“Universities share one characteristic with compulsive gamblers and exiled royalty: there is never enough money to satisfy their desires.”
I found this statement of solidarity with the Occupy Los Angeles movement on Facebook, and it incensed me.
For me, the hardest part of attending Stanford was not getting in. It was finding a way to pay for it. My parents were proud that I had won admission to a prestigious university, but they were terrified of the cost due to their modest teachers’ salaries. With two younger siblings, their funding my Stanford education was simply not an option.
I told them not to worry. My ROTC scholarship would fund 80% of the tuition, and two other merit scholarships would cover all but about $200 a year for the other 20%.
They reluctantly agreed, and I flew to a college campus nearly 3,000 miles away.
I have been on my own from the age of 18.
But I had it “easy.” My low six-figure college education was cheap compared to what it would be today.
According to N+1 Magazine, which I discovered via The Economist, the tuition at U.S. colleges increased over 900 percent — a rate 650 percentage points above inflation — since 1978. During the same period, housing prices increased only 50 points above inflation.
So if you think bankers are bad for helping to fuel the housing boom, they pale in comparison to the academic mafia. Well actually, bankers also helped these institutions maintain a massive tuition bubble by securitizing 30% of the $800 billion in outstanding American student debt.
But ultimately, the primary driver of all this tuition inflation is the schools themselves. Vance Fried of Oklahoma State University has demonstrated that it is possible to provide a “first-class undergraduate education for $6,700 a year rather than the $25,900 charged by public research universities or the $51,500 charged by their private peers.”
His solutions included separating the funding of research from teaching, increasing the student-teacher ratio, eliminating programs that attract fewer students, and cutting administrative bloat. For example, the cost of administration alone has grown by 61% in real terms from 1993 to 2007.
Which brings me back to the UCLA Department of Education’s statement of solidarity with the Occupy Los Angeles Movement.
Talk is cheap.
Until UCLA and other universities lower their tuition, I am sure UCLA’s Education Department will understand why I am just going to ignore this empty little gesture. It reeks of hypocrisy.
I would have been more impressed if they had offered to teach free classes for Occupy LAers, or pledged a one percent salary cut for every one percent UCLA lowers its tuition.
The bottom line is that this statement does nothing except make the faculty feel good about themselves in an all-too-common bout of ivory-towered navel-gazing. The average person will simply see this proclamation for what it really is: a mental masturbatory exercise disguised as an empty gesture.