Tag Archives: grant

We Can’t Fix Higher Ed Through Public Policy

Is it true that only some recipients of student loans are getting their money’s worth–those with “majors closely aligned with actual occupations” such as engineers or computer scientists? Daniel Foster of National Review Online makes that argument in The American Spectator. These students, he says, are more employable and earn more upon leaving college than Humanities majors. Based on existing economic data, the engineer can more reliably pay back the loan. The unemployed and newly indebted Humanities graduate can’t realistically expect to do that. Nor can the federal government expect to collect from that graduate.

Therefore, Foster wants federal loans granted not on neediness, but on the likelihood of a student to finish college and get a good job. He quotes his colleague Jay Hallen at the National Review Online, who wants “to implement a sliding scale of loan rates that favors students committed to majoring in fields such as computer science or nursing, where the demand for new employees exceeds the supply. For fields where employment demand is weak, loans would be progressively more expensive.” The outcome Foster hopes to achieve is to “push marginal college prospects into vocational schools and other career paths, reducing demand for higher education, and thus tuition inflation.”

There’s a problem here, however. Foster is proposing right-wing social engineering, and the problem with all social engineering is the classic inability to anticipate how individuals diverge from predicted behavior. The first hint of trouble appears when Foster denounces the “dangerous fantasy of college as ‘supervised adulthood’ that leads too many prospective undergraduates to choose their ‘dream school’ based on amenities, the social scene, or any of a hundred other variables that have nothing to do with bang for the buck.”

But there’s a reason why such amenities exist and how closely related they are to “supervised adulthood.” Students expect a given set of attributes from their college–a bucolic campus, a fitness center, palatial dorms, and–soon enough–nap pods. The arms race in amenities is an effort to achieve a high ranking, and students peg their station in life on the ranking their college reaches.

Once a college has admitted the most competitive students it can attract, administrators create an insulated world for them. As Mitchell Stevens explains in Creating a Class, part of what the high tuition buys, in addition to the credential, is the collection of surrogate parents housed in administrative offices. “Parents can go to sleep at night knowing that their children’s potential friends and lovers have been elaborately screened,” he writes. In other words, parents want their children to buy supervised adulthood, and to get it, they are willing to pay a premium or put their children into debt.

The reason has to do with rising in social station. As Stevens explains, admissions officers obsess over admitting the right mix of students, and that mix depends on the right students applying. If all goes well, then students achieve a station that allows them to identify their place in American life, and that station enables graduates to marry a partner of equal educational background and fit into a social scene among peers with similar educational backgrounds, and–most importantly–their parents can put “Duke” or “Stanford” stickers on their SUVs.

Students use loans in higher education to join a class of people they otherwise could not. If incurring six-figure debt means graduating from Cornell, then students (and parents) anxious about their standing might attend, despite having a full ride at a state college. If the possibility of rising in station begins to shrink and, with it, the opportunities to belong to the right social class, many students and their parents will take the risk of going into debt if it gives them a better shot. Tinkering with incentives won’t work. Indeed, to call such loans “investments” at all is no longer true. They are gambles, and Foster is right when he says that the odds are increasingly not in anyone’s favor.

We can’t underrate the importance of social status embedded in rock-climbing walls and vegan menu options. The solution is not in rejiggering Sally Mae, since economic incentives do not reach the heart of the issue. No policy can, because the solution is in the hands of the students: they can take the gamble, attend the less prestigious but more affordable college, or they can exit.

Universities Are Vocational Schools

Why do students go to college? A new poll has a one-word
answer: money. That’s one of the findings in a broad Gallup survey of college admissions officers done for Inside
Higher Ed
. The admissions officers seem to believe that those planning to
attend college view it largely as a signaling device that directs the best and
brightest young Americans to the best and highest-paying jobs. It is not
primarily about acquiring knowledge (“human capital”), critical learning or
leadership skills, or better perceiving the difference between right and wrong,
but more about achieving the American Dream of a comfortable, moderately
affluent life.

To cite one statistic, 99 percent of admission directors
at public four-year colleges agreed or strongly agreed that “parents of
applicants place high importance on the ability of degree programs to help
students get a good job.” With regards to the prospective students themselves,
“only” 87 percent of the counselors agree that getting a good job is
important/very important.  Most of the
counselors also agree, at all forms of higher education institutions, that
their schools are putting more emphasis on job placement.

Continue reading Universities Are Vocational Schools

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

Unaffordable Universities: The High Cost of Chasing “Prestige”

The Center for College Affordability and Productivity has published an important report, “Faculty Productivity and Costs at the University of Texas at Austin,” based on data recently made available to the public, thanks to the efforts of reform-supporting regents at the UT system. Co-authored by Richard Vedder (the Ohio University economist), Christopher Matgouranis and Jonathan Robe, the report uses hard facts to document the real costs of skewing higher education toward prestige and “research” and away from its historic mission of teaching. In fact, Vedder et al. seriously understate the problem, pointing to the need for further analysis of this treasure trove of data.

