Monday, October 12, 2009

Some Majors are More Equal than Others

Noticed this story about the UC Regents considering raising the fees charged to students who are either engineers or business majors. This is one of the dumbest things I've heard coming out of the UC Regents (which puts it high in the running for dumbest overall). Off the top of my head, here's what's wrong with this proposal.

1. Antagonizes and singles out teenagers who may or may not end up in the field they major in. Yes, I understand the reasoning of the Regents, which is myopic as usual. Engineers and business majors tend to make more than your average sociology major, therefore they're prime robbery targets for the Regents (think: law students but not as high a ROI). But these are just kids coming out of high school who really don't know what they're doing. Should we tax them for it? Just as an illustration, I was a math major for about 3 hours in undergrad.

2. $900 a year? Really? This is what it's about? There's more faculty at the UC than there are engineering and business students. Cut their salaries. I hear they love it. Or more seriously, if you need the money that bad, then raise the fees across the board. Conservatively estimating UCLA's numbers, there's probably 25 to 26K non-engineering/business students and at most 5K engineering/business (undergrad and grad), but I'm more concerned about the ratio, which comes out to 5/1. Meaning the UC will get the same revenue by raising everyone's fees by $200.

3. There's just something off-putting about charging different fees to different majors. As it is the science kids get hit with higher instructional fees for lab/classroom equipment use.

4. Easy to get around because you don't need to declare a major until junior year. In the case of business at Haas, you enter your junior year. In the case of engineering, you will probably see an increase in students who fulfill GE requirements in L&S or some other school an then apply to transfer over as juniors. Did I mention this just doesn't sound right?

Those are my thoughts. Maybe it's not that different than DE's plan with Boalt.


Blogger Dan said...

Armen, I basically agree with your thesis, but let me play devil's advocate on some of your reasoning.

On your first point, so what? There are probably a bunch of us at Boalt who won't stick with law as a career or wish we didn't have to. It's not like our debt is going to go down. We have to deal with the choice we made to come here. Now, you make the valid point that these are kids just out of high school. On the other hand, they are 18. We are supposed to treat them as adults. Moreover, I'm guessing the percentage of kids whose parents pay for college is much greater than for graduate school. It seems not so bad to make those adults bear the risk, especially when--like my parents--they're probably pressuring their kids to choose a "real" major.

In fact, this tuition hike on the boring but secure majors could encourage kids to seek out more interesting alternatives and perhaps help bring their parents around more easily. It makes the road less traveled seem a bit less perilous, by comparison.

10/12/2009 11:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


There is nothing "boring" about math or science. Considering the relative dearth of students going into these fields, we should not be adding further discouragement.

10/12/2009 11:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Surely part of the equation is that the faculty members in these departments are more highly paid than those in the humanities, for example.

So assuming those faculties are actually worth more, which seems a safe but not certain assumption, these students are enjoying a greater portion of university resources. Shouldn't they pay for that?

In other words, why should poor philosophy students subsidize the educations of the Future Leaders at Haas?

10/12/2009 11:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"boring but secure" is a awfully insulting to many Boalties.

10/12/2009 12:09 PM  
Blogger L'Alex said...

First, I'm not totally convinced by the argument that Haas/Engineering faculty are taking up more university resources than other faculty - John Searle probably commands a salary higher than the best of em' at Haas, and likely teaches far less (i.e. students never actually realize the benefit of having him on payroll, with him spending a majority of time on pet projects.)

Second, let's not forget that the swanky facilities/faculty of the Engineering and Business departments are largely supported by their robust graduate programs. It's not like undergrads are footing the bill for lab supplies and fancy projectors to begin with.

In sum, this type of proposition really grinds my gears. Why don't they just include a Myers-Briggs personality test on undgrad apps and charge tuition commensurate with students' projected future earning ability? It wouldn't be a far cry from this proposition - which clearly reflects the University's shift in priorities from *providing opportunity* to *raking in the cash*.

10/12/2009 12:09 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

11:44, "There is nothing 'boring' about math or science." Really? Nothing? I'm pretty sure there are at least a few boring things about math and science.

12:09, I did not mean to insult anyone, but if I did, get over it. If you think your boring career is exciting, good for you! Why do you care what I think about it? If you're that offended by what I call boring, I think you might have your own career insecurities to deal with.

