Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A New Deal for Higher Education

Next week, I will be going to DC to meet with the United States Students Association, AFT higher education leadership, and members of Congress to discuss a new funding model for higher education.  Here are the main talking points:

1.     We need an integrated plan to deal with student debt, higher ed funding, contingent faculty, and quality higher education. This requires a new compact among institutions, students, federal government, and state governments.

2.     The current system is an incoherent combination of institutional aid, state aid, federal aid, student loans, federal tax breaks, and state tax breaks.  We are currently spending enough on higher ed from all sources to make it free to the students, but we need a comprehensive plan.

3.     The proposed plan is to tie state and federal aid to the requirement that each university and college receiving funding generates at least 75% of its student credit hours in classes taught by full-time faculty.  Another possible requirement would be to tie this support to a certain level of direct instructional spending and to demand that at least 75% of the courses be taught in classes of less than 26 students. This policy would not only force schools to put more resources into undergraduate education, but it would also motivate universities and colleges to have more effective learning environments. There would also be a requirement that states maintain their support for higher education. 

4.     Currently, we are spending more per student, but fewer students are earning degrees.  The overall graduation rate for higher education is under 40%.  A major cause for not graduating is the high cost and the need for students to work while in school.

5.     The biggest cost for students is not tuition but related student expenses (room, board, books, etc).  Politicians and school officials only talk about tuition, and this hides the true cause of debt and dropping out.

6.     Students also do not graduate in a timely fashion because some schools spend most of their funds on non-instructional activities. To make up for a loss of funding, schools have increased their use of large lecture classes, decreased their number of courses, and have increased the use of insecure, part-time faculty, which has lowered the quality of education and has decreased graduation rates.

7.     The more students have to finance their own education, the more the public sees higher ed as a private good and not a public good.  Although college does provide preparation for work, if this is seen as the main goal, it becomes a private good without public support.

8.     We need to build a broad collation of students, parents, teachers, faculty, and concerned students.