kitchen table math, the sequel: public sector unions & higher education in California

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

public sector unions & higher education in California

Daniel DiSalvo's The Trouble with Public Sector Unions describes a phenomenon we've seen here in Irvington, which is our unions (we have 3) pressing not just for higher pay and benefits but for a higher absolute number of employees as well -- and this as enrollment is declining.

Fewer students, higher pay, more employees. That is the formula. Per pupil spending currently stands at roughly $30K, and negotiations have been at impasse since last school year. So, under the Triborough Amendment, the district must continue to award raises that were negotiated during boom times.

Here's DiSalvo:
[A]s economist Richard Freeman has written, "public sector unions can be viewed as using their political power to raise demand for public services, as well as using their bargaining power to fight for higher wages."


For a case study in how public-sector unions manipulate both supply and demand, consider the example of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association. Throughout the 1980s and '90s, the CCPOA lobbied the state government to increase California's prison facilities — since more prisons would obviously mean more jobs for corrections officers. And between 1980 and 2000, the Golden State constructed 22 new prisons for adults (before 1980, California had only 12 such facilities). The CCPOA also pushed for the 1994 "three strikes" sentencing law, which imposed stiff penalties on repeat offenders. The prison population exploded — and, as intended, the new prisoners required more guards. The CCPOA has been no less successful in increasing members' compensation: In 2006, the average union member made $70,000 a year, and more than $100,000 with overtime. Corrections officers can also retire with 90% of their salaries as early as age 50. Today, an amazing 11% of the state budget — more than what is spent on higher education — goes to the penal system.

In 2009, the New York Times reported on cuts to the UC system:
As the University of California struggles to absorb its sharpest drop in state financing since the Great Depression, every professor, administrator and clerical worker has been put on furlough amounting to an average pay cut of 8 percent.


And on Thursday, to top it all off, the Board of Regents voted to increase undergraduate fees — the equivalent of tuition — by 32 percent next fall, to more than $10,000. The university will cost about three times as much as it did a decade ago, and what was once an educational bargain will be one of the nation’s higher-priced public universities.

A Crown Jewel of Education Struggles with Cuts
Published: November 19, 2009


Anonymous said...

"The university will cost about three times as much as it did a decade ago, and what was once an educational bargain will be one of the nation’s higher-priced public universities."

But, even at the new rates, still quite a bargain in terms of education-for-your-dollar.

And any time we (the California voters/taxpayers) want to reduce the cost of this thing, we can stop admitting students who (a) aren't ready for college AT ALL, or (b) aren't ready for UC (or CalState). This would allow/require that we shut down a number of campuses as we'd now have too much capacity. But for the prepared students the costs would be lower.

We won't do this, of course ...

-Mark Roulo

Catherine Johnson said...

A number of campuses?

How many, do you think?

Anonymous said...

Wikipedia has the average SAT scores for the incoming freshmen for many of the Cal State campuses:

4 have an *AVERAGE* incoming SAT score of less than 900 (out of 1600). I'd start by closing these. Except that the real trick is to stop accepting kids with SAT scores below 900 (or maybe 950) at all. They can go to a junior college.

The four with sub-900 scores are:

Bakersfield, Domingues Hills, East Bay, and Los Angeles. San Bernadino is at 900.

Enrollment for the first four is about 45,000. San Bernadino bumps the total up to 60,000.

If we had the same amount of money, but about 15% fewer students (and 15% fewer staff), I bet the budget would work nicer.

We can play similar games with the UCs, but with higher scores. I would be fine taking the money from the really bad Cal State schools and giving it to the UCs, too. But I'd also be fine refusing admission to UC for *ANY* student that needed remedial courses. This won't happen. And, of course, we just opened a *NEW* UC in the middle of nowhere ...

-Mark Roulo

ChemProf said...

We didn't really need UC Merced in the first place. I'd start with the two campuses whose 75% SAT is lower than Berkeley's 25% number, UC Merced and UC Riverside.

Anonymous said...

The U.S. has always had a much larger proportion of people in the penal system than any other "first-world" country. And to think we accuse China of human rights about we stop putting so many of our own people in prison? Good stats there!

Catherine Johnson said...

Does the 3-strikes law still exist?

I have a vague memory that it doesn't--?

Catherine Johnson said...

It concerns me that the NEA has supported whole language. When schools use whole language, they employ more teachers because the SPED population increases (or, now, because Response to Intervention has become federal law).

I don't think NEA leaders consciously decide to support ineffective curricula and teaching methodologies in order to increase the job supply.

But conscious intent is neither here nor there. Incentives work heavily at the unconscious level through positive & negative reinforcement.

Given the incentives for unions to embrace constructivism, 3 cheers to the AFT, which has staunchly supported phonics, Hirsch, and real math.

Allison said...

Except the law in CA is that you have to take the top n% of students *by school* now, not but absolute numbers. CA has removed SAT score requirements on purpose, as well.

So it's not up to the colleges to not let them in somewhere--they have to. Whether they are prepared or not.

Now, cynically, you can ask why the law was written that way, but we know the answer: college for everyone is the education equivalent of a house for everyone. Homeowners are better people, less likely to commit crime, and financially stable, so voila! if you make someone a homeowner, you'll magically give them those qualities. Likewise, college grads earn more money, are more likely to contribute to and participate in civic institutions, and have lower rates or crime or welfare. so voila! if you make someone a college grad, you'll magically give them those qualities.

