Showing posts with label college tuition. Show all posts
Showing posts with label college tuition. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

For Want of a Starbucks, a College Was Lost: Sweet Briar College is Closing Its Doors

Sweet Briar College announced yesterday that it is closing its doors at the end of the academic year.

Sweet Briar is one of those obscure but vaguely elite colleges that average Americans have heard about but are totally clueless about where they are located. Bowdoin? Colgate? Williams? Amherst? Where in the hell are these places?

Sweet Briar College: Too Far From a Starbucks
Well, Sweet Briar is a small liberal arts college for women located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. It is quite small--less than 600 undergraduates, but it is a lovely place. The college has a horse-riding program, a Study Abroad program, and several notable alumni.

But Sweet Briar is expensive. The sticker price to attend Sweet Briar for a year is just under $35,000 in tuition and fees.  And that doesn't include the cost of oats for your horse or the artisan cheese you will eat when you are studying abroad in France.

According to an article written by Scott Jaschik for Inside Higher Ed, Sweet Briar is closing for several reasons. First, students are less and less enamored with rural colleges. Even though Sweet Briar's campus--located on 3200 rural Virginia acres--is stunningly beautiful, most young people want to be where the action is, which is in the cities.

As Sweet Briar's President James F. Jones Jr. put it, "We are 30 minutes from a Starbucks."

Second, single-sex colleges have fallen out of fashion. Single-sex institutions have been totally wiped out in the public sector after the Supreme Court ruled that Mississippi University for Women and the Virginia Military Institute had discriminated on the basis of sex due to their single-sex admission policies. And most private colleges that started out as single-sex institutions now admit both women and men.

And of course, it is getting harder and harder to determine a student's gender, which makes single-sex admissions policies a bit awkward. The New York Times Magazine ran a story about transgender students at Wellesley that identified some of the complexity of gender issues at a private women's liberal arts college.

Third, it is harder and harder for private colleges that are not in the top tier to make a go of it. As Jaschik's article noted, only about one out of five women who were admitted to Sweet Briar chose to enroll there.

Sweet Briar and most private colleges try to sweeten the deal for potential students by discounting their tuition fees.  At Sweet Briar, the so-called discount rate for attractive first-year students was 62.8 percent in 2014.  That's right--the real cost for selected first-year students was only about one third of the sticker price.

So who pays the sticker price? Only suckers like you, Mom and Pop.

I say good riddance to Sweet Briar and all the overpriced private liberal arts colleges that failed to offer a product that students wanted at a price that families could afford. They have brought their demise on themselves by jacking up the sticker price of tuition and then giving discounts to special students who are selected based on criteria that are less than transparent. These schools have been operating more like used-car dealers than academics in the way they have sought to attract students, and now the jig is up.

Moreover, in my opinion, the vaunted value of a liberal arts education at one of these joints is vastly overrated. Many of the professors at these elite institutions are peddling postmodernism under the guise of a liberal arts education. And you don't need to attend an expensive private college to achieve the wry, edgy cynicism of a postmodernist.  Just watch Jon Stewart on television.

The crucial fact is this: the non-elite private liberal arts colleges are surviving almost totally on the federal student aid program; and students are having to borrow too much money to receive a non-spectacular education from these places.

What will replace Sweet Briar and the other overpriced, private liberal arts colleges as the purveyors of quality post-secondary education? I don't know. But I think it is likely that a great many private liberal arts colleges will close their doors before we figure it out.

References

Scott Jaschik. (2015, March 4). Sweet Briar College will shut down. Inside Higher Ed. Available at: https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/03/04/sweet-briar-college-will-shut-down

Mississippi University for Women v. Hogan, 478 U.S. 718 (1982).

Ruth Padawer. (2014, October 15). When Women Become Men at Wellesley. New York Times Magazine. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/19/magazine/when-women-become-men-at-wellesley-college.html?_r=0

Ry Rivard. (2014, July 2). Discount Escalation. Inside Higher Ed. Available at: https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/07/02/prices-rise-colleges-are-offering-students-steeper-discounts-again

United States v. Virginia, 518 U.S. 515 (1996).







Monday, September 16, 2013

Private Liberal Arts Colleges Are Dying and They Won't Be Resurrected

If something can't go on forever, the old bromide goes, it won't. America's small, private liberal arts colleges can't go on forever. Even now, they are in a long slow decline, like elderly widows in small Southern towns, sitting placidly on their verandas and drinking mint juleps while they wait for the disease that will finally kill them.

