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Higher education: Should college be free for all?

Carol Christ, Chancellor | May 23, 2015

Should college be free for all? Bernie Sanders thinks so. So did John Adams. “The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people, and must be willing to bear the expense of it,” Adams argued. That belief motivated the establishment of land grant colleges, in the 1862 Morrill Act, “to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life.”

Sanders has proposed a 21st-century equivalent to the Morrill Act, introducing legislation to eliminate undergraduate tuition at public colleges and universities; the cost would be financed by a tax on financial transactions. The tax would provide two thirds of the cost; the states would need to match with the remaining third. The proposed legislation contains other provisions as well: that student-loan interest be reduced and that tenured or tenure-track faculty provide 75 percent of the instruction in colleges and universities receiving funds.

At the base of the debate about the cost of college is the question whether college is a private or a public benefit. The answer is clearly both. A college degree increases lifetime earnings substantially — by about $1,000,000 — and provides better and more employment opportunities. But individuals are not the only ones who profit from college; the nation, and the states that compose it, benefit from a more skilled and educated workforce and the social mobility inherent within it. Education, in today’s world, is the path to the American dream.

Colleges currently operate on a system of variable pricing. They discount their tuition for significant numbers of students. In addition, Pell grants — the federal grants for needy students — provide additional subsidies. Forty percent of undergraduate students at the University of California at Berkeley pay no tuition; 65 percent receive some form of financial aid. However, those students whose families are judged to have sufficient resources to pay tuition, are so charged.

Sanders’ proposed legislation carries the greatest benefit for this top 35 percent; despite its populist rhetoric, it would make the biggest difference for those families earning more than $140,000 a year, who don’t qualify for financial aid.

Yet a far higher percentage of students from upper income brackets than those in lower income brackets attend college, despite state and federal investment in financial aid. Seventy-seven percent of adults from families in the top income quartile earn a bachelor’s degree by 24; 9 percent from the bottom quartile. Does this stark difference come from the cost of tuition? The answer is much more complex, involving K-12 preparation, lack of information about college and about financial aid, and the concentration of needy students in those colleges — community colleges and for-profits — with the poorest graduation rates.

We need more public investment in higher education, but free public college tuition for all is not the best use for such funding. We need programs that help students succeed who come to college with less preparation; we need more investment in the community colleges where such students tend to begin post-secondary education; we need more transparency in pricing and financial aid; and we need to discourage the use of financial dollars on merit aid for the wealthy.

Variable pricing is the right principle. From each according to his ability; to each according to his need.

Comments to “Higher education: Should college be free for all?

  1. i agree with what you are saying there are many families out there that have parents that did not go to a good college so they did not make a good amount of money. For that to change their children would have to get a good education in order to get that job that they enjoy and that pays good for them. When people are not able to pay that amount for the college they are not able to get into a good college and they would not be able to get that good education that they are looking for. this will cause them to not get a good paying job that includes their experty.


