Tag Archives: cost

A Cautious Word about MOOCs

By J.M. Anderson

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MOOCs are all the rage. Not a day goes by without someone extolling how they will transform and rescue higher education: they will democratize it; they will revolutionize it; they will make it more affordable. In an essay here yesterday, Richard Vedder outlined their promise of positive impact.

At the same time, critics question their effectiveness and fear that they will harm American higher education. For instance, Lester Lefton, president of Kent State University, goes so far as to claim that they will devalue what colleges and universities have been especially good at creating–“a real diversity of thought.”  Whether colleges and universities promote genuine diversity of thought is questionable, as readers of this site well know, but the current debate about the quality, cost-effectiveness, and viability of MOOCs is misguided. It’s simply too soon to say.

What we can say is that MOOCs–whether you love ’em or hate ’em–undermine what has traditionally constituted education at the college level through the Massive Online Outsourcing of Courses.

Continue reading A Cautious Word about MOOCs

Should We Charge Different Fees for Different Majors?

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In the first couple weeks of any survey course in the
principles of economics, students are taught that prices are determined by the
interactions of consumers (demand) and producers (supply). Prices for many
things, such as oil, or of common stocks, constantly change with the frequent
shifts in the willingness of consumers and producers to buy or sell the good or
service in question.

Yet the price of college–tuition fees–seems to be
determined differently. For starters, tuition fees change but once a year, not
constantly. Universities are like restaurants, with “menus” giving prices for a
variety of different offerings, with the menu changing once a year.  For many schools, however, the listed price
is not what economists call an “equilibrium” price–a price equating quantity
demanded with quantity supplied. Rather, thousands are turned away at the
listed price at selective admission universities.  Also, massive price discrimination exists, so
many customers–often a majority–pay less than the stated or sticker price.

Amidst all of this, schools typically charge students the
same regardless of their major. A committee advising Florida Governor Rick
Scott has recommended a move to differential pricing–majors would pay
differing amounts. The goal is partly to entice students into the STEM
disciplines (science, technology, engineering and math) on grounds that our
future would be enhanced by having more scientists relative to, say, English
majors or anthropologists. By making STEM tuition fees lower, we will encourage
enrollment expansion in those fields. Ohio University’s Board of Trustees
recently considered (but did not yet adopt) a multiple-price approach, and
other schools are doing so. 

Continue reading Should We Charge Different Fees for Different Majors?

We Don’t Need a Different “Affirmative Action”

On
the day the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Fisher v. Texas, a case challenging racial preferences in college
admissions, the Wall Street Journal published a piece purporting to give “A
Liberal Critique of Racial Preferences.”

Author
Richard Kahlenberg argued (as he almost always does) in favor of changing “affirmative
action” to a system based on socio-economic class. That is, rather than
colleges giving preference to students because of their ancestry, they would
instead give preferences to students from relatively poor families. Kahlenberg
thinks it better to selectively admit some applicants, no matter what their
race, from low-income and working-class families than to admit some from
affluent families on account of their race.

The
case for preferences based on socio-economic status (SES) is no better than
that for race. I will focus on the most central one: It accomplishes no good.

Kahlenberg’s
argument is that racial preferences made sense in the past, when doors were closed
to many Americans based on their skin color, but today “obstacles to
opportunity are more closely associated with economic disadvantage.”

I
strongly disagree. Today the “obstacles to opportunity” are overwhelmingly
creations of government: occupational licensure, minimum wage laws, red tape
that impedes business formation, and so on. Those obstacles affect everyone,
although they have their strongest impact on the poor. But being poor is not itself
an obstacle.

But
this is besides the point. Kahlenberg isn’t describing a generic plan to boost
up the poor and working-class. He wants elite colleges and universities to give
prefer to the children of poor and working-class families. Suppose that a
plumber’s daughter in North Carolina has grades and SAT scores that make her an
automatic admit at UNC-Charlotte and a fairly likely admit at NC State. She applies
to Duke on a whim and is accepted not for her academic prowess but Duke’s desire
for SES diversity.

As
a diligent student, she will succeed whether she goes to UNCC, NC State, or
Duke, although at the latter she might find herself competing with students who
have more academic ability. Even if going to Duke wouldn’t cost her more (and
it almost certainly will), how is it beneficial for her to go there? Her career
prospects depend on her own accomplishments, not the name of her alma mater.

There
are two hidden assumptions in Kahlenberg’s argument — that elite schools give
students elite education and that America will be a fairer country if children
from “lower” SES backgrounds attend elite schools. Neither assumption is correct.
The supposedly elite schools don’t necessarily provide a better education.
Moreover, shuffling a few students “up” into those schools — while
simultaneously shuffling an equal number of non-preferred students “down” —
won’t make America any fairer. 

Three Pell Grant Scams

Many politicians, including senators such as Tom Harkin and Dick Durbin, have grown indignant over the allegedly vast amounts of higher education money captured by for-profit institutions via the Pell Grant program. In fact, they consider this something of a scam. The truth, of course, is that throughout its history, including now, the vast majority of Pell Grant funds—at least 75 percent– have gone to students attending not-for-profit colleges.

