'Starving the Beast' examines ideological shifts in funding for higher education

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New documentary explores the philosophy and players behind cutting state support for higher education.

Report on How Federal Aid Policies Affect Tuition

When federal aid increases, the goal, of course, is to help students afford their tuition.

But in reality, is that actually how the situation plays out? It’s a question that’s been part of the federal aid debate for decades, and it’s at the heart of a new paper by David Feldman and Richard Archibald, both professors at the College of William and Mary.

They start with an idea called the Bennett Hypothesis: the argument is that increased federal aid leads to higher tuition, because colleges know that their students will get help from the government.

It is true that colleges can “tax” federal aid, the researchers write. That is, they can give out less of their own aid than they would have otherwise, confident that federal subsidies will make up the difference. Over all, this happens rarely -- and almost never at public institutions.

The researchers also found little evidence that federal aid increases drive up list prices, which are often determined by what upper-income families -- who may be unaffected by financial aid -- are willing to pay.

“If the social goal of federal financial aid policy is to make higher education more affordable to many low-income families, there is ample evidence that it does so,” they write, “despite the fact that some of this aid displaces grant aid the institutions might otherwise have given.”

Wake Forest Expands Downtown

Wake Forest University will offer new programs in biomedical sciences and engineering, the university announced Friday. Students will study in Wake Forest Innovation Quarter in downtown Winston-Salem, N.C., a hub for biomedical sciences and information technology. The university is preparing space adjacent to the Wake Forest School of Medicine’s newly renovated facilities, which are scheduled to open this summer.

The programs, which will be offered starting in 2017, include a B.S. in engineering, a B.S. in biochemistry and molecular biology, and a concentration in medicinal chemistry and drug discovery.

Wake Forest is pitching the new programs as a solution to the growing need for undergraduate biomedical science and technology graduates. Between 2012 and 2014, the university says, demand has grown by 58 percent nationally.

By the time the programs are fully operational, in 2021, around 350 undergraduates will be enrolled. They will split their time between the main campus and the new classrooms and labs.

To Invest More Ethically, Colleges Join Forces

A group of 77 institutions is coming together in an effort to invest their money more ethically. The goal is to use their endowments to support environmental and social causes -- without sacrificing their own financial returns.

The coalition operates under a group called the Intentional Endowments Network. The group helps institutions invest their endowments in socially conscious ways, taking into consideration issues like climate change and human rights abuses.

For the most part, the new network is focused on keeping its members informed. For instance, it will help institutions use their endowments to support the Paris climate agreement.

But -- much like the Paris climate agreement -- joining the coalition requires no binding commitment. The members share goals but have made no concrete promises.

The group is intended to be a learning network, Georges Dyer, a principal of Intentional Endowments Network, said in an email. Institutions involved will have access to resources and industry experts, but will not need to commit to a course of action.

“It is up to the members to determine what actions they might take to update their investment policies or practices,” he said.

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Furloughs at Morehead State

Kentucky’s House budget, revealed Tuesday, restored state funding the governor recommended cutting from higher education, the Lexington Herald Leader reported.

But for now, that won’t make a difference to the employees of Morehead State University, who will be furloughed during the college’s spring break.

When Morehead State announced the five-day furlough last week, President Wayne Andrews said the institution needed to prepare for a proposed cut in state funding.

But at least for now, it is the college’s responsibility to continue planning for the worst, said Beth Patrick, Morehead State’s chief financial officer and vice president for administration.

“While we are very hopeful and appreciative of the work the House has done to approve a budget that restored the proposed cuts to postsecondary education,” she said in an email, “we also recognize that much work remains before a budget is finalized.”

North Carolina Voters Approve Bonds for Higher Ed

North Carolina voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a proposal to issue $2 billion in bonds, most of which will finance facilities in higher education, The Charlotte Observer reported. About $1 billion will be spent on facilities at University of North Carolina campuses, and about $350 million at community colleges.

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Dowling Plans Affiliation to Address Financial Woes

Dowling College, a financially struggling institution in New York, announced Tuesday that it will affiliate with an academic partner, the identity of which the college didn't reveal, Newsday reported. The college also said it is undertaking efforts to save money. The college's enrollment is about 2,000, down from 4,500 in 2009.

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Delaware State Ends 23 Academic Programs

Delaware State University will cut 23 majors this fall, The Wilmington News Journal reported.

The 23 majors, which represent a quarter of the university’s programs, were chosen based on their low enrollment numbers. The university hopes the change will save $900,000 by 2020, and the savings will be invested in higher-growth programs.

The university has promised that faculty members won’t face layoffs or reductions in hours as a result of the cuts. While students will no longer be able to major in certain programs, lower-level classes will still exist in some cases. And in the meantime, all current students enrolled in one of the 23 majors will be able to finish their studies.

The university’s board voted on the change in January, going against the recommendation of a faculty and staff committee. The News Journal noted that the cuts were made “quietly,” a characterization that the university disputes. “There was a lot of discussion,” university spokesman Carlos Holmes told NewsWorks. “It was quiet to the News Journal because they didn’t attend the board meeting.”

Liberal arts majors, like foreign language and education programs, suffered most of the cuts. The savings will go toward programs like criminal justice, agriculture and applied chemistry.

Since the decision was finalized, some faculty members praised the changes, arguing that the scrapped programs were barely in use, while others argued that the programs were vitally important despite their low enrollment numbers. "The university used a hatchet instead of a scalpel to make cuts," Samuel Hoff, a professor of history and political science, said in an email. "The cuts are hurting students in the areas eliminated. The university is measuring efficiency entirely by numbers and profit rather than by learning, performance and consistency with DSU’s mission."

University Furloughs Employees for Spring Break

This year, all faculty and staff at Morehead State University will be spending their spring break on furlough without pay.

Facing a $2.6 million tuition shortfall and a proposed $1.95 million cut in state funding, the university needs to cut costs by $4.5 million, the Lexington Herald Leader reported. President Wayne Andrews announced the furlough Thursday.

The proposed cut in state funding presents an exceptional challenge, Andrews wrote in an email to the campus. By the time it was announced, late in the fiscal year, most of the university’s discretionary resources had already been spent or committed.

“These cuts, and the additional cuts proposed, strain our ability to provide affordable access to quality academic programs, to educate students for careers and jobs so important to the advancement of our great state, and to take care of our community,” he wrote.

Some critical staff, who need to work over spring break, will schedule their furlough later.

College Endowments Fall as Fiscal Year Starts

In the first six months of fiscal year 2016, college endowments lost an average of 3.8 percent.

That number comes from a new analysis by Bloomberg, which compiled data from a dozen U.S. college endowment funds. Indiana University’s fund, which declined 6.1 percent, suffered the greatest loss. At 1.8 percent, Pennsylvania State University’s fund declined the least.

The numbers are worse than last year’s, when endowments grew 2.4 percent. And even 2.4 percent growth was considered disappointing compared with the two previous years, which saw returns in the double digits.

Colleges told Bloomberg that the low returns so far could be due to China’s stock market crash, a downturn in the global equities market and the rising U.S. dollar, among other reasons.

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