Students: To Fight Fees, Follow the Money Trail
by Charles Schwartz, UC Berkeley (Daily Californian OpEd 9/7/2007)
Everyone complains about the problem of
ever-rising student fees but nobody seems to know what to do about it.
As a first step, it is necessary to understand where the University now
spends the money it takes in—from the state, from students and from
various external sources. As a retired professor, I have spent much
time looking into UC financial records and learning that there are
major gaps between what officials say and what is really going on.
These studies lead me to suggest the following two-part agenda for
student activists at the University of California, which is based upon
sound economic facts and modest political principles.
Principle No. 1: Undergraduate Fees
at the University of California should never exceed 100 percent of what
the University actually spends (per-student) for undergraduate
The official UC budget says that the “Average
Cost of Education” is $17,030 per student per year and that student
fees now cover only 30 percent of that cost. However, that cost figure
includes a lot more than undergraduate education. It actually
represents the composite cost of undergraduate education plus graduate
education plus faculty research. To make sense out of this, one must
disaggregate that bundle of costs. A detailed analysis based upon lots
of available data leads to the conclusion that undergraduate fees are
now at around 100 percent—not 30 percent—of the amount that the
University actually spends for undergraduate education.
This result is shocking to most people and UC
officials have chosen to ignore this claim, although they have not been
able to find any meaningful error in my calculations. (For details,
Students need not accept my numbers outright
but they can start by demanding that the university tell the truth
about where their money goes; that is, they deserve a detailed
accounting of what their student fees are spent on. This call for
honest accounting goes far beyond this public school system; it affects
all research universities, both public and private, across the nation.
What is at stake in this debate is really the whole complexion of
higher education at the leading research universities in America: who
gets in and who gets priced out.
Principle No. 2: Student
representation on the UC Board of Regents should increase to accurately
reflect the amount of revenue the University receives from student fees.
When state funds provided for almost all of
the revenues for the core operating budget of the University of
California, it was reasonable that almost all of the members of the
governing Board of Regents were elected state officials or individuals
appointed by elected state officials. Now, however, student fee
revenues amount to over half of what is provided by state general funds
in the UC annual budget ($1.8 billion compared to $3.3 billion). This
implies that a larger number of seats (I calculate eight) on that
26-member Board should now be given over to student representatives.
This situation, regarding student fees and
representation, is about the same at the California State University
system as it is at the University of California; so the campaign to
implement this principle can have a much larger base of popular support
throughout California and may spark similar movements elsewhere.
It is up to students, their parents, and other
concerned citizens to figure out what organizations exist, or need to
be created, in order to promote these ideas.