“Goodbye, Madison”

Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo, on what he sees as the destruction of a great research university.

The crown jewel of the Wisconsin university system is the University of Wisconsin at Madison. It is one of the top research universities in the country and the world. With this move [ to strip tenure from professors], you will basically kiss that jewel goodbye. To me this is the more salient reality than whether you think academic tenure is a good thing or not in itself.

If this happens, over time, the professors who can will leave. And as the top flight scholars and researchers depart, so will the reputation of the institution. So will graduate students who want to study with them, the best undergrads, money that flows to prestigious scholarship. Don’t get me wrong. Not in a day or a year or even several years. But it will. If you don’t get this, you don’t understand the economy and incentive structure of university life.

In other news, Author of proposal to abolish Legislative Audit Bureau says it’s not a response to scathing WEDC audits. The Legislative Audit Bureau is the Wisconsin equivalent of the Federal government’s Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Also Wisconsin Republicans fire DNR scientists working on research related to climate change and pollution.

59 thoughts on ““Goodbye, Madison”

  1. CoRev

    enzie your DNR reference says this: ““Let’s make sure we’re doing applied science that benefits people here in Wisconsin,” Tiffany said. “Let’s offer more opportunities for sportsmen rather than going off on something that’s theoretical.”’ Is that reasoning political or practical budgeting?

  2. BC

    The US model for “higher education” became prohibitively costly long ago, no longer provides a net value-added service for the cost, and will be utterly disrupted by the emerging intelligent-systems economy and the accelerating automation of employment in the services sector, including “education”, “health” care, gov’t, financial services, and retail.

    Gov’t spending, private “education” and “health” care, and household debt service combine for an equivalent of 54% of GDP. The rest of the economy cannot afford these sectors being such a large share of wages and GDP. The growth of these sectors is a net cost to the rest of the economy. Student loans and Obamacare are only exacerbating the prohibitive costs of “education” and “health” care on the private sector.

  3. Steven Kopits

    Privatizing the University of Wisconsin

    I have led or participated in the privatization of dozens of state-owned enterprises, from airlines, to banks and from wineries to steel mills. Let me give you a sense of how a privatization might play out.

    Approximately 180,000 students are enrolled in the UW system. Of these, 160,000 are undergraduates. Annual in-state tuition at the University is $10,400, with a total attendance cost of $24,700 (including books, room and board, etc.)

    The state provides $6 bn in funding annually to the University, representing a $33,300 subsidy per student. In terms of taxes, funding the school represents a burden of $1,000 per head in Wisconsin, $4,000 for an average family of four. For purposes of comparison, the median household income is $53,000 and the average house value is $180,000 in the state. Thus, $4,000 represents about 8% of pre-tax median income. It is not an insignificant expense.

    Privatization without Tuition Support
    Governor Walker’s recommendation sees the material withdrawal of funding from the University (-80%) without a concomitant increase in tuition support for in-state students (at least that I can see). Thus, without tuition support, the average cost to attend the University, ceteris paribus, would be around $44,000 + room and board, or about $58,000 per year. This is not an unheard of tuition for private schools, but it would clearly represent a major adverse event for in-state students seeking a cost effective way to attend college.

    Many, and perhaps most, students seeking to attend college would do so with or without access to subsidized education. Notwithstanding, for students of marginal ambition or means, the steep rise in tuition would cause them to likely prefer to work rather than obtain a college education. Further, without subsidies, UW would be competing essentially on a level playing field with the likes of Marquette and Stritch, and thus would like lose students to these competitors. For purposes of illustration, tuition and board at Stritch is $34,000 / year, some $24,000 less than the subsidized price at UW. At Marquette, tuition and board is $48,000 per year, still a solid $10,000 less than at UW. A privatized UW, without major restructuring, is not competitive with private offerings today. This is entirely typical of the economics of state-owned enterprises. (I have seen worse.)

    Thus, we might expect that perhaps one-quarter of UW’s current students would elect to avoid college entirely, and another 15-20% would likely choose a private option. Of course, the University would drop tuition immediately to maintain market share, thus, the total loss of student body would run around 20-25% at the low end, to as much as 45-55% at the high end. Based upon my privatization experience, loss of one-third of enrollment might be an appropriate number for planning purposes.

    This would have a number of consequences. First, the University would enter a period of turmoil, with substantial faculty turnover and extensive restructuring of campus, facilities and curriculum. It would not be pretty. Depending on how events play out, the University would emerge as the largest private university in the world, not an insubstantial position, if events play out that way. (I would point out that early privatizers often consolidated later privatizing companies. For example, privatized UK water companies bought up a number of water and sewer companies in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall.)

    What would be left, after a period of painful consolidation, would be a good bit smaller, more focused, a more lean and more elite university, perhaps the largest elite private university in the world. The returns to education would be perhaps twice as high, as the full cost of attendance would be internalized to the student. (Currently, the student absorbs only about 40% of the cost of education at UW.)

    There would likely be social consequences. For example, students often settle near their alma maters, and given that a larger share of Wisconsin students would study out of state, a certain brain-drain might ensue, with an outward leakage of upwardly mobile Wisconsin young adults. This is a complex matter beyond the scope of this analysis, but one should not in any event under-estimate the societal impacts of drastic changes to educational towns and cultures.

    Bottom line: Privatizing UW without any corresponding support to in-state students would represent a major change not only to the University, but also to the educational and social culture of Wisconsin, mostly notably at the main campus in Madison.

    Privatizing the University with Tuition Support
    A more interesting and intriguing alternative would be the privatizing of the University with tuition support provided directly to the student (a kind of voucher) for use at any accredited college or university in Wisconsin.

