Kansas getting our money’s worth when it comes to state
universities? Just how "efficient" are our various
Kansas schools at delivering student-credit-hours per
dollars spent? That is a question that is supposedly being
addressed by a legislative post-audit committee. And in
this recent era of rising tuition costs and desperate
economic times, that could be an important question to
answer if it was done correctly. Sadly, it appears to
be shallow beancounting that will cause a "race to
the bottom": hiring cheap faculty to teach cheap
courses and turn out cheap popular degrees.
Unlike a bank "audit" where inspectors come
on-site to check if the paperwork actually matches what
is in the bank safe, this "audit" is conducted
in Topeka and therefore can only focus on numbers. All
quantity. No quality. The result is not something the
Legislature should accept for many reasons.
First, the way to get the highest "efficiency"
is to crowd hundreds or even a thousand students into
one big lecture hall or auditorium. That is indeed being
done at some schools for some courses. Triple class size
and you reduce cost to one-third. It generates a lower
cost-per-student figure. It also provides lousy education.
Any time class size rises much beyond 24-30 students,
the student becomes another number and is mostly on his
or her own to struggle through. Forget the faculty member’s
open door policy that provides the extra help and attention
that has helped so many Kansas students succeed and enter
graduate school or the professions.
Second, ignoring research and service and focusing on
just faculty teaching—is a bad idea. Nationwide, university
"CEOs" are moving toward hiring part time adjuncts
to teach courses as piecework, and shed the costs of healthcare
and retirement. This is not a good idea either, although
to the university-as-a-business folks, it provides great
"fiscal flexibility." Cheap faculty are a real
problem because Kansas wants and needs faculty who are
current and active in their field, participating in the
academic community, and bringing that expertise to students
who can begin their research at the undergraduate and
graduate level. On a per-capita basis, Kansas once had
the largest number of listings in the Who’s Who in Science
of any state. Kansas needs to continue having our best
faculty minds working with our best student minds. To
push for discount-store "efficiency" will end
Finally, public universities need to operate for the public
good. The number of physics and chemistry and foreign
language teachers has never been enough to maintain numbers
that alone, would support those departments on a business-model
basis. But we desperately need every physics and chemistry
and foreign language teacher we do produce—for the good
of the state. To eliminate low-enrollment programs completely
in response to the "efficiency" mandate, completely
eliminates the few graduates we produce and so desperately
need. And since the faculty and courses are still needed
to support other programs, this shortsighted surgery does
not save any resources at all.
State legislators from rural Kansas know the value of
"quality." Look at the green and yellow machinery
sitting in their fields. They could buy cheaper equipment.
It would be more "efficient" for a year or two.
But cheap equipment doesn’t do the job—not for long. They
know that over the long haul, "cheap" turns
out to be more expensive.