The Breakdown | Explaining Southern California's economy

Is the cost of education at a breaking point in California?

It's time to get exasperated about tuition hikes again: the University of California is considering a plan that would see tuition raised 16 percent a year until 2015-16, which would amount to a doubling of the cost of an education in the system.

The Mercury News helpfully points out that this is all part of a trend — a gruesome trend which has seen education become ridonkculously expensive:

Several regents repeated what has become a mantra for the university: California needs to overcome its aversion to taxes, or UC's quality will suffer...."I think we have to start asking better questions because this just isn't going to work," said Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, also a UC regent....Indeed, budget talks routinely consume the regents even though, for more than three decades, colleges and universities across the country have been jacking up tuition at a faster rate than costs have risen on any other major product or service -- four times faster than the overall inflation rate and faster even than increases in the price of gasoline or health care....If UC's fees had increased at the rate of inflation, students who paid $776 in 1980 would have paid $2,200 this year — instead of the $12,193 that was actually charged. That's a 1,471 percent increase in 30 years, an era when inflation climbed 183 percent.

There's some doubt on the fringes, but most reasonable minds think that investing in education is among the best ways to improve our regional and national economy. Since the 1980s, however, paying for the greatly increasing cost of higher ed has been the job of the consumers of that education. Many have done it with debt, which has created a generation of well-educated citizens who can't afford to participate in the economy because they're too busy getting out of hock.

That is, if they can get jobs. 

Next to unemployment, this could be the biggest challenge facing California. If we want to remain globally competitive, we need to figure out a way to make education affordable — or at least not subject to the kind of inflation that makes students question whether college is really worth it.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons