University of California (UC) regents raised undergraduate fees today by 32% for next year. They are trying to squeeze in a current year raise as well, not sure if that will hold up in court. The regents periodically try to pull a fast one on people, get sued, and lose in court. I can think of twice they've lost court cases, one on delayed compensation and one on tuition that was increased without sufficient warning.
The tuition increases were protested loudly by students to the point that UCL A police and highway patrol (if I can believe my memory of what the radio announced) were called to escort regents off campus.
I'm fully in sympathy with the protesters.
I'm also fully in sympathy with the regents.
The way UC is run and organized is based on standard expectations on what funds the state will supply. Long term contracts are signed, particularly with tenured faculty. Students are admitted with the presumption that they'll be allowed to stay long enough to get a degree. Competent staff are prized and kept. At a state university, students staff and faculty represent expenses. In particular, students do not pay the full price of their education, which is heavily subsidized by the state.
When the state makes massive cuts in its payments to UC, UC must respond immediately to balance its budget. Either cuts in spending or increases in revenue are required. UC has severely restricted hiring, particularly of new faculty. UCLA says it will hire perhaps 25 instead of the more usual 100 faculty each year with an implied loss of 75 faculty this year. Each loss of 75 faculty will cut the budget by a substantial amount, perhaps as much as 10 million dollars each year in salary and benefits. However one can only lose faculty at some rate, one cannot force out extra faculty. The amount of shortfall just at UCLA is 100 million dollars. Where else can UC get the money to pay salaries?
Spending cuts are difficult and painful. If you eliminate a professor, that is a number of students who cannot be taught. As you eliminate more and more professors, fewer and fewer students can be educated. A lot of professors can not be fired due to the tenure system. Each year a few retire and a few relocate to other universities. The retirees are senior faculty, the relocators are usually top faculty who can manage to land jobs at other institutions. A few faculty who leave probably didn't get tenure in the first place, but those are rarer, at least at UC. If you don't replace leavers and retirees, the faculty size will shrink and fewer students can be educated. By not replacing these generally senior faculty, the remaining faculty will tend to be a little worse. Retirees are presumably average professors, on average. But leavers are usually substantially above average and can't easily be replaced. My argument is that when new faculty are not hired, the average quality of the faculty declines. And the total quality -- the sum over all faculty declines substantially, as there are fewer faculty to do research and teach classes.
A further problem with eliminating faculty: some faculty actually turn a pretty hefty profit for the university. Through grant getting, faculty bring in extra money. The university essentially taxes these moneys (taxes are built in to many grants, and are called overhead), gaining money that can be spent on the business of educating students and running a university. Thus the 10million savings must be partially offset by an unknown and substantial amount of income that the university forgoes by not having another professor on staff.
The state has directly forced UC to increase tuition and fees. Especially so because UC can not reduce expenditures rapidly. In the longer run, fewer students can be educated, fewer faculty will be maintained on payroll.
Where can UC find the additional money needed to pay faculty and staff salaries? Revenue enhancement is key. Hence fee increases.
Why should the state subsidize the education of its residents? The reasons are several and revolve around the direct benefit to the state and to all of us when one of us is educated. I directly benefit when your kid is educated. That's why we have a free public education system. Think about all your neighbors. How would you like living in your neighborhood if none of the neighbor kids had the slightest bit of education, hadn't even gone to kindergarten. Couldn't read or write or do math. How good a neighborhood would you think you had? Would you leave as soon as you could afford to? What would those uneducated kids do? Gardening services? Gas pump operator. Wait, that job went away. They couldn't teach grade school. No large business would hire them, for example to answer phones or to be secretaries. Much less to invent new products. What would the crime rate be if there were large numbers of uneducated Americans running around (or is that already happening?).
Having educated neighbors makes my neighbor a better place and a more interesting place as well. And that benefit extends right up through to a college education. I benefit by the presence of silicon valley in California. Jobs, high tech, high quality jobs are created when a google or Hewlett Packard is started. HP and google aren't going to hire uneducated folks to work at their companies. No education, no entree to Silicon Valley. Those jobs are created initially by a few people, then more and more jobs if the original company does something very useful for society and is successful.
It's obvious to me that undergraduate fees will continue to rise in Fall 2010 as well. I predict another 32% raise. Its unfortunate when a state backtracks from educating its young. We will see the consequences of disinvestment in education for decades to come.
Sadly the students are protesting the wrong people. Too little to late. The governor of the state of California and the California legislature are directly responsible for the rise in fees at UC. The governor and legislators are the people the students should be protesting, not the regents.
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