Should Alaska cut state university funding by 41 percent?

That is what they have done, in order to boost the Permanent Fund Dividend payments to the citizenry.  Here is the closing segment from my Bloomberg column:

I see Alaska’s decision as reflecting two broader trends in the U.S. First, a lot of small educational institutions are closing, consolidating or drastically cutting back, most of all in out-of-the-way places. Second, regions are diverging, both economically and culturally. More and more educated people are moving to the major cities.

You may have mixed or negative feelings about these two developments. Taken together, however, they could lead to a bunch of state schools on the chopping block. I suppose it’s fine to complain about this outcome, but far better would be to address the underlying trends.

There are things government could do if it were bold enough. How about a series of state-specific visas to foreigners, designed to encourage them to settle in Alaska and other underpopulated states? Alaska’s population could well rise to more than a million, and then the benefits of a good state university system would be more obvious, including for cultural assimilation. In fact, how about a plan to boost the population of Alaska to two or three million people? What would it take to get there?

That’s my biggest worry in all this: that that the diminution of the University of Alaska amounts to a kind of giving up. Alaska is supposed to be the American frontier, a place for taking chances. It is a sign of defeatism if the state has now decided that its main task should be mailing out dividends to its residents. The animating spirit should be one of science and exploration, as might be enabled by a well-functioning university system.

The University of Alaska in Fairbanks is rated among the world’s top science institutions for studying the Arctic, a region that might well grow considerably in importance, in part due to climate change. A well-developed and well-educated Alaska is a kind of option on future Arctic development and also on geopolitical influence. If new frontiers are opening up, then Alaska — and America — should want to be ready for them.

We really do need dynamism to keep our institutions going.  Allison Schraeger put it well on Twitter: “a preview of our UBI future.”


Dunleavy was in certain ways an accidental candidate for governor and he has also moved to defund the State Supreme Court. Judging by all other statewide elections in recent years I think he is an extreme right wing anomaly. He apparently has something personal against UAA as well.

an extreme right wing anomaly.

You say that like it's a bad thing. Elected officials telling higher education they're pigs and some will be slaughtered and telling the appellate courts they're not mini-legislatures is something to be welcomed.

Cut it 100%. State government shouldn't be running universities.

Let's not forget to abolish the widespread pedagogical fraud fondly known as "public education", too, since state governments cannot administer this failed institution any better than they can state universities.

"Public education" fails us all today even in its aspirational role of "aggrandized babysitter".

"States" shouldn't fund or run K-12 education. It should be funded and administered at the lowest level. City level would be about right but I would even consider neighborhood level to be a good idea.

Straussian reading: there is no good argument against this

The probmem is path dependence. Maybe we would be better off without public universities but UAF is one of the most perfect examples of the sort of institution that Morrill Act was created to produce. Nobody really goes to UAF to study gender theory or any non practical field. This is US infrastructure in its purest sense.

The creation of Public Universities in the western US crowded out private ones, and institutions such as UAF have long served as research facilities for Departments of Defense, and other major parts of the US government. In addition much of this “arctic science” consists of developing infrastructure technology to exploit arctic and subarctic resources. From how to construct buildings, riute utilities, build durable structures and accommodate permafrost loss, etc...

These resources were developed at great expense during the cold war and have proven very useful in the years since. The cost of reconstituting them if they are destroyed will greatly exceed the cost of continuing them.

If they had never been created by the State they would probably have been created by industry but it will take the private sector at least a generation to figure out how necessary they were. Currently the US has only two functional mining schools, Colorado and UI- Carbondale which is why our mining operations are now completely dominated by Australian and Canadian experts. There is no real substitute when it comes to Arctic science as the Canadian arctic is heavily dependent on UAF expertise.

University funding is somehow linked to dynamism? In your dreams. Dunleavy for president!

Mush, you big beautiful dynamic cost-cutter, Mush!

Alaska has been depopulating these last few years. Neither low to no taxes, which R's love, nor free money, which D's love, can make people stay. In other news, Alaska hit 90F for the first time ever this week!

That tends to happen when your main industry, oil, crashes hard, no matter what government policies are.

If the weather were warmer, I might go...

Actually Anchorage is pretty temperate (for being that far north). It's cold but not like below zero cold.

The bigger issue for me would be 3 months of almost total darkness per year.

When it gets warmer, the mosquitos come out and the land is swampy as hell.

How much money does it actually take to study the arctic? Most universities are giant money and time wasting machines, both for undergrad teaching and research, and highlighting one particular success area does not change that.

From the other 49 states, it costs a small fortune to study the arctic. AK has a huge competitive advantage here.

Airfare and even large cargo shipping to Alaska is not "a small fortune". Maybe this could become true it as many researchers I've dealt with, the researcher has poor logistics and planning skills. But that just means hiring someone with common sense to ensure the scientist have food in their gear and such.

Import immigrants to justify funding for a university? Talk about showing your true stripes.

I wish that were it: professional solidarity. The window into the soul is his notion that a state that should just be a huge wildlife refuge is "too thinly-populated."

