Tag Archives: loan

The Beltway For-Profit Witch Trials


In mid September, the Congressional duo of George Miller and John
Tierney joined their Senate colleagues Tom Harkin and Dick Durbin and the
Department of Education in what might be described as the ongoing Beltway Witch
Trials, where the alleged witches are the colleges that are legally organized
on a profit-making basis. Messrs. Miller and Tierney proposed a new line of
assault to rein in these alleged evil doers that they have creatively named
the College
Student Rebate Act of 2012
. The objective of the proposed
legislation is to exert political control on how private sector colleges
allocate their financial resources, as the bill calls for a cap of 20 percent
for expenditures on “advertising and promotion activities, excessive
administrative expenses including executive compensation, recruiting, lobbying
expenses, or payments to shareholders.” Expenditures on these activities
exceeding the cap would need to be refunded to students and/or the government.

Rep. Miller told the Huffington
that since “for-profit colleges tend to get a great deal of
revenue directly from the federal government…how schools spend this money must
be carefully examined.”Examination is one thing, but what the bill would really
do is enable politicians and unelected bureaucrats to limit the ability of
private firms to attract customers and strengthen their brands, compensate
their managers for successful performance, protect themselves from additional
onerous regulations, and reward owners for their investments. The bill would
seriously inhibit the incentive structure necessary to promote private investment,
innovation and growth in an industry greatly in need of improved efficiency. 

Continue reading The Beltway For-Profit Witch Trials

Wesleyan Abandons Need-Blind Admissions


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.

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

Another College Cost: Lower Birth Rate

Originally posted at Open



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

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.

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.

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

Investing in Higher Education Will Not Bring Democratic Equality

old-fashioned-school-room.jpgBy Robert Weissberg

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

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

Continue reading Investing in Higher Education Will Not Bring Democratic Equality

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

vedder pictures.jpg

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)?

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

Uh-Oh–The First Loophole in Student Loan Debt

Carol Todd of Nottingham, Maryland, persuaded a bankruptcy judge in Baltimore to “discharge”–that is, wipe the slate clean on–nearly $340,000 in student loan debt. The grounds were that she has Asperger’s Syndrome, a mild form of autism that apparently prevents her from getting or keeping a steady job. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Gordon ruled on May 17 that Todd, now in her mid-60s, had met the rigorous “undue burden” exemption from the usual rule that student loans can’t be discharged in bankruptcy.

Continue reading Uh-Oh–The First Loophole in Student Loan Debt

The Loan Defaults Are Coming–Here’s What to Do

coins for college.jpgNo modern-day Paul Revere is taking a midnight ride to warn about this, but the defaults are coming. Many are already here. They are coming from student loans given to the wrong students for the wrong reasons. The portfolio of federally guaranteed student loans passed the one trillion dollar mark in early 2012, and it continues to grow. The portfolio consists not only of loans for students from low-income families currently in college but also of hundreds of millions of dollars of education loans taken out by students who graduated from college or quit before graduating that have not been fully repaid. Such loans were extended either by the Department of Education directly or by financial institutions like Sallie Mae and banks and guaranteed by the United States Treasury. The total size of this loan portfolio exceeds the total credit card debt of the American population.

Continue reading The Loan Defaults Are Coming–Here’s What to Do

Why They Seem to Rise Together:
Federal Aid and College Tuition

It’s called “the Bennett Hypothesis,” and it explains–or tries to explain–why the cost of college lies so tantalizingly out of reach for so many. In 1987, then Secretary of Education William J. Bennett launched a quarter century of debate by saying, in effect, “Federal aid doesn’t help; colleges and universities just cream off the extra money by raising tuition.” Now Andrew Gillen, research director of CCAP–the Center for College Affordability and Productivity–has tweaked the data and produced a sophisticated “2.0” version of the hypothesis. It’s filled with heavy math, game theory and terms like “inelastic fairly vertical curves.” You probably won’t read it. We know. But it’s important. So here are some smart people who have read it, and have something to say: Peter Wood, Hans Bader, Richard Vedder, George Leef and Herbert London. image for mtc.jpeg

