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Assembly votes for more scholarships, leaves funding for later

May 30, 2012|By Jon Healey
  • Students passing through Sather Gate on the UC Berkeley campus in a 1995 file photo.
Students passing through Sather Gate on the UC Berkeley campus in a 1995… (Ben Margot / Associated…)

Eating its dessert before its vegetables, the Assembly approved a bill Wednesday that would provide generous new scholarships to the public universities and colleges in California for families earning less than $160,000. The measure, AB 1501, includes no way to pay for the scholarships, however; that heavy lifting is done in the yet-to-be-considered AB 1500, which would raise corporate tax revenues to fund the new program.

Neither bill would go into effect unless the other one passed as well, so the order of the votes doesn't really matter in the long run. (And just for the record, The Times' editorial board has come out in favor of the package.) But voting for AB 1501 before the funding for it is assured strikes me as merely laying the groundwork for an empty promise.

The more fundamental problem with the package, as some GOP critics pointed out, is that it treats the symptoms of the college affordability problem, not the causes. Some economists contend that increased student aid has only fueled tuition inflation, much as adding freeway lanes in Southern California has only encouraged more people to drive on them. But even if there's no relationship between increased aid and tuition growth, providing more scholarships is at best a short-term solution. The rise in college costs will eventually consume all those dollars too.

Four Republicans supported the bill Wednesday, but otherwise the vote broke down along party lines. The partisan divide resembles the one on healthcare reform: Democrats are mainly concerned with access; Republicans are mainly concerned about cost. Those really are two sides of the same coin. Too bad AB 1500 doesn't recognize that.

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