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Higher Education’s Unaffordability

By Donald J. Farish

March 23, 2016

Is college still affordable? More than half of the families considering higher education for their children use tuition price to eliminate a given college from further consideration. Students are borrowing increasingly more money, and total student-loan debt now exceeds $1.3 trillion. Politicians claim the national economy is being slowed because student debt is preventing young college graduates from buying homes or starting families — or even moving out of their parents’ homes.

It’s little wonder that institutions of higher education have become targets of ridicule and scorn.

At four-year public institutions, the average list price for tuition and fees has risen 114 percent, to $9,410, in inflation-adjusted dollars over the past 20 years. But the average net price has risen by just 48 percent over the same time, to $3,980. A long and steepening decline in state financial support of public colleges is responsible for most of the tuition increase. As measured by dollars of appropriation per $1,000 of income, state appropriations to public colleges and universities fell by 43 percent from 1990 to 2015.

The average list price for private-college tuition and fees rose by 70 percent over the past 20 years, to $32,405. But the average net price rose by just 32 percent over the same years to $14,890, and at most private colleges prices actually declined between 2008 and 2013. (The university where I work, for example, froze tuition in 2012, and hasn’t increased it since.)

The affordability of any product or service is partly a function of its price, and partly a function of the relative affluence of the consumer. So can today’s families afford college? In inflation-adjusted dollars, between 1984 and 2014, those in the top 5 percent of family income saw their average income increase by 79 percent, to an average of $370,085. Families in the middle 20 percent of income witnessed an increase of 16 percent, to $66,899. But families in the bottom 20 percent of income experienced a 1 percent drop in average income, to just $16,110.

And all of the growth in income was between 1984 and 2004. During the past decade, almost all families saw their inflation-adjusted incomes either stagnate or shrink. For example, families in the top 5 percent on average saw no growth in income; the middle-income families saw a 2-percent decline; and families in the bottom percentile experienced a 9-percent decline.

Thus, although the 20-year increases in net tuition and fees at public and private colleges were most likely not a problem for families in the top 5 percent of income, those increases were a real challenge for families in the middle 20 percent, and were devastating to families in the bottom 20 percent.

It is understandable then, on the basis of cost alone, why the percentage of high-school graduates from the lowest 20 percent who enroll in college fell from 56 percent in 2008 to less than 46 percent in 2013.

There is no question that higher-education leaders have a responsibility to make their institutions affordable for students from all income levels. As a group, we have been too slow to acknowledge that responsibility, and to respond accordingly. To be fair, however, it is only in the last few years that we have seen significant price resistance to our costs (some very rich and famous institutions have yet to see price resistance), and, in our capitalist system, one tends to charge as much as one can get for a particular product or service.

Yet a significant part of college affordability rests not with the colleges themselves, but with an economic structure that, in the absence of policy to the contrary, defaults to a situation where a handful of individuals amass a majority of the wealth. This is what has occurred at an increasing rate in the United States since the 1950s, and the concentration of wealth at the top of the economic spectrum is now seen by many economists as an enormous problem: Productivity has increased in virtually every part of the economy, but wages have not come close to keeping pace.

More and more families are finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet, because their incomes have not risen alongside increases in the cost of living. Big-ticket items such as a college education seem increasingly unaffordable — because they are.

Yet political leaders appear intent on ignoring the elephant in the room. It is far easier for them to cast blame on colleges than it is to advocate for changes in economic policies that cater to the wealthy, and punish the poor and working class. Dealing with the growing income and wealth inequality in this country is the job of state and national political leaders, and it is up to us to ensure that they accept that burden, rather than shoving all of the responsibility for college affordability back on us.

Donald J. Farish is president of Roger Williams University

Graduation Rates for Black Students Aren’t Increasing at Same Pace as for Other Students

March 23, 2016 by Courtney Kueppers

Report: “Rising Tide II: Do Black Students Benefit as Grad Rates Increase?”

Authors: Andrew Howard Nichols, Kimberlee Eberle-Sudré, and Meredith Welch

Organization: The Education Trust

Summary: Graduation rates at higher-education institutions are broadly on the rise, but overall data do not take into account completion rates among students of different races. Of the 232 four-year, public institutions that improved their overall graduation rates from 2003 to 2013, 70 percent also had increased graduation rates among black students. However, the increases among black students’ graduation rates were not as high as the rates among white students at more than half of those institutions.

The report found, among other things, that:

  • In the past decade, completion rates for black students improved 4.4 percentage points, compared with 5.6 points for white students.
  • Fifty-two of the institutions improved overall graduation rates while also achieving gains for black students by nine or more percentage points.
  • Thirty-nine institutions saw a decline in graduation rates among black students.

