California Grubbing

Kids often have a tremendous sense of entitlement. Well, there are a lot of kids in California colleges — and running them.

You probably have heard about the University of California Regents voting yesterday for a 32-percent tuition hike over the next two years. Not surprisingly, many students are angry, some enough that they were arrested protesting outside the Regents’ meeting.

Now, a 32 percent hike over two years isn’t small. But here’s the thing: California has typically charged students very little relative to both state taxpayer funding and national averages. As you can see in the chart below, which uses data from the State Higher Education Executive Officers, net per-pupil tuition revenue (meaning revenue from tuition minus any state financial aid) in California has hovered around $1,200 over the last 25 years, and has only gone up about $18 per year. Meanwhile, state taxpayers have been shelling out around $7,300 per pupil per year. So state taxpayers have been furnishing the vast majority of funding for California college students, and students have done very little to make up the vast gulf between what they pay and what taxpayers shell out.

How does California compare to the rest of the nation? On average for all states, net per-pupil revenue from students has risen from just about $2,000 to $4,000, putting the ever-growing average around $3,000, or close to three times what Golden State students have been furnishing. Funding from state and local taxpayers, meanwhile, has been just slightly lower nationally than in California.

So California students have been getting a heck of a deal, which is no doubt one among many reasons the state is on fiscal life support. Sooner or later bills come due, and that has left the state little choice but to make students pay more for the education of which they are by far the biggest beneficiaries.

Naturally — but still shamelessly — students are acting like victims now that the decrepit gravy train is slowing down a bit.  Unfortunately, the adults in charge of California colleges are also naturally — but perhaps even more shamelessly — stoking student anger so that they don’t have to do things that make their jobs less pleasant.

Despite the utterly unsustainable taxpayer funding for higher education that California has doled out for decades, for instance, UC president Mark Yudof had no qualms about declaring that:

We’re being forced to impose a user tax on our students and their families. This is a tax necessary because our political leaders have failed to adequately fund public higher education.

Last I checked, what a customer pays for a service is called a “price” not a “tax.” A tax is what has been used to make taxpayers bear by far the biggest part of California’s higher education burden while students have furnished but a token amount. And please don’t give us the “failed to adequately fund” line. UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau has been happily trotting out that disproven dreck in a grab for federal taxpayer dollars at the same time it has been discovered that he’s been pushing millions of dollars intended for academics and other purposes to Berkeley athletics.

It’s hard enough to accept the underfunding bit when the data clearly show it not to be the case. It’s even harder when college leaders spend their precious dollars on water polo and golf.

It’s time in California for the adults to stop acting like kids, and for the kids to start paying their share. But don’t get your hopes up, at least in higher education. It seems that no one there is without a shameless sense of entitlement.