It may just be political posturing, but the willingness of the University of California regents to even float the idea of a big tuition increase at a time like this is galling even by the standards of, well, politics.
FOR THE RECORD:
A previous version of Ted Rall's cartoon incorrectly said UC regents voted themselves pay raises of up to 20%. The regents had agreed to such pay raises for some UC chancellors.
The UC system has been devastated by years of drastic budget cutbacks. UC President Janet Napolitano announced yet another round of austerity measures in January. Asking students and their families to pay more for less is bad enough, but it's unconscionable at a time when top university executives are lining their pockets at those families' expense.
As Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton writes:
"Two months ago, the UC regents gave pay hikes of up to 20% to the leaders of the Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, Merced and Riverside campuses and awarded the new Irvine chancellor 24% more than his predecessor. We're talking salaries ranging from $383,000 to $485,000, plus perks. And it goes deeper than chancellor. Last year, for example, UC Davis hired a PR person at a $260,000 annual salary."
As they say in the PR business, those are some lousy optics.
UC students are ticked off — as they should be.
Behind the regents' cavalier attitude toward the students is the knowledge that they enjoy immunity from the laws of free-market capitalism, under which service providers suffer downward pressure on costs from competition and their customers' disposable income. Unlike coffee shops and cartoonists and probably you, colleges and universities raise tuition and fees much faster than the inflation rate, year after year — and their customers keep on paying. Why? They sell a product — diplomas — most need to succeed economically and they offer easy credit in the form of student loans.
Remember how loose credit created millions of new homeowners before 2008? All those buyers drove up prices — which, in turn, led to the rupture of the housing bubble and the crash. A lot of people believe that we're in the middle of a big college tuition bubble, with banks lending tens of thousands of dollars to young adults who will never be able to find jobs when they graduate that pay enough to repay them. That includes President Obama. "We can't just keep on subsidizing skyrocketing tuition," he said in 2012.
If the higher education racket ever unravels, it'll be a boon to the 21-year-olds of the future — but a serious bummer to Obama's former secretary of Homeland Security and her ridiculously well-paid "executives."