Friday, February 21, 2014

Friday Thirsty: Trish from Texarkana wants us to figure it all out

Are there any institutions for higher education that are not focused on numbers?

I am increasingly baffled by the insistence on conflating academic success with enrollment numbers.  Quantity trumps quality.  But isn't it the other way around?  If you invest in attracting quality students, provide them and the faculty with resources, and focus on developing your full time faculty with said resources, including tenure, then won't the numbers follow?  And why are faculty supposed to beat the bushes for students? And if I do manage to get a good annual review, then shouldn't my reward be a raise, and not a gift certificate to the college bookstore?

In other words, the usual questions.

What the fuck is going on around here?

OK, that last line wasn't from Trish.  I wrote it.  If your six year old daughter was reading over your shoulder and has just learned a new word, blame me.


9 comments:

  1. If you're at a state school, here's one explanation: http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/03/a-truly-devastating-graph-on-state-higher-education-spending/274199/
    "Nationwide, legislatures have sliced off 28 percent on average. Only two states -- Wyoming and oil-rich North Dakota -- have increased it." It's been made very clear to us that the continued existence of our department depends on enrolling tuition-paying students, so we are expected to be "entrepreneurial" about attracting and retaining them. In practice, this means "streamlining" our curriculum by reducing requirements.

    The other thing is that we can't all attract the good students. Out of the four subjects on the ACT (English, science, math, and reading), only 39% of test takers are college ready in at least three, and nearly a third aren't college ready in any subject. But we've built capacity to take all of them. (http://hechingerreport.org/content/most-students-arent-ready-for-college-act-data-show_12951/).

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    1. Oh, and according to the census, the supply of 18-year-olds will steadily decrease in the coming years, so we will all be trying to expand while the number of traditional first-year students is shrinking. (http://www.ewa.org/blog-latino-ed-beat/analysis-offers-peek-college-age-student-demographics-future)

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  2. In the department I used to teach in, the answer was simple: good numbers increased the department head's chances of being promoted.

    The institution received its "gravy" funding based on a set of critical parameters, which came from surveying the "customers" (i. e., recent graduates). The DH wanted some of that because it would enhance his reputation with the senior administration. The focus, then, was to keep the kiddies happy, no matter what. Never was there to be heard a discouraging word, even if that meant dropping standards or passing the unworthy.

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  3. Demographics, the decrease of state and federal support, and incentives for administration are all powerful arguments. I'd like to propose another: observational selection. Suppose there still do exist well-run, top-tier universities, in which the administration hasn't drunk the Kool-Aid. If so, one might expect their faculty to be happy enough, or at least busy enough, not to post often to RYS/CM/AWC (here).

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  4. Our "enlightened" stale legislature decided last summer that our state schools will be paid according to the number of folks we graduate. We professors were informed that we must do our best to get the students to pass our classes. But DON'T go any easier on them! *sigh*

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    1. The "stale" must have been a Freudian slip. *state*

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    2. You should have just left the error without the explanation. It was funny on it's own.

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  5. ​ "If you invest in attracting quality students, provide them and the faculty with resources, and focus on developing your full time faculty with said resources, including tenure, then won't the numbers follow?" I quite agree, and I believe the proof is in considering the opposite.

    ​1) Don't try to attract and matriculate the best students. Faculty morale drops as they are approaching spending 80% of their time dealing with the bottom 20% of the class. The most dejected give up and either go elsewhere or remain and do the bare minimum.

    2) Short the faculty and students on resources. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that this would not only keep valuable work from getting done, it would frustrate everybody. Again, the most dejected give up and either go elsewhere or remain and do the bare minimum.

    3) Don't develop a strong core faculty. Dear provost: I know it's tempting to think that all your senior faculty are easily replaced with "cheaper" contract workers or full-time junior faculty; every search lands hundreds of CVs, so it's a hirer's market, am I right? But let's consider the long-term consequences of a workforce that won't, or can't afford to, be fully invested in your institution. Refer to the last sentences in #1 and #2 above. Remaining faculty will be still naive or silverback dolittles; none will have the institutional savvy, interest, and/or energy to collaborate with and mentor new faculty to effect positive change. High turnover means that you'll always be short-staffed even as much valuable time is lost to searches. Once again, the most dejected give up and either go elsewhere or remain and do the bare minimum. Now you're just the place that people work at till they find something better. Why spend on professional development when they'll just leave, right?

    4) The brand suffers because on average, your students are less prepared. A diploma from your school is worth less in the marketplace. Your graduates land fewer of the higher-paying positions, and even those that do don't have warm fuzzy memories of their time at your school. Alumni giving drops, as does alumni's steering better prospective students in your direction, which is crucial because the brand itself no longer attracts the better students. We're now full circle to #1 above.

    I don't think it's a false dichotomy to suggest that if you do the opposite at each step, you'll be paid back in spades.

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    1. This sums it up exactly. Perfect comment.

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