UC San Diego chancellor addresses high education costs at LJ Rotary lunch


Rotary Club of La Jolla


Noon, Tuesdays at Cuvier Club, 7776 Eads Ave. (Meetings return to La Valencia Hotel on Nov. 5)


Top Tier University

Shanghai Jiao Tong University recently ranked UC San Diego 14th best university in the world, while

Washington Monthly

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.

“If you look at our student body, we don’t have enough Latinos and we don’t have enough African Americans,” he said.

“I’m not saying there has to be a 1-to-1 (ratio), but there has to be a critical mass so that every student, when he or she attends UC San Diego feels like they belong — they see the role models … they see a community out there of similar thinkers and similar backgrounds.”

To boost access to higher education in the region, Khosla and UCSD have taken three schools from disadvantaged areas under their wing, providing free tuition to students who apply and meet admission guidelines (part of UCSD’s participation in the Achieve UC program). So far, 45 first-generation college students have been admitted from these schools, Khosla said.

“For me, as chancellor, one of my biggest challenges is to make sure that the public university does not become an elitist university, where only people who can afford to pay can come,” he said. “It should be an elite university for the pubic.”

Khosla said another challenge will be to increase a sense of connection to the university for current students and alumni, the latter of which contributed only 2 percent to the $1 billion capital campaign spearheaded by former chancellor Marye Anne Fox (the national average contribution to university fundraising campaigns by alumni is 50 percent).

Asked by a Rotarian to comment on the college admissions process for high school students and their families, Khosla said, “It creates more turmoil than it needs to.”

The number of applications universities receive across the nation has risen markedly.

“It’s not that the number of college-(bound) students in the is country went up,” Khosla said.

“What’s happening is the same kid is applying to 20 colleges instead of five, and it’s all becoming more and more competitive.”

Questioned about the status of liberal arts programs within a research university, Khosla said he believes they play a crucial role in preparing students to become critical thinkers and adapt to changes in technology by utilizing both the right and left brain.

However, he noted, “It’s also the most difficult to maintain because the feds don’t want to fund it. … The Republicans think this research is making people too liberal. The liberal people think that this research is trying to make people more conservative — and that’s not really a good way to think about research.

“Seeking the truth should be independent of whether you like the answer or not.”

In other Rotary news

Western-themed dinner

: Rotarian and western art collector Orrin Gabsch will host a sit-down dinner at his home, 4:30 p.m. Sunday. Oct. 6 to raise money for the club. A board member of the Oklahoma City-based National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, Gabsch assured his collection, including paintings, kachina dolls, turquoise-inlaid whistles and Native American pottery will show, “There’s more to western art than cowboys and Indians.”

‘Real Crime’ lunch

: Rotary Club of La Jolla and Kiwanis Club of La Jolla will host a joint luncheon presentation by former FBI Special agent Keith Slotter and TV personality Lynn Stuart, comparing real life crime with how it is presented on TV, noon, Sept. 24 at the Cuvier Club, 7776 Eads Ave.

Slotter is co-creator and host of “San Diego’s Most Wanted—FBI Files,” Saturday nights on the San Diego Fox network.

The cost is $27 at