Deciphering Higher Ed Statistics

Last week at a State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) board meeting, board member Heywood Fralin launched into an impromptu digression on a topic of great frustration to him: the claim that for every dollar the General Assembly has cut in state support to higher education, state colleges and universities have increased tuition by two dollars.

“Reports about tuition increases lack perspective,” said Fralin, a successful businessman and former head of the University of Virginia Board of Visitors. The two-for-one claim might reflect reality if you pick 1996 as a starting date, he said, but if you select 2001 as the starting date, you would see a one-for-one match between state cuts and tuition increases.

Fralin was correct in pointing out that it matters which start and end dates are used in making a statistical analysis. But was the year 2001 any more reflective of reality when analyzing the impact of state budget cuts on tuition than the year 1996?

The two-for-one claim likely originated in a presentation by fiscal analyst Tony Maggio at a House Appropriations Committee retreat in November 2016. At that event, Maggio shared the following chart:

Translator key: UG = undergraduate, GF = General Fund, FTE = Full-time equivalent, T&F = tuition & fees, I/S = In-State, O/S = Out-of-State. Maggio’s bottom line: “Essentially, in-state tuition grew $2 for every $1 loss in General Fund.”

By Maggio’s calculation, state support per in-state student (nobody is terribly concerned about out-of-state students) shrank by $1,634 inflation-adjusted dollars between 1996 and 2015. Over the same period, average inflation-adjusted tuition & fees increased by $3,186, almost twice as much.

Legislators picked up this factoid during the 2017 General Assembly session. During a press conference highlighting several bills designed to reign in runaway tuition increase, Sen. Bill DeSteph, R-Virginia Beach, declared, “For every dollar we cut, they raise tuition two dollars.” The claim was repeated in newspaper ads paid for by Partners 4 Affordable Education (a Bacon’s Rebellion sponsor). I’ve repeated the number myself on this blog.

A March editorial in the Virginian-Pilot, cited by Fralin, took exception to the two-to-one meme.

When an advocacy group recently placed newspaper ads and op-eds asserting that Virginia colleges raise tuition $2 for every $1 dollar of state funding cuts, it was the wrong thing to do. It was misleading to the point of being false.

Over the 15-year period since 2001, there has been roughly a 1:1 correlation between state funding cuts and tuition hikes.

How do you get a figure of $2 in tuition increases per $1? By including cuts made between 1996 and 2001.

It could have been far more useful to evaluate the 15 years between 2001-2015. That would include the last two recessions, along with corresponding budget cuts and tuition increases.

It is interesting to see the Virginian-Pilot accuse the newspaper ad of being “misleading to the point of being false” for picking a start date that fit its narrative while the editorial writer did precisely the same thing! The table below (also prepared by Tony Maggio) shows how a starting date of 2001, when state support was highest, would include the cuts in state support that followed and exclude the increases that preceded it, thus biasing the findings in a totally different direction.

This graph, prepared by House of Delegates staffer Tony Maggio, shows General Fund support per in-state undergraduate student at Virginia’s public four-year institutions using a starting date of 1996. The yellow highlight (which I added) shows the starting date proposed by a Virginian-Pilot editorial writer.

The Pilot editorial writer did raise one interesting point: Perhaps comparisons should take into account the fiscal impact of the business cycle. In the writer’s view, it was important to “include the last two recessions, along with corresponding budget cuts and tuition increases.”

But why is it important to include the last two recessions, rather than the last one recession? Why are recessions more important than business expansions when tax revenues tend to be growing, not shrinking? Why not pick a date tied to key legislation, such as the 2005 Restructuring Act, which gave Virginia public colleges and universities more autonomy and freedom to raise tuition in exchange for more accountability to outcomes? Inevitably, the selection of a start is an arbitrary decision.

Why did Maggio pick 2006 for his starting date? Because, he told me, twenty years seemed like a reasonable amount of time to look back. But he could have gone back to the early 1980s when then-Governor L. Douglas Wilder slashed state support for higher education to balance the budget during a recession, or  a few years later when, during an economic expansion, his successors tried to restore the balance.

