Tenured Radicals


Rufus F.

Rufus is an American curmudgeon in Canada. He has a PhD in History, sings in a garage rock band, and does a bunch of other stuff.

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161 Responses

  1. Avatar Michael Cain says:

    Am I correct in assuming that almost all of the administrators get full benefits, while the adjunct faculty do not?Report

    • Avatar aaron david says:

      Oh yeah.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. says:

      Yes, that’s correct. Adjuncts are considered part-time contractual hires, so they don’t get benefits or retirement plans, or anything like that. I know some universities will put them on the university health plan until they’re done with the course, although God knows that will probably be cut before long too and many don’t provide it now. They also don’t usually give them their own office, although most expect them to conduct office hours. On the plus side, they don’t have to attend faculty meetings.Report

    • Avatar zic says:

      Not only do the adjunct not get benefits while the admins do, but at many (most/all?), the adjunct must join the teachers union.

      More then half of faculty are now ‘contingency,’ without benefits.


      • Avatar Rufus F. says:

        This is true. What’s even crazier is when you figure in grad student instructors, about 75% of the instructors in higher ed now are short-term, non-tenure track.Report

      • Avatar Notme says:

        They must join the union? I thought liberals would be cheering for that. What could be wrong with that?Report

      • @zic

        I’m not quite sure I understand what you’re saying here. What requires them to join a union? More to the point, my understanding is that most universities don’t have an adjunct union or a faculty union, and in the one example of a university faculty union I’m aware of, adjuncts aren’t allowed to join.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        @gabriel-conroy It may depend on the university, I don’t know. My sweetie was automatically enrolled in the teachers union when he became an adjunct there; everybody is a member. (No separate union specifically for adjunct). I remember reading an issue of a TIAA-CREF newsletter they sent out that focused on contingency staffing; and learned there are lots of adjunct staff in the union; as I recall, outnumbering tenured/full-time positions with benefits.Report

      • Thanks for answering, @zic . That’s an interesting situation, but it seems rare (from my purely anecdotal observation) to even have a union that adjuncts can join. I suppose, then, that your sweetie doesn’t get any (or many) benefits from union membership, but still must pay the dues?Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        Yes. No benefits. If we lived in MA, we could purchase health insurance through the school; we’d have to pay full price, but it would be at their group rates. Since we live out-of-state, that is not an option.

        Probably the only other benefit is access to the TIAA-CREF retirement accounts, but we’ve had one since he worked for Harvard Medical School back in the day developing software for oncology research; and of course, adjuncts never have matching monies deposited.

        If there’s some other benefit, I can’t think of it.Report

    • That sort of thing is decided by administrators, so …Report

  2. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    Probably should have just titled this post “Saul Bait”…Report

  3. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    As one commenter pointed on a previous post, the expansion of Administration did not happen under the cover of darkness. Almost every college has some kind of faculty governance that approved of the changes in some fashion or another.

    Not that this situation isn’t as effed up as a football bat …Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. says:

      Absolutely, and I don’t want to let tenured faculty off the hook here. They benefited from this as well, in terms of lower course loads, unpaid assistants, and nice sabbaticals. But, it’s also fair to note that faculty governance has very little meaning at many big universities at this point.Report

      • Avatar aaron david says:

        “But, it’s also fair to note that faculty governance has very little meaning at many big universities at this point.”

        That depends on the school, and who is on the faculty. If you have Bloom on your senate, he will get what he wants, or Cal will offer tenure at day one, with 20% increase in pay.Report

  4. Avatar Will H. says:

    I’m wondering if there is some state-by-state adjustment for this.
    My school is the latest Small State U. to be gobbled up by Huge State U.
    The state government here is ridiculously gargantuan, even by California standards.
    But here, they tend to pack all the administrators into one little corner; presumably, so that, in case of fire, they will all burn together in huge mass of sizzling ass-fat. I can’t think of any other reason.

    What do you major in to become an administrator at a university anyway?
    All the people I know in the public admin program are going into state government.Report

  5. Avatar aaron david says:

    I am curious as to why Campos didn’t put in any sources for his numbers. I am not saying he is wrong, just that there is no way to tell how good his argument is. Not to defend the increase in costs, but there has been a tech revolution during this period, and the costs of many things have changed. When my father was a new prof. he had no paid students to help run his projects, no grad student assistants lighting orchard heaters in the dead of winter. There were no real computers, no IT dept., “HR” was a prof. sitting down for beers with students, etc. Also, I remember the dorms when I was 18 vs. the dorms when my son went to university. Noticeable difference in amenities. Not insanely different, but definably upgraded.

    As for this: “On the other hand, there are no valid arguments to support the recent trend toward seven-figure salaries for high-ranking university administrators, unless one considers evidence-free assertions about “the market” to be intellectually rigorous.” Much like there isn’t a huge pool of people who are qualified to be NFL coaches, there isn’t a huge pool of people who are qualified to be University Chancellor or President. If you are in the market for a new one, well, you have to work up or down from the market rate. Professors hate that, because they feel like they should be worth more, but there is a tsunami of adjuncts just waiting for those jobs to open up, so there really isn’t a need to raise the salaries there. Unless you are a superstar researcher, and then you will get a salary bump when you get offered tenure at Harvard or MIT.

    I do think he is right on with the problem of having sub-deans and under-deans, but that is how professors get raises. By playing campus politics and taking on those crap jobs that lead to various deanships and stipends. Not by doing straight research and certainly not by teaching. Also, this is why there is a huge number of admins now. Many of these jobs were at one time done by faculty. Academic senates fought super hard to get professors out of those jobs, in the name of professionalizing the work (and furthering research.) And as the number of students has gone up, so had the number of admin and staff positions. Tenured positions haven’t gone up as there is, like I said above, a wave of phd’s who will do anything to keep the dream alive.

    None of this explains why tuition has gone up so much. It does show that what is happening is not an unnatural occurrence though. Unfortunately, Campos doesn’t explain it either.

    (Full disclosure, father was a professor and my wife is an HR analyst at a major public university.)Report

  6. Avatar James K says:

    Very interesting Rufus.

    This sounds like a governance problem to me. High and mid-level management using tuition money to empire-build by increasing their administrator pool.

    Of course, working out what to do about it is a different issue.Report

    • Avatar aaron david says:

      I isn’t just management empire building. It was also (in the US at least) faculty doing everything it can to get away from day to day management.Report

  7. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    A friend of mine posted this essay from our old contributer Freddie De Boer:


    Choice paragraph:

    “We are left with a situation in which institutions that were originally created to perpetuate the reign of an inherited, moneyed elite, and to train that elite to be civic leaders, are now facing the burden of incredible expectations. We expect our colleges, at this point, to essentially create a healthy labor market. With the demise of the middle class uneducated lifestyle, thanks to deliberate policy choices to crush unions and globalize labor markets, colleges are now expected to train an ever-growing population of students adequately to ensure them good jobs. Meanwhile, the madcap race to compete in the Resort-Hotel-Plus-Classes vision of higher education has resulted in an increasing reliance on exploited adjunct labor, the demise of the professoriate, the rise of sky-high tuitions and attendant debt loads, and more and more deserved public scrutiny.”Report

    • Avatar aaron david says:

      How is the labor exploited if they are signing up in record numbers, knowing full well there are no benefits nor likely tenure track positions?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Professors with tenure are telling stories about their own horrible graduate experiences to the graduate students.

        The graduate students at Commuter College are not noticing that the professors happen to have graduate degrees from Ivy College. They do the cargo cult thing that their professors tell them stories about and, when the planes don’t land, hey. It must be because the Commuter College graduate students just couldn’t cut the mustard.

        And so the professors tell the same stories to the next batch.

