I answered most of the responses in the comments portion of the original post, such as where to find the data.
Among the excellent responses, I felt one deserved a post of its own. It went something like this: “well, if demand for education is rising, and tuition is soaring, where does the money go, if not to the faculty?”
For that, I promised to reprint this post from before I joined Brainstorm.
Who Benefits From the Tuition Gold Rush?
The logic of the HMO increasingly rules higher education. Management closely rations professor time. Thirty-five years ago, nearly 75% of all college teachers were tenurable. Only a quarter worked on an adjunct, part-time or nontenurable basis.
Today, those proportions are reversed.
If you’re enrolled in four college classes right now, you have a pretty good chance that one of the four will be taught by someone who has earned a doctorate, and whose teaching, scholarship and service to the profession has undergone the intensive peer scrutiny associated with the tenure system.
In your other three classes, you are likely to be taught by someone who has started a degree but not finished it, was hired by a manager not professional peers, may never publish in the field he is teaching, or who got into the pool of persons being considered for the job because they were willing to work for wages around the official poverty line.
In almost all courses in most disciplines using nontenurable or adjunct faculty, a person with a recently-earned Ph.D. was available, and would gladly have taught your other three courses. But they could not afford to pay their loans and house themselves on the wage being offered.
Higher education employers can only pay those wages in the knowledge that their employees are subsidized in a variety of ways. In the case of student employees, the massive debt load subsidizes the wage. For poorly paid contingent faculty, who are women by a substantial majority*, the strategies vary, but include consumer debt, reliance on another job or the income from a domestic partner.
Like Walmart employees, the majority female contingent academic workforce relies on a patchwork of other sources of income, including such forms of public assistance as food stamps and unemployment compensation.
It is perfectly common for contingent university faculty to work as grocery clerks and restaurant servers, earning higher salaries at those positions, or to have been retired from such former occupations as bus driving, steelwork, and auto assembly, enjoying from those better-compensated professions a sufficient pension to enable them to serve a “second career” as college faculty.
The system of cheap teaching doesn’t sort for the best teachers. It sorts for persons who are in a financial position to accept compensation below the living wage. As a result of management’s irresponsible staffing practices, more students drop out, take longer to graduate, and fail to acquire essential literacies, often spending tens of thousands of dollars on a credential that has little merit in the eyes of employers.
The real “Profscam” isn’t the imaginary one depicted in Charles Sykes’ fanciful 1988 book, which concocted the image of a lazy tenured faculty voluntarily absenting themselves from teaching.
Instead the “prof scam” turns out to be a shell game conducted by management, who keep a tenurable stratum around for marketing purposes and to generate funded research, but who are spread so thin with respect to undergraduate teaching that even the most privileged undergraduates spend most of their education with para faculty working in increasingly unprofessional circumstances.
As the union activists of the nontenurable will tell you, the problem is not with the intellectual quality, talent, or commitment of the individual persons working on a non professorial basis; it’s the degraded circumstances in which higher education management compels them to work, teaching too many students in too many classes too quickly, without security, status, or an office; working from standardized syllabi; outsourced tutorial, remedial, and even grading services, providing no time for research and professional development.
Working in McDonald’s “kitchen,” even the talent of Wolfgang Puck is pressed into service of the QuarterPounder.
Despite the tens of billions “saved” on faculty wages by substituting a throwaway workforce for professionals scrutinized by the tenure system, managed higher education grows ever more expensive.
Tuition soared 38% between 2000 and 2005, out pacing nearly every other economic indicator.
Where does the money from stratospheric tuition and slashed faculty salaries go? At for-profit institutions, the answer is obvious: it goes into shareholder pockets. Lacking even the veneer of a tenurable stratum, the dollars squeezed from a 100% casual faculty joined tax money and tuition from the country’s poorest families in enriching the shareholders of education vendors. But in nonprofit education, which only “pretends” to “act like” a corporation, where have the billions gone?
At first glance, there are no shareholders and no dividends.
However, the uses to which the university has been put do benefit corporate shareholders. These include shouldering the cost of job training, generation of patentable intellectual property, provision of sports spectacle, vending goods and services to captive student markets, and the conversion of student aid into a cheap or even free labor pool. So one sizable trail to follow is the relationship between the financial transactions of non-profits and the ballooning dividends enjoyed by the shareholder class.
