Make Professors Teach!

A new study finds that college tuition costs could be cut in half if lazy professors got off their butts.

Wall Street Journal has put a provocative article by Richard Vetter titled “Time to Make Professors Teach” behind a paywall, cleverly ensuring few will read it. The subhead, “My new study suggests a simple way to cut college tuition in half” is intriguing but not enough so to entice me to subscribe.

The Big Picture‘s Marion Maneker has provided two excerpts which at least give us a clue as to Vedder’s thesis.

In a study for the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, Christopher Matgouranis, Jonathan Robe and I concluded that tuition fees at the flagship campus of the University of Texas could be cut by as much as half simply by asking the 80% of faculty with the lowest teaching loads to teach about half as much as the 20% of faculty with the highest loads. The top 20% currently handle 57% of all teaching.

For readers unfamiliar with the structure of major research universities, this will be even more shocking:

[A]t UT Austin, a mere 20% of the faculty garner 99.8% of the external research funding. [M]uch research consists of obscure articles published in even more obscure journals on topics of trivial importance. Mark Bauerlein, a professor of English at Emory University, once estimated that 21,000 articles have been written on Shakespeare since 1980. Wouldn’t 5,000 have been enough? Canadian scholar Jeffrey Litwin, looking at 70 leading U.S. universities, concluded the typical cost of writing a journal article is about $72,000.

As someone whose academic career was spent at “teaching schools” and whose published writings are mostly for mass audiences rather than the specialized journals, I’m highly sympathetic to these arguments. Outside the hard sciences, I’d guess few scholarly articles are sufficiently influential to merit $72,000 in reduced teaching load.

Still, the numbers above could be highly misleading. At the University of Alabama, where I did my doctoral work, most professors taught two classes a semester compared to the four that I would later teach at Chattanooga and Troy. The rationale was that they’d spend half their time teaching and the other half doing research. But the overall statistics would have been skewed by the inclusion of faculty in the sciences who taught a lot of labs and thus inflated their course totals, the various specialty teachers (physical education, music, etc.) who weren’t scholars and taught very heavy loads, and non-tenure-track lecturers and the like.

Thankfully, while the WSJ article isn’t available, the study to which is refers (“Faculty Productivity and Costs at The University of Texas at Austin“) is PDF‘d on the Center for College Affordability and Productivity’s website. Vedder is an economist at Ohio University and an adjunct scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. His co-authors are an undergraduate and a research associate at CCAP.

Additional statistics from the Executive Summary:

  • 20 percent of UT Austin faculty are teaching 57 percent of student credit hours. They also generate 18 percent of the campus’s research funding. This suggests that these faculty are not jeopardizing their status as researchers by assuming such a high level of teaching responsibility.
  • Conversely, the least productive 20 percent of faculty teach only 2 percent of all student credit hours and generate a disproportionately smaller percentage of external research funding than do other faculty segments.
  • Non-tenured track faculty teach a majority of undergraduate enrollments and a surprising 31 percent of graduate enrollments.
  • The most active researchers teach nearly the average of all faculty; increasing teaching loads of others would trivially impact outside research support.

Again, though, much of this could be skewed by disciplinary practice. In some of the hard sciences, teaching and research are much more complimentary than they are in, say, the humanities. A biologist or anthropologist can have his graduate students do a lot of his field research as a practical exercise in labs. An English professor, by contrast, needs course relief to write papers. (One can debate the relative value of the research products. But they’re simply different animals.)

Vedder and company issue numerous disclaimers about the preliminary nature of their findings. But this is especially crucial: “A final analysis of the data would require controlling for various factors (such as differences in the teaching and research loads of part-time faculty compared to full-time faculty as well as the per-student costs associated with teaching) as well as corrections to any anomalies in the raw dataset.” So, apparently, they’re considering adjunct faculty (who do no research and are not part of the core fabric of the university community) and graduate teaching assistants (whose research doesn’t count) in their numbers.

This is an absurd skew. In fact, it undermines the entire paper. Yes, UT-Austin could dramatically reduce its tuition if it fired all of its research faculty and replaced them with cheap adjuncts. Less radically, it could require heavier teaching loads of tenured tenure-track faculty. At which point it would cease being the state’s flagship university and would be either Austin Community College or Stephen F. Austin State University.

Indeed, my takeaway from “Non-tenured track faculty teach a majority of undergraduate enrollments and a surprising 31 percent of graduate enrollments” is not “Well, shoot, they could teach more!” but “This borders on fraud.” I’ve resigned myself to TAs and adjuncts teaching some of the large survey courses–hell, I did that myself as a TA at Alabama. One can argue that having finished one’s dissertation isn’t prerequisite to teaching the basic material. But the notion of non-professionals teaching graduate courses is troublesome, at least in the academic disciplines. I can see that value of a distinguished non-academic teaching a seminar in an MBA or even Master’s in Public Administration program. But the vast majority of the coursework should be theoretically grounded.

The findings are further skewed by this odd technique: They’re looking at teaching in terms of “student credit hours.” That is, they’re multiplying the number of students in each course by the number of credit hours it’s worth. Thus, a 3-credit hour survey class with 300 students counts as 900 student credit hours whereas as 6 student graduate seminar counts as a measly 18 hours. To put it another way: the survey class is 50 times as valuable as the seminar. Not to put too fine a point on it, that’s utter horseshit.

But it explains the wild disparity in teaching loads: the top quintile are primarily either TAs, adjuncts, and junior faculty who get assigned the less desirable survey courses while the bottom quintile are senior professors who teach nothing but small seminars. Which, incidentally, at least partly explains why those with the biggest teaching loads are nonetheless productive in terms of attracting grants and producing research: Junior faculty are fresh, often have publishable work (in the form of their dissertation) in their pocket, and highly motivated to publish.

Now, again, I’m skeptical of a lot of what passes for scholarly productivity. In my own field of political science, the flagship journals are so statistically laden and focused on obscure topics that most of the articles are inaccessible not only to policymakers but to other political scientists. Further, the publish or perish ethic has moved down even to regional “teaching schools,” fostering a proliferation of journals that exist solely to meet the internal demand from political scientists to get published. The vast majority of published articles aren’t read even by people in the subfields to which they’re targeted; there’s simply too much new material each month to keep up with it all.

That said, research feeds teaching. If university education is to be more than “13th grade,” professors have to continually learn. And the best way to do that is to explore one’s research interests, which forces digging into books, articles, and other materials.  Ideally, this contributes incrementally to the knowledge in the discipline. But it almost invariably improves the knowledge of the faculty, who can pass it on to their students.

Hat tip: John Personna

 

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Education
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. john personna says:

    Thank you for the thorough review.

    I think that if one thing answers “If university education is to be more than ’13th grade,’” it is “21,000 articles have been written on Shakespeare since 1980.”

    We also had the President’s speech on matching community college skills to jobs.

    Not unrelated. This seems a bad time for US education funding to be spinning more Shakespeare studies.

  2. john personna says:

    Or put differently, we have petabytes of human knowledge at this point. It is simply not possible to fill students to the brim in 4 years. Even PhDs must needs-be surveys, of the frontier perhaps, but surveys nonetheless.

    So no, at some point, with some number of petabytes out there, it isn’t really necessary to have knowlege-creation to teach.

    Indeed, that hot new word, “curation,” might prevail.

