A Majority of Californians are Concerned About College Affordability, PPIC Study Finds

Students putting up signs at the first Million Student March in Nov. 2015. (Gwendolyn Wu/The Bottom Line file photo)

Arturo Samaniego
National Beat Reporter

A recent survey released by the Public Policy Institute of California concerning Californians’ views on college affordability and necessity displays divisions along racial/ethnic groups and household income levels over whether college is necessary.

The survey, taken from a sample size of 1,703 California adult residents, found that 67 percent of Latinos, 54 percent of Asian Americans, and 51 percent of African Americans believe college is necessary. Meanwhile, only 35 percent of Whites say college is necessary.

The survey included Californians from the Central Valley, San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, the Inland Empire, and Orange and San Diego Counties.

University of California, Santa Barbara sociology professor Howard Winant, who specializes in race, social stratification, and inequality studies, expressed skepticism over survey results.

“Tremendous diversity exist within racial groups,” Winant said. He cited Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Chinese, and Filipinos in noting how ethnic groups differ from one another in terms of economic success and may therefore have differing views on college.

“It’s a shaky thing to say Asians think this, and Blacks think this,” Winant said. “I hesitate to accept the generalization we generally hear, the racial lumping we hear, blacks are this, and whites are that, I think these are much more complex identities.”

Gabriel Jawien, a second year economics major at UCSB, was also skeptical of the survey’s findings. “I’m not sure if the findings of the survey accurately reflect the general feelings amongst all white people,” Jawien said. “As a white person, my views don’t reflect other white people’s views. You have to take it on a case to case basis.”

Both Jawien and Winant questioned how the study was unclear in what constituted the “necessity” of a four-year college was in relation to what people define as success. “I don’t think college is necessary to be economically successful, vocational and trade schools are other ways someone can attain economic success,” Jawien said.

Winant noted that the question over the necessity of college encompasses many different meanings. It can range from the necessity of college for success in the job market to success in the marriage market.

“Whoever was posing that question wasn’t thinking very deeply about what they wanted to know and the complexities of what they wanted to know,” Winant said.

The survey also found divisions among household income levels concerning the necessity of college. Lower income households, making $40,000 or less annually, were more likely than higher income households to answer “yes” to the question of if college is necessary.

“Perhaps wealthier people feel children from their social class will inherit enough wealth to make a go of it on their own, but even this is unlikely since a college education is needed for high skilled jobs,” Winant said.

This survey reflects gradual but significant changes to public higher education in California as demographics shift on college campuses and students see increases in the tuition amount that they pay.

According to the most recent data released by the University of California on undergraduate demographics, in Fall 2016, 23 percent of enrolled students were white, 34 percent were Asian/Pacific Islander, 24 percent were Hispanic/Latino, and 4 percent were African American. This is a shift from just five years ago when whites composed 28 percent of undergraduates, 38 percent were Asian/Pacific Islanders, 20 percent were Hispanic/Latino, and four percent were African Americans.

There has also been a lot of controversy and criticism over recent tuition increases enacted by the UC. Back in January, the UC Board of Regents approved a 2.5 percent tuition increase that raised the cost for in-state residents to $14,409 in tuition and student fees. Students have long been concerned that the rising cost of the UC has priced out young adults who can’t afford a college education.

The ultimate question posed by this survey, however, was about the viability of rising tuition increases.

“It is a scandal in this country we charge students, many of whom are low income, working class, for higher education,” Winant said. “No other advanced country does this. It is so counterproductive in terms of developing the skills and knowledge our society needs.”