The Arizona Desert Lamp

ASA’s ineffective tunnel vision

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 22 April 2009

Or, how to lose friends and influence in the halls of Phoenix:

“None of us want to be here tonight. We are all brought here tonight because of the state legislature and clearly this situation is their fault,” Slugocki said.

The graph at the left (source) should be enough to at least question Mr. Slugocki’s claims – even a cut to FY06 levels is far above historical average; the currently bandied number of $363 million is the third-highest appropriation in the last fifteen years (and no, inflation hasn’t gone up that much). It’s also worth remembering ASA’s mission statement here:

ASA works for affordable, accessible higher education in Arizona by advocating to elected officials [emphasis added – EML] and running campaigns on issues important to students.

The Board of Regents is not an elected body, but an appointed one, rather like ASUA’s own appropriations board. The appropriate figure for pushing student interests in ABOR is the student regent, who advocates for students, except when he doesn’t. Rather than attempting to build a coalition involving Republicans that might support less of a cut, ASA seems dedicated to irrelevancy and internships instead. It doesn’t matter what the fee money does, so long as everybody feels like they’re changing the world. It must be exhausting to be so effective, saving the environment with a block party and forcing down textbook prices with a press release.

What’s more, ASA willfully chooses to ignore anything that doesn’t fit into their Manichean worldview of university funding. Take this article from yesterday’s Times (HT: Freakonomics):

Over the last two decades, colleges and universities doubled their full-time support staff while enrollment increased only 40 percent, according to a new analysis of government data by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, a nonprofit research center.

During the same period, the staff of full-time instructors, or equivalent personnel, rose about 50 percent, while the number of managers increased slightly more than 50 percent.

The data, based on United States Department of Education filings from more than 2,782 colleges, come from 1987 to 2007, before the current recession prompted many colleges to freeze their hiring.

. . .

Still, the findings raise concerns about administrative bloat, and the increasing focus on the social and residential nature of college life, as opposed to academics.

You mean, like the Dean of Students’ “Ethics and Integrity” staff? Or the increasing of support staff at the expanded Rec Center? Then there’s this piece in the Chronicle:

Increased federal student aid, especially to middle-class families, is contributing to the rising cost of higher education, a report by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity says.

The report concludes that federally backed loans should be offered to only low-income families, not expanded to help more middle-class families, and that “the expanded tuition tax credits in the 2009 stimulus bill are probably a step backward.”

The reason, says Andrew Gillen, the report’s author and the center’s research director, is that colleges are engaged in an “arms race” to outspend one another, and any extra money that comes in from federal student aid only encourages them to spend more. Right now, colleges have access to students’ financial information from Free Application for Federal Student Aid forms, so they know how much each student can afford to pay and can therefore charge each student the highest amount possible without causing that student to have to drop out.

Colleges do this, Mr. Gillen says, because higher spending often helps them raise their prestige through rankings such as U. S. News & World Report ratings that are in part based on spending per student.

This should help to remind us that ASA is in fact a lobbying group like any other, insistent on pushing its own agenda without considering insights that contradict it. In this way they are much like the many race/gender-based campus centers, diverse except when it comes to the world of ideas. What’s worse, ASA also happens to be horrible at its job – if indeed its job is to gin up support of student positions from the state legislature or the governor. They might be better than PIRG, but this advantage is proving itself to be minimal.

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  1. […] Michael Slugocki […]

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