Higher Education Under Attack

September 16, 2003

All across the country, public colleges and universities are raising tuition even while cutting back on the curriculum and turning away more and more students.

Students at many state colleges are facing double-digit tuition increases for this academic year -- for example 30% at the University of California, 28% at the State University of New York, 39% at University of Arizona.

This continues a long-term trend which is putting the cost of college beyond the reach of working class students. Since 1980, average tuition and fees at 4-year public colleges increased more than 500%, from $804/year to $4,081 in 2002-03.

Yet even while costs are skyrocketing, colleges are drastically cutting back on curriculum.

- This fall the University of Illinois has canceled 1,000 classes in hundreds of subjects and the University of Michigan is doubling the size of many classes.

- Other public institutions are eliminating entire academic programs. For example, starting this year the University of Colorado no longer offers academic programs in journalism, business or engineering while Virginia Tech has eliminated its education major.

- The University of California has delayed opening a newly built campus and California State University is turning away 30,000 students this spring.

One result of these cutbacks will be that tens of thousands of already enrolled students will be unable to graduate on time while many may be forced to drop out of college altogether.

The problem is that state and local governments are slashing funds for higher education, forcing public colleges and universities to shift the burden onto students through tuition increases and curriculum cutbacks. In 1980 state and local governments paid for 60% of the budget of public higher education while tuition covered only 16%. Today state and local governments pay only 51% while tuition's share has jumped to 24%.

The net result is that more and more working class students are denied the right to higher education. Today tuition at a 4-year public school equals 25% of the average income of a family from the poorest quartile of the population. One recent government study admits that 22% of eligible college students do not attend for financial reasons. At the same time, enrolled students are forced to go deeper and deeper into debt to attend college. In 1999, a college senior from the lowest income quartile owed an average of nearly $13,000.

For hundreds of years the working people have insisted that education is not a privilege reserved only for the rich but a right belonging to all human beings. Especially in the 1950's and 1960's, American people forced open the doors of colleges and universities, making the government build a network of public 2-year and 4-year colleges and provide certain guarantees that everyone could have access to free or low-cost higher education.

But today, the government is reversing direction and attacking this hard-won right by refusing to fully fund public higher education. The country is being thrown backward as once again the sons and daughters of the working class are finding that the door to higher education is barred.