  3. James Joyner says:

    @john personna: But community colleges, for the most part, aren’t the one’s spinning Shakespeare studies. They’re teaching very remedial English writing courses.

    But just because there’s a need for more training on the low end doesn’t mean that people who attend universities, especially elite universities, can’t study Shakespeare. English majors actually come away with useful communications and analytical skills that translate into pretty much any non-technical jobs.

    Ultimately, the conflation of education and training is one that should be avoided. Universities exist for the former. High schools, community colleges, and tech schools exist for the latter.

  4. James Joyner says:

    @john personna: Most teaching will continue to be curation. Indeed, most research is essentially curation–taking disparate bits of existing knowledge and repackaging it in a useful way. One good trend in recent years has been the reemergence of cross-disciplinary study. Almost all of that is a matter of curation and presenting to new audiences through a different filter. That’s great for teaching and knowledge creation.

  5. john personna says:

    I think the reason Obama chose community colleges to start with was that they are best suited for change, and the least “lost,” of our higher institutions. Even they, though, have fallen victim to the college-loan-tuition value network.

    On curation and publication, I’m not sure that Ritholtz really recognized the nature of that $72,000 tab. If it is a good number, it isn’t just producer-side. It should also include the structure and overhead for peer-review.

    My question would be whether curation, in line with organizing a curriculum, needs to be peer reviewed publication (and not just a web entity).

    We will definitely need the peer review structure going forward, for critical roles like medical research, but as necessary for maintaining undergraduate education? I think not.

  6. john personna says:

    Ultimately, the conflation of education and training is one that should be avoided. Universities exist for the former. High schools, community colleges, and tech schools exist for the latter.

    BTW for this to be true, you need to kick all technical degrees (such as my chemistry or computer science) down to the community colleges.

    I can read the classics after I’ve got my beach city condo (and did).

  7. James Joyner says:

    Computer science is increasingly pushed out to tech schools, no? Serious chemists still require a university degree, if not a graduate degree. But don’t we want them to be at least somewhat educated?

  8. george says:

    BTW for this to be true, you need to kick all technical degrees (such as my chemistry or computer science) down to the community colleges.

    Which would be kind of fun – Phd’s from community colleges winning Nobel Prizes in physics, chemistry and medicine has a certain ring to it.

    I think they’re going to find that science and engineering is very different than the humanities in this; as was pointed out, most lab research in those fields is actually carried out by graduate students, who also end up teaching many of the classes. As well, having twenty thousand papers on say stress analysis of metals is arguably more useful (at least economically) than twenty thousand papers on Shakespeare. If the research isn’t done in universities it will be done in private industry, which will be reluctant to publish results.

  9. george says:

    BTW, I should add that I think that at the undergrad level science and engineering students should be required to take more humanities (especially history) classes, and humanity students should be required to take more science classes. Everyone with a bachelor’s degree should be able to give a good account of say the last four thousand years of human history, explain their nation’s governmental structure (in a well written essay of course), explain why the sky is blue, and solve a simple differential equation.

  10. Franklin says:

    Computer science is increasingly pushed out to tech schools, no?

    I don’t know if that’s true, but that might help explain why the newest crop of programmers couldn’t code their way out of a paper bag.

  11. jfxgillis says:

    James:

    adjunct faculty (who …. are not part of the core fabric of the university community)

    The hell you say.

  12. Dr. Joyner, I think your view of Computer Science is incorrect, and yes I may be biased in my assessment as I have a degree in Math/CS from one of the best universities. To begin with programming is part of Computer Science, but only part of it. As I recall, programming per se actually only comprised two of my undergraduate classes, though we did some programming in most of them. I have seen many, many programmers that do not have a sufficient foundation in computer science and mathematics to handle complex design issues where it is important to understand some theory about how informatrion is stored and processed and why some algorithms work better than others in different situations. In my personal experience, I have encountered programmers from four year universities who weren’t even aware there were different sorting algorithms available, much less why you would use them in different contexts. But I digress.

  13. Cynical Traveler says:

    I’d be curious if there might be an opportunity for increased specialization rather than looking at individual loading per se. For example, I suspect that it’s much more difficult to find great teachers who are also great researchers than individuals who are exceptional at one or the other. Yet the current university system requires professors to be good at both, with research often weighted much more heavily for professional success. The result is that you end up with researchers who have little incentive to teach, or teach well. The fact that many do so is impressive but probably not optimal.

    While it’s true that good teachers need to be plugged in to their fields, it’s not clear to me that they need to be physically conducting research to have that knowledge base. If there were an opportunity to have strong teachers as a career track, with strong researchers to support them and the university reputationally (and in hard sciences, to offer hands-on opportunities to students), I suspect it might be more cost-effective on the whole.

  14. steve says:

    I think this sums up as an attack on the humanities. Is it worthwhile teaching our kids literature and history? Sociology and psychology? How about dance and art? Political science? Those who want college to be vocational training want to eliminate many of those courses. Since some of those courses teach kids how to think, and not everyone is going to be an engineer, I think we need to preserve the humanities.

    We need to find more cost effective ways to teach. We need to look at the trend for the elite and elite wannabe schools sinking lots of money into peripherals like dining halls and dorms. We need to tie student loans to some kind of performance measure. However, as long as parents are willing to pay, college costs will keep going up this quickly. Note that about 10% of families use expensive counseling services ($400/hour for some) to get their kids into these expensive schools.

    Steve

  15. Franklin says:

    I am in complete agreement with your entire post, charles.

  16. hey norm says:

    “… 21,000 articles have been written on Shakespeare since 1980. Wouldn’t 5,000 have been enough?”
    this strikes me as one of those claims like mccain was making about the dna study of bears in montana. to the un-initiated it sounds like a reasonable argument. but of course, it is completely specious in nature. why in the world did edison waste his time with 700 light bulbs that didn’t work?

  17. JKB says:

    Ultimately, the conflation of education and training is one that should be avoided. Universities exist for the former. High schools, community colleges, and tech schools exist for the latter.

    Which really means there is a higher ed bubble. Only a damn fool would go thousands of dollars in non-dischargeable debt to gain an education that didn’t offer some reasonable prospect of improved employment. How smart will that look when they are garnishing your social security check? So without the training myth, universities lose their cash cow.

    And if universities really believed in education separate from training, why do they have career centers?

  18. First, I work at a “teaching” institution (i.e., I have, relative to my colleagues at a place like Texas, a heavy teaching load and also far less research/publication obligations).

    Second, I have no problem with the generic idea that there is room for reform in the US’ university system.

    Third, however, I will say this: I have worked with/known faculty who do no research and just focus on teaching, and those who do research alongside their teaching. There is no doubt in my mind that the better professors (and teachers) are almost invariably the ones who also have some type of active research and writing agenda (even at teaching-intensive institutions).

    If you decided that most university faculty do not need to have a research agenda, you will convert universities to nothing more than 4 more years of high schoolesque instruction.

  19. Tlaloc says:

    Not to put too fine a point on it, that’s utter horseshit.

    I LOL’d at the bluntness.

    I find the topic interesting as someone who is looking at going back to academia as a posible career after a decade in the “real world” (I went back to school after the economy fell apart with an eye on a PhD in computer science).

  20. James Joyner says:

    @jfxgillis: My experience is limited to a handful of schools in the Deep South, so I may not have the complete picture. But, generally speaking, adjuncts show up to teach their classes, maybe hold an office hour or two, and then leave campus. They’re simply not a part of the academic life in the way that permanent faculty and graduate students, who spend most of their days on campus, are.

