Fixing Expensive College Tuition with Accountability and Awareness


Benjamin Liou

Expensive college costs are divesting America’s human resources by making education less accessible and limiting students’ bandwidths by making us worry about expenses and debt when we should be learning. Two reasons for high costs are inefficiency and poor use of resources. Both can be fixed by holding universities accountable: requiring a unified record of all transactions to be open and easily accessible to the public. This enables watchdogs to check rampant spending and encourages universities to make efficient use of our resources.

Public universities are funded by the people, for the people. As the primary stakeholders, we must be able to see all university transactions and take action to ensure our money is used to benefit us.

According to UC San Diego, there are a variety of fees such as the ICA student activity fee totaling to $944.73, which “supports UCSD intercollegiate athletic teams.” Many UCSD students have nothing to do with sports, and that amount is enough to pay for an entire month of housing at some locations. It is unfair to make every student pay for the benefit of a few. 

Some may argue that it’s the student’s fault for not making the most of their tuition, but the reality is that students have different priorities and do not have the time to use every single resource. Thus, everything should be opt-in and not opt-out, meaning that students only pay for what they use. Universities are academic institutions. Only those who want to play sports should pay for this luxury good.

The ICA fee is only one such example. Many other fees are lumped into our general tuition and kept hidden. This is why we need accountability to identify unjust resource use and allocation. In general, there needs to be more awareness of what we are paying for. Perhaps there is something beneficial that you would not otherwise know existed. Similarly, there could be something utterly useless that is sapping resources from what is truly needed. By knowing what is available, students can make better use of resources and this way, the much-needed but underfunded (like some of the great TA’s out there who often do more teaching work than professors) will be funded, while the costly and scarcely-used will be identified and either reformed or eliminated.

Another example is the Sun God festival. The festival in 2019 was allotted $780,000 in total, enough to provide nine months of housing at $1500/month for 57 students, but instead squandered in less than a day for the benefit of a few. Meanwhile, the 2022 budget was nowhere to be found on the official website. It is not transparent, and only includes links encouraging students to spend more on merchandise. Again, not everyone attends Sun God. In fact, some are dissatisfied with it. I was shocked by how much Sun God costs, and even more when the websites alluded that a big chunk was spent on security, partly to keep drunks and drugs off the scene, quote: “Heightened enforcement will occur at festival entrances to prevent access to visibly intoxicated students and to block prohibited substances and items from entering.” To think this is part of the tuition I pay to learn at an academic institution! I decided to look further into A.S. Council. For this school year, the budget for Offices of Concerts and Events is $1,367,500, enough to provide housing for 101 students over the entire academic year.

Some may argue that requiring universities to publicize all transactions creates a new layer of bureaucracy, leading to more paperwork, people to process the paperwork, and further slowing the process of buying needed items; thus, this would seem to be counterproductive.

However, this does not need to be the case. Accounting can be very simple: columns for date, amount, for what, with who, and the direction of flow. Ideally, those handling university money will be able to freely make transactions without excessive paperwork. This is because they know they will be accountable to the people, who will have the ability to deal serious consequences such as firing and fining those who mishandle funds, thus ensuring the money will be used responsibly.

The ICA fee and Sun God festival are only two examples of non-academic misuse of public money that harms students by diverting resources from real needs like housing and quality TA’s. While I was able to find the total costs of these examples, they are still hidden because I had to work to find them. In addition, I could not find further cost breakdowns, and these very relevant costs are not widely discussed by the students who are directly impacted. Given this, the university should be required to take the initiative to let students know, just like how it sends daily emails of potential COVID-19 exposures. The university’s current passiveness in not promoting transparency is therefore a blatant coverup attempt and needs to change now.

Image courtesy of ShutterShock Illustration.