Category Archives: Economics

Disruption of Higher Education

Dr Shai L. Butler, and here.

“I don’t know about you, but in my recent experiences, college tours, admissions open houses, and accepted student days are starting to make me feel more like a car salesperson than a college administrator. “Excuse me, ma’am, does this education come equipped with all of the latest features or would you describe your campus as offering more of the base model?” Because I have some experience negotiating great deals in car lots throughout the Northeast, I feel better prepared for the shrewd skill of negotiations required when discussing financial aid packages with families. It appears that students today not only get to “build their luxury vehicle,” colleges get to create an options package for the newest generation to come to campus, Generation Z (Gen Z), also known as IGen, a term coined by Dr. Jean Twenge, notable author, researcher, and psychologist.

According to Twenge, IGen or Gen Z were “born after 1995, socialize in completely new ways, reject once sacred social taboos, and want different things from their lives and careers.” What kind of different things you ask? Jeff Selingo, in his recent article titled “The New Generation of Students: How Colleges Can Recruit, Teach and Serve Gen Z,” says “this generation of students is interested in practical subjects with clear paths to careers.” Born during the Great Recession, these students have witnessed and experienced parents losing jobs and siblings being saddled with large amounts of student loan debt and lackluster careers to show for the high debt and expensive degree. In sum, they are give me what I need (tell me why I need it), at the lowest price, in the shortest time for the largest payoff customers. Thankfully, readers, we are not selling cars, but are instead offering an education and experience that will lead to lifelong benefits for Gen Z-ers, but you’d better talk fast because if the luxury vehicle isn’t going for the price of a hand-me-down mini-van, there’s a fancy dealer up the street that they simply must check out before they head out of town. Because today’s students are purchasing a college experience in an analytical way, let’s talk options, which in the words of Selingo, translates to “customization.”

This generation has a need to know. They need to know the particulars, the whys, and the relevancy for not just the degree but for the course they have been advised to take, the first year experience they are required to “experience,” the program that they have been invited to attend, and the litany of other choices we place before them as traditional incoming college students. Once you’ve finished explaining the value, to make it make sense, it must be customized: the course, experience, program, and most importantly, the degree if you plan to retain your Gen Z student.

While annoying, I can’t say that this is a huge surprise. How else do you hold the attention of a person who was born in the smartphone era? Their lives and their choices are customized in ways that previous generations would have never imagined. It started with “Build-a-Bear” and has now progressed to how they select an Avatar. They create and customize it, selecting traits, attire, and identities to their liking. Customization on steroids continues, as E-Gaming comes to a college near you. Student gamers buy Gaming PCs with Monitor Bundles and customized optimization packages that include such things as “Case Fans, Motherboards, Graphics Cards, Operating Systems” that they purchase, build themselves, and personalize. Days of Xbox Live and the PlayStation 4 with groups gathering over Madden or Grand Theft Auto in the student lounge are quickly fading and a new era is upon us.

So what does customization look like in the classroom? I mean, some of us are still debating whether to offer a course online, forget about a degree. Before you panic, there’s good news. Gen Z students are not just interested in a full tech experience, but instead, recognize the need for the social interaction, even if they don’t enjoy it (remember, they are practical). Twenge and Selingo both agree that what is required are “more flexible learning opportunities including face-to-face, virtual and most of all, experiential.” It will be important to connect the student’s need for a customized curriculum and varying modalities of instructional delivery to the Gen Z wish to connect course content to career. There exists a need to be explicit, descriptive, and intentional about communicating Student Learning Outcomes in a manner that addresses both the learning and skill development. School and departmental activities such as curricular and content mapping might need to replace the day one icebreaker/team builder and be brought to class as “show and tell” or professors may need to add skill outcomes to the syllabus at a minimum.

From the co-curricular vantage, how well equipped are we to customize a living learning experience beyond themed housing and course clusters? Student development theory asserts and affirms the value of learning that happens outside of the classroom, so what new high-impact practices can be designed for this latest generation? To achieve this, we will need to bring stakeholders from Academic Affairs, Facilities, Student Affairs, Student Success, and the Finance and Advancement units together to help us build and fund targeted initiatives. Whatever is built must provide opportunities for collaboration and creativity. Consider the model of business incubators and tailor it to an academic experience that can be better defined as innovation incubators. This can be where students and faculty come together to engage in experiential education activities outside of the classroom. The benefits of business incubators include startups with opportunities for mentorship, expertise, and networking. These are all things students can benefit from as well, including the mentorship of a peer or professional advisor, the expertise of a faculty member, and the social integration that can be described as networking as we seek to build stronger student connections to campus and to the college community.

While we are busy creating Google office prototypes for students, might I also recommend that we think about ways that we can create space for university employees to come together and innovate. We will have Gen Z with us for just another 10-15 years and then we will see a new breed of students join our hallowed halls. We simply can’t afford with Gen Z to spend all of the time it took us to research millennials, skill up with professional development, invest in expensive capital projects and create all of the “fun” programming they sought, only to implement it and see them leave three years after we finally figured it all out. Carpe Diem people, while there’s still time.”

Cost of Being Decent to Adjuncts

New paper argues that colleges can’t afford to improve the pay and working conditions of those off the tenure track. Activists slam the analysis.

March 17, 2016
-by Colleen Flaherty

Even if the adjunct movement for better working conditions succeeds, most adjuncts will lose. That’s one bold claim of a recent paper on the costs associated with a number of the movement’s goals, such as better pay and benefits. While activists and scholars have been quick to criticize what they call the paper’s inherently flawed logic, the study’s authors say it is a first step in a more critical dialogue on the adjunct “dilemma.”

