The Corner

Now That’s a Higher Education Bubble

The CSU system — California’s multi-campus university system, and indeed the largest in the world — is once again faced with a $1 billion annual funding shortfall, and might have to raise tuition by 30 percent. The usual accounts of frozen salaries, unfilled positions, and cancelled classes flood the news. But rather than damn the voters or the Republican legislators who in the past have proved reluctant to increase California’s 10 percent–plus income tax, nearly 10 percent aggregate sales tax, and the nation’s highest gas taxes, it might prove wiser to look inward.

What percentage of the faculty enjoy released time from classes? Are the numbers of administrators necessary, and might they take a pay cut? In my over two decades of experience with CSU students, about 65 percent attend class after the third week; will tuition hikes discourage those who otherwise would have gone to, but did not belong in, college? We hear of student outrage, but most faculty at CSU would probably admit privately that a large minority of their students simply do not do the work or attend class regularly, and that a larger percentage still are laden with electronic appurtenances and drive nice cars. The point is not to bash the students or the faculty, but to ask the university to reexamine the way it does business.

Maybe raising admission standards would improve the quality of student, end the trend toward watered-down classes, and encourage those who do not belong at CSU to invest their time more productively in the work place. As it is now, over 50 percent of incoming freshmen in CSU must take remedial classes to qualify for university courses; why are they there in the first place?

Faculty could reexamine release time and ensure that those who are not teaching full loads justify such subsidies by demonstrating greater output of research and publication. My experience is that all too often, sabbaticals and release times did not result in publishable scholarship. I think everyone in the system accepts that there are vastly too many CSU administrators, and their pay and spiked pension perks were long ago unsustainable.

In other words, before we get the annual student/faculty/administrator assault on the legislature and tax-strapped people of California damning their stinginess, there should be some introspection that the most highly taxed state in the nation may well not be getting a first-class university system that is turning out well-educated graduates in four years. When most CSU student do not enter college prepared to take college courses, and when most do not graduate in four years, something is terribly wrong — and that wrong may well not be remedied by ever larger budgets.

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