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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Bratty greedy college students, again, and subsidies for higher education 


Glenn Reynolds links to this bit from Anthony Dick at the Corner about University of California students protesting cuts in subsidies. The spectacle of generally left-wing students demanding that more wealth be transferred up to them is as amusing -- or irritating, depending on your taste -- now as it always has been.

First and foremost, the protests are about privileged kids demanding subsidies from working people. The UC system will continue to be heavily subsidized by taxpayers, and the students who attend are among the most naturally gifted, with the highest future earning potential, in the country. This is especially true at the system's flagship schools of Berkeley and UCLA, where the protests have been most intense. Narcissism and self-absorption are the norm on college campuses, but it really is pushing the limits to throw such a tantrum at the idea that you will be getting a smaller amount of free money taken out of the paychecks of strapped taxpayers, most of whom could never dream of the advantages and opportunities you enjoy.

Commentary

Of course, it has always been thus, or at least has been since government decided to subsidize higher education with land grants first and then more direct aid, including subsidized student loans and grants for research from which the recipient universities would extract massive "overhead" charges. From a certain cramped point of view, all of these subsidies are transfers from working people to the privileged. This view is "cramped" because it misses the point. We subsidize higher education for essentially social reasons, including to raise the competence of the work force and to support scholarship that could not happen otherwise. That individuals reap a windfall from these subsidies in the form of higher salaries in the future (in the case of students) and professional advancement (in the case of professors) is, in principle, an unintended consequence of the subsidies, not the objective of them.

Unfortunately, we have lost track of this thinking in recent years. Support for universities has taken on the attributes of most pork-barrel spending, so we have money going for all sorts of things for which it is hard, if not impossible, to justify subsidies on any intellectually honest basis. Intercollegiate athletic programs come to mind (much as I enjoy them, I cannot come up with a good reason to subsidize them), and so probably do most professional schools.

Something else, however, has also changed. Higher education, especially elite higher education, drives far more incremental earnings today than it did when we started subsidizing universities in a big way. Rightly or wrongly, a degree from a top school is perceived as the key to the good life. In effect, the unintended benefits of subsidies that flow to students have become far more valuable than they once were. It should not surprise us, therefore, that the recipients of those subsidies are ever more dogged in their defense of them, and that their demands for more, or even the preservation of the status quo, smell so self-interested.

If the value of an elite higher education continues to increase faster than the value of the "average" education, big subsidies for elite universities will increasingly offend norms of distributive justice on both left and right. The academic left will respond as it always does, expiating its guilt by proposing different massive subsidies for the "poor," by which it means a huge proportion of the population, and the right will increasingly attack the subsidies themselves. Both responses dodge the real need to explore anew the social purpose for subsidies for higher education.

34 Comments:

By Blogger steve, at Sat Nov 21, 09:09:00 AM:

I am a graduate of UC Berkeley and I have to take exception with your characterization of its students as privileged.

Something like 1/3 of the students are the first members of their family to go to college. There are many, many students who are not from privileged backgrounds. In particular, many, many come from immigrant families.

UC Berkeley provides the opportunity for hard working, talented kids from modest backgrounds to fulfill their potential by studying at one of the top universities in the world. And we all benefit from that.

Sure, there are students there whose families can afford the tuition hikes. Government does not always do things right, but Berkeley is one place where it has sucessfully done everything it intended to do.

Making Berkeley less affordable to people with lower incomes will be a true loss.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Sat Nov 21, 09:20:00 AM:

The point, I think, is that these students have a high lifetime income compared to other people, even if they have not yet cashed in. In that way of thinking, they have a cash flow problem rather than an income problem. I appreciate that distinction may be lost on them at the moment, but it is real.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Nov 21, 10:06:00 AM:

Berkley is a Communist Subversive training camp. Screw em.  

By Blogger JPMcT, at Sat Nov 21, 10:24:00 AM:

Although I am far from wistful about the social usefulness of places like Berserkley, I think Steve has a point...but my read is a bit different.

Why in the name of all that is HOLY do families have to pay amounts up in the six figures for a child to sit in a room and hear another person impart knowledge?

Even if one factors in room, board, transportation, lab fees, books, etc....most of which is not covered by tuition...the cost is staggering.

Universities generally sit on millions of dollars in Trust money (some in the billions), recieve government assistance and generally don't give anything back to society other than intellectual property...which, in turn, is a commodity that should turn a profit.

The whole system is a microcosm of government....except that Universities generally produce something useful.

