Sandy Banks, is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times and the parent of two daughters studying in the California State University system. She’s frustrated that it’s costing her so much more to help her kids out, and angry that they’re getting less for their money–and hers. After expressing relief that one daughter found an affordable apartment, she turns to write about a somewhat bigger problem:
Her tuition will jump again — by about $600 — this fall. That’s the fourth tuition increase imposed by Cal State University trustees since 2009.
That hikes fees and tuition for classes to more than $6,000 a year, about $2,000 more than we expected when my youngest daughter enrolled as a freshman two years ago.
That’s double trouble for me. Her sister is a senior at Cal State Northridge, so our family is on the hook this year for $4,000 more than I budgeted back when an education in the Cal State system seemed like such a great idea.
That’s the personal toll of a public tragedy. State financing for higher education has been rolled back to levels unseen in years. This year’s budget cuts funding by 20%. That translates to $650 million less, and that has to be covered by somebody.
Banks notes that the tuition hikes have been accompanied by real cuts in offerings on campus. It’s harder for a student to get the courses she needs to graduate; professors and teaching assistants are responsible for more students; and there is a general decline in the environments on campus.
She wants to know why the parents who are, more or less, helping their kids pay for school, aren’t outraged and active. Parents of college students at the state university, and even parents of K-12 students, know that the marginal savings they’re getting on state taxes don’t come close to covering the increased costs they’re subjected to in trying to educate their children. They are outraged, or as Banks says, angry and frustrated.
They aren’t active because they aren’t organized. At the K-12 level, PTAs are incensed, but avowedly non-political. In well-organized communities, they’ve redoubled their fundraising efforts, trying to compensate for a taxation system that has become less and less fair. They’ve left it to the teachers unions to do the political work, and their success has been, uh, limited.
At the university level, student governments and campus-based organizations have fought the budget cuts and tuition hikes, but have vented most of their rage, so far, at the administrators who are playing crappy cards, rather than the state legislators who have dealt them.
For the parents of university students, the picture is somewhat bleaker. But parents, who are also tax payers, are alone and unorganized. They may write or call their state legislators who, negotiating term limits and the 2/3 tax rule, are themselves overwhelmed. They won’t respond effectively until pressed to do so.
And the parents won’t press until someone invests the same energy in organizing them that conservative interests have spent in organizing tax payers. Effective protest and political action isn’t a spontaneous reaction to a threat, but the result of strategic investments. They need to learn from the people who put them in this position.