7.9.04

RUN UNIVERSITIES MORE LIKE OTHER BUSINESSES. Or something like that. Douglas Kern has some questions for back-to-campus time.
Why should hapless high school seniors have to apply to colleges? Why shouldn't colleges apply to them?

College is a massive investment of time, energy, and money. Ordinarily, endeavors that require massive investment try to make themselves appealing to the consumer, and not vice versa.

Forget those stupid brochures and meaningless entries in college guide books. It's time for America's colleges to load a fresh sheet of paper in the typewriter and get to work.
Let's leave aside the quibble that incoming freshmen are "consumers." (Employers and fellow citizens are the consumers.) And let's leave aside real estate hustlers, banks, hospitals, and automobile dealers and the customer appeal they exhibit. Rather, let's take a look at Mr Kern's quiz. There are some pretty good questions in here, but then there are some real howlers. And I only have to answer three!!
1) If you are a private school: as the price difference between a private university and a comparable state university is often $10,000 per year, students who choose to attend private universities may well spend $40,000 more for their educations than students who attend state schools. Over the course of a twenty-year college loan, a $40,000 education may actually cost $120,000. Demonstrate how a degree from your university will produce benefits for your students in excess of $120,000 over the next twenty years. Give special attention to liberal arts majors, particularly those who do not go on to graduate school. Graphs and charts may be appended.
Real liberal arts majors know what "present value" is. Next question.
2) If you are a state school: what percentage of your student body hails from out of state? How do you justify taxing working-class people from State A in order to subsidize the college education of students from State B?
The better question is, "How do you justify taxing working-class people from State A in order to subsidize the future upper-middle-class of State A and of other States?" Most state-located (no longer state-supported) universities charge nonresidents a price that covers their full avoidable cost.
6) What specific job skills must all students possess prior to receiving their diplomas? What steps does your school take to ensure that students are making adequate progress in acquiring those skills? What actions do you take in regard to students who fail to acquire those skills? If the answer to these questions is "none," please provide the page in your catalog wherein you express to prospective students your indifference to their future careers.
Liberal arts graduates are more capable of making connections among ideas than are graduates with vocational degrees. Those who fail to demonstrate that ability fail to graduate.
12) What percentage of tuition funds is allocated to the non-instructional research and writing of faculty members? Why is that number higher than zero?
Non-instructional research? To borrow Steven Landsburg's simile, would you rather be at a party watching others have an involved conversation, or would you rather be contributing to the conversation? A better question to ask would be "To what extent does your staffing policy give the impression that there are two classes of faculty, those that only teach and those that have to produce research? Doesn't the existence of a large staff of often contingent teachers belie the Every Teacher A Scholar ideal your publicity promulgates?" And yes, if I headed a department, I would be reluctant to hire contingent workers to do the bulk of the teaching, and I would resist pushing my tenure-trackers away from research. If my department closes a lot of classes, let me hire more tenure-trackers.

N. B.: That's my longest answer, still well under 250 words.
13) What grade percentage must a student achieve in order to pass your math, science, and engineering classes? If the number is below 50%, is it troubling that your students are collecting diplomas while learning less than half of what they are being taught?
There is no partial credit in engineering. The bridge stands, or it falls down.

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