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Op-Ed | UConn Tuition Hikes Reveal Disconnect with New Economy

by Heath W. Fahle | Dec 23, 2011 1:12pm
(8) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Opinion

The structure of the American economy is changing. The industrial-manufacturing base that defined Post-World War II America is steadily giving way to an information-technology economy that is more dynamic than any other in the history of mankind. The defining principle of this shift is the substitution of labor with capital and its hallmarks are the speed, smarts, and embrace of change that it requires.

The University of Connecticut’s recent tuition hikes, though, will make it more difficult for thousands of students to rise to meet this challenge.

UCONN’s Board of Trustees voted this week to dramatically raise tuition at the state’s flagship university. Depending on state funding decisions, the price of attendance will rise between 23% and 26% over the next four years. Student fees and room & board charges will also increase. In exchange for the hikes, new President Susan Herbst promised to hire 290 new faculty members, an 18% increase in faculty from the university’s fall 2010 staffing level.

Harkening back to the days of the Thomas Commission at the state government level, earlier this year UConn initiated a strategic review of their operations to find cost savings, dubbed the Strategic Redesign Initiative. The resulting McKinsey & Company report identifies between $53 and $97 million in cost savings from non-faculty operations. Recommendations projected to reduce costs by $6.4 to $10.1 million in fiscal year 2012 are already underway.

The steps are welcome but incomplete unless they can be combined with cost savings from the faculty side of the budget as well. The first step in doing so is to establish a meaningful way to measure faculty productivity. The number of classes taught, competitive grants won, research citations, or other metrics describe how effectively a faculty member does their job and give administrators new tools for assessing performance and, importantly, making budgeting decisions.

A few institutions, most notably the University of Texas, collect such measurements and make them publicly available on the Internet for further study. But like performance measures for other educators, choosing what to measure and how to measure it is highly controversial. Efforts to do so by officials in other states, such as Texas and Florida, struggle to gain acceptance in higher education circles.

A July survey of university CFOs found that increasing teaching loads and eliminating tenure were two of the three strategies preferred for improving balance sheets (increasing tuition was the third, ranking above the elimination of tenure but below increased teaching loads). But neither is cost effective without reasonable metrics to inform the decision-making process.

University administrators and faculty should work together to craft and publish a set of performance measures that objectively evaluate the productivity of each faculty member – preferably before any new hires are added to the mix. The end goal of this effort should be to improve the quality of research and instruction at UConn while at the same time holding the line on future tuition hikes.

Making the current systems of delivering services, like higher education, much more efficient and effective is crucial to competing and winning in the new economy. Tuition hikes, like tax hikes, increase the cost associated with working, living, and prospering in Connecticut while the broader focus of the economy is on driving down costs. As long as this disconnect exists, its going to be hard to compete in this new era.

Heath W. Fahle is the Policy Director of the Yankee Institute for Public Policy and a former Executive Director of the Connecticut Republican Party. Contact Heath about this article by visiting www.heathwfahle.com

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(8) Comments

posted by: Matt Zagaja | December 24, 2011  4:57pm

Hi Heath,

Interesting post but I have a few thoughts to share. First and foremost my understanding is that faculty all have a minimum number of classes they have to teach. Any information on the classes taught should be discernible via the evaluation form records that are already kept on file at the libraries. I suppose the administration could consider raising the requirement of number of classes taught by each professor. However my understanding is that professors are also expected to dedicate a certain amount of time to research and other activities.

If you look at the powerpoint from the tuition town hall it becomes pretty clear that the issue is the school keeps enrolling more and more students. It may make sense for admissions to admit less students. Friends have suggested that one issue is students at branch campuses (Hartford, Waterbury, etc.) often take their first two years at the branch and then must finish up at Storrs, thus creating a choke point/demand for classes in the later years.

Maybe it may make more sense to look into making better use of summer classes to alleviate some of the class capacity issues.