Peter Wood: They Are Insatiable

Long before I knew it was called the “Bennett Hypothesis” I knew that colleges and universities increase tuition to capture increases in federal and state financial aid. I attended numerous meetings of university administrators where the topic of setting next year’s tuition was discussed.
The regnant phrase was “Don’t leave money sitting on the table.” The metaphoric table in question was the one on which the government had laid out a sumptuous banquet of increases of financial aid. Our job was to figure out how to consume as much of it as possible in tuition increases. This didn’t necessarily mean we were insensitive to the needs of financially less well-off students. A substantial portion of the money we captured would be reallocated as “tuition discounts” or “institutional aid.” That is to say, just as Andrew Gillen observes, we combined Bennett Hypothesis-style capture of external student financial aid with “price discrimination.” And we did all this in the pursuit of educational excellence. It was a large private university in the shadow of world-ranked neighbors and it was attempting to pull itself up in the world of prestige and influence by its bootstraps. There were townhouses that needed buying; laboratories that needed building; faculty stars that needed hiring; classrooms and residence halls that needed refurbishing; symphonies that needed performing; grotesque modern sculptures that needed displaying; and administrators that needed chauffeuring. So long before I heard of “Bowen’s Rule,” I was also familiar with the idea that “in the quest for excellence, prestige, and influence, there is virtually no limit to the amount of money” a university could spend. Familiar as these ideas are, I have never seen them as well elucidated as Andrew Gillen has in Introducing Bennett Hypothesis 2.0. If there is a fault in this remarkable policy paper it lies in the modesty of the title. Gillen has provided what by all rights should be a foundational document for any further analysis of the vexed issue of how federal (and state) financial aid interacts with the pricing strategies of colleges and universities. Gillen’s sophisticated revision of Bill Bennett’s idea explains many of the perplexities of the data. Yes, Pell Grants do not drive tuition increases the way general tuition assistance does. Yes, many colleges prefer to increase their selectivity rather than expand capacity. (He doesn’t mention, however, the strategy of doing both at once by creating highly selective “honors programs” and remedial tracts at the same institution.) Price discrimination in the form of variable tuition discounts ensures that no ordinary observer can figure out what is happening when federal aid mixes with pricing strategies. One of Gillen’s most compelling observations, however, is what he calls “the dynamic story,” which he introduces by way of game theory. This is his explanation of why a college cannot plausibly sit on the sidelines as its competitors raise tuition and use the increased income to raise their standing. Gillen’s theory, though highly plausible, remains to be tested. Let’s hope that comes soon.

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Richard Vedder: Market Discipline, Please

Andrew Gillen masterfully demonstrates that Bill Bennett is right–federal financial aid programs lead to higher tuition. The implications of this and related financial aid effects are profound:

1. The intended income transfers from taxpayers (and, increasingly bondholders) to students have been largely diverted to college coffers; swelling payrolls and leading to armies of new university bureaucrats, million-dollar college presidents, an academic arms race and other pathologies;

2. This, in turn, has thwarted university productivity growth and helps explain why higher education is vastly more expensive than in most other major developed countries;

3. The goal of helping low-income students has not been met, and a lower percent of recent college graduates come from less affluent students than was true in 1970 when Pell Grants did not exist;

4. To the extent that these aid programs have increased enrollments (read Gillen), they have added to the growing disconnect between labor-market realities and student job expectations, creating armies of college graduates who are bartenders, taxi drivers, etc.