Anyway, I think it was fairly clear in my comment that I was coming at it from the point of view of someone who felt pressure to choose a career they weren't that interested in for the sake of financial security. That person, who may or may not be me and is definitely not meant to be everyone, finds math, science, business, and engineering boring.

Obviously, this reasoning does not apply to the whole human race. The world is a wild and wonderful place full of vastly different people all jonesing for their own crazy Barbie dreamworld. One person's boredom is another's magic carpet ride.

10/12/2009 3:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


11:44 here. Don't be a jackass. Obviously there are boring parts to any field of study.

Your smug statement that "this tuition hike on the boring but secure majors could encourage kids to seek out more interesting alternatives," implies that math and science are somehow inherently boring.

I was simply responding to that offhand comment and pointing out that math and science can be as interesting as any other major. Obviously some people will think that math is less interesting, but that doesn't seem to be a justification for raising feels.

10/12/2009 4:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dan, what about the perspective of someone who does find math interesting? Why should they have to pay more to go to school just so that other kids get less pressure from their parents.

10/12/2009 4:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd be interested to hear what Dan thinks are "interesting" majors.

10/12/2009 4:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

People with boring majors sure are sensitive.

10/12/2009 5:24 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

4:20/11:44, thanks for continuing to state the obvious. I get that for you and millions of others, math and science are wondrous fields full of magic gumdrops and beautiful tiger-lilies.

Two reminders:

1. We are not talking about a tuition hike on math and science but business and engineering.

2. (this one also goes out to 4:26) I agreed with Armen's point that tuition should not be raised. I was merely pointing out an interesting silver lining for some kids for whom this may inspire second thoughts. It applies only to those kids, and to everyone else, I agree this is a shitty idea.

10/12/2009 6:33 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

4:28, I think almost any major would be more interesting than Engineering or Business including, somewhat surprisingly, Math and Science.

10/12/2009 6:39 PM  
Blogger Armen said...

Fees, not tuition, Dan. For some reason I remain convinced that we must maintain the farcical* illusion that the UC does not charge tuition.

*Bonus points if anyone guesses what iconic, memorable quote this reminds me of.

10/12/2009 6:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd rather be an engineering major than a comparative lit major, for example. Talk about boring!

10/12/2009 6:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


The numbers are there for anyone who bothers to look. John Searle, living legend philosopher, makes a measly 199,000. Andrew Isaacs, an Adjunct Professor at Haas, makes $450,000.

Lots of other Haas folks making twice what Searle does, and I doubt undergrads have much interaction with them either.

10/12/2009 8:41 PM  
Blogger Varty said...

Monty Python perhaps?
Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.

10/12/2009 9:38 PM  
Blogger L'Alex said...

8:41 - That's a great bit of investigative research there, and I stand corrected (although not all Haas professors are also Directors of three programs like Isaacs.)

I think the main point I was trying to make earlier is that there isn't necessarily a correlation between the money that goes into those programs, and the costs that all undergrads realistically contribute to them. I'd venture to guess Haas is funded more by their MBA program and alumni network than by some philosophy student's undergrad fees.

10/13/2009 8:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Students should be free to choose a course of study without worrying that the choice will significantly impact the amount of fees they pay to UC.

Not all engineers make boatloads of money and neither do all business majors.

That should be a no brainer, but I guess anything and everything is possible with the Regents these days.

10/13/2009 11:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Things may have changed, but if I remember correctly from my undergrad days, engineering is a separate college. All the sociology and math and English majors, I think, are in the College of Letters and Science, and engineering at least previously was its own college with separate application procedures for freshmen. In that sense, it could make sense institutionally to set different tuition.

10/13/2009 11:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

exactly what i was going to say. but that also means that the engins and business students would not be subsidising anyone else's educations itself as then you would have three different budgets.

10/14/2009 2:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The regents differential fee proposal basically converts higher education into an a la carte menu where you can order a diploma from one school for a higher fee. It totally flies in the face of education, and it would likely impose new (and unexplored) barriers to features like cross-registration and cross-enrollment in courses among students of different colleges.

Additionally alarming are their proposals for (greater) differential fees by campus, and their general move toward abandoning higher education altogether.

10/18/2009 11:07 PM  

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