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October 2016

The Economist on Full-Time MBAs

MasterBlaster-20161015_WBC840"Campus vs beach: The full-time MBA is under pressure from specialist degrees and online education" (October 15, 2016 issue). Specialist degrees are Master's, for instance in finance or data, that people pursue straight after a bachelor's degree. From the article: "Students who take the specialist business degrees and who then start in the workforce are far less likely to want to stop five years into their job and take a full-time MBA." While employers still "raid generalist MBA program[s]" for people with leadership skills, they have increasingly turned to specialized Master's programs for "graduates who can carry out specific, complex tasks." The article is particularly noteworthy for its "Master blaster" graph about the applications for MBA and non-MBA Masters from 2007 to present. While non-MBA masters represented about 20% of applications among applicants sending GMAT scores back in 2007, that percentage reached almost 40% today.

Of course those are only percentages and if the number of total applicants with GMAT scores grew enough, 80% of today's total could still be much higher than 90% of 2007's total. But it doesn't sound like that's the case - Case Western University, for instance, has put an end to its full-time MBA and will only a part-time program from now on, to cater to people who want to remain full-time employed while they pursue their degree. Taking into account the availability of online and specialist degrees, and given the fact that students enroll in specialist degrees right after college, we're probably witnessing a shift in the traditional MBA population toward more seasoned professionals rather than twenty-eight-year olds trying to escape their first or second job with dreams of corporate ascent. It'll be interesting to see in a few years what it means for the enrollment in executive education programs.

NYRB on the Financialization of Higher Ed

NYRB-FinancingCollegesAs a follow-up on my previous post on the movie "Starving the Beast" (about the attempt to cut state funding for public higher ed), the October 13 issue of the New York Review of Books has a somewhat interesting article on what the author, Rana Faroohar, calls the financialization of higher ed, or "How the financing of colleges may lead to DISASTER!" (all caps hers.) Her review covers seven books on the topic, listed in the picture on the left.

The author worries about for-profits and diploma mills, but also lists the "fall in state funding for public education, budget squeezes at nonprofit state colleges, rising college fees... a growth in student credit availability and debt, stagnant wages and a rising sense of hysteria - that the system of higher education in America is broken and must be fixed." I've never felt a rising sense of hysteria in the 12 years I've been a faculty member, but besides that the author does point at very real issues.

She also does a nice job summarizing the "neoliberal" economic thinking with its push to let the markets decide. "Powerful institutions, and in particular financial institutions end up dominating both the economy and society." A scholar she quotes likens the current trend of financialization to a " 'Copernican revolution' in which business and society have reoriented their orbit around the financial sector," which I thought was well put.

She also touches upon themes covered in "Starving the Beast", such as the push in certain circles to view students as consumers instead of considering education as a public good, and the "tax revolt led by Grover Norquist and supported by the Koch brothers and other rich conservative donors." Her main argument, though, is that there is a clear parallel between the student loan market and the financial crisis. (This is unsurprising, because she published a book called Makers and Takers: The Rise of Finance and the Fall of American Business back in May.)

I have a few objections here and there with the article. For instance, "Thoughtful people can disagree on whether college should be free, and if so for whom, but it's a timely and important question." Actually, I think that question is so outlandish it misses the point. Why should college be free? The real question is: how can we make college affordable for everyone who wants to go? The author herself quotes a passage of a book she reviewed, stating: "what matters is not the level of debt, but the borrower's ability to repay it". But when she discusses how to fix things, she writes: "We should start by making community college the new high school - a basic necessity for every American - and work our way up the educational and economic food chain from there." Um, why? I like the idea but the author doesn't offer any reasons. Not every American will want to go to community college after graduating from high school. It matters to be flexible enough to accommodate many life paths. 

What I like about community colleges is that they offer the ability to improve one's skills while being in a group of like-minded people, anchored in the community. They have the ability to teach a lot of the students and do so face-to-face. When the M.O.O.C. fad fades away and people are left with a genuine desire to improve themselves in an environment that will challenge them to do more than simply watch videos and answer quick multi-choice quizzes to earn a certificate of completion, the community colleges will be the natural place to turn. There is a lot of potential in channeling interest in lifelong learning at the local level, creating stronger communities and fostering economic development on the ground. Community colleges can also play a role in mitigating the rise in college costs if students take freshman/sophomore level courses at their local community college before transferring to a four-year college. 

