The Adjuncting of Academia: Reflections on the Increasingly Temporary Nature of Work

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Michelle Togut

Michelle Togut resides in North Carolina with her husband and pets. She has worked as an adjunct professor of history, contributor and writer, and small-firm attorney, among other things. These days, she's trying to sell real estate. For fun, she reads political blogs of all persuasions, practices yoga, drinks wine, hikes, reads, and volunteers for a local animal rescue.

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151 Responses

  1. Avatar Patrick says:

    It’s almost as if a “university education” is about… something else… for most of the people buying…Report

  2. Avatar TrexPushups says:

    I have blamed funding cuts for tuition rise for quite a while but it looks like I was wrong.

    http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2014/06/increases-law-school-undergraduate-tuition-due-cuts-state-funding-higher-edReport

    • I looked into it a while back for a Monday Trivia, and it actually is the case that cuts have been made for undergraduate college on a per-student basis. Some have suggested that the cuts are actually even larger because a lot of the non-student-generated revenue is dedicated to specific projects. I don’t know.

      But while per-student spending has been cut – and even then, not enough to justify the rising costs – I have yet to see good facts and figures about overall state spending going anywhere but up. A lot of it could be a matter of the same state budget simply being split more ways as more people go to college?Report

      • States typically have a “big six” of programs that account for the very, very large majority of General Fund spending: K-12 education; Medicaid; other health and welfare; prisons/courts/police; transportation; higher ed. Most states have reached the political limits of how fast revenues can grow. In any representative state budget time series, K-12 education and Medicaid are both growing faster than total revenues, so take an ever-increasing share of the pie. Of the other four categories, higher ed funding usually has the least protection. QED.

        I claim the handwriting was on the wall by the mid-1990s, and that it was clear then that higher ed was only a recession or two away from being in serious trouble. When the Great Recession hit Colorado state revenues, the legislature’s Joint Budget Committee seriously raised the issue of simply getting the state out of the higher ed business entirely.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      As far as I can tell the rise in college tuition mainly comes from the fact that students can take out practically as much as they want in the form of student loans easily. Colleges charge what they think they can get away with because of this. The other issue is that many administrators are looking at colleges as a way to personal enrich themselves and give gifts to their friends. Its a higher educational Tammany Hall.Report

      • Avatar morat20 says:

        As far as I can tell the rise in college tuition mainly comes from the fact that students can take out practically as much as they want in the form of student loans easily
        Laying aside the elite institutions that deliberately keep enrollment levels small, wouldn’t a situation like you describe lead to colleges competing on cost to attract more students?

        It’s been my experience that ‘affordability’ is a fairly large part of a student’s decision matrix when choosing a college.Report

      • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

        @morat20

        It’s just supply and demand. Supply of high quality university seats doesn’t expand that quickly. Demand is increasing quickly, and the availability of big pools of student loan money blows it up that much more. Universities do compete on price–that’s what keeps tuition from eating up the entire present discounted value of the expected salary gains from a college education. That doesn’t change the fact that as it is, if we pour another $1B into the demand side, most of it will just be soaked up in increased prices with every little expansion in capacity in the short run. Arming all sides in a bidding war for fixed resources has turned out not to be such a great policy.

        Sure, Harvard has the money to buy up a bunch of land and massively increase its ability to handle students, but would it still be Harvard if it did that? There’s a difference between French Laundry and Denny’s, and it’s not just that French Laundry refuses to expand and put in more seats to meet demand. They operate with two different purposes in mind, even though those purposes can be simplified to, “feed people.”Report

      • Avatar morat20 says:

        It’s not, I don’t think. Universities are, in general, rapidly expanding. A few (Rice, Harvard, and a few others) don’t expand to meet the actual growth in students because they, for one reason or another, limit the sizes of incoming classes.

        Bidding up those prices would make sense (except for the fact that it’s not theoretically price, but merit/ability that gets you in).

        But state supported schools and community colleges? They’ve all expanded enormously, and I just don’t see enough difference between number of applicants and number of acceptances to spark a bidding war.

        Not to mention, again, it’s really hard to say it’s a ‘bidding war’ — and thus driving up prices — when colleges aren’t actually auctioning off freshman slots to the highest bidder!Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

        @morat20

        Colleges seem to compete on amenities instead of slashing costs. I think this is largely because of the US News Rankings. The rankings have turned all universities national if not global. There is no room for a school to take pride in being a well-respected, workaday local institution because that is totally lame-o and won’t be respected.

        My law school and the connected university are a good example of this. USF spent decades if not over a century education local youths and supplying much of the Bar and Bench of the Bay Area. There was always HYS but everyone respected workaday USF. Not anymore.Report

      • Avatar morat20 says:

        Saul:

        Except community colleges are seeing heavy price inflation too, as well as schools not on any top-100 lists.

        It honestly looks exactly like what the article pointed out. It looks a lot like ballooning CEO pay, you know? Colleges don’t pay dividends, and while they compete for students, it’s not like getting worse students means less income — there’s plenty of turnover and demand is solid enough that any moderately decent university is going to have a solid number of students.

        College sports is probably another money sink — aside from a very few universities, football and basketball (primarily) are money sinks. Football especially. A FEW universities might make that money back from alumni and ticket sales, but most are just a money hole.

        Not that I’ve got anything against college sports, but football as an example — it costs ridiculous amounts of money, basically being an NFL filter and 4-year training camp spending almost NFL levels of cash — without the NFL income.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        Morat20, its a seller’s market. The students need a college education more than the colleges need them. Millions of college eligbile and not eligible people aren’t simply going to stop going to college because its expensive. They accept the concept that a college education is necessary for material prosperity. This gives colleges much ability to charge whatever the market can bear because of easy money from student loans.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        There are also the for-profit colleges. Most of the for profit colleges are really no frills affairs but they are some of the worst abusers of the system.Report

      • Attracting more and better students is huge. Including at state universities. Including universities you would probably look at and say “Why would they bother?”

        They bother because they want to be the best university they can be. That’s defined, in part, by who enrolls. So they gear their practices towards enrolling the best students. In my alma mater’s case, it means attracting more traditional students. It means attracting students with high GPA’s.. It means getting more people to apply so that they can be rejected so that it looks like the school is selective. Better amenities. Spending $50 million 2001 dollars to build a ginormous rec center. Scratching plans to build tower dorm housing and instead building apartment housing.

        It’s similar at my father-in-law’s university, where he was a professor until recently. The university is spending money right and left to be more attractive than the other directional univesities and more comparable to the more statewide institutions (U of State and State State U and such). Cutting costs? That will attract just the wrong kinds of students.

        I’ve read of even junior colleges doing this.

        You mention athletics programs and that’s exactly the most conspicuous example of this. A relatively small part of a school’s budget, but a very noticeable one. They know they’re losing money, but it’s all a part of the same arms race. It costs millions and millions of dollars, but it raises the schools’ profile and will hopefully attract more and better students. There is some disagreement over how much it actually does this, but in this regard their shooting in the dark. (James Joyner commented that he was actually very skeptical of Troy’s plan to advance to FBS, but that he felt he had actually been proven wrong and that it did turn out to be a worthwhile venture in terms of prestige and attention… and that’s in the lowly Sun Belt Conference.)Report

      • Avatar morat20 says:

        Morat20, its a seller’s market. The students need a college education more than the colleges need them. Millions of college eligbile and not eligible people aren’t simply going to stop going to college because its expensive. They accept the concept that a college education is necessary for material prosperity. This gives colleges much ability to charge whatever the market can bear because of easy money from student loans.

        Then where’s the money GOING? For-profit’s, I get. Sports? CEO/admin pay? As noted here — it’s not going to most of the faculty. It’s not getting kids a better education.

        And why aren’t there schools competing on price, for that matter? Loans are still money, and even 19 year olds grasp the concept of ‘repayment with interest’?Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

        @morat20

        I agree with Lee and Will. My undergrad alma mater is a prestigious one with a long and storied history. I was able to admitted off the wait list in 1998 with all over the map grades, great after-school activities, and good but not amazing SAT scores (1310).

        I doubt I would get in today. There was a baby boom with the Millennials and there are seemingly more students who do it all with perfect grades, stellar board scores, and amazing after school activities. David Brooks called these kids resume builders and there seem to be plenty of these kids who do not get into any of the 12-15 schools that they apply for. In my day, they would have been able to get into at least three or four of them.

        The market is also international. USF for their undergrads has decided it is more desirable to attract rich international students than be a workaday university. There was a scandal about the English language ability of admitted international students.

        Read “Paying for the Party: How College Promotes Inequality”. Colleges would rather educate the less intelligent children of the rich over being a relatively Spartan place that educates at affordable rates. The rich provide more in alumni donations.

        Shame of the Nation I say.Report

      • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

        But state supported schools and community colleges? They’ve all expanded enormously, and I just don’t see enough difference between number of applicants and number of acceptances to spark a bidding war.

        I’d like to see the data on this. As far as I can tell, they’ve expanded, but there has also been an unprecedented percentage of students who want to go to college. Have they expanded enough? Top state schools seem to be getting more and more selective, at least here in California.

        Also, state schools and private schools are substitutes, so when private school prices go up, state school prices should be expected to go up absent a mandate from the state to keep prices at a given level. I imagine it’s politically hard to justify keeping tuition low in the face of rising market rates because it increases the amount of subsidy that the tax payer is paying (at least on paper). “We’re giving them $25K in value for $7K! That’s $18K of taxpayer money!” Doubly so when state budgets are tight.

        Not to mention, again, it’s really hard to say it’s a ‘bidding war’ — and thus driving up prices — when colleges aren’t actually auctioning off freshman slots to the highest bidder!

        You can’t get around supply and demand. My model looks like this: There’s a demand curve for “people who want to go to Harvard.” The vast majority of them aren’t in the top X% of students, so we whack those people and we get a new demand curve for “People who want to go to Harvard and are good applicants.” That’s still a demand curve. At almost any conceivable cutoff for “good” you’ll sill have more butts than chairs. In that pool of “good” students, draw out the number of chairs they’d occupy at any price point and you’ll get a downward sloping demand curve that eventually intersects the number of chairs at Harvard. Give all of those “good” students $10K to spend for Harvard tuition, and that demand curve should move up by $10K across the board.Report

      • @troublesome-frog The supply/demand relationship in higher ed is complex, in multiple directions. Non-elite private schools (GWU and Richmond are documented cases, IIRC) discovered that not only will raising the sticker price not reduce applicants but can increase them.

        My own alma mater has higher tuitions than the state flagship, despite the latter being more prestigious. A slightly different dynamic, but certainly indicative to me of either an indifference to price or a desire for applicants that aren’t scared of a higher price tag.

        Which also leads me to believe that the student loan component here is actually over-stated by many. I suspect the most desirable students don’t even need student loans. Where they do some in to play, however, is as an enabler of some universities’ ambitions. My alma mater may want first and foremost students who don’t need student loans, but a whole lot of this is being funded by the students who do.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        Will, how many people could afford $25,000 to $40,000 a year tuition plus room and board without student loans? Probably not enough to fill a class at a small college or university.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

        @will-truman

        I would say GWU and Richmond are semi-elite.

        Interestingly when I applied to college, I was rejected by George Washington and similar schools off the bat but got waitlisted and eventually into more prestigious SALC like Vassar (alma mater), Colby (who strongly implied they would admit me for the Winter term), Connecticut, Skidmore, etc. There were also SALCs that rejected me like Oberlin.Report

      • Avatar j r says:

        And why aren’t there schools competing on price, for that matter?