    @JKB: For the same reason universities have dining facilities: to provide useful services to enhance the student experience. Indeed, if the classes were teaching the students how to do and find jobs, why would they need separate career centers?

  21. But, generally speaking, adjuncts show up to teach their classes, maybe hold an office hour or two, and then leave campus.

    I concur. Further, adjunct faculty (normally, at least) no requirements to serve on committees or to engage is what is typically described as “service” as part of their jobs.

    Heck, they don’t usually get paid all that well, so they tend to do specifically what they are hired to do (teach Class X) and nothing more.

  22. john personna says:

    JKB nailed it.

    People who want to provide metaphysical “education” have bound themselves to career readiness claims, not vis versa. Hence $50k history degrees, and the requirement that engeneers drop $10k on general ed classes along the way.

    Anyone who can complete a technical degree has the smarts to read the classics later to profit from them. Heck most last century great thinkers did just that. They did not need intermediaries.

    Our structure forces those intermediaries on modern career oriented students in order to piggyback humanity departments on the jobs promise.

  23. john personna says:

    Btw anyone should be able to see how the GE requirement changes over time. Perhaps 30 years ago it started with a good spirit, but it became inculcated as a departmental funding mechanism. Gain one more unit in the requirement for History and the department expands. This even in an era where high price degrees are justified by the career promise.

  24. george says:

    Anyone who can complete a technical degree has the smarts to read the classics later to profit from them. Heck most last century great thinkers did just that. They did not need intermediaries.

    The problem, with both reading science (anyone can pick up say Goldstein’s book on Classical Mechanics) or History (say Toynbee’s), is that its easy to come away with faulty understanding unless its discussed (or argued) with others. In the science its the difference between reading a chapter and thinking you understand it, and being able to do the chapter problems correctly. In history its being able to make a convincing argument for your interpretation to another informed person.

    The point of everyone taking at least some science and humanities is that you’re forced to test your understanding as part of the process … if nothing else, you don’t walk away thinking that you have a complete understanding of the topic. This btw is the main point of the Phd oral defense in the sciences … afterwards you’ll have your Phd but will realize how little you really understand well. Curiously enough, people with bachelor’s degrees in science are much more confident of their understanding than those with doctorates – everything is simple when first read, but gets more difficult as you go in depth.

    Those great thinkers didn’t need the school system for that, as they tended to discuss (read as argue) with their friends and colleagues. That’s not so common today, which is why you get so many strange opinions (about both science and history) from people who’ve done their own reading.

  25. This btw is the main point of the Phd oral defense in the sciences … afterwards you’ll have your Phd but will realize how little you really understand well. Curiously enough, people with bachelor’s degrees in science are much more confident of their understanding than those with doctorates – everything is simple when first read, but gets more difficult as you go in depth.

    Indeed. As I often tell my students: the more you know, the more you realize that you don’t know.

    In fact, this is one of multiple reasons why requiring ongoing research with peer reviews is crucial for higher education in general.

  26. I find it interesting that students in the hard sciences seem to have a lot more requirements to learn liberal arts than liberal arts students have to learn absolutely anything about the hard sciences. Heck, the liberal arts folks seem to brag about not being able to do math from time to time. I suppose if I want to be mean I might also say the hard science folks also have more aptitude and interest in doing cross-disciplinary studies. Do the soft sciences generally learn anything outside of statistics from the hard sciences?

  27. @Charles:

    I find it interesting that students in the hard sciences seem to have a lot more requirements to learn liberal arts than liberal arts students have to learn absolutely anything about the hard sciences.

    While certainly the specific requirement for school to school vary, I do not think that this is an accurate statement.

  28. James Joyner says:

    @charles austin: Every college I’ve ever been affiliated with required basic math and science education. Since the University of Texas at Austin is the focus of the post, let’s look at their core curriculum:

    First-Year Signature Course (Texas core code 090)
    One of the following courses, completed during the first year in residence:
    Undergraduate Studies 302 or 303
    Students in the Plan II Honors Program may complete this requirement by taking Tutorial Course 302
    English Composition (Texas core code 010)1
    The following course:
    Rhetoric and Writing 306
    Nonnative speakers of English may complete this requirement by taking Rhetoric and Writing 306Q.
    Students in the Plan II Honors Program may complete this requirement by taking English 603A or Tutorial Course 603A.

    Humanities (Texas core code 040)
    The following course:

    English 316K
    Students in the Plan II Honors Program may complete this requirement by taking English 603B or Tutorial Course 603B.

    American and Texas Government (Texas core code 070)
    Six hours are required.

    Government 310L is required for all students.
    Government 312L, 312P, or 312R may be used to satisfy the second half of this requirement.
    Transfer students with five or more hours in American government may complete this requirement of the core by taking Government 105, which includes Texas government content consistent with the legislative requirement.
    American History (Texas core code 060)
    Six hours are required; three hours may be in Texas history. The following courses may be counted:

    History 314K, 315G, 315K, 315L, 317L, 320L, 320P, 320R, 329K, 333L, 333M, 334L, 334M, 336L, 340S, 341N, 345J, 345L, 345M, 350R, 351N, 351P, 355F, 355M, 355N, 355P, 355S, 356G, 356K, 356N, 356P, 356R, 357C, 357D, 357F, 357P, 365G, 373C, 376F
    Social & Behavioral Sciences (Texas core code 080)

    One of the following courses:

    Anthropology 302, 305, 307, 318L
    Core Texts and Ideas 302, 365
    Economics 301, 304K, 304L
    Geography 305, 306C, 307C, 308, 309, 312, 319
    Linguistics 306, 312
    Psychology 301
    Religious Studies 310
    Sociology 302, 308, 308C, 308D, 309, 313K, 318, 319
    Students in the Plan II Honors Program may complete this requirement by taking Social Science 301.

    Mathematics (Texas core code 020)
    One of the following courses:2

    Mathematics 302, 303D, 403K, 305G, 408C, 408K, 408N, 408R, 316
    Statistics and Scientific Computation 302, 303, 304, 305, 306, 318
    Students in the Plan II Honors Program may complete this requirement by taking Mathematics 310P.

    Science & Technology, Part I (Texas core code 030)
    Six hours in a single field of study. The following courses may be counted:

    Astronomy 301, 302, 303, 307, 309, 309L, 309N, 309Q, 309R, 309S, 309T
    Only one of Astronomy 301, 302, 303, or 307 may be counted. Astronomy 309Q may not be paired with 309N or 309R.
    Biology 301D, 301L, 301M, 311C, 311D, 315H, 325H, 326M
    It is recommended that students complete two courses chosen from Biology 301D, 301L, and 301M, or one of the following pairs of courses: Biology 311C and 311D, Biology 311C and 326M, Biology 315H and 325H.
    Chemistry 301, 302, 301H, 302H, 304K, 305, 314N

    It is recommended that students complete one of the following pairs of courses: Chemistry 301 and 302, 301H and 302H, 304K and 305.
    Geological Sciences 401, 302C, 302D, 302E, 302K, 302M, 302P, 303, 404C, 405, 305E, 307, 420H

    Only one of Geological Sciences 401, 303, or 420H may be counted. Geological Sciences 404C may not be paired with 405. Geological Sciences 307 may be paired with Marine Science 308.
    Natural Sciences 306J, 306K, 306L3
    Physical Science 303, 304
    Physics 301, 302K, 302L, 303K, 303L, 309K, 309L, 316, 317K, 317L
    It is recommended that students complete one of the following pairs of courses: Physics 301 and 316, or 302K and 302L, or 303K and 303L, or 309K and 309L, or 317K and 317L.
    Students in the Plan II Honors Program may count Biology 301E or Physics 321 toward this requirement. To complete the six-hours required in this area, Biology 301E may be paired with Biology 301D or 311C, or Physics 321 may be paired with any physics course listed above. Biology 301E or Physics 321, if not counted toward this area of the core, may be used by Plan II students to fulfill the Science & Technology Part II requirement, below.