        I’ve heard that there are more journalism students graduating in any given year than there are jobs in the industry. Not openings, mind. *JOBS*. Like, jobs in total. Like if everybody with a journalism job died and they hired a journalism graduate, they’d still have journalism graduates left over after filling all the positions.

        There’s something going on here. It’s not to the benefit of the students.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


        I don’t think @jaybird is completely right. I think there are a lot of professors who are completely clueless about what is happening in the university or assume stuff like “When I was a PhD student, I taught classes at 5 different universities to get experience…” and assume that current adjunctification is the same and that their students will be okay.

        It is very hard to convince people that things are perhaps different or undergoing a paradigm shift instead of what has always been. My mom doesn’t think the changes in the law injustry are anything more than a cyclical downturn or the same up and downs that has always befallen people in careers.

        And as I’ve said before and will end up saying again, we are very good at telling people what not to do but not providing positive guidance on what they should do. We can say “don’t go to law school”, “don’t go into academics”, “don’t go into the arts”. We can’t say what people should do though except maybe major in marketing and hope for the best.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. says:

        I think it depends on what we mean by exploited. Freddie’s a socialist, if I remember right, so his exploited is probably different from, say, a libertarian’s or even a liberal’s. I would just say they’re underpaid and overworked in a system in which it’s exceedingly difficult to advance. They’re taken advantage of by the professariat’s optimistic blather about how they’re getting their foot in the door at a time when the market is just about to improve, something that they’ve been doling out for the last three decades.

        The issue isn’t really that they’re signing up in record numbers, though, it’s that departments are still overproducing PhDs who come to find that there aren’t many jobs there for them. And, let’s be honest, it really is sort of counter-intuitive to think that getting a PhD is a really bad career decision.Report

      • Avatar aaron david says:

        @rufus-f @jaybird
        I have two ex girlfriends with PHd’s, neither of which ended up with tenure. I tend to be very cynical about “super smart” people making crap decisions because they didn’t actually look at all of the facts, just the ones they wanted to look at. I know that sucks for people in the situation, such as Rose and yourself, but many of us outside the academic world have been through similar situations like downsizing and layoffs. No professor is holding students at gunpoint and forcing them to get PHd’s. Are they telling stories? No more than the Army recruiters are. Getting a PHd is not necessarily bad, just realize what you are getting into.

        As for Freddie, one of the problems with the Marxist dialectic is that many people roll there eyes at it. Freddie would be a much better writer and thinker if he forced himself away for just one year. Learn to say the same things using a different language.

        I know you hate economics, but it just the study of actions. Every anti-economic stance you take is just another economic stance. We are all responsible for our own success. My perfect career died with the internet. Just as technology has taken its bite out of the law market, it will take its bite out of the academic market. Both markets have gotten more cutthroat, and it might take a more driven person to succeed now than in the past. My family thought I should be an academic, as that was the family trade. Fortunately (or not) I hated school. Made other decisions with their own fallout. Nothing stays the same.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck says:

        “Freddie would be a much better writer and thinker if he forced himself away for just one year.”

        And he’s so close to doing it, too. He’s already started to realize that being in front of the mob doesn’t mean you’re leading it.Report

      • Avatar j r says:

        I think there are a lot of professors who are completely clueless about what is happening in the university or assume stuff like “When I was a PhD student, I taught classes at 5 different universities to get experience…” and assume that current adjunctification is the same and that their students will be okay.

        I am not sure how much of a possibility this is. Professors do the hiring for their departments, not administrators. And professors guide their grad students through the academic job market. They ought to know which programs are competitive and which programs are not. If there is something that they are missing about the job market, I cannot think of any other explanation but willful ignorance.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        As for Freddie, one of the problems with the Marxist dialectic is that many people roll there eyes at it.

        It’s worse than that.

        The problem with Marxist dialectic is that it’s tl;dr.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. says:

        If there is something that they are missing about the job market, I cannot think of any other explanation but willful ignorance.

        There is a ton of wishful thinking in academia about the job market that just has to come back before long. But, in all fairness, the time to really advise students about it is when they’re considering going to grad school in the first place and it’s hard with any market to predict what it’s going to be like in six or seven years time.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:


        Re: super smart people looking only at the facts they want to see…

        When I was in graduate school the terrain was rapidly changing right under our feet. There was an institution-wide “attack on tenure” (politically motivated, as I recall); an economic contraction in spending which was realized as an increasing number of non-TT adjunct appointments; the growth of on-line educational opportunities both within and outside of the university system (which meant that fewer profs were needed to reach X number of students; etc and so on. All of the profs I spoke with within my department effectively said that if the job market as it was today existed back when they were deciding to get their PhDs, they woulda gone into another field. They also specifically said, almost to a person, that unless I simply couldn’t live without doing work in my field, then it’d be better to choose something else.

        Now, these views weren’t widely promulgated within the department, but when I pinned folks down on where they thought the economic/career rubber met job-prospect road, they were not reluctant to share their views with me. Lots of the students went on to “careers” bouncing around between single semester gigs in the hopes of landing something more stable. Only a few receive TT offers within the first several years and only one right outa the program. And lots of others moved into other work, of course.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        super smart people looking only at the facts they want to see…

        Super smart people are, in the end, people.

        Perhaps the most annoying feature of super smart people is that their awareness of their super smartness often makes them believe they are immune to ordinary human cognitive biases. This applies to every physicist ever.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        In my experience, folks who view themselves as “super smart” believe that the only kind of intelligence that matters is of the highly abstract conceptual variety. THey’re not smart enough to realize there are other kinds of intelligence. I had a conversation with a friend recently in which she told me her husband was too smart to build the walls to finish their basement. (She meant this as complimentary!) “Too smart to nail some 2x4s together?” I asked apparently too stupid to understand what she meant. She looked at me like I was too stupid to understand what she meant. “He’s, like, super smart”, was all she could say.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Oh man, I am so using that excuse.

        “Look, babe, it’s not that I don’t want to put those curtains up, it’s just that I’m too damned smart to be able to do it.”

        I can’t believe that works!

        (Something tells me it won’t for me, likely because I’m not smart enough to pull it off.)Report

      • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

        Yeah, my wife wouldn’t go for that. Of course, given my past experiences, playing the Too Smart for Mundane Tasks card is a non starter. If I could do that kind of work before college… well college didn’t take away my ability to do that.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        “Baby, have you seen all the academic Achievement letters after my name? I’m so damn smart I don’t even know how a wall works, let alone how to build one of those weird things. Only stupid people can figure that shit out.”Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        @stillwater this is, in the end, what I didn’t like about living in LiberalNortheasternCity. We lived in a really nice MetroBoston neighborhood; my neighbor’s were fine, successful people; lawyers, doctors, scientists. Nobel prize winners and Pulitzer Prize winners. These were some fascinating people.

        But I grew more and more discomforted with their view of the people who fixed their cars and furnaces and plowed their driveways. But I’m of a view that migrant workers who pick fruit and vegetables are highly skilled at what they do; it’s easy to fail to recognize the diverse skills workers have; how many types of plants they know, the methods to best harvest each crop. With crops that produce from the same plant for many years, how you harvest to assure good crop the following year. There’s a vast knowledge of the details of such work that have to be mastered. It’s not unskilled, it’s highly skilled; but it’s not taught in a class room, it’s taught in the field.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        Only stupid people can figure that shit out.

        It’s not the concepts, often. It’s the unpleasantness and over-stimulation of the work environment. A lot of really, really bright people are highly sensitive to noise, unpleasant smells (unless they’re making them as they pursue a project), etc. The sawing and hammering; the dirty grease in the car, the nasty furnace smells are overwhelming to their senses. Not all, granted. But many.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        The point isn’t bragging about it to her. The point is getting her to think that she will be able to brag about it.

