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U of M: What value are we getting for the price?

During the current legislative session administrators from the University of Minnesota will be asking the state Legislature for an increase in appropriations of 10 percent. While few would question the value of education, in the case of the U there are good reasons to question the price.

If the state is going to increase funding for the U, we should have a reasonable expectation of seeing a positive return on this investment. In exchange for the added state dollars we would like to see an increase in the number of Minnesotans being educated, or a reduction in costs for students, or an increase in the quality of the education being provided — ideally, all three. Based on past performance, none of these expectations is likely to be met.

Since 2012 state funding for the U has increased by 16 percent. If we look at the enrollment numbers for the U, we can only be disappointed with what this increase in funding has provided. The number of students enrolled in 2016 is 1,000 less than in 2012. If we then look at the number of these students who are from Minnesota, we might well be outraged. Since 2012 the number of Minnesotans enrolled has been lowered by 2,000; one half of this reduction is due to an increase of the number of out-of-state students recruited to take the places of Minnesotans.

We would also be disappointed if we hoped that the increase in taxpayer money had led to tuition relief for overburdened students and their families. Tuition income collected by the U has increased at nearly twice the rate of inflation since 2012. Per-student tuition revenue increased over 9 percent during this period.

Reasons for concern

When it comes to examining changes in the quality of education being offered at the U there are profound reasons for concern.

If we were to walk around any of the U’s campuses and poke our heads in various classrooms, labs, and offices, we would find much to praise. Occasionally, we would find instances of inefficiency or outright waste. While regrettable, a certain amount of inefficiency is inevitable in any large organization, and can only be completely “eliminated” at the cost of expensive, stultifying, and wasteful levels of oversight.

But there is something we would see that should lead us to question the U’s commitment to offering its students a quality education: classes without professors. Recently, the U’s College of Liberal Arts Student Board conducted a survey that found that nearly half of economics majors on the Twin Cities campus had never had a class in their major taught by a faculty member. Three-quarters of undergraduate economics courses last semester were taught by graduate students or teaching assistants.

This situation cannot be the result of a slip-up or an oversight — it could only occur in an institutional environment where education is undervalued. We can see this value system writ large, if we look at the employment patterns of the U as a whole. Over the last 10 years the number of full-time faculty at the U has increased by 12 percent, but the number of persons employed in leadership/professional and administrative job categories has exploded by 40 percent.

Ascendancy of bureaucracy

These staffing decisions both reflect and embody the values of the institution. This shift in the relative employment numbers between these two groups mirrors a shift in the perception of their relative values, creating a culture that favors the ascendancy of bureaucratic control over plain teaching. In the U’s present culture any additions to its revenues would just magnify this trend.

With no reason to expect that an increase in the state appropriations for the U will lead to improvements in quality, quantity, or cost, the Legislature would be ill-advised to approve any increase. In fact, It may be time for the Legislature to take on an additional role and teach the U a lesson.  

Robert Katz is an employee of the University of Minnesota libraries.


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Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Mike martin on 03/10/2017 - 10:43 pm.

    salaries at U of MN

    Per the Biz journal over 3,000 U employees earn over $ 100,000

    article is

    at the bottom you can enter an employees name & find their salary

    Plus the U seems to lurch from public relations disaster to disaster, Sexual assault, wrestling coach with players using & selling prescription drugs etc. etc.

    • Submitted by Paul tuite on 03/14/2017 - 10:42 am.

      >100 K Salary

      When commenting on the number of employees earning over 100K, one needs to address the skew as to how many of these individuals are in the medical school (MDs or PhDs), law school (JDs) or business school (MBAs). A number of 3000 sounds like a lot but when you figure the average salary for these professions are all over 100K you will get a better sense of the numbers.

      Additionally, most full professors are probably making over a 100 in their respective areas throughout the university.

      Thus using a number does little to provide any insight into how to make the University more responsive.

      For example, it may be more helpful to learn how many faculty in the business school who are full professors who have a minimal teaching load as opposed to assistant or associate professors who are carrying the majority of teaching requirements.

  2. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 03/11/2017 - 12:00 pm.

    One can agree with Mr. Katz that the explosion at the U of MN of administrative and bureaucratic appointments should be checked–in both senses of that word–without subscribing to the solution he proposes: that the Legislature severely cut the U’s state appropriations.

    Why? The reasons for there being more out-of-state and foreign students enrolled, versus native-born-and-bred Minnesotans, is that the U needs the higher tuition paid by those out-of-state and international enrollees.That tuition is needed because the state of Minnesota, through its benighted Legislature, has seen fit, over twenty-five to thirty years or more, to grossly reduce the level of state funding it appropriates to the U of MN. Especially for instruction.

    That lack of funding is why there are relatively few professors teaching undergraduates, especially in the College of Liberal Arts where the administration has decided not to provide the salaries that tenure-track professors would demand (and, if anyone is so out-of-date as to think that $100,000 in salary and benefits is enough to “buy” a professor in today’s market, they need to study up on academic compensation levels). The push is toward technical skills, computer-age abilities, rather than intellectual development, how to think critically. The U has bought into the business emphasis on what business needs from college students. Business wants the U to train their future employees, rather than go the traditional route and train them themselves, in-house, after the U has had a chance to develop their minds.

    If people are really interested in reining in the U’s costs to the state, we should look very closely at whether we need the expensive intercollegiate sports programs and the obscene levels of compensation for coaches of the main “draws”: football, basketball,and ice hockey. Why not withdraw from the semi-pro environment that so abuses the idea of “scholar-athletes” and have students play intramural sports? The U’s athletic department has almost nothing to do with academic development of students, and to many of us, that’s where the U’s primary failures lie.

  3. Submitted by Ivy Chang on 03/11/2017 - 12:03 pm.

    U of M value

    Agree with Robert Katz and Mike Martin. Salaries at the U of MN are skyrocketing while the quality
    of education is mediocre at best. Residents should be able to enter the U before out of state applicants. AND. . .PR disasters don’t provide a good image of Minnesota.

  4. Submitted by Lund Lang on 03/12/2017 - 03:43 pm.

    The unending benefits of a non-profit

    For as many years that I can remember, 62 living in Minnesota, the U of M has had the privilege of going to the MN legislator to ask for appropriations without returning the favor to MN taxpayers. It has always amazed me at how an entity such as the U of M can pull it off. The money that they receive from corporate funding of R & D is plowed back into the expansion of their ever-growing entity to not show a profit, while they continue to go before the taxpayers and beg for more money. The students that are being overly charged for their education are then used with their free labor to do the research that completes the hungry circle. When is the MN taxpayers going to say enough!!!

  5. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 03/13/2017 - 03:53 pm.

    Teaching and research assistants do NOT provide free labor (they get stipends, depending on how many hours they work), and state dollars do NOT support graduate programs. Undergrads don’t get teaching or research assistantships. The U’s research faculty brings in many millions of dollars in grants that help support the entire institution. and the state’s part of the U’s support has been reduced from nearly 40% to under 18% recently.

    I’m surprised at the resentment shown here toward the major institution of higher learning in Minnesota, combined with the ignorance of how and how much it is funded, and how it functions.

    (You can’t get into the U anymore with just any old Minnesota high school diploma. You have to compete to get admitted! Imagine that. Why? Because the state of Minnesota, through its Legislature, has refused to fund the U at the level that would permit more students, and less-prepared students, to feel “entitled” to attend.)

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