Archive for ‘education reform’

October 22, 2014

Federal aid programs allow colleges ‘blithely to raise their tuitions’

by Grace

New York Times economics pundit Eduardo Porter explains “Why Aid for College Is Missing the Mark”, allowing ‘colleges “blithely to raise their tuitions,” at little benefit to students’.

In 1987, when he was Ronald Reagan’s education secretary, the conservative culture warrior William J. Bennett wrote a famous essay denouncing federal aid for higher education because it allowed colleges “blithely to raise their tuitions,” at little benefit to students.

Nearly two decades later, it seems, he was broadly right. Indeed, he didn’t know the half of it.

It’s not just that many colleges and universities are bleeding taxpayers. The government’s overall strategy to subsidize higher education is failing at its core task: providing less privileged Americans with a real shot at a college degree. Alarmingly, it is burdening low-income students with risks they cannot bear and steering them into low-quality educations.

“Institutions of higher education in the United States extract a lot of money without delivering value but the government has no way of influencing that,” said Andreas Schleicher, the top education expert at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the research organization for the world’s major industrial powers. “It has very few levers of control over equity-related issues.”

Porter comes down on for-profit colleges, leaders in enrolling low-income students.  But their higher tuition does not produce consistently successful outcomes.

Low-income students in the United States often end up with the short straw: no degree, no job and a bundle of debt that they must pay anyway.

The level of government spending on higher education does not seem to be at the heart of the problem.

State and local financing for public higher education fell to some $76 billion last year, nearly 10 percent less than in 2003 after inflation. On a per-student basis it is 30 percent less than it was a decade ago.

But that doesn’t mean there is less government money in the system. Federal aid to college students more than doubled over the period, to some $172 billion last year. Of that, nearly 25 percent went to private, for-profit colleges.

More accountability is needed.

Porter believes the “case for government financing of college is as strong as ever”, but the method of allocation is “wasting both money and opportunity”.  Although I may disagree with his specific recommendations to fix the problem, I wholeheartedly agree with the need “to curb abuses arising from the haphazard distribution of billions of dollars of taxpayer funds with very little accountability”.

———

Eduardo Porter, “Why Aid for College Is Missing the Mark”, New York Times, October 7, 2014.

September 1, 2014

Will today’s families regret that they “grossly overpaid” for college?

by Grace

20 years from now, people who grossly overpaid for their bricks & mortar college experience and are still paying off their massive student loans, will feel like incredible chumps.

Looking at families digging deep into their pockets to pay exorbitant college tuition, this same thought has crossed my mind.  As college administrators ponder the rough road ahead, Stuart Butler of the Brookings Institution advises that it will take more than a few tweaks for some institutions to survive the coming years.

…  if today’s college leaders—even at the Ivies—believe they can merely tweak their business models to carry them into the future, then they are in for an even more unpleasant surprise. They should ponder the still recent experience of the music industry, film and television, booksellers, and news media. If they did, they would soon recognize that the higher education industry is encountering a multi-pronged and existential threat composed of successive waves of disruptive innovation. This disruption will force top-to-bottom changes in the very concept of higher education and its relationship with the broader economy.

Butler sees a pattern affecting many industries, including higher education.

1. The underserved consumers are targeted first, “leaving the upstarts to occupy a sector of the market of little interest to industry leaders”.  Online news aggregators looked to “young people with distinct tastes and only casual interest in the news”.

…Early versions of online courses appealed to students who could not easily maintain a regular schedule, or who needed more time to understand material….

2. The initial product is substandard.

… The Apple I, introduced in 1976, hardly seemed a harbinger of doom to the managers of IBM’s mainframe monsters. So it is no surprise today to read college presidents denigrating MOOCs and the cheap, no-frills degrees being rolled out in Texas and Florida….

3. Episodes of adaptation and refinement occur amid harsh criticism.

… The clunky Apple I sold just a couple hundred units, but the elegant Macintosh, introduced twenty years later, ransacked the computing industry.

