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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

When The Public University Can No Longer Afford Itself: The Impending Crisis in UC Graduate Programs

By Wendy Brown

Most recent concern with increasing tuition at the University of California has focused on undergraduate access–how the middle class is being squeezed out of quality higher public education, taking on preposterous levels of debt, or both. And most recent concern with retaining excellence at UC has focused on faculty compensation issues–how to maintain the salaries, pensions and perks that will allow UC to compete with the best of the privates for top research faculty. The commonsense view at UCOP and in the upper echelons of the UC Senate links the two concerns this way: however lamentably, we must keep raising tuition in order to fund faculty compensation...because faculty hold the key to UC’s excellence, and competitive compensation holds the key to securing us. As Daniel Simmons put it back in 2010, “If faculty quality and prestige erode, UC becomes just another state university. We can fix access and affordability if the state decides to fund us, but if we fail to protect the faculty, we are not going to get them back.” (3)

This logic occludes the serious crisis for graduate programs produced by skyrocketing tuition, a crisis that exposes the folly of privatization strategies and that cannot be solved by intensifying them.


Most faculty at research universities care as much about working with excellent graduate students as they do about any other element of university life. First-rate graduate programs are crucial to faculty research, teaching, prestige and general satisfaction. Take them away and both new faculty recruitment and existing faculty retention will be severely challenged.

So what are the ingredients of the current crisis? Rapidly escalating tuition rates means rapidly rising costs of PhD programs. Competitive doctoral programs usually offer five-year funding packages to admittees--a combination of stipends, research and teaching assistant positions. These packages cover most tuition costs as well. So who pays the tuition? Whether it is funded “centrally” as was long the case, or “devolved” to departments, as contemporary neoliberal governance has done, and whether its source is the state, a grant or a gift, tuition is paid from funds that could be used (and in the past have been used) by the university for something else. Thus, today, the university faces the same problem in sustaining graduate students that middle class families face for undergraduates: it must pay for skyrocketing costs of graduate training, and, given shrinking revenues, it can less and less afford to do so.

Here are some rough numbers that make the point. In the 2000-01, when in-state tuition/fees were about $3400 and non-resident tuition/fees were $13,700, and when competitive fellowships were a bit lower than they are now, supporting a grad student who was a California resident cost approximately 21K annually and supporting one from Chile cost about 32K (This is the combined cost of tuition plus a fellowship, or tuition plus a GSI-ship or GSR-ship.) Today, with in-state tuition/fees at 15K and out-of-state tuition/fees at 30K, it costs approximately 36K/year to support the Californian and 51K/year to support the Chilean. If the UCOP-planned tuition increases occur over the next four years, in 2016-17, the cost would be over 42K/year for the California resident and over 55K (possibly as high as 60K) for the non-resident.

Thus, in 2000-01, for an entering graduate student cohort of fifteen, the cost of supporting a class of thirteen non-residents and two California residents for a year was approximately 458K. Today, that cohort costs approximately 735K and in 2016-17 it would be approximately 900K, almost twice what it was at the beginning of the century. On the other side of the ledger, allocations for graduate programs are shrinking, not growing. Indeed, part of the way that UC is managing budget cuts is by cutting funding to graduate programs.

The increase in graduate student cost and decrease in allocations for graduate student funding means that departments are now looking at admitting and enrolling cohorts of less than half the size of a decade ago. Moreover, they can no longer afford non-U.S. students (who never become eligible for in-state tuition rates) and are eyeing affirmative action for Californians (who cost significantly less in their first year). The elimination of international students and growing preference for Californians presents the wonderful irony of departments trying to end-run the revenue-generating strategies of their own institution. (Neoliberal entrepreneurial strategies produce great numbers of such ironies.) But it also represents another serious blow to UC graduate programs on top of shrinking cohort size. While UC’s undergraduate mission should be aimed at Californians, strong Ph.D programs must attract and enroll the best students in the world–that is what secures their excellence and renown. But the opposite is happening in each case: UC seeks to enrich its coffers by decreasing the proportion of Californians in its undergraduate population while graduate programs aim to cheapen costs by favoring Californians and eliminating foreign students.

