Sunday, July 21, 2013

5 Years Ago on RYS.

How Much Does Society Pay for Susie Slacker's Education?

I work at a small state university in Florida. At our university, when a student signs up for a full-time load and pays full ("retail price"?) tuition, that student is not even coming close to even covering her fractional share of the university's semester-by-semester operating budget, let alone supplying a little profit -- which is what a consumer model would mean: all costs covered, plus profit. Based on public records, a student at my university is paying for only one tenth her fractional share. The rest of the money comes from the State.

Obviously, this is not a "free market" approach to education. This is a socialized and subsidized approach, in which "society" pays the vast majority of the bill, presumably so that "society" as a whole can benefit from having a certain number of better-educated citizens walking around -- signified by their degrees.

Since "society" doesn't benefit from having slackers and dumbos mixed into that pool of persons, society prefers we fail those who cannot "hack it." This is our job as faculty: we weed out the weak or unwilling so that the BA or BS or MS or MA or what-have-you will signify something useful to "society" -- and it is "society" who pays us for this sorting (or "graduating") that we do.

My state makes matters even more interesting, because my state has a program called "Bright Futures" which has become the third-rail of Florida politics: utterly untouchable. Established by Jeb Bush, it is essentially socialized higher-ed for anyone who graduates from a Florida high school. With a good GPA and a few hours of community service work, a high school graduate gets a full 100% ride to any college in the state and even a stipend every semester to buy books. Mediocre students get 70 percent of Florida's already heavily-subsidized per-credit cost paid for by the state.

The point is, though, when students come up to you complaining that they are "consumers" and you are a "service person" that they are paying for a "product," it might benefit you to look into who's really paying the bill -- the full bill, not just the bill the student or her parents receive. Odds are, if you pay more state taxes than the student does, you're doing more to pay for her education that she is.


  1. Reply thusly:

    "This isn't McUniversity. You are not a consumer, you are a student. I am not a "service person," I am an educator. You are not paying for a product, you are paying for an education.

    Becoming educated entails effort on your part. A university provides a place to learn, just as a fitness center or gym provides a place to get healthy and fit. If you join a gym and don't go, or go and just sit on a bench rather than exercise, you won't get any fitter.

    Similarly, if you enroll in a course and don't attend class, or attend and do nothing, you won't learn anything or get any smarter.

    Think of this institution like a buffet. If you pay for a buffet and don't eat, don't be surprised if you faint from hunger. You have to get a tray, a plate and utensils to eat. Then go through the line and choose your food. If you don't feel like doing all that and just want to sit down and be fed, find a spouse or hire a caretaker."

  2. Oh, what hath Ayn Rand wrought. Some things go much better with a collectivist approach. National defense is one of them, and that's written in the U.S. Constitution. Others are fire departments, police, air-traffic control, and public highways. There is a vigorous debate in the U.S. about health care. Personally, I think any government that callously lets its citizens die of preventable causes has a hard time justifying its existence.

    K12 education is another activity like this. Until recently, there was widespread agreement that higher ed should be another. The idea is that society as a whole benefits from these activities more than it costs society, so the individuals that make up society should be compelled to pay for these activities. (How exactly to do this is hotly debated, but a separate issue.)

    I therefore don't hesitate to award grades of C, D, and F to students who earn them. If these students try to argue that I shouldn't, because they are "customers," or worse, they "pay my salary," I point out that Middlin' State is one of the most highly subsidized universities in the country. The state mainly pays my salary, so my first allegiance is to the state, not to you. Furthermore, the state is badly served by graduates who cannot demonstrate proficiency. Anytime I award a C, D, or F, I think of the hardworking citizens of our great state who are being let down by students who earn poor grades. Students who squander their educational opportunities are wasting taxpayers' money, and the sooner they are stopped from doing this, the better.

    But of course, I can say that, since I have tenure.

    At Middlin' State, we have a grade of WU, which is for students who just disappear during the semester, never bothering to fill out a drop form. I used to resent not being allowed to give grades of F to these students, since I thought the WU grade was an attempt to present a failure as something it wasn't. I then realized that having a WU on one's transcript can be damning for future readmission, and for financial aid, so I no longer have a problem with it.

  3. At my former employer, I had my share of dealing with students who claimed to be my boss because they "paid" my salary.

    When the student-as-customer doctrine was inflicted upon us, some saw it for what it was: the administration not only was shifting all of its traditional responsibilities onto the shoulders of the teaching staff, it essentially abolished what semblance of admission standards the place used to have.

    Later, it was also used as a disciplinary measure, so if the students didn't like a particular instructor, he or she could be dismissed on that basis. No further investigation was necessary because it was our duty to "meet or exceed the expectations of our customers".

    That was made particularly easy a few years after that nonsense started. All new instructors were hired contractually and permanent status became a rarity, especially after many of the long-time staff started leaving through retirement or resignation. It was easier to sack short-timers because giving someone who was permanent the boot often resulted in grievances being filed through the staff association.

  4. Oh, well, since tuition hikes and the almost total withdrawal of state support for my system, they actually ARE paying my salary (or actually, their federal loans are). But, as I like to point out to them, I'd be earning 14 million dollars a year if each one of them actually paid my full salary, so most of what they pay is clearly going elsewhere. Like to those fancy dorms and bigwig administrators.