Sunday, February 26, 2012


Statewide Razzie Awards

The Razzie awards are given each year to movies and performances that truly, impressively, memorably stunk.  Adam Sandler is up for several this year, which seems about right.  (Halle Berry won serious good-sport points in my book for actually showing up to accept her Razzie in person for Catwoman a few years ago.)  I’d like to nominate Joel Schumacher for a Lifetime Achievement Razzie award, for somehow sustaining a high-powered career as a director over several decades without ever making a single watchable film.  

We in higher ed should establish our own statewide Razzie awards, to call attention to those states that have really gone above and beyond in treating public higher education stupidly and destructively.

A quick list of this year’s nominees might include:

1. Arizona.  The stupid, it burns.  A few weeks ago I noted its breathtaking new year’s twofer: mandating G-rated language by faculty at all times, both on- and off-campus; and establishing political conservatives as a protected class.  Now, as an alert reader brought to my attention, they’re considering requiring all students on financial aid to contribute a minimum of $2,000 a year to their own education.  (Athletes and merit scholarship recipients are exempted.)   If you don’t have a spare $8,000 for a four-year degree, tough rocks.  I’m not exaggerating.  As this article from the Arizona Republic notes:

Supporters of the bill believe students should have more "skin in the game." Opponents believe students already pay a lot for their education, and tuition is only part of the expense of going to school.About 100 students signed in to oppose the bill, and a handful spoke out against it. James Allen, UA student-body president, told legislators that by passing the bill, legislators would make it harder to achieve a higher-education degree.Rep. Michelle Ugenti, R-Scottsdale, replied, "Welcome to life."

Welcome to the Razzies, Arizona.  

2. Florida.  I’ve heard of states cutting higher education funding.  And I’ve heard of states establishing new campuses (though admittedly not recently).  Florida offers the first case I’ve seen of doing those two things at the same time.  

Apparently, a term-limited Republican State Senator, J.D. Alexander,  has decided that his legacy will be a new campus.  But he doesn’t want to spend money to do it.  The obvious solution: cut the overall system funding while mandating spending on a new campus!

I’m not usually a fan of term limits, but if they get this guy out of power, I’ll have to reconsider my position.

The only metaphor that makes sense is jamming both the accelerator and the brake at the same time.  It’s physically possible, but why the hell would you do it?

3. California.  California is the Cal Ripken of stupidity: it just keeps performing, year after year, and at a remarkably high level.  

The state is facing a multibillion dollar structural deficit for the umpteenth consecutive year.  Its community colleges have wait lists of tens of thousands of people.  And its solution is...set tuition absurdly low, and don’t let the colleges keep it!  Make up the difference with furloughs for employees and waitlists for students.

Wow.  Just, wow.

If California is the future, we should all be very, very scared.

Wise and worldly readers, who would you nominate for this year’s public higher ed Razzie?

Any award for the mismanagement of higher ed needs to take Idaho into account. The fact that the State Board of Ed unanimously agreed to suspend the Faculty Senate at the "flagship" university, just because the president asked them to (without even hearing the representative from the senate) is bad enough, but just the tip of the iceberg.
Can NH win an award for "most amazing cutting of the higher ed budget?"

45% cut in the state appropriation from FY 2010 to FY2011. I wish I was making up that number.

NH was already the state spending the least per capita on higher ed in the country, they've locked in that place for sure...
As an Arizonan, I find it hard to believe that the Great State of Arizonan could possibly be beaten out by upstarts like New Hampshire or Idaho. We work hard at selecting the most retrograde public servants in the land, we are very skilled at it, and we are proud of our record!

The universities here were already working on killing off anything that looked in any way like a free ride. When ASU President Michael Crow pushed through the first of what has proven to be a long series of tuition increases, he tried to sweeten it by claiming that even though costs would appear to rise, students would be eligible for much more student aid.

"Student aid," of course, translated to "student indebtedness." And though there was merit funding, in the past couple of years that kind of thing has gone away, to the point where very few Arizona high-school graduates are eligible.

It must be said that long before the Recession That Is Not a Depression struck, the Crow said, to a faculty meeting I attended, that he intended to raise tuition and that his goal was, over time, to persuade the legislature to raise taxes to support the university.

That last item, of course, is anathema to the tea-partying set we have at the capitol now. Even before our present collection of nut cases took office, Arizonans and their elected representatives were suspicious of higher education as an incubator of Liberalism, Socialism, and Godless Communism. Now that suspicion has morphed to outright disgust and hatred. Hence wacky, punitive legislation that seems designed to deconstruct education here.

