What is so special about the UC system that is worth saving?
The University of California is a one-of-a-kind university system that offers affordable, quality education at multiple high-ranking campuses. Two of its campuses, UCB and UCLA (along with the University of Virginia) are the only universities in the U.S. World and News Report’s top 25 ranking with tuition below $10,000. UCB, UCSD, and UCLA are the top three in Washington Monthly’s ranking, which is based on Social Mobility (recruiting and graduating low-income students), Research (producing cutting edge scholarship and PhDs), and Service (encouraging students to give something back to their country). Yet, the state’s per-student spending for education at UC, adjusted for inflation and enrollment growth, has fallen nearly 40% since 1990—from $15,860 in 1990 to $9,560 today in current, inflation-adjusted dollars. The central document guiding higher education policy in California has been the 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education, which specified the coordinated roles of UC, CSU and the community colleges and established the system that promised every California student an affordable (initially free) seat at an appropriate institution of higher education. The Master Plan clearly established higher education as a public good provided by the state for its citizens, and this plan has been extremely successful. But now the Master Plan is in the process of being shredded by both state defunding and administrative mismanagement by recent UC Regents and Presidents (see Q&A on UC Budget Crisis handout).
What is being threatened by defunding and mismanagement?
The quality of your education is threatened by increased class sizes, a greater difficulty enrolling in courses, fewer discussion sections and seminars, reduced access to labs, a potential closure of libraries and research centers, and shortened library hours. The damage this year’s cuts have done in a single blow to the UC system national and international reputation will also take many years to repair. The university’s reputation is built on its faculty, and UC has been remarkably successful in its efforts to compete with other universities (including the Ivy League) for faculty who are at the forefront of innovative thinking and groundbreaking research. The decline in state funding of faculty teaching and research may lead to not only the loss of this competiveness but also a decline in research conducted for the public good. Finally, plans to make up for the funding shortfall through a sharp increase in fees, the increased enrollment of non-California residents and international students who pay higher fees, and differential tuition for high-cost majors like engineering (and possibly even preferred campuses) will radically transform the university’s pillars of access and affordability.
But isn’t all this the unintentional result of the fact that the state is broke?
Yes and no, since the problem is not only economic but also political. Throughout his term in office, Governor Schwarzenegger has cut state support for higher education and sought to shift most of its costs to its immediate users, students and their families. In 2004, California’s higher education leaders accepted the Governor’s framework. The then President of UC, Bob Dynes, and his counterpart at CSU, Charles Reed, signed the “Higher Education Compact: Agreement Between Governor Schwarzenegger, the University of California, and the California State University 2005-06 through 2010-11.” The Compact represented a fundamental shift in the model for supporting higher education in California: this abandoned the view of higher education as a public good and redefined it as a private good. The University accepted a $169 million budget cut (out of its $4.4 billion core budget) committed to fundamentally shift financing away from the state general fund and onto private sources such as student fees and wealthy donors. The Schwarzenegger-Dynes-Reed Compact states, “In order to help maintain quality and enhance academic and research programs, UC will continue to seek additional private resources and maximize other fund sources available to the University to support basic programs.” Therefore, the large annual fee increases over recent years are not short term responses to unanticipated fiscal problems, but implementation of the Compact’s plan to increase fees every year at least as fast as the rise in personal income, which is about twice the rate of inflation. Because incomes have increased mostly among the wealthy this policy made higher education less affordable for most Californians. Moreover, while large, fee increases have not compensated for the cuts that UC and CSU accepted. The result: a large drop in the money available to finance core functions. The net result has been a substantial and accelerating decline in the quality of our students’ educational experience – growing class sizes, fewer courses, greater difficulty enrolling in courses, fewer teaching assistants and less student access to labs.
If the Compact was so bad, why did UC and CSU leaders accept it?
The first reason was that Governor Schwarzenegger was threatening even bigger cuts if UC and CSU leaders rejected the Compact. More importantly, cognizant UC (and, presumably CSU) budget officials knew that there would be a major budget crisis starting around 2008, and believed that the Compact would protect UC and CSU from large cuts at that time. However, when the anticipated budget crisis came in 2008, Governor Schwarzenegger simply reneged on his own deal and imposed another massive $1.4 billion in 2008 and 2009.
Why isn’t anyone in UC’s leadership advocating for restoring the Master Plan?
The expectation at UC Office of the President and the Regents has been that state funding will continue to fall. (The policy focus of the Regents and other leaders has been to accommodate UC to a privatized model, which will mean continuing declines in quality and access. The debate over public higher education should not be framed as a debate over how to allocate scarce state resources during difficult times, but as what it actually is: an ideological debate over the public value of higher education. The central policy document guiding higher education policy in California has been the 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education, which specified the coordinated roles of UC, CSU and the community colleges and established the system that promised every California student an affordable (initially free) seat at an appropriate institution of higher education. The Master Plan clearly established higher education as a public good provided by the state for its citizens. While fees have increased over time since then, the Compact represents the first time that UC accepted the idea that the costs of higher education should be shifted from public onto private sources. The real question is: Should higher education be treated as a public good (as envisioned in the Master Plan for Higher Education) or should it be viewed as a private good to be paid for by its customers (students and their families) and voluntary private donors? It is time for those in positions of power and responsibility at UC to advocate for real restoration of the Master Plan for Higher Education in a strong and consistent way. This is the necessary first step in changing the political environment and rebuilding higher education as a public good for all Californians.
What can I do?
Education needs to be restored to being a top priority for the state of California. We have to ask ourselves where our priorities lie when the state pays $49,000 per prison inmate and less than $14,000 per UC student. Voicing your opposition to fee increases is only half the battle; the quality of your education also has to be preserved through an immediate restoration of state funding to the amount promised in the Compact.
Begin a letter-writing campaign to the governor and state legislators. A sample letter can be
found here: http://www.ucforcalifornia.org/uc4ca/issues/alert/?alertid=13940331
Be informed by joining Option 4 (http://option4.ning.com/), an informal network for the UCSB community.