All posts by Judah Bellin

Is the President’s Community College Plan Worse Than We Thought?

The President​’s remarks on his free community college proposal didn’t address the concerns raised by higher-ed analysts; in fact, it simply created new ones. When he initially unveiled the plan, President Obama stated that free community college would be limited to students who maintain a 2.5 GPA and make good progress towards completing their degrees. However, in his address tonight he expressed a desire to make “two years of college…as free and universal in America as high school is today.” This statement raises the possibility that the federal government will eventually scrap the plan’s already minimal eligibility criteria, which would lead to many more enrollees and a higher price tag for taxpayers.

Moreover, the President failed to acknowledge his plan’s very real drawbacks. He stated that “forty percent of our college students choose community college​” but didn’t note community college students’ abysmal graduation rates. On a related note, he failed to detail accountability measures that would force schools receiving the new federal subsidy to improve student outcomes. This omission suggests that the President is relatively uninterested in improving community colleges before he directs more students to enroll. Without any such improvement, however, the President’s plan will likely hurt those he’s trying to help.

A Gloomy Report on Higher Education

Moody’s Investors Service has a new report on the state of American public higher-education, and it isn’t pretty. Among the negative trends it discusses:  

  • The decline in enrollment. Moody’s reports that more than half of America’s public universities saw no growth or declines in fall 2013.
  • The growing importance of tuition. Tuition now constitutes almost half of public university’s operating revenues, even as tuition revenues dropped 4 percent for flagship and system schools and  25 percent for regional public universities.
  • Increased cost pressures. The growth of expenses at public universities outpaced the growth of revenue for the second year in a row.

To be fair, the picture isn’t totally bad. Moody’s also reports that over 87 percent of public universities have increased their total financial resources since 2008, which puts them in a better position to manage declining enrollments and revenues.

This bit of positive news does not mitigate the overall story, however. Moody’s concluded the report by affirming its “negative sector outlook” for higher-education generally and public higher-education in particular. One suspects that investors will take heed. Will college administrators do the same?

New Proof that Colleges Are In Trouble

What does the state of on-campus housing tell us about the state of American higher-ed? A lot, as it turns out.

Last week NBC News described the growth of a market in palatial student dormitories. Critics have long known that in promoting themselves, colleges tend  to highlight their luxurious facilities—not their academic programs. Students, in turn, increasingly feel entitled to these spa-like accommodations. As one Boston University student put it in reference to her luxury dorm, “I’ve worked really hard and I figured I deserve to live in a place like this.’’ She paid for her housing with her student loans.

These dorms epitomize higher-education’s bloat and the current generation’s sense of entitlement. Moreover, their recent growth bespeaks the federal government’s overinvestment in higher education. Indeed, as noted before here, real-estate developers relish their investments in student dorms because they know that, thanks to the generous student-loan program, students and their families will pay for lavish on-campus housing regardless of their economic woes–or the country’s.

Recent developments in the student-housing market continue to reflect the state of American higher education as a whole. Given higher-education’s current financing challenges, colleges are heavily outsourcing the development of these properties to private investors. According to the NBC story, universities administrators argue that they prefer to “spend their limited cash on academic programs and leave the living spaces to the experts.”

Moreover, the story notes a curious consequence of falling enrollments at some private non-profit colleges. Investors are now looking to invest primarily in large public universities since “enrollment tends to be more stable.” Thanks to the recent questioning of higher education’s value, private universities—especially middle-tier ones–are no longer a wise investment.

In a recent piece for Minding the Campus, Richard Vedder argued that colleges now face a unique set of challenges due to declining enrollment and reduced revenues. He pointed to a number of private colleges that were in dire financial straits or were closing, and cited an analyst from Moody’s who suggested that “tuition-dependent colleges and universities will be challenged to…remain competitive over the longer term.”

One hopes that colleges will seek to “remain competitive” by reinvesting in academic programs or by ensuring their graduates’ success in the labor market. The fact that at least some schools are now paying less attention to facilities is reason for optimism. However, one thing is pretty clear: the story of student dormitories validates Vedder’s claim. When even the federal government’s guarantees are not enough to assure dormitory investors, you know higher education is in trouble.

