Monday, November 30, 2009

Suck It Up, Berkeley Students

By Richard Vedder

This blog will demonstrate definitively what many readers already know --I am a grumpy old man. I wrote a little something in the New York Times on-line edition last Monday that has engendered lots of indignant emails to me privately, so let me comment more fully on the University of California tuition increase.

1. Most people attending the University of California schools are not poverty-stricken kids on Pell Grants. I would be surprised if the median family income of those attending Berkeley or UCLA is under $100,000 a year and bet is closer to $125,000. The proposed tuition hikes will put UC's tuition in line with other top-flight flagship universities. Like the others, UC acts more like an elite private school than a public one anyway. It is not outrageous to ask families to pay the equivalent of 10 percent of their income in tuition fees, maybe forcing them to cut down on vacations, drive their cars a few years longer, and eat out less. Big whoop.

2. Of course, there are some low income students at the UC schools --maybe as much as 20 percent or so on some campuses. UC gives essentially a zero tuition for the poorest of those --from families with less than $60,000 income. The kids with families with, say, $90,000 income will get pinched some by the new tuition increase, but there should be financial sacrifice and pain involved in utilizing expensive resources that cost several times the stated tuition cost.

3. I stick to my guns ---the big gainers from attending Berkeley or UCLA or, God forbid, Santa Cruz, are the students themselves. Sure, kids who go to college don't smoke as much, commit fewer robberies, and are more likely to be a community leader as an adult, but I think that has little or nothing to do with attending college per se. Evidence we have accumulated show no positive relationship between state higher education support and economic growth --indeed the opposite. There may be as many negative spillover effects from colleges as positive ones.

4. Speaking of negative spillover effects, let me say something about the spoiled children of affluent Californians who are demonstrating over having smaller subsidies from other honest taxpayers and having to pay more themselves for their education. If their demonstrations interfere with the business of the university, they should be arrested, jailed (if a severe enough infraction), and/or dismissed from the university. Make room for students who abide by the law. And if that batters the self esteem of the kids, that is good, not bad. A lesson in civics and the rule of law needs to be taught using Tough Love.

5. Getting to my New York Times comments, I said that while I am sympathetic to Mark Yudof and other senior UC officials in this situation, a honest review of all non-instructional spending is warranted. Does the central office of the UC system still have close to 2,000 employees, for example? Why not make that number, say, 100--saving over $100 million a year? And research should not be sacrosanct. I am not anti-research, and federally funded research grants often serve useful purposes. But there are low teaching loads for faculty in the social sciences, humanities, and some vocational areas, ostensibly to support research. Is the research that is being done truly justifiable on any rational cost-benefit basis?


capeman said...

Right, Doc, turn Berkeley into a Cal State, and things will be great. Or better yet, turn it into an Ohio U. Maybe they'll even attract professors who can start a research "center" like yours. None of that shoddy, useless Nobel prize stuff anymore!

Cercatore said...

More capeman rants.