Showing posts with label liberal arts colleges. Show all posts
Showing posts with label liberal arts colleges. Show all posts

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Mount Ida College closes down: Knowing when to fold 'em

General George Washington fought a brilliant campaign in the Delaware Valley during the winter of 1776-1777, but he knew when to fold his cards. He won a stunning victory at the battle of Trenton, where he caught the Hessians with their pants down on the day after Christmas.  But a week later, Washington and his army found themselves facing General Cornwallis' elite British forces arrayed against him across Assunpink Creek. Night was falling; and Washington knew his army would be annihilated if it didn't hit the road before dawn.

What to do?

Washington didn't stick around for a battle. His army sneaked away under cover of darkness, leaving campfires burning and a small rear guard to deceive the British into thinking the Continentals were going to fight it out the next morning.

Mount Ida College, like George Washington, knows when to slip away. Following Washington's example, it gave every indication that it would be open for business for the 2018-2019 school year. The college admitted a new freshman class; it even offered scholarships to attract more students.

Then, seemingly out of the blue, Mount Ida announced it was shutting down.  It had been quietly negotiating with the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, which agreed to buy Mount Ida's 72-acre campus for $70 million. It also revealed that it had agreements in place with nearby colleges to take Mount Ida's transfer students.

Did Mount Ida behave reprehensibly? I don't think so. I'm sure Mount Ida's governing board knew it had to act in secrecy in order to make a clean getaway.

Understandably, students, parents, and Mount Ida professors are angry.  "Why are you preying on our children, luring them to come to Mount Ida with nonexistant money?" a mother of an incoming freshman asked.

Professor Fernando Reimers, a Harvard professor and member of the state board of higher education, also judged Mount Ida harshly. "It seems to me that this is not only an example of system failure," Reimers fulminated self-righteously.  "[T]his is an example of serious leadership failure."

But what does Professor Reimers know about running a small liberal arts college? Not much, I'll warrant.

Mount Ida is the latest name on a growing casualty list of small colleges that are calling it quits.  These little boutique schools just can't make it in an age of soaring tuition and an ever more burdensome regulatory environment.

We shouldn't condemn Mount Ida's governing board for the way it announced the school's closure. There is no painless way to shut down a college. It may have acted deceptively by pretending it was going to be operating for another year, but Mount Ida was simply stoking its campfires, much like Washington did on the banks of Assunpink Creek, sneaking away as best it could in the face of overwhelming forces.

As the immortal Kenny Rogers put it, you have to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away, and know when to run. In the next few years, we will see a lot of small colleges shut down. Parents who don't want to run the risk that their children's college will shut down precipitously, should send their kids to a public university.

George Washington knew when to fold 'em.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

James Howard Kunstler's negative assessment of American higher education is spot on

James Howard Kunstler posted an essay a few days ago containing his predictions for American higher education in the coming year. He predicts big trouble.

As Kunstler correctly observed, "college has become, most of all, a money-grubbing racket tuned to the flow of exorbitant student loans for exorbitant college costs."  In other words, as he has said before, higher education in the United States basically operates from a "criminal ethic" where costs have "developed an inverse relationship to the value of a college education."

Kunstler's essay also includes a withering assessment of college leadership: "The presidents, deans, and faculty of colleges around the country have turned into the most obdurate enemies of free thought since the Spanish Inquisition, a gang of cowards and villains who disgrace the meaning and purpose of higher ed[ucation]."

In fact, Kunstler's indictment of the people who run American colleges is too gentle. If these clowns lived in another age, they would be the people who staffed the French Vichy regime during Word War II--the bureaucrats who dutifully rounded up French Jews for the Nazis and shipped them from Paris to the German death camps. No courage, no intellect, no sense of decency whatsoever. They babble ceaselessly about trigger words, safe spaces and "white male heterosexual privilege" while they pick their students' pockets.

The federal student loan program is quietly and inexorably destroying the lives of millions of Americans; has anyone in higher education spoken up? Have the presidents of Harvard, Yale, University of Chicago, Brown, Johns Hopkins, or the University of Michigan uttered a single word of criticism about it? Has any university leader endorsed bankruptcy relief for overburdened student debtors?  Has any college president or dean criticized the government policy of garnishing Social Security checks of elderly student-loan defaulters? Has any higher-education leader of national standing called for the closure of the for-profit college industry?

