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Blue Blight Slouching Toward Berkeley

The funding crisis at the City College of San Francisco will seem like small potatoes compared to the budget problems facing the state’s public universities. The Economist has the story:

CALIFORNIA’S public universities were once the envy of the world. Under the state’s pioneering “master plan” for higher education, signed into law in 1960, the top 12.5% of graduating high-school students in the state are guaranteed entry to the well-respected University of California (UC) system; the California State University (CSU) system is open to the top third. Community colleges accept all-comers, including adults. The plan hugely expanded higher education in California, and led also to the emergence of world-class establishments like Berkeley and UCLA.

Yet it tied the universities’ fortunes to those of the state. In good times that was fine. But more recently public universities in California have been hit hard by the state’s fiscal woes. Declining state support has forced the UC system to slash costs and to raise average tuition fees by 50% in just three years. CSU fees have risen by 47% in the same period. “The historical model has broken down,” says Mark Yudof, the UC president.

California’s higher education system is looking increasingly like its high speed rail plan: an innovative idea for 1960, but one that hasn’t kept pace with the demographic and economic changes of recent decades.

University administrators are counting on state taxpayers to vote them a $250 million subsidy later this year. But whether or not voters are feeling generous come November,  high-ranking high school seniors will be guaranteed sky-high tuition along with their spot in the UC or CSU system.

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  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    Perhaps the Blue Model needs to be expanded to include “Big Education” to go along with “Big Government, Big Labor, and Big Business”.

  • Marcus V

    Oh, it gets worse. Much worse.
    You have to really read the article linked to below to truly appreciate what is happening in California, but the title is perfectly indicative: “Rejected for Being In-State.”

  • Felipe Pait

    As an academic from outside California, I can attest that the only thing that seems wrong about the UC system is that it has become underfunded because of low tax rates. If California goes back to paying reasonable taxes, they can keep their world-leading university system. Otherwise, they will save a few dollars and move towards a 3rd world higher education system, which will have the expected consequences. You get what you pay for.

    That is all there is to it. The rest is just ideological posturing.

  • Jim.

    Guys, Berkeley peaked before the 60’s.

    Anyone else notice that line in the periodic table with elements like Berkelium and Californium? Those were discovered by professors and programs well in place before 1960.

    California’s been squandering its legacy since the 60’s, not building it.

  • Richard F. Miller

    @ Pait

    I’m not sure what kind of an academic you are but it’s unlikely that you’re an economist. In 2009, the LAT ranked California as sixth nationally in combined tax rates. I believe it’s worse now, but here’s the link:

    There’s another idea implicit in your comment that, given circumstances, is either bizarre, or, to be merciful, thoughtless. Doc Mead often features California in his posts, and regular readers are aware that long-term prisoners are being stacked in county jails or simply released into the community; that the state issues vouchers because it has no cash to pay its bills; that some of California’s storied cities now file for bankruptcy protection.

    Given your feeding trough, I certainly get why it’s small beer to raise taxes and deliver.. what did you call it? Ah, yes, “a world-leading university system.”

    But in a state where the only real constituency served is PEUs, why would anyone want a world-leading university system? California is presently configured to produce world-leading pensions and benefits; thus, cities go boom while police chiefs walk off with $700,000 retirements.

    But I suppose if I were on the receiving end of the tit, I’d probably agree with you, that raising taxes is “all there is to it.”

  • Luke Lea

    This is a case where if the student bodies matched the demographics of the state as a whole such support might be more likely the pass. That’s why I support affirmative action for all: the best and the brightest of every demographic group in proportion to their percentage of the population as a whole. First tier universities would get more public support and second tier ones would get an influx of better (if not the very best) students. Win win.

  • Mrs. Davis

    As a taxpayer who abandoned Caliphornia, I can attest that the taxes there are sky high. Felipe might think differently, and be a little less sanctimonious, if he lived there and paid the house prices and the taxes that go with them.

    All we unwashed tax serfs are to do is to pay our lords and masters in the ivory towers what they demand and they will credential our children without educating them. The peasants are saying enough.

    That is all there is to it. The rest is just arrogant, selfish rent seeking.

    p.s. You don’t get what you pay for. We pay twice as much for education as we did 40 years ago and we get less.

  • Kevin

    Felipe – low tax rates? CA has some of the highest tax rates in the country. CA’s state government wastes money on a staggering scale, that’s why it’s going broke. The ever higher taxes and regulatory burden are driving middle class jobs and citizens out of the state. The problem the UC system has (besides bloated non-educational expenses) is that it lacks the political clout in Sacramento to get its share of the loot. The larger public sector unions get to feed first and their isn’t much left over for less influential constituencies like UC and CSU.

  • C. Philips

    Easy places for Berkeley to begin:

    Eliminate every position whose title or job description includes either of the words “diversity” or “sustainability”.

    Make payment of student government fees optional.

    Until these have been done, the only sensible conclusion is that Berkeley has more money than it knows what to do with.

    The next steps are to close the (formerly) academic departments that have been taken over by postmodernists (“there is no such thing as truth”) and the “studies” departments that were never anything more than racial propaganda centers.

  • thibaud

    Applying his standard cut, paste and sneer, Mead would have us believe that the UC system is going to hell in a handbasket.

    In reality, the UC system despite its financial challenges has gone from strength to strength.