The implication of the criticism, of course, is that for-profit institutions (or at least many of them) are diploma mills, whereas the educational experience offered by institutions untainted by the corruptive influence of profits is of high quality, and provided by selfless individuals working for the public good. I think that is hogwash, but that is a subject for another day. Suffice it to say that there are documented instances where for-profit institutions pressured relatively unqualified students to enroll using Pell Grants, but there are numerous examples of not-for-profit schools doing similar things. The scam here is much broader than the good senatorial critics claim.

Continue reading Three Pell Grant Scams

Some Hope for Higher Ed Reform

The current conversation on higher ed reform coming is unusually platitudinous even for an election year. This was clearest earlier this year during the battle between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney on the proposed federal student loan interest rate, a subject fairly inconsequential in larger problem of sky-high college costs. In his Democratic nomination acceptance speech, President Obama claimed he would work to “cut college tuition in half” in the next ten years. How he would do this, or if he truly grasped what he was saying, is anyone’s guess.

But Senators Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Marco Rubio (R-Florida) have shown a great deal of care in crafting the “Know Before You Go Act.” The bill, currently under consideration in the Senate, will “support statewide individual-level integrated postsecondary education data systems.” More specifically, under the proposed bill the federal government will help states coordinate student educational and postgraduate employment data. The bill’s aim is to help consumers make better choices about the products they are considering. Per a press release from Wyden’s office, the bill focuses on making the following metrics more accessible to consumers:

  1. Post-graduation average annual earning;
  2. Rates of remedial enrollment, credit accumulation, and graduation;
  3. Average cost (both before and after financial aid) of the program and average debt accumulated;
  4. The effects of remedial education and financial aid on credential attainment and a greater understanding of what student success can mean.

We should praise the Know Before You Go Act for several reasons. First, instead of trying to instituting IPAB style price-control to help reform educational choices and costs, it respects the consumer’s volition to make his or her own determinations as to what is best for their particular circumstance. As Rubio said, “We want people to know what the new jobs, skills, careers in the 21st century are. The reason you need to know what your professional prospects are is that you have to weigh that against how much you will borrow.” He continued, “I graduated with $125,000 in student loans. That’s nobody’s fault – it was an investment for me. We want kids to have access to information before they make this investment.”

Secondly, the bill does not create a new federal database to obtain data by tracking students. Instead, its coordinates already extant data gathering mechanisms in the states. In describing this aspect of the bill, Wyden sounded like a Republican. “The new database is state-based and individually considered. The states can do this on their own but there’s a problem. There’s no uniform standards. If there’s no standards…then the system is failing families.”

Lastly, of concern to many conservatives, Wyden emphasized that the bill would produce a glut of computer science or accounting majors, to the neglect of the liberal arts. “This legislation is about empowering students to make their own choices. Are we going to miss out on opportunities for rich liberal arts education? I reject the either/or choice. A lot of universities are starting to pick up on labor trends – after 9/11 and Arabic for instance. Is it liberal arts or an education for a high paying job? That’s a false choice.”

Granted, it still seems Congress is far from addressing the main driver of college cost inflation – federal subsidies in the form of loans for anyone who wants them. Said Wyden, “Federal education policy is at a fork in the road. Historically it is about access. I want to keep that focus – support Pell grants, Stafford Loans, and all of the assistance that ensures access.” Nonetheless, a respected Democratic policy thinker is supporting a bill that is conservative in its temperament. By supplying greater amounts of data to consumers, the Wyden-Rubio bill is the right move in reforming an industry badly in need of more transparency and accountability.

Wake Us Gently–We’re Students

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It probably had to happen. The conversion of campuses into luxurious spa-like retreats started at elite and well-heeled institutions and has now spread to smaller, lesser-known colleges.

The newest student residence at Saint Leo University in Florida houses nap pods, an electronic gaming area with four flat-screen televisions, a workout area and an arcade complete with skee-ball, pinball machines, and air hockey tables. (This is a residence hall, not a student center.) Any student, not just those living there, can drop by to take a nap in one of the nap pods, which–according to Inside Higher Ed–feature an ergonomic design, a shield to block light, soothing sounds, and a gradual wake-up system so nappers can awaken as gently as possible.

The building houses 154 students in suite-style rooms – each suite with four single bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a common room with a television. Another residence hall, set to open next fall, has a multipurpose room that can be used as a theater or a classroom, and a 2,100-gallon saltwater aquarium that is home to 25 lion fish, chosen because of the university’s mascot, the Saint Leo Lion.

One commenter on the Inside Higher Ed site said, “Meanwhile tigher Ed site sad he numerous adjunct instructors have not a single room available in which to meet their students.” Another said the students may enjoy their nap pods but after graduating, the nappers could be back in their parents’ home, sleeping on the sofa.

