Monday, December 19, 2016

It’s About Affordability

With 59% of American Millennials having at least some college education, and with a rather harsh reality that not having upgraded skills/education leads to a fairly negative ability to make a living, the disturbing fact is that the cost of getting those skills or that education is slowly being pushed out of reach for an increasing number of young Americans and their families. Public education, once free or close to it, is reeling from budget cuts from austere Republican legislatures and governors (representing the majority of states in the union), but even cash-strapped Democrat-led states have made tuition affordability a thing of the past for too many. State institutions of higher learning are rapidly raising tuition everywhere.
So what about the current, post-Millennial generation facing this educational quagmire: “Generation Z is the moniker now applied to kids born after 1990; they are projected to comprise 20% of the workforce by 2020 and differ from Millennials in attitudes, expectations and workstyles largely because they’ve been ‘shaped by the recession… having graduated into a still-icy job market, having listened to recession-weary elders, and/or seen grandparents return to work.’  A Robert Half survey found nearly a third expecting to be ‘managing or supervising employees in a corporate environment’ within five years of college graduation, even though they’ve observed and learned that overnight promotion and job-jumping opportunities available to the Millennials is a thing of the past.” US News & World Report, October 26th. Hard job market. They and their parents have to deal with much more expensive public higher education and dwindling openings for local residents seeking even mere undergraduate degrees.
As prestigious state universities create more spaces for out-of-state/foreign students, those capable of paying full freight on tuition rates far above those charged to in-state residents, the available spaces for local residents are contracting fast. They need the money. Screw the people for whom the public higher education was actually created to serve!
Nowhere is that more evident than in California, where its state colleges and universities are ranked exceptionally high on the academic ladder, even against some of the best private universities in the land. UC campuses, particularly Berkeley, UCLA and UC Irvine, have legendary status as elite schools. Almost all Californians are proud of that fact. But California is getting very, very pricey. And lots more foreign/out-of-state students are displacing locals.
According to, the average in-state U.S. undergraduate tuition at a 4-year public college or university is $9,650/year ($24,930 for out-of-state attendees) for 2016/17, representing increases from the previous academic year ranging from an average of 2.4% (in-state) to 3.6% (out-of-state). But the UC system has vastly higher rates: around $13,500 a year.
Over the past 15 years, UC tuition has tripled, and while the Regents of the UC system tell you that most residents have some form of financial aid, what they gloss over is that most of that “aid” is in the form of loans that recent graduates (and especially dropouts) have extreme difficulty servicing given the lower pay they face in a pretty tough job market. They also don’t tell you about the costs most of that aid does not cover: books, transportation, and room and board.
Foreign students provide needed cash in a system, while state support is all-but-gone: According to the University of California, the system relied on state funding for nearly a quarter of its budget as recently as 2002. That figure is now about 10 percent, after more than $1 billion in cuts.” New York Times, December 9th. As you watch those middle-aged and older white workers feeling betrayed by outsourcing and uncontrolled immigration, their main barrier to restoring earning capacity is that training and education they skipped over earlier in life. Steelworkers, coal miners and skilled machinists are now often unemployed or under-employed, their skills no longer valued in the general labor market.
Yet we are making getting that training/education, that threshold of skills needed for future work in an increasingly complex and competitive world, so much more difficult to obtain for current and future generations. We just might be creating a new level of generation-to-generation embedded poverty based on a penny-wise, pound foolish policies, programs that pretty much guarantee that the United States will not remain Great, no matter the slogans to the contrary. As so many of my blogs have illustrated, upward mobility in the United States is a thing of the past, and poorly paid workers tend to pay little or no tax while draining the system of social benefits and costs.
As a resident of California, and as a graduate of UCLA’s School of Law and a former adjunct professor at UCLA and a lecturer at Berkeley, I am deeply saddened by what the state legislature is doing to the children of this state at every educational level. But is happening to higher education here borders on criminal “University students have reported struggles with soaring housing costs in the areas surrounding many of the campuses, in places like Irvine, Santa Barbara and Berkeley. In July, a survey found that one in five University of California students sometimes went hungry.
A study this year by the Institute for College Access and Success, a nonprofit advocacy, found that even after subtracting aid, low-income students in both the Cal State and University of California systems had to come up with as much as $13,000 a year… ‘And by low income, I mean with a family income that’s under $30,000,’ said Debbie Cochrane, a research director at the organization. ‘So, that is a hefty price tag.’” NY Times. But the California story is being replayed, at one level or another, all across the country.
In our world, what exactly are the priorities that the government owes its people? Safety. Health. Fairness. Justice. Hope. But at the end of the day, when push comes to shove, “It’s the economy, stupid!” And without a modern infrastructure, support for job-creating scientific research and access to affordable solid education, that economy will continue to betray a growing majority of Americans for the foreseeable future. We are killing ourselves with our actions and glossing over the growing pain with meaningless slogans and inane “solutions” that have zero chance of working.
I’m Peter Dekom, and living a world of post-truth denial, looking for blame versus true viable solutions and failing understand the difference between government investment vs spending threaten to destroy our democracy and the great nation that was built on that foundation.

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