Notes on Money

1. The Faculty

Are You Being Paid Appropriately?

Here are a few benchmarks to use when you approach your dean or chairperson with a request for a raise. And if you are refused, you can consider moving to a better-paying institution. The best paying public institutions for full professors are UCLA (average pay, $167,000), NJ Institute of Technology ($166,700), and UC Berkeley ($158,900). Maryland’s full professors average $122,962. (Associates = $85,893; Assistants = $74,973) Don’t want to relocate? Then consider U Delaware (7th, Full=$146,300) or U Virginia (10th, Full=143,200). Perhaps a switch of disciplines should be considered; the highest paid (excluding some professional schools) are engineering and business. A change is surely dictated if you are at the bottom of the discipline list, in religious studies or the visual and performing arts. So dancers, dance your way into engineering; there is some overlap.

Our Compensation

Flip a coin: be a truck driver or a college professor. The New York Times (2 May 2013) reports: “The two categories that have shown the biggest year-over-year increases in total compensation are (1) occupations in transportation and material moving and (2) employees at junior colleges, colleges, universities and professional schools.” What do the two occupations have in common? The Times states: “Their jobs are both hard to either outsource or automate, unlike a lot of other occupations.”

Wow, is the Times out of touch! We now know that, thanks to MOOCs and equivalents, we can outsource or automate almost any college course—perhaps with such exceptions as dance and chemistry. Maybe we can add trucking to automation; there are self-drive private automobiles, so surely there can be self-drive trucks. What’s left? Maybe restaurant servers, although some of us are old enough to remember the days of the Automat (a restaurant whose walls looks like an enormous cola machine—press the right button and the food awaits the customer). Maybe home health care, although automation is invading that domain too, and no need to pay a person for a massage thanks to massage chairs and beds. (But person to person massage sure is better!)

 Co-Opted or Prostituted or  … ?

“Given the considerable resources in the United States spent to subsidize intellectual work, why are so many intellectuals—journalists, academics, writers—not critiquing the many hierarchical institutions and not highlighting the disastrous consequences of these systems? Why are so many intellectuals instead providing support for these institutions and systems? Why is the majority of intellectual work in the United States not challenging but instead helping to prop up the unjust distribution of wealth and power, and the unsustainable extractive/industrial system?” Of relevance is UT Austin’s Robert Jensen, We Are All Apocalyptic Now: On the Responsibilities of Teaching, Preaching, Reporting, Writing, and Speaking Out, 2013: “We’ve built a world based on the assumption that we will have endless energy to subsidize endless economic expansion, which was supposed to magically produce justice. That world is over, both in reality and in dreams. Either we begin to build a different world, or there will be no world capable of sustaining a large-scale human presence.” Any readers agree? Disagree? To what extent have budget challenges made Jensen’s arguments more relevant?

401k

Here’s some disturbing news: A report by the Economic Policy Institute indicates that the shift from pensions to individual savings accounts has negatively impacted retirees. The punch line is that the wealthiest workers benefit the most because they can contribute enough to make 401(k) plans work for retirement. But the less-than-wealthy workers may have a tough time in retirement. If you want to put yourself in a special mood, go to http://www.epi.org/publication/retirement-inequality-chartbook/

2. The Students

More and More Expensive

It’s certainly appropriate for the President and others to worry about the cost of higher education in the USA. In inflation-adjusted dollars, the past two decades have seen the cost of a four-year education (tuition and fees) soar nationally as public spending has declined—and tuition has filled the gap. Out-of-state students at UMCP have to pay $27.287, and with room and board the total is $41,725. “Come to Maryland. It’s a great state. Make your career here. Oh yes, it will cost you more than $160k to get your degree.” These figures are from the College Board and the College Navigator at nces.ed.gov.

From a New York Times editorial (23 August 2013): “President Obama has been accused of promoting small-ball ideas in his second term, but the proposal he unveiled…is a big one: using sharp federal pressure to make college more affordable, potentially opening the gates of higher education to more families scared off by rising tuitions. … His approach—tying federal student aid to the value of individual college —is a bold and important way to leverage the government’s power and get Washington off the sidelines.” Let’s hope it’s bold and helpful, and let’s hope he can achieve the seemingly impossible: ascertain the “value of individual colleges.”

So tuition has increased: so what? Of course, there is considerable long-term indebtedness. In addition, the percentage of high-scoring students from low socioeconomic families is only half that of those from high-socioeconomic families. Ah, inequality! And there is a negative impact on the states and the nation. As writers at the Center for American Progress put it, “Student-Loan debt has a rippling negative effect on the broader economy.”

How could tuition and fees be lowered? Some people look to MOOCs as inexpensive substitutes for campus courses, others think there are too many frills on campuses, and some think professors are paid too much. (That last item is of course wrong!!!)

Is college worth it? Earnings and employment data indicate that the answer is yes. But the payoff may not be so great if college is a struggle or a failure. And the struggle or failure may not be due to college inadequacies; after all, ACT has just announced that only 25% of those who took these tests are prepared for college. And for African-American (5%) and Latina/o (13%) students, the tested preparation is shockingly poor. What the heck is going on in primary and secondary schools? No wonder we rank so poorly in international comparisons.

KIrwan and  Loh on Obama Proposal

William E. “Brit” Kirwan: “I believe we do need a new ranking system, one more aligned with our societal and national needs. The present system of rankings, represented by US News, works against these needs because [it rewards] selectivity and the use of institutional aid to “buy” high SAT achievers (who would be going to college in any case) at the expense of deserving and capable low income students who struggle with expenses in the absence of more aid.

“I do question a ranking based on income levels of college graduates. Many students with degrees in the arts and humanities start with low income jobs and go on to have very important and meaningful careers. We certainly do not want to discourage students from pursuing rigorous degrees in whatever disciplines attract their interests.” (Washington Post, 30 August 2013)

Wallace D. Loh: “To use performance-based metrics to reshape higher education is a big and bold idea. At stake is whether higher education remains the great equalizer of conditions in our democracy. Most college rankings are based primarily on input measures such as institutional prestige and student selectivity. The Obama plan rates colleges on the basis of educational outcomes. It also rates them on affordability and access, at a time when steadily rising tuition puts college increasingly out of reach for many students. …” (idem)

College Discount War

The Wall Street Journal is writing about college costs. Here’s how a 6 May 2013 article begins: “Private U.S. colleges, worried they could be pricing themselves out of the market after years of relentless tuition increases, are offering record financial assistance to keep classrooms full. The average ‘tuition discount rate’—the reduction off list price afforded by grants and scholarships given by these schools—hit an all-time high of 45% last fall for incoming freshmen, according to a survey …. ‘It’s a buyer’s market’ for all but the most select private colleges and flagship public universities.” And of course we build frills to attract the paying students: nice apartments, big swimming pools, free movies, restaurants, and more.

Pay It Forward, Pay It Back

Following some examples in Europe and elsewhere, Oregon is exploring the so called “pay it forward, pay it back” means of a student paying for higher education. The idea is to get free (free!) education now, and pay it back for a certain percentage of post-graduate income (around 3%) for a certain number of years (around 20). You make a lot, you pay more, and so on. Could this be away around the current high and too often deterring costs? Maybe if some problems are addressed, e.g., dealing with inflation and the state’s temptation to cut support before some years down the line the payback money is in hand. The bill signed by Oregon’s governor “directs Higher Education Coordinating Commission to consider creation of Pay Forward, Pay Back pilot program to replace current system of tuition and fees required to attend institution of higher education.”  Are Maryland’s educational leaders considering this funding possibility?

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