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Should Rich Kids Pay Full Price for College?

Should Rich Kids Pay Full Price for College?

March 09, 2010

William G. Tierney is the director of USC’s Center for the Study of Higher Education. He’s also the mentor of a high-achieving high school senior from a dismal L.A.-area school whose parents don’t have anywhere close to the amount of money needed to send him to one of the University of California schools that would likely admit him. (And this, by the way, is before the 32 percent fee increase that the system recently passed.)

According to Tierney, a master plan adopted by the UC system roughly 50 years ago helped land California in its ruinous predicament by extending the opportunity of an education to everyone at a steep discount. Especially now, when the system is in turmoil, he says—and Californians aren’t looking to pay higher taxes—the haves should shell out of pocket for their education, allowing the have-nots to take full advantage of grant opportunities.

He writes in an opinion piece at CNN.com:

Most individuals, for example, assume that UC Berkeley and Stanford are equivalent institutions but the cost of tuition, room and board this year is roughly $25,000 at Berkeley and $50,000 at Stanford. Why should someone who can afford the cost of Stanford get a price reduction for going to school at Berkeley?

Californians can’t have it both ways. If they want a system that effectively subsidizes a free college education for all who qualify for one, it needs a tax structure that pays for it.

If voters are unwilling to raise taxes, then those who can afford to pay for college should, and scarce tax dollars should go to those who would otherwise will be blocked from attending.

Does that sound like a reasonable plan? If Berkeley and Stanford each cost $50,000 for those who could afford either one, wouldn’t Berkeley be at risk of some brain drain?

Nikhil Swaminathan is a regular GOOD contributor