• September 2, 2015

Policy Group Suggests Limiting Tenure and Encouraging Use of Community Colleges to Reduce Costs

There is a growing consensus that the cost of a college education will have to fall significantly to greatly increase the number and proportion of American students who complete a postsecondary degree.

In response to that idea, the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, using a grant from the Lumina Foundation for Education, is releasing a book-length report on ways that colleges can help a greater number of students earn their degrees at a lower cost to those students as well as taxpayers. The center is a nonprofit organization dedicated to "researching the rising costs and stagnant efficiency in higher education," its Web site says.

The first installment of the series, "25 Ways to Reduce the Cost of College," scheduled to be released today, includes five chapters exploring lower-cost alternatives to higher-education practices. The chapters recommend encouraging more students to attend community colleges, promoting dual-enrollment programs for high-school students to earn college credits, offering three-year bachelor's degrees, and outsourcing services and operations.

Some of the recommendations may, however, spark some controversy, such as one to reduce the number of faculty members who receive tenure.

"A decision to award tenure often means making a financial commitment with a discounted present value of $2-million or more," the report says. Instead of awarding tenure, colleges could offer long-term contracts that provide some job security and protect academic freedom without binding the university to a permanent position, the center suggests. Or tenure could be made part of a package of fringe benefits that faculty members could give up in lieu of some other benefits, the report says, such as a more-generous health insurance plan or greater employer contributions to a retirement plan.

Four more chapters will be released in subsequent weeks, covering the 20 remaining cost-cutting proposals. They will focus on the broad themes of using fewer resources, using resources more efficiently, exploiting technology to reduce costs, and improving competition to encourage cost cutting.


1. alichtens - November 10, 2010 at 06:56 am

Clearly (and unfortunately), these people have been reading the demagogic screed of Hacker and Dreifus--the languiage on eliminating tenure is almost an exact match. But why is it so clear that reducing or eliminating tenure will reduce costs? Faculty tend to accept the trade-off of relatively low salaries (compared to other professionals) for permanent job security. No tenure, and multiple year contracts, may put some intense market forces into play for faculty compensation, and universities may not, in fact, like the results. In many ways, in simple cost-benefit terms, tenure is a great deal for universities, for parents, and for students.

2. ellenschrecker - November 10, 2010 at 07:20 am

Brilliant. Let's replace tenure with multi-year contracts. Guess what, that ensures that most people get de facto tenure -- because it is all too easy to slough off the hard decisions about marginal faculty members to the people who are going to renew the contracts the next time around. Tenure -- especially in these days of (unnecessarily) heightened criteria for awarding it -- offers a form of quality control. Nowhere else are there such rigorous standards for employment. Get rid of it, and we will find that people are being hired because of their availability not their scholarship or their teaching.
Oh, yes, academic freedom. We don't have to worry about that, of course, since Garcetti v. Ceballos (the Supreme Court decision that removes First Amendment protection for job-related speech) has pretty much gutted the constitutional protections for faculty members at public institutions. And removing tenure will make it easier to get rid of those stubborn teachers who insist on flunking students or challenging them intellectually. After all, how better to raise graduation rates (which is the current mantra coming from Washington) than to ensure that our academic standards are so low that all students pass all their courses -- and with good grades at that.

3. jffoster - November 10, 2010 at 08:10 am

"Or tenure could be made part of a package of fringe benefits that faculty members could give up in lieu of some other benefits, the report says, such as ... greater employer contributions to a retirement plan."

Somebody didn't think that one through. One of the best ways of insuring tenured faculty never retire. They won't be able to afford to.

4. 22280998 - November 10, 2010 at 08:52 am

(1) Do community colleges have the resources to teach the lower division courses?

(2) Why cann't the High Schools teach "our" remedial courses?

(3) Isn't a 3-year degree really just going to Summer School two semesters?

5. frankschmidt - November 10, 2010 at 10:10 am

Richard Vedder, the author of this "report," is a hired gun for corporate interests, from the "peer review" of pro-tobacco "research" until now. He survives only on the largess of his corporate sponsors. I can hardly wait until he takes on global climate change/instability. Or has he already?

The Chronicle commits a journalistic sin by failing to report the biases of right-wing "experts" whose output it cites.

6. 11126724 - November 10, 2010 at 10:24 am

Agree with frankschmidt about fault of CHE in lack of disclosure.

Reports like these will be the demise of higher education in the US.

Already the community college system in Maine is taking over the first two years of four-year education there with mandated automatic transfer of credits to the 7-campus university system. Problem is, many of the community college courses are taught by persons with only masters degrees using high school level textbooks. So now the universities get people with two years of college completed who need remedial work WITHIN THEIR MAJORS!

