Friday, October 3, 2008

"LQC": Lipstick on a pig, Part 2

Alva, Oklahoma is the home of Northwestern Oklahoma State University. Located in a poor part of the state, the Normal School was founded in 1897 and became a state university in the 1950s. By 1999 the enrollment at Northwestern Oklahoma was stuck, actually declining. The town and the school were barely hanging on.

Sound familiar?

The town of Alva made a bold decision. They would raise sales taxes 1% and turn over much of the money to scholarships at the University. The supporters of the plan reasoned that with more people in town, more money would be spent locally, returning the city's investment. The town dedicated the rest of the sales tax increase to developing parks and recreational areas in the city.

Did it work? Well, during the 2003-2004 academic year, 49.6% more students were awarded bachelors degrees than in 1999. By all accounts the school is doing well. They have added special veterans programs, out of state tuition waivers, and they share athletic facilities with the local high school, cutting down on infrastructure costs. According to the school's president at the time, Dr. John Beran, “not only are we attracting more students, but they are staying and earning degrees. We’re no longer an institution where many students come and get the basics and then transfer. We are now truly fulfilling the mission of a four-year regional university.”

In the fall of 2007, in spite of wide spread community opposition, the City of Carbondale imposed a sales tax increase to support a football stadium, along with Saluki Way. President Glenn Poshard spoke passionately in favor of the proposal that would direct up to $1 million a year for 20 years to a stadium that is used a half dozen times or so.

This is why there is a crisis of leadership at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, or "Southern" as Victoria Valle, the 6 figure income bureaucrat named as the assistant vice Chancellor for Enrollment, prefers to call it. The administration at Northwestern Oklahoma, along with the city, came up with a truly innovative use of the sales tax money. And their first thought wasn't to put out an expensive full color brochure while nicknaming the college "NorWest".

What if SIUC had put all that money into scholarships? And why didn't the enrollment managers or the "outstanding faculty" that have led all the failed searches for failed chancellors fight for an idea like that?

Here's the news for those who may have not gotten the memo: All universities have great faculty, in that they care to choose from the literally hundreds of applications for tenure track positions. When SIUC has a bad academic department, and there are quite a few, it is because the departments have been hijacked by crazed academics - often in thrall to theory, or political correctness, or Marxist/Gramsci/Foucault/Derrida madness. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

And the students turn away in droves.

When a university burdens students with fees to build a football stadium that they won't see for years, converts local sales taxes to the same project, it is not fulfilling its mission.

And the students turn away in droves.



Taxpayer said...

As a Carbondale resident, why should I spend my money on other kids' football stadiums OR scholarships? The cost-benefit is great for SIU but lousy for Carbondale.

Consider: The 20-30,000 year-round residents pay an additional tax so that 1,000 more students attend SIU? Some of the money comes back in increased taxation of that 1,000 but scarcely enough to make up for what we residents ("suckers") pay.

This sounds like old-fashioned smokestack chasing to me. Bribe people to come and they will come. Every depressed, has-been place in America has tried this gambit. Occassionally it work but in most cases it does not. And who is left with the bill? "Suckers."

PtG said...

Are you allowed to comment on a blog, if you don't understand how many people live in Carbondale? I guess you can.

There are 24,000 or so people counted in the Carbondale census, but the regional high school has 1,000 students. The rule of thumb is 10 times the high school enrollment is the real population of a college town. So 1000X10 = 10,000 year round residents.

The difference between 10,000 and 24,000 is students. Carbondale will not exist, if SIU goes.

The sales tax seems like a reasonable thing to explore.

Taxpayer said...

I'm not sure the "rule of thumb" applies here. Like the rest of America, most college towns have seen their populations greatly increase since 1970.

*The population of Jackson County is rougly the same as 1970. By contrast, the US population has increased from 200M to over 300M.

*Census figures show it is older than average

In short, Carbondale is more typical of the declining rural areas of America, not just any "rule of thumb" will do.