Some highlights of the study:• The top 20 percent (measured by teaching load) of instructors teach 57 percent of student credit hours. These same faculty members also generate 18 percent of the campus’s research funding.
• The bottom 20 percent of faculty teach only 2 percent of all student credit hours and generate a disproportionately smaller percentage of external research funding.
• Research grant funds go almost entirely (99.8 percent) to a small minority (20 percent) of the faculty; in fact, only 2 percent of the faculty members conduct 57 percent of funded research.
• Non-tenured track faculty teach a majority of undergraduate student hours and a surprising 31 percent of graduate student hours.
• The top quintile (840 instructors out of a total faculty of 4200) teaches an average of 318 students per year. If the entire faculty were to teach at the same rate, UT Austin could teach an astonishing 133,560 students, more than 260% of its present size. If the current tuition burden were spread among such a number, the rate could be dropped by 63%, from $9816 per year (for residents) to only $3632.

Continue reading Unaffordable Universities: The High Cost of Chasing “Prestige”

Lower Tuition for Illegals Safe for Now

Possibly because it is saving its fire for review of the Arizona immigration law, the Supreme Court has passed up a chance to rule on the legality of lower in-state college tuition for illegal immigrants, a policy now in 11 states. Federal law prohibits granting in-state tuition to illegal immigrants at publically financed state institutions, unless the same benefit is available to United States citizens. The law (Title 8 Section 1623 of the United States Code) reads as follows: “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, an alien who is not lawfully present in the United States shall not be eligible on the basis of residence within a State (or a political subdivision) for any postsecondary education benefit unless a citizen or national of the United States is eligible for such a benefit (in no less an amount, duration, and scope) without regard to whether the citizen or national is such a resident.”

That seems clear enough. It is also clear that federal law pre-empts state law, a fact of which the California Legislature was well aware when it set about to circumvent federal law and advance its own immigration policy at taxpayer expense. The trick the legislators used was to avoid the residency criterion for exemption from non-resident tuition, and to require instead graduation from a California high school after three years attendance. Never mind that for illegal aliens to attend and graduate from a California high school they have to reside illegally in California for that period. On the basis of simple logic, therefore, the California law is clearly out of compliance with federal law.

A group of out-of-state students sued, charging that the California statute violated federal law, and that it discriminates against United States citizens. The lower court ruled against the plaintiffs but an appeals court, in a carefully reasoned review of all the points made by the plaintiffs, found in their favour. The case went forward to the California Supreme Court which, in their own words, declared that the California law “is not impliedly pre-empted by federal law, and does not violate the privileges and immunities clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.”  The reason they gave for this finding was the Legislature’s substitution of the requirement of graduation from a California high school after three years residence in California attending that school, and not on the criterion of residency. The attorneys for the plaintiff described this ploy as the creation “of an exception that swallowed the rule.” This ruling also reveals the kind of contortions that have given lawyers their traditionally bad name, illustrating once again how ideological consideration or sentiment can reshape a law in spite of the clear meaning of its text and its statutory intent.

Continue reading Lower Tuition for Illegals Safe for Now

Odd Tuition System: Big Sticker Price, Big Discounts

Tuition pricing for college is a strange business, combining a big sticker price (which few people actually pay) with big discounts in the form of institutional grants (which most people should know enough to negotiate).

College pricing is even stranger than the car business. Automobile dealerships aren’t likely to give one customer a sales discount of 50 percent and another customer a discount of 10 percent off the sticker price.  Not so for colleges and universities, where the tuition discounts can differ by tens of thousands of dollars between one student and the next.

Institutions do in fact discriminate on pricing depending on two primary factors that (in theory) determine an “optimal” return to institutional wealth.  Relatively wealthy students who scores off the charts on their SAT’s – thus enhancing the institution’s reputation  if enrolled– will get a tuition break on the basis of “merit.” But this student’s discount for merit is counterbalanced by his or her lack of financial need.  By contrast, high-need students must shine brightly to get admitted, and the university is likely to offer a deep discount to enroll them.

