18.10.06

THE VALUE OF LOAD MANAGEMENT. The dean at Anonymous Community reacts to the Inside Higher Ed post on inefficient use of adjunct faculty and to my reaction.
Were it up to me, we'd take some pages from the four-year school playbook. We'd develop endowments for purposes other than scholarships, and use the interest income to improve the quality of what we do. We'd shift from 'everyday low prices' to a 'higher-price, higher-aid' strategy. (Obviously, that assumes a considerably streamlined financial aid system.) We might charge different tuition for different majors, based on the extraordinary differences in institutional cost between, say, Nursing clinicals and Intro to Sociology. We'd embrace merit aid, both out of general principle (let's tell high school kids that good grades, as well as a good jump shot, will pay off) and out of a realistic recognition that part of what makes a good education is good peers. Done properly, the wealthier kids would benefit from having another high-quality option, and the poorer would benefit by having a new high-quality option. Yes, there would be more financial aid paperwork, and that's a pain. But it strikes me as far less painful than the continued watering-down of the only option realistically available to many people.
Ah, yes, the joys of managing almost-perfect price discrimination (that financial aid paperwork, painful though it is, enables the universities to tailor prices to students with a precision that the airlines can only approximate.) And encouraging stronger students to apply ought to be the Prime Directive of any strategic plan.

On the other hand, I'm uneasy about charging higher prices for more technical majors, particularly those in stronger demand. (How many times must I repeat: relative prices matter. Cheaper Introductory Sociology means more potential sociology majors. Want fries with that?) The excess demand is for that Clinical Nursing, and Engineering, and Physics, and to some extent Economics. Our troubles serving students are more likely to be problems of preparation. Here's how the Northern Illinois Office of Faculty "Development" sees things.

As the U.S. college student population experiences major changes in demographics in the coming decades and the number of students pursuing certain science, technology, engineering, mathematics and related degrees declines, the need to create welcoming and inclusive classrooms will only increase. This workshop will address this need by increasing participants' awareness of issues affecting educational access, providing information on the challenges that students still face, and presenting techniques on transforming courses and teaching inclusively.

This workshop will introduce a number of teaching techniques and resources that faculty teaching in science, math, engineering and related curricula will find beneficial. All faculty members (not just those in science, math, and engineering) interested in exploring issues of inclusivity in their courses are encouraged to participate in this workshop.

The tone of the announcement turns me off. "Welcoming and inclusive," particularly from these folks, maps all too readily to "dumbing down." And shortages of skilled workers turns into rising wages turns into incentives to master the material, demography notwithstanding.

On the other hand, these disciplines, like economics, are unavoidably technical, but these disciplines, like economics, have some main ideas that are sufficiently intuitive that people who are not necessarily spatial-quantitative learners can grasp them. We struggle regularly with approaches to teaching economics that work for all types of learners (while not appearing patronizing or choosing to dumb down the ideas). But we'd not be receptive to a pricing scheme that would discourage the pursuit of the more technical degrees.

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