Faculty Senate Discussion

Comments on RCM

Filed under RCM Impacts 2010-11 by romanor@ufl.edu on November 10, 2010 | 1 Comment

Comments on RCM

Richard Romano, Gerald L. Gunter Professor of Economics, Department of Economics

Thank you for the opportunity to provide feedback about the RCM program.  The problem of allocating resources in a university is a challenging one.  It is commendable that the University is tackling this problem head on.  Below are some criticisms of RCM in its current form.  While I make no attempt here to provide alternatives, perhaps these criticisms will be helpful in formulating alternatives.  It is possible that I do not understand the RCM model fully, but this speaks to a problem as well.  The criticisms begin with more sweeping issues and then get to specifics.

1. While it seems that RCM will play a central role in resource allocation in the University, it’s linkage to research (and public service) is at best tenuous.  It is easy to say that better departments (with better researchers) will attract more students and so more resources will naturally flow to these departments, but student demand is driven by many factors.  For example, unfortunately, it is a fact that a number of students will be attracted into majors that they perceive to be relatively easy, which may run counter to rewarding departments that do excellent research.

2. It is unclear what the goals of RCM are.  The best way to allocate resources in a university depends on the university’s goals.  For example, if the university’s primary goal is to promote cutting-edge research, it is not clear that this goal is best promoted by rewarding departments (and thus researchers) according to the number of student credit hours they generate.  It would be nice if the implementation of RCM were associated with a well articulated statement of goals.

Here are some more specific issues regarding RCM:

3. Within any college, my understanding is that RCM rewards larger classes.  Obviously, colleges will then have incentives to nurture courses with large enrollments.  Unless university enrollments increase, this is essentially a zero-sum game.  If it is course “quality” that attracts students, then RCM will promote quality.  But we all know that undergraduate students are frequently attracted to courses that are easy grades, so there is real concern for a “race to the bottom.”  More generally, do we really want to promote large classes?  As educators, we all know that class size is negatively associated with class quality.  (Of course, we need to find a middle ground, but RCM doesn’t seem to promote this.)

4. The differential reward weights on undergraduate student hours versus graduate student hours in RCM is astounding.  In my college (business), the weights are such that teaching undergraduates loses money (rewards do not cover fully costs).  Note, too, that my college has very large undergraduate enrollments (though very low weights overall).  While a university strategy of shifting resources toward graduate education might be sensible, the extreme incentives and potential consequences for undergraduates are distressing.  UF attracts extraordinarily talented undergraduates.  As well, our political support depends crucially on top high school graduates from Florida having access to excellent undergraduate education.  If excellent high school graduates face large classes and a limited choice of classes here at UF, they are likely to pursue alternative educational opportunities.

5. The differential weights across colleges are more astounding.  Perhaps the simplest way to make the point is this:  My dean calculates that the resources my department (economics) generates for my college (business) is 4.5 million dollars (we teach a lot!). In contrast, if my department were relocated to CLAS and taught exactly the same courses and the same students, we would generate 8 million dollars for CLAS.  (In case you haven’t heard, there has consequently been some discussion of moving my department to CLAS.)  Of course, the switch that would generate the additional 3.5 million dollars wouldn’t actually generate another penny; if the switch were made, the RCM formula would adjust all college weights so that the “extra money” for CLAS would come out of other colleges (and be a bit less for CLAS).  Whether economics is a better fit in CLAS is a completely separate matter, and the example above assumes our department does exactly what it does now.

6. RCM also provides substantially more resources to colleges for teaching their own students (e.g., undergraduate majors in the college) than for teaching “outsiders” from other colleges.  The incentive effect here is to substitute “own students” for outsiders.  Thus, for example, a college (other than CLAS in this example) has an incentive to develop its own statistics course rather than have students take statistics from the statistics department.  Thus, RCM runs counter to educational gains from efficiently using the specialized skills in the university.  More generally, RCM fails to promote cross-college collaboration.

I hope that my comments are helpful in improving resource allocation in the University.  Thanks, again, for the opportunity to provide feedback.

One Response to “Comments on RCM”

  1. One of the problems that I see with RCM is that it actually discourages faculty from doing things which are a net money loser individually but a net reputation gain (and therefore money gain) in the future. For example, hosting journals at universities is often a money loser (or, at best, breaks even) in the social sciences, even if those journals are atop the ISI rankings. With the RCM “charge” to small subventions, publishers are less likely to choose our university, and we are less likely to be able to sustain those journals. At the same time, hosting journals, especially prestigious ones, is certainly “worth” the expense for reputation; especially as we give importance to rankings like the NRC that value it.

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