Opinion » Commentaries

The university system needs an overhaul

What has Cal Poly done for you lately?



Recent CSU salary issues have made headlines and excited the opinion and front pages of local papers lately. But faculty salary disputes don't approach the real reasons there should be public outcry and outrage toward Cal Poly. SLO folks should look very carefully at how their current tax dollars are spent and often wasted with little to show for huge annual expenditures. They should also not be afraid to address the local negative impacts created by the university, regardless of economic benefit to a few privileged elite.

Alvin Toffler says it best in his new book, Revolutionary Wealth: "Universities today are busy preparing our children for the jobs and work of yesterday" and at a tremendous cost.

According to recent KPMG audited financial statements (available online), Cal Poly SLO has annual revenues in excess of $237 million for its operating budget. That figure counts money from the state general fund as well as other sources, including the lottery.

Some basic questions should be asked of the current Cal Poly administration. Where does the $237 million-plus go? What are students and the public getting for their tax and tuition money?

According to these audits, approximately 25 percent of the revenue comes from tuition, and more than 55 percent from state appropriations (your tax dollars). Approximately 50 percent of the operating budget goes to salaries and benefits and support of instruction.

$237 million seems like a lot of money to graduate less than 3,764 students per year (data obtained from Career Services Graduate Status Report at Cal Poly's web site). This is nearly $62,964 per student ($237 million divided by 3,764 graduates).

Granted, 14,994 students (18,758 FTE students minus 3,764 graduates) are in process or queue, but the final output is 3,764 (plus or minus) degrees per year as a product metric. Also, there are additional capital costs, such as new labs/buildings, etc. that are not easily transformed to an annual cost-per-graduate basis. This factor may increase the total amount substantially.

Cal Poly's environmental impact to the local community is not entirely positive either. So, another question for administrators is: Why doesn't Cal Poly provide sufficient housing for the student population?

For example, with more than 2,935 acres of contiguous land, less than 3,500 students (less than 20 percent of the total student population) have on-campus housing available today. That means 14,175 live nearby, often in crowded, substandard conditions, thus increasing traffic, parking, noise, pollution problems, code violations, etc. This arrangement may benefit a few landlords, but it burdens county and city police, fire, and other staffs tremendously.

Why is this? This one factor alone greatly impacts local residents and SLO housing costs. Granted, Cal Poly is building a new complex for 3,000 students, but it pales in comparison to the needed beds to house 18,000 to 20,000 students.

It's also a well-known fact that out-of-town Cal Poly parents have often paid for their child's education using the real estate profit phenomenon of "house flipping" in SLO. This practice has helped fuel and exacerbate local housing costs. But at whose expense? Once family-friendly neighborhoods near Cal Poly have been literally turned into party central. To adolescent students, partying away from home and parents may be fun. To working residents, it has often been sheer hell, sometimes requiring premature moves and property sales.

According to Toffler, the universities are the furthest behind of all entities in society regarding their flexibility and ability to change with the demands of society. They are No. 1 for needing a complete overhaul. For example, Toffler compares the demands and the speed of change of our daily lives to a car traveling at 100 mph. Comparatively, universities and our education system in general, for that matter are capable of only 5 mph full tilt.

Perhaps this partially explains why most major companies have large training staffs that have to teach nearly all incoming graduates such basic skills as team building, conflict management, project management, structured problem solving, negotiating to win, etc. These are skills required for success in any organization, but are rarely a prerequisite for even the most expensive degrees.

So to Cal Poly professors and others: Where does the $237 million get spent annually? According to available CSU online data, 50 to 60 percent goes for compensation and benefits of staff and professors. It seems the professor concern is more how the money is distributed, not the absolute cost or amount and return on investment.

People should be outraged at the money being thrown at Cal Poly with little accountability and service to local communities. The public should not be outraged about salary disputes or redistribution of wealth for a select few cloistered university professors. They should, however, demand an investigation and subsequent overhaul of our entire California university system.

Data for the above opinion was obtained primarily from the following online sources:

1) www.afd.calpoly.edu/FiscalServices/FinancialStatements/10279%20OC%20WP-CALPSLO-04-FS-Final.pdf

2) www.calstate.edu/pa/news/2006/budget0607.shtml

3) www.planning.calpoly.edu/projects/indicators/database/calpoly/social/campus_housing.html

4) www.calpoly.edu/~inststdy/polyview/pv03.pdf

Check them out yourself and do your own calculations especially those students paying high tuition, high rent, and taxes! ?

Bob Spielman, a former University of Minnesota professor and retired engineering manager for the aerospace and semi-conductor industry, lives in Paso Robles.

Add a comment