Report: Declining college teaching loads can raise the cost of college

2 Apr

Moi wrote about the cost of college in Will a three year B.A. help more students afford college?

Increasingly, the question is whether colleges are using the resources available to them effectively.

A principal reason for the rush toward three year programs is the cost of college. Robin Wilson wrote in the Chronicle of Higher Education article, Colleges Spend Far Less on Educating Students Than They Claim, Report Says:

While universities routinely maintain that it costs them more to educate students than what students pay, a new report says exactly the opposite is true.

The report was released today by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, which is directed by Richard K. Vedder, an economist who is also an adjunct scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a Chronicle blogger. It says student tuition payments actually subsidize university spending on things that are unrelated to classroom instruction, like research, and that universities unfairly inflate the stated cost of providing an education by counting unrelated spending into the mix of what it costs them to educate students.

The authors find that many colleges and universities are paid more to provide an education than they spend providing one,” says a news release on the report, “Who Subsidizes Whom?”

The report’s authors used data from the U.S. Education Department’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, or Ipeds, to conclude that more than half of students attend institutions that take in more per student in tuition payments than what it actually costs them to deliver an education.

The chief reason universities inflate the figures on what they spend to educate students, says the report, is that institutions include all of their spending—whether it is directly related to instruction or not—when calculating what it costs them to provide an education. In reality, says the report, depending on the type of institution, it can cost universities much less to educate students than what the institutions bring in through tuition charges.

This study finds that education and related spending is only a portion of many institutions’ budgets,” says a news release on the study, “and that many schools spend large amounts on things unrelated to educating students.”

The question lawmakers should be asking themselves is why society developed public universities and do those reasons still exist? In the rush to get past this moment in time lawmakers may be destroying the very economic engine, which would drive this country out of the economic famine that currently exists. While tuition is increased for students, the pay of college administrators remains hefty. Administrators are in effect pigs at the trough and should come under some scrutiny. Of course, if the current public universities were privatized, we wouldn’t have to worry about pigs still at the trough or would we? In a totally privatized university environment, administrators could be paid what the market will allow or the regents can go wink, wink at. Wait, wasn’t unfettered pay one element in the U.S. financial meltdown?

Andrew Lounder writes an excellent analysis of the The American Council of Trustees and Alumni report Selling Students Short: Declining Teaching Loads at Colleges and Universities in the article, The Academic Graveyard Shift: The Costs of Declining Teaching Loads:

Gillen uses federal data to demonstrate reductions in tenured and tenure-track (TT) teaching loads across institution types, between academic years 1987-1988 and 2003-2004. He provides a cohesive synthesis of factors widely thought to contribute to this outcome, with some emphasis on Massy and Zemsky’s concept of “the academic ratchet.” The academic ratchet explains that as faculty seek reputational prestige and career mobility through increased attention to their research responsibilities, they must, and readily do, decrease attention to instruction and other responsibilities. The report neglects to mention the other half of this framework, (“the administrative lattice”), which explains how administrators enable faculty to restructure their work: they expand their ranks, also at added cost. Data show administrative growth, both in terms of expenditure and added employees, has been prodigious in recent years.

On the faculty side, the report makes small mention of “adjunctification,” the massive growth of mostly part-time instructors with little to no other work responsibilities competing for attention. There is a lack of data on the degree to which adjunct instruction constitutes a cost exchange versus an added cost, but reduced compensation is of central importance to their use. Gillen calculates his cost of reduced course load numbers based entirely on more expensive TT faculty salaries. The result is undoubtedly an overestimation. One economist figured the average hourly cost for a part-time instructor at about 64 percent less than that of a TT instructor at the time of the Gillen report’s data collection (2004), so the magnitude of that overestimation is plausibly quite large.

The report’s next misstep is to identify a percentage of tuition that could have been avoided had teaching loads not declined. But again, Gillen fails to acknowledge important variables. For example, a high tuition/high aid approach to tuition setting may not reflect the cost of providing services, such as teaching, but rather the size of an institution’s financial aid budget, or the potential for recruiting high-pay students.

