A Couple of Education-Related Union Blog Posts People on Alas Might Be Interested In

In September, I start my first full term as Secretary of my faculty union. One of my responsibilities is to write and manage the union blog, which has been very interesting, both because I have been given more or less free rein in how I do so and because of the ways in which I am constrained by the fact that it’s a union blog, written in a corporate voice (all posts go out as authored by the NCCFT Executive Committee), which is has till now been used primarily to talk to the membership about campus-related matters. I am slowly trying to introduce more outward-facing, issues oriented posts, and below are two that I thought might be of interest to people on this blog, based on conversations we’ve had before. They are framed in terms of their relevance to the college where I teach, but the issues they address are not relevant only to my campus:

  1. How Do You Measure a Community College’s Success?
  2. Governor Cuomo’s Excelsior Scholarship Program Is Not All It’s Cracked Up To Be

You are of course welcome to post comments on either of the posts themselves, just be aware of two things:

  1. Your first comment will need to be approved by me, which might take some time if I am not near a device that I can use to approve it.
  2. I will not be able to participate in the conversation as myself, since it is the executive committee’s policy to maintain only a corporate presence on the blog. (We want to avoid the confusion that inevitably results because people tend to assume that we are always expressing “the union’s position speaking” even when we make clear we are speaking only for ourselves.)

Therefore, if you’d like to engage me as part of any conversation these pieces might engender, please bring the comments back here to Alas.

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6 Responses to A Couple of Education-Related Union Blog Posts People on Alas Might Be Interested In

  1. 1
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    This link in ‘how do you measure’

    It’s worth reading Kelderman’s article in full

    goes to a library. Do you mean for it to go to the “NCC portal”, whatever that is?

    Anyway: the ‘how do you measure’ article as a whole is good but fairly short on data. If you want to be convincing when you say

    “once again [the accusations are] leaving out a significant percentage of the students we serve and failing entirely to consider that we successfully serve many students who did not come to Nassau Community College to get a degree.”

    then it would be good to explain how you DO serve them. Do they get education? In what? Does it serve them well? It is a wise choice for all, most, many, some, few, none? On what basis do you make that claim?

    Or, tl/dr: if you don’t like dataset A, what dataset do you propose? You can’t claim the “not A” default.

    This is particularly an issue when you try to make the distinction between public and private colleges, with the accusation of “predation”.

    Obviously private colleges have incentives to disregard student learning. And as such they have incentives to prey on students. But less obviously, public colleges also tend towards regulatory capture and as such they also have tendencies to benefit the administration at the expense of students.

    The number of failing public schools or programs is almost certainly non-zero. But the number of schools or programs which spontaneously say “we’re not good and we should shut down and stop paying ourselves” is probably zero. Bad teachers don’t voluntarily leave; and so on: It is good for a professor to get tenure; similarly, a teacher’s union is great for teachers. The commensurate lack of flexibility may or may not be good for the students, though.

    So it makes no sense not to compare them. I have no idea what the real total cost of Nassau is (I know it’s nominally ~$5k for NY residents and ~$10k for others, but I don’t know how much money is kicked in by the state, or how many special exemptions they get, and so on.) If you knew how much it really cost, you could run a comparison.

    After all, it would make no sense to apply different analyses to performance by NCC and performance by for-profit competitors. If anything the analysis of public spending should be more stringent than private spending. If people want to use their money to gamble on success, that’s their call. If they want to use taxpayer money, that’s my call too.

  2. G&W:

    Anyway: the ‘how do you measure’ article as a whole is good but fairly short on data. If you want to be convincing when you say

    “once again [the accusations are] leaving out a significant percentage of the students we serve and failing entirely to consider that we successfully serve many students who did not come to Nassau Community College to get a degree.”

    then it would be good to explain how you DO serve them. Do they get education? In what? Does it serve them well? It is a wise choice for all, most, many, some, few, none? On what basis do you make that claim?

    Well, yes, but it is a blog post and not a research-driven essay. In fact, part of the point of the post was, in the conclusion, to suggest that the school where I teach ought to start gathering the kinds of data you rightly point out that I didn’t cite. (Or, if we have it, we ought to start using it a good deal more publicly.) The Kelderman article, which I sadly can’t link to—my access to the Chronicle is only through the school’s portal—does suggest, and I mention some of it in the post, some other ways of looking at data to measure success.

