• April 24, 2014 12:30 PM Student Loan Debt Sometimes Continues Even When You’re Dead

    Student loans can stay around even after you die. Vox has a really sad story about people still paying off student loans after the original loan holder (or cosigner) has died.

    As Libby Nelson writes:

    Nearly all new private student loans now have a cosigner — a parent, grandparent or other adult taking out the loan jointly with a student. In some cases, this is a bank requirement for taking out the loan in the first place; in other cases, a cosigner with good credit makes it easier for a student to get a good interest rate.
    But there’s a catch. If anyone whose name is on a private loan dies or declares bankruptcy, the lender can put the loan in default and demand payment in full. If a loan is in default, it makes it easier for lenders to collect on the unpaid balance. Default can hurt the survivor’s credit score, and it’s particularly unfair if the loan actually was being repaid.


    While this would seem particularly sad in the case of that people who still have their own outstanding student loans upon death, which is often the case of people who die at relatively young ages, the article outlines what appears to be a rather more troublesome practice.

    The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has been getting complaints about banks putting loan in default and demand payment in full when the cosigner dies.

    That means you took out a private a loan for college and your father cosigned for it. Then you graduated and got a job and made regular payments on the loan. Good for you. Then one day your father dies unexpectedly and the bank tries to collect on the loan all at once from his estate.

    As Nelson points out, this is not only cruel, it’s also “bad business practice.” If borrowers pay back the entire loan out of a parent or grandparent’s estate, the loan issuer will get less money than if the borrower just made regular payments.

    This rule applies only to privately held student loans. While often private lenders will discharge debt upon death, they’re not legally required to do so. Sallie Mae is one student loan company that apparently keeps trying to collect when people die.

    For loans held by the federal government, which are most of them, when debtors die the balance is essentially zeroed out and the heirs don’t have to make payments. [Image via]

  • April 24, 2014 12:06 PM Program Integrity Negotiated Rulemaking Session 3, Day 1

    Yesterday was the start of the third Program Integrity negotiated rulemaking session at the U.S. Department of Education offices on K Street. Negotiators will meet for at least three days from Wednesday through Friday.


    Since consensus was already reached on Issue 1: Clock to Credit Hour Conversion, the U.S. Department of Education was able to move immediately to the second draft of proposed regulatory language for Issue 2: State authorization of distance education providers as a consequence of institutional eligibility and Issue 3: State authorization of foreign locations of domestic institutions. Most of the day was spent discussing issues 2 and 3, but the Department was also able to go over the second draft of regulatory language for Issue 4: Cash Management. Issue 4 will probably take up most of the day tomorrow with Issue 6: Definition of Adverse Credit for the Direct PLUS Loan most likely occurring Friday.

    Opening Remarks:

    Pam Moran, the Education Department’s negotiator, explained at the beginning of the meeting that the entire package of regulations being discussed will not be voted on until the end of the final committee meeting in May. Since the committee is only getting the first draft of regulatory language for Issue 6, the Department added a fourth meeting in May so that committee members will be able to review the second draft of language for PLUS. The session in May will primarily focus on PLUS loans but will also include discussion on the total package of regulations.

    Issue 2: State Authorization of Distance Education Providers

    For an overview of what was discussed about Issue 2 during the last committee meeting, read my blog post about it here.

    The Department made several significant changes to the second draft of regulatory language. For consistency with other regulation, they have broadened the definition of legally authorized. They have also limited state authorization of distance education for purposes of institutional eligibility for funding under the HEA to institutions that offer or will offer 50 percent or more of a postsecondary education program through distance or correspondence education to students in that state. According to Moran, this will help address the concerns that the Department heard from committee members during last session about students who may be on summer break in another state, but taking a course online through their home institution.

    The Department has also kept the controversial language from last draft that an institution is not considered to be legally authorized if it is exempt from state approval or licensure based on accreditation, years in operation, or other comparable exemption.

    The Department has added a provision that if an institution enrolls a member of the armed forces, the member’s spouse, or dependent child and that student relocates to another state and continues taking distance education courses with that institution, that the institution would still be considered legally authorized to provide title IV to the student for the duration of the student’s continuous enrollment in that program.

