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Woke but Broke: How US Colleges Are Pricing Students, Themselves Out of Business

In Academia, higher education, university on April 28, 2021 at 6:45 am

This piece originally appeared here in The Daily Signal.

Whether their leaders realize or admit it or not, American colleges and universities are on the verge of a crisis. And it’s a crisis, by and large, of their own making.

The National Association of Scholars last month published a report by Neetu Arnold, “Priced Out: What College Costs America,” which finds, among other things, that an undergraduate degree is now prohibitively expensive for many Americans, who have turned to the federal government to subsidize their education.

“The average price of college,” writes Arnold, “has more than doubled since 1980.” She adds that “[n]early 44 million Americans now owe more than $1.5 trillion in student debt.”

That’s a lot of money.

Several factors have contributed to widespread tuition hikes, including university expenditures that, Arnold suggests, aren’t directly related to students or education, but rather primarily to professional administration—that is, to the hiring of more deans and directors and officers to comply with the growing number of federal regulations and accreditation reporting requirements.

That’s just part of the story. The trend of profligate university spending goes back several decades.

After World War II, politicians adopted popular slogans and mantras regarding the necessity of college for all Americans, Arnold explains. The idea, however quixotic, that every citizen deserves a college degree has propelled government spending and set public policy priorities since at least the Truman administration.

The “college for all” narrative motivated passage of the GI Bill, the National Defense Education Act, and the Higher Education Act, which, although designed to make college more accessible, inadvertently drove up the price tag for a university degree.

The ready availability of federal student loans has enriched universities and their administrators on the backs of students, Arnold says. Meanwhile, the quality of education has diminished, and the students are therefore unprepared, or underprepared, for the job market.

Administrators also have reallocated time and resources toward student comforts and amenities, rather than educational rigor and intellectual diversity. However, education, according to Arnold, is “meant to elevate the mind by introducing students to new perspectives and unfamiliar ideas.”

Colleges have become so expensive, she says, in part because they depend on federal money and aid that come with regulatory strings attached. The more government bureaucracy and red tape a university must manage, the more it will spend on compliance officers and offices.

Add to government data tracking and retention of the many reporting requirements of accreditors, and the costs of university administration rise even higher.

Encouraged to take out a massive loan for education that they cannot afford, students burdened by debt delay marriage, family, career, and homeownership to the detriment of society writ large.

We are entering a period in which Americans who still have student loan debt have children enrolling in college and taking on student loan debt.

Arnold says that “universities raise their prices knowing that students will take out loans to pay for the increased price,” adding that students “will bear the consequences for their own bad judgment, but the university will escape scot-free with the borrowed tuition money.”

But what if universities had “skin in the game”?

That question underlies “income share agreements” by which universities subsidize a student’s tuition in exchange for a portion of the student’s future earnings. Such an arrangement demonstrates that the university is truly invested in the student’s future and not just interested in the student’s tuition.

As American colleges and universities have grown increasingly radical and progressive in their political messaging and orientation, they have financially exploited the very groups—the poor, ethnic minorities, and first-generation college students—that the left purports to champion.

“Universities allocate substantial financial resources to fund social justice activities—and even just to provide salaries for social justice administrators,” Arnold writes.

But these costs fall upon young students.

“Priced Out” proffers several fixes and corrections to the current system, including consolidating duplicate administrative offices and roles, facilitating information transparency regarding federal grants and aid earlier in the college admission process, creating vocational curricular tracks staffed by practitioners, and holding institutions financially responsible for debt incurred by students who do not graduate.

Yet more reform is needed. Arnold’s alarming and comprehensive report is just one small step in a positive direction. Universities that take Arnold’s criticisms to heart and adjust accordingly will likely outperform their competitors in the long run.

Given birthrate declines, diminishing international enrollment, and a growing belief among young Americans that a college degree is no longer worth the price, universities must change.

Elite colleges (e.g., those in the Ivy League), colleges with large endowments, and state flagship institutions will probably weather the storm, as it were, but small liberal arts schools are particularly vulnerable in this climate.

Universities that fail or refuse to adapt and evolve could face a grim future—or, worse, no future at all.

Remarks on Neetu Arnold’s Report, “Priced Out”

In Academia, higher education on March 24, 2021 at 6:45 am

Russell Kirk on Higher Education

In America, American History, American Literature, Arts & Letters, Books, Conservatism, higher education, History, Humanities, Imagination, liberal arts, Liberalism, Literature, Pedagogy, Philosophy, Scholarship, Western Civilization, Western Philosophy on February 12, 2020 at 6:45 am

This piece originally appeared here at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal 

Russell Kirk isn’t known as a policy wonk. The Great Books, not the mathematical or statistical models of economic technicians, were his organon of choice. He devoted essays to broad, perennial themes like “the moral imagination,” “liberal learning,” and “the permanent things.”

