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How to Answer the Ultimate Question: ‘Is College Worth It? Part 1

July 21st, 2014 by dfarish

There was a time, not so many years ago, when college presidents bemoaned their inability to attract much public attention to what they were doing. Ah, for the good old days! We now receive attention from every quarter, and more advice—and criticism, some of it rather hostile—than we know what to do with. We are suffering from a classic case of “be careful what you wish for.”

Consider the range of opinions expressed in the following four comments. An editorial in USA Today (June 4, 2014) includes the following quotes: 

“Colleges are able to increase costs without consequence largely because easy access to federal aid assures them a steady supply of students, so debt keeps piling up, which is not just a problem for the students. Taxpayers are vulnerable as students default, for instance, and home building is stifled as debt-laden young people resist taking on mortgages.” 

The Slow-Motion Train Wreck Speeds Up

May 27th, 2014 by dfarish

For the past 18 months, I have made numerous posts wherein I have described my reactions to seeing the gradual disintegration of both the public and private models of higher education, in a manner akin to watching a slow-motion train wreck.

Well, the rate of disintegration is increasing. The slow-motion train wreck is speeding up. Consider five categories of evidence from the news media in recent weeks:

(1) The gap between the wealthy privates and everyone else is becoming a chasm.

My claim in my blog post of Oct. 15, 2013, that, in some respects, the wealthy colleges and universities seem more like investment companies that do a little teaching on the side now seems more prophetic than ever. Two recent articles make the case.

The Primary Problem with Higher Education, in Four Words: It Costs Too Much

April 28th, 2014 by dfarish

On Monday, April 14, 2014, the Lumina Foundation convened a group of opinion leaders in Washington, D.C., to discuss college affordability, federal student loan policies and the role of states in supporting public colleges and universities (The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Paying for College: Experts Gather in Search of New Models,” April 15, 2014).

Unfortunately, the experts came up empty.

One commentator noted that “affordable” does not necessarily mean “cheap.” Another touted the merits of a net-price calculator designed to show the number of years after graduation at which “the benefits of college outweigh the cumulative costs.” A third suggested that greater numbers of women and minorities should choose more lucrative majors.

I hope the Lumina Foundation did not overly deplete its endowment to pay for these platitudes and in-the-box thinking.

Do Colleges Enhance or Impede Social Mobility?

April 22nd, 2014 by dfarish

There is no shortage of commentary regarding the problems of higher education. Too often, however, the wrong people are in the conversation. It’s a waste of time to attempt to convince people of the righteousness of your position if the people to whom you are speaking already agree with you – and if your arguments aren’t precise, you can actually do your cause damage by providing the other side with free ammunition.

Whatever Happened to Public Higher Education? Part 4

April 14th, 2014 by dfarish

For the past three weeks, we have been considering one of the biggest problems facing the U.S. today: the astronomical increase in the price of public higher education that has seriously impacted access for an increasing number of students now in the K-12 pipeline, coupled with growing concerns by parents and prospective students that the quality of the undergraduate experience at these public institutions has fallen, despite the rise in price.

Now, in Part 4, we will consider some possible solutions – but a warning: these solutions are much easier to identify than they will be to implement. The question will be whether the public’s interest in a college education that is both affordable and high quality will prevail over a higher education establishment that wants the status quo (even as it continues to lobby for larger state appropriations).

Whatever Happened to Public Higher Education? Part 3

April 7th, 2014 by dfarish

This is the third part of a conversation about what has gone wrong with public higher education. In Part 1, we considered some metrics that demonstrate the extent of the problem:

Whatever Happened to Public Higher Education? Part 2

March 31st, 2014 by dfarish

Last week, I described in some detail how state support for public higher education first waxed, then waned, over the last 60 years. Much of the decline in state subsidies for the institutions’ operating costs stemmed from pressure on state budgets to meet the growing needs of other state-supported programs, and an inability (coupled, to be sure, with an unwillingness) to continue providing public institutions with the same percentage of the states’ overall budgets as seen previously.

However, it would be a mistake to conclude that all of the problems associated with public higher education derive from a decline in state financial support. It would also be a mistake to assume this decline is entirely the result of mean-spiritedness on the part of state legislatures and governors. Things are much more complicated than that, and in order to understand the situation today correctly, we must take a short trip back in time.

Whatever Happened to Public Higher Education? Part 1

March 24th, 2014 by dfarish

Of the 21 million students in higher education in America, nearly 75 percent are in public institutions, roughly equally divided between two-year and four-year campuses. Although the total number of students grew steadily until three years ago, the distribution in public versus private, and two-year versus four-year, has stayed relatively steady over the past decade.

What hasn’t stayed steady is the level of state financial support for public institutions, and the level of regard the public at large has for its state institutions. These two factors are related, as I will demonstrate shortly.

First, a few facts:

How Much Does It Cost to Educate an Undergraduate?

March 17th, 2014 by dfarish

Wow! Such a big question! Let’s start by making a key distinction:

(1) One might interpret this question as, “How much does a university charge the student and parents?” Allowing for such significant complications as different sticker prices at different universities, different financial aid packages for different students at the same university, different fees for different majors, additional charges (primarily from rising tuition prices) in the sophomore, junior and senior years – it is nonetheless the case that, when the incoming freshman arrives on campus, he or she (and the parents) know fairly accurately what their out-of-pocket costs will be, at least for the first year. So while this is an important question, and answering it can be confusing and time-consuming, in the end it is answerable. But consider the second alternative.

"It's the Economy, Stupid!"

February 24th, 2014 by dfarish

 

During the presidential election campaign of 1992, and on the heels of a short, sharp national recession, James Carville, a political advisor to the Clinton campaign, famously characterized what the election was all about by coining the phrase that I’m using as the title of this blog post.

Now here we are, 22 years later, and in every political campaign since the Great Recession of 2008, this same phrase—although now tellingly focused specifically on jobs—is the basis of the platform of almost every candidate for office.

The problem is that the focus on jobs—understandable, given that in almost six years the economy has not fully restored the jobs lost in 2008 and 2009—goes well beyond mere political sloganeering.  It permeates every conceivable facet of society: