Wednesday, June 1, 2011

College Instruction: Dollars and Sense

Yesterday I realized that the the University of Maine, in-state students pay about $20 an hour for instruction. In a lecture, where there are 150 students, this means that students collectively throw out $3000 every time they sit down and listen to a lecture.

I was wondering how students would feel if every time they walked into lecture they had to fill a bucket with $3000 dollars before the lecturer began. How would students feel differently about their investment? Would they perceive the value of instruction differently? What might they demand in return? What do they deserve in return for that money?

A colleague of mine helped to put this in a different perspective: an adjunct faculty at UMaine only gets about $3000 dollars to teach an introductory physics course. This, of course, means that an instructor who teaches all semester long only gets to keep one of those buckets, the rest goes to paying TAs, administration, maintaining libraries, computer labs, paying electricity and heating bills, providing labs, paying support staff, and so on and so on and so on.

But it makes me wonder again: How would an instructor feel if they had to teach all semester long watching those buckets fill with money, knowing that they only got to keep the last one? How would they feel differently about students' investment and their own compensation? Would they perceive the value of the university infrastructure differently?

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