That’s why the shortcomings of MOOCs today should be of little comfort to the higher education establishment….

4. Unbundling is to be expected, as both hospitals and newspapers have discovered.

As with hospitals and newspapers, bricks-and-mortar institutions of higher education are particularly vulnerable to unbundling. Universities are modular institutions, and lower-cost competitors can easily siphon off customers and revenue from individual modules. For instance, universities are partly a hotel and food service industry, and partly sports and entertainment centers. They have invested heavily in buildings and services that package these elements together at essentially one price. But this makes them vulnerable to competitors that find much less expensive ways to provide discrete modules like housing or even basic first-year classes—or that simply shed costly facilities like libraries or student centers, as online colleges have done.

While credentials are highly valued, academic information is priced at nearly zero.

Indeed, the most challenging and decisive feature of unbundling and competition for the low-cost parts of the college bundle of services comes from the fact that the price of academic information is falling nearly to zero. Why pay a ton of money to sit with 300 other freshmen, listening to a Nobel Prize winner you will never actually meet on campus, when you have access to everything he has written, maybe even video versions of his lectures, free of charge on the internet?…

Even the social part of college can be unbundled.

But what about the social “college experience”? Well maybe that can be unbundled, too. Does undergraduate college have to last four years, or could the residential, networking, or sports elements occupy just part of the period of study at much less total cost? Britain’s Open University has for years brought students on campus for just a few weeks each year. It retains a similar model today using online classes instead of its original televised courses. Yet it is number three in the UK for student satisfaction, tied with Oxford. Moreover, for many young people today online networking provides the relationship of choice for professional purposes, not just for social life. For them, Facebook, LinkedIn, and texting can be a more efficient and even more personal way of building and maintaining future career contacts than paying for a dorm or hanging out at a college gym.

How should universities respond?  Brooks recommends that they need to “price discriminate” in a way that supports what they are selling.  And “they will have to determine their true competitive advantage”.  So some schools, Ivies and other elite institutions, will be able to maintain high prices for the exclusive campus experience they are selling.  Other schools will drop their prices for the cut-rate learning experience they provide.

How should families respond?  Butler’s forecast is consistent with other predictions of sharper class distinctions and a  ‘growing bifurcation between elite universities and “trade schools”‘.  So families should be careful about paying premium prices today for what may be heavily discounted 20 years from now.

———

Stuart Butler, “Tottering Ivory Towers”, The American Interest, August 11, 2014.

May 1, 2014

Ten reasons to end affirmative action in college admissions

by Grace

Economics professor Mark J. Perry summarized tengood reasons we should end racial profiling and affirmative discrimination in college admissions”.

1. Racial and ethnic preferences are unjust — reason enough to abandon them.

2. They serve to perpetuate, rather than combat, racial stereotypes.

3. They encourage gaming the system (as when Elizabeth Warren claimed to be Native American).

4. They permit students from certain groups to coast in high school knowing they will get an automatic golden ticket to college.

5. They encourage intergroup resentment.

6. They result in what Stuart Taylor Jr. and Richard Sander have rightly called “mismatching” students — so that all but the very top minority students wind up attending schools that are a little out of their league.

7. Mismatching causes more minority students to abandon demanding majors like science and technology (so necessary for the economy’s flourishing).

8. Mismatch causes minority students to drop out in numbers far higher than other students. Black students are about a third more likely than similarly qualified other students to start college, but less likely to finish.

9. Admissions officers at selective schools pretend they are offering opportunity to “underserved” minorities, but in reality, they are simply lowering standards for already-privileged students with the preferred skin tone. Ninety-two percent of blacks at elite colleges are from the top half of the income distribution. A study a decade ago at Harvard Law School found that only a third of students had four African-American grandparents. Another third were from interracial families. The rest were children of recent immigrants from Africa or the West Indies.

10. Should mixed-race students get half a preference? Should their scores be 50 percent higher than students with two black parents? These are the kinds of absurdities our current system presents.

