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  • Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.

Fast, Furious, and Fenway
July 2, 2013 - 3:56am

The MOOA meme (“massively open online administration”) has been making its way around the interwebs for a few days now. It’s a hamfisted satire, basically saying that since college administrators all make the same decisions anyway, why not just replace them all with one?  

It’s a cute idea if you think that administration is mostly about making policy.  If you understand that it’s mostly about implementation in a complex and always changing environment, though, it’s just silly.  

Over the last week or so, the changes have been coming fast and furious.  It has been quite a week for external events.

Most notably for higher ed, the interest rate on new, subsidized student loans just doubled, from 3.4 to 6.8 percent.  That means that subsidized student loans are now more expensive than mortgages.  It also means that students starting in September -- not just freshman, actually -- will face notably higher borrowing costs than they did last month.  They may not feel it for a while, of course, but it’ll catch up eventually.

Student loans are a particularly nasty form of personal debt, since they come without collateral.  It’s impossible to short-sell a degree, so lenders have had the law changed several times to make payback essentially inescapable.  

How this will affect community colleges is hard to say.  Most of our students don’t borrow, since they’re either on full Pell or capable of just paying. (Many of the ones who “just pay” work an alarming number of hours per week outside of class to do it.  Some might be better off borrowing.)  Given the short time horizon that many students use when enrolling, the idea of higher payments years later may or may not pack the punch that it “should.”  Perversely, the change could actually benefit community colleges to the extent that they price more students out of more expensive places.  If more middle-class students use our lower tuition to manage their overall educational debt -- leaving more borrowing room for years three and four and maybe later -- we may be okay.  But if I were at a small, tuition-driven, expensive, non-elite private college, I’d be sweating bullets.

At the same time, the Supreme Court has made life easier for gay couples in the dozen or so states (hi!) that recognize same-sex marriage.  Put differently, it just made recruiting gay professionals easier in a dozen or so states, and harder in the other 37 or 38.  From a hiring perspective, this is great news for New England.  For North Carolina, not so much.  Of course, North Carolina is free to step up at any time.  In the meantime, I’ll happily hire the best of the best, and welcome them to a state that understands the concept of equal protection of the laws.  All-star candidates in, say, Tennessee may decide that Northampton is worth the winters.

It is.

Then I got word that Massachusetts has passed a budget that partially reverses the trend of state disinvestment in public higher education, making it possible for the state’s community colleges (hi!) to freeze tuition and fees for next year.  Yes, the interest rate for loans may be going up, but at least the principal isn’t.  Whether this is a welcome blip or the start of a very welcome trend remains to be seen, but after the last few years, I’ll happily take it.  Add frozen tuition and fees to the increased use of Open Educational Resources, and some students may actually see a drop in the total cost of attendance next year.  After years -- okay, decades -- of severe intergenerational injustice, it’s refreshing to see the young catch a break.  Here’s hoping it sets a new trend.

Finally, as a delayed Father’s Day gift, TW is taking the kids and me to Fenway on Wednesday to catch our first Red Sox game.  We may have to protect some tender young ears from some of the, uh, distinctive language for which Fenway is known, but it’ll be worth it.  (We deliberately avoided a Yankees game for that very reason.)  TB is beside himself with excitement.  TG is mostly looking forward to getting ice cream in a little batting helmet.  It’s all good.

Happy Fourth.  The blog will be back on Monday, July 8.

 

 

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