Tag Archives: pay

Universities Are Vocational Schools

Why do students go to college? A new poll has a one-word
answer: money. That’s one of the findings in a broad Gallup survey of college admissions officers done for Inside
Higher Ed
. The admissions officers seem to believe that those planning to
attend college view it largely as a signaling device that directs the best and
brightest young Americans to the best and highest-paying jobs. It is not
primarily about acquiring knowledge (“human capital”), critical learning or
leadership skills, or better perceiving the difference between right and wrong,
but more about achieving the American Dream of a comfortable, moderately
affluent life.

To cite one statistic, 99 percent of admission directors
at public four-year colleges agreed or strongly agreed that “parents of
applicants place high importance on the ability of degree programs to help
students get a good job.” With regards to the prospective students themselves,
“only” 87 percent of the counselors agree that getting a good job is
important/very important.  Most of the
counselors also agree, at all forms of higher education institutions, that
their schools are putting more emphasis on job placement.

Continue reading Universities Are Vocational Schools

The Problem with Bonuses for Masters Degrees

Carol Howley, a nursing instructor at Chicago’s Richard J. Daley College, pocketed $307,000 in extra salary over the years by enrolling in doctoral classes at Chicago’s Rush University and receiving her doctorate. There’s only one problem, though: Rush has no record of Howley’s attendence. Cook County prosecutors recently indicted her for theft of government property.             

Howley’s story is symptomatic of a larger problem. As George Leef points out, institutions routinely hand out automatic pay boosts to their employees on the basis of the degrees the employees possess. College nursing instructors are relatively rare, but in America’s K-12 public-school system, where instruction costs total more than $308 billion annually, nearly half of teachers receive bonuses averaging about $3,000 a year just because they have an advanced degree. And these degrees are mostly worthless: only 10 percent of teachers’ master’s degrees are in substantive fields such as math, science, or English, where the teacher’s extra education might do the students some good. Ninety percent of teachers get their advanced degrees in education, a field notorious for its less than rigorous academic standards and its embrace of pedagogical fads. And academic and think-tank research, starting with a 1997 study by University of Washington research professor Dan Goldhaber has consistently revealed that students taught by teachers with advanced degrees make no more progress than students taught by teachers lacking such degrees.             

A master’s degree in education is such a lucrative deal for teachers that the blog Teacher Portal advises its readers simply to “[g]et one!” Sure, the tuition isn’t cheap. In 2009, an online master’s degree from the nonprofit Western Governors University and the for-profit Walden University cost an identical $12,000. Teacher Portal calculated that the compound-interest payoff of a master’s degree in education adds up to $221,000 over a thirty-year career. Teacher Portal concluded: “You may be a [slightly] better teacher but you’ll be setting yourself up much better to live comfortably in retirement…or at least to splurge on a fantastic vacation each summer :).”

A 2009 New York Times forum over the value of advanced education degrees confirmed Teacher Portal’s cheerful cynicism. Several participants who were seasoned teachers deemed their education classes “utterly useless,” “laughable,” and of “zero benefit.” One teacher, who had an undergraduate degree from Wellesley and a graduate degree from Columbia, said the college where she obtained her teaching certificate launched a “sales pitch” for its master’s and doctoral programs in education that emphasized “how little work we would have to do to get an advanced degree.”

Proposals for reconsidering these bonuses remain anathema to the education establishment. Teachers’ unions have resisted any effort to peg teacher pay to any factors except seniority and advanced degrees, and school administrators, boards of education, and state legislators seem to regard across-the-board pay raises for teachers as a way of life. But there is another constituency that is likely to resist ferociously the elimination of master’s-degree salary bumps: the faculty and administrators of the advanced-degree programs in education that are cash cows for the colleges and universities that sponsor them. Kathleen Wilson, an associate professor at the University of Nebraska’s College of Education and Human Sciences, vigorously defended the programs. “I don’t see how they couldn’t make a difference,” she said. “These programs really allow teachers to gain a better perspective in their area of instruction.” Expect that kind of rhetoric on steroids from education professors should school districts try to get rid of the salary bump for advanced degrees.  

Should We Pay Students to Graduate?

College is supposed to last four years, right? However, only 31 percent of entering freshmen at U.S. colleges and universities manage to graduate in four years, and only 53 percent obtain their bachelor’s degrees within six years. Indeed, the six-year figure–which typically entails a 50 percent increase in overall tuition–has become so common that it’s basically standard. The numbers are so embarrassing that some universities have resorted to paying their students to graduate on time, typically via forgiven loans, tuition discounts, and scholarships for those maintaining a full load of courses.

