Paul L. Caron

Saturday, October 12, 2019

My University Is Dying; Soon Yours Will Be, Too

Chronicle of Higher Education op-ed:  My University is Dying, And Soon Yours Will Be, Too., by Sheila Liming (University of North Dakota):

I live in a land of austerity, and I’m not just talking about the scenery. When most people think about North Dakota — if, indeed, they ever do — they probably imagine bare, ice-crusted prairies swept clean by wind. They see the clichés, in other words, not the reality — the towns that are, in fact, aesthetically identical to so many in America, with all the usual houses and shopping malls and parks and freeways. On the campus where I work, though, austerity has many meanings and many guises. Some of them you can see, like the swaths of new grass that grow where historic buildings stood just last year, before they were demolished in the name of maintenance backlogs. Most, though, are invisible. 

Starting in 2016, our state university system endured three successive rounds of annual budget cuts, with average 10-percent reductions resulting in a loss of more than a third of the system’s overall funding. Additional cuts, even, were on the table this past year. And while our state legislators ultimately avoided taking yet one more stab at the dismembered body of higher education, there has been no discussion of restoring any of those funds.

The experience of living with the metastasizing effects of austerity grants me some insight into what has been going on in Alaska. In July, Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced a plan to strip the University of Alaska system of 41 percent of its operating budget. He has since tempered this plan, opting instead for a 20-percent cut to be meted out over a period of three years. After weathering three straight years of forced retirements, self-protective “pivots” to administration, and personal waterloos on my own campus, I cannot help but grieve for my colleagues in Alaska. Some of them, I know, will lose their jobs, or else be coerced into giving them up, as my own colleagues have been (my department lost 10 tenured/tenure-track faculty members — half of its roster — in four years and has not been permitted to rehire). But some of them, I know, will not, and I grieve for them, too. ...

ur campus has struggled to recover, first, because austerity isn’t over for us, even if the blitzkrieg of cuts has stalled for the time being. The second reason is because there are fewer people around now to help see each other through the grueling work of recovery. ...

But these are the obvious losses, the ones that could be counted and read about in the local newspaper, or in the The Chronicle. It is the many and lingering surreptitious forms of loss — loss of confidence, of spirit, of purpose — that do the real damage.

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The irony is that University of North Dakota, at only around $15,000 per year in tuition, was a fantastic bargain. The legislature has gutted it and cut resources and quality so much that less than 60% of the students graduate, but even then only around 3.5% default on their student loans because it's so inexpensive.

The consequences of these cuts are that more students will end up going to more expensive private colleges and universities out of state and many will never look back.

North Dakota will enjoy it's little oil & gas boom and prosper for a little while.

And then when the oil runs out, there won't be an economy because too few people will be educated enough to do anything that can't be done for a lower price in Latin America or Asia.

But until the next harvest comes up empty, enjoy eating all that tasty seed corn.

Posted by: iron | Oct 19, 2019 1:06:28 PM

oops "show", not "should"

Posted by: Linda Beale | Oct 17, 2019 2:43:43 PM

The comments from the right here should a disregard for the value of higher education that is a concerning trend in the US--one that does not bode well for the future. While it is true that administrative bloat is a problem and should be addressed where possible, it does not follow that all faculty are overpaid (which the suggestion for dropping salaries implies) or that university education is a waste of time for students. Desai may think his 'education' from Wikipedia was worthy of support, but much that Wikipedia reports is questionable or superficial, versus the exploration possible in a well-structured university curriculum. Is every course successful? clearly no. Is a university education preferable to someone wandering the digital swamps of misinformation, calumny and ignorance without any kind of expert guidance? clearly yes.

Posted by: Linda Beale | Oct 17, 2019 2:42:56 PM

Industrial workers went thru this in the 1970s. Welcome to their world. 1) As Dale pointed out above, the wave of demographics has caught up with you. 2) Yes, as IT workers found out, the Internet works great, and now you face foreign and online competition. Kinda like auto workers in 1978 faced Japanese competition. 3). Most for-profits go a period of cost cutting and streamlining once in a while. Most students can tell you that their student serices (as an example) is an exercise in stupid bloated bureacracy -- and don't EVEN get them started about the financial aid office. If your goal is to educate people -- for either job skills or self gratification -- then tons of stuff need to go and be changed.

