Happy Holey Days

As 2013 draws to a close, I thought I’d mention two items that relate to higher education in the USA.

SinkholeFirst, an article in the The Atlantic reviews the scholarly literature on the effects of adjunctification — the replacement of full-time, tenure-track faculty with part-time instructors hired on a course-by-course basis. The article’s meta-analysis of published studies? Tenured professors

“don’t necessarily make the best teachers in every subject or school. Adjuncts might be excellent for teaching certain pre-professional courses. But as a whole, students, and especially at-risk students like young freshmen and community college attendees, appear to be better off with a full-time professor, whether they’re tenured or not.”

Second, the New York Times recently reported that last year freshmen students at private colleges received on average a 45 percent discount on tuition. A few of these colleges have decided to end the charade of trying to charge much more than the market will bear by drastically reducing financial aid. Instead of doling out large discounts to nearly all of their students, these schools have slashed tuition. Other institutions have pledged not to raise tuition over four years for students who enroll.

What’s the connection between these two items? State funding of higher education has decreased by more than 25 percent since 2008, and in many parts of the country there are fewer high school graduates for colleges and universities to recruit. The pressure to cut costs or go out of business is intensifying. Shrinking personnel costs by replacing full-time faculty with part-time instructors appears at first glance to solve part of the problem. Yet doing so will most likely reduce the educational attainment of students, which in turn will dilute an institution’s brand. The more a college or university engages in this cost-cutting strategy, the deeper the hole it will find itself in.