By Professor Doom
A recent article on Inside Higher Education lists, supposedly, 7 seriously bad ideas in higher education today. The article starts off well with an awesome quote from an expert:
"Seriously bad ideas, I’d argue, have a life of their own. And they rule our world.”
Paul Krugman, from Seriously Bad Ideas. Considering this guy’s kooky economic ideas seem to rule the world today, it’s safe to say he knows exactly what he’s doing.
Past this point, alas, the article misses mark after mark, often missing the point entirely of each bad idea.
Seriously Bad Idea #1 - Institutional Sustainability Requires That Faculty Costs Be Minimized
I’m a little ambivalent about this being a bad idea. Yeah, sure, I’d like more money, but I honestly don’t feel that I should become fabulously wealthy doing my job.
The important thing is to consider how this bad idea came into place. The only reason “minimize faculty costs” is prevalent on campuses today is because administration costs have been so heavily maximized. Every penny goes to administration first, with leftovers going to everything else on campus. If you can’t get more money coming in by attracting more students, then the next best thing is cutting down on the money going out that you’re paying to faculty.
The student loan scam means that you don’t need good faculty to attract students, because everyone can get the money to go to college now—it’s not the students’ money, so they’re not picky about spending it. This led to an era of great growth in higher education. That era is coming to a close, as a large majority of high school graduates eventually go on to college. With no further growth possible, minimizing faculty costs is the next option for administration to take.
So, yes, this is a bad idea, but whether faculty are forced to work for nothing, or paid fabulous amounts, is irrelevant as it won’t address the real issue in higher education.
Seriously Bad Idea #2 - Quality Education Can Be Scaled:
Yes, this is a bad idea, but it’s not the actual idea in higher education today. First, minimizing faculty costs motivated trying to scale education, this is just a consequence of the first bad idea. Second, “quality” is irrelevant. Accreditation today is completely bogus (and the endless academic scandals, with no penalty from accreditation, illustrate this well), and accreditation facilitates the student loans.
Since student loans are not based on quality education, only on “education” as laughably defined by accreditation, the people trying to scale education don’t care in the least about quality. To even assert “quality” is a factor in today’s higher education is naïve, deeply naïve. It’s about saving a few bucks. If administration were presented with research showing that class sizes over 30 were guaranteed in all ways to do absolutely nothing for students…administration would still order class sizes of a thousand students or more, because those classes are immensely profitable.
The gentle reader should ask himself: if you wanted to learn something, would you like private access to your teacher, or would you like to share your teacher with 500 people simultaneously? For thousands of years, humans have learned best by having teachers with a small class (optimally, a single student). We all know this, so any assertion that some large class offers quality education is a lie on the face of it.
Seriously Bad Idea #3 - Technology Is the Answer to Every Problem in Higher Education:
This, too, is a bad idea in higher education, but some questions really need to be asked about how it got into place. I remember one department head, an administrative hachet-person, would also stress the word “technology” and really wanted us to use it. It didn’t matter how irrelevant the technology, as long as it was being used, we were doing well in her eyes.
When I asked for a computer with a CD-ROM drive, she had no idea what such a drive was. When I was building a website for an online course, she sent me an e-mail asking to see it. I sent her a link. She sent me another e-mail asking to see the website. I sent her another link, explaining that she needed to click on the underlined words and she could see the site. Eventually I had to come to her office and show her what I was talking about.
It’s clear admin has a fixation on technology, but the previous paragraph shows that they don’t really understand what they’re doing. So why the fixation on technology as a solution to everything? I suspect the massive potential for kickbacks, but I must concede I’m not conversant with every form of fraud in higher education today (I do not concede lack of effort on my part in this regard, it’s just that there’s so much fraud…). Technology can solve many problems, but problems are, indeed, not necessarily solved by the use of technology. Most administrators have no capacity to understand exactly what I just said in the previous sentence, and having this type of leadership is the real bad idea.
Seriously Bad Idea #4 - Faculty Are Impediments to Innovation in Higher Education:
The author of the article proposes this as a bad idea, but again obvious questions present themselves. Who is making the judgement that faculty are the impediment? What are the innovations being advanced that faculty are impeding? How are the incredibly disposable and quickly replaced faculty an impediment? Is turning our universities into boiler rooms really an “innovation”? Is increasing faculty workloads to extreme levels really going to improve higher education? Any investigation into the answers to such questions leads to the real problem in higher education.
Now we come to a really bizarre claim:
Seriously Bad Idea #5 - Staff Growth Is the Underlying Problem to What Plagues Higher Education:
The author has yet to mention the ridiculous growth of administration and staff (and their huge pay). I just assumed it was ignorance, but here the author is saying this growth, a cancerous tumor larger than the size of the host, isn’t a problem.