Why don’t most students graduate when they’re supposed to? Some must work and can’t take a full load every semester. Some switch majors at the last minute or decide to major in two fields–which is fine if they or their parents can afford it. Sometimes it’s the school’s fault: Overcrowded public universities are notorious for failing to offer required courses (or enough sections of them) in workable sequences so that students can complete their majors efficiently. As the Fiscal Times reports, a single missing prerequisite can cost a student an entire year. The simple expedient of operating colleges (or at least offering key basic courses) on a year-around basis, recommended by the nonprofit Complete College America, would help eliminate those obstacles to timely graduation.

It would be even more helpful to offer students some academic structure, now sorely lacking at nearly every college in America. Complete College America found that four-year students, who normally need 120 credits (15 per semester) to graduate, are actually amassing an average 136.5 credits apiece, more than a full semester’s worth. As the Fiscal Times pointed out, they’re encouraged by course catalogues to fritter their time away on goofball courses such as “Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame” (the University of South Carolina, Columbia) or “Harry Potter: Finding Your Patronus” (Oregon State University). 

How about reintroducing the tightly structured core curricula that were a hallmark of U.S. universities until the 1970s? Instead of indulging at today’s smorgasbord of piecemeal “area” requirements, students would spend their first two years with a limited menu of humanities, science, and math courses designed to give them the broad-based learning that every college graduate should possess, and the next two years following equally structured pathways through a major and minor. Not every student would graduate on time–but the idea of college as consisting of four years and no more would likely become a reality for many more of them. 


Why College Still Matters

A growing chorus of critics says a college education is finished as the ticket to economic success and a middle-class life.

The economy of the future, these critics suggest, actually requires far fewer college-educated citizens, because the U.S. economy is generating tens of thousands of jobs that require little or no higher education. 

In essence, the critics of American higher education policy are challenging the long-standing belief that all U.S. citizens should have a decent chance to pursue a college degree, regardless of what kind of neighborhood they grow up in, what kind of schools are available to them, or whether their parents have university degrees.

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College Presidents–Do They Make Too Much Money?


The Chronicle of Higher Education‘s recently released annual survey of the salaries of university presidents provides empirical support for the proposition that higher education today appears to be less about achieving lofty goals like disseminating knowledge, building character, promoting virtue and expanding the frontiers of what humans can do than it is about something far more mundane: keeping the members of the academy happy and well fed.

I believe strongly that free markets work remarkably well and that includes the market for labor. The reason LeBron James, Oprah Winfrey and CEOs of highly profitable top corporations (including for-profit universities) are exceedingly well paid (many millions of dollars annually) is that their contribution to their employers is huge and can usually be pretty well measured–so markets dictate that they are paid, roughly, what they contribute to output at the margin. The Cleveland Cavaliers sank as a basketball power when Mr. James moved to Miami, and with that the revenue stream generated by Mr. James’s talents fell as well.

Traditional higher education, however, is a different matter. Markets are not truly “free” (indeed, they are rather expensive!) Gordon Gee, the president of Ohio State, cost that institution over $1.8 million in compensation last year (double the next highest paid public university president). But did that school have a good year because of President Gee? Who knows? Are students learning more?  Is Ohio State broadening our horizons of human potentialities more than in the past? Is President Gee worth roughly three times the salary of his predecessor? Is he well over twice as productive as the long-time president of the school’s arch athletic rival, Mary Sue Coleman of the University of Michigan? Again, who knows?

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A Terrible Time for New Ph.D.s

presidential_drgowns.jpg“If I don’t succeed in academe, I’ll die!”

