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The Primary Problem with Higher Education, in Four Words: It Costs Too Much

April 28th, 2014 by dfarish

On Monday, April 14, 2014, the Lumina Foundation convened a group of opinion leaders in Washington, D.C., to discuss college affordability, federal student loan policies and the role of states in supporting public colleges and universities (The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Paying for College: Experts Gather in Search of New Models,” April 15, 2014).

Unfortunately, the experts came up empty.

One commentator noted that “affordable” does not necessarily mean “cheap.” Another touted the merits of a net-price calculator designed to show the number of years after graduation at which “the benefits of college outweigh the cumulative costs.” A third suggested that greater numbers of women and minorities should choose more lucrative majors.

I hope the Lumina Foundation did not overly deplete its endowment to pay for these platitudes and in-the-box thinking.

How Much Does It Cost to Educate an Undergraduate?

March 17th, 2014 by dfarish

Wow! Such a big question! Let’s start by making a key distinction:

(1) One might interpret this question as, “How much does a university charge the student and parents?” Allowing for such significant complications as different sticker prices at different universities, different financial aid packages for different students at the same university, different fees for different majors, additional charges (primarily from rising tuition prices) in the sophomore, junior and senior years – it is nonetheless the case that, when the incoming freshman arrives on campus, he or she (and the parents) know fairly accurately what their out-of-pocket costs will be, at least for the first year. So while this is an important question, and answering it can be confusing and time-consuming, in the end it is answerable. But consider the second alternative.

Colleges Must Fix All of Society’s Ills – Or Else! (Part 2)

January 21st, 2014 by dfarish

Last week I complained about unreasonable expectations being placed on colleges and universities. I rather quickly assembled a list of 10 such issues (there are actually a few more), and I indicated that in Part 2 of this topic, I would offer an opinion about what higher education can (and should) do – and what is simply beyond our capacity to correct.

I’d like to start with three related issues that represent numbers 1, 2 and 7 in my list from last week:

  • More low-income students need to be admitted at top private schools;
  • The pipeline to college must be widened; and
  • It’s all about college completion rates.

On January 16, President Obama convened more than 100 higher education officials (most of whom were either the presidents of elite colleges or heads of community colleges or public university systems) to seek commitments on four areas of concern:

Colleges Must Fix All of Society’s Ills – Or Else! (Part 1)

January 13th, 2014 by dfarish

It’s an interesting time to be a university president. Not a week goes by that someone doesn’t raise a new expectation of what universities can or should be doing. Often, this expectation comes in the form of criticism. Sometimes, it arrives as a recommendation about improving a process.

Taken collectively, the various tasks and expectations now being dropped on higher education administrators are often highly unrealistic, frequently mutually exclusive, and ultimately are doomed to fail.

It’s time for a little straight talk. Let me start by acknowledging two things.

First, higher education in the United States has, at least for the last 150 years, been more responsible than any other component of our society for the American success story – both as a country and as the ladder to individual prosperity and accomplishment. We should therefore be wary of radical changes to a proven track record.

The Dreaded Out-of-State Fee

April 29th, 2013 by dfarish

I read an off-hand reference to a fact that all but knocked me out of my seat: tuition and fees at UCLA for out-of-state students total $35,570 for the current academic year. (Room and board is extra: another $14,232.)

I wondered how many students were paying such a huge sum. In addition to the 7 percent who are international students, only 5 percent of UCLA’s undergraduates are from out-of-state. Still, that’s more than 1,300 students – not an insignificant number. Moreover, at UC Berkeley, with a comparable out-of-state fee, 10 percent of students (about 2,500) are from out-of-state, in addition to the 9 percent who are international students.