August 7, 2012, 2:19 pm
There are two persons of radically different political perspectives whose single-minded devotion to gathering and disseminating data on higher education set them apart from the rest of us: Tom Mortenson of Post Secondary Higher Education Opportunity, and Harry Stilles, of the Higher Education Research/Policy Center. Tom is a self-described “Minnesota socialist” dedicated to improving higher-education access, while Harry is a decidedly more conservative retired professor and legislator from South Carolina dedicated to increasing efficiency and improving quality. Higher education benefits from having both of them gather and publish data.
Today, I want to talk about some recent data published by Harry. Harry has come up with a way of measuring by state the degree of admissions selectivity. He looks at the percentage of students ranking in the top 10 percent of their high-school class,…
August 2, 2012, 7:00 pm
Sen. Tom Harkin has issued his final report on for-profit higher education, a book-length indictment of one-tenth of American higher education, the for-profit sector. Obviously I have not had an opportunity yet to read the full report (I’ve been traveling for the past week or so), but from news reports alone, I see huge problems with it, much of it related to either an ignorance or contempt for how the capitalistic system of free enterprise does a very good job of delivering the goods—lots of them—in America. It is market-incentivized ingenuity and enterprise that leads millions every decade to migrate here to enjoy the fruits of the labor of American capitalism.
To be sure, the report concedes that for-profit education is here to stay, and even acknowledges that several providers (e.g., Strayer Education) have done a relatively good job, and others are at least making some…
July 16, 2012, 7:58 pm
Can some good come out of the Penn State tragedy? Former FBI director Louis Freeh has authored a remarkable, lengthy and brutally frank report that finds fault with lots of people at Penn State. But a group that has heretofore received only modest criticism gets a lot from Freeh—the Board of Trustees. And, reading news reports of the findings, it appears Freeh’s view of the role of boards is very similar to mine, and highly consistent with an idea I have been promoting with increasing frequency for several years.
Freeh said “the Board allowed itself to be marginalized by not demanding thorough and forthright reports on the affairs of the University.” Freeh’s indictment of the Penn State board would apply, I submit, to probably a majority of the governing boards of American universities. While boards can become too activist and disruptive (some would say this is the case at the…
July 11, 2012, 2:20 pm
The price system works marvelously to allocate resources in our society, but in higher education, prices often do not reflect the true value society places on resource usage, as they are often distorted by a variety of policies. The price of elite colleges, for example, is actually well below what demand-and-supply conditions would warrant, while the price of college in general has been distorted upward by extravagant federal student financial-assistance programs (although some would argue with that contention).
But labor markets are largely free of these distortions, and very recent evidence from them on the whole supports the hypothesis that the huge gains from obtaining a bachelor’s degree may be diminishing for a simple reason: Supply has been rising faster than demand for college graduates.
The large differential between the earnings of high-school and college graduates is…
July 5, 2012, 11:43 am
College governing boards are becoming pretty uppity, actually thinking they have a real, not ceremonial role to play in governing universities. Next thing you know, Britain’s constitutional monarch, Queen Elizabeth will decide to suspend Parliament and fire the Prime Minister. To be sure, there are limits to the attempts by boards to assert leadership—the University of Virginia board capitulated to the university community by returning power to them that the board rightfully possess by Virginia law.
Nonetheless, boards have become more aggressive in using their most important power—easing out or firing the university president. Illinois has done it not once but twice in the last few years, sending both Joe White and Michael Hogan packing. From the East (Penn State) to the South (Louisiana State) to the West (Oregon), presidents have been ousted. At other schools (e.g. University…
June 6, 2012, 11:40 am
Robert J. Samuelson (photo by Fritz Blakey from Washington Post News Media Services site)
The highly respected columnist Bob Samuelson, writing for the Washington Post, recently wrote: “The college-for-all crusade has outlived its usefulness. Time to ditch it… We overdid it. The obsessive faith in college has backfired.” He brilliantly points out most of the reasons for these assertions.
The two most important reasons are, first, that an unintended consequence of the college-for-all movement has been “we’ve dumbed down college.” Kids study less than their parents attending college did. I suspect that grade inflation is an outgrowth of two things: first the late 1960s/early 1970s movement to “democratize” higher education involved introducing student evaluations of professors, providing incentives…
May 23, 2012, 6:49 am
A generation ago Charles Sykes wrote a controversial, provocative, but I think 90 percent correct book, ProfScam. I think a better than decent case can be made for a new book, a sequel if you will, called CollegeScam. Professors are not the only ones engaged in using higher education for personal power and glory.
“Is College Too Easy?” is the headline of a superb story by Daniel de Vise on page one of today’s Washington Post. In it, de Vise presents in substantial detail data from the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) that show students study relatively little. Average total time on all academic work amounts to about 27 hours a week, the story says.
Since the typical student is in class at best 32 weeks a year, the total annual hours spent “learning” is on average about 864 (27 x 32), less than one-half the time the student’s parents are spending on their jobs, partly …
May 16, 2012, 4:03 pm
For all the lip service about universities being “market places of ideas” and havens for unpopular thoughts, three stories over the last week or two drive home the reality that there is a clamor by many in the academic community for either ideological conformity or resistance to “interference” from the Real World that feeds it.
Naomi Riley puts up a blog that said what I believe many people in higher education have long believed but were largely afraid to say: Black-studies programs in the United States are weak academically; moreover, employers have apparently not clamored for black-studies graduates, and enrollments are stagnant or falling in many institutions. Ms. Riley did not spend a lot of time researching the issue (which, in her defense, is not terribly unusual with blogs), and she could have eased the uproar a good deal by noting that academic weaknesses are not…
May 3, 2012, 11:54 am
Charles Miller, chair of the Spellings Commission, reminded me the other day that that panel in its report referred to the federal financial aid system as “dysfunctional.” I think I (as a member of the commission) picked the word and Charles seized upon it. More than five years have passed, and the system now has been promoted to “uber dysfunctional.”
Let me outline seven problems or “sins” with the program, some of which I outlined earlier in a piece for National Review Online.
1. The low interest rates (3.4 percent currently, and likely to continue) on federal subsidized Stafford loans are set by the political process, not market forces. Loose Federal Reserve monetary policy along with irresponsible lending by such government subsidized agencies as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac contributed hugely to the housing bubble and 2008 financial crisis, and federal student loans…
May 1, 2012, 12:02 pm
Greed arguably ranks high on the list. (Photo by Flickr/CC user Muffet)
My colleague Roy Boyd and I were complaining about the latest excesses in intercollegiate athletics (ICA) at our school (Ohio University), when Roy opined that a large number of the seven deadly sins were involved. Upon further reflections, I think all seven of those sins have been part of the ICA scene in recent years.
I will use a slightly updated (from Biblical times) list of the sins as used by Dante in the Divine Comedy, very close to what I understand to be the official doctrine today of the Roman Catholic Church regarding such matters.
1. Lechery or Lust: Of course, the Penn State scandal seems rooted in lust, but so are many others. Football coaches have been sacked at several schools (e.g., the University of…