So you don't think it's worth the six-digit price to send your son or daughter to a four-year college, or to send yourself, especially if you're unlikely to find a job to pay off your loans.
What if there was a price guarantee for a bachelor's degree? And what if that price was reasonable?
A Republican legislator from Chico has proposed a $10,000 bachelor's degree a guaranteed price that would come with some strict but fair requirements that students carry a full load of classes and maintain a respectable grade point average.
Under this proposal by Assemblyman Dan Logue, qualifying students would use Advanced Placement credits earned in high school, proceed through the participating community college with priority enrollment and then would be assured that the tuition at fees at the participating California State University campus would not go up for two years, giving students time to finish their undergraduate degrees.
The guaranteed price would include textbooks, but not living expenses.
Assembly Bill 51 suggests three pilot programs to test this plan, one of them being California State University, Stanislaus. He told us Friday that he hasn't yet consulted with CSU Stanislaus officials or with local community colleges or county offices of education. In its rough draft, the bill suggests that San Joaquin Delta College and the San Joaquin County Office of Education would coordinate with the Turlock campus. In an interview, we suggested to Logue that Stanislaus or Merced counties and Modesto Junior College or Merced College make much more sense as the partner institutions with CSU, Stanislaus.
Logue said he wants to have a test program in the south state, one in central California and one in the north. Stanislaus was his suggestion in central California. Not surprisingly, he suggested Chico State, in his own district, for the north state pilot.
It's hard to know whether Logue's idea will get anywhere in a Legislature controlled by Democrats, a number of whom have their own ideas for trying to make college more affordable and who aren't particularly receptive to Republican bills on any subject.
But a guaranteed price for a four-year degree will no doubt sound appealing to the middle- income families who aren't eligible for financial aid and for whom the skyrocketing cost of college is daunting, discouraging some from even trying.
Not only have tuition fees been unpredictable, but college students find it harder to get the classes they need, meaning that they or their parents don't know how many years the high expenses will drag on. And in many fields, college graduates aren't able to find full-time jobs that will pay their cost of living, not to mention pay off the loans they probably took out to complete college.
Logue proposes to aim the $10,000 degree at students majoring in science, technology, engineering or math disciplines, all fields in which there is demand and in which business is often hiring foreign workers.
The legislator told us Friday that he's gotten some interest from newly elected Sen. Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton, although she hasn't signed on yet. No doubt it will take Democratic support to advance this bill.
Bills like this big vision ideas also require lots of vetting and compromise. The $10,000 figure may be unrealistic given that CSU tuition is almost $6,000 a year now. It's highly unlikely that CSU will be interested in providing a sizable discount to a select few students.
Nonetheless, Logue promises to push his idea hard. "I hope my bill will be the beginning of a revolution to the very pressing issue of the costs of college that students face these days," he said in a prepared statement. "We cannot expect today's students to have a higher standard of living than their parents if they continue to leave college saddled with so much debt."
The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst signaled that it likes the fact that the bill would use existing regional education partnerships and promotes improved graduation rates. Both are strategies to make state- financed education more efficient.
Whether it is with this specific bill or others, state legislators need to find ways for Californians to obtain useful college degrees without being saddled with years of debt.
And that need is especially acute here in the San Joaquin Valley, where we need more young people to graduate from high school and more to complete college, too.