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Welcome to the new economics of Universities. Schools, desperate for warm bodies to enter their hallways, are now trying to market themselves as something other than what they’re supposed to be: Places where people learn job skills that will take them further and higher than they would have gone straight from High School.
Maybe we have too many schools around. Maybe we’ve overestimated the importance of learning from “professors” and forgotten about the idea of learning from ourselves. Maybe we’re too fixated on that sheet of paper saying the person named upon it has jumped through enough hoops to deserve a look from employers.
Or maybe we’ve gutted our schools so much they feel a need to get bodies in and never mind the actual education.
Remember, the schools have been losing federal and state monies since the 1970s. You can tell this by seeing how many teachers now get Tenure, and what they have to do to get it. You can tell by how many people they pile into auditoriums for classes, and how many classes are now taught by Teaching Assistants. You can tell by all the new buildings for all the schools that bring in money from outside, while the other classes end up living in buildings slowly (and not-so-slowly) falling apart. You can tell when you hear that “UVA now gets only 6% of their money from the state”
I could tell looking at my Pell Grant from the years 1983-1990. Even though it increased from $600 to $766 per term, its coverage shrank down from 14 hours (and a decent weekend’s partying) to ten hours of class credit (with twelve credits needed to get that). Another way of putting it is that per-credit prices DOUBLED during that time.
And the price increases didn’t end when I got out of school. Indeed, you know people are getting desperate when the University Presidents put up a promise to “Keep Increases within the rate of inflation.” Thing is, the promises always included the proper increase in funding, and those never came.
Then there’s the prestige chase. New buildings constantly need to be built, complete with labs, offices (for the High-flying “professors” who need to hide from their students), lecture auditoriums (so the freshmen can be introduced to your classes as cheaply as possible) and other items to show the world you’re a big-time university. Throw in a few classrooms for the illusion of a college hall, and you’ve got yourself a modern-day (post-1960) college building.
And now they need to get as many people in their buildings, or they’ll lose money. And if you’re from out of state, then better (since they can charge more). Price increases keep getting passed on more and more, with students gladly filling in the rest with student loans.
How long will this de facto privatization of post-secondary education continue? Sadly, I expect it to continue to the point of universities and colleges closing down. Not the big names (which have built up endowments to protect themselves from the vagaries of public funding) nor smallish ideologically driven private schools (with their backing and what-not), but the mid-level and branch campuses will end up closing up.In short: Say goodbye, Northern Michigan. Say Goodbye, UofM-Dearborn.
Also, don’t be surprised if the schools figure a way of closing colleges that don’t make money but are presently being treated as sacred cows. As tenure fully dries up and corporate types continue to take over the colleges and universities, certain colleges will be seen as expendable and WILL be expended with when the time comes.
Fact is I doubt many Arts and Letters colleges in Universities will survive, simply because Arts and Letters are nowhere near as important as people think. Every high “Art” has a low art which has fully taken its place, and the main stories that we remember are forever being rewritten and retold. That the most extreme teachers are generally found in the Arts and Letters departments will make their dissolution that much easier, once the University Presidents get enough guts together to do what they want to do.