Saturday, April 30, 2011

If Not the NBP, Then What?

As I wrote in a post yesterday, it is standard practice for both public and private colleges and universities to use tuition revenue to provide financial aid. The typical challenge for public institutions is that they don't generate nearly as much revenue as private institutions, and thus don't have as much to contribute to aid. Among public institutions, the other significant challenge to ensuring affordability is convincing administrators to focus aid on financial need, rather than academic merit.

One of the strong points of Chancellor Martin's arguments for the NBP is that UW-Madison ought to be able to use tuition to support need-based aid, if it so chooses. It has chosen to do so recently, under the Madison Initiative for Undergraduates. I base that last statement on the clear upward trajectory of resources for institutional need-based aid (what she says is a 226% increase), shown in a graph provided by the director of financial aid, Susan Fischer, at a recent meeting of the University-wide Committee on Undergraduate Recruitment, Admissions, and Financial Aid-- a committee that I've chaired for three years. I hesitate on the statement just a bit, though, because the use of tuition to support need-based aid does not equate with enhanced affordability unless the approach reduced net price for students and no sticker shock occurred-- two conditions for which I've been shown no evidence.

In any case, let's say this: Martin and I agree that UW-Madison ought to be allowed to use tuition to fund need-based aid if it chooses. The question is how to make that happen. Her proposed approach is the NBP. Here's an alternative:

The Wisconsin Legislature ought to simply change the rules, freeing the Board of Regents to approve the use of tuition in this manner. Individual institutions should submit their requests for using tuition in this way to the Board.

Why this model? And is it feasible?

The Board of Regents needs to set tuition holistically, across all public universities, in order balance students' needs with institutional interests. Sadly, sometime universities act like "Cookie Monster" -- they gobble every dollar then can, and then ask for more. Since funding doesn't equate with quality education, students can get hurt.

Based on the January 2011 report on University of Wisconsin tuition, published by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, it certainly seems that the Legislature can act to change this rule without the NBP. As author Emily Pope writes, "tuition typically supports only the "instructional" portion of the UW budget. Instructional costs include faculty salaries and fringe benefits, which comprise the largest portion of instructional costs, supplies and services, administration, libraries, student services, and support costs. Exceptions to this occurred in the 1997-99, 1999-01, and 2001-03 state budgets, when the University was allowed to use tuition revenues to support the unfunded portion of the compensation plan for faculty and academic staff, which included compensation increases for faculty and academic staff whose time was spent on activities other than instruction."

The italics are mine. If exceptions have been granted to allow tuition revenue to be used for compensation, why couldn't it be used for financial aid?

Now, I admit-- I am not an expert on these kinds of rules. I am simply hoping someone will read this and explain it to all of us.


On a different but related issue:

Why is it that the NBP does not include language comparable to this language in the Board of Regents current tuition policy?

GPR financial aid and graduate assistant support should "increase at a rate no less than that of tuition" while staying "commensurate with the increased student budget needs of students attending the UW System." In addition, support should
also reflect "increases in the number of aid eligible students."

That's called tying aid to tuition...

Friday, April 29, 2011

UW-Madison's Average Family Income is $90,000?

Based on the tweets from today's student conversation with Chancellor Martin, there's a big myth running around campus:

No, the average family income of UW-Madison students isn't $90,000.

That number came from reports like these that were discontinued back in 2008. Why were they discontinued? Because the data they are based on is a train wreck. The information comes from students' self-reporting of their parents' income when they were in high school (reporting is done on the ACT questionnaire) and according to UW-Madison's office of academic planning and analysis 30% of UW-Madison students left the question blank (and that percent has been rising over time).

Is it a high estimate? A low one? Well, what we know is that a study done by two La Follette professors using Census blocks to estimate income (better than student self-report most likely) finds that family income at UW-Madison for Wisconsin residents isn't very out-of-whack with Wisconsin family incomes as a whole. For example, families of Wisconsin applicants to Madison have incomes that are 1.2 to 1.3% higher than the state average.

Why don't we have a really accurate measure of family income? Because UW-Madison doesn't ask students to report their family income on their application (for obvious reasons) nor does it require them to complete a financial aid application (otherwise known as a FAFSA). So we only know family income--according to parents--for those who apply for aid. And less than 50% of UW-Madison students apply. That doesn't mean less than 50% are needy; many needy kids don't apply every year because the application is insanely onerous and difficult to complete correctly. In fact, upper-income folks are more likely to complete it, and to do it correctly, because they're hoping to get a loan.

If we really want to promote affordability at UW-Madison we should make FAFSA completion an "opt out" rather than "opt in." This is the kind of nudge behavioral economists love, since it makes the default option less painful (people tend to resort to inaction over action).

Why aren't we doing it now? This did, after all, come up during debates over the Madison Initiative for Undergraduates and I made the proposal directly to Chancellor Martin over lunch in spring 2009.

I can think of a few possible reasons, see which one you think fits:

(1) We are worried about privacy. But remember, you can opt out.

(2) We are worried about deterring students who don't want to complete the form. But remember, we'd only require it after you applied and were accepted, and were able to enroll. Even then, you could opt out.

(3) We are worried about undocumented students. But remember, you can opt out.

(4) We are worried about the increased paperwork and staff time. But think about all of the financial aid $ our students would get at no cost to us (e.g. federal $)

(5) We are worried about our institutional aid costs. The more you identify as needy, the more you have to "hold harmless."

I'm willing to bet that requiring all entrants to complete the FAFSA or opt out would increase the percent receiving Pell by a fair bit, and increase retention rates by getting more students the financial aid they deserve. And once we have more accurate family income information for more than 90% of our population, we'll likely find out that right now our average Wisconsin family income is much lower than $90,000. Under NBP, I'm willing to bet that will change drastically because of (a) an increased perception of elitism, (b) disjuncture from the System, (c) sticker shock, and (d) insufficient discounting over time.

But of course, who am I to make such judgments? We are told, after all, we have nothing to worry about.

The Power of the Line Item Veto

Check it out-- what the NBP looks like after Governor Walker exercises his line-item veto.

How bad is it? Here's the remaining role of the faculty: "The faculty, subject to the responsibilities and powers of the board and the chancellor, shall participate in academic and educational activities."


The students? "shall be participants in the university."

Is this the University of Wisconsin-Madison of YOUR dreams?

UPDATE: Apparently Chancellor Martin is "not worried the Governor will line item veto his own bill." Ok then, Scott Walker-- a man to be trusted. Hm....

Trends at the University of Virginia

I've been getting a lot of questions about what's happened at other states and other institutions. Trying to balance my "regular" work with this blog is tough, but here's a bit of info to keep the conversation going.

University of Virginia

(1) The proportion of students applying for financial aid and having demonstrable need is appalling low-- just 25%--and it has declined substantially over time (it was 38% in 2002). This despite a general increase in awareness of aid, more help filling out the FAFSA, and "Access UVA." The failure of needy students to apply to expensive institutions and to apply for financial aid after they enroll is one reason why financial aid isn't nearly as effective as it could be at promoting college attainment among low-income students. Academic preparation is another, but it's not as if that's gotten so much worse over time. The big change-- the sticker price of tuition.

(2) Among students in the bottom 25% of the income distribution at UVA (avg income ~$52K), the cost of attendance (tuition, fees, room and board) eats up 40% of their annual family income. For wealthy students, it eats up only about 14%.

Response to Students for NBP

I applaud Jon Alfuth of the Students for the New Badger Partnership for attempting to do something the UW-Madison Administration has not bothered to do -- share some models of affordability under the NBP.

Jon asked me for my critique, so here are some big picture questions to ponder while I try and secure the numbers required for an alternative model (don't hold your breath, this requires figures beyond what Jon seems to have here and I don't see a UW source willing to provide them):

(1) Why assume that tuition will increase at the same rate for resident and non-resident students? That seems very unlikely-- typically rates for nonresidents increase at twice the rate for residents (Don Hossler, 2005, "Students and Families as Revenue, p. 116).

