The crisis in education

It is no secret that the American economy continues to struggle. Economic growth for the last quarter was a paltry 2.2 percent, below what economists and administration officials were hoping for.

Unemployment remains stubbornly high, and nearly one-in-five Americans are underemployed. Young people in particular are having trouble gaining employment: according to the Center of Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, just half of all recent college grads are finding jobs.

Tony Petersen

Part and parcel to the United States’ general economic malaise is the crisis in education.

Last year, student loan debt was higher than credit card debt for the first time. Two-thirds of college students graduated with student loan debt in 2008, and the average student is $24,000 in debt after attaining an undergraduate degree. That number is much higher for students in grad school.

Along with this, college tuition continues its rise unabated — for 2011, tuition and fees at public universities rose more than 8 percent, more than double the rate of inflation.

At Fresno State alone, tuition has nearly quadrupled in 10 years.

As a result of this crisis, the educational aspects of higher education have suffered: Fresno State faculty and staff pay rates have not grown since 2007, the school has shed 300 jobs since 2008 and now students cannot even take more than 16 units, making graduating in four years much tougher.

This bleak picture makes one wonder. Is this the only option for the university to make its budget? How much should college cost? Where does our money go?

According to Fresno State’s budget book, academic affairs “consists of the policies, procedures and programs that fulfill the educational mission of the university, particularly those focusing on academic programs for both undergraduate and graduate degrees, majors of study and faculty.”

Basically, it is college as we know it.

Think for one second what percentage a university should spend on academic affairs. Go ahead, take your time.

Have a number? Good. Was it 80 percent? Sixty percent? Fifty percent?

Academic affairs, the portion of the university that represents the educational mission of Fresno State, takes up 37 percent of Fresno State’s total budget.

Thirty-seven percent.

Here’s a thought exercise. Suppose for a moment that our tuition only went to paying the faculty.

There are 1,100 full and part-time faculty at Fresno State. Let’s be generous and give each member of the faculty an average of $100,000 per year. (The reality is closer to half that number.)

With 20,000 students on campus, paying for this top-of-the-line instruction would cost each student $5,500 per year.

That’s less than what we currently pay — without financial aid and with no state subsidies of any kind.

Naturally, universities, like any other institution, need to pay for things like general maintenance, future expenses and administration.

But should these and other non-educational university functions really take up 63 percent of the budget?

What is the point of college anyway?

Rather than attempting to solve the budget shortfall by instituting furloughs, raising tuition, capping units, freezing teacher pay and refraining from enrolling worthy students and hiring new teachers, surely the administration can find somewhere in the 63 percent of non-academic funds in the current budget from which to cut.

As a number of Fresno State faculty put it in an advertisement in The Fresno Bee, “We insist that any future cuts must come from the non-academic and administrative side of the campus… It is time to rebalance the scales in favor of students, teaching and research and to deflate the bloated administrative and non-academic divisions of the university.”

May it be so.


Tony Petersen is the opinion editor of The Collegian. Follow him on Twitter @tonypetersen4.

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