Sunday, August 27, 2006

What Do They Do?

By Richard Vedder

When researching my book Going Broke By Degree a few years ago, I was horrified to learn that the number of "non-faculty professional" workers per 100 students has doubled since 1976. When I checked the statistic again the other day, I learned that the ratio of this type of employee to students continues to grow.

Why? What are these workers doing? How do they advance the teaching agenda of universities, and promote better learning? Do they materially lead to more and better research?

No doubt some of these workers DO a very good job and even are "efficient" in some economic sense. But I strong suspect many of them are non-essential, particularly those contributing to new layers of university bureaucracies. They certainly are a contributing factor in rising university costs. This is a matter that needs further exploration, but the ultimate answer to the questions raised above depends on developing new and better "bottom line" answers to the most fundamental question of all: what do universities do?


Lady Justice said...

I just watched the Fox News feature (part of it, at least) on what's going on in higher ed, and your book was mentioned. Nice to see you've got a little blog going here.

I'm a non-trad who is finishing up a degree in a non-trad program that is part of a world class national university, and I've been very pleased to learn that a transfer from my former (and greatly overpriced) private liberal arts college isn't going to cost me as much as I initially thought. Our program comes in at about half the cost of a traditional degree, and believe me, even with one of the largest endowments out of all the universities in Illinois, the university price tag for the traditional age students is quite steep.

So, even being a non-trad, I've taken an interest in what's going on in higher ed, especially with all of the dumbing down of academic standards. I know this well, because I spent all of last year at my old college under instruction from adjuncts, one being absolutely unprepared for class and who just rambled on about whatever he could pull out of the air that day. Only one adjunct was actually directly affiliated with this liberal arts college, and the rest were sort of roaming around teaching at various community and regional colleges in addition to teaching at my school part-time. It really showed, and yet the program wasn't discounted as steeply as it should have been considering they were hiring people who were not even getting benefits or a high rate of pay for teaching those courses (adjuncts aren't paid diddely squat).

I have to agree that as long as these schools are heavily subsidized by American taxpayer money, they will continue to keep raising tuition every time loan limits are increased, so it'll be like putting a hamster on a wheel--going nowhere but into serious debt.

And don't even get me started on what the cost of an undergraduate education does to bright students who want to go on to law or medical school later. Many must attend part-time, as it is easier to pay part of the way through rather than have to borrow from private lenders to supplement federal loans, which often aren't enough.

Meanwhile, college presidents have offices full of expensive furniture and probably even marble floors. The students are often taught by TA's.

This is just not right. Time to sound the alarm for reform.

superhiker said...

Lady, it isn't quite clear from your post: Are you attending a public or private "world-class university" in Illinois? (I can think of two or three campuses there that fit that description.)

And, are you satisfied at the new school you are attending? Are you still attending a "dumbed down" school?

Lady Justice said...

Responding to Superhiker, I am attending a private university this year, but since I've just gotten transferred over, I can't tell you yet whether I find it "dumbed down" or not.

I'm just going by reputation, which is supposed to be "world class." And I certainly hope to not be disappointed, that's for sure.

There are still some wonderful professors out there who are worth their high salaries, but I agree with Mr. Vedder that everyone needs to take into mind that if tuitions are rising, then quality ought to rise, too. Otherwise, you're just being hosed.

Textbook prices are a whole other story, by the way. They charge up to $100 for a text because they know you have to have it, so they can gouge you there. Ever wonder why they keep coming out with a "brand new, updated" edition almost every year for some of them? All about profit.

Ken D. said...

Richard wrote: "When researching my book Going Broke By Degree a few years ago, I was horrified to learn that the number of "non-faculty professional" workers per 100 students has doubled since 1976.

Something else to recollect are the massive investments in automated administrative systems universities have made since 1976. In theory at least, these substantial investments in technology should have occasioned a diminution in the need for administrative labor within higher education.