        Note: if she does brag about it, she will probably quickly find that she probably shouldn’t.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:


        For me it’s even worse than that. It’s not so much that being good at agricultural work is a skill, it’s the assumption that the folks who pick lettuce don’t have any kind of interesting mental/intellectual life. That they’re all just too stupid to have a “more interesting” job. I good friend of mine who’s about thirty now (I know him thru my kids, actually) is a carpenter, and he’s told me confronts all sorts of judgment from “educated” folks for not wanting to do more with his life. “You just want to be a framer?” followed by the inevitable pause or sheepish, judgmental “…well…”.

        Of course, this kid has a very rich mental life (he thinks about politics and policy, reads up on history and current affairs, etc), one which from where I’m sitting is no less robust or rigorous than the folks who look down on him for his choices. Strange stuff, if you ask me.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Cultural signals for $400, Alex.

        noise, unpleasant smells

        What are things super smart people associate with blue collar labor?Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        Ha. OT Jeopardy. I like it.Report

      • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

        it’s the assumption that the folks who pick lettuce don’t have any kind of interesting mental/intellectual life.

        I know, it’s like how everyone thinks that truck drivers are dumb as a box of hammers, right @road-scholar ?Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. says:

        Uhhhh…. there is an aspect of this that I can relate to, but I really don’t want to sound like I’m saying I’m super smart!

        What I will say is that understanding things like what Being and Time is going on about or picking up a new language seems to come easier to me than really embarrassingly easy things, so I was always a bit irritating for loved ones. In school, they had me in the gifted and learning disabled programs simultaneously. And it’s still about the same. Last week, I finally had to have someone at work explain to me how filling a prescription works because I just couldn’t figure it out. I used to drive my ex-wife nuts because I can’t put things away unless I’ve decided upon an arrangement that makes sense and I have serious difficulty doing things like checking account balances. None of this is cute, mind you. It’s generally really annoying for other people.

        As for the sounds, if I was in the front row of a 250 person lecture hall and two students were whispering in the back row on the other side of the hall, I knew.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        If understanding Being and Time comes easier than just about anything, you’re doing one of the two wrong ;).Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. says:

        Oh, I’m sure I have exes who would agree with that!

        It’s funny- I wanted to say I understand that philosopher, but that would involve saying HE WHO CANNOT BE NAMED.Report

      • Avatar ScarletNumber says:


        But I’m of a view that migrant workers who pick fruit and vegetables are highly skilled at what they do;

        While I don’t doubt this is true, I think you are overstating the amount of cognitive ability this requires.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        As the man himself might himself say, “The accomplishment of this task appears to be easy and so trivial that we still believe we may avoid it.”Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Idiots weren’t the only people enslaved and sent on a boat to America (Just look at the IQ scores!). Likewise, it’s fairly easy to get stuck being a migrant worker. Just be born in the wrong family, that’s all it takes.

        And I think that’s more zic’s point — anyone smart will create a good and lively mentalscape, regardless of what they’re doing for work. That’s not everyone, true… but it’s a lot of people.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        @scarletnumber I don’t think I do. But I grew up farming, and I watch young adults, who did not have that benefit, trying to learn how to farm, and the cognitive stuff they struggle with seems rather apparent to me. My BIL, an actuary, tried farming for a few years, and had gained some rare insight into the things where he’s stupid.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

        @oscar-gordon Of course, given my past experiences, playing the Too Smart for Mundane Tasks card is a non starter.

        Did you tell her about comparative advantage? Draw her some diagrams if you have to. Use an old-fashioned blackboard for maximum effect. Whiteboards just aren’t credible.Report

      • @chris

        “Look, babe, it’s not that I don’t want to put those curtains up, it’s just that I’m too damned smart to be able to do it.”

        Truth be told (and I realize this isn’t exactly the same thing), our apartment has those curtain blinds with tension strings to open and close them. We’ve lived there almost 5 years, and I still haven’t mastered how to open and close the blinds. That and fitted sheets. I can’t seem to get the darn things on.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Fitted sheets are impossible, and are specifically designed to drive people insane.

        Not long ago I was complaining that fitted sheets were impossible, so R. showed me a video of Martha Stewart folding one. I told her that if Martha Stewart was doing it, that just proved that it is impossible for mere mortals.Report

      • @chris

        At least I understand why fitted sheets exist (though, like you, I have a lot of difficulty fitting them on the bed). The tension-blinds, however, seem like something much overly complicated for the benefit they provide.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      I agree with you agreeing with Freddie. Apart from the strange bit of analysis in the first sentence, I agree with what he’s saying. Especially the second sentence.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

        Freddie is not completely right about the origin of the university. The first ones were meant to train clergy, lawyers, and doctors. There were always some scholarship students (Isaac Newton worked as a valet to pay for Cambridge. They were called subsizars then) and there were always places like City College or Normal Colleges.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. says:

        Yeah, I was surprised by how shoddy that first paragraph was, particularly in such a thorough piece. The central role of divinity colleges wasn’t even mentioned.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        The history in DeBoer’s essay is just wrong. Colleges and universities in the United States were always relatively much more mass market than their European counterparts. We had more colleges and more college students than anybody else.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:


        Maybe he’s thinking of “elite” schools, which serve a specific role in cultural gatekeeping?

        Seems to me the emergence of colleges/universities was of a piece with the rise of HSs: an effort to train people up to perform in an industrialized, ever-increasingly complex economy. It’s just that the inertia behind the motivations for attaining a degree is far outrunning the market’s ability to employ all these degreed/advance-degreed people. The logic from a policy/smart-guy pov appears to have been something like the following: if you educate them, the market will find them work. Folks are revising their belief in that logic. For obvious reasons.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

      With the demise of the middle class uneducated lifestyle

      I actually think this is, taken on it’s own, a good thing. Some kind of post high school skilled training or education is a net benefit to society.

      Of course, if we are to in effect require it, we should make sure supply can meet demand.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        Americans are really bad at making sure the education system fits the economic needs of the time. We seem to want it both ways. We want as many people to go as far as possible with their education but we also want people to take full responsibility for every choice they make.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Not all of us want people to go as far as they possibly can with their education.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        Not all of us do but American educational policy can best be described as get as many people as far as possible in their education.Report

      • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

        Well, the guy who basically lives at college and keeps changing majors because he can’t decide/doesn’t want to enter the work force needs to stop going as far as possible with his education.

        And PhDs really should be a very limited set, since a PhD can educate you right out of a career outside of Academia.Report

      • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

        Worrying about that guy is like worrying about the woman in her Cadillac buying steak and lobster with food stamps.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

      PS one of the reasons I like the growth of online classes & programs is that it helps bridge the gap between supply & demand. It isn’t always optimal but it gets better every year.Report

      • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:


        2 points:

        1) I’ve mentioned this before, but post high school education requires young adults who believe in themselves enough to complete it, or schools with support systems ready to help students who struggle. Our adult education systems are still a relatively scarce commodity, and people in general view them as such, so kids who don’t show potential are discouraged (subtly and actively) from pursuing slots in a class.