    Higher education has become a luxury or out of reach for many people in America. The high cost of tuition and other associated expenses has made college education become one of the things that divides the haves from the have-nots. In addition, it has begun to affect America’s competitive position in the world economically with a lack of skilled candidates for high paying positions along with a potential general slowing in innovative leadership in many industries.
    The other equally important impact is economic. The people who have attained a college education are strapped with debt that has impacted the economy with escalating interest rates that have stifled their ability to enter the economy as their parents did a generation earlier. The debt cripples economic growth and is a burden to our society as a whole.
    The way out of this problem is to shift the education debt from commercial institutions that are profiting on the back of our young people to the social security system. It is a simple theory that the graduate and their employers would pay down your debt over the course of a few years. It would reduce their benefit or extend their working career to repay the debt, but it would release the college loan debt back into the economy which would supercharge growth and encourage innovation. The Social Security system would take over the debt from the private institutions, but the student would only pay the normal social security payment.
    The program could be funded with bonds initially, but the added cash flow could be provided by incrementally raising the wage limit from $128,400 to $500,000 then $1,000,000 and finally unlimited over three years. The fund would be available for tuition only at state colleges and universities. The system would be made available to existing people with student loan debt to allow them to transfer their debt to their social security account.
    Each student has a social security account and the Social Security system could expand relatively easily to accommodate the added administrative burden. Social Security Administration has offices all over the country to serve the public on a national level without a major increase in facilities. The Social Security Administration would provide a national system without the inconsistencies of different state banking regulations.
    The student would be able to opt in to create a college social security fund where tuition funds could be transferred to the college or university directly. The funds would be available for tuition only all other expenses would be the responsibility of the student and their family. The plan is not a free ride government program. It is meant to be a leveler to provide anyone who wants to make the commitment to go to college to be able to afford it without mortgaging their future. The student would pay down the debt through normal social security payroll deductions overtime. The debt would reduce their future benefits, but their higher wages as a result of their education would offset any reduction in future benefits.
    The obvious benefit is to the student who can attend college and be able to afford to rent an apartment and buy a car with a first job. It would encourage students to get advanced degrees. The program would allow more people to attend college improving the labor force, innovation, entrepreneurship, etc. The reduction in debt would be transferred to the economy which would increase spending, expand the economy and generate tax revenue for the federal and state governments.
    The benefits would cross party lines and cover all demographics. The young people would see a government that believes in them. The parents would see a government that will allow their children to succeed in a system that seems rigged against them and favors a few. The grand parents will finally see a government that has learned that they cannot be run by special interest.
    I am ashamed of a country that charges our young people 6.5% interest on a loan to pay college tuition and charges a bank 1.5% interest. Everyone knows it’s all about special interest. The special interest encouraged congress to transfer the debt to a third party for collection and that special interest has methodically raised the interest rate over time.
    America is falling behind in many areas, but education is the foundation of a strong economy. The foundation has been eroded over the years in primary and secondary education by short sighted and ill-informed politicians on all levels. Higher education is the low hanging fruit that can be improved without major tax funding. The Academic Trust Fund will give a kick to the economy over the next generation compared to a tax break that increases the debt and mortgages our future.

  3. If you were designing a university system from scratch the calendar probably wouldn’t look like it does now. But as it is Summer is the main time for most academics to get their research done (and many need big gaps in order to go on fieldwork). It’s also when most conferences are held.

    2 year degrees will require academic to teach over the Summer. But an extra £2k per student isn’t going to cover many new hires and more senior staff will be best placed to avoid having to take on new Summer teaching in order to protect research time. Put that together and you are looking at Summer courses being taught by junior, part time and casual staff- and so much less attractive for students and, in the end, employers.

    Basically what they are doing is creating a tier of substandard degrees in the expectation that poorer people will take them because of the lower total cost. As the article points out, this is completely out of touch with poorer students’ living and working arrangements (hardly a surprise from Johnson)- but it’s also horribly cynical as well as impractical.

  4. Great Article.. It is very hepful and informative.Thank you for sharing the detailed information on education.Enjoyed reading it.

  5. Great blog ! … Your post is much useful for those who are undergoing higher education, but in some places many childrens are helpless. Nandini Voice put an helping hand to develop an Trust For Deprived People and save their lives..

  6. Chancellor Christ, we must have free education for all citizens so we can protect our Democracy in order to end violence, inequalities and global warming that are destroying the human race today.

    Now that you are our Chancellor, I hope and pray you can make the right things happen before we run out of opportunities and time to save us from ourselves in spite of the history of our civilization that documents the never-ending, destructive consequences of the limitations of the human mind that continuously produce failures by all of our social, political and economic institutions that prevent us from producing and perpetuating an acceptable quality of life for our newest and all future generations today.

    Socrates tried to focus us on truth and morality, but all he got for his efforts was a cup of poison, a consequence we still have not improved upon. Today, Washington keeps vetoing efforts at truth and morality and our newest democracy is at gravest risk in history.