Yet, it is also important to remember that community colleges are underfunded. They rarely have famous alumni making multi-million-dollars donations. In the best-case scenario, they can find local successful entrepreneurs and businessmen willing to donate to the community, but they usually struggle with understaffing, old buildings, minimal resources. Some students on break from their private university take courses over the summer at the community college by their house, side by side with students who can't go anywhere else. Sections of popular topics can get crowded.

As a second remedy, the author says that "we should also make sure that the degrees being offered actually count for something - too many students are paying far too much for meaningless diplomas in sports marketing or business administration." Um, what's so wrong with sports marketing? and business administration? I assume varsity athletes are most likely to show an interest in sports marketing as a way to turn their college athletic interests into a career after graduation when they can't play sports anymore. Aligning academics with extracurricular activities may not be a bad idea - plenty of books like The One Thing recommend a singleness of purpose, and some varsity athletes will be on fellowships, mitigating the impact of tuition costs. Marketing is a fascinating field. I don't know if the supply of sports marketing grads exceeds the demand, but if that's what students want to major in, what about letting them? If they're old enough to vote, they can also be old enough to pick the major that interests them the most. As for a diploma in business administration, it is so obvious it is a useful degree I'm not quite sure what to say to that, although I think it makes more sense to major in something else in college and then pursue an M.B.A., simply because life experiences gained after college make such a big difference in one's ability to be an effective business administrator (greater emotional intelligence, for starters). 

I liked the part where the author argues we need both STEM and liberal arts "because critical thinking in any field is the most important measure of economic and civic success" but I think her argument that "we must once again start to think about public education as an investment in our future as a nation, the way our leaders did forty years ago." Forty years ago the disparities between the elites and the working class weren't as big so that it was possible to imagine that someone could start from nothing and become a successful businessman. Probably along the way, that person would have gone to a public university, or a private university on scholarship, so that he would be aware that his success was made possible by other people making college financially possible for him, whether taxpayers or donors. Now we are moving toward a two-tiered society where I will venture that the super-elites do not generally send their children to public schools, and mobility between the tiers has decreased. The 1%ers (or whatever you want to call them) don't view paying for other people's children to go to schools they don't care about as an investment in the future. That is their choice to believe that. The question then is how can the opposite opinion gain traction in state governments, so that politicians keep in mind their entire electorate and resist pressure to cut funding to public universities? 

USC case study and "Contrarian's Guide to Leadership"

ContrariansGuideLeadershipI've just finished reading The Contrarian's Guide to Leadership by former USC president Steven Sample as part of the Emerging Leaders seminar at SMU (a semester-long seminar led by SMU provost, presenting various administrative units of the university to mid-career SMU profs who might take on leadership positions) so I figured I'd write a few comments about it. (Sample was USC's president from 1991 to 2010 and passed away in March of this year [2016] at age 75. He is widely credited with transforming the university into a national research powerhouse. You can read his obituary in the Los Angeles Times here and the In Memoriam posted on the USC website here.)

I most liked the specificity of Sample's insights - it was obvious he had spent many years reflecting upon his laws of leadership. Advice includes seeing the shades of gray in every situation, never undercutting your senior people, advocating open communication with structured decision-making (meaning people can complain to the president, but any investigation into the complaint will go through the proper channel), delay making decisions as long as it is appropriate. He has also very sharp insights into the fact that people around you have their own agenda and advocates always maintaining one's intellectual independence (with the need for leaders to lead without being used or used up by experts), but also doing everything you can to make your direct reports succeed, among other things. 

