Who’s to blame for increased California university tuition?

Tuition at the public universities in California, including the University of California, Irvine, which pays my salary, continues to skyrocket, even as operating budgets in the University of California and California State Universities erode.  The president of the University of California, Mark Yudoff, has asked the Board of Regents to approve an increase of nearly 10 percent, the eleventh tuition hike in the last ten years.  (Cal State is considering a tuition hike of more than 12 percent.)  The UC administration has announced that these hikes will cover roughly a quarter of the last round of budget cuts from the state.

Students are, rightly, angry at paying more for less.  The protests about this latest round of budget increases have already begun.  Last week, a group of about 100 protested outside the offices of La Opinion, whose president, Monica Lozano, sits on the Board of Regents.  When the Regents meet, she will hear President Yudoff say something like: these tuition hikes are awful, as are the budget cuts coming with them.  We’ve been raising tuition and making cuts for years now, and we’re also increasing the number of international and out-of-state students, who pay much more.  Now, it’s more important to preserve the quality of the university than to maintain low tuition.  Tuition can be lowered in the future; at least in the land of hypotheticals: all it takes is money.  Restoring quality and reputation will be harder and take longer.

Talk like this is a gross provocation to students, who are working more hours, taking out more loans, and having a harder time getting the courses they need.  That doesn’t mean Yudoff isn’t telling the truth.

The twin mantras of access and excellence that public university administrators chant really operate at cross-purposes.  (We’ve discussed this before.) Great libraries, active and engaged researchers, and accessible and committed teachers cost money.  If the state won’t pay, someone else has to.  If students have to pay the full cost of what they receive, access will certainly be compromised.  (Let me stipulate: if you throw a rock in any direction on my campus–or any other–you’ll hit something someone regards as wasteful spending!)

If the past is a guide, Yudoff and campus administrators will take more flack from students than the state legislators who refused to put a tax extension on the ballot.  In effect, one of the president’s jobs is to absorb the flack from students when someone else hands them an awful deal.

But how to explain the costs of excellence in populist politics?  Days earlier, the Los Angeles Times ran a piece on the “brain drain” that university faculty and administrators fear, focusing on three cancer researchers leaving the University of California, San Diego, for Rice University.  Rice offered the faculty members raises of more than 40 percent (and they’re currently earning $180,000-$330,000!), plus commitments for research funds, lab space, and work loads that would allow them to focus on their research.  They’ll be taking their labs, their post-docs and students, and their millions  of dollars of grants to Texas.

Even as those salaries are a fraction of what a top professional athlete or hedge fund manager earns, they’re much (much!) higher than what most faculty earn, and much (much!) higher than the salaries of most Californians who worry about paying taxes–and tuition to the University of California.  How to justify?

The University of California could hire people to teach their classes at a fraction of the cost.  They could take away tenure, research support, and health benefits, and still find someone to stand in front of the  room and run powerpoint slides.  Would the courses be the same?  Would it be the same university?

About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
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8 Responses to Who’s to blame for increased California university tuition?

  1. Milan Moravec says:

    University of California (UC) tuition, fee increases are an insult. Californians face mortgage defaults, 12% unemployment, pay reductions, loss of unemployment benefits. No layoff or wage reductions for UC Chancellors, Vice Chancellors, Faculty during greatest recession of modern times.
    There is no good reason to raise tuition, fees when wage concessions are available. UC wages must reflect California’s ability to pay, not what others are paid. If wages better elsewhere, chancellors, vice chancellors, tenured, non tenured faculty, UCOP apply for the positions. If wages determine commitment to UC Berkeley, leave for better paying position. The sky above the 10 campuses will not fall.
    Pitch in for all Democrats, Republicans UC
    No furloughs. UCOP 18% reduction salaries & $50 million cut.
    Chancellors’ Vice-Chancellors’, 18% cut. Tenured faculty 15% trim.
    Non-Tenured, 10% reduction. Academic Senate, Council remove 100% costs salaries.
    It is especially galling to continue to generously compensate chancellors, vice-chancellors, faculty while Californians are making financial sacrifices and faculty, chancellor, vice-chancellor turnover is one of the lowest of public universities.
    The message that President Yudof, UC Board of Regent Chair Lansing, UC Berkeley Birgeneau are sending is that they have more concern for generously paid chancellors, faculty. The few at the top need to get a grip on economic reality and fairness.
    The California Legislature needs a Bill to oversee higher education salaries, tuition.

    • There are all kinds of things you can do to spend less money on the University of California.  You can cut salaries, refuse to match outside offers for highly valued faculty, hire people to teach on a per course basis, eliminate sports, and scuttle the library budget.  Some of these things have already started to happen.  It will cost less money.  But it will be worse less money.  Community colleges already cost less.  If, however, Californians want a university that is internationally regarded, which produces cutting edge research and wins major grants, someone will have to pay for it.

      • Milan Moravec says:

        How come it costs 50% more (after adjusting for inflation) for University of California Board of Regents Chair Lansing and President Yudof to provide the same service?