Posted by: geek49203 | Oct 14, 2019 7:51:45 AM

Most universities should be closed, after prosecution for mail/wire fraud and/or RICO. The remaining ones should be required to pay federal income taxes.

Posted by: Diogenes | Oct 14, 2019 4:07:54 AM

Maybe read this?

Posted by: Diogenes | Oct 14, 2019 3:44:18 AM

The universities have been ripping off it's students for years. They are indoctrinating young gullible minds into believing socialism is the panacea. They are evil, they destroy lives and put millions under a crushing debt that will never be paid off. Plus, fake education degrees such as women's studies and similar pap is making kids think they are educated when they are anything but.

Posted by: Duke | Oct 13, 2019 4:09:37 PM

What makes you think your university deserves to exist in the first place?

My father worked his whole life at a state-run university. I've said to him several times: "It's time to defund all the state universities." He has agreed every time I have said it.

Posted by: Rollory | Oct 13, 2019 3:20:33 PM

ND had a massive Bakken oil boom then the price of oil collapsed. These Universities got massive budget increases and spent like there was no tomorrow. No sympathy. Call schools in OK and TX and find out how adults manage boom and bust cycles.

Posted by: WILLIAM REEVES | Oct 13, 2019 2:36:02 PM

Universities have lost their way. Administrative staff should be limited to 150% of academic staff. Any more than this and they will find ways to waste money.

Posted by: Ian of Brisbane | Oct 13, 2019 11:54:19 AM

Not mentioned: the huge jump in spending in the previous decade.
See here
These just reverse the increase. It's not great but hardly a crisis to go back to says quo ante

Posted by: Robert Turner | Oct 13, 2019 11:17:58 AM

"Shut down layers of administrative bloat. Shut down useless majors. Stop requiring useless classes as general education."
Yes. I attended a large state university in the late 60s and everyone there seemed to get a pretty good education. I suggest we return, roughly, to the administrative jobs that existed then, and, roughly, to the courses and majors that existed then. I think it would work and reduce the budget wonderfully.

Posted by: JorgXMcKie | Oct 13, 2019 10:41:56 AM

This is the best thing I have heard all week. The current education sector in the US (higher and lower) is a tremendous misallocation of capital, and needs to be modernize to make efficient use of resources to prepare young people for careers.

Posted by: Tester | Oct 13, 2019 10:35:52 AM

I'm sorry Paul, you're a good man, if only there were more like you in our universities. Sadly, the left have largely destroyed education in our country, turning our schools away from actual learning and achievement in order to push an insane political agenda. The progressive bloat is to blame, and the only way to end it is to let our formerly great universities die on the vine, in hopes that it will kill the 'woke' blight that has rotted them from within.

Posted by: Norm | Oct 13, 2019 10:18:19 AM

The missing link in these stories is age-wave demographics. Population cohorts are not linear. There were 80 million Boomers, 40 million X'ers, 90 million Millennials, and it appears Gen Z, i.e., born after 2000, are going to come in at 45 million. Do you see the age pattern? 2018 was the first Gen Z freshman class, and they were half in number compared to Millennials.

This is not new information. When I was in the homebuidling business in the early '90s, we predicted the Boomers would start selling their McMansions by 2010, and the Millennials would be stepping up to the plate. Of course, we were right and wrong. As Yogi Berra said, 'It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future."

Looking at higher ed, think back to the boom in enrollment and tuition starting around 2002. Yep, the 90 million Millennials started going to college. But that cohort is yesterday's wine. Looking ahead, what do you think will happen to enrollments for the next 20 years or so? Remember, Gen Z is half the size of the Millennials.

There's a hard rain coming to higher ed.

Posted by: Dale Spradling | Oct 13, 2019 7:02:09 AM

Make universities co-sign student loans and they'll make sure students study something that leads to a career that can pay back the loan. The problem will be instantly solved. Worthless programs/classes will be shut down and unneeded instructors and administrators will be let go. Costs will fall

Posted by: Bob | Oct 13, 2019 6:58:59 AM

They were doing well when they were The Fighting Sioux. Can't imagine what could have possibly gone wrong since then.

Posted by: Robert Simeone | Oct 13, 2019 6:56:50 AM

cf, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (ND State grad). Who here is impressed by North Dakota's most famous higher ed product?

