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Richard Rider

Don’t build more CA public colleges

Here’s my guest commentary printed 3/13/20 in the SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE. The U-T invited me to submit this article to present the taxpayer viewpoint — a viewpoint which had been omitted in their recent rah-rah news story hyping the idea of a new CSU campus in Chula Vista.

I’ve included below my full submitted copy which includes URL’s that aren’t included in either the printed or online version the U-T published.  My published submission was slightly (and judiciously) edited down by the U-T, which is fine.

BTW, below my commentary is a wonderful, related story about how National University with online courses is kicking the butts of the traditional bricks and mortar colleges.  The EXCERPT is well worth reading — not so much the full article.

Perhaps MORE important, here’s more evidence I’ve since discovered that the national college student population has been SHRINKING since 2011.  Even in the graph’s 2028 projection, that national student population will still be significantly less than the 2011 peak — in spite of the U.S. having a bigger national general population.  And remember, the general population of the other 49 states has been growing 50% faster than the California population.

If you want to view (and comment on) my published U-T version, here’s the URL:

Here’s my unexpurgated version:

Commentary: State doesn’t need another taxpayer-supported university

by Richard Rider

Doubtless many love the idea of Chula Vista being the site of a new California State University (CSU). It’s something for nothing — it would be paid for by the state taxpayers, yet stimulate the local economy while being a source of pride for the community.

But this proposed CSU expansion fails basic economic and demographic analysis.  It’s simply not needed. Period.

Contrary to what most people think, California’s state population growth is slowing down dramatically.  In the last two years, the population of the other 49 states (states that are also slowing in growth) grew over 50% faster than California.

As slow as California is growing, San Diego County is growing even MORE slowly.  Last year the county population grew by 0.17%. That’s less than 2% a DECADE.

But more important, we have fewer and fewer age 0-17 kids in California.  It’s not just a slowing in growth — we have FEWER kids. Our California 0-17 population peaked in 2004. Since then that population has been shrinking.  EVERY YEAR we have fewer kids living in California than we had the year before. This is an uninterrupted 15 year trend that shows no sign of reversing.

Of course, today’s kids constitute our future college population.  Already we can see that our annual influx of college students will be shrinking year after year for the next two decades.  Why build a brand spankin’ new CSU when we have fewer college students in California?

If this trend of fewer and fewer young people reverses, we’ll have 18 years to prepare for the first uptick in collegiate student demand.  There’s no need to build another CSU campus today for a probably nonexistent demand increase 20 years from now.

Chula Vista CSU boosters will respond that THEIR city’s population has been growing at a good rate, which is true.  Much of the growth in the county has been concentrated there, since the city annexed a bunch of county land in the 1980’s. The Chula Vista population grew 41.9% from 2000 to 2018.  But that growth rate is slowing dramatically — only 11.4% from 2010 to 2018.

Perhaps it would be nice to have a CSU closer to Chula Vista.  But based on the demographics, that would make sense ONLY if we closed or dramatically reduced the size of some OTHER CSU campus. Trust me when I say that such an option will NOT be considered, let alone implemented.

But there’s another major reason we don’t need more collegiate bricks and mortar campuses. Sadly, it took the coronavirus to draw public attention to this fact.  This spring almost all colleges in America are closing down — but continuing the students’ education via online classes.

Online education — public and private — has been quietly growing at a rapid pace, much to the consternation of the education labor union bosses.  The quality of online courses continues to improve.

Instead of having a graduate TA (teaching assistant) instructing a class with a heavy accent, students can electronically tap into the all-star professors who do a far superior job of educating and challenging students.  Visual and graphic options can enhance such education. If a student “doesn’t get it” the first time, they can play the lecture back again. And BTW, fewer commutes = less pollution.

Classes don’t have to be totally online. Maybe classes would still meet one day a week, rather than three days a week. Whatever the degree of change fostered by online education, it’s clear that there will be less and less demand for classrooms — particularly in the liberal arts.

A well-funded cabal of strange bedfellows will doubtless unite, trying to make this unneeded project a reality. Local politicians of both parties, labor unions, construction companies, local media and others will combine to push a well-funded campaign to get the public to think a new CSU campus is a great idea.  After all, it will be paid for out of the California state budget “surplus”!

Sadly, that state surplus was always an illusion.  Even that illusion disappeared with the current stock market collapse.

This Chula Vista CSU will cost hundreds of millions to build.  But in addition, legions of highly paid university bureaucrats will be needed, along with a few professors and janitors — an ongoing annual waste of scarce taxpayer dollars.

Don’t do it.

* * *

RIDER ADDENDUM: Thanks to the coronavirus, National University, a college with a strong emphasis on their students taking classes online, is now gently kicking the collectiv(ist) butts of the traditional bricks and mortar universities. National U. is temporarily offering ALL of its online classes for FREE through June. The credits for these classes are usually transferable to other colleges — you know, the ones still trying to figure out how online instruction works!


. . . San Diego’s National University has a different model, and the school moved quickly this week to appeal to the masses.

The school, which specializes in online education, announced that it will waive tuition during April, May and June for all of its classes, many of which cover the same core material that’s taught in the UC and CSU systems, and at the state’s community colleges. Credit for the classes is usually transferable.

“We have experience online,” said Michael Cunningham, chancellor of the National University System. “We can be a stop-gap for schools who are temporarily moving online.”

To drive home the point, Cunningham contacted the leaders of UCSD, SDSU and the San Diego Community College District to let them know that National could help the schools ease the burden through the spring. Cunningham sees a potential tipping point — a moment in which the public more broadly recognizes the value of online courses.