In higher education policy, you and Secretary Arne Duncan have consistently focused on two goals of critical national importance: 1) Expanding access to higher education and degree completion rates, especially by low-income, minority, and first-generation students, to increase the number of Americans who enter the work force with 21st-century skills; and 2) Making college more affordable to more people. As president of the major service organization for more than 600 private, nonprofit colleges and universities, I want to assure you that the leaders of these institutions share your goals — and have a track record of achieving them.
This truth is often obscured by myths about America’s private colleges — that they cater only to an elite, that they are not affordable, that debt levels for graduates are excessive, that liberal arts degrees are not viable in the workplace. Each of these myths is demonstrably false.
Mr. President, I am confident that your own experience of higher education — as an undergraduate, law student, and faculty member at independent colleges — leads you to understand the engine of opportunity and social mobility that these colleges provide to students and the resource pool of innovation that they provide for our nation. In fact, the effectiveness of this sector of higher education — in providing access, affordability, timely graduation, and employable skills — could provide models for the most valuable use of scarce tax dollars.
Let me first address the question of affordability, which looms so large in today's constrained economy. In private, nonprofit colleges and universities today, students on average pay about half the full cost of their education. The stereotype is entirely false that private colleges enroll students who are much wealthier than those at public universities. In fact — counterintuitively — there is a higher proportion of low-income students at nondoctoral private colleges and universities than at public research universities.
First-generation college-goers account for one-third of all enrolled students, and low-income students account for about 30 percent of all students in private colleges. Moreover, private scholarship funds total six times the amount of federal funds awarded to students — effectively leveraging the value of tax dollars for higher education. Extremely significant as well is the issue of opportunity costs; students of all backgrounds are more likely to graduate on time at private colleges, further reducing the total cost of their education.
In considering the affordability of a college education, much has been made recently about student debt. The fact is that most students have manageable debt and they repay their loans. What is "manageable debt"? The median debt for a four-year degree at a private college or university is $22,380 — about the same as a moderately priced car (and in fact not much more than the median debt at a public university). But the college degree appreciates, while the car depreciates. Estimates for the differential in lifetime earnings for a college degree vs. high school diploma are $700,000–$1,000,000, which is not a bad return on investment.
Recently, the $1 trillion in total student debt has been trumpeted as a "scare quote" in headlines. Not noted is the fact that this large number is a direct result of increased numbers of enrolled students, especially those with modest financial resources — itself an indication of progress in fulfilling Great Society objectives even during a weak economy. Our country has, quite remarkably, increased the number of college-goers — from fewer than half of all high school graduates 50 years ago to almost two-thirds today. This achievement is a result of the commitment by many over two generations — the federal government’s repeated willingness to increase Pell Grants, state governments’ expansion of the number of places at state universities (each heavily subsidized by taxpayers), and private colleges’ aggressive fund-raising for scholarships from nongovernmental sources to keep college affordable. All Americans can take pride in this example of shared responsibility.
This is decidedly not a picture of college costs "out of control" or, as you phrased it recently at Knox College, "an undisciplined system where costs just keep on going up and up and up." That speech referenced tuition increases of up to 7 percent. Perhaps this applies to a few universities. But private colleges, surveyed last year, increased tuition by only 4 percent on average and the trend has been downward. In fact, in recent years the net cost to students at private, nonprofit colleges has declined when adjusted for inflation.
It's also the case that most of the large percentage increases in tuition at state universities are direct results of cuts in state government funding. In addition, nearly every college and university in the country has recently taken measures to cut costs, such as eliminating staff and faculty positions, restricting pay increases, and delaying maintenance and construction projects.
Mr. President, on numerous occasions you and Secretary Duncan have encouraged colleges and universities to use technology to achieve cost savings in instruction. I am certain you recognize that more than two-thirds of colleges are already active in efforts to blend online with face-to-face learning. But an entirely online education, while better than no education, does not provide a student with the same learning outcomes and lifelong advantages as a live education on a campus with frequent interaction among students and between students and full-time professors.
It’s this distinctively American form of education — with room for questioning, discussion, creativity, interpersonal dynamics, and supportive faculty — that has made American colleges and universities the envy of the world and widely imitated.
