Thursday, May 27, 2021

With less than 100 students, Judson College will file for bankruptcy and close

 Judson College, a Baptist school for women, announced that it will close its doors in July and file for bankruptcy.  

Only 12 new students enrolled at Judson for the 2021 fall semester, and only 80 current students committed to returning in the fall. As a Baptist news story commented, "Operating a college for fewer than 100 students is not financially viable."

Judson will not be the last private college to close this year. Most private colleges are slashing their tuition in a desperate attempt to lure more warm bodies into their classrooms, but that strategy won't save all of them.

During this academic year, private four-year colleges discounted tuition for first-year students by an astonishing 58.4 percent. And the average discount rate for all undergraduates is 48.1 percent.  

In fact, very few students at private colleges are paying the sticker price for tuition. Ninety percent of first-year students got financial aid from their colleges this year, and 83 percent of all undergraduates got a discount.

Basically, private colleges are running a gigantic half-price sale. But discounting tuition won' save a struggling college unless it can entice enough new students to offset their lower tuition.  And that ploy won't work at a time when the supply of higher education significantly exceeds demand.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Want fries with that burger? Don't go to a college that doesn't at least teach you time-management skills

 Looking back over half a century on my college years, I remember absolutely nothing about the courses I took--130 vacuous credit hours. 

I can't say it was my college's fault. I had no clear idea about what I wanted to do for a living. I changed majors twice and took courses almost at random.  I took religion courses--enough for a minor. I took my university's first course in African American studies, and I got an A.  I even took two classes in the college of agriculture: horse production and livestock feeding. I must have had some vague idea about going back to work on my father's farm.

But I understand now that my college years were not a complete waste. Why? Because I learned to manage my time and weave my way through the bureaucratic maze of academia, and those skills are not to be disparaged.

In my first semester in college, I took five courses: mandatory ROTC, biology, history, freshman English, and a class in swimming. And I had a part-time job as a student custodian. 

I had to get up on time in the morning, get to classes held all over a sprawling campus, and study enough to pass the written exams. I had to figure out a way to amass enough of the courses I needed to graduate. I had to get my ROTC shirts pressed, and I had to learn to do my own laundry.

After getting my undergraduate degree, I gradually discovered that the world of work is often dull, colorless, and even meaningless. To make a living, I had to manage my time and learn the bureaucratic rules of the workplace.  I can see now that I learned those skills by spending four mind-numbing years at a university.  

But maybe colleges are not teaching time-management skills anymore.  According to Inside Higher Ed, a recent survey found that about one-fifth of recent graduates say their college education did not prepare them for their first job. Less than one in four graduates said they learned people-management skills while in college, and only a third said they learned time-management skills

These findings are scary. A college degree is becoming more and more expensive with each passing year, and most students now take out student loans to pay for their studies--loans many will never be able to pay back.

The very least we should expect from our universities is to teach students how to manage their time.  A young person who graduates from college with burdensome student-loan debt and no time-management skills would have been better off working at McDonald's.  

At least McDonald's teaches its employees to show up for work on time, smile, and not overcook the french fries.   

Do you want fries with that college degree?

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Abolishing the Campus Police: Is That a Good Idea?

 Davarian Baldwin, a professor at Trinity College, published an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education this week, arguing that colleges should abolish their campus police forces. This is a terrible idea.

Baldwin began his article by mentioning two examples of alleged police brutality by campus police officers. One of these incidents took place in 2019, and the other in 2015.  There are approximately 4,000 colleges and universities in this country. Are we going to close down campus police forces because of a few atypical events?

If I understand Professor Baldwin's argument aright, he believes campus police officers often target nonwhite community residents and that their primary function is to protect the university's institutional interests. "The campus police function as the most visible form of urban renewal to clear city blocks and signal to investors, students, researchers, and their families that the area is open for business," Baldwin wrote.

But what about campus crime? This is Baldwin's response to a hypothetical skeptic who asks, "What if someone gets raped?"

[D]espite the widespread existence of campus police departments across the country, sexual violence and substance abuse among students remain prevalent. This policing failure could be, as some have argued, a matter not of capacity but priorities. Even with jurisdiction far beyond the main quads, the primary function of campus-police officers is to serve the university's interest. Bringing greater attention to white-on-white student crime would undervalue the institution's brand. In contrast, images of highly armed security forces storming city blocks reassures branding and business interests.