5. Enrollment increases, in turn, have contributed to a dumbing down of higher education and to declining standards.

What to do? The federal government needs to wind down its financial aid commitment. Restrict eligibility for aid to truly low-income students. Impose performance criteria for aid recipients: mediocre students will lose aid. Make the college absorb some of the risk for loan defaults–a lesson we should have learned from the financial crisis. Give Pell Grants as vouchers directly to students, not schools. Reinstate private lending options. Unveil new human capital contract approaches that reduce debt reliance. Downsize and reinvent federal programs and allow market discipline to operate more.

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George Leef: Will Politicians Pay Attention?

William Bennett is no economist (in fact, he once told an interviewer that he never reads books on economics) but his instinct on the connection between federal aid and rising college costs was pretty accurate. While higher education establishment defenders have often tried to dismiss Bennett’s insight, it’s basically correct, Gillen shows.Not always, however. Gillen argues persuasively that student aid targeted at low-income students who otherwise wouldn’t have gone to college contributes little or nothing to rising costs because the institutions cannot “capture” the additional funds. That finding doesn’t mean that it would be a good policy to increase this kind of aid, of course.Government student-aid programs that are universally available, however, do lead to rising college costs. Gillen has worked through various differing scenarios to show how increasing student aid is apt to influence college officials. Particularly important in that regard is his emphasis on looking not just at short-run effects, but also what he calls “the dynamic story.” Here’s what he means. Even if some schools decide not to raise tuition when government aid puts more dollars in student pockets, those that do will spend the revenues gained on the zero-sum game of gaining prestige. Since most colleges won’t want to keep falling behind in that arms race, they’ll eventually give in and raise tuition. Not always, however. Gillen argues persuasively that student aid targeted at low-income students who otherwise wouldn’t have gone to college contributes little or nothing to rising costs because the institutions cannot “capture” the additional funds. That finding doesn’t mean that it would be a good policy to increase this kind of aid, of course.Gillen concludes that the only escape from Bennett 2.0 is for the nature of competition in higher education to change–away from seeking greater “prestige” and toward competing for consumer dollars by offering better value. He’s right and the rumblings of disaffection with mere credentials and the search for real education seems to presage just that.I applaud this work, but will it make any difference? After all, it is clear beyond any doubt that raising the minimum wage is counter-productive, but politicians keep doing that. Why should Gillen’s demonstration that the more politicians try to make college “affordable,” the more costly it becomes be any different?

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Hans Bader: Ever-growing Bureaucracies

You don’t need to be a Ph.D in economics, like Gillen is, to know that government subsidies usually lead to higher costs. That subsidies drive up costs is something I learned in introductory economics, long before I got my degree in economics or worked for the Education Department. The value of Gillen’s study is to show that this conclusion logically remains true even under widely-varying assumptions about educational markets. Gillen does not discuss certain Education Department rules that drive up tuition even more directly. For example, certain low-cost schools are affected by the Education Department’s 90-10 rule, which requires that the school keep tuition high enough for students that no more than 90 percent of its funding is covered by federal financial aid. So as financial aid rises, tuition necessarily rises even faster. But financial aid is not the only way that the government drives up tuition. State and federal regulations imposed on colleges have mushroomed in recent years, requiring colleges to hire ever-increasing numbers of administrators to comply with them. (There are now more college administrators than faculty at the California State University system and many other colleges). For example, colleges in New Jersey are subject to a costly and complicated anti-bullying law that has 18 pages of required components. Colleges in some states are subject to state sexual harassment laws that are more stringent than federal law, and hold colleges liable for uncapped damages for harassment by students, effectively requiring them to create specialized university bureaucracies to swiftly investigate and discipline students, rather than relying on ordinary campus disciplinary bodies that operate at a slower and more deliberative pace. Government regulations often require that a school be accredited, a condition that accreditors like the American Bar Association use to force law schools to use racial preferences in admissions or run costly diversity and sensitivity-training programs (despite the dubious legality of some such programs and admissions preferences). Such mandates have contributed to the growth of a vast and costly “diversity machine” in college administrations. Recent Education Department guidance documents have also made Title IX compliance more difficult and costly for colleges, by seeking to force them to process sexual harassment complaints against students in ways that differ from customary college procedures in disciplinary cases, and to give certain complainants the ability to appeal a school’s finding that an accused student was innocent. Gillen cites a study showing that for-profit colleges whose students received federal financial aid charged 75 percent more than those whose students were not eligible. I wonder if some fraction of this difference was the result of government mandates tied to the financial aid, rather than the aid itself. image for mtc.jpeg

Herbert I. London: We Need Controls

My experience in higher education confirms the opinion that federal aid has an influence, a profound influence, on tuition decisions and other aspects of university finances.

