What’s The Difference Between a Fee and Tuition?

Gov. Doofinator (AKA Pete Wilson II) is at it again. Not content to push a phony credit card bond (with plenty of help from alleged Democrats like Steve Westly), now we’re getting the usual “fee hikes” at the University of California, California State University, and community college campuses. (Prison guards will get their raises, don’t worry!)
However, many reporters often make a mistake when covering these issues and it’s not just a matter of semantics – it’s a matter of accuracy. Specifically, whenever “fees” are raised, they often use the term “tuition” interchangeably as today’s LA Times story does here.
The reason this is important is quite simple- the laws governing the creation and management are very specific – California residents cannot be charged “tuition” (i.e. money paid to cover the costs of their education) at any California school. The only people who pay “tuition” are out-of-state students at any of these schools.
Now to some people this may still seem like a semantic difference, but it’s critical that those watching budget shenanigans know why it’s important. Whenever “fees” are jacked up at a UC campus for example, not a dime of that money covers the actual cost of educating the people who are attending the school. Instead, the schools transfer the payment of the university or college’s basic functions away from the state and on to the students and their parents.
Guess what one of those expenses is? Can’t guess? More money for aid for students who can’t afford to go to college! (and the bureaucracy that runs it!) If that cycle of silliness doesn’t boggle your mind, I have a job for your as Governor Doofinator’s budget guy/gal.
So once again the point needs to be clear – the money that folks are being asked to pay is not part of any “tuition” – and those covering such issues should know the difference since recognizing this fact makes the big picture issue a lot different than the one painted by Gov. Doofinator and his Wilsonian cronies.
Once again, we have one of the famous “California disconnects” in public policy. We pass bonds to build buildings at colleges, yet not a dime of that (expensive) money pays for the teachers or books that go in them. We raise the cost of attending the college buildings, but again, the increased out of pocket expenses do not cover the cost of the teachers or the books that are part of the education one is paying for.
Thus, when you attend a California school, you will end up spending a lot more time waiting for the classes you need to graduate. That means more money borrowed to spend more time in school, while those who can afford a 4 year stint at Yale or Stanford can get their degree and get on with their lives.
Which brings up one other point – whenever these “fees” are raised, the inevitable comparison comes up that although the cost is more, it’s still “cheaper” than an Ivy League school which is considered comparable. This may have held water 20 years ago, but nowadays it is kind of like raising the price of a Camry 40% and saying “well it’s still cheaper than a Mercedes Benz.” Which of course, is true, but is it a value anymore if the price is inflated? Or does one start looking elsewhere for a better deal.
Frankly after years of paying for prison guard raises over school, and the sheer incompetence of UC’s management of the weapons labs here and in New Mexico, I believe that comparison could be questioned. More to the point – with the eroding course offerings at all levels of the education system and the difficulty in getting classes needed to get out in four years, such a comparison at the undergraduate level may not hold any longer.
More importantly, the point of a public university system, built and paid for by the citizens of California, is meant for their free use first. A vibrant, active, and accessible education to those smart enough to qualify, allows our state to have people capable of creating the businesses and coming up with the new ideas we’ll need to stay on top.
Otherwise, we will continue the slide towards becoming a Third World country – something I’d rather not see. A college education is no longer a “luxury” or an “extra” as it was in the Industrial Age. If you want a job or a future with any hope of more than minimum wage and no benefits, you have to go to college. Just ask the grocery workers who went on strike. Or the blue collar workers on the permanent unemployment line.
More important, the taxpaying citizens of California built these colleges with the idea that anyone smart enough to get in could go to school. This has been the social contract between the state and the people for over 100 years. Making the comparison in cost to other states or private schools is a betrayal of that contract – not everyone can pick up and move to Michigan, New York or some other state to get an education – nor should they.
Generations of prominent Californians were able to get their education at community colleges, state Universities, and UC campuses for a minimal cost. It’s time to end the circus, and find a better way to maintain a free, quality education for those smart enough to deserve one.
PS: I recently read a very interesting story about an immigrant who came to California in the late 60s, who was in need of some improvements to his education if he was to succeed in his chosen field. Because Santa Monica College was available to him, he was able to take some classes and improve both his language skills and his knowledge of his new adopted homeland.
He has since gone on to be a tremendously successful businessman, and a leader on the national stage. You can guess where this is going…yes, in fact it was Arnold Schwarzenegger. (insert Paul Harvey-esque music here)

© 2003-2006 Greg Dewar | All Rights Reserved | Originally Published at www.schadelmann.com

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