A Master Plan Abandoned

Student fees have yet again been raised at the University of California, with the University of California Regents on the precipice of approving a plan to increase fees over the next five years, resulting in an eventual 25 percent increase from current rates.

The response from the University of California to these marked fee increases points to the need for the UC to be sustainable -- implying that the survival of the education system and access to students is at stake. With the stakes that high, one has to wonder why both parties who are to blame for the UC's continual increases upon students and their families are not taking the appropriate responsibility.

The UC fails to make necessary choices regarding things like executive compensation. In a perennial cycle of astronomical executive compensation packages and accompanying scandal, documented extensively by publications such as The San Francisco Chronicle, one might find an immediate place to target for cost-savings. Buckling down and looking for places to run lean, and not at the expense of students and education, seems like a strategy ripe for discussion.

Yet, how can we expect anything different from this set of UC Regents than the group who met over a Winter Break in 2002 when the first student fee increases began early last decade to avoid backlash from students? Some of the same cast of players remain and adhere to the same strategies they employed then. This group is not going to make choices that are tough on the administration; it is easier to make those types of choices that adversely affect the students, who to this group are a faceless group. They are not privy to economic struggles of students and families who are trying to attend or stay at the UC.

The California State Legislature is certainly not blameless: cutting funding and not ensuring that the UC has the funding to keep it affordable and top-notch are part of the equation. Some legislators throughout the last 12 years have expressed concerns that the UC does not make the hard choices, and even portray funding increases as potentially reward for bad behavior and financial mismanagement. But, what of the students?

The most recent news of fee increases is another disappointing strike at the middle class: It is these families who often do not even qualify for financial aid or other programs. If you are a student at the UC, there are only so many hours a day to work your way through school. I should know: I was doing that early last decade. Countless numbers of students have to work to afford their UC education. Countless families make sacrifices to send their children to the UC. It was tough enough when tuition per year was in the $8,000 range: It will be near impossible when it reaches the projected neighborhood of $16,000.

California has what is known as its Master Plan for Higher Education, the document that articulates the vision and direction for our system of higher education. Every year, it seems, we drift further away from the idea of accessibility to higher education, whether it is continuing education for our workers or entry into our research universities. We have de-prioritized one of our most precious resources and the training grounds for those who will direct our future.

It's a Master Plan abandoned.