Posts Tagged ‘public’


Back in graduate school, I was a member of SUPE, Students United for Public Education. We conducted a study in which we showed that the very rich and seemingly private Harvard University received more public monies than our own poorly funded and very public University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

A new study, by Open Books (pdf), broadens that study by investigating the amount of public monies that are funneled to the eight Ivy League schools: Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Cornell, Columbia, Dartmouth, Penn, and Brown.

The amount of taxpayer-funded payments and benefits—$41.59 billion over a six-year period (FY2010-FY2015)—is by itself extraordinary, more money ($4.31 billion) annually from the federal government than sixteen states.

But we’re also talking about universities whose endowment funds (in 2015) exceeded $119 billion, which is equivalent to nearly $2 million per undergraduate student. In FY2014, the balance sheet for all Ivy League colleges showed just under $195 billion in accumulated gross assets—equivalent to $3.35 million per undergraduate student. The Ivy League also employs 47 administrators who each earn more than $1 million per year (two executives each earned $20 million between 2010 and 2014). And, in a five-year period (2010-2014), the Ivy League spent $17.8 million on lobbying, which included issues mostly related to their endowment, federal contracting, immigration and student aid.

The bottom line is clear: Ivy League are nominally private universities that receive vast amounts of public financing, much more than the public colleges and universities that educate most students in the United States.


Regular readers know I take statistics quite seriously. So, as it turns out, did Stephen Jay Gould who, in the most poignant story about statistics of which I am aware, explained how important it is to go beyond the abstractions of central tendencies and understand the distribution of variation within the numbers.

And right now, when the numbers are under attack—when, for example, the new Trump administration is threatening to purge the inconvenient numbers about climate change—it is even more important to understand the role statistics play in economic and social life.*

William Davies [ht: ja] offers one story about statistics, starting with the recent populist attacks on public statistics and the questioning of the experts that produce and interpret them. His view is that, for all their faults, the numbers collected and disseminated by technical experts within national statistical offices need to be defended—as the representation of “common ideas of society and collective progress”—against the rise of private “data.”

A post-statistical society is a potentially frightening proposition, not because it would lack any forms of truth or expertise altogether, but because it would drastically privatise them. Statistics are one of many pillars of liberalism, indeed of Enlightenment. The experts who produce and use them have become painted as arrogant and oblivious to the emotional and local dimensions of politics. No doubt there are ways in which data collection could be adapted to reflect lived experiences better. But the battle that will need to be waged in the long term is not between an elite-led politics of facts versus a populist politics of feeling. It is between those still committed to public knowledge and public argument and those who profit from the ongoing disintegration of those things.

I understand the threat posed by big, private data—all those numbers that are collected “behind our backs and beyond our knowledge” when we travel, make purchases, and participate in social media, and in turn are utilized to sell us even more commodities (including, of course, political candidates).

But I also think Davies, in his rush to condemn private control over big data, presents too uncritical of a defense of “the kinds of unambiguous, objective, potentially consensus-forming claims about society that statisticians and economists are paid for.”

Consider, for example, one of the “unambiguous, objective, potentially consensus-forming claims about society” Davies himself cites: GDP. Just last Friday, the headlines reported that the U.S. economy grew “only” 1.6 percent during the last quarter of 2016, “the lowest level in five years.”

The presumption was that the decline in the number (with respect to both previous quarters and economists’ forecasts) represented a fundamental problem. But why should it—why should a decline in the growth rate of GDP be taken as a sign of something that needs to be fixed?

