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Meaningless metrics mask troublesome trends in higher education

in Statewide/Top Headlines by

Florida changes higher education funding formulas nearly as often as Kardashians change clothes. At the Department of Making Things Incomprehensible, Metrics Mavens have their hands full monkeying around with the Ten Metrics that determine which universities get the rich gravy, and which get the thin gruel.

Florida’s Ten Metrics appear to have been written by the folks who write insurance policies, credit card contracts and the scoring system for figure skating. We could get the same results cheaper with an actual tribe of monkeys throwing stuff against the wall.

For university boards of trustees, The Metrics may as well have been brought down from Mount Sinai by Moses himself. They are carved in stone, at least for the current budget cycle.

This week, Florida Gulf Coast University’s trustees are looking for ways to carve $8 million from the budget. That’s the amount of state funding the university stands to lose in the current round of roulette at the Metrics Casino. As of last month, the “average cost per degree metric” was kicked to the curb in favor of the “net tuition per degree metric.” FGCU administrators are projecting that the net tuition cost per degree will come in at $18,060— the highest among Florida’s universities.

In the competitive cage match that higher education planning has become, something will have to give. Items in the FGCU guillotine queue include library renovations, and real professors, who can always be replaced with minimum wage adjuncts.

Those who worship at the altar of Metrics tell us that this is the One True Path to affordable, high-quality education. Actually, $18,000 isn’t much more than the cost of college back when students could get an exceptional education with a part time job and loans they would not spend the rest of their lives paying back.

What has spiraled out of control is bogus academic and administrative jobs and golden parachutes for people with dubious credentials and friends in high places. FGCU is spending $250,000 on its search for a new president. That’s more—lots more—than university presidents were paid in the days when they had to buy their own cars and pay their own mortgages.

Political interference is an old story in Florida higher education, but the monthly manufacturing of meaningless metrics breaks new ground. We are running universities like a badly run business, and students are paying the very high price.

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