Tuesday, November 14, 2006

What Do You Get For Your College Tuition?

Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings believes in "transparency". Universities would prefer to keep you in the dark--because you're just a member of the proletariet, anyway.

All she wants, Spellings says, is better information made available to families, taxpayers and policymakers so they can make better decisions about how they spend their money. And given how little is really known about how well students are served by higher education, she says, she doesn't see why anyone would find that unreasonable.

No one but the keepers of the medieval guilds, that is.


rightwingprof said...

Part of the problem is legal (Privacy Act of 1974, which severely ties the hands of the university), and related to that, institutional, in that the university has bought into this "student privacy trumps all" mindset. When we wanted to do a study on high school GPA, math SAT scores, and performance in our class, the university only okayed it after three years of endless meetings, forms, and bureaucratic nonsense. It took over a year just to do a study between our first and second semester courses in the sequence, with the same faculty and teachers.

That's not all or most of it, of course. Universities are PR machines. They don't want their dirty laundry getting out.

EllenK said...

I think that public schools of all types owe it to taxpayers to have line by line transparency as to all expenditures. This should be the standard for public universities as well. I have two kids in a state university. There "fees" almost equal their tuition. There's room use fees, technology fees, library fees, student activity fees, student health center fees (doubly ironic since they dont' take most common insurance) and that's just the tip of the iceberg. If these services were available or used for the general student population, there would be no problem, but quite often support for athletic programs or other specialty programs are hidden inside those fees. If a program can't stand alone economically, I would question whether or not that was a "successful" program. Case in point would be also at my children's university, where the School of Arts and Sciences is in the red. How can this be? They seem to hire a slew of adjunct part time professors, so tenure and retirement aren't the issue, every single student has to take at least twelve to twenty hours in the schools curricular courses and it's the largest section on campus. Yet it loses money. I think audits should be done annually and boards and university chancellors should be held accountable for how the money is spent before they get another dime. Plus I think there should be a cap on tuition and that students should be given the same tuition rate for four years and raises should grandfather in those students. Right now we have this big push for students to finish in four years, but they can't because every time they near graduation, the degree plans change or the requirement are amended. This has to stop at the administrative level. University classes should not be jobs programs for grad students. And that too is something that should be spelled out with clarity on annual reports.

Darren said...

EllenK, the same argument can be made for public support of the arts, though.

rightwingprof said...

"I think that public schools of all types owe it to taxpayers to have line by line transparency as to all expenditures. This should be the standard for public universities as well."

No argument from me, but what I was saying, that most people don't understand, is that any kind of tracking of students is *illegal* for the university, per the Privacy Act of 1974 (you can thank Carter and the McGovern Congress for that). The law makes it nearly impossible for universities to do any kind of meaningful study, whether they're willing to do so or not. Spellings should know that -- she's a government employee, after all. Apparently, she doesn't.

The only way we were allowed to do our studies -- after YEARS of endless meetings with university bureaucrats and attorneys -- was to have one person assign our own IDs to students, then another person delete the original IDs, and a separate person (me) do the analysis. After YEARS of meetings.

I have to defend the university PR machine, but the university cannot just release data -- because they're not allowed to collect or analyze it.

The only solution to this, as Spellings should know, is to repeal that idiotic Privacy Act. There are other reasons to do so, as well. Universities prefer to handle any legal problems, including rape, in house rather than reporting the charges. If this happens, a rapist goes free, because the law prohibits the university from reporting those in house charges on any document.