Tag Archives: Florida

Should We Charge Different Fees for Different Majors?

Rick Scott.jpg

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

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

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

Continue reading Should We Charge Different Fees for Different Majors?

Indoctrinating Students Isn’t Easy

UCLA has found a novel way to improve the politicization of its curriculum. UCLA Today, the faculty and staff newspaper, reports that the university’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and the Sustainability Committee have teamed up to help faculty members across the university figure out ways to slip sustainability messages into their classes, regardless of the actual subjects they are teaching.  Participating faculty members get a two-hour workshop and a $1,200 grant to turn their courses into vehicles of sustaina-ganda. 

The newspaper account highlights political science professor Miriam Golden who is using the extra money to change reading lists, data sets, homework assignments.  Professor Golden is ardently behind the cause.  “I think climate change is the largest global challenge to ever face the human race, and we need to help students understand the social and political implications,” she says.  But the money clearly helps.  She wouldn’t be altering the content of her courses without it.

Is it a good thing when a third party puts money on the table to ensure that a particular point of view gets extra attention and favorable treatment in a public university?  Not when Charles G. Koch pledged $1.5 million to support faculty appointments in Florida State University’s economics department for the purpose of promoting “political economy and free enterprise.”  When that story broke in Spring 2011, the higher education establishment expressed dismay at the supposed affront to academic freedom.  Two FSU professors, Kent Miller and Ray Bellamy, led the charge against the “intrusive actions” of the funders, but a faculty panel grudgingly found the grant acceptable.  The progressive commentariate could hardly find enough exclamation points to express its outrage at this commercial sullying of the pure soul of academic inquiry.

I don’t expect that UCLA’s little experiment in cash incentives to faculty members who adjust their teaching in the direction of global warming hysteria and the virtues of sustainability will elicit any similar disdain.  But the Koch “intrusion” at Florida State and the sustainability grants at UCLA are really two sides of the same coin.  Charles Koch would like universities to teach more about the virtues of free markets.  The sustainability crowd generally views free markets as a deep source of environmental ruination.  Both sides are ready to put some money into the game. The Koch grant supports the appointment of faculty members in one department who would be explicitly identified as advocates for a point of view.  The UCLA program is meant to insinuate a point of view across the whole curriculum.  Which sounds more likely to infringe on the integrity of academic programs or the intellectual freedom of students?

UCLA innovation is the cash incentive, not the attempt at broader product placement.  The effort to get sustainability incorporated in every class has been a goal of the sustainability movement for some time. The question for the sustainatopians has been how best to make this happen.  The National Association of Scholars has watched these efforts unfold first as naked aggression, as we reported in “An Elbow in the Ribs: Prof-Prodding Toward Sustainability.”  Sometimes it took more than an elbow bestowed on the reluctant professor, as we observed in “The Sustainability Inquisition.”  Carrots in the form of cash incentives are arguably an improvement over the sticks that the movement more typically uses. 

The money might be put to some good uses.  Who would object to the Earth and Space Sciences professor taking the cash to make videos of fluid dynamics to explain how the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” came about?  There is, however, something a little unsettling about an effort to make every class in a university into a brick in a wall of advocacy.  “Sustainability” falsely presents itself as settled wisdom not only about the science of climate change, but about the proper economic, political, and social responses.  These are matters where students deserve the benefit of hearing the best arguments from all sides.  UCLA’s decision to stack the deck is, unfortunately, all too common for the University of California.  The best response from UCLA faculty members would be to refuse the money and to teach their courses in the spirit of fair-minded scholarship, not as exercises in recruitment to a cause.  

Trickle Down Racial Double Standards

Advocates of affirmative action never seem to realize that abandoning the “without regard” principle of colorblind equality — i.e., legitimizing the distribution of benefits and burdens based on race — can result in unfavorable, discriminatory treatment of their favored minorities, even when that harsh lesson is staring them in the face as it is now in Florida and Virginia.

According to the Florida state board’s Strategic Plan, the goals are for 90 percent of Asian students, 88 percent of white students, 81 percent of Hispanics, and 74 percent of black students to be reading at or above grade level. In math, the goals are 92 percent of Asian kids to be proficient, whites 86 percent, Hispanics 80 percent, and blacks 74 percent. These goals, the board stated, “recognize that not every group is starting from the same point and are meant to be ambitious but realistic.”