    This would force the University to compete on a level playing field with other in-state institutions, thus prompting the sort of restructuring and efficiency programs which the government seeks. At the same time, it would avoid gutting the educational culture in Wisconsin and preventing many young adults from obtaining college degrees.

    Such has the advantage of potential for political popularity. It could appeal to those who want to privatize and restructure UW; it could appeal to those who fear a collapse of higher education in the state; and it would certainly appeal to the likes of Stritch and Marquette, which would gain a major source of funding.

    And it should have appeal at UW (at least compared to cold-turkey privatization). It would allow UW to become autonomous and thereby retain as much of its progressive culture as it can find students willing to choose it over other options. One of the things one doesn’t hear too much about privatization is this: privatized companies often morph into de factor monopolies. With its formidable economies of scale, UW could become something of a monster competitor, both in state and more broadly. The largest private university in the world, coupled with a stable source of financing (provided the school appeals to in-state students) would make Wisconsin a formidable institution indeed.

    In fact, it would position Wisconsin well to deal with the revolution in education to be expected the 10-20 years. State schools, by dint of their ownership, tend to be geographic entities. It’s not the University of Wisconsin for nothing. A private university would not be bound regionally and would be much better positioned to compete in the disembodied sphere of the internet. It would also be insulated from state interference–and wouldn’t that be desirable now?

    But it’s not free. The UW system educates about half the college students in Wisconsin. A universal voucher system would therefore probably mean that the value per voucher would fall by half, to about $17,000 / year. The University could probably claw back half of the difference with tuition increases ($18,000 per year is still not an astronomical tuition). Enrollment would probably decline in the 12-22% range, perhaps 16% for planning purposes. That’s a hit, but not the end of the world. Couple it with the cost savings the Marquette example shows should be achievable, and the University would probably acclimate acceptably.

    And five years on, UW would be in a monster position to compete on the US and possibly international stage as the largest private university in the world.

    So, there are tough choices to be made. The University’s staff can resist Walker’s plans, and either succeed or fail in the effort. Alternatively, the University can seek to shape the Governor’s plans and position the institution to meet the challenges unfolding in the education revolution. In any event, not all change is necessarily bad.

    1. DeDude

      The problem with the for-profit sector is that its goal is profit not quality. Private enterprise seeks to charge as much as it can get away with, for delivering as inferior a product as it can get away with. Yes, if there is real true competition the prices will be driven down. However, the so-called “efficiencies” are almost always about reducing quality in ways that the costumers don’t recognize. Bean counters come up with metrics that presumably have something to do with the “product/productivity”, but many of the most important parts of the “product” cannot be quantitated. As the organization becomes all about the metrics/beans rather than the mission/product, the quality slips – but initially not any more than what can be covered up by marketing. A classic example in the university world is whether anybody cares about the students, it cannot be bean-counted but is essential to the quality of education.

      1. Steven Kopits

        Competitive does tend to create efficiency–although in this remember that UW will have the greatest economies of scale among private universities in the world, and this is not an insubstantial advantage to an institution who knows how to use it.

        The proposed approach allows students to determine which school determines the best value. The state does not pick winners and losers, and I believe that is the best guarantor of responsiveness to student needs.

        Further, a voucher-based system will tend to foster specialization. I can see even here in Princeton the variety of schools emerging. A voucher (if you like, means-tested) voucher system would go a long way to creating greater specialization and diversity in education. Times, they are a-changin’

        1. DeDude

          “allows students to determine which school determines the best value. The state does not pick winners and losers, and I believe that is the best guarantor of responsiveness to student needs”

          That belief is about as wrong and in contrast to experience as you can get. In order for market forces to work that way (the consumer picks the “best value”) the consumer has to actually know (based on facts, not marketing), what is the best product for the price. Health care and education are notoriously know as sectors in which the “consumer” (at the time of decision) are completely clueless on the issue of “best value”. In highly complex and specialized areas the consumer is helpless in the fight against marketing to determine actual “best value” and you get a much better result from the determination of “best value” from groups of experts. When the state doesn’t pick winners in these areas it leaves the least sophisticated citizens as sure losers and victims of predatory capitalism..

    2. c thomson

      Kopits is on target as usual. Change is tough but inevitable. Privatize the system – the midwestern cow college is passe.

      Also as usual – our liberal/progressives demonstrate that they are true conservatives. Since tenure makes a perfect thing – UW Madison – even more perfect only a bean-counting Republican fascist would change the least detail. Just send more taxpayer money each year.

      One can imagine the scribes’ horror at the invention of movable type…

    3. dilbert dogbert

      Yes! Yes! Yes! Privatized UW!! Walker is just nibbling around the edges. He should man up and go with the huge savings available with privatization!! He should show the American voter what a real conservative can do.

    4. Stiles

      $6B is the total UW-System spending for 2014-2015. In 2014-2015, the State of Wisconsin provided 19.3 percent of funding or $1.18B. The per student subsidy and the per household number are much lower than you describe as a result.

      1. Steven Kopits

        Show me that. I see the Agency requesting cc $6 bn for 2017 and the Governor proposing $990 m, and I don’t see any offsets in other increasing expenses.

        Further, I see UW System headcount going from 35,000 to 0. Looks like privatization to me.,

        But if you can find the offsetting revenues, please show me, because I’m not able to.

        1. Stiles

          Here is the Legislative Fiscal Bureau informational paper on the UW System. The section on budget begins on page 19.


          The reason the system headcount goes to zero is that it moved to public authority status in the Governor’s proposal. Not unlike the UW Hospital, but that is not privatization.

