Two Views of UC from Out There

Two Views of UC from Out There – and a Response

Letter to the Editor, San Francisco Chronicle  March 9, 2010
http://www.sfgate.com

Education’s cost: a fact of life

What the public college students (and their parents) in this state must understand is that the days of the taxpayers subsidizing their higher education are over, sad as that may be.

Back in the palmy days when California’s leaders made that optimistic promise, they had no idea of the numbers as they now exist. The costs at all colleges and universities have risen dramatically over the last few years (much higher than the cost-of-living-index; why that is should be addressed to the institutions themselves).

Those of us in California who are taxpayers are having a difficult enough time paying our mortgages and for the education of our own children. It simply is not sustainable to expect that there will be free or substantially below-cost education provided on the backs of the state’s increasingly dwindling number of taxpayers.

Compare the costs at public and private institutions of higher learning, and be grateful for what you have. (Having a child at a private school, I would be overjoyed to pay only what the UC system is charging).

NANCY LEASIA, Saratoga

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A Reader’s Comment on http://UniversityProbe.org March 11, 2010

As a parent of a UC student and UC-bound student, I support my children’s quest for higher education financially though I am of limited financial means. I was recently made aware of Professor Charles Schwartz’ effort to address UC accountability by my daughter who is now of age as an independent and who will bear the brunt of the increased financial burden imposed by the UC system herself. This coming year, I will struggle to financially support my son’s transition to a UC school from the community college system.

Like many citizens, I have maintained a sense of ignorance and subjugation of the UC system believing that I am powerless to its monolithic hegemony over higher public education in California.

I have been asked by my children to take action toward the cause of accountability of the UC/CSU system. To that end, I am contacting my assemblyman, state senator, the governor (including prospective gubernatorial candidates) and the press to investigate and resolve the issue of UC/CSU expenditures and accountability. Though I am of limited financial means, I am duty bound by my parental obligation to my children to stand up and take an activist role for their benefit.

Many thanks to Professor Schwartz and others who are leading the charge in this most important crusade. Working together, we can make our voices heard by our elected representatives and seek the fiscal prudence and justice that California’s populace deserves; a UC/CSU system with a focus on its core mission – to provide higher education to all students who wish to achieve a post-secondary degree.

MICHAEL SMITH, Hollister

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Charles Schwartz responds

I think it is possible to bring these two lines of thought together, to benefit the University and the people of California. It starts with providing some clarity on the simple question of how UC spends the money it takes in.

There are two great missions that California has assigned to its premier University:

• to provide top quality undergraduate education for all qualified students;

• to provide top quality academic research – and related graduate student programs – for the benefit of all.

These two missions are entrusted to the faculty; and in many ways the two efforts are related.  But these two missions are nowadays seen through two different financial lenses – by which I mean to ask the question,  Who should pay for what?

It used to be that the State of California paid for both, through generous taxpayer funding of the core budget to pay for the whole of faculty salaries, their support staff and the institutional infrastructure needed to let all that great work proceed.

However, over the last two decades there has been a significant shifting of this basic operating cost at UC. Undergraduate students have been seen as privileged individuals who are gaining a private good through their access to a UC education; and therefore, the cry goes, they should bear that cost, or at least a part of that cost, rather than having the general taxpayer carry all the burden for them.

The research mission is certainly something else: a public good, of great value in economic terms and in many other dimensions of modern civilization. This is an expensive business, this search for new knowledge; but it can only be viewed as something which should be paid for by the whole of society, for the benefit of the whole of society.

So, there is a simple question to be addressed to those who have the responsibility for the financial management of the University (which is defined in the California Constitution as a “Public Trust”):

How much of the core budget at UC is allocated to undergraduate education and how much to faculty research and its related graduate programs?

(There are a number of other graduate programs, aside from the research-intensive PhD program, which prepare graduate students for various professional careers. Those programs carry rather heavy fees placed upon those students – a subject that I do not want to go into here.)

This suggestion of “disaggregating” the cost of undergraduate education raises the hackles of university administrators and faculty members alike, not only at UC but at all research universities across the country. The calculation cannot be done with any exact precision, but it can and must be addressed as a reasonable and necessary step in coming to terms with our public constituents.

The official accounting used  by UC reaches the conclusion that student fees now cover 30% or 40% of the Average Cost of Education at this institution. But that calculation includes the full cost of faculty research throughout the academic year.

My own calculations, as of two years ago, led to the conclusion that Undergraduate student fees at UC had reached the level of 100% of the actual cost to UC for providing Undergraduate education.

There is a sharp conflict here and it must be resolved.

If the administration’s number is accepted, then there will be continued objection from California taxpayers for any increased public funding of UC; they will say, let the students, whom we are now subsidizing, pay for their own education.

If my number is more correct, then there is a whole new situation to be recognized.  Undergraduate students (and their families) are now paying the full cost for the education they receive from UC. It is up to the state, and the taxpayers, to assume full responsibility for funding the research mission.

It would certainly be wrong to push the cost of that research – which is a benefit to all citizens – onto the tuition bills of undergraduate students. (In case you are wondering about the famous private research universities: they certainly do push all of that cost onto their undergraduates, with a little help from their big endowments.) We, as a public university, have an obligation to come clean about how we use the public money.

So, there is a challenge. The Board of Regents and their hired executives have the formal responsibility to address this matter; and my colleagues on the faculty need to come out and take part in this debate.

1 Comment

  1. cloud minder said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 12:30 pm

    could you expand on this statement you made: “It is up to the state, and the taxpayers,to assume full responsibility for funding the research mission”

    -as it relates to research projects/ done deals like the British Petroleum project with UC Berkeley?

    -what should the taxpayers and state pay?

    -and what parts of the research should British Petroleum be allowed to privatize?

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