    The Department has also proposed in §600.9(d) that an institution would not be considered legally authorized for purposes of institutional eligibility for funding under the HEA for a program offered in a state if graduates from those programs are not eligible to receive certification or sit for the licensure or certification examinations necessary for them to obtain employment for which the program is intended, unless the institution obtains written acknowledgement from each student before s/he enrolls in the program that the program will not make him or her eligible to obtain employment in that state.


    Betsy Hicks, executive director of student financial services at MIT and the representative of the private, nonprofit institutions, wondered what would happen if the student had a choice of taking the program 0 to 100 percent through distance education. Moran clarified that a program would be triggered if it was designed so that a student could do 50 percent or more online.

    Russ Poulin, deputy director for research and analysis at WCET and the lead negotiator for distance education, commented that there are somewhere around 45 states that will need to change their laws and regulations to go through a process of active oversight to comply with exemption not being sufficient oversight. He explained that states will need to create mechanisms and triggers. Students could be caught up in the ensuing confusion. And an institution can suddenly be caught while the student is in the program, leaving the student in danger or losing his or her Title IV aid. His recommendation is to remove §600.9(c)(8).

    Chuck Knepfle, financial aid director for Santa Barbara City College and representative for public institutions, echoed Poulin’s concerns. He believes this provision will limit student choice. To get 45 new state laws and regulations passed will be nightmarish. It will add much burden to states and institutions and will be difficult to be in compliance.

    Sophia McArdle from the Department reiterated the Department’s stance from the last session—exemption is not an active role in oversight. Authorizing a program just because it has accreditation violates the triad. There has to be “accreditation plus.” In the preamble the Department will include a timeline and information about extensions in order to prevent students from suddenly losing aid if their program was exempted and now must be authorized.

    Poulin asked if the Department could be more specific about what “accreditation plus” would look like—a more specific definition in regulation.

    Chris Lindstrom, higher education program director from USPIRG and the representative for students, supported the language clarifying that exemption is not authorization. Whitney Barkley, staff attorney with the Mississippi Center for Justice and representative of the legal assistance organizations, agreed with Lindstrom saying, “We’re creating a floor that everyone needs to abide by.” She thinks that adding a safe harbor to the regulation and putting a timeline to comply in the preamble would help alleviate problems with students getting caught in the system and potentially losing aid during the transition. Additionally, Barkley and Lindstrom both like the disclosure provision about licensure in §600.9(d) but would like to strengthen the language so students have to actively acknowledge what they have read, not just initial an electronic document.

    In sum, it sounds like there is still quite a bit of disagreement around the table surrounding Issue 2. From where the draft is now, this will be one of the issues where it will be difficult to come to consensus by May.

    Issue 3: State Authorization of Foreign Locations of Domestic Institutions

    For an overview of what was discussed about Issue 3 during the last committee meeting, read my blog post about it here.

    This is new water for the Department to regulate under State Authorization and refers to authorizing international branch campuses or additional locations of domestic campuses. As such, much of the changes in the second draft reflect the feedback from various committee members. Like in Issue 2, the Department limited the applicability of the requirement that an additional location or branch campus be legally authorized to operate by an appropriate government authority in the country to foreign additional locations at which 50 percent or more of the program is offered or will be offered. All foreign branch campuses would need to be legally authorized in order for students to receive Title IV aid.


    Most of the feedback on the new draft was from institutional representatives giving examples of programs and trying to understand whether they’d be in compliance. There is general agreement that the Department did much better writing the regulations this time around. It sounds likely with technical tweaks that the committee has a good chance at coming to consensus on this issue.

    Issue 4: Cash Management

    Although the Department went over the draft regulatory language for this issue, they ran out of time to start discussion. Expect most of Thursday to be dedicated to Issue 4.

    Stay tuned for day two of session 2. Or you can attend in person at 1990 K Street, N.W., Eighth Floor Conference Center, Washington, DC. 

    [Cross-posted at Ed Central]

  • April 23, 2014 05:30 PM School Choice and Neighborhood Community in Washington, D.C.