The Legislature, in their infinite wisdom, has bought into the cheaper degree idea and vocationalism is taking over the university system. University of Maine is well on its way to becoming one of the best community colleges in the country, and faculty who have aspirations to anything better are in full flight. And within the university system, tuitions vary by university so the two best schools have the highest tuition and are loosing enrollments like mad. At the University of Southern Maine, the largest major is "transfer to a different university."

This is not happening only on the periphery in Maine, but in many other states with better schools as well. No end in sight. Time to retire, I guess, or move to Europe or Asia...

7. betterschools - November 10, 2010 at 11:33 am

Based on previous CHE articles that mention tenure, even tangentially, this post is likely to degenerate in predictable ways. However, the research report that is the topic of this article is focused on addressing higher education's affordability crisis. The first five chapters, published today, do not address tenure. It will be one topic among 24 others and the suggestion will be toward moderation. I would recommend reading these first five chapters. They are short. It will take perhaps 10 minutes of your time. Thereafter, we might all benefit from your constructive support or critique. Whining and imputing right-wing or neoliberal motives is neither helpful nor an effective response to the mounting evidence against tenure for today's professors. I'm certain of one thing with respect to this complex problem. Embracing solutions to reduce costs will contribute more to the way of life that you seek to preserve than will clinging to the notion of tenure.

8. _perplexed_ - November 10, 2010 at 11:44 am

The "Center for College Affordability and Productivity" is the outfit that uses ratemyprofessor.com data as the single largest element in its national rankings of colleges and universities for Forbes magazine. See http://www.centerforcollegeaffordability.org/uploads/2010_Methodology.pdf

9. 11159766 - November 10, 2010 at 12:11 pm

Eliminating tenure (which has already been severely damaged in just the past ten years with incremental shifts toward non-tenure track appointments)is a bad idea.

Tenure protects the integrity of higher by insuring academic freedom and faculty governance.

And if faculty could not be assured of tenure, the best would never accept an academic job in the first place, since years spent successfully mastering a discipline and pursuing scholarship and teaching -- only to find oneself dropped -- would leave mid-life scholars entirely unprepared to enter the large economy at anything near the same level. University professors really are a highly specialized breed, and it takes some mutual trust for a person to commit to this life.

10. pierce_library40 - November 10, 2010 at 12:52 pm

"how better to raise graduation rates (which is the current mantra coming from Washington) than to ensure that our academic standards are so low that all students pass all their courses -- and with good grades at that."

Actually, we could simply give them baccalaureates at birth.

No one suggests lowering standards, other than the faculty, who consistently raise it as their bogey man. Indeed, administrators consistently argue for raising the quality of teaching, which many faculty then seem to quail at.

11. 11126724 - November 10, 2010 at 01:08 pm

Ah, but what do administrators know about teaching?

The fact is, faculty do not become administrators because they love teaching or are adept at it.

Faculty become administrators because they have other priorities besides teaching, and many are terrible at it, notwithstanding the usual crap they espouse about "continuing to teach at least one course per year to keep their hand in." Face it, administrators are concerned first and foremost about their own career advancement, and don't give a hoot about teaching--unless they have an opportunity to suggest somebody elses teaching is deficient.

It is human nature to do more of what one does well, and what one is interested in--and do less of what one does poorly, or is disinterested in.

12. pierce_library40 - November 10, 2010 at 01:28 pm

Why is it that to suggest that the quality of teaching be raised is often understood as suggesting somebody's teaching is deficient?

Why is it that faculty resort to "those who can't teach, administrate," when the first two parts of that old baseless saying is "those who can, do, those who can't, teach"?

"administrators are concerned first and foremost about their own career advancement," while, of course, faculty are selfless souls who dedicate themselves to nothing more the betterment of their students. This explains perfectly why academic politics are so toothless and faculty meetings without psychic violence of any kind.

Perhaps neither administrators nor faculty should be used as whipping boys and bogey men for the other side, eh? But what fun would that be? Then we might actually have to look at making things better.

13. 11126724 - November 10, 2010 at 01:33 pm

Dearest pierce_library40:

And when, exactly, did you ever say this to Richard Vedder? Ah, a small oversight, or perhaps he just can't hear you?

14. abichel - November 10, 2010 at 02:41 pm

Me thinks 11126724 protests too much in post 11. pierce_library40 gets much closer to the truth of the matter in post 12. Post 13 simply proves post 12 to be correct.

15. smcdonald999 - November 10, 2010 at 03:26 pm

To all you commentators criticizing the content of this report, how about offering one or two alternative solutions instead of just ranting like spoiled children? You sound like the new party of NO. Someone has to assume responsibility for the fiscal train wreck your organizations helped create. Someone has to reverse the rapid declines in productivity experienced by higher education over the last three decades. Come on, you're smart people. Can't you eke out just a few innovative ideas for how to educate our children more efficiently? And if you think it's someone else's problem to solve, then please just get out of the way and let the serious adults start working towards real solutions.