    But less obviously, public colleges also tend towards regulatory capture and as such they also have tendencies to benefit the administration at the expense of students.

    What do you mean by “regulatory capture?”

    Also, re the previous you quote: In that sentence you talk about benefits to the administration at the expense of students, but in the next paragraph you talk about tenure and teachers unions—which you characterize as benefits to teachers that, in your estimation, could turn out to be at the expense of students. Are you conflating faculty and administration here or are you talking about two different kinds of benefits?

    After all, it would make no sense to apply different analyses to performance by NCC and performance by for-profit competitors.

    Except that the missions of the two kinds of institutions are very different and it would seem to me that, to be fair, any analysis you do needs to account for that in how it measures the institution’s ultimate success. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look at a public institution’s bottom line; accrediting bodies do that all the time; and I am not entirely against the idea of performance-based funding—and I’m not going to go into how that bottom line has been impacted by the slow and steady disinvestment in public higher education that has taken place over the last decades—but I don’t think the bottom line of a public institution means the same thing as the bottom line of a private, for-profit institution when it comes to measuring successful educational outcomes.

  3. 3
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    What do you mean by “regulatory capture?”
    Here’s the Wikipedia page, which is fairly good. Basically, it’s when special interest groups in area X start to dominate (capture) the means of controlling/funding/legislating area X. Or, as Wikipedia puts it, “”when a regulatory agency, created to act in the public interest, instead advances the commercial or political concerns of special interest groups that dominate the industry or sector it is charged with regulating.[1] When regulatory capture occurs, the interests of firms or political groups are prioritized over the interests of the public, leading to a net loss to society as a whole. Government agencies suffering regulatory capture are called “captured agencies”.

    Oil development is a good example of full-fledged regulatory capture. Some public sector unions and agencies are starting to approach fledging, though. In NY, education is probably in that area.

    One important aspect in capture is claimed (or actual) EXPERTISE. If an interest group can successfully convince people that they are or should be the primary experts then it is very easy for them to capture results based on expertise. (It’s expensive and difficult for the U.S. government to hire train and monitor independent/competent folks to analyse the need for pipelines. It’s easy and free to use a lot of oil company data….)

    Are you conflating faculty and administration here

    Yes, but only for one particular argument. Of course it’s usually better to spend more on faculty than on administration (they are not the same) and I certainly think admin is a larger problem overall. But both faculty and admins are subject to cost increases which don’t benefit students, and to otherwise act in their own self-interest even if it doesn’t benefit students.

    the missions of [CCs and for-profits] are very different and it would seem to me that, to be fair, any analysis you do needs to account for that in how it measures the institution’s ultimate success.

    Just FYI, I am in fact a fan of community colleges.

    But I don’t know if the “mission” is really the issue to control for; I would actually rely on inputs. If a CC serves a lot of folks who have low high school grades, obviously the CC wouldn’t be expected to match the outputs of a college (private or otherwise) who had higher-level inputs. And the reverse is also true. But the results matter more than the stated mission. Not to mention that the mission itself is often very political and not entirely accurate.

    I don’t think the bottom line of a public institution means the same thing as the bottom line of a private, for-profit institution when it comes to measuring successful educational outcomes

    I am trying to understand that distinction.

    Imagine you are comparing a public and private program, say to get a RN. For the purposes of this hypothetical, imagine that they admit an identical pool of students; that they have identical total cost; and that they have identical outputs.

    I grok that you would think that the public program is better. If I’m right, can you explain why?

  4. G&W:

    Basically, it’s when special interest groups in area X start to dominate (capture) the means of controlling/funding/legislating area X. Or, as Wikipedia puts it, “”when a regulatory agency, created to act in the public interest, instead advances the commercial or political concerns of special interest groups that dominate the industry or sector it is charged with regulating.[1] When regulatory capture occurs, the interests of firms or political groups are prioritized over the interests of the public, leading to a net loss to society as a whole. Government agencies suffering regulatory capture are called “captured agencies”.

    Oil development is a good example of full-fledged regulatory capture. Some public sector unions and agencies are starting to approach fledging, though. In NY, education is probably in that area.

    One important aspect in capture is claimed (or actual) EXPERTISE. If an interest group can successfully convince people that they are or should be the primary experts then it is very easy for them to capture results based on expertise. (It’s expensive and difficult for the U.S. government to hire train and monitor independent/competent folks to analyse the need for pipelines. It’s easy and free to use a lot of oil company data….)

