Friday, May 8, 2009

1000 Hours Labor Will Pay University of California Tuition

The San Diego Union Tribune reports today that the University of California Regents approved a 9.3% tuition increase for next Fall’s school year. That 9.3% represents a tuition bill of $8,720 for the year.

I wonder what that does to the dream of a college education for high school and community college students as well as their families throughout California? That’s an incredible amount of money.

Let’s put it into just a bit of context. At the California minimum wage of $8.00 per hour it will take 1087 hours to earn the money to pay for tuition. That’s working full time for 6 months, and it’s before taxes. Plus, that doesn’t even touch other education expenses like books or room and board.

How do kids do it? Loans? Work part-time and go to college part-time? Family help? Actually, it’s all of the above.

A little more context. I started college in fall 1969 at the University of North Dakota. Tuition for the year was right at $450. Working at $1.50 an hour (minimum wage was $1.30) I could earn my tuition working a total of 300 hours. That amounts to 7 ½ weeks full time. So I worked full time all summer (about 12 weeks), had a pretty enjoyable summer and managed to save about $600.

This is absolutely mind boggling to me. We are pricing college beyond the means of most families and most kids. And yet, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot that we can do about it. Especially now with the economy and budgets in the mess that they’re in.

California students get a huge break by going to community college first where tuition is set at $15 per credit. Two years in that system really lessens the burden. The basic math is $15 per credit at community college vs. $360 per credit for the same Freshman English or Algebra class in the University of California system. That math is pretty obvious.

We run the risk of pricing college degrees out of the range of many if not most of our young people. The current economic morass will just make it worse—fees continuing to escalate while income for many families declines.

My generation (baby boomers) were often the first generation of our family to enjoy the opportunity of pursuing a college education. The risk is that current and future generations may find that dream fading.

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