    Science & Technology, Part II (Texas core code 031)
    Three hours in a field of study different from the field counted toward the preceding requirement. Courses listed under Science & Technology, Part I, may be counted toward this requirement; the following courses may also be counted:

    Anthropology 301, 304
    Biology 301C, 305E, 305F, 406D, 307D, 309D, 309F
    Computer Sciences 302, 307
    Electrical Engineering 302, 306
    Geography 301C, 301K, 304E
    Marine Science 307, 308
    Natural Sciences 306J, 306K, 306L3
    Visual and Performing Arts (Texas core code 050)
    One of the following courses:2

    American Studies 330
    Architecture 308, 318K, 318L
    Art History 301, 302, 303,
    The following courses may also be counted: Art History 325, 327J, 327L, 327M, 327N, 327P, 327R, 329J, 329K, 329R, 330G, 331K, 331L, 331M, 332K, 332L, 333K, 333L, 334, 335N, 335P, 337K, 338L, 338M, 339J, 339K, 339L, 339M, 341K, 341L, 346, 347K, 347L, 347M, 359, 360L, 361, 361L, 362, 362R, 363, 364, 365, 366J, 366N, 366P, 367, 370, 372
    Classical Civilization 301, 302, 303, 307C, 307D, 317
    Core Texts and Ideas 350, 351
    Fine Arts 310, 320
    Music 302L, 302P, 303M, 303N, 303P, 606A, 307, 313, 334
    Philosophy 317K, 346
    Radio-Television-Film 305, 314, 316
    Studio Art 320K, 320L
    Theatre and Dance 301, 302T, 303
    Visual Art Studies 320
    Note that while no single course may be used to fulfill two core areas simultaneously, in most cases students may satisfy both a core requirement and a major requirement with a single course.

    Pretty strongly weighted to the humanities and social sciences–but a not insignificant amount of math and science, too. This looks fairly typical in my experience.

  29. john personna says:

    Faulty ideas?

    Seriously, you can say that with this thread, and the climate topics, raging?

    Don’t kid yourself. It is not within your power to rid students of faulty ideas.

    Indeed, the only thing that will preserve them for a life beyond higher education is a desire for knowledge, without intermediaries.

  30. john personna says:

    (I scoff at the hubris, masquerading perhaps as compassion.)

  31. sam says:

    @Charles

    “Heck, the liberal arts folks seem to brag about not being able to do math from time to time. ”

    Heck, the hard science folks seem to brag about not being able to tell the difference between a sonnet and a screwdriver from time to time.

    (Both statements are, of course, the purest of bullshit.)

  32. john personna says:

    So let’s turn this to free markets, and consenting adults.

    You GE boosters are telling me that young adults are not equipped to choose their college classes, and that even when they seek technical certification, that must be bound in an involuntary way to another commitment.

    You can’t see this as featherbedding? Of course it is, the young engineering student cannot be trusted, as a resource for the humanities departments.

  33. sam says:

    What are you on about, JP?

  34. john personna says:

    Oh, I think our higher education system is broken in many ways, but one of the themes is that the principal-agent problem.

    Many may want to educate, but consciously or unconsciously they are also tapping an income stream.

    When a university suggests a college loan to cover a higher tuition, that may be a principal-agent problem.

    When a humanities department argues for their share of GE credits, that may be a principle-agent problem.

    In each stage of the pipeline there are people arguing for the welfare of the student, and not coincidently, their own income.

  35. george says:

    (I scoff at the hubris, masquerading perhaps as compassion.)

    Hubris is thinking that reading about a subject is a sufficient condition to understanding it – there’s a reason Einstein and Bohr had all their debates about quantum mechanics. Or that the scientific process involves heavy criticism of ideas … without constant testing and feedback its very easy to convince ourselves that we understand what’s going on.

    The climate debate you mention is a great example of people who’ve never studied the topic (and often couldn’t solve a differential equation or even a first year problem in thermodynamics to save their lives) convincing themselves they have a definite answer either one way or another – whereas the actual publishing climate scientists (which is different from the IPCC btw) are much more cautious about their claims.

  36. john personna says:

    George, I’m making a differentiation between in-major, and in-certification, education and this broader idea that … basically if you get some poor guy who wants to be a programmer, this is your chance to grab him and make him a gentleman.

    And FWIW, I know plenty of GOP college graduates that are climate change deniers. Some of them will also admit to being young earth creationists in quiet moments.

  37. john personna says:

    Perhaps I should say that’s what’s most galling is that they’re going to grab that programmer, and try to make him a gentleman on his own dime (or loan), and delaying his market entry.

  38. @JP:

    I understand where you are coming from, but a couple of quick thoughts:

    Many may want to educate, but consciously or unconsciously they are also tapping an income stream.

    OK, fine. How is that different than any other profession?

    When a humanities department argues for their share of GE credits, that may be a principle-agent problem.

    True, and I have seen this happen.

    Of course there is also the fact that humanities prof (or, the hard science prof, as this is not a humanities only situation) also likely thinks there is value in their subject material (as evidenced by the fact that they dedicated a substantial portion of their lives to obtaining an advanced degree in said subject–and granted, this creates its own kind of myopia).

    At any rate, most of what you have listed strikes me as applicable to a host of human interactions. As such, I am unclear how it is the massive critique of higher education that you present it to be.

  39. Perhaps I should say that’s what’s most galling is that they’re going to grab that programmer, and try to make him a gentleman on his own dime (or loan), and delaying his market entry

    So, really, principal-agent problems aside, you basically want to do away with GE and make all college degrees major-only, thus reducing the time people spend in school, yes?

    Or, even more simply, you resent the concept of GE?

  40. john personna says:

    OK, fine. How is that different than any other profession?

    If I don’t believe in chiropracty I don’t have to go to one. Fortunately none have attached themselves to some other service I desire.

    The way to deal with this is to fight back against all of the hangers-on in the higher education system.

    And probably the medical system.

    That those two are now called “bubbles” might have something to do with everyone attaching themselves one way or another.

  41. john personna says:

    So, really, principal-agent problems aside, you basically want to do away with GE and make all college degrees major-only, thus reducing the time people spend in school, yes?

    I’d probably be satisfied to a roll-back to 1980 levels, but I think if we really were gutsy we’d give people a streamlined path to career certification.

    I mean, petroleum engineers are badly needed in our society, why not fast track such things?

    Wouldn’t that have positive externalities?

  42. john personna says:

    BTW, if I remember my “World is Flat,” technical degrees are structured differently in India and China, allowing them to produce many more.

  43. @JP:

    I don’t get the relevance of chiropracty here.

    All professions are entered into for the sake of tapping income. Whether it is to be a professor, a doctor, an a/c repairman, an accountant, etc.