So read the anguished headline of a Jan. 23 cri de coeur to Salon magazine’s advice columnist, Cary Tennis. The writer was a woman who had apparently spent eight years acquiring a Ph.D. in anthropology, plus another seven years trying unsuccessfully to get an entry-level tenure-track professor’s job—a position whose average starting salary is less than $54,000 a year, which is decent but perhaps not worth putting in nearly a decade in graduate school. At age 37 (if you add fifteen years to her presumed age at college graduation), the woman chafed with frustration, fury, the grinding humiliation of being able to secure only low-paying part-time teaching work, and resentment of her professor-husband who had landed a tenure-track slot at a prestigious university—but she could not let go of the dream that had driven her to endure nearly a decade of grad-school poverty for no reward. She wrote in her letter:

“I scrape by teaching the occasional class for peanuts, and one other prof has taken enough pity on me to let me work in her lab so I can pretend to continue my research. On an intellectual level I understand that I’m not going to get that professor job that I’ve been envisioning for, oh, 15 years now. It ain’t going to happen—no matter what I do, there is going to be someone younger, better trained, and with more publications….The problem is that emotionally, I can’t drop it. It’s like having a painful sore in my mouth that I keep poking with my tongue—all day, every day. I’m angry, bitter and heartbroken. I resent my husband so much for having what I can’t get that I can barely stand to be in the same room with him, I’m so consumed with jealousy….Sometimes, stuck in this town I don’t much care for, with my once-promising career in shambles, I wonder if it’s even worth getting out of bed.”

This ground-down woman is scarcely unrepresentative, in a job market where fewer than one out of every two holders of doctoral degrees in the humanities these days receive job offers that put them onto the tenure track that is key to a successful (if seldom wealth-generating) and reasonably secure life of teaching and scholarship—and that’s in good year. Right now we’re in a bad year, when, according to the American Association of University Professors, the ratio of tenure-track openings to new doctorates is more like 1 to 4.

Both the Modern Language Association (the leading professional society for English professors), meeting right after Christmas, and the American Historical Society, meeting in early January, reported fallen-off attendance and a marked decrease in job interviews and hence job openings for the anxious grad students and new Ph.D.’s who typically flock to the two associations’ annual conventions (which double as job fairs), double or triple up in motel rooms, and peddle their fresh-from-the-printer curricula vitae. The MLA convention used to be low-hanging fruit for journalists, who could gin up easy laughs for their readers just by quoting the postmodernist mumbo-jumbo in the titles of the scholarly papers presented: “Back in Black: Theorizing the Sequel in Marlowe’s Tamburlaines” (that’s an actual paper title from the 2009 MLA meeting). This year’s MLA convention, after a 50 percent drop in the number of tenure-track job openings between the 2007-2008 and 2009-2010 academic years, was just plain grim, from all reports.

For months now, the spotlight of negative attention in the academic trade press has been trained on the for-profit “career colleges,” with their high dropout rates, sometimes questionable recruiting tactics, and poor reputation for “gainful employment” on the part of their graduates, who can find themselves with no jobs and mountains of debt from the student loans that account for nearly 90 percent of their alma maters’ revenues. Ph.D. programs, especially in the humanities, can be viewed as career colleges for the highly educated. As with career colleges, their stated purpose is vocational training: for that full-time faculty position in academia. And exactly the same unappealing features of many career colleges, with their low-income, poorly prepared student populations turn out also to be features of Ph.D. programs, even though the latters’ student populations tend to be upper-middle-class and if anything, over-prepared.

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The ”Pay Cut” Crisis

Both the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed have reported on a newly-released study regarding faculty salaries from the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources. Both articles highlight how, in the past year, around a third of professors around the country have seen their salaries reduced. (Only at private, research universities has the average professor enjoyed a salary increase in the past year.) Both articles also suggest that the decline might last for some time, because higher education tends to lag behind the economy in reviving from recessions.
It seems to me that both articles buried the lede. We live in a time of nearly-double digit unemployment. Nearly 20 percent of Americans are underemployed. Yet higher education has been all but immune from faculty layoffs.
That, of course, should come as little surprise: though faculty salaries (especially in the humanities and social sciences) might not be as high as many professors would like, job security is higher for the professoriate than for just about any other profession. It’s almost impossible to fire a tenured professor (unless he or she commits the type of massive research conduct associated with the likes of Ward Churchill), and only a college that wants to sacrifice all pretense of academic quality will dismiss untenured assistant or associate professors during economic downturns.
The AAUP, however, views the new figures as cause for grave concern. As the Chronicle reports, “University officials should seek faculty input on pay cuts, and state officials must chose priorities correctly, Mr. [AAUP director of research and public policy John W.] Curtis, said. ‘I do think we’re at a pretty critical juncture at looking at higher education as a public good and as a resource that contributes something to society. Unfortunately, a lot of governors and legislators are looking at higher education as only an expense.'”

