Skip to comments.Perry and the Profs - He picked the right fight
Posted on 09/10/2011 9:08:18 AM PDT by smoothsailing
September 19, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 01
If you want a glimpse of the way Rick Perry operates as an executive and a politician, consider the issue of higher education reform in Texas, which no one in Texas knew was an issue until Perry decided to make it one.
In his 30-year public career, Perryhow to put this delicately?has shown no sign of being tortured by a gnawing intellectual curiosity. Hes not the sort of person youll find reading The Wealth of Nations for the seventh time, said Brooke Rollins, formerly Perrys policy director and now president of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a free-market research group closely allied with Perry. At Texas A&M he majored in animal science and escaped with a grade point average a bit over 2.0. (Perrys A&M transcript was leaked last month to the left-wing blog Huffington Post by a source in Texas, presumably not his mom. How his GPA compares with Barack Obamas is unknown, since no one in higher education has thought to leak Obamas transcript to a right-wing blog.)
Perry expends his considerable intelligence instead on using political power and, what amounts to the same thing, picking fights with his political adversaries. When Rollins came to Perry in 2007 with a radical and comprehensive proposal to overhaul higher education in the state, Rollins says the governor quickly understood the potential of the issue, not only politically but on its merits. The state operates more than 100 colleges, universities, technical schools, and two-year community colleges, organized into six separate systems. As in other states, public higher education in Texas is scattered, expensive, poorly monitored, and top heavy with administrators, even as it subjects students to often large annual tuition increases without a compensatory increase in educational quality.
Perrys first poke at this sclerotic establishment came early in his first term. He suggested converting the money that the state gives to public colleges and universities into individual grants handed straight to students. Money is power, and Perrys idea was to place the power in the hands of consumers, as he put it, rather than the administrators, to increase competition among schools and thereby lower costs and increase quality. Young fertile minds [should be] empowered, he said at the time, to pursue their dreams regardless of family income, the color of their skin, or the sound of their last name.
The higher ed establishment, led by regents of the University of Texas system, rebelled, and the legislature, well-wired with the systems allies, agreed, and the proposal died. But Perry continued to poke. College graduation rates in Texas are unusually low, and the gaps among whites, blacks, and Hispanics are unusually high. Nationwide 38 percent of American adults (age 25-64) have a post-secondary degree; in Texas the figure is 31 percent. So Perry proposed Outcomes-based Funding, tying the amount of aid a school receives to the number of students it graduates. To keep a school from lowering its standards to increase its graduation rates, he suggested giving an exit exam to all students receiving a B.A. Students wouldnt have to pass the exam to get their degree, but the information yielded by such a testhow much learning is going on around here?would be useful, mostly to reformers. The proposal was seen, correctly, as a threat to the status quo, which has so far successfully fought it off.
The proposals Rollins brought to Perry in 2007 turned on the same themes ofapologizing in advance for the buzzwordsaccountability and transparency: collecting information about how much students learn and how well schools function, and holding the schools responsible for the results. His priority has been putting students back into the drivers seat, Rollins said. Perry said he hoped to apply the cost-benefit logic of business to public higher education. He incorporated Rollinss ideas into a package of reforms and called a higher education summit to build support.
The reforms attacked the establishment from multiple angles. They would require schools to expand their websites to make vast amounts of new information available to students. For the first time, professors would be required to post course syllabi online. To suss out slackers among the faculty, schools would post every teachers salary and benefits along with the average number of students and course hours they taught every year. A summary of student evaluations would be posted too, and the average number of As and Bs professors handed out, to guard against grade inflation. Before choosing a particular school or enrolling in a major, students would be given a list of the specific skills or knowledge that they could expect to learn, as well as the average starting salaries of students who had graduated from a similar course of study.
Perry also suggested separating teaching budgets from research budgets, as a way of encouraging teachers to teach and researchers to do research. Tenure would be granted only to teachers who spent a large majority of their time teaching; a defined percentage of tenure jobs would go to researchers, who would concentrate on pure research. A system of cash awards and other incentives would compensate professors who successfully taught a large number of students.
Any businessman in a profit-seeking enterprise would see ideas like pay for performance as unremarkable, but they overwhelm the delicate sensibilities of people who have spent their professional lives on campus, where the word nonprofit is meant to act as a firewall against the unpleasantness of commercial life. Texas Governor Treats Colleges Like Businesses, headlined the Chronicle of Higher Educationa sentence sure to induce aneurysms in faculty lounges from El Paso to Galveston. The outrage was deafening, especially when university regents began acting on the recommendations. The Texas A&M system, for example, which includes a dozen schools, posted a spreadsheet on its website evaluating teacher performance on a cost-benefit basis.
