American Universities have gotten fat.
Fat on free and heavily discounted labor, US Government intervention/bailouts, and international cash.
You may notice a few news articles at the bottom of your news choice-du-jour about a back and forth strike at the Rutgers University New Brunswick campus. This is the next step in a SERIOUS labor movement in the US in higher education. Should the staff at Rutgers succeed, state schools around the country are in for a reckoning - which will have positive and negative effects for upcoming students in the coming decades.
Full disclosure, I have three kids in primary/middle school right now, so this issue will affect myself and those I care about (even the Penn State cultists I know).
Free and Discounted Labor?
Nationally, 70 percent of college faculty positions are part-time or NON-tenure track. Forgive what your opinions are on tenure, but this is THE wedge issue. 50 years ago, 80% of positions were tenured (Source).
The lifeblood of how you actually teach students the facts and processes of the curriculum for the class is employed fucking part-time. Rutgers pays about $6,000 per course to it’s adjunct professors. You know, the TAs that run office hours, recitation, lecture halls - usually referred to by students as “the people that actually do the work”. Three of those classes a year will net you about $11k a year in take home money. It’s been a while but I’m reasonably sure my Calc 2 class had no actual professor - just TAs trying to cover constantly.
An E-1 in the military takes home $1,773 per month. Do the math.
US Government policies
I am not in agreement with 99.8% of what the CATO Institute puts out, but the data don’t lie. Federal student loans have given US Universities a floor in which they can count on income and raise costs. Shocker, 1980/1990s US Secretaries of Education and Sallie Mae CEOs are now coming out and saying “COLLEGES ARE INCREDIBLY INEFFICIENT BUSINESSES AND STUDENT LOAN PROGRAMS ENABLED THEM” (Source).
Think about your college funding. Depending on how baller your parents were, you may have received up to 90% of total college costs covered by the ol’ taxpayer. This is great for the student - but gave colleges a giant cushion to operate on with the free tap of cash.
It brings to mind our recent Iraq/Afghanistan wars - we rushed funding to the military (Overseas Contingency Operations, OCO for short) to do, well, whatever we were doing over there. We burned through it all on contracted out steak and lobster nights, inefficient fighting vehicles, and slurpee machines. Now the Pentagon can’t live without it.
Wanna know a secret?
International students paying tuition for 2 or four years upfront is wildly common. No university in the B1G is exempt from this - since they’re all larger research universities (this is my Nebraska dig).
B1G colleges offer those master/PhD programs in molecular electronics, RF radar and synthetic aperture design, and quantum cryptography. And all it takes to study at a B1G university is $100k in funding and you’re in. (Note: Universities also don’t care where the money comes from - whether it’s the Saudi Royal Family, the PLA, or the IRGC-QF. Holla back, potential state sponsors of eventual terrorism!).
College research has gotten addicted to this cash up front. Rutgers has about 45,000 students - 9,000 of them are international (Source). That’s 9,000 students paying full price, up front. Almost no scholarships or financial aid are even available.
International students are fucking great, until you become addicted to the tuition and now have a lop-sided pay pyramid due to the inefficiencies mentioned above.
I READ THIS BLOG FOR SPORTS. WHY DO I CARE?
New Jersey Unionization
New Jersey is a heavily unionized state. Public sector employees (teachers, police, fire), infrastructure employees (port workers, telecommunications), and trades (building/contracting) all have incredibly strong unions. They set the table and they negotiate heavily on the behalf of their card holders.
Rutgers staff are members of almost ALL of these unions. Construction, teaching, food service, the list goes on and on. Going into an actual strike to increase working conditions and pay isn’t unheard of, per se - but grinding a State University to a halt across all the functions - while the University president is bitching about how “illegal” the strike is - is the change I think we can all get behind.
What might come next? And, uhh, you haven’t said anything about the sportsball.
Paying the Rutgers staff more will directly do two things:
- Raise the tuition
- Siphon money from athletics (or most likely, new construction/facilities)
What happens when it’s more expensive to go to Rutgers than it is to Princeton? They’re recruiting different students, but the data isn’t going to change.
My take is that if this strike results in significant concessions from the university - a majority of B1G schools will either follow, or attempt to achieve the same result. Some colleges will increase tuition and no one will bat an eye, others with competition in state (looking at you, Michigan and Iowa) will see decreased enrollment which can snowball budgets and available cashflow.
It’s also going to be difficult to continue to 1-UP football and basketball coaching payments when the University’s bottom line rises by 5% year over year upon successful concessions. Colleges are also going to start giving the axe to sports which don’t produce revenue and act as a net drain. A league of maybe 8 baseball teams and a few track meets to keep the football gods happy might piss off a few.
Yes, I get it - boosters exist, but they don’t hold the bonds nor pay the bank for a new football Playstation 5 room or Ohio State PED R&D lab.
The current situation at Rutgers is not unique. It’s one of the first dominoes in a major realignment of how Universities spend student funding which will impact the sports we know and love. Thanks for coming to my TEDx talk.