It is a bizarrely "tail wagging dog" proposal. "Let's triple the population so the university will have a purpose." I will charitably assume it is one of Tyler Cowen's many little jokes simply meant to provoke a reaction and hopefully a bit of thought.

+ 10

What kind of carbon footprint will we generate in order to locate and maintain equatorial peoples near the Arctic Circle? Like you say, Tyler is transparent. Or he's a right-wing troll.

The socialism is so precious they need to do whatever it takes to keep the dollars flowing.

Are you commenting on shifting the funds to the People or that efforts should be made to save the jobs program for PhDs at the university?

Taking from the oil companies, doling out in equal shares to the people. From each etc etc.

A cut this large seems rare and I will be surprised to see it carried out. If it does happen though, Won't they raise tuition like UC Berkeley did? In state tuition is cheap now.

Alaska is a mismanaged petro-state. Not Venezuela bad but not nearly as good as its neighbor Canada or its fellow petro-heavy countrymen in the Dakotas or Texas. All that oil wealth but they didn't use Texas' playbook of diversifying their industries outside of oil. The other option would have been to do a Sovereign Wealth Fund like Norway, Saudi Arabia, or the Gulf States instead its another blown opportunity. Now Alaska even with their free money is losing its population.

There is a sovereign wealth fund but they should have locked down the annual dividend payment amount constitutionally, they did not, it became a political tool. The previous Governor raided it to cover the deficit.

AK should have doubled down with the wealth fund. That way Silicon Valley wouldn't be so dependent on the likes of Saudi Arabia. Imagine money and wealth created by one part of America flowing to other less populated parts of America instead of to hostile regimes.

Alaska sits on the edge of the Arctic circle. No industry is going to move there other than resource extraction and businesses catering to the employees of same.

Can you imagine a tech startup opening in Juneau?

Good point. It would be like a huge tech company like Nokia starting up Finland. That would never happen.

What alternatives do Finns have within Finland?

Espoo is their Florida.

A place that is cold all year round would make a good location for a data center or ten.

Alaska is a mismanaged petro-state.

Mining accounts for 16% of value-added in the state. The state has relatively high levels of public expenditure.

That "failed" "petro state" Alaska is not only wealthier in terms of GDP per capita than Canada, Texas and the Dakotas, it has a lower gini coefficient as well, meaning wealth is more evenly distributed. Alaska should've "diversified"? You think a state with 600k people covered in ice is going to become some kind of tech hub? Oil is the reason to live in Alaska

This is the primary policy proposal of Bryan Caplan's book, "The Case Against Education". Simply cut back education spending and refund tax dollars to residents. Caplan and his supporters are notably absent. They aren't cheering this and promising this will deliver giant gains for society. I infer from this complete lack of interest, that Caplan is disingenuous. We see Caplan in action on the ideas he does genuinely believe in, he goes full culture warrior, he shouts it from the roof tops, he engages in cunning activism and propaganda. On this issue, he's not serious.

I can agree with Cowen that meekly cutting spending and refunding tax dollars is unexciting, I disagree with Cowen that government should double down and pump more money, prestige, and authority into the university system as is.

How about free market education? Why can't STEM education scale up and globalize like any other service in the global economy? Why don't the best schools and the best curriculums service thousands of cities world wide? If you are studying math, why should it matter which state you are in, or even which country? Amazon will sell the same textbooks regardless of state or country.

Consider CrossFit physical education is exported around the world, anyone can take those classes in thousands of cities world wide. That is a genuinely global scale education curriculum.

The problem with for profit education is best exemplified by the now defunct Trump University. It admits anybody with a pulse and the capacity to take on debt. It dumbs down the curricula to pass anybody with a pulse and the capacity to take on debt. It graduates anybody with a pulse and the capacity to take on debt. The graduates have little ability to do anything but they have a lot of debt. I'm not against for-profit schools but it does require a structural reform or two to make it work. We just haven't found out what exactly those changes should be. Both MOOCs and bootcamps look interesting but from my own digging the results are mixed.

I'm having a hard time seeing how this distinguishes for-profit institutions from not-for-profit institutions.

For-profits were very lightly regulated so many took advantage of this to cut corners turning into fraudulent diploma mills. The other guys have stricter rules on how to operate as public or private nonprofit. The for-profits that got shut down by the Feds stole taxpayer money.

Same end point but the for-profits get there faster.

I suppose in the end we are all dead but no. The for-profit sector had a mass die out in the last decade. If you get in trouble with the Feds, you don't get government loans, which absolutely decimated their business model. Public and nonprofit universities are still standing since they are much more careful about compliance.

It's easy to look at disappointing MOOCs, and learn-to-code boot camps, and for-profit scams and conclude that it will never work. That is a mistake. This is worsened by the ~2012 era wave of enthusiasm that MOOCs would radically change higher-ed that crashed in disappointment and fueled skepticism.

Consider math, as a simple example. I've taken many higher math classes at a prestigious university: the core education part of curriculum/lectures/coaching/homework/tests is extremely standardized, and it would be very easy to replicate. Khan Academy or Coursera could easily replicate that, and innovate. The barrier is that those guys don't offer the prestigious degrees that our society values. And secondly, school is largely about forming separate peer groups and social castes, and Khan Academy wouldn't do that at all. So, it's a broader socio-political issue than just developing better math coaching + testing/ranking. But it's not intractable and this is an important problem to solve.

"admits anybody with a pulse" is a feature, not a bug. Today, higher-ed sorts people into segregated social castes. They have the "Studio 54 nightclub" model, where the prestige of getting admitted is based on the number of people who are excluded from getting in. Education doesn't have to work like that, and ideally it shouldn't. The Boston Marathon admits anyone with a pulse. They cater to all skill levels from competitive athletes to recreational out of shape adults. If we build a model of higher ed that abandons the premise of forming these segregated social castes, then "admitting anyone with a pulse" works out fine.

This sounds more like a lender problem than a college problem.

A large purpose of the universities are as jobs programs for professors/administrators. Consolidating into a few quality programs and similarly, with high production value online instruction, reduces the number of jobs.

Check out the Free Thoughts podcast with Jason Brennan and Phil Magness about their new book that explores the cracks in the ivory tower.

I've read Cracks in the Ivory Tower by Brennan and Magness. Great stuff! I hadn't heard of their podcast, so thanks for the link!

Tyler Cowen posted a favorable blurb on that book, and agreed with their major arguments. Cowen clearly entertains criticisms of higher ed, but as we see here, he passionately opposes reducing government funding and support to higher ed as it is. Too Big to Fail? He does not believe higher ed should be subject to market forces and competition.

Jointness of Supply makes education at least a plausible candidate for government provision. Hard to imagine many private colleges deciding to set up shop in Alaska. U. of Illinois has great difficulty attracting and keeping good researchers because C-U is a cultural island in the middle of nowhere. How does one recruit faculty for Fairbanks?

Does every university need to teach every subject? A friend of mine got his graduate degree in fisheries in Alaska. There are subjects unique to Alaska that would be logical choices for a U of A curriculum.

Universities are getting to be like Starbucks - same experience everywhere. Why?

Why should the math curriculum in Alaksa be different than in Ohio? It should be exactly like Starbucks. Starbucks grows or shrinks to accommodate market demand. Math curriculums should work the same way. Ideally, you should be able to compete on the same math tests regardless of where you physically reside.

Agreed. The school can size departments to fit demand. No need to drop math. Does the school have to have everything?

Agreed. The University of Wisconsin teaches 61 languages. So if you want to learn Hiligaynon, go there; if you want to go to some other university, you won't be able to learn Hiligaynon. Sort of like anything else in life, you have to make choices.

But such a policy would destroy the Full Employment Act for Overeducated Americans.

From the aforementioned podcast:

Universities "they present themselves as proprietors of high-minded ideals of education, of transferring knowledge. But we also find in some of the more recent literature, especially Bryan Caplan’s book, and this is a theme we explore ourselves. The universities are actually in the market for credentialing. They’re providing a degree that’s an access point to the job market."

Yup, with a heavy dose of indoctrination. Almost all pretensions to learning are bullpucky.

OK, to be careful here. Technically, it is the State reducing its contribution by 41% which allowing for tuition revenue and grant revenue constitutes only a 17 per cent drop in total revenue. But the assumption by the Governor's office, by people who amazingly don't understand how this works, assumed that there is no such thing as a matching requirement for getting Federal research grants - by cutting the unrestricted State money the ability to get grants in the first place will be drastically reduced. Also, duh .... students will go elsewhere if the programs they want disappear or if required courses are only taught once a year, so who on earth thinks tuition will continue at former levels. Then the fixed costs - you cannot stop heating campus building in Fairbanks in winter on the weekends to save money ... but the majority of the variable costs are faculty who actually generate tuition ... it's just a huge mess. They should have gone with a serious cut spread over several years.

Why are the campus buildings unused at the weekend?

I suspect it is because neither the faculty, nor the students, are interested in weekend classes. Given the overabundance of want-to-be faculty, this seems like a solvable problem.

I'm pretty confident that the facility usage is low on Fridays, and in fact outside of 10am - 3 pm, every day of the week. Reporting actual loading metrics would be an interesting oversight requirement.

But the "no weekends" ethos is a useful indicator of how much physical plant overcapacity exists. I also don't see any serious effort to schedule classes, and strongly set an expectation that students finish a 4 year degree in 4 years. A start would be to report 4 year degree program completion rates after 4 years, rather than 6 years.

Good question. I work for a proprietary college and our business development folks seek ways to rent our classrooms on weekends. Pop up courses. Club meetings. Government training. Employee training. Gotta work the streets.

Alaska university economists have been warning for years that the State's budget situation was unsustainable. Didn't help. You don't get elected telling people what they don't want to hear.