The No-Art Art History Textbook

In a story
helpfully marked “Not the Onion,” Gawker reports that Toronto’s Ontario College
of Art and Design is requiring students to purchase a $180 art history textbook
that has no images of art at all. The father of one student says the publisher
of the book, Global Visual and Material Culture: Prehistory to 1800, apparently
couldn’t get the copyright permissions settled in time for the print run. But
the school’s dean disputes that, saying the textbook was always intended to
have no pictures. “If we had opted for print clearance of all the Stokstad
and Drucker images,” the dean wrote in a letter to students,
“the text would have cost over $800.”

Real Costs and Sticker Price

Concordia University in St. Paul made news by cutting regular tuition costs by a hefty 33.7 percent–$10,000–leaving students to pay $19,700 if they receive no assistance or discounts.

But the reduction disguises a fact true at Concordia and at most every other private schools: up to half of undergraduates don’t pay the full fee.  At Concordia, the "discount rate" ("the amount it gave in institutional grants, compared with gross tuition revenue") was 48 percent in 2011-2012.  The article also notes that 99 percent of students that year received some grant or scholarship support from the school averaging $12,654.

This isn’t unusual.  Right now, according to a report by the National Association of College and University Business Officers, the national average for discounts was 43 percent last year. Given the bad publicity of rising tuition costs, combined with sagging enrollments, the report states that "this strategy is no longer working effectively at a large number of colleges and universities."

Cost, too, is no longer a guarantee of distinction.  In the old days, a high tuition fee signalled a superior education.  People thought that they got what they paid for.  But, according to a higher ed cost expert in the story, all colleges charge a lot, and "There’s no advantage of charging more if you can afford to charge less."

We’ll see how many other colleges follow that advice.

Should We Unionize the Grad Students?

On September 12, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing that focused on the subject of unionization of graduate students. Inside Higher ed covered the story.

Here is the issue. Private colleges and universities are subject to the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which permits employees to seek to unionize through an election process overseen by the National Labor Relations Board. Employees can petition for the NLRB to hold an election and when at least 30 percent indicate their desire for an election, it will be scheduled. If more than half of the workers vote in favor of a union, it then becomes the exclusive representative of all the workers and the employer is legally compelled to bargain with union officials “in good faith.”

Labor unions have been steadily eroding except in the public sector for decades. Their political allies would like to see that decline reversed and are happy to help unions open up new “markets.” That is why the prospect of unionizing grad students appeals to Democrats, who receive almost all of the political support dished out by Big Labor.

Under the NLRA, which is vague as to just who is an “employee” and who is not, grad students are currently regarded as outside the definition. The NLRB, controlled by pro-union Democratic appointees, has held hearings meant to pave the way for change. As expected, the House committee hearing divided neatly along party lines.

I haven’t read the transcript of the hearing, but from the IHE piece and my experience with such hearings, I’m pretty sure that no one brought up the strongest objections to expanding unionization “rights” to grad students.

For one thing, unionization under the NLRA is nothing like a voluntary cooperative effort aimed at improving conditions. Once a union is voted in and certified, it has exclusive bargaining authority over all the workers. No individual is allowed to handle his own affairs any longer. Some grad students would probably like this collectivization, but others would find it abhorrent. Why should their freedom be trampled upon?

Moreover, a union vote is not like a political election. A union voted in today remains in place indefinitely. Grad students who enter school after a union has been certified won’t have any say about it unless they go through the rather difficult process of petitioning to decertify.

Nothing prevents grad students from getting together and arguing their case for better compensation or conditions without relying on federal coercion. That’s how we should leave it.

Here’s How the Scholar Disappears

Political scientists Gary King (Harvard University) and Maya Sen (University of Rochester) recently produced a working paper titled, “The Troubled Future of Colleges and Universities.” Everyone interested in higher education should read it. The paper is instructive for those who want to understand how little most academics understand the crisis universities face. The problems with the paper are numerous, but I will just focus on one–their ambivalence about learning, or what they call “education.”

King and Sen uncritically assume that “education” is a unit of computer data. They define the purpose of the “modern university” as the “creation, preservation, and distribution of knowledge,” like how computers produce and distribute data to consumers. University research generates knowledge, and professors then distribution that knowledge in university classes which, until recently, were “the most sought way to get educated.”

However, the university is experiencing competition from the Internet and for-profit schools, and it may lose its ability to provide knowledge, especially considering how the University of Phoenix has apps (apps!) that put that knowledge on smartphones. Imagine the efficiency of getting educated in between rounds of Food Ninja.

The metaphor completely misrepresents how learning works; it is not a piling up of data until amount equals the common measure for “educated.” What King and Sen do reveal is their ambivalence about education itself. They say nothing of how the financial troubles of universities might deprive generations of a liberal education, as Joseph Epstein fears. Their ambivalence explains the relatively low esteem with which Harvard holds teaching, as Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus detail. Harvard faculty place greater emphasis on research, largely for professional and institutional reasons. As a result, we should not be surprised that teaching suffered, since it amounts to an obstacle to research. Unsurprisingly, King and Sen recommend that traditional universities compete with Internet-based alternatives by putting undergraduates to work in faculty research projects, which is something University of Phoenix Online and Udacity cannot offer.

