Friday, November 24

Splitting the Bill: Scholarships to middle-income students do not cover California’s insufficient funding to higher education

Sometimes even well-intentioned endeavors fail to resolve a problem. Such is the case with two Assembly bills presented last month by Assembly Speaker John Pérez (D-Los Angeles).

The bills, AB 1500 and AB 1501, would remove a 2009 corporate tax law that lowered the corporate tax rate for multistate corporations.

Should this happen, the resulting tax revenue would then be given to the California Student Aid Commission, said John Vigna, a representative of Pérez’s office. The commission would allocate it as scholarship funding for middle-class students from families that make $150,000 or less annually.

In a recent Los Angeles Times article, Pérez said his choice to create a middle-class scholarship was partly influenced by a desire to use the money in a way that appeals to both Republicans and Democrats. This choice was made despite the fact that more pressing financial needs exist, such as the California State University’s spring admissions freeze.

This politically expedient approach to funding public education is irresponsible.

While scholarship for students with family incomes between $80,000 and $150,000 would seemingly be welcomed, this legislation fails to address the actual problem of insufficient funding from the state. The financial problems of the University of California and CSU systems encompass far more than painful tuition payments.

If our state acquires additional revenue, it should certainly direct it toward education, but to use that revenue to fund a middle-class scholarship is akin to giving a man trapped in a desert an empty bottle. While that man can now collect water, the greater problem still remains ““ there is no water for him to collect.

Even if middle-income students have better access to public universities, that access is meaningless if those universities are slowly deteriorating.

While subsidizing the tuition payments of middle-income students would give them better access to higher education, at a time when UCs and CSUs are cutting classes and reducing services, no matter how accessible public education is, we must remember that education quality is paramount.

To be clear, I am no academic or economic expert. That being said, this new revenue might be better directed to general university pools to fund additional course sections.

The Golden State’s universities are hurting more than most in the country. If the people of California wish to maintain their robust system of public education, funds need to be reassigned to support the UCs and CSUs. But that need cannot be met by playing party politics.

In fact, to do so may undermine the public nature of state universities. According to Chris Tilly, a professor of urban planning at UCLA, AB 1500 and 1501 may accelerate a movement toward privatizing California state universities.

“Investments in education should be supported,” Tilly said. “But subsidizing education by subsidizing tuition does not constitute a political commitment to public education.”

By focusing on how to help middle-income students afford rising college tuition, we lose sight of the true problem: Public college tuition, by definition, should be affordable from the onset. Applying a Band-Aid scholarship for exorbitant tuition amounts to legitimizing a hybrid public-private model of higher education. It institutionalizes a system in which the state funds some university expenses and passes the rest off to students. For California taxpayers with students enrolled in the state’s public education system, this amounts to paying for college twice.

This legislation addresses public college accessibility for middle-income families, Vigna said. The question is, why is college inaccessible?

Accessibility is threatened by rising college tuition, and that tuition is driven higher because the state is no longer allotting universities enough funding to cover their expenses.

Vigna said this is no longer an academic issue, but a political one.

I applaud Pérez for addressing the insufficient financing of California’s public universities. Unfortunately, he has chosen to advocate for a subsidy that favors political tenability over academic necessity. While legislative movements are only helpful if passed, that limitation should not deter our state representative from pursuing the best solutions.

For too long UCs, CSUs and California Community Colleges have suffered from economic malnourishment. Excessive legislative compromise and political jockeying have squandered the enormous potential of public higher education.

We need Pérez to exhibit political fortitude and resist this cycle of legislative expedience, standing instead for true educational development.

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