The effects of the crisis for graduate programs resulting from tuition increases are just beginning to be felt but departments are panicking as they take them in. Smaller and weaker graduate student cohorts will have multiple ramifications: Faculty will have fewer graduate students to mentor, do less graduate teaching and work with less talented students with lower placement prospects. This will drive away the best UC faculty and make it difficult to recruit the best new faculty talent. Together these effects will lead to drops in department rankings which will further dampen interest in UC by superlative faculty and applicants to Ph.D programs. At this point you can see the whole downward spiral–there goes the quality that UCOP and the UC Senate were trying to preserve. Undergraduate education too, will be effected by declining quantity and quality of graduate student instruction, which will surely lead some excellent would-be UC undergraduates to go elsewhere for their education.

Of course, some might argue that the shrinking market for Ph.Ds warrants a compression of graduate programs. But the demand for Ph.Ds is probably changing more than it is shrinking. Certainly faculty research positions in the letters and science will constrict, but massive numbers of Ph.Ds will be needed to staff the on-line and other factory-style undergraduate courses looming on the horizon. The soon-to-be lower-ranked UC graduate programs would be just the right source for such workers.

What a sad end to a century in which some of the best graduate programs in the world were germinated and harbored at public institutions. Indeed, this story amplifies a prediction offered by Frank Donoghue that the chasm between the elite privates and degraded publics is likely to grow ever wider until the two kinds of institutions shed most traces of kinship. As Donoghue tells it in The Last Professors, at the undergraduate level, the elites will continue to cultivate the future 1% in the liberal arts while the “publics” will increasingly offer technical and professional training to working and middle class students who will be “job-ready,” if not especially broadly or deeply educated, when they graduate. What is the corollary at the graduate level? The elite privates will train future research faculty while the publics train adjuncts and on-line course staff.

To conclude where I began: In raising tuition to generate revenue for faculty compensation, market-oriented UC leaders have assumed that such compensation is the most significant issue in sustaining UC excellence through retaining excellent faculty, a rationale that comes from the private sector. The result has been cannibalization of features of the institution that will drive the best faculty into the arms of the privates regardless of what UC pays them, and also drive down the research and education quality of the institution as a whole.

The impending catastrophe for UC graduate programs is but one moment of an institution imperiled rather than protected when submitted to market metrics. It reveals the folly and destructiveness, not only the anti-egalitarianism, of privatizing a great public university system.

23 comments:

dr_k said...

this pseudo-populist sentiment is wrong on facts.

it is wrong in trying to link UC tuition increases to faculty salaries: for in fact, the salary lag between UC and the comparison 8 has further increased over the last 5, 3, and 1 year periods, and that is without calculating the new pension contributions.

and it is wrong also in claiming that UC cannot afford graduate students. a long and detailed study has pointed to the trade-offs in graduate student funding. the key here is that federal grants that should and can support graduate students and post-docs are being used to pay other things instead. more avenues to do so are sought by the disciplines with the highest grants.

finally, the special pleading from berkeley is not going to go over too well on the other campuses, where there has long been a smaller ratio of graduate students to undergraduates. the grandfathered budget advantages that gave berkeley so much more money per student than any other campus are not going to be sustainable.

Gildas Hamel said...

Useful analysis. Two negative aspects of the question the reading brought up for me are: one, the contradiction between the new structural preference for grads from California and the terrible state of our underfunded K-12 system, which together now with a fast-progressing weakening of the quality of the undergraduate education in our best public universities, is bound to bring about a decrease in the quality of the research at graduate level. Second, the stream of 40%+ of graduate student recruits in the natural sciences coming from abroad (and whose K-12 + UG years cost *nothing* to this country), what is likely to happen to it? re-orient towards the best private schools? In any case, narrower opportunities. Perhaps it is lucky and not only just that other countries are now in a position to develop their research facilities and their own students will now work for their own societies.

Roddey Reid said...

First-rate comment.

There is another drain on graduate programs: the rapid growth in the de facto outsourcing of lower-division courses to community colleges via the surge of transfer admits: these courses are the bread and butter of many humanities and qualitative social science depts., especially on campuses where students go primarily to become science and engineering majors. These courses constitute part of the basis for departments' requests for academic support including FTEs and TAships (many campuses have virtually no TA-run sections anymore in upper-division classes, only in lower-division classes), and thus are a vital source of financial support of graduate students.

Anonymous said...

While I agree about the folly of privatization maybe Californians really don't want their tax dollars to support an elite multi-campus UC.
Maybe they really don't care.

No matter how often privatization is denounced within UC what evidence do we have that anyone in Bartsow or Redding etc cares in the least that UC faculty salaries lag behind comparable elites (and so forth)?

The state is facing a $13B budget deficit come July 1 2012. What reason for increasing the UC budget will resonate with a voter in Fresno? That we will lose our faculty member to John Hopkins or Tulane or USC? I don't expect the average voter/taxpayer will care.

Chris Newfield said...

Dr K - I agree on 1, and think Wendy's linking of higher tuition to faculty salary increases isn't central to her argument.

Your point in 2 about mis-spending of fed grant funding doesn't undermine her larger point about the negative impact of higher fees on dept budgets. I'll look for the Senate study, but the problem in science and engineering fields, though kicked down the road to a larger pool of federal grants rather than dependent as in hum and SS on shrinking state funds, is structurally similar - they still can pay for fewer grads with the same fed funding if each grad costs a lot more. Extramural grants also generally require subsidy from the university, so federally funded fields draw down the whole university pool, reducing hum and SS program funds in that way too.

I don't think 3- Berkeley exceptionalism --is in her piece. she's focused on B but we're all sinking together, just from different initial heights

Anon 12:10 - I agree that UC faculty retention is not a populist issue. But there is a deep populist appeal to a multi-campus system whose combination of quality and size means democratic access for a larger number to skills, materials, visions, ambitions, etc that have historically been limited to the 1%. The public did NOT vote against this, any more than they voted for corporations to have half the tax rate (or less) than they did 20 years ago. We need all to help each other not to sacrifice our great institutions on the altar of the robber baron religion of budget reduction.

Anonymous said...

DR. K-

You must have learned your close reading skills at USC.

Brown never tried to link UC tuition increases to faculty salaries. Rather, in her first paragraph, she argues that this linking is the common sense view of the UCOP and the UC faculty senate, and this is precisely what she is trying to criticize.

("The commonsense view at UCOP and in the upper echelons of the UC Senate links the two concerns this way: however lamentably, we must keep raising tuition in order to fund faculty compensation..")

You second point: Brown never says that the UC's cannot afford graduate students. She merely says that they are choosing to cut allocations to graduate programs because of budgetary shortfalls. Again, she is criticizing this logic, not claiming that it is true. Simply pointing out a fact (the increased cost of graduate programs and the UC's declining commitment to fund them) does not mean she is arguing that the UC's CAN'T fund them...

Sorry Chris, you're too generous in your commentary! I had to point out quick and sloppy reading (not voice a difference of opinion).

dr_k said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dr_k said...

No, I read what it says here, and faculty salaries are linked by Wendy Brown to tuition increases at three points in this post, twice at the beginning and once, prominently, in the conclusion. Yet the fact is that the tuition increases did not go towards faculty salaries.

Available money went to union contracts, to the health sciences who refuse to balance their budgets, and to new construction; and just a little went to lifting the hiring freeze so that damaged units could rebuild after attrition. My school for instance lost 28 profs over the last 4 years, and this year the school is hiring 4 - at the lowest possible rank, beginning assistant professor...