“Our goal in this paper is neither to affirm nor to deny that universities owe adjuncts more than they currently receive,” reads “Estimating the Cost of Justice for Adjuncts: A Case Study in University Business Ethics,” published in the Journal of Business Ethics. “Instead, our goal is to show that any attempt to help adjuncts faces unpleasant trade-offs and serious opportunity costs. Due to budget constraints and other factors, many proposed solutions to the adjunct crisis are likely to harm rather than help most current adjuncts. Even if adjuncts deserve much more, it may not be possible to give them what they deserve.”

Authors Jason Brennan, Robert J. and Elizabeth Flanagan Family Associate Professor of Strategy, Economics, Ethics and Public Policy at the McDonough School of Business and associate professor of philosophy at Georgetown University, and Phillip Magness, policy historian and academic program director at the Institute for Humane Studies at George Mason University, base their claim on several assertions. They argue that it’s unclear if universities with limited resources wishing to do the “most good” or advance social justice should increase adjunct pay instead of, say, cutting costs or reallocating funds to scholarships. They also note that part-time, non-tenure-track faculty “choose to work as adjuncts over their other, possibly quite bad options,” including unemployment, and that universities “do not literally enslave adjuncts.”

Perhaps most central to their main point, Brennan and Magness say that because many colleges and universities face budget constraints, and because adjuncts are “significantly less expensive than tenure-track faculty, any attempt to improve the pay and conditions of adjunct faculty will encounter unpleasant trade-offs.”

If, for example, a college stopped hiring adjuncts at what some have called “poverty wages” and instead hired them at higher pay with full benefits, it realistically could only do so for a minority of current instructors — and the rest could lose their jobs, they say. “Removing the opportunity to work as an adjunct will harm the typical adjunct, unless that opportunity is replaced with an even better opportunity.”

According to the authors’ rough calculations, institutions across academe currently employ 752,669 adjuncts to teach 1,578,336 courses annually, costing about $4.3 billion. Per-course pay in that estimate is $2,700 — a commonly cited national average.

To illustrate their point, Brennan and Magness put together a “minimally good job” package, including a $50,000 salary (teaching six courses per year), plus benefits and office space, that would cost a university $72,000 annually. To replace these 752,669 adjuncts with 263,056 minimally good jobs would cost universities $18.9 billion, they say — nearly $15 billion more each year.

If that doesn’t sound like much of an increase, the authors argue, that’s just base costs, without merit raises that could be earned in subsequent years or other perks. To replace those minimally good jobs with something even better — 75 percent of the average tenured full professor’s pay of $122,000 — the cost would be about $32 billion a year.

The paper references Service Employees International Union’s aspirational proposal that adjuncts be paid $15,000 per course (including benefits), estimating that would cost universities $19 billion more annually.


Putting the estimated cost increases into perspective, the authors say it’s “far from obvious” whether universities would be able to afford such a change. According to U.S. Department of Education data from 2013, public and private colleges and universities spent $477 billion on all expenses. About $139 billion went to instruction, with about $100 billion spent on faculty salary, wages and benefits.

Making the proposed pay adjustments would mean increasing that figure by 15 to 50 percent — some $15-50 billion — the authors say.

Perhaps just as importantly, the authors say moving to fewer, better jobs even at a much greater cost would still mean the end of jobs for about 450,000 adjuncts. While the authors take no position on the matter, they say that an “intellectually serious theory of adjunct justice must acknowledge and resolve it.”

Building on that argument, the authors say that increasing pay and benefits and otherwise improving working conditions for faculty would attract “more and better” candidates to such positions, “many of whom will outcompete current adjuncts for their jobs.”

Again referencing the SEIU proposal, the paper says that at four courses each in the spring and fall, “this is $120,000 in pay for nine to 10 months of relatively fun work, with summers and winters off.”

Brennan and Magness argue that any attempt to give adjuncts a better job is also likely to affect course offerings, “possibly to the detriment of its students. … There would be a drop in the number of faculty and the number of classes offered, and so average class sizes would increase.” There’d be less diversity in terms of classes, and many more tenure-track faculty members would have to teach introductory courses, at the expense of upper-level ones, the paper says. Professionals who moonlight as adjuncts in business and law or other fields also would teach fewer courses, costing students their “real-world experience.”

The authors describe the paper as “taking the first step toward serious work on questions of exploitation in academic employment.” While many claim the obstacles to “adjunct justice” are budget cuts, faculty indifference and “administrative greed,” they say, the matter is “far more complex and the obstacles more challenging.”

‘Willfully Ignorant’

Unsurprisingly, adjunct activists found much to criticize.

Joe Fruscione, a former adjunct professor of English and co-founder of Precaricorps, a nonprofit that offers temporary financial assistance to struggling adjuncts, said Brennan and Magness seemed “almost willfully ignorant that many adjuncts are exploited,” with their repeated declarations of having “no stance” on that issue. Over all, he said, their argument seems to imply — falsely — that if “all adjuncts can’t get a raise, none should.”

He said the paper seemed to be “deflecting” some important issues, including by focusing too much on the $15,000 SEIU proposal, which some have said is too ambitious.

“Yes, that’s high, but this doesn’t mean adjuncts should get paid $2,700 per course on average,” Fruscione said. “There’s a large financial middle ground here, and [they’re] seeing the majority of adjuncts as hobby professors who teach for ‘fun.’ This may have been the majority in the 1970s or 1980s, but it’s not true for the majority now. Most adjuncts don’t have a separate, full-time income stream to make college teaching ‘fun.’”

Carol Nieters, executive director of SIEU Local 284, which represents adjuncts at Hamline University in Minnesota, defended the $15,000 per-course pay and benefits figure, saying it’s “really about equality, justice and an indicator of whether a campus is investing in instruction and a stable learning environment.”

Overall, she said, the report “pits students against underpaid adjuncts as a way to avoid the real crisis in higher education where faculty are marginalized and students are saddled with outrageous amounts of debt. When one in four families of part-time faculty are enrolled in one or more public assistance programs, we need a dramatic change.”