My favorite anecdote was on USC's reaction to the riots in 1992 following the acquittal of police officers who had beaten a motorist named Rodney King. USC itself was spared by the riots but the entire neighborhood was engulfed in protests and university leaders expected arson, looting and beatings. They had not a specific emergency plan in place for riots (and perhaps that's something university leaders should prepare these days) but they had one for a catastrophic earthquake, and one of the university's vice presidents decided that the situation looked like an earthquake to him, so that "students from outlying housing were brought in to temporary quarters in the central campus, every university police officer and all physical plant staff were called back to active duty.... observers with radios were placed atop strategic buildings" and more. (p.80)

I also liked his comments on hiring practices. He quotes an old saw: "A's hire A-minuses, and B's hire Cs." He also expands on it by describing a more complex formula provided to him by his former colleague Harry Williams. Basically, (this is paraphrased from p.123) people at the 99th percentile of overall competence will hire people who are 99% as good as themselves, or at the 98th percentile on an absolute scale. Those people will hire people who are 98% as good as themselves, or at the 96th percentile. At the fourth level of the organization, employees will still be at the 92nd percentile of competence. But if the top person is at the 90th percentile of competence, he will hire people who are 90% as good as he is or at the 81st percentile, and by the fourth level employees will only be at the 43rd percentile of overall competence. Now, Sample is clear this is only "pseudoscience rising to the level of myth, which then helps us make sense of a complex human phenomenon."

The most interesting part of the book is the last chapter, about the USC case study. It describes USC's evolution over the first decade of Sample's leadership - his tenure up to the moment he wrote the book. Things he did include (the book chapter contains more):

  • arranging for a transition period (interregnum) of 4 months so that he could "think free, think gray and listen gray, hearing extensively from members of the USC community",
  • creating a role and mission statement, followed by a brief strategic plan for SMU focusing on only 4 priorities, with the overarching goal "to become in fact and in reputation one of the ten leading private research universities in America,"
  • improving undergraduate education at USC
    • improving undergraduate student selectivity (and battling high dropout rates and low graduation rates), by eliminating need-blind admissions for the weaker applicants, increasing the grant component [decreasing the loan component] of the need-based aid packages for the better applicants, "inaugurat[ing] an extensive program of merit-based aid" and "reduc[ing] the target size of [the] freshman class by 500 students relative to its historic maximum."
    • developing a six-course core curriculum required of all undergrads and taught for the most part by senior faculty in small classes (a very contrarian approach, since conventional wisdom states that teaching assistants should teach such courses or senior faculty should teach very large classes),
    • encouraging students to stretch mentally by picking minors very far removed from their majors instead of closely connected, also introducing a Renaissance Scholars Program "to honor those students who are especially successful at pursuing two or more widely separated fields of study".
  • strengthening USC's research mission 
    • (this is where Sharp shows his brilliance) "First was the realization that postdoctoral education was quickly replacing doctoral education as the terminal academic credential in the natural sciences, psychology and selected fields of engineering. Thus, in advance of most other universities, USC realized that postdoctoral education would be an increasingly important factor in determining both the quality and quantity of sponsored research at leading research universities."
    • emphasizing interdisciplinary projects and exploiting USC's location in Los Angeles and Southern California (both for research projects but also community outreach). 
  • developing new disciplinary and interdisciplinary strengths, for instance in advancing the medical school (done without owning/operating their major teaching hospitals, also a contrarian strategy) and fostering the five professional schools related to the arts. 
  • improving fundraising.

I particularly like the point he made about postdoctoral education. Postdocs are already trained and, at least in engineering, have a shorter time horizon than PhD students. (My friends in science at MIT ended up doing postdocs as long as their graduate studies, so that clearly isn't true in all disciplines.) For a university that seeks to rise through the ranks today and is committed to providing superior mentoring opportunities for its postdocs, strengthening postdoc involvement can generate published papers sooner and thus increase the visibility of the university faster, in turn improving recruitment of doctoral students. Obviously it won't directly affect the rankings of doctoral programs but it helps set the tone for research programs. Recruiting good postdocs is also going to be a challenge, but universities that can find a competitive advantage in their mentoring programs and/or their environment can leverage their position for great impact. It is quite remarkable that Sample had those insights as early as the 1990s. 

The one thing I would add to Sample's mention of USC's strategic goals is that those goals must be presented to people in the trenches in ways that are relevant for them and make everyone a team player. For instance, if you want to increase research expenditures, this is going to mean different things to an English department and a Mechanical Engineering department. It is important to tailor the message to one's audience. But the conversion of strategic goals into a roadmap probably would be up to the president's direct reports rather than him, so it's not a surprise that he doesn't talk much about the tactical side of USC's rise to national prominence. 

