In the turbulent times of the 21st century, public higher education is a student in the school of hard knocks.
That’s why thousands of college students drove, bussed, or even walked up to the State Capitol in Sacramento on March 5: because we’re tired of increased fees, extreme budget cuts, absurd student loan debts, and overpriced textbooks — for a start.
College costs have increased 2 1/2 times past the rate of inflation over the past 20 years. According to Charles Grassley of the Senate Banking Committee, that would be like paying $15 for a gallon of milk. The average student can’t earn a bachelor’s degree without racking up at least a $25,000 debt.
City College has been hit hard by $17 million in budget cuts. Classes, including some fully-enrolled ones, have been cut. And summer school will probably be a fraction of what it once was.
But we’ve got to give the college some credit.
Our fantastic teachers are taking a pay cut for us, and Chancellor Griffin took a 6% pay cut a couple years ago and has said this year that he will take another $20,000 (more than you can say for some other college presidents whose salaries have doubled in the past 10 years. And don’t forget the dozen or so who make over $1 million).
In addition, some Board of Trustee members have taken money from their own pockets to help save classes here at the college.
But, after we escape from City College, what is all our university tuition money actually going towards? Why does college cost so much?
One would hope it’s going towards providing an outstanding education, encouraging students to be innovative and critical thinkers, at the very least. And while there’s really no way to prove that people are NOT now 250% smarter (allowing for inflation), I have a suspicion that the quality of public and private instruction has not improved quite that much.
A lot of it goes to overpaid professors. Now, I’m not one to discredit the value of a teacher. But many professors’ salaries — notably in private education — have been rising at a faster rate than the cost of living. These instructors oftentimes only teach one or two classes a semester and get a fully-paid semester off every few years.
For Yale professors, this averages out to a ludicrous $820 hourly wage, according to the book “Higher Education?” by Andrew Hacker and Claudia Driefus. Seems a little much, especially when that has to be paid by a student flipping burgers for $7.25 an hour.
The actual college facilities don’t come cheap, either. While City College has a few food hot-spots and a swimming pool, Washington State University has a 53-person jumbo Jacuzzi, and the University of Houston houses a five-story climbing wall. Necessary for helping students learn? I don’t think so. Somehow, the surface of a college — the amenities and accessories — have become more attractive than the quality of education. Because, well, it’s easier to sucker in high school seniors that way.
And that isn’t even touching the amount spent on football, academic research, or legal fees. (Bet you didn’t know colleges were one of the most frequently sued institutions in America.)
The system is broken. We are not getting what we deserve, and far less than we pay for. The college system needs change. Schools that need money aren’t getting it, and schools that get it are spending it superfluously. We’re not asking for much — only for an affordable place to learn.
Stay tuned for next week’s rant on student debt!