University of California system in the hands of voters

Students walk near Royce Hall on the campus of UCLA on April 23, 2012 in Los Angeles, Calif. California Gov. Jerry Brown is proposing to raise taxes in November, with part of the revenue going to pay for public education in the state, including for the University of California system.

Kai Ryssdal: The state of California has finished dealing with about half of its big fiscal problem. Last week, after much wrangling, legislators did manage to pass a budget, although Gov. Jerry Brown still has to sign the thing.

Then there's the small matter of taxes. Gov. Brown wants to raise them. He's got a proposition on the November ballot for voters to consider. Money that will go in part to pay for public education out here, higher education included -- assuming the ballot measure passes.

Mark Yudof is the president of the University of California system -- that's UCLA, U.C. Berkeley and eight other campuses. Mr. Yudof, welcome to the program.

Mark Yudof: Thank you Kai, glad to be here.

Ryssdal: So the state of California now has a budget on time, for the first time in a while. What happens, what does it mean now for the University of California system?

Yudof: Well I think there's going to be additional deliberations still. If this budget passes and if the November ballot measure passes, I think it means relatively good news for the University of California. If it goes bad -- that is, if somehow the budget goes awry or if the voters don't approve the ballot measure to raise revenues -- it would be pretty disastrous for the University of California.

Ryssdal: You're betting then, on Californians being willing tax themselves to improve the state of higher education?

Yudof: I am placing that bet, but I don't really have that much of a choice. If we go the other way, then tuition is going to be going up, and I think we're going to have some major issues in terms of access and quality.

Ryssdal: You mention problems of access, and with tuition rising and class size increases and offerings being cut, how do you keep -- since this is your job -- how do you keep the University of California a place where low- and middle-income kids can go to get a high-quality education?

Yudof: You know, tuition is $12,000 a year. That's the sticker price. The average tuition actually paid is $4,400 a year. Over 50 percent of our students pay no tuition at all. What I'm saying really is we can continue to take care of the low-income. I'm more worried about the middle class. We need to get this right, because at the end of the day, the problem's going to not so much for the families making under $60,000, but maybe it's going to be for the families making between, say, $90,000 and $150,000, where they're not wealthy enough to just write a check and not lose sleep over it, and they really don't qualify for all those financial aid programs.

Ryssdal: When you're sitting in meetings with the governor's policy advisers, his education team, do you guys ever consider just scrapping the whole thing and trying to come up with some new models for higher education? I mean, the University of California way back when led the way in higher education.

Yudof: We are looking at those new models. You're perfectly right. We have an e-learning pilot, so you may find 10 years from now that a more significant portion of our curriculum is offered online. We lower our marginal costs, we accommodate more students. I'm visiting with the major corporations in California -- they need to step up. We need $350 million in the next few years in scholarships. God knows, the words "university" and "efficiency" never really went together in the same sentence. And what we're trying to do is to cut our costs. As I look at the prices and so forth, I agree -- the financial model's pretty much at the end of its line.

Ryssdal: Do you think everybody should go to college? I mean, is higher education for everybody?

Yudof: I don't think everyone should go. I think there are questions of people's aptitude and there are questions of people's interests. I'm a big believer in community colleges -- maybe you can transfer to a four-year. If you don't want to transfer to a four-year, that's fine with me. But I'm also a big believer in everyone gets a chance.

Ryssdal: Do you ever wish you could just go back and be a law professor?

Yudof: There are days when I wish I could go back and be a law professor. I remember reading an article today which asks: 'Can anyone really be a successful president of the United States?' There seems to be a certain amount of pessimism. And you could say the same thing about university presidents, particularly in the public sphere. It's very hard when all you're doing is trying to keep the whole operation together, to feel good about the impact you've had. But times will get better and 50 years from now, it'll still be the great University of California.

Ryssdal: Mark Yudof is the president of University of California. Thanks very much for your time, sir.

Yudof: Thank you Kai, enjoyed it.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.
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The big problem is the overhead higher learning has accumulated in the past 30 years. The ratio of administrators to students has skyrocketed in that period, and the hours taught by professors have plummeted. When government funding drops or can't keep up with higher education's overhead, tuition increases are almost always rubber-stamped by the governing boards.

This can't be sustainable! In a fair society, everyone should have a chance at higher education, but under the current high overhead scenario, many people can't afford it themselves, and we as states or as a nation can't afford it either.

It's just another part of our problem as a nation. Do we want to be capitalists or socialists? And if socialists, we better be sure someone has the income to support the rest of the population. I think history is proving democracy only works as long as there are more net tax payers voting than net tax recipients. As far as socialism, I think we are seeing its demise right now. Maybe what follows will work better.

I agree and relate to BirminghamKid.

I agree and relate to BirminghamKid.

I agree and relate to BirminghamKid.

