Showing posts with label Rick Seltzer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Rick Seltzer. Show all posts

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Governor Cuomo's plan to offer free public college education for New Yorkers will wreck private colleges in the Empire State

Like Bernie Sanders, I buy my clothes at Joseph A. Banks, where almost everything Banks sells is on sale almost all the time. For example, Joseph A. Banks sells very good men's dress shirts for $89, but this week they are on sale for 2 for $89. 

The on-sale-all-the-time business model works well for Joseph A. Banks, but it is not working that well for private liberal arts colleges--particularly the nondescript little colleges that are so common in the Northeast and upper Midwest.  These colleges are now discounting freshman tuition by  an average of 48.6 percent, the same discount rate that Joseph A. Banks sells its shirts. For undergraduates as a whole, the average discount is 42 percent. 

Basically, more and more people are buying a liberal arts education at wholesale prices. And even with steep discounts, private colleges are having trouble luring new students to their campuses.

And now New York's private colleges face a new threat. Governor Andrew Cuomo launched a plan to provide a free college education at New York's public colleges and universities to families with annual incomes of $125,000 a year or less.  This may pose a mortal blow to many private liberal arts colleges in the Empire State.

Charles L. Flynn Jr., president of the College of Mount Saint Vincent, said Governor Andrew Cuomo's plan has thrown the New York marketplace for higher education" into confusion." Indeed, private schools in New York compete with New York's public universities for students, and Cuomo's free-college-education scheme will definitely hurt private institutions. A report prepared by the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities in New York estimates that  Cuomo's plan will cause enrollments to decline at New York private colleges by 7 to 15 percent. 

What can the private liberal arts colleges do to meet this threat? Not much. As President Flynn told Inside Higher Ed, his college already discounts freshman tuition by 50 percent. “How can I go above that?” he said. “We don’t have a lot more aid to throw.”

New York has more than 100 private colleges and universities, many of them obscure: institutions like Daemen College, Houghton College, Saint  John Fisher College, Hilbert College, Medaille College, Trocaire College, Canisius College, Molloy College, Cazenovia College,and Roberts Wesleyan College. Most of these schools draw the bulk of their students from families residing inside the state. 

Unless private New York colleges have elite status--Hamilton College, Barnard College, Sarah Lawrence College, etc.--they have little to offer that cannot be obtained at a SUNY institution for less money.  And thanks to Governor Cuomo, many New York families can now choose between a small liberal arts college that offers discounted tuition and a public university they can attend for free. 

The wolf is now at the door for New York's small liberal arts colleges.



References

Rick Seltzer. A Marketplace in ConfusionInsider Higher Ed, April 13, 2017.

Tuition Discounts at Private Colleges Continue to Climb (Press Release). National Association of College and University Business Officers, May 16, 2016.

Report: Effects and Consequences of the Excelsior Scholarship Program On Private, Not-for-Profit Colleges and Universities. Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities in New York, March 2017.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Tiny liberal arts colleges are dead. They just don't know it. 15 small-college presidents meet in New York City.

My father was a fighter pilot in the Army Air Corps in December, 1941, stationed at Clark Field in the Philippines. He often told this story about his introduction to World War II.

About two weeks before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, my father told me, his commander called all the young airmen together for a meeting.

"Make out your wills and get your affairs in order," the commander told the pilots. You are not dead yet, but most of you will be soon."

And the commander was right. My father's P-40 fighter plane was bombed on the ground when the Japanese attacked Clark Field a few hours after the Pearl Harbor attack. Six months later, my father  was captured on the Bataan Peninsula, along with the entire American  army. He experienced the Bataan Death March and spent the rest of the war in a Japanese concentration camp. Two thirds of his fellow prisoners died while in captivity.

I thought of my father's story as I read an article about a recent meeting of 15 presidents of the nation's smallest liberal arts colleges, which took place in New York City last June. All  15 presidents represented institutions with 800 students or fewer.