          It seems to me that you don’t have much of a grasp of the structure and budget of the UW System, but have some strong ideas about how they should be changed. Is this typical of your background on issues you comment on?

          1. Jake formerly of the LP

            And the System Authority idea flamed out, and has been removed from the budget. If course, the vast majority of the cuts stayed, as did the “flexibility” of removing tenure. The worst of all worlds if you give a crap about the UW

          2. Steven Kopits

            Stiles –

            Yes, thank you for this. It shows Wisconsin support at $1.9 bn, not $6 bn.

            I’ll try to re-word the comments on that basis, but it requires that I educate myself on some Wisconsin fiscal issues, and I’m short on time just now.

    5. babar

      off the top of my head these numbers just seem too high. a per student cost of $33k plus federal loans plus tuition? for an institution that has a lot of part time students and which, outside of madison, is not at all top tier? again, i haven’t looked at the numbers myself, but it seems very high….

    6. spencer

      You are aware, I hope, that tuition at private college has been rising much faster than at public schools.

      But to be honest, I do not think I have ever seen any analysis build on such a stack of questionable “assumptions” in my life. Do you write science fiction on the side?

        1. spencer

          I went to your link and it said:

          Tuition and fees at private nonprofit colleges climbed 3.7 percent on average to $31,231 this academic year, according to a report today by the College Board. For in-state residents at four-year public schools, costs rose 2.9 percent to $9,139.

          Got that: private 3.7%, public 2.9%– exactly what I said.

          How did you get that public is rising faster from that ?

        2. Vivian Darkbloom

          Tuition and fees are not the only thing to look at and would give a rather incomplete picture of the total cost structure. In varying degrees, private schools rely on endowments and public schools on taxpayer funding. These comparisons are not at all straight forward. But, it’s interesting to note, from the ultra progressive CBPP, how Wisconsin has recently compared on tuition increases and state funding with other states, particularly many other “blue” states:


  4. A1

    Higher education is really expensive. Even state schools, just transferred cost. For the training received, I think it could be done with less cost.

    Also, think that the prestige of academic research driving up a university’s rankings and stuff doesn’t really transfer to undergrad education. In some ways, it actually hurts undergrad education.

    I went to undergrad at a place that had no grad students, had recitation, limited class sizes etc. Thought it was a better deal than my sisters going to normal schools.

    1. DeDude

      A real university is much more than just a place that transfer current knowledge to young people. It is also supposed to be a place that creates new knowledge and helps transfer it to the rest of society (including those politicians who are interested in basing their policy on facts). Traditional academia has always consisted of education, research and service. The zero state dollar GOP model seems to presume that we don’t need to develop any new knowledge, nor need fact discovering institutions to service society and guide policy making.

  5. A1

    For that matter, do we really need to be sending so many people to college? How many are really college material. The Yale or Jail thing is really overdone. Nothing wrong with getting a trade.

    1. Steven Kopits

      It’s more than that. It’s not necessarily a choice between a traditional college or a trade. There is a whole universe in between.

      Let me give you a ‘for example’.

      Let’s suppose I was appointed Dean of the School of Economics, and I wanted to preserve and enhance the progressive (egalitarian) tradition at Wisconsin. I might conclude that i) geography matters less, ii) scale matters more, and iii) specialization is the key to achieve dominance. So maybe I come up with the “National Progressive Economics College”, with a looser affiliation with Wisconsin, but essentially a virtual institution bringing together the progressive economics faculties of the country, and perhaps the world. The mission would be “To promote the prosperity, security and well-being of the less advantaged.” If I want to make it more progressive, I could add “through the use of government policy” at the end.

      So now I’m going to start picking off economics departments, or parts of economics departments, around the country. My goal would be to have an economics faculty of perhaps 150 and another 250 doctoral students (I don’t know the exact numbers) dedicated to the various topics around the institution’s mission, for example, race, welfare, incarceration, family, health, etc. With this, we start to allocate specialties around the country on essentially a (consultative) top-down basis. So maybe Wisconsin specializes in education and St. Louis in community and violence, but everyone is working within a larger progressive institution. If you’re in this institution, you first learn the basics at your local college, but then are assigned to a specific topic group either as an undergraduate economics major or graduate student. It’s a top-down, rather industrial organization specifically geared to mastering policy and theory related to progressive issues across the board. You may jettison your macro and trade guys (sorry, Menzie), and rather focus really just on progressive issues, typically domestic social policy.

      So that’s a theoretical possibility which would not be possible either as a state institution or as an institution under the political control of a legislature.

      In any event, a privatized UW with some secure funding (via vouchers) would gain some flexibility, a high degree of autonomy from the political sphere, and an ability to restructure the institution to meet upcoming challenges in education. It’s not just college vs no college, but rather about optimizing scale, specialization and comparative advantage. There are many variations on this theme.

  6. DeDude

    The amazing thing is that as much as people worship the concept of market forces they don’t seem to understand them. The most “attractive” faculty will almost certainly look to go where they find the most attractive work conditions and compensation packages. The highly prestigious private medical schools have been losing excellent faculty to state schools that have retained tenure. The reason being that the risk of losing external research funding has increased drastically as NIH funding percentiles dropped from the low 20’ies to single digits. So actual real tenure with the traditional guaranteed career (switching from research to teaching and administrative work if you lose your ability to get grants), has become a highly valued part of the recruitment package. If you take that away, you have to offer something else to still be attractive to the best. If you don’t then welcome to the worlds largest community college. The VA found that out when it began turning itself into an “efficient” HMO with less interest in its academic ties and activities. They spend twice as much on sweetening the salaries offered as what they saved by making the jobs more boring. Having made themselves more attractive to “Doctors” who just want a 9-5 job without to much of those academic “thinking” challenges they are slowly slipping in real quality of care.

