Time for a productivity audit of colleges and universities; and the eVersity | Arkansas Blog

Time for a productivity audit of colleges and universities; and the eVersity

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A reader draws my attention to this opinion column in the Wall Street Journal for its relevance to the University of Arkansas System's eVersity plan, along with other pushes for on-line education at the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville, Arkansas Tech, UALR and just about everywhere else.

Since the 1970s, the article notes, tuition has risen more than 1,000 percent,  four times more than the consumer price index. The cost is personnel. And the rising cost in pay and benefits has been accompanied by a decline in faculty productivity, the authors, Frank Mussano and Robert Iosue, argue.

Yet the average professor spends much less time in the classroom today than two decades ago. In 2010 44% of full-time faculty reported that they spent nine or more hours a week in the classroom, according to the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA. In 1989 more than 60% said they did. The traditional 12-15 hours a week teaching load is changing into a six-to-nine-hour workweek, a significant decrease in productivity.

And then there's the explosive growth in administrators — a number increasing 50 percent faster than the number of instructors since 2001, the article says. Administrators don't come cheap by the way. Six-figure administrators are commonplace at UAF and other campuses (if not so richly rewarded as, say, a defensive line coach.)

Then there's construction. It's expensive. You need a lot of new buildings at Fayetteville, for example, for that influx of Texans.

Student debt has outstripped even the cost increases. So the costs keep rising and the resulting burdens do, too.

What to do? The authors propose a higher education audit.

A required review could focus on basic teaching workloads, space utilization and personnel costs as they relate to program revenues. Since the federal government already collects data annually on higher education, it could start asking for more information related to productivity. Colleges would be forced to reconcile sloppy and obscure bookkeeping methodologies to report statistics in a format consistent with government-defined metrics.

The point my reader makes, I think, is that on-line education — built on existing faculty (underworked some argue) — in ways that don't require new construction and which can be sold at student-friendly rates makes a lot of sense.


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