Rebecca Schuman has a piece up on Slate, “Doing Higher Ed Right,” in which she writes about Iowa State University, which is “the only—only—institution of higher learning in the entire country to spend the last eight years hiring full-time faculty and shrinking its administration.” This is in contrast to, say, the University of Akron, which Schuman mentions in the same piece, which threatened “to shutter 55 degree programs—you know, frivolous ones, like elementary education” because of budget concerns and the vice provost of which, whose name is Rex Ramsier, suggested “that if his institution [had to stop] using underpaid adjunct labor, it would have to raise tuition 40 percent.”
It would be easy to go on and on about how college administrations have managed to increase tuition by an astonishing 1200% over the last thirty years, at least according to this piece in Salon, but, like Schuman, I think it’s important to focus on what Iowa State has done, and so I am simply going to quote a couple of paragraphs from her article:
ISU President Steven Leath explained to the Des Moines Register that ISU wanted to “run a very lean operation and put as much into direct support of students and faculty” as possible, boosting full-time faculty hiring by an astounding 41 percent. (No riot-inducing tuition hike yet, Rex Ramsier!)
Indeed, Iowa State is being lauded as one of the most efficiently run universities in the nation—and its student retention is up 3 percent since 2005. This might not be a spectacular number, but it’s a better increase than its rival, the University of Iowa, a prestigious flagship Research I institution (that, according to the Delta Costs Project, has added much fewer full-time faculty members and many more staff positions).
So yes, Virginia (and every other state), it is possible to put student learning and faculty quality first and for capitalism not to collapse upon itself. In fact, only question the ISU data inspires is: Why, exactly, isn’t every other university also doing this, when it is quite obviously not only possible, but makes for a better-run institution? Why indeed.
The most interesting thing I’ve recently read about the adjunct problem was an essay on why administrators at universities get paid so much: Because of course, they have to offer a competitive salary to get the best person for the job.
And then you look at what they pay adjuncts, and you start to think… hmm, wait….
If you read other articles on Slate you might come to believe that elementary education was in fact “frivolous,” or at least unnecessary insofar as we produce far more elementary teachers than we need. I don’t know how good the Iowa State program was, but eliminating it may be wiser than you think.
I don’t know, but I suspect that “student application rates” probably have at least something to do with it. Because what people say they want and what they actually choose are very different things.
Imagine a school:
-80% of faculty are full time phds; 20% are adjunct phds; all have a minimum of 5 years teaching experience at the college level.
-no class is greater than 50 students.
-course selection is somewhat limited (the school only has 2000 students and they can’t afford to have faculty waste their time on a ton of three-student seminars.)
-there is very little name recognition
-the campus is not especially attractive and/or is located in a somewhat bleak location which is not popular among many folks.
-there are relatively few student services beyond those needed for the academic mission.
That school would be good, cheap…. and empty.
But anyway, I guess we’ll see. If folks start flocking to Iowa State then everyone else will compete. If it turns out that students don’t actually value what Slate columnists say they value (which may not be what the columnists would actually do–I wonder if they would rather send their kids to Iowa State or berkeley?) then perhaps not.
That’s a bit of an unfair comparison–realistically, Iowa State and Berkeley are not competing for the same students. The question is, does Iowa State pick up students relative to their peer institutions? I don’t really have the time to do a detailed analysis, but as a quick comparison conference rival Kansas is down in enrollment (about 150 students since last year, down 2500 in the last decade) and the University of Iowa is slowly trending upward (500 down since last year, but a net increase of ~1250 in the last decade) while ISU is way up (2200 since last year, 6000 in the last decade). They all have student populations in the 30k ballpark. Obviously these things are very complicated, and I wouldn’t venture to draw too much of a conclusion from this other than that hiring faculty instead of adjuncts isn’t hurting them–this totally ignores costs, for example. (Room+board for Iowa is about 10% higher than ISU, and in-state tuition for Kansas is higher than both–though obviously the same students are not eligible for in-state tuition for all three schools. On the other hand, the third Iowa state school–smallest and cheapest–is down in enrollment over the last decade.)