For readers interested in other books on leadership in higher education, Leadership in Higher Education is a series of interviews with university presidents. More background information about the universities and the interviewees would have been useful, the font is very small and the book is a bit dry but it's quite a good read nonetheless. For the biography of a university president, I recommend Holding the Center by Howard Johnson (MIT president from 1966 to 1971 and chairman to the MIT corporation from 1971 to 1983). 

Y Combinator's Sam Altman

The October 10 issue of The New Yorker has a profile of Y Combinator's new leader, Sam Altman, who succeeded Paul Graham as President of the company back in 2014. It is titled "Adding a zero" in the paper version of the magazine and "Sam Altman's Manifest Destiny" online. I'm still not quite sure what to make of the profile (authored by New Yorker staff writer Tad Friend), except that 31-year-old Altman struck me as exceptionally juvenile and uncharismatic. (If you'd like to know more about Y Combinator in the Paul Graham days, I recommend The Launchpad by Randall Stross, which I reviewed here.)

Y Combinator is arguably the best known and most powerful start-up incubator/accelerator in the United States today, with TechStars its main competitor. Altman has launched a number of new initiatives to leave his mark on Y Combinator, including the YC Fellowship Program, targeting companies at an earlier stage than the batch of companies selected for YC's traditional program, and the YC Continuity Fund, to invest in YC alumni companies. 

Before I go in more detail over YC's new strategy, let me explain why I found him exceptionally juvenile. Here is a key quote by Altman: "The missing circuit in my brain, the circuit that would make me care what people think about me, is a real gift. Most people want to be accepted, so they won’t take risks that could make them look crazy—which actually makes them wildly miscalculate risk." This reeks of so much condescension toward the average person - in particular the average person coming in contact with Altman - that I'm surprised he's been able to get anything done. I suppose his subordinates will be glad to know he doesn't care what they think and believes they primarily want to be accepted. He apparently also doesn't believe in advisors, mentors, or any outside source of wisdom and experience (why bother).

That sort of nonsense about "I don't care what other people think" reminds me of my parents (not a good thing) when I was teen and they insisted "don't care what others think" to try to make me do exactly what they wanted me to do. Altman uses that cliche to do exactly what he wants to do. People above the age of twelve have typically learned that you should learn to make the difference between people whose advice you're going to value and people whose advice you're going to discard. The anecdote about a blogger asking Altman, “How has having Asperger’s helped and hurt you?” and Altman reacting at first with anger (“I don’t have Asperger’s!’) but then proceeding to describe character traits of his that make him an excellent candidate for undiagnosed Asperger's, provided a bit of levity to the piece. 

The thing is, you can't be a very effective leader or mentor if you're so proud of saying you don't care about what other people think (because what you're really saying is that you don't care about other people, so it's going to make it difficult to make them want to follow you or pay your advice any heed). The journalist comments: "Altman's regime has left some people at YC nostalgic of the early days. One YC stalwart told me, 'Sam's a little too focused on glory - he puts his personal brand way out front... Sam's always managing up but as the leader of the organization he needs to manage down." It is when the journalist asks Altman about that critique that he made his "Not caring about what other people think is a gift" comment.

(Another excerpt, early on: "Two YC partners sat Altman down last year “and told him, ‘Slow down, chill out!’ ” another partner, Jonathan Levy, told me. “Sam said, ‘Yes, you’re right!’—and went off and did something else on the side that we didn’t know about for a while.” That was YC Research, a nonprofit, initially funded with a ten-million-dollar personal gift, to conduct pure research into moon-shot ideas." Not a bad idea either, but the fact that Altman didn't try to enlist the other partners for his new vision of YC is a red flag for me.)

Leaders are only leaders because other people want to follow them. Some people will undoubtedly find it in their best interest to follow Altman since he is at the helm of the top incubator. But in the long run, the Altman portrayed in this article doesn't seem to behave like an effective leader. It seems to me that he'd be more effective in a number-two role, making big plans for the number-one person and reporting only to him with no direct reports. There, I imagine Altman would be transcendent.

