President's Notebook

President's Notebook

My View from South Hill

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Posted by Thomas Rochon at 11:47AM   |  10 comments
Newsweek cover from September 17, 2012: Is College a Lousy Investment?

This is a time of rapid change at IC and in higher education generally.  We have entered a period in which we are challenged to operate differently in order to continue to flourish.  As a result, there is a great deal going on right now, including IC 20/20 implementation as well as the Effectiveness and Affordability Review that we are conducting with the assistance of Huron Education.  The challenges are serious.  If we respond to these challenges with vision and determination, however, we have an opportunity to create an Ithaca College that is not only financially sound but also better and more respected than ever.

The central challenge lies with our ability in the future to attract students who will be willing and able to pay IC’s cost of attendance (tuition plus room and board) that has now surpassed $50,000 per year.  What has changed, you might ask -- why won't students continue to seek admission to IC as they always have in the past?  We are challenged from a number of directions.  The spread of online learning opportunities -- many of them inexpensive and some of them free -- grabs the headlines. But the bigger threat is one that we created ourselves over a period of decades:  the accelerating cost of an IC education.  We are not unlike other private colleges and universities in having increased our cost of attendance over the last thirty years at a rate of 5 to 6 percent per year – a bit more than double the rate of inflation and nearly double the rate of growth in family incomes.  People value what we have to offer, and so in the past families have been willing to invest their life savings and to take out second mortgages on their homes in order to send their sons and daughters to IC.  Those sons and daughters, in turn, have been willing to take on ever higher levels of debt.

However, willingness to do whatever it takes to be able to attend IC is now changing in ways that our admission and financial aid staff encounter every day.  The loss of home values beginning in 2008-2009 suddenly eliminated one of the major ways that people paid for college.  The growth of student debt has reached what many consider to be a breaking point and has led an increasing number of people to ask if college is worth it.  It does not help that we have faced for several years now a relatively weak job market for recent college graduates (though it is still WAY better to have a college degree in this job market than not to have one!).

The reservations felt by many prospective students and their families are becoming increasingly public.  If you read magazines like Time or Newsweek you will have seen in the last few months cover stories questioning whether a traditional college education is worth it anymore, and lauding new online alternatives.  Public anger about both cost and quality has also been echoed in government, where there have been congressional inquiries into college pricing and into whether colleges are doing all they can to help students complete their degrees.  The cost of college was a presidential campaign issue this past fall, perhaps for the first time ever.

Ithaca College has been part of this cost spiral.  Over time, we have built out a beautiful and attractive campus.  We have added academic majors and minors as well as programs for student services and support.  We have added faculty and staff to support and deliver those programs.  We have offered the best of the best, and been proud to do so.  Students pay for all of it. 

What we did was not wrong and it was not wasteful.  To a considerable extent, it was fueled by student demand for small classes and low faculty to student ratios, the best academic and recreational facilities, and the latest equipment.  If you take a moment to look with fresh eyes at all that we offer -- both the physical facilities and the 1,500 professionals dedicated to providing the best possible educational and living experience for 6,500 students -- then you will feel a well-deserved burst of pride.

But those great accomplishments are no longer enough when an increasing proportion of the college-aged population cannot afford to attend IC.  Even if prospective students feel that IC offers the best possible educational experience, the one they would like to have in an ideal world, they will not come here if they cannot afford to do so.  We have for decades been an attractive option for students despite being three times as expensive (before IC financial aid) as a SUNY campus for a New York resident.  We must in the future be seen as an attractive and affordable option for students despite being 20 times as expensive as the online undergraduate degree programs that are just now emerging.  People still want excellence but to an increasing extent they are also demanding VALUE.

So here is our challenge:  We must increase the value of an IC education.  Value = Quality / Cost, meaning that we must increase our quality and at the same time substantially rein in the growth of cost.  

Please be clear that BOTH parts of the value equation are vital.  We are never going to be one of the cheaper higher education options, so prospective students will not want to come to IC if we are not seen as offering the very best in quality.  But if we continue to add to quality by increasing cost well beyond the rate of inflation, then prospective students will not be able to come to IC. 

Greater quality at a lower cost.  That is quite a challenge!  But we have been working on solutions with respect to both quality and cost for several years now, and many of you have played significant roles in identifying those solutions.  I will discuss those solutions beginning next week.


These are changing times and I feel that this message is very timely. It is up to all of us as a community to unite, transform our difference and work together for the good of the whole. We just cannot to continue doing business as usual and be protected by the academic bubble when the whole world is going through an upheaval.

