A New Far-Right Proposal for Financing College “Innovatively”: Or, How to Graduate from College as an Indentured Corporate Servant

In “Here’s a New Way to Pay for College,” an article published in USA Today [http://college.usatoday.com/2014/04/17/heres-a-new-way-to-pay-for-college/], Daniel Wheaton reports on a new Far-Right proposal to address the student-debt crisis. In a bill that they have called “The Student Success Act,” Marco Rubio, the Republican Senator from Florida, and Jim Petri, a Republican House member from Wisconsin, are proposing private financing of college educations with money pooled from corporate sources.

So, how is this different than student loans secured through private banks? Well, the funding would be framed or defined more as a long-term investment. The recipients would agree to pay back a portion of their incomes for 30 years as a sort of dividend to those who have made the investments in their educations. Rubio and Petri call these contracts “income-share agreements,” and the percentage of the participating student’s income that he or she will owe the investors will increase as his or her income increases.

In its broad shape, the proposal seems comparable to what some entertainers, such as David Bowie, and some athletes, such as Houston Texans running back Arian Foster, are now doing in creating “celebrity bonds.” But since students have a much less certain basis for projecting future earnings, I almost immediately suspected that for students this sort of deal would amount to a sort of indentured servitude. Continue reading

Crises Connected like Spokes of a Wheel—or the Pockets on a Roulette Wheel

Last Sunday, the New York Times published an editorial, signed by the editorial board, titled “The College Faculty Crisis” [http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/14/opinion/the-college-faculty-crisis.html].

In many ways, the editorial does not say much that should be new to anyone in higher education, but it is certainly significant that the most highly regarded newspaper in the country is highlighting the issues related to the declining state support for public colleges and universities and the effects of the increasing contingency among faculty.

Citing a new study by the Center for Community College Student Engagement, a research center at the University of Texas at Austin, a study that is based on the responses of some 71,000 faculty about their working conditions, the editorial writer emphasizes four major points, which I not only will summarize but will also elaborate on to some degree. Continue reading

The Top Issues Facing Higher Education in 2014 and Beyond

Writing for Forbes, John Ebersole, the president of Excelsior College, has identifeid the following ten issues as the most significant issues facing higher education this year:

1. Cost.

2. Renewal of the Higher Education Act.

3. Workforce development.

4. Competency-based education.

5. Accreditation.

6. Assessment.

7. Quality assurance in non-institutional learning.

8. Recognition of the new majority in student bodies.

9. Crisis in leadership.

10. The economy.

Ebersole notes that many readers may wonder about his exclusion of MOOCs as an issue, but he feels that the questions about their efficacy for most students and their over-exposure in the media have greatly decreased the consideration of MOOCs as an major innovation in higher education.

I agree largely with that assessment, but I would take issue with a fairly large number of his choices for the list. Continue reading

Missouri Program Allows Students to Apply University Credits Retroactively toward an Associates Degree

In a recent post, I discussed a dubious proposal put forward in Ohio to award associates degrees to all university students who have simply completed a specified number of credit hours, regardless of the distribution of those credit hours [http://academeblog.org/2014/04/04/kent-state-university-announces-plans-to-increase-dramatically-the-number-of-associates-degrees-that-it-grants/].

A much more reasonable program has been initiated in Missouri, though to date the results have not been anything close to what the proponents of the program hoped to achieve with it.

In 2012, the Missouri legislature approved what it called a “reverse-transfer program.” Recognizing the need for the state to produce more degrees at all levels and looking for inexpensive ways to achieve that goal, the legislature considered the number of students who had earned well over the number of credit hours needed for an associates degree without receiving any degree. Continue reading

Higher Education “Reform”: The Price Paid by the Next Generation of Students and Professors

An “On the Issues” Post from the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education [http://futureofhighered.org]

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The increasing awareness of—and outrage about–the size of the debt crushing college graduates is, we must hope, a sign that meaningful action to address it may be possible.

The numbers alone are staggering.  According to recent reports, the average student debt for graduates with bachelor’s degrees is now $29,400—roughly 80% of a young person’s average income in this country. (See more at http://www.edcentral.org/student-debt-review/.)

The implications of these numbers are also frightening.  As we are increasingly aware, student debt is fueling the widening wealth gap in the United States (http://save2limitdebt.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Student-Loans-Widening-Wealth-Gap_Fullreport.pdf) and even threatening the health of our overall economy (http://www.kansas.com/2013/08/10/2935730/crippling-student-debt-affects.html).

Less understood is the parallel economic precariousness of this generation of college professors. Continue reading

Kent State University Announces Plans to Increase Dramatically the Number of Associates Degrees That It Grants

The Columbus Dispatch recently reported that Kent State University is planning to grant an associates degree to any student who completes 60 credit hours, or about half of the credit hours needed for most baccalaureate degrees.

Apparently the university will create a generic associates degree for this purpose.

In addition to its main campus in Kent, Ohio, the university has the most extensive system of regional campuses of any university in the state. There are seven regional campuses in the Kent system, stretching from the northeast corner of the state and the shores of Lake Erie to the Amish region just north of I-70, which runs west to east across the entire state, passing through Dayton at the western end of the state and Columbus in the center. Kent State’s seven regional campuses are the Ashtabula, East Liverpool, Geauga, Salem, Stark, Trumbull, and Tuscarawas campuses.

At those regional campuses, the university has always awarded associates degrees. Ohio’s two dozen regional campuses are treated as colleges within nine of the state universities. Established during the 1960s and early 1970s, the regional university campuses initially offered selected technical programs, comparable to those typically offered at technical and community colleges, as well pre-baccalaureate coursework for students transferring in their third year to the main campuses of the universities. Over the past two decades, the university regional campuses have phased out many of the more “blue-collar” technical programs and have increased the number of baccalaureate degrees that can be completed entirely on the regional campuses.

