Monday, April 10, 2017

Why Is Learnin' So 'spensive?

One of the most popular nonsensical notions of the new "progressive" movement is the idea that having "free" public "education" from K-12, a system that has worked spectacularly to churn out millions of young adults who are largely incapable of critical thought but are perfectly primed for low skill service industry jobs and a lifetime of being mindless consumers, it follows that we should expand this "free" system and let everyone also have universal "free" college. After all, a college degree is a human right and it is just so darn expensive! I need it and someone else should pay for it!

The reality is somewhat different. There are not a lot of non-technical jobs that really require a college degree. I don't mean that the job description doesn't say that a degree is required, just that nothing you learn in a non-technical major is going to really help you be successful in a job in the same way that being reliable, working hard and having pertinent experience will.

The other issue is that "education" at the college level is very much like "education" at the secondary schooling level, specifically that the hyper-inflation of cost has very little to do with the cost of actual teaching and is instead largely attributable to the massive increase in non-teaching bureaucracy. For example, look at the chart below from the CATO institute that I pulled from this article from FEE (Foundation for Economic Education), The Failure of Public Schooling in One Chart.

What the chart shows is that the cost of "education" for K-12 has skyrocketed since 1970 and a lot of those costs come from increased staffing levels while at the same time enrollment has stayed fairly flat and test results have likewise stayed flat or declined. In other words we are spending a lot more on staff for the same number of students and getting very little return on that investment. If Wal-Mart doubled the number of employees but their sales remained stagnant, the CEO and most of the rest of the executive team would be out of work in a flash. So where is this money going? Not to teachers primarily. We hear a lot of yammering from the "education" establishment about how poor teachers are underpaid but then the same people keep pushing school districts to hire more non-teaching staff positions. Here is another quote from the FEE article:
Since World War II, inflation-adjusted spending per student in American public schools has increased by 663 percent. Where did all of that money go? One place it went was to hire more personnel. Between 1950 and 2009, American public schools experienced a 96 percent increase in student population. During that time, public schools increased their staff by 386 percent – four times the increase in students. The number of teachers increased by 252 percent, over 2.5 times the increase in students. The number of administrators and other staff increased by over seven times the increase in students. …This staffing surge still exists today. From 1992 to 2014 – the most recent year of available data – American public schools saw a 19 percent increase in their student population and a staffing increase of 36 percent. This decades-long staffing surge in American public schools has been tremendously expensive for taxpayers, yet it has not led to significant changes in student achievement. For example, public school national math scores have been flat (and national reading scores declined slightly) for 17-year-olds since 1992.
The key number here is that the number of administrative positions has increased seven times the increase in students. In other words, administrative jobs have exploded far ahead of the increase in students. We are spending more and more on education and the appetite for more spending is insatiable but the spending is often going into non-teaching positions and students are not performing any better. There are a lot of other politically incorrect factors here but I will leave that for another day.

The same thing is happening at colleges and universities. I have just finished up a staggering book on the move to eliminate due process on college campuses for disciplinary issues related to sexual assault, The Campus Rape Frenzy. A full review is forthcoming but I also found a lot of interesting information that pertains to this post. Here is one fun fact. At Harvard University, the premier school in America according to our popular culture, there are around 90 staff members at the Title IX office and the "Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response". With around 21,000 students at Harvard, undergraduate and graduate, that means that there is one of those administrative staff for every 233 students specifically hired to somehow prevent sexual assault and/or gender discrimination. In fact, according to the Wikipedia entry, Harvard has 4,671 staff in total or one for every 4.5 students. No wonder it is so expensive!

Here is another one that comes from the same book. After a kerfuffle over a staff member at Yale suggesting that people freaking out over Halloween costumes might be a little over the top and counter-productive, a kerfuffle that resulted in two staffers being essentially forced out of their jobs after a highly charged confrontation, Yale decided to step in. Not to chastise the anti-free expression protesters. Of course not! No, Yale decided to bribe placate the protesters by spending more money on staff "diversity" (from the Washington Post, the entire article is equal parts hilarious and deeply disturbing):
This week the university announced a $50 million, five-year initiative to enhance the diversity of the faculty.
"Enhance the diversity" which I have to assume is code for "hire more non-White faculty" because everyone knows that you can't teach unless you have the same skin color as your students. The extra $50 million must be necessary because teaching at Yale is insufficiently prestigious itself. As the authors of The Campus Rape Frenzy pointed out, that $50,000,000 is enough to reduce the tuition of every undergraduate by $9,000 (pg. 263) but instead it is being spent on hiring what amounts to race-based hiring that makes "diversity" a key attribute of the hiring process. So much for concern over the rising cost of education and student loan debt. See this article fro FIRE for more details on this case: Yale University: Protesters at Yale Threaten Free Speech, Demand Apologies and Resignations from Faculty Members Over Halloween Email.

Make no mistake. "Education" is super expensive and only getting more expensive but what we are getting for all of that increased spending is pretty suspect. In a lot of cases we are getting bloated staff, token diversity hires, and extra administrators to address problems that are very likely overblown and in return we are getting poorly educated students and especially at the post-secondary level we are seeing an entire generation of what are supposed to be our best and brightest who are incapable of critical thinking, unwilling to engage with ideas that make them uncomfortable, often  who respond to challenges to their indoctrination with calls for suppression of free speech and increasingly even with violence and in general are completely unprepared for life off campus.

We don't need "free" college to fix America's ills. I think that a lot of our ills are indirectly related to our insistence that we send every high school student to college in the first place. What we do need is a serious review of our "education" system from top to bottom because right now we are spending way too much and getting way too little in return. What is the goal and purpose of our education spending? Is it just to give us somewhere to warehouse kids until they are old enough to get a job? Is it to indoctrinate them in a specific political philosophy? Or is it to teach them to think and to learn, to become lifelong self-educators who are able to think independently? If the last one is the goal, we are doing a poor job of it.

The big problem in our education system is not who pays for it but what we spend our money on and what we get in return. Until we get a handle on that, the topic of who pays for schooling is irrelevant.


dle said...

A few thoughts:

1. While it's clear to me that college staffing levels of nonteachers have gone through the roof, I have not witnessed the same in public schools. If anything, they seem to be running leaner. Not sure where the "four times as many" number is coming from for public schools, as that is absolutely not the case in any K-12 schools near me.

2. Used to be that a prof teaching in a STEM field had as good or better income than working in the private sector. No longer the case, which has put pressure on colleges to jack salaries to those in STEM fields to keep them on the faculty. One could argue that this is balanced by lower costs for non-STEM profs, but this is less clearly the case, so the overall trend has been to see salaries rise disproportionally, especially for STEM. This may also hold true at the high school level.

3. Shenanigans in textbook publication have been ridiculous, especially in kickbacks and incentives to profs who write them, resulting in new editions every year, jacking the costs of textbooks throughh the roof. It was bad when I was in college and is darned near criminal now. Pure, unadulterated greed.

Arthur Sido said...

Dan, the staffing levels referenced include non-teaching positions. I agree that in public schools class size seems to be getting bigger because the added funds are going to administrative personnel. I compare it to my father's medical practice. When I was young it was the two doctors, one nurse and a couple of office people. Now medical practices have an enormous number of employees who provide no health care, they simply deal with scheduling, filing and billing.