Since 2000, University of California student fees have increased every year save one, the total rising from about $3,000 to $7,000 per year. The incremental increases have burgeoned to unthinkable highs, and costs of education have been shouldered on the backs of starving students and their cash-strapped families. But this is old news. For six years student fees have increased, and at the Board of Regents meeting in Los Angeles last week, they rose again. What is more troubling than the costs themselves is the lack of future planning to keep fees from skyrocketing into the foreseeable future.
In a move without semblance of responsible planning, UC president Robert Dynes and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger agreed to a “compact” in 2006 that essentially shifted the burden of the cost of higher education away from the state: public funding was cut, increases were made permanent and UCs were encouraged to “seek additional private resources … to support basic programs.” According to a 2006 San Francisco Chronicle opinion piece by UC Santa Cruz politics professor Robert Meister, Dynes also agreed that UC would raise tuition “every year at least as fast as the rate of income growth in California … up to 10 percent.” Meister noted, “At current rates of increase, UC tuition would exceed $11,000 a year by the time the compact ends in 2011.”
In a more recent move evincing shoddy financing, one symptomatic of the UC fees affair, Gov. Schwarzenegger has proposed to borrow against future state lottery revenue to offset a $17.2 billion budget deficit. It’s difficult to tell what kind of economic thinking is behind such a tactic, but one can sense the head of state is gasping for air, buying time and mortgaging the present to an uncertain and perhaps equally bankrupt future. Here too the state can do nothing but wash its hands and wait passively for an upturn or miraculous fiscal cure. In the meantime, what will happen to the state’s flagship educational institution?
It was disappointing to see Board of Regents chair Richard Blum sidestep the massive issues at hand at the regents’ meeting. Deflecting attention from the serious implications the fee increases entail, he and others pointed to the boost in financial aid students will receive as part of fee increases and noted, in a strange moment, that living costs too are skyrocketing. Blum admitted that “costs of going to the University of California keep going up at a frightening rate,” and offered the increased costs of living, transportation and housing as some sort of consolation while downplaying the need to face the fees issue head on.
California’s plan for the future of the UC amounts essentially to privatization of education: The UC system is made to look toward that nebulous private sector to compensate for California’s worrisome economic trends and fiscal woes. In essence, the state is washing its hands of responsibility. The problems are too varied and too monumental for its reach, apparently, and so we must peddle for our education, either donning the frills attractive to corporate sponsorship or cutting deals with multinational oil companies and Silicon Valley captains of industry.
The problem with this solution is that it isn’t a solution at all — it simply places the future of the precarious UC into the arms of profit-driven and unpredictable forces, and sheds Sacramento of much of its responsibility. What, after all, is the state here for? And why are we called the University of California?