And this is a great shame.  America's small liberal arts colleges emerged in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century to provide a college education to young people who previously had had no opportunity to attend college.  Started by Catholic religious orders, Protestant denominations, and sometimes just by
liberal-minded philanthropists, they sprang up in industrial cities, small Midwestern towns, and even the plains of West Texas to offer a product most people believed in--a liberal arts education.  Some were started specifically for women and all were started to advance the life prospects of plain ordinary young people.

Looking back on the golden era of the private liberal arts colleges, it is remarkable how physically beautiful many of them were.  The founders seemed to have an innate sense of architectural taste.  Many of the buildings on these small campuses were designed along classical lines and are truly beautiful.

And apparently, these colleges were relatively easy to found.  In the days before onerous federal regulations and bureaucratic accrediting associations, it seems that just about anyone could start a college.  And the nation owes a debt to the many civic minded individuals and organizations that created these lovely little institutions that dot the American landscape.

But their days are numbered and many won't survive another twenty years.  Most have slashed their tuition rates and many have experimented with online offerings, or other innovations to stop their enrollment declines.  But in the end, most private liberal arts colleges are doomed to close.

Why are the private liberal arts colleges in decline?

They have gotten too expensivee.  First of all, liberal arts colleges have gotten too expensive.  Many undistinguished little colleges charge as much to attend as the elite private institutions.  Families have done the math and have come to the conclusion that it doesn't make sense to pay $50,000 a year in tuition, room and board for their children to attend colleges that have nothing special to offer in today's modern economy.

It is true that the real cost of attending one of these colleges is often far less than the sticker price.  As a recent Inside Higher Education story explained, most students pay far less than the advertised price to attend a private college.  But even if the $30,000 tuition is reduced to $15,000, the total cost to attend these schools is around $30,000 per year, when room, board, and books are figured in.  That's a lot of money for a middle class or working class family.

The idea of a liberal arts education is dead. Second, the notion that a liberal arts education is a good in itself is dead. There was a time when most people agreed that the study of history, literature,
Seinfeld reruns
Postmodern education for free
philosophy and the social sciences produced good citizens prepared to make their way in life.  But now the emphasis is on the bottom line.  Far more students major in business today than history or English.

Furthermore, even if students want a classical liberal arts education, they are increasingly unlikely to find an institution that provides it.  Many of today's liberal arts professors are postmodernists, neo-Marxist cranks, moral cynics, or outright nihilists. For many liberal arts professors, stamping out the ideals of the young is their life's mission.

And many young people have figured out that they can become disillusioned about life for a lot less than $30,000 a year.  After all, if they want a lesson in postmodern nihilism, they can watch reruns of Seinfeld.

 Residential education is dead.  Finally, American young people no longer see the value in residential education. In another time, students willingly lived in dormitories where they shared a room with at least one other student and showered in a communal bathroom.  Students ate in university-run cafeterias and participated in a host of campus activities--student clubs, drama society, student government, etc.  Dorm mothers and hall monitors kept order and made sure students made it back to their dorms every evening before the doors were locked for the night.

Today, many young people simply won't put up with living in a dormitory. They would rather live in off-campus apartments where they can cohabit with their significant (or insignificant) others, eat at fast food restaurants, and only come on campus for their classes.  In fact, a lot of students prefer online classes so they need not come on campus at all.

Where are we headed? In short, liberal arts colleges are in a downward spiral for variety of reasons. And I don't see a revival.  The future of higher education is still not clear, but I think it is headed into three main segments.

First, the elite colleges will always survive, selling prestige, political connections, and smooth access into elite graduate schools.  The future of Harvard, Yale, Emory, Georgetown, Stanford, and 30 or 40 other elite universities is assured.

Second, most middle class students will attend public institutions, both flagship institutions like the University of Michigan and Louisiana State University, but also a host of regional and satellite institutions like University of Texas at San Antonio and the University of Western Michigan. Increasingly, these public universities will turn into mega institutions with thousands of students, soulless leadership, and robotic bureaucracies.

Third, working class students with college aspirations will go to community colleges with commuter cultures or will get sucked into the predatory for-profit institutions that will offer them lackluster educational experiences and leave them with high levels of student-loan debt.

But the lovely little liberal arts colleges with their elm-lined pathways and neo-Grecian halls are fading into the past.  I think we will miss them.

References

Ry Rivard. Paper (Tuition) Cuts. Inside Higher Education, September 16, 2013. Accessible at: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/09/16/small-private-colleges-steeply-cut-their-sticker-price-will-it-drive-down-college