Clearly not all federal aid is the same and not all college responses to aid are the same. However, there is a dynamic quality to federal subsidies that cannot be ignored. Every federal dollar given to a university will be spent. This is a version of higher education’s Parkinson’s Law. The institution expands in multiple ways to accommodate government largesse. Derek Bok, former Harvard president, said, “Universities share one characteristic with compulsive gamblers and exiled royalty: there is never enough money to satisfy their desires.”

Every dollar given to a college goes through the turnstile of institutional improvement. Teaching loads could be reduced, new laboratories might be built, an academic “star” might be lured into a newly created position. But year one in this allocational arrangement is not always related to year two. If the initial costs are borne by government aid, the future costs may put pressure on the administration to seek additional revenue, very often in the form of tuition increases.

In fact, the process tends to be self-fulfilling. Aid producers reforms; reform leads to additional expense; additional expense very often translates into upward pressure on tuition rates. While President Obama has discussed controlling college costs, he overlooks the influence federal assistance has on college affordability. Nor is there any reason to assume a change of direction. There is political capital to be garnered by demanding cost controls and, at the same time, expanding access to tuition assistance. That these conditions may be contradictory is lost on a public increasingly frustrated with the inflated cost of a college education.

For Crippling Debt, Why Not Try Grad School?

student debt.gifThere’s something even worse than undergraduate debt. It’s graduate-school debt. According to the American Student Assistance website, which uses figures from such sources as the National Center for Education Statistics, the College Board, and the nonprofit Finaid.org, 60 percent of recipients of bachelor’s’ degrees borrowed to fund their education during the 2000s, with the average debt load per borrower on graduation close to $23,000 by 2007. By 2010 that figure had jumped to more than $25,000 per borrower, according to the Institute for College Access’s Project on Student Debt.

Those numbers sound bad, but what if you go on to obtain a master’s degree, adding another one or two years’ worth of education to your resume? According to American Student Assistance, nearly half of those who obtained master-of-science degrees during the late 2000s borrowed to finance their schooling, and their average cumulative debt load for those two years was $29,975–on top of what they already owed for their bachelor’s degrees. Of recipients of master-of-arts degrees, degrees that typically qualify their holders mostly for low-paying teaching jobs at community colleges and private high schools, 61 percent borrowed to finance their two additional years of education, with a per-borrower average debt of $29,975.

And what if you go all the way to a doctorate in the humanities or sciences? Fewer students have to borrow in order to earn Ph.D.’s (graduate schools typically subsidize tuition and pay modest stipends in exchange for on-campus teaching or research). Still, 35 percent of doctoral students in the humanities and sciences went into the red to pay for at least part of their education and living costs, racking up an average cumulative debt of $44,995, according to American Student Assistance. About 48 percent of doctoral students had borrowed for their undergraduate degrees, and the total average cumulative amount borrowed for both degrees was $45,455.

Now let’s factor in two additional pieces of data that bring home what it means to owe $45,000 for your Ph.D. after the ceremonies are over and you’ve stashed your doctoral gown inside its garment bag. First, you are likely to be as much as a decade older than your college classmates who collected only a bachelor’s degree before setting out on a career path. According to the National Science Foundation, the median time spent registered in graduate school in order to earn a doctorate is 7.5 years. The median age of recipients of Ph.D.’s in science and engineering is 31.8 years. Among recipients of Ph.D.’s in the humanities the median age is 34.6 years. That is because it takes an average of nine years in school to earn a doctorate in the humanities. The total average time from receipt of bachelor’s degree to receipt of doctoral degree is about eleven years in the humanities and nearly eight years in science and engineering.

