19.3.16

GET THE MISSION RIGHT. THEN PROVIDE THE RESOURCES.

Here's Remaking the University's Chris Newfield on the "new normal" in university funding.  It opens with a recognition that institutions of higher learning, whether highly regarded private institutions, state flagships, regional comprehensives, land-grants, mid-majors, playing in the B1G or the Mid-American, are all in the same business and ought act accordingly.
The democratic vision of U.S. higher ed was that the burgeoning masses could get a degree that was cognitively the same as that of elites, even though they lacked the latter's social networks and private resources.  Twins separated at graduation, one going to Stanford, say, and one to UC Berkeley, with a sibling already enrolled at San Francisco State, would have student experiences that would differ in trappings but not essentials.  The great faculty and facilities at the two public universities would allow them to offer cognitive gain that was functionally similar to that received by the Stanford twin, who would have social but not intellectual advantages.  No one thought they were dooming public university students to second- or third-tier status in a secret caste system.
That was not anybody's intent, but that is what is happening.  The way Mr Newfield proceeds is instructive.
Of course four years of Stanford seminars, where the student:faculty ratio is now 4:1, had advantages that SF State's 50-student courses or Berkeley's 600-student lectures did not. But economists calculated that by 1980, public colleges spent 70 cents for every dollar spent by the privates (p 237). The assumption was that the gap would continue to close. As it did, artificial and unjust barriers of gender, race, religion would continue to erode as the wider society became more prosperous and more enlightened.

Instead, by the 1990s public colleges were spending only 53 cents on the private dollar.  The five public flagships that had been in the top 20 in US News & World Report's first ranking, in 1987, later all fell out of that bracket (p 237).  By 2013, public research universities were on average spending 45 cents on the private research university dollar.   Public masters universities like SF State were spending 21 cents.  Community colleges, the favored political cure to our national attainment ills, were spending 14 cents on the private research university dollar (all from Figure A2).  Meanwhile, UC Berkeley's Pell Grant rate--a proxy for low family income--is 35% while Stanford's is 15%. Since UC Berkeley enrolls over 27,000 undergrads to Stanford's 7000, UC Berkeley educates 9 times the number of low-income students each year.  It has much less money per poorer student to educate them.

We have been taught to call this efficiency.  It is grossly inefficient, socially speaking. It is also unjust.
We will not know whether an allocation of resources is efficient until we know that the marginal product of the last dollar spent on each productive activity is the same.  It's quite likely that legislative stinginess is making it more difficult for public research universities to compete for faculty with well-endowed private research universities, and I'm of the view (recent link!!!) that U.S. News and the like sell those guides because ambitious students (or perhaps their parents) seek either intellectual challenges or the opportunities to form social networks with similarly ambitious students.

Thus, Berkeley, or the California State universities, are unlikely to be allocating resources efficiently, in any sense of the word.  And by no stretch of the imagination can the students at California State be receiving the same familiarity with the disciplinary state of the art or the same engagement with their professors.
Cal State defines their basic teaching load to be 5 courses a term, which is similar to the load at a community college or high school. Faculty members then buy out courses with administration and research, generally one course per term for each activity.
Perhaps the California State campuses and the community colleges are simply doing, for the second or third time, the work of the high schools, and that is something that ought be fixed. But it's not special pleading to note that the work of higher education requires a lot of custom work.
Ideally, a humanities or social science course would assign each student two papers in a semester and then offer detailed grading of the kind that allows students to see their full range of issues and address them.  But one professor can only grade 300 papers on top of the rest of their teaching, research, and administrative job by sacrificing the rest of their life.  The other solution is to cap the quality of feedback at a modest level, by replacing at least one paper with an exam and standardizing the exams as much as possible.  The normal workload sharply limits the intensity and detail available to an individual SF State student.  Politicians who like the "efficiency" of these low costs are not thinking about the cost to educational quality for non-elite students.

CSU faculty are also expected to do research.  These days, state college tenure-track faculty have research university doctorates and the intellectual lives and research ambitions to match.   SF State students are supposed to be exposed to the same up-to-date material as their siblings at research universities in order to avoid the educational class system we're discussing here.
Yes, and California State faculty might be interested in publishing their way out, if that is even possible any more, because riding herd on unprepared, disengaged, and unmannerly students doesn't square with the life of the mind. Thus,
Public flagships no longer have the resources to do teaching and research at the top level of quality--and for new social conditions-- that the state assumed for all its non-elite students.
To repeat: the state flagships, and the land-grants, and the mid-majors, are in the same business as the high-prestige privates, and Mr Newfield argues for behaving accordingly.
Without restored public funding, the New Normal means the permanent downgrading of all levels of public higher education, and the reversion of top-quality learning and research to small elites.  Unless we restore cut public funding, California will continue to pioneer educational post-democracy.
But there is no point in allocating resources to fund institutions that admit unprepared students and call it access.  Fix the common culture and the common schools first.

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