"Professor Gunnar Knapp, An Introduction to Alaska Fiscal Facts and Choices"

"1. An Introduction to Alaska Fiscal Facts and Choices Gunnar Knapp Director and Professor of Economics Institute of Social and Economic Research University of Alaska Anchorage Prepared for presentation at Building a Sustainable Future: Conversation with Alaskans University of Alaska Fairbanks Fairbanks, Alaska June 5, 2015
2. Alaska faces a significant fiscal challenge. My goal in this presentation is to help Alaskans understand the most important facts about our fiscal challenge and the choices we face. Part I is about Alaska fiscal facts: State revenues, spending and savings Part II is about Alaska fiscal choices: The choices we face about how much to spend and how to pay for it."

Well, eliminating economics dept and classes will cut costs plus eliminate the doomsday reports predicting Alaskas doom.

Also, geology, environment ddepartments predicting rising costs producing oil leading to declining production.

This is not news, here in Alaska we've been talking about the "fiscal cliff" for years. The state budget is nearly 400% what it was in 2000, and has been in deficit for a while now. I'm not upset about a fully funded PFD, but 400 million isn't nearly enough of a cut to get spending back to sustainable levels. I would trade the whole pfd program for long-term budget discipline, but what chance is there of that? If it's just more run-of-the-mill government bloat, yeah, put a few dollars back in the hands of people, they'll spend it better on average.

This is basically an argument for rent-seeking.

Instead of having a political economy organized around distributing rents like Alaska's dividend equally to citizen shareholders, Cowen proposes diluting the shares and concentrating rents in certain institutions uoon which rent-seekers can feed, with vague, dubious justifications like "dunamism" to mask the rent-seeking.

Investment is not rent-seeking. Alaska will become less competitive economically (aka Tyler's dynamism) and will end up as another JD Vance red state sob story.

"Investment" is another word, like "dynamism", used to mask the rent-seeking. To the rent-seekers, all those rents that flow into their pockets are called "investments".

Your hatred of "investments" is similar to leftist hatred of "profits." Since even a braindead leftist understands the value of education, you make AOC look like Einstein. If American universities are the scam you believe them to be then why do the world's elites who have every option at their disposal choose to send their children here?

Are world elites sending their kids to State School in Alaska?

World elites are sending their kids to the same brand name Ivy League schools as everyone else. If they are particularly desperate to get a green card they sometimes consider tier 2 schools on the coasts. That's all.

If the investments are clearly that good the the University of Alaska can raise tuition and natives can save up their dividend payments to cover the costs.

Education is valuable. Having the state fund it through coercive redistribution is not.

Be wary when the state uses words like "invest". True investment requires one to risk his own money with hopes of making more in the future and also requires him to directly suffer the consequences when the investment fails. The state, on the other hand, takes risks with other people's money, without any discernible attempt to make sure that the money is spent wisely and without any consequence to the decisionmakers when things go wrong.

Education is valuable. However, universities confer credentials, may provide some ephemeral knowledge, but objective testing has shown they develop almost no "discipline of the intellect, establishment of principles and regulation of the heart "for most students.

Defunding the left (a longstanding conservative aim) means taking aim at universities, which is long overdue. The primary targets should be the victims' studies, humanities, and softer social sciences, not to mention the administrative bloat. Surely that would be more than enough to cover the cuts.

If you want to defund the left, stop going to school. That'll show them.

Cut back the student subsidies and the free market will do the job - victim studies will be a private school specialty, year round summer camp for rich kids.

STEM can be taught online cheaply.

University of Alaska should focus on defense and warfare. Look what happened to Crimea.

The refrain I have often used for middling colleges and universities is Goodbye, Columbus! If one compares the cost with the probable return, no rational person would choose to go there or send their children there. But they continue to go, and they continue to be sent. To paraphrase Yogi Berra, people still go there because it's crowded.

Last night I watched a podcast I have watched before on Bayes Theorem. It's so simple a monkey could understand it. But apparently not those destined for a middling college or university. Harsh? I hope so. Alas, getting a STEM degree there doesn't much improve the probability of a rewarding career.

Cowen's idea could save both Columbus and improve the understanding of Bayes Theorem. Instead of State U copying the elites, specialize according to where it is and its mission. It's an old idea gone out of favor. What was the old idea? Ag colleges in the farm belt, for example. And tech colleges in the rust belt (before it rusted). As for degrees in culture that didn't exist when I was in college, the less said the better. I would suggest, however, a class in probability theory as a requirement for taking the class in culture.

Bayes Theorem:

P(A|B) = P(B|A)*P(A)/P(B) where P(B) =/= 0

It needs considerable context before the layman can find it useful.

"If one compares the cost with the probable return, no rational person would choose to go there or send their children there."

Partially true. It's not irrational to send your kid to a directional State U to become a nurse, therapist or K12 teacher. But it probably is to get any kind of Humanities degree.

"But it probably is to get any kind of Humanities degree."

If most of the low value / low wage degrees were received from Community Colleges the average post student load debt would drop substantially. Paying $4K per year in tuition vs $30K per year in tuition makes a difference.

... no rational person would choose to go there or send their children there.

Bryan Caplan, a leading higher ed skeptic, advises his children to go to traditional university. He's coaching his sons to pursue a professor career track like himself. His rule of thumb is college is terrible for people who fail to graduate, but it's generally a good bet for those that will graduate. That sounds right.

