Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Unionizing of Graduate Students

The Atlantic
By Matt Vasilogambros
August 23, 2016


Graduate students at private universities can now unionize.

The National Labor Relations Board ruled 3-1 Tuesday that graduate students working as teaching or research assistants are entitled to collective-bargaining rights. The case, brought forth by Columbia University graduate students and the United Automobile Workers (which already backs the university’s clerical workers, in addition to graduate students at New York University and the University of Connecticut), is a reversal of a 12-year-old ruling by the federal board.


Monday, August 8, 2016

What's Missing in the Student Debt Debate

Inside Higher ED
By Mark Huelsman
August 8, 2016

Since student debt, free tuition and debt-free higher education have emerged as presidential campaign-level issues, a narrative has begun to emerge among elite news media that the rising price of college and ever-increasing student debt are phantom problems given the overall lifetime benefits of a college degree. Unfortunately that narrative, which has been highlighted over the past few weeks to varying degrees by major media outlets, including NPR and Vox, rests on a pretty narrow set of assumptions about college and its benefits. And, in fact, it misunderstands the entire point behind the push for debt-free public college.

For instance, a recent editorial in The Washington Post titled “Democrats’ Loose Talk on Student Loans” makes the case that we have more of a nuisance than a crisis on our hands. It argues that bold reforms to address student debt -- including the plan offered up by Hillary Clinton’s campaign -- are overkill and that we should presumably make large investments in other areas (like paying down the national debt). Unfortunately, however, like other news media these days, the Post editorial board appears to have overlooked some crucial facts, many of which have been reported by its own newspaper.

It is absolutely true that some form of postsecondary education and training has become more important, and nearly essential, in today’s workforce. Unemployment rates for college graduates are consistently low, and the average lifetime earnings boost remains high relative to a high school degree. Anyone who argues that college “isn’t worth it” is doing so with anecdotal examples or bad data.

But the reason college is so important is not because earnings for college graduates keep rising. In fact, bachelor’s degree holders earn about the same amount as they did 30 years ago. Earnings for everyone else -- including those with only some college experience -- have gone down rapidly. In effect, a degree has become more a necessary insurance policy than an investment.
This matters because students are now on the hook for financing more and more of their own education than ever before. As a result, graduates are taking on rising levels of debt while contending with stagnant incomes and the rising cost of health care and child care, all while attempting to save for retirement or for their own child’s education.

And they are some of the best-off of the bunch -- they’re able to stretch and make their minimum monthly payments. The true crisis in student loans is among those who take on student debt but do not graduate, many of whom attend high-cost for-profit institutions. Those students are more likely to default or become delinquent on student loans, potentially setting themselves up for a lifetime of economic hardship. But while some argue that what we really have is a “completion crisis,” college completion is no better or worse than it’s been in decades.


Friday, August 5, 2016

How Black Lives Matter Activists Plan to Fix Schools

The Chronicle of Higher Education
By Emily Deruy
August 5, 2016


Black Lives Matter activists have already successfully pushed some colleges to address racism on campus and make curriculum more inclusive. But the movement as a whole has been less visible in the K-12 space. That’s changing.

As my colleague Vann Newkirk has noted, the Movement for Black Lives Matter coalition recently published a platform outlining a range of specific policies it would like to see take shape at the local, state, and federal levels. The education proposals are rooted in the K-12 space, activists who helped draft them told me, because the U.S. public-school system is so broken that college is never an option for many young people of color. And while many universities are privately controlled, the group sees an opportunity to return control of K-12 public schools to the students, parents, and communities they serve.

Public schools, even in the nation’s most affluent cities, remain highly segregated, with black children disproportionately likely to attend schools with fewer resources and concentrated poverty. There are more school security officers than counselors in four of the 10 biggest school districts in the country. And whereas spending on corrections increased by 324 percent between 1979 and 2013, that on education rose just 107 percent during the same time.

The coalition’s proposals are wide-ranging and, depending on who is talking, either aspirational or entirely unrealistic. They range from calling for a constitutional amendment for “fully funded” education (activists say federal funding is inadequate and not distributed equally) and a moratorium on charter schools to the removal of police from schools and the closure of all juvenile detention centers.

Mostly, said Jonathan Stith, the national coordinator for the Washington-based Alliance for Educational Justice and one of the lead authors, the propositions are an attempt to crystallize what the movement supports and to provide activists with a platform from which to move forward. “It’s always been clear what we’re against, but [articulating] what we’re for, what we want to see, was a real labor,” Stith, 41, said. The document is also an effort to connect education priorities to health care, the economy, criminal justice, and a range of other public-policy areas, and to, as Stith put it, force progress “in concert.”.

