My sister Mary MacQueen and her husband Chris are like most parents that have sent their children off to college. They are juggling heavy debt that allowed their daughter Kirstie to earn a degree at the University of California at Davis and for their son Garrison who is nearing the completion of a degree at California State, Chico.
If they were in the early stages of their kids’ post-secondary education decision making it’s a safe bet they would be thinking twice today in light of the California State University system going to on-line classes only this fall.
It costs $15,643 a year to be an undergraduate at a UC campus and $5,742 at a CSU campus before other costs are factored into the equation. The figures are minus the obligatory student fees to build shrines to athletes where coaches can make almost as much as the CEO of PG&E without the need to deal with pesky problems such as the fallout from wiping out an entire town and being blamed for burning 130 people to death. Compare that to the University of Phoenix where you can knock out a 12-unit year for half the price of a CSU education.
Now toss in widespread reports of students who were forced to go online to complete the current system due to the pandemic. Many dealt with online technical issues. More than a few professors proved inept at online learning with a number just uploading pre-recorded videos of a lecture. Give and take was at a minimum and often clumsy.
The question is why would you want to spend twice the money or — in the case of the UC system almost six times the bucks — for undergraduate classes from universities clearly inept when it comes to 21st century technology and trends when you can go with an online university that clearly is geared up to operate in today’s world?
A month ago, a neighbor shared with Mary a conversation they had with their son who was accepted at Idaho State. They basically told their son they were not going to pay out of state tuition so he could take online classes from their kitchen table. One can only wonder how many other families pushed to the financial abyss by the government imposed pandemic cure are going to be balking at paying premium dollar for a college education that will be delivered virtually.
Toss in the fact financial aid requests are taking a dive — including renewal applications — and that almost every four-year school is extending their application and acceptance period for the upcoming school year and the antiquated and expensive four-year campus model that now dominates higher education in America could be in for a seismic shift thanks to COVID-19.
The fact CSU Chancellor Timothy White made no mention of tuition pricing adjustment in his announcement about moving the fall semester online should give everyone pause from students and parents to the California Legislature.
Higher education — especially that funded partially on the taxpayer’s dime — has resisted efforts to find ways to contain costs that other sectors of society have been forced to do with the changing times and economy. They didn’t have to because guaranteed government student loans have never required higher education to cap or retrain their costs. Instead as tuition hikes were imposed, loans were simply increased. Colleges get more money. Loan originators make more money, and students get saddled with an even bigger debt.
This has allowed higher education to pile on what might be politely described as excessive administrative overhead in terms of staffing and salaries for redundant positions often created for political correctness reasons.
It also has meant at four-year institutions — especially the UC system — students in their first two years have a better chance at winning low-level lottery scratch off ticket prizes than they do being taught by a professor in the flesh.
All of this has been masked over due to the arguments about the invaluable “college experience.”
If you are not exposed to the physical college and not able to interact with other students and the faculty except by FaceTime and Zoom, where is the “college experience” component that has been used to justify top tuition dollars?
If the CSU system is going to replace that with a device such as a tablet, laptop or a smartphone for even a semester they need to price their product accordingly.
At the very least you would think CSU would have suspended the collection of expensive add-on student fees charged for financing athletic programs as well as other on-campus facilities such as expansive student unions during the time they have forced students to go online and stay off campus.
Perhaps a more prudent and affordable higher education model could rise from the pandemic especially given it is clear this is not going to be a one and done thing in regards to waves or surges in terms of those that contract COVID-19.
A CSU system that exclusively uses the community college system for its lower division requirements could concentrate on the upper division as well as graduate and other more advanced degree programs. That would increase capacity, reduce student costs, and lower long term student debt. The UC system could do likewise.
Granted the college experience is a bit different at Delta College or Modesto Junior College than it is at CSU Stanislaus in Turlock or Cal Berkeley. A hybrid approach could address that by the CSU and UC system having educational programs — mini courses if you will — that give community college students a taste of the cherished “college experience” as well as credits toward a degree. It would also be a way that students could shop CSU and UC campuses by actually experiencing them in a meaningful way.
Mini-courses would also give students an inkling of the best college fit for them. It would essentially make colleges have to work to land students instead of the current process that pits students against students in terms of getting admitted instead of colleges against colleges.