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.
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.
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.
Student loans continue to be a popular topic in the media, with most of the stories (at least upon a quick glance) focusing on how terrible the growing volume of student loans is. A Google news search on one day for the phrase “student loan debt” turned up the following headlines among the top results:
Student debt threatens the safety net for elderly Americans
Student loan and mortgage loan debt: A public health crisis
Student loan debt and the homeownership dream
Student loan debt is weighing college graduates down
Last week, I published an op-ed on the Education Week website telling the story of a difficult decision our family made about my daughter’s educational future.
Two years ago, it was my older daughter who participated in this spring ritual. And in another two years, my younger daughter would be scheduled to graduate from high school. But she will not, because she has decided to drop out of high school after only two years. And my wife and I support her decision.
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 White House yesterday announced a new series of proposals to force colleges and universities to do a better job to prevent sexual assaults on campuses, and to do more to support the victims of assaults when they do occur. The proposals came from a high-level task force the president created in January (it contained three cabinet secretaries) to address an issue that has received intense scrutiny both on college campuses, as well as in the media, in the last year or so.
A key finding of the task force, as reported in The New York Times, is that, “one in five female college students has been assaulted, but that just 12 percent of such attacks are reported.” As a father with one daughter in college, and a second heading there in the future, these numbers are disturbing. It is clear that we in higher education need to heed the call for reform.
Last spring, I posted about the challenge of calculating a return on investment (ROI) for individual colleges. The problem is with obtaining accurate data on the earnings of the graduates of a given college or university. I described there the problem with a ROI website created by the firm PayScale, which relies on self-reported data from individuals. There are a number of issues with PayScale’s methodology, but the biggest is that there is just no way to know how representative the respondents to their surveys are of the totality of the graduates for any single institution. There is also no way to judge the accuracy of the data reported.
Now there is another report out that uses the PayScale data to calculate ROI measures for community colleges. Last week, a study issued jointly by theNexus Research and Policy Center and the American Institutes for Research (AIR) took on the challenge of calculating the returns to associate’s degrees not just for individuals, but also for taxpayers in the form of the government subsidy provided to community colleges. There are a number of methodological problems with this study, which examined 579 community colleges around the country, but key among them is the study’s reliance on the PayScale data as the outcome measure for the ROI calculations. AIR is also the author of the College Measures website which, as I described in last spring’s post, shares the same flaw in using the PayScale data for some of its analyses.
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.