Now, on to the new YC initiatives. As mentioned earlier, Altman doesn't have a choice if he wants to leave his mark on Y Combinator, which was founded by his predecessor: he needs to have some big initiatives. But while he argues that more companies should fail fast, he also recognizes that the "Y Combinator" tag (stamp of approval) may needlessly lengthen the life span of a company that would have been better off dying soon. Yet, he hopes to place YC's stamp of approval into many more companies and at earlier stages.

One has to wonder what would happen to companies that don't make the cut. Is it possible to imagine that YC can make a mistake once in a while? Or will it strangle innovation by making participation in a YC program a must-have for young entrepreneurs, leaving the ones who are not selected by YC (by real people, I might add, and real people have this inconvenient characteristic that they may make mistakes, in contrast with the A.I. that Altman and Friend banter about) out in the cold? Even Harvard doesn't pretend to have the magic recipe to select the future stars of tomorrow. Or is the thinking going to be along the lines of "Only the top 200 [random number I just picked] companies have a chance to succeed so by admitting 10,000 we're quite sure to be admitting all the possible future Reddit or Dropbox"? And at a higher level, is the company better served and its staff's time better used by early but superficial involvement in 10,000 start-up ideas or by more focused interaction with fewer? Is the risk higher at the later stage because the number of companies is smaller, or higher at the early stage because, well, it's so early?

Friend explains: "Starting this winter, YC Fellowship is becoming Startup School, a free, online, ten-week course for as many companies as want to take part. They won’t get funded, but they can learn the same lessons as batch companies do. Altman, who will personally oversee this initiative, believes it is the fastest, easiest way to bring ten thousand new founders a year into the network." But will the alumni of the regular program really consider those other people as members of the network? Won't they fear the stamp of approval will get diluted and create an exclusive network of their own for the main program's alumni? (People who benefit from the system don't want to change it.) In itself, it's not a bad idea: preventing waste and misallocated time and resources by decreasing the failure rate of later-stage companies by intervening earlier, but it's hard to imagine that current later-stage companies will be pleased, and not clear where YC will find the resources (especially in mentors' time, since participants are supposed to have access to such people via Skype).

Friend raises similar questions when he writes: "Concerns about the accelerator scaling too much and too fast remain widespread... [Is YC] stretching the network to its breaking point?... [Silicon] Valley's guiding principles conflict: scale precludes uniform excellence and a tight-knit network." Maybe a people-oriented leader could pull it off, but Altman goes out of his way in the article to appear emotionally deaf, so that his announcements don't seem to rally the troops. Now, maybe he gives so inspiring advice at the ripe old age of thirty-one that founders will forgive him anything, But most leaders would know they have to make the case for change to their troops and establish a sense of urgency to effect change. Altman certainly doesn't use the New Yorker profile as an opportunity to make that case for change. 

The other thing that bothers me is that I wonder how founders' innovation and independent-thinking skills will be maintained if YC mentors them closely from beginning to end while they develop their startup idea. (A big if.) Ultimately the founders must make their own decisions to hone their expertise. Because of YC's clout, it will be very tempting for them to agree with whatever YC says even if they had a different vision for their startup. If YC is involved from the very beginning, young entrepreneurs may not grow professionally as easily.

 YC definitely has an ambitious plan but the failure for Altman to inspire audiences when he communicates his agenda may signal troubles ahead. The subtitle of The New Yorker's article says it best: "Is Y Combinator's Sam Altman fixing the world, or trying to take over Silicon Valley?" If he's picked the second option, my guess is that he's in for a rude awakening.

"Starving the Beast" movie: Money, Politics and Higher Ed

StarvingTheBeastI saw "Starving the Beast" at the Angelika the other day, described as "an exploration into the philosophy and the players behind the recent push to cut state support for higher education". It is a very good movie, although the pace is a little slow at first. IMDB summarizes the plot as follows: "The film documents a philosophical shift that seeks to reframe public higher education as a "value proposition" to be borne by the beneficiary of a college degree rather than as a "public good" for society." I particularly liked how it tied events at universities as different as Texas A&M, UT Austin, U.Wisconsin-Madison and UNC-Chapel Hill into one broad narrative where right-leaning operators have engineered the decrease of state tuition and ouster or attempted ouster of top leaders who did not buy into Clayton Christensen's convenient storyline of disruptive innovation as an imperative for the 21st century.

