Tag Archives: scholarship

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.

Real Costs and Sticker Price

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

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

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

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

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

Notes on Bowdoin’s Curriculum

Prompted by the NAS’ intriguing–and commendable–decision to use Bowdoin as a case study to explore the liberal arts experience, I took a look last week at the staffing decisions in Bowdoin’s history department. Three unusual patterns emerged: (1) a seemingly disproportionate emphasis on environmental and African history; (2) an inconsistent commitment to scholarship as a requirement for promotion and/or tenure; and (3) a preference for narrowness (history of diet, history of science, two environmental historians of the Pacific coast) in U.S. history, all while running away from any approaches that could be deemed “traditional.”

So how do these staffing decisions translate into curricular choices?

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Attitudes in the Admissions Office

A recent survey of college admissions officers, sponsored by insidehighered.com, has attracted some attention in the press, such as this story in the New York Times and, of course, this account at Insidehighered.com (there is a link to a pdf of the full survey report).  It’s a valuable document that reveals attitudes and policies among admissions officers at a time of financial strain and fierce competition among institutions.

Indeed, the main finding in the survey is that admissions personnel are increasingly seeking out students who can pay full tuition.  Public institutions want more out-of-state and international students (who pay a much higher fee than in-state students).  About one-in-ten four-year colleges, the survey found, even practice affirmative action for full-pay applicants, lowering academic standards in order to admit them.

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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.

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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.

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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?”

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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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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.

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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Another Thick Stack Of Paper

The Gates Foundation has just released a report “With Their Whole Lives Ahead of Them” on why students fail to finish college, which might seem a timely topic amidst recent hand-wringing about our persistent failure to actually get students to a diploma. The problem, as with about all studies on this topic, is that it shows little information of any real evaluative use.

We find that “most students leave college because they are working to support themselves and going to school at the same time.” 54% of the students who left school cited “I needed to go to work and make money.” They also reported problems with textbook costs and other fees greater than their peers who graduated as well. Simple enough.

Also unsurprisingly, those who did not have financial support from their parents were far more likely not to graduate, at a rate of 58% dropping out as opposed to 38% graduating. Similarly, those without scholarships or loans were far more likely to drop out.

And yet, when we venture into reasons why students selected their schools, 41% of those who indicated that financial aid or a scholarship was a major reason for choosing their school did not graduate. Perhaps these had additional insurmountable financial difficulties, yet it not, there are clearly larger problems at hand.

What’s left? Well, in keeping with prior indications, students who did not graduate were far more likely to choose colleges based on proximity to where they lived or worked, and to seek a class schedule that worked with my schedule (the students who graduated seemed to have far fewer prior commitments).

What is there to say, based on this sample of 614 students? Well, not much. Clearly, financial problems are at the root of numerous decisions to leave college before completion. Whether graduated or not, most students were supportive of the idea of cutting the cost of college by a quarter (who wouldn’t? and why only a quarter? How about half?). One interesting, and very-much neglected idea was “making part-time attendance more viable by giving those students better access to loans, tuition assistance and health care – benefits and services that are frequently available only to full-time students.” Otherwise, given the data in this report, it seems that there’s very little that can be done. Financial problems are intractable, and in an age where tuition restraint is an absent quantity and increasing federal support never seems to cut the actual price of education, this report is a series of points that fail to add up to anything resembling an answer.. Now if the Gates Foundation pledged to pay for all these shortcomings, that might make a difference. As it is, all we have is just another thick stack of paper.

Rescuing The University, II

Part II, The Solution
(The first part of this essay can be found here.)
Restoring good sense to universities means allowing levelheaded academics to compete with radical imposters who proliferate by printing up their bogus currency. In a phrase: restore the gold standard of discovering and imparting truth. It is unnecessary to re-write university regulations to stop Ward Churchills or stipulate “good” and “bad” scholarship (which, in any case, is legally impossible and futile). The radicals have created a huge infrastructure, everything from journals to foundations, which, together with skilled back scratching, permits them to multiply virtually unchecked. A well-funded counter-weight is necessary. This is not about re-stocking the university with right-wing professors. The aim is encouraging non-ideological, unbiased let-the-chips-fall-where-they-may research. To paraphrase Orwell, victory will be announced when a professor can stand before his class and say, without fear, 2 +2=4.
Research requires money, often relatively small sums, and these are often difficult to obtain for those with the “wrong” views. University research boards, the traditional sources of seed money, are often controlled by PC forces. My own personal experiences here was that no hare-brained leftish proposal, no matter how technically flawed, was denied, even when damned by reviewers. If endangered species faculty are denied support, they will be enticed away by rivals, so it is better to give $10,000 to study cross-dressing Latina truck drivers than recruit a hard-to-find replacement for the “unappreciated” scholar. This is just supply and demand. As for the legitimate researcher seeking funds, a single impassioned rejection is sufficient no matter how ideologically motivated.
Similar obstacles are encountered when appealing to large foundations—requests to fund project that might “offend” politically protected groups are probably DOA, and so unlikely to be submitted in the first place. More generally, and this certainly includes nearly all “right wing” foundations, few foundations favor small grants or small projects—processing is just too labor intensive. Better to give a million to a single program than tediously scrutinize hundreds of requests for $25,000 or less. The Olin Foundation’s $25,000 for Allen Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind is a rare exception but one worth emulating (even Olin favored large scale, institution-building investment, however). To my knowledge, the only conservative benefactor that currently plays this seed money role is the Earhart Foundation, but their resources are modest and, I am told, like Olin, they are about shut down voluntarily (Disclosure—I have received several Earhart grants).

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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.

DePaul Flubs Up On Finkelstein

It’s difficult to be anything but pleased by the failure of Norman Finkelstein’s DePaul tenure bid. He’s a figure of repulsive opinions, given to frequent invective and doubtful scholarship. Yet all should look more carefully at DePaul University’s explanation of the step before celebrating. The logical foregrounding for their tenure decision would have been problems with his published scholarship; instead, DePaul justified their decision chiefly with talk of “respect for colleagues.” There’s little doubt that Finkelstein is a jerk, but DePaul’s grounding of its refusal in that fact – instead of holes in his academic work – leaves it open to justified criticism. “Collegiality” is a potentially insidious concept – just ask Walter Kehowski, a professor at Glendale Community College, who was just released from a forced administrative leave for the crime of emailing George Washington’s Thanksgiving address to fellow professors. The crime? Creating a “hostile environment.” Finkelstein’s faults are clearly of a higher order than this, but all should be wary of arguments premised upon a professor’s sociability, instead of his scholarship.

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