Strikes in CA, Republicans in FL Admitting Loss of Quality: Fallout from Long-Term Underfunding of Higher Education

Since 1985, decreased funding of state universities has forced tuition to increase six-fold while consumer prices only doubled. (Bureau of Labor Statistics data via Economix blog.)

Back in early March, Catherine Rampell wrote in the New York Times about the ongoing trend since the mid 1980’s to cut state funding for higher education, noting that it has led to cutbacks in some of the very few areas of instruction where graduates actually face better employment prospects. She put up a companion piece at the Times’ Economix blog, where she was even more explicit about how it is the refusal by state legislatures to adequately fund higher education that is leading to the current problem of decreasing educational offerings despite skyrocketing tuition costs:

But at least at public colleges and universities — which enroll three out of every four American college students — the main cause of tuition growth has been huge state funding cuts.

There was quite a Twitter kerfluffle last week over the funding situation at the University of Florida, when it was claimed that Computer Science was being shut down while funds were being shifted to the athletic department. That was wrong on both counts, as the University is still struggling with how Computer Science will be organized, but it is not going away. Rather than taking money from academics, PolitiFact explains that the Athletic Association, which is a separate nonprofit, has given back over $60 million to the University since 1991 for academic use.

Unfortunately, that story obscured the real news on higher education in Florida, when Governor Rick Scott vetoed a bill that had passed the Florida legislature with a huge bipartisan majority, giving the University of Florida and Florida State University the ability to bypass the 15% per year limit on tuition increases in order to make up a larger portion of the huge cuts in state funding for higher education in this year’s budget:

The veto comes at a tense time, with universities bracing for a painful state budget cut for the fifth year in a row. This year, the total cut to the system is $300 million.


UF President Bernie Machen said he wanted to raise his tuition to the national average, starting with freshmen admitted for fall 2013. UF’s tuition is currently about $5,700 a year. The national average is closer to $8,000. Machen said he would’ve used the money to hire more faculty.

FSU President Eric Barron wanted to use the money to bolster FSU’s programs in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM.

It appears that Scott may finally have gone too far, because even Republicans are now seeing the folly of cutting funding for higher education:

The quality of Florida’s state universities is bound to erode due to spending cuts and a veto of a proposal to allow steeper tuition increases at two schools, the House Education Committee’s chairman said Thursday at a meeting of the Higher Education Coordinating Council.

Rep. Bill Proctor, though, urged the schools to put the veto aside and set funding priorities that match their diverse missions.


“That’s certainly his prerogative, but at some point we are going to have to address how we’re going to fund the state universities and, of course, the community and state colleges,” Proctor said. “At some point, if not now already, our quality is going to begin to erode. It’s inevitable. It can’t be helped.”

The St. Augustine Republican ticked off statistics indicating that erosion has begun at least at some of the 11 universities. Seven have freshman retention rates below 85 percent while six have four-year graduation rates below 25 percent, six-year graduation rates below 50 percent and minority graduation rates below 50 percent, Proctor said.

He also noted the University of Florida is the only state school that’s a member of the prestigious Association of American Universities compared to six of California’s public universities.

The funding situation in California is just as dire as in Florida. In today’s Los Angeles Times, we learn that faculty in the California State University system have authorized a strike that could occur next fall. Because their primary issues are salary and class size, it is clear that this strike is a direct result of decreased funding for education:

The union representing California State University faculty announced Wednesday that its members have voted to authorize a two-day strike should negotiations over salary, class sizes and other issues continue to stall.

The vote could result in two-day rolling strikes at the 23 campuses, most likely beginning in the fall, according to the California Faculty Assn.


The Cal State system has raised tuition, offered fewer courses and turned away thousands of students because of budget cuts.

The union, which said faculty members haven’t received raises since 2007, is asking for 1% pay increases for each year of the new contract, more control over class sizes and greater stability for faculty with temporary contracts, among other proposals.

