ND’s Higher Ed Officials Owe The State’s Students And Taxpayers An Apology
Perhaps as yet another manifestation of the higher education bubble – which has inflated the cost of higher ed and made the institutions and their faculty/administrators very, very rich – the presidents of North Dakota’s universities give an annual “State of the University” address. As if they were the lords of some city-state and not the top bureaucrats at state-owned facilities.
Of course, we pay them like lords. The presidents at NDSU and UND both make several times more than our governor. But I digress.
Reading this report about NDSU President Dean Bresciani’s “State of the University” address today makes me wonder if he’s living in the same version of reality as the rest of us. First, Bresciani claims that NDSU is the #1 “economic engine” of the state and alludes to some soon-to-be-released study he claims will prove his point:
He said NDSU will continue to show there’s “no greater single economic engine” in the state than the university, and said a forthcoming study from an independent group will affirm that claim. He said the students have an annual economic impact on the service industry of almost $250 million, and the combined economic results of NDSU graduates in terms of credits and degrees earned tops $500 million each year.
“As a result, I anticipate that questions like ‘What have you accomplished’ will in the future change to ‘Can you do more and how can we support it?’” he said.
The university system is fond of throwing around a lot of numbers about their “economic impact.” What they never want to talk about is the economic impact of the roughly $638 million/biennium in state funding on the economy. You can’t just count the impact of the spending without also accounting for the impact of taking that money away from the taxpayers. After all, that wealth isn’t pulled out of some air. It does not emerge from some bottomless pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.
And then there is Bresciani’s oft-repeated claim that NDSU ranks as a top research institution in the United States:
He said the university has been recognized for its work, including a spot in the Carnegie Commission’s list of “very high research” institutions – meaning it’s among the top 2 percent of all private and public universities in the country.
That is true, NDSU is ranked among the top research institutions in the nation, but the problem is in how the rankings are done. It’s not based on accomplishment but rather the amount of money the research programs consume. And if you don’t believe me, check out NDSU’s press release about their ranking from 2011:
“The Carnegie Commission announcement is an exciting recognition of NDSU’s emerging national status,” said NDSU President Dean L. Bresciani, noting the university’s annual research expenditures as measured by the National Science Foundation exceeded $114 million in 2008 and are anticipated to exceed that in upcoming 2009 NSF rankings.
So NDSU got ranked high because they consumed a lot of funding. Well done, I guess.
But it’s just another example of the ridiculous way in which we measure success in higher education. Research success is measured in dollars spent. University officials care more about “economic impact” – which is usually measured in apartments rented, pizzas delivered and beers bought – than student outcomes which is why NDSU and UND have some pretty miserable graduation rates.
Just over 20% of students graduate from those institutions on-time in four-year programs. Just over 40% graduate after six years. Those metrics would indicate, to reasonable people, that the administrations at these schools are failing the students. But they merited scant mention in Bresciani’s speech:
He said the university also will work to improve its student retainment, graduation and job placement rates. That effort has already begun, he said, and it will pick up speed as Chancellor Hamid Shirvani’s recently passed “Pathways to Student Success” plan overhauls North Dakota’s higher education system.
The NDSU campus is gigantic. Pay for administrators and faculty has been skyrocketing. The university is involved in all manner of “public/private” partnerships (which most of us would classify as crony capitalism), but through all that graduation rates have taken a back seat until new Chancellor Hamid Shirvani, to his credit, made an issue out of it.
That’s pathetic. NDSU has little to be proud of. Bresciani ought to be apologizing to students and taxpayers alike for out of control costs and poor academic outcomes, not carrying on as though NDSU were the most important institution in North Dakota.Tags: dean bresciani, higher education, NDSU, North Dakota News