        Schools are competing on price, just not the way that you would like them to compete. See the example of Ursinus, the school that raised its tuition to attract more applicants (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/12/education/12tuition.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0).

        For the most part, students don’t want a discount education experience (at least not the kinds of students that colleges want to attract). Kids want the bells and whistles and the prestige of attending a certain kind of school and parents want to be able to tell people that their kids attend a certain kind of school.

        As with many of our supposedly impenetrable economic and policy conundrums, we have met the enemy and he is us.Report

      • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

        @patrick ,

        Saying that “firms compete on price” is an oversimplification in every market. We could do a similarly complex analysis for the factors that determine which people eat at which restaurants, why, and how much they’re willing to pay for the experience and whether the restaurant wants to attract that particular type of customer. It doesn’t follow that the price of competing isn’t ultimately a factor in how much the pool of customers they end up trying to attract is willing to pay for their services.

        I do think that we have an unhealthy cultural tendency to value certain things over price in the college education market, but that’s a different question. If Harvard was the only university in its tier (in terms of social prestige, quality, etc.), it would probably fill the same number of seats with a very similarly excellent student body at a higher price tag, and it would certainly be happy to absorb every penny of money we give to those students thinking we were helping to make it more affordable.Report

        • Avatar Patrick says:

          If Harvard was the only university in its tier (in terms of social prestige, quality, etc.), it would probably fill the same number of seats with a very similarly excellent student body at a higher price tag, and it would certainly be happy to absorb every penny of money we give to those students thinking we were helping to make it more affordable.

          Hrm. It would certainly fill the same number of seats (although it would probably have plans to expand somewhat). It would have a higher price tag, because the folks who go to all the schools like Harvard for the reasons they go to those schools would all be vying for spots at Harvard, so the default price would go up, to the extent that they’d be pulling from a larger pool of students, more of whom would have more money. And yes, they certainly would be happy to absorb the money we threw in there to increase access to Harvard.

          But the problem with this hypothetical is that there are clearly more students who go to schools like Harvard than Harvard could absorb, so some other school would wind up competing for those students. And, because there would still be as many places out there looking to hire folks from “Harvard and schools like Harvard”, the “schools like Harvard” window would have to be expanded, because they gotta hire folks to fit. Who would pick who the competitors to Harvard were? The Students would choose at one end and the Employers at the other. Either way, you’d find a new unstable equilibrium.

          You can’t artificially restrict that. Employers gotta hire. Social status spots that require a university of foo marker will find enough university of foo markers to be their markers, or they’ll find something other than a university of foo marker to be that marker.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        tf,
        no, Harvard’s composition would change radically.
        They would need more room for the “GWBs” of the world.
        (ooh! I autocensored myself. You’re welcome!)Report

      • Avatar morat20 says:

        Again, though — wouldn’t Harvard (and “others like Harvard”) be competing not for price, but for student quality?

        Again, kids don’t bid their way into limited Harvard seats.

        Harvard wants the best students, to help keep their reputation. Raising prices would price some of the ‘good’ students they want out of the school, defeating their primary goal (they’re not a for-profit). Now, they can (and do) offer massive subsidies for students that can’t afford their prices. But isn’t Harvard the one with an endowment so big they could basically offer college for free, in perpetuity?

        So why charge so much a year?

        And that flows down to lesser schools, all of whom want to attract the best students they can (based on the college’s reputation, not price) — reputation that’s built on the quality of students they attract.

        So why the high prices? Higher than they need? (College’s actual costs haven’t gone up that much, I don’t think. Certainly not on faculty costs).

        Student loans might make sticker shock smaller (it’s borrowed, not out of pocket), but you’d STILL think they’d want to keep the costs down to make themselves look like a better choice for quality students. (And remember, they can — and DO — filter students by criteria that has nothing to do with ‘ability to pay for college’).

        Obviously they want the money, they have a use for the money, they spend the money. There’s some countervailing trend to push prices up when lower prices would give them a wider applicant pool to cherry pick for the best students (thereby raising their reputation).

        Sports is one — our local community college had their hand caught in the academic till several times (sports program was barred from using tuition fee money) until the entire sports program got canned. (Local watchdog audit groups kept catching it. Heck, they tried to hide the money transfer in the landscaping fees. Someone quickly noticed the MASSIVE increase in costs to landscape the same area). They have athletics programs, but no competitive teams.

        I’d imagine that level of shenanigans (except better done) exists going up the chain to the bigger colleges.

        Administrative costs is apparently another — college Presidents appear to have CEO-level compensations, at least in terms of sheer disparity.Report

      • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

        I’m still not seeing how this all isn’t a case of “supply curves slope up, demand curves slope down.” We can go into all sorts of details about how steeply and why, but I don’t see how the basic mechanism is wrong for this market like some people have asserted here. The factors driving it may be complex and interesting, but the they are for most markets.

        Yes, there are the cases of schools raising tuition and increasing the number of applicants, but that’s not really a case of an upward sloping demand curve in a properly defined market so much as defining the market too broadly and not noticing that the increased tuition was a (successful) attempt to jump into a different market tier. To go back to the Harvard example, Harvard couldn’t do that because there’s no “next tier up” to signal that they’re entering into. Within the tier of schools that any school competes in, price is a consideration, and price of competitors is part of it.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        morat20,
        smart kids get free rides.Report

      • Avatar morat20 says:

        ’m still not seeing how this all isn’t a case of “supply curves slope up, demand curves slope down.” We can go into all sorts of details about how steeply and why, but I don’t see how the basic mechanism is wrong for this market like some people have asserted here. The factors driving it may be complex and interesting, but the they are for most markets.
        Let me dumb it down: The number of open college seats is not markedly higher (if higher at all) than the number of applicants. The ‘prestige’ of a college might matter to some, but costs have risen at ALL colleges, regardless of prestige. (An example: The local community college is not straining it’s ability to handle kids, yet it’s costs have increased pretty much identically in terms of growth as University of Texas).

        Therefore, it’s hard to say it’s supply/demand because the problem is at ALL colleges not just those in high demand.

        Second, you don’t buy admission to colleges. It’s not like College X has 1000 empty seats and they’re auctioned off. Nobody does that at all.

        Demand and supply in this case are independent of cost.(And again: All colleges, regardless of whether they have excessive applicants or not, seem to have had this problem with skyrocketing costs).

        Lastly, most colleges are not for-profit enterprises, therefore bidding up the cost doesn’t really buy them anything, unless they need the money for something.

        So, to sum up: Demand for college seats is not markedly higher than supply, except perhaps at top tier universities, yet college costs have risen for the whole system. “Supply and demand” might suffice for high-demand schools, but not all schools unless you posit a massive differential between the number of available slots and the number of applying students.

        Secondly, lacking a profit motive (and money not being a factor when applicants are accepted or denied), universities would have no reason to increase costs unless they (1) were rapidly expanding, which would lead to costs spiking then leveling not continuously rising or (2) needed the money for something else.

        (2) Being the critical question. Where’s it going? Not to most of the faculty.Report

      • Student loans might make sticker shock smaller (it’s borrowed, not out of pocket), but you’d STILL think they’d want to keep the costs down to make themselves look like a better choice for quality students. (And remember, they can — and DO — filter students by criteria that has nothing to do with ‘ability to pay for college’).

        As JR and I have mentioned, there are at least some specific cases where raising tuition rates increased rather than decreased applications. Even for non-Harvard institutions. (example, example)

        A lot of colleges thrive on exclusivity and lower price tags don’t particularly help with that. Not just cushy private schools. I used my own (public) alma mater as an example of a college that’s trying to change its student body to become more exclusive and less inclusive. The premium is on kids who are less price-conscious.

        Harvard needn’t worry about such things, though Harvard also needn’t worry about people being reluctant or unable to pay their tuition. Many are extremely rich, others will get whatever loans they need, and they can use the proceeds to help those who can’t afford it. They’re Harvard. They can do whatever they want. (Which is why I don’t consider Harvard a particularly good example in these conversations. There’s only one of those.)Report

      • Schools that are not the University of Texas are trying to keep up with the University of Texas. So they want everything to be as nice as possible. So then you have Texas Tech spending as much money as it can on facilities because that’s likely to be a better way to attract students than going the cheap route. Houston wants to be right up there with Texas Tech, so they pour money into their athletics program and spend gobs of money trying to upgrade their campus with nice dorms and gyms. Sam Houston State wants to compete with Houston, so they do the same sort of thing.

        These schools could say “But we will try to be The Budget University! We’ll get those students that want to save money!” It’s pretty unclear which students those schools would yield, though. It’s also risky, because without the facilities and all that jazz they could find themselves competing down instead of up.

        The junior college thing is interesting. They, too, are gussying themselves up:

        Thomas Coley, Ivy Tech chancellor for the state’s north central and northwest region, said his school is in “catch-up mode” to offer services like other community colleges.

        Critics of Mr. Coley’s master plan, which included a new performing-arts center, question if these expenditures are the best use of funds in an era of cash-strapped budgets. But Mr. Coley maintains that these purchases will pay off in the long run.

        “There is much greater emphasis on student engagement and student retention,” he said, who also added funds for a student-life director and more events on campus. “It’s all part of our development of student life.”

        I have no idea where all of the money is going, as I don’t think this is all of it. You’re right that it’s not going to the professors. But when you can raise the money to spend, it’s not at all hard to find ways to spend it.Report

      • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

        Let me dumb it down: The number of open college seats is not markedly higher (if higher at all) than the number of applicants.

        I’m going to challenge this claim. Or at least, I’ll rephrase it. At the current tuition level, supply meets demand. If the number of students who want to go to college skyrockets and the number of seats grows slowly, price will rise, but the observation you just made will still hold true. Prices clear markets.

        This is like noting that the number of gallons of gas demanded equals the number of gallons of gas supplied every week and wondering why the price of gas trends upward when there are no gas lines. The lack of gas lines is the result of selling gas at the market clearing price. If it was forced below that price, you’d see crazy lines.

        Second, you don’t buy admission to colleges. It’s not like College X has 1000 empty seats and they’re auctioned off. Nobody does that at all.

        Almost nothing is sold by auction. That doesn’t mean that supply and demand play no role in prices in general. If you think that, “How much money are my customers willing to spend?” isn’t on a seller’s mind when he’s thinking about prices or that giving buyers free (or cheap) money to buy that good doesn’t increase their willingness to spend, I’m not sure what to say.

        One of my economics professors was hired by a top ten university some years back to help them estimate the demand curve for their prospective student pool specifically to set tuition levels and (inextricably linked) aid package policies. Public schools are a little stickier because tuition is likely set partially by political concerns, but the process for arriving at an acceptable tuition number should be very much the same. High enough to extract maximum money from rich students and low enough that public and private aid can fill the rest of the seats.

        Secondly, lacking a profit motive (and money not being a factor when applicants are accepted or denied), universities would have no reason to increase costs unless they (1) were rapidly expanding, which would lead to costs spiking then leveling not continuously rising or (2) needed the money for something else.

        Well, there are definitely costs going up in different spots for different schools and some of it is very likely going to nice amenities. But I suspect that part of it is that university presidents send out regular letters to alumni proudly trumpeting their judicious management of their growing endowment (at least, mine does). A big part of what university management is evaluated on is the financial health of the university. And of course, as they’re executives who manage an institution with an ever increasing balance sheet, they should be paid “market rate” compared to executives of similarly sized organizations.

