Tuesday, May 22, 2012

California Higher Education: Not Enough Support from Taxpayers or Not Charging Enough Tuition?

There are plenty of complaints about the fast-rising costs of tuition and fees at California's many fine public institutions of higher education.  Due to crumbling tax revenues and annual multi-billion dollar budget cuts, California has imposed massive increases on tuition and fees for in-state students.  Due to budget cuts, there are fewer slots available in required classes, lengthening the time required to graduate.

I have a crazy and controversial question:  Is the problem a lack of funding at these institutions due to a decrease in tax revenues or are California's public institutions of higher education simply not charging enough tuition and fees? I recently came across a benchmark study by Washington State, by a group called the Washington Higher Education Coordinating Board.  The study lists the cost of in-state tuition for students for 47 states across the United States by type of institution.

Flagship Universities and Colleges

California boasts some of the world's best public universities.  The University of California Berkeley (UC Berkeley) is affiliated with more Nobel Prizes than most nations.  Despite some of the nation's highest cost-of-living expenses, expensive real estate, high taxes, and high housing costs, the in-state tuition for California residents at one of these world-class facilities ranks 14th highest in the nation--above the national average, but nearly 35% less than Pennsylvania--the nation's highest.

Comprehensive Colleges and Universities

While California has a few world-renowned public universities, it also has a broad network of excellent mainstream colleges and universities.  Despite high living costs and a whopping 26.2% increase from the prior year, California had only the nation's 35th highest (12th lowest) tuition  and fees for residents attending these facilities.  The 26.2% increase was the 2nd biggest year-to-year increase, second only to Georgia.  California residents tend to remember the massive increase and likely don't know the great value they receive in reduced tuition compared to residents in other states.

Community Colleges

Besides its flagship universities and comprehensive colleges and universities, California also enjoys a vast network of community colleges.  These facilities often provide needed vocational training and skills building necessary to become successful in today's job market.  They also offer a way for low-income students to pass required classes before transferring to one of California's mainstream facilities.  Where do tuition and fees ranks for California residents?  California has the nation's lowest-cost tuition and fees for residents studying at community colleges even after a 30% year-to-year increase--the third fastest increase after Georgia and West Virginia.

How does California maintain such low tuition and fees for residents?  Because the costs of public higher education is subsidized by California taxpayers.

To combat the funding shortfalls and the increases in tuition and fees, Governor Jerry Brown and various teachers unions propose to increase California's already high income taxes on upper-income taxpayers and to raise the state sales tax for all Californian's--already the nation's highest.

The question remains: Do we impose even higher taxes on California taxpayers to further subsidize our public institutions of higher learner or--given the evidence that California's public institutions are generally  priced below the national average--do we allow additional increases to tuition and fees?