Monday, December 09, 2013
If You Were a President...
Of course, I could be wrong. Wise and worldly readers, if you were a president at a college like that, what would you do?
I will admit I was kind of surprised that one of you older blog posts wasn't quoted in the article.
Indeed. The grammatical errors that I find in essays and lab reports are simply inexcusable. Why am I stuck correcting grammar when I should be instilling style? And why are students in calculus-based physics stumbling over high school algebra?
The main problem is that some of those "nothing special" schools might be in too deep to get out. (Those lists do exemplify "nothing special". I have only heard the names of a few of those PA state colleges and fewer of the private ones, some of which do have some unique characteristics that might help carry them through.) All it takes is one boarded up dorm ...
In a larger sense, I see two types of President that could do well in the broader group of colleges that want to avoid ending up in a similar situation.
One group are the ones who really understand how to manage budgets to make full use of every tuition and (perhaps more importantly) donation dollar. Capital expenses have to pay off in enrollment, not sink the college in debt. Classes have to pay for themselves. In that case, both students and donors may see you as the right choice for their future. Even then you might only defer the problem.
IMO success may require deferring disaster for your school until it takes out the others. Demographics and spending priorities are the ultimate problem for both public and private colleges.
The other group are the ones who produce short term gains at the expense of long-term disaster, such as the common methods alluded to above. (One problem is that some of those methods may have been tried already and resulted in the current disaster.) Their skill is to sell the flavor of the month, and leave for the next troubled school at the peak of their "success". If they can blame what happens next on their successor, this can keep up for some time. The model for this person could be "The Music Man".
I'd be curious whether you think such attempts are likely to be successful, or what you think are the pros and cons.
Nothing sticks in a middle class family's craw more than discovering that their thrift has made them not only ineligible for financial aid, but that they must pay more to cover the overspending habits of those who didn't save for college. My understanding is that up to a third of nominal tuition is redistributed to "needy" students. Some of those may actually be needy, but many are just those from families who knew better how to game the system.
I prefer to pay 100% of the cost of my own education and 0% of the cost of anyone else's. Let the alumni cover that, if they wish to.
This might be a tough concept to market, admittedly it might not appeal to many. But the market distortions created by financial aid have become a cancer on higher education.