I find that argument difficult to follow. Is Professor Baldwin saying that campus police forces subordinate campus safety to universities' commercial interests? If so, I think he is wrong.

I don't disagree with everything Professor Baldwin wrote. He criticized universities that participate in a Department of Defense program that distributes military equipment to police departments, and I agree. The campus police do not need armored personnel carriers. 

But that is a minor issue. Only about 100 of the nation's 4,000 colleges and universities obtained military equipment from the Department of Defense.

I also agree with Professor Davis that campus police officers sometimes behave abusively.  The UC Davis police famously pepper-sprayed passive students in 2013, and very little was done to punish the offenders.  (If you want to see that incident, you can go to Youtube).

But university campuses have become virtual cities.  Some of them have 50,000 students or more on their campuses plus thousands of employees--professors, administrators, and staff people.  These people deserve on-site police protection.

Campus crime is an ongoing problem--something Congress recognized when it passed the Cleary Act more than 20 years ago.  That law requires colleges and universities to keep records of campus crime events and make those records available to the public.

Colleges and universities also provide campus housing for their students, and they are legally obligated to protect dorm residents from crime. In Mullins v. Pine Manor College, decided in 1983, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court upheld a verdict against a small, private college after a first-year student was abducted from her dorm room and raped.

More recently, the California Supreme Court ruled that a university has a duty to protect students in the classroom from other students that the university knows to be dangerous. In that case, a mentally ill student stabbed and nearly killed an undergraduate woman in a chemistry lab.

In my view, these incidents and hundreds of other criminal acts that have taken place on college campuses over the years argue in favor of a campus police force.

If Professor Baldwin's argument is that some police are poorly trained and mistreat community residents, let's talk about that. 

If the argument is that campus police sometimes behave abusively, as they did during the UC Davis pepper spray incident, let's talk about that. 

But to argue that the nation's 4,000 colleges and universities should abolish their campus police forces makes no sense to me at all.  And I bet it makes no sense to Mom and Pop, who send their sons and daughters to college in the expectation that the people in charge are committed to keeping their children safe.

We need better police officers, not fewer.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Bloomsburg University axes all its fraternities and sororities: Do you really want to be a Frat Boy?

A few days ago, Bloomsburg University sent out a campus email message announcing that it will no longer recognize its campus Greek organizations.

The message was short and sweet:

Effective immediately, Bloomsburg University is terminating its fraternity and sorority life and severing ties with all national and local FSL organizations currently affiliated with the University.

Bloomsburg is not the only university to lose patience with its fraternities and sororities. Earlier this year, the University of Miami suspended three fraternities and permanently removed another for allegedly hosting large parties in violation of the University's COVID rules.

But it is fraternity hazing that has frustrated college administrators more than any other issue. Hazing is illegal in all fifty states, but college Greek organizations continue hazing their pledges.  

From time to time, pledges have died from abusive hazing--usually from alcohol poisoning or injuries suffered while inebriated. 

In fact, Justin King, an 18-year-old student at Bloomsburg University, died in 2019 when he fell off a 75-foot embankment after attending a fraternity rush party.  His mother is suing her son's fraternity for recklessly serving him "life-threatening amounts of alcohol." And Bloomsburg University kicked the fraternity off its campus.

So, if you are an undergraduate male at an American university, do you want to join a fraternity? 

Maybe the answer is yes. Perhaps your father and grandfather belonged to a particular fraternity, and you want to carry on the family tradition. Perhaps your friends are joining a fraternity, or you think being a frat boy will help you meet girls.

So go ahead and join a fraternity. But if you do, please heed two pieces of advice:

First, do not participate in hazing, either as a pledge or a fraternity member.  Hazing is a crime in most states, and you could go to jail. And if a pledge dies because you poured grain alcohol down his throat, his family will probably sue you for wrongful death.

Second, don't engage in casual sex at a fraternity party if your sex partner is inebriated.  You may think drunken sex is fun, but universities have been charging male students with sexual misconduct because they had sex with female students who were incapacitated by alcohol.

