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If Proposition 30 does not pass, K-12 and community colleges will take a $5.3 billion hit, while the University of California and California State University systems will equally share a $500 million cut. Even if the proposition is passed we will do nothing to improve the quality of our schools. We just ensure that we shore up a failed educational system.
In the latest 2012 edition of U.S. News’ Best Colleges rankings, San Diego State University ranked 165th in the nation. Each year SDSU’s rankings keep dropping (last year it ranked 164th), faring even worse when we compare SDSU’s rankings with international universities. It would surprise most Californians to realize that the latest 2012 “Academic Ranking of World Universities” does not rank SDSU anywhere in the top 200. SDSU is lumped in the 301 to 400 ranking. As the self-appointed “gem” of the California State University system, SDSU continues to be overtaken — on the basis of national and international standards — by other universities. This is a wakeup call. Still, ignoring these obvious facts, SDSU reports that “SDSU is ranked among the nation’s best national universities according to U.S. News and World Report’s America’s Best Colleges 2012 Guide.”
Our worst failure and the main reason SDSU receive such bad metrics, both nationally and internationally, is the ratio of students to faculty: fewer faculty, more students; larger classes, fewer offerings. Internationally, we rank 629th out of 697 institutions for student-to-faculty ratio. This ratio has nothing to do with the quality of professors or students, but reflects a practice that is exclusively determined by SDSU’s state-employed bureaucrats and administrators.
The business-as-usual model is not working. Administrators, in their ever-increasing disconnect from teaching and research, remain rigid in their assertion that such poor outcomes are related to funding. But anyone looking at highly ranked universities will notice that level of funding plays a peripheral role, and is certainly not the only determinant of student-faculty ratio.
Arizona State University — a neighboring state university — ranks in the top 139th nationally and has consistently been ranked higher than SDSU each year in quality of education, both nationally and internationally. Although very different universities, ASU shares a similar operating budget to SDSU, and receives funding from state appropriations ($5,702 per student as compared to SDSU’s $7,700).
SDSU’s failing educational outcomes are not simply an issue of funding, since SDSU received more funding per student, but it is likely to be an issue of how those funds are spent.
To further diminish the rhetoric that there is lack of funds at the CSU, in April 2011, five California community colleges came in the top 120 out of 1,200 community colleges in the U.S. — with Santa Barbara City College coming in the top 10 — according to new rankings by the nonprofit Aspen Institute. California community colleges receive the lowest per capita funding from the state of California appropriations in higher education.
It would be fairly quick to rectify SDSU’s student-to-faculty ratio — transfer state-paid professor from administration to teaching in order to provide smaller classes. Reducing administrative duties will cause no disruption to educational outcomes. With diminishing student-to-faculty ratio, resulting in lower rankings, the SDSU administration has resorted to “spin” to explain the situation.
That is why in December 2011 SDSU reported that it “… ranks among the top 25 universities nationwide for the number of students studying abroad,” according to the Institute for International Education’s “Open Doors Report.”
Such simple metrics of students having to pay to go abroad for an educational experience, costs the university no money, imposes great hardship on students with families or financially struggling parents and, worst of all, the experience might be academically irrelevant. SDSU does not improve education by making it mandatory for students to travel to Tijuana — which is less than 20 miles away — to spend 10 days learning about local programs that may not relate to their major. Without any outcome studies to substantiate the effectiveness of such a costly-to-students policy, SDSU relies on anecdotal reports of the usefulness of this experience. Not only does this detract from the true meaning of an “international experience,” it is divorced from the needs of students.
Simple metrics are the tools of “spin.” International experiences, when tailored to individual and academic needs are valuable pedagogic tools, but simply fulfilling basic metrics for metrics sake does not enhance the quality of education.
David Bignell’s recent article in The Times Higher Education, “Madness of Metrics,” concludes that administrators are ruining education by playing the metrics game rather than investing in quality professors and researchers. Recent protests from students underscore the detachment of administrators from students’ academic needs. They also are detached from good professors who know their students. Focusing on the fight for more funds detracts from the reality that our institutions have too many administrators who don’t educate, don’t conduct research and play the metrics game to the detriment of good education. State appropriations need to ensure that funds are going for teaching and research.
A recent article in The Atlantic underscored this American paralysis and points to the ever increasing costs associated with apathetic outcomes. The article concludes with an ominous warning “…excessive costs and poor performance could sink us all if we don’t consider changing the unchangeable.”
With Prop. 30 passing — as is likely the case — are we changing the unchangeable, or are we continuing funding metrics to the detriment of our children’s education?
Mario Garrett is a writer, psychologist and professor of gerontology at San Diego State University and teaches classes in Diversity, Aging, Theory, Policy and Methodology. He has worked at the United Nations International Institute on Ageing, The London School of Economic/Surrey University, Bristol and Bath University.
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