Bottom Line: While some of the universities studied are improving graduation rates for black students, about a third of the institutions did not improve rates among black students at all from 2003 to 2013. The report states, however, that since some institutions have narrowed the graduation-rate gap between black and white students, “it’s reasonable to believe others could too if they worked at it.”



Monroe County Education Foundation

Tavernier, FL, March 4, 2016

The Monroe County Education Foundation will celebrate the accomplishments of the Take Stock in Children class of 2016 during its Senior Celebration event to be held Tuesday, March 8 from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. at the Elks Lodge located at 92600 Overseas Highway in Tavernier.

Donors, future donors, supporters, mentors, parents, and community members who are interested in learning more about Take Stock in Children are welcome to attend this celebratory event. Participants will have the opportunity to meet our amazing scholars as well as hear from a few of our Upper Keys Take Stock in Children alumni who have earned their degrees and have returned to the Upper Keys, some of whom have even closed the circle and have become mentors for Take Stock.

The Monroe County Education Foundation raises funds each year to buy college scholarships for Take Stock in Children (TSIC), its flagship, award-winning scholarship and mentoring program. Foundation president, Steve Pribramsky praises those who have contributed to Take Stock, stressing the financial obstacles facing our students. “While the cost of a 4-year college education continues to increase, our donors have generously provided funds that enable our students to attend college, with four years of tuition and fees fully paid.”

“Bringing students and donors together is the key to our successful fundraising,” added John Padget, President Emeritus and long-time TSIC supporter. “Events like these provide us the opportunity to recognize those in the community who have given so much to ensure that Monroe County students successfully complete a college degree or career certificate.”

Chuck Licis, TSIC Program Coordinator, described the mission of Take Stock in Children. “Our job is to match our students with a volunteer mentor, guide them through middle and high school, and prepare them to be successful in college. With our scholarship, the ability to attend a state college or university is a reality for our Take Stock scholars and earning a college degree is an attainable goal” he said.

About Take Stock in Children in Monroe.

This is the 16th year for Take Stock in Monroe. All middle and high school students who meet the income level criteria, and have the ability and motivation to attend and graduate from college are enrolled.

The present enrollment has reached 269 students in 11 middle and high schools across the county. Each student has a dedicated mentor who meets the student once every week on the school campuses.

According to the College Board who administers the SAT tests, Take Stock scholars in Monroe had higher test results than the average of all test takers in both Monroe County and the entire state.

 About Take Stock in Children (TSIC).

Students enrolled with TSIC are identified in middle and high school, they are paired with a mentor and sign a contract pledging to remain drug- and crime-free, as well as maintain high grades. All students that fulfill these obligations and successfully complete the Take Stock in Children program receive full tuition scholarships to a state college or university upon graduation. The organization is the largest non-profit purchaser of Florida Prepaid Foundation Scholarships.

An emphasis on student accountability and specific measurable outcomes distinguishes Take Stock in Children from any other statewide mentoring program. Grade point averages increase with the length of time a student spends in the program, proving that Take Stock in Children’s method works.

Clearly addressing the high school drop-out crisis and college attainment, Take Stock in Children continues to report an unparalleled high school graduation rate of 96 percent, with 87 percent enrolling in college. Those numbers are significantly higher than the Florida state averages for at-risk students. Take Stock in Children currently serves nearly 8,200 low-income and minority students in grades 6-12 throughout 67 counties in Florida.

For more information about Take Stock in Children, call 305-293-1546 or email Chuck.Licis@KeysSchools.com

The Case Against Mandating Math for Students

This in an interesting article – especially given the fact that one course obstacle that keeps a significant number of students from ever completing a Bachelor’s degree is College Algebra…

By Dan Berrett February 26, 2016

Do all students truly need to learn algebra? Andrew Hacker asked that question in a widely read op-ed essay in The New York Times a few years ago and landed on a resounding “no.”

But the courses, he argued, are generally poorly taught. They’re also the chief academic reason that students drop out of high school and college. Mr. Hacker charts the far-reaching impact of math requirements and suggests alternative ways to teach the subject in a new book, The Math Myth and Other STEM Delusions (The New Press), due out next week.

Mr. Hacker, a professor emeritus of political science at Queens College of the City University of New York, draws a careful distinction between mathematics and arithmetic. Math means algebra, trigonometry, and calculus, all part of what he calls the “enigmatic orbit of abstractions.” While he finds those subjects fascinating, even beautiful, he says they serve little purpose later in life and, when required, do students more harm than good.

