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But Should UCLA Cost as Much as Stanford? : Brilliant new report suggests that's the way state is going

March 20, 1994

There are, broadly, two ways to look at the decline of public higher education in California. Faculty and administration see deferred maintenance, foregone raises, shrunken staff, deteriorated labs and libraries and increasing workload. Students and their families see much of what faculty and administration see, but they also see fees too high for them to pay and a deliberate downsizing that bars their path even when poverty does not.

When state money was abundant enough to meet the needs of provider and consumer alike, there was no need to choose one over the other. But money is no longer abundant, and a choice is clearly being made to preserve the integrity of the institutions--the University of California, the California State University and the community college system--by a combination of cost-cutting (enrollment reduction) and revenue enhancement (increased fees), even if this combination sharply reduces educational opportunity.

DISAPPEARING STUDENTS: There is no question that, personally, the key administrators would prefer the continuation of low-cost, high-access public higher education. But professionally they have begun to move in another direction. UC fees are climbing by as much as 40% annually. Cal State fees have risen 85% since 1990. Community college fees increased 30% in 1993 alone. Because the average family income of UC students is high, UC enrollment has not dropped by much. But the Cal State system has lost 22,000 students, the equivalent of a large campus, and community college enrollment has dropped a staggering 137,000.

Should this quiet but radical change in California public higher education continue? UC tuition has been rising at the rate of $600 per year with no end in sight. There is little doubt that UCLA could thrive even with tuition as high as Stanford's; and if its tuition goes that high, it will be, effectively, a private institution. But should it be one? And should administrators--or even the UC regents--be allowed to make it one by boosting tuitions?

We don't think so. There is no more basic question about public higher education than whether it will remain public. This is why we welcome the invitation offered to the public by the California Higher Education Policy Center to comment on the draft of its report "Time for Decision: California's Legacy and the Future of Higher Education."

CALL FOR FREEZING FEES: The center's director, Patrick Callan, is no more anti-faculty or anti-research than UC President Jack W. Peltason or CSU Chancellor Barry Munitz is anti-student. But the center's emphasis on access is unmistakable. One need read no further than its second recommendation: that undergraduate student charges be frozen during the 1994-95 academic year and thereafter not be permitted to rise faster than statewide personal income. Or its third: that "funding priority should be given to campuses that maintain or increase enrollment while at the same time providing quality education"--a penalty, in other words, for reducing access.

The merit of these and the center's other recommendations aside, their publication permits the public to engage an issue too large to be entrusted to even the most brilliant and dedicated professional managers. The center maintains that, properly managed, California public higher education can "accomplish more with less": access as well as quality, including research quality, on a reduced budget. Administrators maintain the opposite: You can't get blood from a turnip, something's got to give.

Both sides make strong points, and the debate will be won or lost, needless to say, in the details. All Californians--not just students and their families--have a stake in its outcome.

For a copy of the report, write California Higher Education Policy Center, 160 W. Santa Clara St., Suite 704, San Jose, Calif. 9513.

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