Men and women outside academia who are in their early thirties are typically feeling ready, or even more than ready, to buy homes and start families. They are also typically feeling financially able to shoulder those new financial burdens, with careers nailed down and netting them decent incomes, most student loans paid off, and savings accumulated for down payments. Not so the members of their age cohorts who chose to go to graduate school instead. They are at the bottom of their career ladders and salary scales, just as their college classmates who didn’t attend graduate school were ten years ago–except that the Ph.D.-holders now owe on average nearly twice as much in student debt as their former classmates. Holders of doctorates do earn more than holders of bachelor’s and master’s degrees, but not much more. The average starting salary of an assistant professor on the tenure track, for example, can be as low as $37,500 a year and almost never tops $60,000. A study cited by the Economist in 2010 found that a Ph.D. gives its holder only a 3 percent earnings premium over a master’s degree, which takes only one or two years to complete. The study noted that in some fields, such as mathematics, computing, social sciences, and languages, holders of doctorates earn no more than holders of master’s degrees. They have also incurred the opportunity cost of foregoing years of income that would have helped them pay off existing student loans.

Think Twice about Doing This

It gets worse. Doctoral programs are essentially vocational training–for the job of college professor. But the training is so time-consuming and exacts such a psychic toll, with Ph.D. students struggling for years to squeeze in research on their dissertations as they cope with the backbreaking hours and abject penury of a teaching assistant, that the dropout rate is extraordinary. Only about 57 percent of students who enroll in doctoral programs complete their degrees, according to a 2007 report from the Council on Graduate Programs. Students in the humanities, especially English and history, fare the worst, with about a 49 percent completion rate. In the humanities the dropouts tend to cluster in the later years of the program when the students finally run out of money and hope. That translates into up to a decade wasted in academia with nothing to show for those years except forgone earnings elsewhere and in many cases, more debt.

Those who do manage to collect their doctorates–at about age 35 for the humanities–face a further horror. There are very few jobs, or at least very few of those full-time, tenure-track teaching jobs, even at $37,500 a year, for which their highly specialized education has prepared them. The humanities, as ever, occupy the bottom of the misery index. The Modern Language Association, the leading professional organization for English and foreign-language professors, projects one-third fewer professorial job openings during the academic year 2011-12 than during 2007-08–and that’s a slight improvement over last academic year. Yet the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), where financial support from universities is higher and doctorates get completed more quickly, don’t offer significantly better job prospects for their newly minted Ph.D.’s. The typical career path for nearly half of them these days doesn’t start with a tenure-track assistant professorship but with two, four, or even more years as a lowly “postdoc” laboratory researcher earning a starting salary of about $42,000 a year. That doesn’t help pay down student loans very quickly.

What to do about this? “The gigantic indebtedness of graduate students threatens to turn them into intellectual sharecroppers,” Leonard Cassuto, an English professor at Fordham University, wrote recently in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Cassuto’s proffered suggestions–that the government pay for graduate education and that universities hire more tenure-track professors–don’t sound realistic in these economically pinched times. A more practical suggestion would be for more college graduates to think twice about enrolling in grad school. If $25,000 in student loans sounds daunting, why boost that figure to $45,000–especially since the jobs won’t be there to enable you to pay it back?

More College Aid for Low-Income Families, Please

college campus.pngWhen individuals seek higher education, why should all of us have to pay? After all, individuals decide whether to seek a college degree based on their own calculations of expected costs and benefits. That taxpayers must bear the burden of financial aid to these individuals seems unfair.

Given the billions of dollars governments pay individuals to help finance their college expenses, taxpayers must be assured that their investment is not wasted.