    Yesterday afternoon, New America hosted a panel of experts for a discussion of school choice in Washington, D.C. It took Sam Chaltain’s recent book, Our School: Searching For Community in the Era of Choice, as a jumping off point for a productive conversation about education policies that are too often polarized.

    Here’s a bit of background on the book: For Our School, Sam spent a year “embedded” in two D.C. elementary schools. One is a traditional district school, one is a new charter startup. It would be easy to write a book with these two case studies and use one or the other to conclude that charter schools are American education’s saving angels—or a demonic pox plaguing the public education system. We see arguments like those all the time.

    It’s comparatively less comforting to read arguments that tell us that, oof, the school choice question is complicated.

    And, depending on your ideological commitments, you may find books like that compelling. It’s encouraging to read arguments that confirm what we already think about education. They make the world simple—which ultimately leads us to make simpler arguments. Unfortunately, there are two opposing camps constructing their own incompatible echo chambers. If you’re solidly pro-charter all day, every day, and you can’t understand how anyone could find them problematic, know that there is a charter critic out there who is just as implacably convinced that your beliefs—and you, yourself—are horrifying.

    It’s comparatively less comforting to read arguments that tell us that, oof, the school choice question is complicated. Sam’s book offers clarity over that easy comfort. Read it, and you won’t find your biases confirmed. Or, to put it better, if you find them confirmed on one page, you’ll find them questioned on the next.

    Our event was an attempt to cash the check Sam wrote with his book—we used it to prompt a sophisticated conversation about school choice and community in Washington, D.C. and beyond. The discussion was wide-ranging and touched on a number of questions, including:

    • One of the promises of the charter-school movement was that charters would serve as incubators of innovation from which traditional schools could learn. Has that happened/is that happening in DC?
    • The tension between choice and community—the freedom of choice in DC gives many parents hope that their kids can get into a good school. But it also means that many families play the lottery every year, contributing to huge student mobility rates that can make it hard to strengthen schools. Is the answer more choice—or less?
    • Finally, a charged, related question: charter schools have expanded in DC during a period of steady gentrification. How do these two trends currently interact? How should they interact?

    For video of the event, see below:

    Video streaming by Ustream

    The event also sparked a lively conversation on Twitter at the hashtag #DCSchoolChoice. Here’s a sampling:

    [Cross-posted at Ed Central]

  • April 23, 2014 10:00 AM “Sallie Mae, Pay Off My Tuition, Please”

    I have to confess to a weakness for people who specialize in taking pop culture ideas and using them to express really nerdy policy problems. Even more awesome is when the particularly nerdy policy idea also happens to impact actual young people.

    And thus, actress Chanel Carroll has given the world “Tuition,” a parody of Beyonce’s “Partition.”

    The original video reflected a standard pop culture sex-and-dancing theme, with a particular focus on the expression of female sexuality.

    In the Carroll version we see the great burden of student debt in the lives of young people:

    I just wanna live a debt-free life./A debt-free life.
    Sallie Mae please pay my tuition fast. /I had financial aid it shouldn’t be this vast.

    Yeah, exactly.

    Despite a course on Beyonce at Rutgers the singer did not actually attend college. While she may have already sung about people “callin’ like a collector,” whatever problems she may have, Sallie Mae is not one of them.

    Now if only we could get a pop stars to sing real songs about the burden of student loans.

  • April 22, 2014 05:11 PM The Dark Chain of Events to Your Kid’s Ivy League Rejection

    Despite their perfect grade-point averages and SAT scores and stellar extracurricular activities, the number of top-achieving high school seniors who made the cut at the most elite universities reached record lows this year. Stanford, for example, only admitted 5 percent of applicants, the fewest in its history; other top institutions reported similar numbers.

    This may look like meritocracy reaching its ultimate rarefaction, yet the motives that led top colleges and universities to introduce highly selective admissions a century ago were far from lofty. The aim was to keep out one group in particular: Jews.

    Until the turn of the last century, there was no such thing as “selective admissions,” even at the top universities. If students could pass an entrance exam, or belonged to the right family, they were in. There was no dossier, no need to show that you were “well-rounded.”

