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Larry Wright, CaglaCartoons.com

Nurturing Intellectual Capital

What Price Higher Education?


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Germany is one of the world’s leading economies, even rivaling powerhouse China despite having less than 14% as many people.  Modern Germans, unlike too many Americans and Californians, do comprehend just how vital an excellent public education system is both to their economy and the health of their culture.  We would be wise to follow their example by regarding our own young as a form of “intellectual capital” as well as, of course, vital, creative human beings.

In a February 2011 piece for the Independent I compared the costs of a young relative attending UCSB with my own fees 44 years earlier — my niece paid 105 times what I forked over in 1966! I’m naturally pleased that voters had the wisdom in the November 2012 election to pass Proposition 30, adding financial support to public education in California. This led the UC Regents to drop their plans to increase UC student fees yet again this year.

However, Prop. 30 did not go nearly far enough, and costs for UC students are still amazingly high, often equal to what students at private colleges pay – and Californians still face the growing reality that UC is being quietly “privatized.” One proof of this is State Sen. Sternberg’s ludicrous bill to introduce online education courses, given by private for-profit pseudo-educational companies, into UC. This idea, which oddly enough is from a Democrat, has been lambasted from all around, for example in a recent Sunday New York Times masthead editorial.

In modern Germany, with its 17 federal states (Laender), the state governments a few years ago followed the UK in raising student fees.  While they might seem like small impositions (in Bavaria, fees were about the equivalent of $1,100 per year), they were new and aroused great opposition, not only from students but also from thoughtful, forward-looking German citizens. (Disclosure: A close relative attended the University of Munich and paid these fees in 2010 and 2011).

In a development which should amaze some of us in California, and which also proves that German citizens truly believe in and want to support their public universities, most of the 17 German Laender, have recently moved to eliminate those student fees.  This is a clear and vigorous statement by average Germans: Don’t make it hard for students get an advanced education.

The coalition government in Bavaria recently honored the collection of over 1.35 million voter signatures demanding the dropping of student fees beginning in the 2013-2014 academic year. Please note that the Bavarian fees are dwarfed by our own UC student fees, which were almost $12,000 per year in 2011 and have since gone up. How is it that Germany, with few natural resources, realizes that it pays to proffer quality higher public education to its young, while the great state of California currently charges students right around $15,000 per school year? Where is the wisdom in this, and the nurturing of bright young minds?

A recent Brookings Institution study has revealed the permanence of poverty in our country. One way out of poverty and dead-end jobs is an excellent and inexpensive public education, including a reduction of fees for students at the University of California.

Dan McCaslin graduated with a BA in History from UCSB in 1969. 

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