(2) Why assume the % of non-residents remains the same? Assuming the differential in tuition grows, this will likely tip the proportion of residents downwards, since the BOT will begin to find nonresidents even more attractive. Doubt this? Job descriptions for enrollment managers at public research universities have included a preference for candidates with successful strategies to attract out-of-state students (Hossler, p. 117).

(3) A discount rate is the average institutional grant divided by average tuition and fees-- for example, a 15% discount rate would mean that for every $1,000 increase in tuition and fees UW-Madison would award a $150 institutional grant. What is the assumed discount rate for in-state and out-of-state students? At private institutions it's around 40 percent. At publics it is on average 14%. First, what is it right now at UW-Madison? We need to know. We must know to do this modeling appropriately. If we intend to raise tuition and compete with privare institutions, the discount rate will have to climb-- and thus much of that additional projected revenue won't be realized as gains at all. (Don't believe me? AASCU writes, "part of the reason why institutions are able to keep their discount rates low is due to the fact that they are able to keep their tuition rates relatively low, making the overall cost of attendance relatively low.")

(4) Discounting cannibalizes revenue. What are your calculations as to the likelihood that under a new model UW will be able to afford to devote 30+ % of new tuition revenue to aid?

(5) What is the assumed discount rate for in-state versus out-of-state students? National data indicate that non-residents are 1.7 times more likely to get a discount and that discount costs a lot. "For example, a one-percent increase to the non-resident tuition discount rate would cost an institution $100.13, while an equivalent percentage increase for resident students would only cost $35.80." Is the UW-Madison community comfortable with giving more of our institutional aid as a discount to non-Wisconsin folks?

(6) What is the assumed discount rate for low-income versus high-income students? Biddy has made a big deal about how much she has grown need-based aid under MIU, but the fact remains that UW-Madison spends much more on merit-based aid than on need-based aid. Nationally, institutions have increased the proportion of institutional aid devoted to merit-based aid faster over time. Moreover, national data indicate that while low-income students are more likely to get a discount, theirs is typically smaller than those given to high-income students. In a recent study of public universities, "students whose families earn between $70,000 and $100,000 receive an average discount of 15.1 percent, while the lowest income students only receive a 14.7 percent discount rate."

(7) Why assume the BOT and Chancellor of today keep their promises (well actually we don't even know who the BOT is) for tomorrow, the day after and the day after? What grounds do you have to disagree with all of the scholarly proponents of this approach to financing, who clearly state that the link between aid and tuition should be legislated, not left up to faith?

(8) We already use differential tuition to finance aid. Can you explain why continuing to do that during the near future wouldn't be as effective as NBP?

Big picture: Jon and I shouldn't have to do this modeling ourselves. If UW Madison wants to argue for tuition flexibility it should have produce these kinds of figures a long time ago and made them publicly available.

More to come...

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Challenge to the UW Board of Regents

While the last several months have been contentious ones, I think that the road ahead needs to include many more uncomfortable discussions. In particular, we need to have fierce conversations about two key issues that have received insufficient attention in the debate over the New Badger Partnership:

(1) The public purpose of our flagship university
(2) The way we spend our money

Much has been said by UW-Madison administration about the need to compete on a global scale, not only with American universities but with those in Shanghai. We have also heard that the best way for UW-Madison to meet the needs of Wisconsin is for it to be the most competitive it possibly can be. Furthermore, we have been told that such a goal does not exclude other objectives, including the desire to be at least modestly accessible to all of the state's residents. (Just google "Biddy" and NBP and you'll get more than a dozen examples of each of these statements. Or simply get the transcript from Tuesday's student Q&A in Bascom.)

These claims are deeply problematic.

As Gordon Davies, long-time scholar of higher education (and head of Virginia's State Council for Higher Education from 1977 to 1997) puts it, public higher education should "maximize service, not status." Colleges and universities, Davies says, need to "wake up"-- and UW-Madison is no exception. To regular readers of this blog, his advice should sound familiar. "Here's the new definition of prestige: an institution that serves the people of its state or region carefully at a price all of them can afford. Now, make that part of the definition of 'elite'."

Madison's leadership has it all wrong: public universities should not be "encouraged to emulate highly selective private universities, not because there is something wrong with highly selective private universities but because the two have different missions...In their scramble to get more applications so they can reject more applicants, to win more recognition for selected academic programs, and to 4 be among the top 30 (or even 100!) research universities, universities tend to lose sight of their importance to the regions in which they live."

Being from Virginia, Davies knows this landscape well. I listened to UW's student radio this morning as a pro-NBP student (Tyler?) tried to make the case that UW-Madison really needed the NBP because it only has one flagship--whereas places like Virginia and New York are lucky to have multiple top universities. What he didn't seem to realize is that he was undermining his own argument, for as Davies points out, in Virginia "having two institutions (UVa and William and Mary) designated as “public Ivies” a few decades ago was an honor because they were part of a balanced system of institutions within which there were places for everyone. Having many, if not most, public universities aspire to elite private institution levels of selectivity is a serious error and a sign of a reward system gone wrong." Lest you think that isn't happening in Wisconsin, just take a look at the recent statements made by the chancellors of other UW universities.

All available evidence is that our reward system has gone wrong in Wisconsin when so many public universities are acting like "wannabes" seeking to "emulate the elite and highly selective." Wisconsin higher education is not doing a good job at serving all of its citizens and it therefore cannot afford to engage in "meaningless ambition." Again, Davies: It is "wrong to assume that what is good for individual universities is good for a state...we are betting that we can compete in this global economy by educating a technological elite and ignoring the masses. China is making this bet. So is India. But they are much larger populations than ours. For the United States, and for individual states, is this an economically responsible bet? Is it a morally responsible choice?"

UW-Madison's current effort to push for a new approach to help it gain more revenue misses the boat on another important dimension as well: our financial woes are at least as attributable to how we spend our money as to how we obtain it. Or, as Jane Wellman of the Delta Cost Project once put it, “the funding problem in American higher education is as much about focus and priority as it is about revenue."

The NBP skipped several key steps in what's become a widely accepted approach to higher education reform, one promoted by national initiatives such as Making Opportunity Affordable. Before looking for ways to bring in more cash, universities first need to work with the state to (a) set goals (with regard to the above discussion in particular), (b) align spending with those goals, (c) improve degree productivity, and (d) enhance public accountability. Only after those conditions are set do they really have a case for seeking more money.

Some of the strongest evidence that UW-Madison skipped these crucial steps before pursuing the NBP lies in constant repetition of the claim that we are engaged in a "balancing act" that requires sacrificing equity in order to enhance quality. This is the classic "Iron Triangle" model known to all higher education analysts-- and it is a hopelessly outdated one. The points of the triangle are funding, access, and quality-- and the claim is that any effort to improve one area is only possible at the expense of another. Put differently, as experts at a recent University of Virginia policy conference noted, "[Colleges and universities] have long equated quality with resources, which means that spending cannot be managed without sacrificing either access or quality. Although some economic theories about the unique cost structures of the non-profit sector are consistent with these views, reality simply cannot support them. The times demand greater access and equal or greater quality despite a long, difficult recession. Furthermore, the Iron Triangle assumptions are not supported by research. Research shows a very weak relationship between spending and performance, measured not only by degree attainment but also by the level of the state population obtaining access, retention and degree production, and production of graduates who remain in-state to fill high-demand jobs. To be sure, measures of reputation - such as admissions selectivity, or proportions of faculty with terminal degrees, or spending on athletics and endowment earnings - all correlate with money. But for the most part these measures have little to do with the public priority to increase degree attainment. The Iron Triangle is a set of false assumptions that contribute to the fractured dialogue among higher education constituencies."