        Also, as you noted, state schools have substantially cut their subsidies, probably partially in response to state budget crises and partially because the alternatives have raised their prices. Another thing to remember is that in state schools, empty seats are good for the budget. Each marginal student is actually a money loser for the state, given the subsidies involved.

        I know that the state school my wife got her MS from a few years ago was aggressively canceling small classes that they would have held open a few years before. They were also forcing students to graduate in some cases even when they wanted to take an extra few classes after they had technically filled their degree requirements. When you’re a crunched state school, raising tuition to create empty seats saves you operating costs and squeezes more dollars out of the remaining students you still have to service.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        @will-truman, I really think that an inordinate amount of the money from increased tuition is going to administrator pay and perks and or as a source of gifts to friends and family of the administrator. NYU is legendary for this. Its President is the highest paid in the nation and its recently been discovered that the son and daughter-in-law of NYU’s President receive a luxurious apartment courtesy of NYU even though neither of them are professors. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. receives a luxurious apartment in NY from NYU even though he teachers at Harvard. CUNY, a public university, has also been found to be very generous towards administrators and guest professors.

        There should be a systematic study on administrator pay and perks in American colleges and universities. The results are probably going to be pretty revealing for many different schools.Report

      • Avatar morat20 says:

        Ah, the same CEO arms race.

        “We have to offer [excessive salary/perks/etc]” to attract top talent because all the other universities do!

        Seriously, I bet you could get a much better deal. (Like the faculty that, tongue in cheek, submitted four names as a single applicant — pointing out that obviously all four of them could devote more time and specific skill to the job, and all four of their salaries combined weren’t even close to as much as they paid the last guy).Report

      • @leeesq The HuffPo article I link to below points to administrative bloat as a pretty significant cause. The pay at the top is probably an issue, though it’s worth noting that at the more conspicuous positions, people like Gates might easily be worth it. How well students are actually educated may or may not be of primary importance.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        @will-truman, the issue with the apartment for Gates is that Gates doesn’t even guest lecture at NYU. Its basically a free gift, an apartment for Gates to use in New York City for nothing in return.

        http://nypost.com/2014/05/15/why-nyu-gave-a-harvard-professor-a-cheap-nyc-apartment/

        NYU is a very extreme example of whats going on but administrative bloat doesn’t quite describe the problem well. Its more like using colleges to make yourself and your friends and acquaintances rich.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        Well, the Shame of the Nation, @saul-degraw , is that by 24 months ago, close to four million Americans had said that of all available choices, they preferred Rick Santorum to become the next President of these United States.

        (Unless you’re Canadian, in which case it’s Justin Bieber. Hey, nowhere is perfect.)Report

  3. Avatar j r says:

    I have a lot more to say on the specifics of the changing nature of college education and the changing nature of labor markets, but my initial reaction to this is something along the lines of, “isn’t this what we’ve been asking for the whole time?”

    If we want to get to the post-work economy, this is the road that gets us there. A post-work economy is one where technological advancements allow us to afford the same amount of consumption with less and less labor input. As the value of labor input drops, so do the number of jobs.

    A world in which everyone is guaranteed a formal, 40-hour a week job with a robust set of benefits is a world in which we’ve just decided to remain at the industrial stage of development or a world in which we’ve decided to hold onto a whole lot of make work. In other words, a world in which you are guaranteed 40 hours is a world in which you’ll never get to work less than 40 hours. Is it worth it?Report

    • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

      … a world in which you are guaranteed 40 hours is a world in which you’ll never get to work less than 40 hours. Is it worth it?

      I’ve understood this point perfectly well for a good while now, but I have never heard anybody phrase it so clearly. Very nice.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

      The question is how do we get to the less than 40 hour a week stage without massive amounts of suffering.

      The issue right now is that a lot of formally well-paying jobs with benefits are becoming unsecure, not well paying, and with zero benefits. This is not about a switch from the upper middle class to the middle class but switching from the upper-middle class to the lower middle class or worse. There are adjunct professors on food stamps.

      This is why people are concerned and cynical about a post-work economy. They are working less but not getting the same standard of living and seeing a radically reduced standard of living. Plus adjuncts work a lot harder for much less because they are still required to do office hours and grade papers and that is not extra compensation. It would be better if they got an hourly rate that included office hours and payment for grading papers.

      I am guessing that most people would choose 40-60 hours a week at 84K with vacation and benefits over less than 40 a week with no benefits or vacation and substantially less pay than 84K.Report

  4. Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

    I love the smell of hypocrisy in the morning!Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

      Sincere question:

      Who is being hypocritical? The admin or Michelle?Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        Not Michelle, not at all, she is just reporting on the facts on hand, and quite well, I might add (Thank you Michelle!).

        The university admins, but also the faculty who don’t seem interested in altering the status-quo as it is.Report

  5. Avatar Rufus F says:

    This is great article. It’s a bit different in Canada due to the unions for sessional instructors, but it can actually be a lot harder to get those temp jobs for that and other reasons. The bubble will last only as long as our credentialization mania. I used to joke in (American) grad school that being in the academic world felt a bit like being at Enron a year before the crash.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F says:

      I’d link to it if I could remember when it was, but I think Megan McArdle’s made a similar point about academics- wondering if they tend to be more critical of capitalism because they come up in such an exploitive environment.Report

      • Avatar kenB says:

        Here it is. I’m skeptical, but it’s an interesting theory.

        While googling for that, I came across this post that pointed out the incongruous reactions of several liberal, worker-friendly professors at Yale to the grad student unionization effort back in 1995 (hint: not positive). I was mixed up in that as well (luckily I wasn’t TAing when the grad student strike was called, so I was spared any difficult decisions), and the two professors I mostly dealt with reacted with a mixture of bemusement and disdain (but neither of them were liberals).Report

      • Avatar kenB says:

        (i made the mistake of including two links in a comment — hoping some kind front-pager will fish it out of the filter for me…)Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Idiotic theory. If anything, labs tend to run well if their PI is good with the money. If they aren’t… it’s going to suck.Report

  6. Avatar zic says:

    Awesome post, Michelle.

    This is what my husband does — he’s adjunct, teaching signal processing at a private university. (Signal processing = processing digital audio signal for people in the music industry.) First of all, he would probably not take a tenured job if it was offered; he’d prefer to keep teaching one or two classes a semester, and have the balance of time to work on his own projects and perform. At least in music, this is pretty common, too.

    That said, he’s also working on the cutting edge of fast-moving technology; the tenured faculty seems pretty rooted in the technology they were familiar with when the began working; so the older they are, the more outdated their technology is in a field that’s evolving at lightening speed. I realize that things don’t change so much in traditional curriculum, but it does seem the adjunct phenomena is wasting a lot of talent that could and should be going into keeping up with a changing world; but as a lowly adjunct, you will never be asked to develop the next class needed. Or you’ll be asked, but somebody else will take the credit (and pay) for the effort.Report

  7. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    Excellent post, Michelle.

    This is not only happening in university teaching but other professions as you noted. It is also happening in law. I have been a contract attorney for the past two years and one of the lucky ones by being directly hired instead of through a temp agency and being full-time or more.

    Universities need students at all levels from undergrad to grad. The problem is that we might be in an age of oversupply for all professions. I don’t believe in the so-called STEM shortage* and many others do not as well.

    The question is what is the proper amount of need for university professors**, lawyers, and other professionals. We might also have an MBA glut sooner rather than later. How do you get employers to reconsider hiring art history grads and/or how do you get people more interested in art history to study plumbing, electrical work, or accounting?

    There is a particular bit of job advice I hate that says “Don’t do X unless…” X can be law, the arts, grad school, etc. The problem is that the advice does not tell young students what they can do with their love of literature or art history or history and turn it into a different career. Or how to gain a career. It just steps up a large wall and leaves students equally clueless about how to launch a career.

    *The real thing is that it should be sTEm. The political leaders don’t want a nation of astrophsysicsts. They want a nation of people who can make the next app that attracts lots of venture capital and a killer IPO.

    **I do know a lot of artists who go on to use adjunct teaching as supplemental income. This is not only in their subjects but it can be something like teaching basic computer skills with an MFA or MA.Report

  8. Avatar Patrick says:

    Universities do compete on price–that’s what keeps tuition from eating up the entire present discounted value of the expected salary gains from a college education.

    I don’t think this is the case.

    First, it’s a gross oversimplification of the higher education market to conflate all of the institutions. What drives the decision-making at USC is different from what drives the decision-making at MIT or Caltech, which is different from what drives the decision-making at UCLA, which is different from what drives the decision-making at University of Montana (Missoula) or UNM or UNLV, and all of *that* is significantly different from what drives decision-making at University of the Online School of Get Your Degree, and that is different from your average community college.

    The stakeholder analysis is crazy complicated.

    Universities compete, essentially in all cases though, for the students. They’re competing for different types of students. They have overlapping competition for the particular students they like with other institutions, who are also competing for those students.

    They are not competing for *any* student. They are not competing for *all* students. They are competing for somewhere between 300 and 30,000 particular students.

    It’s important – no, vital – for you to understand that an institute of higher learning knows more about each member of their student population than any other organization on the planet knows about the people who are in it, with the possible exception of the NSA or some other really high security operation.

    They know more about their incoming and outgoing students than Google knows about you. Because they don’t have to infer and deduce and construct. They ask, and the students tell them everything. Even before they get in.

    The people who collate this information, particularly at very large institutions, know what their student body looks like in a way that no other provider of a good or service knows what their customers look like, except possibly Amazon for folks who have shopped exclusively on Amazon for ten years or more.

    The institutes then tailor their institution to continue to provide as many incentives to people who are in that prospective student pool to select, say, Oregon State over Oregon.

    Those students are selecting their institute of higher education (hah! their organizational alignment for the next four to five years) based upon an enormous number of factors.

    How close it is to home. How far away it is from home. What the sex ratio is. How much of a party school it is. What the graduation rate is. Whether or not it has their OMG I Want To Do This For The Rest of My Life Major. Whether or not they think they can get in. Whether or not their girlfriend or boyfriend is going there, or near to there. Whether or not their parents went there.

    And, it some cases, because that University is one of the very few flagship institutions for certain types of learning, or certain types of social standing privileges.

    So between two different universities that are competing for this subpopulation of students, the difference between “we get to reject more of the folks we don’t want and keep more of the folks that we do want” is really on the margins. Which is why, when you look at two comparable institutions that compete for the same student pool, you will see in the last ten-twenty years the shiny bling to push their institute over the top has exploded.

    Colleges nowadays are, in many cases, a combination of resort, spa, managed living community, restaurant court, condominium complex, all with blazingly fast internet and lots of beautiful young people walking around being beautiful.

    After *all that*, they select on price, because everything in the world hammers home that you should pick your college first upon “where you want to go” and then make the finances work.

    They’re a model of very complicated, perverse incentives.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

      Does USC still have a reputation as being a school for somewhat underachieving rich kids?Report

      • Avatar Patrick says:

        The “University of Spoiled Children”? Yes, they still call it that at UCLA anyway.

        I will say this, if you’re interested in becoming a middle manager or small business owner in Southern California, and you work the networking aspect of it, going to USC opens up a bunch of paths that no place else in SoCal does, not even UCLA.

