Higher Education

Michael Carnuccio | July 11, 2015

Free Market Friday: Efficiency or bust

Michael Carnuccio

As Oklahoma legislators completed their budget deliberations this year, we heard the usual chorus from critics complaining that education was being shortchanged. Much criticism came from those in higher education, who perpetually demand more tax dollars and tuition increases.

Before shelling out more money for state colleges and universities, we should ask some simple questions, like: Are we getting our money’s worth now?

The answer emerged with stark clarity from a report written by Richard Vedder and Anthony Hennen of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, which conducts the research for Forbes’ annual “America’s Top Colleges” rankings.

Dollars and Sense: Assessing Oklahoma’s Public Universities revealed at least two disturbing trends.

First, we are paying more each year to hire college and university administrators who rarely go near a classroom. Secondly, a great many faculty members teach few students while receiving handsome salaries.

Oklahoma’s average higher education spending per student is more than $31,000 annually. Yet only $8,564 of those dollars are allocated for instructional spending. Why?

Oklahoma has 2.53 nonteaching staff members for every teacher, more than 10 percent higher than the national average.

Even worse, while higher education staffing per student across the nation declined by 10 percent from 1999 until 2011, in Oklahoma we actually increased staffing by some 5 percent.

So we are hiring more administrators who teach no one.

So what about those who do teach?

At our flagship universities, a small proportion of them seem to be doing most of the work.

“Large numbers of faculty carry modest teaching loads, yet also have modest research accomplishments,” report authors said. “If the bottom 80 percent of the faculty taught as much as the top 20 percent, universities could operate with demonstrably fewer faculty members and reduce tuition costs dramatically.”

There is plenty of inefficiency in higher education, as Purdue University President Mitch Daniels is quick to acknowledge.

“This place was not built to be efficient,” Daniels said. “(But) you’re not going to find many places where you just take a cleaver and hack off a big piece of fat. Just like a cow, it’s marbled through the whole enterprise.

“Higher education has to get past the ‘take our word for it’ era,” he said. “Increasingly, people aren’t.”

Michael Carnuccio

Former OCPA President

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