Education value

How much could the state actually save by consolidating or eliminating some university degree programs?

December 30, 2010


The efforts of the Kansas Board of Regents and other higher education officials to prove the value of higher education to the state’s economic health are a positive trend.

However, it’s important to remember that state universities also play a less tangible, but equally important, role in providing a liberal arts background to people who pursue a variety of careers. Liberal arts, such as philosophy, history and literature, provide context for a whole range of situations university graduates will face in their work and personal lives.

In a recent Journal-World interview, Gov.-elect Sam Brownback mentioned that Kansas universities might consider following the lead of universities in other states that are discontinuing degree programs that are graduating small numbers of students. That thought was linked to his desire to reallocate higher education resources to areas directly linked to the economy such as programs in medicine, pharmacy, veterinary medicine and aviation.

Tight funding will drive many difficult decisions in the upcoming legislative session, but how much money can the state actually save by trimming degree programs?

Earlier this week the University of Missouri made what seemed like a major announcement that it would drop 16 degree programs that have a low number of graduates. However, a detailed listing of the plan revealed that almost all of the changes involved degrees being combined or merged, not really eliminated. The changes may have had a small impact on administrative costs, but the savings on faculty salaries and other costs likely would be minimal. A good example is the merging of Spanish and French programs into a single “Romance” languages program. MU students still will be earning degrees in Spanish and/or French. They’ll just be called something else.

The reallocation of funds to areas such as pharmacy, engineering or business implies that money to support humanities faculty and courses would be reduced. Before taking such action, state officials should carefully consider what would be lost. Isn’t it a good idea for pharmacists, engineers and business people to have a background in liberal arts that lends perspective to the ethical and philosophical questions that arise in their professions? Isn’t it beneficial for people in almost any profession to have some knowledge of foreign language or literature? As Kansas University Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little pointed out in a recent speech, such classes are important to maintaining the humanities “voice” that is “so key to a liberal arts education.”

It’s likely that there are places where university degree programs can be consolidated or combined. In some cases, that might save the state some money. However, before making such cuts, state and higher education officials should be sure to examine not only what the state would save, but what it would lose.


SnakeFist 6 years ago

I think there are a number of programs that could be cut or combined. But I'd also like to see greater use of differential tuition (not just an additional fee charged by some colleges) because some degrees are simply worth a lot more than other degrees. For example, either english degrees are overpriced or chemistry degrees are underpriced, but they shouldn't cost the same amount. Of course, the next step would be greater use of differential pay for faculty for the same reason.

voevoda 6 years ago

There is already differential pay for faculty; professors in, say, business and engineering and the hard sciences earn a lot more than professors in the humanities. It doesn't make sense to charge more to earn a chemistry degree than an English degree, because chemistry graduates don't necessarily earn more than English graduates. Would the state benefit if certain degrees (such as engineering or nursing) became more expensive, so students gravitate to cheap degrees (perhaps communications)?
It might make sense to base the tuition on the cost to offer the course, but that wouldn't necessarily make chemistry more expensive than English. It would be pretty hard to calculate such costs, though, because you'd have to add in not only professors' salaries, but also classroom space, library resources, Graduate Teaching Assistants, lab materials, computers, etc.

SnakeFist 6 years ago

"There is already differential pay for faculty..." - Not everywhere; not at, e.g., JCCC (admittedly only a community college, but still a public institution paying outrageous salaries to instructors with degrees (in, e.g., history) which have almost no real-world value).

"It doesn't make sense to charge more to earn a chemistry degree than an English degree, because chemistry graduates don't necessarily earn more than English graduates." - Admittedly, every chemistry graduate does not earn more than every english graduate, but we all know the average salary is much higher. Furthermore, while I have seen employment ads for a B.Sc. Chemistry, I have never seen one for a B.A. Philosophy.

"Would the state benefit if certain degrees (such as engineering or nursing) became more expensive, so students gravitate to cheap degrees (perhaps communications)?" - Students understand the concept of "you get what you pay for." Under the current system, a steak costs the same as a salad, but, clearly, if prices reflected actual worth, people who want steaks wouldn't gravitate toward salads.

texburgh 6 years ago

But of course the LJW editors LOVE Sam Brownback and, I suppose by extension, his new budget director who believes that state university tuition should be equal to that of private universities since only the rich go to college anyway.

Dolph, if you want to preserve our public universities, you should have endorsed Tom Holland. Or at the very least spent a few column inches blasting Brownback's appointments.

LogicMan 6 years ago

Does a list of all the degree programs, number of faculty positions, and their average number of graduates per year, etc. exist?

voevoda 6 years ago

Thanks for the defense of the humanities. One of the most important purposes of humanities is to teach students to see the world from a variety of different perspectives. That's really useful for pharmacists, who need to understand what their patients know, and why health care administrators do things the way they do. That's really useful for engineers, who need to understand how the things they build will be used, and by whom. That's really useful for business people, who certainly need to understand what the customers want.
Combining degree programs on one campus won't save more than a pittance. The only way to see any real savings would be to eliminate duplicative degree programs that are offered at more than one of the state-supported universities. However, that would prevent some Kansans from pursuing their degree of choice, if they are bound by family or work to a particular part of the state.

SnakeFist 6 years ago

"One of the most important purposes of humanities is to teach students to see the world from a variety of different perspectives." - Noble, but way too idealistic given the outrageous cost of tuition. Being able to see the world from "a variety of different perspectives" does not justify tens of thousands of dollars in student debt. Academia can't run itself as a business, raise tuition to the point that an education has to be evaluated as a financial investment, and then tout this sort of idealism.

overthemoon 6 years ago

Hardly idealistic. Through the course of a liberal (in the classical, not political, sense) education, a student learns to think objectively while exploring a wide range of disciplines which can be applied in any number of career paths. The value of that would be lost on those who think only in terms of money or limited vocational ends. With the world changing so rapidly, vocationally focused education often leaves the student bereft of opportunity. The graduate who can grapple with ideas and concepts in a broader sense actually comes out ahead. I think tuition is already high enough to give pause to 'wasting money' on single discipline studies.

Richard Heckler 6 years ago

How would they save money? Won't they spend the money elsewhere?

Smoke n mirrors I'd say aka political rhetoric.

jmadison 6 years ago

How much money could the state and its taxpayers save by consolidating counties with small populations? 105 counties seem to be too many for the 21st century, especially if 85 of the 105 counties actually lost population in the past 10 years.

Tony Kisner 6 years ago

I am not sure why the State needs engineering taught at KU and KSU. One way to save cost is to eliminate duplicate degree programs within the regents system. But on the other hand if I want a degree in teaching and hang out with the Morris twins I need to go to KU and not ESU. - Varsity sports the real value in an education.

LogicMan 6 years ago

WSU has engineering too.

Duplication is fine if the demand is there and the programs are efficient with our funds. It could even be best for the State to create a third program to yield more highly paid workers that help keep companies from moving away.

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