An Embarrassing Commencement Season

When student activists tried to block some commencement speakers this year, conservatives generally denounced these efforts as censorship. Sure, these protesters were mostly aligned with the campus left, a group that has historically attempted to stifle free speech. These efforts were consistent with the decades of illiberality on our college campuses, a subject we and our friends at FIRE and NAS have covered for years.

Continue reading An Embarrassing Commencement Season

Obama’s Executive Order: Bad for Taxpayers, Worse For Students

President Obama announced today an executive order that will make the student loan program a worse deal for taxpayers. Though the federal government already allows some students to cap their loan repayments at 10 percent of their monthly incomes, the President hopes to expand the program. Students who borrowed before October 2007 or who haven’t borrowed since October 2011 will now be allowed to do so. In other words, more students will be able to repay less of their taxpayer-subsidized loans.

The President has chosen to ease student debt by shifting the costs to the taxpayers who fund it. Though this order might strike him as a good political move–especially in advance of the upcoming midterm elections–it won’t help students in the long run. It will encourage students to assume more debt, as it signals that the federal government is willing to bail out indebted students. The more the federal government cushions student borrowers while maintaining its generous loan program, the higher student debt loads will grow. The risk of delinquency and default will increase accordingly.

A real solution to growing student debt requires substantive fixes to the student loan program, not expensive gimmicks. It’s a sorry fact that Congress, and now the President, have chosen the latter.

Does Scott Walker Need A College Degree?

Do you need a college degree to get elected president? Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who doesn’t have one, wants to know.

As Walker begins contemplating his 2016 presidential bid, John Fund reports, his incomplete education is raising concerns among Republicans. Walker started college at Marquette University but dropped out to join the Red Cross. He never returned.  Amidst these grumblings, however, Walker is now considering finishing his degree.

We already know the answer to Walker’s question, as nine of our Commanders-in-Chief– among them the greatest (Washington, Lincoln) and most obscure (Taylor, Fillmore)– never received a college education. But Walker’s concerns are understandable. Americans today place a much higher premium on a college degree than they did in the past, and it’s quite possible that swaths of the electorate will write him off as a result.

Walker has indicated that if he does finish his degree, he’ll do it through the University of Wisconsin’s FlexOption, which allows students to obtain a degree at their own pace online. FlexOption relies on a “competency-based model,” which offers credits for subject mastery rather than in-class seat time. To that end, highly self-motivated students can complete their degrees as quickly as they can pass their assessments. Such programs present a worthy challenge to the traditional model of higher-ed, which places little stock in how much students have actually learned.

If Walker finishes his degree, then, he’ll not only improve his electoral prospects but also bring renewed attention to one of the most important innovations in higher-ed today. If he’s wise, he might even choose to make higher-ed reform a key campaign promise. He could certainly speak from experience.

‘Degree Inflation’ Takes Its Toll

Here’s some more evidence for those who wonder whether a
college degree is “worth it.” The online job portal CareerBuilder announced last week  that more employers are requiring their employees to hold an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. 27 percent of the surveyed employers  said that they increased “educational requirements” for obtaining a job in the past five years, while 30 percent are now consider college-graduates for positions they used to offer to high-schoolers.

None of this information is particularly novel. For the past
few years the Center for College Affordability and Productivity has warned about the “underemployment” of college graduates, pointing to the startling statistic that 48 of American college graduates hold jobs that Bureau of Labor Statistics believes requires less than a four- year degree. As Career Builder put it, a college degree “is increasingly becoming the new high school diploma.”

The fact that employers are offering the same jobs to college students that they once offered high-school graduates indicates that these jobs haven’t become more demanding. Rather, both growth in the number of college graduates as well as the perception that college grads are more competent have led  to  serious This trend sends a paradoxical message to high-schoolers: you should definitely go to college, but you should hope your friends don’t.

How to Fix the Student Debt Crisis

If you’re interested in the worrisome growth of student debt, check out my new essay for National Affairs. I explain how the student debt crisis came about, explore some of the suggested reforms, and offer my own solution. In short, I argue that the federal government should stop calculating loan awards on the basis of individual colleges’ cost of attendance, since that incentivizes administrators to raise costs without consequence. It’s behind a paywall, but if you subscribe you can read it immediately. 