--Dani Novak
Math Department

Since 1983 the cost of tuition and fees at Ithaca College has increased nearly five-fold. Very specifically, for every $100 an Ithaca College student spent on tuition in 1983 a student in 2011 would have to spend $583 to be enrolled. The increase in the cost of college has outstripped even the meteoric rise in health care costs. In 2011 a person would spend about $425 for every $100 spent on health care in 1983.

A health care professional might argue that the care a person receives today more than justifies the increased cost. Iím not sure thatís true and I wonder if itís true in academia.

Prices in general have increased 125% from 1983 to 2011. Ithacaís tuition and fees have increased 483%. That means we have to explain why our prices have increased 358% more than other things. Using President Rochonís value formula, Value = Cost / Quality, the quality of an Ithaca College education would have to be 3.58 times better than in 1983 for our value to be the same.

There is a case to be made for a quality improvement of this magnitude. When I arrived on campus in 1985, I was issued a stapler, scissors, and a tape dispenser. There were no personal computers. Students crunched numbers on hand-held calculators in my econometrics class. We cover more material with deeper understanding today. In fact, a whole new skill set has been added to the course- learning to program the software to perform the econometric techniques.

Even in non-technology courses, an argument can be made for vast quality improvements. And every course uses technology from the LCD projectors in the classroom to the Wi-Fi in the common areas. Because of these technological advances we can deliver the material faster and better. But it goes beyond technology. The quality of our faculty is higher today than in 1983.

It is important that we donít try to show that the wage differential for college graduates justifies the higher tuition. The value of a college education goes well beyond a higher wage. One could make the case that a typical college graduate enjoys life 3.58 times more than a typical non-college graduate with the same income.

What a student gets from their college experience depends very much on the student. A typical community college student can get more from their four years than an uninspired ivy league graduate. We should consider carefully the resources our students need to have a great experience, keeping in mind that more resources do not necessarily translate into a better education.

No set of metrics is going to be able to settle the question of whether or not an Ithaca College education is worth the cost. Students looking to maximize lifetime earnings relative to their tuition expenditures donít understand that the big payoff from a college education is non-pecuniary.

Dear Tom:

The concerns that you raise about the rising cost of higher education and the challenges that we face in this anxious climate are ones that we as a faculty take immensely seriously. Yet many of us are wondering whether, given what you say about the need to substantially rein in our costs, we might request a full and open accounting of how funds are being allocated at Ithaca College. In this time of diminishing resources, we are all being asked to tighten our belts, programs are potentially under threat of being cut, and one department has lost its office space and is being shunted off to the administrative annex, a makeshift structure that was originally meant to be temporary. At the same time, the college is investing what we can only imagine are significant funds in the China Center, the New York City Center, the new administrative team for advising, new software for e-portfolios, and the costs of the consulting team, not one of which (it happens) is regarded as a priority by the majority of IC faculty members.

While the college seems able to afford these investments, the H&S building which has been under discussion for over 20 years seems unlikely ever to materialize, although the department of Philosophy and Religion is being banished to the annex and no one has any idea where next year's new hires in H&S will go; pre-existing funding sources for faculty development are now being tied to IC2020 priorities and hence are, arguably, more restricted than they used to be (this, we know, is debatable, depending on how one defines IC2020 priorities, but that too is a matter that is increasingly mystifying to faculty); it has been announced that there will be no new faculty lines next year; and program review may result in the elimination of some existing programs (though no data have yet been provided to show that they are costly or inefficient), as well as existing positions.

Faculty and administrators alike recognize that these are terrible economic times: there is no debate between us on that matter. But the institution seems to be moving in two contradictory directions: it is shrinking in some areas and expanding in others, and we feel strongly that the decisions as to where to shrink and where to expand are failing to take into consideration faculty concerns. As for the claim that online education is posing an immediate threat to regional colleges like our own, that may well be true, but we would like to see some evidence for it, as well as clearer information about why the administration thinks that its funding priorities are the best ways to ward off that threat.