Having said this: If I had to listen to a college kid protesting because of state funding being cut....they would have my sympathy only if they were ALSO protesting the ridiculous cost of the service.

Like most sacred cows in our society, the process screams for an audit and reform...but all we will get is bloviation.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Nov 21, 10:28:00 AM:

Berkeley has been for as long as I can remember been a center for anti big Government thugs, to include the staff. In the 60's they thrilled at the prospect of spitting on returning Vietnam Vet's. If the school was to go belly up the IQ of America would raise by 10%. The fact that they want the rest of us to finance their socialist agenda says volumes of their self centered greed.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Nov 21, 10:33:00 AM:

I'm not certain with the belief that UC Berk grads will be highly paid over their lifetime.Some of he students are extremely bright and will do well at their fields (tech,science medicine etc. ) But some (note the Conflict Resolution student quoted in the papers) are leaving with no quantifiable knowledge or job skills. (Think of Sonny minus Cher ). Not all can be congressmen .These people need either a gov't or foundation job to make a living.
Corwin  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Nov 21, 10:38:00 AM:

Thank you for highlighting this problem, but with respect to your forum, I believe your response to the first poster is inadequate. If a person is excluded from higher education because of prohibitive costs, how does it follow that he or she has a higher lifetime earning potential? College, and therefore all its attendant benefits, intended or not, becomes a nonstarter -- that's the point.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Nov 21, 10:55:00 AM:

Universities should be run like any other business. University students benefit from their degrees with higher wages and therefore, asking them to pay for all of their tuition makes sense.

If studends want to bring a decrease in higher education costs, they should demand that their professors and school administrators take less of the pie. But that would only happen if the students themselves are actually handed the full responsibility of the cost of their education. When they don't have that cost born upon them, they are sheltered from reality and aren't driven to demand efficiency and better perceived value.  

By Blogger steve, at Sat Nov 21, 10:58:00 AM:

I was a graduate student in the Engineering School and it was NOT highly politized. Every department in the school was ranked in the top 3 or 5 of its kind in the country. I was not (and have never been) a Communist subversive, nor were the co-founders of Intel, Sun or the chairman of Google. In fact, graduates of Berkeley engineering are well represented at the top of the high tech business.

I read Tigerhawk regularly, and respect him, but I am really appalled at the stupidity of some of the comments.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Nov 21, 11:06:00 AM:

I think I have to second Steve's comments, with some modifiers.

First, given the extreme degree to which our tax system has become progressive it is no longer clear that income is being transferred up the economic ladder. I don't know what you mean by "working people" but "working people" in the Springsteenian (coined that term myself!) sense no longer pay taxes, or pay so little that they are net consumers of government services. They aren't contributing to the operating budget of the University system in any meaningful way. Like the rest of our government, the University system is carried in large part by the top 10% of income earners.

Second, returns on higher education are falling, not increasing. I suspect some of this is caused by the lousy economy, some by global competition, and some by poor educational choices--American colleges continue to crank out far too many liberal arts and political science majors. Large numbers of college grads today will not obtain the higher incremental earnings of which you write.

I am not optimistic for the prospects of the upcoming generation of Americans. They will be faced with diminished career opportunities, compressed compensation, and if the Democrats get their way they will face vastly higher taxes, both direct and indirect. I am telling my kids that they need to keep an open mind about where in the world to live. America may not be the best place to live for the next generation.

In that regard last week I spoke to an acquaintance who works in the finance industry and who is originally from India. He has made his money and can retire anytime. After almost 20 years in the U.S. he now plans to move back to India to retire. In his words: "the reasons I moved to America are no longer present."  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Nov 21, 11:14:00 AM:

Berkeley is and has been the very center of anti government hate, and yet they seek government financial aid, my tax dollar, he$$ no  

By Anonymous Mr. Ed, at Sat Nov 21, 11:18:00 AM:

UC Berkeley is a complex place and a fine University. I realize that persons eastward of Berkeley, given it's colorful history, will tend to see it as evidence that we've got something other than fluoride in the water.

Having close experience though, with family moving through the UC system, who do not come from privileged backgrounds I have a different perspective than Steve, I think.

I learned that if you are disadvantaged or in some ethnically underrepresented groups, and if you have demonstrated some academic seriousness, there are a world of grants and scholarships, not to mention loans, which are (or have been) available to finance an education. There are Cal Grants, Pell Grants, and a number of private scholarships which literally go looking for recipients. Close family, let's say very good students but not future Nobel Prize Winners (well Peace Prize maybe) have received many tens of thousands in support that they will never have to pay back.