  7. Dr. Morbius

    And why would the GOPers want to destroy the UW-Madison? Pretty simple really (hint: it’s all about tribal politics) and well summarized in Rep. Terese Berceau’s recent article:

    Despite the fact that Dane County is responsible for three quarters of the job growth in the state during the Walker Administration, it is far more valuable for the GOP to derail this economic engine to feed the politics of resentment in their rural and suburban Milwaukee constituencies.

    1. Steven Kopits

      You are absolutely correct, Dr. Morbius.

      But look at the NOAA temp post that Menzie put up. If you know any of the data sets and the nature of temperature variations, you know that analysis is risible.

      Now, there’s nothing wrong with risible analysis. What’s wrong is that it carries the NOAA badge. I would tell the consultants on my team this: If you’re telling the client what they expect to hear, you can afford to be a bit sloppy. If you are running against the grain, you had better be prepared to take out your sword and fight for you life, because they’ll be coming for you. NOAA clearly violated this maxim, and now they’ve permitted themselves to be tagged as a political advocacy group. How do you expect that to play with a Republican Congress? Just how stupid is the leadership of NOAA? Are they complete fools and amateurs? How could one compromise the independence of their organization in this way?

      Both conservatives and egalitarians tend to view their dominance as permanent, and then are shocked, shocked! when the tables turn. We have a birthright to job security! It’s written into the law! How could you take it away?

      It is for the mandarins like myself to take the long view, the remember that parties come and go, but the institution is to endure. It endures because it avoids partisan battles. Alas, too many institutions have forgotten that lesson.

        1. Steven Kopits

          Definition: “an official in any of the nine top grades of the former imperial Chinese civil service.”

  8. Gridlock

    Why not really provide some cost savings and shut down the Univesrity altogether. Let’s return to the good old days of indetured servitude at the hand of a benevolent (hopefully) master. Hell, it was good enough for our forefathers. What better way to learn a trade and gain knowledge of the profitable operations of a business. Typically, indentured servitude would last 4 to 7 years, similar to getting a college education. Why, it would be less costly to our young men and women – no out of pocket expense at all! And taxpayers wouldn’t have to provide any funding either. The entire cost would fall to the employer as it rightfully should, no government subsidies allowed!

    1. Steven Kopits

      Grid –

      UW provides half the higher ed capacity in Wisconsin. There is demand for education, and UW is going to be part of that.

      You may think, OK, privatize, and everyone will go to Marquette and Stritch. The ability of these schools to expand in real time is quite constrained. That’s why I said that privatized SOE’s often become quasi-monopolies. Just because there’s competition doesn’t mean competitors can add capacity as quickly as the SOE is restructured.

      The real issue, to my mind, is whether the state provides tuition support or not. That’s a far more important question than whether UW is privatized or not (not necessarily to the staff and faculty of UW, I might add). With no support, the restructuring at UW, well, words like ‘apocalypse’ and ‘holocaust’ will be bandied around there on the left for a long time.

      With tuition support, UW could emerge a real lean-and-mean institution. It would not be without pain and some loss of students, but you would gain quite a bit on the back end in terms of institutional focus, strength and efficiency.

      1. baffling

        steven, i think you overestimate the value of scale in education. moocs and online programs have had time to be implemented and be successful, but other than a few niches, their success is limited. economies of scale work in a factory. education is not a factory.

        i think you also fail to understand the inertia associated with education and research. and you cannot simply blame lazy teachers for this effect. there is enormous cost up front in developing new courses. it is not an agile endeavor. the same with cutting edge research. i am not talking about contract research done by many companies out there-i used to be in that line of work. it may require a phd, but for the thought process and not the technical knowledge. but in the latest cutting edge research, you may need to learn 5-10 years worth of background technical knowledge before you are in the position to push the knowledge frontier. this is the type of work done at research universities. it is hard for a university researcher to chase the latest fad in funding because of this issue. it is also why NIH and NSF fund less than 10% of proposals-many are chasing ideas without the relevant technical background. i remember doing contract research in topics i where never even took a class in college-that was not university research. your ideas will reduce UW faculty to contract researchers. that is not the mission of research institutions of higher education. once you lose your good faculty, it is near impossible to climb back up the rankings. nobody else is sitting still either.

        you may want to run education like a business. i have no problem with that idea. but i have yet to see anybody come up with a real business model which makes education a profitable venture like in your vision. businesses, economists, etc simply have been unable to develop the proper business model for education.

        1. Steven Kopits

          I did not say the UW would be a for-profit institution. It would be a non-profit, along the lines of most liberal arts colleges…and USC. By ‘privatize’, I meant that UW would no longer be an arm of the Wisconsin government.

          I understand there is inertia in education. I also understand that, if we accept Marquette as ‘best practice’, UW costs $10,000 more per student per year.

          Personally, I think the trade-off to become an independent non-profit is probably worth it. Education is entering a period of rapid change, and all in all, I think UW would benefit from being free from political constraints.

          But it’s not for the faint of heart, I’ll grant you that.

          Also, do not under-estimate UW’s market power. Anything with a 50% market share has significant market influence. This history of privatization is very clear on this front. Consider: Marquette has 12,000 students. Expanding these facilities by 10% would take time. You need more dorms, dining halls, libraries, fields, classrooms, teachers, administrators and the rest. And the strategic intent and preparedness to make such an expansion. And that’s only 1200 students, compared to the 180,000 enrollment at UW today. Back in the day in Hungary, we tended to assume that privatization would open up whole new markets, and in some cases is did. But often institutions with in-place infrastructure–telecomm and banks, to name two–proved quite entrenched.