In the movie, Christensen comes across as a bit of a quack. I don't like the fact that he's co-authored so many books on disruptive innovation, changing the application area but essentially repeating the same message and sometimes the same stories, and I particularly dislike him for the way he shrouded himself with glory in an article he wrote for HBR some time ago, where he provided as an example of standing up for what you believe in his choice of not playing college basketball in a critical game because it was on a Sunday and he believed he should not play on a Sunday. He was a starter and the team lost the game. This example struck me as narrow-minded and short-sighted. But Christensen has long been hailed as a great strategic guru and I did love The Innovator's Solution (much better in my opinion than The Innovator's Dilemma, and the only book of Christensen's I have ever liked - then I bought a third one after Dilemma and Solution and quickly realized he was going to repeat himself from then on). The one thing that has stuck with me from Christensen's work is that he exhorts his readers to ask the question: when customers purchase a product, what is the job they need the product to do? For instance, students purchase textbooks to pass a course. They rarely need the textbooks to provide them with every little detail of a topic in an online e-companion. He argues that is why enhanced versions of textbooks haven't caught on. It seems simple when phrased like that, but in my view it also explains why M.O.O.C.s are overhyped. Most students don't take a M.O.O.C. to learn the knowledge. They take a M.O.O.C. because they want to feel they could belong in a top university (whichever offers the M.O.O.C. they are taking). But to truly belong they need the support of a community, the feedback of an instructor. Study groups were a step in the right direction but people haven't really proved they belonged to the university (if they ever will be) until they show mastery of that material and that would only happen upon completion of the course, even if M.O.O.C.s allowed thoughtful and in-depth assessment of students, which they most definitely don't. So the movie is a bit harsh on Christensen, I felt, but perhaps he should have expected something less than flattering would come out of his relentless attempts of promoting disruptive innovation.

On the other hand, he can't control the way people respond to his topic. Disruptive innovation has pleased so many people because it gives them the impression they can be David against Goliath, upend the established order, effect profound change through their wits and skills alone. This is also why so many books about plain vanilla innovation are published these days. People (at least the people who buy those books) are told they have something unique to bring to the world and it can profoundly transform the world around them. Everyone wants to see themselves as the underdogs, including the free-market operators who are depicted in the movie as being on a crusade against taxpayers' money going to public universities. 

The movie presents this as purely an attitude toward taxes, and maybe it's true, but I wish it also had considered the possibility that the people behind the drop in state funding for higher ed also are attempting to decrease the competition for their own. If you believe Angela Duckworth's theory that grit is a key predictor for success, then it is maybe not far-fetched to also believe that students from modest means who have to work multiple jobs to pay their bills and succeed in spite of the odds show more grit and resilience when they enter college than students from well-off families who have not had to struggle as much. (Duckworth does suggest grit can be learned, with enough effort, and the best students from well-off families can also place themselves in challenging environments, juggling extracurricular activities, varsity sports, double majors, and more.) Free-market operators who make it more difficult for the gritty, resilient students to afford public universities also remove students who would have competed against their children and their children's friends. If you reduce a candidate pool, the quality of the pool will be no better. 

Some of the arguments were caricatural, for instance when a free-market proponent says he doesn't want taxpayer money to go toward funding the research of a (imaginary) scholar in some narrow topic in 14th century medieval literature. It was so obviously a ploy to get viewers and taxpayers riled up you have to wonder why some people fall for it. But top state universities also serve as a powerful marketing tool for states that try to attract business from other states. (Private universities also do, but the states can't take as much credit for them.) Top researchers at state universities struggling with a decrease in funding get poached away by other universities, possibly out-of-state, and their expertise and possible patents and start-ups go away with them. State universities should be treated as crown jewels in a state's economic development strategy. That starts with making sure they have enough money to operate.

