Higher Education Quick Takes

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012 - 3:00am

WASHINGTON -- President Obama continues to make college affordability a key theme of his domestic policy agenda, but to tailor his message to his audience of the moment. On Monday, addressing the members of the National Governors Association, the president reiterated his views -- highlighted in last month's State of the Union address -- that higher education is increasingly important for individual Americans and for the country's economic future, and that rising prices threaten to put a postsecondary education out of reach for many. But while his speeches to campus leaders have focused on colleges' responsibility to contain their own costs and the prices they charge students (and federal carrots and sticks he might use to elicit that behavior), he used his appearance before the governors to reiterate his belief that states share significant culpability for driving up tuition prices.

"Nothing more clearly signals what you value as a state than the decisions you make about where to invest," President Obama said in urging the governors to "invest more in education." Describing the college affordability problem as a "shared responsibility," he said the administration has sought to do its part by significantly upping federal spending on Pell Grants and other student financial aid. But "[w]e can't just keep on, at the federal level, subsidizing skyrocketing tuition. If tuition is going up faster than inflation -- faster, actually, than health care costs -- then no matter how much we subsidize it, sooner or later we are going to run out of money.  So everybody else is going to have to do their part as well."

The president repeated that he had put colleges and universities "on notice" that "if they are not taking some concrete steps to prevent tuition from going up, then federal funding from taxpayers is going to go down." But the states have to do their part by "making higher education a higher priority in your budgets," the president said. "Over two-thirds of students attend public colleges and universities where, traditionally, tuition has been affordable because of state investments.... But more than 40 states have cut funding for higher education over the past year. And this is just the peak of what has been a long-term trend in reduced state support for higher education. And state budget cuts have been among the largest factor in tuition hikes at public colleges over the past decade. So my administration can do more, Congress can do more, colleges have to do more. But unless all of you also do more, this problem will not get solved."

Robert L. Moran, director of federal relations and policy analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, said his members were heartened by the president's remarks. They signal, he said, that "just as he's keeping our feet to the fire" on controlling public colleges' costs and prices, "he's not backing off the message that he needs to keep the fire on the feet of the state legislators and governors, too, because if state support goes down, tuition goes up." The president has comparatively little sway over state policies or priorities, Moran said, so his rhetoric and use of the bully pulpit matters.

(Side note: While he did so subtly, the president appeared to directly rebut criticism that a potential opponent in November, Rick Santorum, aimed at Obama over the weekend. Santorum called the president a "snob" for, he said, suggesting that all Americans should go to college, saying that there are "good, decent men and women" proud that their skills were "not taught by some liberal college professor." Without identifying the former Republican senator, Obama told the governors that "[w]hen I speak about higher education, we’re not just talking about a four-year degree. We’re talking about somebody going to a community college and getting trained for that manufacturing job that now is requiring somebody walking through the door, handling a million-dollar piece of equipment. And they can’t go in there unless they’ve got some basic training beyond what they received in high school.")
 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012 - 3:00am

Some Japanese universities are stepping up efforts to recruit students from India, The Times of India reported. The University of Tokyo recently opened up a recruiting office in India. Officials there have noted Japan's success at attracting students from China is not matched in India. The University of Tokyo has 1,000 Chinese students and only 35 Indian students.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012 - 3:00am

The National Association of College Stores and Amazon.com have settled complaints and a suit over Amazon's claims about the savings it offers customers on textbooks, The Wall Street Journal reported. No money changed hands in the settlement. The college store association said that, after a review of Amazon's methodology for its claims, there is "no current dispute" over the advertising.