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Two New Stories And A Job Notice

Santa Cruz, Ca.–As California works to plug an epic budget shortfall, severe budget cuts are threatening the twin qualities — excellence and access — that have defined the University of California as the world’s leading public research university. At UC Santa Cruz, faculty, students, and staff worry about the impact the state’s financial meltdown is having on the campus, and will have on the social and economic health of the state…” The repercussions of California’s $26.3 billion budget gap are being felt campuswide. For example, the University Library has reduced hours and staffing and is canceling almost $800,000 worth of serial subscriptions, among other measures, according to University Librarian Ginny Steel. “We’re down to core services at this point,” Steel said….


Santa Cruz, Ca. — UC Santa Cruz’s Academic Senate voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to condemn a major student fee hike and furloughs for full-time employees whose annual salary is $40,000 or less… A 13 percent state funding cut to the UC system during the past two years has translated into $50 million in slashing at UCSC. The campus has seen staff and instructor layoffs, course cuts and the elimination of more than 50 unfilled faculty positions….


Online job notice
The University Library of the University of California, Santa Cruz, seeks an enterprising, creative, and service-oriented archivist to join the staff of Special Collections & Archives (SC&A) as Archivist for the Grateful Dead Archive. This is a potential career status position. The Archivist will be part of a dynamic, collegial, and highly motivated department dedicated to building, preserving, promoting, and providing maximum access both physically and virtually to one of the Library’s most exciting and unique collections, The Grateful Dead Archive (GDA)… Appointment Range: Associate Librarian III – Librarian I, with an approximate salary range of $52,860 – $68,892, commensurate with qualifications and experience….

A Tangled Web At Berkeley

In his Prologue to the Canterbury Tales Geoffrey Chaucer distills the betrayal of trust by corrupt public servants into a memorable expression: “If gold rust, what shall iron do?” This is the metaphor that his honest parson lives by, and it reflects on the venal churchmen among the pilgrims who betray the ideals of the church and set a terrible example when they should be a guiding light. This theme—one of high expectations for integrity cruelly disappointed—is timeless: it is exemplified yet again by the sorry tale of malfeasance in the Chancellor’s office at UC Berkeley that follows. Yet Chaucer’s miscreants are not cardinals and bishops, but only a lowly monk, friar and pardoner, while Chancellor Robert Birgeneau of UC Berkeley is the leader of the flagship campus of the greatest public system of higher education in the world. And while Chaucer’s folk cloak their transgressions in the mantle of devotion, Birgeneau wraps his in the mantle of diversity.
Already in late 2007 California’s deteriorating budget led to reductions in UC’s state support, and President Robert Dynes announced that his system-wide staff would be reduced. A severance pay incentive was offered to those who retired voluntarily, but when the Regents were asked by recently appointed President Mark Yudof in November 2008 to approve severance pay of $100,202 for Linda Williams, alarm bells went off: Williams had transferred from her job as Associate President in system headquarters to the position of Associate Chancellor at nearby UC Berkeley without missing a day’s employment. She sought severance pay though she had never been severed. Astonishingly, President Yudof recommended it and the Regents approved the recommendation.
It said much about the entitlement mindset at UC that top administrators were surprised by the outcry that followed. The public easily grasped that it was offensive for Williams to ask for $100K of public money as a “severance package,” but that simple point seemed lost on UC’s leadership. President Yudof hid behind the notion that the rules for UC’s buyout program were not his responsibility, having been written before he took office. That left an obvious question unanswered: why didn’t he tell Williams that what she was asking was unseemly, and that it would be an embarrassment to the university if he sought regent approval of this payment when a deepening financial crisis was forcing an increase in student fees? The culture of administrative self-serving in the President’s office that had brought down the presidency of Bob Dynes was apparently still in place—a great disappointment for those who hoped that Yudof would be a new broom.

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Why University Presidents Make So Much, And Why They Shouldn’t.

The Chronicle of Higher Education’s annual survey of executive compensation in Higher Education was released today, and, as usual, remarkable for its upper reaches. Median salaries at public universities increased by 7.6% in the past year, delivering such plum earnings as Ohio University’s $1,346,225 Presidential compensation, or the University of Michigan’s $760,196. Not so bad a line of work.
The usual argument about whether this is obscene or a consequence-of-a-necessary-search-for-talent-in-a-hypercharged-world has already flourished today. And there are undoubtedly good points to be made in each particular. Margaret Soltan offers a brisk practical explanation at University Diaries:

Once you let university presidents convince you that universities are indistinguishable from corporations, you can’t complain when the presidents insist on being paid like CEOs. It’s the same point with football coaches at universities. The fact that they’re at a place called a university is irrelevant. They’re at a physical location subject to the exact same rules of the market as a real estate office, an investment bank, or a landfill. If there’s nothing distinctive about a university, then there’s absolutely no reason to expect people who take administrative jobs at a university to expect less compensation than they would get if they were running, say, a chain of dog grooming franchises.

