Office of Planning and Budgeting

The New York Review of Books has published a high level review of the recent spate of ‘higher education in crisis’ books. In Our Universities: How Bad? How Good?, Peter Brooks takes a look at common themes contained in four recent publications on the state of higher education in the US.

Read the whole piece if you get a chance, but we have pulled out a couple of passages that especially struck us:

  • “On the whole, one has to say that the relative autonomy of the American university has been far more beneficial than the contrary. American higher education is a nonsystem that is messy, reduplicative, unfair—just like American society as a whole—but it has made genuine commitments to quality and to a greater degree of social justice, to the extent that is within its control, than most other institutions of the society.”
  • “Research and teaching have always cohabited: anyone who teaches a subject well wants to know more about it, and when she knows more, to impart that knowledge. Universities when true to themselves have always been places that harbor recondite subjects of little immediate utility—places where you can study hieroglyphics and Coptic as well as string theory and the habits of lemmings—places half in and half out of the world. No country needs that more than the US, where the pragmatic has always dominated.”
  • “[Universities] often fail, they need reform and course correction, but they are not, at their best, merely venal and self-serving. They deserve better critics than they have got at present.”

Two higher education news stories leapt out at us this morning as emblematic:

  • Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett announced 50 percent state funding cuts for four-year public institutions. The largest institution, Penn State, would see its state subsidy reduced from $465 million per year to $233 million. The University describes the proposed cuts as devastating:  “A reduction of this magnitude would necessitate massive budget cuts, layoffs and tuition increases, with a devastating effect on many students, employees and their families,” said Al Horvath, senior vice president for Finance and Business. “While we have for many months been planning for a potential state funding cut, we could not have envisioned one so damaging to the future of the University and the Commonwealth.”
  • Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, the University of Southern California kicked off the day with an announcement of a new, record high, unrestricted $200 million gift to the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. The College will be named after the alumni donors, David and Dana Dornsife, who told the Los Angeles Times that they “had confidence in USC faculty and administrators to spend it wisely.” USC intends to use the money primarily to enhance the humanities and social sciences through faculty hiring, graduate fellowships and research funding.

As mentioned in yesterday’s post about faculty salaries, the growing resource gap between public and private institutions predates the Great Recession, which appears to be dramatically accelerating the existing trend. Read the 2009 Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU) report, Competitiveness of Public Research Universities & Consequences for the Country, to learn more about this concern: “from 1987 through 2006 revenue per student in private research universities in every revenue category except state funding has grown to be multiples of that available to the publics.”

New CUPA-HR faculty salary survey results released today show that faculty at public institutions of higher education, on average, received no salary increase for the second year in a row, while salaries for faculty at private institutions increased, on average, by about 2 percent (compared to also being stagnant last year).

This trend is particularly troubling because the current economic crisis seems to be accelerating pre-existing gaps between public and private faculty salaries.  Inside Higher Ed reports.

Here are a few interesting and updated resources on the current budget pressures being faced by states across the US:

  • This CNN chart shows, by state, projected deficits for FY 2012, ruling political parties, number of public employees, and whether most public employees have bargaining rights.
  • This NASBO document is continuously updated and contains compiled information on municipal debt, pension liabilities, bankruptcy proposals and other issues related to state and local government finances.
  • This CBPP report compiles information about initial FY 2012 budget proposals for those states that have released them, documenting a fourth year of deep cuts for many states.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report and recommendations, DOD Education Benefits: Increased Oversight of Tuition Assistance Program is Needed, ahead of another Senate hearing focused on the conduct of for-profit colleges, this time held by Senator Tom Carper.

The GAO report focused on the DOD Military Tuition Assistance Program, which provides tuition benefits for active duty soldiers. In 2009, the program provided $517 million in tuition assistance to over 375,000 service members of which for-profit institutions received a disproportionate amount. The report addressed two primary points:

  • DOD oversight of schools receiving Tuition Assistance Program funds
  • The extent to which DOD coordinates with accrediting agencies and the U.S. Department of Education in its oversight activities

The Senators discussed the gaps in oversight exposed by the report, and also discussed the fact that Tuition Assistance Program revenue is not included in the calculation to determine whether at least 10 percent of annual revenue comes from non-federal sources, which is required for an institution to be eligible to receive federal student aid. This is a rule that Senator Tom Harkin has specifically mentioned as a target for reform in earlier hearings he has held on for-profit institutions.

Meanwhile, the association that represents for-profit colleges is suing the US Department of Education in an attempt to block new federal regulations, and House Republicans included an amendment to block the controversial gainful employment rule from moving forward in their recently passed budget.

For past OPBlog posts on this continuing story see:

On Monday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments for Stanford University v. Roche Molecular Systems et al.. At issue is whether the Supreme Court will agree with the argument made by research institutions to expand the current interpretation of what is known as the Bayh-Dole Act (1980′s University and Small Business Patent Procedures Act), which requires that royalties received from patents awarded based on federally funded research are retained by universities and used to fund research, education, and payments to inventors.

The case originated as a dispute between Stanford University and Roche, a company that required a Stanford researcher to sign a consultant agreement  containing language regarding patent rights (“do hereby assign”) that was stronger than the language contained in the Stanford contract he had signed a year earlier  (“I agree to assign”). Stanford sued Roche in 2005 after they refused requests to acquire a license to Stanford’s patents relating to the researcher’s work.  A federal district court initially ruled in Stanford’s favor, but that ruling was overturned by a federal appeals court, which determined that the Roche contract language  superseded the Stanford contract language, giving Roche a rightful patent claim.

While universities can be more careful with contract language going forward, a Supreme Court decision in favor of Roche could call  into question decades of patents that have provided billions of dollars in royalties to institutions. At the urging of the President and Justice Department, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. In addition to the support of the Obama administration, many institutions and organizations have filed amicus briefs. Notably, former Senator Birch Bayh, co-sponsor of the Bayh-Dole Act in question, filed his own amicus brief emphasizing that the federal legislation was never meant to allow ambiguity about whether universities had exclusive rights to patents generated by federal funded research.

Monday’s oral arguments provided no clear indication of how they might rule in the case. A decision is expected by July.

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