    Again: I don’t see you special point about higher ed.

    Back to this claim:

    I’d probably be satisfied to a roll-back to 1980 levels, but I think if we really were gutsy we’d give people a streamlined path to career certification.

    I guess I am unaware that GE requirements in the 2010s are substantially larger than they were in the 1980s.

    Perhaps I am misunderstanding your point?

  44. john personna says:

    BTW, those horrible online colleges with the government reimbursements and the 90% failure rates, those are definitely the sort of hangers-on that should be flushed.

    If I understand it correctly, their lobbyists won though, and Obama/Congress has backed off defunding them.

  45. I do agree that there is a significant problem with these for-profit institutions and their combined reliance on student loan monies and their phenomenal failure rates.

    What, however, that has to do with either the GE question (or, for that matter, the original post), save in a tangential manner, escapes me.

  46. john personna says:

    Come on Stephen, my point isn’t that hard. Most professions are sought out. They sell themselves. They don’t live by someone seeking X being required to also buy Y.

    Re. GE inflation, if we have some studies that would be good. I thought I saw the requirements swell during my span at Cal State Universities.

    Again, comparison across nations and systems might be good. Are class hours the same as 30 years ago for a BS? Are the fraction committed to GE the same? How does that compare to a German technical degree?

  47. Come on Stephen, my point isn’t that hard.

    It is perhaps less an issue of how hard the point is, but rather that I am not persuaded by the way you are framing the question.

    I would note that there is a general perception in the population as to what “college educated” means and that includes GE courses. As such, the notion that people go for X and are forced to do Y is incorrect, in my estimation, given that X+Y=”college educated.”

    Re. GE inflation, if we have some studies that would be good. I thought I saw the requirements swell during my span at Cal State Universities.

    I think I would need more to go on than that.

    Are class hours the same as 30 years ago for a BS? Are the fraction committed to GE the same?

    Well, most degree programs still consume the same amount of semester hours, and since I find it unlikely that most major programs have ceded hours to GE course, my guess is that in the aggregate they haven’t changed all that much. Most of this stuff has been around for a long time (for example, I know that the 6 hour requirement for courses in government at all Texas schools dates back to a legislative requirement put in place in the 1930s IIRC). While curricula go through review on a regular basis, the number of hours remains basically constant.

    As such, when it comes time to make changes, there are trade offs. Sure, the guy in humanities might want to add a class to the GE curriculum, but something is going to have to go. It is incredibly difficult to simply add hours. Indeed, I served on a committee that reformed our GE curriculum and the number of hours remained the same.

    The assumption remains that a BA or BS should take 4 years or full time study.

    I would note, btw, that some schools provide more freedom for the GE curriculum, others less. It depends on the school.

    In terms of cross-national comparisons, I have no direct information. I do know, however, that US degrees, especially graduate ones, remain a sought-after commodity by students from around the world. This is especially true of our Ph.D.s, in various programs (a degree that one simply cannot obtain in some countries).

  48. george says:

    In terms of cross-national comparisons, I have no direct information. I do know, however, that US degrees, especially graduate ones, remain a sought-after commodity by students from around the world. This is especially true of our Ph.D.s, in various programs (a degree that one simply cannot obtain in some countries).

    Yup. There’s more variation in US degrees than many other countries (which tend to be much more standardized, especially at the undergrad level), but in general US degrees are considered very good degrees around the world. This is especially true for US graduate degrees.

    In Europe there’s much more specialization at the university level, but that’s because their elementary and high school education tends to be much better than the US equivalent (US high school diplomas aren’t well thought off at all), so that by the time they’ve entering university they already have an excellent general education. Your typical Gymnasium (like college prep in the US) school – which is part of the public education system) graduate has the equivalent of 2nd year university in the US. And their first degree is equivalent to a US masters. However, even most Germans will admit that a good US Phd is better than the German equivalents.

    The European model is to push hard from elementary school on, the US model is to coast until university, and then push very hard.

  49. john personna says:

    I would note that there is a general perception in the population as to what “college educated” means and that includes GE courses. As such, the notion that people go for X and are forced to do Y is incorrect, in my estimation, given that X+Y=”college educated”

    You have just restated the principal-agent problem. Students go to college for economic reasons. They take on debt for economic reasons. And yet the employability, the wage premium, of the “college educated” is falling. I think that’s got to be in part because colleges have a stubborn idea of what they want to produce, costs and job market realities be damned.

    In terms of cross-national comparisons, I have no direct information. I do know, however, that US degrees, especially graduate ones, remain a sought-after commodity by students from around the world. This is especially true of our Ph.D.s, in various programs (a degree that one simply cannot obtain in some countries).

    And excellent paragraph for the top of any bubble.

  50. Dr. Joyner, if I read that correctly that’s five courses (or maybe four for students in the Plan II Honors Program) in Math and Science required by UT-Austin, which, as you know, is a very fine school.

    Here’s a guide from one of UIUC’s engineering curriculums that requires six Social Science and Humanties electives, in addition to Rhet 105.

    One data point, I know. Sorry, I just get cranky about being ruled by social science and journalism majors.

  51. john personna says:

    George, I’d feel better about those differences if the US economy were still booming, if employment prospects for graduates were increasing, and of course if costs were contained.

  52. (Not that engineers would do much better, but at least they would be more humble about what they don’t really know.)

  53. reid says:

    Masters in computer science here, and I have to agree with charles’s assessment. There’s a lot of theory and ties to math.

  54. mattb says:

    First… Charles is completely right about Com Sci *not* being about programming. I also agree that in most cases, liberal art students should take more sciences (especially since the natural sciences and math were both originally liberal arts).

    Second, @JP, you are making the common mistake of imagining all tech based students are similiar to you. That frankly isn’t the case. And I say that both having done my undergraduate at a predominantly tech based school and then, later, spending three years teaching at a tech based school.

    I can think of a lot of students in the computing school who would agree with your supposition that they shouldn’t be forced to take liberal arts classes. And I can also comment on how poorly equipped those students were to think, reason, and ultimately creatively problem solve.

    So no… at 18 to 21, most students are not equipped to make rational decisions about what the general topic mix they should be studying is. Or rather, the path you describe, which essentially turns programming into a trade, is fine, but it doesn’t belong in either a community college or a 4-year. It’s essentially a certification program. Call it that, I’m cool with it. But pretending that has any place in the area of a typically degree program.

    And I say that as someone who is trying to get himself through all of the classics — a project I began as I just turned 30 — and having a guide on this material is really helpful, at least initially.

  55. mattb says:

    @James… slight correction:

    A biologist or anthropologist can have his graduate students do a lot of his field research as a practical exercise in labs.

    God I wish… then we’d (the students) probably be done much sooner. This is sort of the case with Archeology, but Cultural and other Anth is the “lonely” profession — very little of it is ever done in partnerships or through grad students.

    Sociology (at least in the US) and Psychology are the social sciences conducted in the lab and often on the backs of grad students. Not surprisingly, those PhD’s, on average, graduate about two years before most anthro students.

  56. john personna says:

    Again, the thing that kicks this off is outcomes. The US News article is titled:

    Americans Split on Value of a College Degree

    and begins:

    Americans are increasingly dubious about the value of a college education, according to a Pew Research Center report released today. However, a vast majority of those with college degrees remain confident that the education has been essential to their financial and professional successes.

    Darn those Americans, they want to look at “financial and professional successes,” while you all are not centering in on how to achieve it.

