Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Updated: On the Democrats' Education Plan, Part 2: Resegregation

On Tuesday, state Democratic Party lawmakers presented their 2015 plan for higher education. The most publicized aspects of the plan are, first, that it would marginally increase state contributions to the UC and, second, that it would freeze undergraduate in-state tuition. An in-state tuition freeze would be be much better than Napolitano's original proposal for 5% annual tuition hikes.

But there's more to the Democrats' plan: it would also eliminate a recently-established middle class scholarship program, would tie CSU student support to timely completion of degree, and would raise UC out-of-state and international students' tuition by 17 percent, or approximately $4,000 dollars. These proposed out-of-state fee hikes would be more than three times those initially proposed by Napolitano, and would generate for the UC an estimated $82 million dollars of revenue next year.

There are a number of reasons to oppose this plan, particularly its reliance on a $4,000 dollar tuition hike for out-of-state and international students. First, from the perspective of those students directly affected, the hike would involve a financial shock, almost certain to be managed by many through the taking on of even more debt. Those opposed to skyrocketing student debt levels and to the privatization of the university thus have reason to oppose the Democrats' plan to increase out-of-state and international students' debt levels, and to keep UC reliant on tuition revenue rather than on public funds.

Furthermore, from the perspective of the student movement, the proposed hike severs the interests of various groups of current students and can be seen as an attempt to divide the nascent anti-fee hike movement by polarizing students on the basis of our place of origin and citizenship. For the sake of justice and the effectiveness of our movements, it's important to challenge the logic underlying this division of students. People from different places are all living and working together on our campuses, and many of us, regardless of place of origin, will continue living in California after graduation. So even if we base our efforts on an interest in supporting affordable education for California residents, the tuition hike plan is not OK, because all students are residents. In this way, the question of out-of-state tuition levels should be separated from the political question of what percentage of out-of-state students ideally would be admitted to the UCs. Those with different views on the latter can nevertheless unite to oppose fee hikes that would affect current "out-of-state" and international students.

But there is a much more destructive dimension to the Democrats' proposal -- the further resegregation of the UCs along lines of race and class -- which only comes into focus when we broaden our frame of reference by considering the distribution of funding to the various UC campuses. As Chris Newfield pointed out in 2012, the UC Office of the President distributes its general fund revenues unevenly between the various campuses, and this structural unevenness involves the relative underfunding of campuses with higher percentages of Black and Latin@ students (UCR, UCM, UCSB, and UCSC). And, as Bob Samuel's has noted, it's only gotten worse since 2012. UC officials have not only admitted this resource inequity but have defended it: the Office of the President "stated that the university does not wish to jeopardize the achievements of the Berkeley and Los Angeles campuses by shifting funds away to other campuses in an effort to provide an equal amount of general funds and tuition budget per student." As Newfield puts it, UCOP defines its job as protecting UC stratification rather than correcting it.

With their education proposal, the California Democrats have apparently taken on as well the job of protecting and exacerbating stratifications between UC campuses. The reason their planned out-of-state tuition hike would further stratify the UCs by race and class is that the various campuses have sharply uneven capacities to attract out-of-state and international students, based largely on their relative name recognition and prestige. If they can't attract out-of-state students at higher tuition rates, they won't gain significant funds from the out-of-state tuition hike. To get a sense of this unevenness between campuses, here's a comparison of the percentages of in-state students enrolling at the various campuses in 2012:    
This graph above helps explain the charts below, which illustrate the difference between, on the one hand, the relative percentages of out-of-state and international students at the various campuses, and, on the other hand, the relative percentages of total enrollment at the campuses (based on 2012 data). The chart on the left can serve as a proxy for the percentages of the state Democrats' proposed out-of-state fee hike that would go to the various campuses. The chart on the right represents what would be a more equitable distribution of funds, which could be supplied if the state, rather than raising out-of-state fees, simply contributed an additional $82 million dollars to UC and earmarked percentages of the money for particular campuses.      
Seen from this perspective, the California Democrats' plan for out-of-state fee hikes looks much more like an effort to salvage funding at the flagship campuses while leaving all other campuses, and particularly those with higher percentages of Black and Latin@ students, out in the cold. And class and race stratifications are inextricably linked, as the following graph makes clear:
The Democrats' plan would thus have the effect of further underfunding campuses with relatively higher percentages of Black and Latin@ student enrollment and of working class student enrollment. Their plan promises the intensification of race and class inequalities within a UC system characterized by internal segregation. For this reason, as well as those identified above, the state Democrats' plan (SB15) should be vigorously opposed, and better alternatives should be advocated, by all those interested in just and equal public education in California.

Updated, December 18: Apparently, the state Democrats are considering proposals that involve even higher out-of-state tuition hikes, and are also considering capping the number of out-of-state and international student admissions at current levels, thus locking in the inequalities discussed above. From the details of Assembly Speaker Akins' plan:
"•Increase UC enrollment of California students by 10,000 over five years and cap enrollment of out-of-state students at 2014-2015 levels.
•Increase the tuition premium for out-of-state students by $5,000, which would raise an additional $100 million annually."

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