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January 02, 2013 10:00 AM Research Prowess of U.S. Colleges Is Exaggerated

By Richard Vedder

A more objective cost-benefit analysis of all university research is overdue. This might help shift attention to where it belongs: on much-needed improvements in the teaching and training of the next generation.

Richard Vedder , a regular contributor to Bloomberg View, directs the Center for College Affordability and Productivity and teaches economics at Ohio University.

Comments

  • Steve LaBonne on January 02, 2013 10:41 AM:

    The author teaches a subject that is itself of such dubious value (either scholarly or real-world) that it should be eliminated from the course catalog. Thus, his opinion is worth little.

  • Dave Mazella on January 02, 2013 5:07 PM:

    So why is the head of a right-wing think tank given a megaphone to denounce American public universities for their research?

    The research expectations for American universities were formed by post-WWII federal funding policies that supported R&D and the states' decision to slowly defund their own higher ed support. Public universities sink money into research because there is ever-declining support for educational access; states regularly demand teaching larger numbers with fewer resources. So why blame the universities for the consequences of federal and state spending policies?

  • Walker on January 02, 2013 7:10 PM:

    Lots of garbage statistics in this post. Throw out a bunch of numbers and pretend they mean something.

    For example, we see that 31% of faculty are four hours or under. And 62.6 percent spend less than 8 hours on research. So about 37.6 spend over 8 hours on research. This starts to line up a bit now.

    Add in there that this survey includes faculty from a wide range of universities. You have the research-focused universities that have a teaching load of one or two courses a semester (and no one with one paper a year is going to last here). Then you have the smaller colleges where three courses a semester are more the norm. Indeed, those are where professors can get by with one paper a year. To do less than that, you have to teach 4 or 5 a semester. All of this glossed over here.

    This also ignores the out of class time spent on the course. For example, a 4 credit hour course might be a 300 person introductory course with just one lecture section and 10 discussion sections; this requires a massive staff of TAs managed by the faculty member.

    Now, there is an argument to be made for diminishing returns. If you talk to any of the major high techs like Google, they want PhD programs for the training they provide, not the product they produce.

    But a statistically illiterate and poorly argued post like this is not going to advance that issue.

  • Russell Sadler on January 02, 2013 7:54 PM:

    Paul,

    You have more productive uses for your limited space than printing intellectual swill from this Libertarian shill. This, like so much "conservative" research, is thinly-disguised "oppo research -- cherry-picking dubious statistics and other academic trappings to clothe the foundation donors' preconceived political prejudices with a patina of academic legitimacy. This junk "research" cries out for legitimate peer review.

  • Steve on January 02, 2013 8:25 PM:

    I didn't realize that Washington Monthly printed humor pieces.

  • NancyP on January 02, 2013 9:49 PM:

    Nowhere does it state that faculty members with 4 hours or less of teaching responsibility are full time liberal arts or pre-professional faculty members. The statistics could count adjunct faculty who teach night courses, medical faculty who have minimal teaching loads in medical coursework and who spend most of their time teaching interns/residents (graduates).
    This is a useless article.

  • Will on January 02, 2013 10:12 PM:

    One very important aspect of this issue that Richard has neglected to mention is the role of graduate students in the academic research university. While you suggest a disconnect between research and education, you fail to recognize that graduate students are the ones who are most clearly being educated by research funding. It is these students who are entering the workforce and becoming leaders of industry and business and are driving American innovation. The academic and research training afforded by the NSF and other national funding agencies granted to the graduate student population are directly feeding American success on many fronts.

  • WillO on January 02, 2013 10:13 PM:

    One very important aspect of this issue that Richard has neglected to mention is the role of graduate students in the academic research university. While you suggest a disconnect between research and education, you fail to recognize that graduate students are the ones who are most clearly being educated by research funding. It is these students who are entering the workforce and becoming leaders of industry and business and are driving American innovation. The academic and research training afforded by the NSF and other national funding agencies granted to the graduate student population are directly feeding American success on many fronts.

  • Mark Reimers on January 03, 2013 9:03 AM:

    I would be ashamed to belong to a community that replies to criticism with a mixture of personal invective and allegations of political bias.
    The author questions a key assumption of university allocation of effort, clearly relevant to our stretched resources, and provides modest arguments in the form of data and expert opinion. He deserves better in response, even if he is wrong.
    In my opinion, scholarship and engagement with current issues in a field often enriches teaching, though not so clearly for basic technical subjects such as calculus and mechanics. However I do not believe that scholarship is equivalent to publishable research - an equation often made in these discussions.

  • RSA on January 03, 2013 9:07 AM:

    This [research] might be worth it if a lot of high-quality or influential material was produced. The evidence, however, shows this isnít the case.

    And as evidence we have... a Bloomberg opinion piece and a non-peer-reviewed policy paper from Vedder's own organization. Weak.

    The meta analysis, with its "zero relationship between research and teaching," is more interesting, but it also has limitations. Hattie and Marsh: "The most common form of indicator of teaching effectiveness was student evaluations (80%), followed by peer evaluations (19%) and very few self-ratings (1.4%)." A more accurate summary is that there's no relationship between instructor research and undergraduate student evaluations. Hattie and Marsh do find a positive relationship in the field of education. Great--we might all take education classes and become better teachers. That could be worthwhile. But in the end what we really need to know is whether researchers in the classroom are helping students learn, and student evaluations only give part of the picture.

  • angler on January 03, 2013 9:48 AM:

    For goodness sakes. The punchline to this essay is the tired attack on English and the humanities, but none of the stats link lower teaching loads and NSF funding to those fields. As others point out, sub-four hour teaching loads in the humanities are rare and the total federal budget for the NEH last year was $146 million, down $8M from the year before. That money is peanuts in terms of the total federal budget and almost nothing compared to the nearly $7 billion allocated to the National Science Foundation last year. Beat up on the humanities all you want, but if you think eliminating research in these fields will make a significant dent in academic costs, keep dreaming.

    Meanwhile, a book a week on Shakespeare seems low given his influence on western culture.

  • reidmc on January 03, 2013 1:34 PM:

    The main argument made by the writer (see his last paragraph) is a reasonable one. But it't not well-supported by his post.

    The flogging of English scholarship reminds me of those folks who think (or more accurately, want to make others think) that US foreign aid is responsible for our budget deficit.

  • POed Lib on January 03, 2013 9:01 PM:

    Absolutely first rate stuff here. As an academic who has published well over 100 articles with many collaborators in the medical research field, I can attest to the STUPENDOUS amount of crap being published today. The problems are many. There are new journals being founded every day which exist simply to extract publication fees from authors to publish, and which no one reads because no one knows of them. The amount of articles that many people publish are ridiculous. In some areas (cardiology), probably 10,000 articles will be published this year, and most of it will be twaddle that is repetitive, irrelevant, and a huge waste of trees and search engine time.

    Excessive publication is a huge problem.