Campus Media Response: Picket for Privatizing Universities!

In a recent piece in Berkeley’s Daily Californian, Robert R. King urges his peers not to attend recent protests against cuts to higher education funding in California. He suggests that students might actually help solve the underlying problem behind the California budget crisis by making an effort to “concentrate on our studies so we can prepare ourselves to take over this sinking ship in a few years and fix this madness.”

King quips, “we all know privatization is evil,” but it is hard to read him as being anything other than facetious. Given that he shares the following facts with us, it looks like private funding combined with tuition hikes are part of the solution he thinks students should learn about:

While none of UC Berkeley’s programs rely solely on non-public contributions, today, the school does receive more of its funding percentage-wise from those sources than at any other time stretching back to at least 1991.

During the 2007-08 year, $283.5 million of the nearly $1.8 billion budget came from private gifts and grants, amounting to 15.9 percent, more than doubled from 1990-91’s 7.7 percent.

California provided nearly half of Berkeley’s operating budget during the 1990-91 academic year. In 2007-08, that number dropped to barely over a third, and with the more recent cutbacks by the state, that number is surely lower today.

As a result, student fees increased from 9.4 percent of the budget in 1990-91 to 24.8 percent in 2007-08. Again, that number is most certainly larger today, with the danger of rising higher. But someone has to pay.

The more students and private sources fund the system, the more it becomes obvious that it can (and should) work. So why regard privatization as evil? As Onkar Ghate of the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights has observed, a fully private system would help the universities achieve the best that they can achieve:

In such a system, a university education would no more be within the reach of only the “rich” than are computers or cell phones today. In fact, with the Post Office-like mentality of all too many public universities replaced by the profit-seeking and value-oriented mentalities of corporations like Google and Apple, we should expect in higher education what we’ve come to expect in the tech industry: rapid innovation and falling prices.

That is a future truly worth picketing for.

Read the rest of Ghate’s article to understand why the demand to regard higher education as a “right” makes conflicts among pressure groups and the deterioration of educational quality unavoidable.

Image from Flickr User ben.chaney

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Valery Publius is the pen name of a teacher living in the American South.