Data Shows Massive Disparity in Professor Productivity at UT Austin

If bottom 80 percent were half as productive as top 20 percent, tuition could be cut in half

May 23, 2011, 11:47 ET from The Center for College Affordability and Productivity

AUSTIN, Texas, May 23, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- At a time of alarming tuition costs and economic uncertainties, an analysis of the preliminary data released earlier this month by the University of Texas System shows one of the state's flagship universities could make tuition vastly more affordable by moderately increasing faculty emphasis on teaching.

The Center for College Affordability and Productivity conducted the study released today titled "Faculty Productivity and Costs at The University of Texas at Austin." The study assesses faculty productivity at UT Austin in terms of both research and teaching by delving into the data on faculty compensation, teaching loads and external research grant awards released by the University of Texas System.

"Our analysis shows that there is clearly room for improvement in terms of faculty productivity at UT Austin," said Dr. Richard Vedder, director of The Center for College Affordability and Productivity and a co-author of the study.  "Simply by having faculty teach more students or courses, students and taxpayers will benefit significantly by reduced university costs."

The study reveals substantial disparities in the work professors actually perform and the compensation they receive for their services.  The data show a relatively small portion of faculty carry the majority of the teaching load, teaching a sizable majority of students and while maintaining their research nearly at the same level as their peers.  A significant proportion of the faculty is far less productive, with small teaching loads and little external research dollars generated.  The data suggests that increasing teaching responsibilities for the majority of faculty would only marginally impact external research funding or productivity, while significantly reducing the cost of a degree at UT Austin.

"Given the rising tuition costs at UT Austin and other public universities in Texas, this report clearly demonstrates how increases in faculty teaching can result in significant cost savings to students, parents and taxpayers," said Senator Dan Patrick (R-Houston), former Vice Chair of the Higher Education committee.  "All Texans, students and taxpayers deserve the best value for their investment in higher education – a system where professors are engaged and held accountable for their teaching productivity and performance."

The study's analysis comes in the wake of often heated debate on the value of looking closely at teaching and research productivity at Texas' public colleges and universities.

"Our goal in conducting this analysis was to provide a resource for university leaders and policy makers as they make decisions on enhancing university systems to provide the highest-quality education at an affordable price for students," said Vedder.  "The findings at UT Austin are not unique as tuition and fees skyrocket at public universities across the nation, raising the question of who is really working to control costs for parents and taxpayers during the worst economic recession in 70 years."

Additional highlights of the study include:

  • 20 percent of UT Austin faculty are teaching 57 percent of student credit hours.  They also generate 18 percent of the campus's research funding.  This suggests that these faculty are not jeopardizing their status as researchers by assuming such a high level of teaching responsibility.
  • Conversely, the least productive 20 percent of faculty teach only 2 percent of all student credit hours and generate a disproportionately smaller percentage of external research funding than do other segments of the faculty.
  • Research grant funds go almost entirely (99.8 percent) to a small minority (20 percent) of the faculty; only 2 percent of the faculty conduct 57 percent of funded research.
  • Non-tenured track faculty teach a majority of undergraduate enrollments and a surprising 31 percent of graduate enrollments.
  • The most active researchers teach nearly the average of all faculty; increasing teaching loads of others would trivially impact outside research support.

SOURCE The Center for College Affordability and Productivity