The solution is strange. It is hard to imagine luring students into college with promises of data coding, regression analysis, and grant-writing; worse, this solution is simply admitting defeat–universities are no longer places of learning but training facilities in quantitative methods. As Martin Heidegger prophesied in “The Age of the World View”:

The decisive development of the modern business character of science, therefore, forms people of a different stamp. The scholar disappears. He is replaced by the individual engaged in research projects. This, rather than the pursuit of scholarship, gives his work its keen atmosphere. The research man no longer needs a library at home. Besides, he is always moving about. He does business at meetings and gets information at congresses. He contracts to work for commissions from publishers, who now help to determine what books must be written.”

On a final note, the recommendation that undergraduates simply start apprenticing as research assistants comes at an unusual time for those like King and Sen, who advocate quantitative social science research. NassimTaleb, Jim Manzi, and Emanuel Derman are part of growing movement of former “quants” skeptical of the attempts to quantify human behavior and afraid of the dangers that come from living and governing as if such quantification were possible. Increasingly, the moment seems right for a heartfelt defense of the university as a place of learning, tradition, and contemplation. There is no app for that.

Wesleyan Abandons Need-Blind Admissions

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The
vast majority of American colleges and universities make admission decisions
without considering the financial need of applicants. Only a handful of private
institutions admit their entire first-year class need-blind and then fully meet
the financial need of all of their admitted students through a combination of
grants, loans and employment opportunities. These institutions tend to be our
nation’s most selective, in terms of entrance test scores, and wealthiest, in
terms of their endowment per student levels and their flows of annual giving.
 

Why
do these selective private institutions pursue such policies?  In part it is because as nonprofits they are
major beneficiaries of federal and state tax policies that reduce the federal
and state income tax liabilities of donors who make contributions to them, thereby
increasing the contributions they receive. These policies also exempt them from
having to pay federal and state income taxes on their endowment earnings,
exempt their property that is used for educational purposes from local property
taxes, and allow them to borrow funds for educational facilities at lower
tax-exempt interest rates.  Because of
all of these tax benefits, the public at large is subsidizing these
institutions to the tune of literally billions of dollars of lost tax revenue a
year and the willingness to do so is based upon the belief that the selective
private academic institutions are yielding benefits to society as a whole.  Because many of the leaders of society are
graduates of these institutions and a well-functioning democratic society
requires that leaders come from all socioeconomic backgrounds, these
institutions have long understood that they have a special obligation to admit
and enroll students from all socioeconomic backgrounds.

Continue reading Wesleyan Abandons Need-Blind Admissions

Why President Obama Can’t Lower Tuition

In his acceptance speech at the Democratic National
Convention last night, President Obama promised that he would “work with
colleges and universities” to slow the steady rise in tuition we have experienced,
cutting the rate of increase in half. Inside Higher Ed has the
story
.

Naturally, the president’s statement drew applause from the
Democratic faithful, but is there the slightest reason to think that Obama can
slow the rise in tuition any more than King Canute could roll back the tide? I
think not.

First, the executive branch of the federal government has no
constitutional authority over higher education. The president can “jaw-bone”
college leaders, imploring them not to increase tuition, just as President
Kennedy pleaded with steel executives not to raise prices in 1962, but he can’t
command either private college officials or state university leaders to keep
tuition at any level.

Second, there are reasons
why tuition has been increasing and it’s hard to see how President Obama is
going to change the underlying reality. He continues to encourage more young
people to go to college and has facilitated that by getting Congress to
increase Pell grant amounts.  More
students with more money to spend – that’s a perfect recipe for college
officials to increase their revenues. Why wouldn’t they take advantage of the
situation, just because the president made a speech?

Third, it’s possible that Obama might resort to asking
Congress to enact some kind of price control over higher education, threatening
to take away federal dollars unless the schools keep their price increases down
to “reasonable” levels. The Republicans threatened to do that back in the Bush
years, but the bill never went anywhere, and for good reason. Price controls
are blunt, clumsy instruments that are easy to evade.

Finally, merely halving the rate of increase in college
costs, assuming that could be done, wouldn’t be much of a victory. If indeed
college and university administrators felt pressured to cut costs, there is
little reason to think that they would start with the most needless of budget
items. In California, for instance, where the state’s budgetary woes have
required cuts in university budgets, the sacred cows of “diversity”–academic
programs and administrative offices – have been spared.

Lower tuition sounds good, but what Americans should want
from higher education is increasing value. We’ll only get that through more
competition.

Student VoicesWhy I Dropped Out of a MOOC

Early in the summer, a friend and I enrolled in Introduction to Sociology, the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) recently discussed by Princeton Professor Mitchell Duneier. Prof. Duneier taught 40,000 online students via six weeks of free reading assignments, lectures, and discussions, interspersed with weekly quizzes and two exams.

I quit three weeks into the course. The videos were distracting. I felt disconnected from the professor, as if the face I saw on-screen was a detached third party serving up neatly packaged bits of information for massive consumption. It felt sterile.

