May 20, 2013
Back to $chool
Posted on Oct 2, 2012
By Andy Kroll, TomDispatch
And what awaits the students who do make it into the ivory tower? Let me paint you a grim picture. Colleges are filling the gap in state funding by leaning ever harder on students and their families to pay more in tuition and fees. Thirty years ago, the state accounted for nearly 70% of public higher education funding; today, it’s 25%. In the last five years alone, student fees have doubled for University of California and Cal State students. For community college students, they’ve leapt by 80%.
Students increasingly hunt for grants and scholarships to cover some part of their growing share of the tab, but far more often their only option is to take out loans. According to the Project on Student Debt, in 2010 nearly half of all graduates of public and private four-year schools in California were saddled with an average debt load of $18,000. Nationally, a record one-in-five college graduates has student loan debt, and in 2010, the national average for debt owed was $26,682, according to a recent report from the Pew Research Center.
In California, community colleges have always been the most democratic of California’s higher education options. They educate the majority of students, offer the most classes, and provide students with job training or a launching pad to a four-year college. They have, however, taken a Mike Tyson-esque beating in California’s budget crises, losing $809 million—or 12% of their state funding—since 2008.
That’s meant reduced class offerings, fewer sections of the classes that remain, and the laying off of faculty and staff. At the start of the 2012-13 school year, 85% of California’s 112 community colleges had waiting lists of students trying to get into overbooked classes. In all, 470,000 community college students were stuck in such a situation. Eighty-two percent of these colleges said they weren’t offering any winter semester classes at all. Enrollment is down at community colleges by 17%. “We’re at the breaking point,” Jack Scott, the recently retired community college chancellor, told the Los Angeles Times in September.
The budget cuts have also hit faculty and staff hard. Seventy percent of community colleges said in a recent survey that they’d cut hours for support staffs. On Cal State campuses, the faculty-student ratio has jumped from 21 students per faculty member in 1980 to 32-to-1 in 2010—and the same trend can be seen among the system’s elite schools, with the faculty-student ratio there inching up from 16-to-1 to 21-to-1 over the same period. As faculty members deal with larger class size, more papers to read, more tests to grade, their pay has failed to keep pace. Salaries for Cal State professors haven’t budged from the $75,000 to $93,000 range for the last 30 years. Adjust for inflation and CSU professors earned less in 2010 than they did in 1980.
So where did all that money go? Here’s a hint: Look for the men who wear orange jumpsuits, sleep stacked atop each other in triple-decker bunk beds, and each year gobble up an ever greater share of California’s ever scarcer finances.
The State’s higher education and prison systems are a study in opposites. The prison system saw its state funding in dollars leap 436% between 1980 and 2011. Back then, spending on prisons was a mere 3% of California’s budget; it’s now 10%. According to the nonpartisan transparency group California Common Sense, the prison population expanded at eight times the growth rate of California’s population. In May 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the state to immediately shrink its prison population because its treatment of prisoners constituted cruel and unusual punishment. At the time, its 33 prisons held 143,321 inmates (official capacity: 80,000).
If money talks, then California’s message is plain enough: prisoners matter more than students. Put another way: college is the past, jail is the future.
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