Some fear initiative may cause colleges to compete

Tom Lopez

In an era of streamlining and reorganization at the University, a new initiative has administrators concerned about the inefficiency it might cause.
Beginning July 1, the University will implement an Incentives for Managed Growth program that is raising questions about potential abuses.
Under the proposal, which was written by an executive steering committee, tuition money will be given to colleges depending upon student enrollment in their classes. Seventy-five percent of a student’s tuition money for each class will go to the college that offers the class, while the remaining 25 percent will go to the college where the student is majoring.
For example, if an Institute of Technology student takes a College of Liberal Arts course, 75 percent of his or her tuition for that class would go to CLA, while the remainder would go to IT.
The plan was approved by the Central Advising Committee on October 31 and later by University President Nils Hasselmo.
The system is less of a departure from traditional allocation systems than programs in place in Big Ten schools like the University of Michigan. It is intended to provide incentives for colleges to be attentive to students’ needs. Some administrators are concerned, however, about possible side-effects that might result from the new system.
“There’s some concern that it could lead to duplication and competition within the University,” said Jerry Rinehart, the director of undergraduate programs at the Carlson School of Management.
These concerns are based upon the possibility that colleges will compete with each other for students in order to receive increased funding. To do so, some schools might begin to offer classes outside of their fields in order to draw students from other colleges, or to keep their students from enrolling in other colleges’ classes.
Rinehart, who supports the program, said he has already heard such rumors about Carlson, and that none of them are true.
“Everyone is suspecting that we have started to become independent in areas where we don’t have any expertise,” Rinehart said. “I’ve heard rumors that Carlson is going to start to offer a foreign language program. That’s simply not the case. If we expand, it’s going to be in areas of our expertise.”
Rinehart said the rumors have led to fears that Carlson is becoming too insulated. “I do think there’s a paranoia about what we’re doing that far exceeds the reality,” he said. “Carlson isn’t becoming more independent; Carlson is becoming more integrated and more accessible.”
Mary Nichols, an associate dean at Carlson, said program changes in the school have been misinterpreted. “When people perceive us as independent, they look for all sorts of evidence,” she said.
Nichols said discussion about adding a course in business communication a few years ago might have been misinterpreted as expanding into composition. Nichols said that was not the case. “It makes more sense to continue through composition as we have,” she said. Currently, Carlson requires its undergraduates to take three composition classes from CLA.
Concerns about the new system are not limited to Carlson, however. CLA Dean Steven Rosenstone acknowledges that the new plan poses new risks to all colleges. He said he is confident, however, that the administration has taken steps to overcome these concerns. “The Incentives for Managed Growth program is not going to run amok and do damage to undergraduate education,” he said.
Rosenstone said besides likely administrative checks, students would not allow colleges to offer redundant courses to receive larger funding.
“I would think that students would scream bloody murder if the College of Liberal Arts started to offer courses in physics,” he said. “That’s not our area of expertise.”
Some administrators, however, argue that the potential for competition might actually be one of the program’s benefits. But Nichols said if colleges begin duplicating each other’s courses, they might be in for a rude awakening. “If there are redundancies, there’s not going to be enough students to sustain them,” she said.
One benefit of the program is the feedback it will provide to administrators on professors’ approaches to their classes, said Willard Miller, an associate dean in IT.
Miller said some faculty members attempt to reduce the number of students enrolling in a particular college. “Under the old system, they didn’t see the direct consequences of their actions, namely the decrease in tuition money that the University would see,” he said. “Now, with (the managed growth program), if a department chooses to decrease enrollment, the tuition to that department would decrease almost immediately, and they would see the repercussions.”
However, some administrators say the program might cause the opposite to occur — expansion of class sizes.
Because colleges receive more tuition money when they have more students, they might be inclined to increase class sizes, even when students might be better served by smaller classes.
Mike Martin, dean of the College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences, said he has not yet decided whether to support or oppose the program. However, he said he is concerned with its emphasis on revenue. “If you were interested in maximizing revenue and keeping a program alive, what would you do? You’d maximize class size, and that seems to be what is implied in these incentives,” he said.
Martin said he is also concerned about the timing of the proposal. “This is coming on top of a lot of other initiatives in the University that are wearing people out,” he said, citing as examples the conversion to semesters, the orientation of the new president and regent selection.
In the end, however, the best protections against any possible drawbacks to the plan are the ethics of University administrators and faculty members, said Bob Kvavik, associate vice president of Academic Affairs — Administration and co-chairman of the committee that proposed the program.
“You can get redundancy and competition in any program if people allow that to happen, and you won’t get it if people exercise good common sense and judgment,” Kvavik said. “I’m not sure that Incentives for Managed Growth is the driving force of any of this.”
Kvavik added that ultimately the best safeguard will be “the sound academic values and ideals that this University has.”