Butcher: Arizona's universities should be more financially self-sufficient - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Butcher: Arizona's universities should be more financially self-sufficient

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Jonathan Butcher is education director for the Goldwater Institute.

Posted: Friday, November 25, 2011 8:00 am | Updated: 5:08 pm, Fri Nov 25, 2011.

Aesop tells us that every man carries two bags, one in front and one behind, both full of faults. The bag in front contains the faults of others, while we carry ours in the one behind. As a result, we always see someone else's mistakes and rarely look at our own.

Writing in the Washington Post earlier this month, ASU President Michael Crow chastises universities for not being more innovative during the current financial crisis. "Their lack of creativity in adjusting to the reduction of resources has shocked governors and business leaders alike who want to see universities innovate in order to educate more students better, faster and cheaper," said Crow.

But ASU hasn't exactly been a model of efficiency. Across the country, colleges are hiring massive numbers of administrators and ASU is no exception - in fact, the Sun Devils are an example of this "administrative bloat." Between 1993 and 2007, ASU increased the number of full-time administrators per 100 students more than 167 other comparable universities while the number of instructional staff and researchers actually decreased. Goldwater research finds "nearly half of all full-time employees at Arizona State University are administrators."

Considering these hiring practices, Crow's warning that proposals to turn universities into businesses are "ill-conceived" is remarkable. Also "ill-conceived" are programs that would "send our kids to college in the basement with the local online university." Yet the University of Phoenix reports that some 75 percent of higher education students today "are older ... work full or part time and have family responsibilities, including financial obligations," which means online access to college classes may be the only access they have.

ASU and other state universities should focus on core academic programs and direct spending not to administration but on practices directly tied to student instruction. In addition, Arizona colleges and universities should align tuition more closely with the actual costs of providing an education, pursue more private funding, and make themselves more financially self-sufficient.

• Jonathan Butcher is education director for the Goldwater Institute.

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