The Oregon Senate on Thursday joined the House in approving a bill that would grant in-state tuition rates to undocumented students who graduated from high schools in the state, The Oregonian reported. Governor John Kitzhaber has said he will sign the legislation. The success for the bill follows several failed attempts in recent years.
I was a lousy high school student. I graduated ranked three spots from the bottom half of my class, half-assing even my underachievement. I never had much interest in high school academically and so, I thought, no interest in college. And I didn’t go to college right away, not really. I took a few meandering courses at the local community college and worked for $6.50 an hour in a local camera shop. But after six months of that work, barely covering expenses in a shared rental house and all the while hearing about my friends’ college experiences, my motivation changed. I wanted to go to college, but was still anxious about whether or not I could hack it.
I applied to several colleges, all with a mind toward getting very far from my home in Virginia. One of the places I applied to was the University of Iowa. Generously, my mother bought me a plane ticket to go visit the university in February. I had never even been to Iowa before. Just prior to my departure I told one of my former high school teachers about my upcoming trip. She suggested that I should look up an old colleague of hers who had once worked at my high school during my visit to the University of Iowa, where he worked at the time of my trip. I said I would and didn’t think much of it. It was one of those things you say you’ll do to be polite, but without ever really intending to follow through.
The time for my trip arrived. I had never flown alone before and dozed on the plane during the trip to Iowa, but I woke suddenly when the pilot announced our descent into the Cedar Rapids airport. Cedar Rapids? Where was that? I knew that the university was in Iowa City, and had, in my naiveté, simply assumed that I was arriving in Iowa City. The airline ticket had listed my destination, somewhat ambiguously, as simply Cedar Rapids/Iowa City. I hadn’t made any arrangements ahead of time except to reserve a spot at a hostel for the nights of my visit.
When I startled-to on the plane, my knowledge of Iowa geography was so absent that I didn’t even know how far apart the two cities were. Three miles? Three hours? My worries amplified when I began to consider my budget. I had about $100 in cash to pay for my lodging, my meals, for anything that might come up, no credit or ATM cards. An expensive cab ride or shuttle trip would bite into my already meager funds.
Somewhere in between disembarking from the plane and the baggage claim I figured out, I think from a wall map, that the distance between Iowa City and Cedar Rapids was about 30 miles. That was the distance I needed to cover. I took stock of my options. A 30-mile cab ride was out of the question. I would inquire about shuttles after I grabbed my bag. If I couldn’t find a shuttle, I decided that I would hitchhike. I had no appointments scheduled until the next day. I also had never hitchhiked before.
At the baggage claim most of my fellow passengers were rumpled businessmen in rumpled businessman clothes. While I waited, I struck up a conversation with a young woman who looked to be about my age. It turned out that she was a junior at the university, and had been on the same connecting flight that I had. She was an actuarial science major (I nodded knowingly but had to look that one up later) and was returning from Boston where she had been interviewing for an internship.
In the course of our awkward waiting-for-bags conversation, I managed to bring up my transportation dilemma.
“Where are you staying?” she asked.
I told her about the makeshift hostel in the Methodist church downtown. Unsurprisingly, she hadn’t heard of it. I must have seemed worthy of pity because, to my shock, she offered to give me a lift all the way into Iowa City. Naturally, I accepted. We left the baggage claim after an airline worker informed me that my bag had been left behind during my connection in Chicago and would have to be delivered to me later.
En route to her car, which was parked in one of the long-term lots, we made polite conversation, which primarily consisted of me asking questions about the university and the city. At one point she, having learned where I was from, asked what it was like growing up so close to Charlottesville, Virginia and the University of Virginia.
I told her that it was great, particularly if you stayed the hell away from the fratty parts of town. I launched into an abbreviated (for me) tirade against the entitled, east coast "Greek" culture that galled me when I was a townie high school student. (Still galls me some.)
Thus began an important lesson for me in knowing one’s audience before responding pointedly to an innocuous question.
The young woman stopped, turned directly to me, and glared. Despite the numbingly cold Iowa winter day, I thought for a moment that I could feel piles of plowed snow in the parking lot melting behind me from the heat. "I’m the vice-president of my sorority," she said slowly, deliberately, before turning away from me completely and continuing toward her car.