Speaking as a minority who may have benefited from affirmative action, I agree with these reasons.  I guess that means my views are more aligned with those of Justice Clarence Thomas than with those of Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

The “absurdities” mentioned in reason 10 makes me wonder how workable future affirmative action policies will be as we see higher percentages of mixed-race students enter college.

Related:  Coast to coast decline in support of affirmative action (Cost of College)

February 28, 2014

‘We have 500 cable channels and a one-size-fits all school system’

by Grace

Joe Trippi, a longtime Democratic political strategist. has been a proponent of school choice ever since he was a kindergartener and his mother fought to allow him to attend a safer school outside his neighborhood.

Trippi was recently interviewed by Reason.tv at a National School Choice Week event.

“… The status quo is not working.  Let’s put everybody’s ideas on the table.  If you’re in support of current public school system the way it is let’s talk about it, but I don’t think it’s working….

The reason for School Choice Week is because technology is moving so fast that most government bureaucracies can’t keep up with it.  One of them is education….

We have 500 cable channels and a one-size-fits all school system.”

Not having school choice has “been wrong for 50 years”.

“…  we have more choice at a 7-Eleven them in the way we educate our children. That’s crazy….”

School choice is becoming more of a bipartisan movement.

Democrats and school choice have a long, tangled relationship. Few know better than Trippi. He’s been deep inside Democratic politics since the 1970s, and his firm, Trippi & Associates, has advised National School Choice Week since its inception in 2010. So what’s he seeing on the ground now? A lot of Democrats coming around on school choice, especially at the local level, especially in inner cities.

Along with the trend of increased support for school choice, Trippi sees a libertarian president in the near future.

… Four important changes in American politics are creating this opportunity: a socially tolerant public, the effective end of the two-party system, disruptive technologies, and the growing popularity of politicians such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

“The younger generation is probably the most libertarian and sort of tolerant, and has more libertarian values, I’d say, than any generation in American history” …

Related:

February 27, 2014

Ready or not, K-12 is moving to increased online instruction

by Grace

It can be argued that K-12 online instruction in and of itself is no better or worse than traditional teaching.  Sometimes it works well, and sometimes it fails miserably.

In any case, the education industry is eagerly embracing online methods in yet another attempt to “innovate” K-12 education.

 … by the year 2019 half of all classes for grades K-12 will be taught online.

That’s the prediction from Clayton Christensen, author of Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Transform the Way the World Learns.  I will not be surprised to see this come true.

20140226.COCK-12OnlineGrowth1

There is very little good research on K-12 online learning.

… the results of meta-analyses of K-12 studies do not show a decided edge for students taking online courses or in virtual full-time schools performing even marginally above students who are in teacher-led classrooms.  More striking, however, is that only a few studies of virtual instruction in K-12 schools meet the minimum quality threshold for design, sampling, and methodologies….

Online instruction fills a need and is effective for some K-12 students.

“Some kids don’t have the discipline to sit down at a computer every day and do schoolwork with no one looking over their shoulder. … But for the right kid, the online approach offers benefits that traditional school doesn’t.”

Those benefits include flexibility and efficiency. Taking all or a few classes online gives students more opportunities than ever before. They have more opportunities to work while in school, gaining valuable job experience that economists show increases their ability to move up the ladder later in life. They can chase serious interests like athletics, music, or volunteering, and spend more time in the real world than preparing for it.

Any combination of lousy administration, inept teachers, and poor curriculum will produce poor results whether online or traditional methods are used.

Here are letters from Manhattan’s Murry Bergtraum high school students defending their fraudulent blended-learning program where one “social-studies teacher had a roster of 475 students in all grades and subjects”.

20140226.COCErrorLettersNYC1

A junior wrote that the program “made it less challenging and more understandable. We watched a video, answer a few questions, and took an online quiz/test. It was simple, and reasonable.” This helped him score 85 in chemistry, he said.

But professors at CUNY — where nearly 80 percent of New York City grads who attend must take remedial classes in math, reading or writing — said online instruction often leaves students ill-prepared.

No kidding.

