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K. Lloyd Billingsley - Contributor
[Courtesty of Pacific Research Institute]

K. Lloyd Billingsley is Editorial Director for the Pacific Research Institute and has been widely published on topics including on popular culture, defense policy, education reform, and many other current policy issues. [go to Billingsley index]

March Madness
Students' unworthy protests...
[K. Lloyd Billingsley] 3/26/04

On March 15, some 5,000 community college students, more by some counts, descended on California's capitol, hoisting signs, denouncing the governor and bellowing that they had been betrayed. The casual observer might have wondered if this was a protest against the war in Iraq. Turns out, it was something else.

Buried deep in news stories about the event came the revelation that the protest was over a raise in college per-unit fees from $18 to $26. Even though the students were products of California's K-12 system, in which about half of the best high-school graduates need remedial math, they could figure out that the increase amounts to a paltry $8. That is, about half the price of a CD, a fraction of the cost of the latest sneakers, and about what one might spend for lunch in some local eateries.

The organizers sought favorable media coverage and got it. In their leads, news stories described a "44-percent" increase in college fees, which sounds much more draconian than eight dollars. One story did point out that even at $26, the fees are still the cheapest in the nation. But to hear some of the students, one would think that the governor had shut down the entire college system.

To the contrary, California's master plan makes room for every student who wants to attend college, whether at the University of California, the Cal State system, or one of the 109 community colleges. California taxpayers subsidize every full-time community college student to the tune of $4,500 per student. On top of that, Cal-Grants, Pell Grants, and other forms of aid are readily available.

Education is not free, and it is reasonable that students pay some of the cost. In a state facing huge deficits because of reckless spending, it is reasonable that those costs may increase. Instead of complaining over $8, the students would do well to protest the bureaucratic overhead in the college system, and more broadly in state government.

An investigation of administrative salaries, for example, could prove enlightening. Legislators should also look into those matters, and learn the lesson of march madness.

The $8 protest should topple the stereotype of students as victims, a legacy of the sixties when the issue was American involvement in Vietnam. Today's sixties re-enactors march to inherit that legacy. But the sound and fury of political street theater does not mean that the marchers occupy the moral high ground, that the facts are on their side, or that their protest is worthy of serious attention from legislators.

Instead of allowing themselves to be leveraged, legislators and the press should extend extra scrutiny to causes that claim to represent all students and cast them as victims. CRO

copyright 2004 Pacific Research Institute




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