In short, we would rather not be sucked dry to pay for C students — whose weak academic preparation makes them unsuited for higher education — just so they can party hard for four or five years.

In a policy paper released this week, Andrew Gillen, the research director at the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, says he has the solution to creating rationality in our messy and unaccountable financial aid system.
Continue reading More College Aid for Low-Income Families, Please

No, They Can’t Renege on Student Debt

Sometimes the left is onto something. Take, for example, the
latest twist in the “Occupy” movement: Occupy
Student Debt
. The new activism front, which began in with a Nov. 21 rally
at Occupy Ground Zero, New York’s Zuccotti Park, is trying to collect a million
online signatures from debtors pledging to refuse
to repay their student loans
. That’s supposed to be only the beginning.
Down the road, according to the campaign’s organizers (members of the student
debt subcommittee of Occupy Wall Street’s Empowerment and Education working
group) are proposals to pressure Congress into writing off all existing student
loans and making future student loans interest-free–or better yet, having the
federal government subsidize tuition completely at all public colleges and

Good luck, you might say. Still, the Occupy Student Debt people
have focused public attention on the alarming growth of the federal
student loan program
over the past few years. As USA Today recently
reported, the amount of student loans taken out in 2010 alone exceeded $100
million. Before the end of 2011, the total amount of outstanding student debt
is expected to exceed $1 trillion for the first time in history. Furthermore, USA
Today reported
, students are borrowing twice what they borrowed only a
decade ago, even adjusting for inflation….

Continue reading No, They Can’t Renege on Student Debt

Does Student Debt Really Matter?

IOU.jpgIn a recent essay in The Atlantic, Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus lament that most students have to take out college loans. They write: “At colleges lacking rich endowments, budgeting is based on turning a generation of young people into debtors.”

While Hacker and Dreifus blame the universities for encouraging students to take on more debt to pay for lavish facilities and other non-educational amenities, others focus on student debt itself as perhaps the key barrier to college facing millions of students from families with low and modest incomes. Indeed, entire organizations have been founded on that very notion, such as the Project On Student Debt.

Analysts who belong to the debt-is-bad school of financial aid policy are correct in noting that student borrowing increased dramatically in the past decade, ballooning 128 percent to more than $96 billion, according to the College Board’s annual survey of financial aid trends. On the other hand, federal grants and institutional grants mitigated the rising student debt. From 2000 to 2010, federal financial aid shot up 136 percent to more than $146 billion; and institutional grants rose 69 percent to more than $33 billion.

Continue reading Does Student Debt Really Matter?

For-Profit v. Non-Profit Colleges–Which Use More Federal Cash?


Are for-profit colleges and universities getting a raw deal from the government compared to their more elitist peers in the private non-profit sector of American higher education?

Vance H. Fried, writing in a recent policy analysis brief published by the libertarian think-tank, the Cato Foundation, argues just that.  Fried is a former private-practice attorney, oil company executive, and investment bankernow a professor of Entrepreneurship at Oklahoma State University. He targets private non-profit colleges and universities as the beneficiaries of federal largesse, waste and inefficiency. 

“Undergraduate education is a highly profit

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”

Where’s All the Money Going?

By Andrew Gillen, Matthew Denhart, and Jonathan Robe

As they defend tuition increases to irate students and parents, college and university leaders often argue that tuition does not cover their costs and that they are therefore subsidizing their students’ educations. Take, for example, what Southwestern College President Dick Merriman said in an October 2010 piece for The Chronicle of Higher Education

“None of you, not even that very rare student who receives no financial aid from the college, will come close to paying what it is going to cost the college to educate you.”

However, this is emphatically not the view held by the students, parents, and many taxpayers who are paying the tuition bills. After paying thousands of dollars, students are often taught by adjuncts or stuffed into classrooms with hundreds of other students. This quite reasonably leads them to ask, “Where is all of our money going?”

