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Generation Debt, Part the Second

From today’s Strib. (The article is still available “only in today’s paper.”

"Legislators, critics tell colleges: Show us the money.”

QUALITY AT A COST

Being a world-class research institute requires top notch faculty and facilities. And although such status attracts students and grants, is the cost too high?

Investments in faculty, administrators and new buildings make a university’s reputation and help attract top students, but also drive much of its cost. Now states are taking a harder look at whether those costs are justified. If provisions to a House higher education bill pass, Minnesota could join other states in tying their funding to limitations on spending and tuition increases.

One target for some Minnesota lawmakers is the U’s ambition to be one of the best research universities in the world.

“I’ve been concerned that these cost-drivers of getting to that goal have been more than our average students can absorb.” [C. Robling, R-Jordan]

The public believes universities could cut back without hurting their quality, a national survey by non-profit Public Agenda shows. Meanwhile, new studies of college spending are giving taxpayers details that allow them to challenge university priorities.

A ground-breaking analysis by the non-partisan Delta Project on Post-Secondary Education Costs , Productivity, and Accountability found the Twin Cities campus spends more per student - $21,400 in 2006 – than any other state’s public research universities.

The U paid its full professors an averagee salary of $127,400 in 2008 and an average total compensation of $167,200 (not including the medical school). That makes its professors the third-best compensated in the BigTen and and fourth-best in what it considers its “comparative group,” which includes schools such as UC-Berkeley.

The cost of administration

The driving force behind rising tuition is not too much spending on faculty, but too much elsewhere, recent reports say.

In newspaper editorial pages and at Capitol hearings, students, faculty, and legislators have pushed for cuts to the University of Minnesota’s central administration. The State House of Representatives higher education omnibus bill includes a provision that would bar the U from using state funding to pay for new administrative positions or for administrator’s salary increases.

“Once you start looking at the budget, there’s a huge concentration of funds in areas that do not contribute at all to teaching, research, or outreach,” said Eva von Dassow, associate professor.

Big bills for brick and mortar

Buildings are the most visible target for cost-cutting advocates.

At the start of this semester, the University of Minnesota gave some students the chance, via video, to ask questions of Bruininks.

“I would just like to know,” asked one woman, “how the university is justifying all its increased spending, especially on a lot of things people think are kind of extravagant – the new history museum, the TCF bank stadium – especially in an economic climate that I think most Americans would agree that spending beyond our means has caused.”

The U is in the midst of a building boom. Over the next five to ten years it plans to build or renovate or add to the following: The TCF Bank Stadium, The Center for Magnetic Resonance Research, three new biomedical labs, The Weisman Art Museum, Northrop Auditorium, The Science Teaching and Student Services Center (which will replace the Science Classroom Building) the Recreation Center, a new physics and nanotechnology facility, and the Bell Museum of Natural History. The legislature continues to debate whether to fund the Bell Museum and will consider the physics and nanotechnology building within the next few years.

Together, the projects add up to more than $750 million, said Orlyn Miller, the U’s director of project management.

“We’ve been operating in what you might call a seller’s market,” said Patrick Callan, founding president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. “There hasn’t been a lot of incentive to find cost-effective approaches. In fact, the incentive has been to become more expensive.”

Comments

Bill, I gotta hand it to you -- no one can claim you're not committed to your cause. You've pretty much re-typed the entire article by now, which is no small feat! That'll teach 'em to go "print-only" on you! :P

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