What’s Going On ‘At Berkeley’?

Thumbnail image for BERK.jpg“What is it about Berkeley that stands out?” asks a woman who appears to be a professor at the beginning of Frederick Wiseman’s new four-hour documentary At Berkeley. She talks about making quality education available to all and transforming the future of both California and the country’s “diverse population.” But she is not identified. At Berkeley does not provide the names of the people it depicts, nor does it use a narrator or a timeline for events it portrays.

To Wiseman, the university’s complex ecosystem is more important than the individuals in it. He is successful on this front, making At Berkeley truly an immersive experience. At one moment, you’re sitting in on a seminar where a professor and his students are discussing Thoreau and Emerson; at another, you’re watching a performance of Sherwood Anderson’s “Our Town”; at yet another, you’re observing biology students dissect and stuff birds. But more than that: you also sit in administrative sessions, seminars on undergraduate instruction, and faculty committee meetings. To that end, At Berkeley provides some insight into how American higher education actually works today–and the ways in which it doesn’t.

Continue reading What’s Going On ‘At Berkeley’?

Business Leaders Doubt Higher-Ed’s Value

Are American colleges really the best in the world? One group that really matters–the business leaders who want to hire college graduates–seem skeptical.

A recent poll conducted by Gallup and the Lumina Foundation found that while 37 percent of business leaders believed that the United States has the best system of higher-education, a sizable 32 precent disagreed. More significantly, one-third of the survey’s participants disagreed with the statement that American higher-education provided students with “the skills and competences that my business needs.”

In contrast, university adminstrators are far more optimistic. When Inside Higher Ed asked administrators whether their institutions succeed at “preparing students for the world of work,” 55 percent said that their schools were “very effective” and 40 percent said they were “somewhat effective.” Unfortunately for students, it’s not the opinion of their deans and provosts that matters, but that of the managers who make hiring decisions.

Fortunately, there’s a silver lining–somewhat. The Gallup poll shows that the despite their misgivings, business leaders will continue to hire American graduates. 57 percent “strongly disagree” that they should hire foreign-born workers due the failings of American higher education. Only 4 percent said they “strongly agree” that they should. This statistic will reassure the higher-education establishment; however, if the doubts of business leaders continue to grow, it’s hard to imagine  them hiring under-prepared Americans forever.

Higher-Ed in the State of the Union

Cross-posted from E21

President Obama delivered a mixed performance on higher-education issues in his State of the Union address. As college tuition continues to grow, debt loads increase, and delinquency and default rates on that debt rise accordingly, it’s more important than ever that students come out of college with promising employment prospects.

To that end, we should welcome the President’s recommendation that companies help create community college programs that train students for the workforce. The private sector should assist in building a labor force that is prepared for the 21st century labor market. This is better than elected officials determining which fields of study are “useful” or lucrative, and privileging students in those fields with lower tuition or more generous aid. These companies have better senses of the skills needed today.

However, the President’s comments on the most pressing problem in American higher education–student debt–were underwhelming. He noted that “We worked with lenders to reform student loans, and today, more young people are earning college degrees than ever before.”

Though the President is correct to assert that his administration changed the federal loan program by removing federal insurance for lenders of student loans and making the federal government the primary direct lender of these loans, it’s hard to argue that the loan system has been substantively reformed. For one, total student debt outstanding and the average individual debt load have grown considerably over the past few years. These trends persist because the President and Congress have not done enough to ameliorate the root cause of the recent debt explosion, namely, the growth of college tuition coupled with the lingering effects of the Great Recession.

Tuition growth results largely from the federal loan program, which dispenses awards based on differences between students’ financial needs and their costs of attending particular colleges. Colleges therefore have carte blanche to raise tuition, knowing that the federal government will make up a large part of what students cannot pay. 

In order to fix these distorted incentives the federal government must change the way it dispenses loans. It must ensure that colleges are not insulated from the consequences of raising tuition, and that they suffer when too many of their students cannot repay their loans. In that vein, the President has proposed a plan to rate colleges on their affordability, socioeconomic diversity, graduation rates, and alumni earnings, and to then provide more generous aid to schools with higher ratings.

We are still waiting to hear what the President’s plan will actually look like, but its rough sketches are not terribly promising. The new system will not drastically reduce debt loads because it will reward better-performing schools and not punish poorly-performing ones. It seems to maintain most of the perverse incentives that have caused the debt growth. To make college a more worthwhile investment for everyone, but especially for students like Estiven Rodriguez, the “son of a factory worker” whom the President showcased, both the President and Congress will need to do better.

A Dispiriting Victory for Higher-Ed Reformers

The victories in the fight to reform higher-ed are often dispiriting because they remind us of the enormity of our challenge. Today, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) announced that it had successfully pressured the University of Colorado to reinstate a course that CU had cancelled on the grounds that the professor, Patti Adler, had engaged in “harassment” during one lecture. Her crime? She’d asked her teaching assistants to depict the living conditions of sex workers by dressing up as prostitutes. Never mind that the dress-up was completely voluntary, or that the faculty who had reviewed the course voiced no objections. CU’s Office of Discrimination and Harassment deemed the lecture a “risk,” and gave the Adler the option of either retiring or staying on but not teaching the course.

Thanks to the efforts of a coalition of free speech groups, including the National Coalition Against Censorship and the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, Adler is back on campus and plans to teach the course in the upcoming semester. We should we grateful for their hard work. However, it is unfortunate that restoring common sense to our campuses requires as much work as it does.

College Presidents Are Overpaid,
But Not For Long

The Chronicle of Higher Education has kindly validated our complaints about higher-education excess. According to the Chronicle’s analysis, 42 private college presidents received over one million dollars in total compensation in 2011, while the median compensation was $410,523. Though many of the top earners preside over some of the largest and most prestigious institutions–Chicago, Penn, and Columbia–a good number come from less prominent schools such as Marist, whose president, Dennis J. Murray, makes $2.7 million, and Chapman, where president James L. Doty makes $1.1 million.

Presidents at elite universities can assume that the good times will continue to roll. Despite the overall drop in private school enrollment, students will still apply to and enroll in their schools in droves, which will keep their trustees happy and their salaries sky-high. Those at lower-tier schools, however, will not be so lucky, as declines in enrollment and revenue will ultimately force trustees to cut administrative salaries. To save face, these presidents might even cut their salaries themselves, as Richard Joel of Yeshiva University recently did. Yes, mediocre institutions have the most to fear from the coming bursting of the higher-ed bubble. We should all be thankful.

Graduate Students of the World, Unite!

As the higher-ed bubble bursts, the biggest losers are graduate students, who train for years for a profession with rapidly dwindling employment prospects. As enrollments decrease, tenure-track jobs vanish, and universities hire more administrators than faculty, these students want to protect their investment in higher-ed. So many push for unionization.

Grad students achieved a significant victory yesterday, when the NYU administration recognized NYU and NYU-Poly’s graduate student union. NYU withdrew recognition of the union in 2005 on the grounds that the union was meddling in academic affairs by trying to negotiate teaching assignments and student evaluations. The union, now represented by the United Auto Workers, has agreed that “that academic decisions are not subject to bargaining.” in return, NYU has agreed not to actively campaign against the union. NYU’s calm negotiations stand in sharp contrast to last month’s labor unrest at University of California, where graduate students, along with other UC employees, engaged in a 24-hour strike to protest staffing shortages and the UC system’s requiring employees to increase personal contributions to their benefit plans.

NYU’s success will likely galvanize graduate students across the country. However, any improvement in student fortunes can only forestall their true adversary: the shrinking job market.

Does Brown Care About Free Speech?

Christina Paxson, Brown’s president, is displaying an admirable commitment  to free speech in the wake of the Ray Kelly heckling incident. In contrast to  college presidents who let censorious protests slide, Paxson is calling for a serious investigation into the events of October 29, when Brown students and Providence community members prevented Kelly from speaking. Labeling these actions “a breach of the University’s fundamental value of open discourse,” one that “cannot be ignored,” Paxson assured the Brown community that after the faculty/student committee completes the investigation, it will “determine whether individuals or organizations involved should be referred to the University’s established processes for resolving alleged violations of the Code of Student Conduct.”

Of course, we don’t know if Paxson will follow through. But so far, her example presents a refreshing contrast to the erosion of free speech on other prominent campuses across the nation. Fortunately, it seems her students are following suit–73 percent disapproved of the protestors’ tactics.

GW Sells Out Poorer Applicants

Student journalists from George Washington University have uncovered a piece of stunning news: Despite GW’s claims to the contrary, its admissions office has begun to favor wealthier students in the admissions process. Essentially, students who do not rank among the top applicants are wait-listed if admissions officers are unsure whether GW can “afford them.” Students with similar academic profiles who do not require financial aid, however, are more likely to be accepted. As if to confirm this policy shift, last Saturday the University removed from its website the assurance that  “Requests for financial aid do not affect admissions decisions.”

GW isn’t the first college to use “need aware” admissions policies: Smith, Colby, Reed and Carleton all acknowledge that applicants’ income plays some role in their admissions prospects. As college enrollment tumbles and schools become more cautious about their finances, we should expect more institutions to follow GW’s example.

Bad News on Student Defaults

The Department of Education released new information about student loan defaults yesterday, and it isn’t pretty. A dismaying 10 percent of student borrowers are now defaulting on their student loans within two years of repayment, and nearly 15 percent are defaulting within three years. These are the highest default rates since 1995.

The data bear out a few interesting details.  While students at for-profit colleges continue to have the highest two-year default rates (13.6 percent), this figure represents a decline from 2009, when 15% of these students were defaulting. Meanwhile, the rate of students who are defaulting at non-profit public and private universities has climbed 3.4 percent and .6 percent, respectively.

The growth in defaults at public universities is even more notable when one looks at default rates for public college students borrowing through the Federal Direct Student Loan Program (FDSLP).  The percentage of students who defaulted on federal direct loans nearly doubled–from 4.8 to 9.5 percent–in the same time period.

Given the weak economic recovery and the resistance of the higher-ed establishment to reform, it’s almost certain that these trends will worsen. Indeed, it’s notable that during his speech on the state of American education yesterday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan devoted ample time to the promising K-12 education reform movement and considerably less to higher-ed reform, because, well, there’s none to discuss. He vaguely remarked that “a number of universities” were “keeping down costs while maintaining or improving quality.” If we want to seriously address the problem of student debt, we’ll need many more than that.

Higher-Ed Reform is an Uphill Battle

Buzzfeed has a must-read story about the challenges facing colleges that seek to undermine the higher-ed status quo. Altius Education, a for-profit education company, partnered with the non-profit Tiffin University to create “Ivy Bridge College,” a program within Tiffin that offered associates degrees in practical fields. Atius and Tiffin designed Ivy Bridge hoping that its students would  eventually transfer to four-year schools, and indeed, about two-thirds of its students transferred to two- or four- year colleges. Even better, the program cost students under $10,000 yearly, making it cheaper than average cost of college in any higher-ed sector.

As is often the case, however, accreditors got in the way of progress. The Higher Learning Commission, a member of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools accreditation agency, had previously made such partnerships subject its approval and had already denied two requests. True to form, the HLC denied accreditation to Ivy Bridge, noting, among other things, that Tiffin did not demonstrate that its investors had “significant experience” running an accredited institution and that the program exhibited poor retention rates. Both concerns are easily dismissed. It should not matter whether investors have experience running an institution if said institution is as successful as Ivy Bridge. Furthermore, Ivy Bridge was designed to get students to transfer out, so a low retention rate is actually a measure of its success. HLC didn’t care, which meant that Ivy Bridge closed and its 2,400 students — 69% of whom were under the poverty line — were forced to find educational opportunities elsewhere.

As the piece’s authors note, this story is a classic example of how entrenched interests in the higher-ed arena continue to block innovation. To his credit, President Obama recently called for easing the regulatory burdens that stifle new programs like Ivy Bridge, though he has not made clear how he would do so. Until that happens, many promising alternatives to brick and mortar universities, and their disproportionately poor and minority students, have little chance of getting ahead.

Is Mitch Daniels Paying Attention?