No, our elite colleges and universities are almost as addicted to federal student-aid money as the sleaziest for-profit schools. In terms of dependency on federal money, there is not a dime's worth of difference between Harvard and Bob's Beauty Academy.

Kunstler predicts that "a shocking number of small four-year colleges will go out of business this year," and I share his view. Harvard professor Clayton Christensen said recently that half of American colleges will be bankrupt in 10 to 15 years.

In fact, the small liberal arts college is dead, although the leaders of some small colleges stubbornly keep their institutions on life support. Parents need to warn their children to stay away from these decaying institutions. It would be a grave mistake to borrow $100,000 to get a degree from a college that will close before its graduates pay off their student loans.


French officials registering French Jews.

References

Abigail Hess. Harvard Business School professor: Half of American colleges will be bankrupt in 10 to 15 years. CNBC.com, November 15, 2017.

James Howard Kunstler. Forecast 2018--What Could Go Wrong? Clusterfuck Nation, January 1, 2018.

James Howard Kunstler. Made for Each Other. Clusterfuck Nation, February 13, 2017.


Thursday, September 14, 2017

Birmingham-Southern cuts tuition in half: Making a virtue of necessity


I'm a Methodist, Methodist 'tis my belief
I'm a Methodist till die
Till old grim death comes a knockin' at the door
I'm a Methodist till I die.

Methodist Pie
sung by Red Foley and others

Birmingham-Southern College, a Methodist school in Alabama, is slashing its tuition price by half.  Current tuition: $35,840. Next year's tuition: $17,650.

Linda Flaherty-Goldsmith, BSC's president, put a positive spin on this development. "The marketplace spoke, and we listened," Flaherty-Goldsmith said in a prepared statement. "Students and families are telling colleges all across the United States--and they're telling us--that encountering a high published price is a real barrier to a high-quality education.  We want to make sure that the best and brightest students have access to the kind of personalized, challenging, hands-on educational experience that BSC provides."

Forgive me for being cynical, but that statement sounds like bullshit from the public relations department. For one thing, BSC isn't really cutting its net tuition rate. Ninety percent of BSC students were already paying less than the sticker price. In fact, college officials admitted that next year's net tuition price will be about what students are paying this year.

Basically, BSC has been doing what almost all small private colleges have been doing--jacking up the posted tuition rate and then cutting the real cost in half by granting scholarships and grants.

As Flaherty-Goldsmith admitted, this strategy isn't working. Families were scared off by BSC's sticker price, a price that only about 10 percent of BSC students were actually paying.

I wish BSC well, but I don't think slashing published tuition rates will bump up enrollment. Small colleges across the United States have tried all sorts of gimmicks to attract more students, but a third of all private institutions with enrollments under 3,000 ran deficits last year.

Colleges have tried advertising campaigns, "signature" academic experiences, study abroad opportunities, and online instruction to lure students through the door, but many are losing the battle to remain solvent.

Let's face facts. How many students are willing to pay $35,000 a year or even $17,000 a year to get a liberal arts degree from an undistinguished small college in Birmingham, Alabama?Apparently not very many.

There was a time when a college's religious affiliation was a draw for some American families. Back in the 1950s, some Methodists sent their children to Methodist schools, and Catholics sent their sons and daughters to Catholic colleges.

But that time is long past.  It is getting harder and harder to articulate what it means to be a Methodist college as opposed to a Catholic college or even a publicly funded institution. 

And it is getting more and more difficult to explain the value of a liberal arts education to a fragmented culture in which all values are relative and Eurocentric values are particularly suspect.

As I say, I wish BSC well. But small liberal arts colleges are becoming increasingly irrelevant, and the high tuition that most of them charge has accelerated their decline.

In my mind, it is too late to ratchet back tuition rates. The small colleges' former clients are drifting toward community colleges, trade schools, and regional public universities. Their customers have departed, and they are not coming back.

