Tag Archives: finance

The Cupcake War as a Religious Event

Berkeley bakesale.jpgBy now the “Cupcake War” in which the Berkeley College Republicans sold cupcakes with different prices for various ethnic/racial/gender groups is well known. Drawing less attention is why it produced the panicky overkill reaction, including strong condemnations from some university administrators. After all, the anti-affirmative action bake sale hardly threatens the diversity infrastructure and is a far cry from past disruptive student protests. An impartial outsider might reasonably argue that the affirmative action cause would be better served by ignoring the bake sale to deprive college Republicans of any free publicity.

Let me suggest that the true purpose of the outrage is not to stamp out opposition to racial preferences. Rather, the overreaction is best understood as a reaffirmation of a faith that is slowly (but inevitably) going wobbly. And, I suspect, this includes most Berkeley students. If beliefs about the value of legally imposed racial preferences were rock solid, the over-the-top indignation would be unnecessary.

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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.

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.

Reducing the Cost of College

How many different ways are there for colleges to cut costs? A lot. At the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, we have identified 25 such ways in a book-length study. In Part 1, focusing on Using Lower Cost Alternatives, released Wednesday, we offered the following 5 suggestions for college and university administrators and public policy leaders:

1. Encourage more students to attend community college: Too many students whose high school grades and test scores indicate they would have difficulty with four-year schools enroll anyhow, accruing not only large personal debts but also imposing a burden on taxpayers in the form of federal financial assistance and unwarranted state subsidies. Four-year schools should be discouraged from accepting many of these students, and instead encourage them to enroll in two-year colleges; those who succeed academically can then move on to four-year schools. Given the cost differential between two- and four-year schools and high attrition rates among students, encouraging more students to begin their postsecondary education at a community college is a sensible policy goal.
2. Promote Dual Enrollment Programs: There are certainly numerous bright and ambitious high school students capable of doing college level work while in high school—sometimes in the junior or even sophomore year. Students who earn a good deal of college credit in high school (through AP classes, CLEP credit, dual enrollment, etc.) can sometimes reduce their college baccalaureate years to three—saving nearly 25 percent in direct costs and, just as importantly, giving an additional year of productive full-time labor. The key is to incentivize students, and schools must encourage alternative ways of obtaining college credit.

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How UC Dodges Real Cuts

Some faculty members in the University of California system plan to stage a walkout starting on Sept. 24—which also happens to be the first day of classes at several of the system’s 10 campuses. The aim of the walkouts is to protest an $813 million cut in state funding for the university system during the 2009-2010 academic year occasioned by California’s efforts to close a $26 billion budget shortfall that nearly brought state operations to a halt earlier this summer.
UC professors—and not just the several hundred who have indicated that they plan to start canceling classes that day—are angry that the university system’s Board of Regents decided to implement the cuts by mandating across-the-board furloughs (essentially salary cuts in return for less work) for all UC faculty and staffer, and that the system’s Office of the President subsequently ruled that professors could not take their furloughs on teaching days.
The idea behind the canceled classes is to make UC students feel so much pain that either they or their parents will goad state legislators into restoring the cut funds. “Instructional furloughs pressure the state to cease defunding the UC system,” said a letter signed by 16 professors from various campuses. One of the signatories, Nathan Brown, an English professor at UC-Davis, put it this way in an interview with the Sacramento Bee: “We’re not walking out on students. We are refusing to implement the university’s destruction of the education system.”

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Show And Tell For Rich Universities

Now that the Senate finance committee has requested – the New York Times said “demanded” – that the nation’s wealthiest colleges and universities supply detailed information about their endowments and financial practices, it seems clear that college cost is emerging as a long-running, popular and bipartisan issue. The request/demand came in a stern but polite letter from committee chairman Max Baucus and ranking Republican Chuck Grassley. It asked 136 colleges and universities to supply answers in 30 days to a long laundry list of questions about tuition rises, spending and the handling of endowments.

The euphoria over Harvard’s plan to grant financial relief to students from families earning up to $180,000 a year, since followed by similar announcements from Yale and Dartmouth, is long gone. Criticism of the three rich Ivies is increasingly caustic. Lynne Munson of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, calls Harvard’s reform plan “miserly,” and Richard Vedder, head of the Center, wrote a Washington Post op-ed headlined, “It’s a Start, Yale. Now do Something Serious.” Several critics have labeled the announced reform plans “chump change” and denounced the wealthiest schools for decades of hoarding of endowment monies.

Munson points out that the new financial relief offered by Harvard amounts to a mere day and a half of earnings on the university’s $34.9 billion endowment. Even so, other universities are even more addicted to penny-pinching. The University of Michigan, one of two richest public schools (along with the University of Texas) gives its 40,000 undergraduates only $61 million in aid, half of what Harvard spends on its 6,600 undergraduates.

Many critics argue that aid for students is small in relation to spending on compensation for university presidents, new stadiums, and dubious expansions of administrative officers, including the new and mostly pointless “diversity deans.” Luxury housing on campuses is becoming an issue as well. Vedder calls attention to Princeton’s new Whitman College (named for a donor, eBay executive Meg Whitman) that cost $388,571 per room. Vedder wrote for the Washington Post: “Taxpayers may ask why should Whitman get a multimillion dollar tax break building a luxury hotel for children of mostly wealthy Americans?”

The Senate finance committee letter launches the project of generating reliable information on the historically shrouded financial practices of colleges and universities. Grassley said that answers “will help Congress make informed decisions about a potential pay-out requirement.” In other words, cooperate or else.