Finally, Gillen goes further by assigning dollar-value opportunity costs to teaching load reductions. Specifically, he attempts to answer the question: “How much more revenue would an increase in teaching loads generate?” At Penn State, the report estimates that just one more class per term, per professor would generate nearly $700 million additional annual tuition revenue, besides providing additional enrollment capacity. But why not two, or even three more courses ($1.4 billion in additional tuition revenue is surely better than $700 million, and $2.1 billion even better than $1.4 billion)? Gillen writes, “Most public universities could raise even more by enrolling out-of-state students.” Besides conflicting with the realities of state- and campus-level enrollment planning (particularly regarding out of state students, whose numbers tend to be capped by law), the notion that any cost savings from heavier teaching loads would be passed on to students and taxpayers is not evident. Gillen’s opportunity cost argument strays from his main thesis by speaking to raising new funds and reallocating existing revenue, not reducing costs.

In the end, the report endorses the view that faculty are “essentially stealing from taxpayers and students” through their tenure-protected laziness. Yet, his dollar-value cost assessment of the declining standard of tenure-line labor and the faculty who occupy those positions is specious, and evidence does not point to systematic (or even widespread) faculty negligence.

Here is the press release from The American Council of Trustees and Alumni:

News: Press Releases

Decline in Professors’ Teaching Loads Increases Costs by Nearly $2,600 Per Student Annually

More Than Half of Tuition Increases Could Have Been Avoided if Teaching Loads Did Not Decline, Report Finds
March 20, 2013

Washington, DC—The American Council of Trustees and Alumni, in conjunction with Education Sector, today released a report that finds declining teaching loads among tenured and tenure-track faculty led to an average increased cost per student of $2,598 annually. Between 1988 and 2004, the average number of classes taught declined 25 percent—from 3.6 to 2.7 courses per term. If teaching loads had not declined, over half of tuition increases over that period could have been avoided, according to the report.

Selling Students Short: Declining Teaching Loads at Colleges and Universities” found that the reduction in teaching loads cost on average an extra $2,302 per student annually at public institutions, and an extra $3,468 at private institutions. More than 80 percent of tuition increases at four-year public institutions and nearly a third of tuition increases at private institutions could have been avoided if teaching loads did not decline during this time period.

This research shows that the rising cost of college cannot be blamed solely on external factors such as decreasing state appropriations or inflation,” said Dr. Andrew Gillen, Education Sector’s research director and author of the report. “Colleges can—and must—take steps on their own to stem the ever-increasing rate of tuition increases. Increasing teaching loads even marginally can have a tremendous impact on cost.”

Gillen estimates that some public universities, such as Pennsylvania State University, could generate up to $435 million in extra tuition revenue if professors taught only one more class per term. Increasing teaching loads by one course at private universities, such as New York University, could generate as much as $430 million.

As teaching loads for the core faculty of colleges and universities decline, so does student access to the professors with whom they come to learn,” said Dr. Michael Poliakoff, vice president of policy at ACTA. “Sometimes that means students can’t get the courses they need to graduate in a timely manner. At all times, it means less opportunity for a quality learning experience. And as 4-year programs have turned into 5-year programs and beyond, the price tag for a college education rises. It’s time for colleges—and the public—to expect professors to perform their primary task: teach.”

The report was funded through a grant from the Searle Freedom Trust.

See, Are Professors ‘Selling Students Short’?

Moi really doesn’t know what to make of the idea of privatizing state universities. In the recent past, government had the goal of raising the standard of living and producing the economic conditions that fostered livable wage jobs. The goal of most politicians was to create the conditions that promoted and fostered a strong middle class. Particularly, after WWII and the Korean War, with the G.I Bill, one part of that equation was the wide availability of a college education. This push produced an educated workforce and a college education was within reach, no matter one’s class or social status. This educated workforce helped drive this country’s prosperity. Now, have we lost the goal of providing educational opportunity the widest number of people possible, no matter their class or social status? This question causes moi to wonder about privatizing state universities.

A couple of questions. First, has anyone ever looked at how efficient the academic world is in spending current resources? Second, is the current institutional model one that works? Should there be changes in the institutional model?


Ohio study: Deregulation in college education equals less access to modest and lower-income students

Center for American Progress report: Performance-based funding in higher education

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