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Is the Student Loan Crisis Really a Crisis?

June 17th, 2013 by dfarish

For the past 18 months, the media (and, subsequently, the politicians) have been focused on the rising tide of student debt. Two issues have attracted particular attention: first, the fact that total student debt has (a) exceeded $1 trillion, or, expressed alternatively, (b) exceeded the total of credit card debt; and second, the fact that some individuals have accumulated more than $100,000 in student debt.

News stories have become increasingly frantic. For example:

What a Wonderful Week!

May 13th, 2013 by dfarish

It’s been quite a week here at Roger Williams University. We have been more than a little curious regarding the impact that Affordable Excellence would have on the retention of our current students, and on the enrollment of new students who will be entering this coming fall. Given the number of private colleges in the Northeast, coupled with a continuing decline in the number of high school graduates in New England, competition for new students in our region has never been more fierce.

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.

How to Choose the ‘Right’ College

April 22nd, 2013 by dfarish

We are in the closing weeks of college choice decision time: most institutions have a May 1 date for students to “accept the acceptance.” After that date, some colleges and universities will have a full class for the fall of 2013 and will return deposits postmarked May 2 or later; at many others, the choice (or even the availability) of residence halls, as well as classes, may be severely restricted. So prospective students should be prepared to make their choice of campuses by May 1.

But for many students, cost is a factor that limits choice. In short, can the student (and his or her family) afford the campus that is the student’s first choice?

It is at this point that the expectations of the campus and the student are often at odds. Based on extensive survey data, most students and their families expect to pay substantially less than the institution’s sticker price – and that is often the expectation of the institution as well. But there are enormous differences between and among institutions as to their willingness (or ability) to offer financial support.

A Day in the Life

April 15th, 2013 by dfarish

A lot of my posts to date – perhaps, for some of you, too many – have been rants about what is wrong with higher education today, in terms of costs, debt and the job readiness of graduates. Lest you think that I spend every waking moment gnashing my teeth in anger and frustration, let me tell you something of the joys of being president of Roger Williams University.

I’ll focus on one day: Wednesday, April 10, 2013.

After the weekly Wednesday morning session of the President’s Cabinet and a short meeting with an alumnus who has established an endowed scholarship in the memory of his now-deceased college roommate, I set off for Newport, and a conference at Touro Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in North America (a product of the doctrine of separation of church and state first advocated by our state’s founder – and our institution’s namesake – Roger Williams).

In Search of the Best University

April 8th, 2013 by dfarish

We Americans are a funny lot. Whether because of our heritage as a nation born through revolution and blessed with size and an abundance of natural resources, or because of our fascination with winning, as we do in athletics, we seem inordinately fond of defining, and being associated with, “the best.” Tonight and tomorrow night, respectively, we will determine “the best” men’s and women’s collegiate basketball teams in the country, and ice hockey will soon follow. We’ll get to baseball in late spring, and next January it will be time to declare “the best” college football team.

This fascination with determining “the best” carries over to colleges and universities themselves. Shouldn’t we urge our children to attend “the best” college or university – or at least “the best” institution that will accept him or her? Why settle for second best? We want “the best!”

Where Should the Talented Poor Attend College?

April 1st, 2013 by dfarish

In his March 17 column (“Better Colleges Failing to Lure Talented Poor”), David Leonhardt of The New York Times wrote about a study that found that only 34 percent of high-achieving students in the bottom quartile of family income enrolled in one of the nation’s 238 most selective colleges, as compared to 78 percent of high-achieving students in the top quartile of family income.

One conclusion is that elite schools, for all their rhetoric, are failing to recruit an economically diverse entering class of students.

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: