Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Perry's higher education policy taking on a tea party flavor

Monday, May 30, 2011

Rick Perry had been governor of Texas for all of 13 days when he announced in January 2001 that higher education would be his top legislative priority. He called for voucher-style funding, an expansion of online learning and a dramatic increase in student financial aid.

More than 10 years later, reinventing public higher education remains a work in progress for the state's longest-serving governor.

That effort has taken an unusual turn lately, with prominent alumni, donors, business leaders and university officials questioning Perry's initiatives and those of his appointees to university governing boards. The governor, for his part, has accused critics, whom he did not name, of lying.

"The big lie making the rounds in Texas is that elected or appointed officials want to undermine or de-emphasize research at our colleges and universities," Perry wrote in a recent column in the American-Statesman. "That disinformation campaign is nothing more than an attempt to shut down an open discussion about ways to improve our state universities and make them more effective, accountable, affordable and transparent."

The GOP governor's higher education message has long had a populist tone, but it has taken on a tea party flavor of late. That's not surprising inasmuch as he has cultivated a political profile since the early days of the last gubernatorial campaign that emphasizes smaller, cheaper and more economically minded government, said James Henson , director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas.

At a time of declining state funding for colleges and universities, for instance, Perry has urged governing boards to develop $10,000 bachelor's degree programs and freeze tuition for four years.

"From a political point of view, the governor is on fairly safe territory being critical of the status quo in higher education," Henson said, adding that his approach appeals to his voting base more than to traditional Republicans, some of whom have been critical of the Perry administration on higher education.

Perry's pronouncements could mesh with a strategy to position him for a presidential or vice presidential candidacy, Henson said. The governor said last week that he would think about running for president.

"Conservative think tanks, which I think he listens to and trusts, have been very suspicious of the tenure system and the research mission of a lot of tier one universities," said Daron Shaw, a professor of government at UT. "It's not bad politics (to challenge the status quo), given his constituency and perhaps long-term interests."

Debate over the future of public higher education in Texas reached a full boil in March when Gene Powell, Perry's choice for chairman of the UT System Board of Regents, hired a $200,000-a-year adviser who had written dismissively of much academic research. The adviser, Rick O'Donnell, was dismissed after charging that officials were suppressing data on professors' salaries and workloads.

O'Donnell previously worked for charitable foundations run by Jeff Sandefer, a Perry donor and architect of several Perry-endorsed recommendations, including bonus pay for teachers based solely on student evaluations. When the Texas A&M University System adopted such a bonus system, the Association of American Universities called it a simplistic approach.

Some of the governor's appointees to the UT board, including Alex Cranberg and Brenda Pejovich , have pressed the nine UT academic campuses to pull together extensive data on faculty salaries, workloads, research grants and other measures of productivity — an exercise that UT President William Powers Jr., the Ex-Students' Association and others have faulted because it does not account for the quality and impact of professors' work.

Powell has both defended the regents' right to request such information and criticized an analysis of the draft data by an Ohio University researcher, who concluded that 20 percent of UT-Austin professors instruct most of the school's students.

The broad outlines of Perry's higher education policy, with an emphasis on affordability, access and accountability, first emerged on Jan. 3, 2001 , when he began crisscrossing the state to promote proposals from his Special Commission on 21st Century Colleges and Universities, a panel he established in 1999 while he was lieutenant governor.

The most important recommendation called for overhauling the way public colleges and universities are funded. Instead of appropriating money to schools, the state would place it in the hands of students.

This is a bold idea," Perry said at the time. "It essentially means that the State of Texas will guarantee a scholarship to every Texan who qualifies in an amount that would cover average tuition, fees and books at a public institution of higher education."

The proposal never got serious traction, but it continues to surface occasionally. Voucher-style funding was one of seven "breakthrough solutions" outlined by Sandefer and embraced by Perry at a May 2008 summit of public university regents.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation, an Austin-based group with close ties to Perry, helped organize that meeting and continues to tout the breakthrough solutions. Sandefer, who is on the foundation's board, was a member of Perry's special commission.

Emails released under an open records request show that the governor, Sandefer and Sandefer's father, J.D. "Jakie" Sandefer III, pressed regents at public university systems to adopt the recommendations after the 2008 summit. The Dallas Morning News, citing unnamed sources, has reported that retiring A&M Chancellor Mike McKinney was pushed from his post by regents because he failed to be assertive enough in implementing the breakthrough solutions.

Some of Perry's early proposals have become state policy. At his direction, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and the Texas Education Agency have worked together to enhance college readiness standards for public schools. Public colleges and universities regularly report graduation rates and other measures of academic performance. Schools get some of their funding on the basis of such performance.

Other proposals remain under discussion.

The special commission recommended that schools collaborate to deliver online coursework, adding that if the effort fails the state should consider creating a virtual university. Coordinating board officials echoed part of that recommendation recently when they suggested that schools could cut costs and improve quality by developing common online programs rather than separate ones for each campus.

Spending on Texas Grants, the state's main financial aid program, has risen considerably over the years with Perry's backing but not enough to keep up with population growth. Thousands of needy students who meet eligibility requirements don't get a grant. The shortfall will worsen during the next two years under a budget agreement reached by state legislative negotiators.

Although all members of the state's higher education governing boards are Perry appointees, he hasn't always gotten his way when it comes to the boards' selections of university leaders. A&M regents picked Robert Gates for president of the College Station campus in 2002 rather than the governor's preference, then-U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas. UT regents named Francisco Cigarroa chancellor instead of Perry's choice, former state Sen. John Montford.

Perry's quarter-century of political life has seen him morph from New Deal Democrat to Ronald Reagan Republican to a kind of tea party insurgent. The latest transformation has opened a rift between him and some longtime allies.

Perhaps the sharpest criticism has come from Peter O'Donnell Jr., a Dallas investor, philanthropist and former chairman of the state Republican Party who donated $30,000 to Perry's campaign in 2009-10. O'Donnell, no relation to the former UT System adviser, said the governor apparently does not understand that ill-considered changes in UT System policy could impair recruiting of top professors and threaten the model of public higher education that depends increasingly on philanthropy.

Moreover, the CEO of Exxon Mobil Corp., a Nobel laureate and leaders in higher education and philanthropy gathered on the UT-Austin campus recently to emphasize the importance of university-based research.

Perry has championed research with an economic development flavor. The state has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in medical, scientific and technological research since he became governor.

But Perry hasn't said much about the importance of research in the humanities, arts and social sciences. And he is donating proceeds from his book, "Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America From Washington," to the Public Policy Foundation, which looks askance at much academic research.

Perry, who has said he doesn't agree with all of the foundation's positions, named two of its board members, Phil Adams of Bryan and Pejovich of Dallas, to the A&M and UT governing boards, respectively.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Bad Education

Interesting read.


Policy Report Says Reform Critical to Viability of U.S. Higher Education

Interesting article on both higher education accountability and degree completion. Everyone is jumping to weigh in. Check out the full report "Front and Center: Critical Choices for Higher Education."


by Jamaal Abdul-Alim , May 26, 2011

In order for public colleges and universities to remain viable and effective in the coming years, higher education leaders must revamp the way they do business and refocus on delivery modes that lead to higher rates of completion.

Such are the main messages in a new report titled Front and Center: Critical Choices for Higher Education.

Produced by the Miller Center at the University of Virginia, the report calls on higher education leaders to “take several actions, none of them comfortable.”

Those recommendations essentially call for a leaner, meaner higher education system, if you will, that focuses more on accountability, using online and other technology to get better results, de-emphasizing “general education” and keeping a tight rein on research.

The report—borne largely through a meeting convened in December 2010 in Charlottesville, Va., by the Miller Center, the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, the National Conference of State Legislatures and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices—drew both praise and sharp criticism in various quarters of higher education.

Dr. Carol Geary Schneider, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, called the report “essentially schizophrenic” for its endorsement of liberal education on the one hand but then calling for certain students to bypass liberal education altogether.

“Whatever you’re majoring in, whether medical records or engineering, everybody needs big-picture knowledge,” Geary Schneider said, explaining that liberal education inculcates essential things such as critical thinking and ethics.

Stan Jones, founder and president of Complete College America, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that works to increase degree attainment, particularly for traditionally underrepresented populations, credited the report with calling attention to the role that government can play.

However, he said he disagreed with the report’s suggestion that the federal government act as a “convener” of state leaders on higher education.

“I don’t think that makes much sense,” said Jones, explaining that the power to determine things such as tuition, appropriations and charters is reserved by the states.

The report also evoked some skepticism for its not-so-subtle presupposition that its recommendations will radically change America’s higher education and economic landscape.

“I do not think that state or federal policy-makers can enact changes in policy that will cure the problems of cost, degree completion and employment,” said Bill Barrett, Executive Director of the Association of Independent Colleges of Art & Design and a vocal critic of various efforts to formulate more standards.

“These issues are way too complicated and interwoven with global forces beyond our control, for a simple gathering like the one at the Miller Center to have any meaningful effect,” Barrett said.

The primary recommendation of the Miller report is to “promote and reward institutional changes that advance the completion agenda.”

But this also includes allocating greater percentages of operating budgets to instruction, reducing the number of adjuncts and requiring permanent faculty to teach more courses while letting go of other interests or assignments.

The report also calls for colleges and universities to “evaluate and reduce administrative overhead” and shifting the savings to the area of advising.

“Many institutions have grown used to spending their money on things that may not reflect the needs of the states or regions that they are supposed to serve,” the report states.

The report also calls on states and the federal government to “focus research efforts at fewer institutions” and say clearly that the “research” obligation of the great majority of faculty members is simply to remain in their current fields.

“Relatively few of them,” the report says, “are going to make historic contributions to human knowledge.”

The report states further: “The past few decades have seen far too many colleges and universities engage in a rush toward elite status. The more selective an institution is, the better. The more research money it collects, the better. The higher it ranks in national and international publications, the better. But what has the race for status contributed to the public good?”

Geary Schneider, of AAC&U, said it’s wholly wrongheaded and shortsighted to view research in such a way.

“The U.S. investment in research and the advancement of knowledge as a core mission of higher education is what helped us become a world leader in higher education in all fields,” Geary Schneider said, “and it’s simply folly to imagine the United States can pull back its investment in research and advance knowledge and still be a world-class higher education system and society.”

Not everyone agreed. Barrett, for instance, said he was aligned with the report’s stance on research, increased faculty responsibilities and other issues.

“I generally agree that we will need to focus research at fewer, mega universities; we will need to increase teaching loads at most other colleges; we will surely need more flexible delivery systems, and we will need more coordination, cooperation and data,” Barrett said.

Behold the power of challenging all high school students — not just the A team

By Jay Mathews, Washington Post
May 19, 2011

West Potomac High School in Fairfax County and Oakland Mills High School in Howard County are as close as schools come to being twins. Both are in affluent counties and serve ethnically and economically diverse populations. Forty-seven percent of West Potomac students and 52 percent of Oakland Mills students are black or Hispanic. Thirty-eight percent at West Potomac and 31 percent at Oakland Mills are from low-income families.

But when I indulge in my obsessive comparison of schools by their college-level course programs, significant differences emerge. Oakland Mills often bars students from taking Advanced Placement classes if they don’t have B’s in previous courses. West Potomac lets in everyone who signs up and pays the test fees. The AP test participation rate at West Potomac is three times what it is at Oakland Mills, but the passing rate on tests at the Fairfax school is lower: 61 percent, compared with 78 percent at Oakland Mills.

That wide gap in approaches to challenging courses is why I started rating high schools 13 years ago by how successful they were at giving students a taste of college trauma. In a national context, as college-level programs such as Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate have become the prime means of preparing students for higher education, giving more students those opportunities has become crucial and controversial. Only half of students who go to college get to take college-level courses in high school, which many educators think is fine and others think is wrong. That controversy is one reason my rankings have drawn such attention.

The national list is being published now for the first time by The Washington Post. We call it The High School Challenge.

The idea for the list came to me as I was completing a book about America’s best public high schools. I kept running into the same mindless policy: Schools refused to let average students take the college-level courses and tests, reserving them for the better students. Research and common sense suggested that C students would learn much and be readier for college if they also took AP, but few schools appreciated that.

To illuminate the issue, I began ranking schools in 1998 on participation in AP and IB tests. Later, I added the Cambridge Advanced International Certificate of E ducation exam to what I named the Challenge Index. The national list started that year in Newsweek, the local list in The Post. This year’s national ranking moved to The Post after The Washington Post Co. sold Newsweek last summer.

The Challenge Index calculation is simple. I wanted everyone to be able to understand it and use it. Add up all the AP, IB or AICE tests taken in a given year. Divide by the number of graduating seniors. The target I set is also simple: Every school should reach a ratio of at least 1.000 — that is, as many college-level tests taken as diplomas issued. Any school that does will make my national list, unless its passing rate on those tests is unusually low or the school is unusually selective.

School leaders in Larchmont, N.Y., Winnetka, Ill., Beverly Hills, Calif., and elsewhere were puzzled and annoyed when I began this exercise. Because schools in those places allowed only their best students to take AP, they ranked lower on my list than some daring schools in less-wealthy communities that opened AP to all who wanted to work hard.

By coincidence, Washington area educators began a massive reform of their rules for placing students in college-level courses and tests. Influenced by the same pioneering teachers who had shown me the power of challenging more students, high schools in Northern Virginia, Maryland and the District created in this metropolitan region what continues to be the heaviest concentration of college-level courses in the country.

My list finds that only 1,910 U.S. public high schools, about 7 percent of the nationwide total, meet the target ratio. In the Washington area, 75 percent of public high schools do.

Some other regions do well, but not that well. Numerous school systems, wary of challenging students they believe are unready, hold the view that AP, IB and AICE are appropriate only for those with A or B averages. Some urban schools are discouraged by low test scores and therefore don’t encourage students to take AP.

But in some low-income communities, schools encourage as many students as possible to take AP, even if they rarely pass the exams, so they will get a sense of what college demands.

My method differs from how high schools are usually rated. Some lists use average SAT or ACT scores, state test scores or the percentage of graduates who go to four-year colleges. Those results are often so influenced by family income that you could get similar rankings by averaging the square footage of the students’ homes. Many principals and teachers have told me they prefer a measure such as mine that puts weight on efforts of school staffs to prepare students for college. They say that shows the quality of the school rather than the economic status of the parents and gives schools full of impoverished students a rare opportunity to shine.

The list draws attention in part because readers love rankings of any sort. It also is regularly denounced by educators who say it is wrong to rank schools based on just one number.

One of the most revealing arguments about this was between me and Patrick Welsh, an acclaimed English teacher at Alexandria’s T.C. Williams High School who frequently contributes to The Post. When we debated the issue in Outlook in 2005, Welsh said: “You’ve unwittingly created an out-of-control monster, a smoke and mirrors numbers game, the equivalent of ranking the teams in the NCAA basketball tournament on the basis of the number of players who got in the game, instead of the final score.”

I thought the metaphor worked better for me, since a school does not exist to beat other schools but to raise the achievement of students. Getting a lot of them into games is likely to sharpen their skills.

Welsh said adding students who read way below grade level into AP meant high achievers weren’t being challenged and low achievers were overwhelmed. I said he ought to visit Wakefield High in Arlington County, a five-minute drive from T.C. Williams. The two schools were demographically similar, serving large numbers of black or Hispanic students, many from poor families. Yet Wakefield teachers urged everyone to try AP and got award-winning results. The month after our debate, Wakefield had a Challenge Index rating of 2.030, compared with T.C. Williams’s 1.494. The percentage of AP tests passed by Wakefield students was higher: 51 percent to 39 percent. Thirty-five percent of the graduating Wakefield senior class had passed at least one AP exam, compared with 20 percent at T.C. Williams.

Mike Grill, the AP coordinator at Wakefield, told me then: “I don’t have patience for teachers who make excuses to explain why students can’t learn in their courses. The issue is not ‘why they can’t learn,’ but rather ‘why can’t you teach them?’ ”

Average students barred from AP usually don’t complain. They are used to being overlooked. But a few protest. Kerry Constabile at Mamaroneck High School in the New York City suburbs was upset when her request to take AP American History was denied because she had less than a B in social studies her sophomore year. She assigned the AP course to herself, getting the homework assignments from friends. She got a 3 on the 5-point AP exam. She was convinced that she would have done better had the school let her in the course.

Students in Howard have the same problem. If they don’t have at least a B in 10th-grade social science or a teacher’s recommendation, they can’t take AP U.S. history. Clarissa Evans, the county’s executive director for secondary curricular programs, said, “we have more work to do” in that area. Howard got a College Board award for improving AP access but still trails many other districts.

Frank Eastham, principal of Oakland Mills, said his teachers have been talking about ways to give more students exposure to AP, “but some think we are setting kids up for failure if we let them take a course for which they haven’t gotten the prerequisite class.”

At West Potomac High, AP Coordinator Drew Hamlin said: “We stress that success in AP courses is achievable for all students who are driven to succeed.”

The situation is worse in inner-city schools, where most students fail the AP exams. But those students often lack strong preliminary courses to get ready.

The inspiration for the list came a decade before I started compiling the AP participation data for schools nationwide. In 1987, I had the AP results from just one school — Garfield High in East Los Angeles. Eighty-five percent of the students were from low-income families, and AP courses had been rare. A few teachers changed that by upgrading lower-level courses so students would be ready for AP.

In 1987, 85 of the 129 Garfield students who took an AP calculus exam got a passing score of 3 or better. Amazingly, 26 percent of all Mexican American students in the country who passed an AP Calculus exam that year were from Garfield.

The famous math teacher Jaime Escalante had about half of them, but the other half were taught by Ben Jimenez. He was not a celebrity, just a competent, hard-working educator.

That statistic has haunted me since. I was glad to see the Garfield teachers recognized, but there was a darker side to the data. Why hadn’t the thousands of other schools in the country with underestimated Mexican Americans (or other kinds of students) done what the Garfield teachers had done? What was stopping them?

Take a look at the new national list and you will see which schools are asking themselves that question and trying to do something about it. I wish there were many more schools on the list than there are.

