What would happen if the entire University of California shut down? There would be 262,845 students without a college to attend. Thatâ€™s a quarter of a million students who no longer have the grasp of higher education within their reach. This number represents the amount of actual students that may be turned down by California community colleges. Last month, Scott Lay, C.E.O of Community College League of California, sent out a release stating that budget cuts may deny these students acceptance to a community college.
Also, a poll released by the Public Policy Institute of California made note that â€œ66% of Californians believe community colleges are doing an â€œexcellentâ€ or â€œgoodâ€ job.â€ Itâ€™s a shame that individuals seeking a college education will be turned down by the stateâ€™s spending cuts and overall lack of funding.
Students have even more reason to be alarmed: Studies show that after taking inflation into account, the cost of attending a four-year public college has almost doubled over the past 20 years,Â and financing tuition has become an $85 billion a year business for credit companies. According to David Cay Johnston, a repoter for Mother Jones, “Sallie Mae, the biggest of the private student loan companies, earns an average 48 percent annual return, three times the return of commercial banks. Students who sign up for loans with what appear to be low fixed rates may discover upon graduating that they face an 18 percent rate; if they make a single late payment, late fees will be tacked on every month until the debt is paid off. And the law makes no allowance for students who can’t find a job in a bad economy, or can’t work because of illness, or choose to serve their communities by, say, joining Teach for America. Albert Lord, Sallie Mae’s chief executive, has become so rich from student lending that he built his own private golf course just outside the nation’s capital.”
Profiteering off students is not just an obscenity; it ultimately weakens the economy. As Mr. Johnson suggests, “The abuses at Sallie Mae and other student lenders deserve exposure via congressional hearings. Then perhaps lawmakers will find the spine to make the rules fairer. Indenturing the brightest young minds in an information society will undermine our ability to get out from under this mess.”
But even more disturbing than our lack of support for higher education has been our utter capitulation to the “prison-industrial” complex which is soaking up dollars that could otherwise be spent on education.
Over the last twenty years, the prison population in California has increased by over 450%. Nationally, nearly two million men and women are behind bars, which gives the United States the distinction of having the largest per capita prison population in the industrialized world. With seven percent of the world’s population, the United States now has more than 25% of the world’s prisoners.
California’s elected officials have relished opportunities to pass laws to require both non-violent and violent offenders to spend more and more time behind bars — from Three-strikes to “use a gun go to prison” – political slogans have turned into hard time for thousands and thousands of non-violent offenders.
Since 1984 California has built nearly 30 new prisons. In that time we have only opened FOUR new 4-year colleges: UC Merced, CSU San Marcos, CSU Monterey Bay, and CSU Channel Islands. This is significant because the costs of starting a new prison and starting a new college campus are roughly equivalent. Similar facilities costs. Similar labor costs. No, scratch that – the average starting salary of a full-time CSU professor is LESS than the average starting salary of a full-time prison guard.
Even as Schwarzenegger has promised reform, the corrections budget has exploded during his term, from $4.7 billion in fiscal 2004 to nearly $10 billion in fiscal 2007, or about $49,000 for each adult inmate which is over twice the national average. In contrast, the 220,000-student University of California system gets less than $4 billion annually.
Perhaps it is time our elected leaders take a lesson from the words of the U.S. Supreme Court which stated in its landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision in 1954:
“Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments. It is the very foundation of good citizenship … . In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education.”