Tuition Costs: Too High, Too Low, or Just Right?


Debate has begun once again on the next round of public university tuition hikes at the University of California and California State University systems. Understandably, students and professors alike are screaming about the increases. In all likelihood, for the 2011-12 academic year undergraduates at UC will pay $11,124 and CSU students will pay $4,884.

That's a lot of money.

Or is it?

According to the College Board Advocacy and Policy Center, the average tuition and fee cost at a public bachelor degree-granting institution for 2010-11 is $7,605, well above the $4,339 charged at C.S.U. With respect to public universities that grant doctoral degrees, the average cost is $8,503, somewhat below the $10,304 charged by U.C. By comparison, C.S.U. remains a bargain; U.C is a bit higher than the national average for graduate degree-granting institutions. So, why the ruckus?

The biggest problem with state university tuition rates is the rapidity with which they have risen. Just a decade ago, C.S.U. students were paying in the neighborhood of $1,800 annually, while U.C. students were paying about $4,000. Viewed this way, tuition and fees have more than doubled. Meanwhile, during the same period, the state budget general fund has grown from $74 billion to $85 billion.

Combined, this data tell us that university tuition has soared at a rate much faster than the growth of the state budget. That's because the state now pays a much smaller share of the cost of higher education, leaving the two university systems to raise more money from students.

And that's the rub. With the state unable to generate adequate tax revenues, reduced funding for the universities has resulted in students paying a much larger share of the bill. Simply put, students have had to pay a larger share because of the lack of funding--that's the trade off.  

Whether students are bearing a disproportionate load because of the state's budget crisis is worthy of debate. But the remains, they're still getting a great deal relative to what others pay throughout the nation.

They may not like it, but comparatively tuition costs are not as high as people might think.

Full disclosure--For the past 36 years I have taught at San Jose State University. (I can see the emails flying already.)


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