OCAAUP Testimony on “Reforms” Ostensibly Intended to Increase Access and Affordability

 

Testimony of Stephen Mockabee, Ph.D.

Ohio Conference of the American Association of University Professors before the House Finance Higher Education Subcommittee Representative Mike Duffey, Chair

May 19, 2016

 

Chairman Duffey, Ranking Member Ramos, and distinguished members of the House Finance Higher Education Subcommittee:

My name is Steve Mockabee, and I am an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Cincinnati. I serve as a Trustee and Chair of the Government Relations Committee for the Ohio Conference of the American Association of University Professors (OCAAUP).

Typically, John McNay, our State Conference President, would be representing our association to the legislature, but he currently is in Oslo, Norway as a Nobel Scholar to study and to deliver a speech about U.S. Presidents’ peace policies. This is a great example of an Ohio faculty member earning a prestigious opportunity, as well as giving the University of Cincinnati even greater international recognition as a top-rate research institution.

I am here today in Prof. McNay’s stead on behalf of the 6,000 faculty represented by OCAAUP to express our opposition to House Bill 474.

We appreciate the determination of the administration to find ways to drive down the cost of a college degree. As faculty, we do not want to see our students financially burdened for pursuing a college education and all of the advantages that it provides.

However, we must point out that the bulk of HB 474 is a re-hashing of ideas that already were rejected by the legislature in the state budget bill. While the mid-biennium proposals may seem constructive and innocuous on the surface, we are greatly concerned that some very serious, unintended consequences seem not even to have been recognized, let alone addressed.

First, we are highly skeptical of the proposed College Credit Plus Remediation Pilot Program, which would allow high school students to enroll in a remedial or developmental course and an introductory college course in the same subject area.

It would seem to go without saying that college readiness should precede enrollment in college courses. High school students should be encouraged to work at their grade level rather than enrolling prematurely in college courses for which they are not prepared.

Encouraging students who are not college-ready to take fewer high school courses deprives them of their state-guaranteed educational benefits.

Shortening the educational path for students who do not have attainment beyond their grade level may produce citizens of Ohio who have degrees but are not educated. This is of little value to the students or to Ohio employers. In short, we believe the remediation pilot should be removed from the bill.

In addition, we strongly urge the committee to reexamine allowing community colleges to award bachelor’s degrees and endorsing an expansion of the “3 + 1” model. Ohio’s community colleges are fine institutions and many of our members are the excellent faculty that teach there. But at almost all of our community colleges, 60 to 90 percent of the courses are taught by adjunct faculty. And it must be made clear that the vast majority of adjuncts are not working professionals who are teaching courses in their spare time. The vast majority are educators who are trying to piece together a living wage by teaching multiple courses at multiple institutions, from which they receive no benefits. The full-time faculty are already teaching overloads, and the lower-level offerings in many academic disciplines, including even the humanities and social sciences, are limited, at best, in comparison to the offerings at our universities.

We have heard no explanation as to how community colleges will be able to provide high-quality baccalaureate programs without a considerable infusion of state funding to expand and to develop their full-time faculty. No one has explained why that investment would be more effective or more efficient than fuller investments in supporting the programs already being offered by our colleges and universities.

Furthermore, no one seems to have considered the budgetary impact if our universities are reduced to providing one-year completion programs to large numbers of students. After all, general-education courses have the highest enrollments and support the lower-enrolled upper-level and graduate-level courses in most departments. This could have the unintended consequence of making upper-level and graduate courses very expensive.

Community colleges have a different mission than universities. The state should allow community colleges to continue to do what they do well, and allow universities to do what they do well.

Moreover, we strongly discourage the state from entering into a relationship with Western Governors University (WGU)–-a “university” with faculty in only the loosest sense–-that awards dubious competency-based degrees to students. The competency- based drive is a strategy to replace faculty and classrooms with standardized exams. If competency-based credit is to be awarded to the very limited extent where it may be appropriate, those requirements should be developed by each individual Ohio institution with criteria set forth by full-time faculty. Anything else is short-changing our students.

Western Governors University has been under investigation by the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Education to determine whether WGU has met the requirements for federal aid eligibility for distance education programs. Distance education programs require “regular and substantive interaction” between students and instructors. The inspector general has questioned whether WGU courses should be classified as “correspondence courses” due to the lack of regular and substantive interaction between students and faculty. The State of Ohio should be cautious of aligning itself with an institution that could be out of compliance with the federal Higher Education Act and allowing students to use state funds there.

The stated purpose of HB 474 is to make higher education more affordable, but the bill does not address what, in fact, is making it so unaffordable. The cost-drivers in Ohio higher education are chronic under-funding from state government and misplaced priorities at our institutions, which spend more money on administration than on instruction, subsidize athletics at the expense of academics, and invest far more in bricks and mortar than in flesh and blood. Instead of tackling these root issues, HB 474 would circumvent them.

We urge the General Assembly to be cautious that in trying to make higher education less expensive, you are not unintentionally cheapening it. There is so much emphasis on degrees and not enough emphasis on education. We want – and the people of Ohio deserve – opportunity and quality, not simply degree production. We hope that this committee critically reexamines this direction.

Thank you for your time. I would be happy to answer questions.

 

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