LA Times Op-Ed: The problem with the cost of college isn’t the price but who’s paying the bill

On Feb. 23, 2017, the Los Angeles Times published an op-ed from Andrew J. Policano, a professor of economics and public policy and former dean at UC Irvine’s Paul Merage School of Business, titled “The problem with the cost of college isn’t the price but who’s paying the bill”. Here’s an excerpt:

At UC, about 40% of undergraduates pay no tuition at all. Middle-income students are partially subsidized and most families with an annual income above $125,000 pay full tuition. A recent study shows the effects of this university-designed redistribution: As many as 78% of students who enrolled in the 1990s at major public universities have seen their status improve, moving from the bottom fifth of national income to the top three-fifths. Access to education does lead to low-income families finding a path out of poverty.

Society, through significant cuts in public support, is decreasing its prioritization of higher education. Rather than every taxpayer bearing the cost of making public higher education widely available, wealthier families with college-age children are subsidizing less fortunate families. This scenario is neither equitable nor socially optimal. The benefits of access are shared by society as a whole; the costs should be shared as well.

There is another problem with the way we are making higher education accessible. Tuition is not rising by a large enough amount to replace the significant decreases in state support. Faculty, program and infrastructure cuts are hurting the quality of education.

Public higher education in the U.S is not too expensive, but the balance between cost, price and redistribution is tenuous. If legislatures — and voters — further lower their prioritization of higher education, the system itself will be at risk. Not only will fewer low-income students gain access to the advantages of a college education, the quality of public higher education in the U.S., which has long been recognized as the best such system in the world, will surely erode.

Read the complete article on the LA Times website.