Opinion L.A.

Observations and provocations
from The Times' Opinion staff

« Previous Post | Opinion L.A. Home | Next Post »

Blowback: Charging varying tuition would threaten UC's character

UC Irvine film studies professor Peter Krapp, the immediate past chairman of the UC system Academic Senate's University Committee on Planning and Budget, responds to The Times' May 9 article, "University of California weighs varying tuitions at its 10 campuses."

If you also have a bone to pick regarding a recent Times article, editorial or Op-Ed and would like to participate in Blowback, here are our FAQs and submission policy.  

Proposing different tuition for each University of California campus is shortsighted and ill-considered. The UC Commission on the Future considered the possibility and its potential consequences in 2010 and decided that it was an unwise course of action for a state the size of California. Both population demand and economic proportion make comparisons with Wisconsin, Michigan or Virginia meaningless. The higher education systems of Texas and New York state have histories different than California's. Plus, The Times' article only briefly mentions the role of the California State University system.

Stratification would fundamentally change the UC system. Each campus would need separate Academic Personnel Manuals and different salary scales. Students who attend the most diverse campuses would have the least spent on their education. At the 25th David Dodds Henry Lecture at the University of Illinois, Chicago in 2005, former UC President David P. Gardner explicitly emphasized the "steady and diligent commitment to the concept of UC as a single university operating on 10 campuses," including "a single set of personnel policies, salary schedules and policies" -- all crucial contributing factors to UC's rise to eminence.

Varying fees would cause campus reputations to suffer, making it more difficult for them to recruit excellent faculty, staff and students so as to maintain quality for the benefit of California. Prospective students and employees would infer that less is spent on instruction per student at certain campuses. The proposal will alienate alumni, pit legislative districts against each other and play students at different campuses against one another. Moreover, UC Berkeley is good, but in agriculture it's no UC Davis; UC San Diego is good, but in the humanities it's no UC Irvine; and UCLA is good, but does it have three Nobel laureates in physics? No, but UC Santa Barbara does.

Who would tell alumni that their degrees are being devalued? Who would inform parents that their kids are getting less for their money at one campus or another? As former UC President Robert C. Dynes put it in his "UC 'Promise & Power of 10' Campus Visits Final Report," the university's quality has come under siege from two fronts: growing competition for faculty, students and staff from peer institutions, particularly private universities with large endowments; and a counterproductive temptation to stratify the campuses (and the regions they serve) into "haves" and "have-nots."

Consider England, where tuition levels are capped by state policy. When the cap was recently lifted from 3,000 pounds to a maximum of 9,000 pounds per year, practically all universities went for the highest amount, not just the most selective research institutions. It is reasonable to expect that every UC campus would likewise match the highest "differential" all the way. Requiring a campus to charge lower tuition than it wants to or could (nearly all of the campuses are overenrolled) certainly amounts to leaving money on the table. It is highly unlikely that any UC campus would choose to charge lower fees than other UC campuses to "attract more students," since all campuses see more qualified applicants than they can accommodate. The popularity of older campuses is not a good enough reason to make them less affordable and less accessible to Californians.

Each UC campus stimulates the local economy and prepares the state population for the 21st century. UCLA must not force UC Riverside to serve more disadvantaged students while charging less; and UC Berkeley should not accept only the wealthy while expecting UC Santa Cruz or UC Davis to accept more needy students. None of the UC campuses has an endowment that could take on the burden that had been carried, under the Master Plan for Higher Education, by the state. Moreover, expensive private colleges and universities are not differentiated much by price but rather by yield; that is, institutions that are somewhat less selective will not compete on price but make a greater effort to recruit and fill their incoming classes.

And what happens to public support for a UC campus that becomes as expensive as USC or Stanford? Proposing differential tuition undercuts UC's case for public funding and indeed threatens its very character as a public institution. This inevitable backlash should be obvious to shortsighted advocates of UC stratification.

-- Peter Krapp


Ted Rall cartoon: UC education a la carte

University of California weighs varying tuitions at its 10 campuses

More non-Californians are offered freshman slots at UC schools

UCLA Chancellor Gene Block: The Legislature's Master Plan turncoats

Editorial: President Mark Yudof's five-year plan for UC

Photo: Royce Hall at UCLA, where students might pay higher tuition than at some other UC campuses under a place being weighed by university system's Board of Regents. Credit: Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times


Comments () | Archives (15)

The comments to this entry are closed.

