Both legislators and academicians need to bend a bit in the tug-of-war over measuring higher education's productivity in the Beehive State. Quantification has its place, but there are valuable intangibles within a liberal-arts education that cannot be neatly boxed, wrapped and numbered.
Flexibility is the key. Different institutions must be allowed different criteria. After all, they each have unique roles and missions. Teachers at a research university like the U. should not be expected to carry the same class load as those at Snow College.That's not saying either is more valuable. They fill different needs and, with the other seven state colleges and universities, create a complete mosaic that makes Utah's system vibrant and effective overall.
But there is always room for improvement, a fact noted by legislators who nevertheless appear at times to have little understanding about those unique roles. One lawmaker noted there are some in higher education "not as dedicated to work and productivity as they can be."
Sure, there are some in that camp, as there are at the Legislature. But most are competent professionals, often going beyond what their modest salaries merit due to an idealistic commitment to education and to their students. Those who carry heavy teaching loads should not be expected to publish in research journals, and vice versa.
Of concern to everyone connected with higher ed is the linking of funding with performance, sometimes difficult in such a subjective setting. Any such incentives or penalties should be implemented carefully to avoid undermining an overall effective, efficient system. Allowing for differences in the missions of schools is important so educational apples are not being compared with institutional oranges.
An extensive effort by the Board of Regents has identified four areas that could improve the program and be tied to funding: instructional quality and student learning; graduation efficiency; transfer efficiency; and faculty workload.
Those appear reasonable, but again, any changes based on such criteria should be looked at carefully. Most importantly, educational officials should continue to have primacy in development and implementation of significant changes to higher education in Utah. Legislators hold sufficient leverage through the budgeting process without micro-managing the system - a scenario that would pose more problems than it would solve.