Texas’ Rapid Latino Growth Fueled by Those with Mexican Ancestry

Texas’ Rapid Latino Growth Fueled by Those with Mexican Ancestry

Dallas Morning News / 26 May 2011

By Michael E. Young/Staff Writer

In increasingly diverse Texas, one key component of the state’s strong growth over the past decade isn’t quite as diverse as it was.

The state’s Hispanic population increased 42 percent from 2000 to 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, to almost 9.5 million. But after a dip in the 2000 census, when just 76 percent of Hispanics reported direct or family ties to Mexico, that percentage grew to 84 percent, according to demographic information released Thursday by the Census Bureau.

“I think what we’re seeing in part stems from the instability we saw in past decades in Central America compared to what we have now,” said Dr. Steve Murdock, director of the Hobby Center for the Study of Texas at Rice University and former U.S. Census Bureau director.

But the real driver in Hispanic — and notably Mexican — growth is the Texas economy.

Through the first seven years of the decade, Murdock said, the state’s growth triggered a building boom that attracted construction workers, most notably from Mexico.

Dr. Lloyd Potter, the Texas state demographer, said that even when the U.S. economy faltered over the last three years, Texas’ “has been particularly robust compared with other states and weathered the recession relatively well.”

“That attracts everyone,” Potter said, “particularly people of Hispanic descent from other states. When we look at domestic migration into Texas, the greatest flow is from California,” a state whose population has deep ties to Mexico.

At the same time, U.S. immigration policy favors family reunification. So many of those who came from Mexico for work eventually obtained visas to bring their families here, too, Potter said.

“In terms of migration into the state, those two things favor people of Mexican origin,” he said.

Though Dallas County has by far the largest Hispanic population in North Texas, more than 900,000, its 37 percent growth rate from 2000 to 2010 trailed both the statewide rate of 42 percent and those of its suburban neighbors.

Collin County’s Hispanic population more than doubled to 115,345, an increase of 128 percent, while Hispanics in Denton County increased 129 percent, to 120,836. Tarrant County’s Hispanic population grew to 482,977, an increase of 69 percent.

“That’s another issue that clearly comes out in these numbers — we are more diverse, and that diversity is increasingly distributed not only in the central city counties, but in suburban counties as well,” Murdock said.

Asian population

That’s true for Asian immigrants, too. The Asian population increased 46 percent nationally from 2000 to 2010 and 71 percent in Texas to 964,000. Many of them sought homes in the suburbs.

“With their strong emphasis on education, many of the Asians are heading to the Katys and Planos, looking for better schools and a suburban lifestyle,” Murdock said.

While Dallas County’s population increased 6.7 percent over the decade, the Asian population rose 35 percent, to 87,752. Suburban growth rates were far more dramatic, though with much smaller numbers. In the seven-county Dallas-Fort Worth area, the Asian population increased from 194,050 to 338,692 over the decade, an increase of more than 74 percent.

On a percentage basis, most Asian groups in Texas grew even faster than Hispanics, but the real numbers of Asians are far smaller, Murdock said. And there has been a shift in the groups in most parts of Texas, with Indians the largest group in 2010, replacing the Vietnamese, who led in 2000.

“But all have had substantial increases, except in the Japanese population,” he said. “Over the decade, the population of Asian Indians increased about 90 percent in Texas, the Chinese 48 percent, 77 percent for Filipinos, 49 percent for Koreans and 56 percent for the Vietnamese.”

And as with Mexicans, the driving force for Asian growth, particularly Indian growth, is jobs, Potter said.

“There’s no question that over the decade, if you look at migration flow, Texas had a significant increase in the number of persons of Asian Indian descent,” he said. “That’s certainly consistent with the way the economy has gone, with industry moving a lot of people here on student visas or because they have skills in the high-tech industries or engineering.”

Once the workers are established, their families often follow, Potter said.

The latest census demographic numbers show the impact of increased diversity in powerful ways, Murdock said. Over the last decade, non-Hispanic whites increased 8.2 percent nationally. But Hispanic growth was 43 percent — an increase of 15.2 million people, more than half of the total national increase of 27.3 million.

Aging whites

While non-Hispanic whites are the largest race and ethnic group, they are growing at the slowest rate. And the group is getting increasingly older.

“We talk about how diverse Texas is, and that’s also true with age structure,” Murdock said. “We continue to be younger than the country as a whole, but we now have 44 counties where the median age is 45-plus. That’s an old population.”

Llano County is the oldest in the state, with a median age of 55, meaning half the population is older than 55 and half younger.

“The oldest counties in general are in the Panhandle, with predominantly aging Anglo populations,” Murdock said. “And the youngest counties are in the [Rio Grande] Valley … with huge minority populations.”

The seven counties in the Dallas area — Collin, Dallas, Denton, Ellis, Kaufman , Rockwall and Tarrant — have median ages from the low- to mid-30s. But each is older than it was 10 years ago.

The more dramatic population shifts pose particular problems across the state.

“If you’re in suburban areas around Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, you wonder, ‘How do we build enough schools and hire enough teachers?’” he said.

“And in West Texas and the Panhandle, it’s ‘How do we find enough students to keep our schools open?’ ”

Staff writer Ryan McNeill contributed to this report.

A&M System regents to get more input on state university investments under bill

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Texas A&M University System regents would get more say on how the multibillion-dollar Permanent University Fund and other higher education endowments are invested under a measure expected to be signed by Gov. Rick Perry.

House Bill 2825, written by Rep. John Otto, R-Dayton , would give the A&M System Board of Regents authority to name two people to the University of Texas Investment Management Co.'s board of directors. At least one of the appointees would have to possess a substantial background and expertise in investments.

Currently, the UT regents appoint all nine members of UTIMCO's board. Although state law specifies that "one or more" must be from a list submitted by the A&M regents, in actual practice the UT regents select one person from a list of two.

Unchanged would be a provision that requires the UT board to name three of its members and the UT chancellor to the UTIMCO board.

No one testified for or against the measure, and it was sent to the governor this week after the House and Senate approved it without objection.

By granting appointment power to the A&M regents, the bill navigates a fine legal and political line.

Under the Texas Constitution, the UT regents have full responsibility for overseeing the Permanent University Fund. The regents nevertheless sought and obtained legislation in 1996 authorizing UTIMCO, a private, nonprofit organization that answers to them and that is subject to state open records and open meetings laws.

Bruce Zimmerman, chief executive officer of UTIMCO, said Friday that he and his staff are comfortable with the measure and have the "utmost respect and confidence" in the UT and A&M regents.

A&M Chancellor Mike McKinney told the regents at a meeting in College Station on Thursday that he was pleased that A&M would get two appointees to UTIMCO's board. Under the state constitution, the A&M System gets one-third of the Permanent University Fund's proceeds and the UT System gets two-thirds.

Some Austin students struggle to meet graduation requirements, including 29% at Eastside Memorial

Keep in mind that these figures do not reflect students that are no longer in the system. Some of which were counted as dropouts, and others have disappeared from the the data altogether.


By Melissa B. Taboada and Laura Heinauer | AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Friday, May 27, 2011

Austin school district officials changed Johnston High School's name, redesigned its approach to teaching the curriculum and were required to replace more than three-quarters of its faculty, but it appears the campus, which has struggled for years to meet state academic standards, again will rank among Austin's most troubled schools.

More than 29 percent of students at what's now Eastside Memorial Green Tech High School at the Johnston Campus will be ineligible to graduate next week after failing state-mandated exit exams.

Overall, 92 percent of Austin students passed the exit-level Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, which matches the statewide average, according to figures released Thursday. The numbers varied from school to school: 21 percent of seniors from Reagan and LBJ high schools failed to pass; the highest exit-level passing rate, 100 percent, came from the Liberal Arts and Science Academy .

Students must pass all four parts of the exit-level exam, and pass their classes, to receive a diploma from Texas public schools. Students had five chances, beginning their junior year, to pass the exams before graduation, but 194 Austin students did not pass one test, and 117 needed two or more tests, district documents show. In all, 33 Eastside students didn't pass in time for graduation, although they can continue to test to get their diplomas.

Austin school district officials didn't respond to repeated requests for more information or comment Thursday.

In a statement, officials said preliminary results from the first 2011 TAKS administration show that in four of five test subjects, districtwide passing rates for all grades will either improve or remain the same. Passing rates for reading fell 1 percentage point — the statement wasn't more specific — in four grades.

The district's statement did not mention the exit-level exam at all.

"As another school year comes to a close, it's rewarding to know that the hard work of our teachers and students has paid off," Superintendent Meria Carstarphen said in the statement. "There is little doubt, that rule changes announced by the (Texas Education Agency) Commissioner on April 23 (regarding not using a formula that boosted some campus accountability ratings in the past) will have a significant negative impact on campus ratings."

An Austin school district spokeswoman said late Thursday afternoon that she couldn't speak on the exit-level results and that at least one administrator who could was away from the office at a retirement party.

A performance administrator, when questioned Thursday via cellphone text messages, replied that he couldn't comment because he didn't have the district's data on hand.

Statewide, passing rates on the TAKS test have ticked up since 2003, when the test was first administered. Passing standards have gotten tougher over the years as well.

State accountability ratings won't come out until the end of July.

How the district and its individual campuses rate this year is significant, because state ratings may stick for two years. The Texas Education Agency is moving from the TAKS to the new State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, starting with third- to ninth-graders in 2011-12. And during the transition, the state won't count results from that test for accountability ratings.

Also, the state this year won't use the Texas Projection Measure, which counts as passing the TAKS some students who didn't, based on past and anticipated improvement.

"With the changes that are occurring we do expect to see a decrease in ratings, not just for schools but also for school districts," said Round Rock school district Superintendent Jesús Chávez. He said scores in his district — where 91 percent of 11th-graders passed the TAKS on the first try — may be lower this year because teacher layoff announcements came just as testing was getting under way.

"It has impact (on) the mental state of teachers and students who were very worried that their teacher had been let go. It's probably not in the best state of mind in performing your best," Chávez said. "It's not an excuse for lower scores, but it does have an impact."

Not all area districts had a chance to analyze their data as of Thursday.

Last year, the projection measure, boosted three Austin schools from "academically unacceptable," the state's lowest rating, to "academically acceptable."

Despite the curve last year, Eastside Memorial has failed to meet state standards for the past two years. The campus was Austin's only unacceptable school in 2010.

Schools that received the rating for three years in a row can be repurposed, turned over to alternative management or closed . A law passed by the state House and Senate this session also allows parents students in chronically underperforming schools to request that the state education commissioner order closure.

Johnston was previously closed in 2008. The so-called accountability clock started over when it reopened as Eastside.

Texas Education Agency spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe said the school's fate won't be decided until final test scores and completion rate data are available in the next few months. She said it would be unusual for a school that had only three years of low performance to be closed but added that Eastside Memorial does have a unique history.

Austin district officials, meanwhile, already have made plans to strengthen the school. Eastside Memorial, which houses the Green Tech and Global Tech academies under the same roof, will be consolidated under a new principal and could get yet another new name , according to plans the school board approved Monday .

The district has plans to increase instruction time, place teachers and staff on improvement plans and use more data-driven instruction. The district may use an outside group to help reform the school, district documents show.; 445-3620

Austin district 2011 results

High school Students who failed the 
 exit-level TAKS

Akins 9%

Anderson 1%

Austin 7%

Bowie 2%

Crockett 4%

Eastside Memorial Green Tech 29%

Garza Independence 7%

Lanier 16%

Liberal Arts and Science Academy 0%

LBJ 21%

McCallum 3%

Reagan 21%

Travis 13%

Districtwide 8%

Texas 8%

Source: Austin school district

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Race is on to fund schools

Peggy Fikac | My San
Wednesday, May 25, 2011

AUSTIN — Legislative leaders continued to look for a compromise school funding plan Tuesday to allocate $4 billion worth of public school cuts they say is necessary to avoid a special session this summer.

A bill to make those cuts collapsed late Monday because of a procedural flaw that now has lawmakers scrambling back and forth between House and Senate chambers — with a stop Tuesday afternoon to meet with Gov. Rick Perry's staff — in search of a solution to buy them time until the 2013 session.

House leaders prefer a proration, an across-the-board cut for the state's 1,040 school districts amounting to nearly 6 percent for the 2012-13 school year. Senate leaders want school districts that have benefited from the controversial “target revenue system” to take larger cuts. Their plan could cut some districts 9 percent.

Lawmakers created the target revenue system five years ago that largely froze school funding at levels districts were getting in 2006 — except for enrollment growth. The temporary plan has continued and expanded to the point where most school districts no longer are funded under traditional formulas.

The current legislative session ends Monday. But legislative deadlines obligate lawmakers to settle on a school funding plan before Friday, said House Education Chairman Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands.

“In any plan where you have the same amount of money, it's how you rearrange the furniture,” Eissler said.

School funding cuts are necessary because of the state's massive revenue shortfall, and state leaders have limited the amount of money that can be used from the rainy day fund to plug budget holes. This stands to become the first time in modern history that Texas will not pay for school enrollment growth — about 170,000 additional students over the next two years.

Also pending are efforts to give school districts flexibility to absorb budget cuts by allowing larger class sizes, cutting teacher pay and giving teachers and other school employees unpaid leave.

Lawmakers have been hammering out a compromise budget for the next two years that would carve billions of dollars from current state and federal spending.

Along with the spending plan, they've still got to pass a revenue measure to help balance it, and it appeared any compromise on the school finance plan would have to be grafted onto that must-pass legislation.

Budget negotiators already have decided not to pay for $4.8 billion in anticipated Medicaid expenses in their two-year budget plan, meaning lawmakers in 2013 will have to cover that cost.

If lawmakers don't change the current school funding formulas, the state still will owe school districts an additional $4 billion — the amount that the proposed budget falls short of funding those existing formulas — said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan.

“If we don't change the state law and basically scale back on that entitlement, then you'll have that hole that we have to fill in addition to the probable Medicaid hole, and we will really be in serious trouble in this state,” he said. “We can't kick the can down the road on both Medicaid and school finance at the same time.”Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, said she believes a special session is a certainty if lawmakers don't approve a new school finance plan to distribute a reduced amount of state aid.

“That was part of our budget deal,” Shapiro said.

Lawmakers said they would try to add the essential part of the school finance plan to the must-pass revenue legislation, Senate Bill 1811. Shapiro called it “the last train in town.”

Eissler speculated that lawmakers would try to develop a hybrid plan, using concepts from both House and Senate versions.

Outcomes-Based Higher Ed Funding Bill Passes Senate

by Reeve Hamilton | Texas Tribune
May 24, 2011

A bill that could alter the state's formula funding for institutions of higher education to allow some of it to be based on outcomes such as graduation rates rather than simply enrollment cleared the Senate this evening.

Gov. Rick Perry has made outcomes-based funding one of his legislative priorities with regard to higher education, and the bill — House Bill 9 by House Higher Education Chairman Dan Branch, R-Dallas — appears to be moving toward the governor's desk.

The bill, which already passed the House, was kicked out of the Senate this evening with minor alterations. Now, the House must either concur with the changes or head to conference before it can finally be sent to the governor.

The concept has drawn some opposition. The Texas Faculty Association has expressed concern that it will create a need for institutions to boost graduation rates "by any means necessary," such as lowering standards and course requirements.

While HB 9 limits the portion of base funding that can be based on outcomes to 10 percent, it provides flexibility to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which supports the concept, to determine the specifics of the formula. The coordinating board would also be required to regularly review its outcomes-based system with institutions.

"A collaborative approach is key to the success of any outcomes-based funding initiative," said Senate Higher Education Chairwoman Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, who has been outspoken in her opposition of significant changes to higher education being pushed without public scrutiny and legislative input. "Instead of serving as an edict from on high, this bill would encourage cooperation between colleges and universities, the coordinating board and the Legislature. What's more, it would engage institutions in identifying and evaluating the most effective measures of student success."

Zaffirini, who sponsored HB 9 in the Senate, and Branch co-chair a recently created Joint Oversight Committee on Higher Education Governance, Excellence and Transparency. The bill would require the coordinating board to develop a report that identifies best practices for those issues and submit it to the committee.

NEWS RELEASE: Data Shows Massive Disparity in Professor Productivity at UT-Austin

Attached and below is a news release announcing the release of a study by the
Center for College Affordability and Productivity
that finds UT Austin could
make tuition vastly more affordable by moderately increasing faculty emphasis on
teaching. We worked with the Austin American-Statesman this weekend on the
story published this morning. Note that the report is being posted online within
the hour and we will send the link once posted.

Dr. Richard Vedder, a study author and director of the Center for College
Affordability and Productivity, is available and located in Ohio but Senator Dan
Patrick, former Vice Chair of the Higher Education committee, has been briefed
on the study and is available for comment. Senator Brian Birdwell has also been
briefed on the study. David Guenthner at the Texas Public Policy Foundation
(TPPF); and Peggy Venable, state director of Americans for Prosperity
Foundation’s Texas chapter, are also available for comment.

CONTACT: Bill Noble / Emily Songy
Monday, May 23, 2011
(512) 474-2005
(512) 296-4651 Cell

Data Shows Massive Disparity in Professor Productivity at UT-Austin

If bottom 80 percent were half as productive as top 20 percent,
tuition could be cut in half

AUSTIN – At a time of alarming tuition costs and economic uncertainties, an
analysis of the preliminary data released earlier this month by the University
of Texas System shows one of the state’s flagship universities could make
tuition vastly more affordable by moderately increasing faculty emphasis on

The Center for College Affordability and Productivity conducted the study titled
“Faculty Productivity and Costs at The University of Texas at Austin.” The study
assesses faculty productivity at UT-Austin in terms of both research and
teaching by delving into the data on faculty compensation, teaching loads and
external research grant awards released by the University of Texas system.

“Our analysis shows that there is clearly room for improvement in terms of
faculty productivity at UT Austin,” said Dr. Richard Vedder, director of the
Center for College Affordability and Productivity and a co-author of the study.
“Simply by having faculty teach more students or courses, students and taxpayers
will benefit significantly by reduced university costs.”

The study reveals substantial disparities in the work professors actually
perform and the compensation they receive for their services. The data show a
relatively small portion of faculty

carry the majority of the teaching load, teaching a sizable majority of students
and while maintaining their research nearly at the same level as their peers.
A significant proportion of the faculty is far less productive, with small
teaching loads and little external research dollars generated. The data
suggests that increasing teaching responsibilities for the majority of faculty
would only marginally impact external research funding or productivity, while
significantly reducing the cost of a degree at UT-Austin.

“Given the rising tuition costs at UT Austin and other public universities in
Texas, this report clearly demonstrates how increases in faculty teaching can
result in significant cost savings to students, parents and taxpayers,” said
Senator Dan Patrick (R-Houston), former Vice Chair of the Higher Education
committee. “All Texans, students and taxpayers deserve the best value for their
investment in higher education – a system where professors are engaged and held
accountable for their teaching productivity and performance.”

The study’s analysis comes in the wake of often heated debate on the value of
looking closely at teaching and research productivity at Texas’ public colleges
and universities.

“Our goal in conducting this analysis was to provide a resource for university
leaders and policy makers as they make decisions on enhancing university systems
to provide the highest-quality education at an affordable price for students,”
said Vedder. “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.”

Additional highlights of the study include:
* 20 percent of UT Austin faculty are teaching 57 percent of student credit
hours. They also generate 18 percent 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 percent of faculty teach only 2 percent
of all student credit hours and generate a disproportionately smaller percentage
of external research funding than do other segments of the faculty.
* Research grant funds go almost entirely (99.8 percent) to a small minority
(20 percent) of the faculty; only 2 percent of the faculty conduct 57 percent of
funded research.
* Non-tenured track faculty teach a majority of undergraduate enrollments and a
surprising 31 percent of graduate enrollments.
* The most active researchers teach nearly the average of all faculty;
increasing teaching loads of others would trivially impact outside research


***Study authors are available to comment or provide remarks for radio
programming. Call 512.474.2005 to schedule an interview.

Texas legislators reach breakthrough on school funding

By Dave Montgomery | Star-Telegram
May 19, 2011

AUSTIN -- House leaders late Thursday announced a major breakthrough on education funding, saying they have agreed to accept Senate budget recommendations to reduce state public school funding by $4 billion over the next two years.

That's almost half the amount that House members had voted to cut in the budget they adopted in April. Many education groups, while fighting to avoid funding cuts, have touted the Senate proposal as the preferred scenario.

"Given the available options, that is the best outcome," said Lonnie Hollingsworth, director of governmental relations for the Texas Classroom Teachers Association. "Given what was on the table, this is good news."

Lawmakers outlined the agreement as House and Senate leaders continued tedious negotiations to reach a final budget agreement before their May 30 adjournment.

Several thorny issues were still on the table -- including the size of a proposed drawdown from the state's rainy-day fund -- but leaders of both chambers said they were still hopeful that they could strike a deal and avoid a midsummer special session.

Negotiations also continue over higher-education funding, but House leaders said that they were within $300 million of closing a $1 billion gap.

"We're pretty darned close," said House Speaker Joe Straus. Earlier in the day, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the Senate's presiding officer, told reporters that "it's moving in the right direction."

House and Senate negotiators have signed off on most elements of a compromise budget, but steep differences in education funding had emerged as major sticking points. Despite progress in that area, negotiators were at odds over on how much to draw from the state's $9.7 billion rainy-day fund to help close a deficit for the current biennium. House officials indicated that they won't go beyond the $3.1 billion withdrawal approved by House members. The Senate this week called for a withdrawal of nearly $4 billion.

Negotiators are trying to hammer out a final budget that will have to be approved by both chambers without amendments. The House budget called for $164.5 billion for 2012-13, -- a $23 billion reduction (12.3 percent) from current spending. The Senate budget of $176.5 billion proposed an $11 billion reduction (5.9 percent).

Lawmakers opened their session in January facing a budget shortfall of up $27 billion, largely due to a recession-caused downturn in state revenue. Original spending proposals that started the budget deliberations called for up to nearly $10 billion in cuts to public school assistance, prompting widespread fears of teacher layoffs and school closures.

Under the House-passed budget, state funding for school districts would have been reduced by $7.8 billion. The Senate's proposed reduction was $4 billion.

House officials said they would be able to match the level in the Senate bill through $1.2 billion that Comptroller Susan Combs said would be available in additional revenue and $2.9 billion from various revenue measures moving through the House.

Combs issued the revised revenue estimate this week, based on the state's improving economy. Straus said that House conferees "promptly agreed to put those dollars toward our first priority, our public schools.

"The House has gone more than halfway to meet the Senate," Straus said in a statement, "and it is now time for the Senate to do its part by making additional cuts."

Dewhurst and a delegation of senators presented Straus and other House leaders with a proposal that had the support of 21 of the Senate's 31 members -- all 19 Republicans and Sens. Royce West, D-Dallas, and Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen. Participants declined to detail specifics.

Time running out

Emissaries from Gov. Rick Perry's office also participated in the discussions. Perry has insisted that lawmakers balance the budget by shrinking the size of government, avoiding new or increased taxes and not withdrawing from the rainy-day fund beyond the $3.1 billion for the current biennium.

The hang-up over the budget has forced House leaders to repeatedly postpone debate on a package of savings designed to avoid further cuts. The measure would generate more than $2 billion through accounting changes and streamlining government services. The biggest portion is designed to save $1.8 billion through a brief deferral in state aid to public school districts.

Also Thursday, the Senate Finance Committee charted another potential source of revenue by approving a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow the State Land Office to make millions of dollars in direct payments to public school funding. The amendment, sponsored by Rep. Rob Orr, R-Burleson, would be presented to voters in November.

Lawmakers have expressed growing concern that the late tie-up over the budget could force Perry to call lawmakers back for a 30-day special session, likely in July. Many acknowledged that they have only a few days at best to resolve their differences or face a steamy summer in Austin.

Questioned about that possibility, Rep. Vicki Truitt, R-Keller, said, "Ask me in 24 hours."

Read more:

No Child Left Behind fix lagging in Congress

By Associated Press
Friday, May 20, 2011

The long-awaited overhaul of the 9-year-old No Child Left Behind law has begun in the House with the first in a series of targeted bills, but a bipartisan, comprehensive reform of the nation’s most important education law still appears far from the finish line.

Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, said there’s no chance of meeting President Barack Obama’s August deadline.

"I’ve been very, persistently clear that we cannot get this done by summer," Kline said in an interview with The Associated Press. "It is just not going to happen."

Republicans have been divided by new lawmakers who tend to oppose any federal role in education and fiscal conservatives who want greater efficiency but are open to giving Washington some input. On the other side, some Democrats favor incentives like merit pay for teachers while others are advocating for the more traditional education establishment.

"There are some areas of focus that I think you can get some consensus around," said Sandy Kress, who served as an education adviser to President George W. Bush in the passage of No Child Left Behind in 2001. For example, he said, there’s agreement on the need to better prepare high school students for college and careers, create measures that improve teacher development and effectives, and prune back federal intrusions into the classroom.

"But after that, the differences come out," Kress said.

Republicans and Democrats agree the law is broken. The Bush-era legislation has accountability provisions in which even schools that are making improvements can be labeled as failures and has had a discouraging effect on the adoption of higher standards. The law sets a goal of having 100 percent of students proficient in math and reading by 2014, but states set what is considered proficient and how much schools must improve each year. Many left the biggest leaps for the final years, anticipating the law would be changed.

Since it has not, the number of schools not meeting annual growth benchmarks is likely to increase. Failing to meet the targets for several consecutive years leads to federal interventions that can result in staff replacement and school restructuring.

"It’s going to be more and more difficult for schools to make the targets," said Diane Rentner, director of national programs for the Center on Education Policy.

Two approaches have emerged to restructuring the law. The House plans to introduce several targeted fixes through multiple bills, starting with a proposal to eliminate 43 federal K-12 education programs. The Senate still aims for a more comprehensive legislation.

"We will hopefully have a bill that may not be what everybody wants, but I hope it will be broadly supported," said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Harkin said he is hopeful the bill will be before the committee before the July recess and will include systems for teacher and principal evaluations; metrics for success that include student growth and school gains; and some federal accountability and intervention in the bottom 5 percent of schools, as well as those with significant achievement gaps.

Potentially, a Senate bill could be aligned with the House proposals in a conference committee, but analysts say that would be difficult to pull off. House Republicans, wary of any broad-reaching federal legislation, may balk at a comprehensive education bill.

"The politics of education are in a place where the stars are not fully aligned yet," said Vic Klatt, a former GOP staff director for the House Education Committee.

Passing a series of small, targeted bills isn’t necessarily easier, either.

"We’re fully prepared to proceed in that fashion; it just makes it a little more difficult because you don’t have all the pieces on the table at the same time," said Rep. George Miller of California, the senior Democrat on the Education Committee.

Kline said he plans to introduce a second bill soon that would give school districts more flexibility in how they spend federal dollars. A third bill could be introduced before the August break, and at least one more, addressing how schools should be held accountable, would follow.

"I think it makes it easier for everybody to understand," Hunter said of the piecemeal approach, whereas for big bills, "I think people have an aversion to them now."

Neither of the first two bills addresses Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s concern that 82 percent of schools could be labeled as failures next year under No Child Left Behind. Kline said the accountability question is a difficult one.