Though Mitch Daniels has recently made news for attempting to remove Howard Zinn from Indiana’s classrooms, it’s his own institution that merits closer attention. A parent of a current Purdue student wrote into the Wall Street Journal today to reveal that the school is requiring all its students to read “No Impact Man,” an extreme environmentalist tract penned by a self-described “guilty Manhattan liberal.” It is not uncommon for schools to assign left-leaning books to their incoming classes. However, Purdue goes one step further by describing the book in terms one often reserves for the classic works of literature and philosophy our universities neglect. “No Impact Man,” Purdue tells its students, “provides a common intellectual foundation” and “is not ‘merely a book’–it is an intentional and essential piece of your overall Purdue experience.” President Daniels, call your office.

The President Speaks at Ohio State

Spring is always a riveting time for observers of American higher education. Indeed, the end of the school year portends two time-honored rituals for our colleges: the announcement of embarrassing information they hope students will forget over the summer and commencement. The latter is especially exciting because it lends higher education an imprimatur that has been diminished of late.

And how better to shore up one’s imprimatur than by having the President deliver the commencement address, as Ohio State did yesterday? President Obama praised the institution as well as is its students, whom he believed “possessed…that most American of ideas – that people who love their country can change it.” However, the President also demonstrated that these addresses often serve to bolster the speaker’s legitimacy. After praising Ohio State’s ROTC cadets and volunteers, he discussed the concept of “citizenship”: the notion that, in his words, “with rights come responsibilities – to ourselves, to one another, and to future generations.” He noted that no political party has an exclusive claim to this concept. With that said, he then argued that fulfilling the obligations of citizenship required addressing certain issues — gun violence, climate change, our moribund auto industry, domestic energy — that suspiciously resemble his policy priorities.

Obviously, none of this is at all suspicious: when any elected official has a podium, they’re bound to expound on their agenda. What’s more, colleges undoubtedly know this when they extend their invitations. Since politicians appear to be a popular choice for commencement addresses, this year’s seniors should expect to hear a good deal more about their elected officials’ programs than they might like. One might anticipate more seniors arguing that commencement should celebrate their successes rather than those of politicians and university administrators. Of course, this would assume students paid attention–hardly a safe bet.

Are Americans Rethinking Traditional Higher-Ed?

Gallup reports today that most
Americans understand the higher-ed crisis at least partially. Indeed, a new
survey shows that 59% “strongly agree” that colleges and universities
should “reduce tuition and fees.” While they’d be crazy not to think
this, it’s reassuring that a large percentage of the population recognizes that
higher-ed institutions are mostly to blame for skyrocketing costs.
Unfortunately, though, a plurality of respondents “strongly agree”
that “the federal government should provide more assistance.” As is
often the case, the American people don’t seem to understand that federal
programs designed to “solve” a given problem — in this case, the
rising cost of college — often end up exacerbating it.

However, Gallup’s report, which
it co-authored with the Lumina Foundation, also gives reason for hope. When
asked whether they agreed that “Online colleges and universities offer
high-quality education,” 11% of respondents strongly agreed, 22% agreed,
and 39% were neutral. This statistic might signal a growing acceptance of
alternatives to the traditional higher-ed model. Though Americans still prefer
brick-and-mortar institutions – indeed, larger percentages of respondents
agreed that “traditional colleges and universities offer high-quality
education” — they seem to recognize that they do not meet everyone’s needs. If
this indeed the case, this report might provide an opening for policymakers who
wish to wean America off its attachment to the fanciful notion of “college for

The Academic Boycott of Israel Comes to America

The Association for Asian American Studies just made news by becoming the first American academic organization to support a boycott of Israeli universities. In case you were wondering, the AAAS did not also call for a boycott of any other Asian universities located in countries with less-than-stellar human rights records. They seemingly believe that Israel is uniquely reprehensible.

The AAAS’s resolution left little to the imagination: it castigated Israeli universities for supporting Israel’s “violations of international law and human rights,” including its “denial of the right to education and academic freedom to Palestinians.” This language was consistent with former AAAS president Rajini Srikanth’s explanation for the boycott. He compared Israel to apartheid South Africa and argued that working with Israeli universities makes professors abettors of Israel’s “discriminatory practices.”

