Sunday, October 02, 2016


Which Matters More?

If free college required a dramatically higher adjunct percentage, should we do it?

Yes, that’s a loaded question.  It assumes that the meanings of both “free” and “dramatically higher” are transparent.  For the sake of argument, let’s say that “free” means “no tuition or fees,” and “dramatically higher” means half again as high as now.  (So a college with 50% of its sections taught by adjuncts would move to 75%.)  Assume general cuts to administration, just so we don’t get lost in pretending that it would be enough to solve the problem in itself.  

Still, the core of the question strikes me as valid.  Service sector costs go up more quickly than costs in the economy as a whole.  That means that over time, if we eliminate tuition as a revenue stream, the appropriations we’d need would increase more quickly than tax revenues.  Given the political history of the last forty years, that strikes me as unlikely to be sustained, especially when the next recession hits.  Some significant part of the revenue lost would probably have to come from spending cuts.

Over the last decade or so, public colleges have made up for public disinvestment by splitting the difference between tuition increases and service cuts.  Take tuition increases off the table, and accelerated service cuts strike me as predictable, at least in the long run.

I’d certainly welcome a long-term visit from the money fairy that would allow us to have both, but hope is not a plan.  

So, the question stands.  If making college free required significant cuts in service, including a dramatic acceleration in the trend towards adjunct faculty, should we do it?  Wise and worldly readers, what do you think?

Are you seriously asking if we'd ask like to lose our jobs in order to finally realize the right-wing dream of destroying public (higher) education?
I'll turn it around. Why are the costs of college increasing faster than the wages of staff? Is it all down to lack of government funding?
What Anonymous@6:50pm said.

IMO, my college could do it with only one change: a per pupil appropriation equal to what state universities get for their freshmen and sophomore students. There would be no need to alter the rest of what we do, although any program like that would undoubtedly come with a requirement for even more staff dedicated to feeding the bureaucrats in the state capitol.

To which I would add, how could universities possibly increase their adjunct fraction beyond what it already is for freshman and sophomore classes? After all, this would apply to state universities as well as community colleges, and they have already made most of that shift already. They are even more tuition dependent than we are.
Actually, I would at least begin by arguing that any mandate for zero tuition & fees must come with a stable, dedicated funding source. (I wouldn't give up on that before I have to.)
One reason I've been opposed to the free CC options as I've seen them laid out thus far is this. It seems rather than giving students a leg up to rather perpetuate a "separate but equal" system for those who can't pay...but we all know separate but equal was never equal. It seems like students who end up at schools with paid tuition will have supportive services that these students will need, and provide access to pathways that overstretched, tuition-less programs just won't be able to. I get that there will always be differences in education, some schools will function better, some students arrive better prepared, etc., etc., but I don't understand how a program that brings in a lot more people, but almost assuredly less money doesn't strip services and make the general experience less useful.

I also say this as someone who adjuncted for a period and realize how different places treat adjuncts, and the effect that adjuncts can have on students vs. long-term, fully employed ("expensive") faculty.

If the point of this is equality, then let's not dress up a system that would end up cutting all the things that might help students succeed.

@Don Coffin -- that's a far better solution, and one I'd get behind.
I think the level of adjunct faculty is already unsustainable. Adjunct spots are great for a professional teaching a class on the side or a full-time teacher/professor teaching a class or two at another institution. But, as everyone reading here is aware, I'm sure, we have faculty trying to string together adjunct gigs to accumulate something that resembles a full-time teaching job except with excessive commutes, low pay, and no job security. We can't keep expecting people with master's degrees to work for $30k-$40k a year and no benefits. In order to increase the number of adjunct spots by half, with no significant change in enrollment, we need to significantly decrease full-time faculty spots. This further reduces future job prospects for adjuncts and raises the problem of what to do with the people who are currently in those jobs.
It is really a matter of trust. You are asking for a grand bargain where one of the actors (the state government)may well be replaced at the next election. If the new state government introduces moderate tuition increases to fund tax cuts (by replacing funding) then all that has happened is that we've accelerated the de-professionalization of academia. It's not that this might not be a good decision, but that asking the question suggests good faith that current governments simply can't commit to on behalf of future governments.
I reject the premise, since some departments (and indeed, some campuses) are already reporting up to 75% of faculty as adjuncts, then clearly using adjuncts does NOT mean that tuition becomes affordable. Exploiting professors is no better than exploiting students. Are you asking who deserves high debt and poverty? No, the premise is fatally flawed. No, providing relief to students should not be at the expense of further impoverishing faculty, adjunct or FT.
Keeping a cadre of full-time professional faculty is more valuable than free tuition: politics can revoke free tuition at any time, but once you've lost your faculty cadre, rebuilding it is a long, slow, expensive process.
Good grief, are we still trying to find some kind of moral justification for creating a class of Freeway Flyers?

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