Question: State universities are money pits. They keep asking for more state support and show no accountability for what they do! Why is that?
Answer: You are correct. Most state universities do not like anyone poking into their business and finding out how inefficient they are. But as a taxpayer, you should be happy that many state universities are highly effective in their mission. They graduate large numbers of students at relatively low cost. Of course, they could always do a better job of retaining students and placing them in good careers. But that is a discussion for another day.
While you as a taxpayer poke your nose into the business of state universities, keep in mind that states once provided about 50 percent of the budgets for the universities, and now that figure is down in the teens.
The state universities in Arizona had a budget cut of $191 million in 2009, and if the recent sales tax increase had not passed, the University of Arizona alone would have had to cut another 500 positions.
The university system's share of the total state budget in Arizona was 9.5 percent in 2009, down from 19.1 percent in 1979. Meanwhile, tuition has increased by an average of 9 percent for three years at Arizona's public universities.
Gov. Jan Brewer, what are your priorities?
In California, the state cut the budgets of its colleges and universities by $2 billion in 2009, and it now has a larger budget for prisons than it has for its universities. Is there a message here, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger?
In effect, state universities could be called "partly state universities." The burden of funding these colleges has shifted from states to the students and their families through tuition increases. So students' debt is increasing, and they often stretch their graduation beyond five or six years, and work more and more hours, to be able to pay their tuition.
Despite the problems with U.S. higher education, one detail stands out: No matter how inefficient our state universities are, our whole system of higher education, including the state universities, are the envy of the world.
We have more colleges than the rest of world combined. But we have to keep higher education a top priority. So, Schwarzenegger, put your muscle behind your state universities. China's universities are closer than they appear in your rearview mirrors. While we are taking our universities for granted, other nations have figured out that to create high-paying positions, there's only one solution: Invest in universities.
Dean's tips on improving your state University
1. Get to know the president of your local state university.
2. Volunteer to get involved by mentoring a student or serving on an advisory board.
3. Once you're involved, make constructive suggestions about how to improve operations.
4. If you think the university deserves an increase in state funding, tell your legislator.
5. Keep these metrics in mind: Student retention rate from year to year, graduation rate (four years versus five and six years), and placement rate (percentage of students placed in jobs related to their majors within 90 days of graduation).
U must b kidding
Several state universities graduate fewer than 20 percent of their students in four years. Are they in your community? Send me their names, and we'll ask their presidents to tell us why nearly 80 percent of their students do not graduate on time.
Send your questions and stories about college to Dean Ali Malekzadeh at firstname.lastname@example.org Please include your name and hometown for possible publication. Ali Malekzadeh is a former administrator and faculty member at Arizona State University. He is dean of the Williams College of Business at Xavier University in Cincinnati.