This is exactly what has happened at UW-Madison. Leadership has insisted on an approach that, while initially claiming to enhance both quality and equality, ultimately it admits succumbs to a balancing act that tips towards sacrificing access for quality. This is a classic response of college administrators, who find every way possible to demand more money while insisting that their decisions are caught in the Iron Triangle (see Table 1 at this link).

Our future depends on creative thinking on the part of the Board of Regents. The board needs to think long and hard about how to bring the full constituency of Wisconsin public higher education together-- and soon. Wellman and Davies both offer good advice: "States need to re-assert control over their public colleges and universities, to make them once again members of coordinated systems with clearly defined missions...For public institutions, boards need to manage this discussion rather than try to avoid it...Visible public processes need to be put in place to address how university systems or institutions will accomplish these goals, including dialogue about teaching and learning, and attention to ways that costs will be managed. Higher education leaders need to use these forums as a way to stimulate institutional learning, to put information about costs and spending into context, to educate institutional leadership, faculty, students and public policy officials about where the money comes from, where it goes, and what it buys."

The time is now. The Board of Regents must lead.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The New Badger Partnership is Not About Affordability

According to the Badger Advocates' new television ad promoting the New Badger Partnership, the number one reason this new policy is needed is "To keep tuition affordable and provide more financial aid."

This claim is echoed in speeches by Chancellor Martin and her Administration, and maintaining or enhancing affordability is a central goal for the NBP articulated by student advocates.

Can the NBP achieved its primary policy objective? Will it?

The strong likelihood is no. Here, again, is why.

(1) The value of financial aid depends on cost of attendance. The real cost of college attendance for students and families is the "net price" they pay -- that is, the cost of attendance minus financial aid. Since some students do not respond well to loans, many argue that net price is actually the difference between cost of attendance and grant aid.

(2) The New Badger Partnership makes statements about the need to "keep tuition affordable" but it says nothing about tying increases in financial aid to increases in tuition. This is one of the biggest myths going around right now-- please, look at the legislation-- there is not a word about increasing aid in proportion to tuition in there. In other words, the NBP says nothing about maintaining or reducing net price. While advocates for the NBP rightly note that some higher education analysts support a "high tuition high aid" model, they neglect the clear statements made by those analysts that in order to work -- e.g. in order to maintain or enhance affordability--increases in aid must always accompany increases in tuition. Furthermore, those same analysts insist that since states and institutions rarely behave in such a predictable, responsible manner, it's important that they be required to do so. Yet the NBP does not mandate this.

(3) The New Badger Partnership talks about keeping tuition affordable but says nothing about keeping room and board, or student fees affordable. The cost of attendance, and thus the net price, includes all of those things. And those non-tuition costs have been rising faster than tuition for a long time.

(4) Only if "net price" decreases substantially will affordability may be improved. I see nothing in the NBP that suggests that grant aid will grow much more rapidly than tuition or that such growth will always be sustained over time-- so I think the chances of a substantial decrease in "net price" and increase in affordability are slim to none.

(5) If "net price" does not change, affordability is at best maintained. That would be the true meaning of "hold harmless" (as in the Madison Initiative for Undergraduates). But again, I say "at best" maintained because it is also plausible that sticker price has an effect on student decision-making, apart from net price. In other words, some students and families may be "scared off" by the higher tuition, perhaps because they misunderstand discounting. In that case, affordability is eroded.

(6) Misunderstanding of discounting is widespread among all kinds of people, including those in the lower and middle-income brackets. It's a bigger problem among low-income people. Not a single "sticker shock" program has been proven effective-- including those at private institutions-- where research shows the percent of low-income students has not increased despite such campaigns.

Given these facts, why is the NBP being promoted as an effort to maintain or even enhance affordability? At best, this seems disingenuous. Instead, Advocates could talk about the other aims of the policy-- e.g. improving excellence and/or quality--and make the case that increases in those things offset sacrifices to affordability. But they are not making this case, and I suspect it's because they know the argument will not fly with much of their constituency. Instead they have adopted the rhetoric of affordability that appeals to liberals, and used it to paper over a campaign that is ultimately focused on the needs of the elite.

Finally, let's talk about the great fear: "the status quo."

It is true that UW-Madison has grown less affordable over time, that institutional need-based aid did not increase until Chancellor Martin's regime, and that we stand to get higher tuition even absent the NBP. All that is true, and affordability could erode as a result.


Instead of the NBP we could maintain or enhance affordability by doing the following:

(1) Require all undergraduates to complete a FAFSA before enrolling at UW–Madison, although an “opt out” option can be added for personal and philosophical reasons.

(2) Seek a change to the rules governing the use of tuition dollars. Right now we can't use them for financial aid-- instead of asking for the right to set tuition, why not instead ask for the right to use some of the dollars for aid? This is what we did with MIU-- and MIU is different from NBP in that it explicitly tied aid to tuition increases.

(3) Continue to fundraise for institutional need-based aid. The growth in fundraising for that cause under Chancellor Martin's regime came from new leadership at Foundation-- the NBP was not needed. Ask for more support in promoting that campaign.

(4) Gradually shift institutional merit-based aid to institutional need-based aid. Make it a priority-- take a stand.

(5) Lead hard conversations about cost-savings measures to reduce room and board and student fees, to reign in the cost of attendance.

(6) Collect the kind of data needed to measure the impact of institutional need-based aid (right now we do not do this, and we easily could). Document effects and use them for fundraising purposes.

(7) Experiment with a sticker shock campaign. Find a model that works for UW Madison and use it to gain the support for additional tuition increases.

(8) Rethink admissions criteria and their relationship to family income. Consider putting a "thumb on the scale" for family background in order to increase diversity at Madison.

Before you accuse me of putting forth good ideas too late in the game, know this: these are not new proposals. We have made them many times over many years. They have been ignored.

Whatever you think about it, the NBP is not about increasing affordability. It will not achieve that policy objective. Vote for it on other grounds if you must-- but do not do so thinking it will make UW Madison more affordable.

Monday, April 25, 2011

It's All About the Faculty?

UPDATED APRIL 26: Please also review comments on this piece over at Sifting and Winnowing.

There is a critical element of the argument for the New Badger Partnership that has gone unquestioned for far too long: the faculty must get raises or else the university is going off the deep end.

We are told by Chancellor Martin that upon arriving at UW-Madison, two of the strongest concerns voiced to her came from faculty who felt that their low pay was driving the departure of their colleagues, and from students who felt they were losing their valued professors. This theme is echoed in the voices of Students for the NBP, many commentators on discussion boards, and in faculty meetings across campus.

Yes, the faculty salaries are low at Madison, relative to those at peer institutions, however you choose to define "peer." But it isn't clear that this is policy concern that ought to drive an argument for Public Authority.

Instead, I suggest that the question is "What are the most cost-effective ways to attract and retain talented professors who can fulfill UW-Madison's missions?"

Another really important question is: do we have a faculty turnover problem? The data I can find on change over time seems to imply "no" -- the proportion of faculty leaving hasn't changed much over 30 years, and if anything seems to have declined.

Assessing the wisdom of implementing the NBP in order to increase faculty salaries requires: (a) defining institutional missions, (b) defining talent, (c) identifying several recruitment and retention strategies, and (d) comparing those strategies on their costs and their impacts. High-cost low-impact strategies will not fly in this fiscal climate. We need to find those that are proven to work before investing heavily.

You're probably asking yourself, is this professor seriously questioning the need to pay people well in order to get them to work at UW-Madison? Let's be very clear: I'm NOT arguing our faculty do not deserve to be paid more -- on many metrics they clearly do. What I am questioning is whether raising faculty salaries is the most cost-effective way to achieve the goal of retaining talent and whether efforts to raise faculty salaries should be a driving force behind the New Badger Partnership. The second point is especially important since there are serious questions about whether the NBP will effectively improve salaries, or whether instead the promise of more compensation is being used to garner faculty support for the Chancellor's initiative.

