Tuesday, September 08, 2015


Vocational Programs Cost More

Vocational programs cost more.

If I could hammer home a single sentence to the "too many students go to college" crowd, that would be it.

Expanding vocational programs is a great idea, in many ways, but it's not a way to reduce educational costs.  

I say that as someone who actually has to manage budgets for both transfer and vocational programs.  "Comprehensive" community colleges include both.

Vocational programs bring with them much higher capital costs, whether in terms of square footage or equipment.  (The auto tech program, for example, requires a dozen hydraulic lifts.  That's about a dozen more than the English department requires.)  They tend to be more expensive on "consumables," too, whether that's food for the Culinary program or parts for auto tech.  

Many vocational programs come with their own accreditations, too, whether it's ACF, TAC of ABET, or any of the multiple accreditors in allied health.  Each of those brings with it its own monitoring and reporting requirements, as well as significant expectations on faculty-student ratios and the presence of lab assistants.  

Gen eds, by contrast, are far cheaper to run.  Outside of the lab sciences, they generally don't have high requirements for capital, equipment, or consumables.  They don't have separate accreditations.  The faculty/student ratios can be higher without jeopardizing, say, patient safety.  (Nursing clinicals run at twenty would be unconscionable; Psych 101 sections at twenty are considered small.)  

I bring this up because Tuesday's piece on Vox by a young professor quitting higher education fell into the same "just shunt them into vocational ed" category that so many have.  He gives no indication of having the slightest clue as to how vocational programs are actually run, but that didn't stop him.

I'm a fan of vocational education done well.  But "done well" means "with money."  If we want to see more students ditch the liberal arts for vocational fields, we'll have to fund comprehensive community colleges at substantially higher levels to pay for it.  As anyone in Culinary can tell you, there's no free lunch.

Do the cost savings from doing only 2 years, rather than 4, make up for this difference across the whole higher education sector? It would certainly require more funding of community colleges, but could we see lower overall spending?
While looking at the Oliver Lee article on Vox (setting aside the comment about schools saving money by dropping their liberal arts programs and switching over to vocational education), I found it extremely depressing. Especially when he talked about the reasons why he is dropping out of academe. He was one of the fortunate few that had grabbed the brass ring of a tenure-track position in a liberal arts discipline, but he had encountered so many hassles and obstacles that he decided to throw in the towel.

All of the sniping from peers and administrators over even trivial matters began to get to him. The indifference and inattentiveness of students began to affect him. He felt that too many students were in college not to improve their minds, but simply to get their tickets punched so that they could get jobs which probably won't be there when they graduate. In pursuit of lower costs, more and more of the
curriculum is being moved online, leading to an increased adjunctification of the teaching profession. Pretty soon, higher ed will look not unlike a Walmart store, with a largely temporary contingent faculty working in insecure positions for low wages and no benefits.

Even if a professor is fortunate enough to attain tenure, this often does not offer the job security and professional satisfaction that one might imagine. Tenure is no longer the guarantee of absolute job security that it used to be. More and more tenured faculty members are finding that they are losing their jobs, due to financial exigency or due simply to vicious academic politics.

I recently got an e-mail from a tenured faculty member who was being forced out due to some sort of personal witch-hunt, in which she was accused of being "difficult to work with" by persons or persons unknown. She was offered no due process, and was given no chance to counter these charges. It was a very Kafkaesque process from start to finish--she was offered no due process, and was given no chance to counter any of these charges. The AAUP said that they really couldn’t do anything for her. I guess that the administration simply wanted to cut staff, and she was the unlucky victim. If the administration really wants to get rid of you, it appears that they can always trump up some sort of case against you.

I think that more and more academics are finding that that they have made a bad career choice, and are sorry that they got into the game in the first place. This is not only true for adjunct freeway-fliers, but is is increasingly also true for tenure-track or even tenured faculty.

Have to agree with ArtMathProf on this one. The article is depressing, but it does capture the reality of working in a four year college/university these days. The tone and working conditions have changed dramatically in the 35 years since I got my Ph.D., not just for adjuncts, but for ALL faculty. I cannot justify encouraging good students to pursue academic careers in my field (Psychology), and I actively counsel those who want to pursue graduate training in Psychology to specialize in areas that do not tie them to working in academia.
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