March 13, 2013, 11:39 am
California is home to two of the most important things happening in higher education, one good, one bad. The good thing is the rapid advancement of cheap and free online courses offered by companies like Udacity and Coursera. The bad thing is the catastrophic failure of California lawmakers to provide enough money to support basic access to foundational courses at community colleges. Today the state Senate’s president pro tem, Darrell Steinberg, will announce a bill that essentially tries to use the one to fix the other. This groundbreaking initiative has broad implications for the nature, financing, and regulation of higher education.
Nearly half a million students are on waiting lists for basic courses in California’s public colleges, increasing the cost and duration of college and reducing the number of students who go on to earn degrees. This is a human tragedy and a policy…
February 13, 2013, 11:44 am
As a rule, speechwriters put the most dramatic parts of a president’s agenda front and center, leaving the boring policy details to the supplemental notes. Last night the Obama administration did the opposite: The higher-education section of the State of the Union address was much the same as last year’s, focusing on college affordability and putting institutions on notice that the gravy train of public support for rising prices would have to end. But the significant policy initiatives were left for the supplemental document released afterward, in which the Obama administration proposed the biggest change in federal higher-education policy since at least the Higher Education Amendments of 1972.
Those laws created what would become the Pell Grant program for low-income students, which has grown to a $40-billion pillar of government support for higher learning. The Pell Grant is a…
November 26, 2012, 12:43 pm
The concept of “net price”—what students actually pay for college after financial aid is subtracted from published tuition rates—has become increasingly important in discussions of college affordability. It was prominently featured in last month’s annual College Board pricing report and accompanying news-media coverage, and has been promoted through tools like the U.S. Department of Education’s net-price calculator.
The fact that many students pay substantially less than sticker price is significant, and deserves to be part of the conversation. But it shouldn’t give anyone false comfort about the magnitude of the long-term college-affordability problem.
Most colleges are nonprofit and spend all the money they get, so there are three big numbers to watch here: (1) how much colleges spend per student; (2) how much money comes into the system from sources other than…
October 24, 2012, 12:01 am
The College Board today released its yearly reports on trends in college pricing and student aid. In-state tuition at public four-year universities—the number that has become the de facto national benchmark of college affordability—rose 4.8 percent from last year to the 2012-13 academic year. Numbers of that size have become so routine over the years that they barely register, especially when, as the College Board is quick to point out, the increases in the previous two years were substantially bigger.
But minimizing the importance of a 4.8-percent hike would be a mistake. That’s more than triple the inflation rate during the last academic year, 1.4 percent. Median household income is declining. Colleges can’t keep increasing their prices faster than the amount of money people have to pay for college forever—not unless we’re willing to accept a society in which fewer…
October 21, 2012, 10:50 am
One of the great mysteries of higher education is when, exactly, college prices will finally hit the Herbert Stein Unsustainable Trend Event Horizon. As a matter of simple logic, the price of higher education can’t grow faster than personal income forever—or at least, it can’t if we as a society aspire to keep college enrollment and completion at current levels, much less improve them.
A combination of government subsidies and rising market prices for credentialed workers has forestalled the day of reckoning, and will probably continue to do so for a while, absent some kind of disruptive competition (and wouldn’t you know it, the University of Texas system just joined edX …). But there does appear to be a canary in the coal mine: law school.
Since they tend to be financially independent and train people for potentially lucrative careers, even public-university law schools…
September 18, 2012, 4:32 pm
Over the past few years, every new day has seemed to bring news of another higher-education technology start-up company promising to change the world. According to the National Venture Capital Association, investment in education technology jumped from $100-million in 2007 to nearly $400-million last year. On Easter weekend earlier this year, I flew to Silicon Valley to find out what was going on. The result was a long article in Washington Monthly, called “The Siege of Academe.” (You can read it here.)
I had known some of the reasons for the start-up boom before arriving in California. The world has changed since the first wave of ed-tech start-ups went belly-up in the dot-com bust. Educational tools have become more sophisticated; computing power is cheaper; broadband access and mobile technology have spread.
What I didn’t really understand, until I got there, was how the…
August 23, 2012, 11:45 am
This week Udacity announced that it had cancelled a scheduled math class over concerns about quality. In doing so, it added another item to the growing list of marked contrasts between MOOC’s and traditional universities. Does this kind of thing ever happen at “regular” colleges? Could it? At minimum, such an event would seem to require (a) defined standards of quality, and (b) some process whereby courses are systematically evaluated against those standards before the beginning of class.
My understanding is that the traditional process consists of posing questions such as “Are we an accredited college?” and “Are enough students enrolled to break even?,” and that’s pretty much that. Perhaps the syllabus is reviewed (although not in my experience), but otherwise it’s a matter of trusting…