Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Three to Read--Higher Education Edition

Last month, my oldest child turned 11, that means in seven years she will be making a decision about going to college and which college to attend.  Considering that eight years ago, just after her birthday, we were in London and that seems like just yesterday, higher education is starting to creep in to my mind (not to mention the difficulty of paying for said higher education--scholarships anyone?).  So, here are a few higher education related stories:

The Cost Driver Behind that Big Tuition Bill--Administrators!
Tuition continues to rise, outstripping inflation in most cases, despite efforts by some states to institute tuition freezes and the like.  What is driving those costs--administrative bloat perhaps?  Benjamin Ginsburg at Minding the Campus talks about wasteful administrators.  First the history:

Today's great universities were created by faculty who-contrary to the myth of the impractical professor-often turned out to be excellent entrepreneurs and managers.  Over the last several decades, however, America's universities have been taken over by a burgeoning class of administrators and staffers determined to transform colleges into top-heavy organizations run by inept bureaucrats. 
To professors, the purpose of the university is education and research, and the institution is a means of accomplishing these ends.  To the professional deanlets and deanlings, though, the means has become the end.  Teaching and research have been relegated to vehicles for generating revenue by attracting customers to what administrators view as a business-an emporium that under the management of the deanlets may be peddling increasingly shoddy goods. 

Next, an example of the problem:

One typical example of administrative bloat and its consequences was illustrated by the American Association of University Professors and featured in a 2012 report by John Hechinger of Bloomberg News.  Between 2001 and 2010, the number of tenure and tenure-track faculty at Purdue, of one of America's great land grant universities, increased 12 percent while the number of graduate teaching assistants actually declined by 26 percent.  Student enrollments in this decade increased by about 5 percent. 
During the same period, though, the number of administrators employed by the university increased by an astonishing 58 percent and resident tuition rose from just under $1400 to nearly $9000 per year in a pattern that appears highly correlated with administrative growth.  One $172,000 per year associate vice provost had been hired to oversee the work of committees charged with considering a change in the academic calendar-a change that had not yet even been approved.  Since the average Purdue graduate leaves school with about $27,000 in debt, the salary of this functionary is equivalent to the education loans of six students.
This new administrator blithely told the Bloomberg reporter, "My job is to make sure these seven or eight committees are aware of what's going on in the other committees."  At the same school, the chief marketing officer earns $253,000 and the chief diversity officer $198,000 per year.  The marketing officer spent $500,000 to "rebrand" the university, developing the slogan, "We are Purdue. Makers, all. What we make moves the world forward."  Very catchy, indeed!  Perhaps the marketing department could develop a slogan that would help explain to parents and students why they must take on more and more debt to pay the salaries of ever-growing hordes of administrative parasites. 

A statistical model and a solution:
A recent paper by two respected economists, Robert Martin and R. Carter Hill, shows that the fiscally optimal ratio of administrators to faculty at research universities is one full-time administrator for every three faculty.    Deviations from this ratio produced significantly higher costs per student.  The unfortunate reality as Martin and Hill found is that the ratio has almost been reversed--2 administrators to one faculty.  Martin and Hill's findings suggest, moreover, that about two-thirds of the growth in higher education costs between 1987 and 2008 can be attributed to the rise of administrative power during this period.


I would suggest-and I fully recognize the mischievous nature of this suggestion--that university, and perhaps other non-profit boards as well, should be subject to the requirements of the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act from which they are currently exempt.  For most schools, this would entail enhanced Board accountability for administrative actions, the creation of an independent audit committee, an organizational procedure for the protection of whistle blowers, a formal process for the identification and selection of new board members and a strengthening of conflict of interest rules.          
I believe that if Board members were legally more accountable for administrative conduct they would be more cautious about whom they hired to manage the university and would also pay closer attention to what those individuals did once appointed. Perhaps if they were held to account, Boards would be careful not to turn over their campuses to the high-handed and profligate presidents who seem all too common in the world of higher education.  Indeed, in order to avoid trouble, Boards might even find it useful to fully consult the faculty on matters of administrative hiring and retention.

Read the whole thing.

Social Education for Professionals
I do not find it surprising that too many of our recent college graduates have no idea how to navigate even the most basic challenges of the work world.  I have seen for myself some of the most basic failings, such as recent graduates and near graduates coming to interviews in wholly inappropriate attire, inability to talk about even the most recent news in a small talk environment, or new hires who consider office hours to be an "optional" concern.  Part of the problem is that these young people never learned them at home (a fact of life that will be addressed in my household).  So colleges are offering optional "etiquette" courses:

More than a third of managers think their youngest hires act less professionally than their predecessors, according to a national survey by the Center for Professional Excellence at York College in Pennsylvania. 
“A good resume and a degree only gets you to the table,” says Matthew Randall, the center’s director. “Professional behaviors are what gets you a job. And what colleges are trying to do is help these students develop the behaviors that employers want.”


And it’s not just communicating that appears to challenge this latest group of college students. It’s mingling, networking, handling conflict, eating—even dressing.
“Students don’t really know what’s meant by professional dress, whether it’s a young lady wearing a skirt that’s way too short or a young man whose pants aren’t really tailored,” says MIT’s Hamlett. “Most students just roll out of bed in whatever it is they want to wear. There’s this ‘come as you are’ about being a college student.”

Colleges blame in part an entitlement mentality of the millennial generation raised by helicopter parents hovering so much, but certainly the art of face to face communication and social aptitude are disappearing.  

College Preparation Gap?
Of greater concern to many college professors and education thinkers is the lack of preparation among high school students for college.  Check out the infographic about preparation conducted by Hobson's.

Some key take-aways:

  • 92% of high school students say they are going to college, but only 68% actually enroll and fewer still graduate within 6 years of matriculation.
  • More than 2 out of 3 students (69%) were very concerned or extremely concerned about their academic preparation for college.  Which is not surprising since....
  • 1 out of every 2 new students in two year colleges are placed in remedial classes.  Among new enrollees of four year colleges, 1 in 5 find themselves in remedial classes.  Student concerns about preparedness are not unfounded.

So there is room for criticism in our secondary education system as well.
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