    (Except when misunderstanding me, and thinking I don’t support class hours in pursuit of critical skill set.)

  57. john personna says:

    If GE requirements have not been growing, and have not been a source of increase in costs, then I can be educated on that. I’ll just have to look elsewhere for the culprits. Because there are culprits somewhere. The second paragraph of that article:

    “You have a split verdict from the public on these questions,” says Paul Taylor, executive vice president of the Pew Research Center and the director of the Pew Social & Demographic Trends project. “There is real concern—growing concern—about affordability and value measured against cost, but a very solid registration of satisfaction [among college graduates] that, ‘This was a good thing I did in my life, and there’s a real payoff to it.'”

  58. john personna says:

    Despite the monetary concerns, nearly all of the 757 four-year college graduates Pew surveyed were confident that their investment in higher education proved beneficial.

    Lol, we see that here. Universities are nearly unanimous that their costs are justified.

    principal-agent problem

  59. @JP:

    It would seem to make your point that you would need a survey of college graduates, not a survey of the general public. And, beyond that, information about their costs and benefits.

    Plus, the fact that people are concerned, in a time of economic difficulties, about whether something that is really expensive is worth it strikes me as an unremarkable finding. And I can certainly accept arguments that costs are a problem.

    What is doesn’t prove is much of anything about the curriculum.

    That’s not to say that the curricula at our our multitude may not need reforming, but repeating “principal-agent problem” over and over doesn’t prove it, either.

    I get it: you don’t like GE requirements and think that there has been GE inflation since the 1980s. Further, you link all this to cost and would like college degrees to be shorter in duration and therefore cheaper. There is also a vague notion that perhaps that is the way it works in other countries.

    Watching the development of undergraduates for a couple of decades now, I see a great deal of utility in the GE process (which may be, as someone suggested above a reflection of the weakness of US high school curricula). Also, having dealt with 18-22 year-olds on a regular basis for some time now, I do have some questions about whether they are equipped to pick their own curriculum form day one.

    I am not opposed to the notion of reform, but I am also dubious of the notion that GE inflation is the driver of the cost problem at our colleges and universities.

  60. john personna says:

    No you don’t get it.

    I am looking at the increase of college costs, relative to overall inflation, and mining for a cause.

    If it’s not GE, and it’s something else, I’m fine with that.

    So what is it?

  61. john personna says:

    (To some degree I think academics are circling the wagons here, and saying college is they way THEY like it. Well, yeah. Is that part of the solution? Or something else?)

  62. john personna says:

    BTW, I’m down with fixing high school, I think that should very much be a priority.

  63. James Joyner says:

    @john personna: As best I’ve been able to ascertain, the reasons for higher education costs far exceeding inflation has myriad explanations.

    STATE SCHOOLS

    1. Fast rising Medicaid costs and the political inability to raise taxes has meant that states subsidize far less of the cost of a college education that they used to.

    2. Administrative costs are way up for a variety of reasons, including compliance with federal requirements.

    PRIVATE SCHOOLS

    1. State schools are charging more, raising the baseline

    2. They can. It’s a sheer supply and demand thing for the very prestigious schools: There are more than enough people willing to pay gobs of money for a Harvard or Berkeley or Chicago (or even Duke or Clemson) diploma, so they keep raising prices.

  64. James Joyner says:

    @john personna: I don’t know that high school is fixable without radical transformation.

    1. If it’s universal and everyone is expected to graduate, it’s not going to be very good. The Europeans and Asians mostly track students.

    2. Breaking the hold of the Education Establishment. I don’t mean teachers unions so much here, although they’re a problem. The real problem is the stranglehold that the Colleges of Education have on credentialing. It’s amazing that we have as many good teachers as we do given how they’re educated and selected.

  65. john personna says:

    So if we were to restructure, to reduce those increases, how would we do it?

    Is it like a movie where the plane is going down, and we should throw off non-essential supplies? That would be the streamlined degree idea.

    Or can you fight back costs within the same structure?

    I don’t see continuing on this path as an adequate solution.

  66. john personna says:

    If we can’t fix HS, then we probably should crank up college admission requirements. Don’t make remedial english or math a freshman class, make them the hurdle.

  67. No you don’t get it.

    I am looking at the increase of college costs, relative to overall inflation, and mining for a cause.

    If it’s not GE, and it’s something else, I’m fine with that.

    In fairness, the reason I perhaps didn’t get it is that you started this part of the discussion by focusing on GE and then continuing to focus on GE.

    So what is it?

    I won’t pretend to have the whole answer to that question, but I will say the following based on my own experiences, although this is just anecdotal speculation, as I have seen larger discussion of these problems from various sources:

    1. States are less and less subsidizing public colleges and universities. For example, I know that if one looks at the major university systems in Alabama (the U of Alabama system, the Auburn system and the Troy University system) that state funding makes up less than 25% of the operating budgets, and indeed the number is probably close to 20% (an in some cases may dip below that threshold–but I don’t have the numbers at my fingertips and it has been a while since I was in a position to have the numbers given in a formal setting).

    These figures represent the a long-term trend of less and less money coming from states. When universities a less subsidized, one of the main ways this is addressed is by raising tuition and fees (and tuition goes up every year as a result).

    2. Facilities. One of the ironies of your argument, which is that 18 year-old know what they want and therefore it should be given to them, is that amongst the things that 18 year-olds want are nice dorms, nice eating facilities, technology (e.g., free campus WiFi, computer labs, LCD projectors in the classrooms, etc.), nice sports facilities and the like. They often choose where to go to school based on those factors. Those things all cost money.

    3. Technology. In the same theme as facilities is technology. When I was an undergraduate in the mid-to-late 1980s, there was no computer lab. There were 4 total computers in the library networked to a local hard drive that housed a rudimentary version of EBSCO. There were no LCD projectors hooked to computers in the classrooms for PowerPoint and the like. And, for that matter, I don’t think all my profs had their own computers in their offices.

    For that matter, there are now web pages and server costs and a host of other technology factors that come into the picture as well.

    One of the things, by the way, that really hasn’t changed: basic cost of faculty (at least not where I teach).

  68. mattb says:

    I am looking at the increase of college costs, relative to overall inflation, and mining for a cause.

    There’s not a single reason for increase. Though, let me suggest that the rapid physical expansion of campuses and the increasing levels of mid-level administrators have a great role in expanding costs.

    The college I taught at all but doubled its physical footprint over the course of two decades — that greatly increased costs — not just in terms of building, but also maintenance.

    To some degree I think academics are circling the wagons here, and saying college is they way THEY like it.

    God, no! Not in my case at least…

    The current trend in private universities is to offer more programs and attract more students (a critical thing since the institution is not particularly well endowed and relies heavily on tuition to cover operating expenses). At the same time, the increase in programs required hiring more faculty — bot full and part time — and more administrators.

    I won’t even go into the fact that you can now get a pHd in Higher Ed Administration — but something else I’ve seen is that as more administrators come on board, then there is a move to run the institution like a business (the head of finance is called the instituion’s CFO) — and that then means creating more and more businesses on or extensions of the campus — which ironically require hiring more administrators.

    What ends up happening is that acceptance rates go up, standards go down, and you end up with a lot of kids who shouldn’t be in the classrooms.

    I’m much more for getting people back to thinking that trade certifications are not a dirty thing and leave college for the kids who want to learn and put in the book work across all disciplines. And for culling roughly half of the mid-level administrative staff of most colleges and universities.

