To the editor: David Kirp’s criticism of free college misses the mark in a few key respects.
First, he relies on a study of Massachusetts state universities and community colleges to argue that tuition costs, which are around $900, are a negligible part of the total cost of college. To attend a California State University campus, students annually pay more than $6,000 in tuition. This amount is considerable, and requires students to work numerous hours just to pay for class.
Second, he foolishly decouples college dropout rates from financial insecurities. Many students drop out because they work 30-40 hours a week and cannot find an appropriate work-school balance. The more hours students work, the less time they have for school, putting them at risk of losing the focus necessary to complete their coursework. Moreover, other cost-saving decisions, such as living at home, often leave students feeling alienated on campus, which is why commuters tend to have higher dropout rates.
Of course, if universities simply reclassify tuition as fees, then free tuition will not matter. Still, California can offer inexpensive higher education. It has in the past and it can again.
Michael L. McLendon, Los Angeles
The writer chairs the political science department at Cal State Los Angeles.