Sunday, April 19, 2015

Higher Education’s Growth = No Benefit to Students, Educators

By Professor Doom

     So I’m reading a report on higher education that’s tried to determine who benefited from all the growth we’ve experienced in the 21st century. My own eyeballs tell me the tale: much larger classes, many bogus classes, and a bloated, highly paid administrative caste that does nothing in regards to education.

     Last time the report confirmed that most of the growth has been absorbed to support administration. What did faculty get?

“…Despite public perceptions, there is little evidence that faculty salaries are the
leading cause of rising spending or tuition costs in higher education.”

     Year after year after year I was told there was no money for pay raises, even as new administrative positions opened up (and were filled!), even as I saw the administrators driving nicer and nicer cars, and moving out of houses I’ll never afford and into even bigger houses. Meanwhile, my classes kept getting packed to the point that there were more students than chairs, and lightbulbs would be slow to get changed…no money in the budget, you see.

     It goes even further back than 2002—my salary is little different than a (now dead) colleague got for doing essentially the same job in the 70s. Perhaps she was overpaid way back then? I don’t know, but the point remains: none of the benefits of the growth has gone into education, or to educators.

Although the most visible positions—such as newly hired executives, managers, and administrators—tend to draw the greatest attention, most hiring has occurred within the administrative offices they often oversee. Professional employees—such as business analysts, human resources staff, admissions staff, computer administrators, counselors, athletic staff, and health workers—are the largest group of noninstructional staff on campus.

     I know it’s pretty elitist to not like that the secretaries on campus make more than me…but I, like everyone else, was told that getting a graduate degree, an education, was going to lead to a better life, instead of my current “hanging by my fingernails” position, even as I have to grovel to the administrative secretary if I want to have access to paper so I can print out and give a test to my class. If I want to get reimbursed for gas money to teach a course that I was assigned off campus…I have to fill out forms in quintuplicate, to be signed or initialed by four different administrators before I get the money.

      I might have to wait to get those forms reimbursing for gas money, since a few of the admin have flown off to Hawaii for still more leadership training. On the other hand, I can’t travel to symposiums that are more than 4 hours’ drive away (and thus would need a hotel room)…no money in the budget, you see.

Me, arriving at class: “Hi, can I help you?”

Group of 3 administrators, plus a faculty: “Yes, we’re here to see how much space you have for teaching your class.”

Me: “Okeedoke.”

--I admit class was only disrupted for a minute while the administrators looked at my room and made an estimate of the floor space. I accept they needed a faculty to come with them, because administrators might get lost being in unfamiliar territory like a classroom. But does it really take 3 administrators to do that? Adding insult to injury, not one of them had so much as a tape measure. I know full well this is just part of a plan to figure out how to cram even more students into the room. There are at least a dozen classrooms in my building that are never used now…they’re only big enough to support classes of 20 students or less, far too small by today’s standards.

     Again, I don’t want to sound elitist…but nearly anyone can answer phones and file forms and make appointments, while the number of people that can do what I do in the classroom is numbered in the dozens (at least in my city). Why can’t I be on equal footing, at least?

Professional positions increased, on average, by 2.5 to 5 percent per year between 2000 and 2012…the proportion of all employees who were full-time faculty declined 5 to 7 percent at four-year colleges and 16 percent at community colleges between 2000 and 2012.

     I know the above is hardly news to regular readers, but it really is scary when I walk around campus and see, not rooms full of students or halls of faculty offices, but instead buildings packed with administrators…whatever could they be doing? Despite the drop in faculty, we still often don’t have offices (they’ve been taken over by admin); instead we get old dorms or classrooms converted to cubicle zoos.

“…Most salary savings come from adjunct faculty who earn, on average, $2,700 per course, which for a full eight-course load over a year would pay just more than $21,000, without benefits…”

     Public research institutions, in particular, now employ as many graduate assistants as full-time professors.

      I’ve touched on the horrific abuse of “adjunct faculty” before, but I’ve somewhat avoided discussion of the “graduate assistant” situation. It’s somewhat similar, since graduate assistants aren’t paid very much…but they get free tuition (adjuncts get nothing), a few benefits (adjuncts get nothing), and I don’t mind the “apprentice system” of working with a master for a while before moving on. On the other hand, hiring a “temporary” adjunct working for a decade or more is wrong on many levels.

     That said, students are paying incredible sums of money to be trained, not by masters, but by apprentices. Yeah, that doesn’t seem fair to the students at all.

     So, all the growth has helped neither the educators nor the students.

“…community colleges appear to be protecting these jobs at the expense of faculty positions.”

     The administrative chokehold is particularly strong at community colleges, where there never was any faculty strength. Thus, we find the effects of administrative corruption at these criminal enterprises masking as institutions of higher education are much easier to spot.

     The proportion of tenured faculty has declined across the board, even in sectors with nearly universal access to tenure systems.

     It seems every other article I read detailing the failings of higher education pins at least part of the blame on tenure. I readily concede tenure isn’t perfect. Nevertheless, the steeply increasing corruption of higher education, combined with the steady decline of tenure, indicate there are absolutely bigger factors in higher education that need to be addressed before tenure should even be looked at a little.