At times I wondered why those university presidents who have born the brunt of the machinations described in the movie haven't been better at making their case to the state legislators. Why weren't they prepared? Some of the facts described in the movie were almost 10 years old. Are they only becoming wiser now? Where is their network of allies in the legislature? Why haven't they been able to call onto the electorate - a large proportion of which presumably sends their children to public universities - to defeat politicians who don't want to fund those universities properly? The more public colleges rely on out-of-state students, the less local politicians are susceptible of being booted out of office by angry voting parents. Frankly the most puzzling part for me is that there hasn't been more of a backlash. 

There is a segment in the movie on the Wisconsin governor, proudly announcing he's gotten rid of tenure at UW-Madison so that (I paraphrase) the university can be more nimble in its hiring practices depending on the needs of the workforce. But universities always have had lecturers and adjuncts drawn from the workforce (I'm talking in particular of engineering, where part-time faculty typically has full-time work in industry) to adapt to changing circumstances. Tenure provides an incentive for people in the latter part of their career to be effective "citizens" of their university by taking on administrative or committee work they would not have any reason to take on if they risked losing their job - without tenure they would be better off keeping their own research skills up to date instead of investing their time in the well-being and sound operations of the university. 

I do think it is important to ask whether colleges, public and otherwise, do the job that students or their parents or the taxpayers pay for. That's not something you can know from teaching evaluations or even exit interviews at graduation. Maybe you can tell if you ask young graduates five years after graduation, but some will value the teaching and some will value the extracurricular activities and some will value the alumni network. After five years, I do feel successful members of the workforce will have continued to update their skills - finding mentors, going back to school for another degree - so while they might donate some of their money to their alma mater, many more people and institutions will be involved in their success than said alma mater. 

The thing that bothers me also with the talk about preparing students for jobs after graduation is the potential for certain companies to exploit those young graduates. If colleges only prepare them for specific jobs, and the companies don't help them grow, how are those students going to develop the leverage that would enable them to look for better opportunities elsewhere if they are not well treated in those jobs? Focusing on what's good for companies at the expense of the individuals is a problem. Also, if free-market operators believe that the market should take care of tuition funding, then the market should also take care of any imbalance between supply and demand. If companies really do need a certain type of graduates, then you'd think they'd increase the starting salary to fetch those students from the clutches of those competitors. News travel fast on college campuses. Students would have enough time in their last few semesters of college to better prepare themselves for the real world if they see the offers some of their classmates got. (On a related topic, I wonder why so many politicians say there's a dire need for STEM graduates but don't have their own children major in STEM fields.) 

Also, I think people get angry if they feel left out by the system - if they're admitted to college but have to drop out because they don't have the money, when we hear the message everywhere around us that a college degree is a must-have for success in life. That means, in the most extreme case, drivers who drive like maniacs because they don't care if they hit another car (especially if it's a nice one, since they don't feel they could ever own that), bystanders who look the other way if someone is getting mugged (that'll make two of them without money), people who feel they should only look out for themselves and the rest of the world had better take care for itself since they were left out in the cold. People who don't want to pay for public universities may live in upscale communities but they still have to be side by side with the people they're trying to prevent from getting a college degree when they drive or run errands. This is not a recipe for a productive society. 

The movie has been reviewed all over the media. The Atlantic asks: "Are American colleges supposed to prepare future citizens for civically engaged adulthood? Or is their job to provide student consumers a market-driven good so they’re capable of becoming productive participants in the economy?" The New York Times writes: "This documentary by Steve Mims describes an ideological war over public higher education that is being conducted state by state. Trying to reframe college as a consumer product, free-market advocates proudly brandish a “disrupt and reform” credo that would apply business-world values and metrics to state universities. If it’s a business — not a public responsibility — then it dovetails nicely with the small-government movement to "starve the beast"." Inside Higher Ed also has a detailed summary of the movie and notes that the professors at the universities presented in the movie were aware of the tumult in their own state but not of the struggle in others. It will be interesting to see if the movie can launch a conversation about the topic. I'm still not sure why college presidents at public universities haven't been able to make a stronger case for continued state funding, especially in the top universities presented in the movie. Their reputation speaks for itself. Why are legislators distancing themselves from such success stories?