Continue reading Why University Presidents Make So Much, And Why They Shouldn’t.

How To Make Millions In Academic Administration.

Gordon Gee, president of Ohio State University since October 2007, holds the record for heading the most universities in America. Here’s Gee’s history at the helms of U.S. institutions of higher learning: West Virginia University (1981-1985), University of Colorado-Boulder (1985-1990), a first round at Ohio State (1990-1997), Brown University (1997-2000), Vanderbilt University (2000-2007), and now, Ohio State for a second stint as as academic CEO.
Gee is famous for his belief that universities should be run more like private corporations, which has sometimes translated into securing private-corporation level salaries for himself as chief executive as well as lavish remodeling jobs on the on-campus mansion that is a typical perk of a college president’s job. At Brown, for example, Gee had the president’s house redecorated to the tune of a reported $3 million, according to an article in the Village Voice, while disbanding the school’s popular string quartet for no apparent reason and launching, without prior consultation, ambitious programs and expensive building projects for the sciences that were undoubtedly worthy ventures but miffed the faculty onto which they were sprung. After three years at Brown, Gee decamped for Vanderbilt, which offered him a reported $1.3 million annual compensation package (the second-highest in the country for a college president at the time) plus a tenured faculty position for his wife, and for the 2005-06 academic year, the university’s board raised his compensation package to $1.8 million. At Vanderbilt, Gee gained praise for completing a $1.75 billion fund-raising drive two years ahead of schedule, boosting the Nashville-based school’s endowment by nearly 50 percent, doubling funding for academic research, and aggressively marketing Vanderbilt, which saw a 50 percent rise in undergraduate applications during his tenure as well as dramatic rises in the SAT scores of its incoming freshmen. Gee also drew criticism for lavish spending and—again–high-priced renovations to the president’s house.
When Gee moved to Ohio State for his second round as president last year, he became the nation’s highest paid president of a public university, with a base compensation package of more than $1 million. One of his first official acts was…to hire yet more lavishly compensated high-level administrators for Ohio State. As the Columbus Dispatch reported, he increased the size of his governing cabinet from the nine executives employed by his predecessor, Karen Holbrook, to fourteen, eleven of whom will be making at least $300,000 a year (only three members of Holbrook’s cabinet made that much). That figure doesn’t include performance bonuses for senior executives, often 30 percent of salary, or deferred compensation (click here for a breakdown of total payouts under the new system). An outraged Richard Vedder of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity estimates that at least three of Gee’s top-level hirees will make over $1 million this year, with Gee himself likely to take in twice that amount. Gee has defended the huge salaries as “competitive” and the only way to attract the “best people” to help achieve his goal of moving Ohio State, now ranked by U.S. News as 19th among public universities, to the next level.

Continue reading How To Make Millions In Academic Administration.

How Much More Do The Ivy Leaguers Earn?

The Wall Street Journal reports on a new survey of 1.2 million bachelor’s degree holders, which reveals significant variations in average salaries of different graduates. Ivy League graduates earned a median starting salary 32% higher than average liberal arts college graduates, and, at ten year’s distance, earned salaries 34% higher than average liberal arts college graduates.

Experts observe that Ivy League graduates tend to gravitate towards management or advice-based careers, not to mention jobs in finance, explaining some portion of the spread. Not to mention relatively inflated northeastern pay scales.

Otherwise, though, the figure doesn’t seem much of a surprise. Obviously, in a list of some 300, involving many state schools, from Black Hills State to Eastern Washington, the eight Ivy League colleges are going to fare well.

When looking into the individual comparisons, however, the differences aren’t so vast. Sure there’s a difference between Dartmouth ($58,000 median starting salary) and, say, an average state school such as the University of Connecticut ($48,000) but that’s not especially large, and the gap between it and numerous other sate schools is even smaller: Penn State gradutes earn a median starting salary of $49,900 and grads at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign earn $52,900. Hope for us all. Take a look at the rankings yourself.