Anonymous said...

UCOP has NEVER come out in defense of faculty salaries. That anonymous slinging insults should learn to read what the OP alleges. She's wrong.

Anonymous said...

This discussion seems to be getting heated. My thinking is that we need to convince the public, in addition to our own administration and regents, to support higher ed. But has UC grown so big and expensive that the taxpayers simply won't support it? It seems a lot of these blog posts sling arrows at the admin/regents, but in the end don't the taxpayers have to pay for all we are?

We just lost another $100M today, so it doesn't seem we are making much headway....

Catherine Liu said...

The mythical average taxpayer is a beast who doesn't exist: he or she is kind of like the snuffleupagus. Only Big Bird seems him. The Legislature alleges that there is no public will for mass public investment in education infrastructure. This blog and its posters argue the opposite -- that in fact, it is a political decision to impose austerity measures upon public institutions in a time of economic crisis. I think Dr. K. is taking issue with Brown's point that tuition hikes and salary increases are linked in UCOP's mind. They aren't, and to articulate this link is in fact adding fuel to Right-wing denunciations of UC Profs as merely self-interested in their defense of public higher ed. It's a nuanced reading of Brown's points that is perhaps not taught at USC, where Dr. K. never ever took a class as far as I can tell.

Michael Meranze said...

Although I think that this is a fruitful debate about how we want to make our case the claim that UCOP has linked tuition raises to faculty salaries in their rhetoric is true. For instance, in the proposed long-range financial plan that they gave to the Regents in September they did so on at least two occasions at pages 2 and 6. The first where they talked about the necessity of raising tuition in part to prevent salaries from "drifting" (I think that is the word they use)and another point where they refer to not seeking higher tuition as leading to bad outcomes one of which is non-competitive faculty salaries. There may be other cases. You can review at: http://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/regents/regmeet/sept11/f8.pdf

Anonymous said...

Just be glad you are not an unrepresented staff member. By July 2012 a 5% pension contribution taxation over the last 5 years while we have only received a 3% raise over the same period, has resulted in a net -2% bottom line pay over the past 5years. Career cripplization, I mean I could see sticking with an employer whose has a bad year or two but 15 is a different story, anyone that does not acknowledge the degredation of this system has not been honestly paying attention. The performance based merit review system outlined at hire does not exist and is unlikely to ever return. Compacts that outlined early austerity with pie in the sky pay promises litter the landscape. The hearts and minds of the staff and faculty have been battered- look around how is the mood in your department? I am beginning to think that this is the whole point, as state funding has disappeared the new private school can not support the endevor in the traditional sense. So what to do..........hire a constitional law scholar to orchestrate the "legal" imposition of a run them off campaign? As shoddy money management has the pension plan deep in the hole and the only way out is to chase off the current human liabilities and rehire some cheaper ones after the new tiered pension plan is imposed in July 2013. What do you want to bet that hiring picks up and some funding is restored after that point? Every employee chased off under 5 years helps rebuild the pension fund (UC's 7%-soon to be 10%- of payroll contributions help to restore the overall pension funds health though anyone who leaves service under 5 years receives no pension). The higher paid and thus longer serving administrators and faculty have solved the pension problems on the backs of the their sizable poorly paid staff employees, the quicker staff are turned over the better at this point. I don't remember this caste system being outlined at my new employee orientation. Are they still touting a performanced based merit pay system at those? Any raises awarded at this point actually intensify the pension deficit liabilities. With so many reasons for the regents and State to treat us poorly, when will they ever give us a fair shake and restore these staff jobs back into careers? Based on everything I have seen over the years - never is the only logical conclusion.

Anonymous said...

I apologize for my USC comment earlier, Dr. K.