Of course, not all drunken sex occurs at fraternity parties, but Greek social events often involve excessive drinking followed by casual sexual encounters. You don't want to be kicked out of college because you had sex with an inebriated partner.

I know men who were in fraternities during their college years, and many say they formed valuable lifelong friendships with their fraternity brothers. 

But I also know men who fell into a pattern of alcohol abuse after boozing their way through college with their frat pals. And some of them picked up the nasty habit of using alcohol to prey on vulnerable young women.

If you are thinking of joining a fraternity, I urge you to watch Animal House, that classic 1970s movie about life in a college fraternity.  You may think the film is a lot of laughs, and it is. But in real life, the characters in that movie would go to prison for some of their fraternity antics. And that would not be funny.

Consensual or non-consensual?

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Idiocracy: Giving people free hamburgers if they get the COVID vaccine

 I was a kid during the polio epidemic of the 1950s, and the disease terrified me.

I knew two kids who wore steel braces on their legs due to polio, and I saw pictures of children with their heads poking out of iron lungs--very scary!

Then Dr. Jonas Salk invented the polio vaccine, and grownups sighed with relief. All parents had to do to protect their children from polio was have them vaccinated.

But we kids were as frightened of the vaccine as we were by polio. 

Syringes in the 1950s were enormous. In those days, the needles were used again and again, and eventually, they got dull. The needle on a polio syringe looked as big as a number 2 pencil from my second-grader perspective--an unsharpened number 2 pencil!

In my town, children got their polio vaccines at school. I was in Mrs. Vaughn's second-grade class, and she lined us up for the long march down to the principal's office. 

I heard children ahead of me screaming in terror at the prospect of getting stuck with a big needle. In some cases, kids went postal, and teachers had to call parents to help physically restrain their children.

But, by God, all the kids got vaccinated, and eventually, polio was eradicated in the United States.

Why was America successful in wiping out the polio scourge? Because getting the polio shot was not optional. Mr. Bailey, the school principal, did not ask me if I wanted to be vaccinated.  I would have told him no. And Mr. Bailey didn't give me a little prize as a reward for having a nail-sized needle stuck in my arm.

So I was surprised by the news that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is offering New Yorkers a free hamburger if they get the coronavirus vaccine.  I watched a video of Mayor de Blasio munching on a burger while cajoling his constituents to get their COVID shot.

Conservative commentators are making fun of Mr. de Blasio for his hamburger gambit, but I'm on the Mayor's side. If New Yorkers won't get vaccinated unless you give them a hamburger, I say give them a goddamned hamburger.

And if they hold out for a cheeseburger, fries, and a chocolate shake, I say give them whatever they demand. Hell, give them a Tesla!

But what have we become as a nation when we have to bribe Americans to do the right thing? So far, the coronavirus has killed half a million people in the United States. Why wouldn't everyone do their small part to help stop the COVID pandemic?  Do we really need to give out hamburgers?

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Elon Musk says MBA degrees are overrated: Does it make sense to go to graduate school?

 Elon Musk says MBA degrees are overrated, and he should know.  Musk doesn't have an MBA, and he's worth $166 billion.

Here is what Musk said in a recent interview:

The path to leadership should not be through an MBA business school situation. It should be kind of work your way up and do useful things. There's a bit too much of the somebody goes to a high-profile MBA school land then kind of parachutes in as the leader but they don't actually know how things work. They could be good at, say PowerPoint presentations or something like that, and they can present well, but they don't actually know how things work. They parachute in instead of working their way up. 

Not surprisingly, many MBA teachers disagree with Musk. Robert Siegel, who teaches at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, said Musk is "completely off base talking about M.B.A.s." Siegel challenges Musk's charge that MBA  courses don't teach people how to be entrepreneurs. 

But a Canadian professor of management studies admitted that "[t]he MBA trains the wrong people in the wrong ways with the wrong consequences." And Jessica Stillman, writing for Inc., suggests that people could save a lot of money simply by reading ten well-known books about business. 

Musk's skepticism about MBA degrees falls within a larger debate about the value of graduate degrees in general. Speaking as a person who is embarrassed to have two graduate degrees from Harvard, here is my take on this topic.