Here are some of my questions:

(1) What are the criteria by which we should define talent when thinking about who we want to recruit as professors at UW-Madison? Are the criteria we are currently using serving all constituencies well? For example, what role do our standards for teaching play in our undergraduate retention rate? In the severe black/white gap in that retention rate?

(2) To what degree should commitment to the Wisconsin Idea and/or congruence with the mission of a public land-grant institution be a hiring criteria?

(3) To what degree are professors making decisions about coming to UW-Madison-- and staying at UW-Madison-- based on salary? Let's start with this: what is our current faculty retention rate, by rank? Nationally, it's around 85% for assistant professors and 92-93% for those at higher ranks (at doctoral institutions). The last report I can find at Madison indicates ours is 5 or 6% on average. (That report is old (1999), focuses mainly on gender issues in tenure, and calls for more research.) Research indicates that faculty turnover rates are higher at public institutions relative to private ones, net of compensation-- this may be due to the different practices, policies, and governance structures at private institutions.

(4) What other factors are affecting those decisions-- and how important are they, relative to absolute salary? For example, what role does the quality of life in Madison play? How about salary inequity (among UW-Madison professors)? The shared governance system? Campus climate? The tenure and promotion system? Gender and/or racial bias in that system? The presence or absence of unions? Some research suggests that compensation and teaching load interact, such that the benefits of higher compensation occur largely when teaching load is also reduced-- are we prepared to foot the bill for simultaneously raising salaries and reducing the number of courses taught?

Moreover, research on this topic suggests that compensation is a more important factor in hiring and retaining professors at other UW System institutions, compared to UW-Madison. For example, a study by Chancellor Martin's Cornell colleague economist Ron Ehrenberg found that "Compensation levels, on average, affect retention rates for associate and assistant professors [as compared to full professors]. Most striking, however, is that the magnitude of the relationship gets larger as we move from graduate institutions, to 4-year institutions, to 2-year institutions. Put another way, the responsiveness of retention rates to a given dollar change in compensation appears to be greater for 2-year colleges than it does for institutions with graduate programs; not a surprising result since average compensation levels are lower at the former and thus a given dollar change represents a greater percentage change. In addition, because of the importance to faculty involved in research in graduate level institutions of nonpecuniary conditions of employment, such as the presence of good research facilities, libraries, graduate students and colleagues, current earnings and compensation are likely to be relatively less important factors in their mobility decisions." Admittedly, the low levels of compensation at UW-Madison may make faculty more responsive to an increase, compared to those at your average research institution-- but if a dollar is a dollar, it's not clear that dollars are best spent on salaries at Madison versus elsewhere.

(5) What variation exists in the impact of salary on professors' decision-making? For example, does this vary by gender? Rank? Family background? Is it possible that the feminization of the faculty, and the increased propensity of faculty to bear young children on the tenure track, affect both our recruitment and retention efforts (Ehrenberg's data, now two decades old, suggests this matters less than we think. But this is an important issue because some colleagues continue to downplay the decisions made by their colleagues to leave for family reasons, instead insisting they lost top talent because of inadequate compensation.)

(6) What role does the market play in the decisions we want to make as an institution? Is our goal to match the actions of our peers? Or do we intend to attract niche talent, and utilize specific unique approaches to retaining them?

Consider this: "In 2000-2001, the difference between the average compensation of associate professors at private doctoral and public-independent doctoral institutions was in the range of $13,500...if public doctoral universities were to increase their average associate professor compensation level by $10,000 and substantially close this gap, they would at most increase their associate professors continuation rates by about 0.7 percentage points, which would still leave them with a lower average continuation rate than that of their private counterparts... In other words, for each 100 associate professors that an institution were to employ, it would cost more than an extra $1 million a year in faculty compensation to reduce its associate professor's turnover rate by one faculty member."

Is this a war we public land-grant institutions think we can, and should, be trying to win right now?

We at UW-Madison need to seriously consider and debate these concerns. I have not seen any empirical evidence that such questions have been thoroughly examined across units at Madison--instead, our talented institutional researchers are devoted to documenting faculty compensation (e.g. an input), and tenure and retirement rates (e.g. outcomes). These things are important but they do not illuminate the relationships between inputs and outcomes.

That said, if you have the data and have done the analysis, please share. The faculty--and indeed all of Wisconsin-- need to know.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Rhetoric of Unity

I'm supposed to be on "vacation" this weekend but when news like this comes out, it's hard to ignore....

Recently 10 UW department chairs wrote a letter in support of a policy (the NBP). They explicitly stated (at the end of paragraph one) that they did so independently: "We write on our own behalf and not as formal representatives of our departments." Yet they signed the letter with their names, titles (e.g. chair) and department names. Furthermore, the UW Administration -- and other advocates like Students for the NBP -- are promoting it as indicative of widespread support from faculty and "academic leaders" and do not clarify that those directors and chairs do not write on behalf of their departments and units.

First, I'm confused. If these chairs are writing independently, and not as department chairs, why did they use their titles when they signed? Signatures from chairs are commonly interpreted as endorsements from departments, and they must know that. Were department votes solicited before the decision was made by the chairs to act alone? I'm in Sociology, and don't think so-- or perhaps I missed an email?

Second, I'm concerned. What message does this send to members of these departments who do not agree with their chairs? Now, expressing opposition to the NBP requires not only going against your Chancellor's expressed wishes, but also those of your chair. You will have to disagree with someone your Administration is calling an "academic leader." Let me say as someone who knows well, this is very, very risky on our campus right now. I know very few professors, tenured or not, who feel it's safe to do so.

So let's be crystal clear: this letter does not mean the NBP has support from these 10 departments. This letter was ONLY signed by 10 department chairs, and that ain't much--we have at least 100. And finally, this letter is indicative of a real problem on campus right now--in an effort to "save UW" those with power are making it hard for those who lack it to express disagreement (I'm obviously an exception, and conclusions should not be drawn based on my own ill-advised actions). Worse yet, they do so with good intentions. Sadly, that doesn't matter since the effect is the same. It allows places like the SNBP to make such claims like "[we] could not find any negative press from members of our campus community in the past week." Amazing! I suppose the campus community no longer includes me? Beth Huang? Steve Horn? The professors writing on Sifting and Winnowing? Of course not --because much sifting and winnowing is suppressed, and replaced with fear.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Both Sides Now

After recent reports of apathy regarding the New Badger Partnership, I've spent more time reading and analyzing the comments that are springing up like crocuses these days. While it's a darn shame that people don't regularly sign their names to web comments, or at least provide some description of their position relative to the institutions involved (e.g. are you student, staff, faculty, etc), absent a real live on-campus discourse, the virtual world is what we've got to work with.

Here is my thematic analysis of commentary from the last month-- I'm focusing on that since it's possible that opinion has changed over time as the discussion has deepened.

(1) Critics are primarily concerned about the behavior of Chancellor Martin. It seems that concern extends to what her actions foretell for a future under a public authority model that gives her additional power, as well as what her actions have done to relations between UW Madison and the state. While some have claimed the concerns are more about process than policy, my reading of the commentary is that this is not the case, since many are tying the implications of the process to the implications of the policy itself. In other words-- what does her interpretation of "shared governance" thus far mean about how she would use or protect it under PA? Terms frequently used to describe Martin include "secretive," "naive," "vague"-- and according to at least one "a rather pleasant looking lady" and "a campus celebrity."