For a moment I didn’t know whether or not to keep following, but I did. Her initial congeniality never returned, but she still gave me a ride into Iowa City, and we returned to talking mechanically about the university for the duration of the 35 minute ride. Once in Iowa City, she dropped me off in front of the Methodist church where I was staying and wished me luck before I thanked her for the ride and we went our separate ways.
The hostel was really just a bunch of cots set up in the church’s activity room. During the day the cots were folded up, packed into a corner, and the room was used for various church activities. So, the "hostel," while accommodating my budget, wasn’t a place I could go crash at during the daytime. Those of us staying there were only allowed in during the evenings, basically during sleeping hours.
Even though I was only in town for two full days, I had a lot of open time to fill, and not much money to help out. And it was very, very cold, at least to my thin blood.
For lunch one day I went into a little pizza joint that, unbeknownst to me, was an Iowa City institution, at least among students, named The Airliner. It was a little past the normal lunch hour and nearly deserted. The hostess seated me in a booth next to a family. The father looked vaguely familiar. Red, balding hair, and an unmistakably obvious limp when he rose to go to the restroom. Then it dawned on me — he was Dan Gable, the collegiate and Olympic wrestling legend and the then-recently retired coach of the Iowa wrestling team. I waited for what seemed like an opportune moment to interrupt his meal, and found it as he and his family were finishing up and preparing to leave.
"Excuse me, are you Dan Gable?" I asked.
"You must be a wrestler," he said, knowing both the scope and the limits of his own fame.
"I used to be," I replied, knowing that I didn’t have the talent to walk-on to a team like Iowa’s. Wrestling might have been the only thing that kept me from dropping out of high school, which I seriously considered at one point.
Gable graciously introduced me to his family, including the hostess, who turned out to be his oldest daughter. He signed an autograph on a paper napkin for me to take back to my old high school coach. Then, creaking out of the restaurant on his mostly-destroyed hip, he followed his family out into the street. I paid my check and went back out into the Iowa cold and wind a few minutes later.
After two days of wandering Iowa City in the bitter cold, I had done everything constructive I could think of. I had met with advisers in the English department, as well as a university admissions officer. I had wandered through bookstores without buying anything for slightly longer than was polite, and walked around the city bundled up against the cold for as long as I could stand. I was such a rube, in fact, that I didn’t even realize that, simply to stay warm, I could have hung out in the university library’s periodicals room for hours. I didn’t know such places existed, and that you could just walk right into them.
Partly out of boredom, and partly as an indoor project to stay warm, I decided to go in search of my high school teacher’s grad school friend and former colleague.
I knew he was in the School of Education, and went to the education building, Lindquist Center, which is a rat’s maze of a university building, vexing even to some of those who know it well. After some time navigating the building’s counterintuitively arrayed halls, I arrived at the office that had been listed as James Marshall’s on the directory in the lobby. The office door was open. A man was hunched over several boxes of books in the middle of the floor, either packing or unpacking. I couldn’t tell which.
I knocked on the frame of the open door. "Excuse me, Dr. Marshall?"
"No," the man replied, with a look that must have reflected my own confusion. “He’s in the dean’s office now,” he said with a tilt of his head, both of his hands still full of books. He gave me directions for navigating to the other office.
I, of course, had no idea what a dean was. My ignorance was my shield, and I continued down the hall to the dean’s office, not only unaware of who or what a dean was, but also unaware of the fact that many people typically work in a dean’s office, which is more like an administrative compound than the more humble faculty office I had just visited.
When I entered the much larger dean’s office/compound, no fewer than three faces of the secretarial/admin variety turned from their work to look at me. “Could I please see Dr. Marshall?” I asked, quickly, and I thought cleverly, deducing than none of these three women were him.
“Do you have an appointment?” their leader asked.
I stammered. "Uh, no, I just want to talk to him."
This, judging from her reaction, was an answer that does not typically win one an audience with busy, important folks. Luckily for me, Marshall’s office door had been open the entire time, and he had been listening in.
"Is that a student?" he nearly shouted, still unseen to me. "Send him in." The captain of the secretaries nodded in my direction. I proceeded forward.
I went into the office, and gregariously, Marshall asked what he could help with. Little did he know, he was already helping — his office was heated.
Falteringly I explained that I was visiting the university and had been a student at Western Albemarle High School, and that Kathy Sublette had suggested I look him up.
