Look In the Mirror: California’s Higher Education
Posted by Roobs on July 28, 2011
In Early July, I received an email from my graduate department here at UCLA. It was a good news letter stating I was awarded a departmental fellowship to help pay for my education. It was a modest award of around $3,000, but very much appreciated. At the end of July, I received another letter. This letter was not so good news concerning recent meeting of the UC Regents (the governing body of the University of California system). The Regents had approved yet another increase in student fees for both undergraduate and graduate students in response to decreasing financial support from the state.
Last year when I began my masters education, the university fees were around $11,500 for graduate degrees. With the new increase, the fees are now near $14,600. As I pondered over this reality, I realized that my departmental fellowship would be negated by the increase in fees, leaving me largely in the same place I was last year with the same amount of debt obligation I would need to take on. As a native Californian and student, I am truly saddened by how poorly my fellow Californians seem to care about the education of its future generations as well as the future of our state.
There is little disagreement that the California’s higher public education system is in decline. Though some may argue the merits of decreasing state support for these insititutions of higher education, many are willing to concede that the system if struggling. State financial support has dropped considerably in the last decade alone, but has been dropping steadily since its height.
If it were simply a case of a need to find more money this would not be as controversial as it is. But it’s not. Californians simply don’t have their priorities straight or they just don’t notice. We pay more for prisons and prisoners in California than we do for students and universities (11% vs 7% respectively). What does that honestly tell you about California’s priorities? We can all say that we want criminals locked up, but does it not disturb our very fabric that we pay more for those criminals than we do for the young, bright individuals in the very families we are trying to protect?
When we consider that universities are giving raises to university executives and hiring extremeley well paid administrators to run our schools at the same time universities raise student fees, it seems utterly hypocritical to students. How can they raise fees to attend college while giving more to already wealthy individuals to push paper? The go-to argument for those doing the hiring and those signing the lucrative contracts is that universities need to remain competitive on the national market for talent. (Note: this is the same argument large financial institutions makes with regard to large bonuses). But what good is searching for those who will work for a higher pay if the universities they are hired to can barely teach the students they have?
We have entered a period where education is nothing more than a bait and switch to many deserving students. As parents, many will tell their children to study hard so they can get into a good college because a college education is the route to success and a better life. We encourage and support the idea of higher education but when it comes to actually attending college, many at this point are willing to wipe their hands, sit back and say that college is not an option for you right now. Why? Because you cannot afford it. How can we encourage our children to go to college only to cut them off before they reached the campus door? A college education is not a privilege that should be only offered to families who can afford the increasing costs. A college education is for all who have the drive and passion to learn.
Universities are truly the manifestation of our future society. Walking those campuses are the very individuals who will run the families, the restaurants, the small business and big corporations of the future. They will hold future elected office for small and large cities. They will serve as future Congressional Representatives and Senators. Some may even serve as the future President of the United States. To say that we are to weaken their education now is to make an astonishing admission that we are to weaken our very future as a society.
We must take seriously the idea that education is the fundamental means to success for everyone. And this is not simply a slogan for a bumper sticker on the back of your car but a true calling. We must be willing to act and fund education for all; to restore the grand vision of California’s education system and the dreams of today’s youth and tomorrows leaders. If we fail to do so, if our college system continues to decline as we continue to defund the very instrument of our salvation; make no mistake California, it is not the students who are turned away but you who is to blame. The roots of a bleak future for our state and our nation will be found in the seeds that we have sown here if we do not change course and begin to truly fund education.
Roobs is a masters student at UCLA in the Department of Urban & Regional Planning with concentrations in Transportation Planning & Policy and Urban Design & Development. He has a BA in Legal Studies and Sociology from UC Berkeley. Roobs is a former Waterfront Commissioner for the City of Berkeley and former paralegal for a law firm specializing in real estate development.