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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Saving Public Higher Ed: Cheaper than Christmas Shopping

The folks at Keep California's Promise have written an important Working Paper on fixing public funding for California higher ed. Its results are shocking -- and pleasantly so, for a change.

The authors, Stanton Glantz of UCSF and Eric Hays, CUCFA Director of Research, take 2000-01 as a baseline, and quantify subsequent fee increases and state funding cuts for all three segments - the Community College system, the California State University system, and the University of California. (Disclosure: Glantz and I were two of the authors of the Futures Report, and have worked together on various Academic Senate projects involving university budgets and funding.)

Glantz and Hays then calculate how much it would cost in taxpayer funds to return all three segments to 2000-2001 levels of (inflation-adjusted) educational resources. They also calculate the fee levels required to recover 2000-01 funding levels. This is important because higher ed officials haven't actually raised fees enough to avoid cuts to operations, so they have been raising fees and cutting education at the same time.

There are a couple of interesting twists.  Glantz and Hays return to a 2000-01 pathway that includes fee rollbacks to their earlier levels.  This is a kind of worst case for taxpayers - who then don't get to have high student fees subsidizing their lower public investment - and a best case for students and their families.

The real breakthrough here is that Glantz and Hays move the budget discussion beyond aggregate amounts by calculating the cost to the median individual California taxpayer of an advance toward a near- Master Plan level of affordability.   The results are amazing.  To have 2000-01 levels of investment in students, with reduced 2000-01 level fees (increased for inflation) would cost the median taxpayer . ..  thirty-two dollars ($32).  That's about the same as a holiday bottle of single-malt scotch.

They also provide an income calculator to identify the cost at different income levels.  At the $70,000 cutoff for UC's Blue and Gold plan, which is close to the median family income in California, the tax outlay would be about $200 a year, or about a third of the mid-year fee increase at UC.

The crucial point here is that the Working Paper adds further evidence that robust public higher education is affordable.  We don't need to shrink it or privatize it or water it down because California has no money. Most Californians have 32 dollars. They also have no way of arguing that they don't individually get 32 dollars of annual value from all three segments of California higher education put together. 

I'm tempted to expound on the miracle of mutualization that spreads risks and costs and makes public funding more efficient than private funding for most kinds of goods.  Similar arguments could be made for other sectors of California's public infrastructure so that taxpayers could see what they get for their money.  I'm also tempted to link this report to the excellent commentaries on the Schwartz Plan, transparency projects, and other ideas for internal university improvement and reform. But I will restrain myself and simply say:
  • please read this report
  • if it seems sound to you, please write the head of your California public university and ask him or her to critique, revise, endorse, adapt, and distribute the Working Paper to the public.
This is a good holiday present - getting statistical proof that public higher ed's decline is fiscally unnecessary, and that its recovery is within our means.


Hydroponic systems said...
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Vanessa Vaile said...

Great source ~ not just the articles but resource/news link aggregation features. I was at UC Davis, now in NM, retired and involved with the New Faculty Majority, default social media person.

CA and Remaking get major blog space on the NFM blog too. As you go so, will the rest of higher ed. Students, adjuncts, lecs, ftt, staff and techs are all in this together.

Chris Newfield said...

Vanessa - many thanks for your comment. your support is much appreciated! Best wishes, Chris

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