He beamed. He asked me about my high school, where he had once worked, almost 20 years previously.
I had to talk around those questions, for, with a few notable exceptions, like Sublette’s class, my experiences hadn’t been very good. In the course of our conversation I told him about my mixup at the airport and the young woman who had given me a ride into town.
"How are you getting back?" he asked.
"Well," I told him, "I heard there’s a shuttle, but it doesn’t run early enough to make my flight. So, I figured I’d go up tonight and just sleep in the airport."
He grimaced a little. "The Cedar Rapids airport is pretty small. They close at night. They aren’t going to let you sleep there."
"Oh." As I said, I was pretty naïve.
"What time is your flight?" he asked.
"Hm, United? You connect in Chicago?"
“Yeah,” I responded.
"I’ve taken that flight a million times. Brutal. Where are you staying?" he asked.
I told him about the weird hostel in the Methodist church.
"Tell you what," he said. "Be ready at 5. I’ll pick you up."
"Really?" I was incredulous.
He assured me that it was no problem, and we made a bit more small talk before I left. Things were looking up.
Right on time the next morning Marshall picked me up. During the ride in the morning dark, our conversation was a bit more earnest, and I opened up about my anxieties as to whether or not I could hack college work.
Marshall told me about his own experiences as a first-generation college student at Indiana University. He assured me that Iowa was a really down-to-earth university, with really down-to-earth students, like the one who had given me a ride. I could hack it, he assured me.
At the airport I thanked him repeatedly. I had a lot to think about. He made a good pitch, but, my god, that cold wind.
Iowa was the only university I was accepted to as an undergraduate. I began attending the following fall.
I’m hesitant to try to draw a lesson from any of this. I don’t want to suggest that what Marshall did for me should be a standard by which we measure ourselves. It was so above and beyond, such an act of generosity, that few of us could live up to such a standard. As important as the ride was, the conversation we had during it, about college life and my own fears, which were based on my mostly horrible high school experiences, was even more important.
What I do know is that both acts of generosity -- a ride offered by a student, another ride and some sound advice offered by senior faculty member -- were emblematic of everything that happened for me at Iowa over the next three years. Everywhere I turned, someone helped me out, from staff in admissions and the registrar’s office to the faculty in the English department, as well as faculty in other departments.
Nate Kreuter is an assistant professor of English at Western Carolina University and a career advice columnist for Inside Higher Ed.
The College of the Ozarks is known for its system of providing students with jobs rather than charging them tuition. Now the college is taking things a step further, and refusing to certify private student loans, which some students were still taking out, The Springfield News-Leaderreported. The college itself does not use debt, and raises money for buildings before constructing them. President Jerry C. Davis said that he wants to discourage all borrowing. "The driving force behind this is that debt is bad and we should not allow these students to do that," he said.
China's leading universities are dropping English as one of the required subjects on the required admissions examinations, Xinhua reported. At most universities, English is being dropped as a requirement for the test taken by prospective science and engineering majors (who will be tested in math and physics) and for art students (who will be tested in Chinese and math). Yu Han, an enrollment officer at Tsinghua University, told Xinhua that English was eliminated in order to attract more students with exceptional talent in the subjects they plan to study.
The University of Tokyo is planning to replace its admissions exam within five years, The Japan Times reported. In its place a new system will be created, based in large part on interviews and on recommendations from the high schools of applicants.
The University of Pennsylvania on Tuesday announced new rules to protect the privacy of those who apply to enroll there. The rules stress the importance of privacy, and of sharing information about applicants only for specific, professionally related reasons. Just a few weeks ago, the university was embarrassed by reports that a former admissions officer had been mocking applicants on Facebook. But a university spokesman said via e-mail that the admissions privacy rules had been in the works for months and "were not in any way a response" to the behavior of the former admissions officer.
Northwestern University announced Monday that it would cut the size of its entering class by 10 percent, while also adding 25 percent to spending on financial aid. While several other law schools have made such moves, amid declines in law school applications and a tough job market for graduates, Northwestern is among the more highly regarded law schools to announce such a shift. “We can’t ignore the destabilizing forces that the legal industry is facing today,” said Daniel Rodriguez, the law dean, in a statement.
