John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

Funding is our “Crack”

November 13, 2012John N. GardnerInsights0

John N. Gardner

I think about this all the time. And I try to do what I can to change it. I am fighting a loosing battle. Have been trying to think of a label for this phenomenon: “crack” is what I have chosen.

Higher education leaders, right down to the unit level, are addicted to crack. Crack is the revenue that results for our unit/institution as a result of the decisions we make and especially the policies we put in place. What ever happened to the criteria of “effective and legitimate educational outcomes” as the criteria for our decisions?

We all know what happened. For one thing, nothing is more important to Americans than money. And we administrators and leaders of America’s colleges are Americans. We have absorbed the culture and its values. We evaluate our institutions and compete with other places in terms of our wealth. We aspire to wealth. There is so much we can do with it—and much, or so we think, that we can’t do without it.

I think and write frequently about the policies we adopt that are designed to increase revenues, but which may have deleterious effects on educational success for our students. Examples:

  • Allowing students to start as late as possible, just as long as we can get them in the “count.” This is not good for students. Gives them an equal opportunity to fail. But we think it is good for us short term financially.
  • Not requiring students to actually see an academic advisor. We think this is removing a “barrier” to access and ease of entry into the institution. More access we have, the more revenue. We think it is good for us. I think it is bad policy for student success.
  • Not requiring students to participate in Orientation. This means one less barrier. And one less “cost.” But, we know that participation in Orientation correlates with great probability of persistence. So why don’t we mandate this. Again, the answer: one less barrier so more revenue.
  • Not requiring high impact practices like learning communities, first-year seminars, Supplemental Instruction. We think it saves us money when we don’t offer these forms of support. We save money so we make money. Well maybe in the short term. But fewer of our students are successful in the long term –actually even in the short term, the very first term and year. So then we lose what would have been their continuing funding revenue. You get the idea.

Short term gains is what we have become all about. We have adopted the corporate culture all as part of the corporatization of the American academy.

We are addicted to the crack of immediate funding, a kind of fiscal immediate gratification.

What will it take to change this? I am not sure. But I am going to keep railing against the crack addiction—and try not to practice it myself.


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