Free Public College: Is it Possible?

Apr. 23, 2012 / By

Stephanie Minasian is a fellow with New America Media’s Youth Education Fellowship. The fellowship is a six-month long program for youth reporters aged 16-24 on education reporting. It is sponsored by the California Education Policy Fund.

Not too long ago, California offered its promising high school graduates a free University of California (UC) or California State University (CSU) education. Although it may not seem possible now as public colleges’ tuition is on the rise, Michael Hiltzik writes in the Los Angeles Times that a tuition-free college education could be the solution to the state’s dire fiscal crisis by providing opportunities for people to become better trained for jobs.

Using former Chief Justice Earl Warren and famous Asian American writer Maxine Hong Kingston as examples, Hiltzik reminded us with his article “Let’s Bring Back the Idea of a Free UC Education” that we used to look at a college education as a way to better our country and stimulate the economy, as well as to provide opportunities to talents from disadvantage background.

However, attitudes towards public education have radically shifted during the last 50 years. College is now seen as something should be cut, and that was exactly what happened in the last few years. As a graduate of the CSU system in 2009, I was fortunate to have dodged most of the major tuition increases that have occurred over the last three years. Unfortunately, my younger sister is now battling the system, and is faced with the burden of student loans and an uncertain job market.

College education is becoming more and more out of reach for working and middle-class students with each passing year. The state’s support of public education has fallen to about 11 percent, with tuition increases making up for the shortfall.

But, free in-state tuition is seen as radical?

It is important to remember that current tuition rates would seem radical to someone from a generation or two ago. It won’t be a possible option any time soon, as I do not foresee Californians agreeing to raise their taxes to that level. Right now, it’s all about crossing our fingers that the current tax-plan to generate some funds to California schools passes on the November ballot.

I can only hope that future generations will be able to see their college dreams come true, without the enormous financial burden that plagues today’s college students and their families. I know my sister will have to find a way to make it happen through hard work and a lot of hope.

While this idea may not be completely feasible right now, we should explore it as an option and find specific ways of how it can be done.



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