Does Higher Education Have a Future in California?

Or maybe the question should be posed like this: “without affordable and accessible higher education, does California even have a future?”

California’s dramatic economic success over the last few decades, propelling the state into the forefront of the global economy, was made possible by the investments made in higher education in the 1950s and 1960s. Democrats and Republicans agreed on the need for a well-funded college system that prioritized accessibility and affordability. The UCs, CSUs, and the oft-overlooked community colleges trained generations of workers, entrepreneurs, inventors, and others who created, produced, and managed the state’s innovation and prosperity. The 1960 Master Plan was the envy of the other 49 states, and gave California and its workers a massive competitive advantage.

All of that is now under direct assault. As I have charted before, Arnold Schwarzenegger has always wanted to destroy the Master Plan and privatize public higher education, without regard to its effects on the economy. One can only assume this is part of his broader goal of decoupling the wealthy from the fate of everyone else in this state. He wants to sacrifice broad economic prosperity and the possibilities of future growth to enable the already rich to become much richer and escape any future taxation and redistribution of their hoard.

As a consequence, with yet another massive hit to higher education budgets, the UC system is proposing a truly insane 32% increase in student fees in 2010, bringing the cost of a year at a UC to over $10,000. For perspective, just 10 years ago I paid about $4,400 for a year at UC Berkeley. The total cost of the fees alone for four years were about $17,600 – which, if these increases go into effect, will buy you about 3 1/2 semesters of a UC education.

It is difficult to imagine how this will have any other outcome than economic stagnation. More and more young people will be unable to attend college and thus be consigned to even lower wages than college graduates are already experiencing. Unemployment rates are much lower for people with a bachelor’s degree than for those who do not have one, although college grads are definitely getting hit by the recession.

Or, more young people will have to take out even larger amounts of student loans to afford the higher fees. A $40,000 loan debt is an enormous burden on young families, especially in a state with a high cost of living, stagnant wages, and the likelihood of long-term high unemployment.

Either way, it represents a de facto tax increase on middle-class and working families in order to protect the wealthy from facing higher taxes. It is economically indefensible.

The possibility of such reckless fee increases, along with the destructive cuts already being felt on campuses across the state, suggests that California’s government has stopped caring about the state’s economic future. In a recession higher education should be expanding its offerings, hiring more profs and letting in more students. Retraining and re-education is an excellent, tried and true method of producing economic recovery. Yet economic recovery is a verboten concept in California these days, as these fee increase proposals make clear.

The reaction is already beginning. UC faculty are planning a September 24th walkout to protest the cuts. They are joined by 12,000 university staff, UC Berkeley grad students, and solidarity actions at UC Berkeley and UCLA, with other actions likely to occur that day as well.

That’s going to have to be just the opening shot in a long battle to save not only higher education in California, but the state’s future.

6 thoughts on “Does Higher Education Have a Future in California?”

  1. I don’t have the energy now to compare tuition costs in other states with those proposed for California. However, your point about loans is so true – college grads with such high loans will be at an extreme disadvantage upon graduation.

    In addition, living costs are so high here and barriers to entry in buying a house so unbalanced, that college grads will surely look to other states to start their families.

    That means we, as Californians, will lose their energy, their potential contributions, and our state population will become even more uncompetitive with respect to average level of education. The tuition increases will grease the skids to third world status.

    The income distribution here is already exceedingly unbalanced, even as we scramble to extract the last penny of value from the depreciated investments of the 50s and 60s. A sad end for a formerly glorious state.  

  2. The planned walk-out on Sept 24 is, in my opinion, ill-advised. I am in favor of direct action and resistance to the cuts and the furlough. The group organizing walk-out, however, is approaching the problem in a counter-productive manner. A walk-out on the first

    day of classes will unnecessarily stress first year students, adversely affect class enrollment in vulnerable depts like humanities and social sciences that are dependent on enrollment-linked funding, and will let the Academic Senate, which is supposed to be advocating for us, off the hook. We will

    never win public opinion this way. We would have a

    chance of winning support if we compelled the Academic Senate to stand up for our and our students’ interests and planned educational events to bring along students to an understanding of the budget crisis. The action as planned assumes a politicized student body, which is just

    not the case. Students are against raised fees, of course, but not much beyond that.

    The walk-out has not garnered much support among the faculty, to judge from the number of signatures on the petition that has circulated. It is impetuous, premature, and punitive. They should have given more thought about how practically to apply political pressure rather than

    re-enacting the Free Speech Movement.

  3. in the bedazzled mind of the average voter.

    Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see coordinated, same-day action by faculty, students, and the parents of students, accompanied by press conferences with well-known high-tech CEOs from Apple, Google, Amgen, etc.

  4. That’s what I paid when I started UCLA in the fall of 1968. Of course I could fill my VW bug for $5.00 too.

    But my point is that I could pay for this with my part-time job. My folks kicked in for other expenses. And nobody had to mortgage the family home or their future to pay for it.

    Even when my son went to UCSC in 1989, his dad was able to manage the tuition. It was a stretch by then. But, bless his heart, he did it. Our son worked part-time to pay for extra expenses, got one grant, and some small student loans. But he didn’t leave school with crushing debt.

    Now, I know a young woman who wanted to be a doctor, but couldn’t afford the tuition for the lengthy schooling. I know of others who can’t go to college at all. These are bright young people whose economic contributions we have lost because they will work far below their capabilities for the rest of their lives.

Comments are closed.