And I don't feel sorry for the small colleges that are dying. I feel sorry for the schmucks who took out student loans to pay BSC's sticker price.

BSC president Linda Flaherty-Goldsmith


References

Associated Press. Birmingham-Southern cutting tuition, fees next fall. Seattle Times, September 13, 2017.

Rick Seltzer. Birmingham-Southern Cuts Tuition in Half. Inside Higher Ed, September 13, 2017.



Thursday, June 1, 2017

Mills College struggles to survive: When is it time to say "Do Not Resuscitate"?

Mills College is one of several dozen private liberal arts colleges that are struggling to survive. Rick Seltzer's excellent story on Mills, which appeared yesterday in Inside Higher Ed, reported that the college faced a $9 million budget gap in 2016 but was able to reduce the deficit to $4.3 million by making stringent cuts.

Mills once filled a niche as an elite West Coast women's college, but apparently that identity isn't working anymore. Mills has less than 1,000 undergraduates and about 400 graduate students. It is struggling to find the revenue to fund a $57 million budget.

So what's the solution? Mills' new president, Elizabeth Hillman, announced that Mills' top recruitment priority will be LGBTQ students--students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning.

But how will a LGBTQ focus work at a women's college? Will it accept only bisexual women or can male bisexuals apply?  In the Q for questioning category, will it accept biological males who are considering a female identity or just biological females who are pondering a male identity?

Sounds complicated and confusing. Actually, it sounds desperate.

And there's more. Mills' financial stabilization plan calls for a tuition reset. Currently, tuition is pegged at about $45,000 a year, but the college's discount rate is 57 percent. Clearly that pricing structure is not sustainable.

 Mills has a financial stabilization plan, but the details are hazy. "Whether it is a lower price or a more direct and straightforward price, we anticipate that we will also market the new curriculum and a tuition reset together much more heavily than in the past," the college says opaquely.

 What does Mills mean when it says it is considering "a more direct and straightforward price"?  Is that an admission that its current pricing structure is dishonest?

The college also hopes to enroll more women who are focused on science, technology. engineering, and mathematics (STEM). But the college's STEM focus will be hard to sustain when the college is cutting faculty positions and slashing employment benefits. Seltzer's article reports that Mills cut retirement contributions from 9 percent of a faculty member's salary to 6 percent and plans to reduce it further to 2 percent.  Not a great benefits package. So how will Mills attract and retain the professors it needs to sharpen its focus on STEM?

Finally, Mills plans to roll out a "signature experience" for undergraduates "in  an attempt to stand out and attract students." What will that look like? It's not clear, and Seltzer's article asks a pertinent question: "[I]f many colleges have signature experiences, can any of them truly stand out?"

I wish Mills College well, but the hodgepodge of strategies President Hillman sketched out does not impress me. More LGBTQ students, more STEM students, more straightforward pricing, a signature experience, slashing employment benefits---in my mind it all adds up to "quiet desperation" (Thoreau's phrase).

At some point, liberal arts college leaders need to face facts: dozens  of small colleges will close within the next ten years. They are the organizational equivalent of a terminally ill hospital patient.

And when college trustees and administrators know that their institution is on life support, are they acting ethically when they continue to enroll new students? After all, there is a distinct possibility that the LGBTQ freshman (or freshperson) who enrolls at Mills in the fall of 2017 will be an alumna of a college that no longer exists in 2027.

And is it ethical for college deans to hire junior faculty members who will start their careers at an institution that may not be around when they retire?

All across the United States, private liberal arts colleges are on the ropes. Many are grasping for revenue-generating strategies like a dying person searching for a miracle drug. But there comes a time--and that time is fast approaching for many small liberal arts colleges--when a college should simply close.




References

Scott Jaschik. 'Financial Emergency' at Mills. Inside Higher Ed, May 17, 2017.

Rick Seltzer. Mills tries to balance cuts and efforts to grow revenue as it seeks to dig out from financial hole. Inside Higher Ed, May 31, 2017.

Kellie Woodhouse. Trying to Survive. Inside Higher Ed, May 12, 2015.



Sunday, February 12, 2017

St. Joseph's College is closing: Is the bell tolling for small liberal arts colleges?

