Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Free Public Higher Ed or the Regents’ Way


My book Why Public Higher Education Should be Free is now available, and its central claims address many of the issues brought up at the last UC regents meeting.  My main argument is that if we just used current state and federal funding for higher ed in a more rational way, we could get rid of the need for tuition, student aid, and student loans.  I also argue that anything short of this holistic solution will fail to solve any of the basic issues.  Of course, we now live in a time of diminished political expectations, and so it is hard for most people to even imagine any large new governmental solution.  In short, after forty years of anti-government government, even our leaders can only think about short-term solutions and half-measures.

President Yudof’s farewell speech at the regents meeting was a great example of leaderless leadership.  Form his perspective, all that we can do is manage each crisis and try to find a way to maintain the status quo.  While he still holds out some hope that online education will be a real game-changer for higher ed, he is now even doubting the effectiveness of this possible solution.  In fact, during the regents’ discussion  (minute 28) of the new new UC online program, Yudof brought up the recent problems with Udacity and San Jose State University.  He even stated that distance education might not work, and we need to ask the students and faculty on the campuses if they even want online courses.

Yudof’s doubts were ignored by a series of regents who pontificated about the need to do this online thing faster and to use the money provided by the governor to ramp up the provision of online courses for UC students.  Of course, the governor never really provided additional funds for online education; instead he simply earmarked $10 million from money that was already going to the UC.  Next, the governor vetoed his own earmark, but the regents have seemed to have forgotten this fact.  Worst off all, Lt. Governor Newsome continued his promotion of all things digital by urging the UC to stop moving at a glacial pace.  In other words, he wants the UC faculty to give up its shared governance in order to quickly move to a system of education that is unproven and could result in both significant cost increases and reduced quality.

As I argue in my book, all of the problems in higher ed start with the failure to make high-quality education and research the major priority of these institutions.  My central point is that if you do not dedicate most of the funding to these core missions, you end up spending most of the money on expensive side projects like athletics, sponsored research, administration, and amenities.  Moreover, this lack of attention to the core mission results in non-educators running the show, and in the UC case, this can be witnessed by the regents’, the new president’s, and the state politicians’ lack of higher education experience and knowledge. 

Without a focus on improving the state of actual education, we end up with huge classes, reductive multiple-choice exams, and disengaged students and faculty.  In turn, this poor instructional quality opens the door for massive online courses and the call to move more students through the system in a faster and cheaper way.  Yet, on a positive side, the whole debate over MOOCs is helping to create a public conversation about how we define quality teaching and learning, and so it is possible that we may be able to rededicate our institutions of higher education to high-quality instruction and research.

While some will interpret my book as another attack on useless academic research, I try to make it clear that I also want to defend the importance of academic research, but I want to distinguish between corrupted sponsored research and the academic pursuit of knowledge and truth.   Just as our political system has been corrupted by the way we fund campaigns, our academic system has been distorted by the way we fund research.Study after study has shown that many research experiments in the sciences cannot be replicated, and one reason for the failure of science to be scientific is that researchers are beholden to the people paying for their research.  In order to correct this system, we need a commitment by the states and the federal government to provide funding for pure research; we also have to stop the hidden process of subsidizing expensive research programs by siphoning money out of undergraduate instruction.

None of these problems will be fixed if we continue to be led by leaders with no commitment to basic research and instruction.       

39 comments:

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  2. "As I argue in my book, all of the problems in higher ed start with the failure to make high-quality education and research the major priority of these institutions. My central point is that if you do not dedicate most of the funding to these core missions, you end up spending most of the money on expensive side projects like athletics, sponsored research, administration, and amenities."
    How are you differentiating between "research" and "sponsored research"?

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  3. BS published an op-ed in an NJ paper about free college. Of course he didn't mention the bloated salaries and benefits that professors and other employees receive, being a union minion.

    Here's a modest proposal (what real Americans want, not the liberal west coast elite). This has been proposed for NJ's state college system. I submit it here unchanged, but advocate it be applied to all state colleges and and school receiving federal funding.

    Step 1 - Publish on an easily accessible website, the compensation and benefits for all employees and contractors/consultants of the NJ state university system. The listing should include ALL compensation, including signing bonuses, housing allowances, and the share (percentage and amount) of health insurance and defined-benefit pensions paid by taxpayers. Also included is to be a full description of any retirement benefits.

    Also included will be a comparative analysis with other public and private universities.

    Step 2 - Freeze all salaries for three years, with an option to extend the freeze for three more years.

    Step 3 - Professor's salaries to be capped at 2.5 times the average NJ salary. Raises for all employees have to be the equivalent of the NJ average.

    Step 4 - All employees to pay for 50% of health insurance, this can be phased in over three years in equal increments.

    Step 5 - End all defined-benefit pensions and replace with 401k-type defined-contribution plans. The taxpayers can contribute 2% of the individuals contribution in the 401k. Offer buyouts for current defined-benefit plans.

    Step 6 - All special compensation (housing allowances, signing bonuses, etc.) to be frozen for three years while a special non-partisan commission investigates the current situation in special compensation.

    Step 7 - The most that the head of the system can earn is $1 less than the governor's salary. The full compensation of the top 20 earners will be revealed annually in a press release.

    Step 8 - ALL other expenses are to be cut 1% annually for ten years.

    Step 9 - Start rolling back tuition as the cost of running the university begins to fall.

    Step 10 - End tenure
    I also advocate a similar program for ALL NJ state employees.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I agree public higher education should be free. Thank you for sharing this post, it is a wonderful and really interesting post.

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  5. As I argue in my book, all of the problems in higher ed start with the failure to make high-quality education and research the major priority of these institutions.giảm mỡ bụng hiệu quả cho nam

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  7. Thanks for the marvelous posting! I certainly enjoyed reading it, you can be a great author.I will always bookmark your blog

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  8. Bob I have not read you book. I cannot afford to buy it along with all the others I need to in order to do my independent research aimed at improving the state of HE, including a serious attempt to make it free fro all, as ratified by the United States in various international human rights documents.

    As an active proponent of unions I suspect your book (reasoning) does not advocate the replacement or fundamental overhaul of the institutional model that employs you and other union members. I have, however, read the CFHE working paper and it is wholly inadequate as a means to free HE since it tacitly maintains the institutional model for the provision of HE - a model of university and college service providers, public funding and union labour representation - which cannot be sustained and certainly cannot be financed by tuition, room and board alone.

    This is why I am developing two entrepreneurial models - one professional and the other cooperative - that replace union represented employment by institutions.

    If you are truly interested in free HE for all, then I encourage you consider these entrepreneurial models, as presented on my blog: Professional Society of Academics (URL above).

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