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May 22, 2012 > Letter to the Editor: Restoring the California Dream

Letter to the Editor: Restoring the California Dream

The backbone of California's long-term economic strength has always been its world-class higher education system, which prepares our students for high-paying jobs and performs the research that drives innovation in the marketplace.

In 1960, then California Governor Pat Brown signed into law the Master Plan for Higher Education - a commitment that guaranteed affordability of Higher Education, making it accessible to all Californians that sought it, regardless of their economic status.

Today, over 50 years later, that promise is broken.

In the last 10 years, California State University tuition has increased 191 percent, University of California tuition has increased by 145 percent and community college student fees continue to rise. Last year the amount of student loan debt owed in our country passed $1 trillion.

As we move into a defining stage of the 21st century economy, however, higher education faces several threats that will rob our future of its immense promise.

Leading the way, several bad actors in the for-profit college industry are saddling students with higher levels of debt upon graduation, while aggressively recruiting prospective students with lofty, unfulfilled promises. They also seize a disproportionate share of federal and state grants, such as our Cal Grant funds. And since students at for-profit colleges are twice as likely to default on their loans as students at public institutions, taxpayers are often left to foot the bill. The situation has been compared to the subprime mortgage crisis that devastated millions of families, except in this case, student loans cannot be discharged by declaring bankruptcy, meaning these debts will follow our students around for decades.

In order to hold for-profit colleges accountable, I introduced AB 1637, the California College Accountability Act, which improves assessments of a student's risk of default and limits Cal Grant funds to colleges where no more than 15% of their students default, providing an incentive for for-profit colleges to ensure a pathway to success for current and future students.

Unfortunately, when AB 1637 came before the Assembly Committee on Higher Education last month, most of the members, Democrats and Republicans, declined to voice support for the bill - demonstrating the power of the For-Profit lobby.

A proactive way to guarantee long-term economic strength is to ensure students have access to an affordable higher education.

That is why I've co-authored the Middle Class Scholarship Act to restore affordability to our UC, CSU, and Community College systems. This legislation closes an unfair tax loophole for out-of-state corporations and invests the revenues in our future doctors, teachers, business leaders, and job creators by driving down tuition by two-thirds, bringing rates back to where they were a decade ago.

On May 17th, I'm hosting a town hall for the Middle Class Scholarship Act on the CSU East Bay campus in the OLD Student Union, Room 102 from 1:30-3:30. It's time that we unite behind our higher education institutions, reward hard-working students for their efforts, and restore California's Master Plan for Higher Education.

Assemblymember Bob Wieckowski

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