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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Column: Tuition increases hurt the UA and Arizona

    Tom Price

    UA President Ann Weaver Hart addresses the Arizona Board of Regents at the UA Student Union on Nov. 19, 2015. Hart has proposed a 1 percent tuition increase, student service fee increases and a new athletic fee for incoming students and current students not under the university’s cost guarantee program.

    In 1951, a young Jewish immigrant enrolled at City College of New York. Since his family was from a working class background, his options for higher education were limited to a publicly supported institution. Colleges like these were held in low esteem by much of society and were scrutinized for their performance standards, and their attendees who hailed from foreign countries with little money to offer. 

    After joining, he wasn’t firmly committed to what his major would be. Eventually, he settled on physics, and his experience at the publicly subsidized CCNY led him to obtain a Ph.D. five years later, then a Nobel Prize in the next 12 years. He was credited with assisting in the discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation, an accomplishment that advanced human understanding of the origins of our universe. His name was Arno Allan Penzias, and his contributions to humanity would not have been possible without publicly funded higher education.

    Penzias’ story is not an uncommon one. CCNY became famous for its high output of Nobel Laureates from lower-class backgrounds throughout the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s. Its mission, with money from the public, was to elevate poor immigrant children to higher economic and social status with the gift of higher education. Along the way, society reaped huge benefits from scientific discoveries and economic studies fby these college graduates. 

    RELATED: New UA students facing fee increases, tuition bump

    As the decisions of CCNY show, investment in college education is an investment in our society. The more the tools of higher education are made accessible to industrious students in subjects like science, philosophy, humanities or economics, the more our nation, the world and humanity as a whole will benefit. Arbitrary barriers to this education like race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation were struck down, to the immense benefit of our country. 

    The next barrier we have to dismantle is socioeconomic status. An individual’s life should not be dictated by factors outside of their control, including disadvantageous childhood circumstances, geography and crippling costs of student tuition. Unfortunately, moves to increase student fees for college, like the one the UA is making for next year, reinforce barriers that exclude disadvantaged, yet high-potential students.

    But the recent decision to increase tuition for new students cannot be viewed in a vacuum. Social forces that extend beyond our campus and state boundaries play a role in constraining the funds for universities. As a nation, there seems to be widespread disenchantment with the idea of public investment for public gain. Notions of national unity and party solidarity have given way to conflicting narratives of our nation’s true identity and a deep distrust in governing institutions to act for the public good. This distrust has resulted in politicians winning elections off promises to slash state funding, remove public dollars from universities and disparage the role of a state in offering any type of assistance to disadvantaged citizens. 

    This anti-government resentment has culminated in the nomination of a Secretary of Education with no experience in public schooling. The ideology that she and Republican-controlled legislators and governorships bring throughout the nation is a desire to dismantle public funding for higher education. This will not only reinforce a series of harmful barriers on children seeking more fulfilling lives; it will hinder society from reaching a higher level of economic, cultural and scientific accomplishment.

    Making public education a target for “fiscal reform” is a deeply misguided mistake, especially when considering the massive benefits that college education confers to students and societies. 

    Economic studies have repeatedly confirmed the benefits that come from some type of higher education, including anything from vocational training and trade schools to four-year degrees and doctorate programs. Lower unemployment, higher salaries, better scores on happiness and fulfillment indices and more secure family and friendships can all be linked to higher education. 

    RELATED: Regents, students need common ground on graduate student fees

    The economic benefits of a citizenry with specialized education are also vast. 

    A research institution like the UA, for instance, provides a constant stream of scientists who become top researchers in the hugely beneficial fields like medicine, pharmacy, optics and astronomy. The college’s philosophy program also prepares students for professions in legal advocacy and civil service. The Fred Fox School of Music ensures appreciation for music and artwork that any civilized nation must encourage.

    Larger investments by our local, state and federal governments to ease the burden of student tuition will lead to intergenerational dividends. To denounce it as “unsustainable” is not only incorrect when economic factors are considered; it’s also inconsistent. Consider the trillions of dollars our nation has put toward military conflicts and financial bailouts without considerable debate over the dubious benefits they brought to society. 

    For private students and the public at large, increased investment in education is both a moral imperative and an economic no-brainer.

    Follow Isaac Rounseville on Twitter.

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