Posted by: Orson | Oct 13, 2019 6:49:54 AM

Shut down layers of administrative bloat. Shut down useless majors. Stop requiring useless classes as general education

Posted by: Joe Sackett | Oct 13, 2019 6:39:23 AM

It would be nice to know why the NoDak gov't wanted to cut the university budget so severely. The politicians had to have a fairly good reason, being as how NoDak has a good oil economy now....

Posted by: X Contra | Oct 13, 2019 6:32:42 AM

My university dying? Not at all! We have not yet turned every living thing into a victim and churned out bullshit “-studies” degrees.

Posted by: Ann K. | Oct 13, 2019 6:06:31 AM

Words not found in this article: Student. Educate. Teach.

Posted by: RNB | Oct 13, 2019 6:05:18 AM

University got woke, university go broke.

Posted by: BonHagar | Oct 13, 2019 6:04:47 AM

So many universities have stopped teaching, in favor of indoctrination. Real learning has been eliminated, in favor of spouting back dogma that has no basis in reality.

Facts? Facts don't matter, especially if you feel good about your answer.

There's a reason states are cutting back on university budgets. The voters don't think the universities are teaching anything worthwhile, and they don't think they're getting value for their tax dollars.

Posted by: Mike-in-Keller | Oct 13, 2019 5:57:37 AM

I might be more concerned if the typical university were more interested in educating students and less interested in left wing indoctrination. Having a lower ratio of administrative to academic personnel would help.

In short, more education and less politics and bureaucracy.

Posted by: VesEng | Oct 13, 2019 5:35:21 AM

Cut administrative bloat. Reduce the percentage of administrators to what it was in 1975 and I think you have a 25% cut in funding covered. May be as big as 33%.

Is a college education better than it was in 1975? I do not think so. It seems worse. Which means those excess administrators would not be missed. Colleges might even improve.

Posted by: Seawriter | Oct 13, 2019 5:29:25 AM

Why don’t you cut the bloated bureaucracy which has grown around every school? They deliver little to the classroom experience and can be cut with little effect on the delivery of education. Some staff, such as the diversity department, actually subtract from the university. Firing them would improve the organization.

Posted by: Steverino | Oct 13, 2019 5:25:07 AM

Produce a shoddy product that you charge too much for and lose customers (due to the shoddy product, simple demographics, etc.) in a business that has an unsustainable cost structure (ie: people administrating vs those who actually work with the product) the result is loss of jobs. That's what happens in the real world.

Posted by: Anon | Oct 13, 2019 5:21:36 AM

I hope there's more to her essay than what's posted here. A lot of words to say staff is being cut and she is upset. Is that it?

Posted by: Al | Oct 13, 2019 5:07:33 AM

Earlier this month the university announced it would eliminate its men’s golf and baseball programs because of the budget cuts, according to the Grand Forks Herald. The newspaper also reported that four academic programs had stopped accepting new students: a doctorate in communication sciences and disorders, a master’s in theater arts, a minor in American Sign Language, and music therapy.

Posted by: Jacques | Oct 13, 2019 4:56:42 AM

Don't worry, your university can still hire more diversity administrators and give raises to the others. Apply for one of those jobs. If you can get one, you're fixed for life. Remember, your mission is to indoctrinate, not educate.

Posted by: willis | Oct 13, 2019 4:43:27 AM

Many colleges have students clamoring to not be discriminated against and to pay to get in. And if you don't take my money I can invest or donate or spend it for other things that I think bring confidence, spirit and purpose (which make certain jobs in the process). Yesterday I gave $100 to Wikipedia which I learned a lot on while bored in government required schooling. So no man-splaining intended but what the author needs to lay out is not just whether her project is good but why to force me to pay for it too.

Posted by: Anand Desai | Oct 12, 2019 6:44:19 AM

I have very little sympathy for these politically corrupt institutions. If people like this author really want to save them, here's one simple proposal to keep most all the staff: a 75% pay cut for senior administrators, a 50% pay cut for senior faculty, and a 25% pay cut for junior faculty, all with no firings. Do that, then check back in a couple years and see if everything is balanced.

Posted by: reader | Oct 12, 2019 1:48:54 AM