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Re: [xmca] The national context for education funding in the US

What? Mike, you mean Bigger isn't always Better?? !!

:-)  [insert Irony emoticon icon here!]

According to standard evolutionary theory (which may not be the last word in such matters, but ...) a period of contraction may be good for ecosystems, less resources, more (alas?) "competition", and some excesses get weeded out. A blessing in disguise for ASU and other ambitiously bloated multiversities? Of course what gets weeded out may not be what helps make for better education and research in the longer term. But at the next scale up, in the competition among universities, those that make better internal cutback decisions may fare better.

But again it depends on how the (still) larger scale systems we belong to define "better" in terms of effective incentives. So, for example, Obama's instant stimulus plan is dumping funds on NSF and other indirect university funding agencies with a Spend Now mandate. That means that whoever put in the most proposals last year is likely to get new funding. And the odds that that correlates highly with whoever put the highest priority on good teaching (at any level from faculty member, to research group, to department, to campus) are small.

What is "better" for research funding has in the last 8 years, by general agreement among people I know in Education and many social science areas, been determined by a bizarre effort by the Bush administration to somehow correlate research initiatives with their ideological agenda. The net effect has only been to put the US further behind the EU (which may not be apparent because too many US researchers don't know or cite european research in their own fields anyway). An interesting example of how centralized decision-making amplifies the boom-or-bust feature of "punctuated" evolution -- one wrong decision for the whole system, and Bust! Since most decisions, like most mutations, are "wrong", it's a lot safer to diversity decision making and hope that at least somebody will get it right. (Rational decision-making is not that different from random mutation, given that the longer-term consequences of any policy, relative to a complex and changing environment, are essentially unpredictable.)

We are increasingly committed in the US, and to a lesser extent still in the world as a whole, to educational and research "monocultures". Not much difference in education between UCSD, ASU, Michigan, or Columbia; and even less in research. So all our eggs sit in one basket. We call this "standards for quality". History will call it "recipe for irrelevance". We are more worried that somebody might do a bad job, waste the taxpayers' money, embarrass a politician, or maybe come up with something new and unpredictable, than we are with whether we've got enough new ideas being tried out that a few of them might really produce significant benefits.

How could we "incentivize" diversification in higher education in a period of contracting resources?


Jay Lemke
Educational Studies
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

On Mar 22, 2009, at 4:12 PM, Mike Cole wrote:

Important for all of us to consider, thanks Peter. Away from home, I did not
see the story.

There is a comment I think worth attending to among all the realistic doom and gloom: The idea of a 100,000 student "research university" is indeed very problematic. The quality of higher education, in my view, has been
sinking for years, and the forms of instruction and interaction that
routinely take place in my much
smaller research university verge on the scandalous.


On Fri, Mar 20, 2009 at 2:01 AM, Peter Smagorinsky <smago@uga.edu> wrote:


State Colleges Also Face Cuts in Ambitions

dex.html?inline=nyt-per<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/l/tamar_lewin/in%0Adex.html?inline=nyt-per >

Published: March 16, 2009

ml<http://community.nytimes.com/article/comments/2009/03/17/us/17university.ht%0Aml >>
Read All Comments (43) >

TEMPE, Ariz. - When Michael Crow became president of
_state_university/index.html?inline=nyt-org<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/a/arizona%0A_state_university/index.html?inline=nyt-org >>
Arizona State University seven
years ago, he promised to make it "The New American University," with
100,000 students by 2020. It would break down the musty old boundaries between disciplines, encourage advanced research and entrepreneurship to drive the new economy, and draw in students from underserved sectors of the

He quickly made a name for himself, increasing enrollment by nearly a third
to 67,000 students, luring big-name professors and starting
interdisciplinary schools in areas like sustainability, projects with
partners like the
inic/index.html?inline=nyt-org<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/m/mayo_cl%0Ainic/index.html?inline=nyt-org >>
Mayo Clinic and Sichuan University in China,
and dozens of new degree programs

But this year, Mr. Crow's plans have crashed into new budget realities, raising questions about how many public research universities the nation needs and whether universities like Arizona State, in their drive to become prominent research institutions, have lost focus on their public mission to
provide solid undergraduate education for state residents.

These days, the headlines about Arizona State describe its enormous cuts.

The university has eliminated more than 500 jobs, including deans,
department chairmen and hundreds of teaching assistants. Last month, Mr. Crow announced that the university would close 48 programs, cap enrollment
and move up the freshman application deadline by five months. Every
employee, from Mr. Crow down, will have 10 to 15 unpaid furlough days this

"The New American University has died; welcome to the Neutered American University," the student newspaper editorialized last month the morning
after the latest cuts were announced.

While Arizona State's economic problems have been particularly dramatic,
layoffs and salary freezes are becoming common at public universities
the nation; the
ity_of_florida/index.html?inline=nyt-org<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/u/univers%0Aity_of_florida/index.html?inline=nyt-org >>
University of Florida recently
eliminated 430 faculty and staff positions, the
ity_of_nevada/index.html?inline=nyt-org<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/u/univers%0Aity_of_nevada/index.html?inline=nyt-org >>
University of Nevada, Las Vegas,
laid off about 100 employees, and the
ity_of_vermont/index.html?inline=nyt-org<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/u/univers%0Aity_of_vermont/index.html?inline=nyt-org >>
University of Vermont froze some
administrative staff salaries, left open 22 faculty positions and laid off
16 workers.

