Monday, April 27, 2009

The Great Debate

What's a university to do in a recession? Use the opportunity to learn how to do less with more? Use it as a convenient excuse to privatize? Stand by your constituents and struggle along with them to build political support?

Right now we're seeing it all. A few examples--

From the Chronicle: Public Colleges Consider Privatization as a Cure for the Common Recession.

In Baltimore: Regents approve tuition freeze for Maryland undergraduates, Out-of-state, graduate students to see increases

But what I'm looking for is a state or university that's using the recession as a chance to focus in on the core questions, which include:
1. What are we doing that is working? At what cost? Given that cost, is it worth it?
2. What are we doing that by no measure is having any impact? What's that costing? Do we have the stomach to stop doing it?

In other words, use this as a time to get focused on cost-effective ways to educate college students--not as a time to grow bigger and broader. Get back to your core mission. As the NY Times pointed out yesterday, right now you've got to live in the house you're in--there's no trading up. There's no upgrade in a recession, especially not one that comes at the expense of students and families.

Postscript: As I finished typing, the following news rolled in. We have a WINNER! Temple University has managed to cut its operating budget by 5% (by consolidating programs, leaving some staff positions vacant, and freezing salaries for nonunion employees) and give half of the savings (nearly $20 million) to financial aid. Tuition will rise only minimally (less than 3%). You go, Temple!

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