Aint Necessarily So

For generations, most college-bound Americans paid reasonable fees to attend publicly financed state universities.But the bedrock of that system is fracturing as cash-strapped states slash funding to these schools just as attendance has soared. Places like Ohio State, Penn State and the University of Michigan now receive less than 7 percent of their budgets from state appropriations. … The upshot of it all? Students face greater competition for admission, significantly higher tuition bills and bigger debt loads upon graduation.

U.S. recession’s other victim: public universities” Jilian Mincer

As of 2009, 75.5% of instructional staff members were employed in contingent positions either as part-time or adjunct faculty members, full-time non-tenure-track faculty members, or graduate student teaching assistants.

A Portrait of Part-Time Faculty Members: A Summary of Findings on Part-Time Faculty Respondents to the Coalition on the Academic Workforce Survey of Contingent Faculty Members and Instructors

The professional background of half (49.4 percent) of board members of public colleges and universities in 2010 was business. Other occupations of board members (in the workforce and retired), included: 24.1 percent professional service (such as accountant, attorney/law, dentist, physician/medicine, and psychologist/mental health), 15.5 percent education, 9.3 percent other occupations (nonprofit executives, clergy, homemakers, artists, government officials, and others), and 1.7 percent agriculture or ranching.

2010 Policies, Practices, and Composition of Higher Education Coordinating Boards and Commissions

I am sometimes (perhaps unfairly) driven batty by people who say, as if by reflex, that education– and educators– need to pay more attention to the workplace and to business. This can mean one of several things. Sometimes people say this because they want a college education, which is after all an expensive investment, to be relevant to a student’s professional future. We can’t afford the old liberal arts model anymore; higher education must be primarily vocational. Who do they think is responsible?

Sometimes, perhaps even more often, I hear people– even other teachers–argue that universities ought to learn from business. Universities, like any business, can only benefit from more market competition; universities need to learn to treat students as customers. Government is wasteful; business efficient. This is said as it were a totally new idea, representing a break with the institutional past and the birth of a more efficient education system. The university has to come out from behind its ivy curtain.

As the data on the boards suggests, business people are by far the largest influence on university and college governing boards. This is not a new phenomena by any means. Depending on how you define business, these boards might include as high as 70% or more business people. They’ve created a system that grows more expensive daily and that has precious few full-time teachers. We need a more public minded system, not more of the same business logic that caused the current mess.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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