Very simplistic and potentially very dangerous, an official of the American Association of University Professors said. This is . . . simplistic, said the dean of faculties at A&M. Simplistic, said the Houston Chronicle. A group of former regents and wealthy school boosters organized a pressure group to oppose -Perrys reforms. The group hired Karen Hughes, a close aide to the second President Bush, as press spokesman. The rage at Perry from within the establishment has taken many forms: You think its easy stealing someones college transcript?
The protests might have been more effective except that Perry, for the last decade, has been seeding Texas higher education with like-minded reformers (cronies too). By 2009 he had appointed every regent in the state. The chancellor of A&M who issued the cost-benefit report, for example, was a former chief of staff of the governor. At least three campus presidents have been pressured to resign in recent years, to make way for Perry appointeesall Republican businessmen. A particularly popular (and vocal) vice president of student affairs at the University of Texas was removed and replaced by . . . a retired Marine Corps general.
The appointees werent as pliant as Perry might have wished. The implementation of the reforms has been difficult and at times dilatory. Perry barrels on. In his state of the state address this spring, he urged administrators to develop a four-year bachelors degree that would cost less than $10,000 including textbooks. The discount degree, he said, would be a bold, Texas-style solution to the problem of rapidly rising tuition. (The average in-state cost of a four-year degree in Texas, including books, is roughly $30,000.) After the goal was declared impossible by Perrys critics, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board published a plan to lower costs dramatically: greater use of online classes and open-source course materials, accelerated or staggered student schedules, fuller integration of four- and two-year colleges, and more.
Perrys admirers praise his sure-footednesshis ability to sense cultural trends before others do and turn them to his political advantage. He was the first national politician to ally himself to the Tea Party movement in 2009, a move thats just now paying off. He caught the mounting anxiety among middle-income parents about college costs early on. Most American parents now say that a college degree will be essential for their childrens future success; at the same time, according to a new Pew Foundation poll, only 22 percent of Americans believe that most people can afford to send their kids to college. And 57 percent describe the quality of American higher education as only fair or poor. To address this anxiety Perrys opponents offer more government subsidies, which in turn provide an incentive for schools to raise their pricesan attempt to douse the fire with gasoline. Perrys ideas are cheaper, more comprehensive, more imaginative, and more likely to work.
And they have a good chance of being put into action. In late August, Perry scored another significant, if partial, victory. The University of Texas regents approved an action plan proposed by the systems chancellor, who isnt a Perry appointee. The plan is a compromise, but it incorporates many of Perrys ideas, including some of the most radical, such as pay for performance and learning contracts between schools and their students. Amazingly, the plan has won support from both the right (Brooke Rollinss Texas Public Policy Foundation) and left (Karen Hughess group).
Reforms like these would have been unthinkable 10 years ago, before Perry picked up his stick and started poking the system until it had to respond. Its been a remarkable display of political entrepreneurship: Create an issue, define it on your terms, cultivate public support, and your opponents, who never saw it coming, will have to go along, even if only partwayat first.
Andrew Ferguson is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard and the author, most recently, of Crazy U: One Dads Crash Course in Getting His Kid Into College.
Thanks for posting this.
Good! I haven’t decided on Perry, but I’m sick to death of leftist academics guiding the destruction of this country and culture. I welcome all conservatives to the fight.
The bottom line is that Texas, which has some of the lowest (publicly-funded) college tuition rates in the nation, for both in- and out-of-state students did not maintain that distinction by accident or by spending a lot of taxpayer money. Perry made sure actual costs stayed low, instead of letting them balloon as in other states.
That the money spent and quality of education are not directly related has been shown many times.
Perry, the anti-obama. That’s all I need to know.
Thanks for getting this info out, smoothsailing!
I really like what Rick Perry has been doing for higher education.
I LOVE the Western Governor’s University where he worked with other governors to propose and implement a low cost educational alternative to higher ed students and to those already in the work force. I have never seen a university set up like that either, distance learning or otherwise.