(2) While Martin is often linked to Scott Walker in comments, people seem to have independent feelings about their leadership capabilities, styles, and intellect. For example, one person writes: "In the past 100 days, Governor Walker has shown himself to be hostile to everything the UW used to represent ...But the Chancellor has been silent as employees' rights are rescinded; their take-home pay slashed; their institutions decimated; and themselves publicly slandered as everything from the root cause of a national recession to 'violent thugs' ... while alienating her colleagues at other system schools and deeply disappointing those of us who conserve a sense of solidarity with our fellow employees."

(2) There seems to be more agreement with the need for flexibilities in hiring, procurement, and construction than with regard to flexibility in tuition-setting.

(3) There is a lot of sentiment about the need to keep UW-Madison affordable and accessible to all Wisconsin residents-- not only those who are low-income. But people disagree on how to achieve these goals. This is clearly a conversation that needs more time and thought to develop.

(4) The rhetoric of "crisis" has taken hold. Many commentators mention a crisis but very few cite specifics of what makes this is a crisis. This discussion of how the "money has been stopping" is a good example.

(5) There is a fair bit of animosity towards UW System -- or at the least a sense that the Board of Regents is not as effective as it could be. I see fairly equal evidence of this in Madison papers and those from other cities and towns across the state.

(6) That said, the most common objection to the NBP is the separation of Madison from System. That move is often termed a "disaster,"

(7) Many of those who write in favor of the NBP paint its critics as "Lefties," "liberals" or "Socialists." Those who write against the NBP describes its advocates either as "neoliberals" or "conservatives," "Repugs," or even "devils."

(8) I count as many alumni writing against the NBP as writing in favor of it-- however, I remain concerned that the negative comments that dominated the WAA page were deleted from that website, tipping the scales in favor of supporters.

Monday, April 18, 2011

What Are You Doing This Summer?

Want to work with a talented group of students and faculty, helping find ways to make Wisconsin public higher education more affordable? Then please consider joining the Wisconsin Scholars Longitudinal Study as an undergraduate or graduate intern this summer!

The WSLS is seeking students who will commit to at least 10 hours/week of work for summer and fall 2011. The ideal candidates are responsible, trustworthy, and detail-oriented. Those studying sociology, psychology, economics, or political science are especially needed.

Potential tasks include: (1) piloting a study of undergraduates using text-messaging, (2) interviewing students, (3) transcribing and coding interviews, and (4) Using STATA to clean, code, and analyze survey data. Interns will be included in regular biweekly staff meetings and social events.

We offer class credit and/or pay based on experience.

If you are interested, please email Alison Bowman at by May 13. Include a resume and short description of your relevant skills and time availability.


Scott Walker's Hokey Pokey

Eliminating collective bargaining for Wisconsin public employees was all about balancing the state budget. Until it wasn't.

Expanding the Milwaukee voucher program was all about equal educational opportunities for low-income children. Until it wasn't.

Howard Fuller is absolutely right to threaten to "get off the stage" and refuse to strike a deal with the devil.
“I will never fight for giving people who already have means more resources. Because, in the end, that will disadvantage and squeeze out the possibility of poor parents having some of these options,” said Fuller.

This is not to say that Fuller won’t consider raising the income threshold to serve more of Milwaukee’s working poor. In the interview, he talks about aligning the requirements for entry into the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program with those of Wisconsin’s BadgerCare program, which provides health care to state residents who earn less than 300 percent of poverty. “That would capture over 80 percent of the households in the city,” he said. “So if your real objective is to expand the level of support, you could do that and still retain a focus on low-income and moderate-income families.”

But if Wisconsin and other states want to make their vouchers universally accessible to families of any income level, “it may very well be that it’s time for people like me to get off the stage,” he said. “Maybe it has to be a different movement going forward, but if that’s the way the movement has to be going forward, it’s not something that I can be a part of.”

While I disagree with Fuller's approach to expanding vouchers rather than focusing on reform of and investment in public education, I admire his steadfast adherence to principle and his commitment to advocacy on behalf of disadvantaged children and families.

Others in Wisconsin -- including UW-Madison Chancellor Biddy Martin -- need to come to the same conclusion. What YOU may think or want something to be about probably isn't why this right-wing governor is your new friend. Just say "no, thank you." There are alternatives that may need to wait for more thoughtful and progressive leadership in Wisconsin.

Trampling workers' rights. Privatizing public education. THAT's what it's all about.

AP Photo: Andy Manis

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Reforming Wisconsin Public Higher Education

As we move into the closing months of debate over Governor Scott Walker's budget bill, it is becoming clear that there's little appetite for the New Badger Partnership outside of Madison. That's not to say that the Wisconsin Idea Partnership is likely to succeed either.

Instead, the state has begun a very important discussion about the future of public higher education. No one--whether pro or con-NBP-- seems to think what we're doing right now is working terribly well. And the metrics would seem to bear that out --our degree completion rates, access rates, affordability rates-- all are essentially mediocre. We can and must do better, and it's in that spirit that I will begin to propose some principles and prospects for reform.

My proposals are grounded in the spirit of the Morrill Land-Grant College Act of 1862 that helped create the University of Wisconsin, and the Wisconsin Idea that helped sustain it. They are also grounded in decades of empirical research on undergraduate education and the actual experiences of today's college students. Finally, please note that they are primarily meant to stimulate discussion and debate-- not to preclude it. Wisconsin needs so badly to engage in a series of frank, fearless conversations about higher education with a much wider representation of opinions and ideas than it has before. Now is the time, and here are some thoughts to get us started.

(1) In the 21st century, the two systems of Wisconsin public higher education could work together to meet the needs for undergraduate and graduate education throughout the state. Right now, they are systems divided, competing for scarce resources. While they enjoy different missions they are in many ways complementary and their work needs to be coordinated. Therefore, I call for serious discussion about creating a central, comprehensive governance board overseeing the work of all of Wisconsin's public colleges and universities. In other words, that board would be charged with the future of both the University of Wisconsin System and the Wisconsin Technical College System. The creation of this kind of governing body should be aimed at elevating the educational missions of our institutions and protecting them from the inappropriate incursion of politics (e.g. intrusions from both the governor's office and the Legislature). Given that both parties have, at various times, objected to the involvement of political actors in the work of these schools, this approach could (eventually) garner bipartisan support. That's not to say it will be without pain-- the move would nearly undoubtedly result in the discovery of some mission overlap or creep and/or redundancy in some services that could results in closures and/or job loss. These are hard truths, but not ones that should be avoided.

(2) To ensure cost-effective operations, all institutions of higher education in Wisconsin need to be treated as the schools they are. In other words, they require greater autonomy from state government in a key set of domains. They are unlike other state agencies in terms of their work, their personnel, and their ways of operating. Schools are not businesses, and will not run effectively (and therefore efficiently) as such. Serious consideration needs to be given to finding the means with which to free them from red tape with regards to (a) personnel issues including hiring and compensation, (b) procurement, and (c) construction.

(3) Just like many other not-for-profit institutions, going forward the Wisconsin higher education system should be allowed to retain the revenues it generates as long as it uses them solely for educational purposes-- in other words to satisfy its mission. The state should not be allowed to "sweep" said revenues from the System for non-educational purposes. The possible exception might be to take them for use in funding the state need-based financial aid program -- but ideally that program should be administered by a board that coordinates the work of both UW System and WTCS. Notice that I am suggesting that individual institutions may still have to give up some revenues to the System; that sort of tax facilitates redistributive activities that benefit the common good as long as the revenues are used for educational purposes.

(4) Ensuring the accessibility and affordability of Wisconsin public higher education in the 21st century requires strong oversight of tuition and financial aid policies. Left to their own devices, colleges and universities have significant impetus to act to maximize the opportunities for their employees rather than their students. To control this tendency, a central board needs to coordinate these policies across institutions-- this is an important part of what makes them part of a system. It is also what makes degree completion possible for students who--for a wide variety of reasons-- attend multiple institutions en route to a degree (today that includes more than 1 in 2 undergraduates).

