Archive for June 5th, 2013

June 5, 2013

Quick Links – Private schools in decline; ‘A stands for average’; give college kids the old towels

by Grace

While “run-of-the-mill private schools and colleges” are dying out, elite institutions are still going strong.

Private education as we have known it is on its way out, at both the K-12 and postsecondary levels. At the very least, it’s headed for dramatic shrinkage, save for a handful of places and circumstances, to be replaced by a very different set of institutional, governance, financing, and education-delivery mechanisms.

Consider today’s realities. Private K-12 enrollments are shrinking — by almost 13 percent from 2000 to 2010. Catholic schools are closing right and left…. Traditional nonprofit private colleges are also challenged to fill their classroom seats and dorms, to which they’re responding by heavily discounting their tuitions and fees for more and more students.

Meanwhile, charter school enrollments are booming across the land. The charter share of the primary-secondary population is five percent nationally and north of twenty percent in 25 major cities. “Massive open online courses” (MOOCs) are booming, too, and online degree and certificate options proliferating. Public-sector college and university enrollments remain strong and now educate three students out of four….

What’s really happening here are big structural changes across the industry as the traditional model of private education — at both levels — becomes unaffordable, unnecessary, or both, and as more viable options for students and families present themselves….

Top-tier private schools are flourishing.

…  elite private institutions are doing just fine, many besieged by more applicants than ever before. The wealthiest Americans can easily afford them and are ever more determined to secure for their children the advantages that come with attending them. And at the K-12 level, a disproportionate fraction of those wealthy people live in major cities where the public school options are unappealing. So we’re not going to see an enrollment crisis anytime soon at Brown, Amherst, or Duke, nor at Andover, Sidwell Friends, or Trinity….


College grade inflation – ‘A stands for average’

…  In the last half-century, all but a few of American colleges and universities have, in effect, abandoned grading. Consider the history of grading at the University of Minnesota, which is one of the better state universities. As one observer puts it, “In 1960, the average undergraduate grade awarded in the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota was 2.27 on a four-point scale.,” and now 53% of the grades given are  A’s.

In other words, the average letter grade at the University of Minnesota in the early 1960s was about a C+, and that was consistent with average grades at other colleges and universities in that era.  In fact, that average grade of C+ (2.30-2.35 on a 4-point scale) had been pretty stable at America’s colleges going all the way back to the 1920s (see chart above from, a website maintained by Stuart Rojstaczer, a retired Duke University professor who has tirelessly crusaded for several decades against “grade inflation” at U.S. universities).

By 2006, the average GPA at public universities in the U.S. had risen to 3.01 and at private universities to 3.30.  That means that the average GPA at public universities in 2006 was equivalent to a letter grade of B, and at private universities a B+, and it’s likely that grades and GPAs have continued to inflate over the last six years.

Since 1998, as Mark J. Perry points out, the average grade given in most classes taught at American colleges and universities has come to be an A. Witness the headline in the Twin Cities Star Tribune: “At U, concern grows that ‘A’ stands for average.”


Send the old towels to college with your kid.


It only took me three years to realize this, but I should buy new towels for myself and send the old towels to college with my kid.

My kids usually trash their bath towels within a few months after getting them.  I don’t know how or why, but their new towels quickly develop mysterious stains, pulled threads, and frayed edges.  Meanwhile, the towels I use stay pristine and fluffy for years.

So I will no longer buy new towels for my kids to use at college or at home.  I will simply hand over my gently used ones to them.  Then, at the end of the school year my college kid can throw away his old towels, saving him from having to haul them back home.  Problem solved.  I finally learned.

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