Sometimes even the most official officers need to say things that they prefer not to have attached to their offices. [OK, I’m done with that riff!]
Since the state APSCUF blog has rules, particularly governing length of posts, I wanted to offer this forum to Steve to say some things that aren’t within that limit. So here ya go. You can read the original version here. Or here:
Over the past week plus “at APSCUF” (which is less of a place than a state of mind — sort of), quite a bit of time has been spent looking at PASSHE’s new system of performance funding, which goes into effect this fall. New in this system is a series of optional choices for the universities. One of those — under “Stewardship” — is “Instructional Productivity.”
(Digressive paragraph) Several times at this weekend’s APSCUF Legislative Assembly, faculty went to the microphone to tell us “that’s a horrible term, don’t use it.” One speaker suggested, strongly, that we use “workload” instead, because “that’s what it is.” The problem with all this argument about terminology is that it isn’t “our” (as in faculty or APSCUF’s) language, it is PASSHE’s language, codified in PASSHE documents, approved by PASSHE’s Board of Governors (in January 2011), and used in all the documents forwarded by the Dixon Center for universities to use in determining their performance indicators. They will continue to use it, no matter what we call it.
(Back to central point) This discussion of instructional productivity, er workload, centers on numbers from the state system showing the average CalUP faculty member generates 758 credit hours per year. That’s #1 in the system by almost 2 standard deviations — next is Slippery Rock at 652. Cheyney is lowest at 469. At Assembly our most knowledgeable person said that Carnegie II.A institutions have an average of 589 — which is East Stroudsburg’s average (they rank 9th in the system, telling you how well we do; our unweighted average is 599).
Should instructional productivity be a performance indicator? Probably not. But our best early analysis of the options to university managers is that this is one they will all pick. It is one that is clearly attainable (many other options seem unattainable).
This morning on *CBS Sunday Morning* they had a piece on college costs. They interviewed the president and a student from Sarah Lawrence, amongst others — the most expensive college in the country, according to the story — and both talked about how the personalized attention from faculty was the great attraction of the university. The president said it wasn’t faculty salaries that drove their price so high, but the fact they had to hire LOTS of faculty to keep that small class experience.
The point was made on the Assembly floor that CAL no longer can claim that kind of experience. 758 represents an average of 21 students in EVERY class CAL offers. Of course, that would mean that EVERY faculty member teaches 12 courses, that no one has any release time to run a program, chair a department, do research…which we know isn’t true.
It means that every student sits in a class with a lot of other students — not Sarah Lawrence. What it IS like is Penn State — a comparison made on the floor as the 758 number is almost exactly what the behemoth university in State College has as their average, too. Although we hate it, WE ARE PENN STATE!
This is where we are in public higher education in Pennsylvania, and the US, today. In the *New York Times* today, Frank Bruni cites an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development statement: Thirty years ago, the U.S. led the world in the percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds with the equivalent of at least a two-year degree; only Canada and Israel were close. As of 2009, the U.S. lagged behind 14 other developed countries.” We don’t generate the number of degrees we need to stay with, let alone ahead, of the rest of the world because we make higher education both unaffordable and inaccessible.
How? By defunding higher ed, both in Pennsylvania and across the country. Last year PASSHE took an 18% cut in funding from the state; we’ve been asked to give back 5% more this year; and for 12-13 the current proposal from the Governor is a 20% cut. This is after what even the State Senate Appropriations Committee has admitted has been at least a decade of defunding. Tuitions have risen and PASSHE’s Board and then the universities have responded with higher tuition AND a cut in their needed expenditures (it’s known in budget-tuition talk around the System as “the Gap” — the difference between the income from tuition and state appropriation and the real cost to sustain the current apparatus — and it’s been over $20 million every year I’ve been state APSCUF president). It’s a squeeze from both ends.
This squeeze leads to more “productivity,” which, yes, means more faculty workload. There’s no one else to squeeze in an academic institution: there are only so many copiers, paperclips, and backroom workers. The real business is students and faculty. Though you’d be surprised how little of an institution’s budget is actually for that part of the business (one set of numbers makes it to be in the 20-30% range and declining annually). Classes grow, faculty have more students, the way we teach changes.
Who wants to go to college to sit in a large class, or sit in their dorm on their laptop in “distance” learning, or go to college where no one connected to the university even acts like they want to know their name? College education is a labor intensive exercise. As the labor economist from George Washington University said, we haven’t found a way to make it anything but labor intensive.
It serves no one to be more productive at some point: even an English professor (like me) understands the rudiments of the law of diminishing returns. There’s a reason that all the PASSHE institutions have long advertised themselves to students (who are either the consumers or the product in the productivity model — that one can’t tell says much about how well the model applies) as familiar, know-your-name, private school model institutions. No one has ever said “we are and want to be like (Carnegie) research (i) institutions, with large lecture halls and grad students in front of smaller classes.”
Cal has reached the point of diminished returns. PASSHE should be careful about walking the other 13 institutions in their footsteps, given their current financial state.
Our students deserve quality education. They deserve personalized attention. They deserve a real opportunity to become what they want to become, not the plumber or carpenter that is the Corbett Administration concentration (which is NOT what students who choose to go to college want to do).
Using instructional productivity to distribute dollars and to show who is performing best will not have a positive outcome.
We all deserve better.
For what it’s worth, I couldn’t agree more–except for one thing. While Steve is certainly correct that PASSHE uses the term instructional productivity to describe, um, whatever it’s describing by using a term that means nothing, I was one of the people on the floor of the Legislative Assembly cheering the call to reject the term as often and loudly as possible.
Of course, that might be why I’m not President of anything. And that might be for the best.