Showing posts with label Hechinger Report. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hechinger Report. Show all posts

Saturday, August 15, 2020

70 college groups ask Congress for more coronavirus money: Feed me, Seymour!

Writing on behalf of more than 70 college lobbying groups, Ted Mitchell, President of the American Council on Education, wrote a letter to Congressional leaders earlier this month asking for federal money to help colleges cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

Congress had already sent relief money to American colleges and universities through the CARES Act, but Mitchell asked for more--a lot more!

Mitchell said colleges need a total of $46.6 billion to cover increased student aid and lost revenues, and they need another $73.8 billion to pay the costs associated with the COVID 19 pandemic.

One congressional bill (the Corona Virus Child Care & Education Relief Act) calls for sending the colleges $132 billion, and Mitchell says that will do nicely, thank you very much.  Other legislation falls short of what Mitchell says the college industry needs.

Mitchell also asked for some other stuff:

  • Colleges want flexibility in how they spend the federal money they want Congress to give them.
  • Colleges want more cash even if they don't fully reopen. Or, as Mitchell put it, none of the money should be based on "an institution's reopening status."
  • Universities with fat endowments (Harvard's endowment fund is $37 billion) should not be penalized just because they're rich.
Mitchell's letter contained some more requests, but the bottom line is this: American colleges and universities want more federal money. Feed Me, Seymour!

When Mitchell was asking for a federal handout, did he urge Congress to provide some relief for college students? College borrowers, after all, collectively owe $1.7 trillion in student debt.

Oh yes. Mitchell asked Congress to extend the moratorium on monthly student-loan payments and accruing interest for an additional six months.  Thanks for thinking about the students, Ted. So thoughtful!

Mitchell did not mention bankruptcy relief for distressed student-loan debtors or the tax status of forgiven student debt.  He did not mention the millions of parents who took out PLUS loans to get their kids through crumby colleges--loans that sabotaged their retirement plans.

No, Ted Mitchell's letter was all about sucking up more federal money so the college racket can maintain the status quo--which includes robber-baron salaries for college presidents, coaches, and administrators.

Of course, the higher education industry won't admit that it brought its financial woes on itself or that many colleges were sinking even before the coronavirus showed up and crapped in their mess kits. (See Jon Marcus's recent essay in the Hechinger Report.)

Public institutions refused to consolidate their regional campuses even as college enrollments dropped precipitously.  Private colleges continued to insist that the liberal arts degrees they cranked out were valuable, even though they had forgotten what a liberal arts education is all about.

Law schools and business schools refused to cut their tuition or shrink the size of their entering classes even though there was a glut of JDs and MBAs on the market.

And now the reckoning day approaches, and all the college and universities can think of to do as a group is to have their 70 lobbying organizations ask Congress for more money.





Friday, August 7, 2020

U.S. colleges are in big financial trouble, and it's their own damn fault

I doubt that many college presidents listen to country music, but perhaps they should.

Country music is full of lyrics about people getting in trouble because they made poor decisions. In Mama Tried, Merle Haggard admits he wouldn't be in jail if he had listened to his mother. And of course, there are hundreds of country songs about guys who lost their marriages because they hung out in honky-tonks with loose women.

American colleges and universities, like country-music singers, have made spectacular mistakes. But unlike the hillbilly bards, college leaders won't admit it.  They just raise tuition and go on wild building sprees. Now they can't pay their bills.

As Jon Marcus wrote for The Hechinger Report, higher education's bad choices left it dangerously vulnerable when the coronavirus pandemic became its black swan.  What did the universities do wrong?

First of all, colleges continued hiring faculty even though they were attracting fewer students. As Marcus pointed out, overall enrollment in American colleges and universities shrank by 12 percent since the last recession (2008-2009), while higher education increased the number of employees by five percent.

In particular, many colleges didn't decrease staffing levels for programs that were in decline. Fewer and fewer students choose education or liberal arts as their major. Still, many institutions did not reduce staff or eliminated majors even though the professors had fewer students to teach.

Second, Marcus correctly noted that the trustees at many universities abdicated their leadership role to be "boosters, cheerleaders, and donors."  Many college boards paid their presidents lavish salaries with overly generous benefits, bonuses, and hefty retirement packages.  For example, Penn State University and Michigan State paid departing presidents millions of dollars in golden-parachute money after they left their positions in the wake of explosive sexual-abuse scandals.

Rather than trimming their financial costs or operating more efficiently, most colleges responded to rising costs by raising tuition, forcing students to take out larger and larger student loans. As students reacted to sticker shock, the colleges switched tactics by offering huge tuition discounts of 50 percent or more to lure students into enrolling.  That didn't work out well for most higher education institutions.  Their tuition discounts didn't reverse their financial woes, and revenues continued to drop.

Now the coronavirus has become an expensive problem for colleges and universities. Many of them will close. But they can't blame COVID-19 for their misfortune. A lot of colleges were "dead men walking" even before the pandemic showed up as a black swan event.