Perry – the $10,000 goal

Rick Perry is someone I have long underestimated; his policies have kept us in relatively safe economic order despite the effect of national energy policies on a state that makes much from oil and despite the fact that some of the highest rates of illegal immigration and drug wars are on our borders. Instapundit links his policy on education. Reining in academic bureacracies, perqs and salaries is not anti-intellectual. It is egalitarian. Expecting state colleges to prove the value of the credentials they “sell” is the responsibility of government regulation.

MLA has pioneered an accreditation of English speaking: trained listeners grade speakers on their mastery of English. This becomes a useful indicator of the student’s proficiency – one often hard to know from credit hours. (A similar pattern exists at here: the Spanish teachers found such varied levels of competency from similar credentials that they now administer their own tests and dialogues for appropriate placement.) Such accreditation can be done, even in the liberal arts.

Education is relatively simple unless we want to see it as a “life experience.” Higher education should be undertaken for one of two goals: 1) because a college is an efficient way to impart specific knowledge that can be used in practical ways (most often, on the job). 2) because someone really enjoys the life of the mind. The former may require some subsidies and perhaps loans are not a bad investment for doctors and engineers. I have no problem with the second; not too far into my graduate work, I realized that I was not likely to get a tenure-track position. I was making $2800 a year (even in 1971 that wasn’t much money) but I could support myself by teaching freshmen and sophomores while spending a good part of my time reading and writing. However, I also wanted children and so I eventually opted for a job of providing a needed service. Society should have no problem with the first, though considerable checks should be placed if society foots the bill. And it should discourage student loans. However, faculty that sees a two-class teaching load as onerus but pulls in 3-figure salaries may rationalize their usefulness, but I’m not sure if society needs to accept those rationalizatons. Certainly, the workers at Wal-Mart, whom these scholars often deride, should not have to support them – nor should the businessmen who work eighty-hour weeks. Rich or poor, others pay taxes which are used to support relatively easy lives, when these lives are not devoted to the training of these workers’ offspring.

I will acknowledge that any emphasis upon graduation rates seems to me to be a real moral hazard – we don’t need to graduate students who shouldn’t graduate; open admissions in schools like ours is a wonderful opportunity; graduation should be earned. Nor are admittance checks that weed out those who screwed up the first time around and are ready to do quite well a good thing. But this can be tweaked. Exit test standings would be a useful first step.

7 thoughts on “Perry – the $10,000 goal”

  1. I expect that a fairly small % of higher-ed cost is actually the cost of the professors doing the teaching, properly calculated…ie, if a professor is only spending 10% of his time on teaching and 90% on research, then only 10% of his salary & benefits should be allocated against teaching cost. Huge costs are due to extravagant facilities, excessive layers of administration, and subsidization of money-losing athletic programs.

    Universities argue that the 300-student lecture courses that now seem to be so common are necessary for cost control, but this seems similar to the kind of manufacturing companies Bill Waddell talks about who focus obsessively on direct-labor costs but ignore the other (dominant) aspects of their cost picture.

  2. Most full-time medical professors are expected to support their own salaries with treatment income or grants. The same should apply to all fields of study.

    Students, likewise, should be eligible for loans based on the anticipated mean income of graduates ten years post graduation.

    My daughter begins a five year PhD program in history this summer but all her tuition is paid and she will get a stipend. She has an alternate career at near $100,000 salary because of her language skills. This, however, is how she chooses to spend her life. Her husband has a great potential career in information technology. They both graduate in May. Unless kids have similar options, I don’t see why they should be allowed to run up these loans. It has certainly contributed to tuition inflation but it bears a frightening resemblance to the housing bubble. Except it is worse.

  3. As a small college adjunct teaching government in Texas, I often ask students during the policy bloc to discuss the rationale for state subsidy of higher education. “How can you justify spending tax dollars from someone who did not, will not, doesn’t intend to and has no children who will attend college in Texas?” The not surprising theme throughout the papers is inevitably an enunciation of the concept of “Everyone has a right to a college education.”

    Disabusing them of the concept of entitlement to much more than the inalienable trilogy is a never-ending task.

    Alternatives like working, saving, planning, earning through service are seldom considered.

  4. Ed – It is not surprising, though, that students say this. They may be getting that from their parents and the media and their own general sloth, but the greatest source is academia itself. Of course, administrators have charts that say students with B.A.s earn more than 2 year degrees which earn more than high school graduates who earn more than high school dropouts. I love teaching literature; I loved taking it. Nonetheless, I think some of this reasoning is circular (people aren’t considered for better jobs because they don’t have the degrees); some of it is correlation (education teaches us perseverance as much as anything); and some of it is life style. My parents were both college-educated; my brother married early and dropped out of college after barely a year. He thought in a systematic way, had been taught perseverance from an early age, and married a woman who had (and encouraged in him) solid values. He is worth several times what my sister and I are (both with graduate degrees). That’s okay – both of us worked long hours, but I spent them reading what I wanted to and writing what I wanted to. His life was considerably more circumscribed. The statistics seldom consider comparisons like ours – people from the same family with the same emphasis upon work habits. My other brother has been less appreciated in his work places because his interests were more like my sister’s and mine but his work place was more like my brother’s. These fits are not great. Life is complicated. But that isn’t what you hear from the administrators at our junior college nor the big school: they just say education is the way to money. Well, maybe. But not all majors and not all people and not all money. And the number of people who became employed because of my brother’s work (and, frankly, mine when I ran a business) might indicate a greater use of our talents. If length & physical quality of life trumps about anything else, providing a workplace & salaries for others pretty much trumps any other definition of usefulness to society.

  5. Actually, what you really need from professional educators is testing.

    I’ve spent my life in computers which means that every, say, four or five years I have to reeducate myself with a brand new college education. Everything I actually learned in college 25 years ago is hopelessly obsolete. (Frankly, that’s probably true of all technical fields. How much of a business degree earned 25 years ago is still relevant?)

    I can study myself but its hard to figure out if you’ve actually mastered the material. That is were professional educators can (or at least should) provide feedback in the form of testing.

    So, I would argue that credentials are really test results. We could probably provide credentials by providing some kind of comprehensive testing. Do we really care HOW someone came to acquire the skills they have or do we just care what skills they have.

  6. I am willing to bet that it could be done, and it could be done very well, but the institution would have to minimize administrative costs (starting with $1 million/yr Presidents) and fripperies: old buildings, and cramped offices are just fine, get McDonald’s to open across the street instead of running a cafeteria. Libraries? Internet. Faculty need to be more on the High School model, e.g. 4 or 5 classes a semester every semester. Research can be left for others. No tenure, no unions.

Comments are closed.