Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Monday, November 17, 2014 8:38 am

UNC System tuition: “A failure of liberal thought” … and much more than that

Mike Konczal at the Roosevelt Institute writes:

“There was a quiet revolution in the University of North Carolina higher education system in August, one that shows an important limit of current liberal thought. … The UNC System Board of Governors voted unanimously to cap the amount of tuition that may be used for financial aid for need-based students at no more than 15 percent. With tuition going up rapidly at public universities as the result of public disinvestment, administrators have recently begun using general tuition to supplement their ability to provide aid. This cross-subsidization has been heralded as a solution to the problem of high college costs. Sticker price is high, but the net price for poorer students will be low.

“This system works as long as there is sufficient middle-class buy-in, but it’s now capped at UNC. As a board member told the local press, the burden of providing need-based aid “has become unfairly apportioned to working North Carolinians,” and this new policy helps prevent that. …

“The problem for liberals isn’t just that there’s no way for them to win this argument with middle-class wages stagnating, though that is a problem. The far bigger issue for liberals is that this is a false choice, a real class antagonism that has been created entirely by the process of state disinvestment, privatization, cost-shifting of tuitions away from general revenues to individual, and the subsequent explosion in student debt. As long as liberals continue to play this game, they’ll be undermining their chances.”

I get that it’s Konczal’s job to write about the strengths and limits of liberal thought, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But if we focus only on the thought, we overlook the real-world consequences, which are: In a state in which the constitution requires UNC System tuition to be as nearly free as is practicable, we’re making it harder and harder for the state’s citizens to get a university education just so that we can keep the tax burden on the wealthy low.

That’s both immoral and, from a purely practical standpoint, very shortsighted. For 220 years, UNC has been the greatest economic driver North Carolina has. The education the system has provided has immeasurably enriched every sector of the state’s economy — agriculture, industry, medicine, tourism, you name it. The shortest way out of the problem of stagnating wages that Konczal describes is to invest in human capital. When we make it harder for the state’s citizens to get a university education, we are, economically speaking, cutting our own throats. That’s not just wrong, it’s asinine.

Unfortunately for the state, however, the GOP controls state government and the UNC System board, meaning that asininity, shortsightedness and greed are just the currency of the culture.

Monday, September 29, 2014 8:19 pm

Why English majors are the hot new hires. (And, no, that not an Onion headline.)

Hey, take it from the American Express website.

I never had a lot of patience with people who asked me why I was majoring in English.

For one thing, I enjoyed it. Duh.

But for another, the skills you develop as an English major are the skills American business always says it needs more of: critical thinking, analytical ability, and the ability to communicate clearly. That was true 32 years ago and it remains true today. Those skills will prepare you for jobs that don’t even exist yet. I know that’s true because they did for me.

In fact, American business’s global competitors are finding they need the same skills, and that their job-focused college educations aren’t providing the people they need who have those skills. So they’re retooling their higher education along the U.S.’s traditional liberal-arts model.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t major in STEM if that’s what sings to you and/or you’re really serious about getting a particular job in that field straight out of school.

But it does mean that an English degree has a world of applications in a broad variety of business contexts. So does practically any liberal-arts degree, because they all teach the same skills, just in different contexts. And that, Pat McCrory, is why English majors (and Art History majors and Women’s Studies majors and on and on) are the hot new hires.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011 8:17 pm

Quote of the day

Filed under: Sad — Lex @ 8:17 pm

“The market imposes anti-educational values on educational programs.”

— Michael E. Brown, professor of sociology, Northeastern University, posted at the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Friday, September 3, 2010 8:44 pm

Yet another reminder that a cynic knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing

Filed under: Evil — Lex @ 8:44 pm

Texas has taken another big step in its long campaign to become the galactic capital of Stoopid.

The Texas A&M University System has announced that it will be evaluating its professors (which is good) in this way (which is very, very bad): weighing the cost of their salaries against the size of the research grants  they bring in and how much money they generate from teaching.

A several-inches thick document in the possession of A&M System officials contains three key pieces of information for every single faculty member in the 11-university system: their salary, how much external research funding they received and how much money they generated from teaching.

The information will allow officials to add the funds generated by a faculty member for teaching and research and subtract that sum from the faculty member’s salary. When the document — essentially a profit-loss statement for faculty members — is complete, officials hope it will become an effective, lasting tool to help with informed decision-making.

“If you look at what people are saying out there — first of all, they want accountability,” [vice chancellor for academic affairs Frank] Ashley said. “It’s something that we’re really not used to in higher education: For someone questioning whether we’re working hard, whether our students are learning. That accountability is going to be with us from now on.”

Peter Hugill, the head of the local chapter of a national faculty group, calls the measure simplistic and crude, and views it as an idea spawned from a conservative think tank in Austin that has advocated faculty accountability and has the support of Gov. Rick Perry and the A&M System Board of Regents.

You can quantify any damn thing you want, but quantifying anything and everything is not necessarily going to improve your productivity or your accountability because some things are harder to quantify meaningfully than others.

In this case, you start with a question: What is it that you want college professors to do? If the answer is “bring in more money than they cost,” then you use an assessment like this one. But if the answer is “teach” or “impart knowledge” or something similar, then your assessment must be quite different. And that’s before you even get into the question of what you want them to teach: facts? Methods? What?

The article adds:

A rawer form of the idea was advocated by the conservative think tank the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a group whose board members are major financial contributors to Perry and whose ideas have been embraced by the A&M System Board of Regents.

One of the group’s seven “solutions” to higher education reform called for improving “the quality of teaching by providing legislators and governing boards with a simple tool to measure faculty teaching performance.” The reform called for dividing the teacher’s employment cost by the number of students taught, “and force rank from highest cost per student taught to lowest cost per student taught.”

If we pay the Texas Public Policy Foundation the common courtesy of presuming that it knew what it was doing, then we are forced to assume that it holds higher education in tremendous contempt. Why that might be is a matter of speculation. I speculate that research skills, logic and analytical ability honed in a quality program of higher education tend to undermine the tendentious, fact-averse world views and recommendations of groups like the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which exist to advance the interests of a wealthy few at the expense of the rest of us. And you can rest assured that the children of such people won’t be going to college at Texas A&M unless their parents are confident that they’ll be leaving their offspring enough money that they need never have any inconvenient encounters with the real world.

These are the people who have supported Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who has publicly flirted with the idea that Texas should once again secede from the U.S. My disgust at the repugnant idea of dissolving the Union and letting Texas go its own way is tempered, I must confess, by the possibility that the rest of us might well be better off without it.

Monday, April 19, 2010 8:30 pm

The REAL liberal-conservative divide in higher education …

Filed under: Y'all go read this — Lex @ 8:30 pm

… that is, the one that really exists and really matters.

Monday, March 8, 2010 8:18 pm

At which college would you be most likely to find Jesus?

Filed under: Religion — Lex @ 8:18 pm
Tags: ,

The answer may surprise you. The reason probably won’t.

UPDATE: Article wasn’t behind paywall when I started the post, but it is now. Stupid Chronicle. Hmph.

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: