Overwhelming Public Opinion in Texas: College Costs Too Much
The goal of what we’re trying to do with higher education is to increase the quality and to reduce costs. Look at the public opinion on a lot of the issues we are talking about. The public opinion in the state of Texas is overwhelmingly with us. They think that college costs too much. They think that professors are not spending enough time in the classroom, that there are ways that things can be structured to produce better quality and lower costs. The breakthrough solutions were ideas that we developed starting 2006-2007 to try to figure out the path forward; to really maximize the resources that we’re putting into Universities. I think that there’s been an excessive focus on the minutia of the solutions. I think a lot of people are portraying them as stone tablets that were carried down from Mt. Sinai.
The solutions TPPF have come up with offer different ideas on increasing student enrollment and keeping tuition down. But people are concerned about what might happen to the research budget.
It’s not necessarily being anti-research, it’s being pro-teaching. That what’s happened is over the past four or five decades you’ve seen a big shift in the culture of Universities away from classroom instruction toward research and academic publishing. If you’re talking about an academic journal article that may only be read by a couple-hundred people or that isn’t being cited by other professionals in the field, that is kind of suspect as far as whether that’s a productive use of resources.
So what are some ways TPPF has come up with to make Universities actually turn a profit?
We need to reward excellence in teaching, and we need to reward excellence in research. And there are criticisms of the student evaluations that are frankly misinformed. If you think about current evaluation metrics that are used in universities, maybe they have the dean of the school sit in, maybe they have a professor from the department sit in, those are snapshot views and a lot of them can be as manipulated by or viewed through a prism of academic politics as anything else. So the students in the classroom every M W F or T TH are the only ones who would be in the classroom for the entire course. If you set out the expectations at the start, by the end of the course, the students have or should have a good idea of how effective the professor was.
But giving professors bonuses based on the students’ opinion is a small change compared to TPPF’s idea on UT’s accreditation system.
I think the issue you have in accreditation is that you have a system in place now where, that really is suited for the 20th century or maybe even the 19th century model of delivering higher education. That things in the 21st century are going to be very different. That there are going to be different incentives, different technologies in place, different structures for delivering education. MIT has put most of its
course content online, and Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, predicted that in five years that the best professors and the best course content will all be available online for free. So, the brick and mortar Universities have an existential threat not from the Texas Public Policy Foundation, not from the higher education reformers but from their own bad spending and organizational habits.