    Jesus tried to teach us the Golden Rule and the Sermon on the Mount with its beatitudes, laws and warning about false prophets, and we murdered him. Now we have over 1000 Christian denominations arguing with each other and a false prophet as our leader.

    Two of the greatest failures that threaten the human race today are our failure to teach all people to think so we can all participate in protecting the human race from self-destruction, and we are overwhelmed by our inability to communicate with each other so we can cooperate to save our civilization.

    I wish you the best.

  7. I think Having free or low-cost public education makes perfect economic sense, and was actually the policy in many states in the US until the 1970s. (For example, California residents went tuition-free to U Cal Berkeley.) The main economic benefits include higher incomes, which translate into high tax revenue, as federal and state taxes are a function of income, and increased productivity,( ) which is the real “rising tide” that lifts all boats. So tuition-free public higher education pays for itself over time. its true

  8. College should be free for all and if the college is charging it should charge accordingly thinking about the people who cannot afford the degree courses can join and improve the skills

  9. Well Education is very important but I think online learning is much easy and simple, well more you get educated the more you learn, learning and education is very important part of the life

  10. Higher education should be available for all classes of people so that the difference between rich and poor can be minimized in education. Free education should not just benefit individuals with degrees. Free education must have a system to reward university certificate to individuals.

  11. Yes, I also think that we should avoid the costly and obsolete methods of driving higher education in colleges. Higher education should be available for all class of people so that difference of rich and poor can be minimize in education. (See a video on this topic here.)

  12. Vice Chancellor and Provost Christ,

    As I understand it, you are the new Director of the Center for Studies of Higher Education at Berkeley.

    To look more deeply into the issues you raise regarding the cost of Higher Education and various proposals such as Bernie Sanders call for tuition free public education, I encourage you to invite these two individuals to make presentations at CSHE:

    1. William G. Bowen, President Emeritus of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
    and former President of Princeton University

    2. David L. Kirp, Professor at the Goldman School of Public Policy

    Bowen has recently written two books that could help U.C. policy makers address the cost of higher education. The first is Higher Education in the Digital Age; the second, Locus of Authority: the evolution of faculty roles in the governance of higher education.

    Both of these books address the policy issues surrounding the idea of using information technology to reduce the cost of instruction. The second addresses the problematic issue of faculty autonomy and obtaining faculty buy-in for technological change. The latter is especially important to the extent that those who fund higher education may eventually asking faculty to partially innovate themselves out of a job (or perhaps out of some tasks and routines that they enjoy).

    William Bowen’s work looks exclusively at higher education in the United States, but he has not found the time to look at institutions of higher learning in other countries.

    Professor Kirp, on the other hand, has made a study of the British Open University, which has a mission and governance structure that is significantly different from that of a research university. In particular, the British OU has a long track record of producing excellent online courses, and its governance structure is designed to develop and maintain online content.

    One idea that the Sanders camp has not put forward, which may be a more viable alternative, would be for the United States to form a tuition free Open University patterned after the British Open University. One change that might be advantageous would be to give a US Open University both the funding and the mandate to develop Open Educational Resources. In other words, it would put the content that it develops and maintains in the public domain. There it could be used both by its own students as well as by other institutions. For example, some UC Berkeley faculty may want to use free online content from a US Open University as a substitute for commercial textbooks.

    Ideally, from my perspective, Bowen and Kirp would address the idea of forming a tuition free US Open University.

    Fred M Beshears

    UC Berkeley
    Instructional Technology Program and Educational Technology Services (1987 – 2007)

  13. The UC Berkeley education model is OBSOLETE (AND COSTLY). Students are required to live in the VERY EXPENSIVE area around Berkeley and physically attend class in large OBSOLETE lecture halls. The MODERN Distance Learning education model does not require your physical presence or large lecture halls.

  14. As a current student at a public university of course I would enjoy free tuition. I will be 6 figures into debt! But the issue is not easily solvable. If public education is free it will completely ruin all of the private universities all over the country. they would not be able to compete.

    People also always say, “Europe has free education.” But because of this they have high taxes — over 40%. Also a country such as Germany sends 60% of students to colleges, trade schools, etc. while we send over 90%. These foreign competitors do not have the rediculous luxuries that American colleges have. America schools have brand new sport centers, exercise equipment, dining halls, residence halls, etc. Many of these are an unnecessary expense. Professors are paid too high and the majority of their time is spent on research, while in lectures they just put on a power point. Schools are too frivolous. Instead the largest concern should be making education the priority again. Students have shifted focus to cramming material for a test from what it should be, which is actually learning the material and obtaining knowledge.

    Which brings me to my last point. If the government finds a way to make college free then it should be more selective. The US finds a problem in recent years of over educated, underemployed. This is due to high rates of college grads but low amount of high education jobs. Jobs that did not need degrees before now need them to compete with other applicants. These people now have huge college debt without the college income. This is probably one of the biggest issues that is hardly addressed.

    We also need to stop this mentality that college is the only way. The trades are booming. And because you do not have a degree does not make you a lesser person. College should be free but qualifications should be high.

    • To begin with, I agree there should be qualifications for one to obtain a free college education. That being said though, I feel that it should not be taken out of professors pay. I also noticed that some of your facts are a bit off.

      To begin with, high school students in the U.S. who continue on to college is actually at 65.9%. If it was at 90% there wouldn’t be an issue of students being able to afford college. Also in Germany the percentage of students who go to college is actually at 30% and because of this high percentage there are limitations for people who actually go to on to a university.

      Also, most countries in Europe have students choose their career path at a young age (it can range between 10 and 14, depending on the country) then by the end of 10th grade they can either start having more advance courses and take a college level classes or graduate at age 15 or 16 to pursue a career that does not involve a higher education. When they finish 12th year (some countries even 13) they have an education level equivalent to an AA degree from a community college. On top of that, if you want to go into a popular major you have to be at the top of your class to get into that major. Sometimes you can only get automatic entrance to university if you have achieved a certain diploma, in Germany’s case this is known as Matura or Abitur diploma. Even if you get into a university though, several students still need financial aid for materials and living expenses.

      Secondly, is a Professor’s wage. A U.S. professor is actually the 5th highest paid professor in the world (1st is Canada, then Italy, South Africa, India) with an average annual wage of roughly 72,500. However, compared to other career routes you can pursue with a college education, it doesn’t even make the top 50. Also their pay depends on how long they have been working and the type of education they have (masters, PHd). The amount of research that professors do also depends on their department and the institute they work at and a lot of the time they have their students help giving them credit. Without the research that many professors do we wouldn’t have advanced as far as we have now.

      Also, I don’t know what college you go to, but I have never had a professor put up a Powerpoint and that was it. Many professors use powerpoints for visual aid during lectures and help students with note-taking. I have never had a bad experience with a professor except for some lack of communication and really high standards when it comes to grading.

      Thirdly, there are several colleges out of the country that have the “luxuries” that many U.S. colleges have. For example, University of Tokyo has 10 fields for various sports and dining halls. Things like dining halls and residence halls makes life easier for the students so they don’t have to spend excessive amounts of money on rent and food. Also personally living on campus before I liked the security of not having to walk through a dangerous neighborhood to get to the campus.

      If college education was free then there would have to be high requirements for one to have free tuition. I know one requirement was they would have to maintain 2.7 GPA in order to keep the free tuition. Which I think is good, but I think there are going to be several students who are underprepared because there are many schools that do not help with preparing people for college. I think we should try to incorporate more of Europe’s style of education, where we integrate more higher education in the K-12 which prepare them for college or help them find a more stable job if they do not wish to pursue a higher education.