It seems to me we are getting lost in details. In my reading, Brown is simply arguing that we must contest/resist the (privitizing) narrative that frames higher tuition as the primary means of ensuring faculty retention/recruitment through the ability to pay competitive salaries. For, not only do tuition raises not go towards salary raises (as Dr. K persuasively argues), but even if it did, higher salaries do not necessarily equal faculty retention/recruitment (as the privitizing/neoliberal/market logic narrative would have it). we are motivated by other factors that go beyond competitive salaries.

Anonymous said...

In my (academic) department the July 1 2011 permanent budget cuts amounted to a bit over $150K. We achieved this largely through a reduction of 3.5 staff positions. All of those people found other jobs inside or outside UC so we can be thankful for that.

At the same time our last round of faculty merits cost an additional $75K. Its just coincidence that one number is half the other, but I am sure everyone can see that two years of faculty merits in my department wipe out any savings from getting rid of staff.

Another thing I have noticed is the increasing number of accelerated merits since things started to fall apart in 2008. Year by year the accelerated actions have gone up from roughly 30% to 40 and now 50% of all merit/promotion actions. Our Asst Dean says this is true throughout our College - about half of all actions are accelerations, the very large majority of which are approved.

It seems we have a situation where tax based support is down, no one wants to raise tuition anymore, and faculty salaries go up and up through merit actions even in the absence of cost-of-living increases.

What solution is left? Git rid of staff/admin? That is commendable and its certainly happening but I don't know how many staff you can get rid of and still have anything as complex as UC still function. And many staff are doing things faculty want: student advising, IT support, financial management. Judging by how long it now takes to get anything done on my campus I am not convinced we can get rid of more staff.

Getting rid of SMG types is always satisfying to suggest but I think firing all of them wouldn't backfill even a fraction of the budget hole.

Where do we go from here?

Catherine Liu said...

First of all, there is a huge discrepancy in faculty salaries across schools: look at med school/law school/business school salaries vs humanities/arts/social sciences salaries. Reducing the burden of medical school expenses would be far more effective in cutting budgets than laying off staff. As one previous commenter noted, staff cuts are cynical strategies to eliminate jobs for experienced staff members whose service to the UC has earned them pensions and compensation that are highly deserved. would prefer to see consolidation of depts than further staff or lecturer layoffs in my own school.

Anonymous said...

targeting SMG won't do much, it's a small group of people who are SMG mostly because they stuck by UC for the long haul. even if you did away with them all, you'd not save that much money, and you'd have no top administration.

the bloat is in the middle ranks of career staff, and the older the campus, the more bloated it is. almost a natural law.

but the real drag on the UC budget is the foolish idea that UC healthcare is a business, when in fact it is a drain on UC finances. physicians get guaranteed (!) bonus payments, something which you didn't see on wall street on their best days, and units refuse to balance their budgets - arguing that health care is supremely important to the state, so UC ought to just pay up and shut up.

however, back to the original post and the first comment: any faculty member (even a very highly paid one like wendy brown) who links faculty salaries (which at UC are below the competition) to undergraduate tuition is falling for a deception perpetrated on the rank and file by the regents.

meanwhile, the regents use their influence merely to provide cover for their shady investments in for-profit universities, which benefit directly from the retreat of public higher education.

John Randolph said...

I have a question about how graduate "costs" are articulated here. This is an issue that has been hotly fought on our campus (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign) in the past years. It boils down to this: should tuition waivers be accounted as a cost to the Departments, according to the "face value" of the tuition in question? I.e. should giving an in-state graduate student a tuition waiver be seen as equivalent to a charge to revenue of that amount?

I think it's a complex issue. My own personal feeling is that while we clearly need to account for the costs of such waivers, to accept the idea that they represent spent or "lost" tuition money (and thus should be calculated as an equivalent expense) is giving a little to much ground to neo-liberal accounting fantasies. A grad student in the humanities, for example, is not just a "teacher in training" in general, but a low-cost laborer in the very near term, that is, someone the university can be guaranteed of hiring at low rates. Surely that means that the "expense" of his or her education should be understood somewhat differently than that of an undergraduate or professional school gradaute. Etc. Thus while it may be appealingly simple to imagine that the "cost" of a graduate student = tuition plus fellowship, that logic is more appealing to aggressive program cutters than it is to the actual expense of running the university as constituted.

