April 14, 2008

Funding in higher ed

Kevin Carey's column on unequal funding of higher education makes the obvious but important point that states' public higher education systems are often skewed in favor of spending more in institutions with better-prepared students. Carey uses per-student (FTE) instructional expenses calculated using the Governmental Accounting Standards Board numbers (i.e., numbers that institutions reported using GASB definitions), and because I don't know the details on the relevant definitions, I can't comment on the methods in terms of his back-of-the-spreadsheet estimates that California institutions spend more than $10K per student when students' entering SAT scores are higher. I suspect somewhat different measures would come up with different numbers.

But the larger point is still true: community colleges spend less on instruction per student, in large part because they receive less per FTE than universities and because their tuition is lower. In turn, they pay full-time faculty less than in universities, and they rely far more on contingent faculty. At the same time, community college students are far more likely to be told to take developmental (remedial) courses.

The historian in me wants to know how this inequality in spending (however calculated) has changed over the past three decades, as states have disinvested in higher education. And also what the relationship is between general higher-ed revenue structures in a state and the inequality within the state. The easiest way to equalize spending in higher ed is to cut revenues back for every public institution, and that inevitably reduces the range in instructional spending. We're trying that here in Florida, but I don't think anyone is going to like the outcome.

(A note to Carey and to the editors of Inside Higher Ed: the word is methods, not methodology. Methodology is the study of methods. A little later: That word probably caught my eye because I'm in the midst of journal-editing stuff today, and I regularly have to change "methodology" to "methods" in that role.)

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Posted in Education policy on April 14, 2008 8:02 AM |