    Nor was there any pretense of seeking diversity. Ivy League schools in the early 19th century were remarkably homogenous. The standard class at Harvard, for example, contained a staggering number of white Protestants drawn from elite families in Massachusetts.

    The huge influx of immigrants in the mid- to late-19th century sparked a shift in the pool of potential applicants. By 1900, first and second-generation Jews were applying in droves. (At Columbia, the construction of the subway connecting the West Side to the Lower East Side seems to have contributed to a significant increase in the number of Jewish students.)

    For universities, the growing number of qualified applicants meant they either had to expand or institute some kind of selective admissions process. In any case, the number of Jews in attendance would surge.

    This brought out the worst in the aristocratic leaders of the Ivy League. Historians such as New York University’s Harold Wechsler have found plenty of evidence of anti-Semitism among university elites. Frederick Paul Keppel, a Columbia dean, wrote in 1910 that the university’s position “at the gateway of European immigration” might make the institution “socially uninviting to students who come from homes of refinement,” though he believed that “Jews who have had the advantage of decent social surroundings for a generation of two are entirely satisfactory companions.” Even less enlightened were those administrators who decried the “Jewish invasion,” and counseled the adoption of quotas.

    Still, the percentage of Jewish students at top schools increased. At Harvard, it shot from 6 percent in 1908 to 22 percent in 1922; at Columbia, Jewish enrollments reached as high as 40 percent.

    In response, elite universities imposed new admission criteria. Now, applicants needed to submit information about their religion, mother’s maiden name, along with a photograph. Applicants to Columbia also had to submit to a “psychological test,” which later became known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test, or SAT.

    These tools gave admissions officials the power to discriminate, ostensibly on the basis of “objective” evidence. And any number of reasons could be invoked to deny an applicant. As Harold Wechsler has observed, “selective admissions deflected much criticism precisely because it singled out no single status as ‘key.’”

    The restrictions allowed administrators to limit Jewish enrollment while pretending to uphold higher standards. One dean at Columbia wrote that “We have honestly attempted to eliminate the lowest grade of applicant, and it turns out that a good many of the low grade men are New York City Jews.”

    In the 1920s, Harvard found an even more clever plan of discrimination, under the watch of President Abbot Lawrence Lowell, who was characterized by a colleague as someone who “hates [Jews] and is afraid of them.”

    Lowell initially tried to institute a crude quota system for Jewish enrollment. When his plan was condemned in the press, a committee stacked with his sympathizers produced an alternative that seemed remarkably enlightened. Its real purpose, historians have argued, was to implement a kinder, gentler form of discrimination against Jews. It also gave us the admissions process that remains in effect at top universities today.

    The plan consisted of two parts. The first was to require that students come from the top 1/7th of their graduating class. More significant, however, was the resolution that Harvard would no longer consider admissions from the “standpoint of race.” Rather, it would create an undergraduate population that “will be properly representative of all groups in our national life.” This meant actively recruiting applicants from around the country, particularly areas “situated outside the regular Harvard recruiting ground.”

    Historian Oliver Pollak has observed that “by focusing on geographic representation, while ignoring blatant racial and religious characteristics, the plan obliquely discriminated against Jews.” In other words, Harvard could recruit high-achieving students from an applicant pool in which Jews were just one of many groups.

    The result was dramatic: Jewish enrollment in Harvard quickly plummeted back to 10 percent. Similar declines occurred at other schools that made a fetish of a highly selective, national admission process designed to bring geographic diversity. Increasingly, admission officials recruited students who would have never considered applying to an Ivy League school thousands of miles from home.

    An unintended consequence of expanding the applicant pool was that elite colleges ensured they would receive far more applications than they had slots to fill. Admissions became increasingly selective, particularly after Lowell’s successors embraced the idea of recruiting students from an even wider variety of backgrounds: geographic, religious, urban, rural, and so on. The number of categories has continued to proliferate in recent years, but the number of slots available at the nation’s top colleges and universities has not increased at a corresponding rate.

    It’s no surprise, then, that most of this year’s applicants to elite schools ended up with rejection letters. High-achieving students probably will find little consolation in the knowledge that their failure to get into the college of the dreams may have less to do with a lack of merit than admissions procedures adopted by anti-Semitic college administrators almost a century ago.

