Opinion piece in The Daily
Californian (UC Berkeley Student Newspaper) September 7, 2007
Students: To Fight Fees, Follow the Money Trail
By Charles Schwartz
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 Caifornia 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, see
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.
Charles Schwartz is a UC Berkeley
professor emeritus of physics.