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$32 A Year

March 25, 2010

Yesterday, the UC Commission on the Future heard the first set in a series of proposals (PDF) that will be considered by the Commission, after revision and selection, forwarded to the UC Board of Regents. The Commission on the Future was convened last year with the mission of “developing a new vision for the University within the context of the University’s mission and budget, while reaffirming our commitment to quality, access and affordability.” The proposals included: 3-year bachelor’s degrees; doubling the number of out-of-state students, who pay higher fees; charging more for more popular or prestigious campuses, i.e. Berkeley and Los Angeles; and expanding online courses.

All of the proposals have significant downsides or feasibility questions. 3-year BAs seem unlikely when people have difficulty even graduating on time. Doubling the number of out-of-state students would reduce access for Californians, directly contradicting one of the Commission’s goals. Charging more for certain campuses would, let’s see, reduce access and affordability and likely turn to the UCs into a two-tier system where privileged students can attend the better campuses and less wealthy students are forced to the less prestigious campuses, regardless of qualifications. Online classes is perhaps the only proposal that seems both implementable and ameliorative on all fronts. While I believe a in-person teacher is better than a virtual teacher, a virtual teacher is better than no teacher at all and, in certain basic classes, online courses could be created that minimized the negatives of virtual instruction.

On the other hand, an op-ed in the Chronicle yesterday pointed out that it would cost the median taxpayer only $32 per year to restore public education funding to what it was in ’01-’02 levels, before the current drastic increases began. It’s a ballpark estimate and I don’t understand the accounting of it exactly but, assuming it’s, well, in the ballpark of what would actually be necessary, I think Californians would (and should) be wiling to support our universities enough to keep them truly public and available to all Californians who are qualified. The PPIC Field Poll findings I mentioned in the last post shows public universities near the bottom of departments Californians would like to see cut (a better position than two years ago, likely due to the recent protests). It’s a long shot now but what if the 2012 ballot featured an initiative asking Californians to raise their income taxes slightly in order to maintain the affordability, accessibility and first-in-the-world quality of our universities? Californians hate taxes but perhaps they like their universities even more.

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