Now that the UC administration has begun a full-fledged public relations campaign to raise tuition by about 5 percent per year for the next five years (adding up to an over 25 percent hike in total—if you calculate it out, it’s a 27.6 percent hike by 2019), it’s worth taking a second to think about how money moves through the university. As always, administrators justify the tuition hike by talking about how funding from the state has decreased. In a joint statement last Thursday, the chancellors of the ten UC campuses wrote the following: “State funding for the University is still $460 million below what it was in 2007-08, even though we are educating thousands more California students.” The proposed tuition hikes, they suggest, are necessary to make up for the difference.
This argument about the decline in state funding is a reasonable one, made by neoliberal university administrators and many defenders of public education alike. But the argument also has some pretty significant blind spots. The point isn’t that state funding hasn’t declined, but that this real decline doesn’t actually do all the work UC administrators are suggesting it does. Let’s see what’s really going on.
Over the period in question, tuition revenue grew significantly more than state funding fell. That extra $300 million in inflation-adjusted dollars is nearly three times as much as the proposed tuition hike will bring in. In spite of the story that administrators continue to tell, the UC’s own data show that tuition revenue has more than made up for the decline in state funding. If this were all that was going on, there should be no deficit. Of course, if you compare current levels of funding to the 1970s or 1980s, you’ll find a big difference. But you’ll also find that expenditures have increased a lot as well—among other things, the administration is spending a lot more money on itself. (Just the latest example: the Regents recently agreed to give chancellors a 20 percent raise.) This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive explanation, but to point out that when administrators talk about declining state funds what we should be asking them is what are they doing with all that extra money that’s rolling in.