Reading at the Crossroads

Reading at the Crossroads is an archive for columns and letters which appeared in the Terre Haute Tribune Star. I also blog here when my patience is exhausted by what I feel is irritating, irrational and/or ironic in life. --gary daily

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Location: Terre Haute, Indiana, United States

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Saturday, October 09, 2010

A Daily Dose of Depression (DDD)

Indiana’s public universities vary widely in how much money they spend to educate and graduate students—and none are performing at the top of their peer groups in efficiency, according to a new study commissioned by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. . . .

The study compares how much in state, local, tuition and fee revenue each school receives per student and per graduate. It then compares each school’s “cost per degree” against a group of peer institutions selected by the school and the Indiana Commission for Higher Education. . . .

Chamber: State universities need to be more efficient
How can you argue with a report that is headlined:

“Chamber: State universities need to be more efficient”?

The magic word “productivity” is scattered throughout the summary of this report like leaves falling from trees in October. And “productivity” in the hands of the C of C is a concept just as brittle and dead as those leaves.

So, before we get all down in the mouth about what the august Chamber has to say as it grinds its usual axe for turning all of life into cogs in a business model, think for a minute about what the “product” of that “productivity” and “efficiency” is supposed to be.

Philosophers and educational theorists have been struggling with the question of what an education should be and do in our society since before the Athenian Chamber of Commerce put Socrates to death. This study is flawed in the many ways already mentioned. It, however, is mainly useless as a guide to policy because it includes an implied definition of what a college should do and create with its resources that is far too narrow and self-serving.

Someone (I think it was Oscar Wilde) once said a cynic is someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. I’m not saying a rebranding of the Chamber to Chamber of Cynics is called for, but the C of C’s study of college prices lacks finesse, insight, nuance and understanding. The C. of C., as always, appears to be very good at taking gross numbers and dividing and massaging them into a conclusion that fits their preconceived ideas and political agenda in regard to public expenditures. Can’t you just hear the Larry Kudlow wannabes whining to Mr. Mitch Outsource, “Oh my! Higher education is so expensive. Oh my! Some colleges cost more than others per graduate. Oh my! What a waste of our taxes.”

If value is worth compared to price, shouldn’t we all be paying more attention to that “worth” side of the equation?

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