    Or, if there need to be that many administrators, then have a hard rule that everyone with a PhD needs to teach at least one course a year (if not a semester).

  69. george says:

    1. If it’s universal and everyone is expected to graduate, it’s not going to be very good. The Europeans and Asians mostly track students.

    Yup, and there’s probably no way around that. The problem they’ve found with tracking is that the decision is made by parents (understandable given its made when the students are around ten), and so it tends to be along professional lines – if you’re a professional, you’ll make sure your kids are in the university track. If you’re not, you’re likely to think they’re better off going into a trade track. Not that both routes don’t have value, but parents wishes aren’t always the best choice for their kids … however, letting the school system decide has even worse results, so there doesn’t seem to be a good way around this.

  70. john personna says:

    In fairness, the reason I perhaps didn’t get it is that you started this part of the discussion by focusing on GE and then continuing to focus on GE.

    Not accurate. The red meat for me was this paragraph from James. He may know me enough that it was a bit of a troll:

    Ultimately, the conflation of education and training is one that should be avoided. Universities exist for the former. High schools, community colleges, and tech schools exist for the latter.

    1. States are less and less subsidizing public colleges and universities.

    As share, or in absolute dollars? This is critical. If state funds have simply not kept pace with academic inflation, then it might be the inflation.

    2. Facilities

    I have no problem with slashing everything but the wifi, but aren’t more not less facilities operated by commercial vendors these days?

    3. Capital Equipment

    My school didn’t have a computer science major yet, but we certainly had more computers than that, including some massive Control Data mainframes. Certainly adopting technology of the last 10 years lowers costs. Not vis-versa.

  71. mattb says:

    @James:

    2. Breaking the hold of the Education Establishment. I don’t mean teachers unions so much here, although they’re a problem. The real problem is the stranglehold that the Colleges of Education have on credentialing. It’s amazing that we have as many good teachers as we do given how they’re educated and selected.

    YES!

    I’d also throw breaking the grip of standardized testing in the mix as well. There have to be some measures for looking a progress and standards across schools, but standardized test are out of control in most states. Likewise the SAT/ACT/GRE/MCATs all are just problematic and have largely become self-serving industries.

    I think the other key thing is to reboot most guidance counselors and parents (if they are anything like they were in the early 90’s — god, starting to feel really old). We need to get away from the idea that college is for everyone and that going into a trade is essentially a sign that your, borrowing from Huxley, a mouth-breathing, knuckle dragging “delta.”

    I totally believe in tracking in high school — though in my experience, its done incorrectly: rather than thinking about it in terms of how fast material is taught, it should be a complete reworking of the material with different overall learning outcomes. What scares the crap out of me is that it’s now drifting into colleges.

    The emergence of college “honors” programs really freak me out — shouldn’t all of college be an hours program?

  72. john personna says:

    US High School Graduation Rate Peaked 40 Years Ago

    Is it possible that both standards and graduation rate have fallen?

    Actually the interesting thing about that chart is that college graduation rate has grown even as high school graduation has slipped.

  73. john personna says:

    BTW, the reason the “education vs training” thing was red meat for me is that people go to college for a career. To me, career preparation is training. Be that training for accounting or brain surgery.

  74. @JP:

    While the GE thing is what started this, if you look back in the thread, the interaction between the two us started fundamentally with the GE question–and initially it wasn’t about cost, per se.

  75. john personna says:

    I certainly saw that you joined on that topic Steven, yes.

  76. @mattb:

    I won’t even go into the fact that you can now get a pHd in Higher Ed Administration — but something else I’ve seen is that as more administrators come on board, then there is a move to run the institution like a business (the head of finance is called the instituion’s CFO) — and that then means creating more and more businesses on or extensions of the campus — which ironically require hiring more administrators.

    This is absolutely the case.

  77. john personna says:

    So can we fight back this administrative overhead?

    If not, simplified degrees or higher costs seem the two possible outcomes.

    (I include distance-learning, web-based options, with “simplified degrees.”)

  78. @JP:

    If state funds have simply not kept pace with academic inflation, then it might be the inflation.

    No, this is not the case of the state simply refusing to keep up with inflation. These are real cuts to the amount of money going to higher ed. I know it has been going on in Alabama since at least the mid-to-late 1990s and further, that it has accelerated in some places in recent years. If the choices are cutting roads, prisons, K-12 or higher ed, what do you think gets cut?

    I have no problem with slashing everything but the wifi, but aren’t more not less facilities operated by commercial vendors these days?

    You may not have a problem with said slashing, but are eliding the point I was making: the demand for nicer facilities is coming from the students and their parents.

    My school didn’t have a computer science major yet, but we certainly had more computers than that, including some massive Control Data mainframes. Certainly adopting technology of the last 10 years lowers costs. Not vis-versa.

    Yes, tech costs in the aggregate have come down over the years. But that’s not the point. The point is that while an individual computer is radically cheaper now in 2011 than it was in 1988, that there are computers everywhere on campuses now. Every prof has a computer. There are computer labs all over campuses, with the commensurate wired and wireless networks. Instead of wheeling in an overhead projector to class for overheads, we have LCD projectors and computers in the rooms. This all cost money. Computers have to be replaced and maintained. Plus, there are personnel costs. There were like two guys who did tech support stuff at Troy when I started in 1998 and now there is a whole, fairly large, department.

  79. mattb says:

    @JP:

    people go to college for a career

    Honestly, this is the problem that has developed over the last century — probably accelerated with the GI Act post-WWII. The original goal of college was to educate. It was thanks to that education that you could find a career. The goal of trade and vocational schools was to provide a career.

    I realize you see this as a distinction without a difference, but there really is a fundamental one here (and again, I say this as someone who graduate from an “education as training” undergrad program).

    As that began to shift, specialization became more and more important. As specialization became more and more important, then fragmentation (both in curriculum and institutional focus) became more and more pronounced.

    College began to = career and it became more and more imperative for everyone to go to college (especially in the minds of parents). At the same time they had to go for something worth while — growing up in a pragmatic middle class family, doing an undergraduate in the liberal arts was all but out of the question… hell it wasn’t even a question. By the time I reached college I, like my parents, would constantly ask “what’s the point of a philosophy degree? You can’t be a professional philosopher.” (Side note: I have since then met a number of very well off entrepreneurs with undergrads in philosophy.)

    And colleges happily responded to this by setting up more “training” majors. This, in turn, led to the rise of ridiculously narrow fields of specialized study (“Higher Education Management” being one, but also things like “Professional and Technical Communications” – i.e. a 4 year tech writing degree).

    And with the rise of each of these fields, distain rose amoung students for work done outside of the training field — why do I have to learn history/language/physics…? I should just be able to take more training classes — I mean that’s what I’ll use in the real world…

  80. john personna says:

    So what should my take-away be, Steven? That the college value network tells me that we must accept higher costs?

    I don’t suppose you’ve ever read The Innovator’s Dilemma …. but the theme is that value networks not only think inside the box, they can’t see the box.

  81. john personna says:

    Right mattb, and one way to look at what I’ve been proposing all through this thread is that universities accept the training role.

  82. john personna says:

    “accept the training role [without contradiction].”

  83. mattb says:

    @JP

    So can we fight back this administrative overhead?