The state’s plan to reduce academic goals for minorities, the Florida Sun Sentinel newspapers report, “has created a firestorm in South Florida.” 

Florida, alas, is not alone. Last summer the Virginia Department of Education announced its new annual reading and math objectives with lower benchmarks for blacks and Hispanics, and it too set off a firestorm of controversy. 

The Huffington Post criticized Virginia for “reducing expectations based on race.” In a letter to Gov. McDonnell the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus called the new achievement objectives “insulting and narrow minded.” Its chair, Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, “says the state is marginalizing students by setting different goals for how many pass each Standards of Learning test based on their race or background.” The Vice President of the Virginia NAACP described the new guidelines as “discriminating” and declared that her “biggest concern is setting lower expectations for minorities than other cultures. If you set low expectations for children, you devalue them, and demoralize them to themselves.”

These criticisms of the Florida and Virginia plans for lowering the standards of success for blacks and Hispanics are penetrating and persuasive. They are also glaringly inconsistent or hypocritical, since affirmative action in college admissions — i.e., lowering requirements for blacks and Hispanics — has the same debilitating effects, or worse, on those for whom the bar is condescendingly lowered. See Mismatch: How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It’s Intended to Help And Why Universities Won’t Admit It, the “magisterial” new book by Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor, Jr., for a compilation and analysis of the accumulating evidence of this harm. Yet the NAACP, civil rights advocates, and Democratic pols not only defend but glorify that differential treatment and its lowered standards based on race.

One of the saddest and most depressing things about this controversy over Florida’s and Virginia’s differential racial benchmarks is the shock and surprise one feels when encountering a Democrat or civil rights advocate actually calling for students to be treated without regard for their race.

Some Hope for Higher Ed Reform

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wake Us Gently–We’re Students

nap pod.jpg

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

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

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

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

Tenured Incognizance

A small controversy surfaced
last week at University of Central Florida when a psychology professor sent an email
to all his students to berate some of them for “religious bigotry.” 

According to the professor’s letter, some Christian students in class
that evening claimed that their faith is “the most valid religion,” thereby
“demonstrating to the rest of the class what religious arrogance and bigotry
looks like.” When the professor asked students to imagine how Muslims,
Hindus, Buddhists, and “non-believers” experience that
affirmation, a student stood and urged others “not to participate”–to the
professor a grossly arrogant and disrespectful act.

A university should abhor such “censorship” and
“anti-intellectualism,” the professor concluded. Students go there to be
challenged, to encounter ideas contrary to “cherished beliefs,” to become
“critical, independent thinkers.”

Very well. We don’t know exactly what happened in that class,
but the lengthy email contains nothing to surprise anyone who has spent
time on campus and doesn’t share the orthodox secular
left-liberalism. On the professor’s part, we have:

  • The customary
    condescension–“We’re adults.  We’re at a university.”
  • The inability to
    respect class boundaries–“There is no topic that is ‘off-limits’ for us to
    address in class, even if only remotely related to the course topic.
  • The elevation of
    mainstream beliefs into an oppressive hegemony–“the tyranny of the masses” (the
    dominant group, that is, which in this case, are Christians).
  • And finally, the
    interpretation of conviction as intolerance–“Bigots–radical bigots or religious
    bigots–never question their prejudices and bigotry.  They are convinced
    their beliefs are correct.”

Of course, every believer believes his or her religion is the most
valid one, and to say that doing so victimizes others is to raise sensitivities
to paranoid levels. Indeed, no belief can be held if it isn’t regarded as
correct.

But it is a waste of time to make such points. For professors
such as this one, the inconsistencies and contradictions run so deep that there
is little hope of dispelling them. His cultural relativism is
absolute. He calls for mutual respect, yet inserts sarcasms about
students. Etcetera. 

His incognizance is more significant than his ideology. It
poses a stiffer challenge to conservatives and libertarians than his liberalism
does, and so does his attitude. Instead of taking the Christian students’
assertion as a position to explore, he denounces it. Instead of ponder
the “not-participate” ejaculation as a comment upon him, he turns it onto the
student alone.

This is a hardened condition, and it won’t soften. It has
tenure and (spurious) academic freedom behind it, so why change, especially
when the majority of colleagues reinforce it? No wonder the many
and valid criticisms of the ideology of the professors have produced so little
real reform. They don’t touch attitudes and self-images, things academics
guard more closely than their ideas.

