Scheinberg: Academia’s Bitter Medicine is Our Business Plan
What if a college did not spend its resources on sports stadiums? What if it quit the competitive "arms race" and did not build climbing walls and multimillion dollar student unions? What if a college did not spend its students’ resources on top "name brand" researchers, who undergraduates rarely see? In fact, what if there was no faculty tenure at all?
And what if those savings were used instead to hire top teaching faculty, to provide student services that help ensure student success, and to offer more financial aid, so fewer students default on student loans? What if faculty were given the security of long-term contracts, balanced with focus and resources towards continuous personal improvement and professional effectiveness?
All of these concepts make academic sense. In the long term, all of these concepts make business sense as well, if the core metric of the business is student perseverance and career entry. It used to be accepted as fact that lower tuition is a product of greater state subsidy or a massive endowment. But it can also come from spending precious tuition revenue only on those things critical to student success.
At Goodwin College, we’ve done our best to break out of the typical higher education mold.
As a young institution, we have the ability to write our own rules, and we do so with enthusiasm. Some of our approach, such as the lack of tenure, is controversial, even internally. But we feel strongly that our path is one of sustainability and growth, while some of our peers stumble under the weight of an unwieldy payroll and ill-placed spending priorities.
We are a no-frills kind of place. Our faculty teaches year-round, and sign renewable contracts, with no tenure system. While we celebrate faculty research, we do not fund it. We are not, after all, a research institution, and we most likely never will be. Because we make our expectations clear from the start, the majority of our faculty shares the same values, and appreciates the freedom to focus on teaching.
As someone who cut my teeth in the business sector, this approach seems as natural as can be. Though Goodwin College is a nonprofit college, it maintains a very lean, businesslike approach that improves outcomes and controls cost.
This delivers big savings, not because we pay professors less, but because we demand more productivity. Our faculty members teach, on average, a third more credit-hours than their peers. That’s a third less cost passed on to our students, enabling us to remain among the least expensive private colleges in our region. And, by offering year-round class sessions, our students can complete their degree in less than four years.
This year, through a combination of sound fiscal management and increased enrollment, we were able to freeze tuition, without negatively impacting student services. Meanwhile, we have achieved 100 percent job placement in some of our programs, 92 percent alumni satisfaction, and have built Connecticut’s largest nursing program in terms of graduates.
We are not without challenges – student retention, though better than many of our peers, is not where we would like it to be, and cost, though rising more slowly here, is still burdensome for our students, many of whom are first-generation. But we feel ours is a more sustainable model, despite these challenges.
We are clear about our mission as a career-focused college, and our faculty is on the same page. This clarity of mission – knowing who we are, and who we are not, and being willing to say no to some of the frivolities colleges may sometimes become enamored with, is the secret to our growth and our ability to sustain access for students of all income levels.
Watch CNBC's “Street Signs” and "The Kudlow Report" on Tuesday, April 24th for “The Price of Admission” special reports about higher education, focusing on student loans and whether college is really worth the cost.
Mark Scheinberg is the Goodwin College’s founder and president. The college is located in East Hartford, Connecticut and was founded in 1999. It is a nonprofit co-education college accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.
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