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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.

The Debt Problem – Part II

March 18th, 2013 by dfarish

Last week, I commented on Charles M. Blow’s March 9 column in The New York Times, which focused on the problem of student debt. I discussed the factors that contributed to the sudden growth of educational debt and steps that are necessary to rectify the problem (or would at least prevent it from becoming worse).

I ran out of room before I could get to the issue of assessing how big a problem student debt really is – hence, Part II this week.

On the one hand, student debt has increased dramatically: roughly $1 trillion in total debt, more than twice what it was just eight years ago, and larger in size than the total of all credit card debt. On an individual level, approximately half of the student population borrows to finance their education, and they graduate owing an average of about $26,000.

The Debt Problem – Part I

March 11th, 2013 by dfarish

In his column in The New York Times on March 9, Charles M. Blow states: “We are reaching a crisis point in this country’s higher education system” because of “staggering levels of debt.” He notes that student loan debt has more than doubled in the last eight years, to almost $1 trillion, and that, not unexpectedly, student loan debt is hardest on families in the bottom quintile of family income. Mr. Blow ends his column with, “We are on an unsustainable track. This will not end well.”

How is it that this problem has become so large so quickly? How do we fix it? Is this as big a problem as people claim?

I’m glad you asked. This is a problem that resulted from many intersecting forces:

Roger Williams, and Roger Williams University: Civil Discourse and Civic Engagement

February 19th, 2013 by dfarish

Roger Williams University is named for the founder of Rhode Island, Roger Williams.  Roger Williams was a remarkable individual, who deserves much broader recognition in our nation than he generally receives. (A recent book by John Barry, Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul, provides a fascinating account of his life.) Suffice it to say, he was a man well ahead of his time. Consider:

The Folly of Early Action

February 11th, 2013 by dfarish

Some years ago, a few of the most prestigious colleges and universities adopted a new model for admitting students. Rather than facing a delay of several months after making application before hearing the university’s decision, a prospective student could choose to apply for “early decision.” The very best applicants would learn much earlier in the admissions cycle that they had been accepted – but the catch was that they then had to commit to attend the university that had accepted them. No longer could they wait and compare offers from other institutions. “Early decision” cut both ways: in return for an early answer, the student was obliged to make an irreversible commitment.

Moody’s Blues

February 4th, 2013 by dfarish

On the 16th of January, Moody’s Investors Service issued a report entitled “US Higher Education Outlook Negative in 2013.” Inside Higher Ed followed with an article on the findings in the report the next day. The report, and the article, were sobering reading for university administrators, and, in some quarters, more than a little frightening.

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.

Should Price Reflect Cost? (Part 2)

January 21st, 2013 by dfarish

In Part I of this post, we discussed how the “high cost/high aid” model of price and cost in higher education has led to growing educational debt and a widening achievement gap between affluent and low-income students. This week, we’ll talk about how (and why) to change this model.

But first: consider the following hypothetical conversation between an admissions officer and two prospective students, as he explains the college’s financial aid policy:

Should Price Reflect Cost? (Part 1)

January 14th, 2013 by dfarish

In a major front-page, above-the-fold article on Sunday, 23 December, The New York Times told of the widening gap in college completion rates for high-income versus low-income students. The Times illustrated the broader story with specific examples, including one of a student who was admitted to Emory University on what she thought was a full-need scholarship – but, because of problems in completing her financial aid forms, she arrived to find she had no institutional aid, and needed to borrow $40,000 just to enroll for her first year. Ultimately, her financial problems reached the point where her grades suffered, and she was suspended in her senior year. She now has an educational debt of almost $60,000, but no degree.

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.