The New York Times printed a must read article on Arizona State University and its President, Michael Crow:
He quickly made a name for himself, increasing enrollment by nearly a third to 67,000 students, luring big-name professors and starting interdisciplinary schools in areas like sustainability, projects with partners like the Mayo Clinic and Sichuan University in China, and dozens of new degree programs. But this year, Mr. Crow's plans have crashed into new budget realities, raising questions about how many public research universities the nation needs and whether universities like Arizona State, in their drive to become prominent research institutions, have lost focus on their public mission to provide solid undergraduate education for state residents.
With a four-year graduation rate of 28 percent, I include myself among those raising questions about ASU's focus. In addition to dozens of new degree programs, the article also notes that ASU has spent lavishly on certain types of student aid:
Arizona State University recruits National Merit Scholars nationwide with a four-year $90,000 scholarship, a package so generous that Arizona State enrolls 600 National Merit Scholars, more than Yale or Stanford.
The Education Trust identified the University of Indiana Bloomington as the highest performing peer institution to Arizona State based on four-year graduation rates (over 50 percent for IU). Last year, their National Merit Scholars had an average scholarship package worth $13,609 each.
Shelling out almost seven times as much per National Merit Scholar as the top performing peer institution is disturbing. Touting the number of National Merit Scholars as some sort of proof of quality is perverse. Perverse may be a strong word, but consider this: the fact that so few ASU students graduate on time inflates the number of students that you have on campus to brag about.
The fact that only 56 percent of ASU students manage to graduate after six years would be amusing if they weren't doing it on your dime. Arizona's university students and taxpayers would benefit from expanded options through a more robust higher education voucher program.
Dr. Matthew Ladner is vice president for research at the Goldwater Institute.
Goldwater Institute: Saving with Systemic Change
Goldwater Institute: The Privately Financed Public University: A Case Study of the University of Michigan
New York Times: State Colleges Also Face Cuts in Ambitions