Impartial research literature overwhelmingly shows that students at traditional institutions learn more, finish their degrees faster, and exhibit more postgraduate success in such aspects of life as civic participation. The reputation for innovation and educational quality — enjoyed by both America’s research universities and our small colleges — is well-deserved. Our national goal, therefore, should be to make the best form of American education — face to face — available and affordable for as many people as possible, to use blended approaches carefully, and not to make a less effective form — online only — the norm for everyone except a fortunate few. Indeed, such a prospect of a two-tiered system (to put it crudely: personal instruction for the few, online instruction for many) would pose serious threats to our democracy.
In the same week that you spoke at Knox College, Forbes magazine issued its survey of "top performing" colleges, and shortly thereafter Georgetown University’s Anthony Carnevale released an analysis of the affordability of college and the low percentages of low-income students at many “selective” universities. Curiously, both analyses chose to focus on only the "best" institutions but defined the group of selective institutions broadly. If the goal of such studies is to increase college participation among low-income students, it is odd to examine the effectiveness of only a fraction of America’s 4,000 colleges and universities. Forbes’s analysis starts with 650 of what it considers the best-performing institutions, and Carnevale’s begins with 468. (Most observers would argue that only about 100 colleges and universities are truly selective — that is, able to assemble a freshman class from an overabundance of well-qualified applicants, giving weight to virtually any factor of merit or need it chooses, and most able to meet every dollar of financial need.)
While there are few surprises near the top of Forbes’s list, more interesting details can be found farther down the list because they offer hints for the design of public policies. First, the top 217 colleges (or one-third of the 650) include every kind of college and university — large and small, public and private. Second, among the 117 colleges just below the top 100 are 40 smaller, private colleges that are not well-known beyond their regions. These colleges are market-sensitive, have room to expand, spend large amounts of their own resources as financial aid in order to enroll many low-income and first-generation students, and graduate students quickly. The vast majority of their graduates remain in-state.
While the top 100 colleges enroll 17 percent of their students from low-income backgrounds, smaller, private, nondoctoral colleges and universities, despite smaller endowments and less selective admissions, enroll approximately one-third of their students from low-income backgrounds. Most impressive is that the numbers of graduates of small, private colleges who enter careers in high-priority fields such as STEM are proportionally much higher (although small in absolute numbers) than the percentage who start their studies in these fields at many larger universities. In short, even within the second 100 of the “top” 650 institutions, the patterns of institutional performance differ from the myth of higher education’s unresponsiveness to your objectives. A great deal more could be achieved by harnessing the commitment of all 4,000 colleges and universities.
Your twin national policy goals of access and affordability could be advanced most rapidly if private colleges and universities, especially those at the middle levels of selectivity, were given a larger role. Their track records point to educational practices that could easily be brought to a larger scale. Their demonstrated cost-effectiveness as agents of upward mobility argues for reinforcement by public policy. In the difficult budget choices that lie ahead, these institutions offer the most value in the use of scarce tax dollars. To ignore the dedication of traditional institutions, both public and private, to your goals and the resulting benefits to the country would be to forego a major opportunity.
Richard Ekman is president of the Council of Independent Colleges.
After an 18-month study on governance of college sports, the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics said in a report that “changes are needed to restore integrity” to college sports.
Among its recommendations, the commission shot down the idea that a new division separate from the National Collegiate Athletic Association might be the next logical step. Instead, the report says, the NCAA’s top committees should include more athletics officials, former athletes and other individuals with experience in college sports -- and governance should not just be left to university presidents, as it is currently. Among the other recommendations are to dedicate a portion of the revenue from the impending college football playoff to support athletes’ educational experience, and revise revenue distribution to strengthen incentives for exceptional academic performance by athletes.
The report also suggests a few ideas “that merit further study,” including a new NCAA subdivision, for football only, for the five major conferences and other high-income programs -- an idea that has gained significant traction in the past few weeks thanks to comments and speculation by major conference commissioners. The commission also proposes a new financial framework that might impose spending limits or encourage limited spending, to create greater financial balance among institutions, as well as greater differentiation of structures among sports for things like conference membership and championship formats.
