Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Understanding Financial Aid: Not Easy

I have always wanted to know what it means when UC says that students would not have to pay tuition if their parents made less than $80,000 a year. So I went to the UCLA financial aid estimator, and I punched in a few variables, and here is what I found.

In the case of a family of four with an income of $75,000, here is what we get: Parent Contribution:
Estimated Award Letter
Grant Award:
Self Help Award:
Family Help Award:

Estimated Total Price of Attendance
University Fees
Room and Board
Books and Supplies
Health Insurance
Loan Fees
Total Cost of Attendance:

So, the first thing you might want to know is what are “Self Help” and “Family Help” awards. I looked all over the web site and several other sites, and I could not find any definition of these categories. I then called the UCLA financial aid office, and after waiting several minutes on hold, I finally got a live voice, but this voice could not answer my questions, and so I was transferred to a supervisor. When I asked him what these terms meant, he said he thinks “self help award” refers to student loans and work-study aid, but he had never heard of a “family help award.” I told him that it is on his web site, but he responded that the federal government is requiring the university to put this information online, but they are not responsible for its content.

I am guessing that the family help award is a loan, but I really don’t know; however, what I do know is that while everyone talks about the high cost of tuition, the biggest driver of costs and student debt is housing and related expenses. It turns out that this issue tracks national data. In 1990-91, total tuition, fees, room and board at public universities averaged $5,585, and in 2009-10, this cost rose to $16,712, which represents an increase of $11,127. Meanwhile for community colleges, the total cost in 1990-91 was $3,467, and in 2009-10, it went to $7,703 for an increase of $3,403. During the same period, average tuition and fees for public universities rose from $2,159 to $8,123 for an increase of $5,964, while for community colleges tuition and fees went from $824 to $2,285 for a total increase of $1,461. This means that the biggest cost increases for public higher education concern room and board, but few people ever discuss this fact.

Next Week I plan to return to my last blog on how to make all public higher education free. I had to take it down because there was an error in my analysis.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Ugly Face of Austerity: Pepper Spraying the Other

The image of a UC police officer using a weapon with indifference on prone students may become the iconic image of the Age of Austerity. This scene, which went viral on the Internet, tells us much about our current political and economic moment: young people protesting the decreased support from the state are treated with brutality and indifference.

In reading the recently released report on the UC pepper spraying "incident," I was struck by two reoccurring themes: the university administrators and police wanted to see the student protesters as outside elements, and they sought to protect their imagined daughters from sex. This underlying paranoid fantasy is brought to the surface in several moments in the report. For instance, "The administration did not consider the Occupy movement encampment to be a conventional campus protest. The Leadership Team appeared to perceive it as a vehicle through which non-affiliates might enter the campus and endanger students." We can read the term "non-affiliates" as shorthand for dangerous, unspecified Others, and as the report relates, the central irrational fear of the administration appeared to be that these dangerous Others would violate “young girls”: "“We were worried at the time about that [nonaffiliates] because the issues from Oakland were in the news and the use of drugs and sex and other things, and you know here we have very young students . . . we were worried especially about having very young girls and other students with older people who come from the outside without any knowledge of their record . . . if anything happens to any student while we’re in violation of policy, it’s a very tough thing to overcome.” Representing college students as "young girls" and protesters as dangerous sexualized Others serves to justify a violent reaction by a protective, paternalistic institution.

Of course, this cultural fantasy of the unknown Other violating “young girls” was often used in the American South to justify the lynching of African Americans because of their threat to white female purity. In fact the sexualization of Others has historically helped Christian invaders to justify brutalizing and dehumanizing native people; however, if you think I am reading too much into the passage from the report cited above, let us ponder the following statement: "Vice Chancellor Meyer expressed similar concerns in an interview conducted on Dec. 7. He explained, “our context at the time was seeing what’s happening in the City of Oakland, seeing what’s happening in other municipalities across the country, and not
being able to see a scenario where [a UC Davis Occupation] ends well . . . Do we lose control and have non-affiliates become part of an encampment? So my fear is a longterm occupation with a number of tents where we have an undergraduate student and a non-affiliate and there’s an incident. And then I’m reporting to a parent that a nonaffiliate has done this unthinkable act with your daughter, and how could we let that happen?”" Once again, in this cultural fantasy, the administration sees itself as protecting the purity of its daughters by eliminating the threat posed by a violating Other.

