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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Free Speech and Free UC

by Chris Newfield, UC Santa Barbara

4th of 5 talks from The Operation of the Machine panel, UC Berkeley October 1, introduced by Prof. Colleen Lye

Members of the FSM had to fight for free speech on campus, as we still must. But they did not have to fight for a free university.  They already had one. They succeeded at winning specific free speech protections.  The free university, they took for granted. 

For UC students in 2009 and 2011, Free UC was a nostalgic memory, like 78-RPM records and episodes of Marcus Welby, MD. They had to fight to block massive tuition hikes.  They succeeded too—not in blocking those hikes, but in raising the political cost of hikes so high that UC & CSU tuition has been frozen for the past several years. 

The University isn’t really that happy about this.  They’ve used tuition hikes to top up revenues for decades now.  Faculty aren’t really that happy about it either.  Some of us oppose high tuition on the grounds that it damages access and the public functions of the university. But most faculty have given up on their senior managers’ ability to get correct public funding from the state.   Most see high tuition, coupled with what’s called high financial aid, as inevitable, fated, predestined, and necessary to restoring UC quality.

In this context, when you oppose continued tuition increases, you are told that you are being selfish and shortsighted, and that maybe you don’t understand the generosity of UC financial aid.   

You are told that low tuition is a subsidy to the rich. You don’t want to subsidize wealthy students, do you?

You are told that low tuition hurts the poor, because they have to subsidize students with their taxes.  You don’t want to hurt the poor, do you?

You are told that low tuition is a political “non-starter.”  You don't want to waste your time on lost causes, or tilt at windmills like Don Quixote, do you?

You are told that low tuition would undermine the high financial aid levels that have protected poor students from unaffordable fees, and that are now expanding to the middle class.  You don’t want to hurt aid for low-income students, I’m sure.

You are told that low tuition would undercut improvements in teaching and learning—that educational quality depends on high tuition, and on more non-resident students paying even higher tuition than residents.  You don’t want to lock in “limited learning” at Berkeley or anywhere else, I know.

So it looks like current tuition levels are a bare minimum, and that pretty soon they’re going to have to go even higher—we’re realists, and we agree that college graduates get the benefits of their degree so should pay most or all the cost.  Don’t we? 

But in reality, all five of these statements are wrong.  The right answers point not simply to freezing tuition, which is one cause UC free speech was used for, but to rolling tuition back.  

We can dispense quickly with first two statements—that Free UC subsidizes the rich by charging them far less than they could afford, and is a burden to the poor, by forcing them to subsidize students at Berkeley where they can’t go.  The way to deal with these is through progressive taxation at the state level.  For a family making between $300,000 and $400,000 a year, there could be a higher ed surcharge of $1700.18.  Someone making $17,000 a year would pay an additional $5.13—or nothing, if there were a threshold. I’ll explain those strange numbers in a minute.  For now, the main point is that the tax system can equalize burdens for all public institutions according to ability to pay.  That’s the basic idea of progressive taxation.

The third truthy statement is that low or no tuition is a political non-starter.  The truthiness part is that it is non-starter only for a portion of the political and business class, who have no interest in paying more taxes themselves to lower college costs for the masses of California students.  Regent Blum thinks low-tuition is a non-starter.  Regent Gould thinks low tuition is a non-starter. Columnist Dan Walters thinks low-tuition is a non-starter. Former President Yudof thought low tuition was a non-starter. Former Chancellor Birgeneau thought low tuition was a non-starter. On the other hand, in polls Californians think low tuition is a great idea. They think the tuition is too damn high--they’ve been saying this since the early 1990s. They think somebody should pay more taxes, and recently 40% said they should pay more taxes themselves.  The need for high tuition is a social construction, a fabrication, an artifact of a passing era, a conventional belief.  It can be changed. Changing beliefs is a purpose of free speech, of thought itself, of movements of the kind that have brought us together today.

But, they say, Free UC is a nice idea but we just don’t have the money.  Actually, we do! The Council of UC Faculty Associations did the math, and showed to get tuition back down to 2000-01 levels $5300 in today’s dollars), and state funding back up to spend 20001 amounts per student, would cost to the median individual California taxpayer , each year, a total of $50.  Restoring full quality and affordability for the state’s 1.6 million public college and university students would cost the state median taxpayer about the same as a holiday bottle of single malt scotch.  That would get us halfway back to a Free UC

So Free UC wouldn’t help the rich, and wouldn’t hurt the poor, and wouldn’t cost too much. We’re on the fourth defense of high tuition.  What about all that high financial aid—the Blue and Gold Plan, the Middle Class Scholarships, Cal Grants plus Pell Grants, Berkeley’s own programs--that have inoculated low-income students from high tuition? Well actually, they haven’t. 

