The report, “Measuring Up 2008,” is one of the few to compare net college costs — that is, a year’s tuition, fees, room and board, minus financial aid — against median family income. Those findings are stark. Last year, the net cost at a four-year public university amounted to 28 percent of the median family income, while a four-year private university cost 76 percent of the median family income.Worst of all, the relative education of our workforce is declining as a result.
The share of income required to pay for college, even with financial aid, has been growing especially fast for lower-income families, the report found.
Among the poorest families — those with incomes in the lowest 20 percent — the net cost of a year at a public university was 55 percent of median income, up from 39 percent in 1999-2000. At community colleges, long seen as a safety net, that cost was 49 percent of the poorest families’ median income last year, up from 40 percent in 1999-2000.
The likelihood of large tuition increases next year is especially worrying, Mr. Callan said. “Most governors’ budgets don’t come out until January, but what we’re seeing so far is Florida talking about a 15 percent increase, Washington State talking about a 20 percent increase, and California with a mixture of budget cuts and enrollment cuts,” he said. - The New York Times
“When we come out of the recession,” Mr. Callan added, “we’re really going to be in jeopardy, because the educational gap between our work force and the rest of the world will make it very hard to be competitive. Already, we’re one of the few countries where 25- to 34-year-olds are less educated than older workers.” - The New York TimesIt is no coincidence that wider access to higher education has been a staple of Democratic policy since Bill Clinton ran for President in 1992. The doors of higher-education must remain open to all if we are to continue the path of opportunity and integration which has marked the progressive history of America. It is through opening the doors of Universities to more people that America created the affluent middle class after WWII under the GI Bill. And yet today, Republicans nearly stymied a much more modest version of the same transformational legislation when it was proposed by Sen. Webb earlier this year.
America does better with a economically diverse college graduate population. (It also benefits from diverse elementary schoools.) If the doors of higher education are only open to the wealthy, the massive divergence in wealth that accumulated over the past eight years will only worsen, and millions more will feel left out of the American dream, and be more open to apathy, anger and fear. Education for the wealthy only is the recipie for an embedded aristocracy: an America without Colin Powell, Jim Webb or Barack Obama.
Here in Virginia, the state budget crisis is putting the squeeze on our public institutions of higher learning. This never-ending quest for funding has lead to questionable agreements to secure funding by VCU and slashing required classes at Virginia Tech. It is gratifying that some private institutions of higher education have led the way to addressing this problem, with bold new tuition programs, but reducing tuition at the most exclusive schools will not solve our crisis of educational affordability. Only affordable public higher education will reach the millions of Americans who deserve it, and form the foundation of our prosperity.
Virginia does, indeed, have a budget crisis, and that means reducing spending at our state colleges and universities, but if we choose to make up the difference by raising tuition and fees, the long-term impact will be negative on the health of our commonwealth's polity. Here in Virginia, the Founders' vision of a meritocracy, where opportunity is open to all and education is a founding principle, we must draw a line in the red piedmont clay and declare that on this ground, all shall have the opportunity to attend college.
It will not be easy, it will not be cheap, but it will be an investment in our future. An investment in Virginia's greatest resource - her people.