        Also: they are a pretty good school, if you are into the enormous school gig.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

        I don’t deny that it is a good school and offers connections and benefits like that. This is one of the reasons students choose to attend particular schools.

        In NYC there is a private prep school called DWIGHT. We say it stands for Dumb White Into Getting High Together. Former students include Truman Capote and Paris Hilton!Report

  9. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    Another issue with universities is that there are several battles going on about their point and purpose and universities can’t decide which they are. Roughly speaking

    1. Are universities world class research institutes which basically work as IP factories to produce capital and work with industry?;

    2. Or are they supposed to teach students?

    One reason I liked being at a SALC for undergrad is that there were no grad students and the professors really did want to teach their classes.

    The debate in America is what is the point and purpose of education:

    1. To gain entry into the middle class or above in practical subject matters?;

    2. To develop a well-educated citzentry with a deep and loving curiosity about the world?

    I think that lots of people see the purpose has option 1 in both categories and that leads to adjunct hell. #1 in the first category leads to universities looking for super-star researchers and feeling like those who want to teach Freshman Comp or Senior Seminar in Lit are not of real value to the university especially if many students are majoring in practical subjects like business and engineering.Report

  10. Avatar James Hanley says:

    As one of those lucky tenured faculty, I honestly don’t give a crap about the plight of adjuncts. Quite literally, nobody is forcing you into it. And if you’re in a position to be an adjunct, you’re obviously intelligent and have talents that can find you employment elsewhere. Making a choice to adjunct at 3 or different schools simultaneously is a bad choice, I’d say. It’s too hard on a person, and is not a sustainable career option. (One of my former adjuncts, who became a good friend, did this, and got sick every term.) If after a few years it doesn’t lead to a permanent position, find a real job, and if you really like teaching, do adjuncting on the side for extra money. Don’t kill yourself to do a job you love, because then you’re doing the love your job thing all wrong.

    And I’m not persuaded the increase in adjuncts is itself problematic. An awful lot of intro classes are going to be run as relatively large lecture classes anyway (where “relatively large” is in relation to upper division classes at that particular institution). A lot of them could effectively be done as MOOCs. The school should put its permanent faculty to where they will provide the most advantage. And for the rest they should do whatever is cost-effective, and that includes paying adjuncts only what it takes to get a good one. Earning an advanced degree does not create an obligation on anyone else to pay you more than they need to.

    That said, I think departments are unwise to treat their adjuncts badly, just as any other business is. And let me emphasize that it’s the departments, not the university as a whole, that are the primary source of good or ill treatment, because they are (normally, at least) the point of contact between the institution and the adjunct. Bad adjuncts should not be mistreated, be should firmly be denied future teaching opportunities (assuming other qualified prospects are available). Good adjuncts should be treated well so you can keep them as long as they’re willing to be adjuncts. Your students will be more satisfied, you’ll get fewer complaints, and you’ll have reduced search costs. That’s just basic good management, but of course most academics don’t have good management as part of their skill set.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

      What about the rise of adjunct faculty as merely being merely an example of the rise in contract and contingency labor overall? More work with less pay and benefits?Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        See my symposium post. 😉Report

      • Including supply and demand; higher ed has been turning out far more PhDs than there are open positions that actually require a PhD for decades. It must have been 30 years ago now that physics depts were all telling students to stay on and get their PhDs because the existing faculty were all going to retire at 65 and leave huge gaping holes in the staff. As it turned out, those tenured faculty stayed on until they were much older.

        Math depts have also been long-notorious for the number of graduate students they take on. And they do it because there’s never been a prayer of getting all the incoming hard science and engineering students through calculus and a semester of differential equations without that army of slave laborgraduate teaching assistants. 30+ years ago the Texas legislature was considering a bill that would require all those entry-level classes to be taught by full faculty members in small sections. During testimony, the committee chair asked the head of the UT math dept what the effect would be. After he quit laughing, the dept head said that either he needed to triple the size of his faculty, or the engineering/science programs would have to teach their own calculus classes.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        At my Alma Mater, the COE wanted to teach it’s own math courses, but the Math department pitched a huge fit, saying they would not have enough people taking their classes to justify their current faculty & grad student levels without the COE students.Report

    • @james-hanley

      I agree with almost everything you’ve written here. I am aware of a joint tenure-contingent faculty unionization effort in Chicago, in which some of those issues, as well as broader objections to “bloated administration” are aired.

      Here’s a blog from someone who claims to be a union member and a dissenter about some of what that union has done: http://www.uicufdissenter.blogspot.com/Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      Well, I’m the quintessence of the adjunct that Professor @james-hanley is referring to. I do it for a combination of the extra money and the pleasure of teaching. I’ve written earlier that they don’t pay me to teach, they pay me to grade, so I’m willing to do the grading to get the work. But I have a day job and adjuncting comes a fairly well-spaced-back second place to that in my income profile. Basically it pays for Xmas gifts and spending money on those rare occasions when I can get a vacation from my day job.

      There is a guy who teaches for four different schools and is able to book himself out for between three to six classes every week. I think he’s nuts, but that’s the only thing he does for a living, and I guess there’s just no one else in the area that is qualified to teach in his field.

      What I don’t like is when adjuncts get rolled in to the massive bureaucratic tedium of quantifying the criteria for accreditation review, told to revise their syllabi and lesson plans (too often), and otherwise dragged down with the red tape that full-time faculty get to deal with. I deal with red tape in my day job all day long. You’re paying me $2,500 to not just grade awful papers and not just give up a night at home with my wife once a week but now, for the opportunity to maybe get $2,500 paid out over two months, you want me to fill out how many forms and go through how many rounds of revisions to the class I built for you from scratch the first time you told me what I needed to cover? And you want me to turn that around in less than a week, with no administrative support?

      I quit when they did that to me. I found a competing university that actually paid a little bit better and provided better support for the administrative and bureaucratic bs. Some of the bureaucracy is inevitable, I know, but these new folks seem to realize that this isn’t my full-time job and until they can reasonably be in a position to offer a full-time job, it’s not a realistic expectation that I do the non-teaching stuff that full-time faculty do. So they help me, and when they can’t put a full book of students in the class, they let me schedule the class at my office so I don’t have to drive out to their location.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        @burt-likko

        Some, although not all, of that red tape is driven by the U.S. Dep’t of Ed. We’re being pushed to the point where our jobs are increasingly becoming less about teaching and more about documenting our teaching.

        But, yes, if the school is going to make those kinds of demands of adjunct, and without administrative support, it’s time to part ways.

        I adjunct on-line for a CC, and this year they came down on me because I didn’t spend enough time each term designing the class I’ve been teaching every term for 5 years. They said, “it looks like you just copy over the course from one term to the next.” Well, yes, because Blackboard has this handy little function called “course copy.” And, literally, they’d be satisfied if instead of directly copying everything I just re-uploaded each individual piece each time I had a new course, because then they could look at my time in Blackboard and see that I’d been “working.” Efficiency, apparently, is not a concept with which they’re familiar.Report

  11. Avatar LWA says:

    I honestly don’t know what is driving the rise in tuition, but I also have never seen a good explanation for the data points that I am aware of:
    1. In the postwar era, the California UC system expanded to accommodate the massive influx of boomers;
    2. It has been referred to as the best university system in the world at that time;
    3. It was tuition free; if your grades were good, you paid nothing but your books.

    So what changed? Why was California able to do this, and why can’t it be brought back?Report

    • Avatar morat20 says:

      I know California went broke under a strange confluence of events:

      1) Several very expensive ballot initiatives that mandated certain spending levels.
      2) A ballot initiative that mandated 2/3rds majority to raise taxes.
      3) Slightly more than a third of the state Congress being “no new taxes, ever” types.
      4) A really dumb property tax system that didn’t reassess property valuation except when changing hands (which allowed a lot of gaming the system)

      California was, as best I can tell from an outsider’s perspective, caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. Hence the explosion in fees (not taxes, so not subject to the 2/3rds requirement). I think college education was one of the areas they COULD cut.

      I also know, from reading about a UCLA (I think — might have been Caltech or another California big-name school) complaining bitterly about how expensive the school’s sports program is, and how much money it eats up out of the budget (and does not, in fact, pay for itself. Specifically football does not even remotely).Report

      • Avatar LWA says:

        The first tuition for UC took place in 1975;
        All four of your items began in 1978 when Prop 13, the property tax cutting initiative passed.

        Those are the income side of the issue; I am not really grasping why the cost side- apparently for every college in America- has been spiraling.Report

      • Avatar morat20 says:

        Me either. Troublesome Frog thinks it’s straight up supply/demand, but I’ve yet to see any systemic supply problem. (There may be a 100 applicants for Harvard for every one that gets in, but there aren’t a 100 college students for every college slot in America. Also, we don’t auction off acceptance letters).

        Sports is one — I know that, system wide, the costs there have spiraled. Faculty costs haven’t (see, you know, the post up top). Admin side, the top has gone CEO-levels of pay, so there’s another one.

        Not all colleges are research institutions needing money for that — whatever it is, community colleges have seen the same jump in prices, and they don’t build particle accelerators there.

        I’m having a hard time accepting that sports complexes + top-end administrative pay has gotten so out of hand that even AFTER choking faculty costs down we’ve seen such a massive rise, but I’m running out of explanations.

        I know that there’s been a drop in state support (ie: cash) to universities and colleges, that’s been fairly even across the nation. Pell grants haven’t kept up with inflation, but those aren’t universal.

        People blame student loans, but student loans got popular as costs rose — I can’t see how they feed costs (you know, creating the equivalent of a wage/price spiral) when you don’t bid on college spots.

        You apply, chose one you got accepted for, then borrow as needed.

        I’m lacking a mechanism by which “You can borrow more” leads schools to charge more. They’re not for-profit enterprises, and even if they were you’d think they’d also compete on prices.Report

      • I’d argue that the ability to borrow more doesn’t so much cause price escalation as it does enable it. Just as it has enabled states to cut funding. Without student loans, the simple inability to pay would cause a lot of schools to watch their books closely out of simple necessity. Would also probably force state legislators to act differently.

        That doesn’t mean that we should end student loans tomorrow as we don’t want the primary criterion of college to be “the ability to pay up front.” It sure does seem to me that they are a critical component.Report

      • Also, it does seem that administration is a significant destination of cost. Less how much those at the top are making and more how many there are.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        What really brought down the California Master Plan for Higher Education was a conservative backlash. Lots of conservative adults didn’t like what was happening on college campuses during the 1960s. Reagan made it part his campaign for governor.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        I can’t speak for the UCs in the 1970s, but some of the price increase now is because schools are competing on amenities much more than on prices. In a lot of ways, the actual cost is hidden from students, since few of them are actually paying out of pocket in real time, so they’re bedazzled by nice dorms, big exercise facilities, and so on. A big part of that is just changing expectations. When I shared a dorm room with one person, I had an alum come by and tell me that 20 years before he’d shared that room with two people. That was almost 30 years ago now, and today an awful lot of kids have grown up never having shared a bedroom, and they expect that at college. Further, they don’t want shared showers, but private or at worst shared baths.

        But as long as the clear link between price and benefits is broken, we can assume people are asking for more than they really want to pay for. It’s a buggered market then, and really the same problem as in public financing, where taxpayers’ demand for goods and their willingness to pay for them is not informed by a clear link between price and benefit.