There are four ideas. Let's have at 'em- and let's develop more. Please join the conversation.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Have Courage-- Act Now

I have spent the last seven years afraid I'd become a cautionary tale. I have been repeatedly warned by older, wiser folks to reconsider my inclinations to do things that could threaten my chances of getting tenure: have a baby on the tenure-track (then have another), initiate a large-scale new data collection project, spend a lot of time grant-writing, write policy briefs and other non-academic papers, travel around the country for policy and practice speaking engagements, write a blog (and then two), and the list goes on and on. Of course, the most controversial decision I made was back in 2009 when I began to speak out loudly and frequently against the policies and actions of UW-Madison's Administration.

For the most part, my advisers are tenured friends who simply want me to succeed. I have a tendency to get in my own way-- by saying "yes" to too many opportunities, wanting to have it all right now, and sometimes by starting to speak before I've finished thinking. I realize that they weren't all saying I should never do the things I've done, but that perhaps I just shouldn't do them right now.

Having now stunned even myself by receiving two unanimous votes of support on my tenure-- from both my department and the UW-Madison Social Science Divisional Committee-- I have this to say. While I have some small regrets about how I've used my time during the last 7 years, I have absolutely no regrets about my decision to speak publicly and confidently about my opposition to the Madison Initiative for Undergraduates and the New Badger Partnership. Both policies threaten the great public university I've come to love as my home, and even more importantly, they threaten the key principles central to my research agenda: higher education access and affordability.

To professors at UW-Madison who share those values and principles and have not yet spoken publicly about your feelings on the NBP: please consider doing so now. To those not at UW-Madison but who recognize this is a national concern-- please also considering doing so. One of the current University of Wisconsin-Madison's greatest assets is its safeguards for academic freedom. As I celebrated last night, I became increasingly cognizant that at most of the nation's colleges and universities my tenure decision wouldn't feel nearly so certain at this point-- it has not yet been signed by my dean, provost, chancellor, or Board of Regents. They are all a critical part of the process, and my stating that I have earned tenure is not meant to disrespect or discount their role. Rather, what I know is that both my department and the divisional committee believe I have earned tenure -- and at the current UW-Madison with its shared governance structure that is what matters most.

Ours is not a top-down institution. Tenure is not decided mainly by the Administration, and this makes it possible for faculty to speak their minds without fear.

That is not how private institutions operate, and should the NBP transform UW-Madison into a public authority (what might also be called a private land-grant university) I expect that will change. While the new Chapter 37 includes the provisions of the current Chapter 36, it could be easily altered with a line-item veto to eliminate the faculty role in the tenure decision-- or simply to give much more decision-making authority to the new Board of Trustees and/or the Chancellor.

Is this an irrational fear? I don't think so. Chancellor Martin has articulated her theory of governance before and it is more a unitary model than a shared one. Moreover, she seems to have brought a strong sense of Cornell University with her. And the way in which power is allocated at Cornell seems remarkably similar to how power has been allocated under the Martin regime at UW-Madison.

As Ambrose Redmoon once wrote, "courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear." If you like the current tenure process at UW-Madison and the freedom it affords faculty to speak truth to power, now is the time to speak. Right now shared governance protects you. Soon, it may not exist.


Thursday, April 14, 2011

FROM THE ARCHIVES: I (Finally) Figured Out Why I Want Tenure

This is a very important day for the EduOptimists and our family. In honor of this special occasion (let's call it DDay), we offer a peek into our archives. I wrote this post on May 4, 2009. Since that time, I have grown ever more certain that the only way to ensure true sifting and winnowing is through tenure. On Wisconsin! Sara

UPDATE: This afternoon the Divisional Committee of UW-Madison unanimously confirmed my tenure, which was previously confirmed with a unanimous vote by my department. ON WISCONSIN!!!!!

Today was a big day. This morning’s paper ran a story containing quotes from me and from this blog that many of my colleagues will likely view as uncouth. Others will misinterpret it as desire for publicity and name recognition. These folks just don't know me like my family, and particularly my Poppa, does.

To my mind, I had little choice but to do what I did. My University is moving in an untenable direction, one that makes middle-class folks feel good, while at the same time trampling the long-term opportunities of the voiceless. I'm not alone- my family members have a long history of doing exactly this. I went on the record as opposed to a policy that is strongly supported not only by my administrators and supervisors, but also by most of the faculty around me. I wish I could say I felt brave and confident as hung up the phone with the reporter. I didn’t-- in fact, I ran to the bathroom and lost my lunch.

Over the course of the past many months, I’ve received a lot of advice about the Madison Initiative. Advisers have patiently explained to me that the policy is going forward with or without me, and that my time and energy spent fighting will be wasted. I’d be better off simply recommending a few minor alterations and falling in line; at the bare minimum this would help to ensure I could devote my energies to peer-reviewed publications and the kinds of thing academia typically rewards. A fight like this one, I was told, was something I had to earn the right to participate in—something I needed tenure for.

This is all undoubtedly true. The numbers of hours I’ve spent agonizing over the Initiative, pouring over its details, listening to the administration, reading what students have to say, reviewing relevant research on the topic again and again—it’s taken plenty of time and left room for very little sleep. If I were more prudent, that time could have been spent on my many R&Rs, helping put the icing on my tenure case.

Except until now, I really wasn’t sure what tenure was good for. I never set out to be a professor—I just wanted to question conventional wisdom and address it with the best available social science evidence. I'd do it in whatever setting allowed it. I never worried about unemployment; heck at times I find myself with 3 or even 4 jobs at a time. I am insanely fortunate, I know it, and so I thought how could I expect more? Tenure, I began to think, could be phased out in favor of more competitive salaries.

But today, I get it. At the end of my 5th year as an assistant professor, I just spoke out in a manner that could hurt my job prospects, possibly my research agenda, and who knows what else. I’m not saying anyone will directly throw the hammer at me- not at all. But people will be pissed, and they’ll find ways to make my life difficult. I recognize that.

So why bother? Why not wait until I had tenure- and true academic freedom? Because I’m not a professor just anywhere—this is Madison. Madison, for pete’s sake—the place where every academic in the country believes anyone can and does speak their mind, and is praised for it. I am deeply proud of this University’s tradition, and I want it upheld.

And in this case, the truth simply couldn’t wait. In my reading, the research here is unequivocal. I’ve got mountains of evidence that truly open discussions were not occurring, and could not under institutional constraints. I spend my days with students who have struggled to gain access to UW-Madison, and also with many of those who’d hope to attend but for major financial barriers. Yes, this policy increases financial aid—and that is a wonderful thing. But there were other routes to achieve the same end, and much better policy designs that were never considered or outright rejected. And so it was time to stand up for my students—and even more importantly for the Wisconsin high school graduates from poor families who will never find their way here. My own personal interests (e.g. salary, community of faculty, even tenure) be damned.

I have a two-year-old. When I leave the house every day I think about why I’m bothering. Today, the world knows why. And honestly, I’m both proud—and scared.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Guest Post: Why "New Badger Partnership" Means Loss of Independence for UW-Madison

The following is a guest posting from Harry Peterson, a UW-Madison administrator from 1978-1990, Chief of Staff to Chancellor Donna Shalala from 1988-1990. Harry is also President Emeritus, Western State College of Colorado, Gunnison, Colorado

The demand for Professor Bill Cronon’s emails by the Wisconsin Republican Party prompted the UW System Board of Regents to review its support for academic freedom throughout its history. At its April board meeting the Regents again was emphatic in its interest in continuing that tradition. This received virtually no notice in the media because it was not news. The Board of Regents has been supporting academic freedom throughout its history. It is one of its most important legacies. The board has done such a good job it is taken for granted.