Salem College has finished its review of what policies it should have about transgender students, but the letter announcing the completion of the review is vague on what that policy is and doesn't even use the word "transgender," The Winston-Salem Journal reported. Salem is a women's college and the issue of transgender students has been sensitive for women's colleges, given their history of providing single-sex education. Word that the college was considering a policy on transgender students set off debate among students and alumnae, with some favoring an inclusive policy and some fearing that allowing transgender students to stay enrolled would open the door to the college becoming fully coeducational. A letter from the board chair says that trustees, after “lengthy discussion and due consideration,” affirmed that Salem “values its students as individuals” and that “the wellbeing of all students is of paramount importance.” The letter also says that the board "has no intention of admitting men to Salem's traditional undergraduate program or becoming a coeducational institution." A spokeswoman declined to elaborate on how the college would respond to transgender students. Asked by the Journal why the word "transgender" wasn’t used in the letter, the spokeswoman said, "Does it need to be?"
President Lyndon Johnson signed the Higher Education Act (HEA) on November 8, 1965. The ceremony occurred before a packed house at his alma mater, Southwest Texas State College (now Texas State University-San Marcos). With his wife, Lady Bird, by his side, and surrounded by faculty, students, and administrators, Johnson gave prefatory remarks that were solemn yet optimistic: "The president's signature upon this legislation passed by this Congress will swing open a new door for the young people of America. For them, and for this entire land of ours, it is the most important door that will ever open — the door to education."
The $3 billion act marked the culmination of three decades of federal support for research funding and student aid that stretched across the New Deal, World War II, and the Cold War. One title provided aid for land grant urban extension programs; two titles offered assistance for construction projects; another title created the Teachers Corps; and another lent support to historically black colleges. But it was the student assistance title (Title IV) and its trio of aid options — work study, loans, and grants — that revolutionized college-going in this country, helping tens of millions of Americans go to college. It was the key to opening Johnson’s "door to education."
This year the act is again up for reauthorization, and for the first time in recent memory there exists genuine concern that the door the act opened is starting to shut. The "cost crisis" in higher education, now more than four decades in the making, has finally come home to roost. Since the economic crisis hit five years ago, state appropriations have plummeted and tuition has climbed. Spiraling dropout rates and student debt combined with reports of "limited learning" in college and high unemployment after have upped the anxiety level. Recent polls indicate that the American people are worried about paying for college and unsure whether it’s still a worthwhile investment, even though all the evidence indicates that earning a degree today matters more than ever.
In last month’s State of the Union Address, President Obama said he intended to "ask Congress to change the Higher Education Act so that affordability and value are included in determining which colleges receive certain types of federal aid." With an agenda already loaded down by sequestration, gun control and immigration reform, this will be very hard to do. But let’s assume that the act is overhauled and changes are made to the current financial aid system. It’s worth speculating what this new regulatory regime might look like. That it might end up bearing a family resemblance to No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the decade-old K-12 accountability model built on Johnson’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), should give pause to those of us who care about higher education.
The fundamentals of NCLB are well-known. In exchange for federal Title I funding, the states must annually test students in math and reading in grades 3-8 and once in high school, and all students must be "proficient" in these subjects by 2014, unless your state received a waiver from the Department of Education. Schools that fail to make adequate "annual yearly progress" face increasingly severe sanctions: staff can be fired and a new curriculum installed, and if improvements aren’t made, failing schools can be restructured or even closed. While the results of NCLB have been mixed — gains in one place offset by losses in another — there is no doubt that regulation of this sort would harm American higher education. The strength of the U.S. system lies in the autonomy and freedom it affords and in the wide range of institutional and pricing options that it provides. This is rarely acknowledged. The media home in on what are actually outlier institutions, like Harvard University or the University of California at Berkeley, cite anecdotal evidence, then generalize across the whole sector, as if all institutions are the same and all students have identical educational goals.
Most students don't go to residential colleges or have endless free time. Most students aren’t 18 to 21 years of age and most students don’t graduate in four years. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Most students in this country go to a broad access four-year public institution or a two-year community college. Most students commute to class and work part time. And 40 percent of students are from low-income households.
