Belt Tightening Forces Higher Education to Restructure

FINANCIAL constraints are forcing many of America's colleges and universities - especially public institutions - to restructure academic programs, limit enrollments, and alter faculty policies, according to a survey released today by the American Council on Education (ACE).

On the plus side, this means colleges are heeding the demands of students more closely than ever. That has translated into more courses off-campus, more "time-compressed" courses, and more courses via educational television.

On the down side, options for low-income Americans could be narrowed, causing some to head for two-year colleges, many of which are filling up, says Elaine El-Khawas, ACE vice president for policy analysis and research, and author of the report. She calls this a disturbing trend at a time when America is striving to maintain its global competitiveness.

"This year and next, signs are that we will see schools changing gears and making hard choices," Ms. El-Khawas says.

The survey, called "Campus Trends 1993," found that 34 percent of public four-year institutions have taken steps to limit enrollments because of reduced state and local funding and limits on program capacity. Twenty percent of independent colleges are limiting enrollment, as are 15 percent of public two-year schools. At the same time, three-quarters of institutions are reporting increases in applications.

On the question of finances, the survey of 406 senior higher-education administrators found less bad news than a year ago. Last year, seven in 10 said they faced budget cuts in mid-year. This year, the figure was four in 10. But the overall context remains the same: belt tightening all around. Two-thirds of public institutions saw no real increase in operating budgets in the past year.

For some colleges (19 percent), financial pressure has also meant a reduction in part-time teachers, who are the easiest to let go. But for a greater number (55 percent), it has meant an increase in part-time faculty.

In addition, faculty members are being asked to teach more courses and take on more students - while continuing to publish, perform research, and apply for grant money. All factors cited have produced faculty morale problems at four-year public institutions. There, only 16 percent of administrators reported morale as excellent or very good, compared with 39 percent at independent institutions.

El-Khawas concludes: "There's going to be a new-style university in the future - more efficient, cutting costs, paying more attention to the bottom line, paying more attention to today's students, maybe more high-tech."

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