The continually rising costs of higher education remain at the forefront of national interest, but equally important are legitimate concerns about the quality of a collegiate degree. To be sure, the quality of a university degree is directly linked to the strength of the credentials held by its facility. How does our hometown gem, Sam Houston State University (SHSU), fare in this regard?
Since all collegiate students certainly need the abilities to read, write and compute carefully and critically, the two most fundamental units on any university campus are arguably the English and the Mathematics departments. Ostensibly, all other academic departments rely on the foundational skills taught, and polished, by these two units.
A recent public information request I made of Sam Houston State University (SHSU) was quite disheartening. Specifically, the English Department reported that only 55% of 347 classes were taught by fully credentialed (Ph. D, or Ed. D) faculty members during the 2018-19 academic year. The situation was remarkably worse during that same time frame in the Mathematics and Statistics Department, which reported that only 42% of 360 classes were taught by faculty holding either a Ph. D or Ed. D terminal degree. Put another way, 45% of English classes and 58% of mathematics (or statistics) classes were taught during the 2018-19 academic year by staff whose highest credential was a master’s degree only.
These appalling dismal statistics should motivate the SHSU administration to redouble its recruiting efforts with paramount emphasis placed upon pursuing fully credentialed faculty members. However, there is no tangible evidence that any changes are on the horizon. Indeed, recent studies indicate that this obstinate trend will continue, not only at SHSU, but at many other public colleges and universities across our state.
Why is this occurring? The answer boils down to dollar bill costs: Ph. D faculty are expensive. It is much cheaper to employ master’s-degree-only applicants to perform teaching duties formerly conducted by Ph. D faculty. But, this myopic view completely ignores the fact that fully credentialed faculty bring to university students a wealth of quality teaching, quality research and quality business and industrial experiences that overwhelmingly dwarf the contributions of their master’s-degree-only counterparts. Of course, the old adage “You get what you pay for” is the heart-of-the-matter, but it is the least likely argument to advance statewide with the university administrators whose vision is restricted only to dollar bill costs with no juxtaposed notion of the costs of the loss of quality.
These issues are not restricted to SHSU; they occur at most public (and some private) institutions of higher learning throughout the Lone Star state. Nonetheless, my 35-year career in the collegiate academy informs that the daughters and sons of the taxpayers of the state of Texas deserves substantially better stewardship of the public trust than they are now receiving.
— Dr. Stephen M. Scariano, Huntsville