        2) The decline of companies &/or unions offering OJT or other training means we need to push more & more workforce training toward dedicated institutions. Which would be fine, if there was a growth of schools to fill the need. But nobody seems to want to start up a tech school, they always want to build a college/university (more money & prestige, I suppose). This is a place where government should be helping to change the incentives, but the fed/states are all still stuck in thinking that a 4 year degree is the only thing with any value, so that is what they incentivize (despite political mouths saying otherwise).Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        I agree that the decline of on the OJT is bad. I’m not sure if schools could pick up the slack because of the nature of the market. Ideally we would want to give kids enough skill where they could do multiple jobs rather than the particularly hot and in demand job at the moment like pharmacist. Many jobs are going to require more specialized and dedicated education, which means that a kid is going to really know that he or she wants to be an architect, pilot, or something. Most aren’t. Most people are going to a variety of jobs through out their career. Trying to determine the bes skills for this is difficult.Report

      • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:


        I don’t know that schools necessarily should, at least not without some kind of public support. This is one area where I think a lot of Unions have dropped the ball, and it’s hurt their ability to stay relevant in the changing economy (too much spending on politics for protection, not enough of doing what is best, IMHO, for their membership).Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        I’ve had to learn my job anew every time I’ve changed companies (and sometimes departments). Not the core of the duties, but the weird corporate stuff that you have to do before you get to the core of the duties.

        Creating a new account for the new guy is creating a new account for the new guy. Making sure that the Form 1748-C had both the supervisor *AND* the project manager sign section W? That’s the stuff that will get people asking “DON’T YOU KNOW HOW TO DO YOUR JOB???”Report

    • Avatar j r says:

      Agree with everything that Freddie says, except for this bit:

      With the demise of the middle class uneducated lifestyle, thanks to deliberate policy choices to crush unions and globalize labor markets…

      I guess it could be called a deliberate policy choice to allow South Korea and Taiwan and China and India and Bangladesh, etc. to develop manufacturing industries that could compete with our own. We could have nuked them or something before they got there.Report

      • Avatar North says:

        Oh it wouldn’t have taken nukes, just tarriff walls. We’d all be pretty miserable now though and a hell of a lot worse off.Report

      • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

        @j-r @north So, the two choices are either 20’s styles tariffs or unrestrained movement of global capital?Report

      • Avatar j r says:


        I’m not sure what that question is supposed to be getting at. There are lots of policy choices that we could have and/or did make.

        The point of my comment is that short of bombing the developing countries back to the pre-industrial times, there is not much that our domestic political decisions could have done to stop them from developing competitive manufacturing industries. Even high tariffs would not have been enough as we need to export goods and services as well and high tariffs have a way of being reciprocated.Report

  8. Avatar Road Scholar says:

    While the trends you point out are troubling I find it difficult to credit the assertion that were it not for waste, fraud, and abuse of various stripes there would be no significant tuition inflation.

    Some time ago I looked into the numbers and for the last forty years the price of education — public and private, K-12 to grad school — had risen at a rate fully three times the overall rate of inflation over that period. So, for example, if the background rate of inflation was 3% then the price of education rose by 9%. What gets interesting is when you look at the cumulative effect of that differential over those forty years.

    1.03^40 is 3.26 and 1.09^40 is 31.4. Meaning that on average an item that cost $100 in 1975 would cost about $326 today. But if you paid $1000 in tuition in 1975 you would pay approximately $31400 today. I started my freshman year in 1978 and from the figures I could find on my alma mater website that comparison is pretty close. Put it this way, back then my bill for the dorm and meal plan was more than my tuition.

    So that all implies that if we want to claim that the increasing costs of education are entirely explained by shenanigans of various sorts then almost 90% ((31.4 – 3.26) / 31.4 = 89.6%) of your current tuition dollar is being flushed down the wfa toilet.

    I’m willing to be convinced, and I cheerfully admit I have no clue how the line items on a typical university budget would break out, but I find that very hard to believe and I’m going to insist upon more evidence than I’ve seen presented so far.Report

    • Avatar Will H. says:

      Teaching kids how not to read can get a bit spendy.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. says:

      To be fair, I have looked through a handful of university budgets- capital and operating- and could probably only cut about 50% of the cost and, as others have suggested, there would be plenty of amenities that would go along with lots of admins and staff. In addition, a LOT more people go to university now, so state funding can fail to keep up with need and be defunded in that way. Certainly, many people who have looked at this issue agree that it’s an issue of the government not providing enough funding. I would argue that states also bloat university budgets by using the state U’s as a sort of make-work program, which also results in quite a bit of unnecessary hiring.Report

      • @rufus-f

        Certainly, many people who have looked at this issue agree that it’s an issue of the government not providing enough funding.

        Curiously, though, that seems to be the principal claim against which Campos is arguing. He’s not even claiming so much that it’s the increase in admins and their salaries as he’s claiming that the story of rising costs is due to something other than a decline in state funding. He even says the increase in admins and salaries is theoretically “defensible.”Report

      • (Which, now that I’ve reread your post, you’re actually aware of and are discussing. Sorry for being preachy about something you obviously are cognizant of and engaging.)Report

  9. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    1. There are a lot of things that universities do now that they didn’t do in the past like have whole IT departments. My undergrad first got ethernet in 1998. You didn’t need IT departments when everyone used pen and paper and typewriter.

    2. What is interesting is how this shows that supply v. demand is really more complicated than other things when it comes to jobs. People say that ajuncts exist because there is more supply than demand after decades of too many people going to grad school. Adjuncts just make sense considering the overabundance of PhDs. But shouldn’t the same be true for admins? There have to be a lot of them too. Why is it that decreased standards for some professions is justified by over-supply but not others?Report

    • Avatar James K says:


      You didn’t need IT departments when everyone used pen and paper and typewriter.

      Yes, but you did need a typing pool and a lot more clerical workers than you would have today.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


        I was thinking more about the students who use computers, e-mails, upload exams, etc. Also, as far as I have heard, it was always common for departments to have one secretary/admin. Maybe two or three for really large departments.Report

      • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

        Even if you can make the argument that going from “no IT” to “normal modern IT” is an expensive move, the cost of a unit of IT is definitely not spiraling out of control. It shouldn’t be contributing to a long-term trend unless they’re making some really bad decisions.Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain says:

        It seems almost inconceivable that there was “no IT” until 1998. No broad student-facing network, perhaps. But the operation of the school as a business was almost certainly heavily computer driven from at least the late 70s. My undergrad school had a campus-wide network for that purpose when I got there in 1972. It was built around a mainframe and hundreds of fairly dumb terminals, but that was a standard IBM arrangement for the day. IT in those days was fairly labor intense, just not as intense (or error prone) as doing things on paper. At least in engineering, typing pools were being rapidly phased out beginning around 1980. IIRC, by about 1993 some academic journals begin requiring papers to be submitted on digital media.

        Managing a student-facing network in 1998 was most likely a quite small incremental increase in IT staff and operating budget. If the school had any sense, installation of the cabling and managed hubs/switches was contracted out and was a one-time capital expense.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. says:

        It’s weird though- the large university where I did my graduate work and the one that I clean now both undertook large-scale overhauls of their networks every few years to new systems that, invariably, didn’t work half the time. I don’t know if that’s a common thing or not.Report

      • hundreds of fairly dumb terminals

        3270s, I’m guessing? Which were, I’ve always thought, pretty much the inspiration for web browsers. Some local display and editing capacity, but their main job is to send a request to the server and get a response back. (As opposed to VT100-style terminals that sends and receives a character at a time.)Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        “Managing a student-facing network in 1998”

        and I doubt it was a small effort even that late. A friend wrote me a paper letter (the last one he would write) about the wonders of e-mail at his college – and mine – while the first Bush was still President. Right before AOL burst on the scene, one could tell the rhythm of the internet (and latency) based on when colleges were in session, and when they were not.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


        There was always some e-mail but I wasn’t allowed to take finals on laptops until 2008 during my first year of law school. 2011 was the first year that they figured out how to let people use macs as well as PCs for the Bar Exam. Before that Mac users either had to purchase a PC for the bar or take it by hand.Report

      • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

        I remember supporting 3270 terminals, so probably (well, 3270 connections running under Win 3.11)Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        It’s weird though- the large university where I did my graduate work and the one that I clean now both undertook large-scale overhauls of their networks every few years to new systems that, invariably, didn’t work half the time. I don’t know if that’s a common thing or not.