    While Mead blogs and junkets his way along, real scientists, including more than a dozen Nobellists, continue to do world-class research across the UC system – including the previously considered second-tier schools such as UC Santa Barbara and UC San DIego, which have vaulted past the likes of MIT Stanford and Harvard in numerous hard science fields in recent years.

    So, contrary to Mead’s hysterical postings, a parent of a child inclined toward a serious subject (such as Materials Science, or Bioengineering, or Physics or Neuroscience) would be FAR better off raising that child in California and sending him or her to the UC than he would be paying 3x for a vastly inferior degree from a non-UC spoiled child ghetto like the private college that employs Mead.

    Recent rankings for serious subjects demanding hard research, per the National Research Council:

    Biology/Integrated Biology/Integrated Biomedical Sciences:
    UC San Diego ranks #1 in the nation
    UC San Francisco ranks #2

    Biomedical Engineering and Bioengineering:
    UC Berkeley and UC San Diego tied for #1 in the nation (with Cal Tech)

    Biochemistry, Biophysics, and Structural Biology:
    UC Berkeley ranks #2 in the nation
    UC San Francisco #4
    UCLA #6

    Chemical Engineering:
    UC Santa Barbara (tied for #1 with Cal Tech)
    UC Berkeley #2

    UC Berkeley #3
    UC San Francisco #6
    UCLA #8

    Civil and Environmental Engineering
    UC Berkeley #3
    UC Davis #6

    Computer Engineering / Computer Sciences
    UC Berkeley #3
    UCLA, UC Santa Barbara, UC San Diego all in the top 10

    Materials Science and Engineering
    UC Santa Barbara #1 in the nation
    UC Berkeley #3 (tied with MIT)

    Mechanical Engineering
    UC Berkeley, UC Santa Barbara, UC San Diego all in the top 8 in the nation

    Neuroscience and Neurobiology
    UC San Francisco and UC San Diego tied for #2
    UC Berkeley #4
    UCLA #6

    UC Berkeley #1 in the nation
    UC Santa Barbara #4

  • Scott Locklin

    I live 20 yards from UCB Campus. There are easily a half a dozen completely unnecessary new buildings going up, and construction is everywhere on Campus. There is also UC Merced; just built, an entirely new UC campus. If they’re out of money, they have a funny way of showing it. They also, as someone noted above, have a staff:faculty ratio of 1:1, which, while normal in the US, is generally preposterous, and the main reason why these places cost so much.

  • Luke Lea

    @ thibaud –

    Yes, Berkeley is still tops in the hard sciences. What you will not find is the same pre-eminence in history, philosophy, sociology, literature, etc., which Berkeley used to enjoy. Being number one, by the way, is not the same as being as good as you used to be.

    Of course the same thing might be said about all the top tier colleges and universities across the country, so it is obviously not just about money. The humanities have gone to [heck] in America and we are already paying the price: in culture, policy, politics, historical awareness, and many other ways. Do you disagree?

  • Luke Lea

    Affirmative action for all, by the way, should be thought of as meritocracy with democratic characteristics.

  • Luke Lea

    {Dear editors, things don’t go to heck. Lighten up.]

  • Luke Lea

    Meritocracy with democratic characteristics. Aka, the challenge of diversity. Enough happy talk. We need solutions.

  • thibaud

    Luke – you’re missing the point. (You’re also wrong about the subjects you mention, but that’s neither here nor there).

    The ROI and the overall economic benefit are far far greater for the STEM subjects I highlighted, all of which show the UC system to be not only extraordinarily successful but getting even stronger. It’s an amazing trajectory, one that Mead’s silly and jealous drive-by postings can’t obscure from anyone who actually knows anything about higher ed.

    Mead’s ridiculous comparison of the most successful and distinguished university system on the planet to a botched, dysfunctional high speed rail boondoggle is beyond disingenuous. It only makes him look envious and foolish.

    California has plenty of problems, as does the UC system and every other university. But the UC system overall is thriving. No one in his right mind would send his child to Bard College to study International Relations when he could gain a world-class, cutting-edge education at any of more than a half dozen UC campuses in the serious subjects I listed above.

  • Tom Chambers

    Those rankings are actually evidence for a much different hypothesis—namely, that UC scientists still do great science. They do. But by far the predominant patron of academic scientific research is not the state but the federal government. The disconnect between research and undergraduate teaching has been a chronic source of discomfort in higher-ed circles.

  • Boritz

    *** Declining state support has forced the UC system to slash costs and to raise average tuition fees by 50% in just three years.***

    So seniors must pay half again what their freshman year cost. Too rich for me but might be an option for Michael Phelps if he’s interested in adding an element to the periodic table.

  • thibaud

    I don’t know who, exactly, covers California for The Economist – they don’t sign their bylines – but as is often the case, the young ‘uns don’t really know the turf they’ve been assigned to.

    Yes, UC raised tuition – but the state has also raised financial aid significantly in recent months, including aid for the middle class in the state, which, given how well paid Californians are, means that California families with incomes up to $140,000 whose kids are lucky enough to get into UC-Berkeley will not pay more than 15% of their income for their child’s tuition.

    Which means that a world-class UC education, while not cheap, isn’t “sky-high,” as Mead misinforms us.

    It’s still a bargain, especially when compared to second-rate private colleges catering to underachieving upper middle-class brats.

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