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Wednesday, Jan 30 2013 11:00 PM

ANOTHER VIEW: 'Efficiency' sounds great, but CSU is already making strides

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    John Tarjan

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By JOHN TARJAN

As I read the Jan. 29 editorial, "New reality for state universities," I had conflicting reactions. As a taxpayer, I was heartened that The Californian is paying attention to how our tax dollars, spread increasingly thin, are being spent. However, as a taxpayer, I have also been disappointed for some time that more attention has not been paid to how our dollars are/will be spent on health care, prisons, transportation, etc.

As someone who is very familiar with the finances of the California State University, I was also disappointed that the editorial simply parroted the governor's talking points with seemingly no independent analysis. It referred to "massive tuition increases" and echoed the governor's statement that "students can't continue to be the main funders of the state's higher education system" while failing to point out that the CSU has consistently had the lowest or next-to-lowest tuition of any university system in the country.

The editorial also failed to point out that the CSU has a unique tuition forgiveness program that insulates needy students from tuition increases. It ignores that less than half of CSU students pay any out-of-pocket tuition due to this and other financial aid programs. Its repetition of the governor's call for the CSU to "live within their means" and its assertion that it doesn't "seem to recognize" that it is "not exempt from California's annual budgetary pain" lacks any additional context information.

For example, readily available statistics reveal that after severe belt-tightening, the CSU now spends less per student than any other university system in the country while graduating more underrepresented and underprepared students in high-demand fields such as engineering, business, nursing, education and science. How has it done this? By paying 99 percent of its employees below-market salaries, by squeezing efficiency out of its operations, by asking its employees to do more, and by deferring critical maintenance and upgrades of physical facilities and technology.

Spending less per student and being the most "efficient" university provides a great bargain in the short run but runs the risk of mortgaging the future of our great state in the long run. Independent analyses have shown that the University of California, the CSU and the California Community Colleges have been tremendous bargains for California and engines of growth for the state. Continuing to cut off our investment in public higher education may well result in an economy that continues to sputter and a populace that loses economic mobility.

Blanket calls for increased "efficiency" always sound good to readers. However, readers should also be provided with more than sound bites and selective statistics.

John Tarjan is a management professor at Cal State Bakersfield. Another View presents a critical response to a previous editorial, column or news story.

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