As you know all too well, students must cover not only tuition but also the full “cost of attendance,” which includes rent, food, clothes, books, and similar everyday expenses.  On-Campus cost of attendance is over $33,000.   High overall costs make a huge difference in who gets to complete.  

High tuition means that degree completion depends on ability to pay, which depends on family income--and debt capacity.

Source: Tom Mortenson, PostSecondonary Education Opportunity 2010.

Nationally, 71% of the top quartile completes their degree. 10% of the bottom quartile completes their degree.  Note too that as you move from the top to the next income quartile (which starts at around $90,000 for a family and ends at somewhat above $50,000), attainment falls by half.  

What does the High tuition /high aid model do to fix this?  Does it give grants to low-income students so they don’t have to borrow? No. It gives them grants to cover a portion of their total costs of attendance. And then they have to borrow to cover the rest of their costs. Here's what that looks like broken down by income. 

Average Cumulative Debt by Parent Income Band: 2011-12 UCB Graduating Cohort

Poor students borrow about as much as rich ones.  Even more dramatically, they borrow a much higher share of their family income –over 60% in the lower brackets.  

(The situation is worse than it appears:  this chart folds non-borrowers into the averages, and it excludes parental borrowing through the PLUS and similar programs e.g. Figure 1-7).

UC Berkeley expends significant money and effort to mitigate the damage to affordability of the high tuition model, and yet after all that work it keeps borrowing to pretty close to the national average. 

Median Debt Levels of 2007-08 Bachelor's Degree Recipients by Income Level 

Source: College Board, Trends in College Pricing

High tuition does not fight inequality—it feeds inequality. High tuition does this by keeping college proportionately more expensive for low-income students—who are disproportionately students of color.  Since college is relatively more expensive for them, they are less likely to finish college.  High tuition is not worth keeping for its high financial aid.  The aid system is a debt system. It makes inequality worse.

Finally, wouldn’t low tuition undercut improvements in teaching and learning?  No again. The university’s limited spending on learning is what limits learning—we spend less than half of “core funds” on instruction (Display II-3).   Instruction is the one thing that public officials clearly understand the value of paying for. As tuition takes over paying for instruction, politicians have ever less incentive to rebuild public funding, or help UC keep enough places for California students.  

Other private sources expect their funds to stay with targeted projects.   This is true of philanthropy, where up to 99% of funds raised are restricted to special activities.  It is true of research funding, which must be spent on particular research—and which overall loses money for the university, requiring additional subsidies from internal university sources. It is true of instruction, where the state is now subtracting from the General Fund the costs of the Middle Class Scholarship program. University costs go up as the university tries to replace lost public funding, and little of that helps instruction.

In the fifty years since Berkeley students fought for free speech, all students have been steadily losing “free university.”  Every financial aid fix has been tried, every bank has devised a student loan program, every scam and for-profit rip-off has been deployed.  One result is the world’s highest cost of higher education.  Another result is the destructive explosion of student debt.  A third is decades of stagnating degree attainment.  We have in fact spent most of the last five decades privatizing public universities.  The results of the experiment are in.  Privatization has failed to deliver low costs, or low fees, or low debt, or more degrees for low-income students, or high quality.  Privatization in the form of high tuition has undermined the public purposes of public universities. 

Now we have reached a turning point. UC student protests froze tuition, and Gov Brown, the original austerity Democrat, is now enforcing this. Tuition freezes without funding increases aren’t sustainable.  The next step is to rebuild public funding.  It won’t work to say the university needs more money in the abstract, that we’ve been trying to save and have done our best.  What will work is laying out the student outcomes of recovered public funding.  

This is what the current no-tuition movement is about. It’s about inclusive, general, taxpayer based, whole-society-contributing public funding of the overall enterprise, and accountable to the overall public.   Public universities uncover and develop the individual brilliance of regular smart people, those millions whose large but previously underdeveloped talents transformed the economy and the society in the past, and whose talents, on a mass scale, are needed to transform it again. 