16. archman - November 10, 2010 at 04:36 pm

There are many alternative solutions to cut college costs, rather than reducing tenure. Some of these (and in my opinion the first four stink) are listed in the author's first installment.

I assume later installments will list the commonly known problems of massive administrative bloat post-1980, skyrocketing computer hardware and software infrastructure support, skyrocketing textbook prices, the rise of non-essential "luxury" construction projects (e.g. recreational facilities), steadily diminishing support from state funding, rising costs of research, and greater need for remedial and "learner-focused" education.

17. alichtens - November 10, 2010 at 08:47 pm

better schools--#7--claims that "The first five chapters, published today, do not address tenure."

This is simply untrue. Chapter 3, euphemistically entitled "Reform Academic Employment Policies" is a brief against tenure, pure and simple. So why pretend otherwise?

One question the report fails to ask is why the costs of higher ed have skyrocketed over the exact same period that tenure has been eroded and the number of cheap, replaceable, and contingent untenured faculty has grown. A peculiar correlation indeed.

One totally unsubstantiated assertion the report offers is this:

"[Tenure] is most often prized by the least productive faculty." That is demonstrably untrue...but if you say it, please 1) offer more than anecdotal evidence about "deadwood"; and 2) do not expect a friendly response from hard-working faculty.

Another choice tidbit. The report claims that "to effectively compare" faculty 9-month salaries to that of other Ph.D. professionals, these salaries need to be inflated by 33%. That may make for an effective comparison, but it does not magically increase faculty salaries. We still get paid what we are paid--considerably less than other professionals. This is dishonest accounting.

And so on. The recommendations of this report--good, bad, and ridiculous--may be worth debating, but let's try to do so honestly.

18. betterschools - November 11, 2010 at 11:57 am

alichtens - My apologies. I was looking at an early disaggregated draft of all the documents and recalled that the tenure recommendations came later. My points remain unchanged. The report's recommendations in relation to tenure are modest and not the major focus and if we don't address this unsustainable situation, others will.

I agree with you when you say, "The recommendations of this report--good, bad, and ridiculous--may be worth debating, but let's try to do so honestly." This year, most publics increased tuition in the double-digits. (Yes, we all understand the proximate but not the organic reasons.) One can make a strong case that our response to decades of outsize tuition increases is fundamentally dishonest. These increases have been so large that we saw it in our interest to develop our own inflation index so we don't look so bad; it fools no one and these increases are one driver of growth in the for-profit sector. Growth in faculty pay, the largest factor in the HEPI, has largely outstripped the CPI or GDP for many years. For the past 20 or more years, productivity in the publics has steadily declined, whether measured as mean teaching load, mean teaching load times average class size, or mean credits produced per adjusted dollar spent. No one seems to be stepping up to that issue with honesty. Then there is our core business. If we were to stop resisting and embrace the last 50 or even 25 years of brain, learning, and measurement sciences, we could produce, in three-year degrees, learning outcomes superior to those we now achieve with four-year degrees. We don't. Instead, we continue to teach out of a 1906 playbook, ridicule the idea of a three-year degree, and base our argument on an apodictic notion of quality. The honest assessment is that most of us could not pass a 500 level course on what there is to mean by "quality" in higher education. Yet we blather on and on, using "quality" as a shibboleth having no clear idea how to define or measure it. (In a moment of heightened irrationally, some of us insist that "quality" cannot be measured, at least not until long after we have retired, unaware of the contradiction that we somehow measure it every time we assign grades that reflect differential levels of performance among students.) I can address another dozen or so points where higher education's extreme conservatism and largely self-serving culture has led to this crisis. This report represents a modest and, frankly, conservative response. I can tell you that powerful interests in the wings are considerably less charitable toward the current mess in higher education. We need to clean up our own house, including abandoning our false beliefs, made true only via rare outliers and apocryphal stories, and do so quickly, or step aside.

19. betterschools - November 11, 2010 at 03:15 pm

A point of clarification on my comments above. I do not agree with all of the report's recommendations and I disagree with some points. For example, I am not aware of any compelling evidence that lazy seek tenure or that most tenured people are lazy. If anything, the evidence would, I think, points the other direction. That said, the range of behaviors that are tolerated after tenure probably need to be examined. Academic freedom does not demand that we tolerate a permanent decline in productivity. Too many people are tenured in formulaic ways and for insubstantial reasons. While these changes are not all on our shoulders -- employment laws had a hand a hand in corrupting the original intent -- it is our problem to deal with. The fact that we tolerate the deadwood, increasingly so, and do not clean our own house has let to the intrusion of outside brooms. On the other hand, not many of us would question the benefits of tenure when we look at the outliers. We see Noam Chomsky's unqualified brilliance and we also see his persistent irrationality on certain points. He is a canary in our coal mine. There is little doubt that his voice would not be heard so clearly had he long ago lost his academic position. In my view, the issue of tenure, qua protection of academic freedom, needs to be examined from a larger perspective. We might agree that at least a portion of those currently protected deserve to be so and that another portion does not. With that agreed upon, we are left with the messy work of determining where and how the lines should be drawn. But how about journalists? Would protecting them from being fired by sponsor placating executives result in a greater net good than protecting the right of a mediocre professor to take a consulting job instead of spending much needed time with his students? This is a good debate and the one I think we should have with the result being a much different and higher bar for securing tenure and no tolerance for checking out of the system once it is earned. before than, though, it would be unselfish of us to use our voices to protect the jobs of a few others who serve to protect our freedom. I would start with selected journalistic roles.

