Join 3,433 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


hey, you got the one thing that I'm angry about in the other thing that I'm angry about
July 24, 2012 11:00 AM   Subscribe

An analysis of nearly 1,700 public and private nonprofit colleges being unveiled this week by Bain & Company finds that one-third of the institutions have been on an “unsustainable financial path” in recent years, and an additional 28 percent are “at risk of slipping into an unsustainable condition.” Presenting thesustainableuniversity.com.
posted by gerryblog (87 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
For those who are wondering, yes.
posted by gauche at 11:03 AM on July 24, 2012


A negative decrease in equity ratio is good, right?
posted by demiurge at 11:05 AM on July 24, 2012


Possible solution: sell the universities to private equity investors, fire everybody and outsource to China. That's the Bain way.
posted by iviken at 11:07 AM on July 24, 2012 [12 favorites]


For those who are wondering, yes.

Well--"yes and no" might be more accurate, per your link. "Historically yes, organizationally no."
posted by yoink at 11:08 AM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


For those who are wondering, yes.

So perhaps this is what known Obama hatchet-man Christopher Nolan was going after with The Dark Knight Returns.
posted by Naberius at 11:08 AM on July 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


The site is hilariously hard to manage, but yes, a negative decrease in equity ratio is good (by this metric) when coupled with a matching or lesser increase with expense ratio.

The darker shader boxes are "good," the less darker shader boxes are "bad."
posted by gerryblog at 11:09 AM on July 24, 2012


That "hilariously hard to manage" would have been more clear had I actually typed "hilariously hard to navigate" like I intended.
posted by gerryblog at 11:09 AM on July 24, 2012


"Boards of trustees and presidents need to put their collective foot down on the growth of support and administrative costs," the paper urges. "In no other industry would overhead costs be allowed to grow at this rate—executives would lose their jobs."

And also raise taxes.

Just finished Pratchett's Going Postal last night and he put it well in there. Of course universities and post offices should earn their keep. But their profits don't show up as income. They show up distributed all over society.
posted by DU at 11:10 AM on July 24, 2012 [25 favorites]


That only made it hilariously hard to understand, gerryblog.
posted by zombieflanders at 11:10 AM on July 24, 2012


Why would Bain release a report like this now with the former CEO running for president? What's their angle? Obviously many of these schools are badly run businesses just the sort of business that gets taken over by private equity money, but there has to be a political motivation behind it.
posted by three blind mice at 11:11 AM on July 24, 2012


gauche: "For those who are wondering, yes."

Er, don't you mean "no"?

posted by Perplexity at 11:12 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Short answer yes with an if, long answer no with a but.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:12 AM on July 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


Yeah....

So, what am I supposed to gather from this? Rutgers is on more sound financial ground than Harvard? That doesn't seem to pass the sniff test...
posted by schmod at 11:12 AM on July 24, 2012


Happily for any college administrator who happens to read this article, Bain & Company can also, for a fee, help you navigate these tricky waters and steer your institution onto the gentle seas of sustainability. The price might seem steep now, but compared to complete failure and the dissolution of your college under your watch?
posted by Copronymus at 11:12 AM on July 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


I meant, "is there an association". It didn't occur to me that the question could be "is this the same Bain". My bad.
posted by gauche at 11:13 AM on July 24, 2012


So like but wait. Where has all of the money from our skyrocketing college tuition costs gone? This is not a sarcastic question I am legit confused
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:13 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


In general, the growing tendency of using traditional for-profit metrics to judge the financial health of nonprofit institutions has been very bad for the nonprofit world. I'm particularly bitter about it because this practice more or less killed my 150 year old liberal arts school, and it seems to be taking over universities across the country. Trustees are bringing in corporate management types who try to completely change administrative structures and end up either betraying the identity of the school as an academic institution or just screwing it up royally.
posted by arboles at 11:15 AM on July 24, 2012 [28 favorites]


showbiz_liz: Most of it has gone to:

* making up for the vast decrease in state and federal funding
* vastly increased non-educational priorities (lifestyle services, athletics, etc)
* explosion in administrative costs
posted by gerryblog at 11:16 AM on July 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


A cynic is a person who knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

-Oscar Wilde
posted by Benny Andajetz at 11:17 AM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Well--"yes and no" might be more accurate, per your link. "Historically yes, organizationally no."

Who legally or otherwise enforces these organizational boundaries, out of curiosity?
posted by saulgoodman at 11:17 AM on July 24, 2012


So he really is Gotham's reckoning.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 11:18 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why would Bain release a report like this now with the former CEO running for president? What's their angle?

Well, to the extent that it's a conspiracy and not just this particular subdivision trying to make a buck, the war on education is a big deal on the right. This is just extending the attacks on public institutions into private universities (many/most of which are quasi-public or de facto public institutions anyway by virtue of student loans, grant funding, state+local+federal tax breaks, etc).
posted by gerryblog at 11:19 AM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


What's the capital of Oregon State?

Trick question! There IS no capital.
posted by hal9k at 11:23 AM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Let me guess. The solutions are:

Increase Tuitions
Reduce Financial Aid
Bust Unions So Faculty Salary Can be Reduced
Increase Class Sizes
Increase Reliance on Unpaid Graduated Students As Lecturers
Reduce Course/Major Offerings To Only Profitable Majors
Increased Salaries for Presidents To Attract Business Sector Leaders
Close Universities That Don't Turn A Profit

Did I miss anything?
posted by Joey Michaels at 11:25 AM on July 24, 2012 [14 favorites]


gauche: "For those who are wondering, yes."

Er, don't you mean "no"?
posted by Perplexity


So, the answer is cosi cosa?
posted by benito.strauss at 11:27 AM on July 24, 2012


* making up for the vast decrease in state and federal funding
* vastly increased non-educational priorities (lifestyle services, athletics, etc)
* explosion in administrative costs


#1 I grant, but what's up with #2 and #3? Can't they just not build the new buildings? Or at least just only build the ones focused on education?

And how in this day an age can administrative costs go up? I would have thought the switch from paper registration to electronic registration alone would have saved millions, and that happened at my school while I was there in 1998 through... um... 2003.

I'm quoting you, gerryblog, but I'm really asking these questions to everyone. Thanks for summarizing so clearly.
posted by BeeDo at 11:27 AM on July 24, 2012


"day and age", dangit.
posted by BeeDo at 11:28 AM on July 24, 2012


I have no idea about the bona fides of the person interviewed, but Fresh Air did have a piece on this a few days ago.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:30 AM on July 24, 2012


More regulation means more butts in chairs overseeing compliance. Universities have had to hire folks to manage ADA compliance, to manage increased scrutiny of federal and state financial aid, and so on. This is a good thing in my opinion, but it does cost money.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:33 AM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Can't they just not build the new buildings? Or at least just only build the ones focused on education?

Well, in many cases they actually do need the new buildings for education too. But the colleges are all in competition with each other, so it becomes something like an arms race -- and the admin has convinced themselves that they'll make whatever they spend up on the back end with alumni donations.

And how in this day an age can administrative costs go up?

There's layers and layers of new administration, and again as a result of interschool competition they're all getting CEO-level pay now. College admin, they tell me, used to be something senior faculty did for a few years as a kind of university service; now it's a gig in its own right, and it controls the purse-strings. So it grows itself.
posted by gerryblog at 11:34 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Now's not the time for fear. That comes later.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:35 AM on July 24, 2012


And how in this day an age can administrative costs go up?

I assumed that a lot of these was profiteering from educational companies. Like textbook publishers who charge $300 per book, etc. I bet educational chem labs are murder on a budget because you have to have that stuff so they charge astronomicalchemical prices.
posted by DU at 11:41 AM on July 24, 2012


To be clear -- and I think everybody in the thread already knows this because it's only been invoked as a joke -- the place it *hasn't* gone is faculty salaries. Academia has embraced precarious, flexible labor with a ruthlessness that would make Bain Capital itself flinch.
posted by gerryblog at 11:45 AM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


#1 I grant, but what's up with #2 and #3? Can't they just not build the new buildings? Or at least just only build the ones focused on education?

And how in this day an age can administrative costs go up? I would have thought the switch from paper registration to electronic registration alone would have saved millions, and that happened at my school while I was there in 1998 through... um... 2003.


Well, many old buildings really don't suit the needs of newer systems. This is especially a problem for buildings that need special technical systems (science labs) but also true of buildings with difficult old wiring systems or insufficient accessibility. Continued maintenance is an ongoing battle, especially with older buildings which may need special care to preserve historic aspects. While some bigger universities are slammed for things like sushi bars and rock climbing walls, they're doing it to attract bigger applicant pools ($$, rankings) and other marketing reasons. As professional degree numbers increase, the number of buildings devoted to masters programs or law schools sometimes goes up. This isn't necessarily a wise move, but programs do need different kinds of spaces. Also, heating costs, electricity, insurance...much like the costs to the average consumer, these increase for universities as well. Rising fuel costs.

Administrative costs: well, all those electronic systems require a lot of money. Licensing. Servers. People to interpret the data. Other systems that feed off of those systems. People to work through connecting the systems and creating better interfaces. New computers every four years or so. There are also more positions around student experience, which can actually be a worthwhile expenditure. Some are legally mandated, like those involving ADA compliance.

Oh, and a lot of smaller colleges got hit really badly by the recession. Their portfolios took a blow and the planned giving numbers and donations dropped as a double whammy.
posted by jetlagaddict at 11:45 AM on July 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


This is a report by Bain & Company, a consulting firm who does a ton of business going out to universities and encouraging them to slash budgets, especially with an emphasis on slimming down or eliminating unprofitable and unsexy fields of study like the Classics and foreign languages.

This isn't some kind of high-minded research paper on the finances of higher education; it's a scaremongering marketing piece for a consulting firm. Of course Bain is going to tell us that college finances are "unsustainable," because they are the ones charging big bucks to offer a "solution" for the very same "problem."