We know in our personal lives and in public policy that decisions can have unintended and unanticipated consequences, sometimes with tragic results. Goals that are pursued sometimes have the opposite result. The proposal by Chancellor Martin and Governor Walker to create an independent authority for the UW-Madison, in the name of autonomy, will result in outcomes that are the opposite of the independence the Chancellor seeks.

There are several reasons why our autonomy at the UW-Madison will be decreased. This post addresses one of them.

On May 1 the terms of two members of the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents will expire and Governor Walker will nominate two people to serve seven year terms on the Board. (Also, two student Regents who will serve shorter terms.) Those individuals will appear before the Senate Education Committee. It will be an opportunity for Senators to ask these nominees about their understanding of higher education and support for academic freedom and tenure, research on climate change and evolution. They can also be asked about whether they support stem cell research, and if they believe that the UW Medical School should continue to train its students in abortion procedures. They will surely be asked their position on political parties soliciting emails from faculty members.

The Senate Education Committee will then make a recommendation to the full Senate about whether to confirm these individuals to serve as members of the Board of Regents.

These two new Regents will join a seasoned Board of Regents who have learned, through years of service, about the complexities of higher education and the traditions of public higher education in Wisconsin.

After July 1, if the Biddy Martin/Scott Walker proposal for the UW-Madison to leave the UW System becomes law, Governor Walker will appoint 11 members of the newly created board of trustees. This appointments will be made by the Governor knowing they will not be subject to a public hearing and subjected to the questions the Board of Regents members might have been asked. These individuals will immediately constitute a majority of the board.

The Scott Walker board will likely support significant tuition increases, consistent with the conservative philosophy of smaller government, with an emphasis on individual responsibility to pay for benefits they receive. If the next governor is a Democrat the new governor will have a majority in his or her first term. That liberal board will undoubtedly focus on access to higher education, and will very likely oppose significant tuition increases. Long terms of service are designed to prevent this kind of abrupt policy reversal. That is why the UW System Board of Regents have seven year terms. Even if the number of years per term is increased, the current language reflects an alarming lack of understanding of public higher education by the people who proposed it.

The Scott Walker board members will not become part of a governing body that has a tradition of almost 40 years of supporting academic freedom. They will establish their own traditions and will do so in a climate of unprecedented mistrust and partisanship. The UW-Madison, in its quest for greater autonomy, will have left behind a board which has defended academic freedom for almost 40 years.

When Alexis de Tocqueville visited our country in the 1830s he marveled at the democratic traditions that had already been established here. He called them “habits of the heart.” Academic freedom is a “habit of the heart” for the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents. They have done it so well we take it for granted. The new board will inherit the language from Chapter 36 of the Wisconsin Statutes, but none of the tradition of the people who served before them.

If the Biddy Martin/Scott Walker proposal becomes law, the UW-Madison will have become “independent” from the other UW System universities, its legislative allies, and will have also gained “independence” from a strong and supportive Board of Regents.

It will acquire a different kind of dependence. Because of the appointment of majority of board members by Scott Walker, without Senate review and confirmation, it will have become much closer to and dependent upon the current and future Governors.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Monday, April 11, 2011

An Alternative Proposal

In a recent post, I explained that there are viable ways to deal with significant budget cuts while providing a high-quality postsecondary education to students at UW-Madison and throughout Wisconsin. Here, I expand further on that option.

There are several things that academics in the Research I world tend to hold dear. These include a low student/faculty ratio, autonomy to decide what one teaches and when, and a reward structure that emphasizes on research accomplishments over teaching accomplishments. I want to suggest that while these are important values in many ways, they come into conflict with undergraduate learning.

To be more specific:

(1) Keeping the student/faculty ratio small is intended to make sure students get a lot of attention from faculty. It's often interpreted to mean that classes are small and advising frequent, and thus is a marker of quality. Yet as many freshmen would attest, even when the ratio is low, classes are large and faculty interaction infrequent.

(2) Decision-making authority over teaching is intended to allow faculty to teach what they are best at teaching, giving them the ability to connect their research to teaching in meaningful ways, helping them stay motivated and engaged, etc. But it also means that often students don't know who will teach what and when. It also doesn't do anything to make sure that faculty are teaching the things they're truly good at teaching.

(3) The reward structure (including tenure) places more emphasis on research than teaching. This is more true in some parts of universities than others, but overall it's accepted. Also, in public institutions it's common to emphasize scholarship rather than fundraising, partly because of concerns that scholarship shouldn't be driven by fundraising and partly because opportunities for fundraising are inequitably distributed across areas of study. This provides too little incentive for faculty to devote a lot of time to learning to teach effectively (time is a very scarce resource), and also to pursue grant funds that could provide postions for undergraduates and grad students on research studies.

So those are some of the problems. What are some possible solutions, and in particular how might they save us money without turning the UW into a place faculty don't want to be?

(1) Increase the student/faculty ratio from 13:1 to 19:1. Do this with a combination of admitting and retaining more students and over time reducing the size of the faculty a little. As I explained in my prior post, this saves a ton of money, and we can even afford to increase faculty salaries and student support services somewhat.

(2) Grow the size of classes where the students enrolled have the fewest remedial needs. Do this in a data-driven way-- try it out (experimentally-- with random assignment), collect data and evaluate the effects. Try doing this with upper-level students in particular.

(3) Give faculty the incentives and support to learn to teach more effectively and efficiently using technology (see below for how to pay for it). Reward them for doing so (e.g. make this more important to tenure decisions, and to awards given to senior faculty). This will increase capacity to teach larger classes and to do it well.

(4) Demand that all departments carefully coordinate the provision of required courses. Strike a better balance between giving faculty choices about when/what they teach, and what students need.

(5) Increase the grant buyout rate, so that the university gets more money when a professor is released from a course. Use that money to support professional development (see above). I say this knowing it will anger many, and hurt myself- but it's too cheap in many areas of the university to get out of teaching. Make this a nuanced rule however-- release people for prestigious fellowships and activities that will really support their scholarship AND teaching, but make it more expensive to be released solely to work on a single project.

(6) Give faculty incentives to fundraise. For example, change tenure guidelines so that in areas where grant opportunities abound, professors are expected to raise at least a minimal amount of money by the time they go up. Do this carefully, by first working with faculty to assess the landscape in a field and update it every few years. In areas where grant opportunities are not plentiful, consider whether fellowships and scholarships are. To be clear, the goal is to measure success relative to opportunities-- if you are a "star" is it reasonable to expect you to have earned at least one accolade (that comes with at least some funds) during your tenure period? This will help bring more money into the university, offset the cost of faculty salaries, improve rankings, and provide more opportunities for students. Another idea is to start giving a small percentage of indirects to PIs-- as many other institutions do.

(7) Assign faculty to mentor undergraduates. Praise them for doing so. In particular, I urge UW to consider assigning a faculty member to each Pell grant recipient. This would require perhaps 2 hours of work for each professor each month, and would make much better use of our Pell dollars and increase graduation rates. We could be first in the nation for doing this, and I'm betting it would also improve faculty/student relations.

There are cost savings associated with all of these steps. There are benefits to both faculty and students. Yes, there are some costs to. Every new way of doing work comes with these.

This is the kind of thinking we need to be doing to solve our current dilemmas. Flexibility and control over our existing money is not going to improve the quality of undergraduate education. That should be our focus right now. Nothing-- nothing-- is more important to Wisconsin's future.

The Consequences of Speaking Out

I am under attack

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Educators need to stop telling students what they should learn and should start asking them what they want to learn. How crazy an idea is that?

I am in London as I write this. I have been riding the trains to get to places like Brighton and Sunbury for business meetings. I love riding trains.

Now, ordinarily the fact that I love trains would be of little interest to anyone, but there is more to the story.

Some years ago, when I was trying to get my father, who was over 80 and visiting me at the time, to do something he didn’t want to do, I told him we could ride the Chicago subway to get there and he immediately agreed.