      My family did not even want me to go to college but instead find a job quickly that I could possibly be promoted in. I realized, though, that if I wanted to pursue my dream job I needed a higher education and I wish my high school had a better program to me prepare more for my future. I think that when it comes to high school it should focus more on what the student wants to do as a career and help them prepare for what they need to do to obtain it. Whether it be college, vocational school, or job placement.

      Even though, I agreed with some points. I feel you need to do more research before you ridicule professors and assume their will be no backlash to having free tuition. Because we will probably have the same limitations as countries such as Germany have when it comes to people who receive free tuition.

  15. College should be free for all people because we have learned a lot. But we need more and college is it, but if we don’t have the money we can’t go.

    • Yes youre right, if you dont have money for something you can not participate in it. Just like if you are wanting to buy new shoes at the store, but do not have money for them then you cannot tell the person they should be free because you cannot afford them. College should always have to be paid for and out of the federal governments business.

      • i feel like your response was really unnecessary, because we have been paying for education since elementary. College is just way too expensive, everyone can not afford going to college because of the expenses and people actually want to get several degrees and reach a level in life and be successful.

        But how can a student be able to finish a 4 year college when books itself is like the amount of a car, plus dorms etc.? In your opinion “buying shoes that you can not afford and want to be free” is totally okay, because why wouldn’t you want something to be free if you can’t afford it. Let’s be reasonable, and come to reality that a lot of materials for college are just way too much.

        • Anonymous AND EVERYONE ELSE! I am tired of reading about I want I want I want I deserve I deserve I deserve. I read all the above.
          1- Kati I had a professor who used powerpoint – one day I realized he wasnt even there.
          2- Anonymous – why do you think college is un- affordable? where do you go to school? Do you think that the dorms should be plush or cellblock walls? Do you think there should be glamorous gyms and club sports? Do you think there should be security to make sure you are safe? Do you think there should be many degrees to choose from? Do you think that books should be so expensive and or updated regularly?
          3- Ok here is the clincher for all of the above. LABOR UNIONS! why do you think everything is so expensive and non competitive?
          4- also -please prove to me that you will make back what you paid for in post 2008.
          5- since most liberals agree that all the new anchor babies and families that need to be with the anchor babies should be able to stay in this country how do you think we will be able to afford to pay for all to have a free education? If most of the high paying jobs are going to cheaper labor outside of the country who will be in the top bracket paying the most in taxes to pay?
          6- liberals blame wall street for all the greed in this nation but that is where they feel the new tax should come from to pay for 75% of this new free college education. but..after the new democrat comes in and destroys what is left who will pay then?
          7- everything for free but what happens when you realize you will not get it unless you have a gpa greater than 2.7? what will black lives matter do? will they not burn down the new free colleges because they cannot compete? will they not blame the new administration for denying them ? when will there children stay in school long enough to actually learn something that might help them get into a free college?
          8- what happens to the stupid Obama theory that prek determines the rest of your life? How much will the prek teachers in this country demand in pay for teaching 4 years old to use a crayon and scissor?
          9- how much will the professors that are making well over $150k in this country be willing to give up for their new students (teachers always claim they are not in it for the money until they do not get their GUARANTEED pay raise that year)?
          10- ETC ETC ETC.
          12- What happens when the private schools start to employ the teachers who want to make more money guaranteeing better educations for the wealthy? Will there be more regulations stating private colleges cannot teach better as to not interfere with the new free education? How many more government employees will it take to guarantee each state pays its share? How many more government employees will it take to regulate each new free school is teaching to the new standards? Will there be a common core for higher learning which will employ more board of education employees?
          15- why hasn’t Hillary or Sanders just knocked on Mark Zuckerberg’s door if they can get past the security guards with their guns? He has more money than God now – he is only 32 years old!
          16- “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” — The Declaration of Independence. Does that mean that everything should be free or that everyone should be able to learn English- pick up a book – and learn? Who’s fault is it if the mother and father do not offer their children this knowledge. Knowledge is FREE and anyone can get it! There are books in all the FREE libraries! If you want to learn in this country first learn English! If you want a fair chance it is easier if the teachers you rely on to teach the course in one language.(apparently our government does not feel it is the parents responsibility anymore)and that starts in PRE-K with the crayons!

