As most of American higher education has over time abandoned the idea that the best way to ensure access to college is by keeping tuitions low, California has clung to the principle as it was laid out in the state's 1960 master plan for higher education. To this day, students at its community colleges pay by far the country's lowest "fees" (a phrase the state uses in lieu of tuition).
Greater prosperity requires more jobs, and more jobs require more economic growth. And the best way to do that, this chain of reasoning continues, is to make investments in higher education and high-tech research. How else to cultivate the next generation of highly skilled, motivated workers for today's ever-dynamic information economy?
That view -- promoted by college presidents, governors and experts in the economics of higher education -- is often cited in the quest for more funding for state university systems. But what if it's wrong?