Jonathan Ablard, Associate Professor & Latin American Studies Coordinator, Department of History
Barbara Adams, Associate Professor, Department of Writing
Derek Adams, Assistant Professor, Department of English
Susan Allen-Gil, Professor, Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences
Bhavani Arabandi, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology
Stewart Auyash, Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Health Promotion and Physical Education
Kimberly Baker, Assistant Professor & Womenís Studies Coordinator, Department of Sociology
Marlene Barken, Associate Professor, Legal Studies
Asma Barlas, Program Director, CSCRE; Professor, Department of Politics
Don Beachler, Associate Professor, Department of Politics
Kathy Beissner, Professor, Department of Physical Therapy
Mary Bentley, Associate Professor, Department of Health Promotion and Physical Education
Elizabeth Bleicher, Associate Professor, Department of English
Julie Blumberg, Assistant Professor, Department of Cinema, Photography and Media Arts
Dan Breen, Associate Professor, Department of English
Karin Breuer, Associate Professor, Department of History
Joanne Burress, Professor, Accounting
Pablo Calvi, Assistant Professor, Department of Journalism
Changhee Chun, Associate Professor, Department of Cinema, Photography and Media Arts
Stephen Clancy, Professor, Art History Department
Jeff Claus, Associate Professor, Department of Education
Vivian Conger, Associate Professor and Chair, Department of History
Jeane Copenhaver-Johnson, Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Education
Cathy Lee Crane, Associate Professor, Department of Cinema, Photography and Media Arts
Ron Denson, Assistant Professor, Department of Writing
Kelly Dietz, Assistant Professor, Department of Politics
Maria DiFrancesco, Associate Professor, Modern Languages and Literatures
Craig Duncan, Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy and Religion
Hugh Egan, Professor, Department of English
Zillah Eisenstein, Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence and Professor, Department of Politics
Jason Freitag, Associate Professor, Department of History
Chip Gagnon, Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Politics
Linda Gasser, Assistant Professor, Department of Management
Claire Gleitman, Professor and Chair, Department of English
Linda Godfrey, Assistant Professor, Department of Writing
Carla Golden, Professor, Department of Psychology
Belisa Gonzalez, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology
Marlena Grzaslewicz, Pendleton Endowed Chair & Assistant Professor, Department of Cinema, Photography, and Media Arts
Linda Hanrahan, Chair, Graduate Programs in Education
Brooke Hansen, Associate Professor, Chair, Anthropology Department
Jean Hardwick, Professor, Department of Biology
Beth Harris, Associate Professor, Department of Politics
Chris Holmes, Assistant Professor, English Department
Naeem Inayatullah, Professor, Department of Politics
Paula Ioanide, Assistant Professor, Center for the Study of Culture, Race and Ethnicity
Jennifer Jolly, Associate Professor & Latin American Studies Coordinator, Department of Art History
Ron Jude, Associate Professor, Park School of Communications
Leann Kanda, Assistant Professor, Department of Biology
Tom Kerr, Associate Professor, Department of Writing
William Kolberg, Associate Professor and Interim Chair, Department of Economics
Jonathan Laskowitz, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology
Annette H. Levine, Associate Professor, Department of Modern Languages and Literatures
Janice Levy, Professor, Department of Cinema, Photography and Media Arts
Patricia Libby, Associate Professor, Associate Professor, Accounting
Gustavo Licon, Assistant Professor, Latino/a Studies, CSCRE
Don Lifton, Associate Professor of Management, School of Business
Ann Lynn, Associate Professor, Dept of Psychology
Terry Michel, Instructor, Department of Education
Michael Malpass, Professor, Department of Anthropology
Michael McCall, Professor and Chair, Department of Marketing and Law
Christopher Matusiak, Assistant Professor, Department of English
Jerry Mirskin, Associate Professor, Department of Writing
Stephen Mosher, Professor, Department of Sport Management and Media
Nicholas Muellner, Associate Professor, Department of Cinema, Photography and Media Arts
Abraham Mulugetta, Professor, Finance and International Business
Kevin Murphy, Professor, Department of English
Elisabeth Nonas, Associate Professor & Program Director, Department of Cinema, Photograph and Media Arts
Mary Beth OíConnor, Assistant Professor and Major Advising Coordinator, Department of Writing
Judith Pena-Shaff, Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Psychology
Patricia Rodriguez, Assistant Professor, Department of Politics
John Rosenthal, Professor, Department of Math
Susan P.S. Rosenthal, Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Management
Jim Rothenberg, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology
Gordon Rowland, Professor, Park School of Communications
Todd Schack, Assistant Professor, Department of Journalism
Cyndy Scheibe, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology
Gwen Seaquist, Professor, Legal Studies
Tom Shevory, Professor, Department of Politics
Arturo Sinclair, Assistant Professor, Department of Television and Radio
Steven Skopik, Professor and Chair, Department of Cinema, Photography and Media Arts
Michael Smith, Associate Professor, Department of History and Environmental Studies/Sciences
Peyi Soyinka-Airewele, Associate Professor, Department of Politics
Anne Stork Assistant Professor Environmental Studies and Sciences/Biology
Michael Stuprich, Associate Professor, Department of English
Raj Subramaniam, Professor, Department of Health Promotion and Physical Education
Thomas Swensen, Professor and Chair, Department of Exercise and Sport Sciences
Alicia Swords, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology
Anne Theobald, Assistant Professor of French, Department of Modern Languages and Literatures
Michael Trotti, Associate Professor, Department of History
David Turkon, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology
Michael Twomey, Dana Professor of Humanities and Arts, Department of English
Gladys Varona-Lacey, Professor, Department of Modern Languages and Literatures
Leigh Ann Vaughn, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology
Rachel Wagner, Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy and Religion
Kirsten Wasson, Assistant Professor, Department of English
Zenon Wasyliw, Professor, Department of History
Fred Wilcox, Associate Professor, Department of Writing
Raquid Zaman, Professor, Dana Professor and Chair, Finance and International Business
Patricia Zimmerman, Professor, Department of Cinema, Photography and Media Arts