    • Free college sounds great, but it is a logical fallacy. This is because the institutions would still have financial responsibilities. Someone would be paying for students to attend school. As the article says it would become a tax. This means tax payers, such as middle-class Americans, will be paying the bill. Nothing is truly free, especially running a college or university.

  16. Carol, I beg to differ. When I was Academic VP at the University of Minnesota in the early 90’s, the big issue in higher education was, of course, tuition. The public universities in the state were arguing for a low tuition to make it easier for more students to achieve a college education. On the other hand, the private institutions collectively were arguing for a high tuition with higher financial aid. One might ask why? At the time, state financial aid to students attending private colleges was limited to the amount charged for tuition at public institutions so a high tuition/high aid model clearly benefited the private colleges, putting more money into their pockets. Over time, the high tuition/high aid model won out in Minnesota and across the country. The net result was sky rocketing increases in tuition everywhere, much larger than warranted by actual increasing costs or state budget cuts. The Master Plan for Higher Education in California and the students it was designed to serve are the victims of this approach.

  17. I am always thinking why not government increase tax rates and make all colleges free so that a poor scholar can also gain good education from top colleges.

  18. Public education serves two fundamental interests of a modern democracy: an educated citizenry and a knowledgable workforce. The first is entirely absent from Prof. Christ’s discussion, which offers only an economic rationale — higher future earnings. Is that all we’re here for? Only in the sense of human advancement in general, from which higher individual income is a SOCIAL product.

    The whole discourse of individual payment and reward is a classic (neo)liberal logic, to which the university is more and more subservient. Education is not a product, like a newer, better SmartPhone. California’s public education system is a social investment in our democratic and economic future. It is an investment in our youth, like raising our children. We elders collectively pay for it, not the kids. That’s like demanding rent from your 12 year old.

    Now, is it true that most college education goes to the (whiter) upper classes? Yes. Do we need vastly more investment in schools and community colleges? Yes. Is it good that UC provides aid so that tuition is effectively free for half our students? Yes. This is an profoundly unequal & unjust state and country. But is tuition + aid the way to solve social inequality? Not at all. This is another example, like school busing, of trying to solve our nation’s fundamental inequalities through the education system instead of tackling them directly.

    A much better way is to tax the rich harder through progressive income & wealth taxes (and tax the working people less by reducing regressive taxes). Bernie Sanders’ financial transactions tax is one such method, and he has the good sense to connect it to a positive social program: free public education.

    (BTW, the worst student debt loads are those created by the private “degree mills,” another wonderful idea brought to us by neoliberals and those who think private enterprise is the answer to all things…)

  19. Christ and my fellow commenters all make great points. There is no doubt that education is the backbone of a successful society. The question of making it free or not is a great one, but all can agree on the fact that education should be considered an inalienable, at least to those who desire to obtain it.

    A free education to all would most likely be beneficial to our society as a whole because an educated society is a capable, skillful, and logical one. But the expenses of it all cannot be ignored and is the roadblock preventing this. Sanders may be on the right track but only time will tell.

  20. The spectre of cost is at least as important an impediment to enrollment rates from low income families as is actual cost. Early hopelessness inhibits efforts, and therefore marks, in earlier grades. Free tuition would declare open access from the outset, encouraging those who otherwise might never have put themselves in the position to take advantage of existing programs.

  21. This post would benefit from historical perspective. Nowhere is the original Master Plan for Higher Education mentioned, a plan that ensured students would not be charged to attend any public college or university in the Golden State. Since 1967 that plan has been eroded, but when it was in operation, it helped create a strong middle class, innovative industries, and propelled California to the forefront of the global economy.

