While inflation has been at a relatively low 3.6% for most goods and services, it has been skyrocketing in several key sectors, particularly healthcare and college education. Across the nation, average college and university tuition and fees have increased 8.3% this fall, according to the Los Angeles Times, while in California, the increase was 21%, nearly four times the national average.
For students considering getting their general ed requirements out of the way at cheaper community colleges, fees in California have increased 37%. While this is a dramatic hike, particularly for low income students who had carefully budgeted based on last year’s fees, the $1,119 they must now pay each year is still a discount compared to the $3,288 students pay at two-year colleges in the rest of the country.
While some argue that students can pay for much of this with grants, scholarships and loans, the fact remains that student loan debt is at record levels ($830 billion) and has now surpassed credit card debt nationally. According to the study cited in the Times article, roughly 56% of students who earned bachelor's degrees at public colleges in 2009-10 graduated with debt averaging $22,000. At private nonprofit schools, the average debt was $28,100.
Considering how few jobs there are right now, recent graduates could be in debt for a very long time. However, the jobs available to those with a bachelor’s degree are generally not the highest paying jobs. So even if they are lucky enough to get a job right out of college, they will not necessarily be able to pay back their loans any time soon. If they go onto graduate school, their debt burden upon graduation could easily be in the six-figure range, depending on the type of degree.
While California’s community colleges and Cal State University systems are still cheaper than their counterparts in other states, tuition at the elite University of California system is now considerably higher than the national average. University regents have blamed the yearly increases on budget cuts from the state and it is true that the state slashed UC’s annual budget by half a billion this year. However, as the state’s premier institution of high learning, UC has been bringing in considerable additional revenue from its research and discoveries ($128 million in patent income in 2007-2008). One might reasonably ask why this hasn’t been used to help defray costs for undergraduate education.
Additionally, while the university has been jacking up student fees and allowing faculty salaries to stagnate, it has been rapidly piling on new administrators with executive salaries. Over the past decade, the number of administrators has nearly doubled. UC was spending over $2 billion a year on their salaries back in 2008. However, according to a Faculty Association newsletter from 2008, the cost of just the superfluous administrators was $800 million. Furthermore, they have not been content with exorbitant salaries. 36 of the highest paid university executives recently demanded tens of millions of dollars in increased retirement benefits.
None of this should be surprising, when California’s more than 600,000 millionaires have demanded (and won) steadily decreasing income, property, and business taxes over the past three decades, depleting the state of revenue that could have been used to help fund public universities and K-12 education.