        I doubt that’s all of it, but from what I hear from administrators desperately trying to recruit students, that’s an important part of it.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

        @james-hanley

        My old college advisor told me that even though my tuition was X, the college probably spent twice that on me during my four years. Can you confirm whether tuition really covers the entire cost of a college education?

        Of course the problem with not hiding the true cost is that most people will be daunted away from college.

        These tends to be one of those round about debates where people insist that it is still possible to work your way through school because they did it in 1972 and modern liberals have to go and without much effectiveness about how college is unaffordable on a minimum wage job unless you want to take 20 years to graduate.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        is still possible to work your way through school because they did it in 1972 and modern liberals have to go and without much effectiveness about how college is unaffordable on a minimum wage job unless you want to take 20 years to graduate.

        You slipped in “minimum wage” there, which probably ain’t what those old folks are talking about. My brother started college in ’74 and worked his way through. He took about 7 years, living at home for 5 of those, and worked in an auto shop and then in the city’s sewer department, neither of them minimum wage jobs. I’m not saying that would be as easy today, but I do think you may be overstating the ease of it in the past.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        @james-hanley, we aren’t over stating the ease of it so much as our elders are.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        @James Hanley we aren’t over stating the ease of it so much as our elders are.

        That’s what’s wrong with old people these days. In my day they complained about walking uphill in the snow to and from school.Report

      • That’s what’s wrong with old people these days. In my day they complained about walking uphill in the snow to and from school.

        And in their elders’ day, they didn’t complain at all. They told the story with pride because they liked it!Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        A great many of the amenities are paid for through the student unions at the various UC campuses, and the student unions participate in the expenses and profit-sharing of the athletics. Part of what you pay for in your enrollment is not just tuition (they called them “registration fees” when I was a student at UCSB but we all knew it was subsidized tuition and didn’t care because back then it really wasn’t all that much money) but dues for the student union, which don’t count as tuition because, hey, they’re student union dues.Report

      • Some, though maybe not all, college cost comparisons actually incorporate mandatory student fees. I know Collegeboard does.Report

    • So what changed?

      See my comment above about the long-term trajectory of states’ General Fund spending. Among other things, the California state constitution now makes K-12 education funding — at a guaranteed quite-high level — a priority that must be fully funded before everything except debt service. That consumes ~43% of the GF. Medicaid consumes another 23% or so. During the golden age of California higher ed Medicaid didn’t exist and K-12 funding was a local concern; today they’re two-thirds of the GF.Report

      • Having said what I think is the problem, the obvious next step is to suggest a solution. After due consideration of all the moving parts for some years, my recommendation for the most politically feasible policy that would create sufficient available funds in the places where it is likely to get applied to higher education is — and we all know that I’m crazy as a loon — single-payer health insurance at the federal level. Why that is the right answer is left as an exercise for the student.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        And as you mentioned corrections above, this is relevant.Report

      • Avatar Morat20 says:

        I’m pretty much getting to the point of saying we, as a society, should just pay for college (public schools only) for anyone who can make the minimum criteria to get in.

        No vouchers. No student loans. Public colleges are free, and well supported. Alumni can donate for research, or sports, or to name buildings after themselves or what — but tuition is firewalled away, paid for by the state and audited heavily by the public to ensure there’s not accidental spending of public money on sports stadiums or bloated President’s salaries.

        That’s just a lefty fantasy, I admit, but it’d probably be better for the country as a whole.

        The devil would be in the details (fees, would you want students to pay a certain token percentage, how would you audit it, how to determine fair salaries, what about advanced degrees, etc). But it’s certainly no more complex than other things governments have done.Report

      • Avatar Patrick says:

        During the golden age of California higher ed Medicaid didn’t exist and K-12 funding was a local concern; today they’re two-thirds of the GF.

        IIRC, during the golden age of California higher ed, that local concern was paid for by local funds that have now been gobbled up by the state’s general fund.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        @morat20

        I have a problem with the “public only” aspect. Not just because I work at a small private college, but because I attended one for a while as well, I know that there are students who really want and thrive in the small college experience. Public schools are extremely unlikely to provide that, and so your plan would privilege those students who are more comfortable at mega-state university than those who really want/need the more personal approach at a small school.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        “I’m pretty much getting to the point of saying we, as a society, should just pay for college (public schools only) for anyone who can make the minimum criteria to get in.”

        I suppose it depends on how one feels on the strengths & weaknesses of the existing US 12th grade and under school system, and whether the strengths and weaknesses of existing US college & university system would be altered in a sufficiently beneficial way to make the higher education system mirror the public school system.

        and figuring out ‘the minimum criteria to get in’ as well as who then goes where (and where people go who don’t) is a big enough can of worms to supply an entire Great Lakes fishing season.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        James,
        Slippery Rock U has 7,000 students. While it isn’t Hamilton College, it’s pretty small for a state school.
        Clarion U has 5,000 students.
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pennsylvania_State_System_of_Higher_Education

        Overall PA is doing pretty well — besides, small experiences are what community colleges are for, aren’t they?Report

      • And as you mentioned corrections above, this is relevant.

        Indeed it is. It’s an excellent example of how the “big six” funding categories may be protected, in this case by the federal courts effectively saying “You must spend at least this much on your prison population.” As I mentioned before, K-12 is embedded in the California state constitution. Old Medicaid is an all-or-nothing program and IMO, California is probably in technical violation of the law’s requirements and should lose its federal reimbursements. Much of the other health and welfare spending is protected by the feds by either making a program mandatory (SNAP [1]) or by providing $1-9 in matching funds for each state dollar (it’s politically difficult for a legislator to vote to cut $1 in state spending from an elderly care program knowing that it will cut $10 in services). Roads and higher ed are the least protected, so take the biggest hits. And in most states, both are falling apart.

        [1] SNAP (food stamps) is a federal program that each state must administer, often delegated to the counties. States are reimbursed for that administration up to a maximum of 5% of benefits paid. If administration costs more than that, the state is on the hook. The administrative funds have to cover the costs of owning and operating a compliant software system that provides the feds’ required audit hooks (among other things). Overpayment of benefits, or penalties for underpayment, come out of the states’ pockets, not out of federal funds.

        Off on a tangent, SNAP is one of the things that I ask people trying to organize rural secession movements about (eg, the State of Jefferson folks in California). Most of the proposed new states would have small populations and be quite poor (Jefferson among those). They’re still going to have to staff to administer SNAP and acquire the software systems. But they lack economies of scale and probably can’t do the job for 5%.Report

      • IIRC, during the golden age of California higher ed, that local concern was paid for by local funds that have now been gobbled up by the state’s general fund.

        We may be talking past each other, and if so I apologize for that… During that time period, local property taxes were sufficient to pay for local school districts. School district costs grew much faster than property tax revenues — there’s a whole body of economic literature on why that’s pretty much inevitable — and most states chose “equalization” approaches that added state revenues to the funding stream. First for poor districts, but eventually for all districts. None of the local funds were diverted into the GF; GF funds (eg, from income taxes local districts were never allowed to levy) were added to the local stream.Report

      • Avatar LWA says:

        @morat20
        Free college a lefty fantasy?

        I think you meant to say the reality that actually existed 1945-1975 is now a fantasy.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        “I think you meant to say the reality that actually existed 1945-1975 is now a fantasy.”

        As long as you were white and in the upper socioeconomic half of the population.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        Going back to the glory days when defense spending was routinely around 10% of GDP will also do much to promote public investment in higher education.Report

      • Avatar LWA says:

        @patrick “K-12 funding was a local concern”

        And weren’t K-12 funds provided by property taxes, which were slashed in 1978 by Prop 13?

        It must be my liberal bias, but I am seeing a correlation between lack of property tax revenue, and the inability to recreate the free college system we used to have.Report

      • And weren’t K-12 funds provided by property taxes, which were slashed in 1978 by Prop 13? It must be my liberal bias, but I am seeing a correlation between lack of property tax revenue, and the inability to recreate the free college system we used to have.

        State-plus-local taxes fall with few exceptions into a narrow range of about 9-12% of state GDP all across the country. In some states the local taxes have a bigger share, in some a smaller share. California may have been among the first with Prop 13 — California is a leading indicator of trends in lots of things — but it’s a near-universal truth today: the level of revenue that is politically possible to achieve with local property taxes is not sufficient to fund contemporary K-12 education.

        That’s reality; whining about it doesn’t do any good; K-12 education simply requires an increasing share of the state-plus-local pie. The battle over splitting the pie is fought almost exclusively in state legislatures today because most state constitutions put the state on the hook for guaranteeing adequate K-12 funding. A few years ago the Texas Supreme Court required that the state’s funding formulas be restructured to spend more in rural districts; last year the Kansas Supreme Court simply required the state legislature to spend more everywhere in order to get in compliance with the state constitutional language.

        In a typical state budget, there are only two places to get the kind of money needed to restore higher ed to the “glory” years: K-12 education and Medicaid. I’ve explained why I think K-12 is largely untouchable. But assuming single-payer in the US would be as efficient as elsewhere in the developed world, you could eliminate state Medicaid spending and deal with the problem, at least for a fair number of years. Just because it’s the easiest way out doesn’t mean that it’s actually easy, of course.Report

      • Avatar LWA says:

        @michael-cain
        “the level of revenue that is politically possible to achieve with local property taxes is not sufficient to fund contemporary K-12 education.”

        Exactly so. But what is politically possible changes over time.

        Part of politics is creating a vision of what can be, and persuading others to sign on to creating it.

        Look, I know that state economies and budget structures change organically, and what is needed to accomplish state action requires constant changes in funding and taxation levels.

        But funding is nothing more than a matter of priorities and will- its funny how no one ever seems to point out with mathematical clarity why we can’t, simply can’t, have the largest military in the world, or why California can’t possibly afford its prisons.

        The only reason we have the funding priorities we have now is politics- we want to fund prisons, and don’t want to fund colleges.

        Admitting that is the first step to changing that.Report

    • Avatar Patrick says:

      Also:

      Check the pension costs?

      California has a really outrageously underfunded pension system, and a goodly number of those costs were agreed upon a long time ago.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        CALPERS may be underfunded due to too much real estate speculation. It’s not all the gov’t’s fault (other than using stupid people to mind their dumb money).Report

      • With tongue only partially in cheek, some of that can be laid at the feet of the Federal Reserve, who have for the last 12 years or so, kept a stake driven firmly through the heart of the possibility of a 7.5% nominal return on investment. At least for anyone stuck managing a pile of money as big as CalPERS, subject to the restrictions pension funds operate under.Report

  12. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    @troublesome-frog

    Re: Taxpayer Money

    Here is what I don’t understand as a bleeding heart liberal. There are multiple generations and untold millions of people who benefited from low-tuition at universities because of good state support and California’s Master Plan for Higher Education. Why the change to “I don’t understand why my money needs to go to someone else’s tuition.” Tuition is a public benefit that they received and should give in return to future generations.

    @morat20

    In the 1930s, Mayor LaGaurdia was allowed to do things like call The NY Public Library “the people’s university” and not sound corny. I don’t think anyone could do that now. City College in New York liked to consider itself a “Harvard on the Hudson” or “Harvard for the Masses”. I don’t think anyone bought it. The president of GW once wrote an article in the Atlantic that said colleges raise tuition because they can and students do seemingly see college/university as Veblen good. There are not many people out there who would buy “A Harvard education at half the cost.” as an advertising slogan. J R is right when he says student want the bells and whistles. Universities are building single rooms and apartment style rooms because there is a generation of students that grew up as only children or with only one sibling and in pretty good comfort.

