Saturday, June 02, 2012

The Fall of Higher Education in California

Here we've got a NY Times article talking about the current state of the California public higher education system. Drastic budget cuts over the last decade and much higher fees & tuition have not only greatly limited who could obtain a college education, they're now very, very obviously affecting the quality of what's offered. Note the quotations from a guy from the Harold Jarvis Taxpayers' Association, who wants lower taxes regardless of the effect, but who is hiding behind seemingly-reasonable comments about demand. Look, it's hard to get a job, any job, these days without college. And an increasingly complex world needs more, not fewer, well-educated people.

How does this bear on an arts blog? Well, if UC is thinking about cutting departments and programs, we know based on what has happened in the public schools that music and art will be the first to go - because how many jobs are there in those fields? UCLA might not need that music school, and UC Berkeley might not need those doctoral programs in musicology and composition.

Much of the future of the university system rests on tax increases that are on the ballot for voter approval next fall. This is a fruit of century-ago populism, where direct democracy was considered a good counterweight to corrupt public officials. Guess what? Public officials aren't much cleaner....and the proposition system has brought us disastrous laws such as Prop. 13 (which severely limits tax increases unless there's a supermajority for the increase) and three strikes.

The California public schools - K-12 - have also suffered greatly because of Prop. 13. Real estate taxes are now based less on the value of your house than on how long you've owned it. Low taxe rates can be inherited from your parents. It's a crazy system. The California schools were the pride of the nation, as my late boss Marty O'Brien used to say in the 1980s. Prop. 13 wrecked that: out went music and art classes, out went reading specialists and teachers' aides in every classroom, class sizes increased, out went school nurses and phys ed, and on and on. Yes, I consider this to be part of the ongoing Republican war on spending money on things that, you know, help people.

Vote for the tax increase. We need it if this state isn't going to further collapse.


Aleksei said...

Ms. Hirsch,

Look, it's hard to get a job, any job, these days without college. And an increasingly complex world needs more, not fewer, well-educated people.

I believe the national sacred cow of the four-year college education is going to be the next socioeconomic/cultural shoe to drop in the great reordering of American priorities. We’re still at the point where you can’t ask this question in polite conversation, lest you be accused of wanting to deprive someone of the American Dream. The higher-ed industry will fight this kicking and screaming of course. They’ve got a nice little mass-hypnosis racket going, and such questions run the risk of messing it all up. How we got to this point where our society believes that most people are suited to a baccalaureate program with any rigor I do not know. Traditionally and properly understood, a four-year college education teaches advanced analytic skills and information. It's been apparent for some time that raw, computational intelligence is set fairly early on in life. Today’s idea that we should all aspire to something more than physical labor and craftsmanship is a reflection of modern society's tendency to idealize intelligence as somehow more meaningful a trait than imagination or artistic talent.

Education these days fails on two grounds: failing to achieve academically is viewed as somehow a failure as a person, rather than an indication that your strengths lie in other areas; the object of education is not for the talented to excel, but rather for everyone to achieve a base level of mediocrity. Those incapable of even mediocrity (logically, half of the populace, depending on the definition of mediocrity) will never achieve it, regardless, and those who might have been excellent with support will only achieve mediocrity. Intelligence is like any other trait - you have an underlying capacity set by the genetics that you've inherited, but if you don't work it adequately you will never achieve its potential. That's the case for an olympic sprinter, a rocket scientist or a master chef. Today so much effort goes into trying to force children who are not capable to achieve some sort of pretense of average, and children who have the capacity to excel are left to squander their potential once they've achieved the minimum requirements. The tendency is, these days, to reset the bar lower so that even mediocrity is not assured, but 100% pass rates are.

We need to start valuing people as people, not as commodities, and not view people as merely suppliers of services. A medical Doctor is vital to a community, but so (in a different way) is a bin-man, or a car mechanic, or a check-out operator. The fact that fewer people have the underlying talent to be a Doctor than a bin-man is a market force, but people shouldn't be commodities in a work-force market place.

Lisa Hirsch said...

A couple of things -

- There's quite a bit of evidence that what we think of as "intelligence" is developed by the environment you're in, and there's plenty of room to improve the environments of children in this country, who are disproportionately poor, not getting ideal intellectual stimulation, etc.

- Given the above, I don't think we realistically know what each individual is able to achieve intellectually.

- I agree with you that the ability to be a programmer, scientist, or financier isn't inherently more valuable than being a mechanic. I would like everyone to be paid a living wage for whatever work they're doing.

Henry Holland said...

The people at the Howard Jarvis org are lying scum and being the heretics in the auto-de-fa scene in Don Carlos --they're the ones tied to the stakes, of course-- is still too good for them.

The best was Warren Buffett, after he got appointed to some position by Ahnold. He pointed this out:

The first Laguna Beach house is a property that I bought in the early 1970s. It has a current market value of about $4 million and, because of the limitations embodied in Proposition 13, carried taxes of only $2,264 in 2003 vs. $2,241 in 2002.

The second house, located just in back of the first, is one that I purchased in the mid-1990s. It has a market value of about $2 million and, simply because I bought it later than the first, carried taxes of $12,002 in 2003 vs. $11,877 in 2002.

I pointed out to Joe that these figures mean that the tax rate on the second house -- same neighborhood, same owner, same ability to pay -- is roughly 10 times the rate on the first house

From here:


Of course, for daring to speak the truth about the odious Prop 13, Buffett was kicked to the curb.


Lisa Hirsch said...