Prof. Duneier ‘s article praises the way technology can overcome the barriers of time and distance: thanks to video discussions and online forums, “my audience became as visible to me as the students in a traditional lecture hall.” But that’s the problem: audience, not students. Seated in front of a camera, the professor has no choice but to talk at his far-flung class, instead of talking to or with them. MOOCs are by nature impersonal: they’re massive. Despite his best efforts, a professor can’t possibly know 40,000 students, or even a fraction of them. They’re faceless, nameless, anonymous, blurring together into one conglomerate blob of class-takers. He can’t interact with them. He can’t gauge their needs and adjust his method and content accordingly. He doesn’t know them.

Likewise, students, aware of their anonymity, cannot possibly get to know their professor. There is no opportunity for trust- and relationship-building. My MOOC included a discussion group, but participation was limited to a handful of students; the other 39,990 of us simply watched. Prof. Duneier responded faithfully to student questions, but he was only able to answer those questions that generated the most online interest. He guesses that these were probably the “most meaningful” questions to his students, but without some authority present to guide the discussion, what’s to say those questions were most relevant, incisive, or important?

MOOCs will never rival brick-and-mortar classrooms in quality of education. With that said, Prof. Duneier’s article does highlight two real benefits of MOOCS. These courses provide opportunities for students who otherwise would have no such educational access. MOOCs also give professors a unique opportunity to test new methods, collect large numbers of student reviews, and investigate a wider range of student ideas and opinions. For these reasons we shouldn’t discount MOOCs entirely. But we shouldn’t mistake a MOOC for a classroom.

The California College System under Scrutiny

A recent report by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), entitled “Best Laid Plans: The Unfulfilled Promise of Public Higher Education,” explores a fair number of problems the California college system faces. However, I don’t think it covers them all.

The report states openly and rightly the problems that California’s public colleges face are not primarily a function of declining revenues. As it notes, “the real danger is a fundamental failure by today’s trustees and system leaders to apply the same creativity and thoughtfulness that informed the Master Plan to a new world of reduced resources and a shrinking tax base.”

This point is crucial. The behemoth California college system has been fed an enormous amount of money, but there is obviously a limit to how much more the citizens can provide. In just the last five years, tuition at the UC system has gone up nearly 75% and at the CSU system by nearly 85%. And California’s taxpayers already pay steep sales, property and income taxes–among the highest in the nation. It is hard to imagine that much more can be squeezed from either the students or the taxpayers.

The report documents in detail some of the dramatic problems the system faces, including:

  • Low graduation rates at the CSU system: only 17.2% of new full-time freshmen graduate within 4 years, and only 52.4% within 6 years.
  • The leaders of the California public college system have a severe Edifice Complex, looking constantly to increase the amount of buildings and other infrastructure, much of it unnecessary.
  • The leaders are also reluctant to close or consolidate low-enrollment programs, and too easily eager to add new ones.
  • There is considerable administrative bloat, with the compensation of the top administrators increasingly over-generous, even while the taxpayers and students are impoverished.

I would note some other major problems:

The California community colleges have a grotesquely high drop-out rate: only 20% of CCC students either got an AA degree or transfer to a regular college.

  • The CCC system also spends way too much on recreational courses (courses that are meant to provide recreational outlets to adults). While these courses are supposed to pay their own way, they utilize the system’s physical resources.
  • The whole CSU system has suffered endemic “mission creep” regarding remedial education. Under the wise original 1960 master plan, CSU would take only college-ready students, while those needing remedial education (in math and English) were supposed to go to the huge and inexpensive CCC system. Along the way, the CSU system developed a costly remediation system. Now, half of all incoming CSU take remedial math or English or both.
  • Professors and administrators of the CSU system have over the years pushed for more and more focus on research, with tenure-track professors expected to publish, leaving much of the teaching to adjuncts. It is unclear, to say the least, that this has really benefitted the citizens of the state.

The report calls upon the UC Regents and the CSU Trustees to reassert control and enact necessary reforms, including establishing clear measures of productivity; re-prioritizing the academic mission of the college, restoring core curricula; rewarding good teaching; cutting back on administrative bloat; and restoring academic freedom and true intellectual diversity.

I can’t help feeling that the report is an exercise in naiveté. The administrators and faculty are agents in an institution that suffers from the principal/agent problem. Because the real principals — taxpayers, students and parents — have little knowledge of and even less power over the workings of the colleges for which they pay, the agents (faculty and administrators) can run them for self-serving purposes. Until this problem is rectified by radical reform, I see little hope for change any time soon.

_____________________________________________________________________________

Gary Jason is a philosophy instructor and a senior editor of Liberty, and is the author of Dangerous Thoughts.

The Problem with Bonuses for Masters Degrees

Carol Howley, a nursing instructor at Chicago’s Richard J. Daley College, pocketed $307,000 in extra salary over the years by enrolling in doctoral classes at Chicago’s Rush University and receiving her doctorate. There’s only one problem, though: Rush has no record of Howley’s attendence. Cook County prosecutors recently indicted her for theft of government property.             

