GUEST OPINION: A tax on students | April 26, 2013 | Pleasanton Weekly | |

Pleasanton Weekly

Opinion - April 26, 2013

GUEST OPINION: A tax on students

Tuition and fees are replacing the state investment in higher education

by Kevin Walthers

Lost in the bipartisan rhetoric over college affordability is simple fact: It's not costs that are rising at public colleges and universities -- it's the price students pay that is increasing. This is an important and serious distinction. "Cost" is the amount it takes to educate a student.

The bipartisan rush to stand up for college affordability is based on an assumption that tuition and fee increases are driven by increased spending on campus. It's simply not the case. Analysis by the Delta Cost Project finds that from 2000 to 2010 "tuition increased primarily to replace institutional subsidies."

Last month, the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association reported that the share that students pay for education continues to grow, reaching more than 42% in 2012. Similarly, the National Association of State Budget Officers (NASBO) finds that "state spending on higher education is more erratic than other areas of state spending" and that colleges and universities "have tended to shift costs to student tuition and fees" to replace state funds.

The evidence is clear -- tuition increased as a way to partially replace the funds formerly invested in undergraduates by state and local government, essentially creating a tax on college students to fund state and local government.

The impact on community college students is particularly significant. The Delta Cost Project concluded that reduced funding profoundly impacts efforts to provide education to the most economically or academically disadvantaged students in our nation.

The conversations that focus on tuition and fees assume that there is no innovation in public higher education. At Las Positas College we now offer 11 degrees and 15 certificates where more than half of the program can be completed online -- this includes one degree and one certificate that can be fully completed online. By the end of this academic year, LPC students will be able to enroll in eight transfer programs that provide guaranteed acceptance to a CSU institution. By the end of next year we will offer 15 transfer degrees.

This type of innovation is taking place throughout the state community college system and demonstrates that colleges want to be accountable and forward-thinking. The impact on students is real and substantial. Even with a renewed focus on core transfer programs, transfer degrees, online education and a commitment to career-technical education, many California community colleges have waiting lists that extend beyond the funding available to provide classes.

Given that California must create an additional 1 million degree and certificate holders by 2025 to meet workforce demands, the passage of Proposition 30 provided a strong statement that the governor, Legislature and California voters are committed to a shared educational investment that will pay long-term dividends. Without an ongoing state investment, the "tax" students are paying to fund shortfalls in other areas of government will continue to deprive many of these young people of the college education that is so important to moving into the middle class and to ensuring economic stability for our state and our nation.

--Kevin Walthers has been president of Las Positas College since August 2011. He came here from the West Virginia Community and Technical College System and holds a doctorate degree in educational leadership and policy from the University of Utah. He served in policy roles with the Utah State Legislature and as a senior administrator with the Utah State Board of Regents.


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