Imagine if UCLA Gave Students a Tuition Reduction?

By Lulu Moore

After a full, final spring quarter of online instruction, one takeaway is clear: when paying UCLA tuition, students are not only paying for classes from top professors, but they are also paying to build professional and social network systems. They are paying for a chance to explore different interests through clubs. They are paying for the ability to live the full American undergraduate college experience. 

The countless conversations and petitions advocating for a tuition reduction all highlight how, while online classes may be apposite, they’re not what students are paying for. That being said, before advocating for a tuition reduction it’s important to understand that tuition does not only pay for UCLA’s expenditures but also funds the city of Los Angeles and the state of California as a whole. It is incredibly unfortunate that as future leaders of the world, students attending college in 2020 are denied the normal college experience. However, UCLA’s refusal to refund tuition costs does not mean the school isn’t acting with the community’s best interest in mind. 

Today, America’s higher-level education system runs on money. While this reality is extremely problematic and needs to be addressed, it’s outside the scope of this article. By applying the reality of our education systems to the context of a global pandemic and continued economic instability, UCLA students must recognize how our spending helps keep Westwood running, and our tuition largely keeps L.A. employed. America’s laissez-faire market-based approach means that a tuition reduction could lead to enormous trickle-down effects for the entire L.A. community. While it does not seem fair, UCLA’s refusal to refund tuition is what’s best for Los Angeles and the UCLA community in the long-run. 

A common assumption is that given students are not on campus, the cost of running UCLA must have decreased. This is not the case. Sarah McBride, the UC spokesperson, describes how, “In many areas, the University faces increased costs, not lower costs, due to the pandemic.” These increased costs emerge from expenditures on video collaborations and software licenses required to support large-scale video conferencing for class on Zoom. Furthermore, the UC is paying for additional private networks to ensure security and privacy, as well as providing laptops for individuals who do not ordinarily work remotely. 

Beyond directly helping students by paying rising costs, there are many more economic impacts that create compiled indirect effects. While discussing economic fluctuations is not the most gripping of topics, its treatment is imperative before calling for a tuition reduction that would impact thousands indirectly. In the words of UCLA Chancellor Gene Block, measuring UCLA’s “economic impact allows us to demonstrate how every dollar invested in UCLA pays substantial dividends back to people throughout our state.” UCLA is one of Southern California’s top five employers, contributing $12.7 billion to the economy and employing more than 42,000 people. Students’ tuition matters because the people who work for UCLA matter. As a result of students paying tuition, UCLA can generate $4.15 billion in labor income earnings through direct, indirect, and induced spending activity.

In the midst of a global pandemic, not only is our tuition allowing numerous UCLA employees to continue putting food on the table for their families but also many residents in L.A. county who indirectly depend on our tuition. UCLA students’ cost of experiencing American college creates over 72,000 full-time jobs throughout California, 44,300 of which are jobs directly supported by UCLA’s spending activity. 

COVID-19 led to plummeting economic activity, which is largely the reason many students advocated for a tuition reduction. However, it’s important to recognize that amid the global pandemic, a tuition reduction combined with the other extraordinary conditions we are experiencing, will cause workers, both in and outside of the UCLA community, to lose their jobs. And when they do, the workers will drain their savings and increase their borrowing. They will become more fearful about the future and stop spending. If UCLA gave students their tuition back, the effects would not be confined to UCLA workers but would metastasize to the larger L.A. county and California citizens that depend on the induced household spending of UCLA employees. 

Governor Gavin Newsom noted in the first week of May, in a span of six weeks, 4 million Californians filed for unemployment benefits and the state paid out more than $10 billion dollars in benefits; “We’ve never experienced anything like this in our lifetime.” It’s clear the years to come will be economically challenging for everyone. By not reducing tuition, UCLA workers will continue to get paid, their household spending won’t drop as dramatically, and the economic recovery for many Californias might be more swift. 

This exploration of how a tuition-reduction would impact the workers that, under normal circumstances, build the college experience students pay for is not meant to diminish the hardship of families struggling to pay UCLA’s expensive tuition. Rather, this is an argument explaining why a tuition reduction in the short-run may seem extremely attractive, but in the long-run, the effects of such a reduction will not only shock those who support the student experience at UCLA but also remain with the city of Los Angeles for a much longer time. 

As students gradually return to campus, it’s important to know that the school we all left behind probably won’t be the school we are returning to. Coronavirus will forcibly change our expected image of the American college experience and this, of course, will make us question if college is worth the thousands of dollars we are investing in our education. But, we must not forget that our payment not only supports our journey but the journeys of others too. Lastly, none of us should question whether our tuition makes a difference. To those immediately affected by our tuition, it means the world right now. It’s appealing to think there are no consequences for the decisions we make. But every decision has consequences, and a tuition reduction amid a global pandemic will only dig us deeper into a hole we might not be able to climb out of.

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