Play fair with student fees

Charles Schwartz is a physics professor at UC Berkeley.

After decades of generous state support, UC is facing a huge budget crisis, and the only path the regents can see is to keep increasing student fees. A better approach would be to start laying out the facts about where UC spends the money it now takes in.

Here is one example: UC’s official budget report says that the “average cost of education” is $17,390 per student per year; student fees cover only about 30% of that cost. That is very misleading. The $17,390 is calculated according to a long-standing habit of research universities to bundle all the costs of undergraduate education plus graduate education plus faculty research into something called the I&R; (instruction and research) budget. My own study, based on official UC documents, leads me to conclude that UC now spends an annual average of $7,400 per student on undergraduate education, and undergraduate fees are set at 100% of that cost.

In other words, with the continual decline in state support and the continual rise in student fees, the state portion of payment for undergraduate education at UC has vanished entirely. Any further increase in student fees would mean that UC is using undergraduate fees to subsidize faculty research and related graduate programs. Those are valuable programs, but they belong in the domain of the “public good.” It seems totally unjust to push that cost onto undergraduate students and their families.