Continue reading Odd Tuition System: Big Sticker Price, Big Discounts

Let’s Not Conflate Education and Job Preparation

Richard Vedder’s basic argument is sound: universities have become too expensive and too mediocre and too often the default for young people who might do well to pursue appropriate schooling through the secondary level. And as he writes, with too many seeking to preserve a bloated system, a reckoning is at hand.
But in the writings of Vedder, Charles Murray and a host of other conservatives, there is a strong equation of education and job preparation, and with the presumption that unless one is equipped with the native intelligence or disposable wealth and leisure to pursue a university education, then one’s education should consist dominantly if not exclusively of acquiring useful skills that can be employed in relatively menial labors.
We mustn’t draw a nearly exclusive connection between education and its economic benefits. It’s the very emphasis on careerism that is leading some ( from conservatives like Charles Murray to liberals like President Obama) to seek the near-elimination of the liberal arts from a central place in the curriculum. It is worth recalling that universal education was an American ideal born during the colonial period for reasons having nothing to do with job preparation. The first real move toward universal education was a 1647 law passed by the General Court of Massachusetts, requiring any town with a hundred or more families to establish a grammar school where typically emphasis was placed upon the learning of Latin and Greek.
If one looks at the entrance requirements for a typical New England college during the colonial period, one is stunned by the incredible learning expected of grammar school graduates, typically about 13 years old. Young people in most cases are capable of profound learning – if the goal sought is sufficiently demanding and integrated early enough into one’s schooling. One need only read the letters of ordinary citizens during this period (or look at the letters written by ordinary soldiers during the Civil War).
The problem, then, lies not in the ideal of universality of education, but the widespread transformation of the end that education serves. The goal of education toward fostering moral and virtuous members of their communities has been completely displaced by narrow utilitarian ends among students and moral relativism among the teachers.
A society driven by private ambitions of materialistic gain can expect education to become diluted by a utilitarian ethic. The tool will conform to its end, and so education becomes defined by the ethic of the short-cut. Rampant cheating and academic dishonesty are now campus (and societal) norms (students learn ethics from widespread practices in sports and business, not from Aristotle and the Bible), and the professoriate in turn emphasizes that all norms and codes are simply expressions of arbitrary power that limit what should be our thoroughgoing autonomy. As David Brooks has noted, there is an absolute consistency between the moral relativism of postmodern academia and the careerism in the student body.
I agree that colleges bear much of the blame for their current crisis (indeed, that they bear considerable responsibility for educating the class that precipitated the financial crisis that now ironically threatens their existence), and I hope and expect that they will have to change their current practices, including a serious effort to reduce tuition costs.
What disturbs me about arguments such as those found in the Vedder report is the implication that education should be fitted to the narrow vocational needs of airline attendants and cashiers, that an appropriate education will prepare them as efficiently as possible for a life of menial labor. I lament that a major thrust is afoot to dismantle whatever remnant of our older liberal arts tradition persists and to replace it with measurable forms of study that produce narrowly-trained careerists. We need virtuous cashiers and moral airline attendants as much as we need virtuous politicians and moral philosophers. Assuming that a major reassessment of the role of education is in the offing, then it is not the ideal of universal education that should be the whipping-boy, but the belief that a society can flourish without a moral core at the heart of its educational mission.

The BA is a False God

That I disagree with nothing important in Patrick Deneen’s post is a measure of how different this elephant seems, depending on what part you’ve got hold of.

Very briefly: I want everybody, not just an elite, to acquire as much liberal education as possible, for the reasons that Deneen describes. But we don’t have to wait until college to get a great deal of that done. E.D. Hirsch’s Core Knowledge curriculum is a wonderful example of how much can be done in K-8, and a lot more can be added in high school. At that point, I think this way of formulating our objective is helpful: “The educational system has succeeded when a child reaches adulthood having discovered something he loves to do, and having learned how to do it well.” If that’s the objective, then of course we want to say to the young person who has high academic ability “Here’s why pursuing a liberal education gives you your best chance of finding your vocation.” But if the answer we get is “Thanks but no thanks, what I really want to do is study marketing and go to work,” that student needs options other than a four-year residential program that will leave him deep in debt and have wasted a lot of his time. What Richard Vedder’s stunning statistics about the jobs of college graduates tell us is an indictment of a system that has held up a false god, the BA, as something that is required for social respectability. It is a system that doesn’t even think about helping all young people find something they love to do and teaching them how to do it well.

25 Ways to Reduce the Cost of College

The Center for College Affordability and Productivity today completed the release of its 240-page report, 25 Ways to Reduce the Cost of College. It offers a dizzying overview of the possibilities for increased efficiency in college operations, both on an individual and collective scale, and serves as a sure retort to the notion that current higher ed costs are inevitable or unalterable. The ideas vary in depth and quality, but among these ideas there’s unquestionably a package of reforms that could result in savings even at the most parsimonious college. The full report Is here, and in groups of five, the 25 Ways are here, here, here, here and here.