OK. So my father and I both like trains. I loved riding down to Florida when I was a kid and waking up in Jacksonville after an all night trip from New York and seeing the sun shine and feeling warmth everywhere. My father and I rode together while my mother slept in a sleeping compartment. My love of trains started early. So just childhood unconscious emotional stuff right?

Except both of my grandsons, ages 5 and 3 as I write this love trains. Actually obsessed with trains is more like it. One lives in New York City and the other in Washington D.C. They each know every train and route in their respective cities and generally demand to watch trains when I play with them on Grandparent Games.

Is there a train-loving gene? Certainly it would have to be a very recent mutation, so it is a silly idea. And besides, my daughter, whose son is the 5 year old in New York, never seemed to be fascinated by trains.

Of course, I left out my son, the one who has a PhD in transportation and runs a Transportation policy think tank in Washington. My son was so obsessed with trains as a kid that when I showed him the Paris Metro when he was 10 (we had just moved there for a year) he said “why have you been keeping this from me?”

Train gene or not, the point of this story is to talk about education of course, and to talk about how school needs to be re-structured. My son did fine in high school but he wasn’t passionate about much. He decided he wanted to be a history major when he arrived at Columbia University as a freshman. (He chose Columbia because there were trains he ride there of course. He almost died when I suggested Cornell or Princeton.)

I was (and am) a non-typical father, one who always felt happy to direct my children’s pursuits and one who was a college professor and knew a bit about universities. So I told him history was off the table as I saw no point in studying it, and that he should major in subways. He was shocked. “How do you major in subways?” he asked. I said I was sure there were people who did transportation at Columbia and to find them. He signed up for a graduate seminar in his first semester there (putting off a required humanities course) and figured it out from there, later going to MIT for a Masters in Transportation and returning to Columbia for the PhD.

My son loves his work because he is, and always was passionate about trains (and later on planes).

Schools need to allow children of any age to follow their passions. Educators need to stop telling students what they should learn and should start asking them what they want to learn. How crazy an idea is that?

As for the genetics I don’t care really. But there is solid male line of train loving in my family.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Call Off Biddy and Her Goons

The Badger Advocates have begun their work, and ladies and gents, it's not pretty.

Wonder what the New Badger Partnership will really do to relations throughout the state and the image of UW-Madison?

Look no further than the Badger Advocate's latest statement, slamming UW System President Kevin Reilly for misstating the size of the enormous budget cut planned for UW System. For pete's sake, Brandon calls President Reilly "intellectually dishonest" and accuses System leadership of stupidity!

Had Brandon simply asked President Reilly why he said System was taking a $340 million cut instead of a $250 million cut, he would have gotten a very reasonable answer. The $250 million is a cut to System's operating budget, but there's another $90 million cut to the UW System in the 2011-13 budget, reflecting higher health/retirement contributions. It's money removed from System's budget because it's removed from their employees paychecks. Given the challenges that all System institutions face in recruiting and retaining faculty, this second cut matters just as much as the first, as it will fuel outflow of talent and undermine the ability to educate students.

The childish name-calling Brandon engaged in is but one effort initiated by Chancellor Biddy Martin and her team in the last week, intended to alienate and shame all those who do not agree with her initiative.

Her other efforts include:

--Inappropriately urging her faculty, staff, and students to take political action if they agree with her. The clear implications of this message, sent via university email, is that enough discussion's been had and now it's time to act. Except this violates tenants of shared governance and simply isn't true-- the faculty and students are divided not united on these issues, and having the Chancellor lean on her campus isn't helpful.

--Vice-Provost Aaron Brower said at a Wednesday night forum that perhaps the reason the Regents hadn't proposed a public authority model is that they do not wish to relinquish their own powers as a board. (To clarify, Aaron is a friend and a very good person trying to deal with a tough situation- I am NOT calling Aaron a goon.)

--I've been in three different campus meetings where students indicated being told that if the NBP does not pass, Kevin Reilly will take action against Madison and its faculty and students in retribution for Biddy's actions.

This is nuts. Anyone who's ever met Kevin Reilly or a regent knows how crazy these accusations are. They hold open discussions and follow the rules, they don't sneak around or try to intimidate people, and they do not intentionally lie. Sure they are imperfect and System doesn't run as well as it could-- but that does not excuse the attacks being initiated by UW-Madison's leadership right now.

Lest you think I'm being unfair to attribute these actions to Biddy, recall that at a recent PROFS meeting, Badger Advocates Brandon and Pete said explicitly that their only mission was to act on behalf of Biddy Martin, to advocate for whatever direction she thought was best for the UW. Asked if they would continue to act on behalf of a future chancellor, both men demured, and Pete said "We were formed to do what Biddy needs done."

This is not what leadership looks like. It's one thing for independent citizens to write about their own opinions in emails, blogs, comments online, etc. That's freedom of speech. It's another thing entirely for a university leader to act to destroy relations throughout a state. Chancellor Martin should be stopped.

UPDATED on Saturday April 8 with some key budgetary details.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

More on "Holding Low Income Families Harmless"

One of the central claims made by proponents of the New Badger Partnership is that the policy will maintain or even enhance access to Wisconsin's public flagship by holding families making less than $80,000 harmless from tuition increases.

That claim relies on several assumptions:

(1) Families understand, or can be educated to understand, tuition discounting. In other words, you have to believe that all families in Wisconsin will come to know that the real cost of Madison will equal sticker price minus financial aid.

(2) Increases in tuition will always be tied to increases in financial aid as part of a conscious financing strategy and not occur as a stop-gap measure in response to a fiscal crisis (for example caused by an unexpected decline in state contributions or shortfall in foundation funds).

(3) Demand for a UW-Madison education is relatively inelastic.

(4) UW-Madison will continue to have a significant capacity to price discriminate (e.g. to offer much bigger discounts to some students compared to others).

Let's consider the merits of each assumption in turn.

Assumption #1: Sticker shock can be overcome. I have expressed great skepticism this is possible mainly because there isn't any evidence of a sticker shock campaign that's worked, and because a misunderstanding of discounting pervades many aspects of society (e.g. how many people know that you don't often pay MSRP for a car?).

Assumption #2: Increases in tuition will always be made thoughtfully and the UW-Madison will always increase aid as much as it increases tuition. This is key, for as University of Pennsylvania and famous political philosopher Amy Gutman has written:

"A morally troubling risk of a high-tuition, full scholarship policy is that in times of austerity, the two parts of the policy may be decoupled...The risk cannot be eliminated without doing away with democracy or the autonomy of universities, but it can be minimized by policies that tie tuition to levels of support...The commitment to economic nondiscrimination is thereby expressed by a single policy, rather than being the coincidence of two policies with independent rationales."

The statutory language of the NBP treats tuition and financial aid as separate pieces, and does not speak of them as dependent on one another. Moreover, there is nothing in the NBP that would commit the Board of Trustees to maintain a very close tie between tuition and aid over the long term. Simple statements like "modest" increases and "affordable" education do not a commitment make.

Assumption #3: Demand for a UW-Madison education will continue to grow, despite these changes. This is generally reasonable, but there isn't much evidence to suggest this will continue to be true for high-achieving residents if prices get closer to the levels charged by private, out-of-state institutions. In other words, as we become less of a good deal, they may go elsewhere. And, there's little reason to think that offering a lot more aid is going to make a big enough difference in the numbers of low-income students enrolled at Madison to offset the potential loss of other students.

Assumption #4: UW-Madison's students and their families will tolerate significant price discrimination. There is already some pushback from students who feel it's unfair that they have to pay full price while others get a deep discount. That divide will grow further. Moreover, the difference in res/nonres tuition will also expand.

To claim that the NBP will hold low-income students harmless and even increase affordability is to believe that all four assumptions hold. Do you?