These are challenging times for members of today’s military. Not only are servicemen and women called upon for extended combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, some on the home front are being asked to lengthen their careers or return to active duty from the Reserves.
Given the sacrifices that they are being asked to make, it is disturbing that many military families can’t seem to get fair treatment on tuition at state colleges and universities.
In Virginia, a state legislative committee recently rejected a measure designed to improve the quality of life for military employees and their families who are stationed in the Commonwealth. Introduced by Del. Viola O. Baskerville, the bill included a provision to extend in-state tuition benefits at public colleges and universities to active-duty members of the armed services, their spouses and dependents. Many of these military service members and their families are either stationed in Virginia for a period that is too short to qualify for residency or they move so often that they prefer to keep their residency in either their state of birth or state where they plan to eventually return.
Those who opposed the bill generally cited fiscal concerns, but the impact in terms of a total state budget would be miniscule.
Unfortunately, when it comes to the question of whether in-state tuition is made available to military families, the current answer is a patchwork quilt of different policies from state to state when, pardon the pun, a uniform policy should be in order.
In 2002, a U.S. Army-formed working group examined the in-state tuition policies of states and found that most, but not all, provide in-state tuition rates to military families when they are stationed in state. The working group recommended an "ideal" in-state tuition policy that would provide:
in-state tuition for service members and their families in the state of legal residence;
in-state tuition for military and family in the state of assignment; and
continuity for the duration of a student’s degree program once a student has started (even if his or her parent is reassigned to a base in another state or outside the country).
A slim majority of states, 26 in all, have adopted all three components of the recommended policy. In 18 others, in-state tuition is available to both military residents and assignees, but continuity of the benefit, once started, is not always available. And in five states -- Massachusetts, Vermont, Michigan, Indiana and South Dakota -- policies are left up to individual public colleges and universities to decide, creating uncertainty and stress for military families.
That leaves only one state, Virginia, which as a matter of policy does not offer assigned military families the opportunity for in-state tuition at any public college or university. This situation deserves special scrutiny because Virginia ranks No. 2 in the nation when it comes to military dollars invested, trailing only California. Military bases are a key part of Virginia’s economy, with spending exceeding $34 billion a year and 208,000 people employed at 147 installations.
Doesn’t it seem odd that, of all the states in the top 10 for military investments, only Virginia does not follow all three of the recommended guidelines?
Six of the top 10 states in military investment -- Texas, Maryland, Georgia, Alabama, Connecticut and Washington -- have changed their policies within the past two years, in order to comply with the recommended guidelines. Two other highly ranked recipients of military investment, Florida and Arizona, were already in compliance with the recommended policies. The largest state in terms of military investment, California, follows all three guidelines, though its continuity program is weak, offering only one year of in-state tuition after reassignment out of state.
The men and women of our armed forces risk their lives in service to our country. These families should not be asked to bear a greater economic burden in educating their children than their civilian neighbors across town.
Now is the time for all states, especially Virginia, to adopt a consistent, three-pronged policy that would mandate in-state tuition for military families, as well as offer continued in-state tuition once higher education has begun. This seems the least we can do back on the home front for the millions of men and women who are serving our country in uniform.
James A. Boyle
James A. Boyle is president of College Parents of America, a national, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to empowering parents to best support their children on the path to and through college.Â Headquartered in Arlington, Va., College Parents of America reaches more than 25,000 current and future college parents.
On September 24, a perceptive federal judge in California pointed out the obvious and cleared a lot of thick overgrowth from the landscape of postsecondary oversight in the United States. In brief, Judge Margaret Morrow concluded that a state cannot treat regional accreditors differently from each other in order to favor colleges based in the state over those based elsewhere.
Judge Morrow’s preliminary opinion in Daghlian v. DeVry, with which I agree for the most part, concludes that differences among regional accreditors are insufficient to sustain California’s contention that the state can in effect exempt locally based colleges from state oversight because they are accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), while requiring colleges based elsewhere to get state approval to operate because they are accredited by a different regional accreditor.
This decision may cut part of the knot that has plagued proposed revisions of California postsecondary approval laws. WASC has been actively opposing some of the changes, even though they don’t affect WASC schools, apparently on a camel’s nose theory: any hint of state interference in collegiate self-governance must be sprayed with hot and cold running lobbyists. Ultimately, WASC is lobbying the tide not to come in.
