The Arizona Desert Lamp

The neutered American university gets the Times treatment

Posted in Campus by Evan Lisull on 25 March 2009

That, of course, would be Arizona State (well done, State Press), and the Times is the Old Gray Lady herself:

TEMPE, Ariz. — When Michael Crow became president of Arizona State University seven years ago, he promised to make it “The New American University,” with 100,000 students by 2020. It would break down the musty old boundaries between disciplines, encourage advanced research and entrepreneurship to drive the new economy, and draw in students from underserved sectors of the state.

. . .

But this year, Mr. Crow’s plans have crashed into new budget realities, raising questions about how many public research universities the nation needs and whether universities like Arizona State, in their drive to become prominent research institutions, have lost focus on their public mission to provide solid undergraduate education for state residents.

Essentially, ASU has attempted to be the top provider of undergraduate education and the top research university in the state; thankfully, it has failed in this task (for if the Sun Devils succeeded, why bother with the UA? Why not just have ASU-South?). Now, Crow scampers back from Phoenix with his tail between his legs – hopefully, when he returns, he’ll take some time off and read old fairy tales.

Of course I’m a Wildcat partisan, but the answer to the implied question really is yes and no. The UA should not, at this juncture, sacrifice research quality in order to expand undergraduate education for state residents. This is ASU’s role – hence, the “yes.” NAU, meanwhile, will continue to provide the liberal arts education.

The Times then offers a rather interesting detail:

“What’s happening, everywhere, is what’s happening to Michael Crow,” said Jane Wellman, executive director of the Delta Project on Postsecondary Costs, Productivity and Accountability, an organization that studies spending by colleges and universities. “The trend line is states disinvesting in higher education.”

The picture varies by state. Dozens of states, hit hard by the recession, made midyear cuts in their financing for higher education. And yet, budgets are largely intact at some leading research universities, like the University of Michigan.

The paper decided not to follow-up on the Michigan model. Allow the Goldwater Institute:

In 1965, the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor (U-M) received 70 percent of its funding in appropriations from the state of Michigan. By 2003, U-M had reduced its dependence on the state to just 10 percent of total revenue. At the same time, U-M remained a top 25 institution according to the University of Florida’s Top American Research Universities and U.S. News & World Report’s annual rankings. U-M also tops Wall Street rankings, becoming the first public university to have its credit rating raised to an Aa1 ranking and its bonds trading at Aaa levels. Today, Michigan’s flagship university is considered “Silicon Valley East” and has become a model for other large, public research institutions.

State Funding, UM v. UA v. ASU

If you haven’t already read this paper, please take a break and do so. Going back to an earlier point, I would emphasize that the Michigan model would not have succeeded if Michigan State University (or the plethora of other state schools) did not exist. What the UA needs to do is actively cast itself as ‘The Michigan of Sonora,” implictly putting ASU in the Michigan State role (a school that I should point has many well-esteemed programs – focusing on undergraduates over research doesn’t necessarily preclude quality of any sort).

Finally, the paper brings up the National Merit scholarships that the school offers:

Finding the right balance between improving academic quality and serving state residents is not easy.

Case in point: merit scholarships. Arizona State University recruits National Merit Scholars nationwide with a four-year $90,000 scholarship, a package so generous that Arizona State enrolls 600 National Merit Scholars, more than Yale or Stanford. Through the cuts, Mr. Crow has kept that program, even while proposing to cut a scholarship for Arizona residents with high scores on state tests, a proposal the state regents turned down.

This deserves a lengthier discussion, but it’s worth pointing out that the $90,000 figure is for out-of-state students, to cover the tuition disparity – the in-state figure is more modest.


3 Responses

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  1. Connor Mendenhall said, on 25 March 2009 at 11:05 am

    “Case in point: merit scholarships. Arizona State University recruits National Merit Scholars nationwide with a four-year $90,000 scholarship, a package so generous that Arizona State enrolls 600 National Merit Scholars, more than Yale or Stanford.”

    Huh? Schools like Yale and Stanford make no attempt to recruit national merit scholars, and offer them no extra financial aid. If they did, this National Merit scholar probably wouldn’t have stayed in Tucson. Comparing UA and ASU’s merit recruitment strategies might be worthwhile, but the above comparison doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. ASU and Yale both grant degrees, but occupy very different sectors of the market for higher ed–if not two separate markets altogether.

  2. The Arizona Desert Lamp said, on 25 March 2009 at 1:07 pm

    […] increasing quality without affecting price, decreasing price without affecting quality, and doing both with the Michigan model. In the long term, the university may have to choose either excellence or […]

  3. John said, on 15 April 2009 at 5:11 pm

    Thanks to the author for this page, I thought you were dead on about the circumstances of the content delivered. Ive read the NYTimes for years and anyone else who does will probably agree that this type of thing happens all the time. That being said, ill still be renewing my subscription when it comes due.

    Im currently a National Merit Scholar, which is pretty relevant, and I say the article by Ms. Lewin takes a stance with such a shallow base it made me question whether her zeal for a target clouded her judgement. Lewin bombs on the program, you are right she totally overestimates the numbers (I am a resident and my package is the FULL one for 50k for residents).

    And let me digress: isn’t the logic for the athletic program and the plethora of dormitories that these programs are self-sustaining? The fees they generate actually pay for the programs even without any principal capital investment by ASU. The dorms, for instance, generate revenue through the fees on each room for housing to the two roommates. “American University Inc” (or something similar) pays for the construction in exchange for future profits. National Merit Scholarships do require large investments from the university, but after several decades these scholars are also bound to grant large returns on investments to the universities. The scholars, every single one at ASU, is bound by a contract to complete the scholarship at only that university, so essentially almost all of these scholars will be getting an undergraduate degree at ASU. Won’t each individual within the group of 600 be somewhat likely to return their focus to ASU and donate as an alumnus? So is the National Merit Scholarship a self-sustaining program?

    Well, let me put it this way, Bill Gates was a National Merit Scholar at Harvard in 1973. The president of Harvard today, Drew Faust, will see him many times a year. From some use of google you can get a pretty good idea that a lot of the time the first thing Bill will say when he sees her is “Oh, shit, wheres my pen?”

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