"This is going to be a challenging prospect for us, no question about it," Kline said. "Schools are going to be accountable for what? And to whom? That’s an ongoing question."

Many education experts have questioned Duncan’s prediction. A study by the Center on Education Policy in April found that 38 percent of schools failed to meet adequate yearly progress in 2010, meaning the number failing would have to more than double.

Duncan has the authority to grant waivers to meeting the law’s requirements. In 2009, he granted more than 300, significantly higher than the number granted a year before by his predecessor. The department says the number was higher in part because officials invited states to submit several waivers, including those related to stimulus funding.

Kress said that not passing a reauthorization isn’t as serious as the administration has suggested and that there are many policy fixes that can be done under the current law. The political consequences for not passing a reform might not be steep for either party, he said.

"I think it’s inconsequential," Kress said. "The issues that separate them are so great. To come to an agreement on a modest bill that is restrained and modest, I don’t think anybody runs on that."

Monday, May 23, 2011

Michael Thompson

William Deresiewicz | The Nation
May 4, 2011

A few years ago, when I was still teaching at Yale, I was approached by a student who was interested in going to graduate school. She had her eye on Columbia; did I know someone there she could talk with? I did, an old professor of mine. But when I wrote to arrange the introduction, he refused to even meet with her. “I won’t talk to students about graduate school anymore,” he explained. “Going to grad school’s a suicide mission.”

The policy may be extreme, but the feeling is universal. Most professors I know are willing to talk with students about pursuing a PhD, but their advice comes down to three words: don’t do it. (William Pannapacker, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education as Thomas Benton, has been making this argument for years. See “The Big Lie About the ‘Life of the Mind,’” among other essays.) My own advice was never that categorical. Go if you feel that your happiness depends on it—it can be a great experience in many ways—but be aware of what you’re in for. You’re going to be in school for at least seven years, probably more like nine, and there’s a very good chance that you won’t get a job at the end of it.

At Yale, we were overjoyed if half our graduating students found positions. That’s right—half. Imagine running a medical school on that basis. As Christopher Newfield points out in Unmaking the Public University (2008), that’s the kind of unemployment rate you’d expect to find among inner-city high school dropouts. And this was before the financial collapse. In the past three years, the market has been a bloodbath: often only a handful of jobs in a given field, sometimes fewer, and as always, hundreds of people competing for each one.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. When I started graduate school in 1989, we were told that the disastrous job market of the previous two decades would be coming to an end because the large cohort of people who had started their careers in the 1960s, when the postwar boom and the baby boom combined to more than double college enrollments, was going to start retiring. Well, it did, but things kept getting worse. Instead of replacing retirees with new tenure-eligible hires, departments gradually shifted the teaching load to part-timers: adjuncts, postdocs, graduate students. From 1991 to 2003, the number of full-time faculty members increased by 18 percent. The number of part-timers increased by 87 percent—to almost half the entire faculty.

But as Jack Schuster and Martin Finkelstein point out in their comprehensive study The American Faculty (2006), the move to part-time labor is already an old story. Less visible but equally important has been the advent and rapid expansion of full-time positions that are not tenure-eligible. No one talks about this transformation—the creation of yet another academic underclass—and yet as far back as 1993, such positions already constituted the majority of new appointees. As of 2003, more than a third of full-time faculty were working off the tenure track. By the same year, tenure-track professors—the “normal” kind of academic appointment—represented no more than 35 percent of the American faculty.

The reasons for these trends can be expressed in a single word, or buzzword: efficiency. Contingent academic labor, as non-tenure-track faculty, part-time and full-time, are formally known, is cheaper to hire and easier to fire. It saves departments money and gives them greater flexibility in staffing courses. Over the past twenty years, in other words—or really, over the past forty—what has happened in academia is what has happened throughout the American economy. Good, secure, well-paid positions—tenured appointments in the academy, union jobs on the factory floor—are being replaced by temporary, low-wage employment.

* * *

You’d think departments would respond to the Somme-like conditions they’re sending out their newly minted PhDs to face by cutting down the size of their graduate programs. If demand drops, supply should drop to meet it. In fact, many departments are doing the opposite, the job market be damned. More important is maintaining the flow of labor to their domestic sweatshops, the pipeline of graduate students who staff discussion sections and teach introductory and service courses like freshman composition and first-year calculus. (Professors also need dissertations to direct, or how would they justify their own existence?) As Louis Menand puts it in The Marketplace of Ideas (2010), the system is now designed to produce not PhDs so much as ABDs: students who, having finished their other degree requirements, are “all but dissertation” (or “already been dicked,” as we used to say)—i.e., people who have entered the long limbo of low-wage research and teaching that chews up four, five, six years of a young scholar’s life.

If anything, as Menand notes, the PhD glut works well for departments at both ends, since it gives them the whip hand when it comes to hiring new professors. Graduate programs occupy a highly unusual, and advantageous, market position: they are both the producers and the consumers of academic labor, but as producers, they have no financial stake in whether their product “sells”—that is, whether their graduates get jobs. Yes, a program’s prestige is related, in part, to its placement rate, but only in relative terms. In a normal industry, if no firm sells more than half of what it produces, then either everyone goes out of business or the industry consolidates. But in academia, if no one does better than 50 percent, then 50 percent is great. Programs have every incentive to keep prices low by maintaining the oversupply.

Still, there’s a difference between a Roger Smith firing workers at General Motors and the faculty of an academic department treating its students like surplus goods. For the CEO of a large corporation, workers are essentially entries on a balance sheet, separated from the boardroom by a great gulf of culture and physical distance. If they are treated without mercy, that is not entirely surprising. But the relationship between professors and graduate students could hardly be more intimate. Professors used to be graduate students. They belong to the same culture and the same community. Your dissertation director is your mentor, your role model, the person who spends all those years overseeing your research and often the one you came to graduate school to study under in the first place. You, in turn, are her intellectual progeny; if you make good, her professional pride. The economic violence of the academic system is inflicted at very close quarters.

How professors square their Jekyll-and-Hyde roles in the process—devoted teachers of individual students, co-managers of a system that exploits them as a group—I do not know. Denial, no doubt, along with the rationale that this is just the way it is, so what can you do? Teaching is part of the training, you hear a lot, especially when supposedly liberal academics explain why graduate-student unions are such a bad idea. They’re students, not workers! But grad students don’t teach because they have to learn how, even if the experience is indeed very valuable; they teach because departments need “bodies in the classroom,” as a professor I know once put it.

I always found it beautifully apt that my old department occupies the same space where the infamous Milgram obedience experiments were conducted in the early 1960s. (Yes, really.) Pay no attention to the screams you hear coming from the next room, the subjects were told as they administered the electric shocks, it’s for their own good—a perfect allegory of the relationship between tenured professors and graduate students (and tenured professors and untenured professors, for that matter).

Well, but so what? A bunch of spoiled kids are having trouble finding jobs—so is everybody else. Here’s so what. First of all, they’re not spoiled. They’re doing exactly what we always complain our brightest students don’t do: eschewing the easy bucks of Wall Street, consulting or corporate law to pursue their ideals and be of service to society. Academia may once have been a cushy gig, but now we’re talking about highly talented young people who are willing to spend their 20s living on subsistence wages when they could be getting rich (and their friends are getting rich), simply because they believe in knowledge, ideas, inquiry; in teaching, in following their passion. To leave more than half of them holding the bag at the end of it all, over 30 and having to scrounge for a new career, is a human tragedy.

Sure, lots of people have it worse. But here’s another reason to care: it’s also a social tragedy, and not just because it represents a colossal waste of human capital. If we don’t make things better for the people entering academia, no one’s going to want to do it anymore. And then it won’t just be the students who are suffering. Scholarship will suffer, which means the whole country will. Knowledge, as we’re constantly told, is a nation’s most important resource, and the great majority of knowledge is created in the academy—now more than ever, in fact, since industry is increasingly outsourcing research to universities where, precisely because graduate students cost less than someone who gets a real salary, it can be conducted on the cheap. (Bell Labs, once the flagship of industrial science, is a shell of its former self, having suffered years of cutbacks before giving up on fundamental research altogether.)

It isn’t just the sciences that matter; it is also the social sciences and the humanities. And it isn’t just the latter that are suffering. Basic physics in this country is all but dead. From 1971 to 2001, the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded in English declined by 20 percent, but the number awarded in math and statistics declined by 55 percent. The only areas of the liberal arts that saw an increase in BAs awarded were biology and psychology—and this at a time when aggregate enrollment expanded by something like 75 percent. On the work that is done in the academy depends the strength of our economy, our public policy and our culture. We need our best young minds going into atmospheric research and international affairs and religious studies, chemistry and ethnography and art history. By pursuing their individual interests, narrowly understood, departments are betraying both the values they are pledged to uphold—the pursuit of knowledge, the spirit of critical inquiry, the extension of the humanistic tradition—and the nation they exist to serve.

