Satyagraha

Cultural Psychology

Archive for the ‘University of California’ Category

White Paper: Materialism, Idealism, and Higher Education in California

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UC seal 200x200

I’ve just completed a new White Paper on public higher education policy in California.  Here is an abstract:

For the last 50 years, a belief that building a robust and competitive state economy should predominate California’s public higher education goals has become increasingly prevalent, and today it is taken as an unchallenged assumption. This White Paper emphatically rejects that assumption, and argues that broader cultural and social goals are of equal, if not greater importance for Californians’ well-being than purely economic ones; and that to achieve these broader social goals we must place more emphasis on humanities and the classical model of liberal education.

A more detailed Executive Summary is included with the paper.   You can download a copy to read here, at the Californians for Higher Education Reform website.

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Fiat Lucrum: Berkeley Faculty vs. California Citizens on Online Courses

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Let There Be Loot!

Fiat Lucrum

California State Senator Darrell Steinberg is co-sponsoring SB 520, titled “California Virtual Campus.” The Senate Bill would potentially enable California students to receive credit at public universities and colleges (UCs, CSUs, and CCCs) for courses taken online from any source.  This would presumably stimulate competition, lower course costs, and make higher education available to more Californians.

Predictably, there is resistance from faculty associations.  The Berkeley Faculty Association, for example, is circulating a petition to oppose SB 520.  The petition states that SB 520 “will lower academic standards (particularly in key skills such as writing, math, and basic analysis), augment the educational divide along socio-economic lines, and diminish the ability for underrepresented minorities to excel in higher education.”

This, of course, is all nonsense.  Nearer the truth is that the Berkeley Faculty Association wants to protect faculty jobs. It is sad indeed when they place their own job security ahead of sensible efforts to make higher education affordable and accessible to more Californians.

That said, anything the State Government touches will be tainted by money.  No doubt many private online universities (e.g., Univer$ity of Phoenix) will jump at the new chance to make money.  Whether online universities are actively lobbying State Senators is anybody’s guess (but what do you think?).

What we ought to do is to simply eliminate expensive and needless accreditation requirements for undergraduate colleges, whether brick-and-mortar or virtual.  Consumers and market competition would then assure the highest quality courses for the lowest price.  We should similarly eliminate four-year degrees, which are meaningless.  People should take classes for the purpose of learning, not to get a degree.  If undergraduate education were completely de-regulated, everybody – minorities included – would follow their natural inclinations to educate themselves, and select high-quality vendors.  A world-class college lecture series would cost no more than to rent a Blu-Ray movie.

Revisioning the University, Part 2: Extra-Educational Motives for College Attendance

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The first post in this series argued that the brick-and-mortar university is obsolete in its current form, because modern technology makes it unnecessary.  Free, or nominally priced distance-learning courses are an alternative.  As proof of concept, a later post constructed a sample liberal arts curriculum using existing high-quality video courses, with an estimated cost of $400/year.

Given that viable alternatives exist, why do young people still feel compelled to attend status quo corporate-style universities, even if that means paying insane tuition? It seems we must look to motivations beyond the simple wish to gain an education, i.e., to explanations in terms of emotional, social, and ‘intangible’ factors.  Let’s consider a few of these.

Rite of Passage

Every young person instinctively seeks to gain social recognition – i.e., some form of achievement such that society will say, “you have arrived at adulthood.”  This seems a basic requirement for self-esteem, at least in our society.  Graduation from a college or university can meet this need for achievement.  That is reasonable in itself.  But the question must be asked:  should we really subject students to massive debt merely for this purpose?  Other ways to meet the need are possible (climbing Mt. Everest, hiking the Appalachian Trail, going on a mission, starting a business, completing a Great Books list, etc.)

We should add that there is both a good and a bad form of this.  The good form supplies ways that young people can derive *genuine* self-esteem by accomplishing something beneficial to others.  The bad form is elitism, whereby a person does something for the sake of gaining status.  Modern universities appeal to this elitism.

Socialization and Partying

Clearly many students see college largely as an opportunity for socialization and partying.  The former is arguably productive, or at least benign:  young people make friends, join clubs, participate in intra-mural sports, etc.  However this often degenerates into a partying lifestyle.  Not only does that serve no productive purpose, it means that, in the case of public universities, taxpayers are required to subsidize this kind of atmosphere.  This is also unfair to those students who approach college more seriously.

Delay of Entry to Workforce

If there are no jobs, society must have some way to handle the surplus labor.  Colleges can be misused for this purpose.

‘Coasting’

Today’s public elementary and secondary school education, combined with the dumbing-down forces of modern culture generally, have potentially left young people today less emotionally and intellectual mature than in previous generations.  Not really knowing who they are or what they want, students attend college for indefinite periods, hoping to eventually ‘find themselves’. However, all too often what happens instead is that they acquire the habit of laziness and lack of focus.

Transition from Parental Household

A seemingly minor point, but actually fairly important.  If young people didn’t have some convenient and non-threatening way to move out of the parental household, they might stay there indefinitely.  So young people and parents alike have this tacit incentive for  the former to move off to college.

