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College cost, not student debt, is the real problem
dennis Wyatt web
Dennis Wyatt

"California is taking the boldest step in the nation toward making college debt-free." - California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon speaking about a plan to create a $1.6 billion per year scholarship fund using state tax dollars for University of California and California State University students

It may indeed make college debt-free for the 40,000 students eventually expected to benefit. The only problem is who pays for the $1.6 billion - cuts in future kindergarten thru 12th grade funding, highway maintenance, state workers in the form of smaller pay hikes, struggling families relying on state aid or perhaps taxpayers through higher taxes to sustain the Sacramento Spend-a-thon?

There is a reason why the adult in the Democratic Party - Gov. Jerry Brown -wants to cut the Middle Class Scholarship program from the proposed 2017-18 state general fund budget and likely looks at the rest of the proposal as financially reckless.

And that doesn't include two other proposals. One is to provide free tuition to all community colleges for full-time students from in-state families who make less than $150,000 a year. The other is to bump up grants for living expenses for low-income community college students by raiding Prop. 98.

Perhaps Rendon and others tickled pink about their bold step might want to read the not-too-fine print in Proposition 98 that voters approved in 1988. It requires a minimum percentage of the state budget to be spent on public education specifically from kindergarten through 12th grade. It has nothing to do with college education funding. Of course, the Democrats welding a two third majority could suspend Prop. 98 so they can shower cash on college students.

Why not do something real bold and fix the problem instead of revving up the steam shovels to transfer tons of cash to colleges via student grants and loans when most students go to college so they can earn more money?

Colleges - despite their research departments and employing technology - are a throwback to the 1950s and beyond. The regimen of college education has evolved little except to create bigger administrative bloat and publically financed college quads where free speech can be silenced by thugs.

If universities are educating engineers who will work for tech companies that keep rethinking everything they do and drive to push down costs or educate others so they can innovate in medicine, business, and disciplines so they can be more effective and efficient why can't the universities do the same?

Instead our elected leaders keep forking over more and more money in the form of either tax-funded student grants, guaranteeing higher college loans, or simply sending tax dollars. There is no pressure to innovate how education is delivered or to make it more efficient.

A bold move would be to restructure college.

One possible starting place is the nasty habit at the UC system to have student assistants and not professors teach many lower level classes. The reason, of course, is the professors are too busy doing research for private sector firms and organizations. Why not change the relationship? In exchange for office space and being able to access the great resources of a public university to land lucrative research deals, the professors share their findings with campus professors who function as actual full-time teachers. As for pay, research professors would get whatever they can from their clients and nothing else.

Another would be to require all low level credits to be obtained at a community college campus with one exception. Students that want to take a lower level class at CSU or UC campuses may do so but no state or federally funded scholarships could be used to pay for them or for any living expenses connected with enrollment at a UC or CSU campus until their lower division work is completed.

That would direct many students back to lower cost community colleges.

This would trigger two things.

The UC and CSU system would be forced to rethink their culture that has created a bloated administration. That culture also has expanded instead of contracting the years it takes for students to earn needed units for graduation as offerings more often than not do not coincide with the needs of the consumers that are students.

They would also have to look at more cost effective ways of delivering an education. It could entail more concentrated, longer classes and shorter time periods in terms of weeks versus a full semester per unit. It might involve tailoring basic core classes to make them all more Internet based than class based. It it could create a system where students are encouraged to utilize university resources - providing they pay student fees - to immerse themselves on their own in a particular class subject. They could then challenge a class as many colleges allow for credit.

As long as there is no absolute cap at a reasonable level at what students can borrow to go to college there will never be pressure for reform in higher education as there has been in the rest of society that the institutions of learning are supposed to be preparing students to tackle.

With all due respect to Assembly Speaker Rendon, there is nothing bold about simply throwing more money at the problem.

And the real problem is college cost and not student debt.

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.