February 24, 2014

You can get a college degree for almost free

by Grace

This college degree may not be prestigious, but it’s truly affordable.  Tuition is free, although each proctored exam costs $100.

Just in time for its first graduates, the University of the People, a tuition-free four-year-old online institution built to reach underserved students around the world, announced Thursday that it had received accreditation.

The University of the People currently offers degrees in business administration and computer science.  Present enrollment is 700 students, but with newly acquired accreditation that number is expected to grow to 5,000 students by 2016.

It appears that real learning is taking place.

Classes at the university are 10 weeks long, and have 20 to 30 students — often from as many different countries — who have weekly homework and quizzes. The university depends largely on volunteer labor.  Mr. Reshef said some 3,000 professors have offered to volunteer, although so far the university has only been able to use about 100 of them.

Its deans are volunteers from New York University and Columbia.

The school was created by Israeli entrepreneur Shai Reshef, who has been able to attract the attention of some big guns in the realm of higher education.

The University of the People, almost from the start, has attracted high-level support, with partnerships or backing from New York University, the Clinton Global Initiative, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the OpenCourseWare Consortium and many others. In August, Microsoft agreed to provide scholarships, mentoring and job opportunities to 1,000 African students who enroll at the University of the People.

I’m reminded of this:

 20130614.COCHousingPrices3

 

Related:

January 30, 2014

Support for school choice unites strange political bedfellows

by Grace

Support for school choice unites Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, who is about as liberal as it gets, and Sen. Ted Cruz, who’s about as conservative, reports Reason.

20140128.COCLeeCruzCollage1

74% of Americans favor school choice, and this popularity may be pushed even higher by the growing dissatisfaction with Common Core Standards, newly adopted by most public schools.

. . .

Two senators have proposed redirecting $35 billion in federal funds to supplement school choice

20140129.COCAlexanderScottVouchers1

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., proposed plans Tuesday to redirect nearly $35 billion in existing federal education funds to supplement school choice programs in different states. Under Alexander’s Scholarships for Kids Act, students in eligible states would receive $2,100 scholarships that would follow those children from families in poverty to the school of their choice. Alexander said the legislation would reach about 11 million American students….

Piggybacking off Alexander’s proposal, Scott said he plans to introduce legislation, known as the CHOICE Act, which would also redirect federal funds to three areas in education: students with disabilities, students from military families and students in the District of Columbia’s Opportunity Scholarship program (DC OSP).

The CHOICE Act would direct federal IDEA funds to offer school choice for special education students.

National School Choice Week is January 26 — February1.

Related:  Confidence in public schools at historic low (Cost of College)

November 12, 2013

This proposal to pay for college would make it too easy to cheat the system

by Grace

Among the Creative Solutions to Pay for College proposed by sociology professors Laura Hamilton and Elizabeth A. Armstrong is a radical change in defining the notorious Expected Family Contribution (EFC).  This idea has some merit, but would it let slacker parents slough off their financial responsibilities?

2. Use different measures of dependency. Need-based student aid and loan amounts are typically calculated using the federal government’s estimate for “expected family contribution” — which may not bear any relation to the parental assistance students actually receive. Undergraduate students are considered dependents unless they have children or are: over 23, married, a member of the military, an orphan, a ward of the court, an emancipated minor, homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. Dependents must report parental income on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and it is considered in calculating the expected family contribution. This poses a severe hardship for students who are financially independent. A measurement based on student reports of actual expected contributions would alleviate this burden. Given the financial constraints families face, there would be temptation to game the system. However, students and parents could sign a legally binding document stating their financial relationship (if any), and proof may be required to show financial independence through individual earnings in the first year of college.

This proposal addresses the frustrations felt by those unlucky students whose parents, even if they could afford it, will not financially support their children’s college education.  Yet for purposes of qualifying for financial aid, these students are stuck unless they fit into one of the narrow categories listed above.  For example, in cases of deadbeat dads, middle-income families deep in debt, or prosperous but anti-education parents, the children may not qualify for aid under current rules.  Often these children are essentially self-supporting, but cannot be considered independent in the application process.