I also learned that while tuition can be a lot (and it is a hell of a lot less at Berkeley than similar private universities like Stanford) it is only a part of what it takes to be a student. When I went to school (post telegraph, early telephone...) rooms were $50-60. Now they often are $900-$1000. So the effect of a tuition increase on the overall cost of an education is diluted by the surrounding costs.

So my opinion on all this is: these are tough and difficult times for many people, suck it up.

M.E.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Sat Nov 21, 11:27:00 AM:

"I am a graduate of UC Berkeley and I have to take exception with your characterization of its students as privileged."

I think there's a difference in definition here. Privileged not in that their families are wealthy, but privileged in the fact that they are going to such a prestigious school and will reap the benefits of such for a lifetime. Can one argue that a pauper who gets into Harvard Law School is not privileged?

But in either case, seeing people protest to demand more free handouts always kind of turns my stomach. Reminds me of French kids protesting because the government would allow their employers to fire their lazy, non-performing asses.  

By Anonymous tyree, at Sat Nov 21, 11:42:00 AM:

I used to work at UCI and I was in a meeting years ago. We were discussing financial projections for future construction projects and the project manager twice mentioned the words "conservative estimate". He was admonished to "find a different word" by one of the University deans. Steve, engineering is not like other disciplines as it involves work and not socialist change, and indoctrination to the leftist way of thinking even finds its way into the boardrooms. Here in California there was a $10 billion dollar bond issue on the ballot for a high speed rail system that got tremendous support from the students because it was a "green" project. The link between excess government spending and lack of government money was not made in their classrooms.  

By Blogger SR, at Sat Nov 21, 12:25:00 PM:

It is a Big day at Berkeley today.
California meets Stanford in the annual Big Game.
Go Bears, beat the Furd. Oh. and don't rely in the Stanford Band getting out on the field to do so.

SR '69  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Nov 21, 12:46:00 PM:

"Second, returns on higher education are falling, not increasing. I suspect some of this is caused by the lousy economy, some by global competition, and some by poor educational choices--American colleges continue to crank out far too many liberal arts and political science majors. Large numbers of college grads today will not obtain the higher incremental earnings of which you write.

I am not optimistic for the prospects of the upcoming generation of Americans. They will be faced with diminished career opportunities, compressed compensation, and if the Democrats get their way they will face vastly higher taxes, both direct and indirect. I am telling my kids that they need to keep an open mind about where in the world to live. America may not be the best place to live for the next generation."

This + 1,000. On the one hand it is hard to drum up much sympathy for UC students since their tuition/fees are still relatively inexpensive, but shouldn't be obvious to those that complain that our reckless government spending and entitlements has already saddled young and future generations with enormous debt, that this is simply another scheme where we are placing debt burdens on young people, as opposed to having tenured and overpaid professors and administrative staff take paycuts like any other business operates.

I also agree that the value of a college degree has diminished considerably. I have a cousin who is a 4th year economics major at another great public school (UVA), he can't even get an interview and he has decent grades. A lot of his classmates are applying to grad/professional programs (and likely incurring more debt) because the job market is so awful for young people. I foresee a lot of generational bitterness for the next decade or two.  

By Anonymous vicki pasadena ca, at Sat Nov 21, 01:45:00 PM:

Thank you Steve for your right on comments. My cousin has 2 daughters attending UCLA and UC Irvine. Without the subsidies, scholarships and Bill and Melinda Gates these girls (awesome and so bright) would have no chance at a higher education. To characterize these kids as spoiled brats is typical of Glenn Reynolds, verbal diarrhea, knowing NOTHING before he speaks. Glenn and tiger, do the legwork, speak from a base of knowledge. You are both filled with crap. To raise the fees 30% will mean that gifted children of the less fortunate will have to bypass a great education.

Crap, crap crap.  

By Anonymous vicki pasadena ca, at Sat Nov 21, 01:49:00 PM:

BTW anon, crap crap crap. Berkeley is one of the finest educational institutions in the country. The other stuff is just bull. Who cares what the political arena is up there. I have had plenty of conservative friends of mine who were educated at Berkeley and they did not morph in to "commies" Thank you, Senator McCarthy.

a ton of crap on all of you righties  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Nov 21, 03:50:00 PM:

Please keep in mind the difference between Berkeley the city and Berkeley the University. Many students there don't care for the politics and just want their degree. The liberal excesses I saw at Berkeley turned me into a right winger.

