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If all tenure-track faculty members left academia tomorrow, would anyone notice? Of course the question is mostly, but not entirely tongue in cheek. Here are some facts to consider:

  1. Of the $273 billion that was spent by public higher education institutions in 2008-9, only $75 billion was dedicated to “instruction.” In other words, about 1/4 of what goes on at colleges is said to be for instruction. I understand that lots of other “education” happens on campus and that some portion of the capital budget must be allocated toward instruction as well. I’d also suggest that these figures are generously calling 100% of what happens in the classroom, “instruction.” That wouldn’t even characterize 100% of what I do in my classrooms. And I try hard to instruct.  In the private sector, $46 billion out of the $141 billion spent is nominally in support of instruction (1/3).
  2. Across all institutions, of the 3.7 million people working in higher education directly (part time and full time),  only 1.44 million are faculty (and these are not all instructional, this figure includes research faculty and public service faculty – more on that for another post). So, 39% of the staff on college campuses are on the educational side, directly.
  3. Of these faculty, about half are part-timers.  And I’ve read a recent paper (can’t remember the citation right now) that estimated that non-tenure track faculty teach roughly 75% of all college students.

I’ve been both on the tenure-track and not on the tenure-track. My work was not really different across the two because I happen to choose teaching over much formal research. And I highly value research too, don’t take this post to suggest otherwise. But it might be the case that if we really do care about educational outcomes for undergrads, the current structure of higher ed is, to put it politely, a little inefficient.

One Response to “A Tree Falls in the Woods”

  1. Even though our rationality is the sine qua non of being human, if you eat way more food than you need, you don’t get smarter, you just get fatter. Federal funding of education has made our universities obese with excess administration.

    As federal student loans have long been available, I am not sure that we can point to a moment and say “here”
    The Student Loan Marketing Association was originally created in 1972 as a government-sponsored enterprise (GSE) and began privatizing its operations in 1997, a process it completed at the end of 2004 when Congress terminated its federal charter, ending its ties to the government. …

    The federal government began guaranteeing student loans provided by banks and non-profit lenders in 1965, creating the program that is now called the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) program. The first federal student loans, however, provided under the National Defense Education Act of 1958, were direct loans capitalized with U.S. Treasury funds, following a recommendation of economist Milton Friedman.

    I think that part of the problem is the organizational sociology of American colleges and universities. I have not studied this in depth and not looked at it for several years, but there may be four models. The law school at Bologna was organized to serve the students directly. Latin American universities are Bologna schools, which is why students there are more directly involved in governance and government far deeper than in the USA where kids just get together to chant slogans for an hour. Oxford and Cambridge were organized to serve the masters (instructors). I am not sure about Sorbonne, what makes it different. The German schools were chartered and funded by local governments – counts, bishops, kings – and that is the model we now have in the USA since the Morrill Land Grant certainly, though we started with the “Oxbridge” model originally.

    So, instead of being institutions in service to a patron community (students, masters) universities became showcases for largess, even white elephants perhaps.

    A subtle feeling I have now living in Austin compared to my experiences in East Lansing, Ann Arbor, and Columbus after growing up in Cleveland is that “Friday Night Lights” explains college education in Texas. Research and teaching and all the rest just consume the profits from sports, but sports drives the process. To be fair, Texas is not alone in this, of course, but certainly seems to me to be the paradigm.

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