From Public University To Tony Country Club

Marian Wang at ProPublica has a telling interview with the former president of Miami University, James Garland. More commonly known as Miami of Ohio, Miami University is a public university that, according to Garland, is “public in name only.” He describes the strategy the university undertook to weather the economic downturn on a diminishing state budget by attracting rich kids from out of state, and the regrets he has in retrospect, despite the financial success of their efforts:

I felt we were handicapped by our state affiliation because the state regulated our tuition charges. So even though we had the market strength and quality of offerings to have higher tuition charges, the state would simply not let us do it. At the same time, the state kept cutting our budget each year. We were hamstrung.

So we ended up trying to recruit more non-residents from outside of Ohio, and package ourselves as a selective, beautiful liberal arts college.

And so to do that, we took advantage of low interest rates for municipal bonds and invested in rehabilitating our residence halls and eating facilities and putting in more recreation — workout rooms and lounges, and the kinds of accouterments that really dressed up a campus and made it a much more comfortable and familiar place for upper-middle class students. So those students started applying to us in droves. Application numbers went up, we became more selective, and the SAT scores of the entering class became higher.

Damn. As dark as it sounds spelled out so clearly like that, it makes a lot of sense.

Garland has some misgivings, though he’s unsure whether he would take it back. He suspects that ultimately the university sacrificed academic rigor (probably should have paid employees more and attracted better teachers), socioeconomic accessibility (who would want to go hang out with all these bozos in North Faces?), and the mission of the public school (hmm yeah how are you serving your population when they can’t get in or afford it?) at the expense of say, making their sports facilities more amazing. He thinks the long-term effects of turning universities into country clubs is contributing to the economic crisis in higher education:

I see a large majority of public universities, the non-flagships, are sort of living hand-to-mouth right now. And they live off their meager state appropriations and their physical plants are getting run down and their faculty are discouraged. I don’t think they’re fulfilling the kind of opportunities that Americans expect from their colleges and universities.

At the other end of public spectrum, the selective publics are just getting more and more and more expensive. And they’re pricing out large segments of the American population.

Ya think?

Photo: archerwl

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12 Comments / Post A Comment

This is gross. (And contrary to this fellow’s idea of what a public school looks like, my state university had some lovely red-brick architecture.)

I see a large majority of public universities, the non-flagships, are sort of living hand-to-mouth right now. And they live off their meager state appropriations and their physical plants are getting run down and their faculty are discouraged. I don’t think they’re fulfilling the kind of opportunities that Americans expect from their colleges and universities.

At the other end of public spectrum, the selective publics are just getting more and more and more expensive. And they’re pricing out large segments of the American population.
Yes – and how did his actions do anything to help fix this?

aetataureate (#1,310)

@apples and oranges I am so grossed out too. Basically, the state’s imposed reasonably priced tuition wasn’t keeping up with the higher-ed bubble so he Heart of Darkness’d and took over? That’s such a load for so many reasons.

echolikebells (#3,272)

He can’t be too conflicted, because Miami an an institution isn’t doing anything to reverse the path they’re on or put anything more into the community they’re in (which is very close to some very, very poor neighborhoods) (like they don’t even stress volunteering/community work to their students). And this makes me feel sad for a lot of reasons. Part of what he is saying is right– as a resident of Ohio and someone who attended our flagship public, I know that the situation really was/is very dire on the budget front for any non-flagship depending on money from Ohio’s state budget. But Miami has priced-out huge segments of Ohioans anyway, even with the restrictions the state (one of the most expensive for public tuition anyway) places on their hikes. And I don’t understand how contributing to that is doing anything to fix what he is complaining about?

UGH higher education. UGH Ohio higher ed in particular.

sea ermine (#122)

My college did something like this, although in a slightly different way. It’s in a smaller area in the middle of a number of states so it already attracts a high number of out of state students. And they took advantage of this to do what was mentioned above, attracted wealthy out of state students to boost their finances. They also have a bit of a reputation as a party school, which attracts a lot of rich kids who don’t want to study but who’s parents say they need a degree.

It definitely affected the quality and reputation of the school, and brought down the academic rigor of the place in some of the ways mentioned above. However, one upside to this is that the school has used the out of state students to benefit the in state students in a way. They started a program the year I applied that focuses on in state students, from putting them first in the admissions process to funding a lot of scholarships and grants. They’ve been raising the out of state tuition over the years but trying to keep the in state tuition fairly steady, and basically using out of state students to fund programs and financial aid packages for in state students. It’s not perfect, and it’s fairly recent, but I think it’s a step in the right direction.

EA_Mann (#5,000)

@sea ermine this sounds like the way first class passengers help subsidize the economy seats on an airplane

I don’t know which is worse, this article about Miami or the people that go to Miami.

@Jake Reinhardt Such as noted alum Paul Ryan!

franklina (#3,924)

It is a fact that everyone at Miami is required to wear a black North Face fleece… or at least it was when I visited & decided not to apply circa 2004 (and I would have at least been in-state).

Seriously, by Christmas break freshman year, EVERY. SINGLE. PERSON. I went to high school with who went to Miami had that same freaking black North Face fleece. It’s kind of scary.

Meaghano (#529)

@franklina HA. Yeah, I went to Notre Dame and it was like someone gave all the pod people gift certificates to REI.

HelloTheFuture (#5,275)

I went to Miami during the Garland years (2000-2004) and yes, as a student from a town so small we didn’t even have a stoplight or a movie theater or fast food, I was completely swayed by the stunning gym and the beautiful facilities and the sushi. For me, that wasn’t “stuff I am already used to and expect,” it was the new, magical world I thought college should be.

Of course, I was 18.

I was very lucky to get a lot of scholarships, including Miami’s Harrison scholarship, which made my Miami education absolutely free. This is why it’s so galling to see Garland describe his vision of Miami not as a place where all kinds of smart kids, including hillbilly rural ones like me, can learn, but as a place designed to cater to the upper-middle class, “well-dressed” kids.

I have no problems with creating a public university with academic high standards. But to wax romantically about the beautiful shiny upper-middle-class children who will romp on your playground designed to their tastes: first, that’s not what Miami actually was during those years, despite the sushi, and second: EEW.

I work at a public university. Our state has whittled support to the point where it’s now single-digits of our operating budget. (the state does issue bonds on our behalf to help us build and rehab our physical spaces, which is not for nothing, but hard to quantify) Out of state tuition covers 125% of the cost of instruction. When other revenue sources disappear, you have to replace them somehow. It’s a situation with higher consequences, but neither President Garland nor Miami of Ohio created this situation, they just have to figure out how to make it work. And they have. Not saying I love this trend, but it’s a reaction to other problems in how we finance higher ed.

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