The thesis of that article is not the general “we produce too many elementary-school teachers” but the specific “we produce too many lower-quality elementary-school teachers.” Closing programs willy-nilly won’t necessarily solve the problem. (Indeed, given the usual calculus of administrators shuttering programs of study–do the small ones first–cutting elementary education as a budget measure is as likely to make the problem worse as better.) Also it was the University of Akron, not Iowa State University, that threatened to close the program, but I’ll assume that was a typo on your part. :)
I don’t necessarily want to hurrah Iowa State unreservedly (I know some people in a single science graduate department there, and my impression is that even accounting for cost of living they’re paid less well than their peer institutions–sorry that’s vague, I’m trying to avoid outing either them or me). But I think it’s important that somebody’s doing this, and showing that it works.
I tutored students when I was in college. I have a good feel for which colleges have intelligent people and which colleges have dopes (at least at the university I was at).
Elementary education (I know … just at my school) was where they put the basketball players who literally couldn’t read. Everyone just had to kind of pretend – I’m sure some of them are making much more money now than I ever will in my life. My girlfriend’s roommate was in elementary education. She would occasionally say things that made me wonder how she ever got a high school diploma, let along being at my university.
I got the drift.
But no one really cares, because they don’t have to teach 6-year-olds Maxwell’s Equations or quantum electrodynamics. Or they don’t have to be super intelligent to marry a guy with a good job and become a housewife. Still, we can remain somewhat grounded in reality, can’t we?
I wonder how useful this type of analysis can be. I’d guess that most of these institutions could grow quite a bit – simply by relaxing their admission standards. So this type of analysis is only relevant if we assume that the schools are maintaining constant admission standards over time – and perhaps assume that all schools are employing comparable standards. I don’t know this to be true.
I sense that there’s a big divide between research-focused schools and education-focused schools. Research-focused schools basically exist to conduct research and to train grad students to conduct research. A person selected for her excellent research is not necessarily a person with any teaching ability, and typically is not. Thus this professor’s classes will be taught mostly by grad students – who, themselves, are not selected based on teaching ability.
At research institutions, undergrads are regarded as pack mules – a way to spread the financial burden of fixed assets and build a larger constituency to lobby for education funding (which, the researchers hope, will translate into research funding). Salary for non-publishing teachers – “lecturers,” adjuncts – is merely one more operating cost to be minimized.
Research institutions remind me of newspapers: The public thinks the schools exist to teach undergrads, but the administration thinks the school exists to crank out research. Analogously, the public thinks newspapers exist to generate and disseminate news, but a paper’s administration regards news stories are just filler to pack around the ads that pay the bills.
Now that the internet is providing a vehicle for separating news stories from ads, the newspaper business model is failing. Analogously, I have to wonder how long the business model of the research institution can last. Over time I would expect education-minded people will gravitate to institutions that really focus on teaching. How much do undergrads really benefit from studying in proximity to cutting-edge research and researchers?
I suspect the need to counteract this potential problem is the reason that research institutions invest so heavily in things that attract undergrads other than high-quality teaching: pretty grounds, big stadiums, winning teams, advertising campaigns. Oh, and low tuition. But that advantage of large state schools has been steadily eroding as state budgets contract. And part of the cost of these schools is the surprisingly low 4-yr graduation rates – meaning students often must incur additional tuition costs to earn a degree.
That’s my grump du jour.
Yes, it’s unfair, mostly because they are different schools with different missions and, presumably, very different student bodies. Which leads to the question about whether it is ALSO unfair to assume that places that are very different from Iowa State can/should follow the Iowa State model.
Well, no. The question is: does Iowa State pick up students relative to their peer institutions as a direct or indirect result of the changes we are discussing?
Some students (comparatively few, I am guessing) might make the change because the non-adjunct faculty is “better.” More students would probably make the change if the administration’s choices meant there was a significant difference in hiring, for example.
Solve? No. Help? Sure. Certainly, limited supply tends to affect competition, which is to say that the remaining schools can afford to turn down the worst-qualified applicants. When you raise the applicant/admission ratio, the student body tends to go up in quality.
