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Editorial: The price of tuition

We remember watching an interesting exchange (at Providence Place Mall during the Iron Man premiere) between Christine Everheart, a ravishing reporter, and Tony Stark. In reference to Stark's career as a weapons engineer, Everheart mentioned one of his nicknames: the Merchant of Death, to which Stark responded:
"That's not bad. Let me guess… Berkeley?"

"Brown, actually," Everheart replied. Naturally, the theatre erupted with applause.
Stark's comment suggests one connection between Brown and Cal, but the parallels don't end with ideological homogeneity. Both schools are located in financially desperate, mismanaged states. In Rhode Island, politicians are trying to grab money from private colleges. In California, legislators have cut back on higher education with an $813 million decrease in funding for the UC system.

Another similarity merits discussion. At Brown and Berkeley, many students object to reductions in staff benefits and jobs while opposing tuition hikes. A little over a week ago, the UC Board of Regents voted to increase tuition by 32 percent or roughly $2,500 per head. The day after, 41 students stormed a building on Berkeley's campus to protest tuition increases and staff firings. Many UC students have placed the blame on California taxpayers and emphasized the state's responsibility to support higher education. Whatever the merits of that position, additional state funding is unlikely in the near future. Moreover, the fraction of tax dollars that would go to financial aid, as opposed to retaining critical faculty, is anyone's guess.

In requesting higher expenses at a lower price, students overlook a glaring contradiction. The regents could have saved more staff jobs with a steeper tuition hike, or they could have saved students more money by firing more staff. Either way, the costs and revenues have to balance out. The same reasoning applies, at least in theory, to college affordability.

The regents could have made a UC education cheaper for low-income and middle-income students by charging an even higher sticker price. Many students receive financial aid, and the price they end up paying diverges from the official tuition rate. Some affluent families can afford to pay much more than $10,000 a year to send their children to Berkeley, and administrators can use the surplus generated to reduce tuition payments for others. Illegal immigrants, who are ineligible for financial aid, are an unfortunate exception.

We do not take a stance on the desirability of a tuition hike or the practicality of a tuition freeze. There are certainly disadvantages to narrowing the gap between public and private tuition rates. But we do think that UC students who favor increased financial aid and worker compensation should rethink their motivations before they protest the rising cost of public education in California.

Editorials are written by The Herald's editorial page board. Send comments to



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