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Editorial: Likins' tuition plan ignores the middle class

Arizona Daily Wildcat,
October 25, 1999
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In an interview televised yesterday, UA President Peter Likins expressed his belief that tuition, rather than being too high, is actually too low.

To a great extent, the low price paid by in-state students is a result of subsidization by the state. All told, the cost of educating a student is significantly higher than the roughly $2,000 per year in tuition that the in-state student is charged. The remainder comes from the state, which, rightly enough, feels an obligation to help subsidize higher education for Arizona youth.

Likins apparently believes that this subsidy should not apply to students who can afford to pay for their education without it. As laudable as some might consider this to be, his theory of how we can best help under-privileged students is absurd.

Currently, the university is pursuing its ideal low tuition and low student aid. The idea is that if tuition is low, everyone will be able to afford it, and there won't be a need for very much student aid. Tuition, though, is not the totality of college expenses. Costs associated with living on campus greatly exceed the cost of tuition. Likins implied that we must try to subsidize these costs as well.

In short, the theory goes something like this: In order to be able to subsidize these costs of living, we must raise tuition. Then, we can give the amount by which we raised the tuition back to the under-privileged students. Wealthier students, while still being subsidized, would be able to pay, and poorer students would be able to more easily afford the costs of college.

Likins has shown his ability to set up and demolish a straw man. Wealthy students, those that can afford to pay more without any difficulties, are a small part of the student body. Of course, they are an easy target; no one will stand up to say that wealthy people shouldn't pay more.

This theory, however, leaves out the middle class, to which the vast majority of the student body belongs. They aren't wealthy enough to easily weather increased tuition; most students already work to support themselves. Also, they aren't poor enough to qualify for grants to help subsidize their education. In short, the middle class gets the short end of the stick.

As the system stands, it takes care of the largest part of the student body: those from the middle class. Nothing is wrong with the current system. Poorer students are able to afford to attend the university because of the low tuition, and the poorest students get enhanced subsidies in the form of grants. Students who come from families with moderate incomes can get the benefits of a college education as they can afford to pay the full costs of college by taking on a job.

Likins' plan, however, would eliminate all of these benefits in favor of making everyone pay more, while adding a large and unwieldy bureaucracy to give away his proposed grants. If we're lucky, he'll realize this, too.

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