"A child's learning is the funtion more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Epistemological Redlining: The Price of Doing the Education Business

How much is a history or journalism course worth compared to, let's say, a business or engineering course? Or a math education course compared to a ed foundations course (I know, they are both worthless). Wonder what will happen to poor and minority enrollment numbers in high-premium knowledge areas as we double the tuition charged for those courses? I don't know the answers either, but it looks like we are about to find out before the discussion can begin.

A couple of clips from the NY Times story earlier this week:
. . . .Starting this fall, juniors and seniors pursuing an undergraduate major in the business school at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, will pay $500 more each semester than classmates. The University of Nebraska last year began charging engineering students a $40 premium for each hour of class credit.

And Arizona State University this fall will phase in for upperclassmen in the journalism school a $250 per semester charge above the basic $2,411 tuition for in-state students.

Such moves are being driven by the high salaries commanded by professors in certain fields, the expense of specialized equipment and the difficulties of getting state legislatures to approve general tuition increases, university officials say.

“It is something of a trend,” said Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.

Even as they embrace such pricing, many officials acknowledge they are queasy about a practice that appears to value one discipline over another or that could result in lower-income students clustering in less expensive fields.

“This is not the preferred way to do this,” said Patrick V. Farrell, provost at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. “If we were able to raise resources uniformly across the campus, that would be a preferred move. But with our current situation, it doesn’t seem to us that that’s possible.”

At the University of Kansas, which started charging different prices in the early 1990s, there are signs that the higher cost of majoring in certain subjects is affecting the choices of poorer students.

“We are seeing at this point purely anecdotal evidence,” said Richard W. Lariviere, provost and executive vice chancellor at the university. “The price sensitivity of poor students is causing them to forgo majoring, for example, in business or engineering, and rather sticking with something like history.”

. . . .

“There was a time, not that long ago, 10 to 15 years ago, that the vast majority of the cost of education at public universities was borne by the state, and that was why tuition was so low,” he said. “That was based on the premise that the education of an individual is a public good, that individuals go out and become schoolteachers and businessmen and doctors and lawyers, that makes society better. That’s no longer the perception.”

. . . .

“The salaries we pay for entering assistant professors [in business] on average is probably larger than the average salary for full professors at the university,” Mr. Parker said of business professors. “That’s how far the pendulum has swung at the business schools, and I sure wish they’d fix it.”. . . .


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