        I should have included this along with constant construction and parking problems as university universals, though in a sense it’s part of the same mindset that makes construction constant: “We have this money, and we’re going to use it to build big, shiny, cutting edge stuff!” Function is secondary, which is why nothing ever works when it rolls out at a university.

        Years ago, a floor of the UT Psych building was being renovated (about 5 years after it opened, I shit you not!), and it was extremely disruptive: it meant that the main conference rooms, where weekly brown bags, other talks, and meetings were held, were out of service, and the mail room was blocked, two things that any academic will understand to be infuriating. So one day, frustrated, I asked one of the contractors when the construction will be finished, and he said to me completely seriously, “When the money runs out.” This, I believe, is not that uncommon.Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain says:

        It’s weird though- the large university where I did my graduate work and the one that I clean now both undertook large-scale overhauls of their networks every few years to new systems that, invariably, didn’t work half the time.

        Networks, or software systems? I kind of doubt the former. Since twisted-pair Ethernet won in the late 1980s, and Ethernet switching became available around 1990, network upgrades in my experience are pretty much incremental and painless. I have argued for about 20 years now that most fixed-location end users are perfectly fine with switched 10Mbps Ethernet, and almost all with switched 100Mbps. Higher speeds may be needed for LAN backbones, but single end-users that can saturate a full-duplex switched 100Mbps link are pretty rare.

        Software systems are another matter. Universities (and their cousins, state and local governments) seem to have more than their share of software fiascoes. While I was a legislative budget analyst, one of my tasks involved sitting in on a series of post-mortem analyses of failed software projects. My summary of the two root causes were (1) the typical bureaucracy can’t specify its way out of a paper sack; and (2) procurement systems designed by statute to prevent minor pilferage and abuse are a disaster when buying a multi-million-dollar piece of software.Report

  10. Avatar Kazzy says:

    Are we sure which direction the arrow points?

    Many sports fans bemoan player salaries as the reason for high ticket prices. But the reality is the opposite: the owners are making a ton of money because demand for tickets is high and that allows them to charge alot; consequently, they have more money to spend (or money they are obligated to spend if the CBA requires a portion of revenue to go to players).

    Might that be the case here? At least partly?Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. says:

      Sure. Thirty years ago, not going to college wasn’t such a big deal. Maybe you weren’t one of those “college boys”, but how many people did you know who were?

      Now? Looking for a job without a college degree? You might as well have dropped out of high school.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        I think student loans are also a factor. If the government offered everyone $300 to spend on baseball tickets and said they’d have 25 years to pay it back, how much would ticket prices go up?Report

      • Avatar aaron david says:

        That is a huge part of it. Everything that is happening is pretty standard economics.Report

    • Avatar ScarletNumber says:

      I agree with you about ticket prices. “High” salaries have nothing to do with the price of tickets.Report

  11. Avatar A Compromised Immune System says:

    College administrators claim that tuition keeps going up because government funding for higher ed is in free fall; however, this is not particularly true.

    When you build your case on a false premise, your entire case fails. The numbers are clear, state funding is a fraction of what it once was.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. says:

      The entire case fails? So you’re saying there is not a great deal of administrative bloat and wasteful spending in university budgets?Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. says:

      Also, if the high point for state appropriations was $86.6 billion and now, after the recession, it’s down to $81 billion how is that a ‘fraction’ of what it once was? Especially considering that funding for Pell Grants and the like has increased from any previous high?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        187/200 is a fraction.Report

      • Avatar j r says:

        Also, when it comes to public budgeting, absolute numbers don’t tell you much. What you want to know is spending as a percentage of something else, like percentage of total spending or percentage of revenues. Spending per student would also be an interesting metric, especially when coupled with exactly what that spending is on.Report

      • Avatar ScarletNumber says:


        Also, if the high point for state appropriations was $86.6 billion and now, after the recession, it’s down to $81 billion how is that a ‘fraction’ of what it once was?


        187/200 is a fraction.

        LOL #MathFailReport

  12. Avatar Damon says:

    “In other words, far from being caused by funding cuts, the astonishing rise in college tuition correlates closely with a huge increase in public subsidies for higher education. ”

    Incentives matter. When you subsidize something, you get more of it. Sure, a lot of that money goes to buildings, parking lots, and stuff related to the increase in demand, but it also goes to the ‘crats. You see the same thing with the recent massive funding of “intelligence” and all the companies getting into the market space. With this type of money sloshing around, pigs rush the trough and get fat.Report

  13. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    While it’s quite plausible that this is a factor, Campos doesn’t demonstrate how much of a factor it is. That is, suppose total expenditures were, adjusted for inflation, $x/student in 1980 and $y/student in 2014. And suppose total spending on administrators was $a/student in 1980 and $b/student in 2014. What is (b – a)/(y – x), i.e., the fraction of the total increase in costs per student explained by increases in spending on administrative staff? If Campos knows, why isn’t he telling us? And if he doesn’t know, why is he writing this op-ed?

    Also, I suspect that rising salaries for high-level administrators are due at least in part to competition from the business world. According to this article, there were nine public universities with a president making more than one million dollars per year—so let’s be clear, seven figures is still very much the exception—with a median of $480,000 for the 256 universities surveyed. A lot of these universities are huge, with 50,000 or more students, tens of thousands of employees, and budgets on the order of $5 billion, which would put them around the tail end of the Fortune 500 list if they were public companies. I can see a good university president being totally worth it. Whether they actually are, I don’t know. Maybe it’s all cronyism and public choice.

    It would be really nice to see the increase actually broken down. This much went to classrooms, this much to professors, this much to administrators, this much to recreational facilities, this much to labs, this much to dorms, etc., and this is how much went to those things in 1970 or 1980 or whenever.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. says:

      Universities…. sort of make this information public, but it tends to be hard to track down. Looking at the operating budget at the university where I work, of $598 million in expenditures, $428 million went to salaries, wages, and benefits. Then, all of the building maintenance, renovations, utilities, and equipment cost roughly $41 million. Interestingly, that has declined by a few million each year for the last three years listed. Scholarships and work study funding came out to $29 million. Then you have a somewhat confusing $62 million for other expenses. So the buildings, facilities, and equipment comes out to about %7 of the budget. But, it’s still not terribly specific and what bothers me is they don’t include the capital budget; just the operating budget.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. says:

        I can’t find what an adjunct makes, although I know it’s $6,000 per course. The grad student instructors, who are unionized interestingly enough make $25,000/ year on average, and teach a comparable course load, often more than Professors, who make $145,834 a year and Associate Professors who make on average about $124,000. So, that gives an idea of that part of it. They do have “lecturers” as well, but only in science and engineering.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        This is from The Adjunct Project:

        Naropa University
        $2,159 – $2,700 per course
        Composition, Rhetoric, Writing: $2,159

        University of Colorado at Boulder
        $4,300 – $6,000 per course
        Mathematics: $6,000

        Front Range Community College
        $1,800 – $3,562 per course
        Humanities: $1,800Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. says:

        And a semester extends over four months, usually. So, think about $500 a month to teach a course.Report

  14. Avatar zic says:

    Academe Blog has an analysis of Campos’ numbers.