This is no different from a politician trumping up fears of terrorism and then campaigning on an aggressive anti-terror platform. It's also no different from when a drug company tells us that not enough people are taking their drug. Or when a software company puts out a report that not enough people are using their software. People who offer expensive solutions to alleged problems are not reliable sources to comment on the prevalence of said problems. It's sad that this Bain PR effort has gotten so much press already.
posted by zachlipton at 11:46 AM on July 24, 2012 [30 favorites]


a lot of smaller colleges got hit really badly by the recession

All colleges, really. While I was at Duke it managed to loose a billion dollars in the stock market. That is not a typo.
posted by gerryblog at 11:48 AM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


LOSE. Oh god I've become the thing I've always hated.
posted by gerryblog at 11:48 AM on July 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


A Tar Heel?
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:50 AM on July 24, 2012 [21 favorites]


In general, the growing tendency of using traditional for-profit metrics to judge the financial health of nonprofit institutions has been very bad for the nonprofit world.

Look, nonprofit status isn't an excuse for ignoring financial reality. If you don't have money in the bank, eventually you end up in a situation where you can't pay people, as is happening to the University of California. It's all very well to say the benefits are distributed throughout society, but unless you can quantify that in some way - and let's face it, backing up your assertions with data is the sort of thing universities are meant to teach - then you're just handwaving. I mean, Ford Motor co. or Apple or Google can say the economic benefits of their products and services are distributed throughout society too.

There's layers and layers of new administration, and again as a result of interschool competition they're all getting CEO-level pay now. College admin, they tell me, used to be something senior faculty did for a few years as a kind of university service; now it's a gig in its own right, and it controls the purse-strings. So it grows itself.

This I agree with, in spades. Large swathes of administrative personnel could usefully be done away with.
posted by anigbrowl at 11:52 AM on July 24, 2012


To be clear -- and I think everybody in the thread already knows this because it's only been invoked as a joke -- the place it *hasn't* gone is faculty salaries.

Not that that has stopped people getting their hate on in cases where it does.
posted by anigbrowl at 11:54 AM on July 24, 2012


And for merely millions of dollars, Bain can recommend a boondoggle that will give the appearance of taking action.
posted by Zed at 11:56 AM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am under the impression that many colleges spend a lot on non-educational stuff to do better in the US News rankings.
posted by snofoam at 12:02 PM on July 24, 2012


Most notably, [the Bain report] suggests that colleges tap into their real estate, energy plants, and other capital assets more creatively to generate revenue for new academic investments

In other words, if you just let the MBA/finance fuckheads who already wrecked the world's economy play with your toys too, miraculously something wonderful would happen instead of the MBA/finance fuckheads getting rich while ruining your sector of the economy too.

it concludes that colleges have too many middle managers

That's a fair cop, but not one that you need MBA/finance fuckheads to tell you about.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:05 PM on July 24, 2012 [8 favorites]


Can't they just not build the new buildings? Or at least just only build the ones focused on education?

Reductions in other support means tuition becomes more important.

Tuition becoming more important means you need for students to go to your campus of the state university instead of another one, or you have to close departments.

Needing students to come to your university means you don't want to keep the same bare-bones level of amenities campus housing was historically known for. Instead, you want something better than other campuses, which creates a vicious or virtuous cycle depending on your point of view.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:10 PM on July 24, 2012


TL;DR, but let me guess the punchline: all schools will be privatized. Faculty will be offered one semester contracts that they will have to renew each semester to remain employed. Their job descriptions now include "janitorial, landscaping and construction duties, in addition to instruction". Schools only teach a curriculum approved by Fortune 500 hiring managers. Graduates, should they be hired, will be indentured to their corporate benefactors for the cost of their education, plus interest and a "management fee", paid to Bain. Those who aren't hired will pay off their schooling in the mines, cleaning up hazardous waste by hand or entertaining the Elites in the Arena. Faculty who teach "useless" disciplines (philosophy, art, history, etc.), will be reprocessed into cattle feed.

It's University of Pheonix, stomping on a human face, for the rest of time...
posted by kjs3 at 12:11 PM on July 24, 2012 [8 favorites]


And for merely millions of dollars, Bain can recommend a boondoggle that will give the appearance of taking action.

I'm not sure why your 'boondoggle' link is included. That describes the ill-fated merger of the UCSF and Stanford medical centers, which was put in motion by the administrators of the two colleges themselves and which had nothing to do with Bain or any other management consultancy. A management consultancy was brought in to oversee the demerger after the project failed and the university administrators all resigned, but you can hardly blame management consultants for the fact that the project was a bust.

As for UC Berkeley spending $3 million consulting with Bain on how to reduce their budget gap, one has to ask why UCB can't make use of the expertise of its own faculty, considering that it has a top-tier law school, a well-regarded business school and an economics department.
posted by anigbrowl at 12:12 PM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Come on: the admin would never put the faculty in charge of anything. Cats and dogs living together. Mass hysteria.
posted by gerryblog at 12:16 PM on July 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


And how in this day an age can administrative costs go up? I would have thought the switch from paper registration to electronic registration alone would have saved millions, and that happened at my school while I was there in 1998 through... um... 2003.