    [Cross-posted at Bloomberg View]

  • April 22, 2014 07:03 AM Proportion of People With Degrees Is Up

    The proportion of Americans with college and university degrees continues to rise slowly, according to new figures, and young adults in particular are picking up the pace of earning academic degrees.

    But other countries continue to outdo the United States in educational attainment, the report, by the Lumina Foundation, shows.

    At a time when demand is increasing for postsecondary educations, 39.4 percent of Americans aged 25 to 64 have one, according to the new figures, which are for 2012.

    That’s up seven-tenths of a percentage point from the year before—a seemingly incremental change, but the largest year-over-year rise since policymakers started prodding more Americans to get degrees in 2008.

    The proportion of adults aged 25 to 34 with college and university degrees is now almost 41 percent.

    Lumina is pushing for 60 percent of Americans to have postsecondary credentials by 2025.

    There remain big gaps by race. Fewer than 20 percent of Hispanics have degrees, just under 28 percent of blacks, about 44 percent of whites, and more than 59 percent of Asians.

    But college-going rates for blacks shot up from 62 percent to 67 percent in 2012, and for Hispanics from 60 percent to 67 percent

    Low-income Americans also lag behind. More than 80 percent of students in the top third of the income scale go to college, compared to less than 54 percent in the bottom third.

    Massachusetts has the highest proportion of adults with degrees—about 51 percent—while West Virginia, with fewer than 28 percent, has the lowest.

    The United States still ranks 11th in postsecondary attainment among its global competitors, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

    In South Korea, 64 percent of people aged 25 to 34 have degrees, and nearly 60 percent in Canada and Japan.

    (The Lumina Foundation is among the funders of The Hechinger Report, which produced this story.)

    Top 10 states in the proportion of adults aged 25 to 64 with at least an associate’s degree in 2012
    1.       MA - 50.5% (down from 50.8% in 2011)
    2.       MN - 47.7% (up from 46.6%)
    3.       CO - 47.5% (up from 47.0%)
    4.       CT - 47.5% (up from 46.4%)
    5.       VT - 47% (up from  46.2%)
    6.       NH - 46.7% (up from 45.8%)
    7.       NJ - 45.8% (up from 45.1%)
    8.       ND - 45.6% (up from 44.7%)
    9.       MD - 45.5% (up from 45.4%)
    10.   VA - 45.3% (up from 45.0%)


    Bottom 10 states in the proportion of adults aged 25 to 64 with at least an associate’s degree in 2012
    50.       WV - 27.8% (up from 26.1% in 2011)
    49.       LA - 29.1% (up from 27.9%)
    48.       AR - 29.3% (up from 28.2%)
    47.       NV - 30.1% (up from 30.0%)
    46.       MS - 31.1% (up from 30.3%)
    45.       KY - 31.7% (up from 30.8%)
    44.       OK - 32.9% (down from 33.0%)
    43.       AL - 33.1% (up from 31.9%)
    42.       TN - 33.3% (up from 32.1%)
    41.       IN - 34.4% (up from 33.8%)

    [Cross-posted at Hechinger Report]

  • April 21, 2014 05:47 PM More Than 40% of Community College Transfer Students Unable to Transfer Credits

    Community colleges enroll about 40 percent of American undergraduates. But many question how rigorous the education is and doubt whether these two-year schools are properly preparing students for four-year degrees or good careers. Researcher after researcher has confirmed that students would be more likely to get a BA degree if they had started at a four-year college in the first place. (See citations here.)

    Two researchers at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York conclude that a big reason many community college students fail to get a four-year degree is not because of inferior academic preparation, but because the four year colleges they transfer to won’t accept many of their community college credits.

    “The greater the (credit) loss, the lower the chances of completing a BA,” wrote Paul Attewell and David Monaghan, both of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York in “The Community College Route to the Bachelor’s Degree,” published March 2014 in the Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis (EEPA), a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association (AERA).

    Specifically, the researchers found that only 58 percent of community college transfers are able to bring all or almost all (90 percent or more) of their credits with them. About 14 percent of transfers lose more than 90 percent of their credits. The researchers calculated that the transfer students’ graduation rate would jump to 54 percent from 46 percent - if not for the loss of academic credits.

