University of Texas President Bill Powers has an op-ed piece (“Higher ed needs investment“) where he outlines the case for reviving the state’s investment in higher education. Powers concludes with a broad argument about who bears responsibility for making the most of an investment in higher education :
University administrations need to aggressively control higher education’s cost. But the responsibility for the cost of public higher education also rests with the public. Higher education affordability should be a nationally shared priority. State governments should begin making up lost ground by returning to their historical investment levels for higher education. It will help hold the line on the cost to students, and it’s the best investment of public dollars we can possibly make.
What Powers leaves out is the failure of state leaders to set real priorities and the rising costs of the increasing bureaucracy spawned in the hall state and federal bureaucracies. The very officials complaining about college costs have contributed to them in their posturing over pointless “accountability” programs that accomplish nothing except make universities hire more people who work with state bureaucrats rather than students.
The news coming out of Austin (“State budgets call for cuts despite sunnier revenue picture“) is not good news for higher education. Higher education in the state would see additional cuts on top of those passed two years ago. The cuts are small (1 to 2%) but rising enrollment and rising costs will not make these cuts easy.
The fate of higher education budgets are grim for the foreseeable future. The Texas Legislature has greeted the improving revenue estimates and seen an opportunity for tax cuts rather than restoring funding for public schools, higher education, and most everything else in the budget. Compounding the legislative obsession over offering tax cuts, conservatives continue to view higher education as wasteful and out of touch (despite the fact that state schools have been under the management of Bush and Perry appointees for almost two decades).
The financial squeeze will create additional pressure to teach online courses to large numbers of students and make other changes that will transform higher education in the state’s schools. The next decade is going to be filled with challenges and faculty need to be prepared for an uncertain future.
The Texas Tribune has an article (“Parsing the History of Perry’s Higher Ed Battles“) that gives a pretty good overview of what the Governor’s agenda in higher education looks like.
One interesting twist is that Perry wants to dictate more of what goes on in Texas’ universities even as the funding from the state drops. For example, Texas Tech has seen the share of funding it gets from the state plummet from 56 percent in 1990 to 36 percent in 2010. The University of Texas has seen its contribution from the state drop from 52 percent thirty years ago to 14 percent.
I think that Scott Caven, the former chairman of the UT board of regents, may provides a pretty balanced view: “I certainly don’t think Rick Perry is the anti-education governor. I just think that the of the proposals he and some of his appointees are suggesting seem to be overly simplistic solutions to very complex issues.”
According to a story in the American Independent, Texas Tech will begin using cost/productivity data to shape their 2011-2012 budget. Sometimes, bad data is worse than no data. I worry that anyone would look at this data would think that such simplistic data tells you much about the contributions of a faculty member to the teaching, service, and research mission of a university.
Insider Higher Education has an article that takes a look at the budget cut across the nation. The cuts in Texas (14%) appear to be above average and may prove especially tough given the growing Texas population.
The Texas Tribune has a good story (“Switch to Outcomes-Based Higher Ed Funding Taking Time“) looking at the status of “outcome based” funding for the state’s universities. This comes from frustration that legislators have about students not graduating. They have already capped degree plans at 120 hours. Now they are looking for more ways to get more students through the existing system.
Outcome-based funding would involving making part of a university’s funding based on formulas including the success of students rather than simple enrollment.
Reasons we do not need it:
- Universities are already working to increase retention of students because every freshman that succeeds become a sophomore who pays tuition.
- Faculty have always cared about student success.
Reasons why it is bad:
- There are too many measures of success to implement this without complicating higher education financning more and creating unintended consequences.
- It further erodes the obligation of the students to meet the standards. The “student as customer” model already places pressure on faculty at some to pass students.
The state needs to balance encouraging student success with creating incentives for hard work and maintaining the standards that make a college degree worth working for. The question here is whether that will be decided by officials in Washington or Austin or by the faculty in the classroom.