Taking technology down the drain
Arizona Summer Wildcat
In today's world of higher education, no money means no
On the east end of the McClelland Hall, 1130 E. Helen St., there is a conference room with three rows of theater-style seating all facing north, sloping up toward the back. The colors are common in offices today - charcoal gray , aquatic blue and purples - and the room has the feel of a spaceship with smooth fixtures everywhere.
The focal point of the room is a screen implanted in the wall, about two feet long and six feet wide, where Brian Kinne, vice president of sales for TeleSuite corporation, speaks with the nine people in the room.
"You're talking to a wall but hopefully it doesn't feel like you are," Kinne said.
He's in Inglewood, Ohio and is discussing with members of the University of Arizona Karl Eller College of Business and Public Affairs in the conference room the cost saving opportunities that come with teleconferencing.
These sort of technological advances are now bringing medicine and business into another generation and at the forefront are institutions that provide education in Management and Information Systems.
It is one of the majors of the future that students are lining up to join and professors are lining up to teach.
The UA's MIS department is ranked fifth in the nation by U.S. News and World Report.
And it can barely afford the students it has.
Same old story, different department
Last October, MIS officials announced it was possible that advanced standing would be denied to some students in the program.
Normally, the department allows 200 students advanced standing, but as a result of a shrinking body of faculty members due to cuts in funding, that number might have been cut in half.
Although there was no reduction in the number of students allowed advanced standing this year, the brain drain continues to plague the department.
The brain drain - loss of faculty because of an inability to raise salaries to the market value - has cost the business college about 30 professors, said Mark Zupan, dean of the College of Business and Public Administration.
This is something that has been taking place for several years, leading departments to cut teaching openings and classes offered to retain the faculty it has.
"The old salaries really don't meet market values," said Olivia Sheng, MIS department head.
And market value is sometimes 60 to 100 percent higher than what faculty members are receiving at the UA. Zupan said this is a challenge that the MIS department has faced and lost many times.
"If we keep shrinking we'll have to be mindful of passing accreditation," he said.
Next year the MIS program is up for reaccreditation, and is now on the edge of being able to meet the standards to remain accredited.
Hundreds of MIS majors lined up at dawn last November and waited in line for hours to secure places in their MIS classes.
With the department swelling and advances in technology moving forward, "we're even more of a beacon," Zupan said.
Even with the UA being a possible model for other MIS programs, there is still the problem of getting students into the program.
Many students at the UA just have to apply to the university once and then can follow their course of study to graduation without another application process. For students who want to study in the MIS program they must also be accepted to the highly competitive Karl Eller College of Business and Public Administration.
But since the demand is so great for the MIS program, a student must be accepted a third time, by the MIS department in order to be a major.
"In an ideal world there are other ways to balance supply and demand," Zupan said.
There were 908 students in the MIS department in the spring semester, with only 14 full time faculty and reaccreditation approaches.
Higher cost: higher price and the private sector
Two tenure track professors and one non tenure track professor have been hired for the fall 2000 semester.
The funds to pay these new instructors salaries are coming from the university to secure the department's accreditation and if the program is to continue growing, Zupan said an infusion of funding has to come from a familiar source, the students.
"We've got to do something about tuition," he said.
The Arizona constitution states that tuition is to remain free or as close to free as possible. UA officials translated that to mean that the university should keep it's tuition in the middle of the bottom third of the nation.
The UA is consistently one of the cheapest universities to attend in the nation, ranking at the bottom of the lowest third.
"We have interpreted (the constitution) to mean there should be low tuition and that really hasn't worked," said Sharon Kha, UA spokeswoman.
Last April the university presidents and Arizona Board of Regents attempted to raise the tuition for in-state students $100. It failed and now the university is going to be asking for more this year.
Over time, Zupan said he would be in favor of a $1,000 tuition increase, which would still keep the UA below many of its peer institutions.
"I think we should be much closer to our peers," he said.
With the additional funds, Zupan said the UA would have the ability to offer larger pay increases and ease the brain drain.
Kha said there are two points of view concerning the tuition increase. While some argue that by increasing tuition the quality of the education will go up, others have said that low tuition is one of the greatest attributes of the UA.
"Although I don't think anyone would use tuition to retain faculty," she added. "That's clearly the Legislature's responsibility."
If tuition money can't be used to curb the drain, then the MIS department must look to the business community that it sends its students out into.
"The business community was actually supportive," Zupan said. "We can't find a business program in the country that brings in more money."
But as the business community provides sponsorship - like the Phelps Dodge Professional classroom - and aids the MIS department in matching other institution's salary offers it could take away something equally important.
"I think grants sometimes mean buyouts of your teaching time," Zupan said. "But in the end it's gonna have to be through the business community believing in us."