Davies does mention that GDP “only captures the value of paid work, thereby excluding the work traditionally done by women in the domestic sphere, has made it a target of feminist critique since the 1960s.” But the controversies surrounding that particular statistic are much more widespread than Davies would have us believe. As a number of recent books (including Ehsan Masood’s The Great Invention: The Story of GDP and the Making and Unmaking of the Modern World) have clearly explained, the initial formulation of that particular measure of national income as well as subsequent revisions have involved theoretical and political choices about what should and should not be included—government expenditures but not labor within households, the production of fossil fuels but not the destruction of the natural environment, sales of private security but not the growing inequality it is designed to protect against.**

Even more fundamentally, GDP is a measure of market transactions, of goods and services produced—and thus the contemporary counting of the elements celebrated by Adam Smith’s notion of the “wealth of nations.” But what it doesn’t measure are the conditions under which those commodities are produced.

Me, I’d be much more willing to join forces with Davies and defend the claims about society that statisticians and economists are paid for if they were also paid to calculate and publicly report one other number, S/V, the rate of exploitation.


**We should remember that perhaps the real hero of volume 1 of Capital was Leonard Horner, who as a factory inspector “carried on a life-long contest, not only with the embittered manufacturers, but also with the Cabinet, to whom the number of votes given by the masters in the Lower House, was a matter of far greater importance than the number of hours worked by the ‘hands’ in the mills.”

**Other useful books on GDP include the following: Philipp Lepenies’s The Power of a Single Number: A Political History of GDP (Columbia University Press, 2016), Lorenzo Fioramonti’s Gross Domestic Problem: The Politics Behind the World’s Most Powerful Number (Zed Books, 2013), and Thomas A. Stapleford’s The Cost of Living in America: A Political History of Economic Statistics, 1880-2000 (Cambridge University Press, 2009).


source (pdf)

The share of American workers in unions fell to 10.7 percent in 2016 (down from 11.1 percent in 2015), the lowest level on record, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (pdf).

What we’re seeing is a return to the downward trend for organized labor after membership figures had stabilized in recent years—and this is before the new Republican administration even took office.


source (pdf)

Union membership in the private sector fell by 119 thousand and the membership rate fell 0.3 percentage point to 6.4 percent. There was a slightly larger decrease in union membership in the public sector (down 121 thousand), corresponding to a 0.8 percentage-point drop in the public sector membership rate to 34.4 percent.

Although public sector workers are more likely than their private sector counterparts to be union members, there are still more private-sector union members (7.4 million) than public-sector union members (7.1 million). That’s because public-sector workers account for only about 15 percent of the workforce.



source (pdf)

The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not publish union data by education level. However, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research (pdf), union membership rates rise as education level increases

therefore workers with an advanced degree are the most likely to be union members. In 2016, their membership rate decreased 0.9 percentage point to 16.0 percent. The membership rate for workers with a bachelor’s degree fell 0.5 percentage point to 10.4 percent. Workers with some college but no degree and those with a high school degree all saw their membership rates decrease 0.3 percentage point to 10.6 percent and 9.9 percent, respectively. Workers with less than a high school degree had a union membership rate of 5.4 percent in 2016, the same as in 2015.

Chart of the day

Posted: 8 June 2015 in Uncategorized
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The Chronicle of Higher Education has updated its executive-compensation package information with 2014 fiscal-year data on public-college presidents.

Two public-college presidents managed total annual compensation packages of over $1 million: Rodney A. Erickson of Penn State ($1,494,603) and R. Bowen Loftin of Texas A&M ($1,128,957). The median salary for presidents who served a full year was $428,250.

total equivalent

The median presidential pay for public colleges in 2014 was 50 times the median student tuition. Two presidents managed total compensation more than 100 times student tuition: Judy L. Genshaft of the University of South Florida (112.27) and John C. Hitt of the University of Central Florida (100.03).

Chart of the day

Posted: 5 August 2014 in Uncategorized
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As Bill McBride explains,

A big difference between the presidencies has been public sector employment.  Note the bumps in public sector employment due to the decennial Census in 1980, 1990, 2000, and 2010.

The public sector grew during Mr. Carter’s term (up 1,304,000), during Mr. Reagan’s terms (up 1,414,000), during Mr. G.H.W. Bush’s term (up 1,127,000), during Mr. Clinton’s terms (up 1,934,000), and during Mr. G.W. Bush’s terms (up 1,744,000 jobs).

