Monday, June 20, 2011

PS427: Taking the “State” Out of State Universities

Can a state university be "privatized"?

Taking the “State” Out of State Universities: June 2011

There are unique obligations that come with state universities: educating in-state students, for example. Holding down tuition for in-state taxpayers. Possibly providing an excellent education, though I hear that mentioned somewhat less often.

This and the previous post raise the possibility (in my mind at least) of two potential directions. One is greater autonomy, much as the New Badger Partnership in Wisconsin proposed. That is short of full privatization but with some gains in administrative and management flexibility, yet with loss of state legislative oversight. A second option goes in the opposite direction: more state mandates over faculty workload and "student credits per faculty member". The driving notion here is that left to themselves, universities overpay and underwork their faculty and strong state oversight should require increased teaching loads (and perhaps say more about curriculum content, such as more applied or job-relevant courses.) Before the Irish economic bust, some elements of this "business responsive curriculum" was credited with drawing major tech firms to Ireland.

What I've not seen acknowledged or considered is the potential for a growing divide between public and private universities. Privates can price themselves completely out of some markets-- such as remedial programs to help students deficient in high school skills nevertheless complete college, one goal that seems special to public schools. Privates, immune to legislative influence, can simply position themselves for whatever the markets for students (on one hand) and faculty (on the other) select and optimize. Arguably for decades Berkeley and Stanford have been peers, one public and one private. But can new models of publics maintain this equality?

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