    My undergrad advisor told me that when his father showed up at Ohio as a freshman in the late 1940s or early 50s, he came with one suitcase and three or four changes of clothing. He did this because he grew up really poor.

    In some ways, the amenities are just a sign of a wealthy society and increased standards of living and this is good. If you were a student, which would you rather attend (try and be honest and think like a real 18 year old):

    A. A residential college with all the bells and whistles of a four-star luxury hotel and resort including great food, comfortable dorm rooms, etc at 40,000 USD a year; or

    B. A residential college with horrible food, Spartan and drafty rooms with uncomfortable beds at 10,000 USD per a year.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      The generation before the boomers went to college on the GI bill. Before that? Most people didn’t go to college.

      And, imagine — you fought a war, know people who died. And here are these ingrates, who haven’t done anything except exist for 19 years, using their education time to sit around and smoke pot — and then flunk out.Report

      • Avatar Saul DeGraw says:

        Eh, this doesn’t shape up about what we know about political demographics.

        The Greatest Generation, those who came of age during the Depression and WWII are or were very liberal overall.

        The silent generation, those who were children in WWII and the 1950s but not boomers are overall very conservative. This generation was also largely too old to serve in Vietnam.

        Boomers and Generation X seem to be mixed bags.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        I don’t think what you’re saying about political demographics is correct. The first President the Greatest Generation voted for was Ike. Kennedy’s election showed a split electorate (that would be echoed in 2000), and then Nixon got elected twice. As did Reagan.

        What happened in the 60s was a fortuitous set of circumstances – the last days of the Southern Democratic political machine allowing it to punch above its weight on the national stage, the shared experience of WW2 as well as technological changes like highways and television uniting the country culturally, the reverse great migration beginning to fill the south and west with newly affluent suburbanites, and the singular leadership of LBJ (permitted by a lone assassin’s bullet).

        That’s how the Great Society and Civil Rights passed. Not because the Greatest Generation was liberal or the Silent Generation was conservative. (and who did, by the way serve in Vietnam in substantial numbers. Not as the 19 year old draftee, of course, but all the late 20s early 30s mid grade NCOs and officers who actually run a war).Report

    • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

      I certainly agree. In fact, if we’re going to pay money to educate more people, I think it does us a lot more good to build more public school capacity than it does for us to subsidize demand for a pool of seats that grows too slowly. Pouring enough money into the demand side to cause more capacity to be built seems like an expensive and roundabout way to do it, and it also seems like a great way to rapidly create a bunch of very questionable for-profit schools. It’s a lot easier to build a bunch of fly-by-night nonsense schools to soak up the money than to build serious institutions that compete with even mid-tier state schools, and that seems to be where a chunk of our buyer subsidies end up going.

      I’m especially annoyed when I hear somebody who was educated cheaply at, say, UC Berkeley a generation ago bitch and moan about students wanting a hand out today. Their parents paid taxes to subsidize a fantastic university system, but they seem to think that keeping that system up isn’t a continuous process of expansion and investment.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        I think there’s a lot to this. And the Dep’t of Ed is very aware of these fly-by-night schools and is cracking down on them. And this is having a spillover effect because the reporting rules they’re creating are applied across the board, so non-fly-by-night schools like mine end up having to put a lot of effort into compliance. Or more precisely demonstrating compliance with practices we’ve followed from time immemorial. So there are ripple effects of waste creation in the system.

        On the other hand, if we’re going to subsidize student’s education, I don’t see a good reason to de facto force them into a public school vs. a private, especially since no public schools give them the particular type of experience a SLAC can, and that’s what some students want. I don’t know just how to reconcile those two things.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        Many of the for profit universities seemed to be supped up versions of the former vocational schools like DeVry and ITT. They can get into some really questionable ethical practices like enrolling a mentally disabled man that reads on a third grade level:

        http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2014/06/03/for_profit_college_sleaze_everest_admits_a_student_with_a_third_grade_reading.html

        I agree with Troublesome Frog that the best solution to increasing demand for higher education is to meet at at the supply side by expanding university carrying capacity.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      There are multiple generations and untold millions of people who benefited from low-tuition at universities because of good state support and California’s Master Plan for Higher Education. Why the change to “I don’t understand why my money needs to go to someone else’s tuition.” Tuition is a public benefit that they received and should give in return to future generations.

      I think it’s quite a big assumption to think that’s the same people. If you take a combination of people who didn’t go to college, who went to private colleges and didn’t get that sweet state subsidy, and who went to East Jesus State and resented that Flagship State got the bulk of the funding, I’m pretty sure you’ve got a majority of the electorate.

      I do agree that top tier universities are something of a Veblen good. But keep in mind also that it’s not just the education, but the “Linked In” opportunities. Sure, the actual education I get at Yale may not be commensurately (in reference to price) better than the education I get at Directional State University, but I’m a lot more likely to make contacts with a future POTUS or investment firm manager.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        On the other hand just because you didn’t go to college or because you went to a private college or East Jesus State U; doesn’t mean that you don’t support subsidized tuition either.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

        I’m pretty sure East Jesus State violates the establishment clause 🙂

        I also agree with why elite schools are a Veblen good and certainly benefit from that assumption with my undergrad. People know Vassar and there does seem to be an assumption of impressiveness that I am a Vassar grad.Report

  13. Avatar dhex says:

    “And why aren’t there schools competing on price, for that matter? ”

    a quick note – schools do compete on price. there’s a lot of back and forth with parents balancing competing offers, similar to negotiations around buying a new car. e.g. “x offered us 25k, but sally really likes you guys. what can you do for us?” and so on.

    a notable private university on the east coast even offered what was essentially a 3k “signing bonus” for every admit this year. it’s been a very rough year in the 4 year liberal arts sector, and looks to be shaping up to be slightly worse than last year.

    there’s also the tuition reduction gambit, which has worked for a few but at a certain price point seems to have negative ramifications as far as the perception of attractiveness.

    http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/09/16/small-private-colleges-steeply-cut-their-sticker-price-will-it-drive-down-college#sthash.M4oV2mgq.dpbs

    “The university hired Maguire Associates to check the opinions of students and parents. Would they prefer a $36,000 tuition and $13,000 in aid or would they prefer $23,000 tuition?

    By a 2 to 1 margin, parents and students preferred the higher tuition and the chunk of aid.

    Farish said the logic is that if $13,000 is the average, parents don’t want to forgo the opportunity of “winning the jackpot” and getting more money.”

    a lot of the “where does the money go” question is answered by “infrastructure”, btw. it’s what makes enrollment dips doubly difficult – you build for 3k kids, you get 2.5k one year, but you’re still paying for 3k kids worth of facilities. better to scramble to get them into local hotels than eat the costs of an empty dormitory. for a lot o’ the slacs for whom this is reality (and it’s the model i’m most intimately familiar with) attempting to grow too fast is suicide in large part because of infrastructure and debt costs.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      it’s been a very rough year in the 4 year liberal arts sector,

      In addition to the liberal arts in general becoming a tougher sell, we’re in the middle if a 3 or 4 year dip in college age students that schools have been eyeing nervously for several years.Report

      • Avatar Saul DeGraw says:

        “In addition to the liberal arts in general becoming a tougher sell”

        I can go on a rant about this and frequently have.Report

      • Avatar dhex says:

        depending on the region, that dip is more like 10 years. northeast and mid atlantic are the hardest hits, most likely.

        there are ways to deal with this – geographic diversity, pursuing non-traditional students (yellow ribbon, less well prepared but promising candidates, etc etc and so forth) but it’s going to be an ugly time for the smaller schools.

        yay.Report

    • Avatar Saul DeGraw says:

      @dhex

      How do the elite SALCs stand up compared to the non-elite ones?

      Elite in this case is Vassar and the other Seven Sisters, Oberlin, Kenyon, McAllister, Amherst, Williams, Reed, Wesleyan, etc.Report

      • Avatar dhex says:

        name brands generally do better, though there have been some notable dips in apps in places. we’re talking maybe twenty or thirty schools out of a total of 300-500 depending on how you count. it’s immaterial compared to the larger issue.

        the hardest hit so far have been single sex schools, very small (under 1k enrolled undergrads) and historically black colleges. some of these are disappearing niches – african american students are far more widely and aggressively sought by both public and private institutions, for example, so the hbuc sector has had a lot of turbulence.

        the whole “value” zagat-style rankings thing the feds are going to come up with has the potential to seriously hurt a lot of these schools as well.Report

  14. Full-time professors haven’t benefited greatly from this increased cash flow. Their salaries, while reasonable, are consistent with those of other similarly situated professionals. Rather, it’s the administrators who are raking it in. According to Thomas Frank, university administrations have grown by 369 percent since the mid-1970s.

    I see that claim or ones similar very often. And for all I know, those claims are true. Michelle, for one, supports it with evidence that I assume is valid (and I wouldn’t know how to analyze it anyway). But…..

    ….I think that type of claim, even if true, suggests more than can be taken from it. It’s not always easy to find out how much more any given administrator is making over his/her value to the university, or which “administration” jobs can be cut and which can’t. Also, in some universities, much (maybe not a majority, but “much”) of what is called the “administration” is actually faculty doing a 3- or 5- or lifetime stint as a dean or associate dean or whatever.

    None of that means there aren’t real problems and that the faster growth of administrators (relative to growth of faculty) isn’t part of the problem. But it just seems more complicated than the ever-encroaching proletarianization model suggested by those facts.Report

    • I should say that most administrators I know personally are exceptionally hard workers. But then again, they–and I–work in a service area of the university, and adjunctification has affected them much less than, say, the colleges responsible for liberal arts classes. My employment is contingent, but it’s not the type of “adjunct” job that Michelle is talking about. (In other places on campus, those jobs do exist, although for the local market, they tend to be much better paid.)Report

      • Avatar dhex says:

        much of this gnashing of teeth is due to the sense of broken promises/smashed dreams – you put in your seven to ten years, you get a life and some semblance of a lifestyle back. and an office. perhaps some elbow patches. grants. again, it’s that promise – you put in your time, you sacrifice the secular life you could have had, and you get some adoring undergrads and dutifully competent grad assistants, plus you never have to look for work again ever.

        that it was unrealistic as far back as the late 70s – or perhaps even earlier* – isn’t going to matter. dreams, hopes, etc, are powerful drugs.

        there’s also this notion that there was more culture-wide respect of the professor back when. i am dubious about this. hella dubious, even. people like to chalk it up to “anti-intellectualism” but i tend to think of it more as decades of bad pr plus an almost universal american fear that someone somewhere is laughing at them.

        * i’m basing some of this on readings, particularly an out of print essay collection about working class/first gen college students who became professors called “this fine place so far from home”. it’s good, though it tends to be a bit monochromatic – it’s funny how the same complaints by some instructors about “less traditional” or “unprepared” college students hasn’t really changed beyond becoming more polite/less racist and classist.Report

      • @dhex

        Perhaps you had recommended that book on another thread, because I checked it out when you (or someone) here recommended it, and read 3 or 4 of the essays in it. From what I read, I agree with your assessment.