Next, look at all the wealthy, privileged people in society. Look what they do with their kids: Do they say college is a waste of time? No! They send their kids to college.

Don't give me this nonsense about not understanding Bayes Theorem. Caplan knows Bayes Theorem. I know Bayes Theorem. Most common probability classes cover that, it's not hard at all, engineers cover hundreds of more complicated concepts by the time they graduate.

Point missed: a degree from a middling college is a poor return on the investment, whereas the return from an elite college is a very good return on the investment. There's a small problem: not everyone can attend an elite college - that's what makes an elite college, well, elite. Back in my day a degree from a middling public university cost very little (about $500 per semester) and pretty much guaranteed a rewarding career. Bayes Theorem is about probability. The probability of a good return on a degree from a middling college is very low. What the parents who send their kids to very expensive middling colleges don't understand is probability.

Sorry, but you are wrong, rayward. There is considerable evidence of people coming out of second tier schools doing nearly as well professionally as those coming out of the elite schools.

Yes and no. Define "nearly".

Well, even if they don't do as well, rayward's standard was "poor return on the investment". Almost all the evidence indicates that the average graduate with degree in demand makes a positive & decent return on investment.

The returns are fading as a larger percentage of students get college degrees, but there is still a substantial difference in incomes between those with college degrees and those without.

"More and more educated people are moving to the major cities."

Going to college is not the only way to get educated. Trade school is education. An apprenticeship is education.

I think we all know this on an intellectual level, but can't seem to accept it on an emotional level given our elitist biases. Hence you get statements like the one quoted here.

Amen to that. And I for one find the casual equation of higher ed with "dynamism" to be somewhere between facile and meretricious.

Almost all of the well-known "dynamic" success stories--for better or worse--of the contemporary age are college DROPOUTS, not college graduates. From everything I read about higher ed nowadays, its primary purpose is to indoctrinate its students with a set of views that are pretty much whatever "dynamism" isn't.

Perhaps Professor Cowen could ask those "educated" students in the "major cities" where their food comes from; who makes the cars, scooters, and bikes they ride; and whence the cellphones, tablets, laptops and other gadgets they take for granted. We'll see who's "educated" then!

If you don't have universities, you won't even have the dropouts you desire.

You also won't have the filtering/signaling feature of the universities.

Nothing wrong with a trades education but understand that getting an apprenticeship is difficult since the unions strictly control their supply of labor to keep their salaries as high as possible. It is another system of gatekeepers.

There's an app for that.

Illegal immigrants are already making deep cuts in union employment. Some unions couldn't get work with 50% wage concessions. Not all illegals are unskilled or unteachable.

Alaska’s population could well rise to more than a million, and then the benefits of a good state university system would be more obvious, including for cultural assimilation. In fact, how about a plan to boost the population of Alaska to two or three million people? What would it take to get there?

What's with the "cultural assimilation" thing? Is he talking about the native Alaskans, the invaders from the lower 48 or Asian immigrants? There was an attempt for many years to mold the youthful native mind by sending them to places like Haskell in Kansas, Chemawa in Oregon and other high schools dedicated to native education. The natives didn't like it. They wanted to see their kids grow up and be educated in local schools, which didn't exist. The Alaska oil development wasn't able to proceed until an accommodation was reached with native leaders that gave them some stake in their own community and the construction and staffing of local high schools.

Cowen's idea is one that's actually meant to promote the Anglo business scene in the state, which is economically a distant suburb of Seattle, precisely because of its small population. Alaskans resent the heavy-handed presence of federal authorities watching over huge expanses of land that have always been used in common by the local population.

Of course, Alaskans of every stripe are free to come and go as they like, they can leave for the south and return when they wish. The place doesn't need meddling from afar by concerned people with no real stake in the place.

Given that university attendees likely skew more affluent than the general public, there's certainly a progressive case to be made for cutting these subsidies in favour of further spreading the resource wealth among all.

"Trade school is education. An apprenticeship is education."

Yep, just get in your time machine and go back to the 60s....

The cost cutting of trade schools and related apprenticeship programs has already eliminated most, and they are more expensive per student than your typical community college business, computer, etc curriculums. A big problem is finding instructors with both real skills plus the ability to instruct and manage. Basically, a good instructor will be in high demand as a master by his industry, better pay without the politics of getting funding for tools and materials.

Sooner or later, when budgets can't be sustained, the most unnecessary items must be cut, like these.

"a good instructor will be in high demand as a master by his industry, better pay ...": my metalwork class at secondary school had to be abandoned because the teacher got such a large pay rise by moving back to an industrial job. It was the curse of having standard school teacher pay scales instead of paying the rate for the job. We lacked a decent physics teacher for the same reason. So the solution is obvious, innit?

Just like the ED masters programs, they'll just game the system so everyone will get the raises.

