Taxpayers Deserve a Better Return on Their Investment

Imagine walking through a California public school and hearing the voices of students singing “I am special” to the tune of “Frere Jacques.” One might look through the classroom window expecting to see kindergartners about to enjoy Graham crackers and milk — or perhaps a more politically correct snack.

Now back to real life where singing choruses of self-affirming music such as “I Am Special” is part of the curriculum in a college course called “Self Esteem” taught at CSU Fresno.

Students preferring to attend UCLA can enroll in a class on electronic dance music that explores “the political and cultural implications of the relentless hedonism of the dance floor.” And at UC Berkeley they can take a course entitled “Sex Change City: Theorizing History in Genderqueer San Francisco” where they learn all about “the regulation of gender-variant practices in public space by San Francisco’s Anglo-European elites.”

These are just examples of real college courses funded with real tax dollars.

As California faces an unprecedented budget crisis students at California colleges have been asked to pay a greater share of the total cost of their education most of which is still borne by taxpayers. California students pay the lowest community college tuition rates in the nation and taxpayers pay 60-70% of the cost of CSU and UC students’ education without even counting financial aid.

The response to proposed tuition increases has been mass protests by thousands of angry students and a bill by Assemblyman Alberto Torrico to impose an “oil severance tax” — essentially a gas tax that anyone who drives will be forced to pay — to contribute to higher education subsidies.

Assemblyman Torrico cites the need for a “highly-skilled and well-trained workforce” as a reason we all should pay more for gasoline. But already overburdened California taxpayers are starting to ask why they are expected to subsidize the nonsense masquerading as “education” on so many of our campuses?

Let’s be clear the issue here is not academic freedom. The issue is what taxpayers should be expected to fund. If there are students who want to take courses simply for the purpose of personal fulfillment should working Californians be compelled to pay for these classes or should this be the responsibility of those “experiencing” the instruction?

While Torrico is correct that a well educated workforce drives economic growth “well educated” must be defined not merely as a workforce comprised of individuals who have attended college classes but individuals who are equipped to fill 21st century jobs. After all it is these working Californians who will pay the taxes that will allow those who follow to receive a discounted education.

As taxpayers we deserve to know whether we are receiving a worthwhile return on our higher education investment. It’s about time that administrators at our state colleges and universities are held accountable. The next governor could provide a major service to taxpayers by demanding a thorough impartial review to determine which programs and courses provide the greatest bang for taxpayers’ bucks.

As for the fees students must pay to attend a public college if this gives a young person a nudge into the workforce they will graduate far better prepared due to this real world experience. Additionally these students will be much more likely to demand that they receive something of value in return for their money. They will become allies of taxpayers putting pressure on administrators to keep costs down while providing useful curriculums.

California taxpayers are “special” too. They deserve a decent return on their higher education investment.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.