Read his numerous columns about higher education, however, and you might come away with a different impression, one of Kirk as a political strategist with a strong grasp of educational policy.

Kirk wrote on a wide variety of issues involving higher education: accreditation, academic freedom, tenure, curriculum, vocational training, community colleges, adult education, college presidents, textbooks, fraternities and Greek life, enrollment, seminaries, tuition, teachers’ unions, collective bargaining, student activism, British universities, urban versus rural schools, boards of trustees, university governance, the hard sciences, grade inflation, lowering academic standards, libraries, private versus public schooling, civics education, sex education, school vouchers, university presses, and more.

One of his go-to subjects implicates several of those issues: federal subsidies. He believed that federal money threatened the mission and integrity of universities in numerous areas.

For starters, he believed that federal subsidies—and, it must be added, foundation grants—created perverse incentives for researchers, who might conform to the benefactor’s “preferences” and “value judgments.”[1] Recalling the proverb that “[t]he man who pays the piper calls the tune,”[2] he cautioned against financial dependency on outside influences, which, he worried, could impose ideological conditions on grants to advance or purge particular viewpoints.

Moreover, the grantors, whether they were foundations or the government, would, he believed, quantify the value of their funded work according to measurable outcome assessments that were “easily tabulated and defensible.”[3] The intrinsic value of reading Homer, Aristotle, Plato, Herodotus, or Euripides, however, is not easily assessed in instrumental terms.

More fundamentally, Kirk viewed federal involvement in higher education as a step toward the centralization and consolidation of power at the expense of local variety. He foresaw the creation of the U.S. Department of Education long before it occurred.[4] Fearing the growth of an “educationist hierarchy” or an “empire of educationism” corrupted by “sinecures” and “patronage,”[5] he favored small, private, liberal-arts colleges, which, he believed, flourished when they committed to mission and tradition.[6]

“The American college—the small liberal arts college—is worth preserving,” Kirk wrote, “but it can be preserved, in our time of flux, only if it is reformed.”[7] Kirk’s reform was reactionary, not progressive.[8] It rejected the popular focus on vocation and specialization and sought to train “men and women who know what it is to be truly human, who have some taste for contemplation, who take long views, and who have a sense of moral responsibility and intellectual order.”[9] Even if they can’t be calculated precisely, these vague-yet-discernable qualities of literate people are beneficial to society writ large, in Kirk’s view. In other words, there’s an appreciable difference between literate and illiterate societies.

Kirk decried the alarming escalation of tuition prices. In 1979, he wrote, “Attendance at colleges and universities is becoming hopelessly expensive.”[10] Forty years later, the costs of attending college have risen exponentially. Kirk opposed federal aid or scholarships to students,[11] but not, from what I can tell, for the economic reason that the ready availability of federal funding would enable universities to hike tuition rates to artificially high levels. Perhaps, even in his skepticism, he couldn’t conceive of university leadership as so systematically exploitative.

We continue to hear echoes of Kirk’s observation that the typical college student “oughtn’t to be in college at all: he has simply come along for the fun and a snob-degree, and his bored presence reduces standards at most American universities.”[12] Elsewhere, he claimed that “[w]e have been trying to confer the higher learning upon far too many young people, and the cost per capita has become inordinate.”[13] The question of why students attend college is closely related to that of the fundamental purpose of college.

Uncertainty regarding the point of higher education—whether it’s to develop the inquisitive mind, expand the frontiers of knowledge, equip students with jobs skills, or something else entirely—seems more pronounced today in light of technological, economic, and population changes. Moreover, it remains true that “most of the universities and colleges are forced to do the work that ordinary schools did only a generation ago.”[14] Shouldn’t higher education accomplish more than remedial education? Doesn’t it have a greater end?

Kirk certainly thought so—at least if higher education were properly liberal. “By ‘liberal education,’” he explained, “we mean an ordering and integrating of knowledge for the benefit of the free person—as contrasted with technical or professional schooling, now somewhat vaingloriously called ‘career education.’”[15]

Kirk’s surprising wonkishness, and his facility in policy debates, always submitted to this overarching goal: Defending order against disorder, in both the soul and the larger polity.[16] “The primary purpose of a liberal education,” he said, “is the cultivation of the person’s own intellect and imagination, for the person’s own sake.”[17]

The aspiration of policy wasn’t policymaking. Kirk’s short-term strategies serviced a paramount objective: Namely, to seek wisdom, virtue, truth, clarity, and understanding. You can’t simply quantify the value of that.