However the public sector has declined significantly since Mr. Obama took office (down 657,000 jobs). These job losses have mostly been at the state and local level, but more recently at the Federal level.  This has been a significant drag on overall employment.


The Wall Street Journal reports that the Class of 2014 is the most indebted class ever.

The average Class of 2014 graduate with student-loan debt has to pay back some $33,000, according to an analysis of government data by Mark Kantrowitz, publisher at Edvisors, a group of web sites about planning and paying for college. Even after adjusting for inflation that’s nearly double the amount borrowers had to pay back 20 years ago.

One problem is the growing gap between earnings and average student loan balance, as in the chart below:


Another problem is, as the Institute for Policy Studies [pdf] reports, the student debt crisis is worse at state schools with the highest-paid presidents.

Though it has been rising everywhere, average student debt of graduates in the top 25 public universities with the highest executive pay increased 5 percentage points more or 13% faster than the national average from summer 2006 to summer 2012.

The rise was most pronounced when executive compensation soared during the 1% recovery. From summer 2010 to summer 2011 alone, student debt in the top 25 rose by 10%, increasing 43% faster than the national average.

And to make matters even worse, today’s Chronicle of Higher Education reports that executive compensation is rising at public universities.

The million-dollar college presidency, which was unheard of at public institutions less than a decade ago, is increasingly common at top-tier universities. Nine college leaders earned more than $1-million in 2012-13, up from four in 2011-12, and three in 2010-11.

Finally, back to the report by the Institute for Policy Studies report, public universities with the highest executive compensation are increasingly relying on low-wage faculty labor.

As in universities everywhere, hiring of adjunct and contingent faculty far outstripped permanent faculty hiring at the 25 public universities with the highest executive pay. However, we found that adjunct (part- time) and contingent (temporary) faculty grew much faster than the national average when executive compensation soared at the top 25.

Put it all together and we have students who are increasingly going into debt at universities where executive compensation is soaring and education is being produced by part-time and contingent faculty in order to graduate and obtain jobs that are making it difficult to pay off their student loans.


Special mention

145974_600 GM


As Suzanne Mettler explains,

More Americans than ever enroll in college, but the graduates who emerge a few years later indicate that instead of reducing inequality, our system of higher education reinforces it. Three out of four adults who grow up in the top quarter of the income spectrum earn baccalaureate degrees by age 24, but it’s only one out of three in the next quarter down. In the bottom half of the economic distribution, it’s less than one out of five for those in the third bracket and fewer than one out of 10 in the poorest.

That’s before we even begin differentiating by type of college. Higher education is becoming a caste system, separate and unequal for students with different family incomes. Where students attend college affects their chances of graduating and how indebted they will become in the process. . .

Nearly three-quarters of American college students attend public universities and colleges, historically the nation’s primary channels to educational opportunity. These institutions still offer the best bargain around, yet even there, tuition increases have bred inequality. For those from the richest fifth, the annual cost of attending a public four-year college has inched up from 6 percent of family income in 1971 to 9 percent in 2011. For everyone else, the change is formidable. For those in the poorest fifth, costs at State U have skyrocketed from 42 percent of family income to 114 percent.

The worst problems, though, occur at for-profit schools like those run by the Apollo Group (which owns the University of Phoenix), the Education Management Corporation or Corinthian Colleges. These schools cater to low-income students and veterans, but too often they turn hopes for a better life into the despair of financial ruin.

Nearly all of their students take out loans to attend, and the amounts are staggering. Among holders of bachelor’s degrees, 94 percent borrow. They take on median debt of $33,000 per student, compared with just $18,000 at the nonprofits and $22,000 at the publics. The for-profit graduates have trouble finding jobs that pay enough to afford their debts, and 23 percent of borrowers default within three years, compared with just 7 percent from nonprofits and 8 percent from publics.



