Showing posts with label COVID-19. Show all posts
Showing posts with label COVID-19. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Harvard University will go online this fall but will charge full tuition: $49,000 a year to take courses on your home computer

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, Harvard University announced that all undergraduate classes will be taught online this fall. Harvard will allow only 40 percent of its undergraduates to live on campus, including all of its first-year students.

As several people have pointed out, Harvard's decision to teach students online this fall will prompt other universities to reassess their own teaching plans for the fall semester. After all, if mighty Harvard, with its $40 billion endowment, has thrown in the towel regarding face-to-face instruction, then many other colleges will surely follow suit.

Who are we--mere mortals--to question Harvard? Nevertheless, I don't understand the point of bringing first-year students on campus if they are going to be huddled over computers in their dorm rooms when taking classes. Why not let Harvard students stay home with mom and dad if they are not going to see their professors?

Harvard and other elite universities will weather the pandemic if it doesn't stretch on too long.  People who get admitted to Harvard will gladly accept any inconvenience to put Harvard University on their resumes. And, for a short time at least, Harvard can get away with teaching its courses online while charging full tuition--$49,000 a year!

But experts predict that the second- and third-tier colleges will see fewer students this fall. And those students will likely take price into account when choosing their schools.  After all, if students are going to be denied a traditional college experience—student clubs, dorm life, opportunities to develop romantic relationships—why not enroll in the cheapest school?

Without a doubt, most universities will have a lot of empty dorm rooms on their hands this fall, which means a significant loss in revenue. Privately owned student-housing complexes will also have vacant units, and many of these complexes were built with borrowed money.  The savvy cats who expected to make tidy profits on so-called luxury student housing may have trouble making their mortgage payments.

The coronavirus pandemic makes a lot of recent university projects look silly. Louisiana State University, for example, spent $85 million on a student recreation center that includes a climbing wall and a "Lazy River" water feature shaped like the university's initials. It looked like a smart move at the time, and the center was financed with student fees.

Now the Lazy River no longer seems so attractive.  Instead, it just looks like a great place to contract COVID-19.

Wigglesworth Hall at Harvard: Be sure to bring your home computer

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Second (and kinder) thoughts about distance learning at the universities during the coronavirus pandemic

Not long ago, I commented on the mass shift to distance learning at American universities, which were forced to close their campuses last March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Disappointed students sued more than 50 colleges about the transition, arguing that the quality of their education had deteriorated when face-to-face instruction was suspended. I commented that the students were surely right and that distance learning is indeed inferior to traditional modes of teaching.

Since I wrote that commentary, however, I taught a course as an adjunct at my former university, and I was pleasantly surprised by the experience.  I delivered this course using two distance-learning tools: Moodle and Zoom.

With Moodle, I was able to post all my reading materials and communicate with my students about their assignments. Using Zoom, I met with a small group of students in "real-time," and we were able to discuss court cases very much as if we were all in the same room. 

This positive experience with distance learning caused me to revise my views. I now believe that most colleges can maintain the overall quality of their instruction, even if they are forced to rely heavily on distance learning in the upcoming fall semester. But I still believe something will be lost if universities rely too heavily on technology.

 Zoom, I learned, is an excellent way to meet with small groups of students who are in different places. I think seminars and small-class settings taught through Zoom or a similar product can continue with little loss in quality.

And it seems to me that large lecture classes will not be adversely affected if professors give their lectures by video.  After all, one of my first classes as an undergraduate more than 40 years ago had 700 students enrolled. I was given an assigned seat at the back of the auditorium and could hardly identify the gender of my professor.  Delivering video lectures may actually be an improvement over having instructors drone on to hundreds of students in a cavernous auditorium.

I am still skeptical of so-called asynchronous teaching, where the professor presents students with canned instructional units without ever having any personal interaction with them. In my view, this kind of education amounts to little more than a correspondence course.

I am also skeptical about distance-taught instruction that assesses student performance through pass-fail grading.  It has been my observation that all rigor goes out the window when a professor is grading students on a pass-fail basis. It is almost impossible to fail anyone when the assessment standards are so relaxed, and it is absolutely impossible to reward students who excel in their classes.