    Campos shifts from citing percentage increases to citing changes in raw dollar totals when doing so suits his argument—and that sort of selective and inconsistent number-crunching undermines the credibility of his analysis: “State appropriations reached a record inflation-adjusted high of $86.6 billion in 2009. They declined as a consequence of the Great Recession, but have since risen to $81 billion. And these totals do not include the enormous expansion of the federal Pell Grant program, which has grown, in today’s dollars, to $34.3 billion per year from $10.3 billion in 2000.”

    But that brings us to what Campos does get right. He rightly emphasizes that any increases in spending on higher education have not gone to faculty compensation or even to an increase in full-time faculty, despite the steady increases in enrollment: “Interestingly, increased spending has not been going into the pockets of the typical professor. Salaries of full-time faculty members are, on average, barely higher than they were in 1970. Moreover, while 45 years ago 78 percent of college and university professors were full time, today half of postsecondary faculty members are lower-paid part-time employees, meaning that the average salaries of the people who do the teaching in American higher education are actually quite a bit lower than they were in 1970.”


    Even though he lays out many of the relevant elements, what Campos doesn’t really get at is that, regardless of who is footing the bill, the “real cost” of higher education–that is, expenditures per student–has not risen much since 1970. But what have changed dramatically are the percentages of the institutional revenues that are being allocated to administration and to instruction. The rise in the exploitation of both part-time and full-time contingent faculty is directly related to the transfer of allocations from tenure-track faculty lines to administrative budget lines.


    • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

      what Campos doesn’t really get at is that, regardless of who is footing the bill, the “real cost” of higher education–that is, expenditures per student–has not risen much since 1970.

      I would very much like to see a source for this.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. says:

        I would very much like to see a source for this.

        So, I’d ask him. Academe Blog doesn’t look like a terribly busy website and there are no comments there as of yet.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

        Way ahead of you. Well, a little bit ahead of you. My comment over there is in moderation, though.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Yeah, he supplies no support for the 1970 assertion, and it’s a dramatic assertion that needs to be supported.

        Do private colleges cost now what they did in 1970?Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. says:

      Ah, okay, so he’s wrong about state spending and right about how the money has been allocated. So, half and half, which is what people have been saying here. Thanks for the link! I’ll add it to the post.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

        But this doesn’t at all establish that Campos is wrong about state spending. There’s no challenge to his claim that real state spending is just short of the all-time high, and that increases to Pell Grants put subsidies effectively at an all-time high. The sole claim to the contrary is that Bobby Jindahl has cut higher education spending, as if cuts in one small state cancelled out the national trend.

        It also conflates percentage of tuition covered by the state with the absolute amount of the state subsidy, ignoring the fact that this is precisely the issue: that tuition can increase despite steady or increasing state subsidies if real costs are increasing. It claims that they haven’t increased “much” since 1970, but provides no source or details.

        Basically that post does everything it accuses Campos of.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        Pew says 48 states cut spending since the Great Recession began.

        University officials argue that past budget cuts have pushed them to the breaking point, forcing them, for example, to rely heavily on adjunct professors and teaching assistants instead of full professors. During the recession, 48 states cut higher education spending. Alaska and North Dakota didn’t. They are the only two states spending as much or more on higher education than they did before the recession, when the numbers are adjusted for inflation, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), a Washington, D.C.-based research group.


      • Avatar j r says:

        Even if Campos is wrong on state spending, the argument still stands. Tuition is not rising, because states are cutting spending. At most, we can say that states have failed to keep their spending rising at the same rate as tuition. The former isn’t really causing the latter.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        On the other hand, Campos using overall spending rather than per-pupil may be misleading.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Probably one of these:


        or maybe this (though it doesn’t go back to 1970):


        Per student spending is way down. I don’t know whether it’s at 1970s levels, but I’m not sure that’s really important to know.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        It’s worth pointing out that the second set of numbers (which I used for a Monday Trivia some time back) controls for “Higher Education Cost Adjustment”… which is like measuring the cost of health care while controlling for medical cost inflation. It’s useful for some things, but not necessarily spending levels.

        If you want an example of why that’s off-base, look at Texas. Their numbers say that Texas spends more per-pupil than it did in 1987. I would be willing to bet that tuition at state schools there is nonetheless considerably higher than it was then, and more than $700 or even a couple thousand higher.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        I don’t know what wouldn’t be an example of per-student spending.

        A new basketball stadium?
        An admin assistant to the ombudsman?

        If that’s the case, you can increase per-student spending by moving edge cases from that column to this one without changing anything else.Report

    • Avatar LWA says:

      Re: the supply and demand theory of education.
      Prior to 1975 , the University of California was virtually free to anyone with the grades to qualify.
      Yet when the enrollment rose, the state chose to build more campuses rather than limit the space by price.

      It was never cheap, and no administrator ever worked for free.

      After 1975, the state stopped building campuses and started raising tuition. It was a choice, a decision made instead of the alternative of raising taxes or cutting other budget items.

      There obviously are cases of poor spending by administrators, bloated admin salaries, stupid buildings constructed, and so on.

      But the basic equation is that the political desire to provide low cost college education doesn’t exist. It isn’t a priority, it isn’t championed by anyone who matters, and no one suggests the required sacrifices for it, the way we always seem to find the political will to build another prison or another tax cut.

      I only point this out again, to confront the “mysterious” rise in tuition as attributable to salaries, stadiums, or stupid students wanting an education in basketweaving.Report

      • Avatar aaron david says:

        A lot of truth in this. In the ’90’s the UC started looking to open more campuses, UC Merced being the first, but then the budget hits came.Report

        • Avatar Will Truman says:

          It’s not particularly clear to me that the space actually is being limited by price. I mean, it’s true that if it were free more people would go, but it’s not as though the number of slots has remained constant, or that (across the country anyway) state universities haven’t been built or expanded.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. says:

        But even if California did turn off the tap in 1975, the CSU system still responded to that growth in enrollments with very, very little faculty hiring and by growing their administrative level by 221 percent. They still scrimped on the people actually providing the education they serve to provide and spent on administration as if money wasn’t a consideration. As for the other two things- what students study or sports programs- those haven’t come up here as far as I know.Report

      • Avatar LWA says:

        That’s certainly true. Faculty policies are controlled by the Regents, who are political appointees of the governor.
        In other words, more political choices, not mysterious market forces.

        I can’t remember anyone running for governor on the popular platform of reducing administrators and raising the pay of professors, and building more campuses.
        Because it isn’t popular.Report

      • Avatar j r says:


        You’re the one citing mysterious market forces. Most of us who don’t buy the political story are quite explicit about what forces we are talking about.

        The part of your story that is missing is the difference in what a free education meant prior to 1975 and what it might mean today. The basket of goods and services that composes what a post-secondary education is ha quite simply changed to such an extent that we are almost talking about two different things.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        and building more campuses. Because it isn’t popular.

        It’s popular enough that Cu-Boulder has been what seems like at least two-three new buildings for over the last 15 years. Boulder’s campus has been in a manic build, build, BUILD phase that just keeps sustaining itself somehow (like a perpetual motion machine…).

        And tuition keeps going up up up up UP.

        Tho, to be honest, Ketchum really was do for a makeover. S’great ole building…Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. says:

        j r : To be fair though, the people on university boards calling for more money and higher tuition often site “the market” as the reason they have to undertake whatever expensive project they are undertaking. It’s sort of a two-sided coin. On the one hand, the spending they want is justified by competing with other universities in the market and, on the other, the spending they want to cut is justified by how expensive tuition is getting.

        At our university, we recently had a weird annual meeting where admins broke it to us gently that we’re up to be replaced with contract workers in 2018 because “saving money for students is a consideration”, and then crowed about the $200 million building project they were currently undertaking to build a satellite campus- and I loved this- in the downtown mall.

