Earlier this year, I wrote about the student at Duke University who reported she was paying for college by acting in pornographic movies. Her story received a lot of publicity, including much that decried the need for this woman to resort to a career in pornography to pay her tuition bills. As I asked at the time,
A telling story of the state of college affordability in the nation? Not at all. It is simply the story of the choices made by one young woman, and we should not attach any importance to what she has done.
This school year, a similar story is making the rounds, most prominently in an article in The Atlantic last fall, “How Sugar Daddies Are Financing College Education.” According to the story, a website called SeekingArrangement.com reports it has over 2 million women members (“Sugar Babies”) who join the site “where beautiful, successful people fuel mutually beneficial relationships” in order to meet “Sugar Daddies.” This might sound like any other dating website, albeit one for people who have a self-inflated image of themselves. But The Atlantic article alleges that this site differs from others in that the women there are looking to get paid for their relationship with the men on the site, or to put it more directly, they are offering escort or prostitution services. A follow-up article in The Atlantic this month highlights colleges and universities across the country that have a proportionally large number of women registered on the site. Other media have covered the phenomenon of sugar babies and sugar daddies as well.
Earlier this month, President Obama began releasing previews of some important proposals he will be making in his State of the Union speech tonight. Included is the idea of providing the first two years of community college for free for all students in the country. While this may sound like an intriguing idea, in an op-ed on The Conversation website I explained why this isn’t the best use of federal funds.
In the last month, the Department of Education and President Obama have released two important proposals affecting higher education. The first, released by the department last month, was for the long-awaited college ratings plan that the president had first proposed 16 months earlier. This plan would evaluate over 6,000 colleges that participate in the government’s Title IV federal student aid grant and loan programs.
President Obama’s more recent policy idea was one he offered up January 9 in Knoxville, Tennessee, where he suggested that the first two years of community college be offered for free to all students in the country. Under the president’s plan, the costs would be covered through a federal-state partnership, where the federal government would pick up 75 percent of the tuition and participating states the remaining 25 percent.
The U.S. Department of Education has finally released the outline of its college ratings plan, 16 months after the idea was first proposed by President Barack Obama. When he first suggested the plan, he said, “Bottom line is this: We’ve got a crisis in terms of college affordability and student debt. … It is time to stop subsidizing schools that are not producing good results and reward schools that deliver for American students and our future.”
The plan – and it truly is just a plan, not a fully-formed program – focuses on many of the measures that department officials have been talking about over the ensuing period. This includes such metrics as average net price (after taking into account financial aid), the net price paid by students from families of different income levels, proportion of students receiving Pell Grants (the primary federal need-based grant program, an indicator of how many low- and moderate-income students a college enrolls), proportion of first-generation college students, graduation rates, and loan repayment rates.
This week’s New York Times contained a piece by economics columnist Eduardo Porter titled “Why Aid for College is Missing the Mark.” In the article, Porter argues that the “Bennett Hypothesis” – the assertion first made 27 years ago by former Secretary of Education William Bennett that increasing federal subsidized loans leads to rises in tuition prices – is the primary culprit behind the well-documented increase in tuition prices across the country over the last few decades. As Porter puts it, “Nearly two decades later, it seems, he was broadly right. Indeed, [Bennett] didn’t know the half of it.” Powerful words, but the problem is that Porter is in large part wrong regarding what Secretary Bennett actually said, as well as in his interpretation of the current situation.
The Chronicle of Higher Education website this morning had a feature article titled “The $6 Solution,” which focuses on a college access issue known as “undermatching.” Undermatching is the notion that some high-achieving students, usually those from low-income families, enroll in colleges that are less-selective in admissions and below their potential skill level. The reason undermatching matters, according to those who are researching the phenomenon, is because attending less-selective colleges generally lowers the odds that a low-income student will complete a college degree.
Even before this article in the Chronicle, undermatching had received quite a bit of publicity. A front-page article on the phenomenon in The New York Times last March was followed by a piece in the Sunday Review section of the same paper a couple of weeks later. In January, President Obama held a White House Summit on college access, where undermatching was prominently featured (the photo above is from that summit).
I’ve written in the past about the hysteria surrounding student loans, and the focus in the media about how student loans are the next “bubble.” I recently published an op-ed in the Answer Sheet blog on education of The Washington Post in which I attempted to counter some of the rhetoric with facts about student loans. The piece received a number of comments, most of them critical, so I wrote a response which I expect to be published there sometime later this week.More recently, Yahoo published a story about one family in Massachusetts who had racked up more than half a million dollars in student loan debt, most of it in Parent PLUS loans, to send the first three of their four children to private colleges. I saw the article when a friend of mine posted it on Facebook, and after reading the story I posted a comment that said, “There is so much wrong with this article, I don’t even know where to start.” He followed up, and asked if I would be willing to explain my response in more detail. I did, and that response received many comments as well. So in the interest of sharing my response more broadly, I am including an edited version of my comments here. These comments will make the most sense if you have read the Yahoo article, so I hope you’ll take the opportunity to do that.
The Internet and mainstream media have been abuzz the last couple of weeks with the story of a first-year student at Duke University who is financing her education by working as an actress in pornographic movies. A Google search today for the terms “duke university porn star tuition” returned 179,000 results. The story evidently surfaced when a fellow student at Duke was watching a video and recognized the woman as someone in one of his classes.
One of the questions framed in much of the media reporting was why a woman would have to resort to being a pornographic film actress to pay for college. In other words, what does this say about the state of tuition prices and financial aid if this young woman felt this was her only option to be able to afford the $60,000 plus price at Duke? As you read more into her story, which I admittedly have done, I would caution observers against drawing too many inferences from the choices she has made.
I’ve written numerous times, both in my scholarly research as well as in this blog, about the role that financial aid plays in promoting college access, particularly for students from groups that have been historically underrepresented in higher education (you can see a couple of blog posts here and here; you can find my scholarly publications and op-eds on my publications page). There is no question that choosing to act in pornographic films to fund one’s education is a novel choice; most college students who work to help fund their education choose more typical jobs, such as work-study jobs on campus or working at a coffee shop. While I am sure this young woman is not the first person to have chosen her selected path, she is apparently the one who has gotten the most publicity for doing so.
In one of my posts on President Obama’s college costs proposals, I described how the president is proposing to link eligibility for federal financial aid to the earnings of the graduates of colleges and universities. The general idea is that only those colleges that produce graduates who earn reasonable salaries should benefit from federal financial aid.
Last week I attended the dedication of the new Theatre School building at DePaul University (shown above), where I am a trustee. The building, designed by renowned architect Cesar Pelli, is a beautiful and functional space. The dedication was a wonderful event that included short performances by students in the acting programs at the Theatre School.
In my last post on President Obama’s proposals to help control the growth in college costs, I described how the president hopes to influence institutional behavior. Another key part of his proposals is to try to influence student behavior through the federal financial aid system, known as Title IV aid.
In what is a very brief part of his proposal, but yet may turn out to be one of the most controversial, is this:
Demand Student Responsibility for Academic Performance: To ensure students are making progress toward their degrees, the President will also propose legislation strengthening academic progress requirements of student aid programs, such as requiring students to complete a certain percentage of their classes before receiving continued funding. These changes would encourage students to complete their studies on time, thereby reducing their debt, and will be designed to ensure that disadvantaged students have every opportunity to succeed.