"What's happening, everywhere, is what's happening to Michael Crow," said Jane Wellman, executive director of the Delta Project on Postsecondary
Costs, Productivity and Accountability, an organization that studies
spending by colleges and universities. "The trend line is states
disinvesting in higher education."

The picture varies by state. Dozens of states, hit hard by the recession, made midyear cuts in their financing for higher education. And yet, budgets
are largely intact at some leading research universities, like the
ity_of_michigan/index.html?inline=nyt-org<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/u/univers%0Aity_of_michigan/index.html?inline=nyt-org >>
University of Michigan.

Public universities everywhere are bracing for deep cuts in next year's budgets, but the federal stimulus package, providing billions for education
and billions more for research, should ease the problem somewhat.

Despite the cuts, Mr. Crow said he was sticking to his priorities,
protecting his new programs and his tenured and tenure-track faculty
members. And he is hoping to expand research, with, for example,
renewable-energy money from the stimulus package.

"I don't retreat very easily," he said. "The economy is shifting faster
the university can adjust, but we're trying to protect students from the
hurricane. We're protecting the core of the core."

But not everyone is convinced that the Arizona State model makes sense.

"It may be that the idea of a 100,000-student research university was never very sustainable," said Patrick M. Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, which promotes access to higher education. "In this economy, the places that have been trying to claw their way up the ladder, the ones whose aspirations have exceeded their financial vision, are going to have the toughest time. They can't be all things to

But Mr. Crow thinks he can simultaneously broaden access for Arizonans,
improve academic quality and increase research.

His university, he said, is an inclusive institution where there are 7,000 students with no family income at all and a growing population of American Indian students. Tuition in most programs is under $6,000 a year for state residents, in part because of a State Constitution provision that it be as "nearly free" as possible, which courts have interpreted to mean that its tuition must be in the bottom third of public universities nationwide.

Mr. Crow's record for improving quality is impressive, too. He has hired more than 600 tenured or tenure-track faculty members, and last year, for
the first time, won a spot on the
l_science_foundation/index.html?inline=nyt-org<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/n/nationa%0Al_science_foundation/index.html?inline=nyt-org >>
National Science
Foundation's list of the top 20 research universities without a medical
school, along with powerhouses like
usetts_institute_of_technology/index.html?inline=nyt-org<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/m/massach%0Ausetts_institute_of_technology/index.html?inline=nyt-org >>
M.I.T. and the
University of California, Berkeley.

But not every university can be in the top 20. And in a time of shrinking state budgets, undergraduates at public universities will most likely pay
the price in higher tuition, larger classes and less interaction with
tenured professors. So it is a real question how many public research
universities the nation can afford, and what share of resources should go
less expensive forms of education, like community colleges.

"Universities aspire to prestige," Ms. Wellman said, "and that is achieved by increasing selectivity, getting a research mission and having faculty do as little teaching as possible, not by teaching and learning, and taking
students from Point A to Point B."

condParagraph> Skip to next paragraphMark G. Yudof, president of the
University of California, laments that it has become an article of faith
that every depressed area needs a research university.

"Research universities are very expensive," Mr. Yudof said, "and you can't have one in every county and every state. Your first obligation as a public university is to treat the undergraduates right. That's going to need a
national attitude adjustment from leadership and boards of regents."

California's three-tier higher-education system, which serves 3.3 million students, almost 20 percent of the nation's college population, is among
hardest hit by the current recession. This year, with hundreds of millions
of dollars removed from their budgets, both the
nia_state_university/index.html?inline=nyt-org<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/c/califor%0Ania_state_university/index.html?inline=nyt-org >>
California State University
system and the University of California are being forced to shrink their

"We're trying as hard as we can to preserve the instructional program," Mr. Yudof said. "But with the economy shrinking, and less money allocated to public universities, can I guarantee that the class that would have been 40
won't be 45? I can't."

Finding the right balance between improving academic quality and serving
state residents is not easy.

Case in point: merit scholarships. Arizona State University recruits
National Merit Scholars nationwide with a four-year $90,000 scholarship, a package so generous that Arizona State enrolls 600 National Merit Scholars,
more than
iversity/index.html?inline=nyt-org<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/y/yale_un%0Aiversity/index.html?inline=nyt-org >>
Yale or Stanford. Through the cuts, Mr.
Crow has kept that program, even while proposing to cut a scholarship for Arizona residents with high scores on state tests, a proposal the state
regents turned down.

And even as his plans for expanding the university have slowed, Mr. Crow is trying to increase the enrollment of out-of-state students - who pay triple
tuition - to as high as 40 percent next year.

When the latest cuts were announced, many Arizona State students said they believed Mr. Crow was doing his best to protect them but that, ultimately,
the quality of their education could suffer.

"My African-American history professor said he thinks classes will be
next semester, and that's too bad," said Tierra Jenkins, a sophomore civil
engineering student.

Many blame the Legislature for short-sightedness in failing to support the
university when it plays such a key role in the state's economy and
residents' upward mobility.

"It really takes a lot of wind out of the sails of this university," said Kyle Whitman, a senior and an economics major who works part-time in Mr.
Crow's office. "It's been on such a strong trajectory."

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