I admittedly know little about the University of Alaska system but going by its contemporaries in the lower 48 I bet I won't be too far off if I characterize it as follows:

1) its degree programs are overpriced and offer diminishing value both to graduates and the state it serves;

2) it has many more administrators than necessary to function and they have the same features as 1);

3) it spends a disproportionately large amount of time and resources pandering to social justice via hijacked humanities and soft sciences departments; and

4) it is the most leftist institution in the state due to 2) and 3).

It seems Alaska is better off funneling less money into it, especially if that instead goes to pay dividends to the state's citizens (although whether that is a wise policy is a different matter). Let them spend the money on what they choose instead of propping up college administrators in a state that I would guess has the least difference in standard of living between graduates and non-graduates.

Isn't this what "democracy" is all about? The governor has followed institutional procedures to veto budget line items that reflect what he feels are the wishes of his constituents, who, if they disagree, can elect someone else in the next election. His veto wasn't overridden so, to at least some extent, he has followed the wishes of the voters. There are many Alaskans who don't care about the Nanook ice hockey program or other extra-added attractions in Alaska higher education that are meant to compete with lower 48 schools. They feel that they can personally put the PFD to better use in their own lives than have that money disappear into an administrative/bureaucratic black hole. In this case, perhaps they are right.

+1, great post

You mischaracterize the situation. Oil revenue funds 80% of Alaska government plus paying a permanent fund distribution. Oil revenue has fallen to where that doesn't work anymore. Alaskans continuously vote against politicians who cut the Permanent Fund, against high taxes, and for keeping high expenditures.

Something has to give. First step is to balance the budget, which involves these huge cuts. Then voters will face the choice of giving up the Permanent Fund distribution or drastically high taxes.

The main lesson is that once a gift from government has become established, like the Alaska Permenant Fund, it is very difficult to stop. Even drastic budget cuts will be considered instead of just stopping a huge handout of free money which sole purpose was to dispense a windfall oil revenue so much that the state couldn't spend it for thirty years.

To be fair, it does have 'Permanent' right there in the title.

This is an entirely reasonable piece by Tyler (balancing as it does costs and benefits) but most responses are variations on a single theme, that government spending is always oppressive.

Know your silo.

"most responses are variations on a single theme, that government spending is always oppressive"

I'm not sure if this is Trump-level attempted deception or just severe delusion, but it is Kafka-esque to lie about the comments just above yours, which any readers of your comment will have already read

Note that you comment approximately 3 hours after me. But I tripped on earlier claims that higher education is all rent seeking.,

Most state systems of higher education are overbuilt and have asset distributions that are plain weird. So, closures, consolidations, and reductions in expenditure are perfectly normal. (Virginia isn't the worst offender but it is an offender).

In Alaska's case, they have a fall enrollment of about 30,000 FTE when 17,000 might do for a state with a youth population of that size. If they were sensible, they might have 65% of their enrollment in a state university in Anchorage, 25% in a community college in Anchorage, and 10% in a set of reciprocal programs and scholarship programs which would have them attend out of state. They might have extension campuses for vocational programs of particular interest to local populations in Fairbanks (e.g. those working in the mining sector), but that's it.

Interesting. About 30,000 people obviously want college. You decide that 17,000 is a better number. Care to show your math?

I think to prove that 30,000 has low ROI you would need to show something based on lifetime earnings, contribution to state GDP.

Of the 30,000, some are looking for a credential which indicates they can be trained. That can certainly be distributed more efficiently than having them sit for a baccalaureate degree. Others are looking for specific skills, which could be had with briefer programs if any were available and sanctioned by public authorities. In some cases, those skills were at one time imparted by apprenticeship programs of various sorts, but have now been captured by higher education.

So, no math then.

You are absolutely welcome to examine the numbers yourself. Look at the share of each birth cohort captured by higher education in 1928, in 1974, in 1995, and today. Look at the enrollment (given the youth population) in populous states like New York and Illinois as opposed to smaller states pushing on a string. Look at the detailed occupational data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. I'm not going to do it for you.

Ok, I did the math, and it turns out Alaska should increase enrollment to 56,000.

Can't show you of course. I'm not going to do it for you.

Actually, what you've 'shown' me is that you fancy for effect that Alaska should have a per capita public enrollment 2.6x the national mean. I'm sure the place is just like Lake Woebegone, where all the children are above average.

I see Alaska’s decision as reflecting two broader trends in the U.S. First, a lot of small educational institutions are closing, consolidating or drastically cutting back, most of all in out-of-the-way places. Second, regions are diverging, both economically and culturally. More and more educated people are moving to the major cities.

I there any empirical data which indicates this is so, or is this just the conventional wisdom among your friends?

As for small institutions consolidating, we have a four digit population of institutions in this country, and you find the same faculty attitudes at about 95% of them. WTF does it matter if one of them closes, except to the employees? Various components of the Catholic Church founded over 200 institutions, but there aren't two dozen where that heritage has a noticeable influence, on hiring, curriculum, or disciplinary practice. As for the evangelical schools, with an exception here and there they're either hare-brained places or they're run by Vichy evangelicals determined to ruin them. The ordinary run of private institutions are businesses with no serious architectonic mission (other than 'diversity'). Screw 'em all.