Fruscione also took issue with the assertion that adjuncts actively choose to work in higher education over other, presumably worse choices. Such as argument would be fine if higher education were truly meritocratic, he said, “but it’s not.” To say adjuncts prefer low-paying jobs “is again problematic, because academia isn’t a level playing field. Whether they see it or not, adjuncts are exploited.”

Responding to criticism that the paper devoted too much attention to SEIU goal, Brennan said in an email interview that it turned out not to be the most expensive proposal considered. That said, he added, the paper attempts to identify some of the “explicit costs as well as some of the opportunity costs” of adjunct goals. “Any money spent helping improve the plight of adjuncts has to come from somewhere, and is not money being spent to, say, reduce tuition for low-income students or reduce student debt.”

Even if the proposal were simply to increase per-class average pay from $2,700 to, say, $5,000, that’s another $3.6 billion nationwide per year, he said. “That money could be spent helping adjuncts, but it could also be spent doing other valuable things, perhaps things that are more pressing from a social justice-oriented point of view.”

Brennan acknowledged that his institution hadn’t opposed an adjunct faculty union affiliated with SEIU (even though some of its Jesuit peers have objected to such drives on religious grounds), and that Georgetown adjuncts — who already received relatively high pay — have seen modest pay increases under their contract that haven’t thrown the campus into financial straits or resulted in mass job losses.

He attributed that to the fact that Georgetown has “deep pockets” compared to most institutions, but also its values. “The Jesuits have an ideal of cure personalis — care for the whole person. That ideal includes principles that require employers to view employees not merely as people with whom they [have an] economic transaction, but as people who deserve respect and extra concern. Rather than interfere with the SEIU, our administration welcomed them.”

Still, Brennan said he hoped the paper highlighted what “no one else seems to notice,” that “realistically, universities can help some adjuncts, but only by firing the rest. Realistically, the adjuncts’ rights movement will benefit a minority of current adjuncts but require the majority to seek employment elsewhere.”

Adrianna Kezar, professor of higher education and director of the Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success at the University of Southern California, said the paper nevertheless lacks the impact and “nuance” it’s trying to achieve. The cost calculations are notable to some degree, she said via email, but lack any consideration of university budgets beyond current instructional costs.

In other words, the paper doesn’t examine university budget trends and suggests “costs in other areas could not be decreased to pay for faculty salaries,” Kezar explained. “That is a viable option that is not even considered or addressed. …Assuming many adjuncts have to be fired to pay the remaining more is a flawed examination of the issue[.]”

Another faulty assumption, Kezar said, is that there’s a one-size-fits-all answer of paying all adjuncts equally — something higher education has never done. A better proposal would be for full- or nearly full-time, “mainline,” instructors to earn more as institutions move back to a “true” adjunct model, under which working professionals who teach a class on the side (about 15-20 percent of the faculty) could have a different pay structure.

Beyond the numbers, the paper is a flawed “set of ideological arguments — mostly trying to persuade readers that even beyond cost there is no logical reasoning to make such a redirection of funds,” Kezar said. For example, she said, having more core faculty members teaching introductory courses is actually a good thing, in terms of student success, and her research suggests deans want to see these instructors teaching more lower-level courses and adjuncts teaching more specialized, upper-level courses.

The paper’s one “legitimate” argument might be that class sizes would increase to rectify the pay issue, but classes are generally already “very large,” she said.

How your college major influences your attractiveness to lenders

Study finds that certain majors are more creditworthy than others due to lower DTI ratios

Certain majors can often beg the question, “What do you plan to do with that?” A valid question, given that college graduates are now leaving school with an average of $35,000 in student loan debt.

Being saddled with a financial burden that large can make it hard to move forward with other goals. In a Gallup survey, one in four people said they pushed back their timeline for important post-grad milestones like buying a house, a car, or starting a family. Nineteen percent even said their student debt burden was an obstacle to getting married.

To avoid having to delay these important post-grad milestones, it’s crucial to take into account how your major can influence your attractiveness to lenders. So what exactly do lenders consider before deeming an individual financially healthy enough to borrow money?

DTI ratio

According to a report released recently by Credible, debt-to-income (DTI) ratio is a huge factor in determining if an individual is financially healthy enough to be given a loan. And when judging a person’s ability to repay a loan, the lower the DTI the better.

“A person’s DTI can be a yes/no factor for a lender, regardless of the person’s job history,” Credible’s chief executive officer, Stephen Dash tells Bloomberg Business. A DTI of 36% or lower is the “sweet spot,” according to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC).

To find the DTI for different majors, Credible looked at the debt load and college major of students in its study sample and added in their estimated car, rent, and credit card payments. It divided its estimates of monthly debt payments into the average monthly income numbers for each degree type. And in what may or may not come as a surprise, psychology doesn’t rank too high on the “creditworthy” graduates list.

Medicine majors
College graduates who studied medicine were in the best shape, financially, to pay back their student loans — much better than those who studied psychology, says Credible.

Degrees in pharmacy, dentistry, and post-graduate medicine had the lowest DTI ratios, the report showed. More than any other majors, these students go on to land salaries that are high enough to offset their student debt, making them loan-worthy.

The majors that made it the hardest to pay back debt include history, education, and psychology. However, if students attend graduate school for one of those subjects, they’ll be able to shift their salary-to-debt ratio more in their favor, thus lowering their DTI ratio says Dash.

Report finds student loan defaults heaviest at non-selective schools


-by Mark Huffman

“Student loan debt is about $1.2 trillion and growing, with not everyone who took out students loans able to pay them back.

Student loan default rates doubled between 2000 and 2011, according to Brookings Institution researchers who analyzed U.S. Department of Education administrative data on federal student borrowing, linked to earnings records derived from tax records.