So, the Kent campus’s announcement that it plans to start awarding associates degrees runs counter to the gradual and ongoing shift at the regional campuses away from an emphasis on associates degrees and toward a greater emphasis on baccalaureate degrees. And it is therefore hardly surprising that many questions would be raised about the rationale for such a plan. Continue reading

Bobby Jindal Calls a Large Tuition Increase an Increase in His State’s Support for Higher Education

In its December 2013 report on state support for higher education in the previous fiscal year, the American Association of Colleges and Universities highlighted the singular decline of state support in Bobby Jindal’s Louisiana, where the 17.6% decline in state funding was very close to double the second highest decline among the states, an 8.9% decline in West Virginia.

To put those numbers in further perspective, in the 2012-2013 fiscal year, only seven of the 50 states failed to increase their spending on higher education. This general pattern of increased allocations reflected the states’ attempts to restore some of the funding lost in the unprecedented cuts that occurred during and immediately following the Great Recession. The increases in funding were, however, fairly modest in comparison to the cuts, averaging about 2.9%.

Over the last seven years, the Jindal administration has cut almost $700 million in funding for higher education in Louisiana. At the same time, the state has permitted tuition increases covering only about two-thirds of that lost funding.

In his new budget, Jindal is calling for a $142 million increase in state spending on higher education, but $88 million of that total is simply permitted tuition increases that, unlike in previous years, will not be offset by even larger cuts in state support. Continue reading

On the Issues: What’s College For?

An “On the Issues” Post from the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education [http://futureofhighered.org]

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In the media and in the halls of our legislatures, the talk these days about the purpose of a college education seems to focus almost exclusively on its value in expanding a person’s employment opportunities.  It’s a perspective that shapes many aspects of higher education policy—priorities for funding, standards for institutions, curriculum, and many other critical issues.

And it’s a perspective so dominant that it crowds out discussion of other values associated with higher education.

But is “workforce preparation” the sole value of a college education?  Is that all people are looking for when they enroll in college or send their children there? Continue reading

A Pointless Feel-Good Story about Reinvention–and the Alternative Case to Be Made for the Value of Interdisciplinary Studies, Minors, and Dual Majors

For several months, there was much political debate about the extension of unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed. Predictably, people on the Far Right, from Rand Paul to Paul Ryan, asserted that the extension of benefits would amount to a disservice to those receiving the benefits. The reasons ranged from the broadly ideological—for instance, that the extension of benefits would simply deepen dependency on government largesse—to the superficially logical—for instance, given that long-term unemployment has been a difficult feature of this recession and that employers are biased against the long-term unemployed, why should we be adding to the problem.

Of course, both types of arguments ignore the basic reality that this category of workers simply cannot find jobs. More specifically, the ideological argument ignores that the alternative to unemployment benefits may be homelessness and hunger, and the logical argument conflates being unemployed with receiving benefits, as if not providing the benefits is the equivalent of providing employment options. In both cases, the underlying assumptions seem to be that people won’t work unless they have to do so and that if they are determined enough to find a job, they can find one.

In any case, I don’t believe that the extension of unemployment benefits has even been allowed to come to a vote in the House. I received a lot of e-mails from progressive groups and labor groups encouraging me to let my congressman know that I supported the extension of these benefits, and I did so, knowing that it was a completely futile gesture but feeling that not sending him the message would be the equivalent of the House leadership’s not allowing a vote to be called.

As has been the case on many political issues, the considerable media attention to this issue seems to have been the inverse of the lack of attention to it in the House. Indeed, I began to notice that stories about the long-term unemployed began to appear with more frequency, even though many of them did not address directly the issue of extending benefits. Since these stories almost inevitably fell into two groups—those profiling long unemployed workers who had finally found work and those profiling long unemployed workers who were on the brink of insolvency and despair—I began to suspect that they served political purposes, that they had been “planted” by PACs on either side of the issue.

One story stood out to me because of its inanity. In fact, it is so inane that I suspect that it may be a genuine media product rather than a “planted” story. Continue reading

Support Free Public Higher Education

The following is from the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education (CFHE). The CFHE website can be found at: http://futureofhighered.org/.

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Earlier this year, the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education released a working paper, “Making All Public Higher Education Free.” In that paper the author, Bob Samuels, demonstrated why such a proposal is both realistic and smart.

The idea seems to be gaining support.

As we reported in an “On the Issues” posting in June, Germany has returned to free tuition in its colleges and universities, after a brief experiment with charging tuition.

More recently the Republican governor of Tennessee, William E. Haslam, has proposed free community college in that state. The Tennessee Promise proposal is far from perfect, but it at least has the virtue of adding to a much-needed discussion about possible models for free higher education in this country.

As many have pointed out, free public higher education is no pipe dream if you look at actual numbers. All you have to do is get beyond the “austerity” approach to public funding for vital services.

The $165 billion from state appropriations and tuition and fees at all community and 4-year in this country is only 4% of the national budget.  The tuition piece of that, roughly $84 billion, which would be the only new expenditure for the government to pick up, makes up only 2% of the federal budget and roughly 10% of defense.

(For more details on costing, see “Going Back to Class: Why We Need to Make University Free, and How We Can Do It.”)

We urge those who care about access to higher education and about smart investment for our collective future to add their voices to the conversation and sign the petition. We need our national leaders to develop a plan to make public colleges tuition-free.

Please sign and pass it on.