All of which is to say that if new measures are passed to hold "colleges accountable for cost, value, and quality," as the White House has since described it, they will not affect all students or institutions the same. At wealthy colleges that attract exceptionally well-prepared students it will be business as usual no matter what happens. Not so at broad access institutions. Just as the burden of NCLB has been borne most by poor students and districts, similarly styled higher education reform will mean even more obstacles for "those who aspire to the middle class" — poor, racial and ethnic minorities, and first-generation students whose college options are already limited.
The president’s reluctance to address the link between poverty and education is notable, since the ESEA and the HEA were the main fronts of Johnson’s "unconditional war on poverty." The Educational Opportunity Grant, forerunner of the Pell Grant, was the HEA’s silver bullet, targeting students of "exceptional financial need" to help them earn a college diploma. Passed the year after the Civil Rights Act barred discrimination by any institution that received public funds, the HEA fueled the enrollment of African Americans and other underserved populations. Roughly 160,000 African Americans were in college in 1960, the majority of them at a historically black college or university (HBCU); by 1975 more than a million African Americans were in school, most of them outside the HBCU network.
In retrospect, the late 1970s was the golden age of college access, when the portable Pell Grant actually covered half the cost of a college education, as it was intended to do, and African Americans and other minority groups reaped the benefits of equal opportunity. It didn’t last. By the mid-1980s, loans eclipsed grants as the government’s preferred aid instrument, supplemented later by tax credits, tax-deferred 529 college saving plans, and state and institutional merit aid programs that have disproportionately benefited middle- and upper-income families. All the while the purchasing power of the Pell Grant has withered and the education gap has grown, impoverishing us all.
This brings us to our current moment and the various NCLB-inspired plans to tie aid to cost, value, and quality — that is, to outcomes and accountability rather than access and opportunity. This shift in priorities will not only hurt poor students but the entire higher education system. Colleges will be less willing to take chances on students that can’t pay full freight or look like they won’t graduate on time, leading to greater economic stratification and the end of student diversity as we’ve known it. Professors will feel even more pressure to pass students along regardless of the work they do, thus making rampant grade inflation worse. Administrators will be apt to massage student data to improve their institutional outcomes and rankings. And parents will demand that their students pursue pre-professional degrees with the strongest employment prospects, further marginalizing the liberal arts and other "blue sky" fields that offer less immediate "bang for the buck," turning them into wealthy majors for those who can afford idle cogitation. Meanwhile, ever greater numbers of poor students will cluster around the least desirable yet most expensive diploma mills, resulting in even more young people being left behind.
Are these doomsday scenarios far-fetched? Not really. Some of these things are already happening, now. But we’re not going to solve these issues by following policy makers and self-anointed reformers who want an aid model based on outcomes rather than opportunity. Simply put, higher education is setting itself up for failure by making promises it will not be able to keep. Does anyone really believe that we can create a system where every student who enters college graduates four years later with a degree, debt-free? Or that we can have classrooms where all students learn the same amount and in the same way? Or that every college graduate will land the job of her dreams? Higher education has never, ever done that. Not in the 19th century or in the 20th. And it never will.
Rather than creating more problems, we should mine the past for approaches that we know will keep "the door to education" open. The Pell Grant should be expanded and restored to its full purchasing power. To pay for it, regressive education tax credits favoring high earners should be abandoned and along with it financial aid to for-profit education providers, where the dropout, debt and default rates are highest and always have been. Colleges should be required to provide applicants with easy access to real pricing information to help with the choice process. And the income-based loan repayment program should be streamlined and a national service program created to put college graduates to work. After all, we don’t just need doctors, lawyers, engineers, and scientists; we also need teachers, artists, historians, and community organizers.
The challenge of our lifetime remains the problem of poverty. But to meet that challenge requires acknowledging that it exists. Lyndon Johnson knew that a truly great society was not possible "until every young mind is set free to scan the farthest reaches of thought and imagination." This remains as true today as it was then, and so too does Johnson’s fair warning: “We are still far from that goal.”
Liberty University, founded by Jerry Falwell in 1971, has doubled its enrollment in the last six years -- twice -- to become the largest private university in the country, The Washington Post reported. Much of the growth has been online. Total enrollment at Liberty is now 74,000, with 62,000 enrolled online. (The 74,000 figure is more than 30,000 more than the enrollments at other large private nonprofit institutions, such as New York University, the University of Southern California and Brigham Young University.) A 2010 article in Inside Higher Ed explored Liberty's online strategy.