Their report traces most student loan defaults to students who attended for-profit colleges and, to a lesser extent, community colleges. A common thread, the researchers found, was non-traditional students – typically older than the average student – and those attending “non-selective” institutions – schools that accept anyone – were most likely to default.

Weak educational outcomes
“These non-traditional borrowers were drawn from lower income families, attended institutions with relatively weak educational outcomes, and experienced poor labor market outcomes after leaving school,” the authors write.

At the same time, the authors contend students attending traditional public or private non-profit colleges were much less likely to default and have done better in the job market after graduation.

The finding that a significant portion of student loan defaults occurs among students attending for-profit schools is not exactly a new charge. Federal data released last year showed nearly half of the 650,000 federal student loan defaults between 2011 and 2013 were by students at for-profit schools.

Taking issue
Still, some for-profit schools are finding flaws with the Brookings study’s conclusions. Mark Brenner, an Apollo Education Group executive, whose subsidiaries include University of Phoenix, told Marketwatch the Brookings study was based on “limited data.”

The Brookings study appears to suggest students who are not qualified to attend college – they choose schools that have no admission requirements – are the ones who take on too much debt and default. The authors say a relatively new development is community college students are defaulting on student loans. In the past, the report says, few of these students took out loans to pay for college.

Accounting for 70% of defaults
“By 2011 borrowers at for-profit and two-year institutions represented almost half of student-loan borrowers leaving school and starting to repay loans, and accounted for 70% of student loan defaults,” the authors write. “In 2000, only one of the top 25 schools whose students owed the most federal debt was a for-profit institution, whereas in 2014, 13 were.”

According to the report, the borrowers from those 13 schools owed about $109 billion—almost 10% of all federal student loans. And once out of school, they faced more difficult employment prospects.

For example, the researchers say the median borrower from a for-profit institution who left school in 2011 and found a job in 2013 earned about $20,900 a year. At the same time, 21% were unemployed.

By comparison, community college borrowers earned $23,900 and only 17% were unemployed.”

Will your college major land you a job after graduation?

-by Mark Huffman, 9/3/15,

“College freshmen, who are settling in on campus this week, probably arrived at school having already settled on a major. However, they might want to read this before finally making up their minds.

The workplace has its own needs and it turns out that colleges aren’t supplying as many graduates to fill those slots. In some cases, they might be providing too many in other less-in-demand fields.

Researchers at Economic Modeling Specialists International (EMSI), working in association with employment site, looked at post-recession trends in education and compared them with trends in hiring.

Unique inflection point

“The market is at a unique inflection point, and we need to make sure that we’re educating workers to have 21st century skills for 21st century jobs,” said Matt Ferguson, CEO of CareerBuilder.

The study uncovered a positive development. After years of promoting science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines, colleges are turning out more students with STEM degrees.

But the survey also showed a slowdown in overall degree completions – especially those tied to developing strong communications and critical-thinking skills – and Ferguson says that’s concerning.

“Nearly half of employers say they currently have job vacancies but can’t find skilled candidates to fill them,” he said. “We need to do a better job informing students and workers about which fields are in-demand and growing, and provide them with access to affordable education and training, so the journey to a high-skill job is an achievable one regardless of their socioeconomic situation.”

Degrees in demand

So which degrees are most in demand? The study found more than half of the top 10 broad programs leading the U.S. in degree completion from 2010 through 2014 were in STEM fields. There was a 49% growth in demand for degrees in science technologies.

There was a 45% increase in demand for degrees in natural resources and conservation. Demand for graduates with a background in parks, recreation, leisure, and fitness was up 44%, exceeding demand for experts in math and statistics, which rose just 35%.

There was also strong hiring demand for graduates with backgrounds in law enforcement and engineering.

The study found most of this growing demand occurred during the most recent year. If you happen to be majoring in one of these areas, you might have multiple job offers after graduation.

Degrees out of favor

If you are majoring in the humanities, job prospects might not be as bright. From 2010 to 2014, the study found only nine broad program categories experienced decline, nearly all of which were in humanities and social sciences.

Demand for applied science degrees were down 30%. There was a 17% drop in demand for library science degrees.

Of course, business needs often change and can do so relatively quickly. What’s hot today may not be in demand tomorrow. The study found that culinary services demand grew from 2010 to 2013, then declined after that. The same is true for law degrees.

And if students are not really suited to an in-demand field, entering it might not be such a good idea. As we reported in April, a study by RTI International found that while nearly a quarter of high performing students who began pursuing a bachelor’s degree between 2003 and 2009 declared a STEM major, nearly a third of these students had transferred out of STEM fields by spring 2009.”

Textbook sticker prices soar, but expanding options keep expenses in check


August 17, 2015 6:00 am • by Pat Schneider

UW-Madison student Kezia Weigel-Sterr was at University Book Store on the State Street Mall Wednesday to pick up the only text for the fall semester she was not able to rent online from a bookseller or publisher.

Her total textbook price tag: $286 — a lot less than the $400 or so she has paid in past semesters.

As a political science major, the books her instructors assign are not typically the big wallet busters used in some classes, particularly the sciences, but some courses require a lot of texts.

“There was one class last semester that had eight different books,” said Weigel-Sterr, who will be a sophomore in September.

She rented all those books and for another class used a reserve copy of the text at a university library instead of purchasing it.

“Nobody else was looking at it, but I could only have it out for two hours at a time,” she said.

For another course, her professor, Donald Downs, gave students a book he had written that was used as the text, Weigel-Sterr said.

Her story illustrates how college students are increasingly staying away from buying textbooks as a way to keep their spending down as the sticker price for books continue to soar, along with other college costs.

Textbook prices have climbed some 1,000 percent over the past four decades, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, with some titles now costing $400 or even $500. But students have been spending less on course materials in each of the past few years, according to a survey of the National Association of College Stores.

Students’ average annual spending on course materials dropped from $701 in 2007-2008 to $563 in 2014-15, according to the association.