Continue reading Where’s All the Money Going?

Gainful Employment: A Detriment to Competition


Today the Obama Administration unveiled its long-anticipated and highly controversial final gainful employment (GE) regulation  that ties program eligibility for federal student aid to new metrics that are based on student loan repayment rates. Under the new GE rule, a vocational program can qualify as leading to gainful employment and remain eligible for federal aid if one of three metrics is met:

1.     At least 35% of former students are repaying their loans;

2.     The estimated annual loan payment of a typical graduate does not exceed 30% of discretionary income;

3.     The estimated annual loan payment of a typical graduate does not exceed 12% of total earnings.

The rule requires that a program fail to meet one of the three metric three times in a four year period before becoming ineligible for federal student aid, with 2015 being the first year that a program can lose eligibility. Education Secretary Arne Duncan defended the metrics as a “perfectly reasonable bar…that every for-profit program should be able to reach. We’re also giving poor performing for-profit programs every chance to improve. But if you get three strikes in four years, you’re out.”

Continue reading Gainful Employment: A Detriment to Competition

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.

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The One Trillion Dollar Misunderstanding


At the beginning of 2011 the portfolio of the federal government for education loans was nearly one trillion dollars.  The portfolio consisted of loans for students currently in college extended either directly by the Department of Education or loans from financial institutions like Sallie Mae and banks with repayment guaranteed by the United States Treasury as well the education loans of students who had graduated from college or had quit before graduating but had not been fully repaid.  Its size exceeded the credit card debt of the American population in early 2011 and it continues to grow; whatever part remains unpaid contributes to the national debt.

An optimist views the large portfolio of student debt as “no problem.”  After they graduate, nearly all students will pay off their debts gradually, although they may have to live frugally in order to do so.  A pessimist views student debt as likely to be a permanent drain on taxpayers, as upwards of 40 per cent of borrowers will ultimately default on their loans or die before paying them off.  Meanwhile the portfolio of federal student loans will continue to grow. 

This pessimistic prognosis for student loans rests on the assumption that loans were often given to the wrong students for the wrong reasons and still are.   Pessimists believe that the existing student loan program has become unsustainable, as the subprime mortgage lending program was unsustainable, because of imprudent risks.  The risks were imprudent because of two main misunderstandings:

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All Is Not Well at Syracuse

Syracuse_University_Seal.gifIn recent years Syracuse University has decided to make its undergraduate student body more “diverse” and “inclusive”–code words for racial preferences that translated into a freshman class for the fall of 2010 that was 30 percent black and Latino. The class of 2014 was also 26 percent eligible for federal Pell grants to low-income students. Pells are usually proxies for students of lower-tier socioeconomic status, many of whom are ill-prepared for college-level work, and, according to a 2009 report from the National Center on Education Statistics, drop out of college at higher rates and take longer to graduate than non-Pell students. Minorities such as blacks, Hispanics, American Indians, and Pacific Islanders are disproportionately overrepresented in the Pell population.

Still, all seemed well and good for the many diversity enthusiasts among Syracuse’s faculty and administrators–until a report went public at a faculty senate meeting three weeks ago that Syracuse’s new recruitment policies had resulted in its admitting 60 percent of applicants for its 2010 entering class. It was 53 percent in 2009 and under 50 percent in 2008. That pushed Syracuse down toward the dreaded “unselective” category that negatively affects a college’s U.S. News and World Report ranking, Sure enough, Syracuse dropped last year to No. 55–second tier for national universities–from No. 50 (just inside the top tier) in 2008. Those most upset by Syracuse’s demotion turned out to be…Syracuse students, upper-level undergraduates who had chosen the university on the assumption that it was working to raise its reputation for academic prestige, not dilute it. They were equally stung by U.S. News’s new designation for their alma mater: “A+ school for B students.”