The Politics of Campus Hazing

SAE house.jpgThe war on fraternities is one of the longest-running conflicts on campus, and the most active front in that war is the current media campaign against hazing, triggered by the lurid charges of former Dartmouth student Andrew Lohse. In an op-ed in his college newspaper, The Dartmouth, and later in a long Rolling Stone article, “Confessions of an Ivy League Frat Boy,” Lohse described SAE pledges as swimming in a kiddie pool full of fecal matter, vomiting blood after chugging cups of vinegar, and dining on “vomlets” that combined eggs and upchuck–all supposedly part of the SAE hazing ritual.

The Rolling Stone article was a media sensation, but there are
problems with Lohse’s scatological/vomitological catalogue of horrors.
Lack of corroboration, for one. So far, no one else reports seeing the
indignities as he described them. However, 27 SAE members–Lohse
included–were brought up on charges by Dartmouth’s Undergraduate
Judicial Affairs Office.

Continue reading The Politics of Campus Hazing

When Texas College Reforms Come to Florida

It’s hard to tell whether it’s a news story or a media meme: Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott, a fan of Texas Republican Gov. (and current GOP presidential candidate) Rick Perry, is reportedly considering foisting on Florida’s public universities the same much-criticized reform proposals that Perry has been trying to foist on public universities in Texas. Behind the scenes in all of this–or so the news reports imply–is the looming presence of Jeff Sandefer, Voldemort to the Texas higher-education establishment. Sandefer, a Texas oil entrepreneur, disgruntled former business professor at the University of Texas-Austin, and major contributor to Perry’s gubernatorial campaigns, authored the “Seven Breakthrough Solutions,” a 2008 document mostly calling for public universities to abandon their research missions and focus on undergraduate teaching. The “Solutions,” which formed the centerpiece of  a 2008 conference involving Perry and the regents of the University of Texas (UT) system, reputedly underlay recent efforts by Perry to assess and reward teaching productivity at UT-Austin and Texas A&M–and now they’re said to underlie similar efforts under consideration by Scott in Florida.

Trouble is–it’s hard to find the story in this story of Sandefer’s tentacles stretching across the Gulf of Mexico to entangle Tallahassee. On July 26 an article by Lilly Rockwell of the News Service of Florida appeared on the WCTV website. It was titled “Scott Promotes Controversial Education Reforms: Controversial changes that have rocked Texas higher education system may be coming to Florida.” Rockwell had interviewed Scott.

Continue reading When Texas College Reforms Come to Florida

Administrative Orthodoxy At Ave Maria

Tom Monaghan, founder of Domino’s Pizza, Ave Maria University, and the town of Ave Maria, Florida (in that order) obviously isn’t attracting media acclaim in his effort to establish a conjoined orthodox Catholic University and Catholic town on a former tomato farm in Southwest Florida. No, he comes off as something as something of an Inquisitor, putting a farm of happily secular Florida tomatoes to the sword to make room for a bishopric of right-wing Catholics. The caviling about Monaghan, for the most part, is easily explained; Monaghan has explicitly proclaimed his intention of creating an orthodox Catholic University, and his critics despise the thought.

Monaghan’s truly revolutionary step here isn’t imagining a university – it’s that he hasn’t simply handed his dream over to the standard mush of college administration, but has remained deeply involved with the project – so far as to literally uproot the college over several states. The college’s move from the Midwest to Southwest Florida is a rather dramatic example of a founder’s influence, but American higher education seems to have altogether forgotten the experience of a living founder in this day of universal rule by amorphous faculty-trustee-administrator confederation (aka “our costs will always go up but no one knows who’s responsible”). Faculties are accustomed to Presidents who can be curbed when overly outspoken (Laurence Summers) and administrations are accustomed to routinely ignoring the wishes of donors and trustees (the Bass donation at Yale, the Robertson donation at Princeton). Monaghan is a very different quantity in this mix, an individual who hasn’t been content to see his wishes run aground in the morass of standard academic decision-making. He’s continued to exert a very active role in his University – a step that professors would see in almost any case as a clear intrusion into their purlieus.

Continue reading Administrative Orthodoxy At Ave Maria