Compromise occurs when both sides declare victory. That was the case on August 25 when the University of Texas System Board of Regents unanimously approved the “Framework for Excellence” action plan set forth by Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa.
In a recent interview with a reporter at the Chronicle of Higher Education, I was asked whether the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s efforts to reform higher education “will do any good?” I responded that just getting university presidents to acknowledge that there is a problem and that reform is necessary, which they declared, is half the battle.
We are especially pleased that the plan presented by the chancellor and approved by the regents includes a dashboard on faculty productivity. This user friendly, interactive online database will include everything from system-wide budget figures to professor-by-professor data on teaching loads and research grants. University officials and the public can use the dashboard to access real-time productivity and success metrics at the system, university, departmental and individual faculty level.
The dashboard will include salaries, number of credit hours taught, and student evaluation scores of individual professors.Tim Allen, chairman of the UT System Faculty Advisory Council, reports: “UT can benefit from clear, unambiguous guidelines regarding research, teaching and service.” The dashboard , says Cigarroa, will also provide exhaustive accounting of faculty and staff members’ contributions. To all of this, TPPF says, Amen.
We have now gone a good way in getting out of the woods. But one colossal problem remains: exorbitant, escalating costs for students, parents, and taxpayers.
Moody’s Analytics reports, “Fears of a bubble in educational spending are not without merit.” And it issues this warning, “Unless students limit their debt burdens, choose fields of study that are in demand and successfully complete their degrees on time, they will find themselves in worse financial positions and unable to earn the projected income that justified taking out their loans in the first place.”
Accounting Today reports that the average “student loan debt is pegged at $29,000 for 2012 by the U. S. Department of Education.” When combined with an additional $10,000 in interest payments, the total approaches $40,000.
The following data show why costs of higher education cannot continue to escalate:
Tuition in 2010 averaged $8,000 at the 10 largest universities in Texas. The College Board reports that the average student’s living expenses in 2010 was $17,820-for a total of $25,820.
Multiplying this figure by six, which is unfortunately becoming the Texas standard for number of years from entrance to graduation, totals $154,920.
But it gets worse: Tuition, if trends continue, will increase about 5 percent a year and total related costs about 10 percent a year. Fiscal Notes reports that in Texas “between 1999 and 2010, average tuition and fees at the state’s 10 largest universities rose by 120 percent.”
Now suppose parents send two kids to those Texas universities? Total costs, using the common rubric cited above, would be well over $300,000.
It would be more expensive to send two kids to college than to buy a very nice house.
Let us hope that the dashboard enables some path toward substantial reductions of these escalating costs.
In any event, these costs cannot and will not continue. As economist Herb Stein once observed, something that can’t go on forever, won’t.
Ronald L. Trowbridge, Ph.D., is a resident of The Woodlands and a senior fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a non-profit, free-market research institute based in Austin. Trowbridge formerly served as vice president of Hillsdale College in Michigan.