Thursday, June 01, 2017
Tech and Costs
I think that a major cost driver in education is the cost of administration. Nowadays, colleges and universities have to show compliance with a long list of government-imposed rules and regulations, most of which are unfunded mandates. This requires the hiring of lots of managers and extra staff, just to show compliance. The requirements imposed by the accrediting agencies mean that a lot of extra effort has to be expended, just to make sure that your accreditation is not yanked. The outcomes assessment fad in particular requires the hiring of a whole bunch of directors, assistant directors, plus a lot of front- and back-office staff. The handling of financial aid also requires additional staff. It is small wonder that college and university administrations have a whole bunch of deans, associate deans, and directors of this and that, all of which are bringing down high salaries, driving up the cost of education. It is not uncommon for the president, the football coach, plus certain high-level administrators as well as faculty superstars who are bringing in tons of grant support money, all to be knocking down salaries in excess of a million dollars a year. The cost savings supposedly offered by the adjuncting-out of the teaching function has not nearly been able to offset the rising cost of administration.
But I suspect that in the next 20 years or so, automation may be able to virtually eliminate the teaching function of the faculty. Most of the courses will be offered online by computer software, and the only faculty members who will still be doing any teaching at all will be superstars teaching thousands of students via MOOCs. About the only places that will be able to offer students a real live teacher in a bricks-and-mortar classroom will be the super-selective liberal arts colleges such as Smith, Swarthmore, and Vassar, as well as the research-intensive universities such as Harvard, Princeton, and the University of Chicago. All of the students forced to attend less-prestigious institutions will be reduced to sitting in front of computer terminals and being watched over by part-timers who have been reduced to the status of teaching assistants.
Not a pleasing prospect. I can't see why anyone would want to seek a career in education nowadays.
MOOCs were a fantasy. If they could work to teach, then the books of the Gutenberg revolution would have worked: the radio classrooms of the 30s would have supplanted teachers already: television would have killed the teaching star.
None of that happened, so I don't see how another technology is going to differ.
Hand-waving arguments about AI in MOOCs will not be entertained until some evidence is available.
By way of analogy, these figures from LinkedIn:
Staff Software Engineer - $168,000
Director of Engineering - $164,000
Notice the director gets less than the staff, because the staff are highly-trained professionals doing a job that few people can. This holds true for teaching - administrators are doing a job that lots of people could do well, teachers are highly-trained professionals that need both training and experience to do their jobs well.
But seriously, what bothers me about the tech investments at my college is that I don't think anyone has ever asked if they are a cost effective way of increasing success, or if they are even being used. We have SmartBoards everywhere, but many teachers just use them as screens. I know a few faculty who use them interactively, but that seems the exception apart from some lower-level math classes where they give a scripted set of presentation slides to the adjunct army.
On the plus side, putting that money into class sizes or rewarding top adjuncts is expense rather than capital. We bought all of our classroom tech before the post-recession 30% budget cut. The "people" approach to success would have had to be reversed, but capital just sits there until we can't afford to fix it. It might have paid off, assuming we are getting better grad rates as a result.
I take the opposite view to ArtMathProf on one part of administration. What irks me is that we (all colleges and universities) have done such a bad job of automating "accountability". Everything is a one off. I think it was desperation that led to a recent change toward automating our processes: Our budget has no room for more IR staff or to pay faculty to do some of that work as an extra load, and the "send it all in" mode was a failure. I imagine their offices look like that of the bureaucrat in "Ikiru". Check it out: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0044741/mediaviewer/rm1913667072
The solution was a "one size fits no one" approach where you stuff everything into a pre-set rubric and they suck it out the other end. The only error, and it was a big one, was not telling people that this is what they HAD to do and develop some buy-in and, later, solicit improvements in the process. From my perch, it looks like this could be completely automated, right down to generating the tables and reports. That would be a great investment. We could probably sell it. Of course, no one cares what the faculty think. They would have to hear it from a consultant to take it seriously.
PS: We got a lot of funding for our new nursing simulators from physicians. Those donations generate good will on both sides and are a win for both the nurses and the hospital or physician group that hires them.
It used to be that all a college classroom needed was chalk, a blackboard, plus a bunch of desks. Now a classroom needs a super-expensive DLP projector, a computer terminal for every student, plus Wi-Fi access for every student.
Just about every major (especially those related to job training) requires access to highly-sophisticated computer software tools. Colleges and universities have to offer their students training in these high tech software tools because the job market requires them and also because other competing schools offer them. This places the college or university at the mercy of monopolistic software companies like Microsoft or Adobe, who charge astronomical fees and who introduce costly upgrades and eliminate support of legacy versions on a regular basis.
Course management software, such as that provided by Pearson, is highly expensive. The cost savings promised by the replacement of faculty with this software are often eaten up by the rising costs of the software, plus the cost of training people in how to use these tools. The cost-savings supposedly promised by the adoption of course-management software can rapidly disappear.
It seems that the adoption of all of this high-tech software does not really increase anybody’s productivity, but simply adds to the overall cost of a college education.
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