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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.

Friday Finds
April 19, 2012 - 10:07pm

If you haven’t seen this interview with Jane Wellman, it’s well worth a read.  She’s an expert on the drivers of college costs, and she was the founding director of the Delta Cost Project. (She’s also funny as hell in a sardonic, I’ve-had-toothaches-scarier-than-you way.) She makes several points that I wish we could all just stipulate before having any more conversations about college costs: that every new dollar of tuition goes directly to health insurance costs; that community colleges are routinely shafted in funding formulae and desperately need substantial and permanent increases in operating subsidies; and that the cost of prisons is one of the primary drains on state budgets.  (Yes, I also liked her recognition that the “administrative bloat” complains are symbolic, rather than serious; if you redistributed the money, it would be a drop in the bucket.)  Accepting those truths wouldn’t necessarily lead to a single policy outcome, but it would rule out some truly stupid and destructive ones.  That would help.  Even just recognizing that higher education’s funding issues are inextricably connected to health care and prisons would be a tremendous improvement.


The California death spiral continues. Now that the state has decided that Santa Monica College’s attempt at self-preservation was illegal, the survival options for community colleges are even fewer. Kevin Carey’s column this week drew some flak for being alarmist, but honestly, it struck me as restrained. First, California establishes a three-tier system of higher education, corresponding roughly to economic classes.  Then it starves out the lowest tier.  Then it stops taking transfers into the second tier. It’s gravitational pull, rather than conspiracy -- that’s why I call it a death spiral -- but it’s accelerating.  Meanwhile, the for-profits swoop in to pick up the students on waiting lists.  The only possible way to reverse it is to completely restructure the funding rules, starting with allowing campuses to keep the tuition and fees they raise  In the absence of that -- in other words, the far likelier outcome -- is that the higher education system there will go the way the K-12 system went before it.  


Several alert readers sent me links to this piece from Esquire about the upward generational transfer of wealth in America.  It’s a little polemical, but substantially correct, and easy enough to apply at your own workplace.  What percentage of salary do the 1970’s hires have to contribute to their retirement plans?  What percentage of salary do recent hires have to?  If they don’t match -- at mine, they’re nowhere close -- then you have a problem.  And that’s before you account for the higher student loan burden of the current generation.


Speaking of, Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina made waves this week with her statement of having no patience for people who rack up significant student loan debt.  The Quick and the Ed reveals that tuition at her alma mater has more than tripled in real terms since she was there.  I assume, of course, that Rep. Foxx must therefore be a HUGE booster of community colleges.  Otherwise, she’s just awful.  


Meanwhile, I hope against hope that despite all this generational warfare, The Boy and The Girl will grow into a country that deserves them.  Better to bet on the future than the past.


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