        I also agree that it’s a mistake to chock up so much to “anti-intellectualism.”Report

      • much of this gnashing of teeth is due to the sense of broken promises/smashed dreams – you put in your seven to ten years, you get a life and some semblance of a lifestyle back. and an office. perhaps some elbow patches. grants. again, it’s that promise

        I think you’re right, but I really do dislike that attitude. I understand it’s frustrating, but it’s also a sense of entitlement that rubs me the wrong way. (I know, by the way, you’re just relating that mentality, not necessarily endorsing it.)Report

      • Avatar dhex says:

        i slogged through it mostly because i appreciate the first gen experience, even though i never got a phd in anything. being the first person in my entire family to go to college, i had no roadmap and made a series of obvious mistakes, since i didn’t even know that i could have or should have sought more guidance on some things.

        in trying to set up that kind of roadmap for the sizable incoming first gen class we’re going to see in september, i realize that the hardest issue will be getting kids to realize that they don’t have the same rules or rulesets that most of their peers will, and that there are ways to mitigate this. and also identifying as “first gen” in some sense or at least not having an immediate “up yours” reaction, which is more or less how myself and my peers would have reacted to the idea that we needed extra help because our parent(s) worked for a living.

        it’s complicated.Report

      • Yeah, I was a first gen, too, although I had some first-cousins (who were actually 15-25 years older than I) who went to college, too. I was fortunate in a lot of ways, but some things were more difficult for being a first gen.

        I also had–and to some degree still have–a chip-on-shoulder attitude about it and a notion that I could be a better student than the most privileged of ’em. Not necessarily true, I found out. Humility can be a good thing.

        And not that I didn’t have substantial privileges, too. My family was working class, but affluent working class: my parents owned their home and had savings.Report

      • Avatar Saul DeGraw says:

        @gabriel-conroy

        Re: Entitlement.

        What if the only way to produce a proper demand level was through over supply?

        There are more people who study fine and performing arts than will ever earn a living in their art but what if we need the over supply to produce proper demand?

        There is no way to tell how many artists, history professors, whatever squishy field here a society will ever need and we will always over produce.

        I dislike that kids are being told they are entitled for doing as they were told. As someone else pointed out on a league, we have at least one or two generations that was told unless they worked hard and succeeded at school, they would end up in low-wage service jobs and with a hand and mouth existence. Then the recession hit and they are being told “What are you too good for working at McDonalds?” You can’t have it both ways especially when both things came from the set of people.

        I also think that telling people not to have expectations or entitlements is likely to produce an effect where people don’t try as hard and we need up with radically fewer college students than we need. Would you try as hard at school if told that you would only have a small chance at a middle class life or some desired profession?

        This is the unease of a wealthy society. Why does it make us so uncomfortable to tell kids that if they work hard, job X will be there for them at the finish line? It shouldn’t only be business majors or engineers that get this guarantee.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        “an almost universal american fear that someone somewhere is laughing at them.”

        And that someone is me!

        And now you know…the rest of the story.Report

      • @saul-degraw

        Well, my main gripe is against what I interpret as the attitude that just because someone has spent x number of years in school, they deserve a certain type of job. I’m also against a related notion that just because someone has a BA or MA, they deserve to be paid more or have a better job than someone who has “only” a high school diploma or BA. At the blog I mentioned above, the author points out in one post that the union of which he is a member complained in one of its public statements that some full-time adjuncts get paid “less than a supervisor at McDonalds.” To me, that’s not an argument that they deserve to be paid more.

        There are more people who study fine and performing arts than will ever earn a living in their art but what if we need the over supply to produce proper demand?

        I’m not sure I follow what demand is “proper” and why it should follow that the desire to create demand is a reason to encourage people to study fine and performing arts. I do think that if we are to encourage people to study such things (and others….I have a lit and history background), we should be more than upfront about the paucity of job prospects in those fields. We can, of course, talk about the soft skills and harder (e.g., writing and exposition) skills that come from studying such things, but even then, we should be very clear that finding a job or career is something that one needs to work really hard at and that there’s no guarantee.

        There is no way to tell how many artists, history professors, whatever squishy field here a society will ever need and we will always over produce.

        Except for the “always,” I think that can be said of most fields. In high school, teachers told us over and over again how much engineers were in demand and how we should all major in engineering. I had friends who did and were good at it, but who now are either not engineers (because of layoffs or poor job market) or who do engineering part time and have (non-engineering) businesses on the side. I’m not sure how much those anecdotes reflect a true oversupply or just the idiosynchracies of people I happen to know. But I am tempted to see it as a “things are tough all over” phenomenon and not limited to the arts.

        Also, let’s face it, some subjects, such as history, are easier than others, such as the hard sciences or engineering or math or accounting. I’m speculating, not being an aficionado of any of those fields, but I imagine it’s easier for the typical student in one of those fields to take an upper division class and get a B than it is for the typical history major to take an upper division course in physics, engineering, math, or accounting to get a B. I worked very hard as a history major, but I probably could’ve worked much less hard and earned comparable grades. Even if we do adopt a “education means I deserve more money” approach (which I do not, but some do), we ought to take relative difficulty into account.

        But all of this is easy for me to say, and I shouldn’t be so dismissive of others’ concerns, and you’re right to call me out on it. I think I “knew” pretty much going in that majoring in history and in French would not get me an important or well-paying or great job. I use scare quotes for “knew” because I think I really did thing people ought to respect me more and because perhaps I’m projecting backward to make myself seem wiser than I really was and make it appear I studied what I did just for the love of the subject(s). And although I did do it because I loved the subject(s), I can’t honestly say that potential reward was entirely divorced from my goals. But others were, apparently, promised, by people whom they respected, a much better life than studying such fields automatically confers.

        Also, I should be wary of dismissing others’ frustration. That’s not only because things have (so far) worked out pretty well for me, but also because if someone else is hurting, I probably shouldn’t pile on with my judgments.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        What if the only way to produce a proper demand level was through over supply?

        In which Saul DeGraw, surprisingly, becomes a supply sider! 😉Report

      • For the reference to adjunct salaries being bested by the those of supervisors at McDonalds, and an argument about why that’s a bad comparison, see that persons post here [PDF] at page 8 of that document: http://www.uicufdissenter.blogspot.com/2014/04/my-original-reservations-from-before.htmlReport

      • Avatar dhex says:

        ” Why does it make us so uncomfortable to tell kids that if they work hard, job X will be there for them at the finish line?”

        because:

        1) it’s a lie
        2) believing it makes people act in dumb ways
        3) it’s a hideous incomplete lie of lying lies
        4) it’s how you get grad student entitlement/ressentiment on such a scale

        having sat in a bar (zombie hut, etc) filled with abd’s bitching about how the world doesn’t appreciate their work while simultaneously scoffing at the idea of having to justify their existence and desires for far, far, far too many hours…i cannot even begin to consider it with anything approaching evenhandedness.

        it’s also how you end up with dumb ideas like “if we just keep making phds in the humanities, the market will make jobs for them!” there’s no nicer term for it, and it’s insanely widespread. like academic services staff will just pop up out of nowhere to support all these guys while tuition goes down, the students get smarter (and prettier!), regulatory reporting requirements decrease, and no one ever has to do anything outside of their job description.

        it’s insane. the difference between a recovered heroin addict and a humanities phd is that while both have wasted a decade or more of their life, the heroin addict leaves with a story that others hear and think “wow, that’s a hell of an accomplishment!” you get a phd and your best case scenario is that people will think you’re boring, if not actively sneering at them.

        that said, if someone wants to shiv their advisor for lying to them/not being up on the market/being an idiot, i will gladly hold them down while said shivving occurs. for an additional fee i will yell “booyah” every third stab.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        @saul-degraw
        This is the unease of a wealthy society. Why does it make us so uncomfortable to tell kids that if they work hard, job X will be there for them at the finish line? It shouldn’t only be business majors or engineers that get this guarantee.

        What is the mechanism by which this promise is fullfilled? “We”–whoever “we” is–don’t control the availibility of jobs.

        @dhex
        having sat in a bar (zombie hut, etc) filled with abd’s bitching about how the world doesn’t appreciate their work while simultaneously scoffing at the idea of having to justify their existence and desires

        This, a thousand times this. Working at a SLAC, this is especially pronounced because there’s increasing demand for pre-professional education, and a general public mistrust of a liberal arts education. Students and their parents want to see the connections between field of study and future employment, and rightfully so.

        And the liberal arts are good career prep, so we bitch about how the philistines don’t understand us. But, christ, we’re teachers! Why should we assume they ought to know? Who do we think has been, or ought to have been, teaching them this? It’s our job, and we’re to entitled to see it.

        In my experience, most profs don’t even try to clearly teach the linkages in class, just assuming the students will grasp it through osmosis (while we criticize their intelligence, no less).

        But liberal arts colleges are dying. Almost every year one or two close their doors. The only way to reverse that trend is for us to start educating the public, but we haven’t yet woken up to that reality.Report

      • Avatar dhex says:

        “The only way to reverse that trend is for us to start educating the public, but we haven’t yet woken up to that reality.”

        we’re working on it!

        it’s not even that so much as breaking it down as such – the value/”value” of a degree is the experience and networking; that experience and networking will be richer at a smaller school, regardless of what the major is, because of that close relationship with faculty and peers, and a focus on communicating what they learn and being adaptable to new ideas.Report

      • Avatar j r says:

        There are reasons that good writing tends to eschew the passive voice and those reasons go beyond the stylistic. When you say something along the lines of “they were promised that college would be a ticket to the middle class,” the obvious question is: promised by whom?

        If you want to talk about people’s expectations and how those expectations might change, it is important to be specific about where those expectations come from. Generally speaking, it is not a good idea to be making big life decisions based on the conventional wisdom of the ether. I tend to think that people are mostly rational actors and don’t do that anyway. If they do, however, they ought to stop.Report

      • @saul-degraw

        Why does it make us so uncomfortable to tell kids that if they work hard, job X will be there for them at the finish line? It shouldn’t only be business majors or engineers that get this guarantee.

        I really don’t understand that. Those business majors don’t get any sort of “guarantee.” They’re trained in a skill that they hope corresponds to a decent job, and perhaps (I don’t know the numbers), they get a decent job, on average at least. It’s not that they were guaranteed anything. They or their parents or their advisors or whoever measured the likelihood of success, based on one definition of success, and thought it favorable to pursue business. Complaining about the “guarantee” is like complaining that more people need or are willing to pay for certain services instead of others. It’s like complaining that some people like to patronize the local cheese shop instead of Walcheez because they like the cheese at the first place. People like what they like, just as you’ve said, elsewhere, people live where they want to live.

        Also, and as a tangent, I’ve known some performing arts or poetry or liberal arts people who claim that they do what they do because they like it and not for the money. It’s kind of a weird thing to see such people then say, “well, I’m not doing it for the money, but where’s my money?”Report

    • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

      Why does it make us so uncomfortable to tell kids that if they work hard, job X will be there for them at the finish line? It shouldn’t only be business majors or engineers that get this guarantee.

      As an engineer, I just want to say, WTF are you smoking?! Do you know what we were told? It’s pretty simple. If you want a guarantee of a job after graduation, you will need to work hard, score multiple internships & co-ops, get invited to work on some pretty complicated projects for outside interests, and maintain as close to a 4.0 GPA as you can. PS, all your classes are graded on a curve. The knives & garrotes are on the table in the back. For those who can’t land internships/co-ops/outside projects &/or have a hard time staying ahead of the GPA pack, well, you are going to have to work a lot harder to land that first job.