As for "privileged", I dunno, maybe that degree from Cal is worth something because the classes are actually hard, and due to the lack of grade inflation, the GPA means something. Undergrads go to Cal for two main reasons: They are poor, or they got rejected from Stanford.

Finally, the most prestigious schools are usually private, where YOU GET TO PAY. Like Stanford across the bay. Now THOSE kids are privileged.

PS I have gone to both.  

By Anonymous feeblemind, at Sat Nov 21, 03:59:00 PM:

Smart kids can succeed without a college education. Bill Gates was a college dropout. So was Dell and Rush Limbaugh. Ray Kroc dropped out of High School. But if a kid still wants to go and can't afford it he could always work full time and live at home for a couple of years or join the Armed Forces or the National Guard. Those that really want to go will find a way to pay for it and just not sit down and whine about tuition being too high. What's so funny about California in particular is that they have spent money like it has been going out of style for years, and now the dems out there are picking their noses and wondering where in the world it all went, totally clueless. Maybe if they had shown more restraint in other areas they would have more money for the UC system today.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Nov 21, 05:00:00 PM:

"If the value of an elite higher education continues to increase faster than the value of the "average" education"

Is there any quantitative evidence this is the case? I'm not saying it isn't, but there are certainly signs, such as the diminshing number of IL educated CEOs, that suggest the public (and shareholders in particular) are less and less impressed with graduates of elite schools as time goes on. After the stupidity and incompetence of the Harvard MBA who ran my last employer into the ground, I didn't think anything could drive my opinion of that school's graduates any lower. Then The One came along...

"To characterize these kids as spoiled brats is typical of Glenn Reynolds, verbal diarrhea, knowing NOTHING before he speaks. Glenn and tiger, do the legwork, speak from a base of knowledge"

All Reynolds did was link to an article, and quote some of it. As somebody once said, before you start spewing verbal diarrhea, knowing nothing before you speak, do the legwork. Like, say, reading the link. I'm just sayin.

"Berkley is a Communist Subversive training camp"

Pretty much all universities are. The bizarre part is that a college education dramatically increases the probability one will be, or lean, Republican. Believe it or not, a lot of college students are smart enough to grasp that most professors don't know any more about issues outside their specialty than a randomly selected housepet does.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Nov 21, 05:27:00 PM:

what did we get for our money? the NAACP, the Rev. Wright, the Magic Mulatto aka Oba Mao, Holder, and all the rest of the America hating African barely-Americans.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Nov 21, 06:23:00 PM:

"Pretty much all universities are. "

An astute point, the fact that may be lost on some is that as "liberal" as young, unworldly college students may be, their "liberalness" (to make up a word) pales in comparison to the that of the faculty. Almost every college has more liberal professors than students. We're concerned about students griping about tuition, what about professors who would be unemployable in the real world getting huge salaries and pensions on the public dime? The National Review and TigerHawk (who I respect a lot) are missing this.  

By Blogger Purple Avenger, at Sat Nov 21, 07:30:00 PM:

Never been to Berkeley, my graduate degree is from UC San Diego.

Actually, I never expected to be accepted into their graduate studies, so I do consider myself privileged to have gotten into the joint.

50% of the incoming grad school class was non-American paying the full (at the time in the early 80's) shot of about $15K/yr.  

By Blogger buck smith, at Sat Nov 21, 08:40:00 PM:

I believe the students are correct to protest they are being overcharged. Consider the difference between the rise in health care costs and the rise in the cost of a college education. For the extra money one pays for health care we get hundreds if not thousands of new devices, procedures and treatments for an increasing number of conditions. For the extra money one pays for a year of college education one gets a year of college education. The students are not asking for it, but what is needed to deal with rising college education costs is lay-offs, pension cuts and across the board cuts.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Sat Nov 21, 08:55:00 PM:

"My cousin has 2 daughters attending UCLA and UC Irvine. Without the subsidies, scholarships and Bill and Melinda Gates these girls (awesome and so bright) would have no chance at a higher education."

Rubbish. Both my wife and sister in law worked full time (three jobs, in the case of the in law) to put themselves through college. Half the reason that *anyone* joins the military is for the educational benefits; which is how I went to college.

There are ways aside from government largesse. You just have to work for them.  

By Blogger Purple Avenger, at Sat Nov 21, 09:41:00 PM:

would have no chance at a higher education.

I would be correct in assuming they have no intention of ever getting real jobs then, eh?

