Guest Column: Government is Failing to Fund Higher Education

California has hit its lowest point in tax support for public higher education since 1962. States now put less than half as much per capita as the feds put into higher education. Kentucky, Mississippi, Louisiana, New Mexico and West Virginia are five poor states that have put forth more tax effort than California, despite its wealth.In 1972 when the federal government took over, it was stated that if federal assistance would be made available to the private sector of higher education, Stanford University would become like UCLA. What’s happened is that UCLA has become like Stanford and public Illinois universities have become like the University of Chicago. Twenty states cut their higher education budget to the very threshold of where the federal penalties kick in, and they wouldn’t cross it.

There are nearly 200 for-profit institutions of higher education operating in California today. They all live off of public money. They’re trying to change a 90/10 rule in Washington which says they need to get at least 10 percent of their money from other sources than direct student aid. That just shows you how bad it’s gotten. Having Janet Napolitano, a former Cabinet Secretary, as UC President isn’t helping at all.

If we’re going to be committed as a wealthy state to supporting our students, we need to rethink how we’re funding higher education and reward the institutions that are doing a good job and actively pursuing public interest — those that are keeping expenditures relatively low, keeping costs relatively low, keeping student indebtedness low — all of the things that matter to our taxpayers, to our students and to their parents.

According to the legislators, the University of Virginia in Richmond is known as the University of New Jersey at Charlottesville because they have 40 percent out-of-state undergraduate students. They’re simply turning away in-state students. They’re not serving in-state students, nor are they serving students who receive Pell Grants. They have, in fact, privatized along with University of Michigan and a number of other institutions. The perfect storm for UCSD is that the UC system admitted 16,000 international students to the class of 2019.

It’s a revenue problem and a spending problem that can’t be fixed by only looking at California’s perspective. It’s a very different manifestation depending on different types of institutions, so we can’t expect the research diagnosis of a private university to apply to a community college. The data says we must be nuanced in this conversation. The data says that we have a public policy problem and an institutional spending problem in public institutions. Yet the habits of state funding and the patterns of state appropriations are a big part of the problem.

You can be a Republican or you can be a Democrat, but we have legislators that are on both sides of the aisles. Every one of them says that they are supportive of education, that it’s one of their top-three priorities. And every one of them was the first to sign onto budgets that have decimated our public schools and are in the process of decimating higher education.


Richard Thompson UCSD Alumnus ’83