        If I read LWA correctly, he’s saying these funding appropriations decisions tend to be more like political power grabs with “the market” as a cover. Or maybe that’s too cynical?Report

      • Avatar j r says:

        There is nothing mysterious about these forces. Students, and their parents, want to go to highly-ranked colleges and universities with pleasant campuses, and lots of amenities and services. So, university administrators invest in new buildings and lots of administrative services and do their best to game the rankings.Report

      • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:


        If universities are being cagey with their budget line items, especially public universities, it’s a good bet you’re not being nearly cynical enough.Report

      • Avatar LWA says:

        All I am saying is that the political will on the part of the public to provide funding for higher education is lacking.

        Compare this to something like roads.
        In 1920 virtually all roadways were publicly funded.
        Since then, all the metrics of road construction- cost per capita, cost per mile driven, maintenance, etc- have varied wildly.
        And yet, we still pony up money to build and maintain roads, because a collapsed bridge or tangled intersection generates howls of protest.

        No one cites the complexities and changes of the metrics to patiently explain to us that we can’t fix the road and everyone simply must take the bus instead.
        Yes, the metrics and proportions of college costs have varied over the years, and yes its always complex.

        But I am not hearing a strong demand from the public and politicians to do something to provide universal tuition free college.

        The idea that it is too expensive is nothing more than saying we don’t value it enough to do it.
        If, in 2001, I had suggested that we commit 4 thousand billion dollars to provide college education, I would have been laughed off as a lunatic.

        Yet we somehow found that much money to spend on pointless wars against enemies who posed no threat to us.

        Budgets are just a listing of our priorities. College isn’t a priority among Those Who Matter, i.e. our pundits and politicians.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        Some other factors need to be analyzed to put the 1975 factoid in context. One is the growth rate in the California population (1970 – ~20 million, 1980 – ~23 million, 1990 – ~29 million – which is substantial but about half the growth rate % wise of the previous 20 years -> 1950 ~11 million). The other is the demographic bust in the birthrate starting in the late 60s and lasting until around 1980.

        By 1975, the boomers were mostly all in or past their traditional student age bracket. Notably, the 90s saw a slight decline in bachelor’s degrees conferred (dipping below 30K for several years), but now, the most recent years show the UC system is churning out almost 50K degrees a year. *That’s* the crisis. It was mostly hidden by demographics during the (first) Clinton years, but now the cycle is coming back around.

        (and the other thing to account for is how the CSU system handled things since 1975)Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        LWA, in the average state budget the largest line item is primary education (i.e. K-12), the second largest line item is Medicaid (which is the justifiable reason for some states to be gun shy about the Obamacare deal with that), and the third largest is higher eduction.

        University education *is* a budget priority. University education also does no good for the lower SES population that don’t have the background in the K-12 system (again, the biggest state budget item) to properly utilize higher education.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        And yet, we still pony up money to build and maintain roads, because a collapsed bridge or tangled intersection generates howls of protest.

        Well, we don’t tho, do we? Saul just wrote a good post on this topic, if I recall correctly. People get all excited about a 3 trillion dollar high sped rail system but are unwilling (lack political will ?) to pay for normal upkeep on existing infrastructure.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Alsotoo, as costs of maintenance compound over time and the price tag on those costs becomes an even greater political-will killer, we’ll see more roads (and etc) being privatized. In part due to the failure if finding a political solution. Seems to me anyway.Report

      • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

        University education also does no good for the lower SES population that don’t have the background in the K-12 system (again, the biggest state budget item) to properly utilize higher education.

        This. A university education should be tough to acquire, requiring a good deal of dedication, discipline, and intellectual rigor. As been said time & again, it is not for everyone, not even for a majority of people, certainly not straight out of high school.

        Too much focus on Univeristy, not enough on commuter college & tech school. If you want to focus on education, start with what can do the most good for the most people, and that is not university level education. Free tuition for universities will just encourage people who are not capable of succeeding at a university yet to give it a try, wasting resources.

        I actually liked Obama’s idea of two years free*, I just think he should not have applied it so broadly, & I objected to how he wanted to pay for it.

        *Well, taxpayer provided.Report

      • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

        I understand you don’t think this, but we already saw, prior to the GI bill, what a policy like that actually means in reality – rich, upper middle class, and extraordinarly smart people go to college, everybody else (especially if you’re not white) get targeted for technical training because “it’s a better fit for people like you.”Report

  15. Avatar LWA says:

    I suppose I am so persistent on this point, because most of the conversations I see on this topic all seem to lead back to a form of passivity, a fatalistic acceptance that nothing can possibly be done, that tuition free education is an impossibility, and yet none of us own this, no one bears any responsibility. Its the modern equivalent of the fate of the gods.
    We willingly chose this path, and choose every election cycle to continue on it.Report

    • Avatar j r says:

      What you choose to call passivity and fatalism is neither. Rather, it is simply a difference of opinion. Tuition free post-secondary education is certainly possible, but it is a bad idea. If individuals value education, then they ought to be willing to pay for it, at least contribute significantly towards it, themselves.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:


        “Tuition free post-secondary education is certainly possible, but it is a bad idea.”

        How do you feel about tuition free primary and secondary education? And if you think there exists a line on one side of which we say, “We offer you this free education,” and on the other side of which we say, “You ought to be willing to pay for/contribute significantly towards education,” do you think (approximately) 18 years of age is the appropriate place for that line?

        Would you prefer a sliding scale/spectrum over a line (e.g., free until your 10, a little payment from 11-14, more payment from 15-18, full payment at 18+).Report

      • Avatar j r says:


        Let’s be honest in that we already have that sliding scale. Secondary schools and below don’t charge tuition, but they tend to be funded out of property taxes, which can act as de facto tuition. I am all for tuition free pre-K to 12th grade education. And I wouldn’t mind a bit more equality in how schools are funded. Although; I would prefer that funding be attached to the student within a system that maximized school choice.

        And I think that the secondary/post-secondary line is the point at which it makes sense to go from tuition-free to paying some form of tuition. A college education is just a fundamentally different basket of goods and services than a high school education.Report

      • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:


        The K-12 education is what society feels is necessary for a minor to (ideally) be a functioning adult in the US. Further education is much more of a personal decision regarding the path an individual wishes to follow. I.E. K-12 is imposed & thus should be offered as a public service, college is not.

        Much of the current problem stems from the fact that for a long time, the K-12 education was, for the most part, sufficient for an adult to earn a middle class living. Nowadays, it’s barely enough to let you keep flipping burgers at McDonalds.Report

      • Avatar LWA says:

        If the only thing I can accomplish is to get people generally to own this decision- “We could afford to provide college education, but we choose not to do so” then I consider that a positive development.Report

      • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:


        My question is, what is your definition of a “college education”? Is it a baccalaureate degree, or just some kind of associates/technical certificate?

        I can see an argument for an AA/AS/TC, but a BA/BS or more is just setting up a lot of people to fail, or reducing standards, or tightening admissions, or encouraging degree mills, without a lot of regulatory intervention (much of the same could be said for AA/AS/TC, mind you, but I think the argument is stronger).Report

      • Avatar LWA says:


        If we can just be having such a discussion!

