Presenting a different perspective on the common misconception that eliminating tuition costs for all California college students would be too costly, a policy paper released Tuesday said that a tuition free college education in California could actually cost taxpayers as little as $48 per year.
The policy paper, “The $48 fix: Reclaiming California’s Master Plan for Higher Education,” was facilitated by Reclaim Higher Education Coalition, whose mission is to “reclaim the Donahoe Act of 1960, otherwise known as California’s Master Plan for Higher Education.” As detailed in the plan, California was originally committed to free tuition for all students pursuing an education in California’s community colleges, the 23-campus California State University system or 10-campus University of California system.
In the policy paper, authors demonstrate how it is possible to provide the same accessible, low-cost university experience that California offered its students throughout the 1960s and 70s by eliminating tuition, restoring state per student funding to where it was in 2000 (adjusted for inflation) and providing seats for all students.
The policy paper states that fully funding projected enrollment and eliminating tuition in all three segments of California’s public higher education system would cost $9.43 billion in 2016-17. This amount can be covered through an annual income-tax surcharge that will cost median-income California families $48 a year, two-third of state households less than $150 a year and households in the top 5 percent about $7,100 a year.
“What we did is we actually figured out what it would cost the typical family in California to restore the California Master Plan and the answer is astonishing low,” said Council of University of California Faculty Associations president Stanton Glantz.
In addition to making this financial commitment, the paper also proposes reclaiming seats for in-state students. With the master plan restored, California higher education would no longer feel compelled to seek to cover funding gaps with non-resident tuition. Another suggestion is re-emphasizing the public service mission by de-emphasizing private fundraising that “distorts or neglects” research in the public interest.
Glantz said that California was the “envy of the world” for years with its Master Plan of Higher Education that was developed by lawmakers in 1960, a system that treated education as a public good that was provided at low-cost or no-cost to California students at California community colleges, CSU and UC. However, since 2000, higher education has been treated as a commodity “which is purchased by students and their families presumably so they can make more money later.”
“I think it’s obvious to everyone that higher education in California and the nation is in crisis. Students are being burdened with billions of dollars in debt,” said Glantz. “The important part to understand though is that we are not in this situation because of some uncontrolled force of nature, but rather because of political decisions that have been made beginning around the year 2000 to privatize higher education by shifting the burden off of taxpayers and onto students and their families.
“The important lesson that we’ve learned in those years is that this experiment in privatization has simply failed,” continued Glantz.
To demonstrate why the return to California’s Master Plan for Higher Education is so critical, California Faculty Association president Jennifer Eagan spoke about Mariá Lupita Garcia and Dani Alvarez, two students whose stories were included in the report. Garcia, who attends California State University, Chico and has plans to graduate in 2018, said that even though she has received grants, scholarships and loans to pay her tuition it is still not enough. Last semester she worked nearly 30 hours a week between two jobs.
With plans to graduate in 2019, Alvarez said that he has spent his past three years at San Francisco State working more than one part-time job and full-time if he can to afford going to school and rent. He is a full-time student majoring in biology with a concentration in physiology, with hopes of becoming an oncologist after his mother was diagnosed with cancer when he was a senior in high school.
“Maria and Dani are typical CSU students and they are just the kind of students that California should be supporting with tuition free education,” said Eagan. “If the CSU had the resources that were comparable to what it had in 1985, it would have over $773 million dollars more in its operational budget for students. The long-term and systematic defunding is precisely why 3 out of 4 of our CSU students work more than 20 hours a week. That is also why in 2015, nearly 42,000 CSU seniors had student loan debt more than three-quarters of a million dollars when they graduated.
“The state cannot afford to abandon talented and struggling students like Maria and Dani. We need to talk about long-term and sustainable ways to fund higher education in California and the $48 Fix proposes a concrete, fair and realistic solution,” continued Eagan.
A full version of the “The $48 fix: Reclaiming California’s Master Plan for Higher Education” is available online at reclaimhighered.org.