On Feb. 21 the student newspaper, the Daily Orange, carried an editorial declaring that Syracuse’s shift in recruitment strategy toward low-income students, with its concomitantly high acceptance rate “could devalue the SU diploma, cause a larger freshman classes, and affect the quality of an SU education.” Indeed, as the Orange reported elsewhere, 2010’s entering freshman class ballooned to a record 3,300 students, up 10 percenti n recent years. The editorial pointed out that larger classes and declining prestige could “lessen professors’ desire to work at SU” and could adversely affect alumni giving. “The acceptance rate has increased so dramatically that students are watching their diploma lose value even before graduating,” the editors wrote.

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A For-Profit University You Can Root For

capella.gifI’ve argued that there’s a way for-profit colleges to increase their credibility as genuine educational institutions rather than dropout factories running on federal student aid: they could focus their efforts and investment dollars on creating high-quality courses and courseware that the non-profit world might respect. And now, one for-profit institution, Capella University, seems to be doing exactly that.
Over the past couple of weeks, Inside Higher Education, the higher-ed Web magazine, has featured blog posts by Joshua Kim, director of learning and technology for Dartmouth’s mostly online Master of Health care Delivery Science Program, jointly administered by Dartmouth’s business school and its Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice. Kim, who holds a doctorate in sociology from Brown, interviewed two Capella vice presidents, Mike Buttry (corporate communications) and Keith Koch (Next Generation Learning) and came away liking a lot of what he heard. He noted for example, in a Feb. 1 post, that Capella, which is 100 percent online, uses the same technology platforms (namely, versions of Blackboard) as nonprofit universities, which it supplements “with large numbers of custom-produced rich media educational learning objects and simulations” to develop more than 1,400 separate online courses. In addition, Kim wrote, Capella seemed to be highly interested “in engaging with the rest of the higher ed community to differentiate itself from other for-profit institutions.”

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Dealing with the For-Profits

For-profit colleges are having a tough time these days, thanks to the Obama Education Department’s looming new “gainful employment” rules that threaten federal aid cutoffs to an industry that derives 87 percent of its revenue from government loans and grants to its students—along with steep declines in new enrollments (due partly to new federal caps on commissions to recruiters, and partly to the colleges’ own efforts to select students more carefully in order to secure lower default rates) and just plain bad publicity, which seems to have trickled down to potential applicants.
Just this past week four of the largest publicly traded players in the for-profit arena—Apollo Group Inc. (parent company of the 400,000-student University of Phoenix), Education Management Corp., the second-largest for-profit chain, DeVry Inc., and Strayer Education Inc.—reported continuing steep declines in their share prices—as much so that Standard & Poors’ Education Services Index, which reached a high last year of $105.37 in April (according to a Reuters report), closed on Jan. 11 at $81.04. The 20 percent drop just about matched the 20 percent average fall-off in new enrollments that for-profit colleges at the beginning of the year.
For-profit colleges may be in trouble, and their current and former students may be in even bigger trouble (Education Department statistics indicate that 46 percent of outstanding loans to students enrolled at for-profits will ultimately go into default, in contrast to 16 percent of student loans overall), but there is one entity that does not appear to be in trouble at all: the U.S. government, which not only guarantees the troubled loans but, thanks to an Obama-pushed change in the law last year, now originates all of them. A fascinating analysis of White House budget figures recently published the the Wall Street Journal indicates that the Education Department expects to recover “85% of defaulted federal loan dollars based on current value,” as Journal reporter Melissa Korn wrote. That recovery percentage is outstanding, compared with the percentage for other kinds of consumer credit. Banks, for example, as Korn reported, get back less than ten cents on the dollar on overdue credit cards. Indeed , according to White House figures for fiscal 2011, “the federal government expects gross recovery of between $1.10 and $1.22” for every dollar of loan principal extended, Korn wrote. (About $49.9 billion of federally guaranteed loans and loans directly from the government were in default as of Sept. 30, 2010, out of a total outstanding federal loan balance of $713.4 billion).

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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.

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