Courtesy of Emily Mata / The Highlander

With rising tuition costs, there has been an ongoing debate as to whether attending a university is worth the expenses. While it is important to be critical of the rise of tuition, the answer is not to ditch college altogether. Not only is attending college worth the financial obligations, but it can expand life and career opportunities in ways a high school diploma alone cannot. Among the universities one can choose from, California’s public colleges can provide the best value in post-graduate return on investment.

California’s two public university systems are the University of California (UC) and the California State University (CSU), which provide a host of career openings for students in wide-ranging fields. Access to public education is especially important for students who have nontraditional college experiences. For example, roughly one-third of CSU students are first-generation students. 

First-generation students face many unique issues on top of the already difficult demands of college life. They are more likely to commute to their university, meaning there is less time for those students to study for their classes or search for potential internships which may be why they are half as likely to utilize on-campus resources. These students also receive more need-based aid than non-first-generation students at public universities. This is not true of private schools, which are typically more expensive. The difference in what public and private universities offer students needing financial aid and campus support are a huge part of what makes California public universities high value.

Five universities in the CSU system, UC Riverside and UC Merced were ranked as top universities for strong social mobility. California public universities provide students the best chance to break the cycle of generational poverty because they offer access to opportunities for a diverse group of socioeconomic backgrounds. Many have become disillusioned with the value of a college degree, but California universities offer internships and research involvement. When a student pays tuition, they pay for more than just lectures; they pay for access to those resources and opportunities. Many private schools have fewer of these opportunities and fewer facilities to do so.

Additionally, public universities in California admit a more diverse student body who are able to take their degrees and find a job that makes up for the educational costs. A study from the College Futures Foundation found that more than 50% of public universities in California take less than a year post-graduation to recoup the educational costs while the other 45% lay between one to five years. These numbers far outcompete the value of private and for-profit universities. More than 15% of students attending private universities and 27% of those attending for-profit universities have to spend over five years of their earnings from their jobs to repay tuition. 

This does not mean that public universities are perfect; there is still plenty of room for these institutions to improve. Attending a California public university is still incredibly expensive, even without factoring in the costs of the extracurricular activities students do to get into these schools. CSUs overwhelmingly supported a 34% tuition hike within the next five years, and these dramatic increases fuel the impression that an undergraduate education is not especially valuable. While the rise in cost may distress many people, many high-paying career options are unavailable without a college degree. 

Unfortunately, college is not a straight ticket to success. It takes time and energy to stay on top of classes, and a financial toll on all students. But, public universities in California offer exceptional programs that help students attain good jobs and achieve financial stability while offering resources to various students. Some students face different circumstances that complicate their college journey, such as student parents who are financially supporting their families. Public universities are more equipped to support students who face these challenges than private colleges are.