Sunday, February 07, 2010

One Step Closer or Further Away

The powers that be in the Great State of the Northwoods gave NWU permission to raise our tuition/fees. The funding the state provides to our state system and our campus in particular has been dropping for a good long time. As far as I know, most state university systems have experienced the same sort of drop in funding.

In the late 70s, state funding paid for about 75% of a given student's eduction. Now, state funding pays for something like 22% of a given student's education. (Your state, system, or campus will probably be different, but it's likely to have experienced a massive drop in state funding for colleges and universities.)

Our plan is to raise tuition an additional chunk (over $1000, but under $1500) for each student; a fair portion of the additional funds will go to aid people with economic need. We'll move from being pretty much the cheapest four year school in the region to nearer the middle of the public pack at about $8000/year for undergrad tuition. If our students were already paying $30,000/year (as they do at Marquette), the additional money wouldn't seem like so much, but it's a huge jump for our students.

Basically, we're recognizing, accepting, and reacting to the long process of reduced state funding by asking students to pay more.

Some public universities have moved towards being private universities in all but name, I'm told. We're not there yet, but it seems like the pendulum is swinging pretty far that way.

For a while, the pendulum was more towards public funding. Programs like the GI bill (which helped pay for my father's education, along with my Mom working), grants, and so forth recognized that education is a public good, that having an educated citizenry helps us in all sorts of ways. You can be totally pragmatic and say that an educated citizenry is more economically productive, or you can be more holistic and say that an educated citizenry is more democratic.

But the pendulum's been swinging the other way for a while now, and the public believes that education is only a private good; we (the public) vote for people who promise to limit funding for the "undeserving," creating welfare queen nightmares, when in truth, the funding limits are for everyone who can't afford better, and to be honest, that's most of us.

To paint it with a broad stroke, I think private education is unethical. I know a lot of people go to private schools at some point, but I think (broadly speaking) if wealthier folks sent their kids to public schools, public schools would be better funded, because those wealthier folks would be willing to pay taxes to give their kids those opportunities. And they'd be arguing publicly for better school funding. And their arguments get heard.

Now my own NWU is taking a step closer to being private. Yeah, we've got a long ways to go, but there's another school down the road that's doing very well stepping ahead of us there, and our administration looks longlingly at them.

To be totally self-centered about this, the additional money should be good for me. There's talk of reducing comp class sizes from a standard 28 to 20, for example. That would reduce my grading load by a nice chunk. I still won't get the 3%+ "furlough" paycut back, nor will I get the 2% raise I was promised six years ago, that kept getting put off.

Unfortunately, I don't see how we can afford to do that without hiring ever more adjuncts. We treat our adjuncts with minimal decency; there's health insurance most semesters, because we try to put together full loads. But the pay's worse than it should be (as it is for we humanities folks here), and there's not even minimal job security, except that we keep hiring the same people. So maybe there's about the same job security as anywhere: we need warm bodies, and if you're moderately competent, you'll get rehired.

My department is already more than 50% adjuncts. So maybe the funding will help us hire some tt folks for lines we've lost in the past several years?

***Edited to add***

I should probably acknowledge that I taught at a private SLAC for three years. There were good folks there, faculty, staff and students. And there were some folks I don't miss at all, pretty much as anywhere. So, there's a level of hypocrisy, perhaps, in my saying I think private education is unethical. I'm not the first person to "sell out" because I needed a job.

I certainly don't think we're getting rid of private education, just the opposite. But I think we'd be a whole lot better off without it.


  1. this is a huge problem in california -- the rising fees for students, the move toward privatization. edge of the american west has an entire series tagged "fiddling while UC is burning." here is one pieces specifically on the corporatization of the UC system:

    california's higher education system meant to promise all students in the state a college education, via UC, the state college system, and community colleges. that promise has seriously eroded.

  2. Thing is, though, that public education, being funded (in theory, though not so much any more) by the state, is also governed by the state. Not everyone agrees with what the state mandates for education, so they prefer private education. Either way, they are paying; it's just that one way, they get to choose what they/their kids are learning (broadly speaking), and the other way, they don't. I don't think it's fair to label private education unethical, nor do I think that if that private education was gone, people would happily pay more for public education. People would lobby to get private education where they could control where their money goes.

    I'm not saying that I agree with the direction the pendulum's swinging. But I don't think the decline in the amount that the state is providing is due to the existence of private education (the cost of which has also risen), and I don't think getting rid of private education would solve the problem.

    Plus, people pay taxes on a more local level: wealthier parents in wealthier communities *do* pay to give their kids opportunities - just in high school. I think it's more difficult at a statewide level because people's taxes don't go directly to schools - they go to legislatures who decide what to do with the money. Whereas my sense is that when you're paying local taxes, you have a much greater sense that your tax money is going straight to your local school system.