You'd be surprised what those systems cost to buy, how much those systems cost to keep running, and how poorly they work.

But probably not too surprised how much presidents and deans love having those projects on their vitaes.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:16 PM on July 24, 2012


kjs3: "University of Pheonix"

Wow. Wow.
posted by boo_radley at 12:29 PM on July 24, 2012


This isn't some kind of high-minded research paper on the finances of higher education; it's a scaremongering marketing piece for a consulting firm. Of course Bain is going to tell us that college finances are "unsustainable," because they are the ones charging big bucks to offer a "solution" for the very same "problem."

The university I attended now costs double what it did when I attended; I graduated about ten years ago. We had computers then, too. That's the "unsustainable" part.

Financial aid only goes so far. I'm all for the virtues of a liberal arts education being available to everyone who desires to expand their minds. I am against 18-year-olds taking out loans that will prevent them from buying a house or starting a family until they're 40.
If college costs keep rising like they have been, we will cripple the brightest minds of the coming generation with debt.
posted by Diablevert at 12:29 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


You'd be surprised what those systems cost to buy, how much those systems cost to keep running, and how poorly they work.

I would indeed. Could they not have their own grad students in the computer science, industrial engineering, and human factors design and build a seriously kickass, low maintenance system? The university gets the system, the students get degrees, everyone wins. Even the undergrads who get hired part time to run the thing win.
posted by BeeDo at 12:31 PM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Come on: the admin would never put the faculty in charge of anything. Cats and dogs living together. Mass hysteria.

Let the faculty draft and publish its own analysis then, and show up the administration; or take whatever action they consider necessary to displace the administrators. Because I don't think taxpayers are very enthused about bailing UC out of its pension crisis given that the the university system went almost two decades without putting a dime into its pension funds. I understand this problem is not unique to California, although it only represents one aspect of the overall financial picture.

Financial aid only goes so far. I'm all for the virtues of a liberal arts education being available to everyone who desires to expand their minds. I am against 18-year-olds taking out loans that will prevent them from buying a house or starting a family until they're 40.

Me too. I'm 41 and trying to retool academically. I'm studying through a shitty distance learning program because, despite its faults, I can afford to pay it up front, whereas I am not willing to take on tens of thousands in undischargeable loans. We saved and waited, and bought a house last year at a reasonable price and with a fairly small loan. Why would I want to put that at risk?

I thought about going to UC Irvine, because they have a new law school there with some attractive tuition offers and the dean is a leading Con Law thinker (Chermerinsky), but we didn't want to move to Orange County for 3 years, among other factors. I did attend an academic seminar down there to check it out, and was appalled by a) the comments about the 'new law school smell', b) the open joking among faculty about the bidding war for high-ticket faculty at the new facility, and c) the fact that the lecture theaters were equipped with Aeron chairs. $800 chairs? Are you fucking kidding me? I mean yes, my butt enjoyed the two days of expensive comfort seating, but if I was attending as a student I would be OK with using a cheap wooden chair and a $10 cushion from Ikea, like I do at home. WTF.
posted by anigbrowl at 12:41 PM on July 24, 2012


As for UC Berkeley spending $3 million consulting with Bain on how to reduce their budget gap, one has to ask why UCB can't make use of the expertise of its own faculty, considering that it has a top-tier law school, a well-regarded business school and an economics department.

The problem with this entirely sensible idea, I suspect, is that I involves listening to actual experts, rather than consultants with MBAs.
posted by lucien_reeve at 12:43 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


BeeDo: "Could they not have their own grad students in the computer science, industrial engineering, and human factors design and build a seriously kickass, low maintenance system?"

Aside from the actual complexity of the system and the inherent risk of having students -- who are on the path to becoming professionals and not already competent in the field (yes, even at the grad level, I make this assertion), you'd be opening yourself up to SERIOUS LAWSUITS from your current ERP vendor. Each one I've dealt with has provisions in their contracts about non-disclosure and extensibility. I've been told by database vendors that they cannot and will not provide training for me because my institution had contracts with an ERP vendor, and the DB vendor knew their contracts precluded that.
posted by boo_radley at 12:45 PM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


There needs to be a way for universities and college to discourage (forbid?) donors from making huge donations for big buildings they can put their name on (and which will cost a ton to clean, heat, and cool), and instead funnel that donor money into the everyday operating costs of the institution. Alas, I doubt something like that will happen soon.
posted by dhens at 12:50 PM on July 24, 2012


Could they not have their own grad students in the computer science, industrial engineering, and human factors design and build a seriously kickass, low maintenance system?

