The Selling of American Universities
Where is Casey Anthony?

Are Recent Tuition Hikes Justified in California Colleges and Universities?

Californians' Dream of 'Free' Education is An Illusion

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My last blog was about the commercialization of colleges and universities. My first discussed John Stoessel’s view that a college education is over-priced and that most students do not need a college education to be successful. For this third in the series, I was motivated to look at the price of a college education at California colleges and universities in view of recent tuition hikes. I teach at a California State University and feel students are being asked to pick up too much of the tab for a college education at a "free" institution.

Over the past three years, California's public colleges and universities have seen deep cuts in state funding that have dramatically raised the cost of attendance, forced campuses to turn away qualified students and eroded the quality of classroom instruction. Under the recently approved state budget for fiscal 2011-2012, the 10-campus University of California (UC) and 23-campus California State University (CSU) will each lose at least $650 million in state funding, a cut of more than 20 percent. The two systems could each face another $100 million cut if the state takes in less revenue than expected. The 112-campus community college system will lose $400 million in state funding and fees will increase from $26 to $36 per unit. The system could lose another $72 million and raise fees to $46 per unit if revenue projections fall short.

Last week, the University of California (UC) regents raised tuition 9.6% for the fall, a controversial second increase that students decried as too large and too late for a school year that is just weeks away. Tuition was already set to rise 8 percent in the fall of 2011, to about $12,000, about three times what students paid a decade ago.

In an interview with The Associated Press, UC President Mark Yudof said higher tuition will cause hardship for many students, but he sees little choice when the university faces a $1 billion budget shortfall driven by rising costs and shrinking public support. His biggest worry is losing the academic talent that has made UC one of the world's top research universities, Yudof said. UC San Diego recently lost three star scientists to Rice University, a deep-pocketed private institution in Houston. "You can't starve this university for many years without there being consequences," Yudof said. "There's going to be a lot of pain. I don't deny that. But on my watch we're not going to see a dilution of the quality of the University of California."

Trustees with the CSU unanimously voted two weeks ago to increase tuition once again, this time raising the cost for fall by 12 percent. The hike follows a 10 percent increase approved earlier this year. Undergraduate students will now pay $5,572 annually. Students paid $4,440 last year.

Trustees said the higher fees are necessary following a $650 million cut in state funding to the 23-campus system approved when Gov. Jerry Brown signed the new state budget earlier this month. "We are aware this fee increase presents challenges for many of our students, but the alternatives are severe cuts to programs that would impede our ability to provide an adequate education," said Robert Turnage, assistant vice chancellor for budget.

CSU officials said that without the tuition increases, the CSU would have had to close several small campuses, or decrease enrollment by more than 40,000 students. About one-third of the fee increase will go toward financial aid for low-income students, officials said. The fee hike means that incoming seniors will have seen their tuition increase by about 79 percent since they began as freshmen in 2008. Trustees said another tuition increase is possible in January if state revenues fall below projections

The state budget cuts also means California's community colleges, which serve 2.75 million students, will be reducing course offerings despite record demand from high school graduates, returning war veterans and unemployed workers trying to learn new skills, said Dan Troy, the system's vice chancellor for fiscal policy. College value "The state has to get real about its priorities," Troy said. "If we're serious about ensuring a bright economic future, funding higher education is a huge part of that."

William Tierney, director of the Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis at the University of Southern California, said the budget cuts to colleges and universities could have a lasting impact on California's economy and future. Without a major expansion of higher education, Tierney said, "We're going to have an uneducated work force. The jobs will go elsewhere. Clearly an uneducated work force doesn't generate as much tax revenue."

I have been a professor in the CSU system for more than twenty years including four different campuses. I know first-hand how state funding cuts have negatively affected the quality of education. Students must contend with an ever-declining number of sections of required courses, larger class sizes, and fewer electives to choose from in one’s major field of study. Faculty have, for the most part, taken it all in stride but we may be reaching the tipping point where the motivation to go the extra mile is lost as salaries remain stagnant, with no increases for three straight years while absorbing a 10 percent pay cut in 2009-2010. I am particularly concerned about the fate of untenured faculty who joined the CSU system at a time when housing prices were at a peak and promises made for a sustainable standard of living. Some now look for external sources of income and deal with the consequences of an under-water mortgage.

My personal belief is that administrative costs should be permanently cut in the CSU by ten percent across-the-board. I’ve been a dean and department chair in two different CSU’s and am convinced there is a lot of bloat at the top. On a campus-by-campus level, there is no need for dozens of vice presidents at a time when students are asked to pay increasing amounts and receive less education value for their dollar. Each campus needs a president, vice president for faculty affairs or provost, a dean of instruction, a dean for student affairs, and a vice president for operations who would handle all other matters. Support staff, who might be paid less than one-half the amount of vice presidents, can take up the slack. The CSU must make future cuts at the administrative level and not classroom instruction given its mission as a teaching system.

I do not have first-hand knowledge of the UC system but I do know the professors teach less than one-half the number of classes as a CSU professor in part to devote time to research activities. In the UC it is publish or perish while in the CSU the primary obligation of a faculty member is teaching. CSU faculty do conduct research but it tends to have practical applications– research that can enhance classroom instruction and student learning. In the UC, the research is more esoteric based on empirical studies that help to advance knowledge in the field but do little to improve the learning experience for students. Don’t get me wrong. It is “cool” to say your professor is a well-known researcher or is frequently interviewed by CNN. I also believe there is a place for that type of faculty member especially in the UC system. However, students should not have to pay $50,000-$60,000 in tuition for a four-year education that was once less than half that amount while, at the same time, being taught all-too-often by teaching assistants who themselves are students, albeit at the graduate level.

Bob Samuels (link-about him) has conducted research on how much it costs to educate each undergraduate student in the UC system. In response to his research, the UC budget office has written a report entitled, Cost of Education Calculations at the University of California.  He points out the UC position that the marginal cost to educate each additional student in 2009-10 was calculated to be $16,574. However, much of the state funds go to non-instructional activities and the UC Budget Office estimates that the state funding per student is under $10,000. Samuels contends that the average cost of instruction should not include non-instructional costs such as health science instruction, research, public service, or non-instructional support activities. He concludes that “students and the state are paying for the enormous increase in administrative costs on the campuses, and thus the economic solution is not to reduce enrollments or raise tuition; rather, the solution has to be to decrease the cost of non-instructional services.” I agree with Samuels and would add that some faculty at research institutions are grossly overpaid. No professor should earn in the range of $200,000-$400,000. Moreover, the administration cost of most colleges and universities I've been at could be cut one-half and positions consolidated. Like most bureaucracies, colleges and universities have morphed into self-serving, self-preserving institutions.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on July 24, 2011

Cartoon reproduced with permission