US public education and debt

In a longish article in *Representations* (available through JSTOR), Robert Meister argues that tuition increases at UC and more generally all public universities are not the solution to the financial problem posed by decrease in state funding. They are the problem, at least as they are framed by the aggressive policies of UC administrators who hide behind PR pieties.

One side of the equation is this: the level of indebtedness of many students and families has reached such a level that education-related debt, for a presently dubious betterment of one’s life, is a bubble waiting to burst. And clearly, taxes cannot be raised on most of Californian families, especially at this time.

But the other side of the problem is that UC administrators have been pursuing an aggressive strategy of revenue growth, including a cruel and harsh willingness to drive low- and middle-income families into further debt, by using the decrease in state funding as cover and the desire for a better life as bait. Tuition income is catching up with state support and will outstrip it by next year. This new revenue, to the difference of state funds, which are restricted and must be used mostly for instruction, is not restricted. It can be used and, Meister argues, has been used, to secure UC’s excellent credit rating for large capital projects, rather than for restoring the quality of instruction. Or at least this is part of the argument. Here is the Abstract from the *Representations* site (UC Press):
>This article examines the limitations of tuition (higher personal debts) as a mode of funding public university systems and, also, the widespread resistance to any tax increase by citizens with falling or stagnant income and growing burdens of debt. It argues that the questions of debt servitude and tax resistance must be considered together if public universities are to regain taxpayer support and become, once again, drivers of greater economic and social equality.

In sum: the UC administration has abandoned the ideal of social equality and greater productivity behind the higher education compact of the fifties and sixties in California and is helping along the accelerating disparity between the haves and have-nots. And for another summary, read Nathan Brown’s first of five theses, delivered at the UC system-wide strike rally held at UC Davis on November 15, 2011.

While I’m on this topic, I post two useful links for information on student movements: Reclaim UC, and student activism.