Easily half the engineers I worked with at Rockwell worked their way through engineering school at places like Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach.

I started out in a small (although well regarded) community college. Many take that route because of economic necessity.

Anyone who think they're entitled to an education at a UC school is badly deluded. I had to work as a TA to make ends meet in grad school. My Taiwanese roommates worked for 15 years in industry in Taiwan to save enough to pay for grad school at UCSD.

Working for something is apparently a notion falling by the wayside these days.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Nov 21, 09:42:00 PM:

"Both my wife and sister in law worked full time (three jobs, in the case of the in law) to put themselves through college. "

I'm glad they were able to find good work and were willing to to put in the time, but how long ago was that? Young people today can't even get jobs at Starbucks or McDonald's in some areas. There was a $10.00/hr job as a janitor that came up a few weeks ago in my hometown, word on the street is that they got several hundred applications.

Do some of you realize how bad the job market is now? Especially for young people?

Hopefully the market turns around for TigerHawk's son when he graduates from Virginia Tech, but both of them should be asking hard questions to the career services office.  

By Blogger randian, at Sun Nov 22, 05:35:00 AM:

If the students were smart, they'd be complaining about government subsidies, since those are why higher education has priced itself out of their reach.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Nov 22, 06:28:00 AM:

Let them eat cake.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Nov 22, 10:25:00 AM:

The real crime of higher education is committed by tenured faculty. They are paid, not to teach, but to write articles, publish journals and arrange/attend conferences, all activities that enhance their own futures and consulting revenue. The universities have to hire others to teach the classes that tenured faculty would otherwise be expected to teach.
And, this is the engine that drives all others in US society today to believe that others have to pick up the tab so they can prosper, the sense of entitlement.  

By Anonymous tyree, at Sun Nov 22, 11:44:00 AM:

PROFESSOR BAINBRIDGE ON THE UCLA TUITION “RIOT:”

In the first place, reliable counts say that there’s only about 200 students at the protest–out of an enrollment of almost 40,000. 0.5% is not exactly the March on Washington.

These protesters had to be broken up by riot police.

Riot police.

Greedy and bratty are mild words that could be used to describe them.  

By Anonymous Matt, at Sun Nov 22, 02:23:00 PM:

I have a huge problem with the way you characterize this situation.

First off, you keep referring to state funding of public higher education as "subsidies." I think this is disingenuous. The State of California founded the University of California and for a long time the state paid for the system's entire budget. Referring to state funding as a "subsidy" is like referring to state funding for the DMV as a "subsidy." The UC was created by the state, chartered in the state's constitution, of course it should fund the school.

Second off, I have a huge problem with you characterizing UC students as privileged. 37% of students on my campus, UC Santa Cruz, are first-generation, meaning they are the first person in their family to go to college. The UC also maintains a student body with a much greater portion of students who come from truly low income backgrounds.

Yes, there are a lot of privileged students on our campuses as well and generally they are the ones taking over buildings. The students without as many privileges are busy trying to survive, but we too believe higher education should be accessible. Given the UC is an economic machine for the state, I don't know why anyone would consider it smart policy to cut its funding.  

By Blogger JPMcT, at Sun Nov 22, 04:05:00 PM:

"a ton of crap on all of you righties"

Well, Vicki...you wish has been fulfilled...we certainly have a ton of crap in Washington. Unfortunately it is "on" all of us.

But I digress.

Having been educated in the Catholic School system (about $200/year thru high school), private college in NYC (about $1500/year), med school in Baltimore (about $2500/yr)and then fellowships (they paid me), I can certainly say that I have no regrets about the quality of my education.

I also had to depend on the good will of others. The NYS Regents Scholarsip Program, The US Gov. War Orphans Loan program and the good people who hired me as a library page, factory worker, grave digger, truck driver and musician. Then the small matter of my wife...who worked as a special ed teacher and contributed to the cause.

Bottom line: I didn't get a penny because I was "disadvantaged" or because I was a second generation "Irish-American".

I worked for it. Hard.

Had the cost of the services been the same preposterous amount then as it it now (even thinking in 1960-70 dollars), it would have been impossible.

I say again...the basic problem is that we have priced ourselves out of the rational availability of a higher education.

It certainly isn't going to get any prettier with those fine economic stewards we have in Washington who are taking such fine care of the money given to them from people who have repaed the benefits of the education.

Pretty soon there will be no higher education that is not state regulated...if there is any at all.

Perhaps that was the plan all along.  

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