Sunday, March 22, 2009

University Budget Crises: Who Suffers?

The article that inspired this post doesn't directly affect me, since I'm currently a fairly well-funded graduate student at a private university in Georgia. But I think the topic of university budget crises brings up a lot of points that are universal. Universities around the country (including my alma mater) are facing budget cuts and hard choices about how to restructure themselves in this economic climate. Thus, I thought this was worth writing about.

I spent part of my spring break this year visiting my hometown of Gainesville, FL. While I was in town, I read this article in the local newspaper about one way in which the University of Florida is trying to adjust its budget. UF, like most educational institutions in Florida, was having financial problems even before the current economic downturn, and they're in for some hard times. I was accepted by a graduate program at UF, but I decided not to attend for several reasons, one of them being the blatant disregard for education funding that the State of Florida seems to have. And I was especially disheartened to read about UF's decision to cut back on undergraduate programs in education and nursing to compensate for some of these financial woes.

The college might still admit undergraduates but have the expectation that they would continue their educations by entering graduate school, [College of Nursing Dean Kathleen Long] said. The college plans to phase out master's degrees, so nursing students would eventually be expected to get doctorates, she said.

Undergraduate students in early childhood and elementary education programs already are asked to take a fifth year to earn their master's degrees. College of Education Dean Catherine Emihovich said the undergraduate programs might admit fewer students while others would need to take other routes that required even more graduate classes.

At a time when Florida is experiencing a shortage of nurses and qualified teachers in many subjects, the largest public university in the state will require students to take more classes before entering the workforce. I can only assume this is because they will be guaranteed more tuition money and more cheap graduate student labor by asking the students to stay in school longer. (Some students are offered scholarships, but graduate programs in nursing and education are not as generously funded as PhD programs in the life sciences.) Even so, how does it make sense to force such changes on the programs that produce much-needed nurses and teachers? Wouldn't it be a better idea to focus on departments that are less vital to meeting Florida's needs in healthcare and education?

Especially reprehensible is this theory:

[Education professor Dorene Ross] questioned why education and nursing, which have mostly women students, were targeted for possible elimination. In 2008, undergraduate nursing had 98 percent female students and early childhood and elementary education had 95 percent female students.

"There is a question whether these programs are being targeted ... because there will be less push back," Ross said.

Say it ain't so, UF. Consider this post to be just one drop in the many bucketloads of "push back" that you will incur if this turns out to be true.


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