And I continue to be opposed to academic programs that are delivered entirely online. After all, who believes that an undergraduate degree, a master's degree. or a doctoral degree that is offered entirely online is in any way comparable to an academic degree taught traditionally on an actual college campus?

I wish all the colleges well as they adjust their academic programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  I think most of them can deliver instruction this fall through various distance-learning formats without too much loss in quality.

Nevertheless, most students choose their colleges based on their perception of what their campus experience will be like. They don't just sit in classes, after all. They live in residence halls, interact with other students, and immerse themselves in all kinds of extracurricular activities. Some percentage of students will not go to college this fall if they can't have a traditional college experience.

Most commentators predict a significant enrollment decline if academic life doesn't get back to normal (or at least close to normal) by the fall semester. I think they are right. And the colleges that will suffer the most are the small liberal arts colleges and the regional public institutions.

This guy should be teaching online.


Monday, May 25, 2020

California ain't got the do re mi: Will Americans bail out the Golden State?


California is a garden of Eden, a paradise to live in or see;
But believe it or not, you won't find it so hot
If you ain't got the do re mi.



Woodie Guthrie

Just a few months ago, the California economy appeared to be in great shape. Governor Gavin Newsom predicted a $7 billion budget surplus for 2020, and the state had $16 billion in its rainy day fund.  

The governor was feeling so confident that he promised to distribute $75 million to the state's illegal residents.  Very thoughtful. But after all, what's $75 million to California, the world's fifth-largest economy?

But then COVID-19 came along like a drunken ex-spouse at your wedding reception, and the Golden State's economy began heading south.

Today, Governor Newsom projects a $54 billion budget deficit--more than three times the amount of the state's rainy day fund.  California has 4.2 million unemployed workers and huge healthcare expenses connected with the coronavirus. One in three Californians (13 million) are on Medicaid and can't pay their own medical bills.

And of course, California's financial problems are more severe than this year's budget deficit. According to the California Policy Center,California's state and local liabilities total $1.5 trillion.  

A lot of California's debt can be traced to high salaries paid to the state's civil servants and unfunded pension obligations to government workers.  California's public employees (professors, school administrators, hospital administrators, etc.) are paid well. In fact, about one-third of a million government employees draw salaries of $100,000 or more.  Over 1,400 of them are paid more than Governor Newsom.

California's state and local employees also enjoy great retirement plans. Some retired school administrators draw pensions of more than $300,000 a year.

California desperately needs a federal bailout to keep essential services going and to pay thousands of overpaid public workers. Indeed, Governor Newsom said he is optimistic about the state's economic future but, "My optimism is conditioned on this--more federal support." 

Hence, Nancy Pelosi's $3 trillion HEROES Act, which, if passed, will shower more than $1 trillion of federal money to distressed state and local governments.  If the Senate votes to approve Pelosi's bill, lots of federal money will arrive in California.

But there's just one problem with the HEROES Act. The national debt already tops $25 trillion. Pelosi's legislation will add another $3 trillion to that number.

So if the federal government bails out California, taxpayers in Kansas, Ohio, and Oklahoma will help pay the tab for those quarter-of-a-million dollar California pension benefits. The citizens of the Midwest will help fund the princely salaries of California's college professors and school superintendents.  

As Woodie Guthrie observed nearly 100 years ago, California is a garden of Eden and a beautiful place to call home. But the state's dwindling middle class is going to find that California is not so hot if you ain't got the do re mi to pay for a whole lot of high living by people who call themselves public servants.

But Governor Newsom, we ain't got the do re mi!







Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Three out of four test-takers failed the California Bar Exam in February: Do you still want to be a lawyer?

This spring, pass rates for the California Bar Exam hit a historic low. Only 26.8 percent of the test-takers received a passing grade--about one out of four. The pass rate for retakers was even lower: a shocking 22 percent.

As one might expect, pass rates varied widely based on where the test-takers went to law school. People who studied at an ABA-accredited California law school had a pass rate of 42 percent, which is pretty poor odds.  But the poor blokes who got degrees from unaccredited distance-learning schools had a pass rate of only 16 percent.

No matter where students enroll, going to law school has gotten outrageously expensive. Most people who study law are forced to take out student loans.  According to one report, the average newly minted lawyer graduates with $145,550 in debt. How would you like to leave law school with $145,000 in college loans and then fail the bar exam? Or fail it twice?

People who graduate at the top of their class from elite schools (Harvard, Stanford, Michigan, etc.) generally find well-paying jobs with blue-chip law firms. But the leading U.S. law firms have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and are laying off lawyers and cutting salaries. Scroll down the list that Law360 compiled of the nation's most prestigious firms, and you will see that most of these big firms are hurting.

In other words, even law graduates with impeccable credentials are seeing their salaries cut due to COVID-19. People who graduate at the bottom of their class from second- and third-tier law schools will find it damned near impossible to pay off $150,000 in student loans because there are few decent-paying law jobs for these people.

So--if you are thinking about going to law school, do some research. Be sure to check out a couple of good web sites on the legal-education industry: Above the Law and Law School Transparency. Find out the bar pass rate and the average student-debt load for the law school where you intend to study. If you know some lawyers in the area where you hope to practice, ask them to share their thoughts about their local job market.

When I graduated from the University of Texas School of Law, the legal profession was a great way to make a living.  Tuition was very low, and I worked my way through school and graduated with no debt.  I did well in law school, graduating with honors, and I got several job offers.

In those days, even people who graduated with less than stellar grades could look forward to a stable job if they attended a well-respected law school. I had grown up in a small Oklahoma town, and law school opened up a bright, new world of seemingly limitless opportunities.

But those days are gone. Law school tuition is way too expensive. Today people who enroll at a mediocre law school are playing Russian roulette with their financial futures.

And law schools have lowered their admission standards to meet their enrollment goals, as evidenced by declining bar pass rates in states such as California.  This signals to me that the academic atmosphere of law school is not as stimulating now as when I was a law student.

So if you are dreaming about going to law school, think about it long and hard. Your world will definitely change if you get a J.D. degree, but it might not change for the better. Your dream of a better life could turn into a nightmare of bitterness, poverty, and regret.

Think hard about law school before you pull the trigger

Monday, April 20, 2020

Coronavirus is a black swan event for regional public colleges: Many will be forced to close

A black swan event is an unexpected occurrence that has potentially devastating consequences. For higher education, the coronavirus pandemic is a black swan event.

Even before COVID-19 forced a shutdown of the national economy, American colleges were suffering from enrollment declines. Declining birthrates have led to a shrinking number of college-age individuals in recent years. Small liberal arts colleges and for-profit institutions were particularly hard hit.

Regional public colleges are also suffering. In Pennsylvania, for example, the state's system of public universities saw an enrollment decline of 20 percent between 2010 and 2019. One small public college, Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, saw its student body shrink by 61 percent to less than 1,000 students. Lock Haven University, another Pennsylvania public school, experienced an enrollment drop of 42 percent.

Thanks in large part to the coronavirus pandemic, the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education projects that its 14 public universities will lose between $70 million and $100 million this spring. Some state legislators are calling for the system's small colleges to close.

Several Ohio public universities have also seen enrollment declines. Ohio University, Kent State University, the University of Toledo, and the University of Akron all lost students in 2019.

The University of Wisconsin's 26 two- and four-year institutions have recorded enrollment drops as well. UW's two-year colleges experienced a shocking 49 percent drop between 2010 and 2019.  One institution, UW-Plattville at Richland, a satellite campus of UW-Plattville, lost 58 percent of its students in just one year.  As reported by the Wisconsin State Journal, the University of Wisconsin's branch campuses had fewer students in 2019 than they did in 1973.

All these enrollment drops took place before the coronavirus pandemic showed up. And enrollment declines will surely accelerate in the wake of statewide stay-at-home orders that have triggered staggering drops in state tax revenues.