The inclusion of non-renewable computer codes needed to access supplementary materials has driven up the price of some texts and obstructed the used-book market, said Patrick McGowan, president of University Book Store.

But student expenditures are nevertheless dropping because fewer books are being required as course materials, he said.

On the UW-Madison campus, instructors are increasingly using open educational material — notes, articles, and databases that either are available free on the internet or for which the university has purchased access, McGowan said. About 40 percent of courses being offered on campus this fall have no required books, he said.

That’s one reason that the most frequent visitors to the lower level of the book store — where the stacks of textbooks are located — were people in search of the public restroom on a recent weekday afternoon.

The other reason is that online registration for classes means that the crush to register and buy texts right before the start of the semester is a thing of the past. Students now have plenty of time to shop for the best price on their books and plenty of websites on which to do it.

For University Book Store it means that revenue from textbook sales is dropping “from the mid to high single digits” every year, said McGowan. But textbook sales and rentals still account for about half the revenue at the store, where the main floor focuses on the sale of Bucky Badger apparel and other items.

For many years, the university libraries did not purchase textbooks, but that has changed in the past decade, said university librarian Edward Van Gemert.

“Our observation is that more and more students are forgoing purchasing print textbooks,“ Van Gemert said. They may find ways to share the cost, and often postpone getting a textbook until it is clear it is actually required for a course, he said.

So the library has stepped in to provide access to some textbooks. For example, in 2013-14, the library spent $25,279 to purchase 538 course-related books and videos. A separate “high-cost textbook” fund of $4,000-$5000 a year buys multiple copies of particularly expensive books used in high-enrollment classes that are held on reserve at multiple libraries for two-hour loan.

Many instructors are helping students reduce course material expenses by seeking out open educational resources, said professor Kristopher Olds, chairman of the department of geography and a senior fellow in educational innovation.

Those materials — texts, podcasts, videos and other visualizations — are designed to be available digitally at low or no cost, Olds said.

UW-Madison is trying to get a handle on the development and use of such resources on campus, and will soon launch a study, he said.

The interest in open resources is spurred by an appreciation of the high cost of curriculum materials, a culture that says knowledge should be shared and technological innovation that facilitates sharing, Olds said.

Research also shows that ready access to curriculum materials, without obstacles of cost, enhances student engagement and outcomes, he said.

Instructors are sensitive to the cost of the materials they assign, said Alex Chase, a UW-Madison senior who works at the book store.

“Working here, I’ve been able to see that it’s a thin line they walk between giving students the best and latest information and the price,” said Chase, who is majoring in legal studies and political science and plans to go to law school.

And students network about how to keep the price of books down, said student Mariel Leering, also a book store employee.

“I belong to a sorority and I ask around for someone who has the book and can tell me if it’s really necessary,” Leering said. “And working here I’ve learned that the earlier you buy books, the likelier you are to find used ones. So I passed that along to my friends.”

She said everyone routinely shops websites like Amazon and Chegg for the best prices.

“It adds up,” she said. “If you save $5 on five textbooks, that’s $25.”

Leering, a junior, is studying genetics, a field where textbook prices can be high. But a friend is lending her a $150 textbook for one class this coming semester, leaving her to purchase only one $120 text and a couple of course packets of materials collected by the instructor.

Leering figures her course material expenses will total $150.

“For once, I’m not spending $400,” she said.

Not that she’d actually be paying that full $400. Her grandfather frequently buys some of her books and she has had a college fund since she was a child, Leering said.

“I was lucky,” she said, “hopefully I won’t be in too much debt when I’m done.”

UW-Marshfield prof says cuts at colleges could slam door to education for many


-by Pat Schneider


“A proposal to merge University of Wisconsin System colleges with the state technical college system — on top of a plan to regionalize the UW colleges — threatens to slam the door to education for Wisconsin students who need it most, said UW-Marshfield/Wood County associate professor Kelly Wilz.

The contraction of the two-year school system through cuts in state funding to the UW System is sparking an exodus among the skilled and dedicated instructors who are her colleagues, Wilz wrote on her blog, Dissent and Cookies, in a post picked up by The Academe Blog of the American Association of University Professors.

“The UW Colleges literally embody the Wisconsin Idea — the idea that everyone should have access to affordable, quality education. And now we’re losing our best,” wrote Wilz, who teaches communications and theatre arts.

The “best” faculty at UW-Marshfield, said Wilz, are those who go the extra mile to help their students — part-time, returning and first-generation — succeed.

“Why? Because that’s what you do … when you believe in students who have never been told they’re worthy. That they matter. That it doesn’t matter if they are the first ones in their families to go to college because we’re here to help them navigate those waters,” Wilz wrote.

She joined the chorus of critics who point to departing colleagues as a sign of the UW’s decline.

Because who wants to work in a system that may not exist a few years, that has been so crippled through defunding and divestment it’s barely able to function?” she wrote.”


UW professors ask Robin Vos for a seat at the table on tech college merger proposal


-by Pat Schneider

“UW-Madison faculty urged Assembly Speaker Robin Vos to open up talks on the possibility of merging the University of Wisconsin System and the Wisconsin Technical College System.

Their request came in the form of a letter from PROFS, a faculty advocacy organization, delivered Wednesday.

Assembly Republicans were to meet privately Wednesday to devise ways that the two systems could “team up to cut costs, find efficiencies and eliminate redundancies.”

Legislators should instead “create a transparent and inclusive process for any review of public higher education in the state,” faculty said in letter signed by the 18-member steering committee of PROFS.

They pointed to the controversial, abandoned plans to create a public authority for UW-Madison in 2011 and the entire UW System earlier this year as proof that “closed-door negotiations” on plans to restructure higher education in Wisconsin don’t succeed.

A better model is the public debate that preceded the 1971 merger of the University of Wisconsin and Wisconsin State University system, they argue.

