Costly Plan Unfeasible Under Current State Budget Crunch

    Imagine going to college for free. Assemblyman Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles) hopes to make the dream a reality with his recently proposed bill that would pay fees at any UC school or CSU campus for students who agree to work for two years as a civic employee or volunteer.

    If this sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is.

    The legislation, which Feuer promises will make giving back to the community more affordable while easing the burden of college tuition, is littered with flaws that preclude its success. It may proclaim a perfect solution to the fat debts of college graduates, but in actuality it’s a far cry from a probable resolution.

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    Particularly worrisome is the program’s source of funding. According to the bill, the Civic Service Loan Assumption Program would receive “”funding through the annual Budget Act”” with the Legislature funding “”an unknown number of new awards each fiscal year.”” Rather than taking on the pricey ordeal of lowering the cost of college for everyone, Feuer’s plan aims to subsidize it for mostly low-income students, with the rationale that they will be the most likely sign up.

    The attempt to target those in need, however, is wasted. If the current budget allowed it, California would already be doling out larger Cal Grants in greater numbers. But with the ever-ballooning state debt, financing education even at this capacity has been no easy task. Instead, we face a 7-percent increase this year in UC undergraduate education costs sending students’ fees, along with their debts, to new heights.

    In his idealism, however, Feuer has lost sight of this reality by trying to cheat his way through the system. Making education more affordable is not about creating endless programs that promise antidotes for swelling prices. It’s about reconciling the state debt with funding needs – finding a way to boost the amount available to fund education.

    Furthermore, the loose nature of the legislation does little to force lawmakers to annually set aside money for the program. By not stipulating a certain number of allotted annual awards, there is a great chance the program will fail due to lack of support and space in the governor’s yearly budget.

    But the bill’s financial myopia is only part of its downfall. The two-year turnover rate stipulated by Feuer’s plan would severely cripple the quality of work performed in civic service jobs held by students in the program. Firefighters, paramedics and emergency medical technicians – all jobs that count for civic service under the bill’s requirements – would become two-year filler positions instead of long-term professions, which is not too comforting when lives are at stake.

    A low retention rate, however, means more than just less-qualified workers. For college graduates looking to develop a long-term career, the bill means two years wasted in a field they are likely to have no interest in pursuing. Had they followed traditional methods of college payment like loans, not only would their higher-paying job allow them to begin paying off their debt, but they would be doing so in a career they planned on pursuing during college.

    On the chance that a student ends up staying in their field of civic service – well, that’s equally troubling. It would mean the state had spent money on higher education for a student whose job needed no college degree. It would also mean the Civil Service Loan Assumption Program was entirely counterproductive.

    As for the other problem of increasing employment in fields where worker supply is low, its a simple law of supply and demand. Higher wages mean higher worker supply and there’s really no way around that. Feuer’s plan might attempt to evade raising wages across the board, but it only gains ill-qualified workers by doing so.

    Lawmakers can attempt to beat the system all they want, but in the end the only solution to funding education is the one they don’t want to hear. Making college more affordable means lower fees and more state sponsorship.

    After all, nothing comes for free.

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