This is, sadly, just not practical. We recently went over to an open source system rather than the extremely expensive name brand option. It took something like three years of planning, multiple staff hires, and ongoing meetings with faculty and staff for re-training and streamlining the system. We still haven't fully transitioned. Having grad students go on to design better systems would be awesome. Turning them into underpaid labor to try to replicate the work done by a system that needs to interface with dozens of other software applications and widgets and whatever else would not be cost efficient and would probably cause a lot of trouble.
posted by jetlagaddict at 12:54 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


If college costs keep rising like they have been, we will cripple the brightest minds of the coming generation with debt.

You say that like someone who doesn't understand that that's exactly the plan.
posted by spacewrench at 12:55 PM on July 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


Look, nonprofit status isn't an excuse for ignoring financial reality.

No doubt. Perhaps it was unclear by posting my comment under this particular story which is largely dealing with simple financial unsustainability (a problem for just about everybody right now), but what I'm talking about isn't just "we should usually be in the black." That's the sort of no s#*t concept that anybody running an institution that deals with revenue and expense must understand.

The failures come up in the way these people evaluate the institution to find financial solutions. It seems oftentimes their answer is excessive, overpaid, ineffective management and deep cuts to things that make schools schools. For instance, at my school, they brought in expensive consultants and an entire new high-powered executive office, who decided they needed to do massive physical plant renovations, and froze new tenured positions for years in order to pay for those changes. Only brought in adjuncts. This is incredibly common right now across the country. The end effect in those departments where tenured faculty retired was that there was no 'faculty' to speak of, no professorial community, just adjuncts who came and went, and this severely degraded the quality of the education. The renovated buildings probably brought in a few extra students, but the attrition rate was astronomical because new students saw how gutted the educational integrity of the school was. But these new management types just see a place on the spreadsheet with a 100k professor who could be replaced with a adjunct for half that. Obvious choice, eh?
posted by arboles at 12:55 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


The problem with this entirely sensible idea, I suspect, is that I involves listening to actual experts, rather than consultants with MBAs.

Where did they get the MBAs, if not at business schools? Berkeley's Haas School of Business offers 4 MBA programs, a masters in 'financial engineering,' and executive education as well as PhD and undergraduate programs. 'Consultants with MBAs' are not some strange alien creatures that dropped from the skies or that were cooked up in some industrial lab, they're the product of the same educational system that's thrashing around on the operating table. To claim universities are helpless in the face of their evil machinations is a copout.
posted by anigbrowl at 12:56 PM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


That describes the ill-fated merger of the UCSF and Stanford medical centers, which was put in motion by the administrators of the two colleges themselves and which had nothing to do with Bain or any other management consultancy.

Except for the part where Bain recommended it, yeah.
posted by Zed at 12:59 PM on July 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


anigbrowl: "Where did they get the MBAs, if not at business schools? Berkeley's Haas School of Business offers 4 MBA programs, a masters in 'financial engineering,' and executive education as well as PhD and undergraduate programs. 'Consultants with MBAs' are not some strange alien creatures that dropped from the skies or that were cooked up in some industrial lab, they're the product of the same educational system that's thrashing around on the operating table. To claim universities are helpless in the face of their evil machinations is a copout."

I wish I could capture this comment into a fine crystal decanter and savor it over a period of years like a fine whiskey.
posted by boo_radley at 1:00 PM on July 24, 2012


Possible solution: sell the universities to private equity investors, fire everybody and outsource to China. That's the Bain way.

That's pretty much what the plan Romney drew up as governor would have done to higher education in Massachusetts. He intended to spin off the main University of Massachusetts campus in Amherst as a private school (after filling it full of state funds, of course) along with the state medical school and the maritime academy, while lumping the satellite UMass campuses in Dartmouth, Lowell, and Boston with the nine state colleges and fifteen community colleges into regional "worker training centers" that would have been overseen in part by local businesses who would have had a major part in deciding curriculum.

Luckily this never came to pass.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 1:01 PM on July 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


Ok, I agree I am probably underestimating the difficulty of university administration. I also understand that sometimes universities get money from donors that can only go towards building projects.

So it seems to me, there should be a list ranking schools by, out of the possible pool of money that could go to educators, what percent actually goes to educators.

That, job/grad school placement rate, cost of attending, and average starting salary of graduates are what I would want to know to make a decision. (Then I'd probably chose the one near the top that has the nicest facilities. I'm not Spartacus.)
posted by BeeDo at 1:03 PM on July 24, 2012


Arg, fat flipping fingers. Choose. Also, I am Spartacus.
posted by BeeDo at 1:05 PM on July 24, 2012


BeeDo: "So it seems to me, there should be a list ranking schools by, out of the possible pool of money that could go to educators, what percent actually goes to educators. "

The idea of getting students to implement business critical software is probably more palatable to administrators than publicly breaking down donations.
posted by boo_radley at 1:06 PM on July 24, 2012


As someone working at a small college, let me point out that there are a thicket of interlocking, non-complementary regulatory regimes that colleges & universities need to comply with. The Compliance effort, which takes a bunch of smart, highly-educated people, vacuums up a surprising amount of time & attention & money.

