17.7.07

GETTING THE METRIC RIGHT. Via University Diaries, a St. Petersburg Times editorial that summarizes the errors in simplistic productivity measures.

The results reveal themselves on every campus. The student-faculty ratio is now the second worst in the nation, with some classes at the University of South Florida held in movie theaters. The instructional cost per degree is the lowest in the nation. Five of the 11 universities rank among the 30 largest in the nation.

"For too long, many of our leaders, often with the best of intentions, have pretended that high quality, broad access and successful degree completion are possible on a shoestring budget," chancellor Mark Rosenburg wrote to the Board of Governors. "Our students deserve the best we can offer. They are not getting it."

No doubt, some administrators and legislators will point to those low instructional cost per degree and high student credit hours per (adjunct?) faculty members as achievements. The Times editors disagree.
The students and families who count on Florida's universities deserve more, and Gov. Crist is in a position to join them in this battle. Those in the Legislature who cast university officials as the enemy of university students are engaging in pointless political distortion. The adversary here is not the Board of Governors. It is a legislative apathy that is drowning higher education in cut-rate ambitions.
Once again, higher education emulates the railroads. Whether the fault lies with the legislators or with their willing accomplices in university administration, the obsession of whoever is calling the shots with cost per degree or student credit hours per professor is emulating the Chicago Great Western's emphasis on gross ton miles per train hour. It made for some impressive looking trains (one a day each way, analogous to those lectures in cinemas) but in the end the railroad became a bike trail.

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