Six-figure salaries, spa accommodations and bureaucratic corruption fuel skyrocketing tuition and fees for worthless degrees
By Mark Cromer
I saw the best minds of their generation defiled by
mollycoddling, bloated histrionic transparent
marching themselves through the Anglo campuses at dusk
demanding an adulation fix
— with apologies to Allen Ginsberg and his epic ‘Howl’
From Berkeley to Boston the universities remain locked in delirium tremens, with college students burning in a feverish rage filled with hallucinations of tyranny, terror and triumph; suffering convulsions marked by spasmodic chanting of truisms that suddenly gives way to a rhapsodic shivering of orgasmic delight all bathed in the halo glow from the iPhones held over their heads.
But as the academy burns, literally on some campuses while figuratively across most others, it’s a safe bet that if you listen just above the crackle of the flames and the din of the demonstrations you’ll hear strains of the smooth groove of Van McCoy’s 1975 iconic instrumental that ushered in the era of disco: ‘The Hustle.’
It’s an appropriate soundtrack for college today.
With annual tuition and other costs approaching $50,000-per-year at many liberal arts colleges far beyond the once hallowed halls of that epitome of privilege—the Ivy League—the registrars offices on these campuses should be decked out with mirrored disco balls spinning from the ceiling and colored lights flashing from plexiglass floors. The finishing touch could be male administrators sporting wide-collared shirts left mostly unbuttoned to reveal some gaudy gold swank while the female administrators don rainbow tube tops, turquoise mascara and roller skates.
A more brazen display of academic honesty would be hard to find across the landscape of higher education in 2017, a surreal environment where students can be swaddled in one dimensional ideological certainty for four to six years before they’re discharged completely indentured with a debt that will take most of them decades to pay off and yet armed only with a degree that in many instances simply reads like an immunization record that reports they’ve been vaccinated against reality.
At Berkeley, where the University of California system was born, students can expect to pay between $25,000 and $31,000 annually to attend (tuition plus actual hard costs)—and that’s presuming they qualify for in-state tuition rates. Interestingly, a student from Nebraska who’s an American citizen and looking to transfer to Cal Berkeley would pay nearly double those annual tuition rates plus elevated costs, but a student from Michoacán, Mexico, who swims the Rio Grande and successfully albeit illegally makes his or her way into the country will be welcomed on campus with in-state tuition discounts. And as of 2016, California’s UC system was allotting more than $27 million in tax dollars annually to help cover those costs for illegal immigrant students, though transfer students from Maine were still listed under SOL.
At the California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, annual tuition and fees for the 2016-2017 academic year run between $17,600 to nearly $30,000 and that range is non-inclusive of another nearly $450 in parking fees that students have to pay to park on campus. Thus students will be squeezed for nearly $2,000 on top of tuition and all the other mandatory fees the state now tacks on just so they can park at the state university they attend. Three decades ago, a fulltime student class load and parking at Cal Poly Pomona cost about $350 a quarter plus books (a racket in its own right) if you didn’t live on campus and students at the then 18,000 student university were generally able to get the classes they needed on a steady four-year track.
In short, in 1986 a fulltime student at Cal Poly Pomona was paying a little over a grand a year in tuition, fees and parking. Thirty years later, students are paying in some cases more than 30-times that amount each year, plus another $450 just to park. And by all accounts students getting their classes on schedule is harder to come by, not easier.
So what has changed at the once semi-sleepy state university that’s nestled into Kellogg Hill where students used to watch the Arabian horses trot through the morning mists rolling along the rich fields and farmland that defined the agricultural-engineering school that would account for such a nuclear explosion of the costs to attend it? In 1948-49, the cereal tycoon W.K. Kellogg deeded his 800-plus acre ranch along the western edge of the sweeping citrus groves that blanketed the Pomona Valley to the state to expand the CSU campus and today it has nearly doubled in campus size to almost 1,500 acres, but land acquisition isn’t the problem (though they are running out of it). The student population has grown to 25,000 over the past three decades, but a 27% increase in the number of students on campus wouldn’t be at the root of a 3,000% increase in cost over the same period of time.
No, the skyrocketing costs of post-secondary education in America today seems to be the result of a whirlpool of contributing factors, from payroll to a wild building spree across campuses to bureaucratic corruption—both public and private—that is approaching Venezuelan levels.
Sugar plum salaries for faculty and bodacious paydays for both the California State University and University of California system administrators, whose chancellors and regents and other academic grandees pull down taxpayer-provided paychecks that rival or surpass that of the President of the United States, his cabinet, Senators and Congress and the members of the Supreme Court of the United States, offer some sense of the entitlement-to-results ratio that’s now septic in academia. Running a state university system pays more than the executives running the national government, but with even fewer results to show for it. And those larded wallets pale in comparison to the compensation packages doled out at private universities, where ‘superstar’ professors pull down half-million dollar scores for teaching a class or two, as Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren knows all about.
