Sojourner's Blog

June 17, 2010

Keep the “Public” in Public Higher-Education

Filed under: Education — brucehartford @ 11:46 pm
Tags: , ,

Cuts & Hikes. Education leaders tell us that devastating budget cuts are “necessary” because of the current economic crisis. But they’ve been cutting budgets and raising tuition for decades — in good times as well as bad.

  • For example, during the economic boom years 1998-2008, “State spending per student enrolled at the University of California has declined by about one-third.” [1]
  • In 1960, the “Master Plan for Education mandated, that all qualified students be able to attend a public collegetuition free. But for decades they’ve been circumventing that requirement by calling student payments “fees” rather than “tuition.” For example, between 2000 and 2008 tuition (fees) at UC and CSU more than doubled. [2]
  • In 1960, student fees at UC and CSU were roughly $150. This school year (2010) at UC they’re $11,000 (a 7000% increase), and at CSU they’re $4,900 (a 3200% increase).
  • “Economic crisis” is a political smoke-screen. To restore higher-education funding and lower student tuition back to 2001 levels would cost taxpayers $4.643 billion. That would require an annual income-tax increase of just $32 for the median California taxpayer. Simply revoking some of the many recent tax-cuts for corporations and the wealthy would solve the higher-education budget problem. [3]

It’s not fiscal crises driving these tuition hikes and budget cuts, it’s political policies. Behind the rhetoric are policies that reject the Master Plan’s goal of providing tuition-free educations to all of the state’s qualified students and policies aimed at making public universities equivalent to costly private institutions.

Spending Priorities. At the 2009 meeting where they jacked up tuition, the UC Regents also gave hefty pay raises to executives and senior bureaucrats. Apparently, $500,000 a year isn’t enough, so the wages of janitors had to be cut and librarians laid off so that the Lord-High Poobahs were not inconvenienced. And why are there so many managers? Fifteen years ago, tenure-track UC professors outnumbered administrators and functionaries two to one, today the bureaucrats outnumber the professors. Spending priorities favoring administration over instruction are driven by policy, not economic crisis. [4] [5]

Public Education and Empowered Citizens. Increasingly,
politicians and education officials are telling us that public colleges should be run like private businesses. More and more, their focus is on profit & loss, revenue enhancement, outsourcing, and cutting labor costs. Their mindset seems to assume that the primary (or possibly the sole) purposes of higher-education are corporate-research and training students for hired labor. Yes, preparing people for the occupations of tomorrow’s economy is an important function of higher-education, but a more important role is developing empowered citizens to participate in, and control, a democratic society. In the final analysis, public institutions of higher learning should be in the democracy-building business, not the financial profit-and-loss business.

Public Institutions are NOT Commercial Businesses. Applying metaphors of private business to higher education means recasting universities as factories, with education and research patents as their products, professors as easily replaceable assembly-line workers, and students and corporations as customers. But public institutions such as schools, roads, sewer-systems, and health departments, serve the community as a whole, not just certain “customers.” Public higher-education is an engine of economic growth that benefits everyone at-large. Better educated citizens are more productive and pay higher taxes, they create a stronger economy and more jobs for all. “The truth is that the knowledge and innovation coming from graduates of state-supported universities create far more wealth in the state than the education’s cost.” [6]



1. Higher Education: Frequently Asked Questions, California Legislative Analyst’s Office, Issue #18, 12/09 [PDF]

2. Resident Student Fees Table, California Postsecondary Education Commission

3. How much will it cost us to restore public higher education? Keep California’s Promise

4. Execs Still Get Raises as UC Cuts Staffing, Pay, S.F. Chronicle August 7, 2009

5. Statistical Summary and Data…, UC Office of President

6. Privatization Is The Issue, Prof. George Lakoff

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