  3. (Though kathy a.'s right that California's facing a huge crisis. My own perspective comes from the other side of the country, which never even had the system that California had promised. I tend to see California as a whole separate country, honestly. ;-D Not to say it doesn't matter, at all, but I don't see it as representative of the rest of the country.)

  4. no, california may not be representative at all. time was when its goals for higher education set a wonderful standard, though.

    actually, time was when its goals for all levels of education were lofty. i personally put my kids in private school, because our local K-12 system was bankrupt [literally], and the kindergarten class i visited at our public school had at least 30 kids. the teacher spent all of that 1/2 day session trying to impose order. i still do and always have cared about public education - but when push came to shove, i was willing to pay to let my shy 5-y-o start school without such pandemonium.

    public schools in wealthier neighborhoods are really wonderful. they are better funded, and the parents do a ton of voluntering, and parents also pay hefty fees to fund all kinds of programs. my nephew is getting a world-class K-12 education in palo alto public schools. we couldn't afford to live in an area like that, even if we had wanted to.

    california's budget is an enormous mess generally, and for many reasons. one is prop. 13's freezing of property taxes at the value of the property when purchased. there are entire sets of problems around get tough on crime measures and the humongous prison system.

    sorry, didn't mean to wander off track, but the state of public education at all levels in my state is heartbreaking and disgraceful, in my opinion.

  5. I was educated, and spent most of my working life in private institutions (public high school, the private universities). My husband taught at an ivy league university. Like NK, I grew up in a part of the country where public education was not that well respected. I'm now teaching in a public university in California. What strikes me is what people teaching at privates take for granted. And it's mostly -- as TR and Dr. Crazy suggested -- around class size. The students suffer.

    One of my colleagues argues -- and I find his argument convincing -- that the drive to stop funding higher education came when the population of the universities became ethnically diverse. Funding is another way of expressing racism.

  6. Yeah, I'm starting to feel like this country has given up on public support for education, especially education that isn't being conducted in giant mega-warehouses o' learning. The Beloved Alma Mater has responded by drifting closer and closer to privatization; Misnomer U. feels like it's getting starved out, even if we manage to stave off the more immediate threats of closure or merger. I don't like either of the options (although honestly, I think increasing tuition is generally the best of a lot of bad choices, and perhaps the only way to get by without compromising educational quality).

  7. I don't know that I think private education (generally speaking) is unethical. I think I'd be more inclined to say that it is unethical for politicians to talk about how a college education is something attainable for all Americans, and for Americans to believe that they have a "right" to a college education, while both government and individual taxpayers refuse to pay the very real costs of allowing for that to happen.

    Here's the thing with tuition increases. Yes, they hurt our individual students, and yes, that hurts us, if we care about those students. But if government were going to have a greater stake in supporting education, likely those same students (and/or their parents and extended families) would be paying higher taxes. It's not like if the government philosophically supported education more (indeed, government is all over the philosophical support of a "college education") or if taxpayers philosophically supported education more (like the government, the taxpayers are all over the idea that a college education is philosophically a good thing) that all of a sudden it would cost less money. Ultimately, you can't have smaller government and lower taxes and expect that every American can attend college at a reasonable price. That's not the fault of private institutions of higher education. That's just economic reality.

    It's also worth noting that when the GI Bill was rolled out, that only opened up college to more *men* and more often than not white men. Once you bring women into the mix, and people who haven't served in the military, and more people of color, you have a much bigger population of people to provide a college education for. I'm inclined to think that the argument that funding expresses racism isn't all that far off the mark, but even if we grant that there's not inherent racism in it, the reality is that the GI Bill touched a relatively small number of people, compared with the number of people that legislators and taxpayers now believe should be college educated.

    (Note: I went to private school - catholic- K-8, public high school, public college for undergrad and MA, and private PhD program. In other words, I've benefited from both, and I'm not in any way on the "side" of the privates here. I'm just far more incensed by the public and the politicians who think that education doesn't or shouldn't cost them anything.)

  8. richard10:37 AM

    Just an observation regarding Dr. Crazy's point that increasing state support requires an increase in taxes. Yes, but not necessarily personal income taxes. In both CA (Prop 13) and Bardiac's state, the proportion of state taxes coming from corporations as dwindled year after year. It's not that the citizens don't see the value of education and won't pay for it, but that the business elite (looking at you, GM) want "trained workers" but don't think they should have to pay for their "training." In both states, if corporate taxes returned to the levels they were in, say, 1970, state support of both K-12 and higher education could be significantly higher without raising personal income or property taxes.

    I'm not holding my breath. The latest SCOTUS ruling about the personhood of corporations is more a ratification of established practice than it is real precedent, and those corporate persons are much wealthier and more privileged than the rest of us.

  9. i agree with richard's point about corporations reaping the benefits and not wanting to pay the costs. the very richest individuals have become staggeringly more wealthy over recent decades, too.

    it simply is not true that concentrating wealth with the few somehow allows all boats to rise. these entities and individuals are not meeting their obligations to the larger community. [talk about special snowflakes...]