What’s truly puzzling about this decision is the AAAS’s recognition that “there are Israeli scholars who understand the difficulties that Palestinian academics and students have and speak up in support of Palestinian rights.” This fact alone should undermine the boycott’s rationale. Indeed, why isolate the very people who share their sympathies? The AAAS attempted to skirt this point by specifying that this boycott targets “Israeli institutions and not Israeli scholars” and that they will encourage “partnerships” between AAAS members of pro-Palestinian Israeli academics.

This distinction, however, is utter nonsense. One cannot separate these scholars’ pro-Palestinian scholarship and advocacy from the universities that pay their salaries, provide them with research grants, and lend them institutional legitimacy. The distinction is telling, though. It indicates that the AAAS believes Israel’s institutions are irredeemable. Hence, they support only those Israelis who are willing to undermine these institutions.                                                                                        

It is frightening that the academic boycott of Israel, once limited to European universities, has found such a prominent sponsor in the United States. Given the anti-Israeli rumblings on many of our campuses, we can be confident the AAAS’ resolution will not be the last. 

The Unacknowledged Value of For-Profit Education


Originally run as a Manhattan Institute Policy Brief.

The growth
of student-loan debt has raised a vexing question: Is a college degree still a good
investment? No segment of American higher education has faced greater scrutiny
than for-profit colleges and universities.


For-profits differ from traditional institutions in important
respects. They are accountable chiefly to shareholders, who expect a return on
their investment; their stocks are usually traded publicly; and they face no
restrictions in setting executive pay. In addition, their admissions standards
generally are much lower than those of comparable nonprofit schools. While
for-profits only accept students with a high school diploma or equivalent, they
are otherwise nonselective. The average acceptance rate for for-profits in
2007-08 was slightly above 74 percent, the highest of any sector and roughly 5
percentage points higher than public universities. Most important, for-profits’
academic goals are distinct: they explicitly seek to equip students with
vocational skills. To that end, they emphasize technical training over the
liberal arts. 

Continue reading The Unacknowledged Value of For-Profit Education

Student Debt Wreaks Unexpected Damage

day, and another awful consequence of our student debt problem has come to
light. The New York Fed just released
showing that growing levels of student debt have impacted
homeownership and car purchasing patterns. In the past, 30-year-olds who at
some point owed student debt were more likely than those who didn’t to take out
loans on new homes, since more education is correlated with higher incomes.
However, declining economic fortunes caused by Great Recession has changed all
that: 30-year-olds without student debt are now more likely to take out loans
to finance a new home. Likewise, though borrowers of student debt were once
more likely than non-borrowers to take out a loan for a car, the situation is
now reversed. More than any other factor, then, we can credit the Great
Recession with opening our eyes to the consequences of mounting student debt.
However, it remains to be seen whether these revelations will lead to

The Fed’s report contains perhaps the strongest argument for student loan reform. Indeed, borrowers of student debt are increasingly unable to finance the
purchases that will lead them to adulthood.  Moreover, given that a strong
housing market is essential to our economy’s continued health, this report
suggests that the student debt burden might delay our economic recovery. Many
have already argued
that student debt will have such ripple effects, and this report adds another
data point in their favor. 

Grandma, the Latest Victim of Student Debt

If you’re worrying about your child’s student debt obligations, you might want to check up on your parents, too. The Chronicle of Higher Ed reports that adults over 60 have the fastest growing student-loan debt and that their growing delinquencies are leading the Department of Education to garnish Social Security checks. Stung by the Great Recession, many older boomers went back to school in the hopes of burnishing their resumes. Unfortunately, employers’ reticence to hire older people who are out of work has led to continued unemployment and an average debt of $19,000 for this group.

The piece includes a poignant quote from an unemployed 65 year old, who laments that he “fully expect[s] to die with this [$70,000] debt.” Tragically, though he might die with his debt, his debt might not die with him. True, federally-backed loans are always discharged when then borrower dies. However, this is not the case with private loans: if family members had cosigned for the deceased borrower’s loan, they can be held liable for his unpaid debt. In other words, an unemployed 70 year old woman can be made responsible for her now-deceased husband’s loans. Since adults over the age of 40 are taking on private loans in increasing numbers, we can imagine that this nightmarish scenario will become more common for seniors.  The need for serious student loan reform couldn’t be clearer.