Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Not Getting It

The San Francisco Chronicle notes today that student fees at the University of California, and at Cal State University system, increased this year by 10% (9.7% at UC is close enough to round off).

Nationwide, student fees increased 6.6% on average - two-thirds of the increase in California. And inflation, which you might think would drive this? Under 2% nationwide.

Why are student fees increasing at five times the rate of consumer inflation?

Long ago when I attended the University of California, my student fees were in 3 figures. Per year. (Of course, I could live on $10 a week then, too.) The theory behind the U.C. and C.S.U. systems was that higher education was a public good, which should be subsidized. This means that everybody pays some taxes toward it; and everybody's kids can attend. I understand that U.C. "provides more financial aid than other state systems." (With price increases like that, I hope to God they do!) Here are the explanations U.C. gives for the increase:
to maintain and improve the quality of instruction, expand student mental health services, increase financial aid and help raise faculty and staff salaries closer to market rate.
I'm tempted to suggest that if they didn't raise the student fees so high, they could budget less for financial aid, and that student mental health might be improved by not having to worry about money; but let that pass. What really fries me are the salary increases, which I doubt seriously are going to the faculty. The salary increases are going to pay senior executives in the U.C. system corporate-grade salaries (yeah, I've heard all the arguments, and I don't believe them), and they're taking it out of the students' hides. This is just plain WRONG, and it will produce an uneducated underclass in California which can't do the "knowledge industry" jobs that everyone says the economy needs, because they can't read or think.

I don't want California to become a state where only the rich can afford to attend the state university system. I don't consider that a good use of my tax money.

I'm so pissed at U.C. that I'm considering halting my donations to the University proper. I'll still donate to the Library; but the money I was giving to the Chancellor's Fund, I may now give to the Alumni Association, for scholarships - they'll need it.


  1. My junior year at Cal, in 1967, I had exactly $1680 for the whole academic year. We were under the quarter system then, which meant three terms instead of just two in 9 months. And yet I lived like a king. My fees and books--for the whole year--probably amounted to no more than $500. I lived in the dorms, and ate there too. I bought all my extra books, saw all the movies and plays and performances I wanted to, and had all the clothes I needed. I went to the Cowell Hospital twice, neither time for anything serious. I had a scholarship, which meant that my parents paid exactly nothing towards my education, which was just as well as they couldn't have even if they'd wanted to.

    Today's kids are being treated like slaves. The typical middle class undergraduate, after four years (or more typically five, since work is a necessity) accummulates loan obligations in excess of $65,000--or so I hear--and graduate school can easily put you over the $100,000 level.

    My theory is that there's been a huge shift in capital away from "human infrastructure" (for which, read everything that we once thought of in this country as social benefits), towards the very rich, and the corporations. Money that once would (and did) support public university and college systems now goes to pay for electric company fees (like Enron), or for "homeland security", or for war materiel, or insurance conglomerates. It's the real concrete evidence "on the ground" of the disinfranchisement of the American middle class through truncated taxation, and shrewd political dismantling of the whole structure of the New Deal and the Great Society, in short, all the benefits and safeguards for which our parents fought two generations back. All taken away. Given away. Auctioned off.

    Or as my old friend used to say, "don't get me started."

  2. My freshman year in '68 at UCLA, as I remember, the tuition was nominal. I can't remember exactly how much, but I know it went up significantly in '69; Reagan's revenge on all those protesting students.

  3. Boggart7:24 AM

    The Chancelor's in Sacramento has somewhere on their web site, a comparison of salaries paid at California colleges. At my little community college, which WASC had documented as doing a fine job and serves over 7,000 students, the administration's salary is up in the top quarter. The classified staff's salay is ranked in the top 3/4ths. Faculty? Even with our recent generous raise, we are in the bottom quarter.

    This means the president's personal secretary makes around $80,000 a year. True, it is a 12 month job, but she doesn't even need or have a college degree. Teachers have to have been at the school for quite a while to reach that lofty a paycheck. Plus, right now our classified staff wants a major raise, their argument being they interact with students and the college can't run without them. This is true, but no teachers in the classroom and you don't have a college!

    One of the things that made the fifties such a boom period was the GI Bill. It sent returning soldiers to college who, prior to the war, hadn't even consider going to college. This very large number of college trained individuals, once launched into the workforce, fueled the economy in terms of business and more people paying income tax due to increased pay checks. Well, there was more to it than that, but I'm not giving a quiz at the end of this post, and you are well read enough to figure the rest out on your own.

    Schooling or training past high school, since we have essentially dismantled high school vocational classes, is vital to a healthy economy. It is an investment in which everyone wins. Check out the costs of the GI Bill versus the returns to the economy, and the picture is clear. Every dollar invested in education returns several fold.

    Lecture finished.

  4. Yes, boggart, that's what I suspected. When did we as a society get the idea that people who answer phones, make appointments and file papers are worth more in salary than people who teach the next generation to think? One is almost inclined to conclude that we as a society don't want to teach the next generation to think. After all, people who think are dangerous - even Shakespeare noted that ("Yond Cassius hath a lean and hungry look. He thinks too much - such men are dangerous.")

  5. Anonymous6:57 AM

    Which class of people are systematically being excluded from realistic access to higher education does say a great deal about what we are becoming as a nation. I think Curtis is correct about the dynamics, and I strongly suspect hedera is correct about a significant subtext. If only the children of the financially well positioned can afford college, then the mindset of the finacially well positioned will become the definitive mindset of college graduates, especially given the apparently successful assault on liberal professors and the "dangers" they pose to young minds.

    Anonymous David

  6. In any organization - think of the United States as an organization - the tone comes from the top. With the signal exception of the 8 years of the Clinton administration, since 1980 this country has been run by people who remember the days of the robber barons with fondness, who believe that wealth is a sign of personal worth and people without wealth therefore have no worth, who think that human beings are less important than corporations and should just buy what's on sale and shut up, even if what's on sale is toxic.

    The age of the robber barons actually began to break up under Teddy Roosevelt, the first of the trust-busters, a Republican of principle who couldn't stand it. We need another Teddy Roosevelt, but I'm afraid they don't grow them like that any more.

  7. Anonymous9:33 PM

    You are right, and I'm afraid you are also right, hedera.

    Anonymous David