28.9.13

RESPECT THE MARKET TESTS.

In the Cold Spring Shops coverage of the pedagogical successes of Northwestern's lecturers, the unifying theme of all posts is the unsustainability of attempting to offer a college education on the cheap.

At the same time that story broke, longtime Duquesne University adjunct professor of French, Margaret Mary Vojtko, died alone, penniless, and effectively homeless at the age of 83.  She had served Duquesne for 25 years.

Arizona's Gary Rhoades, who directs that university's Center for the Study of Higher Education, wrote a commentary for CNN.
If American higher education says to students and society that a college education is the path to the middle class, how can we justify such treatment of these professionals, with advanced degrees, who are teaching the students?

We are living a lie that cheats these professors and the students they teach, particularly in access universities and community colleges where adjunct faculty numbers, like percentages of lower-income students, are highest and instructional spending per student is lowest.
Yes, it is the lie of access - assessment - remediation - retention. The pay and working conditions for "access universities and community colleges" -- often put more bluntly as higher education's subprime sector, are terrible.  But such institutions will claim they are unable to recruit against the more highly regarded institutions either with respect to pay or working conditions, and on the other side of the market, the good researchers and the star teachers will discover they have opportunities, and act upon them.

Rebecca Schuman of the University of Missouri at St. Louis proposes the next step.
We must provide tangible, capitalism-friendly reasons that college “consumers” are getting a very raw deal. The first step: not to bang our heads against the wall when referring to our students as “consumers.” The second: to examine the adjunct crisis from the perspective of the two industries in which the vast majority of today’s college graduates will find employment, if they ever do: service and retail. If that seems cynical, keep in mind that people who think language and literature professors are useless often have a hard time detecting cynicism.
There's an argument from equity in the above: it's the consumers of what passes for higher education at the dropout factories and subprime providers who are getting the rawest deal: lots of debt, little learning, last hired, and hired only at the peak of the business cycle.

It's counterproductive, Ms Schuman argues, to think of higher education as an upscale product.
So as long as college is viewed as a brand-name product, its workers’ wages will only get lower as  management wages soar. And as long as that diploma continues to confer what little status it still does, nobody will care.
Yes, in a world where Apple views Chinese prison labor as more dependable than North American burnouts, the Enhance Shareholder Value model probably has those consequences.  But that Enhance Shareholder Value doesn't always work for the for-profit loan sinks, nor is it likely to work well for the dropout factories.

On the other hand, to think of higher education as an upscale service instantly suggests a way around Baumol's cost disease (apart from a theoretical novelty due to Baumol himself that I recently rediscovered and hope to expand upon).
Consumers pay a ton; ergo, they deserve premium service—which includes, say, an office in which to meet with their professor instead of a 1998 Subaru, and a professor who is rested and showered because her home has heat and hot water.

If, instead of viewing a diploma like a $500 purse (one we don’t care was made by Vietnamese 4-year-olds), we view the college experience as, say, CrossFit or a Brazilian bikini wax, but for the mind, then tuition payers might actually start getting up in arms that so little of their tuition goes to instruction.
The rat-hole model of management is a false economy.

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