Students, It’s Time to Check Your Privilege

    As of 2007, 48 percent of college graduates were in the top three income deciles. Many of us will be running America’s government, its businesses and its civil society groups. Yet we continue to balk at any and all fees like we are staunch Tea Party supporters.

    There is no doubt that college graduates are better off than non-graduates. In 2008, the median annual earnings of young adults with bachelor’s degrees was $46,000 versus $30,000 for those with high school diplomas – a 53 percent difference. Over a lifetime, college graduates will earn $2.1 million, compared to only $1.2 million for high school grads, based on 2010 U.S. census estimates.

    Admittedly, public tuition rates have also skyrocketed over the same period. Over the past 30 years, it has risen from an average of $2,100 in 1980 to $7,600 in 2010. And that does not take into account increases in living costs or textbooks.

    Despite these rising costs, though, the benefits of a bachelor’s degree have increased over the past quarter of a century. According to a Department of Labor report, a worker with a bachelor’s degree in 1975 would earn 1.5 times the salary of a worker with only a high school diploma, but that ratio increased to 1.8 by 1999.

    Looming ahead for UCSD students this year are potential increases on the University Centers fee as well as a move to user-based fee for public transportation. Yes, this does shift more of the cost onto students, but it is hardly outrageous that those who will be making a million more dollars over their lifetime should also have to contribute more. And in the current tuition model, students contribute to their education roughly similar amounts as the state ($2.4 billion and $3 billion, respectively).

    Lest I sound naive, many of these increases do fall on students from lower-income families. Although federal grant aid rose from $26 billion in 2008 to $49 billion in 2012, it has not kept up to pace with tuition increases over the same period.

    Fifty-five percent of UC undergraduates were shielded from tuition increases through financial aid, but roughly 7 percent of students fell through the cracks and were not awarded additional amounts.

    As the funding model changes, we should be sure to allocate additional aid to those from low-incomes families. But for those from wealthier backgrounds, the user-based model is fair considering the wage premium that college graduates earn. Although university education has spillover benefits to the economy as a whole, it is the individual student who gets the most out of a degree.

    The state should certainly subsidize colleges, but it is reasonable to require students to contribute according to their ability.

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