Now is not the time to scale back mass Bildung and return it to the ivory towers of our elite private universities that do excellent work in miniature.   We need the thousand-foot mural art of public universities.  This is going to require getting people to pay taxes for higher education again—an extra 50 bucks!  The real goal should be free public university—Free UC.  We need to use our free speech to call for that.


Anonymous said...

The author sets up a scenario that most progressive leftists only dream about.He pushes for free education based on free tuition a progressive tax system and takes swipe at the very success that is the source of the revenue. Making a declarative statement about how much other people can afford is typical, and a walking talking example of starting a conversation with assumptions only he is privy to. But is he ? The fact of the matter is that the author doesn't have a clue as to other peoples financial situation, no mater how much money they make.How could he ? $300,000 doesn't get you to first base in California and if you are a small business owner there is no guarantee on your salary from year to year. So saying "Free UC wouldn’t help the rich, and wouldn’t hurt the poor, and wouldn’t cost too much" is a fantasy based on his idea what too much is.California taxpayers spend $2.8 billion to educate the more than 230,000 students at the 10 campuses that comprise the UC [University system. 2.8 billion ! And what do they learn on these campus's ? "That for profit is a rip off." The author claims that high tuition doesn't fight inequality and that may be true but there is no intellectual equality at UC and there hasn't been for decades. Conservative voices are routinely shut down, not only by dogmatic professors but by the very notions they present as fact when beginning their lectures. There is a five to one ratio of leftist professors to conservatives. In English departments the margin was 88-to-3, and in politics 81-to-2.” Yet , if you are a conservative, or even a libertarian living in California, you are expected to hand over your money to people who despise everything you stand for.They aren't just asking for it, they are demanding.it. And they are demanding it in the name of free speech ! Not only that they are telling you what free speech is ! "This is going to require getting people to pay taxes for higher education again—an extra 50 bucks! The real goal should be free public university—Free UC. We need to use our free speech to call for that." That statement is not a free exchange of ideas , it is a demand. A demand you have to shut up and pay for. Don't pay for it unless you get something in return. Diversity of opinion.

Brian Riley said...

@Anonymous Ask yourself honestly where the State of California would be had there never been a University of California. Just in the area of agriculture alone, UC's contributions have been incalculable. I'm not just talking about research, but I'm talking about creating educated people who become the researchers. Your comment is short-sighted in the extreme.

Anonymous said...

Brian Riley I don't have to ask "myself where the State of California would be had there never been a University of California" because I never posed the question in the first place. I also never said that UC didn't "benefit the State of California." Lol UC's contributions are calculable to the tune of 2'8 billion dollars and if they want more money from the tax payer then they need to represent all tax payers. And no close minded dogmatic answer would be complete without labeling dissenting views as "extreme and short sighted" without addressing the concerns expressed in those views.

Brian Riley said...

@Anonymous I certainly did address the issues. You are confusing root causes. One of the root causes of California's success is the existence of the UC *coupled* with the fact that the UC provide tuition-free education for decades. That's what I was driving at (per your remark: "...takes swipe at the very success that is the source of the revenue.")

Anonymous said...

Lol I never said you "didn't address the issues". I said your answer was closed minded and dogmatic.You want the taxpayers of California to pay more for UC's tuition then UC should represent all of the tax payers.

Brian Riley said...

@Anonymous Actually, the California Constitution expressly forbids any kind of political "representation" of the kind you are talking about in the UC.

Anonymous said...

Brian, I'm a different commentator. You're dodging the point, which has to do with with what many people perceive as left wing indoctrination in the UC system. Until that's addressed there will never be broad support for a tuition-free UC. In fact, in Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz, there is a growing belief the UC is a burden on the surrounding community that should be eliminated altogether.

Brian Riley said...

@Anonymous2: Anyone who knows my life history would know that I am the *last* person to dodge such an issue. I used to believe it myself, but then found out later that it wasn't true when I adopted higher ed policy as my PhD major and experienced the system from the inside. If you really are interested in learning more about the topic, you need to study the history of academic freedom in higher education and especially the reforms put in place during the UC presidency of Richard Atkinson.

You two anonymous folks should try to get away from the Archie Bunker-style approach and get a little more serious with the issues. You're wasting the readers' time with these cowardly, anonymous potshots.