20. betterschools - November 11, 2010 at 07:26 pm

. . . I agree, by the way, in doubting that there is good evidence that tenure and laziness are related. I have seen none. It is likely that comprehensive data would show the opposite trends for most faculty. I do think tenure is now awarded too often, for the wrong reasons, and in formulaic ways that are no longer related to the original intent. HR laws have also diluted the idea. All of our useful canaries in the coal mine would probably be preserved with half of those who currently have tenure. I also think that academic freedom would not be adversely affected were we to require the same level of engagement and professionalism post-tenure as we require before tenure is awarded. It is hard for me to get excited about the university tenure issue. If we want to protect our freedoms in 2010, we could have a greater effect by speaking out to create a tenure system for a limited number of reporters. They need to be protected from the knee-jerk reactions of sponsor-sensitive media executives. Increasingly, reporters are afraid to speak out on important issues.

21. laoshi - November 16, 2010 at 09:55 pm

Our competition across the pond offer 3-year baccalaureates. That's why many foreign students go there. It's easier from a student's point of view. That's also why our graduates tend to be smarter.

Who is on this "non-profit" panel? Sounds like the consultants in that movie "Office Space". Look out for hatchet men (or hatchet women) in sheep's clothing.

22. retired61 - November 21, 2010 at 07:10 am

Those who have commented upon this article must look beyond the immediate threat to faculty traditions and see the larger picture threatening the very foundation of higher education.
Lumina, with its millions, believes that it has the right, much like Gates, to spend its vast wealth as it wishes and when it wishes to meddle in the affairs of any sector of the national or world economy when and where its elects. (Closer to home, the Ford Foundation had an interest in rural community colleges in the early 90's. After 7 years, it took its funding in entirely different directions. It simply handed their community college portfolio over to a North Carolina think tank and moved on.)
Unless the likes of Lumina are to continue unanswered, community college faculty must take the lead in offering workable alternatives to Lumina-funded policy papers. If they take up this challenge, they must understand that, apart from the Chronicle, they have no access to the channels of national communication that highlight the community college. The AACC is a major repient of Lumina funds, as is Bailey's center at Teachers College.
College faculty must speak out against Lumina's proposal to fundamentally alter the nature of community colleges, Further, if Lumina has its way, and community colleges become the primany avenue to the BA. Who will benefit? Not community colleges, which are expected to enroll a million more students. Rather, it will be the for-profit sector, which reveals much about Lumina's actuel intent. When the BA becomes an accepted part of the community college mission, the for-profits can eliminate an entire year of costs and attrition. Moreover, such a change in the BA, if it does improve degree completion, may well resolve the problems between the for-profits and the DOE. The access to Pell grants and loans by their students could be restored in full, allowing them to continue their growth.
Indeed, as a matter of institutional survival, community colleges will be forced to reduce costs by imitating the organization and faculty working conditions of the for-profis, spelling an end to tenure. Also, full-time faculty, when they retire, will be replaced by three or four part-timers. It seems that Lumina has found a way to aid for-profits through its "support" of community colleges.
What can community college faculty also do? They might argue to restore the Oxbridge tradition and encourage universities to simply award the MA "after a term of good behavior" to any BA recepient who applies. Then with respect to the Ph.D./Ed.D., even the major universities must ackowledge that they call upon trustees to accept the truth and formally turn the doctoral degree into a non-residential credential awarded upon completion of a brief, 100-page study. There seems to be general agreement among those offering comments critical of the misalignment of student ability the degrees they are awarded. Many university faculty share the concern that their advanced degrees have been debased. If these two bodies can see their way to work together to counter Lumina-funded proposals with an agreement on ways to not only hand remedial education back to the high schools, but restores the AA and formally bring the advanced degrees into line with what universities should be doing. This might at last restore the academic credibility of community colleges. Joined with university faculty, the broadly-based union could author a white papr to be circulated among the same policy makers who receive the Lumina-funded work. This would give state and national policy-makers with an alternative to Lumina's flawed vision of higher education.

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