          So, the private universities in Wisconsin would certainly benefit (and there would be new entrants, as well), but UW would retain its dominant role in Wisconsin, and indeed, would become more prominent nationally.

          I am personally of the view that a cold-turkey, no voucher privatization would prove traumatic for the state of Wisconsin. I would not vote for it; there’s just too much risk.

          I would embrace a means-tested voucher system. Whole-heartedly. I know it would mean a few tough years for UW, but it would be a manageable change, and at the end, Wisconsin would be a leader in education policy, and UW would be well positioned to face the challenges of the future.

  9. Bruce Hall

    I’m sure this would be an unpopular concept at UW, but there is a collection of 2-year colleges that could be integrated into a stepped 4-year program that would benefit the students through lower initial costs and benefit the university system by weeding out the less gifted academically students. Perhaps a program to “certify” 2-year degrees for the UM system might reduce the overall cost and effectiveness of the UW system. 50 years ago, I attended the Wisconsin-Milwaukee university when it was a commuter college of about 8,000 students. It was a good size and good fit for the working class students that attended… and the cost was reasonable. Was it competitive with Harvard? Hardly. But it was perfect for bootstrapping.

    Now if UW wants to be an elitist institution like Harvard, then it shouldn’t be concerned about costs to students or numbers of students. Bring the best and charge the most. That doesn’t seem to be the goal of UW. It seems to want to be, faculty-wise, academically competitive with Harvard, but cost competitive with 2-year colleges… on the taxpayer dime, of course. What UW doesn’t want is someone accusing it of being elitist… forcing poorer or less academically qualified students… from being able to attend.

    Having sent two sons through the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and one through Michigan State University, I can attest that the cost would have been quite burdensome without the Michigan’s state tax support. But would it have been impossible? No. It would have taken some creativity in financing that effort. Has the state of Michigan benefited from the taxpayer support it gives to the Michigan university system? Definitely, but not universally. Is Michigan’s support of its universities equivalent to other states? No.

    “Michigan families pay more to send their children to state universities than families in almost any other state, according to a Bridge Magazine analysis. Not coincidentally, Michigan also gives less money to its public universities than almost any other state.” http://bridgemi.com/2012/01/college-tax-burdens-students-state/

    The universities complain and parents complain, but the schools are full and are selective academically. I’ll pit UM’s academic reputation against UW’s academic reputation in a heartbeat. What Michigan also has is a fairly healthy community college system that feeds its 4-year schools, as well as a range of universities both academically and cost. https://www.google.com/maps/search/community+colleges+in+michigan/@43.1237695,-84.6748155,8z/data=!3m1!4b1 Compare that to Wisconsin’s by zooming out on the map.

    Perhaps Wisconsin should look at emulating the Michigan model which is a reduced level of state support and a robust community college system for those students who are either financially or academically unprepared for the 4-year institutions.

    There are two dynamics at play here: the level of state funding to its universities and the personnel policies of those universities. They shouldn’t be intermingled. Tenure should be a university issue; financing should be a state issue.

      1. CoRev

        Bruce et al, I’d add UMd to the list of superior schools with 2 year school feeding them. For the high demand programs it is the preferred method for entry.

        While bringing up one of my alma maters, wasn’t their participation a surprise in the Big 10 (and now many more) sports programs? I was traveling the week end after the first Oh St v. MD football game, and talked with 2 Oh St fans/alums. Their comment was nice campus but not competitive. My response was watch the other sports and even watch the women programs. Even in football MD was competitive and heads and shoulders above the conference average in several other sports.

        This state supported school is not cheap to attend.

        Estimated 2015-16 Annual Tuition, Room, Meals & Other Fees
        In state fees & tuition $24,333 out of state $45,481

  10. Bruce Hall

    “Perhaps a program to “certify” 2-year degrees for the UM system” … obviously meant UW system.

  11. PeakTrader

    It seems, the rising price of college, and education in general, is now having a big net negative effect on the economy:

    “Tuition expenses have ballooned 1,225 percent in the 36-year period [1978-2014], compared with a 634 percent rise in medical costs and a 279 percent increase in the consumer price index.”

    “The U.S. spends an average $10,995 [in 2012] in public dollars on each US elementary and secondary student, but other countries spend less to get better reading, math and science test scores.”

    1. dilbert dogbert

      Please list other countries with equivalent size, GDP and diversity of population that does a better job. The World Wonders.

      1. PeakTrader

        Dilbert, I’m sure, the world wonders how we spend so much for so little.

        …adjust test scores for income and put all the students of the world on a level playing field. it turns out that the US has slightly lower poverty and diversity than other OECD countries on average.

        …the U.S. lags among 65 countries (or sub country entities) even after adjusting for poverty.

        There is also a problem at the bottom end in the United States. The scores of low-income Americans are exceedingly low.”


        1. DeDude

          Most of the countries we compete with understand that you have to invest to educate and develop a child to the full extend of their potential, regardless of how disadvantaged a background it comes from. If you don’t, you basically leave behind not just that kid but the economical and societal benefits that his/her inherent talents could have provided. In the US we have allowed all these voucher/private/charter school scamming operations to divert education dollars into private profit. Furthermore, we allow local tax base funding of primary education to ensure that the talents (and educational performance) of those not living in the gated communities of the upper class suburbs, will not be fully developed. So far the plutocrats have managed to compensate for this competitive disadvantage by attracting (or stealing?) the most talented individuals from other countries (after they had most or all of their eduction in their home countries). But at the university level we are quickly destroying the attractiveness for foreign talent of moving to the US at the same time as those foreign countries are waking up and making their home environment more attractive to stay with. In the long run we are all dead; but we may live long enough to see the “low tax, free market” morons destroy the structures and advantages that made the US the worlds dominant superpower.