Howley’s story is symptomatic of a larger problem. As George Leef points out, institutions routinely hand out automatic pay boosts to their employees on the basis of the degrees the employees possess. College nursing instructors are relatively rare, but in America’s K-12 public-school system, where instruction costs total more than $308 billion annually, nearly half of teachers receive bonuses averaging about $3,000 a year just because they have an advanced degree. And these degrees are mostly worthless: only 10 percent of teachers’ master’s degrees are in substantive fields such as math, science, or English, where the teacher’s extra education might do the students some good. Ninety percent of teachers get their advanced degrees in education, a field notorious for its less than rigorous academic standards and its embrace of pedagogical fads. And academic and think-tank research, starting with a 1997 study by University of Washington research professor Dan Goldhaber has consistently revealed that students taught by teachers with advanced degrees make no more progress than students taught by teachers lacking such degrees.             

A master’s degree in education is such a lucrative deal for teachers that the blog Teacher Portal advises its readers simply to “[g]et one!” Sure, the tuition isn’t cheap. In 2009, an online master’s degree from the nonprofit Western Governors University and the for-profit Walden University cost an identical $12,000. Teacher Portal calculated that the compound-interest payoff of a master’s degree in education adds up to $221,000 over a thirty-year career. Teacher Portal concluded: “You may be a [slightly] better teacher but you’ll be setting yourself up much better to live comfortably in retirement…or at least to splurge on a fantastic vacation each summer :).”

A 2009 New York Times forum over the value of advanced education degrees confirmed Teacher Portal’s cheerful cynicism. Several participants who were seasoned teachers deemed their education classes “utterly useless,” “laughable,” and of “zero benefit.” One teacher, who had an undergraduate degree from Wellesley and a graduate degree from Columbia, said the college where she obtained her teaching certificate launched a “sales pitch” for its master’s and doctoral programs in education that emphasized “how little work we would have to do to get an advanced degree.”

Proposals for reconsidering these bonuses remain anathema to the education establishment. Teachers’ unions have resisted any effort to peg teacher pay to any factors except seniority and advanced degrees, and school administrators, boards of education, and state legislators seem to regard across-the-board pay raises for teachers as a way of life. But there is another constituency that is likely to resist ferociously the elimination of master’s-degree salary bumps: the faculty and administrators of the advanced-degree programs in education that are cash cows for the colleges and universities that sponsor them. Kathleen Wilson, an associate professor at the University of Nebraska’s College of Education and Human Sciences, vigorously defended the programs. “I don’t see how they couldn’t make a difference,” she said. “These programs really allow teachers to gain a better perspective in their area of instruction.” Expect that kind of rhetoric on steroids from education professors should school districts try to get rid of the salary bump for advanced degrees.  

Pundits Wrong on the GI Bill

As part of its series on higher ed issues in
the 2012 campaign, the Chronicle of Higher Education has a long opinion
piece
in the form of a news article accusing Republicans of hypocrisy.

In “Self-Sufficient,
With a Hand From the Government
,” author Scott Carlson claims to find “a
striking dissonance” between the moving “pull-oneself-up-by-the-bootstraps
narrative” a number of speakers at the Republican Convention told of their
fathers’ and their benefitting from the GI Bill, “one of the biggest federal
programs in recent history.”

This “irony,” Carlson reports, “wasn’t lost
on liberals. Paul Begala, the Democratic strategist and consultant, jumped all
over the remarks on his Twitter feed
on Tuesday night: ‘Christie: Dad went to Rutgers on the GI Bill. Dems built
that.'” Begala thinks these Republican fathers did not succeed “on their own,”
in President
Obama’s now famous words
. They did not succeed because they were “just so
smart” or because they worked hard. They were successful only with the help of
a “hand from the government.”

Carlson finds it “interesting to ponder …
whether Governor Christie’s father would have been able to get that degree
today, given the recent history of receding state support and inflating costs.”
Seen from Carlson’s and Begala’s angel, Republican calls to scale back the size
and scope of government amount to biting the government hand that fed them.

What this complaint of hypocrisy ignores,
however, is a crucial distinction between government programs to which
beneficiaries have contributed, such as the GI Bill, and open-ended entitlement
programs that require no such contribution. Assume for a moment that after the
Civll War all freed slaves received “40 acres and a mule.”
Would anyone, even President Obama or Paul Begala, seriously claim that former
slaves who had become successful later in life owed their success to the
government program and not to their own sacrifice and hard work? Well, maybe,
but would anyone listen to them if they did?

The GI Bill, like the hypothetical 40 acres
and a mule, was not an entitlement or an example of beneficent government
generosity. It was partial compensation for sacrifices made for and services
rendered to the nation. Finding an “irony” in Republican proposals to scale
back massive federal borrowing and debt, including funds for higher education,
even though the fathers of many current party leaders benefitted from the GI
Bill requires assuming that if one limited government program compensating one defined
group of people for a limited time is good, all government benefits are good;
that if some spending at one time was good, more spending all the time is
better.

That “narrative” is more mythical than
anything coming out of the Republican convention.