    The evidence is quite clear that Bernie Sanders is right. After all, he’s merely saying that American public higher education should function like UC originally did 50 years ago. We have seen the past and it works. There is no need for “variable pricing” or any other such gimmickry. Make UC, CSU, and the community colleges free to everyone, and everyone will benefit.

  22. Christ makes some excellent points, but putting money back in the pockets of students is NOT the only benefit we would see from eliminating tuition. I believe that education should be treated primarily as a public good, with private benefits a secondary priority.

    Any institution is guided by who gives it power, or in this case, money. When a public university receives funding from big donors, rich parents, and corporate scholarships, it creates a tendency to view education as investment in the individual. Only when our education is funded fully by taxpayers will we understand that it is truly a public good and that our universities should create not only high-earning graduates, but responsible, public citizens.

  23. @Masood: Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Zuckerberg, et al most certainly DID get a formal education at some excellent schools. They didn’t leave with a degree, that’s all.

  24. This entire discussion about “free education” harbors unexamined assumptions. The word “free” indicates that a financial transaction occurs when one educates, when one is educated. In the same way that Oprah can give away a “free” car so that one can drive away from her show without buying a car, Dr. Christ, and perhaps Senator Sanders, assume that education is a commodity to be bought and payed for by a consumer. On that model, the discussion has escaped at least one fundamental question. Is an education a commodity?

    Clearly that vision of education now dominates these discussions. But is the notion that education is a widget the best we can do as we think about education?

    I think not. Now the Morrill Act (referred to by Dr. Christ) may not be the most apt historical allusion. Why not look to the UC Master Plan, much abused — when it is not ignored — in the present moment. (A thorough presentation and examination of the Master Plan, set up by Republicans and Democrats alike, can be found in Dissent magazine. During what seems now like a visionary period of thinking about education, the Master Plan assumed that it was not the individual student who benefited from education so much as the state as a whole. Every bit as much as now, educators and legislators were all thinking about how to support research and thinking that propel California forward. And it worked.

    If it works, why fix it? Politics intruded, as you can read about in the article cited above.

    For practical purposes, try to think of education not as a commodity, but as a resource and practice, not unlike family, community, not unlike friendship and love. Not easy, is it? But thinking of education as an object that one purchases was not so easy under the vision represented by the Master Plan. Rather, the expenditures that we tax-payers made for the next generation were reimbursed by that generation’s paying for the next one, and so on forward across the generations. Abandoning that model has left us were we are. Yes, ideas do have consequences — a conservative slogan, remember.

    Perhaps we should rethink the whole matter: rather than just accept the “commodity” model for each of our most precious resources, think of what matters to us as something other than a commodity.

    I’ll close by noting Dr. Christ’s amusing closing volley: “Variable pricing is the right principle. From each according to his ability; to each according to his need.” As Dr. Christ knows, her last fillip is from Karl Marx, in his “Critique of the Gotha Programme.”

    For Marx, in that text, it is only in a “higher stage” of communism that the ideal, as he saw it, could be found, namely that needs and abilities would be balanced across society as a whole. But Dr. Christ has cleverly changed Marx’s notion of “abilities” so that she can make it mean our “ability to pay.”

    On the one hand, Marx’s “abilities” refers to our capacities to act in the world, with that action responsive to the “needs” of others — perhaps as good a definition of the teacher-student relationship as one can find in Marx’s thinking. On the other hand, Dr. Christ — with a wink to our Socialist Senator Sanders — contorted “ability” to mean “ability to pay.” With a clever, learned, and, it must be said, cynical gesture, Dr. Christ has made clear to us the depth of our problem: we have to decide whether eduction is a commodity or a communal resource to be passed from one generation to the next. Or is it a product sold to the highest bidder, with discounts for those “lower down” on the social ladder?

    The language that equates “free” with “freedom” needs to be examined both by Senator Sanders and Dr. Christ, as does the language that demeans our “abilities” by equating them with our “ability to pay.”

