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Lars Walton

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Tuition Is Just the Headline

Posted: 05/23/2012 12:41 pm

Possible tuition increases at the University of California have begun to fill the headlines of newspapers around California. And, as the UC Regents consider yet another tuition increase, the lead stories tend to focus on the single metric of tuition. Please don't get me wrong, the sharp rise in the cost of attending the university for our students has been a black eye on the State of California, and creating untenable challenges particularly to middle-class students.

But the Regents' hands are being forced by the continuing cuts in the state budget. For generations, the UC system was a point of pride for all Californians but today its trademark colors are under siege -- the blue has begun to fade and the gold to tarnish. Most Californians see the stress of the state cuts on UC in the faces of our students and represented on the front page headlines as tuition rises. The deeper story may be a few sections further back in the paper.

In the business section you may read that even as the state budget morass forces students to graduate with increased debt loads, faculty are falling foul of the cuts as well. Take a moment to recall the achievements of the University of California. Faculty and researchers have received 58 Nobel Prizes --25 of them in the last dozen and a half years. In 2010, UC researchers led all U.S. universities in intellectual property with 349 patents, putting them ahead of companies such as Corning, Google and Lockheed Martin. All told the entirety of the university has an annual economic impact of $46.3 billion on California, supporting one out of every 46 jobs in the state. As a result, when the state makes cuts to higher education it undercuts the university's ability to generate these staggering numbers.

UC has been on the leading edge of the California's economic growth in part because of the strength of its superb faculty. When California falters, other states and other universities take note. They create lists of faculty to woo away. And faculty that UC would typically recruit are wary of coming to a state that has begun to eat its seed corn.These lost faculty members mean more than just a lost teacher, mentor or lecturer on our campuses. They are a lost resource, innovator and economic driver for our state. Don't believe me? Take two examples: Chiron and Broadcom.

Chiron, a biotech firm now owned by Novartis, was founded by three UC Berkeley faculty members. Before it sold, it boasted annual revenues of nearly $2 billion and employed 2,400 people. Broadcom, a semiconductor company, was founded by a UCLA faculty member and a graduate student and has revenues of more than $7 billion and employs 10,000 people. Four faculty members, who created thousands of jobs and generated billions in revenues. Think now of the faculty members who are being wooed out of state or those who aren't willing to come. Where are they going to set up their companies? Where will the next Silicon Valley or biotech cluster occur? Texas? Virginia? Michigan? California will not be on that list if the state is unwilling to support their research university and this is the story behind the headlines of tuition increases.

 
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