Colleges have no incentive to push back on this system and take in less students. It's a public choice theory problem, just like the public pensions are in the first place. The people working at universities will lose their jobs or their benefits if cuts are made, so what incentive do they have? Politicians have no incentive to make the cuts in the first place, and every incentive to kick the can down the road of fiscal profligacy.

Allison said...

Yeah, UC Merced is a failure for a lot of reasons, but have you been out there before the bubble burst in housing? "The middle of nowhere" except for the largest population growth in all of CA. The central valley was booming, and every single projection of CA population before the crash included a massive growth in students who would be required to be sent to college, most of them in the central valley.

There were good reasons to believe that a central valley campus was a good idea, and if the State of CA and the Feds had decided not to utterly destroy agricultural opportunity there with their water restrictions, there would have been a wealth of industry to support UC Merced.

But there were a huge host of reasons why it wasn't a good idea as well--the lack of proximity to an international airport, for one. But Champaign-Urbana is the middle of nowhere too, as is Ames, and a host of other big state Us. The real problem was the inability to get the rest of the state of CA to incentivize any of the business that was out there, or to incentivize businesses to move out there--by, say, making it easy to build power plants there, or airports there, or better roads there. As is typical of CA, they strangled the industrial baby in its crib at the same time that they needed such industry to help Merced get off the ground.

Anonymous said...

There are/were two big problems with UC Merced.

The first one is that while the population was growing fast in the central valley, the central valley is not exactly known for its academic excellence. Note that Cal State Bakersfield and Cal State Fresno, for example, have incoming freshman SAT scores of 899 and 934. CalPoly these are not.
The new people moving to the central valley are/were *NOT* likely to come anywhere close to filling a UC on their own.

And no one *wants* to go to school in the central valley if they aren't already there. It sucks. Big time. My father used to live in Mariposa (about 1 hour away from Yosemite) and I drove there twice a year for a number of years. Going right through Merced. I also have spent time in Fresno, Bakersfield and Modesto. To a first approximation, there isn't anything interesting there ... and Fresno has a population of about 500,000! The weather sucks and the land is cheap (partially because the weather sucks) and there are very few high paying jobs. And no tech company in their right mind will try to move there because the techies won't relocate.

There is farming (often done by poorly paid and poorly educated immigrants ... but these are not Asian immigrants ... their kids mostly won't be going to college), and low end blue collar work. Not a lot of skilled machinists, for example.

Assuming that California wanted a new UC (as opposed to shutting one down ...), we could have put one up north in the part of California that resembles Oregon. At least you'd have lots of forest or beach (or both!) to play in when not in class.


And yes, California mandates that the top 4% of each school get admitted to UC. This moves to 9% next year. Which probably fills more than 1/2 the slots. Maybe 3/4. Pretty clearly, the priority is not to educate the best students (or the ones most likely to actually graduate). And I don't expect California to change. We'll drive up the costs for the kids who can benefit from the education and make non-dischargeable loans to the kids who probably won't graduate. Not how *I* would spend the taxes, but I'm in the minority ...

-Mark Roulo

Allison said...

Half your comment is elitist and the other half reinforces my point. There's nothing there because no one was allowed to build anything there. No power, no water, no new freeway in 40 years. That is why there's no industry, not because some Google snobs wouldn't live there. Given I knew people commuting into Applied mat, HP, Apple, and TLA-tencor from merced, stockton, and grass valley, it's ludicrous to suggest people wouldn't have lived there if there were jobs there.
To the issue of intellect, there was no inherent intellect in san Diego either. There were surfers and stoners. UC san Diego was no powerhouse of engineering in the 70s. What changed was a decision to change and draw on the growth that was occurring in engineering industry in the area.

The central valley is inherently beautiful, and yosemite is somewhere people want to be near. It took CA and 40+ years of nimbyism and eating the seed corn to ruin industries' prospects in the central valley.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Allison. UC Merced is next to Yosemite. UC Davis was in the middle of nowhere when it was built, as was UC Riverside. Even with the State and Feds shutting off the water to the San Joaquin Valley, the Valley is still the most productive ag region in the world.

There will be 9 billion people on the planet by 2050. They will need to eat. It would have been nice to have a world class university doing biotech research on the valley.


ChemProf said...

UC Merced is really not "next to" Yosemite. It is about 2 hours away. The East Bay is 3-4 hours away from Yosemite (depending on exactly where). You could make the same argument about CSU East Bay or for CSU Stanislaus, and Yosemite isn't a draw for either of them. (And they are two of the lower quality cal states, at least for Northern California)

Just opening UC Merced isn't going to make it a world class university. Judging by their stats, the students there are lower quality (on average) than the best of the CSU's, as are those at UC Riverside.

Kevin said...

Where industry locates is only partly under government control. Watsonville has been trying desperately for decades to get some industry to locate there, but few companies have been willing to. Scotts Valley was very successful in boom times, but now has a huge glut of office buildings.

Businesses tend to locate near where their CEOs (or other location decision makers) want to live. If they don't want to live near Merced, then not much that Merced or the state does can change their decisions. (The example of Watsonville, though, indicates that proximity is not enough, as Watsonville is quite close to upscale areas in Aptos.)

The prejudices of the business owners drive location more strongly than rational factors like infrastructure or tax incentives.

UC Merced was a noble experiment in trying to serve the large number of Californians in the Central Valley. Unfortunately, many of the UC-eligible kids in the Central Valley would rather go to the coastal communities for college, so I think that UC Merced is going to have a hard time competing with the other UCs. (Their choice of Kang as a chancellor was a mistake also, as he has no startup drive: he would have been a good caretaker administrator for a campus in steady-state.)