Ky. Voices: Bigger education not always better

Community colleges work well; NKU trying to grow too fast

December 17, 2012 

Much has been said about the problems and costs of higher education. The roots of these problems go deep as we are attempting to educate everyone in a system that was designed for the wealthy and brilliant.

Federal and state governments are attempting to rectify this problem by subsidizing tuition that is more than most families can afford. This does not solve the problem; in fact it causes bloat in the system.

The solution is to make the existing community college system viable and affordable for the career training of young people.

A good way to illustrate these points is to relay some of my observations at Northern Kentucky University.

I did not know it at the time, but some of the reasons I chose NKU were its similarities to a community college, right down to the tacky concrete buildings.

The campus is compact, not sprawling; classes are small, and there are few large lecture halls. There are a few dorms, but most students commute.

While I was there I witnessed it become more and more like a state university, culminating in its move to Division I athletics.

There is a similar phenomenon in computers. Computers have gotten faster and faster. At the same time the software gets more and more complicated, more than countering the increase in speed.

The upshot is that simple tasks such as writing a letter or checking the calender take longer today than they did 10 years ago. When a state school receives another source of revenue, it quickly finds new projects to take on. When these projects exceed the budget, costs eventually get passed on to students.

One way to solve this problem with computers is to switch to a Linux or Unix operating system. In fact the Unix motto is, "Do one thing and do it well."

I went to my neighborhood elementary school, a magnet high school and a state university. The best education I ever received was the semester I spent at Bluegrass Community and Technical College. The community college system does only one thing and does it very well.

There are three things I observed at NKU which I would classify as bloat and that could be stopped or reversed:

■ The attempt to create a viable MBA program. Along with the informatics college, this is an attempt to leave NKU's niche and compete with the larger public universities such as the University of Cincinnati and University of Kentucky.

This is a competition NKU cannot win with people who want and can afford to go to a large state school.

■ Construction of a new gym. I am not going to argue that the gym should not exist, but it should not be extravagant with such additions as a rock-climbing wall. The gym should be a bare-bones facility. If the equipment needs to be replaced or upgraded, that is one thing, but the building that was being used did not need replacement.

■ The move to Division I in sports. It is said that this will generate revenue, but if it does this revenue will not go to improving teaching functions or lowering tuition.

These activities are not wholly wrong because of the added cost to students and taxpayers. They are wrong because they divert the energies of the faculty and staff from teaching.

I'm not saying I know better than the people making these decisions, and I do not I think my writing will cause any change at that university. I merely make these points to illustrate the difference between state universities and community colleges.

I also assert that community colleges are the better option for young people and career training. These careers do not just include welding and auto mechanics but engineers and teachers as well.

As more and more careers require a college education and more and more young people seek a college education, something in the system will have to give.

We need to prepare our community colleges for this challenge.

Byron Avery is a graduate of Dunbar High School and Northern Kentucky University where he earned a degree in marketing. He works at Amazon in Lexington.

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service