First, don't go to graduate school unless you believe a graduate degree will improve your job prospects.  Public-school educators in some school systems get an automatic raise if they have a master's degree in education, so it may make economic sense for a teacher to pursue an advanced degree in education regardless of whether there is any substance to the program.

Second, don't pay too much money to get a graduate degree--especially a degree from a non-elite institution. Many colleges introduced expensive MBA programs after Congress introduced the Grad PLUS program that lifted the cap on how much people could borrow for graduate school.

Northeastern University, for example, offers an online MBA program costing $78,000, which Northeastern claims is "an affordable option" compared to other programs, which charge as much as $200,000. 

Maybe that is so, but ask your friends who have MBAs if they think the experience was worth the cost.  You may be surprised by some of the responses you will get.

Third, don't get a graduate degree that might actually hurt your job prospects.  For example, many law schools offer master's degrees, which require an additional year of study beyond the basic J.D. degree. Some law schools offer graduate degrees in law for people who do not intend to practice law. 

I've known people who pursued a graduate degree in law because they didn't excel in law school and didn't get a good law job after graduating.  An extra law degree, they think, will enhance their job prospects.

But employers can sniff out the motivation for that strategy. If the job applicant had a brilliant career in law school, that person would probably be pulling down a six-figure salary in a prestigious law firm instead of hanging around a law school for an additional year.

And an online graduate degree from a for-profit school may be absolutely worthless in the job market. I've sat on many faculty hiring committees and heard committee members reject any job candidate who obtained a doctoral degree from a for-profit school.

Finally, weigh the opportunity costs of going to graduate school. Are you gaining experience in your present job that will likely pay off later in salary increases and promotions?  If so, why leave the job market and take out student loans to go to graduate school?

This is the bottom line. Don't take out student loans to go to graduate school unless there is absolutely no other way to achieve your professional goals. Millions of Americans have had successful careers without graduate degrees, and millions more have graduate degrees and don't know nuthin'.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Independent expert predicts student loan program will lose a half trillion bucks: Is he right?

 In 2018, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos hired Jeff Courtney, a former JP Morgan executive, to do a forensic analysis of the federal student loan program.  DeVos suspected the program was generating huge losses. 

In fact, in November 2018, DeVos said publicly that only one in four student borrowers were paying down both principal and interest on their debt. She also acknowledged that 20 percent of all federal student loans were either delinquent or in default.

Mr. Courtney's analysis confirmed Secretary DeVos's suspicions. Courtney concluded that roughly one-third of the Education Department's student-loan portfolio will never be paid back. That's about a half-trillion-dollar loss.

The Department of Education rejects Mr. Courtney's conclusions. DOE says his "analysis used incomplete, inaccurate data and suffered from significant methodological shortcomings . .  . ."

Maybe. But we don't need a sophisticated economic model to know that the federal student-loan program is underwater.  We know that 8 million student borrowers are in income-based repayment programs and are making payments too small to pay down their loans' principal plus accruing interest.

So, that is 8 million student debtors who will never pay back their loans. That fact alone should dispel any notion that the federal student loan program is solvent.

Policymakers on the left and on the right can continue arguing about the student-loan crisis as if it were merely a political issue.  But it is not--it is an economic calamity for millions of distressed student-loan debtors. 

We know for sure that burdensome student-loan debt is hindering young Americans from buying homes, having children, and saving for their retirement.  Granting partial student-debt relief, as some politicians propose, will do little to relieve widespread suffering.

In my view, the way to address the student-loan mess is for Congress to amend the Bankruptcy Code to allow insolvent student borrowers to discharge their loans in bankruptcy like any other consumer debt.

Congress also needs shut down the Parent PLUS program, which has a high default rate, particularly among minority and low-income families. 

And Congress must put some realistic cap on the amount of money students can borrow for their college education. It is insane for private colleges to peg their tuition rates at $25,000 a semester. They can only get away with this highway robbery because students can take out federal loans to finance their studies.

Mr. Jeff Courtney believes one-third of student-loan dollars will never be paid back. If Congress doesn't address the college-loan crisis forthrightly and very soon, the losses will be much higher than that.

Bard College: Tuition is $56,000 a year