        I would be thrilled to see dueling bills introduced:
        A. Be it resolved we shall provide 4 years of university level education tuition free;
        B Be it resolved we shall provide an AA degree or technical training tuition free.Report

      • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:


        I think it would be a useful discussion, if for no other reason than it would expose a lot of the worry about, and generate possible remedies for, the things that prevents such a policy from becoming a reality. Things like:

        More tuition inflation
        degree mills
        students not taking it seriously


        The failure of politics, IMHO, is that proponents of an idea are rarely brutally honest with the pitfalls & shortcomings of their ideas, nor with how they think such things should best be dealt with. This was always debate 101 for me, don’t let the other guy gut your argument because you refused to address the weaknesses yourself.Report

      • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

        Is there any evidence, in Western countries that have free or very low cost college any evidence of diploma mills (which again, could be limited by evil gubermint regulations in the same way Obama regulated away half of Univ. of Phoenix’s student population), inflated tuition (again, saying you can’t charge tuition or fees as a public institution and take federal funds is a way to make colleges make choices about funding – the private Saint Safe School for Harvard Applicant’s isn’t the problem here), and students not taking it seriously (which is really just a backdoor way a lot of the time to say “why aren’t students interested in taking classes that I should think they should be interested in.”)Report

    • Avatar zic says:

      It’s worse than this, @lwa

      I’m not a big fan of the concept of American Exceptionalism, but if such a thing exists, one of the ways it existed was education; and at the university level, the US is still pulling students from all over the world (at tremendous economic gain, it should be noted). Today, in this nation, kids hear about the failure of their schools in just about every news broadcast newspaper, news blog, and many a family discussion; and we wonder why so many are failing. Instead of treating education as one of those things where we were exceptional, now we disrespect teachers, we barely pay most college professors at all, and (I think,) in the process, squander not only the precious resources of our children’s futures, but endanger reputation of being exceptional. Yeah, folks from other countries will still pay full tuition to send their kids to Harvard. But that will be because Harvard’s exceptional education, not because we have anything like an exceptional education system.Report

      • Avatar j r says:

        It’s a bit weird to start a comment saying that you’re not a fan of American Exceptionalism and then push headlong into a comment calling for more American Exceptionalism. Also, the idea that our education system is failing because we insufficiently “respect the authoritah” of teachers is questionable.

        There is a whole range of issues where people argue some form of “if we only cared more about X…” The problem here is that there is no “we.” We are an aggregation of different preferences and ideals. Any system that requires us to all want the same thing is destined to fail. And the more important problem is that there is very little efficacy in caring. What works and what does not works exists as a separate reality from what we care about.

        The first step is disentangling the is from the ought.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        It’s a bit weird to start a comment saying that you’re not a fan of American Exceptionalism and then push headlong into a comment calling for more American Exceptionalism.

        Why is it weird to say if we’re going to go around parading how exceptional we are to actually put the effort and respect into things where that might actually be (or have been) true?Report

      • Avatar j r says:

        Mostly because it is an argument that references an imaginary interlocutor who believes wholeheartedly in American Exceptionalism, but hates education.

        The deeper problem is that what makes schools successful or not doesn’t have much to do with how much effort and respect we put into things. Good communities tend to have good schools, because that’s part of what defines good communities. Bad communities tend to have bad schools, because schools aren’t magic places that can make up for other political and personal failures.Report

  16. Avatar ScarletNumber says:

    This wasn’t the raison d’etre of the post, but we had a good subthread going about different types intelligence and the distribution thereof.

    I seem to be in the minority here that I don’t think intelligence is evenly distributed. I think the people who commented seem to think that most people who do unskilled labor are just as smart as those who don’t, but perhaps I am misrepresenting their position.

    The topic might make a good post by someone going forward.Report

  17. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:


    I understand you don’t think this, but we already saw, prior to the GI bill, what a policy like that actually means in reality – rich, upper middle class, and extraordinarly smart people go to college, everybody else (especially if you’re not white) get targeted for technical training because “it’s a better fit for people like you.”

    First off, that is a false dilemma. Prior to the GI Bill, the public perception was that college was only for super smart rich people. Reducing the affordability barrier helped change that perception as veterans flooded campuses & public campuses rushed to expand. Returning to that public perception is not something that would happen quickly or easily and it does not have to happen.

    As for getting targeted for technical training, that is how Germany, home of the free public university education, does it. It uses tests during their equivalent of high school to slot a student into an educational path. I believe Denmark, another public education system, has some kind of testing system as well. AFAIK, there is no University system with heavy public subsidy in the world that does not screen applicants in some fashion or another (including the US). I don’t know how flexible that track system or how easy it is for vocational students to get into University later on.

    Which makes sense, a University Education, in order to have any value, must be challenging & rigorous. It is a scarce resource. It will not be for everyone. University admins also want to avoid a high attrition rate, because it looks bad, and it makes it hard to budget & plan if large swaths of students are failing every year, so doing a fair job of only accepting applicants who show the potential to succeed is a rational way to manage a scarce resource such as education.

    Looking back at my comment, which you failed to read or comprehend, I said this:

    If you want to focus on education, start with what can do the most good for the most people, and that is not university level education. Free tuition for universities will just encourage people who are not capable of succeeding at a university yet to give it a try, wasting resources.

    See the bolded words, they are important to the comment. I said we start with what can have the biggest impact on peoples lives. Most teenagers leaving HS are not ready, yet, to tackle college. They don’t have the maturity & discipline, or the academic grounding, or the support, or even the correct emotional state of mind, to succeed at University. Few High Schools graduate a majority of students who are ready for University right out of the gate. That doesn’t mean those newly minted adults don’t need some kind of training, which is where Commuter Colleges & Tech Schools come in. They bridge the gap. Students can take remedials that they need, learn a useful skill in a short time frame, and get into the workforce. Those that, later, when they are ready, want to pursue a University education, can do so; and we can certainly talk about public support for University students so they aren’t working long hours while trying to learn.

    But first you affect the largest population for the most impact. Free University education for everyone does no one any good if your attrition rate is 70%, and results in a large population with a black mark on their transcripts because they failed to succeed.

    Now let’s look at your other partisan hack job of a comment… actually, let’s not, because it’s basically a strawman. My comment to LWA was that a conversation was a good idea because we could air out the concerns people have about publicly funded education, and I listed some of the concerns that people have that came to mind. Your smug dismissal of those concerns is exactly why people don’t take you seriously.

    You could have made a comment like this:

    Degree Mills can be mostly addressed through rigorous accreditation standards and the refusal of governments to dispense public funds to schools that don’t meet such standards. We could also employ an auditor or IG to handle complaints from students or employers who feel that that quality of education from an institution is being woefully misrepresented, and give that office the ability to work with accrediting bodies to investigate and take action against such schools.

    Inflated tuition concerns can be addressed by requiring & making public detailed budget reports from any school that accepts public funding.

    Student engagement is best addressed by first making sure the student is mentally ready to handle the school in question (as best as is possible). Additionally, since public funds are not infinite and should be spent with care, student access to them could be limited by time (e.g if a student fails out of school, they can not re-apply to that level of school for a given amount of time (say, 5 – 10 years, or something), or students & their families can have skin in the game in a manner similar to the GI Bill [1], etc.

    But, you know, you go right ahead be partisan and not actually contributing something useful.

    [1] During basic training, recruits are offered the option to sign up for the GI Bill. If you do, you must pay into the program. When I was in, it was $1200 ($50 was taken out of each paycheck for the first year). I believe today it is $2700. After you made the full payment, you had to wait 2 years before you could start tapping it. A similar system could be used to fund state colleges, tech schools, & universities. For example: A family opt-in contributes a nominal amount to the state education endowment* in a childs name, and completes the payment before the child turns, say, 5. Then the child has free tuition to whatever state school they want to attend. Families whose income falls below a certain line can make reduced payments, or be exempt & still retain the benefit, but they have to opt-in & if their financial situation improves, they have to contribute. If a child goes to a public school in a different state, the various endowments can have agreements for transfer payments, much like states have reciprocity agreements now for tuition rates.

    *The endowment here is critical, since it would keep the money out of political hands. Having an Education Trust Fund that the state can raid whenever there is a budget shortfall has obvious problems.Report