[1] Russell Kirk, “Massive Subsidies and Academic Freedom,” Law and Contemporary Problems, Vol. 28, No. 3 (1963), 608.

[2] Ibid. at 607.

[3] Ibid. at 611.

[4] Russell Kirk, “Federal Aid to Educational Bureaucracy,” National Review, Vol. 10 (February 25, 1961), 116.

[5] Russell Kirk, “The Federal Educational Boondoggle,” National Review, Vol. 5 (March 15, 1958), 257.

[6] See generally Russell Kirk, “The American College: A Proposal for Reform,” The Georgia Review, Vol. 11, No. 2 (Summer 1957), 177-186.

[7] Ibid. at 177.

[8] Ibid. (“our age seems to require a reform that is reactionary, rather than innovating”).

[9] Ibid. at 182-83.

[10] Russell Kirk, “More Freedom Per Dollar,” National Review, Vol 31 (April 13, 1979), 488.

[11] Russell Kirk, “Federal Scholarships,” National Review, Vol. 2 (November 24, 1956), 18.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Russell Kirk, “Who Should Pay for Higher Education?” Vol. 23 (May 18, 1971), 534.

[14] Russell Kirk, “Federal Education,” National Review, Vol. 4 (December 28, 1957), 592.

[15] Russell Kirk, “The Conservative Purpose of a Liberal Education,” in The Essential Russell Kirk, edited by George A. Panichas (Wilmington, Delaware: ISI Books, 2007), 398.

[16] Ibid. at 400.

[17] Ibid.

What the new Carnegie classifications mean for Alabama universities

In Academia, Scholarship, The Academy on December 19, 2018 at 6:45 am

This article originally appeared here in the Alabama Political Reporter.

The new Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education is out. Once operated by the Carnegie Foundation, the so-called “Carnegie classifications” are now run by the School of Education at Indiana University.

The classifications are by university type or category: doctoral universities, master’s colleges and universities, baccalaureate colleges, baccalaureate / associate colleges, associate’s colleges, special focus institutions, and tribal universities. When you hear people refer to the coveted R-1 status, they’re referring to a sub-classification within the “doctoral universities” category, which until this year trifurcated into “highest research activity” (R-1), “higher research activity” (R-2), and “moderate research activity” (R-3).

Under this taxonomy, Auburn, Alabama, UAB, and UAH were classified as “Doctoral Universities,” whereas Troy, Samford, Faulkner, Montevallo, and Alabama State were classified as “Master’s Colleges & Universities.” Huntingdon, Stillman, Tuskegee, and Talladega were designated “Baccalaureate Colleges.”

The many universities in Alabama fall into different classifications.  I have mentioned only a few universities not to suggest favor or quality, but to illustrate the spectrum of classification possibilities.

Not long ago, I wrote that “Carnegie should drop the phrases ‘highest research activity,’ higher research activity,’ and ‘moderate research activity’ that accompany the R-1, R-2, and R-3 label because they are misleading: the Carnegie rankings do not measure research activity but research expenditure.” Carnegie has corrected this flaw to some extent, relabeling its R-1 and R-2 categories as “Very high research activity” and “High research activity,” respectively—thereby eliminating the “er” and “est” suffixes (in “higher” and “highest”) that indicated the comparative and superlative degree (i.e., that made certain universities sound better than others).

So where do Alabama universities fall in the new 2018 classifications?  

Auburn, Alabama, and UAB are the only Alabama universities in the R-1 category. UAH is an R-2. Troy, Faulkner, Montevallo, and Alabama State remain “Master’s Colleges & Universities.” Tuskegee entered that category. Samford is now classified under the heading “Doctoral / Professional Universities” that did not exist in earlier classifications. This category accounts for professional-practice degrees like juris doctorates or medical degrees.

Huntington, Stillman, and Talladega remain “Baccalaureate Colleges.”

If you’re curious about the classification of your alma mater or favorite Alabama university, you can search the listings here.

It would be a mistake to treat these classifications as a hierarchal ranking of quality.  They are, rather, descriptive differentiations that inform the public about the size and spending of universities. The only category in which universities receive something like a vertical ranking is “Doctoral Universities,” which tier universities according to their alleged “research activity.”

Eric Kelderman points out that “critics wonder whether going for more research money and a higher Carnegie classification really has more to do with elevating institutional image, and comes at the expense of academic quality—particularly for undergraduates.” This is a profound concern.

