Kiss College Tuition Goodbye?



That’s what the annual tuition bill will read for a student in the University of California system if school administrators adopt a controversial new proposal.

A student group called “Fix UC” designed the plan, called the UC Student Investment Proposal, which would replace tuition fees with a payment system wherein students give 5 percent of their future income to the university over 20 years.

It’s clear how this idea could gather widespread support. Students would graduate from college debt-free and wouldn’t be expected to pay for their education until they are making significant income. Parents would be freed from the financial burden of paying for their children’s education. And, according to the student group’s research, the University of California system would enjoy three times more revenue under the new plan.

“Our plan maximizes both quality and affordability, instead of sacrificing one for the other,” Chris LoCascio, the president of Fix UC, told Campus Progress. “Under the current system, tuition continues to increase while the UC continues to make cuts.”

But it’s also clear how the plan is flawed. One cause for concern is that students who pursue higher-paying careers could end up paying significantly more than most other students.

“I don’t know how much I’ll be making and how much that 5 percent is going to be,” Jose Rivera, a California State University business student, told a local news station. “Is it going to benefit me or bring me down, you know?”

Experts say the current proposal isn’t likely to be a viable solution to rising college tuition costs.

“The actual proposal needs some fine-tuning,” said Julie Morgan, a policy analyst with the Postsecondary Education Program at the Center for American Progress, our parent organization. “This gives students very little control over keeping the cost of their education down, and it may relieve the schools from responsibility for controlling college costs.”

Here’s an example of the problem: A four-year undergraduate education in the University of California system costs about $52,000 in total tuition. Under the new proposal, a student who enters fields like law or finance could ultimately pay more than $200,000 for their degree while a student who enters social work could pay less than $30,000.

Such vast discrepancies are inevitable under this type of plan, but LoCascio argues that it is part of a broader reexamination of education’s role in society.

“Rather than looking at education as a commodity, we understand education is subjective, and it plays different roles in people’s lives,” he said. “We feel that a set percentage based entirely on what someone earns is as fair as it gets.”   

Not everyone at in the UC system is on board with the plan.

UC President Mark Yudof described the proposal as “unworkable” in its current form and argued that a more realistic approach would be to advocate for increases in taxes and state funding for higher education.

But if anything is “unworkable,” it’s the status quo. Financial services giant Standard & Poor’s recently warned that the rising cost of student tuition, coupled with the intensifying inability of students to pay off their loan debt, could create a devastating asset bubble similar to the housing crisis several years ago. To make matters worse, the amount of unemployed young adults has hit an all-time high.

The California students behind the proposal are thinking outside the box, and individuals at schools throughout the country could soon join them. LoCascio said that Fix UC has been contacted by students and administrators elsewhere who are interested in pursuing similar solutions.

“It’s important that students have a strong voice in the conversation about college costs,” Morgan added. “Because whether it’s through a graduate tax or student loans, they are the ones paying the bills.”

UC officials will likely further scrutinize the plan during a scheduled meeting with the members of the Fix UC group [this] month. LoCascio said he hopes the meeting will resolve some of the practical complications with the proposal. The outcome of the meeting is sure to have major implications for the momentum of the idea nationwide.

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