Too many opportunities to game the system

While this idea seems reasonable in some respects, it also seems ripe for abuse.  Legal documents and tax records may screen out some would-be moochers, but loopholes would allow many to qualify for money.  Business owners in particular could easily set their kids up with “jobs” that would make them appear self-supporting.  And it’s easy to imagine a scenario where a “financially independent” student would regularly receive generous cash gifts and other  goodies from his parents while remaining eligible to receive financial aid.

No thanks.  The rules as they stand are onerous and imperfect, but I don’t believe the suggested solution is a better option.

Related:  Why does the EFC come as a shock to many parents? (Cost of College)

October 8, 2013

‘In the near future, the residential college experience will become a luxury item’

by Grace

Joanne Jacobs predicts the residential college experience will soon be out of reach for most students.

In the near future, the residential college experience will become a luxury item, I predict. Most people will decide it makes more sense to hang out with their friends, play beer pong, root for a professional football team and earn a low-cost career credential.

This quote comes from a post where Jacobs wrote about Michael Gibson’s perspective on the four elements of a traditional college experience.

  1. Academic — study time
  2. Tribal membership — loyalty to an institution
  3. Friends, community, and network
  4. Status that comes with being identified as an alumnus of a particular school

Although he foresees significant changes for higher education, Gibson isn’t quite sure how these elements will “crumble”, recognizing that “the bonds of tribe, status, and friendship are very strong”.  The academic element may be the easiest to replace, with new options enabled by technology,

How do you replace the status bestowed by a traditional college degree?

Time will tell if the loyalty, community, and status that college students seek will be continue to command high tuition prices, or will be obtained by other less costly methods.  Is status the most important benefit a college now offers?  It depends.  Many graduates value their college friendships and networks the most.   However, status would seem to be the most difficult element to replace if college no longer offers it.  As suggested by Jacobs, even without college I can find like-minded friends and a professional football team to support.

Related:

March 15, 2013

One hundred ideas for reforming higher education

by Grace

The National Society of Scholars has compiled One Hundred Great Ideas for Higher Education.

Despite the wide variety of suggestions, the list naturally organizes itself into a few common themes. Some of the themes are frequently mentioned in higher education circles, while others are rather surprising or novel. The most frequently cited category of suggestions called for some sort of renewed emphasis on the study of Western civilization, American history, or the classics of Western thought. Some of the other frequently discussed topics concern improving students’ writing skills, increasing transparency, combating political bias or correctness, and raising standards (including ending grade inflation).

In skimming through the list it’s hard to pick favorites, but here are a few that seem sensible.

This one addresses grade inflation.

REPORT CLASS GRADES
Richard Arum, Professor of Sociology and Education, New York University
Colleges and universities could administratively address the problem of declining academic rigor by instituting a simple change: for every course a student takes, the student’s transcript would report the individual grade received as well as the average grade students received in the course. The transcript would also report the overall grade point average (GPA) of the student as well as the course grade point average (CGPA).

Without impinging in any way on either the ability of individual faculty to grade students as they choose or the freedom of students to select courses as they see fit, this administrative reporting change would make readily apparent whether a student excelled at coursework, or instead excelled at choosing a path through higher education that held students in relative terms to lower academic standards. Incentives for faculty to grade leniently and for students to choose easy coursework—which has led the academy in recent years to a “race to the bottom”—would be significantly reduced.

Examining post-college transitions of recent college graduates, Josipa Roksa and I have found that course transcripts are seldom considered by employers in the hiring process. Transcripts would be significantly more meaningful with this simple and relatively costless administrative reporting change. If colleges and universities did not have the political will to make such changes on their own, access to federal financial aid dollars could be made dependent on institutional compliance. More than one-third of college students today study alone for their classes less than an hour per day and yet are able to achieve a 3.2 GPA. Parents, employers, and students have a right to know how this type of college success is accomplished.

Teach students how to write.