Anonymous said...

Brian, you don't impress me with your slurs. In fact you help prove the point some are making.

As I commented on another post, I'm a CSU, Fresno alumnus. My campus has been roiled for five years plus by accusations of liberal bias from conservative faculty and community members.

Examples include a pro-Hamas and anti Jewish/Isreali speaker program, a "radical environmentalism" conference that attracted the attention of a federal grand jury, an undocumented immigrant serving as student body president, and campus administration picking the pro side in the Dream Act debate.

Add to that acts of what some might consider domestic terrorism during the budget cuts and the Occupy California movement in 2009 and later: 11 arson fires and a $40,000 vandalism of a campus facility.

At the same time allegations have floated in national media that conservative voices have been suppressed on campus. Additionally, we've had ambush journalism reinforce the image of CSU Fresno as a liberal haven.

Is there bias in education? I believe so, simply because we're human and we bring our attitudes and beliefs to the workplace-any workplace. Is it a problem? I don't know for sure, although many people think it is. Is the perception of bias impacting high ed? Definitely. I've noted a growing backlash toward public higher ed in California I've not seen since the Vietnam War era.

Paul said...

This is an outstanding article. I encourage the folks engaged in the exchange to focus on debating the issues rather than name-calling and such. Higher education is one of the surest ways for someone to get ahead in life. Should tuition and expenses be free? Probably not. But higher education should be affordable - the kind of thing that one could pay back within a couple of years in the workforce.

Brian Riley said...

@Anon2: I'm giving you a homework assignment. Read the book "The Slow Death of Fresno State" by Kenneth Seib and then give me your candid reaction, privately. Your comments above show a lack of historical depth and understanding. Don't expect me to engage you further on this topic until you've read the book.

Bob Jacobsen said...

The article switches back and forth between "full cost of attendance" and "tuition" in a misleading way.

To go to Berkeley, students have to come up with a full cost of attendance of $33K: roughly $13K tuition and $20K living expenses.

If tuition is zero, students will still have to come up with $20K for living expenses. How will they do that?

Now, 1/3 of tuition goes to financial aid, called "return to aid". This pays a part (roughly $12K) of the living expenses for low-income students. This, combined with tuition being covered by state and federal aid, means that they pay _less_ to go to Berkeley under the current system than they would if tuition was zero.

Don't believe me? Look at the numbers above. Lowest income students graduate with $20K of loans, roughly. Their living expenses were $80K (4 years at $20K). How did they pay the difference? Answer: the return-to-aid component of tuition paid for it. If tuition goes to zero, that's cut off.

The next time somebody tells you about how life was good 30 years ago when tuition was small, ask how they paid their living expenses. You'll hear about working full time jobs, living at home, or relying on money from their families. We don't live in that world any more. Arguing for zero tuition (in the absence of a huge return of money from the state, even more than is being asked for above) is a victory of nostalgia over benefit for our students.

Chris Newfield said...

Bob, I don't understand your first sentence, since I'm explicitly trying to shift attention away from tuition coverage, which UC discusses almost exclusively (Brostrom again on KCRW 11/19/14), toward total cost of attendance. Your example is helpful. In answer to your question, how would students come up with $20k for living expenses without return-to-aid skimmed from high tuition, the answer is state and federal financial aid. Pell Grants and Cal Grants would have a much easier time covering 100% of the cost of attendance for a wider range of low-to-middle income students were tuition either at the "reset" level (CUCFA's 2001) or near-zero.

Point well taken about how 1984 was no utopia. But there's a sizable literature about study time dropping, work time during school rising, etc., and the student distress over the new Napolitano tuition hike proposal testifies to the real struggles a sizable percentage of our students are having making ends meet on the HITHA model while also doing well in school. I cited Berkeley's AS external VP in my post yesterday as one example. These stories express the limits of the HITHA system. And it gets worse: Jerry Brown has been telling the Regents that the state counts Cal Grant / M-C Scholarship money against the U's general fund distribution. In effect, this means that campus operations and not wealthy students are subsidizing financial aid, which hurts students at the same time as it helps them.

I didn't agree with Bob Samuels on free public Us when I first read his book, but having done more work on the debt issue since (esp for low income students), I'm converting to his position. I think you should consider joining us! (And we'd love to have your math skills . . .)

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