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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

UC Vice President Taylor Leaves Suggesting Even Greater Debt for Students

UC departing Executive Vice-President Peter Taylor gave an interview today to the Daily Bruin.  In it, VP Taylor explained his reasons for leaving UC and also sought to defend his own record as the University's CFO.  Throughout the interview he described his concern for educational access and achievement and expressed worry that UC was losing its chief focus on education and research.  But then there was this:
DB: In the past, the UC has relied on student-based sources of revenue like tuition increases and non-resident enrollment to resolve issues of lower state funding. What kind of revenue solutions in the next few years would best help the University achieve fiscal sustainability? Any thoughts on what the new tuition model should look like?
PT: That varies campus to campus, but I can see frankly an increase in professional master’s degree programs, I can see an increase in technology commercialization versus what we do now, in addition to things like a slight increase in nonresident enrollment. We’ll keep pounding away with advocacy at the state level and hope (they) bump up their contributions to where we’d like it to be.

It is hard to see how this squares with Vice-President Taylor's concern about either the cost of education or core function.  The growing emphasis on technology commercialization causes important distortions in the processes of research.  And the growth of professional master's programs is a sure way to increase student debt.

Indeed, the recent New America Foundation Report on the growth of graduate student debt was less a report about graduate student debt than a report about the growth of debt for students in master's and professional programs.  By their calculations roughly 40% of $1 trillion student debt is a result of MA programs of one sort or another.  Given how many fewer MA students there are than BA or Associate students, this percentage is remarkable.  In suggesting that UC increase its use of terminal MA programs, Peter Taylor--whether he is aware of this or not--is suggesting a policy through which the University would simply expand its encouragement of student debt and its reliance on a new group of enrollees as a source of cash.

This is not to say that there may not be good educational reasons for particular programs.  But those should be approached because of educational not financial reasons--and not because there is a plausible market to exploit.  As VP Taylor notes in the interview, "the core competency of the University, the reason we exist, is to teach students and to do academic research."  His actual proposals ignore his own concern.

It is commendable that Vice-President Taylor wants to step down to help underprivileged students gain access to higher education.  But as his Daily Bruin interview reminds us, the Wall Street perspective that is increasingly dominant in UC finances and throughout higher education is inextricably linked to the imposition of debt onto students.  Let's hope that UC resists the siren song of exploitation.


Anonymous said...

Growing the MA program to make money is one of those zombie ideas that comes up continually in discussions of higher ed financing. To be clear, I believe that there should be paid places in graduate programs. To restrict graduate education solely to a fully funded PhD is to restrict access to important training and credentials. That said, there's a difference between paying a reasonable amount and paying so as to fund a research infrastructure the public, whose good it is, refuses to fund. And like so many of these schemes, MA programs can end up either being low quality, or degree mills, but very rarely hit a sweet spot, especially when conceived "frankly" as a way of making money. Before you know it, you've hired a 100K consultant to help you buy a $180 mill online system of dubious prospects (see UF Online).

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