We’ve been here before. Pay was so low in the nineteenth century, when academia was still a gentleman’s profession, that in 1902 Andrew Carnegie created the pension plan that would evolve into TIAA-CREF, the massive retirement fund. After World War II, when higher education was seen as an urgent national priority, a consensus emerged that salaries were too small to attract good people. Compensation soared through the 1950s and ’60s, then hit the skids around 1970 and didn’t recover for almost thirty years. It’s no surprise that the percentage of college freshmen expressing an interest in academia was more than three times higher in 1966 than it was in 2004.

But the answer now is not to raise professors’ salaries. Professors already make enough. The answer is to hire more professors: real ones, not academic lettuce-pickers.

Yet that’s the last thing schools are apt to do. What we have seen instead over the past forty years, in addition to the raising of a reserve army of contingent labor, is a kind of administrative elephantiasis, an explosion in the number of people working at colleges and universities who aren’t faculty, full-time or part-time, of any kind. From 1976 to 2001, the number of nonfaculty professionals ballooned nearly 240 percent, growing more than three times as fast as the faculty. Coaching staffs and salaries have grown without limit; athletic departments are virtually separate colleges within universities now, competing (successfully) with academics. The size of presidential salaries—more than $1 million in several dozen cases—has become notorious. Nor is it only the presidents; the next six most highly paid administrative officers at Yale averaged over $430,000 in 2007. As Gaye Tuchman explains in Wannabe U (2009), a case study in the sorrows of academic corporatization, deans, provosts and presidents are no longer professors who cycle through administrative duties and then return to teaching and research. Instead, they have become a separate stratum of managerial careerists, jumping from job to job and organization to organization like any other executive: isolated from the faculty and its values, loyal to an ethos of short-term expansion, and trading in the business blather of measurability, revenue streams, mission statements and the like. They do not have the long-term health of their institutions at heart. They want to pump up the stock price (i.e., U.S. News and World Report ranking) and move on to the next fat post.

If you’re tenured, of course, life is still quite good (at least until the new provost decides to shut down your entire department). In fact, the revolution in the structure of academic work has come about in large measure to protect the senior professoriate. The faculty have steadily grayed in recent decades; by 1998 more than half were 50 or older. Mandatory retirement was abolished in 1986, exacerbating the problem. Departments became “tenured in,” with a large bolus of highly compensated senior professors and room, increasingly squeezed in many cases, for just a few junior members—another reason jobs have been so hard to find. Contingent labor is desirable above all because it saves money for senior salaries (as well as relieving the tenure track of the disagreeable business of teaching low-level courses). By 2004, while pay for assistant and associate professors still stood more or less where it had in 1970, that for full professors was about 10 percent higher.

What we have in academia, in other words, is a microcosm of the American economy as a whole: a self-enriching aristocracy, a swelling and increasingly immiserated proletariat, and a shrinking middle class. The same devil’s bargain stabilizes the system: the middle, or at least the upper middle, the tenured professoriate, is allowed to retain its prerogatives—its comfortable compensation packages, its workplace autonomy and its job security—in return for acquiescing to the exploitation of the bottom by the top, and indirectly, the betrayal of the future of the entire enterprise.

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But now those prerogatives are also under threat. I am not joining the call for the abolition of tenure—a chorus that includes two of last year’s most widely noticed books on the problems of America’s colleges and universities, Higher Education?, by Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus, and Crisis on Campus, by Mark Taylor. Tenure certainly has its problems. It crowds out opportunities for young scholars and allows academic deadwood to accumulate on the faculty rolls. But getting rid of it would be like curing arteriosclerosis by shooting the patient. For one thing, it would remove the last incentive for any sane person to enter the profession. People still put up with everything they have to endure as graduate students and junior professors for the sake of a shot at that golden prize, and now you’re going to take away the prize? No, it is not good for so many of academia’s rewards to be backloaded into a single moment of occupational transfiguration, one that sits like a mirage at the end of twelve or fifteen years of Sinaitic wandering. Yes, the job market would eventually rebalance itself if the profession moved, say, to a system of seven-year contracts, as Taylor suggests. But long before it did, we would lose a generation of talent.

Besides, how would the job market rebalance itself? If the people who now have tenure continued to serve under some other contractual system, the same surplus of labor would be chasing the same scarcity of employment. Things would get better for new PhDs only if schools started firing senior people. Which, as the way things work in other industries reminds us, they would probably be glad to do. Why retain a 55-year-old when you can replace her with a 30-year-old at half the price? Now that’s a thought to swell a provost’s revenue stream. Talk about efficiency.

And what exactly are you supposed to do at that point if you’ve spent your career becoming an expert in, say, Etruscan history? Academia exists in part to support research the private sector won’t pay for, knowledge that can’t be converted into a quick buck or even a slow one, but that adds value to society in other ways. Who’s going to pursue that kind of inquiry if they know there’s a good chance they’re going to get thrown out in the snow when they’re 50 (having only started to earn a salary when they were 30, to boot)? Doctors and lawyers can set up their own practice, but a professor can’t start his own university. This kind of thing is appalling enough when it happens to blue-collar workers. In an industry that requires a dozen years of postsecondary education just to gain an entry-level position, it is unthinkable.

Nor should we pooh-pooh the threat the abolition of tenure would pose to academic freedom, as Hacker and Dreifus do. “We have scoured all the sources we could find,” they write, “yet we could not find any academic research whose findings led to terminating the jobs of college faculty members.” Yes, because of tenure. If deans and trustees and alumni and politicians rarely even try to have professors fired, that is precisely because they know they have so little chance of making it happen. Before tenure existed, arbitrary dismissals were common. Can you imagine what the current gang of newly elected state legislators would do if they could get their hands on the people who teach at public universities? (Just look at what happened to William Cronon, the University of Wisconsin historian whose e-mails were demanded by the state Republican Party after he exposed the role of the American Legislative Exchange Council in Governor Scott Walker’s attack on public employee unions.) Hacker and Dreifus, who recognize the importance of academic freedom, call instead of tenure for presidents and trustees with “backbone” (a species as wonderful as the unicorn, and almost as numerous). Sure, and as long as the king is a good man, we don’t need democracy. Academics play a special role in society: they tell us things we don’t want to hear—about global warming, or the historical Jesus, or the way we raise our children. That’s why they need to have special protections.

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But the tenure system, which is already being eroded by the growth of contingent labor, is not the only thing that is under assault in the top-down, corporatized academy. As Cary Nelson explains in No University Is an Island (2010), shared governance—the principle that universities should be controlled by their faculties, which protects academic values against the encroachments of the spreadsheet brigade—is also threatened by the changing structure of academic work. Contingent labor undermines it both directly—no one asks an adjunct what he thinks of how things run—and indirectly. More people chasing fewer jobs means that everyone is squeezed for extra productivity, just like at Wal-Mart. As of 1998, faculty at four-year schools worked an average of about seven hours more per week than they had in 1972 (for a total of more than forty-nine hours a week; the stereotype of the lazy academic is, like that of the welfare queen, a politically useful myth). Not surprisingly, they also reported a shrinking sense of influence over campus affairs. Who’s got the time? Academic labor is becoming like every other part of the American workforce: cowed, harried, docile, disempowered.

In macropolitical terms, the erosion of tenure and shared governance undermines the power of a large body of liberal professionals. In this it resembles the campaign against teachers unions. Tenure, in fact, is a lot like unionization: imperfect, open to corruption and abuse, but incomparably better than the alternative. Indeed, tenure is what professors have instead of unions (at least at private universities, where they’re banned by law from organizing). As for shared governance, it is nothing other than one of the longest-standing goals of the left: employee control of the workplace. Yes, professors have it better than a lot of other workers, including a lot of others in the academy. But the answer, for the less advantaged, is to organize against the employers who’ve created the situation, not drag down the relatively privileged workers who aren’t yet suffering as badly: to level up, in other words, not down.

Of course, some sectors of the academy—the ones that educate the children of the wealthy and the upper middle class—continue to maintain their privilege. The class gradient is getting steeper, not only between contingent labor and the tenure track, and junior and senior faculty within the latter, but between institutions as well. Professors at doctoral-granting universities not only get paid a lot more than their colleagues at other four-year schools; the difference is growing, from 17 percent in 1984 to 28 percent in 2003. (Their advantage over professors at community colleges increased during the same period from 33 percent to 49 percent.) The rich are getting richer. In 1970 (it seems like an alternative universe now) faculty at public colleges and universities actually made about 10 percent more than those at private schools. By 1999 the lines had crossed, and public salaries stood about 5 percent lower. The aggregate student-faculty ratio at private colleges and universities is 10.8 to 1; at public schools, it is 15.9 to 1—almost 50 percent higher.

Here we come to the most important issue facing American higher education. Public institutions enroll about three-quarters of the nation’s college students, and public institutions are everywhere under financial attack. As Nancy Folbre explains in Saving State U (2010), a short, sharp, lucid account, spending on higher education has been falling as a percentage of state budgets for more than twenty years, to about two-thirds of what it was in 1980. The average six-year graduation rate at state schools is now a dismal 60 percent, a function of class size and availability, faculty accessibility, the use of contingent instructors and other budget-related issues. Private universities actually lobby against public funding for state schools, which they see as competitors. In any case, a large portion of state scholarship aid goes to students at private colleges (in some cases, more than half)—a kind of voucher system for higher education.