Another College Cost: Lower Birth Rate

Originally posted at Open
Market

babies.jpg

 

The Washington Times takes
note
of the burgeoning higher
education bubble
in a recent editorial:

The
cost of a college education has soared far in excess of the cost of health
care. This is in spite of — or, more accurately, because of — massive
government involvement in subsidizing and running schools. . . Doing more of
the same isn’t a realistic answer. America is in the midst of what University
of Tennessee Prof. Glenn Reynolds calls the “higher education bubble.” As with
the housing bubble, cheap credit is the primary culprit in inflating the price
of schooling. Federal student loans subsidized by taxpayers have made learning
more expensive, not more affordable.

The
Cato Institute’s Neal McCluskey estimates federal student aid increased by 372
percent between 1985 and 2010, from just under $30 billion to almost $140
billion. To put it another way, as Mr. McCluskey explains, “Taxpayer-funded
outlays per degree rose from $58,755 in 1985 to $78,347 in 2010.” This flow of
cheap money corresponded with rapid growth in tuition at rates well above
average inflation. Mr. Reynolds reports that college tuition grew at almost 7.5
percent annually between 1980 and 2010, when average inflation was 3.8 percent.
At less than 6 percent annually, even health care costs grew at a slower rate
than the university tab.

Young
people aren’t getting much in exchange for this huge outlay. While enrollment
has increased, completion rates remain dismal. Barely a third of students
complete their degrees in four years, and less than 60 percent earn their
degree in six years, according to Mr. McCluskey. That means at least two out of
five enrollees don’t finish and fail to reap the benefits of a post-high-school
education. Even those who complete their programs of study and are fortunate
enough to find employment find that in one out of three cases, their degree
isn’t required for their work.

Continue reading Another College Cost: Lower Birth Rate

When Universities Raid Their Law Schools

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Earlier this month Annette Clark,
dean of Saint Louis University’s law school, abruptly
resigned
from her job via e-mail after only a year. She left after accusing the Jesuit
university and its president, Rev. Lawrence Biondi, of looting the law school
in order to fund other, non-law-related programs on the Saint Louis campus. 

This
was not the first time that a law dean has quit in a dispute over the
“tax”– the premium that law schools and business schools, which
typically charge higher tuition than other campus programs, must hand over to
their host universities. In July 2011 Philip Closius, dean of the public
University of Baltimore School of Law, quit his job under administration
pressure after asserting that the university kept–and used for its own
purposes–some 45 percent of the revenue that the law school generated from
tuition, fees, and state subsidies. In 2009 De Paul University in Chicago fired
its then-dean, Paul Weissenberger, apparently because Weissenberger complained
to the American Bar Association that De Paul had siphoned off more than the 25
percent of its law school’s revenues that the law school had agreed to
contribute.

Continue reading When Universities Raid Their Law Schools

Investing in Higher Education Will Not Bring Democratic Equality

old-fashioned-school-room.jpgBy Robert Weissberg


America’s
huge investment in higher education has always had a democratic justification: everyone
should be able to attend college because this opportunity would flatten the
social pyramid. Yes, a North Dakota State and Harvard degree differ in
prestige, but at least the North Dakota State graduate can join the game. Put
ideologically, investing in higher education–more schools for more kids–is
egalitarian.

Reality,
it seems, has refused to cooperate. The billions poured into higher education
have not flattened the social pyramid. If
anything, income gaps have widened as graduates from the top schools often earn
“obscene” salaries while those from lesser schools struggle to find decent jobs
to pay down student loan debt. Charles Murray’s Coming Apart depicts an America where the rich and poor increasingly live in diverging worlds. Clearly,
something is wrong with the traditional narrative that insists that a well-
funded, open access higher education for all can ameliorate the evils of
hierarchy.    

Continue reading Investing in Higher Education Will Not Bring Democratic Equality

Student Voices
Ryan’s Plan is Good for Higher Ed

Now that Paul Ryan has joined the Republican ticket, it’s worth considering how his much-discussed budget changes higher education.

Ryan wants to cap the maximum amount of Pell Grant awards at the current level of $5,550, eliminating the automatic increase according to inflation. Ryan would also shore up the eligibility requirements, adding a maximum income cap (leaving undefined exactly where that cap would begin) and excluding students who attend school less than part-time. On the Federal Student loan front, Ryan proposes ending federally-subsidized loans, wherein the government pays the interest on behalf of students. Instead, students could take out unsubsidized federal loans and pay an interest rate of 6.8%, giving them an immediate, healthy financial stake in their own education.

Ryan’s plan follows the logic of the Bennett Hypothesis. Developed by former Education Secretary William J. Bennett, for whom Ryan worked as a speechwriter, it states that though federal subsidization of higher education aims to reduce tution, easy access to federal money actually increases it. Federal money increases students’ ability to pay and, subsequently, their demand for higher education, which raises the price of college education. Colleges, confident that federal money will cushion any tuition increase, can artificially increase tuition in an attempt to capture some of that federal money.

