The plot was simple. A store Santa named Kris Kringle was hired at Macy’s. But he steered some customers to a rival store: Gimbels. On the verge of being fired, Kris is kept and rewarded when his action generates good publicity. The Gimbels store even institutes the same referral policy and the race to generate goodwill is on. Eventually, longtime enemies Mr. Macy and Mr. Gimbel even become friends.
Miracles may occur on 34th Street, the location of Macy’s main New York store and the movie’s namesake. But they do not occur in the real business world—you will not hear Apple recommend a Samsung phone to a customer, nor Samsung return that favor.
But Kansas public universities, working with at least some public money, should not be businesses. And students should not be customers.
Some university programs are clearly special. As our land grant university, Kansas State University is charged with offering the agricultural programs. The University of Kansas has jurisdiction over graduate medical training, and has a respected pharmacy program as well. Wichita State University and K.U. both have advanced aeronautical engineering programs. The only research office of Kansas Wildlife and Parks is adjacent to Emporia State University and that is where future fish and game researchers are trained. And Pittsburg State University has an especially strong technology program. But no single Kansas campus offers the complete range of programs.
It is easy to play Kris Kringle and send student “customers” onward to such programs when you are at an institution that does not offer them.
But Kansas students enter college with the widest of interests. Just as campuses have super strong programs, they also have some fields that are weakly staffed. So when prospective students visit campuses, faculty advisors have to decide whether to be naughty or nice. Naughty is keeping a student in a second rate program. Nice—for the student—would be advising them to go to another university.
And every Kansas tertiary institution should offer solid core courses in writing and speaking and math reasoning and the beginning sciences and humanities. They should. But sometimes they don’t. Some community colleges offer excellent instructors. But some are hiring teachers who lack the content qualifications to teach their subject in high school!
“So you had better watch out.
Better not cry.
Better save your money.
‘Cause tuition’s gettin’ high.
Tuition-based funding has come to town.
We know what a student is wantin’
And weak programs they shouldn’t take.
But regardless of whether it is bad or good,
Keep ‘em here for goodness sakes.”
Over two decades ago I heard a higher education administrator in Kansas tell his faculty that if he ever caught anyone recommending a student attend another school, he would fire them. I became particularly interested in just how he would do that. What grounds he would use to fire a professor who recommended a program elsewhere that was in the student’s best interest? And how would the Board of Regents view such an action, since they oversee policy for all Kansas public universities that are to serve all Kansas students. That administrator moved on to another state and I never had the opportunity to discover whether a Kansas professor could get away with advising in a student’s best interests.
But with the pressure on today’s campuses to recruit and retain every warm body with a credit card, finding a professor who recommends a program at another campus might be a genuine miracle!