, and in general, take longer to graduate. That, imaginably, leaves less room for new students to cycle into the UC system for lack of significant pressure to graduate quickly in an environment where open seats for courses are already scarce.
This doesn’t take away from the fact that the Fix UC proposal is highly creative or original; it’s certainly the first plan I’ve heard of that would ultimately decrease the dependency the University of California has to its namesake state. It has the potential to fulfill the requirements of the California Master Plan for Higher Education—that any and all who want who want a quality college education can pursue such a goal without immediately having to consider finances. Hell, I even like the idea.
But my biggest concern is this, and it’s a big one: if implemented, would these changes seriously alter the UC system in a way that limits its rigor, prestige and competitiveness against other universities in California and the United States in attracting and graduating top students?
Opinions Editor, 2010-2011