Spring-semester classes are back in session and, once again, class is rearing its ugly head.

Both the New York Times and NBC News [ht: ja] have stories about the sorry plight of adjunct—nontenured, non-tenure-track—professors. Poor pay, no benefits, fundamental insecurity about where and how many courses they’re able to teach. All after having spent years studying for a doctorate in their chosen subjects.

But permit me to challenge the interpretation according to which the class divide we’re talking about is between the minority of full-time, tenured or tenure-track professors and the majority of adjunct professors. Yes, it’s a sorry spectacle when fully employed professors ignore the situation of their adjunct colleagues. Even worse when they hold strongly to a belief in a meritocracy, according to which “adjuncts are lesser versions of themselves.”

The problem is, the real people making the decisions to hire so many adjunct professors and to pay them a pittance in per-course wages are not other professors but the administrators and trustees of the new corporate university. They’re the ones setting the budgets and determining how profitable their nonprofit educational businesses will be. Adjuncts are the low-paid workers who produce the educational commodity the new corporate university—both public and private—is selling.

That’s the real class divide we should be concerned about as, once again, classes resume.

3-19-13sfp-f1 3-19-13sfp-f2

The Times Higher Education world reputation rankings have just been released and there really aren’t many surprises.

The usual suspects—Harvard, MIT, Cambridge, Oxford, etc.—remain at the top.

And American public universities are going down, just as they did in the 2012-13 world university rankings.

Overall, the US continues to dominate the rankings, with seven of the top 10 places and a total of 76 institutions in the top 200 – one more than last year and 45 more than any other nation. The UK has 31 representatives, followed by the Netherlands with 12.

But the US’ dominance of the rankings masks a picture of decline.

Although the US ultra-elite at the summit of the rankings have generally managed to consolidate their positions – with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology rising two places to fifth and the University of California, Berkeley moving from 10th to ninth – many more American institutions fell than climbed the table.

“If you only give a casual glance at the top 200, you’re likely to think it’s just a round-up of the usual suspects,” says Ruby. “Yes, many of the big names of US higher education head the list – the ‘super-brands’ still dominate, and they will continue to do so while they attend to core business and protect their image as elite research-based institutions.

“But when you look more closely, most of the flagship US public universities are slipping down.”

Of the US’ 76 institutions, 19 have risen and six have held their positions, but 51 have fallen, with precipitous decline further down the table.

Although both private and public US institutions are among the fallen, the public ones have been hardest hit.

Key research institutions in the University of California system – San Diego (falling from 33rd to 38th), Davis (joint 38th to joint 44th), Irvine (86th to 96th), Santa Cruz (110th to joint 122nd) – suffer drops. Other significant casualties include Pennsylvania State University (51st to 61st), the University of Massachusetts (64th to joint 72nd), the University of Colorado Boulder (joint 77th to 91st) and Arizona State University (joint 127th to 148th).

“The slide is probably the result of the loss of state support,” says Ruby, who served for more than six years as Australia’s deputy secretary of employment, education, training and youth affairs before taking up an academic post in the US. “You cannot keep savaging the basic running costs of high-performing institutions without hurting service delivery. And after a few years the message reaches the market: these places are losing comparative advantage.”

And that’s exactly what’s been happening, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. Public universities and colleges in nearly every state have seen their state funding decline sharply. Nationwide, states are on average spending 28 percent less this year than they did in 2008, a decrease of $2,353 per student.  As a result, colleges and universities have had to raise tuition, make changes that undermine educational quality, or usually both.

Not surprisingly, the changing position of American universities mirrors the larger political economy of the United States: a few “super-brands” at the top (which educate the sons and daughters of the world’s elite) continue to stay at the top while most of the others (which are supposed to educate the children of the American working-class) are falling behind, both nationally and internationally.

It’s time, it seems, to occupy higher education.