The DeVry case may therefore serve to drag into the open one of the less-well-understood aspects of education law and policy. One of the commonest fallacies in higher education, and one which is amazingly ill-understood even by professional educators, is that colleges get to offer degrees because their accreditor allows them to. Not so. Colleges, including private ones, get to offer degrees because state governments give them the authority to do so.
Let me say that again for maximum clarity: Private colleges in the United States have no inherent right to issue degrees. That right comes to them through a grant of authority from a state government. With the exception of Congress and Indian tribes, I know of no other source for degree authority in the United States. The authority may come as a charter, a constitutional provision or a statute, but it must have an origin in state law. No accreditor can give that authority and no accreditor can take it away. Nor can the federal government do either, except for its own colleges.
The federal government recognizes this area of state supremacy in its regulations governing accreditors. A federally recognized accreditor is prohibited by federal rules from accrediting a college unless that college has appropriate state authority to issue degrees prior to accreditation. That is why one current California proposal to allow schools accredited by the Western Association to operate without a separate grant of state authority cannot work. This chicken chasing its own egg is a turkey. Judge Morrow’s preliminary decision serves to add top-quality stuffing to this defunct bureaucratic poultry.
California (and every other state) must formally give authority to issue degrees to every college based in the state that wants to grant degrees. Instead, it seems simpler for states to just punt the function of postsecondary approval to the local accreditor. Sorry, it can’t be done that way. Likewise, accreditors have no ability to grant degree authority to a foreign school -- only the government of the nation, or its properly designated authority, can do that.
In theory, every state diligently determines which colleges can issue degrees and, ideally, exercises at least some baseline quality control. In practice, this does not always happen, and in California today, it can’t happen, for there is no state agency in existence to issue the approval. The consequences are significant.
Right now as I write, it is impossible to start a new degree-granting institution in California, because any such institution requires state approval. It requires state approval not only to get accredited, but to have any legal authority to issue degrees. And it can’t get this approval. On these grounds alone, California is flirting with a Commerce Clause problem: The legislature has de facto protected all existing California colleges from competition. Florida tried this a few years ago and was squashed in federal court.
Also, any California institution that comes up for renewal by its current accreditor has to show that it has current state approval to issue degrees. Some won’t be able to. Even if all parties accepted the convenient but illegal fiction that WASC can stand in for the state, Judge Morrow has killed any attempt by the state to claim that WASC accreditation works as a stopgap but that accreditation by the North Central Association’s Higher Learning Commission doesn’t.
With luck, one side effect of the DeVry case will be to hose out once and for all some of the fictions that states, colleges and accreditors have erected around the curiously opaque process of college and program approval. When the false fronts have collapsed -- the collegial slurry panned for its limited nuggets and the agencies of various states (e.g., loopholed Alabama, grandfathered New Mexico, AWOL Hawaii and disinterested Idaho) subjected to the need to perform -- we can hope for useful changes.
What should emerge from this helpful legal reality check on the role of states and accreditors? First, absolute clarity that each state is legally responsible for the private colleges based there. That includes program quality. No more hibernating under the accreditorial dust storm. Accreditors are owned by their dues-paying member schools and should never be expected to serve as enforcement arms of state or federal governments. They are arms of the colleges, dedicated to advancing the interests of their member schools. There is nothing wrong with that, but let’s give it the right name: a club of schools with similar interests and approaches, not an enforcement body (certainly not of federal standards), and not remotely capable of handling student complaints.
States that have perched primly in the back pews, hands clasped and eyes downcast while the U.S. Department of Education brutalizes accreditors into doing oversight work for which they are unsuited, unfunded and unprepared, need to stop shirking their duties and hoping that the feds will do it for them. Who on earth, looking with unclouded eyes at the federal government, would entrust it with quality control?
I have argued for some time that the Department of Education should make its own decisions about financial aid eligibility based on its own standards, properly enforced by itself. That is a different and appropriate role: You want our money? Here are our rules.
Right now, the Department of Education is incompetent, in the technical sense, to perform college oversight. They can deal, sort of, with the most obvious cases, but they have no real structure in place for meaningful Title IV eligibility oversight. Regional accreditors need not fear losing their recognition, since the feds have no replacement process in place. Therefore regional accreditors and the larger national and specialized accreditors can ignore most federal noises.
Finally, the federal government has no business assuming a duty that constitutionally belongs to the states. The federal government would love to move in on territory that has belonged to the states for over 200 years. It is trying to persuade accreditors to do the dirty work. The states should not let this happen. If Judge Morrow’s case is nominally about the comparability of accreditors, its real impact may be on states that have taken their responsibilities lightly for too long.
