Universities and the recession

Andre Vellino pointed me to this article: Will the recession affect higher education? Short answer: yes.

Interesting bites:

  1. If you think education has historically had a hard time competing for public dollars with health care, you ain’t seen nothing yet. (…) institutions will need to find ways to reduce their cost base, and quickly.
  2. Typically during recessions, we do see increases in post-secondary enrolment, but generally not at the university undergraduate level.
  3. The equities crash means that professors on the brink of retirement have seen their savings crumble — they are much more likely now to stay put for a year or two rather than leaving.
  4. I think the economics of higher education for the foreseeable future are going to push institutions towards even more contract faculty.
  5. The problem is that hard decisions don’t come easily to universities: collegiality, for better or for worse, tends to try to preserve the status quo. But it’s not clear that the status quo is really an option.

My take:

If you want to become a university professor, it is still a good time to do so. Just make sure you go into accounting, marketing or law. (I should get paid to give out such valuable advice!)

Why? Think about it! Few kids wake up one day deciding to become an accounting professor. I have yet to met a student thinking about a Ph.D. in accounting! Yet, a lot of teenagers want to become accountants—for reasons that totally escape me. There lies the opportunity!

Other than that, you should know better than to take career advice from a guy who makes a living writing crazy research papers and teaching how Google works.

Daniel Lemire, "Universities and the recession," in Daniel Lemire's blog, January 30, 2009.

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Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the University of Quebec (TELUQ).

3 thoughts on “Universities and the recession”

  1. It might help to work for large departments. Since universities cannot fire individual faculty, the only way to reduce faculty head count is to close departments. No university is going to shut down the English or math departments.

    I knew a former anthropology professor who said the same letter told him he was promoted to associate professor and that his department would be eliminated in a year.

  2. “Just make sure you go into accounting, marketing or law.”

    Suuure, tell me that now. Any advice for someone that thought a Ph.D. in Computer Science was a good idea in 2004 that plan to graduate in 2010? I was scared back when you posted about the Taulbee Survey, now I’m *really* scared.

  3. U of Illinois already is feeling the pinch … last week, our president and other trustees discussed a plan to withdraw tuition waivers for 25% RAs/TAs. Traditionally, anyone with at least 25% RA/TA would get a waiver. While this didn’t affect the science, it will certainly affect humanities and arts, where the funding is lower.

    There is also a campus-wide hiring freeze in U of I now.

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