    “This percentage is potentially underestimated,” said Attewell in a press release. “The obstacle of losing credits is bigger than we could measure.”

    New Jersey is the one state that requires its state four-year colleges to accept credits earned in state community colleges. The researchers came up with the 8 percentage point jump in graduation rate by applying the New Jersey policy to the rest of the country.

    Despite the difficulty of transferring to a four-year school and graduating, 45 percent of all bachelor’s degrees are awarded to students who have transferred from a community college. That’s according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

    Related stories:

    Almost a third of college drop outs would have been more likely to graduate had they started at a two-year college

    High student loan default rates among largest community colleges

    [Cross-posted at Hechinger Report]

  • April 21, 2014 12:48 PM What Law Schools Can Teach Colleges About Lowering Tuition

    Two years into his presidency at Roger Williams University, Donald Farish still could not understand why its law school was charging students $41,400 a year. With law schools seeing huge declines in applicants as legal jobs dried up, something needed to be done. “It was time we confronted the reality,” Farish said.

    So the law school slashed its tuition by 18 percent this year, adding Roger Williams to a long list of law schools trying to bring back students by doing something extraordinary with their prices: lowering them.

    Law schools at public universities dropped their median tuition by an average of 5% in 2011 and another 8% in 2012, according to the American Bar Association, as private law school tuition increased by an annual average of only 4%, the lowest in 26 years. This followed a staggering drop in the number of applicants in each of the past three years. In 2004, according to the Law School Admission Council, more than 100,000 people applied to law schools; last year 59,400 did. It’s little wonder when there are few jobs for graduates to take. “We’re in an unprecedented time,” said Judith Areen, a former Georgetown University law dean who now directs the Association of American Law Schools. “There’s been almost a freeze in lawyer hiring.”

    The downturn has forced law schools to offer discounts unlike any seen before. Pennsylvania State University has offered Pennsylvania residents annual $20,000 tuition discounts at its Dickinson School of Law, cutting tuition nearly in half. The University of Iowa reduced fall 2014 tuition by more than 16% for most law students, and Ohio Northern University law students will pay nearly $9,000 less next fall than they did this year. New York’s Brooklyn Law School this month announced it would reduce tuition by 15% in 2015. The universities of Massachusetts and Maryland have frozen tuition in the past two years.

    The hefty discounts appear to be working, for some. Applications at Iowa have increased by more than 70% over this point last year, said the dean, Gail Agrawal. The boost is a relief for the school, which saw a 40% drop in its number of first-year law students from 2012 to 2013. “I think we became the greatest value ever,” Agrawal said. “If you’re a public (university), you do have to worry about issues like access and affordability. We’d been thinking about it for a while. It’s a philosophical question for the university.”

    Iowa’s decision was among the reasons Ben Gillig chose to go there next fall. A doctoral student at Iowa, Gillig said he looked at other law schools but was swayed, in part, by the tuition cut. “I wanted something that wouldn’t add much to my debt level,” he said. “I am a little surprised it’s not a broader trend [to cut tuition]. I certainly think it will be in the years ahead.”

    And yet overall, college tuition keeps on rising. Which raises the questions: If law schools can reduce their tuition, why can’t other parts of higher education? And do institutions only lower their prices when demand falls?

    “I don’t think it’s the case that law schools can do it and colleges can’t,” said Charles Clotfelter, a Duke University economist. “It’s that law schools have done it and colleges have not.” Farish agreed. There is no reason law schools and undergraduate schools alike can’t find ways to save students money, he said. Roger Williams has also frozen tuition for undergraduates, keeping it at $29,976 annually.

    “A lot of schools are being, frankly, unimaginative,” Farish said. “It’s abundantly clear that the rising costs of the past 20 years have collided with the economic realities. At the risk of indicting an entire industry, I think we’ve been kind of lazy in our thinking. We always just pass on the costs to students and their families.”

    There are exceptions to the rule, of course. Some small colleges, where even minor enrollment declines can have dramatic effects on budgets, have, like law schools, slashed their sticker prices. Converse College in South Carolina, for example, has cut tuition by 43% for next year.

