The Miseducation of a University President

November 16, 2011

(Guest post by Jonathan Butcher)

Aesop tells us that every man carries two bags, one in front and one behind, both full of faults. The bag in front contains the faults of others, while we carry ours in the one behind. As a result, we always see someone else’s mistakes and rarely look at our own.

Writing in the Washington Post earlier this month, ASU President Michael Crow chastises universities for not being more innovative during the current financial crisis. “Their lack of creativity in adjusting to the reduction of resources has shocked governors and business leaders alike who want to see universities innovate in order to educate more students better, faster and cheaper,” said Crow.

But ASU hasn’t exactly been a model of efficiency. Across the country, colleges are hiring massive numbers of administrators and ASU is no exception — in fact, the Sun Devils are an example of this “administrative bloat.” Between 1993 and 2007, ASU increased the number of full-time administrators per 100 students more than 167 other comparable universities while the number of instructional staff and researchers actually decreased. Goldwater research finds “[n]early half of all full-time employees at Arizona State University are administrators.”

Considering these hiring practices, Crow’s warning that proposals to turn universities into businesses are “ill-conceived” is remarkable. Also “ill-conceived” are programs that would “send our kids to college in the basement with the local online university.” Yet the University of Phoenix reports that some 75 percent of higher education students today “are older…work full or part time and have family responsibilities, including financial obligations,” which means online access to college classes may be the only access they have.

ASU and other state universities should focus on core academic programs and direct spending not to administration but on practices directly tied to student instruction. In addition, Arizona colleges and universities should align tuition more closely with the actual costs of providing an education, pursue more private funding, and make themselves more financially self-sufficient.

Jonathan Butcher is education director for the Goldwater Institute.


Please Ignore the Huge Pile of Payola Behind the Curtain

March 18, 2009

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The New York Times turned in a must read article on Arizona State University President Michael Crow:

He quickly made a name for himself, increasing enrollment by nearly a third to 67,000 students, luring big-name professors and starting interdisciplinary schools in areas like sustainability, projects with partners like the Mayo Clinic and Sichuan University in China, and dozens of new degree programs

But this year, Mr. Crow’s plans have crashed into new budget realities, raising questions about how many public research universities the nation needs and whether universities like Arizona State, in their drive to become prominent research institutions, have lost focus on their public mission to provide solid undergraduate education for state residents.

I love the way the term “quality” is used by Dr. Crow. Maybe it is just me, but it certainly appears to me that ASU has been seeking to create the appearance of quality more than the reality. As JPGB readers will recall, ASU’s four year graduation rate is 28%, lowest among the peer institutions as identified by the Education Trust.

Case in point, National Merit Scholars- ASU has a lot of them. But **ahem** there is a little problem identified by the New York Times:

Arizona State University recruits National Merit Scholars nationwide with a four-year $90,000 scholarship, a package so generous that Arizona State enrolls 600 National Merit Scholars, more than Yale or Stanford. Through the cuts, Mr. Crow has kept that program, even while proposing to cut a scholarship for Arizona residents with high scores on state tests, a proposal the state regents turned down.

In their promotional materials, ASU boasts of the number of National Merit Scholars they enroll, but doesn’t bother to mention the obscenely large bribe offered in order to get those National Merit Scholars. If I wanted to be cruel, I’d compare this package to another university and…

Okay, so I’m cruel: the Education Trust identified the University of Indiana Bloomington as the highest performing peer institution for Arizona State based on 4 year graduation rates (over 50% for IU). Last year, their National Merit Scholars had an average package worth $13,609 each.

For some reason, ASU feels compelled to offer almost seven times as much as IU. Maybe the weather is just better in Indiana. Oh wait, you don’t have to hang around at ASU in the summer, so it can’t be the weather.

Well, um, some people don’t like palm trees…