St. Joseph's College, which was founded in 1889, is  shutting its doors in May. Officials cited several reasons for  closing: fierce competition for students, accreditation problems and increased federal regulation. St. Joseph's president, Robert Pastoor, said the college will need $100 million to reopen; and the college's friends and alumni are hoping to raise the funds.

Students organized a vote of no confidence against Pastoor and four other college leaders, but St. Joseph's decline and fall may not have been their fault. Small liberal arts colleges are in a precarious position all over the United States. The U.S. Department of Education has 500 colleges on its heightened-cash-monitoring watch list; and many of the schools on that list are small liberal arts colleges.

St. Joseph's, with only 900 students, just didn't have the resources to successfully navigate its way through rough financial waters. St. Catharine College, another small Catholic liberal arts college, announced it is closing less than a year ago. Like St. Joseph's, St. Catharine College cited increased federal regulation as one of the factors that brought it down.

By and large, the higher education community is made up of liberal Democrats; and almost no one protested the deluge of regulations that came out of the Department of Education during the Obama administration. Public universities, large private universities, and institutions with healthy endowment funds have been able to weather the tightening regulatory environment. Indeed, they have no choice. Virtually no college or university can survive without regular infusions of federal student aid money--and that money comes with regulatory strings attached.

Without question, many small liberal arts colleges are going to be squeezed out of existence over the next few years due to the same challenges that St. Joseph's and St. Catherine faced. Those that survive will have this profile:
  • Tuition rates below their competition; 
  • Strong academic programs that lead to good jobs such as jobs in medicine, health sciences, or criminal justice; 
  • High teaching standards; and
  • Endowment funds to buffer economic stress.
Many college and university leaders deplore the appointment of the new Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.  You can probably count DeVos's higher-education supporters on the fingers of one hand.

But maybe college leaders should give DeVos a chance to address the financial crisis in higher education before attacking her. If she acts sensibly to trim the thicket of federal regulation, it is quite possible that more small liberal arts colleges will survive.

And surely that would be a good thing.



References

Meredith Colias. Rensselaer stunned after announcement of St. Joseph's closure. Chicago Post-Tribune, February 10, 2016.

Alexandra Kruczek & Alexis Moberger. St. Joseph's College president will call it quits in May. WLFI.com, February 9, 2017.

Another Small Private Closes Its Doors. Inside Higher Ed, June 1, 2016. Accesible at https://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2016/06/01/another-small-private-closes-its-doors-dowling-college?utm_source=Inside+Higher+Ed&utm_campaign=a0fafeb056-DNU20160601&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1fcbc04421-a0fafeb056-198564813

Paul Fain. The Department and St. Catharine.  Inside Higher Ed, June 2, 2016. Accessible at https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/06/02/small-private-college-closes-blames-education-department-sanction?utm_source=Inside+Higher+Ed&utm_campaign=3d1c6eed79-DNU20160602&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1fcbc04421-3d1c6eed79-198565653


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.





Thursday, May 26, 2016

Free tuition for first-time freshmen at good private liberal arts colleges: Why the hell not?

Small liberal arts colleges are in trouble all over the United States. They're having a heck of a time attracting students, as families respond more and more negatively to outrageous tuition prices. Let's face it: not many people want to pay $100,000 to obtain a degree from a nondescript liberal arts college in Nowhereville, Indiana,

In a desperate effort to attract warm bodies, liberal arts colleges have been discounting their tuition drastically for first-time freshmen, behaving more and more like rug sellers in an Arab bazaar.  (I apologize if I made a politically incorrect observation.) For the past several years, the discount rate has gone ever upward; and last year, private liberal arts colleges discounted tuition for first-time freshman by nearly 50 percent! And they discounted tuition for undergraduates as a whole by more than 40 percent.

All commentators agree: this trend can't go on forever.  And colleges can't reverse course by simply lowering their tuition rates because they would be admitting that they've been overbilling their clients. As one observer noted, if you've been selling Toyotas for $30,000 apiece, how can you explain why you now only charge $20,000?

But what about this? Why don't small private liberal arts colleges--the ones that still have good reputations--offer applicants free tuition for the first year to everyone who enrolls?