        Total expenditures in the UC system in 1999-2000 were $3.2 billion to educate a student population of 154,000. Converted into 2011 dollars using the Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI calculator gets us to $4.3B in 2011 dollars, which comes out to $27,850 per student.

        In 2011, the total UC system budget was $6.3 billion dollars: an increase of almost 50% after adjusting for inflation. Enrollment also rose – to 158,000 students, a 3% increase, yielding a cost per student of $39,750.

        Costs went up 50% in 10 years. And yet the news out of UC President Yudof is that the UC system is “bracing” for ‘another round of budget cuts’!

        Email opinions to UC Board of Regents marsha.kelman@ucop.edu

  2. Milan Moravec says:

    Every qualified California student should get a place in University of California system. That’s a desirable goal for a public university. However, UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau displaces Californians qualified for education at Cal. with $50,600 tuition Foreigners.
    UC tuition increases exceed the national average rate of increase. The University of California Board Of Regents jeopardizes Californians attending higher education by making UC the most expensive public university in the United States.
    Self-serving tuition increases are used by UC President Mark Yudof to increase the pay of 80,000 eligible faculty and others. Payoffs like these point to higher operating costs and still higher tuition for Californians.
    I agree that faculty in higher education and senior management, like Yudof and Birgeneau, should consider the students’ welfare and put it high on their values.
    Deeds unfortunately do not bear out the students’ welfare values of senior management and the UC Board of Regents.
    Opinions to UC Board of Regents, email marsha.kelman@ucop.edu

    • You can spend a lot less money on the institutions that comprise the University of California and still call it a university, but that doesn’t mean that it will be the same thing. The main factor driving increased tuition at UC is severe cuts in state funding. You’re free to ignore this, but to do so it to present a dishonest story of the problem. Tuition hikes have come with serious cuts in spending on things large and small. An almost trivial example: my trash is picked up every other week now instead of every week, and UC can spend a little less on maintenance. (Maybe this is a good idea. Maybe they shouldn’t pick up trash at all, and we can bring it home on our own–or just let it pile up.) Meantime, the campuses are desperate to find ways to generate more income, and that means foreign and out of state students, who pay substantially more than out of staters. Bad deal.
      Your answer: cut faculty and administrative salaries. You can also stop subscribing to journals and buying books (this has already begun to happen).
      It’s totally viable–but then it’s a different university. (Again, any professional sports team can fill its roster at much lower salaries–it just won’t win very much.)
      You can still call it college, but students will be getting something less. You can go out for a filling dinner that costs under $3, but it won’t do much for your health over the long haul.
      Let me stipulate that there may be spending cuts available that won’t affect the education delivered and the research produced. Who do you think is in the best position to make those calls?
      I think California students should be paying less for their education; I don’t think they should get a cheaper education.

  3. Milan Moravec says:

    The main factor driving increased tuition at University of California are ineffective campus senior management and generously paid faculty who were just given an increase in salary. I love the University of California (UC) having been a student and lecturer. But today I am concerned that at times I do not recognize the UC I love. Like so many I am deeply disappointed by the pervasive failures of Regent Chairwoman Lansing, President Yudof and the ten campus Chancellors from holding the line on rising costs and tuition increases.
    Californians are reeling from19% unemployment (includes those forced to work part time, and those no longer searching), mortgage defaults, loss of unemployment benefits. And those who still have jobs are working longer for less. Faculty wages must reflect California’s ability to pay, not what others are paid.
    Pay increases for generously paid Faculty is arrogance.
    UC Berkeley (ranked # 70 Forbes) tuition increases exceed the national average rate of increases. Chancellor Birgeneau has molded Cal. into the most expensive American public university.
    President Yudof and Chancellor Birgeneau have dismissed many much needed cost-cutting options. They did not consider freezing vacant faculty positions, increasing class size, requiring faculty to teach more classes, doubling the time between sabbaticals, cutting and freezing pay and benefits for all chancellors and reforming the pension system.
    They said such faculty reforms “would not be healthy for University of California”.
    We agree it is far from the ideal situation, but it is in the best interests of the university system and the state to hold the line on cost increases. UC cannot expect to do business as usual: raising tuition; granting pay raises and huge bonuses during a weak economy that has sapped state revenues and individual Californians’ income.
    There is no question the necessary realignments with economic reality are painful. Regent Chairwoman Lansing can bridge the public trust gap with reassurances that salaries and costs reflect California’s economic reality. The sky above UC will not fall

    Opinions? Email the UC Board of Regents marsha.kelman@ucop.edu

  4. Pingback: Occupy unbound | Politics Outdoors

  5. Keith Jones says:

    To try to make the argument that reducing the salaries and benefits such as rentals of mansions will reduce the quality of education is absurd. Companies all over the country have taken cuts. I myself have taken a 15% reduction in salary to insure coworkers are not laid off. Employees are not jumping ship. They are in fact working harder to insure the company success. People are willing to make sacrifices as long as they see management do the same. If a person leaves a company that is making such sacrifices because of his or her greed than that is not an employee that would be of value to any company. Nobody is irreplaceable. There are millions of hard working qualified people looking for work.

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