Thursday, January 17, 2008

Subsidizing human capital investments

Despite the looming California budget crisis, the UC regents are currently weighing a plan to build a $2 billion endowment to supplement financial aid for poor and middle class students.

The proposed plan implies a move away from the traditional model of public higher education finance -- in which state funds are used to keep tuition low for all students. With this idea, the UC is heading toward the price structure that elite private institutions like Harvard and Yale utilize -- in which generous financial aid offers offset high tuition prices. UC tuition levels are already high compared to most US public universities. Under the proposed plan, affluent students would pay even more in tuition, while students whose parents make $100,000 or less would be eligible for aid.

From a human capital perspective this sounds like an egalitarian move. For students, the returns to an investment in UC education are high. So why should the state subsized those human capital investments -- particularly for student who can afford to pay the full freight? But from a cultural capital perspective, it doesn't sound like such a hot idea. While students from highly educated families understand "the rules of the game" and can navigate the process of applying for financial aid, students whose families don't have higher education experience may not know about financial aid opportunities. Even if many of these students qualify for aid, high tuition prices may scare them away from the UC.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree with the analysis here. This type of a pricing policy, while it may seem "fair," is actually a pretty poor attempt at a progressive tuition system. From the cultural capital perspective, it is a bad idea. Students who society has the most interest in promoting mobility in, those in the lower classes, will be scared away from $18,000 yearly tuition.

If such a policy were put into place, UC would have to invest in significant public outreach to educate families from the lowest classes how the policy will not harm them. Even then, it is not certain how much the policy would accomplish its intended purposes, which frankly are a bit unclear.

Erik R.