It is designed to deconstruct education.
Ha! You almost nailed it. Stomping on the accelerator and the brake AND complaining about your gas mileage seems closer to the mark!
Ah, Indiana. Cutting appriopriations for the state-supported institutions, while appropriating several million for *marketing* of Western Governors University to Indiana residents...
@CCPhysicist: Love it! You nailed it completely.
I don't think California--where I work--is badly broken. We've been through some tough budget years, but who hasn't? And I'm proud of our "absurdly low" tuitions, at least in our cc's. The UC system isn't cheap any more, and CSU's not far behind.

The real problem out there is that a very small minority, 12 State Senators, can block any budget. None of them are pro-education, whether it's K-12 or higher ed.
Well I'd like to nominate MI. Our all-Republican legislature decided to create a commission to examine consolidation of the state University system - and wrote the enabling legislation in such a way that nobody with any college affiliations of any sort, ever in their entire lives, will be allowed to serve on that commission.

Hmm. Want to bet that people who never set foot on a college campus, and probably also never sent their kids to college ('cause that might exclude them from the commission, too), will come up with a thoughtful report on consolidation of the state-wide system?

Yes, I think they did it on purpose.

I'm not sure we can top Arizona but I do think we should get an honorable mention, here.
Philip, you can make it free (as it used to be) and it won't help anyone if there aren't any sections available because of how the budgets are structured.

I looked at the negative effect of increasing enrollment in CA a few years ago, and back then I was under the false impression that a CA CC got to keep its tuition like we do. This past year I discovered it goes back into the state general fund, as DD describes here. Under that scenario, every drop in state or local tax revenue requires a drop in enrollment.

Our tuition covers the cost of opening a section taught by an adjunct, even if the section is not full. We can respond to demand as a true open-enrollment college should. You, apparently, can't and tens of thousands pay the price.
@CCPhysicist: Another piece of the picture is that, for years, CA cc's have been socking taxpayer money away in reserves. We've been getting more money than we've been spending, and now the Legislature is forcing us to spend down our bloated bank accounts.

At the end of fiscal year 10-11, in the middle of a real budget crisis, the 72 CA cc districts had accumulated (I don't remember the exact number) somewhere between $1.2 and $1.4 billion--yep, billion with a B--in reserves.

If you were putting together a State budget, wouldn't you force cc districts to spend some of this money?

The folks who are really suffering out here are K-12. One local school district has announced it plans to cut 20 percent of its teachers.
Philip, that is not "another piece of the picture", it is an attempt to change the discussion away from whether it makes sense to be proud of a system that is structured so that a college cannot use a student's tuition dollars to pay for an instructor to add a new section, because tuition goes to the state.

That system is deeply flawed. Our state continues to savage the budgets for higher education and job training, but at least they let us respond to it as our Board sees fit.

I have critiqued your claim that building reserves in the face of massive budgetary uncertainties is not prudent behavior, particularly when even cash flow is controlled by others and property tax income is projected to continue to fall significantly. Those reserves are not large when compared to the total budgets of those 72 colleges.
Nothing gets fixed until we get conservatives to admit how much they hate America, so that we can start having a real discussion about shitting where we eat.

Until that happens, we'll be doing lots of this game, as the psychoses that infest American conservatism manifest in ever more bizarre ways.
@CCPhysicist: I never said the system wasn't flawed. But the entire system of US public education is plagued by a lack of money. California is no exception.

How much money a cc district should set aside as a "prudent reserve" to use in bad financial times like today is indeed part of the question. As I said earlier, in FY 2010-11, in the middle of a very real budget crisis, CA ccs actually took in more money than they spent.

The State Chancellor's Office recommends a "prudent minimum" reserve of 5%. I certainly understand that that's a "minimum." However, most CA ccs have much deeper reserves--usually between twice to three times what is recommended.

The CA Ed Code also requires that cc districts spend at least 50 percent of general fund apportionment on the "direct cost of student instruction." We're learning (and by "we," I mean teachers unions), that some, many, most (we don't know for sure) districts have been fudging the 50 percent calculations for years.

A classic example (reported in 2000) was a district that reported to the Chancellor's Office it was spending 53.17 percent of its income on the direct cost of student instruction. When the State Auditor's Office looked at the books, it found that the real number was 37.80 percent.

So, sure, less money is a problem. Spending that money wisely is another.
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