Showing posts with label private colleges. Show all posts
Showing posts with label private colleges. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Iowa Wesleyan and Valparaiso Law School make brave decisions: “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done"

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done." Who said that? I think it was some dead guy from the 19th century. Charles Dickens maybe?

Iowa Wesleyan University and Valparaiso Law School both made brave decisions this week, and I salute them for it. Valparaiso Law announced it is closing after negotiations to transfer the school to Middle Tennessee State University broke down. And the President of Iowa Wesleyan University, Steven E. Titus, posted a statement on the university web site candidly telling the campus community that the university faces a serious financial crisis and that the governing board is pondering the university's future.

These decisions must have been very hard for both institutions. President Titus acknowledged that publicizing Iowa Wesleyan's financial situation might hurt enrollment, which could hasten its demise. "But we decided it was the right thing to let people know what was going on," Titus said. "There is risk no matter what we do."

As for Valparaiso, the loss of its law school diminishes the reputation of the university as a whole, as a law school is generally seen as a prestige-enhancing program.

In my view, both institutions are facing the stark financial reality that many private colleges are facing, and they are facing it with courage. Let's first look at Valparaiso. 

There are far too many law schools in this country, and enrollments have been declining. As reported in Inside Higher Ed, law-school enrollments have sunk from a high of 52,000 to 37,000. 

The quality of students being admitted to law schools is also declining. As tracked by Law School Transparency, a nonprofit group that reports on law -school admissions, some law schools have admitted students with LSAT scores so low that half the entering class faces a very high risk of failing the bar.

Valparaiso is closing its law school,  which is certainly in the public interest. It is far better for Valparaiso to close than for it to lower its admissions standards just to enroll more students.

As for Iowa Wesleyan, the school has been discounting tuition to attract students; according to one report, it has discounted tuition by more than half.  At some point that practice raises ethical issues.  How can a college justify charging its least attractive students full price when the average price is less than half that amount?

And how does a college explain the discounts to the students who receive them? Some colleges have been showering first-year students with scholarships--athletic scholarships in particular.  But is it honest to give an incoming student a volleyball scholarship when the school doesn't even field a decent volleyball team?

No, Valparaiso and Iowa Western should be commended for their courage and their honesty. It was a far, far better thing they did than perhaps anything they've ever done.

References

Scott Jaschik. Iowa  Wesleyan could become the latest small college to close. Insider Higher Ed, November , 2018.

Emma Whitford. Valparaiso Law School will close following unsuccessful attempt to transfer to Middle Tennessee University. Inside Higher Ed, October 31, 2018.

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.



Monday, May 23, 2016

A liberal arts degree is not worth much: Don't borrow a lot of money to pay for one

Christ. Seven years of college down the drain. Might as well join the f-cking Peace Corps."

Bluto (played by John Belushi)
Animal House

Americans cling to the touchingly pathetic belief that a college degree will improve their lives. And it is true that people who graduate from college make more money over their lifetimes than people who only have high school diplomas.

But in many instances, a college degree represents nothing more than an individual's dogged tenacity and willingness to sit through four years of meaningless classes--traits that make college graduates adaptable to the sterility and boredom of the American workplace.

That's not always true, of course. I feel quite sure that people who get degrees in engineering, journalism, and the health professions often learn valuable skills.  

But a degree in the liberal arts or the social sciences is highly overrated as a ticket to a good job. Reflecting back more than 40 years from my time at Oklahoma State University ("the Princeton of the Prairies"), I realize I learned more about how to make my way in the world from delivering newspapers as a 12-year-old for the Anadarko Daily News than I did from any of my college courses.

And I received much more vocational guidance from my father than from any college professor. Not that my father gave a damn about what I would do for a living when I left home. But after holding down several hundred bull calves while he castrated them with his Schrade pocket knife, I came to the firm conviction that I would never make it as a cattleman.

At one time, going to college was a relatively harmless activity. Rattling around a campus for four (or five, or six) years didn't do young people much harm other than delay their entrance into remunerative employment. And no question about it--studying for exams improves people's short-term memory.

But things have changed. Today, making the wrong choices about going to college can lead to a lifetime of economic hardship, at least for people who borrow too much money to pay for their college education.

What can go wrong about obtaining a liberal arts education, you might ask?  Here are some mistakes that many people make:

1) Getting a liberal arts degree from a for-profit college. By and large, for-profit colleges are more expensive than public schools; so if you attend a for-profit college you will probably borrow more money than if you attended a public institution. And the for-profits have high default rates. According to a Brookings Institution report, almost half of the people in  a recent cohort who borrowed to attend a for-profit school defaulted on their loans within five years. Thus, attending a for-profit college increases the risk of default.

So if you want to get a degree in sociology, history, literature, or women's studies, you should probably get it at a public university--even a mediocre one--rather than pursue a liberal arts degree at a for-profit institution.

2) Paying the sticker price to attend a prestigious private college.  Private colleges are more expensive than public colleges, but they are now discounting their tuition drastically. In fact, the average institutional discount rate at private colleges was 48.6 percent for first-time freshmen in 2015-2016. And the discount rate for all students attending private schools was 42.5 percent.

So don't pay the sticker price to attend a fancy private college. Keep in mind that many private schools are scrambling to keep their enrollments up, and they need you more than you need them.

3) Doubling down by going to graduate school without a clear idea how a graduate degree will improve your earning potential. About 40 percent of all outstanding student-loan debt was acquired by people who went to graduate school. Graduate education in some fields has become outrageously expensive--especially for law degrees and MBAs. But graduate degrees in the liberal arts are also pricey.

There was a time when graduate school was a reasonable default option for people with no clear vocational goal. Graduate school was a respectful place for people to park themselves while they decided what they wanted to do with their lives. And opportunity costs were relatively low because tuition was often low--particularly at public colleges.

But the game has changed. Individuals who borrow money to get a liberal arts education and then borrow more money to go to graduate school are playing Russian Roulette with their financial futures; and they're playing with three bullets in their revolvers. Don't go to graduate school unless you have a clear idea about how a graduate degree will lead to a job that pays well enough to make the investment worthwhile.

Beware: A liberal arts degree is no sure path to a middle-class lifestyle

In sum, a liberal arts degree provides no sure path to making a living, and borrowing a lot of money to get a liberal arts education can lead to financial disaster. It is a fine thing to know a little Shakespeare and to be able to identify the causes of Thirty Years' War; and it's nice to talk literature with the swells. But if you leave college with a hundred grand in student loans, you will find that the liberal arts degree you acquired didn't enhance your life; in fact, it might have destroyed it.

Image result for bluto in animal house
"Seven years of college down the drain . . . ."

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