Peter Lach, dean of fine arts at Fairmont State University, has been charged by West Virginia authorities with second-degree sexual assault, and has been placed on administrative leave, The Charleston Gazette reported. A male employee told authorities that while he was in Lach's office, Lach pulled down the employee's pants and restrained him while starting oral sex. When the employee resisted, he said that Lach shoved him and that his head hit a copying machine. Lach, who is in jail, could not be reached.
The University of Iowa has earned the coveted — or dreaded — top spot on the Princeton Review’s list of the top 20 party schools in the country for 2014, which was released Monday in the publisher’s annual Best 378 Colleges guide.
Despite administrators’ three-year plan to curb binge drinking, the University of Iowa has been inching to the top of the “party school” list for the past three years. It was ranked No. 4 two years ago and moved up to No. 2 on last year's list. The university also earned the No. 1 spot on this year's “lots of hard liquor” list.
Spokesman Tom Moore said in an e-mailed statement that the university is continuing to work to "change the culture" on campus by educating students to only consume alcohol in a legal and responsible manner. In 2010, the Iowa City Council passed a 21-only ordinance, which raised the city bars’ entry age from 19 to 21 after 10 p.m. The percentage of University of Iowa students who engage in "high-risk drinking" is down from 70 percent in 2009 to 58 percent in 2013, according to the National College Health Assessment survey. There have also been decreases in alcohol-related crime and alcohol-related visits to hospitals, Moore said.
"In each of the last four years, alcohol harm to our students has decreased. It is, frankly, still too high," Moore said. "We are heartened, though, by the steady progress we have made, and are committed to continuing this progress."
West Virginia University, which was named the top party school last year, dropped to the No. 4 spot in this year’s rankings. The University of California at Santa Barbara and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are ranked No. 2 and No. 3 respectively.
The Princeton Review college guide includes individual profiles of each college, along with rankings based on an online survey of more than 122,000 students nationwide. The top-20 party schools rankings list is based on the answers from a combination of student survey questions about alcohol and drug use, hours of study each day and the popularity of the Greek system. Critics note that students are simply evaluating their own institutions and so the results are not based on actual comparisons.
Bloggers from BroBible (“the ultimate destination for Bros”) decided to take the “flawed” party school rankings into their own hands and created the “BroBible Party School Index” in April. The website scored universities based on a mathematical formula that combines rankings from a number of different lists and years. With an index score of 406.5, West Virginia University took the No. 1 spot on the BroBible’s 50 Best Party Schools list.
Princeton Review's Top 10 "Party Schools"
1. University of Iowa
2. University of California at Santa Barbara
3. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
4. West Virginia University
5. Syracuse University
6. University of Florida
7. Ohio University at Athens
8. University of Wisconsin at Madison
9. Pennsylvania State University at University Park
A North Carolina judge has issued an injunction to block a new state law ordering the removal of four trustees from the board of Central Carolina Community College, The News & Observer reported. The law orders the removal of all four trustees appointed by a local school board, and bars those trustees from running again. The new law does not affect those trustees appointed by a county board of commissioners. The school board is controlled by Democrats, as are its appointees. The county board is controlled by Republicans, as are its appointees, and the state legislator who pushed the bill. A suit challenging the law charges that it is arbitrary, and that it is not the role of the state to remove community college trustees based on their party identification. Mike Stone, the state representative who sponsored the bill, said it was "totally legit."
An article in The New York Times provides an overview of the new Football Performance Center at the University of Oregon. Among the features noted by the Times: rugs woven in Nepal, couches made in Italy, a weight room featuring a floor of Brazilian hardwood and a barbershop where utensils are from Milan. The center was originally projected to cost $68 million, but the Times reporter found that to be "conservative" based on a tour. The university claims not to know the full cost. Donations from Phil Knight, a founder of Nike, paid for the facility (which has Nike-themed features). University officials said that they were proud to be associated with Nike. "We are the University of Nike,” said Jeff Hawkins, senior associate athletic director of football administration and operations. "We embrace it. We tell that to our recruits."