The problem is especially evident when middle class students who could afford college education without aid receive it nonetheless. Colleges desire to capture both the federal aid money and the initial amount these students can afford to pay. Ryan would reduce federal aid primarily for these students. Therefore, in contrast to President Obama’s promise to lower the cost of education by increasing Pell Grants and preventing Federal Student loan interest rate increases, Ryan’s plan could indeed cut back on the source of artificial tuition increases and contribute to the sustainability of the higher education market.

For himself, Romney has been largely quiet on higher education, though his white paper “A Chance for Every Child” does acknowledge that “a flood of federal dollars is driving up tuition.” His remedies are nonspecific: “simplify the financial aid system,” “welcome private sector participation” in the student loan market, and “replace burdensome regulation with innovation and competition.” While Romney has already made it clear that his campaign runs on his budget plan, not on Ryan’s, Romney could benefit from the hard numbers and policy prescriptions that Ryan’s plan affords.

________________________________________________________________________________

Rachelle DeJong is a rising senior at The King’s College and an intern at Minding the Campus.

Higher Education’s ‘Obesity’ Problem

ACTA crowd.jpg

Open a marketing brochure for any college or university
in the United States and you’ll find an info-graphic touting the variety and
number of degree programs that the institution offers.  The more options, the rationale goes, the
more likely a student will find a desired specialty.  The distinction between programs can be
subtle, for instance “Music, General” versus “Musical Theatre,” or
Agricultural Engineering” versus “Agronomy and Crop
Science.”

But the dreary fact is: higher education is in the midst
of a major financial crisis. 
Institutions’ bond ratings are falling and resources are in short
supply.   Boards of trustees must  figure out how to do more and better with
less. While administrative costs have to be examined, they are only part of the
problem.  According to former president
of the University of Northern Colorado and co-founder of the Lumina Foundation
Robert C. Dickeson, “[t]he failure of governing boards to focus on academic
programs is arguably the single greatest cause of overspending.”

This month the American Council of Trustees and Alumni
(ACTA) is sending Dr. Dickeson’s guide,
Setting Academic Priorities: A Guide to
What Boards of Trustees Can Do
to ACTA’s network of more than 13,000
trustees around the country. It provides governing boards with a framework for
establishing academic program review policies that direct resources to
mission-critical areas of their institutions without neglecting students’ needs.
 Of course, achieving this goal must
entail consolidating some academic programs into larger, more cost-effective
units or eliminating them.  

Continue reading Higher Education’s ‘Obesity’ Problem

In Hard Times, Diversity Bureaucracies Do Well

By Duke Cheston

Originally Posted from the Pope
Center for Higher Education Policy

About a year and a half
ago, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro attempted to hire a new
chief diversity officer. The university sought an administrator who would focus
on increasing appreciation for racial differences on campus–even though UNCG
already had five administrators in its Office of Multicultural Affairs tasked
with a similar mission. When the news surfaced, many people (some of them
writing in the Greensboro newspaper) expressed anger, arguing that the new
administrator was unnecessary, especially in a time of financial hardship.

Initially, UNCG chancellor Linda Brady
defended the new position (which would have cost the school roughly $200,000 in
salary and benefits) as a cost-cutting measure. In a letter to a local lawyer
obtained by the Pope Center, Brady wrote that the new position would save money
by fixing “an environment that doesn’t sufficiently embrace inclusion and
equity.” Without that fix, she wrote, UNCG would continue to lose money through
additional spending on remediation programs, responding to grievances, and the
cost of students dropping out. By March 2011, however, Chancellor Brady
officially abandoned the search for a new chief diversity officer, maintaining
the office’s current staff level.

Continue reading In Hard Times, Diversity Bureaucracies Do Well

Elite College ($50,000 a Year) or Good State School ($20,000)?

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The new Sallie Mae-Gallup survey of attitudes toward higher education, “How America Pays for College 2012,” shows that Americans are becoming increasingly resistant to rising college prices. Some people who were saying “I want the best college money can buy” a few years ago, are now saying “We aren’t going to pay sky-high tuition when there are much cheaper colleges nearly as good.”

Continue reading Elite College ($50,000 a Year) or Good State School ($20,000)?

How to Save Tenure–Cut It Way Back

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Professors with tenure have lifetime appointments that can only be revoked after some egregious transgression, summarized by such formal labels as moral turpitude, gross negligence or dereliction of duty. In effect, the only tenured professors who get the sack are those who have robbed a bank, raped a co-ed or pistol-whipped a colleague.

Why would a university agree to make an appointment that so severely restricts its ability to terminate an underperforming or incompetent employee?  We all know the historic reason: faculty need to be free to pursue controversial theories, novel ideas and unexplored terrain. Then why is the tenure system under attack? Here are some reasons:

Continue reading How to Save Tenure–Cut It Way Back

The 12 Reasons College Costs Keep Rising

When asked the question, “Why do colleges keep raising tuition fees?” I give answers ranging from three words (“because they can”), to 85,000 (my book, Going Broke By Degree). Avoiding both extremes, let’s evaluate two rival explanations for the college cost explosion, followed by 12 key expressions that add more detail.

Continue reading The 12 Reasons College Costs Keep Rising