A few things to note in the public college access debates, particular with tuition and privatization.
1. First, the Daily has a story (that provides the graph above) arguing that there will be a “bill of $422,320 in today’s dollars [for] the class of 2034. If college costs keep rising as they have for the last three decades, the inflation-adjusted price of four years.”
What are the politics of runaway cost inflation? Health care has this level of cost inflation, and it brought together huge coalitions to react (and counter-coalitions to fight reform). Education hasn’t. Why the difference? It could be that health care impacts an older, more politically engaged group. It could be seen as a move to a view of the government that just compensates the poor rather than one that provides goods broadly; related, we see health care as a right in a way that higher education isn’t, equality of opportunity issues aside. Issues that are seen as having a federal component versus state ones? That health care was never completed, while public education grew up with the country, hit a high-point with the Cold War, and is now in retreat? I’m not sure.
2. This was matched by a brief debate, proposed by a student group at UC-Riverside, over a plan to that formalize an indenture contract, because they would “abolish tuition and replace it with post-graduation payments equaling 5% of their income for 20 years.” As friend-of-the-blog Connor Kilpatrick noted in an email, it’s 5% of “their wages (not investments)”, making for an even more regressive system than in the original document. Funny how investment income gets excluded in these deals. Given a median wage of $45,000 for someone with a college degree, that’s ~$187 a month – not exactly cheap.
As an economic historian noted to me once about indenture and student loans, one of the fundamental facts about the brutality and intensity of early-American indenture was that workers who were brought to America under indenture could either run off to the frontier and reinvent themselves, or would die from disease. Since lifespans were short and erratic indenture required intense upfront work, and since the ability of exit was ever present, indenture needed to take place in a Goffman-like total institution.
Nowadays one can’t “escape” students loans – especially through the legal code, which takes place through how the state sees taxable income – and lifespans and lifetime earning capabilities are quite long and smooth, meaning one with replicate an indenture situation without the more overt coercive elements of bonded labor or indenture. Meaning bidding 5% of future earnings for access to public goods – a system violating vertical and horizontal equity in taxation along with all kinds of fairness rules as we understand them – looks like a brand new thing.
3. Will the battle be taken to the states? President Obama, in his State of the Union speech, said ”Of course, it’s not enough for us to increase student aid. We can’t just keep subsidizing skyrocketing tuition; we’ll run out of money. States also need to do their part, by making higher education a higher priority in their budgets…So let me put colleges and universities on notice: If you can’t stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down.”
Ralph Nader has an op-ed (which quotes Rortybomb!) arguing against runaway public tuition, and proposing that University of California students “qualify an initiative on the ballot that would set tuition at affordable levels, or even become like some leading European countries where free schooling extends through the university years…Ordinarily, without lots of money for paid petitioners, this can be a formidable challenge. But with millions of community college and university students reachable on campus, combined with their families, this should be a fast process and a piece of cake.”
For the California activists, has this initiative issue been discussed before? What are your thoughts?
4. This is a choice, and it was a choice made before the crisis. During the original Occupy event and California tuition protests in 2009, Aaron Bady wrote a very important post worth revisiting - “The sign-up sheets didn’t have a column for students”: Mark Yudof and the UC Regents = Sacramento - which convincingly argued that “the scandal is that Mark Yudof and the regents are using the crisis of the moment to push forward a plan to privatize the UC system that has long been in the works and is geared to be permanent.”
He links through to an important 2002 essay about the future of the public university by Mark Yudof, “Higher tuitions: Harbinger of a Hybrid University?” What is the future of the public university, and why?
As higher education comprises a smaller and smaller portion of state budgets, and as state dollars make up a narrowing slice of university budgets, the central implication is that, for the foreseeable future, public research universities will look to students to pay more of their educational costs….For me, the unvarnished truth is that the extraordinary compact between state governments and their flagship universities appears to be dead – or at least on life support….To my mind, a large part of the answer is demographics. Legistators and governors can’t help but be influenced by the graying of America….
Though we believers in the civic value of education may lament it greatly, with the wage premium widening, education today is increasingly seen as a private, rather than a public, good. Consequently, many legislators appear more comfortable with students’ paying higher tuition than they did in the past, tacitly encouraging students to borrow today and pay back later…Paradoxically, to continue the long tradition of broad access for students to public research universities, these institutions will have to become more like their private peers; to ensure the access for low-income and historically disadvantaged students that low-cost tuition once allowed, I believe that public research universities will have to work hard to augment funds for student aid and scholarships.
This vision of the hybrid university, being enacted in California and everywhere else across the nation, is exactly what President Obama and Ralph Nader (!) have targeted in this past week. It is important to realize that this situation isn’t an accident, but planned and encompasses a vision of how we want education to be. That vision can be changed.