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All Posts for The President's Blog

Down the Up Staircase

March 25th, 2013 by dfarish

When we tire from worrying about North Korea, Iran, fiscal cliffs and sequestering, we can sit back and luxuriate in the knowledge that our institutions of higher education are still doing their job of opening the door of opportunity to permit successive generations of students to achieve both educational and economic advancement. Regardless of the circumstances of their birth, or of the wealth of their families, talented and ambitious students rest secure in the knowledge that their efforts will be recognized and rewarded by top colleges and universities. Because of their enormous endowments, these institutions now more than ever have the capacity to be need-blind in the admissions process, meaning that students will be admitted without regard to their ability to pay.

Oops! Maybe it’s time to go back to thinking about nuclear weapons and cliffs. Several of the wealthiest campuses have recently announced that they are reducing their aid packages for needy students and are no longer offering need-blind admission.

A Modest Proposal

January 28th, 2013 by dfarish

Readers of this blog are aware of my none-too-subtle concerns with wealthy campuses that do not exemplify best practices: rather than use their wealth to lower their sticker prices and create greater affordability for more prospective students, they have done just the opposite – they have raised their tuition prices and increased their already obscene levels of per-student expenditures.

But it is more than just a few well-known campuses behaving badly. At a time when American families are only too aware that colleges have become less and less affordable, the underlying cause of this unaffordability is the skewed distribution of revenue to institutions of higher learning in general.

More than one-third of all undergraduates are enrolled in two-year colleges. Some are focused on a two-year degree, but many of them plan to transfer to a four-year school and earn their baccalaureate. This is the least expensive level of higher education, with annual tuition generally around $3,000 – and it is the low cost that has led to swelling enrollments in community colleges.

Turning Grinches into Santas

January 7th, 2013 by dfarish

In my last post, I criticized wealthy campuses for focusing too much on the size of their endowments and the returns on their investments, and not enough on making their campuses financially accessible to more students. In this post, I will suggest why they strayed, and why it is important that they rediscover a more socially useful path.

It all begins with an analysis of mission and purpose. Private colleges were established in this country to meet the need of various religious denominations to prepare members of the clergy here in the colonies, rather than having to import them from Europe. A number of institutions still retain their religious affiliation, although very few of them limit their educational efforts to the preparation of clergy. However, most private colleges today have at best a distant relationship to a particular religious denomination, or have become entirely secular, and their educational programs have expanded dramatically to include all of the traditional arts and sciences, and very often professional programs as well.

Colleges: Grinches or Santas?

December 21st, 2012 by dfarish

In my previous post, I noted the diametrically opposed reactions of some colleges and universities to the public’s rising concerns regarding the cost of a college education, and the ballooning debt taken on by a growing number of students and their families.

The large majority of both public and private institutions are tweaking what I believe to be a broken model: they are seeking to increase financial aid while looking for ways of economizing, but, while well intentioned, these are at best temporary bandages on a severe wound. Moreover, these solutions are not sustainable, and, in their efforts to economize, these campuses risk being perceived as cutting the quality of their educational offerings.

Too Rich To Be Generous?

December 17th, 2012 by dfarish

In the last few months, a number of the wealthiest colleges and universities in the country have been reconsidering the level of their financial aid. Paradoxically, their intent is not to increase their financial aid, but to reduce it. How do we reconcile societal concerns regarding the rising costs of higher education (and the corresponding rise in student debt) with the decision by wealthy colleges to spend less on student aid? What is going on?

Let’s turn the clock back about 30 years. In the early 1980s, there were, by today’s standards, only a handful of wealthy colleges and universities. Top-tier universities such as Duke and Brown had endowments of less than $150 million. Even at Harvard, endowment drawdown and annual giving contributed only a minor portion of the annual operating budget. And yet, as a fraction of median family income, the cost of college then was significantly more affordable than it is today.