College is not for everyone. I came from a family that leaned heavy on education. Both my parents are college graduates and I was sent to 12 years of private schools. My high school was an all boys private collage preparatory high school. In my elementary and high school years I taught myself how to work on cars by reading books as well as trial and error alone in my parents garage. By the time I was 16 in 1995 I had rebuilt my own car. A 1958 VW Bug. I took it from a unsafe pile sitting in someones back yard, to a shiny, fun, impressive automobile. I did so with my own money from work at a local store and odd jobs around the neighborhood. That among other things caught the attention of the dean at my high school. He informed my parents that collage is not for everyone and gave them info on a trade school. My parents did not listen to him and off to collage I went. Pasadena City Collage was where I went for a year. In that year I kept pursuing cars and in1998 while still in school and working, I built a car that made it on the cover of a well established magazine. A friend of my parents at the time was a C.E.O. at a very successful makeup company. He saw the fruits of my labor and discussed with my parents that collage is not for everyone. Now with the support of my parents I moved away from home to attend a trade school. I graduated with many awards and have become a very successful mechanic at 1 of the 2 biggest soda manufacturers in the world. I help run one of their shops that keeps their fleet delivering soda to stores. I also am on staff at a magazine. I contribute articles on cars and motorcycles built in garages by people like me. I have been the subject of articles written by others for other publications, I have been interviewed by radio and television programs. Cars that I have built or had done some sort of work on have graced the pages of publications around the world and some of those cars have even traveled to shows in other parts of the world. My wife and I just bought our first home and in the fall we will be adopting our first child. I think the world needs all kinds of people and I prove that point every time I pull over and help someone broke down on the side of the road. They have no idea what is wrong and that all they need is someone who knows where to look for the simple fix that will get them back on the road. There have been countless times I have helped low income friends or friends of friends get their car running because they can't afford to take it to a shop and they can't fix it themselves. Had I gone to college and not pursued my dreams I may not have the skills that have aloud me to me meet so many wonderful people around the world. I have been able to help many people and I have some of the greatest experiences in my first 32 years of life that sitting in my parents garage as a young boy I never dreamed I would have.

How does someone not save for their college education in the first 18 years on this earth? I and my five brothers and sisters knew before we started our first day of kindergarten that we would be going to college. Throughout our early lives we squirrelled away our baptism/communion/confirmation/ graduation/birthday gift monies and earnings from neighborhood babysitting and landscaping jobs. When we could enter the work force legally at 16 years, we worked multiple part-time and/or full time jobs to earn money for our college education.

How is it that students today don't consider the financial costs of higher education until their senior year of high school? And why do they expect or deserve a larger share of financial aid and government student loan/PEL Grant pool to fund 100% of their education when their more deserving counterparts planned and saved for their education?

Going to college always seemed to make the most sense to me. I've never been particularly adept at much else aside from writing and interpreting texts, and so I never really envisioned myself doing anything else years down the line aside from pursuing an advanced degree, becoming a professor, and periodically publishing a combination of creative and academic writings. After high school, I attended California State University, Long Beach, and I have since been accepted to the University of California, Los Angeles to pursue a PhD in Comparative Literature. I readily admit that my own career choices were not devoid of several blind spots, the most prominent of which is that I grew up in a family where most individuals pursued some level of advanced education (typically a Masters, though my mother successfully completed a PhD in Pharmacy). Such a state of affairs probably prefigured a strong contention that I would go on to pursue a college education, both in the minds of others and by my own reasoning. However, an intensely introspective period of reflection has since eased most of my concerns about the underlying rationale behind my respective trajectory--while it is true that my experience in much else aside from the related fields that inform the discipline and lifestyle I intend to pursue is scant, I have also since come to realize that there isn't much else I'd rather be doing at this point, anyway.

Why do these pseudo-conversations about every American going to college always fail to address the real reason Americans of my generation began going to college in droves in the first place? It was that college student's draft deferment during the Vietnam War! Sure, our fathers, WWII and Korean Conflict vets, used their liberal/socialist GI Bill passed during the Truman Administration to put their lives back together. What were they supposed to do, stroll back into the Great Depression? But the imperative to go to college no matter what back in the 1960s and the early 1970s was that draft deferment. Both Bill Clinton and Mitt Romney benefited from draft deferments. Neither ended up serving. Neither did Dick Cheney.
So, there are three themes at play here:
1) If you want to obviate the perceived imperative for every mother's son to go college, then you need to institute a truly universal draft. In Israel, extremely bright students can be expempted from the draft provided that their studies are deemed necessary for Israel's survival and/or future prosperity. I met one young Israeli years ago who was permitted to complete her PhD in x-ray crystallography at Columbia University instead of doing sentry duty with an uzi. And the Israelis have their own form of conscientious objection for ultra-orthodox rabbinical students and religious girls. Everybody else serves and is proud to do it.
In Germany, all males are subject to the draft. Conscientious objectors are assigned to do civilian service rather than carry arms. I once worked with a German biochemist who delayed his civilian service until he completed his PhD. Then he did his civilian service in our clinical lab, setting up Western blot assays, etc., during the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Young men who refuse both military and civilian service face the possibility of prison time in Germany.
By truly universal draft, I do mean everybody. I met a young man at the Fort Monmouth Signal School in New Jersey. From a poor Arkansas family, he took a six-year enlistment with guaranteed electronics training rather than risk the draft when his number came up. Some colonel was impressed with the kid's ability to improve some repair procedure on some black-box equipment and wanted him for West Point. Dwayne wanted nothing to do with West Point, so the Army sent him to Vietnam -- where he got really messed up.
If only Dwayne from Arkansas had had the advantage of a truly competitive university entrance examination system like China's or Japan's or a decent Abitur like Germany's or however the Israelis handle their university admissions, he might still be with us today. State research universities aren't supposed to be legacy schools anyway, right?
So, stop mincing about, boys. You went to college to escape, or at least delay, the draft.
2. NOW that that is out of the way, how can high schools, community colleges, and universities partner with industry to put every kid to work with topnotch training? All kinds of possibilities open up once you eliminate that college draft deferment!
3. I do believe that this country would get itself into fewer idiot wars and would pay a hell of lot more attention to how those wars were being fought and won or lost if the United States instituted a truly universal draft like Germany's or Israel's. Whether the U.S would draft every daughter as well as son like Israel or only every son like Germany would be a most interesting debate to watch.

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