Friday, June 8, 2007

The Fix is On

Another Fast Shuffle at BigU or
If You Can't Compete on Quality Compete on Price

Once again BigU is pursuing a manipulative course of change without prior discussion or consultation with the affected stakeholders. A massive tuition cut for non-resident students is planned with the notable exception of Wisconsin and the Dakotas. This action was set up by
an editorial in the Strib published yesterday, on the same day that OurLeader apparently put forth this plan to the Regents who will vote on June 27. It is just this kind of quick and sneaky approach to decisions at the U that makes stakeholders - students, faculty, staff, as well as citizens of ColdState - suspicious of the good will and intentions of BigU's administration. This kind of behavior is hardly the way to improve the academic and consultative climate on campus, among the administation's professed goals. This behavior reminds Mr. B. of days gone by when re-engineering was in vogue at BigU. Move quickly before anyone has a chance to react. Do it when no one is around to argue. These tactics failed when used in the reengineering campaign and badly damaged the U. We have yet to recover from its effects.

From today's Strib:

U has plan to keep enrollment up with a tuition bargain

Officials say a recruiting effort coupled with lower nonresident tuition could be the ticket to stabilizing projected enrollment declines.

By Mary Jane Smetanka, Star Tribune

In California, there isn't enough room in universities for all the kids who want to go to college. And in Florida, community colleges have started offering four-year degrees to expand the capacity of higher education.

And so we are going to get a lot of business from Florida and California? In your dreams. Mr. B. has recruited for BigU in warm states and it is a very tough sell. Students literally shudder when Minnesota is mentioned. Minnesota wants to be Florida's community college? California kids would rather attend BigU than, say, the University of California at Santa Cruz?

Would some of those students come to the University of Minnesota if they didn't have to pay much more than Minnesotans do?

That's the experiment the U is likely to pursue beginning in fall 2008. Officials are proposing to dramatically cut undergraduate nonresident tuition to attract more students from around the nation. Last year, nonresident tuition and required fees on the Twin Cities campus were $21,040, compared with $9,410 for Minnesota students. If the proposed change had been in effect, nonresidents would have paid only $4,000 more per year than Minnesota residents.

If you do the math, that is a cut of ca $8,000. Heckuva deal. Of course it means that for each of the new students attracted someone paying lower tution will be squeezed out… But what the heck our educational mission here is obviously taking a backseat to research, so who cares?

U President Robert Bruininks told the Board of Regents on Thursday that the plan would keep university enrollment up in a time when the number of high school graduates in the Midwest will drop.

Could someone please explain to me exactly why enrollment at BigU has to be so large? We are a small state. Why are we duking it out with large population states like Ohio for the largest state university? Could it be because a large university will support a large budget?

Because most U graduates stay in Minnesota to work, he said, that would benefit the state economically.

Of course that is because most U graduates - now - are from Minnesota. Here some numbers, conspicuously absent in most U pitches, would be useful.

The U enrolls about 10 percent of Minnesota's high school graduates each year and that would not change, Bruininks said. But the composition of the rest of the undergraduate class could look different.

Now, 72 percent of U freshmen come from Minnesota,

pointed out to Mr. B. that it is closer to 65 percent and that it will probably hit 60 percent in the next few years. Mr. Bonzo will be watching.]

while almost 19 percent are from Wisconsin. Between 3 and 4 percent come from North Dakota and South Dakota.

Now let’s think carefully about the implications here. The out of state mix is going to change and less students will be taken from Wisconsin and North and South Dakota. Now people from those states are used to the weather and the intellectual/social climate of the upper Midwest. They are more likely to stay here than people from, er, California, Texas, or Florida. Interesting that the U, by recent actions, is working to make enrollment of Wisconsin students a less attractive option to Badgers.

Enrollment slipping

But over the next decade, the number of high school graduates is projected to drop 3 percent in Minnesota, 6 percent in Wisconsin, 23 percent in North Dakota and 8 percent in South Dakota. Already, the number of students from the Dakotas attending the U has declined 10 percent. And five of the six other states in the middle of the country that send more than a handful of students to the U also face shrinking numbers of high school graduates.

Ah, finally, the dirty little secret emerges. All of this talk about getting better and better students is predicated on a large applicant pool and it is shrinking. Perhaps it is time to retract enrollment at the U as Wisconsin did some time ago? Why, exactly, does enrollment at the U have to be so high?

"Over the next 10 years, the U needs to position itself to recruit from other states," said Peter Zetterberg, senior analyst in the U provost's office.

Why? Just as the football team seems to be positioning itself to capture the best athletes in Minnesota, maybe the U should take positive steps to capture the best students in Minnesota...

A test case

The U's Twin Cities campus already draws more students from Illinois than it used to, the result of a decision a few years ago to recruit there.

Could we please have some numbers here? How many students over the past ten years were from Illinois? How much money was spent on the recruiting effort?

What other states could be targeted for recruiting isn't clear yet, but potential targets include California and Texas, which already send students to the U.

How many, exactly? It is very unlikely that we will see significant enrollment from either California or Texas in the future. (As most of the kids would say: “Brrr...”)

Zetterberg said the U wouldn't lose money through the change partly because tuition discounts and scholarships mean few nonresident students pay the full amount now. And the new policy should draw more students, he said. Even with tuition cuts, nonresident students would be fully paying the cost of their education.

Once again, numbers would be nice. “Trust us?” Trust but verify.

The plan also would drop nonresident rates at the Duluth campus to just $2,000 more per year than the Minnesota rates. Nonresident rates have already been dropped at the Crookston and Morris campuses.

Regents will vote on the proposal as part of budget decisions June 27.

The fix is on. For once it would be nice to see the Board of Regents do more than rubber stamp OurLeader’s scheme. For once it would be nice to see some real numbers about revenue differential. For once it would be nice to see the U administrators talk straight on these matters. Do we want more money from Wisconsin students? If so, why are we willing to cut nonresident tuition for others by quite a bit (eight grand) and lose revenue on them? To Mr. B. it appears that these two different lines of thought are not consistent.

This latest questionable scheme seems to be an act of desperation by an administration in real trouble with their ambitious aspiration to be one of the top three public research universities in the world. If you look at nonresident tuition for Michigan and Wisconsin, BigU's rate will be significantly cheaper. Thus it appears that a college education is in the same category as a used car. If the product is inferior and isn't selling well, cut the price.

Once again OurLeader makes a bold and audacious (would that be bodacious?) move.

Are we selling Yugos? Perhaps we are...


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