Oregon and Ohio and looking very similar...
John McKay, December 29, 2012
Faculty across Ohio have read with interest over the last couple of weeks as Gov. John Kasich and the presidents of the state's universities have unveiled a new funding formula based on student outcomes -- that is, graduations and course completions.
We, of course, welcome this new focus on student success. Yet, any discussion of student achievement should have included those who actually do the central work of higher education -- the faculty in the classrooms and laboratories. Presidents rarely see the inside of either. The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) wrote to Gov. Kasich during the closed-door process asking that faculty be involved in the discussions and received no response, and there was no involvement.
While much about the new plan remains unclear, we hope that now that it has been announced, the governor and the presidents will begin to work with those mainly responsible for student achievement -- the faculty. One huge step in the right direction would be to direct financial resources toward the instructional mission of our institutions. For too long, our universities have been burdened by constantly increasing levels of bureaucracy, which amounts to an administrative tax on students: vice presidents of all kinds, provosts, associate provosts, assistant provosts, deans, associate deans, assistant deans, more deans and deanlets, more and more staff who never see the inside of a classroom or a laboratory. We would like to be certain that these new requirements do not install a whole new level of bureaucracy at our colleges and universities.
One sure way for universities to increase the rate of graduations and course completions is to restrict enrollment by raising admission standards. While Ohio should have some highly selective options at the university level, and certainly does, we believe a sweeping increase in admission standards would undermine the other value our institutions provide to Ohioans -- the opportunity to have access to higher education. Students should have the opportunity to overcome a less-than-stellar high school record or to return to college after being in the job market for some time without facing unnecessary obstacles. Of particular interest is exactly how the funding of the 24 open-access regional campuses is going to be changed without changing their important role and character as places of opportunity.
Given the emphasis on course completions, another concern is that faculty will inevitably be pressured to pass students in order to boost the course completion rate and, in the end, the graduation rate. Passing or graduating students who are not suitably prepared just to increase graduations and the numbers of Ohioans with college degrees would benefit no one. We hope to work with the presidents to provide safeguards to the academic integrity of our programs, with a focus on more full-time tenure-track faculty to carry out the central instructional mission.
Colleges and universities that have the lowest student success rate are those that invest the least in classroom instruction. You cannot expect similar success across the university system in Ohio when there are disparities in how much each institution is able or willing to invest in the instructional mission. Too often, our university administrations are opting to hire part-time faculty because of the much lower cost, but this does not represent a serious commitment to instruction. One model that Ohio's presidents could emulate is that of State University of New York Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, formerly University of Cincinnati president. In 2012, she committed to shift 5 percent of SUNY's revenue, about $100 million, from administration to academics. Five percent is not enough, but it would be a good start for Ohio's universities in 2013.
As this important initiative moves forward, we encourage university administrations to direct more funding toward instruction and to partner more closely with their faculty to ensure student success. We also see this as an opportunity for the Ohio General Assembly to begin to reverse the decades-long withdrawal of public funding from our colleges and universities.
John McNay is a professor in the Department of History at the University of Cincinnati-Blue Ash