UW-Madison has a direct stake in the current discussion because of collaboration between UW-Madison’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and UW Extension, with some faculty holding dual appointments, PROFS leaders said.”


Adjunct Life

5/13/15  •  By Pat Schneider


“It’s difficult. You are not guaranteed work, so you are livving under the fear of not having work.” — Michael McDaniel, a part-time instructor at MATC.

Michael McDaniel wrote “What was your first job?” on the board of a classroom at Madison Area Technical College. His students responded with brief accounts of their experiences, setting the stage for reading a story about a first job in “The House on Mango Street” by Sandra Cisneros.

Friendly and funny, McDaniel worked to help the 10 students identify themes in the coming of age novel about an immigrant girl in Chicago: the scary journey from home into the broader world, the tensions of differing expectations and their clash with reality.

Student Israel Ortiz, a native of Mexico, said he sought out the class after taking an online course with McDaniel.

“I figured it would be interesting to see Latino literature from a U.S. approach, but it was because he was a good teacher more than anything,” Ortiz said.

He always has thought of McDaniel as “professor,” Ortiz said, and was surprised to learn that McDaniel is a part-time instructor who does not know from one semester to the next which classes, if any, he will be teaching.

McDaniel earns less than $8,000 a semester teaching a three-course load, considered full time in academia.

“When you see the amount of time he puts into it …” Ortiz trailed off before adding that at least one other teacher at MATC had talked about his part-time status.

“They are giving full efforts, and not being compensated for it,” Ortiz said.

That’s the sentiment among many of the thousand-plus adjunct instructors who teach thousands of students in Madison, at MATC, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Edgewood College.

The circumstances of these adjunct instructors differ from institution to institution. They may struggle to paste together a sufficient workload to make ends meet, teaching at multiple local institutions. Others earn a comfortable wage, but bristle at the better pay and greater job security given tenured faculty doing similar work. Some profess appreciation at being given the opportunity to bring their professional experience to the college classroom.

All say they love to teach.

The public’s idea of college instructors’ work lives is dramatically different from the reality, at technical colleges, private colleges and public research universities alike, says Mike Kent, a part-time lecturer at MATC since 2005 and president of the MATC Part-time Teachers’ Union.


“You’re much more likely to receive a course from a teaching assistant or someone hired as part-time instructor – who may not have a desk or a phone number – than you are to have a ‘professor,’” Kent said in his union’s cramped office at MATC’s Truax campus on the city’s east side.

Part-time instructors were teaching half the courses at MATC during a spike in enrollment in 2010-2011, as adults scrambled to re-train after layoffs during the Great Recession, but today teach 30 to 40 percent of classes, Kent said. That rate is reaching 80 percent at some institutions across the higher education spectrum, he said.

In 2013, 46.7 percent of teachers at four-year and two-year higher education institutions across the country were part-time instructional staff, and 14.3 percent were full-time, non-tenure track instructors, according to statistics compiled by the American Association of University Professors. The percentage of instructors greeting college students that year who were tenured professors or on track to become one was 20.4 percent, down from 45.1 percent in 1975.

At MATC, part-time teachers are paid a median $2,600 per three-credit semester class and get no health insurance coverage, Kent said. Full-time instructors, by comparison, earn an average of $92,000 a year, get health insurance and are members of the Wisconsin Retirement System, he said.

Part-timers have no private offices, little contact with colleagues teaching similar courses and many teach at multiple schools, “cobbling together a career, doing as much work as full-time professors for a tiny fraction of the pay,” Kent said. “Their car is their office as they go from campus to campus.”

Adjunct faculty are not given any assurances about which courses they will teach and may get three daytime courses one semester, one evening course the next and none the following semester, Kent said. This unpredictability makes it hard to find and keep other employment to supplement income, he said.

It also means high turnover, with about one-third of part-timers leaving every year, Kent said. And that means a succession of first-time teachers, which erodes the quality of instruction, he said.

For example, Kent taught business statistics for the first time this semester. He spent a lot of time developing the curriculum, he said, but not as much time as he would if he knew he would be teaching the course over a long period of time. And if Kent never teaches business statistics again, he and his students won’t get the benefit of content curated and approaches tested over time.

McDaniel said turnover among instructors discourages student retention because a connection with a supportive instructor helps students stay in school, especially at schools like MATC. He shares an office with other part-time instructors, he said, so often holds critical one-on-one sessions with students in the cafeteria or other common spaces scattered through MATC’s massive main building.

Michael McDaniel, a part-time instructor at MATC, teaches a U.S. Latino literature class at the college.

Teaching at MATC is challenging because the college’s policy of open enrollment results in classes that typically include students with a broad range of abilities. “Many are working a full-time job in addition to trying to be a full-time student, and all the socioeconomic issues plaguing the working class in the United States show up in the classroom,” McDaniel said. So, instruction must be tailored to students’ varied abilities, and interaction adapted to their multiple time constraints. Since most of his students say they want to transfer to four-year institutions, McDaniel says he tries to prepare them to survive and learn.

McDaniel taught three courses at MATC this past semester and hopes he will get three courses in the fall, but he can never be sure. He also will teach a single course this summer.

He estimates he works 60 hours a week for the three courses he is teaching, plus an additional 20 to 30 hours a week for additional functions at the college, in the writing center and as a facilitator for an internal problem solving program.

“It’s difficult,” he said. “You are not guaranteed work, so you are living under the fear of not having work.”

McDaniel, 49, got a master’s degree from Cornell University and completed all but the dissertation towards a Ph.D. in the English department, American Indian Program. He taught in the California state university and community college systems and at the Indian Community School of Milwaukee. He started teaching American Indian literature and English composition at MATC three years ago, and has since added U.S. Latino Literature.

“As an adjunct, you don’t say no,” he said. “You take whatever classes are available.”