Vast sums of money are poured into the scandal-riddled athletics departments at universities like University of Southern California and the notorious football program at Penn State, which doubled as a child-molestation ring for years under the taxpayer funded direction of Joseph ‘JoePa’ Paterno and Jerry Sandusky. Old JoePa & Jerry were a couple of Johnny jackpots, with Paterno pulling in a cool $1 million-plus annually to coordinate the university’s long-running child rape ring while Sandusky collected a mere six-figure salary to execute it in the locker rooms. In December 2015, Penn State sent convicted child-molester Sandusky another $211,000 in pension payments to his prison cell.
Now that’s a helluva public retirement system.
The seven-figure salaries and payouts for train wrecks like USC’s Steve Sarkisian, who imploded in a booze and pill-addled party train at Trojan Central—and Sarkisian was well known to university officials to live large on the road, running up $700 nightly bar tabs for him and his entourage—also point to a culture of absolute corruption that prevails from the front of the classroom to the coaching conference rooms to the presidential manors on campus.
An even bigger contributor to the skyrocketing costs of postsecondary education has undoubtedly been the ongoing build outs across campuses, where new, larger and ever more luxurious digs has become the name of the game.
In Southern California, Cal Poly Pomona debuted its state-of-the-art Classrooms, Laboratories & Administration (CLA) building in 1993, unveiling a tower completely out of the campus’s aesthetic character but one that quickly became iconic for the university. It also became synonymous for catastrophically expensive failure: Less than two decades after it was built the university announced it would have to be demolished due to structural flaws that placed it an exceedingly high risk of collapse during a significant temblor. The cost to retrofit the CLA was an estimated $80 million, a price tag that was apparently close enough to a new building that the university decided to take the wrecking ball to it and replace it with a new building designed to resemble the rolling hills of the landscape. The projected cost of that building continues to rise even as it’s being built and its projected lifespan, whether it lasts more than twenty years before it has to be replaced, remains to be seen.
Just a few miles from Cal Poly Pomona is the quaintly leafy academic cluster of the Claremont Colleges, the nationally renowned private liberal arts schools that have collectively and diligently built a reputation as a comfortable progressive monastery that caters to the East Coast elites with their interconnected collection of campuses fast approaching the academic equivalent of a gated country club, one that bills mom, dad and the taxpayers (financial aid programs offered at the private colleges do include public tax dollars) more than $65,000 annually.
For students fond of demanding ‘Check your privilege!’ there’s no more comfortable of a Ritz Carlton-class spa to do so from than the Claremont Colleges.
The outrageous sums of debt that college students are now expected to incur—particularly those hailing from the middle class whose parents earn too much for them to qualify for deeply subsidized tuition breaks but not enough to come anywhere close to being able to afford paying for their education outright—were made a campaign issue by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who pushed Hillary Clinton onto a bus bedecked with ‘Free College 4 All’ banners.
Yet for all the lip service that Sanders and Clinton gave the social imperative of ‘free’ college for everyone, precious little was uttered about just why university education costs have ballooned faster than the Pentagon’s budget during the Reagan era. They spent more time talking about whether the students should leave milk and cookies on the table for Santa before bedtime than the underlying causes that are fueling the crushing costs of a four year degree that often takes more than six years to earn now.
And that wasn’t an accidental omission.
Like America’s great cities, academia has long been an enterprise that is wholly owned and operated by the most strident factions of the Left, and thus while Clinton and Sanders could devote an entire stump speech on the outrages of exploding educational costs, exploring the fundamental causes of those costs in an intellectually honest and open manner was of course completely out of the question. Just as addressing the war zone casualty rates of South Chicago makes for fine speechifying but getting into the weeds of where all that gunfire is exploding from each week (hint: it’s not the cops or the NRA) is strictly verboten.
But the obscene costs of a university education today is ultimately a conspiracy of collusion at the highest levels of American government; the Democrats don’t know what to do and the Republicans don’t really care. There is no leadership on this issue, only acquiescence by one party and abandonment by the other.
And thus state governments and private institutions that once were capable of delivering an affordable and accessible quality college education across a diverse array of real fields of study for the students emerging from public high schools that hadn’t yet been transformed into social service delivery centers have simply surrendered to their basest of instincts: to raise taxes, raise fees, add surcharges and cook up new creative revenue streams all while continuing to tighten the financial garrote around the necks of the student body.
So adding a disco soundtrack and some cosmetic flourishes from the 1970s trend that was all about getting lost in the dance floor moment courtesy of a bumper of Bolivian and the philosophy of ‘Paradise Now’ just seems to be a good fit for campus administrations today.
A little disco would go a long way in injecting some much-needed levity onto these campuses to even out the students’ surreal rage and the professors’ phony political posturing. They should dispense with the shrieking indictments and the caterwauling over molecular-aggressions and just dance for awhile. And adding a little disco smooth to their moves doesn’t mean they have to discard the social status they still so desperately covet, since the Claremont Colleges can easily pass as an academic Studio 54 while Cal Poly Pomona would be the less vaunted but always beloved Oscar’s Corn Husker.
Of course, they just might realize that disco ball spinning overhead is actually a financial Death Star that will soon give their post-graduation world the Alderaan treatment, but I guess they’ll come to terms with that when it happens.