The Foundation found that 80 percent of Texas voters think Texas colleges and universities can be run more efficiently. Ninety percent believe measurements should be in place to determine the effectiveness of the education delivered and material learned.
While there is no dispute Texas offers some of the best in higher education, there must be greater financial transparency and measurable accountability of the education students receive. Universities should work for the best education for their students by holding professors accountable for teaching effectiveness and efficiency.
Evaluating the effectiveness and performance of instructors allows universities to recognize and reward extraordinary professors—and creates an incentive to attract the best teachers to Texas universities. There is no dispute that the top priority of universities must be the students and the quality of education received. Educated students are the final aim, and their views must matter.
When a parent some years ago asked the president of Dartmouth, “What most should I look for in determining where to send my child?” the president responded, “Ask who teaches the freshmen.” Today, nearly all introductory courses at the freshman and sophomore levels at universities are taught by young, inexperienced teaching assistants. Universities must put good professors back in the classroom, especially in these introductory courses.
Students should perform evaluations of professors—a valuable tool to indicate an instructor’s effectiveness and impact in the classroom. The Foundation’s survey results showed that 85 percent of voters believe, if they were students, they could effectively evaluate how well the professor taught them. There must also be greater financial transparency throughout all components of a university from the administration down to the faculty.
IN THE past 30 years, college tuition has increased at five times the rate of inflation. Students and taxpayers deserve to know how such drastic cost increases are occurring.
Almost all taxpayer-funded agencies are held accountable through budget review and audits, and public universities should be subject to the same process. Texans demand transparency and accountability of universities, as clearly evidenced in the Foundation’s survey: 88 percent of those surveyed believe Texas public universities should be required to conduct performance audits like most other state agencies and commissions do.
Furthermore, universities must reduce costs to save students and taxpayers’ money. This means requiring minimum classroom hours for all professors, as many spend fewer than six hours a week teaching. This also includes trimming administrative overhead and operating costs, which have increased more than 60 percent in the last two decades.
A recent report by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni proves that reducing administrative costs can be done. The report reveals that Texas A&M has reduced its administrative costs by 2.9 percent between 2002-03 and 2007-08.
When encouraging research, there must be some kind of prior—admittedly difficult—evaluation as to that research’s value to students and society. Mere lists of numerous publications mean virtually nothing and are no gain to society or to a student’s education. Research is most valuable when it coincides with the more important purpose of universities: educating students.
Harry Lewis, former dean at Harvard, exposes the futility of publication in his appropriately titled book, Excellence Without a Soul: “Professors have become specialized in their interests, which are ever more distant from what ordinary citizens understand or care for.” This, he adds, often leads to the publishing of “nonsense.”
To save students and taxpayers money, universities should require research that serves the private sector be paid for by industry. Students and taxpayers have no obligation to fund research that serves General Motors or BP; such research should be funded by private and corporate grants.
Changing the status quo of entrenched interests in higher education will naturally be resisted. But these changes would improve the quality and utility of Texas’ higher education system and are in the best interest of students, parents and taxpayers.
Ronald L. Trowbridge, Ph.D. is a resident of The Woodlands and a Senior Fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a non-profit, free-market research institute based in Austin. Dr. Trowbridge formerly served as vice president of Hillsdale College in Michigan. firstname.lastname@example.org