University professors reject cuts, push greater spending

University professors in California have rejected calls for academic austerity, instead offering a plan that would increase spending. The California Faculty Association, a union that's part of the SEIU, released a report called “Quality Higher Education for the 21st Century,” but it's essentially a faculty wish list devoid of budgetary sense or solutions to problems facing the economy.

From Inside Higher Ed:

The document stakes out seven broad principles: increased inclusivity and access for students; a broad, diverse, liberal arts curriculum; less reliance on contingent as opposed to tenure-track faculty; incorporating technology with an eye toward maintaining educational quality; more judicious balancing of short-term cuts with long-term costs; better state support; and the adoption of evaluation metrics that go beyond graduation rates.

Hear that? None of this has anything to do with cutting down. It all has to do with building up — from more spending on technology, to enrolling more students, to broadening the curriculum. College for college's sake has been oversold, and it's even more clear in the financial crisis where finding a job can be tough. Glenn Reynolds pointed out in June that college has gotten way too expensive to provide profit later in life:

College has gotten a lot more expensive. A recent Money magazine report notes: “After adjusting for financial aid, the amount families pay for college has skyrocketed 439 percent since 1982. … Normal supply and demand can't begin to explain cost increases of this magnitude.”

A New York Times profile last week described Courtney Munna, a 26-year-old graduate of New York University with nearly $100,000 in student loan debt — debt that her degree in Religious and Women's Studies did not equip her to repay. Payments on the debt are about $700 per month, equivalent to a respectable house payment, and a major bite on her monthly income of $2,300 as a photographer's assistant earning an hourly wage.

And, unlike a bad mortgage on an underwater house, Munna can't simply walk away from her student loans, which cannot be expunged in a bankruptcy. She's stuck in a financial trap.

Professors like those at CFA think that this problem should be fixed by offsetting her debt moreso, by allowing her to get that women's education degree cheaper by providing a subsidy of some kind. The problem is that the market has spoken: Employers don't value her education, and so its value is inflated.

Taxpayers wouldn't get their money back, nor would Munna be guided down a path that would benefit her. Instead, the government would be providing an incentive for her to pursue a dead end, one she should feel free to pursue after weighing the costs and benefits. Those costs and benefits can often help people to choose a more lucrative (and yes, productive) career path.

In fact, if that would help anywhere, it would be California, which I've heard could really do with some budget cuts.

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