The shareholders of private corporations aren’t the only beneficiaries of faculty proletarianization and the tuition gold rush.
Because public non-profits have been receiving steadily lower direct subsidies from federal and state sources, there has been a general belief that higher tuition and staff exploitation has all somehow been accomplished by sharp-eyed, tight-fighted managers with at least one version of public wellbeing in mind, if only within the narrow framework of “reduced spending.” But that belief is open to question, since managers have been spending fairly freely in a number of areas.
One area in which nonprofit education management has been freely spending is on themselves.
Over three decades, the number of administrators has skyrocketed in close correspondence to the ever-growing population of the undercompensated. Especially at the upper levels, administrative pay has soared as well, also in close relation to the shrinking compensation of other campus workers. In a couple of decades, administrative work has morphed from an occasional service component in a professorial life to a “desirable career path” in its own right (Lazerson et al, A72).
Nonprofits support arts and sciences deans, chairs, associate deans, and program heads comfortably in six figures. Salaries rise into the mid six figures for many medical, engineering, business, and legal administrators. University presidents have begun to earn seven figures, close on the heels of their basketball coaches, who can earn $3 million annually and are often the highest-paid public employees in their state. In thirty years of managed higher education, the typical faculty member has become a female nontenurable part-timer earning a few thousand dollars a year without health benefits. The typical administrator is male, enjoys tenure, a six-figure income, little or no teaching, generous vacations and great health care.
There are lots of other areas in which nonprofit administrators have spent even more. With the support of activist legislatures, they’ve especially enjoyed playing venture capitalist with campus resources and tax dollars by engaging in “corporate partnerships” that generally yield financial benefit to the corporate partner but not the campus (Washburn).
More prosaically, they’ve engaged in what most observers call an “arms race” of spending on the expansion of facilities and physical plant. And as Murray Sperber and others have documented, they’ve spent recklessly on sports activities that–despite in some cases millions in broadcast revenue–generally lose huge sums of money.
The commercialization of college sport has raised the bar for participation so high that students who’d like to play can’t afford the time required for practice. Students who’d like to watch can’t afford the ticket prices.
Traditionally, the phenomenon known as “cross-subsidy,” the support of one program by revenue generated by another program, primarily meant a modest surplus provided by the higher tuition and lower salaries associated with undergraduate education, used in support of research activity that was unlikely to find an outside funding agent.
Under managed higher education, cross-subsidy has eroded undergraduate learning throughout the curriculum while becoming a gold mine for all kinds of activities satisfying the entrepreneurial urges, vanity, and hobby horses of administrators:
Digitizing the curriculum! Building the best pool/golf course/stadium in the state! Bringing more souls to God! Winning the all-conference championship!
Why have those who control nonprofit colleges and universities so readily fallen into the idea that the institution should act like a profit-seeking corporation? At least part of our answer must be that it offers individuals in that position some compelling gratifications, both material and emotional.
This is an age of executive license. In addition to a decent salary and splendid benefits, George Bush enjoys the privilege of declaring war on Afghanistan and Iraq. College administrators commonly enjoy larger salaries and comparable benefits, and have the privilege of declaring war on their sports rivals, or on illiteracy, teen pregnancy, or industrial pollution.
It feels good to be president.
As a “decision maker,” one can often arrange to strike a blow on behalf of at least some of one’s values.
What must be swept under the rug is that the ability to do these things is founded on their willingness to continuously squeeze the compensation of nearly all other campus workers.
The university under managerial domination is an accumulation machine. If in nonprofits it accumulates in some form other than dividends, there’s all the more surplus for administrators, trustees, local politicians, and a handful of influential faculty to spend on a discretionary basis.
*While women and men are about equal in numbers in pt ntt positions, women outnumber men in ft ntt lines, the fastest growing appointment category. The statistically significant subcategory of well-paid contingent faculty tend to be men. The more poorly paid, insecure and lower the status, the more likely contingent faculty are to be women. Women are over-represented in contingent positions relative to tt positions almost everywhere, and women with children are 2x as likely to serve contingently than men with children.
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