-Matt

posted by: bob0322 | December 25, 2011  10:52am

As a UConn faculty member, I respectfully disagree with some of Mr. Fahle’s comments.  The tuition hikes are a direct result of the “New Economy”, and the decision by the Governor to cut back on support of UConn by the state.  Faculty have gone for years without raises not to mention furlough days, which we resent because we still have to work on those days to cover classes.  But the most serious problem is that during the past five years, when faculty retire or do not get tenure, they have not been replaced.  Add additional students and you have a serious problem.  The suggestion we increase faculty teaching loads will simply drive the research active faculty away.  The suggestion we increase class size will drive the best students away.  The suggestion we admit fewer needy students is unfair to the needy students.  The suggestion we increase the number of out-of-state students is not fair to the in-state students.  A tuition hike is the only fair resolution, although nobody likes increasing the burden to the parents.  But as has been stated on many sites, UConn is still a bargain given the quality of the education and outstanding facilities.

posted by: SocialButterfly | December 25, 2011  3:53pm

It’s like finding a place between a rock and a hard place!  Virtually impossible!

posted by: GoatBoyPHD | December 25, 2011  4:17pm

GoatBoyPHD

Sone unpleasant facts remain: the first 2 years of courswork is usually generic and is over priced.  Universities emphasize facility and physical plant growth over innovation.

The Education Industry’s goal isn’t to lower the costs of delivery. Quite the opposite is true.

Subjects like Accounting 101/102 and 201/202 are perfect vehicles for DVD self-paced learning and computer testing and coursework employing the absolute best materials and lecturers possible, open curriculums, and Skype tutoring with minimal face time required.

On line classes have a bad reputation today: it won’t always be that way. Some nations and institutions will use New Media to drive down delivery costs of generic undergrad courses and blow away the candidates graduating from State Public Universities.

I wont be surprised when we see 4-year Masters programs in which half the courses are technology driven courses with some seminar and labwork. 

The education industry will not innovate by itself. It will require overseas competition and legislation and corporate think tanks that restructure to become the new Ivy League. The goal will be to minimize facility costs. The old facility model needs to die death.

There are exceptions to the facilities rule of thumb but far less than the industry will let it be known

posted by: johnnyb | December 25, 2011  9:53pm

There should be a 10% reduction in Administrators that is part of the deal on this tuition hike. Top heavy and over paid at UConn. The have to pay top dollar to attract quality is BS. You are saddling these kids with debt that will kill their ability to buy a house for instance as they try to pay their student loans, car loans and rent in this stagnent wage economy. The employees of UConn who live in the land of OZ will laugh all the way to the bank.

posted by: SocialButterfly | December 26, 2011  1:45pm

bob0322:  Your appear correct, when your knowingly attest to the fact that faculty is not replaced—but the appointed, high-roller politicians seem to be automatically replaced.

Political payola—never stops!  That’s why the State of Connecticut and our country is broke!

“God bless America, but the ACLU has denied the help that only our Devine Saviour can provide to all of us!”

No one complains, however, but only unless—they are denied their Congress-provided freebies!

We have lost our work ethic—and our jobs have been lost to inhabitants of countries—who live to work, as their governments do not provide them with free money and benefits.

posted by: Hoosier@CT | December 28, 2011  7:24am

Bob0322
I respectfully point out that the more students the college has, the more funding comes into the college. So by proposing keeping the student count down, you would keep the number of paying customers down.
I think that GoatBoyPHD makes a great point about lessening the cost of delivery, but I would suggest doing a cost benifit analysis of the athletics programs also. Do the costs of the coaching staff, and facilities really bring in money to the college, or is it just a prestige thing?
I also think that the college needs more financial oversight. When a college president can have custom a custom book case built, at a cost that would have put a student through an entire year of college, there is a disconnect in fiscal responsibility on the part of the president, and those who oversee his or her activities.

posted by: bob0322 | December 28, 2011  9:18am

Hoosier@CT
Are you sure the custom bookcase was ordered by our current president?  Sounds more like Hogan, who was indeed one of the worst presidents in UConn history.  He spent lavishly on himself and his wife and the Trustees just ignored it.  It was indeed shameful.  I think our new president is much more frugal and honest.

I wish to point out one thing.  Out-of-state students pay more and are a modest financial resource.  In state students are a financial burden.  While the university breaks even on out of state students, they loose money on in-state students.  But UConn has a responsibility first and foremost to instate students, but all the students are getting short-changed when we do not have enough faculty to teach the courses they need. 

Finally, there is no question UConn can operate more efficiently.  We have far too many administrators.  And they are paid significantly more than the faculty.