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Sunday, November 23, 2014 | Last updated: 6:10pm

Public college should be funded by public taxes



Another year, another 2 percent tuition hike. It’s 5 percent for out of state students and an extra 4 percent if you want to “set” your tuition at a fixed price to avoid even more tuition hikes. The vice president for student affairs actually said in a Daily Wildcat article on March 12 that the university’s business plan was built on an assumption of 2 percent yearly tuition increases, so this sounds like the normal state of affairs. But should it be?

I say, hell no.

I will be the first to admit that I’m one of the lucky ones. My family is comfortably middle class, and the price of school here is far smaller than at many other state colleges and almost all private ones — even more so because I live at home.

And yet my family is still unsure how to pay for my and my brother’s college educations, because even this relatively paltry sum is so high. And forgoing a degree no longer seems to be a viable option, either, given that a bachelor’s degree is now all-but-essential for even low-level jobs.

I look at far less fortunate folks, students who have taken on crippling loan debt or whose families teeter on the brink of bankruptcy just to pay tuition, and the whole state of affairs looks even more grotesque.

It didn’t use to be this way. The cost of tuition at state institutions skyrocketed by 559 percent from 1985 to 2012. From 2008 to 2014 alone, tuition at Arizona’s state universities rose 70 percent.

The reason for this is simple: budget cuts. States stopped paying large chunks of higher education operating costs, forcing universities to take more money from student tuition. The institutions charged with educating the general public at a low cost now resemble private schools more than the public goods they were created to be.

The problem can be also be tracked back to President Ronald Reagan’s administration, when funding for grants was cut and the push for student loans began. It was part of an overall trend in which government programs were choked off, pitting education against other discretionary spending programs for what little funds remained. Usually, students lost.

This reflects our rather poor priorities as a society, and it needs to stop. We cannot sit idly by while the future labor and economic power of our society is burdened with debt and fear by a government that is afraid to spend money even on the things that government is obligated to spend money on.

The government could easily fund a far higher percentage of college operating costs just by raising taxes on the proverbial “one percent,” or the wealthiest 1 percent of people in the U.S. The U.S. has one of the lowest tax rates of any industrialized nation, ranking 22nd out of 25 countries according to The Atlantic, and the tax rate on the rich is about one-third of what it was in the early 1960s, according to famed economist Thomas Piketty. I think the one percent could live with a bump in taxes to pay for the general public’s education, and we should push for that to happen.

As the new school year begins, I say, let’s start this fight. Education should not be perverted into a profit-making scheme but must exist as a public good that is accessible to all. And the most notable feature of a public good, of course, is public funding. Let’s make that the notable feature of our public education.

Follow Tom Johnson @tbok1992


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