As for Allison Schrager, you might remind her that the employement-to-population ratio is about as high as it's been at any time in the post-war period.

> Allison Schraeger put it well on Twitter: “a preview of our UBI future.”

I don't understand this. Can someone explain the connection here?

Once there is a UBI, we will vote to cut other government spending to increase the UBI?

Thanks, that makes sense.

"The animating spirit should be one of science and exploration . . . "

" If new frontiers are opening up, then Alaska — and America — should want to be ready for them."

Whence come these two dubious "shoulds"? Not from any "scientific" reasoning, surely.

If Alaska's population triples the way TC thinks it should, Arctic conditions being studied by UA-F will likely diminish that much faster, leaving no Arctic conditions behind to study within a generation or two.

If Native Hawai'ians see fit to oppose construction of a new telescope array, Native Alaskans have every reason to oppose invasion from TC's science-friendly "shoulds, musts, and oughts" (where did these moral and ethical urgings come from, TC?).

The "new frontiers" that Applied Science and Applied Technology are bringing to Alaska are Technogenic Climate Change, wildlife habitat degradation, melting glaciers, et cetera et cetera et cetera.

Alaska may have benefitted from Applied Science and Applied Technology enough already.

I don't think Tyler has gotten the memo yet from Slate, the NYT Op-Ed Page, and elsewhere that terms like "frontier", "exploration", and the like are now inextricably linked to imperialism and colonialism. At least that's what the people writing for those mags learned in their literary theory classes at prestigious universities: that's the kind of dynamism we have now.

Let's grant for the sake of discussion that the University of Alaska is indeed so wonderful. From what I understand that state has cut the University's budget while still sending out checks to the residents. Cannot the University make their case directly to the people as they receive the cash? After all, these would be tax deductible donations and you could reasonably recoup a large proportion of the budget cuts if a large portion of the populace agreed that the university was that good of an "investment".

This is one of those things that always seems odd to me. Nothing stops universities from going directly to the public for funding. They can, after all, receive tax deductible donations directly from the populace. Yet, I never see the University of X ever make bid directly to the residents of state X. Instead they go legislature or to the alumni.

I would submit, then, that the populace does not view these universities as great investments. They are only willing to fund them when they perceive that the majority of the funding will come from someone else.

Why might that be? After all many state universities have been major economic drivers in recent years. Perhaps it might be that universities have wholly aligned with one political party and with a very narrow social outlook not shared by the majority in most states. If universities are going to be the vanguard of liberal social revolution, that comes with a direct cost at the ballot box.

Shockingly, the easiest remedy for state university funding is likely not paeans to there utility as investment vehicles for the general populace. It would be retrenching toward the goals actually laid out in legislation (e.g. the Morill Act) and focusing much more tightly on educating students, performing useful research, and not being one of the pillars of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party.

This, of course, is a complete non-starter as the folks running universities would rather be liberal bastions than well funded.

The only "driver" of higher education is medical research. Every other area is a sink for the public overall, with most being an empty well. The victim studies degrees however do keep Starbucks employed with people who speak English.

About 1.8 million baccalaureate degrees are issued in this country every year. The most popular victimology program is 'women's studies'. Fewer than 2,000 degrees in women's studies are issued each year. (Fewer than 1,000 are issued in black studies). The victimology programs are patronage for favored political interests. Almost nowhere are they responses to student demand. The faculty want these programs for kicks. You shut down all of these programs, you inconvenience 0.1% of the student body. Do it.

How many minors in 'women's studies'? Or just how many have taken some of the classes? The classes actively make you lose IQ points. They should taxed not subsidized.

If you don't know much about Alaska, then all your opining is worthless. The state is twice the size of Texas with a population of 600K. The whole state budget is being severely cut, not just the universities, so this policy issue has little to do with higher education/

UAA and UAF are six hours drive apart, and UAS you have to drive 12 hours, go through Canada, and then take a ferry for four hours to reach. The "universities" are almost entirely for undergraduate degrees and teacher certification. And they are very expensive per student with very low tuition rates.

The marginal budget dollar goes to the least useful expense (given reasonably competent management).

Many universities are spending a lot of money on things that demonstrate that they obvioiusly have more than enough funding for their legitimate tasks, and/or incompetent management.

I don't expect perfection. There will be some differences of opinion, and some human mistakes, and these are large and complex institutions with multiple, often conflicting goals.

But at some point, trust is lost, and they don't deserve more resources and a blind eye - they deserve fewer resources and less deference - or no jobs at all. I think we are approaching that point.

Perhaps the problem is that Alaska is the only state without a college football team. Imagine the heart-tugging inspiration (and revenue!) if a plucky U of Alaska squad could upset Alabama or Ohio State on the frozen tundra of Palin Stadium

University of Alaska-Fairbanks is the Alabama of NCAA Rifle Shooting, having won the National Championship ten times between 1994 and 2008 with 21 individual championships between 1989 and 2014. Only the West Virginia Mountaineers have been more successful at punching out bullseyes in targets.