I would not call for less regulation, because the rules (HIPPA, FERPA, GLB, &c., &c.) are all pretty legitimate -- but people should be aware that the business of higher education is more complex than it was twenty or even ten years ago.

(Also, software licenses from Microsoft and Oracle are killing America's universities!)
posted by wenestvedt at 1:10 PM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


The idea of getting students to implement business critical software is probably more palatable to administrators than publicly breaking down donations.

I believe you. But at least for public universities, couldn't they have that choice made for them?
posted by BeeDo at 1:10 PM on July 24, 2012


arboles, I agree entirely with your diagnosis of what the problem is. What I object are the arguments (not from you in particular) that taxpayers should just endlessly shovel in more money 'because it's education' (when, as you point out, the money is often not well spent and thus taxpayers' misgivings may be rather more rational than they appear). I also fail to understand why the beleaguered faculties, who are expert in fields ranging from economics to creative writing, are unable to propose more sustainable alternatives and sell them to politicians and the public.

I'm absolutely in favor of public funding for education, but that's not the same thing as public funding for educational administrators.

Except for the part where Bain recommended it, yeah.

No, they endorsed it. Your own links (as well as the one I provided upthread) make clear that the two universities sought the merger themselves, and Bain was brought in to provide an outside opinion on the feasibility and implementation. That's very different from proposing the idea, and I don't think it's fair to blame the consultants for giving the thumbs-up to a plan that everyone from both sides thought would be a match made in heaven. I'm not involved with Bain in any conceivable way, mind.
posted by anigbrowl at 1:11 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I didn't say they proposed it. I said they recommended it, which was correct. Unlike "...which had nothing to do with Bain", which was wrong.
posted by Zed at 1:15 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Nah, you can't have students authoring major software platforms: they don't know enough yet. Hell, they only know what they have been taught, and that probably doesn't include enough horse-trading, ass-covering, or other techniques vital for working with big IT systems.
posted by wenestvedt at 1:19 PM on July 24, 2012


Because I don't think taxpayers are very enthused about bailing UC out of its pension crisis given that the the university system went almost two decades without putting a dime into its pension funds.

Um, that's because it was doing fabulously well--and not receiving a dime from the state (despite the fact that the state was theoretically supposed to continue contributing. Now the university is rescuing its own retirement plan with hefty, and increasing, contributions from faculty and resigning itself to the fact that the state will continue not to pay a dime towards it: again, in flagrant disregard of existing agreements. In other words, no one is asking California taxpayers to bail out the UC's retirement plan.

It is possible you are thinking of the Cal State's retirement plan (CALPERS) which is an entirely unrelated program.
posted by yoink at 1:20 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I didn't say they proposed it. I said they recommended it, which was correct. Unlike "...which had nothing to do with Bain", which was wrong.

I see your point, but I still think it's inappropriate to say they 'recommended a boondoggle' given the two universities' pre-existing desire to enter into a merger following a decades-long history of close cooperation. That makes it sound like Bain advanced the idea to enrich themselves, which simply isn't the case.

As someone working at a small college, let me point out that there are a thicket of interlocking, non-complementary regulatory regimes that colleges & universities need to comply with. The Compliance effort, which takes a bunch of smart, highly-educated people, vacuums up a surprising amount of time & attention & money. I would not call for less regulation, because the rules (HIPPA, FERPA, GLB, &c., &c.) are all pretty legitimate -- but people should be aware that the business of higher education is more complex than it was twenty or even ten years ago.

Agreed that the rules are legitimate on an individual level, but as you point out the complexity and redundancy are enormously expensive and the cost of compliance seems to be eclipsing the benefit (not unlike the complaints from the private sector, where HR compliance is an ever-increasing cost center). Previously, the regulation was less adequate but the service was much more affordable. Are the regulations actually delivering the sought-after benefits, and are they justified by the 5- and 6-figure debt loads that students incur, and which severely limit their employment choices, and by extension their educational choices? If we do want to keep the regulatory benefits, then at the least universities must use their leverage to demand regulatory complementarity and administrative streamlining, so that they can focus on their core task of educating people.

Um, that's because it was doing fabulously well--and not receiving a dime from the state (despite the fact that the state was theoretically supposed to continue contributing. Now the university is rescuing its own retirement plan with hefty, and increasing, contributions from faculty and resigning itself to the fact that the state will continue not to pay a dime towards it: again, in flagrant disregard of existing agreements. In other words, no one is asking California taxpayers to bail out the UC's retirement plan.