    Who is we? Th professors? The tenure system, though originally intended to serve this purpose is fundamentally broken and actively prevents the professions with the most energy and willingness for change from speaking out.

    The trustees typically are not helpful either. Most of the time these are leaders of industry, and they *like* the idea of the school being run as a business (and are often distrustful of the faculty in general). At least in the case I got to see first hand, one institutions president basically got everything he wanted (again doubling the size of the institution and trippling the size — at least — of the administration by playing the trustees against the faculty.

    As with governments and corporations, once a middle level of managers is put in place its all but impossible to eliminate them.

    If not, simplified degrees or higher costs seem the two possible outcomes.
    (I include distance-learning, web-based options, with “simplified degrees.”)

    The issue is that you think that colleges want to lower costs. That’s fundamentally not the case. In many cases they cannot — that’s why understanding facility issues is so important. You can always cut programs, but buildings are difficult to get rid of once they are there.

    Distance learning is great — college love it — especially because they make a killing on it — even at reduced rates. But again, offering full degrees by distance learning is something that even most administrators are concerned with (if for no other reason is that they fear it will decrease the number of on campus enrollments — which they need to sustain the campus itself).

  84. @JP:

    Well, the only argument I was making was that GE inflation isn’t the cost-driver that you seemed to be arguing that it was. I think I demonstrated that, but perhaps not.

    Beyond that, I wasn’t trying to propose a solution, but to outline at least some of the factors that may not have occurred to you. And while it may well be the case that it is difficult to see the problems from inside the box, it may also be that looking at the box from the outside has its limitations as well.

    Ultimately we will likely have to agree to disagree about what a college education is what its purpose should be.

    I don’t have a problem, by the way, with creating a broader network of training programs, but the logical place for those are in community colleges or some type of technical schools.

  85. And BTW, I would add on Distance Learning programs: they often cost the student more than going to a physical classroom (although in many cases the faculty get paid less).

    mattb has the right of it here:

    The issue is that you think that colleges want to lower costs. That’s fundamentally not the case.

    And while, yes, faculty often want new programs to feather their beds, as you note above. Mostly, however, a lot of the growth is driven by admin types who want bigger fiefdoms or who, as mattb notes, have a business model in mind, in which growth is seen as an unvarnished good.

  86. mattb says:

    @JP: Right mattb, and one way to look at what I’ve been proposing all through this thread is that universities accept the training role [without contradiction].

    And, again, as someone who has been on both sides of that divide — both as student and as visiting professor, let me again say, it does not work.

    Period. And again, I’m a graduate from a “trade” program.

    Training, as you imagine it needs to take place in a true trade education environment. If you just want to learn to program or technical write or spin webpages or retouch photos you should flat out not be in college. And I’ve successfully helped a number of students get out of college because all they wanted to do was one of the above and they were about to go up to their eyeballs in debt to do it.

    Those students (as much as the problematic faculty and the especially problematic administration) are destroying American higher ed. Because — and I tell you this from first hand experience studying alongside these students, teaching them, and watching their behavior in other classes — these are the students who are not interested in learning. They are looking to be “programmed/trained” — given the route skills that they need to get a job — and typically that’s it. They push back on why they have to read, why they have to attend in major classes that are taught outside of computer labs, why they need a theoretical versus a practical grounding.

    I should also note, that in my experience, these are also the students who run into huge career problems around year 8 when they are required to learn new things or adjust to transformations within their field of study.

    Either way, they are the prime examples of students who are too immature to understand *why* education (i.e. learning to learn) is more important than training (i.e. learning to execute a specific skill). I have no problems with the ideas of “certificates” training for these students. But they do not belong in degree programs.

  87. mattb says:

    mattb notes, have a business model in mind, in which growth is seen as an unvarnished good.

    The thing about that unvarnished growth that pisses me off is that they are still considered “non-profits.” Perhaps one way to get things under control at colleges would be to threaten that status.

    Oh, and in terms of growing/securing profits, the latest trend to watch for is the importing of students from transitional nations whose governments pay for their full tuition. I know of a number of schools that are courting governments in places like Kazakhstan and developing Gulf States to bring in as many of their “best and brightest” (who are not begin accepted at top level universities due to their English skills) as possible. Can’t say the joy it is to have students who don’t speak conversational at an JR High Level in your classes (or having to advise them).

  88. john personna says:

    The issue is that you think that colleges want to lower costs. That’s fundamentally not the case.

    Yes, but when I say “principle-agent problem” someone gets mad at me 😉

  89. john personna says:

    I’ll catch up on these long responses a little later, gotta go.

  90. mattb says:

    Ok last point — before I sound too elitist — in a “perfect world” anyone who can meet the requires and pay for college should be able to attend.

    But students are are unwilling or incapable of doing the work should be weeded out fast for bot their own good and the good of other students.

    In that perfect world, the university would not string along borderline students for years — getting all the $’s out of them, their parents, their loan — and then not let them graduate (I have definitely seen this behavior too). This is especially true for students who lack basic English skills (reading, writing, and speaking) and who are not taking steps to developing them.

    At my magic uni, professors would not have to send early notes out to freshmen/first-years and their academics advisers saying the equivalent of “I am writing to tell you that if Student X continues not to show up for class or hand in assignments, there is a high probability they will fail the class” (yes, at least one institution I have been at required those notes).

    On the other hand, professors should teach at the level of the students while simultaneously pushing them (my most recent TAing experience was a professor who assigned a near- graduate student level reading load for a 200/intro level course and then rarely discussed the readings in class, leaving all of that to the TA’s in a 45 minute section … that’s fundamentally unethical teaching in my mind).

    At that uni, there would also be two tracks for professors — one researching and one teaching — with adjusted expectations for both. That said all professor (and anyone with a PhD on campus) would have to teach and research. Just note that the expression of said research should not exclusively be journal publications.

    Ok… time to stop dreaming and go back to writing.

  91. john personna says:

    This seems odd to me:

    Those students (as much as the problematic faculty and the especially problematic administration) are destroying American higher ed. Because — and I tell you this from first hand experience studying alongside these students, teaching them, and watching their behavior in other classes — these are the students who are not interested in learning. They are looking to be “programmed/trained” — given the route skills that they need to get a job — and typically that’s it. They push back on why they have to read, why they have to attend in major classes that are taught outside of computer labs, why they need a theoretical versus a practical grounding.

    Are you saying there are students who want to “program” without the “computer science?”

    Sure, they should go to a junior college for PHP, HTML, whatever. But my point is that computer science is training too. Even as one dives into abstract (or historic) data structures and design patterns, one is “training.”

  92. john personna says:

    BTW, the thing I really liked about that one bit above was how EVERYTHING a college takes up is hammered into a 4-year curriculum. My intuition is that 4 years is not optimum for everything.

    And FWIW, I touched on Clayton Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma above. He’s the one who coined “disruptive technology.”

    … wow. I was going to talk about how many hits one gets bridging that book with the education field, those who seek “disruptive technologies” and those (institutions) who would defend again them.

    It turns out Christensen is already there himself, he has a new book, “Disrupting Class.” Let’s hope he does it.

  93. john personna says:

    The more I think about it, the more I think you have teased apart the “training/education” thing on the wrong boundary.

    When essentially everyone goes to college to gain a career, it’s really wrong to break out just a few short-sighted and disruptive students, and call them the “training” group.

  94. rodney dill says:

    Universities are geared to maximize the harvesting of the future potential earning of the students.