College isn't what it used to be. Back when I went off to college (to a public university), there weren't that many of them, the them being colleges and students who attended them. There were two large public universities in my state, with one more being built. Today, I have no idea how many public universities there are in my state, dozens I suspect. And all of them clamoring to offer the same hodgepodge of degree programs, and competing against each other for funding by the legislature. I never paid more than $500 per semester, including for law school. Today, the tuition in the two flagships is $30,000 to $50,000 per year, depending on whether the student is a resident and the degree program. What the heck happened? Professors are paid a whole lot more, the legislature funds a whole lot less, and students (their parents) pay a whole lot more. A whole lot more for a much lower return: back then a college degree all but guaranteed a rewarding career, not so much today. Goodbye, Columbus!

Universities should be able to finance themselves from tuition and other voluntary payments. There is zero justification for State subsidy of education of legal adults.

A lot of comments appear to be seeking Alaska's absolute advantages but don't consider its comparative advantages. I'm not sure what those are, but that's where the untapped gains are.

If Alaska public universities are anything like the ones I have attended or visited, it shouldn't be hard to find areas to cut. Just a couple anecdotes to toss on top of the pile of well known factors of administrative bloat and less than rigorous academic programs :

I remember at the large state school I attended my freshman year they built a monstrously large "collaboration" building with granite floors and pillars on a giant plot of land which is now a well manicured yard. Cost 10s of millions of dollars to build and maintain meanwhile the 12 story library sits pretty much empty.

I think the argument that a substantial part of the rise in higher ed costs is due both to an increase in the administrator/student ratio as well as an explosion of admin salaries compared to those of faculty and staff is correct.

The policy problem is that in a university, it is the administrators who are in charge. So if a big budget cut comes, rather than eliminating themselves, which would be the easiest way to deal with the problem, they shut down programs and switch to hiring cheap no good adjunct faculty rather than real faculty. Unfortunately, this is likely to be what happens at U. of Alaska, assuming this large cut goes through.

A couple years ago a small subset of academics were warning that the universities were (rightfully) being seen as partisan institutions and if there weren't reforms there would start being consequences in states where Republicans have control of the purse. We already saw an attempt at an endowment tax at the national level.
They were ignored, if not hounded and potentially fired.
Now consequences are starting to happen and Tyler (a professor) is wringing his hands how horrible it is that U Alaska is being defunded, likely because it could work its way down to other institutions.
Meanwhile, at the median university, the AFT reports that bureaucrats and staff outnumber faculty. Adjuncts are collecting welfare payments. And just the other day I heard of yet another distinguished conservative professor who was de facto fired for criticizing transgender ideology. The left leaning papers like Jacobin are wringing their hands about how the highly hierarchical and overpriced university system is used to perpetuate the class system (including on race). Then, yet another small liberal arts college closed.
The Healthcare system became overpriced and the Democrats made a serious move to nationalize it and now I find a new Healthcare startup everyday looking to start implementing "results based care" to try and reduce costs.
When is the Academy going to quit clutching its pearls about 'dynamism' and 'education' and 'development' and ACTUALLY EMBRACE MEANINGFUL Reform? Or are we just going to keep throwing out those we don't like and tut tut when the people no longer see any value in an overpriced, ideologically hegemonic creator of class?
Some of us are at our end. Either academics like Tyler need to put in serious work to fix the system or the institutions deserve to be destroyed.

I'm not American but if I were I would be worried of how the US has downgraded for decades its non military government spending (whether in education, infrastructure, science not directed toward the military, public transportation and so forth) and there is always a justification of the sort of "we don't need it", "the private sector will do it better", "we'll find a market solution to that that doesn't need the government" or something like that. And all the while, China and other countries see its infrastructure grow by the hand of government spending and is rapidly closing the gap with the US in so many areas

The ideological rants are interesting, but basically the "Gibs" and "Now" outranked "Investment". Besides, Alaska can probably make a good deal for their student on tuition and room & board at one of the struggling institutions in the lower 48 which would also provide cultural enrichment for the children of the forest.

"Gibs" usually has the upper hand. "Investment" takes too long. What'cha need "education" for if the gubbmint is paying you to live in a cabin off where there is no threat of a job?

> perhaps one of the system’s three campuses will be shuttered.

Fact check: UA system has more than three campuses. See: UAS Juneau, UAS Ketchikan, and UAS Sitka. The five largest cities in Alaska have UA campuses. The inevitable rejoinder of "oh, X in Alaska isn't really a Y" is quite tiring.

This kind of basic mistake is typical of Outside coverage I have seen on this topic. Which seems to me primarily to be "red state: bad! dumb!~".

Whatever my position on Dunleavy's proposed cuts, it is fairly clear to me that if he had a D next to his name (possibly even an I), the (patronizing) narrative would be:

"....The administration is exercising fiscal restraint! and prioritizing the state's VISIONARY Universal Basic Income! Disproportionately benefiting the disadvantaged population of Native Alaskans, at the expense of urban and suburban white families who drive up the state's average income (tax free!), but who then tend to take their state-sponsored degrees to the Lower 48."

Comments for this post are closed