To earn more money, he taught a course for the first time this past semester at the UW-Madison’s Wisconsin School of Business, where he was paid more than twice MATC’s course rate.

Although he has not applied for public aid other than subsidies for health care under the Affordable Care Act, McDaniel said he was eligible for food stamps until he got the contract to teach at UW-Madison and would become eligible again if he loses work at either institution.

“Any individual working as an adjunct must learn to live with economic insecurity,” he said.

McDaniel said he would like to dedicate all his time to students at MATC, but “unfortunately, due to economic conditions and institutional inertia, I must navigate the market forces of higher education,” he said.

The market forces of higher education have pushed compensation for adjunct college instructors so low that they are a target for SEIU, a national labor union best known of late for its “Fight for $15” campaign among fast food workers that seeks to raise pay to $15 an hour. The campaign among adjuncts has set a goal of $15,000 per academic course taught. That’s an aspirational goal as much as a practical one, activists say. But they hope it ignites a conversation about how much money spent at colleges is spent on classroom instruction.

MATC’s part-time teacher’s union, Local 6100 of the American Federation of Teachers-Wisconsin, has re-certified twice since the 2011 enactment of Gov. Scott Walker’s Act 10, which gutted the power of public employee unions.

Collective bargaining for public employees now is restricted under state law to increases in pay tied to inflation, but Kent said he is hopeful of improving conditions under a shared governance model introduced by Jack Daniels, who became MATC president in 2013.

Daniels said compensation – pay and working conditions – is the focus of shared governance councils that will develop proposals to be brought to him for his recommendation to the college’s board of trustees. The college, meanwhile, has been cutting expenses to avoid a shortfall in its operating budget for next year.

He was not hopeful about offering adjuncts guarantees in what courses they will teach.

“Adjuncts across the country aren’t guaranteed jobs – they teach based on need,” Daniels said. “But I don’t know of any college institution that could function well without adjuncts. They are a vital segment of our employee base and we’re looking for ways to improve their working conditions.”

One change might be in the way part-time and full-time statuses are defined, he said.

The number of instructional staff, as opposed to faculty, has risen sharply at UW-Madison over the past 25 years, mirroring a national trend. Today there are nearly as many instructional academic staff teaching students as there are faculty members, not to mention the graduate student teaching assistants who work with faculty and can be an undergraduate’s closest point of contact.

In 2014, there were 1,762 instructional academic staff at UW-Madison, compared to 2,085 faculty members, according to UW-Madison’s office of Academic Planning and Institutional Research. Instructional staff was up 20 percent from a decade ago and more than 160 percent from 25 years ago. The number of faculty in contrast, has dropped by just over 5 percent since 1989, inching up some 1.5 percent in the last decade.

The university also employs many additional academic staff who conduct research, perform administrative tasks and fulfill functions other than course instruction under a variety of titles.

Hiring academic staff instead of faculty is a way to keep costs down, said Scott Mellor, a distinguished lecturer in Scandinavian studies.

“We are cheaper than faculty, and that can be a problem,” he said.

Mellor holds the highest rank in UW-Madison’s complicated system of instructional staff classifications. His job carries a salary that, at minimum, must be 85 percent of a professor’s minimum salary under university policy, he said.

The average lecturer in my department makes $55,000, and the average professor closer to $90,000. … I see how that is a problem keeping talented people, and it concerns me deeply.” — Scott Mellor, lecturer in Scandinavian studies at UW-Madison

Mellor has a Ph.D. from UW-Madison in advanced folklore studies and has taught as a lecturer there since 1999. He worked his way up through the levels of lecturer and senior lecturer and was made distinguished lecturer in 2009 in a merit selection process that looks a lot like what is required to get tenure, he said.

Instructional staff start work at the university with no job security, and may be hired to teach a course on a semester-to-semester basis. Campus policy prohibits staff from teaching in the same department for more than three successive years on that basis, however. Many staff members then are contracted to work on a fixed-term renewable basis. Some get “rolling horizon” appointments that run one, two or three years and require prescribed periods of notice if they are not renewed.

Mellor started on a staff, rather than faculty, track because his spouse was a faculty member and the university had not yet developed its policy of accommodating employment of two-faculty couples, he said. And educational backgrounds between instructional staff and faculty are typically very similar, he said. Instructional staff are not required to conduct research, as tenured faculty are, he said. Some do, however.

His online resume lists books, articles, conference presentations and invited lectures, yet after 16 years on staff he earns a few thousand more than the $50,736 minimum for academic staff of his rank. That is a common circumstance for instructional staff, but faculty don’t linger so near the bottom of the pay range, he said.

“The average lecturer in my department makes $55,000, and the average professor is closer to $90, 000,” Mellor said.

Full-time instructional staff at UW-Madison get the same health care and pension benefits as faculty.

The relationship between faculty and academic staff varies among departments, Mellor said, but it is quite collegial in his, with academic staff having a voice in many departmental policy deliberations. Mellor is concerned, however, that as the number of instructional staff rises on campus, he has begun to hear complaints about being underpaid.

“I see how that is a problem keeping talented people, and it concerns me deeply,” he said.

An instructional staff member in languages at UW-Madison, who did not want to be identified, said she is facing stalled pay increases and that staff is not well respected or consulted on major decisions in her department.

Staff are treated as lower-class citizens, she said.

Faculty get preference in course assignments, including summer school, a potential source of extra income, she said.

“Most faculty don’t need to teach over the summer; they should give consideration to others making half as much as they do.”

She would move on to another institution, but the job market is bad in her field, she said, and starting on a tenure track now would mean a cut in pay for several years.

A lecturer in the College of Letters and Science said he was grateful to professors for helping him get a job at UW, but that pay for lower-ranked teaching staff is “exploitative.” Lecturers by policy must be paid 75 percent of a tenure-track instructor of the same level, but many have less than full-time appointments, which sharply cuts their earnings.