“The CSU faculty have run out of patience,” said union President Lillian Taiz, a history professor at Cal State Los Angeles. “It’s time to address seriously the issues before us so our faculty can get back to the business of providing quality education to the students of California.”

When even Florida Republicans are seeing the folly of reduced funding and college professors in California are reduced to threatening a strike because their salaries haven’t increased in five years, perhaps the national conversation will be able to move beyond Grover Norquist-think and actually contemplate restoring a meaningful level of investment in higher education.

18 replies
  1. bsbafflesbrains says:

    Out of State tuition is much higher than in State. I know of a student who could not get into UC Berkeley for engineering but did get into Michigan. I am almost certain there is a student in Michigan who is going to UC Berkeley that could have gone to Michigan. We are playing musical chairs for profit. They admitted as much at UCLA that they want more out of State applicants admitted to maximize income trying to make up for budget cuts from the State.

  2. MadDog says:

    “…perhaps the national conversation will be able to move beyond Grover Norquist-think and actually contemplate restoring a meaningful level of investment in higher education.”

    Not until the Repugs acquire another generation of ignorant, uneducated, and aggrieved voters to repopulate their base for which they will then utilize to give them the electoral power to do the very same thing again.

    In the Repug’s plan, dummies are not a bug, but a feature.

  3. JTMinIA says:

    @bsbafflesbrains: We do the same at Iowa. The main targets for us are Chicagoans who are, in theory, too serious about studying to go to Urbana-Champaign or stay in the city. (Roughly half of all undergrad-driven cars, for example, have Illinois plates; I give them wide berth as the rival Bostonians in actual driving ability.) The problem is: our binge-drinking rate is almost as bad as UI:U-C’s, so mommy and daddy no longer see a justification for paying out-of-state to Iowa over in-state to UI:U-C. So now we’re going after students from mainland China.

    Oh, and it goes without saying that funding for the three state schools in Iowa has been shredded. But we’ve done a decent job at avoiding tuition increases, possibly by not giving a cent of aid to the Chinese undergrads.

    Semi-amusing aside: as the Chinese undergrad population increases, the number of complaints about TAs in the maths and sciences not being able to speak English decreases. Coinky-dink? Nope.

  4. Brian Silver says:

    The cutbacks in general state funding of higher education are emblematic of “anti-collectivist” thinking in America. I use this term as an alternative to “hyper-individualistic” for a reason. Governments controlled by conservatives still want to legislate morality and to impose the standards of what is sometimes just a temporary majority on everybody else — AKA they advocate a tyranny of the majority.

    It’s the tyranny of the elected majority (egged on and well funded by the 1%) that legislates against collective bargaining, i.e., making it difficult for real majorities to act collectively to improve its own work conditions, compensation, and terms of employment. It’s the tyranny of the majority in Michigan’s legislature that imposes emergency managers and denies citizens in many communities the fundamental right to elect and hold their own governments responsible.

    In that sense, collectivism reigns — in that a temporary elected majority seeks to impose its values on everybody else, whether they are a minority or a majority of the population at large. The Texas board of education still decides which textbooks public schools can use, and what teachers can teach, even as the determination of school funding levels is largely a local school district matter; and a majority of the SCOTUS in the San Antonio School Dist. v. Rodriguez even argued (contra Brown v. Board of Education) that education was not a fundamental right. (I highly recommend that folks read Justice Thurgood Marshall’s dissent in the San Antonio case.)

    Over the last several decades, when it comes to doing things that promote the greater social and economic good such as education, science, and health care (not to mention public transportation, highways, and bridges), well then it’s suddenly time to stop being collectivist? Instead, a doctrine of individual responsibility takes over, perhaps accompanied by a doctrine of privatization and contracting out of services, but one without public mandates and often without public resposibility.

