Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

UC revenue plan is a major mistake

A proposed surcharge on undergraduates in engineering and business is a poor option.

October 13, 2009

No matter how squeezed the University of California is, it makes no sense to single out students our economy will need -- such as its future engineers -- and levy a surcharge on them for their chosen major.

That's the latest scheme for raising revenue at UC. Undergraduates in engineering and business would be charged $900 more a year than other students, who already are facing a probable fee increase of more than $2,500 next fall. The rationale is that the faculty in these two fields earn significantly higher salaries, raising the cost of education, and that students from those majors will make enough money after graduation to pay off the bigger loans.

This isn't a novel idea. Close to half the public universities in the nation charge higher fees depending on the major. And UC already has differential pricing in its graduate schools, with students who study for certain well-paid professions, such as law or medicine, paying far more in fees than students seeking a doctorate in, say, literature. But it's a different matter to impose extra fees on undergraduates based on their passion for a certain subject -- a passion they discover only after a couple of years in college. If the university starts a regular scheme of charging based on the cost, the results could prove ugly. After all, why pick on business majors over chemistry or biology majors? A well-equipped laboratory building is much more expensive than a lecture hall, and our economy also will need graduates in the sciences.

UC is hurting, and we know that it cannot operate exactly as it did before. But California should not be ready to abandon the idea that a top-quality, subsidized undergraduate education is good for the state's young people and the state's future. Think of this notion transferred to the community college system. Nurses and firefighters cost far more to train than, say, preschool teachers, and earn better salaries, but it would be unthinkable to hike their fees. All of these vocations have value to our society; all of these students need an education.

As this page has pointed out before, there are options that would reduce the need for what seems to be an unending series of new student fees: extend staff furloughs one more year; accept fewer students and hold guaranteed spaces for students who attend community college for the first two years; charge substantially higher fees to students who stay past four years. But let's not create excuses to charge one undergraduate more than another.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|