As a mom of three children between 11 and 5, I worry about whether my husband and I will be able to afford a college education for our kids. I look at the exponentially rising cost of tuition over the past few years and question how it will even be in the realm of possibility 10 years from now for a middle-income family like ours.
Higher education is a gateway to opportunity and has been considered part of the California Dream for more than half a century. Part of what has made California great is its promise to our young people that a college education should be available to those who work hard. It was and still is the right commitment to make if we care about the long-term strength and success of our state economy.
Unfortunately, state budgets have all but extinguished that commitment in recent years. To make up for the loss in state funding, tuition and fees at California State University have skyrocketed by 63 percent since 2008. While a CSU undergraduate in 2001-02 only had to pay $1,428 in tuition for the entire school year, that same undergraduate would have to pay $5,472 this year.
I have introduced Assembly Bill 138 to keep tuition predictable for CSU students. It locks tuition rates for four years, beginning at the time a student first enters the university. In other words, students paying $5,472 this year as a freshmen would pay that same amount for four years provided they remain in good academic standing. After that period, tuition could rise if justified.
Stabilizing tuition rates would provide much-needed relief for students worried about whether they can afford the total cost of a college education. In addition to potentially saving them thousands of dollars, they would benefit from the peace of mind that a guaranteed tuition rate is defined at the outset. They would finally be able to forecast how much money they would be investing in their college education, and could then plan accordingly.
As a former assistant vice president at CSU, Stanislaus, I know the struggles many students face and saw firsthand how annual tuition increases hurt them. It was difficult to see some forced to cut back or drop out altogether when rising costs became too much to bear.
Our students deserve better from their state government. The Legislature must re-prioritize funding for higher education and our public university systems must commit to providing a stable and predictable tuition rate. Students must agree to maintain good academic standing and follow a pathway to degree completion. This three-way partnership would bring the dream of a college education back in sight for thousands of students and parents in California.
The good news is that state government appears to be on track to do its part this year. Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed budget allocates additional dollars to K-14, CSU and UC while showing fiscal restraint in other areas, thereby making education and higher education a priority again. AB 138 simply requires CSU to do its part, and asks UC to do the same (since the constitution prohibits the Legislature from applying policy to UC).
It is encouraging to hear Brown and my colleagues from both sides of the aisle voice their desire to restore funding for our public colleges in order to keep tuition as low as possible.
Working together to pass AB 138 would go a long way to provide the bipartisan leadership Californians deserve and to keep the dream of our kids going to college alive for parents like me.
Olsen, R-Modesto, represents the 12th Assembly District and serves on the Assembly Committee on Higher Education.