The Real Cost of Teaching

It has occurred to me, via emails and verbal commentary, that the public may not be aware of how the cost of education is determined. Since I have spent the last 15 years of my career teaching machine shop in a Community College in California I thought I would type out some quick notes of edification.

A California Community College gets funding from the state based on enrollment. Each student is "worth" so many dollars for each class-hour taken, each semester. Once the semester has begun, and the finished rosters are turned in, the school district bills the state based on the number of students multiplied by the number of class-hours (or a close approximation thereof). Therefore the number of enrolled students and their total class load is important to the schools because their budget is derived from it. One student taking many classes or many students taking one class; the school district is paid for each student-class-hour.

So thinking in terms of funding and the cost of teaching, if each student is worth, for example, $500 per class taken then how much money does the school get for teaching a math lecture class of 50 students for one full semester? Answer: $25,000.

What is the overhead for a math lecture class that has no laboratory, no teaching aid, and very little in the way of devoted square footage and extra utilities? It is pretty small actually. The only cost other than the salary of the instructor is a minimum fully-burdened operation cost of the classroom..

Now take a look at a machine shop class of 30 students. Why only 30? Because you cannot successfully teach 50 students in a machine shop class. Machine shops don’t have 50 lathes and/or mills for one thing. And for another it would be a safety hazard to attempt it. Therefore 30 is the safe maximum for one instructor in one machine shop class (but plug in any number you think is reasonable).

Thinking in terms of funding and cost of teaching, if each student is worth $500 per class taken then how much does the school get for teaching a machine shop class of 30 students for one full semester? Answer: $15,000.

What is the overhead for a lecture class that has a laboratory, a tool crib attendant or teaching aid, and takes up huge amounts of floor space and utilities? The cost is much more than a simple lecture class in the math department. There is more square footage, more money for electricity, much more money for machinery and supplies, and the same salary for the instructor.

So you can see that teaching shop is a great deal more costly than teaching history, English, or math. When budgets are slim and the focus of the school is to send everyone on to a bachelors degree at a four year college then you can see why the machine tool programs are vanishing,

If you want to do anything about this you have to go to your congressman and push to differentiate manual arts classes from academic classes. The district needs to bill the state differently for classes that are more expensive to teach. Left to their own devices the districts will not continue funding the manual arts programs for long. This has to be a state or federal mandate. Plain and simple that is about the only way out of this trap.

Ron Smith

The Virtual Machine Shop