Why it is important to understand this underlying fantasy is that it helps us to understand how the administration could see its own students as threatening outsiders intent on corrupting their own precious purity. From this perspective, Lt. Pike was not simply protecting public safety; rather, he was following the administration's lead by trying to eliminate the Other from the space of the same. I use these abstract terms to point to the underlying psychology behind austerity politics in California: Just as the Other (brown and black students) started to enter into our higher education system, a tax revolt resulted in the defunding of public universities. Moreover, as our public schools become increasingly self-segregated, austerity becomes color-coded. Older and Whiter Californians simply do not want to share their wealth in order to support the education of young people of color.

While we have been socialized not to talk about race and to keep our prejudices indirect and coded, it is clear that even though the police at UC Davis knew they were looking at UC Davis students, what they saw were wild outsiders threatening to violate their daughters. Only serious and committed education can help us to overcome these collective cultural fantasies that at once dehumanize some students and purify others.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The UC Budget and the Damage Done

At the last UC Regents meeting, a discussion of the UC budget outlines the following evidence of the deterioration of educational quality in the UC system:

• At UC Riverside, they will walk onto a campus where enrollment has grown in the last three years by nearly 3,000 students – many of them the first in their families ever to attend college – while at the same time the number of faculty has been reduced by five percent. The result: class sizes have grown by 33 percent. Introductory physics classes that used to average 95 students have exploded in size in three years to 573 students.

• At UC Santa Cruz, students will be provided with 84 fewer course offerings and their class sizes will have spiked 33 percent. The student-faculty ratio has exploded by nearly 15 percent, and the campus lacks funding for 125 faculty FTE – 14 percent of its faculty positions. Yet for all the cuts, the campus still faces a daunting $38 million budget gap.

• UC Santa Barbara has over 1,000 more students than it did three years ago, but the number of staff has declined by 450 (nearly 11 percent) during that time, and the faculty has remained the same size. The results are fewer student services, larger classes and discussion sections, and reductions and eliminations in many programs.

• And across the system, pension costs alone will rise to $1.8 billion annually in the next five years – an expense that campuses did not have to shoulder as recently as three years ago. If there is no increase in either State funds or tuition during this time, campuses will have to find the equivalent of funding for 7,000 staff or 3,900 faculty to fund this expense alone.

In other words, classes are getting bigger, courses are being cut, the number of faculty has been reduced, but the number of students has gone up. Moreover, the campuses are about to be hit with major pension costs, and it is unclear whether the state budget will provide any significant funding for the UC system.

These internal budget cuts not only mean a shortchanging of undergraduate instruction, but they also result in a longer time to degree, which in itself restricts access and reduces affordability.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Meeting at the White House, the State Tax Initiative, and the UC Regents

On March 27th, I made a presentation at the White House on how to control tuitin increases at American research universities. My first major point was that any attempt to contain tuition at public universities has to deal with state budget cuts for higher ed. I was told that the administration is aware of this issue, and they have been meeting with the presidents of several public universities to come up with a way to motivate states to stabilize higher ed funding.

My second major point was that while President Obama has been stressing affordability and access, he also has to focus on the quality of instruction. To make this point, I discussed how universities have been increasing the sizes of their classes and their dependence on under-supported non-tenure-track faculty to drive down the costs of instruction; meanwhile, the cost of administration, athletics, and construction has continued to increase. As I argue in my forthcoming book, the only way to control costs in higher education is to focus on providing quality instruction and research, but there are no incentives to make universities concentrate on their core missions.

One possible way of changing how universities spend their funds is to rank and rate universities based, in part, on the percentage of their budget that they spend on direct instructional costs (faculty salaries and benefits). I suggested to the administration that they add to their new College Scorecard statistics on how much of a university’s budget is spent on direct instructional costs and what percentage of their student credit hours are taught by full-time faculty. If universities had to report on these factors, they would need to commit more attention and funding to their core mission.

We also discussed President Obama’s fight to stop student loan interest rates from doubling this summer. I mentioned that in California, we are trying to freeze tuition by increasing the taxes on the wealthy, but we still need the federal government to combine the current emphasis on access and affordability with a focus on educational quality. Moreover, in the case of the UC system, it is clear that we have to force the governor and the legislature to dedicate new tax revenue to higher education. In fact, at the recent Regents meeting, several of the regents said that they do not think they can support the governor’s tax initiative if it does not dedicate funds directly to the UC in order to prevent another tuition increase. I have been meeting with people from the governor’s office and key legislators to push for a major increase in UC funding, but so far, no one has committed to guaranteeing UC funding and tying the higher education budget to the new tax initiative. We all need to work together now to push the governor and the legislature to provide enough funding to roll back recent tuition increases.