    We see this clearly in the flip-flop by the Heritage Foundation (and the Mitt Romney parrot) from arguing initially that the individual healthcare mandate was consistent with a conservative doctrine of individual responsibility (we all have to pay for the services that we ultimately will use) to insisting that the individual mandate was a violation of our fundamental liberty (and hence that individual responsibility should not be mandated).

  5. jason h says:

    I disagree with your assertion that the budget costs are the primary costs of massive increases in tuition costs. I think an important element is the substantial increase in student loans. Its a fundamental economic concept that subsidization (which is what loans discounted by the government are) causes distortion in demand (in this case for education) and in my mind the net result is rapid escalation of tuition with primary benefit going to faculty/administrations of universities.

    This is an oft neglected component of tuition increases that is very clear to me.

  6. bmaz says:

    @jason h: Wait, your assertion is that the increases are going to the faculty? Hmmm, none I have talked to report any such phenomenon.

  7. Jim White says:

    @jason h: Just no. See the table here:

    In 1973, 46.6% of high school graduates enrolled in higher education. The high point on the graph is 2005, when 68.6% enrolled. You really want to claim that subsidized loans have only caused a 22% increase in the number of high school graduates going on to college but this extra 22% is responsible for tuition having to rise three times faster than average consumer prices?

    And so much for “subsidized”. Those loans are a huge money-maker for Wall Street and the interest rates are set to double if Congress does not act in the next month.

    Rather than student loans being a driver for increased tuition rates, it is precisely the opposite. Because tuition is now so much more expensive due to states not subsidizing college costs, it is the primary driver for so many students needing loans to get an education. And they now are saddled with huge debt loads and outrageous interest rates that will have them struggling for much of their employment careers. The “don’t tax me” and “let Wall Street make all the money” attitudes are driving this in full. Soon, the folks with these views will have won and only the 1% and above will be able to afford to send their kids to college.

  8. bsbafflesbrains says:

    @bmaz: Faculty are not beneficiaries, more than half the faculty in the CSU’s in CA are part time no benefits must have two jobs to survive professors. Administration building is full of waste IMO. UC Berkeley laid off an administration employee who made $180k a year one friday not too long ago citing budget cuts but them rehired the same person the following monday as a consultant at $200k.

  9. klynn says:

    “…perhaps the national conversation will be able to move beyond Grover Norquist-think and actually contemplate restoring a meaningful level of investment in higher education.”

    Thank you Jim.

  10. Bay State Librul says:

    Had a friend whose daughter was just accepted at Holy Cross at a cost of $53,000 per year. However, with the scholarship package, the net cost was the same as sending her child to a State University in Massachusetts.

    $53K is simply ungodly.

  11. bmaz says:

    @Bay State Librul: I am going to be seeing this first hand over the next year as my daughter is wrapping up her junior year in high school. I have had several people tell me that it can actually be cheaper to send your kid to an Ivy League or high grade private school, like you just noted – because of their endowment scholarship availabilities – than it is the local in state university. Which is just fucking mind boggling.

  12. coral says:

    @bmaz: My kids went on scholarship to private liberal arts colleges with good endowments. The net cost was way less than it would have been to send them to University of MA–even with partial state scholarship, which they did qualify for. For any kid with parents of moderate incomes, this is the way to go.

  13. orionATL says:

    in georgia, republican governors and a republican super-majority have cut state funding for education for EIGHT straight years, both higher education and K-12.

    what could possibly be the motive for this behavior? the american south rose out of many decades of poverty due in part to heavy state gov’t spending on all levels of education from the mid-1950’s on.

    read paul krugman for as elegant a brief explanation as you’ll ever read:

  14. Noni Mausa says:

    A friend of mine in the 70s achieved an engineering degree, in part I believe by writing challenge exams — that is, he studied the topic privately and then paid only for the cost of the exam. Is this done anywhere anymore?

    Certainly there are many courses where this wouldn’t be feasible, but a big chunk of first and second year courses could be approached this way.

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