Here is a youtube video of Rick Perry announcing the start of Western Governors University of Texas:
Here is the website for Western Governors University Texas:
I also like the “College Credit for Heroes” program Rick Perry put into place in Texas which, I haven’t forgotten smoothsailing, I learned about first from you here at FR! LOL
Thanks to this program, military men and women don’t have to spend additional time and money getting re-educated (or better educated) to re-enter the private workforce. With Texas colleges and universities offering quicker routes through a degree based on military experience and courses or classes taken while they were serving our country, this program is a sensible way of keeping college costs down for military active duty, veterans, and retired military people. It just makes sense. Plus, I like it personally because it’s just another note of military support which Rick Perry has always shown (the ONE area where I associate him very much with G.W. and his love for military men and woman). Can you tell we are retired military? LOL
I know you know about this, smoothsailing, but if anyone else was interested and wanted to know more about this program, here is Rick Perry’s announcement of the College Credit for Heroes Program:
Here’s a direct link to the youtube video where Rick Perry announced the College Credit for Heroes Program.
Yep, Perry may have been a bit ham-fisted about it, but he sure picked a good issue here.
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Perry/Rubio would be tough to beat, IMO.
Thanks. That’s helpful as I’m still undecided.
Something I didn’t know about Governor Perry. Very very impressive, to say the least.
Very good! Now if this could be started across the nation.
At least so far the PDS coyotes have not crawled from under their rock, then again how could you knock Perry for this?
No kidding, because it was a STATE exam. Here is what they should do, and if you want to hear the educrats howl, this would really do it. It's also why Perry won't do it.
The principal reason Americans support public education is to prepare children to find employment as adults. All that stuff about literacy, roundedness, or good citizenship pales compared to the overwhelming need to acquire the credentials with which to find a job. Parents deprive themselves for decades, only to send their child to a college or university, with nearly half the coursework being unnecessary or even counterproductive and a substantial fraction more soon forgotten. Why?
Credentials. This entire system is built around the power to control who gains credentials. And who controls that game but a claque of hardened socialists committed to destroying the foundations of Western Civilization! With all that cost, all that work, and all that time spent for a rotten product, do they provide a guarantee?
There is a very simple solution to this problem, one that could bring the entire edifice crashing to its knees: A competitive system of private credentials.
Envision a small shop in a strip mall: "We Test." We Test tests, and how. We Test tests are no joke, indeed; they're hard. REALLY hard. We Test guarantees that any person who can pass their tests can perform as specified with an insured guarantee. If the person you hire fails to perform to those specifications within the term of the guarantee, We Test pays the cost of hiring and training a replacement.
Any human then could use any means imaginable to acquire the necessary knowledge to pass We Test tests. Any school would do, no accreditation required. The Internet is loaded with coursework and curricula, libraries and lab-simulators. Any human with the drive and intelligence to learn on their own could then qualify for a job. No saving for decades, no brainwashing, completely transferable work, at any pace one can withstand. Any employer could then simply select from a menu of We Test specifications instead of a diploma, at any level. We Test tests.
One would think that this should have happened a long time ago, but in fact there is one thing standing in the way that makes the realization of this seeming inevitability a matter of now or never.
State licensing requires degreed credentials obtainable only at said profligate, bureaucratic and unaccountable institutions charging outrageous fees and demanding excessive time as only a State monopoly could command. Why not just amend the legislation specifying education for state licensure by adding the simple words, "or equivalent"?
As an example of how little it would take, consider my wife. She just passed her board certification exam as a Clinical Nurse Specialist in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit. She walked into H&R Block, sat at a computer, took a three-hour exam harder than anything she'd endured in her Masters' Program at Cal State San Francisco, and within five minutes after completion had her passing grade. If the private system can handle a test that specialized, why can't it test arithmetic, algebra, US history, or college chemistry? Instead of bricks and mortar, it would be e-books in quarters. Why not?
12 posted on Sunday, May 29, 2011 7:30:37 AM by Carry_Okie (The environment is too complex and too important to manage by central planning.)
I repeat: State licensing requires degreed credentials obtainable only at said profligate, bureaucratic and unaccountable institutions charging outrageous fees and demanding excessive time as only a State monopoly could command. Why not just amend the legislation specifying education for state licensure by adding the simple words, "or equivalent"?
The reason they don't do it is that even "reformers" like Perry are still STATISTS at heart, power freaks all, regardless of objectives, and therefore not to be trusted.
That was the thing that really got me interested in Governor Perry.
So even though Governor Perry is making some headway, but it's not good enough for you, we should just cast him aside and wait for some perfect savior who has yet to arrive?
I really like what Rick Perry was trying to do here. To make the spoiled rotten university .edu establishment more accountable and more efficient with money. These effin profs thinks they are gods and don’t have to be held accountable for their course load and what they do to earn their salary paid for by the Texas taxpayer