The study just released by the University of California, “Return on Investment: Educational choices and demographic change in California’s future,” (1) is a particularly specious bit of UC/corporate flak, reminiscent of the campaign for UC Merced. The study argues that if you have more college-educated people in your society, you will have less crime and more high-paying jobs. Many economists would suggest that job demand has something to do with the equation – but they didn’t get this grant. A supply of college-educated people of working age less than the job demand for them could be a recipe for extreme job competition, lower wages, higher rates of turnover, social discontent and emigration of a significant portion of a workforce whose education was subsidized by taxpayers. Since what is meant by education in this study is technological training, it’s fair to ask how Californians with technological training compete today with Indians and Asians with comparable training. Ask Silicon Valley, which has been off-shoring California jobs to India and Asia for several decades, as well as importing foreign high tech workers to the Peninsula. San Jose is today a true city of the world, a place larger than California, attracting the best and brightest technological workers of the world.
Training, inventiveness, intelligence and education aren’t the problems facing California. Funded by a group calling itself the Campaign for College Opportunity, which appears to be a front group for the California Business Roundtable, once again, UC is taking an opportunity to recycle unreliable demographic data to make a case for more public spending on UC, with a bit left over for the lesser public institutions of higher learning.
People are tired of this nonsense. It is highly conspicuous waste, meant to doll up a class of “leaders” for their next honoraria. The study was commissioned by the business roundtable, a cabal of banks, insurance companies, developers, land companies, energy companies, construction and engineering firms and miscellaneously wealthy companies like Gap and J.G. Boswell, involved in the world, cotton trade, and the J. Paul Getty Trust, headed by Barry Munitz, former Charles Hurwitz associate and (“chainsaw”) chancellor of the CSU system. The intervening group, Campaign for College Opportunity, is headed by the roundtable’s president, includes a San Francisco Chamber of Commerce vice president, several university officials, a UC regent, union officials and minority group representatives. But the state taxpayers paid for the salaries of the UC researchers to pimp the next college/university building boom, based on demographic assumptions already dubious when they were used to sell UC Merced (2). But, at least then, we knew they were just the usual state Department of Finance figures to support the coming speculative housing bubble. That is now rapidly fading. Evidently, the study indulges in them only because it can. Apparently, it is a UC affectation to demand more public funds, pay exorbitant executive salaries (3), sell its services to whatever the corporate buyer demands, and all without any responsibility to the public that pays for the salaries, the maintenance, repair, and for the thousands of other services, plants and equipment that go to making up public institutions of higher learning from the community college outpost in the remote rural town to UC Berkeley.
Perhaps the cogent business reason for promoting another higher education building boom, paid for by the public, is because new colleges and universities, particularly if located in remote areas, attract suburban development like stables attract horse flies.
Perhaps, the state’s enlightened business roundtable, representing 56 corporations, almost half on the Fortune 500 list, believe that it is essential for us to pay for enough new public higher education institutions so that not one – not one! – potential bio-technician or computer engineer escapes his or her destiny to be trained for entrance into the “new economy;” so that not one potential mortgage lender, predatory credit-card enabler, insurance agent or realtor will slip through the system to become a bum, a mechanic or a handiman in this economy, which our business leaders assure us will continue, generation after generation, through levee breaks, global warming, oil peak, waves of immigration and global competition. We should pay through taxes, tuitions and living expenses to educate the next generation so that not one, but five or ten shall be trained identically, to cut each others’ throats in the high-tech job marketplace of the eternally affluent future of technocracy, sure to continue if only we believe our universities, our business leaders and those they employ in elective governmental posts.
Since the propaganda is coming down so hard on us from this source, I think it might be fair for the public to request that California corporations clean up our air and water, stop building more slurbs, build colleges and universities in other states, subsidize our deprived youth to attend them, pay off the current state budget deficit, and provide adequate energy supplies as long as possible at non-profit rates.
At a time when the state treasury rests firmly in the hands of Wall Street, when rich Californians are not even taxed at the normal level prior to 1993, our business leaders urge more public investment in higher education. Following a period of immense profit-taking, unable to wrap themselves in the flag (sullied by total failure in Iraq), they wrap themselves in the Blue and Gold, the priestly garb of a public university reported to have misplaced 600 pounds of plutonium (3), another $6 million of public funds at Los Alamos National Laboratory (4), and the “distribution of hundreds of millions of dollars in administrative stipends, bonuses and other hidden cash compensation to employees” to be investigated by the Legislature in January (3).
Education as if the state’s youth mattered might begin by designing a curriculum around what they will need to survive the economy bequeathed them by our business leaders? This would involve the question: what does California society need from business rather than what business needs from society? This might lead to concerns about the problem of quality of life rather than income levels, in world where even stolen resources are rapidly shrinking and life satisfaction might well have to be found in living a life “simple in means, rich in ends,” as philosopher Arne Naess puts it. The problem of how to educate a generation of youth to face – not just the diminished expectations of our generation – but the radically diminished expectations compelled by resource depletion on theirs – would be worthy of a public university. But that might require a university that felt itself under some obligation to tell the truth to the people of the state rather than to flak its corporate funders’ line. It would require a look at where we are, rather than at the “statistical fantasies” offered by this study. (5)
By contrast, “Return on Investment: Educational choices and demographic change in California’s future,” seems redolent with privileged irresponsibility, people saying things because they can merely because they are who they are – the ones who got the grant. Perhaps it is a fashionably conspicuous form of madness cultivated in leading academic circles these days.
Said Paul Warren, director of the LAO's education division, "The academic world is saying, 'Panic, panic, panic.' We're saying it's not time to panic.
(3) www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/ c/a/2005/11/30/BAGGQFVT7J1.DTL
The notion of studying the costs and benefits of public higher education is plausible. We should know what maintaining the system is costing taxpayers, what economic benefits flow to society and students from those dollars and what the eventual return to taxpayers might be. We should also be told how the public colleges and universities fit into the state's largely private economy - whether they are training the right number of professionals in the right kinds of fields, for instance, or whether their research is enhancing job creation.
Finally, we should know whether higher and lower education systems, maintained by taxpayers at immense cost - well over $60 billion a year - are meshing well or are wasting money on turf battles and incompatible priorities.
UC professors Henry Brady and Michael Hout, however, merely assume that attending college is a societal benefit and amass their synthetic evidence.
"California is sliding from exceptional to ordinary, from 'great' to 'good enough' (and) our study shows that educational investments can help restore California's greatness and preserve its high quality of life while returning more benefits to the state than they will cost the taxpayers," Brady said in a statement.
Brady and Hout don't tell us whether the economy could absorb the increased number of college attendees and graduates they advocate, or even whether there are substantially more youngsters capable of doing college-level work. While decrying the decline in California's high school graduation and college education rates in relation to other states, they don't explore the factors, such as the huge increase in non-English-speaking students or the immense changes in the California economy, that contribute to those trends. They assume, more or less, that there are many millions of Californians who would attend college if only the taxpayers would foot the bill and that expansion would generate big economic returns.
Finally, Brady and Hout fail to explain this phenomenon: There's no apparent shortage of college-trained workers in California (except in a few highly technical fields), but employers are having a heck of a time recruiting cops, carpenters, nurses, electricians, auto mechanics - even truck drivers. Who's going to do the real work if everyone is getting a college degree?