Higher Education: Another Sacred Cow?

Guest Column By Holly Hansen (@hollyshansen)
(this column originally appeared at Williamson County Conservative)

One positive result of our nation’s economic difficulties is the renewed impetus to hold taxpayer-funded- entities accountable, and to implement reforms where applicable. Unfortunately, when Governor Perry attempted to apply those standards to Texas Institutions of Higher Learning, we discovered a whole new herd of sacred cows.

Governor Perry has been a proponent of State Higher Education reforms for quite some time, but he renewed his push this session in light of our current economic difficulties. In his inaugural address, Perry challenged universities to establish a $10,000 four-year degree. Most university personnel ridiculed the proposal and claimed it was impossible. But is it?

According to the Texas Public Policy Foundation, per-student operating costs at universities in Texas have grown dramatically; in 1991 statewide average per-student was $10,665, but by 2008 it had increased to $18,571, a 74.1% increase. This explosion in costs is largely due to administration and faculty trends. Administration costs have increased by 52% over the last decade, and nationally non-teaching staff now make up for 79% of personnel. (Sound familiar? Like our tax-payer funded public school system on steroids?)

Not only has higher ed seen an unhealthy growth in non-instructional personnel, it seems universities are not making the most of the instructional staff they have. According to a Texas Performance Review, faculty at research universities only teach 1.9 courses each semester, and nationally nearly 22% do not teach at all. Many of these tenured professors enjoy six-figure salaries, and while certainly a few are contributing valuable research, most are publishing obscure articles in obscure journals read only by an obscure few.

These factors, along with a general lack of accountability, are driving up the cost of a college degree in Texas. But instead of facing economic realities, many folks in Texas’ higher education bureaucracy prefer to blame the State, blame the Governor, blame the Republicans; blame anyone rather than enact common sense reforms. They have sought not only to demonize Governor Perry, but to ‘kill’ messengers who dare to suggest reforms like having professors actually teach classes; hence the outcry against University of Texas advisor Rick O’Donnell. Such has been the hue and cry that Lt. Governor Dewhurst and TX House Speaker Joe Straus have been pressured to create a new Joint Oversight Committee on Higher Education Governance, Excellence and Transparency. It appears that the committee’s purpose is not to seek efficiencies and reforms for higher ed, but to police the reformers.

As with the debate over reforms for public education, we again seem to be up against educrats who insist there is not one iota of waste anywhere in the system, and threaten that any reform attempts will destroy higher education forever and ever, amen. Never mind that Texas’ higher education system is always demanding more funds from taxpayers at the same time tuition rates are skyrocketing and students are graduating with ever more debt. Unfortunately for both taxpayers and students, Higher Ed is looking like yet another sacred cow.

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Filed under Governor Rick Perry, Higher Education Texas, Holly Hansen, Joint Oversight Committee on Higher Education Governance, tppf

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