      If I recall from my time working for the Business School, they got similar advice.Report

  15. Avatar Saul DeGraw says:

    @gabriel-conroy

    Re: Entitlement

    There is also an aspect that accusing someone of being “entitled” can be a tool of social control. A Variant of FYIGM when it comes from say a university admin making 6 figures or a person who graduated law school during a time when the jobs were more plentiful.Report

    • At least law degrees are career-oriented. For what was supposed to be a good career. I have a lot more sympathy for law grads than I do for Art History majors. I can have sympathy for the latter, if they did it on advice, though I think it then becomes incumbent upon people not to give that advice in the future…Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Art History degrees make decent training for being appraisers, I’d figure.Report

      • If they can make a career out of it, then power to them. Morat mentioned a while back that his step-kid was going into something called “voice” and had a realistic career track lined up. That’s enough for me.Report

      • Avatar dhex says:

        “There is also an aspect that accusing someone of being “entitled” can be a tool of social control.”

        though i don’t think i want to know the answer, much like someone sticking their junk in the necronomicon i cannot help myself – what the hell are you talking about?

        if someone says “i went to school for ten years and i deserve a great job!” they’re entitled. if i reframe it as “i went to a top flight mba program and deserve 150k starting plus at least that in bonuses and a great office” you’d be right on because something something business major.

        it’s the assumption that life owes you anything but death is the entitlement at which i point. there are no guarantees or magic formulas. a room full of atheists searching for a god to hand them a tenure track contract and a 2-2 load.

        almost all of my wife’s cohort of grad students have not yet found their dreams. nor will they. and yet they’ll die thinking it was owed to them, because they did not understand just how insanely entitled they were, and how far they misunderstood the fundamental reality of the situation they found themselves in. my being a human dealwithit.gif during all of these conversations was for naught and eventually resented, because their particular “calling” was to be its own reward.

        i wonder how that worked out for them.Report

    • @saul-degraw

      Re: entitlement as tool of social control

      I can see that, but I see it as social control in the way that calling someone out for behaving like an….entitled person….is social control. It’s a form of shaming, I suppose, and that is, I suppose, social control, because by saying “so-and-so is acting entitled,” I’m saying, “it’s not good to act entitled and for x, y, and z reasons, so-and-so is acting entitled.” If we say stupid things, we deserve to be called out on it.

      Again, and to recap one of my earlier comments, I do believe I should restrain myself before doing the entitlement accusation. To be in a bad situation sucks. By definition. I can’t tell a frustrated person he or she isn’t frustrated. And I have sympathy even if the bad situation has come about as the result of one’s choices. I’ve made a lot of bad choices, too, and would not like to be held to a strict standard of just deserts based on those choices. So I don’t wish that on others.

      Still, people could do better to know where they’re lucky. Of course, when/if things go south for me, maybe I’ll be less cheerful.Report

  16. Avatar Shelley says:

    Adjunct professors have less control over their lives than secretaries do. If you have a good dean, you’re okay. If not, your life is hell.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe says:

      The secretaries generally have a better union.Report

    • @shelley

      What’s wrong with being a secretary? You probably didn’t mean to suggest that there’s anything wrong with being a secretary, but I do think your comment represents a form of speaking that some adjuncts adopt when contesting their poor working conditions. That form usually observes the following formula:

      1. Identify some career deemed “undesirable” or less desirable, like janitor, fast-food worker, secretary.

      2. In identifying the lesser desirable job, it is usually the case that that job has fewer formal education requirements (college degree not necessary, or if it is, then “only” a BA is necessary).

      3. Using some statement like, “even [x workers] are better off than adjuncts.” And that statement comes with the unstated implication that adjuncts, with their superior education, deserve more and that the world is a cruel, upside down place when it doesn’t acknowledge that.

      Now, I admit that I read a lot into such statements. And when I say “unstated implication,” perhaps that’s as much me reading what I want to read. But I don’t think I’m the only one, and I hope it’s at least clear why such comments elicit my reaction.Report

  17. Avatar Road Scholar says:

    In all these conversations there’s a basic question that never seems to be adequately answered although a lot of digital ink is spilt almost talking about it. Taking Michelle’s figure of a 1200% increase in tuition and assuming a core rate of inflation of 3%, if tuition had simply increased at that rate then the increase over 30 years should have been about 243%. This means that fully 80% of tuition dollars are disappearing down some black hole of waste, fraud, or abuse. Even given bloated admin salaries and spending on amenities of dubious value, is that even remotely plausible? Seriously? Eighty fricken’ percent? And nobody can find it?

    It’s assumed that there’s Something Seriously Wrong with education per se causing this phenomenon. Just like there’s Something Seriously Wrong with healthcare to produce the same phenomenon. And while we can’t seem to talk about it, exactly the same thing has been happening to the prices of legal services and financial services*. Each time (at least for the phenomenon we deign to discuss) we flail around for an ad hoc hypothesis to explain that one thing in isolation on the assumption that there’s something intrinsic and special about it.

    I don’t buy it. It’s piss-poor epistemology if nothing else. If we observe that cats have fur and dogs have fur and bunny rabbits have fur and bears have fur and… you get the idea, we wouldn’t attempt to identify completely separate, independent reasons why each of these animals has fur. Instead, we would note this common trait of furriness and propose a common reason to explain it, a Grand Unified Theory of Fur. We may even be tempted to extend that theory to cover feathers as well.Report

    • @road-scholar

      If I’m reading your comment right, I think I agree. The claims about 1200% increase and claims about “administration” growing at x100% while faculty grow at a lesser rate often leave quite a bit unanswered, which is one reason I don’t think those figures necessarily say what people seem to think they say.

      My working hypotheses: the 1200% is the result of a complicated set of factors, including among others lower state-funding (now made up by tuition) and funding the development and management of new facilities (e.g., rec centers).

      I once adjuncted at a university. I did two courses there, on in fall 2008 and one in spring 2009. At that time, full-time tuition was about $12,000 per semester. At that time, the school embarked on a program of building a huge new rec facility and a new building for the university, as well as, I think, additional dorms, and a few years later, the tuition was about $16,000 a semester. (I should say I’m using rough figures here and going by memory. But my point is the increase was huge and appears to have related directly to the university’s recruitment efforts.)Report

      • Avatar Road Scholar says:

        Actually, @gabriel-conroy , my working hypothesis is completely different, some would say off-the-wall. I’ve outlined it here a couple of times and it ended up as a comment rescue once, but I don’t think you were hanging around then so you likely don’t know what I’m talking about. I’ll try to outline the tl; dr version for your benefit but there’s only so much I can leave out.

        1. Inflation is conceptually defined as the purchasing power of money declining over time but is functionally measured by the index of the observed prices of a standard “market basket” of goods and services.

        2. Post WWII, the U.S.was party to an international regime where the dollar was fixed relative to gold ($35/oz.) and other currencies were at fixed exchange rates to the dollar. The balance of payments were controlled which effectively prevented anything more than minor and temporary trade deficits or surpluses.

        3. In 1973 Nixon repudiated that agreement, the U.S. went off the gold standard, the dollar became a fiat currency, and exchange rates were allowed to float.

        4. Since the dollar remained the world reserve currency, meaning central and commercial banks held dollars as base assets and most world trade was conducted in dollars, and given the disparity in purchasing power of dollars relative to other currencies, when balance-of-payments controls were lifted the U.S.began running a trade deficit which has only grown over time (at least until recently).

        5. As each dollar left the American economy to accumulate overseas it took something like eight or nine more out of circulation due to the money multiplier effect of fractional reserve banking. The commercial banking sector, facing increased demand for funds to make up the difference, and running ever narrower reserve ratios, responded with higher interest rates. Typical mortgage rates were in the teens. The result was high inflation, high unemployment, and constrained growth — stagflation.

        6. Fed chairman Volker fixed it up by convincing Reagan to embark on fiscal stimulus through slashing taxes while he simultaneously raised the Fed borrowing rates to control inflation. Essentially, we started borrowing the money back and spending it into the economy. Later, Greenspan and Bernanke kept things rolling by encouraging asset bubbles and increased personal debt to keep aggregate demand up.

        7. So now all this time we’ve had the real cost of a sizable chunk of the BLS’s market basket steadily declining due to a combination of out-sourcing, productivity gains, and cheaper domestic labor. The latter caused somewhat by illegal immigration but mostly by reduced demand as manufacturing has moved offshore.

        8. But those forces that have driven down the real costs of goods and services hasn’t acted equally across all sectors of the economy. In particular, it excludes services which can’t be outsourced (e.g., truck drivers vs. call centers), can’t be performed by immigrant labor or domestic labor that competes with them, and work that isn’t responsive to technological increases in productivity. You can look at various types of goods and services that make up the market basket and see how one, two, all three, or none of those factors apply. Notably the “none” category consists of professional (no illegal or low-wage workers) services (no imports or outsourcing) that’s in the nature of handicrafts (not amenable to productivity gains via technology). Education, healthcare, legal services and the like are in this category.

        9. If you squeeze a balloon here it pops out over there. Given a weighted index comprised of numbers where some of those numbers are going down, the only way to make the composite index go up is for the other numbers to rise even faster.

        Bottom line is that persistent and increasing trade deficits have simultaneously resulted in the de-coupling of wage and productivity growth, exploding budget deficits as the government acts to stave off a deflationary depression (Japanese lost decade phenomenon), and created apparent (and conventionally unexplained) cost “crises” in education and healthcare (as well as unrecognized ones in legal, financial, veterinary, and other professional services).

        As to your hypothesis, all I can say is my first semester tuition at Kansas State back in ’78 was about $750. Total. Not per credit hour or per class, but the total for 16 semester hours. And there were new buildings on campus then. At least two classroom buildings and the student union were very recently built. Universities are always building or expanding or replacing something or another and the new thing is always nicer than the old thing. That’s sorta the point.Report

      • @road-scholar

        Wow, that’s a pretty detailed economic history of the US since Bretton Woods. I’m not sure I fully understand the argument, but here’s how I understand what you’re saying: The post-World War II world economy favored the US for the first 30 years or so, and it especially favored workers because labor, in the US, was in short supply. By the late 1900s, however, labor was in lesser demand, real prices of most consumer goods decreased (or increased at a very slow rate), but the prices of some goods, such as education, skyrocketed.

        To your last point about paying only $750 in 1978, I point out my own anecdote. My undergrad years were in 1992 to 1996 at Colorado State, and I paid about $3,000 per year per tuition, plus, say, another $3,000 for room and board. That was very manageable for me. I don’t know what the tuition is now.

        Finally, to my example about the school I adjuncted at, I should clarify something. The new buildings represented a very different direction for that university. It was–and is–a private university located in the city. It already had dorms, but not nearly as extensive as what it decided to build, which meant a substantial portion of its students were commuters. I didn’t pay a lot of attention to it at the time, but both the proponents and opponents of the new expansion seemed to agree that it was all something of a gamble based on then-current enrollment. But “then-current enrollment” was approximately 2008 enrollment. I understand that particular school has suffered enrollment declines since then. It now has a lot to pay off with fewer students to do the payments.

        I don’t know how generalizable that example is. It could be the improvident adventurism of university and not symptomatic of a broader trend. (And for all I know, ten years from now, maybe it will turn out to have been a wise move and not improvident at all.)Report

  18. all the time i used to read smaller articles or reviews that
    ass well clear their motive,and that is also happening with this piece of wtiting which I am reading at this place.Report

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