Saturday, September 3, 2011

Universities Are Not (Only) About Education

. Saturday, September 3, 2011

Angus writes:

College football is a mess, with Ohio State and The U providing the latest "scandals" and with the pattern of conference jumping we've seen lately.

I think it's time to split big time football from academics. Dissolve the NCAA. Pay the players. Don't even force them to be students if they don't want to be students. Treat college football like an age 21 and under pro league. The schools rent out their facilities, names, supporters, etc. and the football program is separate from the school itself, just like the food service program.

I've long viewed college football, and college athletics in general, as a sort of "loss leader" for the university. A prominent sports program raises the university's status. Saying that it doesn't do much for the university's core mission only makes sense if you think the core mission is efficiently allocate resources towards the best educational environment possible.

But it clearly isn't. Universities exist for a host of reasons, most related to status and social networking rather than actual education. Which is why so many people are willing to pay huge premia to go to 4-year universities for basic classes rather than 2-year colleges, even though the class quality will usually be comparable or even better at the 2-year schools (b/c of smaller class sizes, professional teachers rather than researchers teaching those classes, same texts and curricula, etc.). And why many people are willing to pay even higher premia to go to flagship 4-year colleges rather than Eastern Small Town State, even though the actual education will be very similar.

So having high-profile sports programs does serve universities' core mission: it raises the university's status, and that attracts students and other sources of funding.


filarena said...

Sounds about right to me. Perhaps there's an argument to be made that *some* universities are getting less out of their sports program than they're putting in, but it's hardly clear that it would be beneficial for universities to distance themselves from their football programs the way Angus suggests.

rosmar said...

I agree with your main point--much of higher education is about status and networking and credentialing. But I disagree with your point about 2-year-colleges. In fact, 2-year-colleges often have larger class sizes, more over-worked (and underpaid) professors, and professors who have less experience. More of these professors are also adjuncts, so they are harder to get in touch with later for a letter of reference, and sometimes they have no office on campus and so are harder to get in touch with even during the semester. Those I know who have gone to community colleges almost universally tell me the classes were less challenging, with more multiple-choice tests, less reading, and less interaction with the professors than they experienced at a small liberal arts college.

Kindred Winecoff said...

rosmar -

What I had in mind was a comparison b/t 2-year colleges and large 4-year public schools, not smaller private liberal arts colleges. I agree that the quality of teaching is likely to be higher in liberal arts schools, and that class sizes will generally be small. That's not really the case in large 4-year public schools, where the professors are primarily concerned with research, a lot of teaching is done by TAs, and intro courses are general done in lecture halls with several hundred students. Then again, small liberal arts colleges are generally much more expensive even than 4-year public schools

My impression is that the quality of 2-year colleges is highly variable, but many of them are very good and improving. It's true that many teachers are overloaded with teaching schedules, but most of them are not active researchers.

I went to a 2-year college for my intro coursework, as did my wife and many of my friends. Most of our experiences were good, and the cost was about 1/10 of what we'd have paid to take equivalent courses at a 4-year public school, or maybe 1/50 or 1/100 of what we'd have paid going to a liberal arts college. (Most semesters my books cost more than my tuition.) Many 2-year colleges now have transfer programs with 4-year universities that make the transition pretty seamless.

Universities Are Not (Only) About Education
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