Monday, June 23, 2008

Comparing California, Texas Higher Ed

Updated: 9:53 p.m., June 24, 2008 (see below)

A former mentor and colleague pointed me to these faculty productivity rankings by the Chronicle for Higher Education.

The same former mentor also talked about how Texas (population 23,507,783) higher education compares to California (population 36,457,549) higher education. That is, how do the two most populous states stack up?

As an imperfect measure of university quality, let's look at the institutions listed by the Chronicle. How many public programs are nationally ranked in terms of top faculty productivity? There is a problem of apples and oranges, as Texas has separate listings for medical schools, and California does not. In the interest of fairness, I will include all Texas public institutions including the medical schools.

University of Texas, Austin -- 28
Texas A&M University -- 14
University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston -- 6
University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas -- 3
Texas Tech University -- 3
University of Houston -- 2
University of Texas Medical Branch -- 2
Sam Houston State University -- 1
Texas A&M, Kingsville -- 1
University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth -- 1
UTEP -- 1
(Private school Rice has 6 ranked programs)

That gives Texas a grand total of 62 ranked programs at public universities including medical schools. How does California stack up? With 50% more population, California should have about 93 ranked programs if the two states are equal.

University of California, Berkeley -- 59
UCLA -- 41
University of California, Davis -- 21
University of California, San Diego -- 19
University of California, San Francisco -- 16
University of California, Santa Barbara -- 11
University of California, Irvine -- 8
University of California, Riverside -- 6
San Diego State University -- 5
University of California, Santa Cruz -- 1

It turns out that California has 187 ranked programs -- more than three times the state of Texas. Fifty percent greater population translates into 300 percent more ranked programs.

The top two Texas programs have 42 ranked programs. The top two California programs have 100. The top two Texas programs have 96,236 students, according to Wikipedia. The two top California institutions have just 71,564 students, also thanks to Wikipedia. More than double the ranked programs spread among 14,000 fewer students.

I make no inferences here, but rather I leave them to you, the reader. In terms of objective productivity, my California compatriots far outpace me and my Texas colleagues.

(Meant to be humorous) It brings to mind the current California Dairy Board advertising campaign: "Great milk comes from happy cows. Happy cows come from California."

Update: This page is getting a good deal of traffic from a blog by the Texas Faculty Association. Although I am all for a good crusade, this was not the crusade that I had intended. The quip about California cows was meant to be a throwaway at the end. Instead it can quite logically be read as me saying Texas faculty are unhappy.

This may be the case; however, it is at best a hypothesis. There is clearly a cause for the disparity outlined in these data, but it assuredly boils down to something more complex than faculty satisfaction. I have zero data concerning the relative happiness of the respective faculties.

With the current economy and the price of oil, one could make a not-so-bold prediction that Texas universities will soon make up much ground on their California counterparts. Texas' budget future looks far more rosy than that of California. When you combine Texas' oil and gas revenues with how long California took to come out of the last recession, it's a great time to be in Texas.

As a resident of Texas -- and a faculty member in Texas -- I found these data to be interesting. However, I did not intend to slight the state of Texas. Trust me. I live here, and I know better.

It is worth understanding why this disparity exists. But a throwaway quip should not be interpreted for my estimate of the answer. It remains an empirical question.

* Population estimates for 2006 courtesy of the U.S. Census Bureau here and here.

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Anonymous Sarah Bishop Merrill said...

So what I take from this set of data is NOT that California professors are indeed more happy or productive, but rather that TEXANS produce 25,000 MORE students from their top programs than do the Californians with all their self-indulgent comfort! The data clearly show NOT that California is more productive, but that by student response, our top programs are far more productive than California's. Since when do we ignore, as this writer did, the numbers of students voting with their feet, and their noses in study? So: congratulations, and Go Texas, ... I can say, as a translanted New Yorker. And how d o the other states fare? Didn't anyone else notice that Texas had far more students reported in the Wikipedia data (presuming it's accurate) than California? Not that popularity alone is the test, but quality can draw, even if states where housing isn't off the charts in price. Without other parameters, I do not think we can draw the conclusions this writer draws. People are not only happy because of salaries and whether their program is the "top rated" by some arbitrary parameters, but rather when their quality of life and community (of scholars and in general) is productive, rewarding, deep and connected.

3:29 PM  
Blogger Michael Berberich said...

While in California this past weekend I read that part of California's ever present, ever looming, and seemingly never ending budget problems include tens of billions of dollars worth of unfunded entitlements, many of which are to be found in guaranteed retirement benefits.

7:48 PM  
Blogger Samuel D. Bradley said...

Sarah -- Thanks for the comment. The original post had more of an acerbic tone than I had intended.

There are many comparisons that favor Texas. I find this one interesting, and I regret that a throwaway line suggested I knew the answer.

Comparing the relative institutions is a somewhat unfair comparison as the way that the states define flagship institutions is entirely different.

In California, the entire UC system is designated as flagship. Conversely, in Texas, only UT and A&M are typically considered flagship institutions. Only those two schools, by my understanding, receive money from the controversial Permanent University Fund.

So "flagship" students are spread across just two schools in Texas versus several in California. Given that, enrollment at the top two should differ.

Thus, you are absolutely right. Conclusions cannot be drawn, and more data are necessary. I simply posit to you that the question has merit.

10:11 PM  

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