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Educational disinvestment makes its way into legislation

A new bill making its way through the Missouri legislature would tie state university funding to institutions based on the institution’s graduation rates and the salaries of its alumni. A similar bill would apply to community colleges. According to the legislation, the Missouri Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development would use the data to send funding recommendations to the State legislature. If the measures pass, they will likely produce the largest educational disinvestment in Missouri history.

The bill derives largely from “model legislation” drafted by the Cicero Institute, a libertarian think tank. The problem with this approach, of course, is that much about these two metrics are out of the institution’s control.

So, this is another example of the kind of disinvestment in public higher education we can look forward to. Disinvestment takes many forms – state funding being just one of them. In Washtenaw Community College’s case, one of the most blatant forms of disinvestment is the redirection of general fund dollars to institutional priorities that have no direct bearing on education.

Using operational dollars to pay for debt is educational disinvestment

Issuing revenue-backed bonds is one example of educational disinvestment. By guaranteeing bond repayment with funds intended for operations, an institution disinvests in education. Debt service really isn’t an operational cost. Therefore, using operational dollars to pay debt means that those dollars can’t fund educational programs or support services. The more an institution relies on this kind of debt, the bigger the disinvestment in education becomes.

Hiring more executives than necessary absorbs resources

Creating a ludicrous number of Vice President positions is another example of educational disinvestment. Washtenaw Community College has more Vice Presidents than any other community college of the same size in the United States. When the Board of Trustees allows the Executive to create more than a dozen Vice President roles, that takes funding away from the institution’s primary mission. Managing administrative costs is essential. In fact, it is so important that funders – including the federal government and private philanthropic funders – strictly limit the amount of grant money (or research funding) an institution can spend on administrative costs. These funding organizations realize that an overstuffed administration can quickly waste a lot of money on activities and personnel that do not produce valuable work.

Failing to maintain infrastructure is educational disinvestment

Failing to maintain the infrastructure on campus is another example of disinvestment. Every facilities manager knows that the longer one puts off required and preventative maintenance, the more expensive the maintenance becomes. Failing to perform regular, careful maintenance simply shifts the cost of maintenance to a future fiscal year. The Morris Lawrence Building is a good example of this. WCC delayed the rehabilitation of this building for years. Today, 90% of the cost of the project results from a long-term policy of neglecting maintenance.

Educational disinvestment comes in many forms. It’s rarely as simple as budget cuts from the people in Lansing.

The Washtenaw Community College Board of Trustees is supposed to prevent this type of insidious disinvestment. But they choose not to demand accountability from the people they hire. So the institution needlessly spends taxpayer dollars on bond debts; inflates the org chart (and the cost of administration) by creating and approving unnecessary Vice President positions; and fails to take care of the campus infrastructure we’ve literally spent tens of millions of dollars on. This ultimately raises the cost of education and therefore reduces its value.

If that doesn’t feel right to you, demand accountability from the WCC Trustees.

Photo Credit: Got Credit , via Flickr