  25. Carol: You know better then to offer these distorted and simplistic answers.

    The present tuition charges for UC undergraduates amounts to much more than the actual per-student cost for UC to provide undergraduate education.

    There is a distorted accounting habit that charges all of professors’ academic year salary and benefits as an “Expenditure for Instruction,” when we know that the primary incentive for UC professors is to produce research. One may argue about the division between “public” and “private” benefit of an undergraduate education; but there is no doubt that the research mission of UC (and other national research universities) is a public benefit.

    Pushing that hidden cost of research onto the tuition bills of undergraduate students and their families is a dishonest practice that must be corrected if our great universities want to continue to have public support.

    Charles Schwartz

  26. Ms. Christ cutely ends her article with a quotation from Marx, but the excellent Soviet-era Russian universities were free for all, and their faculties highly respected and reasonably well paid. Under capitalism they’re no longer free and the faculty moonlight as tour guides. (My St. Petersburg tour guide was a Dean.)

  27. How does “paying back” and “paying forward” come into this? The ideal, as stated by John Adams, and practiced in most other countries, is that the education of the entire populace be supported by the entire [tax-paying] populace. In fact, that is what the University of California, and our other two levels of higher education, were all based upon at their beginnings. Remember? Can an enterprising reporter, or an economics class, go back and follow the story to see how *and why* The Plan failed? Perhaps it could be put back on track … or another one, based upon taxes, be established.

  28. UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA SYSTEM has a total undergraduate enrollment of approx 240,000 students and a total combined endowment approx $11 billion … which is wildly, radically, extremely disproportionate to STANFORD’s undergraduate enrollment of approx. 7,000 students and endowment approx. $19 billion.

    BERKELEY, UCLA, UCSD, UCSB et al produce thousands and thousands of UC grads who become financially successful and populate upper income neighborhoods throughout the state of California and beyond …

    Yet on a common per capita statistical basis, simple math demonstrates that the financially successful UC grads ignominiously deflect when it comes to paying back and paying forward (i.e. endowments) compared to grads from private universities.

    Taxpayers can sense when they are getting taken advantage of and endless mantras for more public money really need to begin to include and address and confront the basic issue of greed and stinginess on the part of public university grads relative to much greater generosity on the part of private university grads.

  29. Yes and No. Yes for poor and No for the rich.

    Not Free: It takes a lot of funds to run a university, Professors, Scientist etc sacrifice lucrative jobs for the love of teaching, exploring and finding new things. Making education free needs a lot of support both from government and society and no matter what? they both are not steady. A steady income for university are the fees collected from students and also some funds from alumni. Therefore making university education free is a difficult decision and may force the best to leave the system.

    Free: What is education? Is it the just the knowledge or more. Education is more than knowledge, it certifies an individual’s capability or academic achievements. University certificates stands for you, speak for you and open gates for career. Off course there are some exceptional cases like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates etc who never needed a formal education.

    But there are millions of students who want to pursue education but cannot fund or cannot do multiple things at the same time (like work and educate) because they may become so popular in their own work that people wouldn’t let them off to pursue there actual dreams. Sometimes people still believe that one day they will go to college when they have enough money. But enough money is never enough, its always a little more.

    Thanks to internet that there are ways to educate oneself free of cost by listening to online classes from university’s or on Youtube. Ok, now I know what is what? and where to find what? Solve the most complex problem, Design a sophisticated transit and so on. But how do i prove this to the world? Who will speak for me? How do I say I’m equivalent to a regular college guy with no certificates.

    Therefore even though education can be made free through internet, still it is of no use for people who have not attended college. There should be a system to evaluate people who like to obtain free education.

    Universities can implement this by having a bare minimum fee structure. A student may not pay for the lectures or classes but must pay for exams or evaluations which should be affordable by all. After evaluation an equivalent certificate must be handed out and if possible allow them to attend campus interviews. So that they can kick start their career.

    Free education should not just benefit individuals with degrees. Free education must have a system to reward university certificate to individuals.

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