Anonymous said...

Prof. Brown's comments are very much on the mark. It seems to me that the University should transition to giving departments "funny money" equivalent to say two nonresident graduate students' tuition+fees per tenure-track faculty member per year. This doesn't cost anyone a dime since this is money moving from one pocket to the other and isn't actually spent on anything at all. This funny money can only be used to pay fees, tuition and NRT, but let departments figure out how they want to allocate it to individual students.

Beyond that, it probably makes sense to have central campus allocate money for stipends (say 1 grad student per tenure-track-faculty member) as a minimum, with *additional* funds being sent in the form of TA stipends (based on student-credit-hours) and research indirect costs returned in the form of some *additional* student support. Let departments figure out how they want to spend this money depending on the culture of the field. Some might want their first-years' to all be TAs. Others might want them all concentrating on courses and getting started on their research. Others might devolve the funds down to individual faculty members. And still others might have within-department competitions to reward their most productive students.

Of course, many fields might want to raise a lot more money or might even have students willing to pay out of their own pockets to attend graduate school. Good for them. Let them do that.

But the important thing is that Brown's core point (that having great graduate students is one of the key features that attracts and retains top-class faculty) should be taken to heart. Grad-student tuition should be considered an accounting fiction, while funds for grad-student stipends should be considered as a part of the cost of having a world class faculty.

Honestly, if the university didn't want each faculty member to have at least one apprentice, then why did they create that as a tenure-track faculty line?

Chris Newfield said...

John - to my knowledge the default assumption is that a tuition waiver is a cost calculated at it's face value. This enables the university to require faculty with extramural grants to charge those students to grants. RAships TAships come with tuition waivers, but the tuition value is included as part of the value of the TAship. There are various work arounds, and in practice Anon's comment about "funny money" can hold, e.g. humanities departments at my campus can almost never admit a foreign student who will stay "out of state" for their entire period in the program, but we can take out of state US citizens who can become state residents after a year. Your larger point is well taken. But the current standard generally puts all activities on an accounting footing and then allows admin to move discretionary money around - the famous "cross subsidies" practice. To use Robert Zemsky's insidious distinction, "money" systems are put in place and then "love" can modfiy their outputs, where "love" is supposed to mean respect for intellectual and educational goals but where it also means influence, connections, traditional hierarchies of departmental status, etc. Accountancy's limits for educational systems leads directly to non-transparency in its actual implementation, which the system will need to deal with sooner rather than later.

Kevin said...

This certainly isn't in keeping with the spirit of the day, but I'm a bit confused.

If we need to keep boosting salaries to retain 'excellence' in academia in the same way that we do in industry, paying six-figure salaries and then some, why are we paying grad student stipends at all? If the end result is going to be a market salary, then why does the state need to subsidize the training and education of these workers? Why not let them take out loans and then pay them from their salaries?

If, instead, the university is a sacred place dedicated to learning and the spread and increase of knowledge, why aren't folks ready to deal with a little less money at the end?

I'd prefer the second model over the first (especially since I got a grad fellowship myself), but if we're gonna get the first model anyway, well, maybe we should re-examine student stipends.

John Randolph said...

For Chris Newfield: I think we're on the same page, it sounds like. On the one hand, it's definitely the case at most Universities that it has become popular to imagine the "cost" of graduate students is the full tuition waiver plus any support. Certainly that's a handy, neat, clean, and sometimes convenient formula. But I'm not sure it's faithful either to the real cost of various kinds of education (either in terms of revenue or in terms of expenses); or to the traditional mission of American Universities, public and private. It may be one of those handy formulas that must be both publicly scrutinized and renounced -- certainly that's been one side of the debate at Illinois.

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