Typical math requirements, like mastering polynomial functions or parametric equations, unnecessarily trip up students who plan to major in dance or fashion design, says Mr. Hacker, and are seldom used even in many scientific disciplines. “This is disgraceful,” he says. “We’re losing a tremendous amount of talent.”

Arithmetic, on the other hand, is the quantitative literacy that people actually need. But it’s often poorly focused and poorly taught.

This political scientist and occasional math instructor is not afraid to stir the pot. After several books on race and class, he wrote Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids — and What We Can Do About It. In that one, he and Claudia Dreifus lambasted colleges for their escalating costs and luxurious amenities, and faculty members for their fealty to tenure and penchant for churning out research of dubious value.

In his new book, Mr. Hacker diagnoses flaws in the teaching of math at all levels, from elementary and secondary school to college. “There’s enough blame,” he says, “to go around.”

He spoke with The Chronicle about his project. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q. You started researching this book nearly 20 years ago. What originally sparked your interest?

A. This became a bee in my bonnet. I saw the mandating of a full sequence of mathematics as something quite harsh, senseless, and just being accepted without any real rationale. Right now, four million American teenagers are in a class studying algebra. They all have to do it. I’m simply asking a question: Why?

Q. You argue that math has assumed an outsize role both on a policy level and in individual lives. How did math claim such status?

A. Part of it is that math is so mysterious. Most of us can no longer do trinomials or quadratic equations. It’s become a kind of elixir: If we make all of our young people master advanced mathematics, this will rev up the economy and make us much more competitive with other countries. We’re searching for a magic potion, and mathematics became that.

Q. Is there any way in which it actually is a magic potion?

A. None at all. Even if we take STEM (science, technology, engineering, and, of course, mathematics), there’s a lot less math in STEM than we’d like to think. Let’s take, for example, computers and coding. Coding is not based on mathematics. Coding is a series of instructions based on its own internal logic. Most people who do coding, programming, software design, don’t do any mathematics at all.

Q. What do you think of the argument that studying math imparts a certain intellectual rigor and logical temperament?

A. I call that Myth No. 1: that studying mathematics makes us more thoughtful. It is the only field I know of that claims that if you study it, you do better in other fields. There is no evidence for that whatsoever. Would you go to a mathematician to tell us what to do in Syria? It just defies comprehension.

Q. How would you respond to the criticism that reducing an emphasis on algebra is lowering expectations or watering down standards?

A. I propose an alternative to mathematics, what I call numeracy, numerical literacy, or for lack of a better phrase, adult arithmetic. It’s the kind of thing you need to make sense of everything from corporate reports to the federal budget, or to decide whether it’s better to buy or lease a car. Despite the fact that nearly every young American is made to take algebra and geometry, we rank very low in international rankings of numerical literacy. Young people just can’t handle the numbers.

Q. Is it a problem of curricular emphasis, where we pivot too soon from arithmetic to the theoretical realms of algebra, calculus, and trigonometry?

A. Absolutely. What happens is, we pretty much get arithmetic under our belts by fifth or sixth grade. Then in middle school we turn to mathematics, which is an entirely different field. What I’m proposing is that we upgrade arithmetic.

Q. What would teaching that kind of arithmetic look like at the postsecondary level?

A. I’m not setting myself up as giving advice to mathematics departments. I would like to see mathematics treated as a liberal art, in which it is not off in its own world, but you show how it applies to the real world. I’ve tried to do something like that with a course I’ve taught called Numeracy 101. You use numbers in a demanding, sophisticated way so that they enhance your understanding of reality. For example, I compare two countries, the United States and Norway, using statistical indices: What proportion of their populations is in prison? How many hours a week do they work? How much do they spend on military weapons? It shows how using numbers can really be a companion to using words.

Q. So the questions are things like “Are these the right numbers?” and “What do these numbers say?”

A. Absolutely. One thing we should do is be skeptical about numbers.

Q. You quote an expert as saying that algebra is being used today in much the same way that Latin was a century ago, to screen out the unwanted from college. Doesn’t that suggest that math is a symptom of a deeper, longstanding pattern of stratification?

A. I don’t think that’s the case. One of the reasons we impose mathematics on everybody is the mantra of rigor. It’s a bit like going to the gym. A lot of people who don’t remember math at all want to impose it on younger generations. They see young people as soft and mollycoddled. If rigor is good — and I think everyone thinks rigor is good — we should ask what kind of rigor is fruitful, useful, thoughtful, and productive, and not just rigor for its own sake.

Q. You write about the importance of things like aesthetic knowledge and reading Emily Dickinson. Are those examples of fruitful rigor?

A. I would say reading Dickinson or T.S. Eliot is just as rigorous as trigonometry. That’d be interesting — a rigor requirement