23.6.05

WHO WILL RID US OF THOSE ANNOYING ECONOMISTS? Via Newmark's Door, an essay by Ohio's Richard Vedder.
Colleges have devoted relatively little new funding over the past generation to the core mission of instruction (spending only 21 cents of each new inflation-adjusted dollar per student on it), preferring instead to assist research, hire more nonacademic staff, give generous pay increases, support athletics and build luxurious facilities. And while in the private sector companies have learned to get more work out of fewer employees, the opposite appears to have happened in higher education. In 1976 American education employed three nonfaculty professional workers (administrators, counselors, librarians, computer experts) for every 100 students; by 2001 that number had doubled.
I haven't seen much evidence of choices 1 or 3 in my department. On the other hand, the class lists get longer year by year.
College is still a decent individual investment, certifying that the graduate meets minimum standards (often missing in high school) for competence, intelligence, maturity and literacy. But we should rethink the nature and magnitude of public support for universities. State governments, facing rising Medicaid bills and demands for primary and secondary education funding, are already slashing their support. I hope and expect this trend to continue. Big changes are coming to higher education. They are overdue.
What's funny is that Professor Vedder is author of a book called Going Broke by Degree: Why College Costs Too Much. Does that refer to the out-of-pocket costs positional arms-racing parents face, or the opportunity costs of the 40% defect rate he refers to elsewhere in his article, something that might be ameliorated by changing the financial calculus facing marginal students?

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