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Anthropology Mocked as U.S. Governors Push for Employable Grads

Republican governors in at least three states are pushing to link funding for universities to graduates’ success finding jobs, saying schools need to provide students with the skills employers demand.

Budgets submitted by governors Rick Scott of Florida and Scott Walker of Wisconsin propose tying some higher education funding to post-graduation employment. North Carolina’s Pat McCrory, whose budget is due this month, said he wants to support universities based “not on butts in seats, but on how many of those butts can get jobs.” All three have questioned the economic value of certain majors.

“If you want to take gender studies, that’s fine,” McCrory, 56, said in a January radio interview. “Go to a private school and take it. But I don’t want to subsidize that if it’s not going to get somebody a job.”

The push is part of a national movement to make higher education more accountable for results, prompted by tight state budgets, rising tuition and high unemployment, said Jason Lane, director of education studies for the nonpartisan Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government at State University of New York at Albany.

“For a long time, universities have been saying ‘We’re important. We’re important,’” Lane said. “Now the states are saying, ‘Show us.’”

University Value

The focus on short-term job placement misses the long-term value that a university education brings to careers and citizenship, said Hunter Rawlings, president of the Association of American Universities in Washington and a former president of Cornell University.

“It’s been a popular, populist issue for governors to take on,” Rawlings said. “They look responsive to the public when they make these kinds of proclamations.”

The effort to hold universities accountable for performance has been under way for two decades, said Julie Davis Bell, the Denver-based education group director for the National Conference of State Legislatures. Seeking to link funding to post-graduation job success is new, she said.

The push gained intensity during the 18-month recession that ended in June 2009, with states beginning to link increasing funding to measures such as graduation rates, Bell said. Twelve states now link some funding to performance measures, and 19 others are discussing it, she said.

Consumer Access

Other accountability advocates are pushing for more transparency, using databases that allow consumers to weigh what they get for their money. In the past two years, three states -- Arkansas, Virginia and Tennessee -- created Internet sites that allow the public to compare recent graduates’ salaries based on their majors.

Similar information will be available in Colorado, Nevada, Texas and Florida this year, according to the website for College Measures, a Rockville, Maryland nonprofit that helps develop the data, and state officials. Republican U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon have introduced legislation that would require the such information in all states.

Texas Governor Rick Perry began the most recent Republican push to revamp funding for higher education. Perry is still pressing to tie funding to graduation rates.

Florida’s Scott and Wisconsin’s Walker followed, both criticizing degrees they said did not translate into jobs.

Scott singled out anthropology.

Linking Money

In budgets submitted this year, Scott proposed linking more than $167 million of the state university system’s $3.8 billion budget to performance standards that include the percentage of recent graduates with jobs, the cost of their education and their salaries.

Walker’s budget would earmark about $20 million to bring more job-friendly degree offerings into the University of Wisconsin system. He also proposed beginning to tie technical-college funding to performance measures that include graduate placement in jobs.

North Carolina’s McCrory, who campaigned on increased vocational education, took on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in a Jan. 29 radio interview with former U.S. education secretary William Bennett. An “‘educational elite’’ has taken over the university system and is producing unemployable graduates, McCrory said.

Democratic Island

Chapel Hill has been ranked as America’s fifth-best public university for 12 consecutive years by U.S. News & World Report. Its grassy campus is flanked by forest and fraternity houses in a metropolitan area with the sixth-highest concentration of doctoral-degree holders in the nation, according to the U.S. census.

More than 70 percent of the county where UNC is located voted for Democrat Barack Obama in 2012 in a state that went Republican.

The university has been a target of Republican criticism before, including by the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, founded by the family foundation of McCrory’s budget director, Art Pope. One headline on the center website reads: ‘‘Teaching Marxist Subversion at UNC.’

McCrory, a graduate of North Carolina’s Catawba College, a private liberal-arts school, defended the type of education he received yet said the state shouldn’t subsidize some courses -- gender studies and philosophy -- now offered at Chapel Hill.

His comments prompted critical newspaper editorials, an Internet petition and a letter from faculty inviting McCrory to learn more about the university.

McCrory plans to deliver his budget late this month. Crystal Feldman, a McCrory spokeswoman, declined to comment on the governor’s plans for higher education.

Joanne Hershfield, chairwoman of UNC’s Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, who said the program’s graduates work in education, public health and banking.

‘‘I know we’re kind of a red flag out there that people like to wave around,” she said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Margaret Newkirk in Atlanta at mnewkirk@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at smerelman@bloomberg.net

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