Education

Tuition? UC Riverside Students Say Bill Me Later

A student group called “Fix UC” suggests colleges take a share of each student’s salary for the first 20 years after they graduate.
by | April 2012

Facing the prospect of double-digit increases in tuition for the remainder of their college careers, the editors of Highlander did what any self-respecting campus journalists would do. They wrote columns complaining about it.

But then they did something more. They kicked off a movement at their campus -- the University of California, Riverside -- that now has university officials rethinking their entire fee structure.

Rather than collecting tuition up front, the students’ proposal would have UC take a share of each student’s salary, 5 percent of their incomes for the first 20 years after they graduate. “When we found that no one was really working on anything like this, that no real solutions were being put forward, we decided to work on one ourselves,” says Chris LoCascio, Highlander’s editor-in-chief and now leader of a group called Fix UC.

The idea is getting a “serious hearing,” says Steve Montiel, a spokesman for the UC system. University budget mavens are working on mechanical questions such as how collections and income verification might work. At the same time, there are serious doubts about the plan. Since the university couldn’t collect until students graduated and started working, Montiel says, it would be left with a serious cash-flow problem for years to come.

And it’s not clear that paying a percentage of future income would be such a great deal for students themselves. LoCascio objects to descriptions of his scheme as a loan, but that may be what it amounts to. Students could end up paying more as a result, especially since many get a big break on current tuition rates through financial aid.

The plan does nothing to address the underlying problem behind the sharp tuition increases -- major reductions in state aid -- says Bruce Johnstone, an expert on higher education finance at the University at Buffalo. Instead, it mainly serves to shift costs from higher-income parents onto students themselves, Johnstone says, while “making the low-income students, whose parents do not have to pay now because they are financially unable, have to pay when the tuition is shifted to the deferred form.”

Still, despite its potential downsides, LoCascio’s idea is getting attention from student groups around the country. At a time when everyone is eager to figure out how to keep college affordable, it seems, any idea is worth talking about.

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