Yes, the UC system was doing fabulously well (as recently as 2004, the endowment was worth a staggering $43 billion), but that 's all the more reason to exercise prudence in the face of uncertainty, not to mention the negative effect on morale that results from recent hires paying much more in to get less out than their predecessors. Although taxpayers are not being asked to bail out the UC pension system directly, it seems to me to be an indirect driver of spiraling tuition costs, for one thing; more importantly, it creates a perception with the electorate that public funding of the educational system will be subject to similar fiscal mismanagement. Likewise, the recent raises in salary for incoming CSU presidents, though funded by private donations, make a poor impression when regular faculty haven't had a raise in eyars and tuition costs are still rising.
posted by anigbrowl at 1:48 PM on July 24, 2012


Let's move past the fad od the last decade where inexperienced spreadsheet jockeys with MBA's could tell us anything useful about fixing the world's problems. A PowerPoint, a whitepaper and an executive summary never put out a fire, stopped a flood or got the bills paid.
posted by humanfont at 1:57 PM on July 24, 2012


Although taxpayers are not being asked to bail out the UC pension system directly, it seems to me to be an indirect driver of spiraling tuition costs, for one thing

I'm sorry it "seems" that way to you, but you're wrong: it would be highly illegal for any of the money from tuition costs to go towards paying into the retirement plan--and they don't, directly or indirectly. The shortfall in projections for the fund is being met, as I said above, by increased payments from faculty and from delaying the earliest possible retirement age for new hires and from some cuts to pensions; it is not being met--at all--by tuition hikes or by any cost to taxpayers--taxpayers who have, in fact, been spared paying any money into the retirement system for a very long time now.
posted by yoink at 2:01 PM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


All colleges, really. While I was at Duke it managed to lose a billion dollars in the stock market. That is not a typo.

And that's what makes this whole "study" so disingenuous. As The Chronicle article points out, Bain looked at 2005-2010 for their numbers. This isn't a measure of financial stability, it's a measure of how much endowment money colleges lost in the recession and how hard they immediately slashed budgets to compensate.

The sad thing is that I actually think that our current model of higher education is unsustainable for many reasons, but I'm terrified of groups like Bain and the like coming in with their reports and analysts to remake the system. We do need a real discussion on what college should provide, how much it should cost, who should pay for it, and where the money is going. What is counterproductive to that effort is scaremongering based on more-or-less meaningless financial metrics in order to sell Bain's services. And what are those services? Just look at a few examples from their own website: Higher education is not a business and shouldn't be run that way. There's absolutely too much waste and nonsense that goes on, but centralizing further administrative power tends to just replicate that waste across the entire institution on an even grander scale.

It certainly looks wasteful to the consultants when they see, for instance, every department managing their own IT. To some extent, it is wasteful, and there are some opportunities for savings by consolidating more, but there's also a reason why things are run this way. The Computer Science department, for instance, often runs a separate research network and does nutty stuff like give students shell access to high-end Linux clusters that would surely be prohibited by central IT policy. But it's not as simple as just excepting CS. The theater department has a bunch of special-purpose systems for a recording studio, drafting, and control of automated lighting. Information Science has an eye-tracking rig for Human-computer interaction research. Biology has genome-analyzing clusters. Economics has a brilliant tenured professor who cannot work on anything other than his painstakingly-built Linux workstation. These are all real examples off the top of my head. Try to consolidate all that into a single centrally-managed IT department, and you'll wind up with people who can't get their work done and/or an IT staff that is too far away from the work to know what is needed.
posted by zachlipton at 2:16 PM on July 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


And that's what makes this whole "study" so disingenuous.

Is a study really disingenuous if it spurs fears that drive colleges to give us lots of money?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:36 PM on July 24, 2012


Let's move past the fad od the last decade where inexperienced spreadsheet jockeys with MBA's could tell us anything useful about fixing the world's problems. A PowerPoint, a whitepaper and an executive summary never put out a fire, stopped a flood or got the bills paid.

No, but most projects benefit from being planned out in advance. Just scrambling for cash and throwing money at the problem without any sort of control doesn't seem like much of an idea either; that frequently ends up in a clusterfuck. A depressing example is City College of San Francisco, which has 39 administrators and 1800 faculty, and which spends 92% of its budget on labor costs. It's risking a loss of accreditation (and theoretically, a shutdown) because of administrative paralysis.

I'm sorry it "seems" that way to you, but you're wrong: it would be highly illegal for any of the money from tuition costs to go towards paying into the retirement plan--and they don't, directly or indirectly.

OK, fair enough. But the fact remains that taxpayers are increasingly skeptical of the educational establishment when they see this sort of fiscal mismanagement or when high-level administrators are getting large pay raises, notwithstanding the fact that these are not being funded out of taxes either. I've sat down and read through a UC annual budget, and I appreciate that many private donations are made exclusively for the construction of a new building or other specific purposes. But while campuses are superficially awash with cash and administrators are getting large pay raises, it's going to be hard tog et the political capital needed for more stable funding.
posted by anigbrowl at 2:37 PM on July 24, 2012


As for UC Berkeley spending $3 million consulting with Bain on how to reduce their budget gap, one has to ask why UCB can't make use of the expertise of its own faculty, considering that it has a top-tier law school, a well-regarded business school and an economics department.

Let me tell you this very clearly: graduate students and professors at UC Berkeley were begging to take on the role that Bain was brought in to perform. Letters signed by hundreds of potential participants demanding that the UC President, Mark Yudof, not hire Bain and let the professors do the restructuring were delivered. A no confidence vote was passed campus wide, as well as in the Senate, when the Bain deal was proposed.
posted by one_bean at 2:59 PM on July 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


OK, that's great! Where is the faculty study?
posted by anigbrowl at 3:41 PM on July 24, 2012


Oops - I hit post instead of enter. Sorry!

