Tuesday, September 03, 2013
The Theory Is Too Damn Thin: A Response to Dylan Matthews
there are a number of features of the higher education marketplace that make the effect possible. One is that higher ed is dominated by nonprofits. If revenue increases, it must be spent, or else refunded. It cannot simply be pocketed by the college or university. That means that it’s likelier for increases in revenue to lead to increases in spending than it is for normal companies.
The quality of college isn’t completely evident during freshman orientation. People overwhelmingly only get one undergraduate degree, so colleges and universities don’t have to worry as much about satisfying repeat customers. And there are more than two parties to the transaction. There’s a student and a college, sure, but there is also the student’s parents, and the government, and even the student’s future employers. Those all end up mattering for the financing of the product in question. It’s a really, really messed up market.
I’ll make Dylan Matthews -- and all the major news outlets -- a deal. If you want some insight into how people who actually make these decisions make them, call. I’ll take the call, and talk as long as you want. But for heaven’s sake, don’t postulate from some Hayekian theology and call it reportage. We matter too much for that, even if you wouldn’t know it from our budgets.
1) I'd REALLY like to see some longitudinal data about adjuncts, counted on the basis of sections taught or students taught, not simply numbers. Do you have that for your college, going back a few decades? It hasn't changed much at my CC for the last 15 years, but I don't know what it was like in the 80s or earlier.
It can be tricky. Back in a previous century I was the instructor of record for my sections of a large lecture class (i.e. I signed and submitted the grade sheet) because that is how it was managed, and grad students easily outnumbered faculty by numbers of sections. Yet more than half of a student's time was in a lecture led by a full prof that looked on paper like part of my section. But that was at a university, and they could have complicated matters by changing how they treat those same sections today. CCs should be easier because I don't know of many that follow that model.
2) Category errors cut both ways. That actually is how budgets work at a big R1, where the staff-to-student ratio is positively scary and is all driven by research and indirect cost recovery rather than teaching. But Dylan doesn't know this, so he makes the huge mistake of asserting that those staff have something to do with teaching and correctly draws your ire.
Universities are where you find the Prize Winner Prof who teaches a handful of grad students while Instructors generate tuition dollars, not colleges. And although I agree that CCs cut close to the bone, we are not without our flaws. I've seen some really irrational choices made over the years between core functions and what look to be money losing efforts.
So I think what's going to happen is that Higher Ed is going to morph into two parts - Lower Higher Ed and Upper Higher Ed.
Lower Higher Ed teaching is going to turn into something more like High School (with the pay that goes with it) because most of the knowledge at that level can come out of text books rather than from subject matter specialists.
Upper Higher Ed will turn into something more like the Higher Ed of old - where subject matter specialists lecture and do small group teaching e.g. in this case to PhD and post-Docs. I suspect a post-Doc will go from a paid position to a pay-to-learn position.
Meghan@3:05 makes an interesting point, but fails to explain what institution will bridge between the new HS-like LowerEd and grad-school-like HigherEd. Junior and Senior year classes in your major?
Maybe it would help if "olden days" was defined. Freshman physics content has not changed in more than 50 years. We still don't teach Hamiltonian and Lagrangian mechanics to wannabe engineers or biologists or physicists, and we still teach those topics along with the quantum versions to upper undergrads.
As you note adjuncts answers the question but wouldn't the bigger answer be an overwhelming number of graduate students?
In terms of the sciences, there have been gains in productivity/graduate student. In my field what used to earn someone a PhD in 5 years can be done by an undergraduate working part in lab in one semester. What my PhD covered almost a decade ago was significantly more than what my equivalent did a decade before that. Those earning an equivalent PhD now, are doing more than I did. These gains in productivity allow students to learn more than they would have otherwise.
For major research university, science faculty devote most of their teaching to training graduate students. Per graduate student they are teaching more and they are able to supervise more students as well.
At the undergraduate level because of the advances in technology, students can do more in lab courses in a set amount of time and can be more productive in undergraduate research. In other words there are gains in learning productivity. It isn't the same as you find with the graduate students, so there is institutional variability.
As your post demonstrates why thinking about institution type matters but what also needs to be considered is discipline.