INSTITUTE EXIT EXAM IN WRITING
Lawrence Mead
, Professor of Politics and Public Policy, New York University
The great scandal of American education is that students can complete their schooling without learning to write correct prose. Even at the college level, and at good schools, most students cannot write even a page of text without committing some error of grammar, usage, or spelling. This is apart from content. The reason is that their teachers—from kindergarten all the way through—have little interest in correcting these errors. Either they themselves don’t know how to write, or it’s too much work.

Professors have no personal or professional interest in whether their students write well, so they ignore the problems and pass students along. College writing programs have little impact on the problem. But once on the job students quickly discover that the boss is their coauthor as their teacher was not, demanding that they be able to write letters or reports that he can sign without embarrassment—or be fired.

I recommend instituting a writing exam that undergraduates must pass to graduate from college, with rules for grammar and usage defined in advance. Ask students to respond to some essay question in, say, five pages, without outside help. Allow students some very small number of errors, or fail them. Have a nonprofit body—funded by all colleges and universities—that would operate separately from coursework correct and return the papers to students with errors indicated.

Allows students to take the test any number of times, but make the number of attempts to pass part of their academic record. Publicize these results by school, with the goal that they will eventually be factored into U.S. News & World Report rankings.

There are pros and cons to student evaluations, but they seem to have contributed to lower standards.

ABOLISH STUDENT EVALUATIONS
Jonathan Imber
Jean Glasscock Professor of Sociology, Wellesley College; Editor-in-Chief, Society
Many colleges and universities today use student evaluation questionnaires to evaluate a teacher’s performance. The origin of this seemingly benign tool has much to do with its abuse as a weapon of conformity. The student protesters of the 1960s demanded greater “participation” in the life of the university. Administrators saw an opportunity at appeasement that also translated into a mechanism for oversight, which in the long growth of university administration means the production of ever more information about everyone and everything. Students could be part of the process of “democratically” supporting or opposing such decisions as tenure and promotion.

The result has been granting permission to students to offer anonymously any kind of opinion they want to express, however inane or cruel. Of course, teachers ought to be able to take it, but consider how profoundly the reversal of fortune now is: it was once expected that students ought to be able to “take it,” that is, to respond to tough standards, to hard lessons, to failure, to anything that might contribute to the building of character. Now, the students must be treated carefully, and the teacher has been put into the dock. To improve teaching, abolish student evaluations of teachers.

Hmm . . . I think I like two out of three of these ideas.

CUT UNDERGRADUATE EDUCATION IN HALF; LIMIT THE CURRICULUM; INSTITUTE A DRESS CODE
Tom Wolfe
, Ph.D., American Studies, Yale, 1957; Author, Back to Blood
Three changes would make their college years more valuable to students:

1. Cut undergraduate education from four years to two. Oxford and Cambridge have only three years, and most Oxbridgers consider that one year too many. Four years marinates students in two years of entertaining sloth, creating unwanted habits much more difficult to remove than unwanted hair. Two years will put even the “greatest” universities on par with community colleges, benefiting both. Imagine how many eyes will open up like—swock!—umbrellas when they discover that community college students take the content of courses far more seriously than university undergraduates. Both will graduate with bachelor’s degrees, greatly increasing the value of a community college education.

2. Limit the curriculum, over the two years, to remedial education and core subjects—without ever uttering the words “remedial” and “core.” All students will be forced to take courses in history, rhetoric, algebra or statistics, biology, and sociology. Needless to say, the word “forced” is not to be mentioned, either. Rhetoric will slyly include basic grammar and drills such as parsing sentences—in addition to basic training in prose styles. “Grammar” and “drills” will be taboo terms, too.

3. Male students will have a dress code requiring long-sleeved cotton shirts (ties optional) and conventionally cut jackets—e.g., no jacket collars wider than the lapels—whenever they are on campus. Female students will abide by a dress code that, without saying so, makes it impossible to dress in the currently highly fashionable (among young women) slut style.

If the students complain that these codes make them look different from most other people their age, the reply is, “Now you’re catching on.”

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