    But few major colleges and universities have cut tuition for undergraduates, which continues to increase above the rate of inflation. Nor has every law school felt comfortable reducing prices. Deans at law schools nationwide said cutting prices would require them to trim student services and academics, both of which weigh heavily in all-important rankings.

    Rather than reduce tuition, New York’s Hofstra University cut the size of the entering class at its law school from 320 to 200. Its dean, Eric Lane, who called this “the worst time in history” for law schools, said it wouldn’t have been able to maintain its quality if it had cut tuition, which is $49,154 this year and will rise about 2% in the fall. “It’s a difficult choice we have to make,” Lane said. “I don’t know how schools have cut their tuition. We don’t have that flexibility.”

    And at the University of San Francisco, law school tuition will rise 2.9%, to $45,462, in the fall. It will be the smallest increase in the past 20 years, said John Trasviña, the dean, and the school could go no further. “We considered it and found we could not do it,” he said, citing rising salary and infrastructure costs. “You never want to raise tuition, but we had to.”

    Cutting prices often comes with consequences. While some schools are able to streamline administrative costs to compensate, others lay off employees or increase class sizes. For many law schools, the decision comes down to their relationship with a parent campus. Iowa, for example, would not have been able to cut law tuition without financial support from the university, Agrawal said.

    Several deans said they expect enrollment to improve. But some also said they expect law schools to take a more measured approach to tuition hikes in the future. “I don’t think [tuition] will be frozen forever,” Agrawal said. “I don’t think it will go down again. But I also don’t expect it to rise precipitously.”

    [Cross-posted at Hechinger Report]

  • April 18, 2014 03:40 PM The Worst Trends in Higher Education

    There are trends in higher education that those of us of follow this sort of thing like to track. There’s an increasing focus on accountability. There are the ever-escalating cost. There’s lately a great deal of worry about how much varsity athletes are worth. There’s a push to get more an more parts of higher education online.

    When Education Secretary Arne Duncan has his semi-regular “ask questions of the secretary” discussion on Twitter (an event, admittedly, not geared for journalists) I often try to get him to answer my major question for all education policymakers: what are the worst trends in higher education. He never bites.

    Well, former Cornell President Hunter R Rawlings III has some ideas. At a recent alumni day talk at Princeton he a great deal of time talking about what was wrong in education and what direction we should move in in the future. As he put it

    [A] barrage of criticism [of American academia] stems from looking at universities as businesses: bloated, expensive, out of date, ripe for disruption like the music and newspaper industries. After years of recession, falling middle-class salaries, and rising tuition (much of it caused by withdrawal of state support), college is viewed by many Americans as a purely instrumental means of preparing for a job, any job. Credentialing is dominant now, and fits well with American pragmatism, love of business, and desire for efficiency. This is one of the principal reasons for the (overhyped) reaction to online education in the last 15 months: MOOCs [“massive open online courses”] and other online instruments seemed to offer a quick, cheap fix for the notoriously inefficient nature of academia.
    But the real threat to higher education today is, in my opinion, not internal, it is ideological: the expectation that universities will become instruments of society’s will, legislators’ will, governors’ will, that they will be required to produce specific quantifiable results, particularly economic, and to cease researching and teaching certain subjects that do not fit the utilitarian model. Last year [Oklahoma] Sen. Tom Coburn got an amendment to the Senate budget bill essentially requiring the National Science Foundation to stop funding research in political science. Texas has instituted a system by which to quantify professors’ work and evaluate them according to the number of students they teach and the grant dollars they bring in. Florida came close last year to charging extra tuition to students studying humanities at state colleges in order to discourage the practice. President Obama wants the Education Department to rate universities on a numerical scale, and many states are now already evaluating universities on the basis of the average earnings of their alumni 18 months after graduation. We are in the age of data, we measure anything that can be measured, and we treat what we measure as dispositive: We take the part for the whole.