          1. PeakTrader

            DeDude, people aren’t stupid (at least most aren’t). They know a bargain when they see one and when they make an inferior choice, they’ll learn.

            Socialism didn’t make the U.S. a superpower, the free market did. Government can improve or worsen the system.

            The U.S. government has done a great disservice in many parts of the economy, particularly in education and healthcare, where we get less bang for the buck.

            When there’s too much government, we need to scale back or slow down and allow the free market to work. Why put up with enormous waste, just because other parts of the economy are doing well.

          2. DeDude

            “people aren’t stupid (at least most aren’t). They know a bargain when they see one and when they make an inferior choice, they’ll learn”

            That was joke – right ? The wast majority of people have no way of “beating” the professionals and marketing people in subject that the individual decide on a few times in his/her life, and their “opponents” have had as a full time job for decades. They may “learn” from a purchase of discount toilet paper that breaks, but that is a decision where the bad outcome is immediate and obvious. Even then the average person doesn’t often learn from their mistakes, go to any gathering and hear peoples explanations for bad outcomes. Very few people actually understand – and how can they learn if they don’t even have a clue of what happened.

            No the free markets did not make US a superpower. Because then all the other “free market” countries in this world should also have become superpowers. Free markets will in most cases end up as vicious predatory societies where a very small “elite” suck everything out of the remaining 99.9% of dirt poor barely surviving subjects. That is what free markets do because that is their nature. The fact that US escaped that outcome has everything to do with the luck of not being destroyed in world war 2 and the fact that such an existential threat event creates a rare tribalistic/nationalistic spirit where the rich and powerful feel connected with and thankful of the lower half rather than just feeling fear, disgust and contempts for those “moochers”.

            The US has less government and more private sector free market involvement in its health care and education system than the rest of the industrialized world. The outcome, as anybody could have predicted, has been much less bang for the bucks. We pay more for less because all those private entities (as expected) are focussed on making profits, not on the quality of the outcomes. But don’t let the facts shatter all those “free market = freedom” myth that the corporate media have stuffed into you brain.

  12. 2slugbaits

    A1 does raise an interesting point about the possible effect on undergraduate education if tenure is abolished. You could make a coherent argument that abolishing tenure would lower the cost of an undergraduate education. The reason is that undergraduates subsidize graduate and research programs. The actual economic costs of an undergrad education (especially freshman and sophomore years) is no higher today than it was 50 years ago. Moby Dick is the same story. Calculus is the same as it was in the 19th century. Foreign languages haven’t changed. The principles of rhetoric are the same today as they were in Isocrates’ day. Napoleon still loses the battle of Waterloo. The cost of an undergrad education should be fairly close to the cost of a community college education because the inputs are almost identical.

    What’s driving the cost of education is the demand for world class graduate and research departments. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a world class graduate program or a world class team of researchers; but universities need to be honest about how those goals negatively effect undergraduate educations. So there’s a trade-off that has to be confronted. And quite honestly I don’t know how I come down on that trade-off. Is society better off with more people getting a good undergraduate education and leaving school with a lighter debt load? Or is society better off if universities concentrate on developing a small number of elite researchers at the expense of having fewer people with undergraduate educations?

    1. The Peoples Pawn

      I’m not sure this is entirely correct. When I did my grad and undergrad just this decade (not at UW) it wasn’t research programs that drove the rising costs per se. Nearly all are dirt cheap to the university if not net contributors when their payments for facilities are factored in. It looked to me like it was the growth into high-tech cutting edge stuff in biotech, thin film displays, supercomputing, electron microscopy, etc that required literally hundreds of millions in capital investment.

      Add into that the basic drive for better computer labs, campus-wide wifi, the students pushing for more expensive food options and campus amenities. Universities are also subject to the same organizational foibles as large corporations and municipalities, such as the weird desire to store every scrap of electronic data that goes through the network from now until doomsday, even though precious little of it has anything to do with the mission. These things have costs in terms of storage, security, liability, and maintenance that tend to grow geometrically.

      Bottom line is that I don’t think eliminating tenure is likely to save much money, if any. However, it would cause many talented academics to think of their postions as short-term gigs on the road to tenure elsewhere.

      1. Jake fomerly of the LP

        People’s Pawn- You’re mistaking the state subsidies for the total costs. Grad school costs a lot more per student, because of research equipment, lower student-teacher ratios, etc, but a lot of that is offset by things like federal research grants and donations. Likewise, dorms may cost more, but they aren’t subsidized by taxpayers much (if at all) because they’re self-supporting entities.

        And a lot of the rightie commentators here are dead wrong on reading the budget. The total is $6 billion for next year in the UW System, but the vast majority of that is self-supporting, and should be separated out of budget deliberations. What the state can affect is the 20% or so that it covers, and that’s what’s being cut here (and has been continually cut for the last 12 years, by the way). The bad thing is that the other parts will also likely be cut because there won’t be as many classes to offer and the quality of education drops, which takes away some of the outside money.

        Combine that with the lack of benefits post-Act 10 and the lack of job security and backing that would come from ripping away tenure, and is anyone surprised that people with marketable skills are reconsidering whether they want to stay? Funny how that works in the marketplace.

