SAN FRANCISCO — Five higher education officials, including a representative from UC Berkeley, sat on a panel Wednesday to discuss the value of a college education, addressing concerns such as rising costs at both public and private institutions.
UC Berkeley’s Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Claude Steele joined the panel at the Commonwealth Club, a public affairs forum, alongside other members representing private and public colleges around the Bay Area. They weighed the increasing cost of college against the societal and individual benefits of higher education, and they addressed ways of holding colleges accountable and measuring their performance.
Noting that education is a “labor-intensive industry,” Steele said during the panel that paying highly educated professors creates unavoidable costs. He added that unlike other industries, education usually does not become less expensive with improved technology and that keeping up with advancements can be costly for universities.
“You don’t benefit from technology that makes it cheaper and cheaper to make iPhones, for example,” Steele said. “It doesn’t get cheaper and cheaper to hire professors to do research.”
Members of the panel argued that the rising cost of college must be put into perspective. One-third of graduates from private colleges have no debt, said Richard Ekman, president of the Council of Independent Colleges, and two-thirds have less than $20,000 in debt.
Ekman said in an interview with The Daily Californian that “the privates have learned to do great things with very little money.”
“When the state budget is squeezed, what should it do with a dollar?” he said during the panel. “Should it always go to the public institution, or should it be used to help a student go into a private institution?”
From the perspective of the public universities, however, Steele lamented the declining support in state funding received by the university. He said that there was an era when state support kept tuition at UC Berkeley very low and that public universities “are clawing day and night” to once again reach that ideal, but that lack of funding has forced the university to explore other sources of funding.
“As the state withdraws resources, we have no choice but to rely more on philanthropy,” he said in an interview with the Daily Cal.
The panel also discussed the effectiveness of the on-campus, physical college experience in a world where learning resources are easily available online. Stating that education is inherently social, Mohammad Qayoumi, the president of San Jose State University, said education has to be “contextual,” whether online or in-person.
“Meaningful higher education cannot be duplicated by content delivery,” said Mary Marcy, the president of the Dominican University of California. “Education is actually engaging deeply with questions and working with a guide or mentor who can challenge you to … think more deeply and make mistakes.”
While all members of the panel agreed that colleges should be held accountable for student success, they argued that determining how to measure college performance in teaching skills such as critical thinking or clear communication to students can be difficult.
Steele said in an interview with the Daily Cal that while he does not remember many of his college classes’ content, he does remember the “experiences and interactions” that made him want to be a psychologist.
“I can’t think of one measure to capture that,” he said.