When our tuition overcomes state funding

by Leonardo Castaneda

Leap forward to Fall 2018. Students at the University of California, San Diego are livid, protesting and chanting outside the windows of the administration building. The school’s president rolls down the blinds. The budget was a mess from the beginning. An inept administration let it snowball out of control. At the annual stockholders’ meeting, the youth vote almost unanimously to rid him from office, along with several of the least qualified deans.

If Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget cuts to the U.C. system pass, this hypothetical future might prove more of prophecy than we’d like to believe.

As of now, Brown’s proposed budget includes a $500 million cut to the U.C. system. This is devastating for obvious reasons.

Reduced funding diminishes the quality of an education that many students might not even be able to afford anymore.

However, aside from these setbacks, we may have an interesting opportunity on our hands. If this cut slashes through, it would mean, for the first time ever, that students, not the state, would become the U.C.’s primary source of income.

Think of the U.C. system as a company. Whenever someone owns stock in a business, they own a slice of it. Whoever owns the majority of the pie essentially represents the decisions for the whole company, allowing them to call the shots. The California government pays the university bills, so it holds the reins. However, it has slowly relinquished that power through constant budget cuts. If this course carries on, we will soon reach the tipping point where students will become the primary stockholders in their own universities.

Any turn of power sparks a rampant scramble for fresh ideas, universities aren’t corporations, and tuition isn’t stock. However, because they essentially represent the same kind of shift in power, it might be important to consider the implications of our potential impending role.

For example, assume one of the U.C.s has been grossly mismanaged or plagued by scandals and corruption. Students could vote officials out and hire new ones, help determine wages, major programs and even determine which sports receive funding. A disaffected and out of touch Board of Regents could be fired and replaced with one that better suits the actual needs of students.

If students did gain majority control, the staff wouldn’t be the most impacted, the attitude of the university system’s toward its students would. For years, administrators have treated students like customers, a necessary nuisance for running an enormous institution. This would end the moment the students become their own employers.

However, the prospect of students running a school can be frightening. Associated Students, San Diego State’s experiment in self-government and student management, has rarely been called efficient. In fact, it has more often been called wasteful, plagued with peer favoritism and flawed by design. The idea of relying on a system similar to A.S. could very well make students beg the state to take the reins back.

On the other hand, it is also possible students will rise to the occasion. Voting for a new president and dean is a very important and complex process, but students are close to being the ideal electorate: young, educated and in touch with their own political needs.

Realistically, a total shift in power seems almost impossible. Most likely, the schools will try to keep everything the same. Students cannot let this happen. The dream that the government will provide an affordable and world-class higher education for everyone looking for a quality degree is quickly dying. It is time for us to take charge of the situation and make the tough decisions the administration is either incapable or unwilling to make. We cannot allow the status quo to continue while the financial burden placed upon us balloons beyond reason. Increased tuition fees should translate to increased power at schools.

As long as the government continues to pay for at least part of the cost of our education, we won’t have complete autonomy, but a partnership might just be the kind of change that can bring about true reform to the universities. Students provide a level of immediacy and innovation that few administrators can offer. Meanwhile, the government provides a critical longterm perspective that can help prevent impulsiveness.

The budget cuts represent a true financial crisis for the U.C.s. But, out of crisis, true change can emerge. Our California State University system has suffered crippling cuts, but a large buffer of state-sponsored support is still propping our system up, unlike our fellow U.C.s where it has continued to diminish for years. If these kinds of state budgetary trends continue, the CSU system will certainly follow the inevitable fate of the U.C.s. Thus, it is only a matter of time until our chance for a louder voice within our own school comes. When it does, we mustn’t let the future of education fall between our fingers.

— Leonardo Castaneda is a business administration freshman.

— The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Daily Aztec.