Apr 112011
Authors: Jim Sojourner

Tuition rates are skyrocketing, student fees are marching upward, higher education is in crisis, the sky is falling and I can’t think of anything better that could happen to Colorado’s university system.

This time last year, I was righteously angry at the lack of support Colorado’s taxpayers now provide the state’s higher education system; I was fearful of the impact falling state support would have on the quality of education provided by its schools.

I’ve changed my mind.

Much like budget crises worldwide are forcing whole societies to reexamine the role, size and priorities of their governments, Colorado’s higher education budget crisis needs to force Coloradans to examine the role, size and priorities of their universities.

It’s not that education isn’t critical to societal success –– as a purely practical measure, research shows that education is a direct indicator of personal income –– but America’s university system has become a bloated, unwieldy beast, wandering lost in dark caverns and blindly defending its beleaguered existence.

Where teaching should be king, administrative bureaucracy, research and entertainment rule the roost. And instead of arming the best and the brightest with the knowledge they need to tackle our most pressing problems, colleges have thrown open the gates to the unprepared, the uninspired and the undeserving.

With more budget cuts looming for Colorado next year, it’s high time to break from the status quo and forge forward with a stronger, smaller, more efficient, more focused and, most of all, more educational model.

Colorado could lead the way. Here’s a few ways it could:

Professors not administrators

According to a report released in 2010 by the Goldwater Institute, in the last 20 years the number of administrators at universities per 100 students has grown 39 percent. Universities, it says, are suffering from “administrative bloat,” dedicating more funds to administration instead of instruction at the same time that tuition rates have shot through the roof.

CSU’s former president Larry Penley exemplified this trend, adding hoards of new administrative positions to the university roster at the expense of teaching positions and approving hefty salary increases for high-level officials.

After Penley’s lauded and scandal-tainted resignation in 2008, now-President Tony Frank promised to cut the administrative budget, and that’s what he’s done. Other schools should follow his lead.

Teachers not researchers

We don’t call institutions of higher education institutions of higher research for a reason. Nonetheless, Andrew Hacker of Queens College asserts that many professors spend their time researching instead of teaching classes, and tuition-paying students foot the bill.

In an interview with The Atlantic, Hacker argues that, too often, unnecessary research supercedes schooling. Because a university’s status depends on star researchers, not terrific teachers, professors get paid to publish on sabbatical rather than molding undergraduate minds in the classroom.

If Colorado is truly interested in educating its citizens, great professors should be paid to teach students how to think instead of being rewarded for writing superfluous, esoteric research articles.

Academics, not athletics (or concerts)

Universities love to claim that good athletics programs help boost visibility and bring in revenue; it’s a bald-faced lie.

According to a 2010 USA Today article, universities increasingly subsidize their athletic programs with tuition and student fees. In fact, from 2005 on, only seven schools in the entire country made any money with their athletics departments, and it won’t surprise anyone to learn CSU (or any Colorado school for that matter) wasn’t one of them.

For the 2010-11 fiscal year, CSU spent almost $23 million on athletic programs that, aside from making college cheap for a few standout athletes who provide mindless entertainment for the masses, don’t benefit the studious student.

In the same vein, organizations like CSU’s Association for Student Activity Programming drop hundreds of thousands of dollars on fee-funded concerts that do nothing to improve CSU’s academic instruction.

Universities need to teach, not entertain.

Students not slackers

In their quest for ever-higher enrollment numbers, universities have slackened admissions standards to beckon in the unprepared and undeserving. Although a college education often leads to better opportunities and a better life, the unfortunate fact is many public college students shouldn’t be where they are.

According to CSU’s Institutional Research website, of those freshman admitted to CSU in 2004 less than 65 percent graduated within 6 years. That’s well above the national average of 55.9 percent for freshmen admitted in 2002, according to the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, which itself should be a wake-up call.

But schools like Louisiana State University’s Baton campus –– with at 65 percent graduation rate in 2009 that was 13 percent higher than the state average, according to the Times-Picayune –– have proven that more stringent admissions requirements raise graduation rates and improve academic rigor.

Abounding remedial classes squander resources and unqualified students encourage educators to teach at a lower level, degrading the quality of education for students who earned their admission with smarts and hard work.

Instead of serving the lowest common denominator, universities should expect a certain level of achievement and push ill-equipped applicants toward community colleges and vocational schools where they can boost their skills.

Meritocracies breed success. It’s time for a new paradigm.

Managing Editor Jim Sojourner is a senior journalism major. His column appears Tuesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 2:56 pm

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