I’m currently a lecturer at a large state university, and I get paid crap. Many of my friends from grad school are in the same situation — with the exception of the couple of people with really fabulous research (and who all admit that they really aren’t that good at teaching and don’t particularly like it), the rest of us are mostly stuck with lecturer or one-year positions with really high teaching loads, low pay, and not much respect. Several of us (including me) are currently saying, “I’ll teach one more year, and apply to jobs teaching at smaller schools that value teaching, but if I don’t get one of those, then I’ll find something outside academia.” (I applied this past year — sent out about 100 applications, got maybe 10 first-round interviews, three second-round interviews, and no offers. Most of the places I applied said that they got at least 500 applications for each open position.)
That’s a fair point. But none of the Iowa state schools are particularly selective, especially as regards in-state students, who make up anywhere from a majority to a large majority, depending on which one we’re talking about. And I know that for one of the schools in my comparison, changes in student population were largely driven by how many students accepted offers, not how many offers were made. (Cue panicked attempts to find sufficient dorm space for the incoming freshmen.) Still–you’re right, hard to tell from that metric, and I’m not familiar with all the schools in question.
Well, there’s a continuum here from research-focused to undergraduate-education-focused: it’s not a total bifurcation. And there is also a continuum of tenure-track faculty members: some prefer to only teach, some prefer to only do research, and some quite like doing both (and are good at both).
True, but if that’s the case, why are all the schools we’re talking about except Iowa State currently using the same model? The solution may not look like Iowa State, or may not look like Iowa State for all schools, but, again, I’m glad somebody is trying it.
True (I did mean that, but didn’t articulate it well, sorry). I assume, admittedly without evidence, that the university is probably portraying this as part of a general commitment to teaching above and beyond their fellow R1-type universities (which ISU does count as, if their research funding isn’t as large as some of the real powerhouses in that area). And the focus on teaching may make a difference to students, or more particularly their counselors and parents who are helping them decide where to apply and/or helping them pay for it.
This assumes that elementary education programs are competitive in the sense of having a maximum number of spaces. That’s on some level untrue although the variation can be large between schools. Of course, you may gain an advantage by removing some of the student population who’d choose the degree after having chosen a college just because it’s easy, but again that depends on which programs get eliminated. It’s less likely to be true for small programs, which are also more likely to get eliminated. Anyway, my objection was more to the idea “we have a surplus of elementary teachers” without qualifications, making elementary education majors “frivolous”, and less to the idea that shuttering the program would help with that; I may have gotten into the weeds a bit here, sorry.
Student enrollment decisions, not mention retention and persistence, are very complicated issues, and it would be foolish to suggest—and the article I linked to does not suggest—that the only thing driving Iowa State’s increased enrollment is the decision to hire more full-time faculty. Indeed, even in the bit that I quoted, direct support of students is mentioned, and that, I am sure, includes a good deal more than the limited services that G&W posited in his hypothetical university. As well, the article I linked to—though this is not in the part that I quoted—points out that Iowa States has made a point of reducing the size of its administration, in direct contrast to the national trend at institutions of higher learning across the nation.
This decrease, of course, is almost certainly not directly linked to the increase in enrollment, but the cause of the increase is not the point. The point is that it has happened despite the fact that Iowa State is engaging in hiring and other practices that administrators throughout the nation have predicted will result in higher tuition, reduced enrollment, and other dire consequences. As Harlequin put it: “I wouldn’t venture to draw too much of a conclusion from this other than that hiring faculty instead of adjuncts isn’t hurting them.”
There is a whole lot to discuss about the state of higher education in this country; we should, however, not let this point get lost as we do so.
Is that what’s being done? If I’m a State Board of Education and I’m running, oh, say, 8 different State schools, I might well decide “The Education department in school X isn’t getting good results. Let’s have all the kids in the State who want to get a B. A. in Education go to schools A, B, C and D, beef them up with the assets and the best faculty from the other schools and close the Education departments in schools W, X, Y and Z.” and make similar calls on some other majors.
I can’t speak to research institutions in general, but I know one top one pretty damn well and I can tell you that undergraduate education is by no means a sideline there. I was engaged in research for most of the semesters I was there and I was no pack mule – and I learned a shitload from it, too. I get various publications reviewing what’s going on at the Institute and quality participation by undergraduates in research is standard.