Having noted a few of these secondary motives for attending college, we can ask:  is there some alternative way to address these without making young people pay enormous college tuition?

Of course there are, and if society tried, it could come up with better solutions.  One simple example would be a program of nature camps, whereby young people (e.g. ages 18-20) spend a year or two living and working, say, in the mountains somewhere.  Nominally, they’d do things like building trails or planting trees, maybe train in athletics.  Informally, they could socialize, party, become more mature, etc.  At least in the past, this paradigm was followed in certain Scandinavian countries.

Another alternative would be to encourage a wanderjahr abroad – informal traveling, perhaps organized around some theme of interest, like historical sites, national capitals, or museums.

Once they’ve sown their wild oats and gained maturity, young people could return at age 20 or 21 to begin their college education in earnest.  When I taught I was strongly impressed by how much this age difference helped in terms of student focus.  For example, students who started college after military service just breezed through courses; it made teaching much easier.

The bottom line is that we can separate the educational purpose from certain unnecessary social functions of the modern college.  By addressing the latter in other ways, we should be able to make the educational function of colleges much more efficient, and can reduce tuition accordingly.

Five Innovative Things the University of California Can Do to Slash Tuition

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Image via http://ucpay.globl.org

California Speaker Pérez’ plan  for reducing public university tuition is a welcome sign, but doesn’t go nearly far enough.  Sacramento should consider more sweeping changes:

1. Expand advanced placement testing

Let students ‘test out’ of any course, or even get a diploma that way.

2. Integrate third-party courses into curricula

For example, video lectures by The Great Courses are better than most brick-and-mortar college courses.  A campus library can buy these and students (registered or unregistered) may watch them for free.  Testing and grading could be done by local instructors.

3. Institute a Great Books program

Let students get from 1 to 2 years course credit by reading classics.

4. Eliminate or scale down college accreditation

Accreditation for undergrad studies is unnecessary; it’s merely a means by which existing universities and colleges monopolize the market.  Remove the costly barrier of accreditation, and communities, churches, etc., can found inexpensive local colleges suitable for many students’ needs.  This competition will drive down the tuitions of existing colleges.

5. Limit or eliminate student loans for undergraduates.

This will also force colleges to lower tuition and motivate cost-cutting.

See also:

Hyperinflation of Tuition and Fees in the California State University System

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An earlier post demonstrated how badly students at the University of California are being taken advantage of with exorbitant tuition and fees.  The results there showed that, even after adjusting for inflation, UC students today pay more than four times as much in tuition and fees as their parents’ did.  Here we examine the second tier of California’s public higher education system, the California State Universities (CSU), and find that the situation is even worse.  See the figure below.


The red line shows the actual average undergraduate (resident) tuition + fees across CSU campuses, from 1975/76 to 2011/12.

The blue line shows what tuition + fees would be if they increased only because of inflation.  These numbers are calculated based on historical Consumer Price Index data (specifically, the CPI-U, which applies to urban consumers). 1975 is used as the base year.

The ratio of the height of the two lines gives the rip-off index — or how much tuition and fees have hyperinflated relative to general cost of living — for a given year.

For 2011/12, the ripoff index is obtained by dividing actual tuition + fees ($6,519) by what would be expected by inflation alone ($810), giving 8.04.

Interpretation:  after adjusting for inflation, the financial burden on students and their families to pay tuition and fees at CSU today is 8 times greater than in 1975!  Moreover, by this standard, CSU students are being ripped off twice as badly as UC students.

In addition we should note that, unlike their parents, students today may find that their degree has no value in securing a good job.

Some might reply that $6,519 per year isn’t terriby expensive.  To that the response is two-fold.

First, this means that the four-year bill for a CSU diploma is presently over $26,000, which is a hefty amount.

Second, the fact is that, a generation ago, the people of California chose to create a second university system that placed virtually no financial burden on students.  Little by little the commitment to suppy a higher education to every eligible and motivated student eroded.

We need to reassert and live up to the original vision of the California Master Plan for Higher Education:  that some form of higher education ought to be available to all regardless of their economic means, and that academic progress should be limited only by individual proficiency.

Sources:

  • CSU Budget Office

A spreadsheet (.xls) with all data and calculations is available on request.

See also:

College Tuition: Inflation or Hyperinflation?

Hyperinflation of Tuition and Fees in the University of California System

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This chart demonstrates how badly California college students are being ripped off.

The red line shows the actual average undergraduate tuition + fees across University of California campuses, from 1975/76 to 2011/12.

The blue line shows what tuition + fees would be if they increased only because of inflation.  These numbers are calculated based on historical Consumer Price Index data (specifically, the CPI-U, which applies to urban consumers). 1975 is used as the base year.

The ratio of the height of the two lines gives the rip-off index  — or how much tuition and fees hyperinflated relative to general cost of living — for a given year.

For 2011/12, the ripoff index is obtained by dividing actual tuition + fees ($11,064) by what would be expected by inflation alone ($2,506), giving 4.41.

A simple way to interpret this is as follows:  after adjusting for inflation, the financial burden on students and their families to pay tuition and fees at UC is 4.41 times greater than in 1975!

Sources:

See also:
College Tuition: Inflation or Hyperinflation?