We seem to be in rough agreement that the administrators are a big part of the problem. I would love to hear more about what UCB is doing to get out from under them or to displace them, and indeed I would be happy to hear it over beer or whatever you prefer (I live quite near you).
posted by anigbrowl at 3:44 PM on July 24, 2012


There is nothing the faculty and students of UCB can do, apart from continuing to voice their displeasure with the UCOP. The president, and thereby his office, is chosen by the UC Board of Regents, who are appointed by the governor. They are obviously well-connected, and oftentimes interest-conflicted (e.g. that guy who just happens to be a major investor in online education programs - what a coincidence). Most of the board was appointed by Schwarzenegger, and they chose their guy who chose Bain. The problems the UC system face are mostly due to state budget cuts, but Yudof has done absolutely nothing to direct student, faculty and staff anger away from him and towards the legislature and various Propositions that have made this happen. He could be an organizing and galvanizing force for public education, but his basic position is that he, himself, is a politician and most of what he does with the legislature is behind closed doors and we shouldn't worry about it. And the huge raises he doles out to people in his office (including the double salary one exec worked out by retiring and then being re-hired into another position) are, as always, defended as "staying competitive."
posted by one_bean at 4:12 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


You want numbers? Here it is : 32 TRILLION dollars are hidden in tax heavens. It's 32,000 billion dollars, yes you got it right. Oh, but mind you,there's no money for education, healthcare, civil works , because all that "value" was created by "finance" and you didn't do anything to create that, you lazy fuck you. If you did, too bad, it's lost, but you must pay interest on it otherwise we'll not lend you any. I piss on you, but actually it's raining! Yeah, it's rain!

Yes, right, and I'm Mary Fucking Poppins.
posted by elpapacito at 4:29 PM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


When I was at LSU several years ago, anigbrowl, the athletics program spent who-knows-how-much money on a new logo and typeface. They paid an outside contractor to do the work, and a lot of us didn't like (and still don't like) the "new" designs. I understand that it's dicey giving students an important job like that, but why not try? Have a juried competition in which students and faculty can participate -- tap into the passion people have for their university. Maybe most of it would be crummy, which might speak poorly about the school's design programs. Maybe in the end the money would still have gone to a contractor. But maybe, just maybe, the result would have been something really special. Well, we didn't get that.

As a more general point, I agree wholeheartedly that university administrations make terrible use of the resources represented by their faculty, staff, and students.
posted by wintermind at 7:05 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


" It's all very well to say the benefits are distributed throughout society, but unless you can quantify that in some way - and let's face it, backing up your assertions with data is the sort of thing universities are meant to teach - then you're just handwaving."

Sure. But it seems weird to take this tone when you could have googled "public university money multiplier california" too. It's not easy to quantify, but in general investments end up increasing productivity and returning money to the community — here in California, the two universities whose reports were at the top of the page both returned about $1.96 to the economy per total dollar, and about $4 per dollar of public spending. Taking the multiplier effect as given isn't necessarily handwaving, and it's fair to regard your statements as just generally hostile to public education.

"OK, fair enough. But the fact remains that taxpayers are increasingly skeptical of the educational establishment when they see this sort of fiscal mismanagement or when high-level administrators are getting large pay raises, notwithstanding the fact that these are not being funded out of taxes either."

Fair enough yourself, but stating that "taxpayers," that nebulous bunch that just happens to agree with you, are increasingly skeptical is an odd assertion, because as we've just seen with your (I believe good faith) misrepresentation of university pensions in California, that skepticism doesn't necessarily connect to reality. So, yeah, there's mismanagement. But there are much larger structural forces that have a much better explanatory value, and because of that it's tempting to fall into misleading vividness and miss the larger context: Public education is actually a pretty great investment for society to make, even though its "profit" is long-term and diffuse.

(It's also worth noting the general human inclination to favor immediate reward as a cognitive bias, which correlates with the market's failure to value educational investment properly.)
posted by klangklangston at 9:56 PM on July 24, 2012


I'm heartily in favor of funding for public education. But I think some of its loudest advocates are failing to make their case effectively.
posted by anigbrowl at 10:45 PM on July 24, 2012


Fair enough, sorry for misreading you.
posted by klangklangston at 6:45 AM on July 25, 2012


I'm heartily in favor of funding for public education. But I think some of its loudest advocates are failing to make their case effectively.

No, the real problem is that its opponents have trillions and trillions of dollars tucked away and on the books that they can pour into PR efforts and public disinformation campaigns designed to chip away at support for public education. The actual value-creators in the US are too busy actually doing valuable things rather than devoting themselves fanatically to fighting off every well-funded private interest driven assault on our public institutions.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:59 AM on July 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


« Older How Big is the Universe? Measured with a protracto...  |  We Happy Trans is a place to s... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments