What would be the cost of public financed college?

For the taxpayers of Utah, 1% —1.5% is my best guess.

Bernie Sanders promoted “free college” during the 2016 Democratic Primaries; unfortunately, Senator Sanders wasn’t able to articulate that message into a winning strategy. Democrats, in general, are failing to capitalize on an issue that should resonate with the majority of Americans.

Who is concerned about college cost? If it’s not everybody, it should be. There are nearly 120,000 students enrolled in Utah’s colleges and universities. With approximately 900,000 households, we can estimate that more than 1 in 10 households have a college student and are directly impacted by the cost of college. I would wager that families with school-age children (K-12) are equally concerned. Add grandparents to the equation,  what percentage of Utah households are concerned? You and all these people — hundreds of thousands if not a one to two million — who want the next generation to succeed.

If the cost of college were negligible, wouldn’t the majority of these people (parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbors) consider college a worthwhile option?

If the definition of a public institution is one that receives the majority of its funding from the public, then the state of Utah is on the verge of losing its public institutions of higher education (Table 1).

tution and tax funds per utah higher ed TABLE 1

So, I want to pose a question: What would it cost to fund public higher education fully?

In Utah, the total FY 2016 budget was $14.2 billion; 12% of that was for Higher Education — approximately $1.7 billion. This amount is the Operating and Capital Budget. Students currently spend roughly $680 million in tuition and fees (Table 2). To fully fund higher education would require increasing the amount of money spent on higher education by 40% — but this is less than a 5% increase in the total state budget.

tution and tax funds per utah higher ed TABLE 2

What would this mean to taxpayers? Census estimates show Utah having just over 900 thousand households in 2016; the median household income was $61,000. A back-of-the-envelope calculation would have the typical family pay less than $800 per year which would amount to a 1% — 1.5% increase in the income tax rate (currently at 5%). If you are a parent who wants their child to go to college, this is a bargain. For those of us whose children will be out of college, it’s a price I’d be willing to pay to provide qualified students the opportunity to succeed along a path with known financial benefits.

Is this a reasonable estimate? (It’s a start.)
Is this feasible? (It seems possible to me.)

It’s not free college — taxpayers will pay the bill, but it’s the ideal of public education and investment in our state we should consider.

The War on College

The Republican Party has openly questioned the value of higher education, and the four-year college degree — ironic given the vast majority of their leadership attended college. The data does not support their position.

Some info:
The U.S. average salary for skilled trades (from the https://www.payscale.com/index/US/Industry website):
Plumber: $20-$26 per hour
Electrician: $20-$26 per hour
HVAC: $18-$20 per hour
Machinist: $15-$18 per hour

Or, $36,000 to $52,000 per year (midrange of $44,000). The higher paid positions are for Master level positions which require approximately four years of work and exam that occur after 3-5 years as an apprentice and an exam. So the process is not quick and easy. Average apprentice pay is $14-15 per hour.

The U.S. average salary for engineers (civil, electrical, and mechanical) is $65,000 to $72,000.

The U.S. average annual salary for
Biotechnology research associates: $50,000
Chemist: $52,000
Software developers: $75,000

Not into science? the U.S. average annual salary for
Accountants: $49,000
Graphic designers: $41,000 (Senior Graphic designer $61,000)
Human resources specialists: $49,000

The median salary for workers between the ages of 35—44, arguably prime earning years (from https://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/income-poverty/cps-pinc/pinc-03.html):

a high school diploma is $32,000
an associate degree is $42,000
a bachelor’s degree is $61,000
a master’s degree is $70,000
a doctorate or professional degree is $100,000

It is possible for a high school graduate to earn over $100,000? For individuals between 35—44 years of age, that number was 4% of those with earnings. For those with a bachelor degree, it was almost 23%!

It is helpful for young people to have options, but they should be aware of how their education level dramatically impacts the potential for financial independence.

The current educational system produced the income distributions summarized above. Efforts to drive more people to “skilled trades” will lower the number of people available to fill higher salary positions that require a bachelor’s degree or greater. It’s those higher salary positions that drive the U.S. economy and the current Republican war on education is short-sighted and self-serving.