      2. Blissex

        «Bottom line is that I don’t think eliminating tenure is likely to save much money, if any. However, it would cause many talented academics to think of their postions as short-term gigs on the road to tenure elsewhere.»

        Elsewhere? WHERE? I suppose you did not get the drift of the story, which is that academic independence and the tenure that underpins it are being abolished *everywhere*. The overall policy is to make sure that universities and university professors are “accountable” to the needs and preferences of those deep pocketed people who donate to political campaigns and who donate to university endowments, and who certainly don’t want to see their money supporting “unaccountable” attitudes. Notorious example: Ken Lay of Enron funded 35 (thirty five) endowed chairs.

        For example the whole of the UK university system abolished tenure decades ago, and academics that don’t generate enough income by publishing in government vetted journals get fired quite easily.

        Voters have been taught to regard academics as nasty communists who gobble a lot of money to prance around in silly hats, and can’t stand them, so don’t expect the “popularity” of academics to save their independence.

    2. DeDude

      Actually the story of Napoleon that students learned 50 years ago is substantially different from the story they learn today. Research, new knowledge and innovative new interpretations of established facts ensures that development. In order for those community colleges to grab a book and teach an up to date version of a specific field someone has to be able to write that book based on their own and/or others research papers. Development of the knowledge for those book cost a lot of money (that the community college students don’t pay for themselves). It used to be that we said society (taxes) should pay for that, and undergrad tuition was not that different at different types of institutions. Lately states have pushed some of that cost onto undergraduate students at research universities. The proposed plan in Madison suggests that we can push all of that cost onto undergraduates.

      1. 2slugbaits


        I don’t think we’re all that far apart. Yes, new studies of Napoleon do come along…there are two out right now. But the advanced stuff is done in grad programs. What undergrads typically learn is based off the same lecture notes that the prof has been reading for the last 30 years. But I think we agree that today’s undergrads are subsidizing high end research and grad programs. To the extent that eliminating tenure makes those universities less high end research oriented, then that will tend to lower overall costs. Obviously it will hurt that university’s reputation and that might hurt the market value of a bachelor’s degree from that university. On the other hand, undergrads are more apt to have young up-and-coming professors who are just starting out, and very often that’s the stage of their careers in which they make their biggest research breakthroughs. Look at a lot of the big name research universities and you’ll see a lot of professors and professors emeritus that are living off their laurels from 40 years ago when they taught at some small, godforsaken college in North Dakota.

        Whether or not Walker’s proposed plan pushes those research and grad student programs onto undergrads really depends on how UW responds. If UW decides that they want to retain their reputation as an elite research university, then I would agree that Walker’s plan is likely to further shift costs onto undergrads. But the UW doesn’t have to decide to remain an elite university. They could decide that they want to be simply a very good university with a very good and affordable undergrad program. So it all comes down to a choice as to what kind of university the UW wants to become. As usual, most state boards of regents want both high end research and affordable undergrad programs with a high percentage of in-state students. But the folks who sit on boards of regents typically aren’t adults who are capable of making hard choices.

        As I said, I’m conflicted on the tenure issue. As a society we want some high end, elite research and grad programs. But we also want affordable undergrad programs. Universities can be one or the other, but not both. There was a time when they could, but those days are long gone. I think it’s perfectly legitimate for a university to decide that it wants to focus on affordable undergraduate educations rather than high-end elite research and grad programs. It’s just a matter of honestly confronting the choice.

        1. DeDude

          Yes in community college and poorly funded universities, the students may be served 30 year old material. This is also what happens in low cost private for-profit universities. It is well known that when you lower cost (community college) you also lower quality. If its all about lowering costs then we could just add two years to the community college programs and call them “universities”. Heck we could just print people a diploma and not bother about classes and things (some of the new for-profit private undergraduate “universities” are not that far off from that). The UW could certainly dismantle itself to whatever lower level it wants (and save taxpayers a lot of money); but they cannot do that without lowering the quality and value of their diplomas in the real world. The fact is that nothing comes for free and that includes cost-cutting measure in any organization or company.

          At a functional real university with training at all levels, the best teaching is not done by the famous professor, it is done by his graduate students. The have the absolute latest updated information on the subject, because they personally need to know it, and they don’t have a decade old slide presentations to repeat for yet another year. This is the advantage of attending a research university for your undergraduate degree. However, the quality of those graduate students depends on the quality of the professors that they work with. As more and more states decide that they don’t want to pay for real research universities, the quality or value of an undergraduate diploma will suffer. The rest of the world that we compete with does not send out graduates with 30 year old knowledge. Can we remain competitive if only the children of the 1%’ers attend private research universities and get a real education?

          I can certainly agree that we need honesty. We need to get rid of the fraudulent claims that serious cost-cutting can be done without serious long-term consequences (cost). To Walker it doesn’t matter what the state looks like 20 years from now – as long as he can show off his conservatism and bash “liberals” as a stepping-stone towards the US presidency. In 20 years the plutocrats and corporate interests he serves will have richly rewarded him, regardless of how much he wrecked the state; so he can just retire to a high end gated community in Florida.

        2. baffling

          “Universities can be one or the other, but not both. There was a time when they could, but those days are long gone. I think it’s perfectly legitimate for a university to decide that it wants to focus on affordable undergraduate educations rather than high-end elite research and grad programs. It’s just a matter of honestly confronting the choice.”

          i completely agree with you on this statement. the problem today, is every little state college aspires to have research programs, and this thins out the limited research budget available from NIH, NSF, etc. why do all of these little schools aspire to achieve these research programs? they honestly do not expect to be another MIT. but the states have been cutting support to these schools for decades. their need for revenue pushes them into markets-such as research-that they are not qualified to compete. so rather than focusing on what they can do in excellence-undergraduate teaching-they are competing one on one with MIT, harvard, caltech, etc. its a battle they cannot win. but administrators need to justify their higher salaries, and they do so by claiming increased research as a metric of value, while their undergraduate education metric collapses. but you must remember, a lot of this was driven by the states cutting back financial support to these educational institutions in the first place. and the cuts were many times driven by the desire to implement a business model that does not appear to work in education.

