Sunday, June 23, 2013

listen up to comrade provost

Have you ever wondered where all of those Soviet economic planners went after they spiraled their country into the ground?

They appear to be managing America's colleges and universities these days.  At least, that is what I conclude from a news story about my undergraduate alma mater.

A week before the summer term is to begin, the administration at Portland State University has announced that 50 courses will be cancelled.  All in an effort to save money. 

The inconvenient truth is that at least 12 of those courses would have made a profit for the school.  The incoming tuition exceeding the university's cost.

When confronted with that contradiction, the provost responded that the classes will be offered  in the fall, and the summer term students could be stuffed into those classes -- with no additional cost to the university.

I certainly hope the provost's degree is not in management or economics (not that it would surprise me) because she has a tenuous grasp on the term "cost."  She appears to be selling spin faster than a politician's press secretary.  Facts are of no consequence.

It turns out that a lot of those students eager to spend their money in the summer will not be customers in the fall.  Most are from other schools and will be back at their home base when the school year begins.  A fact the provost knew when she performed her soft shoe routine.

In business, that is called a missed economic opportunity.  In academia, it is called business as usual.

The fact that the classes were in biology, economic, chemistry, and mathematics should have raised a few eyebrows, as well.  Whatever happened to the much-vaunted program to stuff more hard science into young American minds?  Perhaps, that goal takes second place to providing young people with another faulty economic model.

I may live in Mexico these days, but I do care about higher education in The States.  I always have.

But this is another example of how the education establishment goes out of its way to ignore market signals.  It ranks right up there with promoting subsidized student loans that leave students bound to mammoth debt while universities are free to push up tuition rates to other-galaxy levels to take advantage of all that loose currency.  But that is another tale.

I am just happy that I was able to get my bachelor degree in an era when summer terms were available -- and when a young man could work his way through college without needing a loan.

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