Peter Krapp

Past Academic Council Statements Regarding Stratification:






Damien Sett

"Who would tell alumni that their degrees are being devalued?" This professor clearly hasn't been in the modern workforce for very long. It's very simple: a UCLA or UC Berkeley grad, in general, will get hired over a UCI, and UCR or UC Merced grad any day in most every job. UCLA, Berkeley, SD and SB have higher market values in almost every industry than Santa Cruz or other UC's, no matter how many nobel laureates a school may claim. Therefore, the Universities should be permitted to charge what they're worth. A degree from UCLA or UC Berkeley is worth more in the workplace than UCI. Sorry, that' s just a plain fact. Conversely, any UC degree is worth more than any CSU, period. And in a hiring situation, generally most HR folks will look at a UC grad before a CSU grad, a UCLA grad before a UCR grad. That's just reality, and this professor needs to get a grip. If universities are worried about their reputations, then they need to step up and stop graduating students who cannot function in the workplace, or stop with easy classes which mean nothing. In entertainment, a UCI student is generally going to have a near-impossible time to find sustained work, when UCLA, USC, Berkeley, UPenn, Harvard, Emerson, etc. all have better positioning and better student placements than UCI. Sorry, but that's reality. Let the better performing, higher-worth universities be paid what they're worth. Besides, generally, when students are not admitted to UCLA, for instance, they're usually bounced to UCI or UCR - what does that tell you?

Milan Moravec

The core problem are University of California system is the COST of running the system. Solve the cost problem and their is no need for variable tuition at UC. The public pays toward the costs of University of California (UC) and the University of California is not untouchable. As many Californians face foreclosure, unemployment and depressed wages it's about time that the timid University of California Board of Regents and UC President Mark Yudof reined in administrative and compensation costs.
As a Californian, I don't care what others earn at private and public universities in the USA. If the wages are better elsewhere, UC paid employees need to apply for the positions. If wages are what keep UC paid employees committed to the University of California, leave for the better-paying position. Talented, experienced UC employees are ready to be promoted to the vacated positions. The sky will not fall at UC.
Wages at the University of California need to reflect California's ability to pay not what others are being paid. California is in the worst deficit in modern times.
Current UCOP, campus chancellors, vice chancellors, tenured and non tenured faculty are replaceable by like or more talented individuals.
Here is what we should do:
18 percent reduction in UCOP salaries and $50 million cut.
18 percent pruned from campus chancellors', vice chancellors' salaries.
15 percent trim of tenured faculty salaries, increased teaching load
10 percent decrease in non-tenured faculty salaries, as well as increase research, teaching load
100% elimination of Academic Senate costs, wages at UCOP and all campuses

The UC Board of Regents can begin now to bridge the trust gap with Californians by offering reassurances that UC salaries reflect depressed wages in California. Everyone is replaceable at the University of California system. The sky has not and will not fall.
Californians are reasonable people. Levy no new taxes until an approved balanced budget: Let the Governor and Legislature make the tough-minded (not cold hearted) decisions of elected leadership. Then come to Californians for specified, continuing or new taxes.
Thanking you in advance for your partnership and for standing up for all Californians and the University of California.


"Consider England..." California is not England, man. California isn't even the U.S. east coast.

California, 2011: The Burgeoning of the American Third World.


This response is rife with speculation. I contend that salaries and pay scales need to match the standard of living where the university is. A competitive salary in Merced is not even close to a living wage in Los Angeles or Berkeley. There needs to be stratification, at least in terms of faculty and staff compensation, so that urban campuses can attract teachers rather than grant-hustlers. As it stands, in order to earn a competitive living as a non-tenured, non-academic senate supported professor, teachers must write grants. In fact, every moment that they spend teaching is money out of their pockets, as many of my professors told me. If these institutions are going to be teaching institutions, professors should be paid to teach.


Charging more for UCLA or UCB is obviously unfair, giving advantage to students born to parents with the right combo of money & willingness to spend it.

Clearly, UC values oppose that kind of caste system.

Like UC values oppose affirmative action, which gives advantage to students born with the right combo of gender, race &/or ethnicity.

Obviously, supporting either would make the PC stooges staffing UC look yet more hypocritical than they currently do.


Charging varying tuition according to cost of living makes sense. Charging varying tuition according to each UC's subjective reputation does not. It's that simple.

Samantha T

It's a great idea - it's called supply and demand and letting the market dictate the price. The students at UC Merced (much lower reputation than UCLA) are actually overpaying; and, of course, they're more likely to be minorities, so who are you really helping? Also some of the CSU schools should do the same - especially Cal Poly SLO. It would be beneficial if private colleges and universities would adjust their tuitions based on their appeal to students but they can't do that because of the Federal government loans. So, for example, California Lutheran University costs the same as Harvard - but the value of a degree from there is much less.

Rose colored lenses

@damien, you're completely wrong. A bullshyt, academically lax BA major from Cal, UCLA or even an Ivy doesn't mean anything. The job market will snub you.

I'll tell you how it REALLY works. If you submit your resume to a prominent/prestigious firm, then the school you attended and your GPA do count. Furthermore, prestigious firms typically don't look for people with BAs under their belts--even if it's from an Ivy--but you're either ignorant of this fact, or negate it.

Either way, your BA from Cal, UCLA, or an Ivy is good for one thing: toliet paper...if you doubt me, please ask someone who's already graduated from a top tier university with a futile BA.

