Shanghai Jiao Tong University recently ranked UC San Diego 14th best university in the world, while
magazine soon after dubbed the university No. 1 in the nation (a nod it has received since 2010).
By Pat Sherman
UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep Khosla delivered some sobering statistics during the Aug. 20 meeting of the Rotary Club of La Jolla: the annual cost for a UCSD student living on campus is about $40,000. Meanwhile, the median income for a family of four in the United States is just $45,000.
“That is really a problem facing American higher education right now,” Khosla said, noting that as the cost of education continues to soar, “the number of people who cannot afford it without taking out too much in loans is going down.”
Though education costs are rising faster than inflation, Khosla said the real culprit is the decline of the American middle class.
While research institutes such as UCSD were evolving over the past five decades — initially spurred by the need for more lab research during World War II —the country and economy benefited from their contributions tremendously, Khosla said.
“When we were busy generating all this wealth to make everybody’s life better, the best thing was that this wealth was distributed reasonably evenly,” he said. “That means the middle class was growing in this country.”
Fast forward to 2010 and beyond. “The wealth is not being distributed evenly and there is a bigger divide now between the rich and the poor,” Khosla said, adding that the smaller the middle class, the closer the U.S. moves toward becoming a third-world country.
“It’s going to take decades,” Khosla said, “but I think we are on that trajectory — and I think the American public university has an obligation to make sure that we don’t go down that path. …
“That means that I have to focus a lot on raising money for scholarships and making sure that this education is accessible and affordable to one and all — the rich, the middle class and the poor, and that is not a simple challenge.”
Role of a public university
Though UCSD remains a public university, Khosla said many schools in the UC system are increasingly regarded as private institutions, “for all intents and purposes.”
UCSD’s revenues are about $3.6 billion per year. However, it only receives $250 million from the state to educate nearly 30,000 students and pay some 15,000 employees.
“People tell me, ‘Only 6 percent of your budget comes from the state; why are you (considered) a public university?’” Khosla said.
However, he said being labeled a public university is not only about how much money UCSD receives from the state, but “what it perceives its mission to be.”
To that end, Khosla said UCSD is focused on ways to better serve the public, and increase access to higher education.