Think about it. Colleges have already cut tuition by 50 percent on average for freshmen, and they're still having trouble meeting their enrollment targets. And once they get the little rascals in the door, they still have to discount tuition by more than 40 percent.

If a college offered free tuition for freshman, there would be two good consequences. First, the college would get more applicants and a higher percentage of applicants who are accepted would actually enroll. And second, the college could be more selective because the overall quality of the applicant pool would improve.

Of course, such a move would have to be planned carefully. Here's how I would do it:

1) The college making the  offer would promise to admit students based on published academic criteria--without regard to race, class, gender, or sexual orientation. Applicants would know that their credentials were being judged transparently based solely on academic considerations.

2) Students who accept the offer would agree to attend the college a second year and pay the full tuition price if the college didn't offer a sophomore-year discount.

3) Colleges making this offer would assign their best faculty members to teach freshmen so that students who enrolled would have a top-notch freshman year and thus would be more likely return as sophomores. No more crowding a couple of hundred freshmen into theatre-style classrooms to be taught by an inexperienced graduate assistant or a burned-out gas bag who should have never gotten tenure.

This is a risky strategy I know. But colleges are already charging freshmen half price, and many are still seeing their enrollments decline. If offering a free year led to a 50 percent bump in freshman enrollment, that would absorb a good deal of the cost of this strategy if those students could be retained as sophomores, juniors and seniors.

One thing for sure--college administrators are playing a losing game right now. They can't go on giving big tuition discounts to favored students using secret criteria that families don't understand. They can't rely on public relations firms, perky recruiters, and billboard advertising to juice their enrollments.

The public has figured out that a liberal arts degree from an obscure private college is overpriced. To bring back the paying customers, the colleges must offer value. What better way to communicate value than by giving new students a year of free tuition and then offering a first-class educational experience?

Or is that too simplistic?

Image result for university billboard advertising


References

Rick Seltzer. Discount rates rise yet again at private colleges and universities. Inside Higher Ed, May 16, 2016. Accessible at https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/05/16/discount-rates-rise-yet-again-private-colleges-and-universities.



Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Going out of Business Sale!! Prices Slashed!! Everything Must Go!! Colleges that heavily discount student tuition are teetering on the brink of closure

According to a survey conducted by the National Association of College and University Business Officers, private colleges discounted their tuition prices for first year students by an average of 48 percent in 2014. Think of it: on average, a private college now charges only about half its tuition sticker price to its freshman class.

And the discount rate is going up. Inside Higher Ed reported that the discount rate has risen 20 percent in just seven years: from 39 percent in 2007 to 48 percent last year.

Moreover, at many schools, nearly everyone gets a discount. As explained by Inside Higher Ed, 69 percent of the colleges surveyed by NACUBO offered discounts to 90 percent or more of their students last year.

As many experts have pointed out, heavily discounting tuition rates is not sustainable. In fact, heavy discount rates are a sure sign that a college is in trouble. Sweetbriar College, for example, which closed (and then reopened) last year, was discounting its tuition price by 62 percent, but still couldn't attract enough students to keep its doors open.

 NACUBO's survey determined that almost 10 percent of private colleges discounted their tuition prices by an astounding 60 percent, surely a bad sign for all the colleges that discount at that level. “If your discount rate is at 60 percent, that's a very dangerous warning sign,” observed David Breneman, former Dean of the University of Virginia's school of education (as quoted in Inside Higher Ed).  “If you were any other business of any other sort [you wouldn’t] think you were in a very good position.”

What does this mean for higher education in general? At least three things:

1) First, a liberal arts education at a non-elite private college is not worth what colleges have been charging, and everyone knows it.

2) Second, heavy discounts are destroying colleges' credibility.  When 90 percent of students are getting a discount and when discount rates average nearly 50 percent, everyone know that colleges have posted deceptive sticker prices for their tuition. They've become like Texas fireworks peddlers: "Buy 1 and get 6 free!"

3) Third, a lot of small, nondescript private colleges will close in the coming years. A Moody's report on colleges' financial viability predicted that college closures will triple by 2015, which would mean about 15 colleges will close that year. But surely that figure is too conservative.