Rick Seltzer of Inside Higher Ed reported on the meeting, from which I gathered the presidents concluded that their colleges are doing a great job educating young people. The problem, from the presidents' perspective, is poor public relations; the public simply does not realize just how neat and special these colleges are.

Thomas O'Reilly, president of Pine Manor College (about 450 students), said this about his institution: "We're small enough that we can work with a handful of students, and if it works for them, it can be quickly spread across the rest of the programs we're offering.. If it doesn't we can quickly stop--just as importantly--without having made a major investment."

OK, I got it. Small liberal arts colleges are nimble, and that's why they're special.

Mariko Silver, president of Bennington College, another micro institution, said the nation was  focused overmuch on scaling up higher education without appreciating the small colleges. "One of the things that I feel makes American higher education the envy of the world is a real diversification of institution types--an ecosystem."

Nice talking points, Mariko! Everyone in higher education likes to be reassured that American colleges are the envy of the world.

But in fact, the tiny liberal arts colleges are on the verge of extinction. A few small liberal arts colleges will survive and even thrive: those with large endowments or sterling reputations like many of the small liberal arts colleges in New England. And small colleges that excel in nursing or health care will probably be fine.

But tiny colleges with 800 students are fewer cannot long survive, in my opinion. As my father's commander might have put; they are dead and just don't know it.

 I don't say this with any pleasure. The microbrew college presidents are probably right to say there is a distinct value to receiving a liberal arts education at a small college. But the economics of higher education today simply won't allow the small liberal arts colleges to survive. In 2015, Moody's Investor Service predicted that college closings would triple by 2017.

And Moody's prediction is too conservative. Of the 15 colleges represented at the New York City meeting last June, I predict half will close within five years. Shimer College, for example, has fewer than 100 students. Who thinks it will still be open in 2022? Shimer is in Chicago. I'm surprised Shimer's president could afford to travel to New York City.

Apart from all the other challenges small liberal arts college face, they simply can't survive in a world of ever increasing state and federal regulations. And here's an example.

In a case decided by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals last May, Michele Dziedzic sued SUNY Oswego for sexual discrimination under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because she was transferred from the paint department to the plumbing department. The plumbing department, in her view, was "less prestigious" than the paint department, which she maintained was an elite unit. Dziedzic also said she had suffered from a hostile working environment due to sexual jokes and racy pictures that she was forced to endure when she collected her mail from a mailbox in the men's locker room.

I am not belittling Ms. Dziedzic's grievances. She may very well have been transferred to the plumbing department for nefarious reasons, and being forced to visit the men's locker room to collect her mail may have been humiliating.

But is this a federal case that must travel to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals? The suit may not have cost Ms. Dziedzic much; she represented herself. But SUNY Oswego was represented by four lawyers!

How many suits like that could an institution like Shimer College or Pine Manor College endure? Not many.

At my own institution, I signed a form awhile back certifying that I had read a safety memo informing me that it is dangerous for university students or employees to text on their cell phones while walking on campus. I imagine this memo was spawned by some state or federal safety regulation. How much did my university spend warning students and employees not to walk while texting?

In recent years, the U.S. Department of Education has issued "Dear Colleague" letters that dictate how colleges manage their restrooms and their student grievance procedures.  Each of these "Dear Colleague" letters imposes a financial burden on coleges and uniersities.

And the colleges don't push back on the ever tightening noose of federal regulation because they are all addicted to federal student aid money.

I will be sorry to see the small liberal arts fade away like old soldiers. But I feel sorrier still for students who take out student loans to attend these dying institutions--institutions that may well be closed before their graduates pay off their student loans.


References

Dziedzic v. State University of New York at Oswego, 648 Fed.Appx. 125 (2d Cir. 2016).

Rick Seltzer. Leaders consider future of tiny liberal arts colleges. Inside Higher ED, November 11, 2016.

Kellie Woodhouse. Moody's predicts college closures to triple by 2017. Insider Higher ED, September 28, 2015.