Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Certain Degrees Now Cost More at Public Universities

This article from the NY Times (click the title) ran in both of the local papers this week from two different states. I'm thinking many papers must have picked it up nationwide. Perhaps I'm out of the loop, but I hadn't heard this before. This article raised some questions in my mind. I am able to see both sides of the issue, but which side I fall on is pretty clear. Obviously this is all just my opinion, for whatever that is worth.

“This is not the preferred way to do this,” said Patrick V. Farrell, provost at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. “If we were able to raise resources uniformly across the campus, that would be a preferred move. But with our current situation, it doesn’t seem to us that that’s possible.”

This statement is absurd and there are no answers to the questions of "What situation? Why is it not possible to uniformly raise tuition?" It seems only logical that raising tuition across the board would bring in more total funds for the universities. If my child were forced to pay more I would want to see something tangible for the money, such as better facilities in the journalism buildings. Telling me that the teachers require higher salaries than other fields would not fly with me; there are always professors who would accept lower pay. Journalism professors should never be paid more than their faculty peers in other departments. Out of all the majors, this one makes the least sense because journalists ought to be freelancing. More than what degrees they possess, because everyone these days has a degree, professional success is what attracts the universities. Teachers are to be accomplished and successful beyond academia. If they want more money, they should be writing. If I were the dean, I would require a certain number of bylines per semester from my journalism staff to keep teaching. Freelancing could make up the difference in salary, rather than passing it off to the journalism students by dividing up what is essentially a stipend.

The same argument could be applied to business instructors. They are more than theorists, they get teaching positions because they've been successful in the business world. They ought to give something back to the society that gave them the experience. If teachers are not willing to teach for the benefit of the common good, then they should be told thanks but no thanks. There is no single person who is so wonderful they cannot be replaced. Get other teachers.

This makes one wonder why private universities are not going the same route. Is it because they refuse to? Is it because the name of the private university looks so good on the teacher's resume they are willing to accept less pay? Is it because tuition at a private university is high enough to allow for 'big name' staffing without having the students pay a differential for their major? Perhaps it is because private schools recognize that fees based upon the field of study, at the university level, is ridiculous.

From the NY Times article, "Even as they embrace such pricing, many officials acknowledge they are queasy about a practice that appears to value one discipline over another or that could result in lower-income students clustering in less expensive fields."

Interesting to see administrators find a conscience here, but not enough of one to change the policy. Keep the lower income kids in the lower income fields of study and seal their fate as low income families for generations to come. Will the $250 -$500 fee make that much of a difference to low income students? Only time will tell, but fees have a tendency to increase over time. This is just the start of things. How high will the fees go? How fast will they rise? Iowa state has already said they intend to increase their rates by $500 per year for at least the next two years. What will university administrations do to hold back the demands of their professors?

Prior to this 'fee per major' system, how did professors earn more money? They worked the circuit of public speaking engagements, wrote books and articles, did consultation work, and kept active in their fields. Why must they pass the fees on to the students? Because the administration will not keep them in their place. If the teachers could get jobs at the higher paying universities they would. If they cannot get those jobs then they must accept the salaries offered. The fault lies with administrators trying to lure away more important names from private facilities. Who authorized that at the expense of the students?

On the other hand, maybe this will send society back to embracing apprenticeships. Maybe this trend will make the students who cannot afford to pay the stipends to their teachers avoid college. Out in the blogsphere, I've noted many fellow bloggers commenting on having expensive degrees, significant debt and they are working in mass market retail outlets (or somewhere else they are overqualified to work) just to pay off their bills.

The generation of 30 and 40 somethings are overeducated, underpaid, and many are not working in their field of study. Just one or two generations ago most people didn't have degrees. People graduated from high school, married their sweetheart and started families. Men advanced in their field through hard work. College degrees were rare. I remember my father going to college at night when I was in elementary school. Now we have the opposite situation where everyone has a degree and they are no longer a premium.

Women are all getting degrees and feel they must have a career to be fulfilled. We have a new phenomenon occurring in these women, most of whom are in my general age range. When we were in high school we were told we could have our careers and have babies later when we wanted to settle down more. Women were told they could put off having a family. Now, since this is the first generation of nearly all college educated women with a strong feminist influence and birth control readily available, we are finding women cannot reproduce on demand. Sadly, these daughters of feminism were sold a bill of goods that no one can collect on.

Coming back round to the original point of certain degrees costing more at public universities, depending on your point of view, it could be a good thing. If this premium price for education leaves some people refusing to pay, the premium of the time and money spent for that education could be restored. Society could see apprenticeships resume, and some family values restored. Parents need to guide their children into careers which do not exclude family life, workers need to demand family time, and companies need to realize that with the wages they pay their workers they cannot expect everyone to have a degree. The public paradigm is shifting and it could be very good for society as a whole.

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