Alan Contreras works for the State of Oregon; his views do not necessarily reflect those of the state. His blog is The Oregon Review.
My partner Georg had his first of 14 “Furlough Days” yesterday. As a Cal State faculty member, Georg’s furlough days are an indication of things to come for me. I teach Chicano studies, and I am required to take two furlough days per month in the coming 2009-10 academic year. So what did we do? We shopped, ate lunch, and went to a movie. As Northridge's president said, “Let me simply … add that a furlough means that you don't work. That you're not supposed to work. That we don't expect you to work.” So we didn’t. We saw Julie and Julia, a story about a woman (about to turn 30, for some reason, a moment that causes her to reflect on the unfinished things in her life) who blogs her way through cooking Julia Child’s classic recipes. While the movie was so-so, the idea of “writing one’s way through” difficulties (even to write in order to find a reason for being) appealed to my inner writer and my outer writing teacher. Given our difficult moment, the fact that we both will be affected (eventually) by the furloughs, writing about this seems apropos. So here goes….
Although the University Corp (as a separate money-making entity of the university) is not really affected by the state budget cuts, in a symbolic demonstration of campus solidarity (to share the pain) the Corp offices are closed for the campuswide furlough days, Friday and Monday; although in an interesting use of language, these are now called “campus closure days.” This move, however, requires that Corp employees take vacation days to cover the down time at work (this is the pain).
One should be allowed to work, especially when one can, right? But we are in a weird time. One of my colleagues, a recently appointed administrator, admits that what is happening at Cal State is unprecedented. (Haven’t we heard that word used before in the past 10 years?) No one in the chancellor's office is giving much information, although there are “frequently asked questions [presumably answered?]” on both the Web sites of my campus and my faculty union. In a time when leadership matters, however, the chancellor is silent. This is, of course, aside from the pathetic (replete in his crumpled white shirt) video message he sent to faculty where he implored us to “tell friends and family what the CSU does.” (No wonder over 70 percent of the faculty also used the vote to also voice their lack of confidence in the chancellor: "Of those voting, only 4 percent said they had confidence in the chancellor’s leadership. 79 percent said they voted ‘no confidence’ and 17 percent responded ‘don’t know.’ "
One of my right-wing neighbors found this appropriate time to let me know her indignation with public education by saying, “Well, Renee, you ARE always on vacation.” Her husband followed up with a question, “So why is public education free?” Telling friends and family what the CSU does in this moment would be tantamount to giving history lessons (about John Dewey and Jane Addams) and reading off a list, “Well, during those ‘vacations’ I am often working on grants, writing my own research, mentoring students, attending classes, reading books, preparing for classes in the fall…” and the list goes on and on.
At the end of Georg’s furlough Friday, I finished reading a manuscript I am reviewing. But for most working class people, this sort of “work” (if they even call it that), is nothing compared to what they do when they go to work -- or so the thinking goes. Indeed, my right-wing neighbor has been also telling me about the terrible things that are happening at her job, about the vulnerability of older workers who are being forced into retirement, sometimes with good settlements and sometimes not, sometimes with their health insurance paid for and sometimes not. But management is fine. One of her bosses, after axing several employees, was promoted to vice president, along with a very nice bonus and salary.
In these unprecedented times, no one really knows what to do. Cal State faculty in a close tally voted to accept the furlough in lieu of systemwide layoffs and reductions in staff. On our department’s listserv, people are going back and forth voicing their concerns about serving students, while reducing “work time” by 9 or 10 percent. One colleague said that he felt it was immoral to under-serve students (who are under-served by education anyway). And what, he asked, are we do to anyway (in situations where faculty teach online); reduce our class content by 10 percent? Ask students to read only 90 percent of a book? Then we are supposed to take days off during the term. I do not know if my chair was joking when he said, “Just think…. You could go to a conference!” Wait a second, I nearly screamed. When I am at conferences, I am working, shoring up my skills so that I am a better professor and a better researcher.
At the end of the day, faculty will have a pay cut. We won’t work less. We will do amazing things with the resources we have and stretch those resources to the limit in order to bring students a quality education. Our amazing chair of some years ago put it succinctly when she said, “Like good Mexicans, we do a lot with very little.” In our department, I know, we will continue to be collegial, to watch out for each other, to do a lot with what we have. But from what I read in the newspapers, this is only the beginning of a very bad time. The real blood in the streets is supposed to flow next year, when there are no furloughs, when we will face layoffs of faculty and staff.
Renee Moreno is associate professor of Chicano Studies at California State University at Northridge.