I would like to second the message above, sent by Claire Gleitman.

Dear Tom:

To many of us on the faculty at IC your expressed concerns over the escalating costs of education seem disingenuous. This all comes at a time when IC is hiring new administrators and staff for advising, and we have yet to get a clear picture of what their role will be and are told that faculty will play significant roles in overseeing e-portfolios. At the same time proposed belt tightening comes in large part through freezing the number of faculty lines and holding back on reasonable salary increases. Similarly, the tools presented to move us "forward" include program review and flexible faculty workload, each of which is widely perceived as means to squeeze more out of faculty and spur competition amongst us.

A major strength of IC is the culture and community within which we operate, participate and serve. We are remarkably fortunate to be situated in an area that is a living classroom for ideals of community, grassroots democracy and sustainability. IC has evolved naturally as an organic part of that community and I fear we are forgoing that in favor of generic educational models built on what are perceived to be ďbest practicesĒ in academic consulting circles.

Regarding program review, Provost Kelley has made it clear that these efforts are linked to efficiency. As many of us see it, however, a great strength of IC is the many majors and minors that we offer to our students. Couldnít we build on this strength rather than looking for ways to cut it back? If you look at many other colleges you can find examples of core curricula that are plays on their unique strengths, commonly requiring students to take courses from across programs, divisions or schools, or even requiring both a major and a minor.

A climate of distrust is emerging among faculty on this campus as we see the administration expand its authority. Similarly, there is emerging disorder as we move forward with a program that appears to be hastily planned, and is being executed in a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants manner without benefit of a well formulated strategy. Under this cloud we see democratic decision making and program autonomy increasingly eroded in favor of administrative authority. I am genuinely concerned over what is happening at IC and believe that we are losing touch with the strengths of our community and with the unique "academic" culture that makes IC a singular, desirable and marketable college, an intellectually stimulating institution for learning, and a collegial work environment.

In this spirit I call attention to your own remarks at convocation, 2010: "If you are going to get everything possible out of your time as a student here, then you must bring with you the spirit of a fearless explorer, willing to go not just where others tell you to go but instead where your own path takes you." This same advice should inform adminsitration. These are wise words for all of us at IC to live by.

Please read concern and not anger or accusation into the tone of this message, and thank you for sharing your thoughts.


David Turkon
Associate Professor of Anthropology

I would like to second the concerns expressed in the letter that has been signed by 100 faculty.

Best regards,

Marella Feltrin-Morris
Assistant Professor of Italian
Modern Languages and Literatures

Case in point:

Although we as faculty have focused on key issues that have emerged in the last few months, the frustration being expressed now has been growing steadily over a few years. As I look back, two key issues have surfaced for me: top-down decision making and an increasingly corporatist model of education.

First, a series of decisions have been made by the administration over the last few years with little or no campus-wide faculty input: the dissolution of DIIS, the initiation of IC 2020, the placement of Student Affairs under the Provostís office, the redirection of CFRD funds to IC 2020-related projects, the revision of the travel policy, the declaration that all interviewees will meet with the Provostís office, and of course more recently, the (now-defunct) media policy and the relocation of the Religion and Philosophy Department. Not only did faculty have little or no role in initiating these changes, but many were announced in a manner that appeared as if the administration wanted us to pay as little attention as possible. For example, the dissolution of DIIS was announced Dec 21, 2011, the day before final exams concluded. The announcements about the reorganization of Student Affairs, CFRD funds, and interviewing candidates were all released in the summer, when the vast majority of faculty were not under contract and did not routinely see each other. And the media policy was announced late on Friday when most faculty had left campus.

