State Colleges Also Face Cuts in Ambitions
By TAMAR LEWIN
Published: March 16, 2009
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TEMPE, Ariz. - When Michael Crow became president of
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
between disciplines, encourage advanced research and
drive the new economy, and draw in students from underserved
sectors of the
He quickly made a name for himself, increasing enrollment by nearly
to 67,000 students, luring big-name professors and starting
interdisciplinary schools in areas like sustainability, projects with
partners like the
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
raising questions about how many public research universities the
needs and whether universities like Arizona State, in their drive
prominent research institutions, have lost focus on their public
provide solid undergraduate education for state residents.
These days, the headlines about Arizona State describe its enormous
The university has eliminated more than 500 jobs, including deans,
department chairmen and hundreds of teaching assistants. Last
Crow announced that the university would close 48 programs, cap
and move up the freshman application deadline by five months. Every
employee, from Mr. Crow down, will have 10 to 15 unpaid furlough
"The New American University has died; welcome to the Neutered
University," the student newspaper editorialized last month the
after the latest cuts were announced.
While Arizona State's economic problems have been particularly
layoffs and salary freezes are becoming common at public universities
the nation; the
University of Florida recently
eliminated 430 faculty and staff positions, the
University of Nevada, Las Vegas,
laid off about 100 employees, and the
University of Vermont froze some
administrative staff salaries, left open 22 faculty positions and
"What's happening, everywhere, is what's happening to Michael
Jane Wellman, executive director of the Delta Project on
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
made midyear cuts in their financing for higher education. And yet,
are largely intact at some leading research universities, like the
University of Michigan.
Public universities everywhere are bracing for deep cuts in next
budgets, but the federal stimulus package, providing billions for
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
the university can adjust, but we're trying to protect students
hurricane. We're protecting the core of the core."
But not everyone is convinced that the Arizona State model makes
"It may be that the idea of a 100,000-student research university
very sustainable," said Patrick M. Callan, president of the
for Public Policy and Higher Education, which promotes access to
education. "In this economy, the places that have been trying to
way up the ladder, the ones whose aspirations have exceeded their
vision, are going to have the toughest time. They can't be all
But Mr. Crow thinks he can simultaneously broaden access for
improve academic quality and increase research.
His university, he said, is an inclusive institution where there
students with no family income at all and a growing population of
Indian students. Tuition in most programs is under $6,000 a year
residents, in part because of a State Constitution provision that
it be as
"nearly free" as possible, which courts have interpreted to mean
tuition must be in the bottom third of public universities
Mr. Crow's record for improving quality is impressive, too. He has
more than 600 tenured or tenure-track faculty members, and last
the first time, won a spot on the
Foundation's list of the top 20 research universities without a
school, along with powerhouses like
M.I.T. and the
University of California, Berkeley.
But not every university can be in the top 20. And in a time of
state budgets, undergraduates at public universities will most
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
less expensive forms of education, like community colleges.
"Universities aspire to prestige," Ms. Wellman said, "and that is
by increasing selectivity, getting a research mission and having
as little teaching as possible, not by teaching and learning, and
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
that every depressed area needs a research university.
"Research universities are very expensive," Mr. Yudof said, "and
have one in every county and every state. Your first obligation as
university is to treat the undergraduates right. That's going to
national attitude adjustment from leadership and boards of regents."
California's three-tier higher-education system, which serves 3.3
students, almost 20 percent of the nation's college population, is
hardest hit by the current recession. This year, with hundreds of
of dollars removed from their budgets, both the
California State University
system and the University of California are being forced to shrink
"We're trying as hard as we can to preserve the instructional
Yudof said. "But with the economy shrinking, and less money
public universities, can I guarantee that the class that would have
won't be 45? I can't."
Finding the right balance between improving academic quality and
state residents is not easy.
Case in point: merit scholarships. Arizona State University recruits
National Merit Scholars nationwide with a four-year $90,000
package so generous that Arizona State enrolls 600 National Merit
Yale or Stanford. Through the cuts, Mr.
Crow has kept that program, even while proposing to cut a
Arizona residents with high scores on state tests, a proposal the
regents turned down.
And even as his plans for expanding the university have slowed, Mr.
trying to increase the enrollment of out-of-state students - who
tuition - to as high as 40 percent next year.
When the latest cuts were announced, many Arizona State students
believed Mr. Crow was doing his best to protect them but that,
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
Many blame the Legislature for short-sightedness in failing to
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
Kyle Whitman, a senior and an economics major who works part-time
Crow's office. "It's been on such a strong trajectory."
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