      The report looks at the growth from many different angles, but the conclusions it makes are always the same: the growth has been great for administration, but done nothing for students or educators.

     I could find only one other article that actually looks at this report, and the comments are more interesting than the article.

     The biggest comment is a spirited defense of all those “student services”, but I’m going to summarize some of the responses as to this defense.

     The quick summary of the responses to the claim that student services are important: “rubbish”. The people coming to our college campuses are now considered adults. Yes, some guidance when it comes to taking courses and planning a degree makes sense, and, an educational institution SHOULD take responsibility for matters regarding education. Let’s summarize what needs to stop, right now, on our campuses:

1)    We don’t need to give our adult students sex education. We have administrative fiefdoms for that now, and there’s no justification for it…they’re adult enough that I just don’t see why it’s the institution’s responsibility for such things.

2)    We don’t need to give our students pizza. We have administrative fiefdoms for that, too. They may not be fully adults, but they’re old enough to feed themselves.

3)    We don’t need to multiculturalize our students. Again, we have fiefdoms for that, too, and they’re unnecessary. Our students have been raised already in their culture, they already know their culture, and we don’t have to help with that.

4)    We don’t need to environmentalize our students. Yet again, we have fiefdoms for that. Yes, the environment is important…but it’s time to remind the gentle reader of what institutions of higher education are about:

     Education. All the other crap, while it might, maybe, possibly, help one student (at the expense of hundreds of other students that are paying for it) just has no business being on campus. Higher education needs to get back into focus, but is overrun with fiefdoms.

     I’ve mentioned many such fiefdoms in my blog, but here’s one more just for fun: Kellogg Institute for International Studies, at Notre Dame. I defy any reader to even guess at what goes on there. I bet not one student in 100 at Notre Dame even knows of its existence. And there are over two dozen members on the advisory board alone (that’s just advisors! There are another score of staff!).

     I’m not picking on Notre Dame here, I just typed in words like “Vice President” and “Institute” and picked a fiefdom…it’s just that simple.

     Honest, anyone who tries can figure out quite easily where all the growth in higher education went.

     One comment is long, was made early, and ignored. It bears repeating here, adding my own comments in bold:

I would like to start out by stating that I was a resident assistant for two years of my undergraduate program in engineering at a small public research university. During that time I became VERY well acquainted with the two of the biggest administrative departments at my university, student activites and residence life.

Note: this is more eyewitness testimony

While I genuinely enjoyed interacting with my department's faculty, as most were very intellegent, humble and helpful, I can not say the same about any of the administrators I had the displeasure of working with. Many of these administrators, particularly in residence life, are some of the most dense and egocentric people I have ever come into contact with. While my professors' offices were usually filled with bits of equipment that they had been tinkering with for projects or research, a central theme for administrative offices was having big gaudy frames for their BA and MA in communications and higher ed, as if it was some grand achievement that gave them a lot of prestige (see the end of this comment).

Yes, Administrators are freakish proud of themselves, as I’ve noticed many times.

Some of the labs in my department contain 20 to 30 year old equipment and many aren't even air conditioned. Meanwhile the athletics department under student activites has thrown 20 million dollars towards a new football stadium and residence life has built both a new 'residence' hall and cafeteria in the past year. College has become a product, rather than a place to learn.

Again, anyone in higher education with open eyes knows what the problems are.

 The additional student oriented administration serves little purpose other than to sell and support the product, and most don't even seem to do that. Over the course of working for residence life I tried to figure out what these administrators actually do on a day to day basis. As near as I could tell, this question was answered by the following comment from my direct supervisor half way through the year: 'You should come talk to me more, when I'm in my office I'm usually just reading BuzzFeed'

This is eyewitness testimony confirming what I’ve said: nobody knows what exactly these people do.

To finish this up I'll leave you with two masters level corse descriptions, one from the higher ed. program that my direct supervisor graduated from, and one from my engineering program that I took this past spring.

07B:278 - Helping Skills in Student Affairs Work - University of Iowa
This course covers the foundation skills of listening, responding, empathy, and focus, as well as the advanced skills of meaning, confrontation, reframing directives, and action skills. Course format includes lecture, video instruction, and small group practice sessions.

EGGN512 - COMPUTER VISION - Colorado School of Mines
Computer vision is the process of using computers to acquire images, transform images, and extract symbolic descriptions from images. This course concentrates on how to recover the structure and properties of a possibly dynamic three-dimensional world from its two-dimensional images…Prerequisite: Linear algebra, Fourier transforms, knowledge of C programming language.

Both of these are billed as masters level course work and both schools recieve federal funding to offer them. However, one is a review of kindergarden concepts, and the other is preparing students to work with complex modern technology. To me it's not even a question as to which kind of college experience we should be supporting.

What the commenter doesn’t understand here is that administrators set up administrative degree programs for administrators: they know nothing of education, and honestly believe the definition of a good course is “100% pass rate”…so, as I’ve shown in my blog, administrative courses are a joke. Note how the engineering course requires knowledge, while the administration course requires, as always, nothing.

     Seriously, the educators and many of the students in higher education know full well what the problem is, and have obvious ideas to fix it, like gutting administration.


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