Second, beyond the style of decision-making, the administration appears to be embracing a corporatist model of education. The focus on efficiency, uniformity, cost-profit balance, flexible workload, and minimizing raises are all ways of thinking about education like a business. Certainly, the college has an obligation to be fiscally responsible, but finances should not drive the college. Education should. Our conversation needs to focus on student learning. And when student learning is our focus, then it is good to offer a wide range of high-quality educational opportunities to students, it is good to reduce faculty teaching (for ALL faculty) so that we can dedicate more time to being better teachers and scholars, it is good for us to think seriously of what we do well and what we can do better, and it is good to ensure that pay across the campus (not just for faculty) is competitive at the higher end of the scale. While we must be conscious of our financial future, we also do not have to be scared into believing that the college is on a ďfiscal cliff.Ē We work at a solid institution that can be improved, not one that is in immediate danger of collapsing.

Finally, I would like to relay to the administration that we are exhausted. We worked really hard last year to bring about IC 2020. The year before that, we worked really hard to bring about NCUR. We are currently working hard to figure out the ICC and also to respond to the administration. And all of this work is on top of our already heavy workloads. We need some relief from all the committees and meetings and tasks - time to think seriously and deeply about who we are as a college and where we are headed. And we definitely deserve raises that recognize all of this work.

As a 2012 graduate of Ithaca College, I have already seen 10-fold how my education has prepared me for my field. Now granted my field is in Acting/Performance and the Musical Theatre degree is commonly viewed as limited, or narrow. All that being said, my current successes could not exist without Ithaca College, and I have many friends, both in my fields, and in others who can say the same.

What I see in my dear friend Claire's comment above, is a reflection I saw in the students during the last two years of my four years at IC. It felt to myself, and to many of the students, like rather than increase Quality while reducing Cost, IC was trying to find a way to put itself on a larger map. We already have a great reputation, and those reputations permeate throughout all industries in this country and others. What I saw happening, was an allocation of funds towards projects which were more "headline" worthy. For instance the New York School, the China School, the new Athletics building. These things are great, and for schools with huge endowments who are well on their way to solving the problems found on the home campus, these are amazing improvements to a school. But the fact of the matter is that those resources if allocated 100% to Ithaca New York campus and to the bettering of all programs across all disciplines at the school, would be how you increase Quality and reduce Cost. Claire is right to request a viewing of where these funds are going. The problems are solvable, but as a recent alum who watched the tensions boil around these sorts of expenses during his four years, and who only wants Ithaca to push farther than it already has, there needs to be an honest conversation about how to best use the money to increase Quality vs. make a name for the college.

As an alumni and the son of two alumni I'm both impressed an disheartened by this statement and its responses. What impresses me is the stark acknowledgement of the problems and the willingness to see how the college fits clearly within them. The price tag of tuition is insane and that saddens me. Having two sons (4 and 7), being solidly in the middle class, I'd have to pass on sending them to IC based on TODAY's price alone. That breaks my heart. I'd love to be able to send one or both to IC someday, but I'm not willing to ruin my finances while saddling them with debt to do it.

It saddens me to hear that the Religion and Philosophy Department is still treated with little to no regard. The fact that they're in a supposedly temporary annex leads me to a larger question. What is, and has been IC's problem with planning expansion? When my parents went to IC, the Terraces were supposedly temporary housing structures. When I went to IC enrollment was so high the college rented circle apartment, which they didn't own at the time, to put students in. Also the PT department was in trailers not affectionately nick-named "The trailer park school". Expansion has been a problem at IC for *almost half a century*. Current enrollment was mentioned to be 6500, how many students can you instruct right now with the resources you have? Is 6500 high or low? How do the demographics for 13-18yo's compare to the demographics of 18-23 yo's?

It sounds like when it comes to money and colleges you can squeeze either the students, faculty, or administration. It sounds like you can't squeeze students anymore without risking enrollment numbers and the comments indicate a faculty that's already weary of being squeezed.

Finally, the excessive growth in cost of higher education across the country to me points towards colleges and universities chasing something that doesn't produce value. Let that part sink in for a second. You're asking your students and their families to spend years working to pay off some part of their tuition that didn't benefit them. I don't know that something is (my guess is it's stuff that looks/sounds great but does relatively little for only a few), but if you figure it out and rein it in, you should be able to reduce costs in the future and provide an educational and experiential value head and shoulders above comparable institutions. And hopefully in time for my children to attend.

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