          1. DeDude

            I don’t think that small schools taking away NIH, NSF funding from larger schools is a meaningful part of the current research funding crisis. We are taking about very small percentages of the funds from these agencies going to institutions with research budgets under 10 million per year. Furthermore, the peer-review process ensures that the quality of proposals from a small school has to be considerably above average in order to compete with one from a school where the resources, research infrastructure and “name brand” prestige is in place. My guess is that these agencies are getting more bang for their bucks invested in small schools (although its hard to find a good metrics for that).

            Most of the research funding in smaller colleges comes from raising funds for an endowed research professorship. That money is more likely to be “taken away” from sports programs, not from research at other institutions. For the students themselves the availability of credible research experiences is valuable even if they don’t become scientists. For society as a whole the ability to harvest the imagination and ideas of students and faculty at these colleges (even if ultimately developed/stolen by Ivy League professors) is an important and very inexpensive boast to scientific progress.

            However, I do agree that the small colleges are likely to do the right thing for the wrong reasons. It is all about being able to point to some shiny flashy metrics that will look convincing to an audience that do not have a clue as to what is important (whether prospective students/parents or salary determining board members).

          2. baffling

            dedude, the smaller schools have changed the dynamics of the funding process. now NSF, NIH, etc can brag about only funding 5-10% of submitted proposals. this is “proof” they are funding only the best and brightest. but they are still spreading the funding around. not only that, they are wasting the time of the 95% of submissions that were not funded. that becomes a huge burden in the research intensive institutions-time better spent on actual research and papers than proposal submissions. the peer review process is another story. there really should be some training and competency requirements for reviewers, but that will not happen anytime soon. i agree smaller schools are not a huge percentage of the research budget, but they do have an impact and influence on current research funding opportunities. funding agencies at 30% to 40% acceptance would probably produce a more efficient research engine overall.

          3. DeDude

            @ baffling,

            I have never heard of these agencies bragging about low funding percentiles, all I hear is them using it as arguments for requesting increased funding (good science is going unfunded). Even if all the small schools were banned from seeking NIH. NSF, etc. funding, the number of resubmissions to get funded for people at the big schools would not change substantially. The overall percentile numbers would look different when you took away a large number of “never had a chance” proposals, but that is not the relevant number for an Ivy League investigator. They would still have the same frustrations and delays (or failures) in getting good science funded. The real problem is actually that way to many research universities (including all the top tier schools) are using the excessive overheads from funded grants to build huge campuses and biotech incubators (hoping for future patents revenue). Every time they put up a new building and fill it with grant funded investigators they can get NIH/NSF to fully pay the bond on that building. That is why they hire way more researchers than they should. That huge excess of scientist at the research universities is the origin of the destructively excessive competition for grants, blocking people from doing something new a risky. If the funding agencies put a cap of 40% for overhead (either your institution can be efficient enough to provide services with that overhead or it will have to pay for the excess from other sources), the problem would go away.

          4. baffling

            “I have never heard of these agencies bragging about low funding percentiles”
            i have been in the audience several times where high level administrators made that claim. i find it appalling.

            i don’t think i can agree with a flat 40% cap on research overhead. operating costs at a research institution can be rather high, and that needs to be paid for somehow. for profit overhead is significantly higher than that level. in any event, the current rate at many institutions is around 50%. i agree with a large excess of scientists at many institutions, but actually the problem is a little different than you may realize. most of these folks are paid as post docs with no legitimate future as an independent researcher, and a system organized to keep the big players funded at the expense of those post docs. it is rather a disgraceful situation, especially in the health sciences area. people operate as post docs for nearly a decade at pitiful salaries, with no long term prospects on the horizon. young researchers are unable to take their own good ideas and apply for a grant, since their PI will not allow them to submit their own grants and grow. it appears to be a broken system.

  13. Lyle

    One issue is to distinguish between the Madison Campus and the system. (Madison and now Milwaukee are regarded as research institutions, (having doctoral programs) then there are 11 comprehensive universities for bachelors and some masters level work, and 13 of what appear to be community colleges (2 year institutions) Here is a link to the wikipedia article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_Wisconsin_System. Note that as in many other states what were once the teachers colleges are now the comprehensive universities (8 of the 11). Now perhaps one could tier the tution higher at Madison and Milwaukee lower at the 11 comp universities (2 of which are within 50 miles of Milwaukee. Note that the Milwaukee campus arose from a demand for a higher level institution in Milwaukee in the 1950s.
    Now the question is looking at the 11 institutions could they combine programs with distance learning?

    1. baffling

      Lyle, “Now the question is looking at the 11 institutions could they combine programs with distance learning?”

      my personal experience in the area of distance learning indicates it is a very poor substitute for one on one engagement in an active classroom. that may still change over time, as technology improves. but my view is distance learning proponents created a fantastic marketing machine that never really allowed for a serious discussion between distance and in class learning methods. deans and presidents were sold on the potential profitability these programs. education quality was a secondary metric in their consideration. one problem is that online systems are not nearly as efficient for the faculty as proponents make them out to be-so the cost burden leaves the institution and falls into the lap of the instructor to absorb.

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