The plan, which lambasts the “privatization” of education by foundations that wield fat wallets to shape policy and criticizes charter-school networks for decimating black communities and robbing traditional neighborhood schools of resources, drew immediate criticism from education reformers who see charters and groups like Teach for America (the plan calls for its demise) as providing badly needed services to students of color. Some of these reformers said it signaled that the movement was cozy with teachers’ unions and the status quo. Lily Eskelsen Garcia, the head of the National Education Association, one of the country’s two main teachers’ unions, wrote in an emailed comment, “The NEA is honored to stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and proud to be a partner with the organizations that support community-based solutions to support students and public schools.”


Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Pitfalls of Free Tuition

The Chronicle of Higher Education
By Emily Deruy
August 3, 2016

Bernie Sanders may be out as a presidential contender, but his proposal to make public college free has worked its way into Hillary Clinton’s education plan. While the plan is making some private colleges nervous, his campaign has succeeded in furthering a broader conversation among university admissions directors about how to make access to higher education more equitable.

The applicant pools at selective universities don’t typically reflect the broader population, acknowledged Jim Rawlins, the director of admissions and assistant vice president of enrollment management at the University of Oregon, during a recent roundtable discussion with a handful of other admissions leaders in Washington, D.C. The different schools in attendance—both public and private, small and large—agreed that needs to change.

But not all schools are convinced that making in-state public schools free for students from families earning less than $125,000 a year by 2021, the gist of Clinton’s plan, is the right approach. Monica Inzer, the vice president and dean of admission and financial aid at Hamilton College, a small private school in rural upstate New York, expressed concern that if such a proposal were to become a reality, some families might not look at private schools that could be a good fit and equally affordable.

As Jim Nondorf, the vice president for enrollment and student advancement and dean of admissions and financial aid at the University of Chicago, said, students often hear a sticker price and don’t realize the actual cost for low- and even middle-income kids may not be as steep. His school, for instance, offers need-blind admission and promises to meet 100 percent of a family’s demonstrated need. Hamilton eliminated merit aid in 2007, and went completely need blind several years later. The school also runs an emergency aid fund to help students who cannot afford to fly home to visit a sick parent, or clothes for a job interview. But many schools, including many historically black colleges, don’t have the funds (Hamilton’s financial aid budget alone is more than $38 million) to accommodate such students, and losing middle-class kids to free public schools could make supporting poor students even harder, or force schools to take only the very richest students who can pay full price.

“I think what would happen is, we would have to become more elitist, because anybody who is not really wealthy is going to go to take the free option,” Sheila Bair, the president of Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland, told Politico recently. “I don’t want us to be elitist. I want us to have a diverse student population.”


Monday, August 1, 2016

What Rankings Have Wrought

The Chronicle of Higher Education
By Steven Harper
August 1, 2016

Albert Einstein often gets credit for words he never spoke, including these: "Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."

In 1963, the line appeared in the sociologist William Bruce Cameron’s text Informal Sociology: A Casual Introduction to Sociological Thinking. Two contemporary sociologists have now brought Cameron’s intuitive wisdom to life. In their new book, Engines of Anxiety: Academic Rankings, Reputation, and Accountability, Wendy Nelson Espeland, of Northwestern University, and Michael Sauder, of the University of Iowa, have added welcome scholarly heft to widespread anecdotal evidence that U.S. News & World Report rankings undermine sound decision making and encourage destructive societal behavior.

Defenders of the rankings argue that they improve transparency and accountability. The authors suggest a more problematic impact: Reducing any institution to a single and supposedly objective numerical slot masks subjectivity inherent in the methodology. Even worse, rankings create incentives that raise profound ethical issues. Espeland and Sauder prove their argument with a case study focused on the leading edge of higher education’s problems: law schools. Deans, professors, and prospective law students should pay close attention. But if past is prologue, most of them won’t.

Who created this mess?

"When Mort Zuckerman acquired U.S. News & World Report in 1984 and became its editor," the authors write, "it was a lackluster news weekly overshadowed by its more successful rivals, Newsweek and Time." Zuckerman — a Canadian with a law degree from McGill and master’s of law from Harvard — pursued a business career more consistent with his M.B.A. from Wharton. He decided to "expand the rankings and issue them annually as a way to solidify USN’s reputation as the magazine providing ‘news you can use.’"