California Tuition Isn't a Percentage Problem

With the Occupy movement sent packing (at least temporarily) the fight remains alive on California's  public university campuses.

At these universities, the complaint is that the 1 percent aren't paying enough, so tuition is going up.

The complaint about rising fees and tuition is a valid one, but the 1 percent vs. 99 percent idea doesn't really explain the problem.

A better way to think of the tuition situation at California universities is to think of a barbell.

A barbell is big and heavy on its ends.

That's true of the state's public universities too.

Students from families at the top end of the income scale are well represented at these universities because they can easily afford to attend. Even with huge tuition increases, higher education remains a bargain.

And students from the bottom end of the income scale can afford to attend -- because they have to pay very little. Tuition and student services fees are covered for students with parental income of $80,000 or less.

No, the problem is the thin middle. Students from middle class families have the hardest time because they're not rich enough to make paying tuition easy but they're not poor enough to qualify for generous financial aid packages. The middle is bearing the brunt of tuition and fee increases.

Why are those increases being made? Because of declining state support for higher education.

One could blame that lack of support on rich people for not paying more taxes. But that's only a small part of the real reason.

The budget system itself is to blame.

That system was constructed by voters, who have chosen to erect tax limits and spending mandates and constitutional protections for all sorts of programs -- but not for higher education.

Those protections have been supported by many of the unions, interest groups and politicians currently expressing sympathy with the student protestors.

With the voters and virtually the entire California elite sitting on the higher education barbell, no wonder it's so hard to lift.

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