Personally, I think we will see many private liberal arts schools closing in the coming years. The economics of getting a liberal arts degree from an obscure private college just don't make sense anymore. In fact, if it weren't for the federal student loan program, which is propping up the private-college sector, half of them would be closed already.

Image result for "fireworks stand" images
Discounting college tuition prices: Buy 1, Get 6 free!

References

Kelly Woodhouse. (2015, November 25). Discount Much? Inside Higher Ed. Accessible at: https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/11/25/what-it-might-mean-when-colleges-discount-rate-tops-60-percent?utm_source=Inside+Higher+Ed&utm_campaign=389f6fe14e-DNU20151125&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1fcbc04421-389f6fe14e-198565653


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


Sunday, February 3, 2013

For whom the bell tolls: Law schools are in touble and so is the rest of higher education


Last week, the New York Times carried a front-page story on the decline in law school applications. In 2004, there were 100,000 applicants to law schools, the Times reported. This year that number will decline by about half.

As one law professor put it, "Thirty years ago if you were looking to get on the escalator to upward mobility, you went to business or law school. Today, the law school escalator is broken" (Bronner, 2013, p. 1.)

The gravy days are coming to an end for college professors
One law school dean admitted that law school costs too much. "Most law schools are too expensive,the debt coming out is too high and the prospect of obtaining a six-figure-income job is limited" (as quoted in the Times).

What happened? As the Times article reported, law school has gotten very expensive.  As I wrote in a past post, tuition at the University of Texas School of Law was $1,000 per year when I attended in the late 1970s.  With a little savings and working part time, most students could graduate from law school with no debt. Today, it costs a Texas resident $32,000 a year to attend UT Law School.

Second, we don't need as many lawyers as we once did. Electronic legal research has made it possible for legal researchers to be ten times more efficient than they were before Westlaw and Lexis-Nexis were introduced.

Third (and I admit this is a totally subjective view), I suspect that law school faculty are not as focused on training legal professionals as they used to be. Consequently, a law school education is not as useful as it once was in getting graduates ready for the workforce.  Too many law professors are writing postmodern law review articles that no one reads instead of striving to relate law-school education with the real world. 

Fourth, I think the blog critics have done their part to discourage potential applicants from going to law school.  There are some terrific online writers who use data and savagely effective writing skills to describe what is going on in legal education, and the picture they paint isn't pretty.  I feel sure a great many young people decide not to go to law school after reading those blogs.  I applaud those writers, by the way. They have provided a real service by alerting people that law school may not be a good investment.

Non law-school academics may be thinking, "Thank God I teach in another profession." But they need to realize that the shakeup in legal education is coming to the whole field of higher education.  The colleges of education, for example, are vulnerable to declining enrollments.  There are too many colleges of education, for one thing; and online for-profit competitors are cutting into the market share of the colleges of education at public universities.

And the social sciences and liberal arts will probably see a further decline in student enrollments. If a potential law student can do some research and conclude that law school is a bad economic bargain, the potential history major and philosophy major can come to the same conclusion.

According to a report prepared by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, nearly half of all  employed college graduates who held a job in 2010 were employed in a job that did not require a college education (Bidwell, 2013). A high percentage of these underemployed college graduates borrowed money to attend school, and they must pay back their loans whether or not their post-college income justified the investment. 

More and more, we are going to see young people calculate the odds when they make decisions about higher education.  And many will conclude that the odds aren't good.

Private liberal arts colleges are likely to suffer the most from the new economic reality. Fewer and fewer young people are going to seek a a liberal arts degree from an expensive private college--particularly the nonprestigious liberal arts schools that were founded years ago by religious denominations.

In other words, in the world of higher education, it is not only the law schools that are in trouble. We can tell the college professors in nearly every discipline: "Ask not for whom the bell tolls." It tolls for a lot of us working as college and university professors.

References

Bidwell, Allie (2013, Januatry 28). Millions of Graduates Hold Jobs That Don't Require a College Degree Report Says. Chronicle of Higher Education.

Bronner, Ethan. (2013, January 31). Law Schools' Applications Fall As Costs Rise and Jobs Are Cut. New York Times.