Sunday, October 24, 2010

What is your professor worth?

No I don't mean how much he or she has stashed away in 401k accounts.  Saturday's WSJ ran a long article about the attempts some states are making to hold universities more accountable.  Texas A&M has started keeping a P&L statement on each faculty member, measuring tuition and research grants generated against salary.  One does not need a PhD in economics or management to guess what one can learn from such a measure: faculty teaching large numbers of undergraduates or those that bring in beaucoup grant dollars "contribute" much more than their colleagues who teach a handful of graduate students and had a dry year on the grant front. 

At a time when all budget dollars from the state are scarce, I do not object to any serious-minded attempt to improve the performance of the university system.  And there is room for improvement, especially in terms of graduation rates.  I have a simple proposal: require the university to publish outcomes measures about its graduates and the odds of graduation.  MBA and some other professional programs do this as a matter of course, but lots of luck finding what happens to English or engineering majors at most universities.  Texas now requires each college to post the vita of all faculty as well as their syllabus and student evaluations within three clicks of the college's home page.  Interesting info, no doubt, but if you have a son or daughter heading to a university, is this what you really want to know?

One final point from the WSJ piece (which is well worth reading): American universities continue to be universally acknowledged as the best in the world.  If we are not careful, we run the risk of losing one of the last pillars that sets the USA apart from other countries in terms of innovation and living standards. 

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