Saturday, March 28, 2015

More money!

A friend of mine on facebook was angry about cuts in state funding to the University of Wisconsin. I posted this in response. For some people, more money is the only answer; accountability for how that money is being spent and what it is buying never enters into it. More, more more! is the only thing they think about:


A lot of people have lost faith that their money is being spent wisely by public universities.

Much has been written in recent years about the bloat in administration in colleges and universities. What used to be done by committees of faculty, now is
being done by full time administrators. There are lots of new administrators, deans, coordinators, all with staff, but with little educational value. From 1993 to 2007 the number of administrators at UW-Madison went up 32% (on a per-student basis), while the number of instruction and research employees went up only 5%--this in a period when enrollment went up about 4% and tuition literally doubled ( ).

In addition, ridiculous amenities, things like University of North Florida's lazy river, make a lot of news, and make people wonder about how good all those administrators are at spending the money they are getting.

At the same time, the student loan scam is finally beginning to bite. Taking out massive loans to study things that won't help you get a job and *pay* for your loans is finally being recognized as a bad idea. (Yes, education for education's sake is a lovely thought, but not if it means going into tens of thousands of dollars of inescapable debt to do it.) More and more press is being given to the people paying off loans all of their lives, preventing them from getting married, buying houses, and having kids. People are beginning the long process of reevaluation of just what all the loan money, tuition money, and tax money is buying.

I'd add in the problem of part-time instructors who are brought in on a contract basis to do much of the teaching. They get hired or not hired based substantially on student evaluations--which means the easiest graders usually win out. A tough teacher who doesn't give all A's gets booted. Fun for the individual students who get to spend more time waiting in line at the keg or at the tricked-out rec center, but in the long run bad for the universities whose whole reason for being is to actually educate--not give out A's. Studies showing college and university students are paying much more, while studying substantially less don't help either. The value of the education students are getting is under more and more scrutiny.

Public universities preference for out-of-state and international students, who pay more in tuition, is also pissing off the tax-paying public in many states. Here in Cal., the UC system had to come out publicly this year and say that the number of in-state students would be held constant--because more and more parents who pay taxes for 18 years are pissed that their kids can't get in.

If public universities want increased dollars, then they need to think about how they can restore the faith of the people of their states--the people who elect the representatives who vote on things like giving them more money.

I'd suggest that they start by streamlining the administration, and refocusing tightly on providing useful education.

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