 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012 - 3:00am

Public and private colleges alike saw a steady rise in the proportion of revenues they derived from tuition from 1999 to 2009, the Government Accountability Office said in a report Monday. The report, which examined financial and other data provided by institutions, found that net tuition and fees rose to 22 from 16 percent of total revenue at public colleges and universities, and to 40 from 29 percent at private nonprofit institutions.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012 - 3:00am

In today’s Academic Minute, Antonio Sagona of the University of Melbourne discusses his archaeological excavation of one of the First World War’s most famous battlefields. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012 - 4:39am

Republicans in the California Senate on Monday blocked a vote to confirm Herbert L. Carter for a second term of the California State University Board of Trustees, forcing him to step down, The Los Angeles Times reported. Carter, chair of the board, had been nominated for a new term by Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat. Republicans said that they objected to Carter's support for a $400,000 pay package for the new president of San Diego State University, a package that set off a large debate in the state about compensation for public university presidents. Many Democrats (including Governor Brown) have also raised questions about pay for university presidents, but said that Carter had done a good job as chair despite their disagreements with him on that issue.

 

Monday, February 27, 2012 - 4:31am

City College of San Francisco trustees earn $500 for attending monthly board meetings, but they get paid even if they skip meetings, The San Francisco Chronicle reported. And some of them skip a lot of meetings. The newspaper reported that one trustee has missed one third of all meetings since 2010, and that all seven elected trustees have been present at only 5 of the last 24 meetings. The article quoted officials as saying that the payments to trustees who did not attend meetings violated the state's education code.

 

Monday, February 27, 2012 - 3:00am

An alumna's letter in the Smith College student newspaper, The Sophian, angered many on the campus last week. The letter writer -- noting Smith's progress in recent years at recruiting low-income, minority and international students -- questioned whether the institution has become "a safety school" as a result. "The people who are attending Smith these days are A) lesbians or B) international students who get financial aid or C) low-income women of color who are the first generation in their family to go to college and will go to any school that gives them enough money.... or D) white heterosexual girls who can't get into Ivy League schools." The letter also questioned Smith's policy of not requiring SAT scores.

Many students and alumni responded with outrage. On Friday, Smith's president, Carol T. Christ, issued an open letter to respond to the alumna's letter. "The letter writer is ignorant about a number of issues. Admission to Smith is far more competitive now than it was in the 1980s, when the letter writer attended Smith," Christ wrote. "We now have the highest number of applicants and the lowest admit rate in our history. The most competitively admitted students at Smith are international students on financial aid; only 10 percent of applicants are admitted. The strongest and most consistent correlation with SAT scores is family income. Most students do submit scores and we, of course, submit them to all of the data-collecting organizations in which we participate, including U.S. News & World Report."

Monday, February 27, 2012 - 3:00am

The American Educational Research Association announced Friday that, in response to recent Georgia laws viewed as hostile to immigrants, the association will move its 2013 annual meeting from Atlanta to San Francisco. "As a matter of policy, AERA has an affirmative obligation to operate its own functions and monitor its own behavior in accordance with the research policies it supports, its code of ethics, and a commitment as a democratic organization to the values of equity, equality, and transparency. The relocation from Georgia helps to ensure that AERA members and other annual meeting participants have equal access to engage in AERA activities free of constraint, distraction, and intimidation that could occur under this law," said the association's statement.

The issue of when disciplinary associations should relocate annual meetings -- the locations for which are typically selected years in advance -- has created controversies in numerous fields. Currently, historians are sponsoring an online discussion on the topic.

Monday, February 27, 2012 - 3:00am

A bill that would overturn two provisions of the Education Department's "program integrity" rules -- the federal definition of a credit hour, and the requirement that colleges obtain authorization from every state in which they operate -- is headed for a vote in the House of Representatives this week. The Rules Committee will consider H.R. 2117, the "Protecting Academic Freedom in Higher Education Act," tonight, and a full vote is expected later in the week.

The bill had bipartisan support when the Committee on Education and the Workforce voted on it in July, and has been supported by several higher education associations, including the American Council on Education and the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. A related Senate measure, S. 1297, was introduced in June but has not yet been considered by the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. Support from Senate Democrats would be crucial for the measure to gain Congressional passage; it is not clear how aggressively the Obama administration would push to defeat the measure, or whether President Obama would veto it.

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