The Carnegie classifications could incentivize malinvestment in doctoral degrees and number of faculty members. The job market for humanities faculty is shrinking while the number of humanities doctorates is rising, but to achieve their desired Carnegie classifications, universities continue to churn out humanities Ph.Ds. who have diminishing chances of landing tenure-track positions.

The Carnegie classifications don’t measure research quality, either. One university could spend millions on research with negligible outcomes while another could spend little on research yet yield high-quality, groundbreaking scholarship.

The Carnegie classifications are not perfect, but they command attention among administrators in higher education and can involve public funds. For that reason alone, anyone who has a stake or interest in a university in Alabama should pay attention too.

Want to Go From R-2 to R-1? Don’t Look to Law Schools to Help

In Academia, Law School, Legal Education & Pedagogy on March 28, 2018 at 6:45 am

Say you’re an administrator at a university classified as a “doctoral university” by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions on Higher Education. You’re currently ranked in the R-2 category, meaning your school has a higher degree of research activity, but not enough to get you into that coveted R-1 spot for highest research activity. Your president and board of trustees have pushed you and other administrators to elevate your school’s ranking to R-1.  What should you do?  How can you accomplish a jump in rankings?

Here are four steps to get you started. However, there is one thing, historically, you should not do to move from R-2 to R-1: rely on your law school for a boost.

Professional degrees like a law degree (J.D.) do not count toward a school’s total number of research doctorates awarded according to the metrics used by Carnegie to classify universities. Law schools, at least in theory, teach legal doctrines and equip students with the professional skills necessary to practice law (whether law schools have succeeded in this mission is another matter). Yet law schools by and large do not train students to become scholars or to conduct scholarly research—hence the Carnegie “post-baccalaureate” designation.

Carnegie (which is now run out of Indiana University, not the Carnegie Foundation) treats law degrees as post-baccalaureate credentials, or professional-practice doctorates, but not as research degrees. For this reason, among others, Carnegie generally does not measure research and development expenditures in law schools. The fields Carnegie considers for these benchmarks are science and engineering (S&E), humanities, social science, STEM, business, education, public policy, and social work.

Universities report to the federal government the classification of their degrees (e.g., research or professional) by academic program. Data for this reporting are publicly available through the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Law schools like the one at Berkeley, which offers a Ph.D. in jurisprudence and social policy, report degree credentials besides just the professional-practice doctorate (J.D.). The most recent available data come from the 2015-16 academic year, when Berkeley reported 332 professional-practice law degrees and 13 research-scholarship degrees. Thus, the law school at Berkeley probably contributed to that school’s R-1 status as a doctoral university with highest research activity.

University investment in law schools that do not offer research Ph.Ds. (or their equivalent, such as an S.J.D. or J.S.D.) is a reallocation of resources away from programs and departments that could help your school move from R-2 to R-1.

Before year’s end, Carnegie will have updated its classifications. The last time it updated its classifications was 2015. Carnegie has begun updating its classifications on a 5-year cycle rather than a 3-year cycle to, in its words, “better reflect the rapidly changing higher education landscape.”

The latest updates will change not only rankings but also how J.D.s are assessed. Law degrees “have previously not been considered as part of the Basic Classification methodology,” Carnegie states. But the revised methodology allegedly will account for law degrees in new ways. “We will soon release a proposal for this change and solicit feedback regarding our plans from the higher education community,” Carnegie submits.

The Carnegie rankings remain a point of pride and competition between universities. They are high priorities for university presidents and administrators because the United States Department of Education relies on them, they contribute to a university’s prestige, and they can affect a university’s eligibility for grant money.

Depending on the methodological revisions Carnegie adopts for its classifications, having a productive law school might, in the future, push a university from R-2 to R-1. Funding law faculty research potentially could yield significant returns in terms of Carnegie rankings—but probably not in 2018.

Much remains unknown about the future of the Carnegie rankings. It’s unlikely the J.D. will be reclassified as a research doctorate any time soon, if ever. And it’s thus unlikely research and development expenditures on law schools will help universities looking to move from R-2 to R-1. (To be classified as an R-1 doctoral university with highest research activity, your university must offer 20 research-based or scholarship-based degrees.)

In short, you should tell your university president and board of trustees to hold off on investing additional, substantial sums in law schools—at least for the purposes of moving from R-2 to R-1. It’s better to wait and see how the Carnegie changes play out and then to respond accordingly. Fortunately, the wait won’t be long. We’ll know more in the coming months.

 

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