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CSU claims it makes every effort to keep student cost down! Ha!
Dennis Wyatt RGB
Dennis Wyatt

On its website California State University Stanislaus states, “The CSU makes every effort to keep students costs to a minimum.”

No they don’t.

The $7,584 a full-time CSU student can expect to pay for the upcoming academic year reflects a conscious decision by the 23-campus university system to continue to operate in a galaxy far, far away from reality.

Now that we are approaching five months into a statewide emergency declared by Gov. Gavin Newsom due to the pandemic epidemic it is painfully clear that not only are private sector concerns slashing costs to get expenses closer to pancaked COVID-19 revenues but public school systems for kindergarten through 12th grade are shedding costs to stay afloat.

That’s not the case with the CSU system and it’s higher priced almost-kissing cousin that is the University of California.

Yes, we get how valuable a higher education can be – although there is mounting evidence that it is being oversold to many students who are placing themselves in hock for 20-plus years for dubious economic advantages all so public university fiefdoms can continue to not “disrupt” their gig while their professors champion the disruption of virtually every other segment of civilization.

Instead of citing endless staffing studies that show universities are top-heavy with handsomely paid folks who never get anywhere near dirtying their hands with the nitty-gritty education of paying students, let’s see what the “customers” think.

The College Fix – a higher education news website featuring college age writers and podcasters – conducted a poll that showed of 1,000 students surveyed 79 percent found the learning model with online courses they were forced into during the spring describing the quality of education as worse than they received in the classroom.

Dozens of college students attending four-year schools across the state have shared what appear to be universal complaints about the quality of online education this past spring. The list of complaints include professors who were close to be completely inept with online technology, classes that were simply prerecorded videos of lectures, professors who went AWOL with scheduled classes – minimal if any interaction or feedback – and constant tech glitches.

These are damning issues given universities are educating tech-savvy 21st century students that are looking for the breadth of knowledge which includes applying technology to get ahead in the world.

Yet universities operate basically as they have for centuries. Add on to that the modern-day calamity that created government guaranteed loans with essentially no cap on spending and/or borrowing that has sent higher education costs soaring in the past 50 years and you have created an entrenched cartel allowed to have a chokehold on the proverbial sheepskin that is supposedly the key to a more rewarding life both financially and intellectually. The cartel has no incentive for disruptive innovations in its education model given they can keep raising the price to allow for the fattening of university payrolls because the flow of money is never turned off.

Anyone who wants to argue such an assertion is malarkey needs to look at how the rest of the world except perhaps states and the federal government work.

It is clear that going to all online this fall will mean the CSU system can’t even match the caliber of online education offered by entities such as the University of Phoenix as well as South New Hampshire University that more than a few professors and administrators embedded in the hierarchy of publicly funded college systems love to dis with dripping disdain.

Yet the CSU won’t budge on pricing because of fixed costs.

Perhaps the CSU powers-that-be might want to take a course or two in Real World Economics.

Businesses from Fortune 50 companies to mom and pop concerns face fixed costs that have become daunting with the COVID-19 response. Those that haven’t shutdown completely or filed for bankruptcy have little wriggle room to raise prices. That means in order to survive they are being forced to make hard decisions on top of being innovative simply to be even in the game in 2020.

Eliminating staff, layoffs, and finding ways your remaining employees can work more efficiently in a bid to keep a business afloat is the norm. These changes haven’t come about as the result of special blue ribbon committees that leisurely consume months and often years before rendering recommendations. They are happening almost on the fly as the economy makes unprecedented tectonic shifts.

And as Google made clear in its decision to keep most of its 200,000 employees working remotely through at least July 2021 despite the high benefit of in-person collaboration has had on their ability to become a company with a market value of $1 trillion plus, the pandemic is not going away by winter break.

What makes this all the more bizarre is that higher education — specifically public systems such as the CSU that are substantially underwritten by taxpayers — is for all of practical purposes a bottom feeder due to their heavy reliance on state funds.

 The huge craters that COVID-19 has made in state budgets such as it has in California will only get bigger if businesses and households have a rough time for one to three years or more due to the pandemic.

The CSU system, contrary to the assertion made on every one of the 23 campuses’ website does not make every effort to keep costs down for its 500,000 students.

If the system operated in today’s reality there would be massive gutting of administrative overhead with jobs and duties redefined. There would also be a change either in faculty load time to educate more students per professor or a buzz saw taken to faculty.

The strategy should be to have a basement to penthouse — an apropos analogy if you have ever see the offices and homes provided head honchos — look at everything that can be repurposed in a bid to deliver education not just at a lower cost but more effectively.

Aside from health care, you will be hard pressed to find a sector in the economy that hasn’t found ways to reduce the real cost of the product they produce while at the same time adding in endless innovations. Smartphones are a perfect example. For the price you pay for what you get, a strong case can be made that they are the least expensive they’ve ever been. Higher education, for the most part, has ballooned in cost and has done little if anything to enhance what the customer gets for their money.

Higher education isn’t simply turning out widgets. But it also can’t operate in alternate universe thinking they are immune from the economic realities that COVID-19 has created for students and society alike.

The CSU system can start by removing the lie from their websites.

The truth is the CSU is light years away from being able to say with a straight face that they have made every effort to keep costs for students at a minimum.

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Ceres Courier or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.