College Is Cheaper Than in the Mid-1990s? No Way

By Andrew Gillen and Robert Martin

The annual release of Trends in Student Aid and Trends in College Pricing are big news in the higher education world, and rightly so. Since Department of Education data often take a year or two to become available, these reports provide the earliest and most comprehensive preliminary look at recent developments in tuition charges and financial aid. This year’s two reports supposedly show that net tuition was lower in 2009-2010 than it had been in at least 15 years.

Sandy Baum (the main author of the reports) and Michael McPherson are puzzled by the apparent inconsistency between public perception and reality regarding net tuition increases, and ask “Why is it so hard for people to believe the numbers about declining net prices?”

The answer is quite simple. To begin with, as the College Board report points out, students and parents pay not just net tuition and fees, but room and board as well, and most of them find the price goes up each year. Even at the few institutions that guarantee the same tuition as long as students are continuously enrolled and making normal progress towards their degree, institutions manage to increase the net price students pay by increasing fees, room, and/or board.

Continue reading College Is Cheaper Than in the Mid-1990s? No Way

American University Preferences For Americans?

An op-ed “Aid, Discrimination, and Justice” in Monday’s Columbia Spectator speaks to an increasing conception of universities not as American institutions, but as world institutions, with a responsibility to a global audience, and, in this case, student body.

Columbia just announced an overhaul of its financial aid policies, of considerable benefit to poor and middle class-students. They did not appear to address the author’s concern – the absence of need-blind admissions for foreign students, a policy which he decries for ensuring that “international students are drawn largely from foreign elites.” He demands that Columbia offer need-blind admissions to all students, at any means.

And in the worst case, if equality in financial aid policy for GS and international students must come at the expense of increased financial aid for BC, SEAS, and CC students, so be it. It’s a matter of justice.

Nowhere in the column, unsurprisingly, is there any exploration of substantive reasons why American students might hope to enjoy an easier path to Columbia than foreign students, such as Columbia’s location in the same nation-state, or munificent federal research grants to the University, or its government accreditation, or federal students loans, or any number of ties. No, the author simply issues a demand for justice that requires considering foreign and native students exactly similarly in the application process. There’s no doubt that universities could afford more generous aid to foreign students; Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Dartmouth already do. This is a kindness; the movement to establish broader need-blind admissions frames it as a moral dictate, in terms that paint privileges that American universities very logically provide only to Americans as xenophobic. This author, very typically, wonders if “Perhaps Columbia’s goal is in fact only to train the next generation of the ruling and managerial classes for the U.S. and its allies and client states.” Don’t be surprised to see much more of this in coming years. Even the most prosaic details of universities’ national identification some.

A Surprisingly Welcome Financial Aid Shake Up

Harvard’s announcement, on December 10, that it was eliminating student loans, and otherwise increasing grant support for lower and middle income students, has set off a torrent of welcome news in the last nine days. Two days following, Yale declared that revisions to its student aid program were forthcoming. Soon, Swarthmore announced the elimination of student loans. Duke and The California Institute of Technology declared revisions for the benefit of lower and middle-income students. On Monday, the University of Pennsylvania announced the end of student loans for students from families with incomes under $100,000, and a ten percent reduction in all other loans. Today, Haverford announced the replacement of all loans with grants beginning with the class of 2012. All great news for aspiring students and for their parents.

The profoundly encouraging truth about this development is that it’s been highly voluntary. In the past, affluent institutions have made significant revisions to their aid policies, and no one followed suit. Other colleges, with fewer resources and little hope of altering their competitive posture, did nothing. Princeton eliminated student loans in 2001, but few colleges did the same – Princeton was already drawing the cream of the student crop, and less-selective colleges didn’t seem to feel that comparable revisions would change that situation. Elite colleges didn’t make adjustments either – and had no trouble drawing applicants, even with less attractive financial aid packages. This time, however, there’s been a real shake-up. It’s understandable why, say, Yale has announced revisions in response, as it is competing for much the same applicant pool as Harvard, but the waves of change have extended to institutions that are considerably less affluent – and compete with Universities such as Harvard and Yale much less directly for students.

Compare two large research universities to see the significance of the trend – Harvard, with an endowment of nearly $26 billion dollars, and an undergraduate acceptance rate of 9 percent, can easily handle aid increases – but Duke, with an endowment only about a tenth of Harvard’s, and an acceptance rate over twice as high, is also clearly committing funds to reducing student debt. This is an excellent sign. As these changes show every sign of filtering across the top tier of Higher Education, they may create ideal pressure on colleges beneath them. As Peter Wood observed last week:

If other elite colleges give similar price breaks, it will mean that the top tier of American higher education will be even more irresistibly attractive to the best students. And that, in turn, will mean that other colleges will face some hard choices.

We may see much more sweeping revisions to come. Or at least hope for them.