    There’s nothing wrong with accountability. Accountability is a good thing. But it’s also difficult. The important part is paying attention to what matters, not just paying attention to what’s easy to count. Education is more complicated, and more valuable, than that. Rawlings:

    There are scientific, and there are poetic, renderings of the brain. I am drawn to both, but… we human beings aspire to understanding and joining with higher things, universal things, things we cannot see or touch. I don’t know how to measure the value of Emily Dickinson’s poem, but… she knew how to measure the brain, the sky, the sea, and even God.
    Whatever we do, let’s not let the bean counters diminish the creation and teaching of qualitative things.

    An understandable reaction of many taxpayers is something like this: “If the school is funded by MY taxes then its only right that I get to define its goal, purpose, and operation?”

    But that’s not the best way to ensure real accountability.

    Every taxpayer’s idea of how a university should operate isn’t actually all that efficient. Taxpayer A might want one thing, taxpayer B might want another. In practice this means decisions go to state politicians, who often don’t have the long-term perspective in mind.

    So much of the recent accountability focus in higher education seems to have to do with how much money college students earn once they graduate. But that’s not what colleges exist to do (maximize graduate earnings) and too much focus on that would remove virtually all impractical forms of learning. And what, indeed, is the purpose of college if not to gain an understanding of the world beyond the material?

    Historically if you wanted to focus on earning money immediately, by going into business or learning a trade like nursing or accounting or automotive mechanics, you didn’t have to go to college at all.

    Let’s keep this in mind. By moving more and more of the trades under the traditional umbrella of college we’ve not only made these subjects more “academic” and intellectual, we’ve also moved many of the trades measures of success into the liberal arts. And that’s not a good thing, because the liberal arts aren’t supposed to be any good and helping a graduate to maximize his income. He can often make money, for sure, but that’s because he’s smart and knows the world, not because he had six classes in early-modern European history.

    Measure what matters. Don’t just measure what’s easy to track. It’s certainly time to pay attention to quality, but does quality always have numerical value? Should money be the main question?

  • April 18, 2014 10:00 AM Why Can’t the Zombie-Focused Sociologist Get a Job?

    An occasional topic here at College Guide has been the employment problem many aspiring academics have. Because American universities produce far, far more PhDs every year than there are tenure-track positions, many potential professors have hard time supporting themselves, despite their impressive credentials.

    And some people have a really hard time. Todd K. Platts writes at Inside Higher Ed about his situation:

    Like many recently minted Ph.D.s [his is from the University of Missouri] I am witnessing the shattering of my dreams of becoming a full-time college professor by the vagaries of an academic job market destroyed by a fledgling economic system. Balancing the heartache and disappointment with the repeated failure to find gainful academic employment is not easy. How could it be? I have dedicated my whole adult life to this. In the past two years I have sent out hundreds of applications, mostly to small liberal arts institutions, community colleges, and private religious colleges in the hopes of landing a position as a fulltime sociology instructor - somewhere, anywhere.
    Sociology still offers a fair share of opportunity for tenure-track employment. Indeed, spending 40 hours a week on employment dossiers is not uncommon for me. Moreover, most of my friends were able to land jobs before defending their dissertation even in the bleak job market. I am happy for them, but it makes my inability to find work sting harder.

    So, why can’t he find a job?

    My job market struggles are made all more the inexplicable by the fact that I maintain an active publication track in a hot field of study - zombies. In the past year alone I have published three articles, and I have an additional three under review, and numerous projects in the pipeline.


    The problem here, in a larger sense, is structural. But some people have a much harder time than other. And that’s because some people have courses of study for which there is basically no job market whatsoever.

    Now, I have some sympathy for this man, who appears hard working, reasonably talented, and the victim of some rather bad luck. I imagine that he might be a very interesting hire for some institution, and a very amusing undergraduate instructor, but honestly it’s hard to imagine someone less likely to obtain an academic position. Zombies?

    The sociology program at the University of Missouri is ranked about 80th in the nation. So Platts was studying in a lower ranked department and focusing on a decidedly fringe topic. No doubt the friends he talks about who had no trouble getting jobs had more mainstream dissertations.

    I mean, it’s sad and his research certainly appears entertaining (and published in a few publications) but what, really, was he expecting?

    There is a real job market for these sorts of things. And sometimes the market is pretty limited.

Recent Blog Posts