“I don’t think it’s ethical at all, the pay scale is ludicrous,” said the lecturer, who asked that his name not be used. “We’re constantly in limbo, trying to leverage ourselves. It’s an incredibly precarious position.”

Mellor credited Chancellor Rebecca Blank with using a “critical compensation fund” to fill some of the more obvious pay gaps, but some $90 million cuts looming for the campus in Gov. Scott Walker’s budget next year likely will make further progress there impossible, he said. Staff members, under the terms of their employment, are much more vulnerable to layoffs, he said.

“But when you look at the economic reality of the country, there are a lot of people a lot worse off,” he said. And Mellor is hopeful policy changes to improve the lot of university staff can be made under a new human resources system, independent from the state’s system, that goes into effect on July 1.

Karl Scholz, dean of the College of Letters and Science, said UW-Madison doesn’t exploit its staff.

“In the higher education press, you see all sorts of articles about the exploitative relationships between folks poorly compensated teaching and universities and colleges leveraging that to cut corners. I don’t think that happens at UW-Madison and I don’t think it will happen for the foreseeable future,” he said.

The phenomenon in urban areas where a Ph.D. strings together four or five jobs at different universities is not a model that characterizes the commitment to providing a high quality education that guides his college, he said.

“I don’t think stringing together jobs to make ends meet is good for the person or good for the students,” he said.

What’s more, the Madison area doesn’t have enough higher education institutions to make that scenario likely, he said.

Instructional staff by and large is paid less than faculty, but they are not the only ones whose compensation is stalled, Scholz said. “It’s been a pretty lean decade.”

He said he is hopeful that the university’s new human resources system will offer great flexibility to address a number of job compensation and title issues. But increasing compensation across the university is a challenge, he said. “Our faculty salaries are well below our public university peers – our teaching assistant stipends are crazy low, compared to institutions we compete with for graduate students.”

Scholz said his college is working hard to mitigate the impact of coming budget cuts.

“I hope to avoid layoffs, and instead eliminate positions by not hiring to fill vacancies on both the staff and faculty sides,” he said. As of May 5, 92 vacant positions were cut in Letters and Science, including 48 faculty members and 18 academic staff. No layoffs had been scheduled.

Shad Wenzlaff was a traveling adjunct who focused on a single employer a few years ago to ease stress in his work life.

Wenzlaff had stopped work on a Ph.D. in art history at UW-Madison without completing his dissertation because he could no longer live on a teaching assistant’s stipend, he said.

“I don’t see how anybody at UW lives on TA’s income. And I had taken out some student loans, so of course I was in debt,” said Wenzlaff, 42. “I made the decision that I couldn’t live in the poverty neighborhood in Madison. I refused to do that.”

He recalled, at age 30, looking around at the relationship problems and social issues fellow graduate students were grappling with and concluding, “this is not a quality lifestyle.”

The decision not to complete his Ph.D. slammed some doors.

“I ended up being an adjunct who just floats,” Wenzlaff said.

He taught classes at several colleges in the region – three in a single semester at one point – until he decided he could no longer juggle courses, students and policies. Wenzlaff now teaches art history only at Edgewood College, where he also directs student research part time. The teaching and administrative functions together make him a full-time staff member and eligible for benefits.

Edgewood is a private, Catholic liberal arts college founded by Dominican sisters that espouses values like justice, compassion and community as part of its mission.

“Our values call us to do a number of things, and I think that is the basis of some of the things we have been doing the last few years” to improve conditions for adjunct faculty, said Dean Pribbenow, vice president for academic affairs at the college.

Edgewood has about 300 instructors, with just over 100 full-time tenure-track faculty, Pribbenow said. The number of part-time faculty varies, but in the fall 2014 semester, the college employed about 170 part-time adjunct faculty, he said.

Part-time faculty are used to teach some of the multiple sections of basic courses, but also to provide special expertise, especially in the college’s professional schools, Pribbenow said. On rare occasion, a “community lecturer” may be paired with an instructor of record to share their unique life experience, he said.

Pribbenow would not say how much adjuncts are paid, but said improving the experience of part-time instructors has been the focus of faculty committees. Over the past several years, the college has moved part-time faculty toward full-time teaching loads when possible and worked to promote them to more highly paid lecturer positions, he said.

“This is a national problem and we face the same challenges as many other institutions,” Pribbenow said. “We recognize it, we’re trying to do some things, and we know we have some room to go in that area.”

Wenzlaff said that as a senior lecturer, he has health insurance and retirement benefits and works in a positive culture.

“It’s the Dominican philosophy – it’s really beneficent,” he said. “I feel like I can respect what I’m doing at Edgewood.”

Wenzlaff supplements his income by teaching piano in his private studio. He enjoys being able to engage both his art and music talents, “but I wish I didn’t have to work so much,” he said.

Percy Brown, director of equity and student achievement for the Middleton Area School District, was an adjunct instructor for the first time this year in the School of Education at Edgewood, where he also is pursuing his doctoral degree.

“I provide a unique experience by being an African-American male in education,” said Brown, 41, who has a background in cultural competence training and grew up in Madison attending schools in the Madison Metropolitan School District. “To tell my success story and offer that lens is very useful.”

The students in one class last fall were all international students from Saudi Arabia, but those in other classes were nearly all white, Brown said. As the students train to teach in public schools where students are increasingly racially diverse, the college would do a disservice to them if it did not prepare them to meet the needs of those students, he said.

“I’ve received a lot of positive feedback for helping raise awareness of these issues before they walk into a classroom,” he said. “And it’s allowed Edgewood to diversify its staff.”

Brown comes from a family committed to social justice and that is a guiding influence in his life, so the compensation for teaching a college course or two goes beyond money and professional development, he said.

“I’m grateful to Edgewood College for calling on me,” Brown said.