The University of California will certainly be a big loser in the debt deal recently signed by President Obama. In fact, what most commentators have missed is that in the first round of budget cuts triggered by the debt deal, graduate students will be forced to pay more for their loans, and they will also have to pay earlier.
While the first round of cuts protected Pell grants and federal research grants, the next round will most likely cut deeply into both of these programs. Moreover, as George Skelton shows, future and present cuts to Medicaid will force states to shift more funds away from state-supported programs as they seek to pay for escalating healthcare costs. In other words, when the federal government cuts social programs, the states have to make up for the losses, and the result is that discretionary programs like higher education are reduced.
If we combine the future federal cuts to Pell grants and research grants with the increased burden on states to fund social welfare programs, we are left with a significant decline in funds for university research and graduate education. Ironically, these cuts to the UC system are occurring during a time when the Academic Council is asking President Yudof to accept more graduate students and discontinue the tuition derived from nonresident graduate students. Part of this new funding model asks the state to increase its support for UC research and expensive graduate programs during a time of diminishing state funds.
Next week, I will dissect the Academic Council plan, but for now, I just want to stress that the only real solution is for the Senate faculty to realize that UC should move to a model where it only accepts graduate students it can fully fund. While this would reduce the number of graduate students, it would increase the quality, and it would counter-act the increased costs of student loans and the loss of research grant money. Furthermore, it is important to stress that UC is one of the biggest producers of PhDs in the world, and there is a growing number of unemployed and under-employed people with PhDs. Although the UC argues that more graduate students are needed in order to staff large undergraduate courses, it is clear that one of the reasons why our PhD students cannot get jobs after they earn their degrees is that there are so many graduate students teaching undergraduate courses. Moreover, by staffing courses with people lacking PhDs, the message is sent out to administrators that anyone can teach undergraduate courses, and so there is no need to hire new professors.
My argument here is not to denigrate or downgrade graduate education; rather, I am arguing that we have to protect graduate students who are often forced to live in poverty as they await a chance to compete in the academic job lottery.