Meanwhile, public universities have been shifting their financial aid criteria from need to merit to attract applicants with higher scores (good old U.S. News again), who tend to come from wealthier families. Per-family costs at state schools have soared in recent years, from 18 percent of income for those in the middle of the income distribution in 1999 to 25 percent in 2007. Estimates are that over the past decade, between 1.4 million and 2.4 million students have been prevented from going to college for financial reasons—about 50 percent more than during the 1990s. And of course, in the present climate of universal fiscal crisis, it is all about to get a lot worse.

* * *

Our system of public higher education is one of the great achievements of American civilization. In its breadth and excellence, it has no peer. It embodies some of our nation’s highest ideals: democracy, equality, opportunity, self-improvement, useful knowledge and collective public purpose. The same president who emancipated the slaves and funded the transcontinental railroad signed the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862, which set the system on its feet. Public higher education is a bulwark against hereditary privilege and an engine of social mobility. It is altogether to the point that the strongest state systems are not to be found in the Northeast, the domain of the old WASP aristocracy and its elite private colleges and universities, but in places like Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Virginia, North Carolina and, above all, California.

Now the system is in danger of falling into ruin. Public higher education was essential to creating the mass middle class of the postwar decades—and with it, a new birth of political empowerment and human flourishing. The defunding of public higher education has been essential to its slow destruction. In Unmaking the Public University, Newfield argues that the process has been deliberate, a campaign by the economic elite against the class that threatened to supplant it as the leading power in society. Social mobility is now lower in the United States than it is in Northern Europe, Australia, Canada and even France and Spain, a fact that ought to be tattooed on the foreheads of every member of Congress, so directly does it strike at America’s identity as the land of opportunity.

But it was not only the postwar middle class that public higher education helped create; it was the postwar prosperity altogether. Knowledge, again, is our most important resource. States that balance their budgets on the backs of their public universities are not eating their seed corn; they’re trampling it into the mud. My state of Oregon, a chronic economic underperformer, has difficulty attracting investment, not because its corporate taxes are high—they’re among the lowest—but because its workforce is poorly educated. So it will be for the nation as a whole. Our college-completion rate has fallen from second to eighth. And we are not just defunding instruction; we are defunding research, the creation of knowledge itself. Stipends are so low at the University of California, Berkeley, the third-ranked research institution on the planet, that the school is having trouble attracting graduate students. In fact, the whole California system, the crown jewel of American public higher education, is being torn apart by budget cuts. This is not a problem; it is a calamity.

Private institutions are in comparable trouble, for reasons that will sound familiar: too much spending during the boom years—much of it on construction, much of it driven by the desire to improve “market position” relative to competitors by offering amenities like new dorms and student centers that have nothing to do with teaching or research—supported by too much borrowing, has led to a debt crisis. Among the class of academic managers responsible for the trouble in the first place, an industry of reform has sprung up, along with a literature of reform to go with it. Books like Taylor’s Crisis on Campus, James Garland’s Saving Alma Mater (2009) and the most measured and well-informed of the ones I’ve come across, Robert Zemsky’s Making Reform Work (2009), propose their variously visionary schemes.

Nearly all involve technology to drive efficiency. Online courses, distance learning, do-it-yourself instruction: this is the future we’re being offered. Why teach a required art history course to twenty students at a time when you can march them through a self-guided online textbook followed by a multiple-choice exam? Why have professors or even graduate students grade papers when you can outsource them to BAs around the country, even the world? Why waste time with office hours when students can interact with their professors via e-mail?

The other great hope—I know you’ll never see this coming—is the market. After all, it works so well in healthcare, and we’re already trying it in primary and secondary education. Garland, a former president of Miami University of Ohio (a public institution), argues for a voucher system. Instead of giving money to schools, the state would give it to students, and the credit would be good at any nonprofit institution in the state—in other words, at private ones as well. The student would run the show (as the customer should, of course), scouring the market like a savvy consumer. Universities, in turn, “would compete with each other…by tailoring their course offerings, degree programs, student services, and extracurricular activities” to the needs of our newly empowered 18-year-olds, and the invisible hand would rain down its blessings.

But do we really want our higher education system redesigned by the self-identified needs of high school seniors? This is what the British are about to try, and in a country with one of Europe’s most distinguished intellectual traditions, they seem poised to destroy the liberal arts altogether. How much do 18-year-olds even know about what they want out of college? About not only what it can get them, but what it can give them? These are young people who don’t know what college is, who they are, who they might want to be—things you need a college education, and specifically a liberal arts education, to help you figure out.

* * *

Yet the liberal arts, as we know, are dying. All the political and parental pressure is pushing in the other direction, toward the “practical,” narrowly conceived: the instrumental, the utilitarian, the immediately negotiable. Colleges and universities are moving away from the liberal arts toward professional, technical and vocational training. Last year, the State University of New York at Albany announced plans to close its departments of French, Italian, Russian, classics and theater—a wholesale slaughter of the humanities. When Garland enumerates the fields a state legislature might want to encourage its young people to enter, he lists “engineering, agriculture, nursing, math and science education, or any other area of state importance.” Apparently political science, philosophy, history and anthropology, among others, are not areas of state importance. Zemsky wants to consider reducing college to three years—meaning less time for young people to figure out what to study, to take courses in a wide range of disciplines, to explore, to mature, to think.

When politicians, from Barack Obama all the way down, talk about higher education, they talk almost exclusively about math and science. Indeed, technology creates the future. But it is not enough to create the future. We also need to organize it, as the social sciences enable us to do. We need to make sense of it, as the humanities enable us to do. A system of higher education that ignores the liberal arts, as Jonathan Cole points out in The Great American University (2009), is what they have in China, where they don’t want people to think about other ways to arrange society or other meanings than the authorized ones. A scientific education creates technologists. A liberal arts education creates citizens: people who can think broadly and critically about themselves and the world.

Yet of course it is precisely China—and Singapore, another great democracy—that the Obama administration holds up as the model to emulate in our new Sputnik moment. It’s funny; after the original Sputnik, we didn’t decide to become more like the Soviet Union. But we don’t possess that kind of confidence anymore.

There is a large, public debate right now about primary and secondary education. There is a smaller, less public debate about higher education. What I fail to understand is why they aren’t the same debate. We all know that students in elementary and high school learn best in small classrooms with the individualized attention of motivated teachers. It is the same in college. Education, it is said, is lighting a fire, not filling a bucket. The word comes from the Latin for “educe,” lead forth. Learning isn’t about downloading a certain quantity of information into your brain, as the proponents of online instruction seem to think. It is about the kind of interchange and incitement—the leading forth of new ideas and powers—that can happen only in a seminar. (“Seminar” being a fancy name for what every class already is from K–12.) It is labor-intensive; it is face-to-face; it is one-at-a-time.

The key finding of Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa’s Academically Adrift (2011), that a lot of kids aren’t learning much in college, comes as no surprise to me. The system is no longer set up to challenge them. If we’re going to make college an intellectually rigorous experience for the students who already go—still more, for all the ones we want to go if we’re going to reach the oft-repeated goal of universal postsecondary education, an objective that would double enrollments—we’re going to need a lot more teachers: well paid, institutionally supported, socially valued. As of 2003 there were about 400,000 tenure-track professors in the United States (as compared with about 6 million primary- and secondary-school teachers). Between reducing class sizes, reversing the shift to contingent labor and beefing up our college-completion rates, we’re going to need at least five times as many.

So where’s the money supposed to come from? It’s the same question we ask about the federal budget, and the answer is the same. We’re still a very wealthy country. There’s plenty of money, if we spend it on the right things. Just as we need to wrestle with the $700 billion gorilla of defense, so do universities need to take on administrative edema and extracurricular spending. We can start with presidential salaries. Universities, like corporations, claim they need to pay the going rate for top talent. The argument is not only dubious—whom exactly are they competing with for the services of these managerial titans, aside from one another?—it is beside the point. Academia is not supposed to be a place to get rich. If your ego can’t survive on less than $200,000 a year (on top of the prestige of a university presidency), you need to find another line of work. Once, there were academic leaders who put themselves forward as champions of social progress: people like Woodrow Wilson at Princeton in the 1900s; James Conant at Harvard in the 1940s; and Kingman Brewster at Yale, Clark Kerr at the University of California and Theodore Hesburgh at Notre Dame in the 1960s. What a statement it would make if the Ivy League presidents got together and announced that they were going to take an immediate 75 percent pay cut. What a way to restore academia’s moral prestige and demonstrate some leadership again.

But leadership will have to come from somewhere else, as well. Just as in society as a whole, the academic upper middle class needs to rethink its alliances. Its dignity will not survive forever if it doesn’t fight for that of everyone below it in the academic hierarchy. (“First they came for the graduate students, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a graduate student…”) For all its pretensions to public importance (every professor secretly thinks he’s a public intellectual), the professoriate is awfully quiet, essentially nonexistent as a collective voice. If academia is going to once again become a decent place to work, if our best young minds are going to be attracted back to the profession, if higher education is going to be reclaimed as part of the American promise, if teaching and research are going to make the country strong again, then professors need to get off their backsides and organize: department by department, institution to institution, state by state and across the nation as a whole. Tenured professors enjoy the strongest speech protections in society. It’s time they started using them.