Rose colored lenses

@dumb-ien sett, I forgot to add. Hard majors i.e. computer science, engineering and pre-med (if you're smart enough to achieve a 3.7+ GPA at Stanford in the premed courses, score a 39 on the MCAT, and get into John Hopkins med school...like yours truly)then the school you attended and GPA count. It's the SUBSTANCE of your major, not the STATUS of your school that counts...dumbazz.


Sorry UC snobs. There are lots of high income people from the Cal States. Average income of graduates- #1 is Cal. #2 is Virginia, but #3....Cal Poly SLO, a Cal State campus. There are tons of great Cal State programs. Do not ask the rest of us to continue to subsidize the UC, which should be finding revenue by cutting costs and forcing its professors to teach more than they do now.

Tom Boellstorff

I received my B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. from Stanford and know the private university system well. For almost ten years know I've been proud to be a UC professor and am so thankful for Peter Krapp's thoughtful piece. What is missing so often in the conversation right now is vision. In hard fiscal times we must talk about hard realities, but we cannot lose our vision. The vision of "one UC" powerfully builds collaboration and community between scholars and students across the UC campuses. Different departments at different campuses will of course have higher or lower rankings, but to lock in a rankings system via variable tuition would have a terrible effect on the greatest public university system the world has ever seen, a true treasure that drives our economy and brings so much value to our state.


There's a reason UCLA is the most applied university in the country (a title it's held year after year since like 1998) and a school like UCI is not: prestige. The same holds for Berkeley. These institutions are definitely split. It's not as if someone who goes to UC Merced takes solace in the fact that they go to a university which is part of the same system as UC Berkeley is.

I doubt that academics or scholars would be influenced by this at all. The universities probably wouldn't care. It's not as if UCLA and UCB would stop collaborating with the other UCs simply because they charge more money.

the truth is that these institutions are ranked in many different ways: within their own system, relative to other public institutions, relative to all american universities, liberal arts institutions, national universities etc. Trying to say that they're all part of the same university because they're all part of the same system is absurd. Sure UCD doesn't have a top tier engineering programs; UCSB doesn't have a top-tier linguistics program; and UCSC doesn't have a top tier biology program. All the UCs are good at different things, however, let's not try to deny that while UCD may be better than Berkeley in some programs that berkeley's programs in general destroy UCDs

That being said, i agree with the OP that if they got the ability to charge the max, all probably would (i don't think it's a coincidence that with the amount that the government allows for loans coincides with tuition increases) but at the same time, i find it a bit hard to believe that UCM would charge the same amount as UCLA or Berkeley; they just serve different people. UCM typically serves people who weren't qualified to attend the higher UCs (typically people with <3.2 gpa but this varies by program) and i doubt that they'd increase their tuition by the same amount. There'd be no point in going there. People might as well go to one of the lower ranked calstates.

While i agree that the tuition increases probably aren't a good idea, let's not act naive and try to pretend that there isn't some dissimilarity within the schools. While UCLA can't really be called the school for Berkeley rejects anymore, UCSD can still be called the school for UCLA rejects, and UCI the same for UCSD and so on. Let's not try to act as if everyone treats all of these institutions equally because that's absurd. There's a reason why UCLA and Berkeley are the only UCs with approximately two billion dollars in endowment (the next one to even come close is UCSD which has like a fourth of that)


@damien, you must be out of touch with hiring practices. I look at references and length of job stays and realize that incompetent idiots can graduate from ANY university on the planet. So accusations of being out of touch can cut both ways. What I think is amazing is that trolls do not want to defend equality: they want to spew resentment. I would hire a Cal State grad who is hard working and grateful for a job over an entitle @#$ from ANY elite university. And that's the truth, pseudo-populists!!!!


Here's an idea... Why not charge based on the major? I'm all for that. Maths & sciences majors get reduced tuition, while liberal arts majors cost more. That could help jump-start the economy by steering students to pursue courses of study that would actually give them the skills to fill the jobs in most dire need of qualified candidates in this country. If you take it upon yourself to actually study something that will make this country more competitive, then you should get reduced tuition. Personally, I've seen too many sociology graduates pouring my latte at Starbucks, and I just think to myself, "What a waste!"

And to anyone who thinks my idea somehow makes me an elitist (an elitist for "nerdiness" or some such nonsense), then I'm fine with that, though I fail to see how. Not all degrees are equally marketable, and there's nothing subjective about that.



In Case You Missed It...



Recent Posts
Reading Supreme Court tea leaves on 'Obamacare' |  March 27, 2012, 5:47 pm »
Candidates go PG-13 on the press |  March 27, 2012, 5:45 am »
Santorum's faulty premise on healthcare reform |  March 26, 2012, 5:20 pm »


About the Bloggers
The Opinion L.A. blog is the work of Los Angeles Times Editorial Board membersNicholas Goldberg, Robert Greene, Carla Hall, Jon Healey, Sandra Hernandez, Karin Klein, Michael McGough, Jim Newton and Dan Turner. Columnists Patt Morrison and Doyle McManus also write for the blog, as do Letters editor Paul Thornton, copy chief Paul Whitefield and senior web producer Alexandra Le Tellier.

In Case You Missed It...