Friday, July 9, 2010

Future of the University (cont)

Funny that I post about unsustainable business models for universities and then the NYT has an article the next day on exactly that.  The article shows growth in students over the last decade or more in the US, but also that spending increased more on administration (no surprise there) and recreational facilities.  The latter to attract students as schools competed with each other.
On average, spending on instruction increased 22 percent over the decade at private research universities, about the same as tuition, but 36 percent for student services and 36 percent for institutional support, a category that includes general administration, legal services and public relations, the study said. At public research universities, spending for student services rose 20 percent over the decade, compared with 10 percent for instruction. [One big difference between CA and the US is the former has no or few private schools.]  Even at community colleges, with their far smaller budgets, spending on students services increased 9.5 percent, compared with 3.4 percent for instruction.

The article notes that the US system is not only the wealthiest but also the most unequal system of higher ed.  I would agree with that, but it ignores the fact that many more Americans (and others) go to many more universities and colleges in the US.  It is far easier to have "equality" if large segments of the population never make to university.  In many countries, including European ones, it is my impression that folks need to test in, and many, if not most, fall short.  Also, it is probably a mistake to compare without qualification universities and colleges with community colleges since they are doing different things to a significant degree.
“The funding models we’ve created in higher ed are not sustainable,” Ms. Wellman said. “We ran up spending in the ’90s and early 2000s to levels we can’t maintain, and this is true not only in the elite privates, but in many of the public institutions, too.”
Now, with private-college endowments battered and state legislatures slashing university budgets coast to coast, “policymakers as well as university presidents and boards must learn to be better stewards of tuition and taxpayer dollars,” she said.
This, I agree with.  That is, we cannot expect everyone to be paying ever higher tuition (as my self-interest shifts from my pay to my daughter's tuition in four years).  I do think that states and provinces are being short-sighted as they cut their support for universities since these are centers of economic growth, much more so than prisons, military bases, or even favored manufacturers (Bombardier, GM).  For private schools, well, they are going to face some hardships as parents can no longer handle the high tuition.  I don't know what they will do, because even a halt in building ever nicer gyms and student centers will not make that much of a difference when more and more resources go to administrators who are the ones who make the budgetary decisions.


Bill Ayres said...

This is the economic wall I've been worried universities are going to hit. And there are signs they're responding to it in very poor ways. I got word just yesterday that a small private college in New England is dumping a dozen tenure-track faculty lines (all of them with faculty in them!) rather than get rid of a single administrator. Yet I knew very few institutions that are not badly over-administered - and I say that as someone who has spent the last several years on the administration side of the fence.

Chris C. said...

"...more and more resources go to administrators who are the ones who make the budgetary decisions."

Precisely the problem. How do professors/legislators/students/etc. get rid of the ever-increasing numbers of "administrators" who suck up what limited funds remain...when the administrators are the ones controlling the budget?