I beg to differ.
A generation ago, when most campus employees were faculty, students graduated in around 4 years, and these graduates didn’t start life deep in debt.
Today, faculty are a minority on campuses, due to that staff growth. Even on good campuses, most students don’t ever graduate, graduates typically take 6 years to get their 4 year degree, and these graduates now start life around $35,000 in debt.
Now, the reason for all the staff is…what, exactly? They’re not educators, and they’re not researchers. They justify their existence by claiming to help students. But the students are less likely to graduate now, and are more likely to graduate with considerable debt. Thus, they’re not helping students, either. They’re not helping anyone but themselves.
So, yeah, maybe we should look into getting rid of staff, since, empirically, they are hurting our students. Universities got along fine without all the little fiefdoms filled with staff they have today, and not having to pay all those huge salaries would go a long way to reducing tuition, which would help students. Hey, aren’t we supposed to help students?
I haven’t been quoting the author, but I do want to give one quote to demonstrate the writing style here:
Colleges and universities need more non-faculty educators able to partner with faculty on redesigning large enrollment classes to encourage more active learning, and on partnering with faculty to create new blended and low-residency degree programs. Where the work can be sourced, and it is not a core competency that differentiates the institution, then it probably should be.
Seriously, we need more staff to make it easier to run larger courses? Do note the vocabulary here: partner (as a verb!), blended, sourced, competency, etc. Hmm, who writes with such consistent edu-speak?
I get the feeling the author is one of those staff, because there’s no way to objectively look at what’s going on in higher education and not suspect the increase in staff is part of the problem.
No, we don’t need more of these staff. Even if we did, they should be contingency, right? Hire them to redesign the course, then fire them…like we should with most of the non-faculty on campus.
The next bad idea also has some issues:
Seriously Bad Idea #6 - The Trends Toward Public Disinvestment to Higher Education Is Inevitable:
It’s rather debatable that there’s public disinvestment in higher education, as I’ve discussed before. While this “bad idea” isn’t even accurate, it’s quite possible that, at some point, it will be valid.
In fact, I concede it is inevitable. States don’t have access to the money-printing machines, the Federal government does; one only has to look at Greece to see what happens to a printing machine-less state in a fiat system. The primary purpose of fiat money creation is the transfer of wealth away from the people that don’t have the money-printing machines. As Krugman’s hero Keynes pointed out, not one person in a million understands when his wealth is being taken away in this manner.
So, states are steadily having their wealth extracted, and with the national debt soaring ever higher, at some point states won’t be able to create wealth as quickly as the money printing machines can take it away.
Saying this is inevitable isn’t so much a bad idea as just acknowledging the mathematics of our exponentially increasing national debt. But…what of it?
The author quotes some uncited numbers giving current support levels:
Connecticut spends over $12,000 per full-time equivalent student, Wyoming spends $16,000, and Hawaii spends about $14,000. In comparison, in 2012 Arizona spent on $3,425, New Hampshire $2,795, and Wisconsin $4,439.
Even with a “paltry” $3,000 of support per student, this suggests serious fiscal mismanagement of our institutions. Assuming faculty teaches a mere 200 students a semester, the faculty thus brings in $1,200,000 a year. Over a million bucks a year, and the faculty would be quite lucky to get $50,000…most get less than half of that.
And that’s support from the taxpayer, many students also have to pay tuition on top of that.
Every single time someone starts looking at the money going into higher education, I have to wonder where does all that money go? If there were only as many adminstrators/staff as faculty, and all were paid about the same, I suspect we could get a huge surplus in higher education, instead of always being told how cash-strapped our universities are.
Now we come to the last, worst, bad idea:
Seriously Bad Idea #7 - U.S. Higher Education Is In Crisis:
Wait, what? Saying higher education is in crisis is a bad idea? Higher education is in a crisis, that’s the simple truth. Please, gentle reader, allow me to present some facts:
Student loan debt is over 1.2 trillion dollars now. If higher education were legitimate, this level of debt would be questionable. But is it legitimate? Let’s take a look:
18 year long frauds take place at our universities…and there are no arrests, no penalties, no firings. This type of fraud goes on at many universities, because the ones committing the fraud know there will be no penalty.
About half of our college graduates can demonstrate no measurable improvement in knowledge or skill from high school.
How can anyone look at the above issues and deny that our higher education system is in crisis? Every single one of the above issues affects thousands, if not millions, of students (well, the UNC fraud only affected a few thousand, but similar frauds go on at many institutions).
There are some bad ideas governing higher education right now. Things are far simpler than what the author of the article claims, and soon I’ll go over, again, the truly bad ideas that are destroying higher education.