In the years to come, regional publ colleges all over the United States will be forced to close. Many states have far too many regional campuses. As public revenues decline in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, the states simply can't afford to keep them open.

Moreover, increased opportunities for online learning are making regional campuses obsolete. If students are going to take their classes from home computers, there is no need to have a brick-and-mortar campus in their neighborhood.

College-bound high school graduates who decide to enroll at a public university in their home state should make every effort to get admitted to their state's flagship public university.  By and large, the flagships are seeing an uptick in their enrollments and can offer broader course offerings and student services than the regionals.

A few regional public institutions are thriving and maintaining their enrollment levels. The University of Louisiana at Lafayette, where I taught until I retired, is poised to remain viable even if the economic downturn persists. ULL has a nursing school, engineering programs, and computer-science offerings that make its degrees attractive in Louisiana's job market.

But in Louisiana and in most states, the small, marginal public colleges that were often their community's largest employer will be shutting down. For most students, it will not make sense to attend a regional school that may disappear before they pay off their student loans.











Saturday, March 21, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic and broad relief for battered student-loan debtors: Congress needs to go big or go home!

The coronavirus pandemic rolls along like a tropical storm gathering force in the Gulf of Mexico.
Every day, it kills more Americans and further batters the national economy. The airline industry, the travel industry, and the restaurant business are begging for financial assistance to help them survive an economic crisis that no one saw coming.

PresidentTrump and Congress are working on a $2 trillion aid package to assist industries that have been hit hardest by the COVID-19 outbreak and provide cash assistance to individuals who lost their jobs or their businesses due to the pandemic.

Lawmakers also recognize that student-loan debtors need relief. Even before the pandemic, millions of college-loan borrowers were struggling to pay off their loans. Now--as the unemployment rate rises and whole industries collapse, a lot of student-loan debtors have their backs to the wall.

Republicans and Democrats have both proposed some form of assistance for student debtors. The Republicans recommend giving students a three-month break from their student-loan payments with no interest accruing.  The Democrats want the Department of Education to make student-loan payments on borrowers' behalf for as long as the national emergency lasts.

These proposals are a good start, but they do not go far enough. More than 45 million people have outstanding student loans, and less than half of them can pay them back. As President Trump might say, it's time to "go big" when we think about student-loan relief.

First of all, let's take a look at Senator Bernie Sander's proposal for total student-loan forgiveness—a $1.6 trillion-dollar bailout. Let's also examine Senator Elizabeth Warren's plan for loan forgiveness up to $50,000 per debtor. These ideas are not as wacky as some commentators have made them sound.

Regarding Bernie's idea, let's face facts. More than 8 million people are in long-term, income-based repayment plans, and most of these people are not paying down the interest on their loans. In fact, their loan balances grow with each passing month due to accruing interest. Millions more are in default or have their student loans in deferment. They're not paying their loans back either.

What's the point of pretending the student-loan scheme is a solvent federal program? It's not.  Bernie's plan to wipe out all student debt and offer a free college education is a logical proposal.

Senator Warren's plan to help student debtors also makes sense.  She wants to cap debt relief at $50,000, and that would help a great many people. After all, as  Don Trooper and colleagues recently reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education, people with small loan balances are more likely to default on their loans than people who owe $100,000 or more.

Forgiving student debt for individuals who ow relatively small amounts would help a lot of debtors who took out student loans to attend for-profit colleges and trade schools and didn't benefit from their educational experience.  That would be a good thing.

But if we really want to "go big," Congress must do two straightforward things. First, it must strike the"undue hardship." language from the Bankruptcy Code and allow insolvent student-loan borrowers to discharge their college loans in bankruptcy like any other nonsecured consumer debt. Second, it must repeal those provisions of the 2005 Bankruptcy Reform Act that made it more complicated and more expensive for beaten-down debtors to file for bankruptcy.

The very purpose of bankruptcy in American law is to give honest but unfortunate debtors a fresh start. Lawmakers need to remember that now as we enter into this century's Great Depression.

The 2020 Depression will look a lot like the Depression of the 1930s.