Carnesale’s Proposal for an $80,000 Four-Year Education Must be Stopped
By Ryan Masaaki Yokota
When I heard that Chancellor Carnesale had put forward a proposal last month to increase UCLA registration fees to $15,000 - $20,000 a year, I was outraged, considering the burden that students had to pay in the early 1990s under similar fee hikes. When I was an entering freshman in 1990, for example, undergraduates paid only $534/quarter. During my time at UCLA, registration fees increased by over 300%, to eventually reach about $5,000 a year by 1995. This increase signified one of the most extreme fee hikes in UCLA’s history, and though some argued that this education was relatively affordable in comparison to private universities, it didn’t come without a price for me. Though I worked part-time and was able to receive a number of grants and scholarships, I still ended up graduating with about $13,000 in student loan debt and $12,000 in credit card bills. Following my graduation, it took me years to deal with the burden of this debt and I still haven’t been able to eliminate it completely.
The ridiculous statement from Chancellor Carnesale that they will raise student financial aid hides the fact that this increased financial aid will come largely in the form of loans that students and their families must pay post-graduation. For those students and faculty that argue that the goal of higher education is to train leadership to help solve society’s problems, the question that remains is how students can expect to do so when their ballooning student debts force them into higher paying jobs and larger workloads just to stay afloat in Los Angeles, where the cost of living is notoriously high. In the end, this registration fee hike will only squeeze the lower and middle classes, and transform UCLA into a public institution that ironically will only cater to the elite.
On top of that, Chancellor Carnesale has failed to make a case for what he expects to do with the monies generated by these fee hikes. If there are roughly 25,000 undergraduate students on campus and the expected fee increase can reach as high as $14,000/year then the Chancellor could expect to generate over $350 million dollars in one year. Over ten years that would add up to over $3.5 billion dollars! What exactly would the Chancellor do with this windfall, and how exactly would he use this windfall to better the educational experience at UCLA?
Perhaps he would just use the money to build more buildings on campus, as can be seen by the ever-present noise and pollution emanating from the construction projects on campus that students must continually circumvent. The extent and continued presence of these projects have forced many to joke that UCLA really stands for the “University under Construction in Los Angeles.” Despite the fact that some building projects are for seismic renovation, many are not, and seem only to line the pockets of wealthy construction companies, while burdening students. If the Chancellor can fund his pet building projects, why can’t he fund an endowment to make UCLA more accessible to students, without raising registration fees?
The problem with these registration fee hikes is that they are neither just nor necessary, considering that the California Master Plan for Higher Education originally guaranteed a tuition-free education to all California students. Granted, there continues to be major budgetary problems in California. Yet the question that few people ask is whether or not education has been made a priority in California. Considering the lack of emphasis on higher education in California, perhaps the Chancellor’s time would be better served lobbying the Governor and the California legislature to increase educational funding, instead of advocating the taxation of the lower and middle classes through fee hikes.
Additionally at stake in this debate is the very vision of what higher education is supposed to be about, particularly in terms of serving the greater community and reflecting the diversity of Los Angeles. As noted in a recent panel with Chancellor Carnesale reported by the Los Angeles Times on September 8, 2004, State Senator Richard Alarcon called attention to the “miserable” state of admissions to UCLA from Los Angeles area schools, particularly those with high minority and low-income populations. With 40% of Los Angeles County below 200% of federal poverty guidelines, according to a recent United Way report, the immense impact of these fee hikes for Los Angeles residents becomes adequately clear. If Los Angeles residents have such a hard time entering UCLA already, how can Carnesale justify fee hikes that will exclude more residents, primarily poor students of color, from accessing an education? This failure to serve the Los Angeles community is a travesty demanding a more directed admissions process, better designed to serve community needs.
Moreover, considering the way in which Proposition 209 and SP-1 removed race as a consideration in the admissions process, UCLA has gotten to the point where racial diversity has been not only threatened, but pushed towards extinction. In 2003, for example, only 277 African Americans were admitted in the freshman class (3% of all admittees), and only 124 enrolled in the freshman class (again 3%), according to University of California Office of the President statistics. This happened despite the fact that African Americans represent about 11% of the Los Angeles County population currently, and as recently as 1995 represented 7% of the enrolled freshman class. Similar drops have occurred for Native American, Chicano/Latino, and Filipino populations on campus. UCLA has taken a giant step backwards for civil rights, and it disgusts me that UCLA was actually more diverse ten years ago than it is today. Considering the ways in which campus diversity contributes to students’ learning, all UCLA students have been shortchanged by the lack of diversity on campus, and with further fee hikes, we can only expect this to increase.
The Chancellor’s unilateral proposal to raise fees was impudent, irresponsible to young people, and shows no respect for the original mission of public education. Few chancellors have had the audacity to make a public statement to the media seeking such an outrageous registration fee hike, usually preferring to leave such moves to the University of California Board of Regents or to Sacramento. The unorthodox nature of this move must be met by an equally bold move on the part of students to stand up for their rights. We must unite in our opposition to any registration fee hikes and offer a vision of how a public institution should best serve the residents of this state. It’s our responsibility to challenge these fee hikes for ourselves, our families, the larger community, and most importantly, for the generations yet to come.
The UCLA Registration Fees that I paid:
Fall 1990 $534.00
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