• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.

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Friday Fragments

No bloat at community colleges; sections with low enrollments; more.

July 26, 2018
 
 

Robert Kelchen posted a nice visual response to the argument that “administrative bloat” is driving tuition increases. I was particularly taken with the graph showing the change in administrators per 1000 FTE students. The green line -- the one sloping downward hard, lower than all the others -- represents community colleges.

We have plenty of challenges, but bloat is not one of them. It’s nice to have a rebuttal in handy visual form, though.

--

We’re going through the annual ritual of looking at low-enrolled sections and trying to decide what to keep and what to cut.  

Although I’ve been doing that in various places since 2001 (!), I realized this week that the task has changed fundamentally in the last couple of years.

It has always involved looking at the marginal cost of instruction of another section, and a general sense of the fungibility of student schedules. (Non-financial considerations also include the number of alternative sections, whether a given course is required for graduation, and the like.)  Those haven’t changed, at least conceptually.

The change is in the opportunity cost.

When a college is bursting at the seams, the opportunity cost of a small section is the larger section that could have run in that timeslot and location.  Blocking out a room for a class of six people looks pretty expensive when that room could have held a class of thirty. The foregone revenue is the opportunity cost, and it could be substantial.  In that setting, a relatively high minimum size makes sense.

When a college is running below capacity, though, the opportunity cost of a small section may be zero.  If the alternative to a small section is an empty room, rather than a large section, the argument for the small section is comparatively stronger.

I’m wondering if some of my counterparts out there have done the math and changed their practices around minimum sizes for classes.  Has anyone tried it? If so, what happened?

--

The Boy has been in Honduras all week, building a school with his group. The house is noticeably quieter in his absence. He has been great about facetiming us each night and sending pictures, but it’s not the same.

I’m glad he’s there, but I’ll be really glad when he’s back. 

Next September is gonna be rough...

 

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