    Ok, but before I respond to the rest of your comment—because I am guessing my response will depend in part on how you answer this question—could you explain how you see this operating in public education?

  5. 5
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    could you explain how you see this operating in public education?

    Sure, though I only have minimal time and the issue is fairly complex so this will be very general and limited in examples.

    I will start by putting it more generally: RC happens when
    a) bodies under
    b) public-interest-based
    c) regulation, evaluation, or control
    d) develop the considerable political power connections and perceived expertise to substantially affect or control
    e) the rules, procedures, policies, or judges by which they are regulated, evaluated, and controlled.
    thereby
    f) moving the de facto effect of regulation away from “public interest” and towards “interest of group,” even if the de jure regulation remains unchanged; and/or
    g) changing the actual regulations to favor the interests of the group.

    Start w/ k-12: the largest lobbying group w/r/t public education and by far the most powerful group is made up of public educators, who have a very tight public union. They act to stifle competition (charters, vouchers, etc.); they act to gain benefits which arguably don’t benefit students (promotion/retention based on years in service rather than quality, etc.); they attempt to claim expertise on their field, thus deterring entrants elsewhere; and they strenuously and successfully oppose the vast majority of measures which would potentially allow third parties to change those rules. And they have been very successful. To use a line from an article on corporations, “[education] regulators are too bound up socially, professionally, and ideologically with their regulatees to offer impartial oversight in the public interest.”

    This problem also exists in higher education, quite often internally. issues. Both faculty and administrators constantly attempt to expand their domains and powers, within the schools, arguably to the detriment of the school as a whole. Though I think we both know that administration appears to have, unfortunately, won that battle.

    And I would argue that the problem also exists externally in higher education. One of the more obvious ways is the issue of competition: public schools have done a lot to promote special circumstances (nonprofits, state funding, etc.) just as K-12 have done a lot to steer all money to existing schools, not charter schools. In both cases they maintain this is in the public interest, but that is because they have successfully captured a large part of claimed expertise of what is in the public interest. In both cases a truly student-public-interest-based position would probably transfer some funds away from the public schools.

  6. G&W:

    Okay, so I’m not going to respond to your explanation/discussion of “regulatory capture” in higher education because I’m still not sure precisely what you’re talking about—except to point out that government underfunding of public higher education has been a significant problem for a long time, starting decades ago, and so I am not sure how you think either faculty or administration have had any sort of “special interest” impact on it. In New York State, for example—where SUNY community colleges are supposed to be funded roughly in thirds, from the state, from the local government, from tuition—the state has consistently funded us in the mid- 20% range (they are, by law, supposed to fund us somewhere closer to the high 30%) and the local government has done the same (though at a slightly different percentage point), which has left my college with no choice but to raise tuition and/or dip into its reserve fund. In light of the budgetary reality, my union has accepted salary increases pretty close to zero in the last couple of contracts, (ETA: with at least two years of salary freezes)—which cover a period of about seven years—as well as two pay lags, one each in two different years of the last contract. My point is neither to say “pity poor me” nor to pat my union on the back. My point is that I just don’t see where you get the idea that either faculty or administration in public higher ed are somehow attracting more state funding. So, again, I’m just not sure precisely what your point is in this regard.

    I have a more direct response to this:

    Imagine you are comparing a public and private program, say to get a RN. For the purposes of this hypothetical, imagine that they admit an identical pool of students; that they have identical total cost; and that they have identical outputs.

    You’ve changed the terms of the discussion here. If you are talking about comparing individual programs, public vs, for-profit, I probably agree with you that it makes sense to use precisely the same measures. But you can do that because you are comparing apples to apples. These two nursing programs each have the same mission/goal: to produce graduates who are competent registered nurses. They will also be subject to the same accreditation standards, etc. and so on. Assuming there is no corruption, misrepresentation, etc. in the interests of generating profits, the profit motive of the for-profit institution would have, I think, less of an impact on the comparison. (I am open to the possibility that I am wrong about this. My point is just that, in a program-to-program comparison, I see your point.)

    That program-to-program comparison, however, is not the same thing as comparing an entire public institution like the community college where I teach to a for-profit institution, if only because—by definition—the hypothetical equal starting points you set for the RN comparison will never apply.

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