Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Study Finds Reallocation of Resources Lowers Tuition In Higher Ed

A new study was released Monday by the D.C.-based Center for College Affordability and Productivity The bottom line is this: by incorporating even modest changes in the teaching work loads of the least productive professors would bring about substantial cost reductions in tuition and state taxpayer money while not tampering with tenure or the world class research being done at the university. UT-Austin, for example, would remain a solid Tier One research university.

Pew Research polls indicate that the value of a college degree is questioned by a growing percentage of Americans. A majority believe that higher education is no longer affordable and that it doesn't deliver a good value.

In the newly released study, Dr. Richard Vedder, along with Christopher Matgouranis and Jonathan Robe, found:

* 20% of UT Austin faculty are teaching 57% of student credit hours. They also generate 18% of the campus's research funding. This suggests that these faculty are not jeopardizing their status as researchers by assuming such a high level of teaching responsibility.

* Conversely, the least productive 20% of faculty teach only 2% of all student credit hours and generate a disproportionately smaller percentage of external research funding than do other faculty segments.

* Research grant funds go almost entirely (99.8%) to a small minority (20%) of the faculty; only 2% of the faculty conduct 57% of funded research.

*Non-tenured tract faculty teach a majority of undergraduate enrollments and a surprising 31% of graduate enrollments.

* The most active researchers teach nearly the average of all faculty; increasing teaching loads of others would trivially impact outside research support.

Keeping in mind that the findings are preliminary, it is evident that there is great promise for containing soaring higher education costs at UT Austin by reallocation of resources. A re emphasis on the importance of undergraduate teaching can be done without reducing outside research funding or productivity. Dr. Vedder says that tuition could be cut in half at UT Austin to about $4,500 per year.

It is noted that UT Austin urges everyone to not analyze the data results, as they are "preliminary".

All of the analysis is based on faculty productivity data requested by University of Texas System Regents in February for its task force on university excellence and productivity. UT Austin released 821 pages of data on faculty statistics.

Across the nation, tuition rises by about 7% each year.

Dr. Vedder said it is necessary to require professors to act like other professionals in other professions. For instance, it is not too much to ask that they work a regular 9 to 5 day. Requiring faculty to teach more students or courses would significantly reduce university costs. The study shows substantial disparities in the work professors actually perform and the compensation they receive for their services. A small portion of faculty carry the majority of the teaching load, teaching a sizable majority of students and maintain their research nearly at the same level as their peers. As the study points out,a significant proportion of the faculty is far less productive by holding small teaching loads and have little external research dollars generating. If teaching responsibilities were increased for that majority of faculty, the impact of external research funding or productivity would have marginal impact while significantly reducing the cost of tuition.

Dr. Vedder said UT Austin is not unique. "The findings at UT Austin are not unique as tuition and fees skyrocket at public universities across the nation, raising the question of who is really working to control costs for parents and taxpayers during the worst economic recession in 70 years."

When asked how he would evaluate Governor Perry's reform efforts, Dr. Vedder said the Governor is "unusually aggressive" in trying to reduce the cost of tuition and more reformist than other Governors. He said Perry's unique call for $10,000 four year degree programs are commendable and "clearly doable". The key is asking professors to act as other professionals in this economy.

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