News your connection to The Boston Globe
Today's Globe  |   Latest News:   Local   Nation   World   |    Education   Obituaries   Special sections  

Public colleges must trim the fat

IN THE NEXT few weeks millions of students will be heading to our nation's public colleges and universities. Tuition and fee increases enacted and proposed over the last three years are the steepest in history, up more than 25 percent at many schools. We continually hear about the need for more revenues. Campuses are pleading for more taxpayer dollars, donations from alumni, and dramatically higher tuitions and fees. It's all about the revenue side of the ledger, with almost no discussion of expenses and costs.

Before we kill our students and their families with increased tuitions, room and board charges, and fees of all sizes and descriptions, let's take an honest look at operating costs and productivity.

Twenty percent-plus of our freshmen require some form of very costly remedial help. Our four-year institutions must stop accepting students who are clearly not prepared for four-year college work.

Colleges are really open for serious business about 30 weeks per year. Classrooms are 80 percent empty after noon on Fridays and 50 percent empty between 1:30 and 5:30 every afternoon.

Let's get our schools operating at full capacity 48 weeks per year, five days per week from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., and Saturdays until noon.

Only about 30 percent of US college students graduate in four years. It is important that the lack of required course offerings not be an excuse for students not completing college in four years. Let's give undergraduate students who graduate in four years or less a tuition rebate and assess a surcharge on full-time students who take more than five years.

Full-time professors at our major universities spend less than nine hours per week in the classroom teaching. At state colleges it's 12 hours or less. Costs would immediately drop significantly if university professors would teach 12 hours a week and those in state colleges, 15.

Trustees should put the brakes on institutions trying to be all things to all students by conducting meaningless soft science research, offering programs for which there's no demand, providing country club-type amenities and performing frivolous so-called public service.

Tens of thousands of public-sector employees and their families shouldn't be allowed admission tuition-free. Whatever waivers are allowed should be need-based.

Many of the vice presidents, assistant vice presidents, chancellors, vice chancellors, provosts, deans, assistant deans, department heads, lawyers, pencil pushers, and public relations types are unnecessary and cost a fortune. We could cut our institutions' adminstrative staffs in half and absolutely no one would know the difference. The institutions might even function better.

Private institutions get significant taxpayer subsidies directly and indirectly. They should be required to provide free classes to nearby public institution students. Considering light faculty teaching loads, eliminate paid sabbaticals.

Tenure is a very expensive lifetime job guarantee and it is a one-way street. Institutions can't terminate a tenured professor, but the professor can quit anytime and accept a better deal at another school, usually with tenure being offered as well at the new job. Tenure makes our campuses unmanageable. Tenured professors can tell their bosses to "get lost" any time they want, in any manner, on any matter, and there's nothing the institution can do about it. Tenure kills productivity. Eliminate tenure.

Trustees, Board of Higher Education members, legislators, governors, the media, parents, and students should read the faculty labor and support personnel contracts at schools that have unions. I have, and they are outrageous.

The number of colleges and universities has doubled, to more than 4,000, since 1959. The number of students has quadrupled, to over 15 million. Higher education spending during this period has grown from $6 million to over $200 billion. Four times more students are costing 33 times more to educate.

Adjusting for inflation, this is an insane cost increase. Serious cost reductions at our institutions are long overdue, and now is the time to stop tuition increases.

James F. Carlin served as a trustee at the University of Massachusetts and chairman of the Board of Higher Education.

Globe Archives Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months