As it happened, SCHEV Director Peter Blake picked the 1992-1993 fiscal year as the starting point for his own analysis. A career state administrator who has occupied high-level positions in higher ed through multiple administrations, Blake makes a genuine effort to be an honest broker between higher ed’s many factions and constituencies.

(Click for larger image)

Blake’s graph shows that total, inflation-adjusted funding per student (seen in the green line above) has increased 32.2% since fiscal 1992. But the sources of revenue have changed dramatically. State support from General Fund revenues have declined 21.9% over the same period, while Non-General Fund revenues (basically, university revenues from all other sources) have increased 88.9% over the same period.

“The conclusions one reaches about tuition increases and general fund reductions depend on what year you use,” Blake says. “Well-meaning people can make good cases for choosing one year over another. I conclude from looking at the numbers that there is a connection between state funding and tuition increases, but there also are other factors that figure prominently into the price of college.”

By bringing at “Non-General Fund revenues” into the equation, Blake alters the framework for viewing the problem in an important way. Non-General Fund revenues include revenue sources such as student fees, room & board, athletic revenues, research grants, endowment monies, and more.

If we focus on tuition only, we limit our analysis to about 28% of the total cost of attendance for an in-state, undergraduate student. The price of tuition becomes politicized because state support goes to tuition only, and the proper level of state support is a political issue. But the cost of student fees, room and board also have risen more rapidly than the cost of living over the years. Universities and their defenders prefer to keep the focus on tuition, where declining state support is partially to blame, and keep the spotlight off room, board, textbooks and student fees, where the state is blameless.

Now, let’s make matters even more complicated. “Average tuition per student” covers tuition for undergraduate students, graduate students, and professional students (law school, med school, business school, etc.) The most politically sensitive question is the cost of attendance for undergraduate students, first, because there are far more undergraduates than others, and second because people figure that Ph.Ds., doctors, lawyers and MBAs will earn enough money to pay off their sky-high tuition, so who cares?

(For what it’s worth, Maggio’s numbers encompass undergraduates only. As I read his chart, Blake’s numbers encompass all students.)

Why does this matter? Because it does not cost the same to educate undergraduate students and graduate students. Indeed, Maggio suspects that undergraduate student tuition subsidizes graduate-student tuition, although he did not provide me any hard data to back that supposition. The issue of graduate-student subsidies takes us down another rabbit hole: the role of graduate students in the university ecosystem, and cross-subsidies within universities, the details of which are too complex to divert us here.

Thus, not only does it matter which dates you select, it matters whether you are comparing in-state versus out-of-state students, or undergraduate students versus all students. Maggio’s data and Blake’s data are not directly comparable because Maggio is looking at undergraduate students (which might be the right thing to in some circumstances) while Blake is looking at all students (which might be the right thing to do under other circumstances).

Similarly, one could draw distinctions between cuts in state support administered to community colleges, public, four-year colleges generally, and the elite institutions. State support is not ladled out or cut back evenly. Universities serving poor and minority student populations are deemed to be more vulnerable than, say, the University of Virginia and the College of William & Mary, therefore have suffered bigger reductions when the state is retrenching. Those same institutions also have greater pricing power in the marketplace, so they have raised tuition more aggressively.

Having awakened to these nuances, I will do my best to compare apples to apples, in my future writing about higher ed in Virginia. As to Fralin’s original gripe about that for-every-dollar-we-cut-they-increase-tuition-by-two-dollars meme, is there a single correct answer? No. All I feel safe in saying is that, averaged over time, the reality falls somewhere between Maggio’s two-to-one ratio and Fralin’s one-to-one ratio.

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26 responses to “Deciphering Higher Ed Statistics

  1. Knowing that the VP doesn’t want to print anything negative about its ad purchasers, I would take what they say with a grain of salt. I see better investigative reporting on DP and Richmond than VP. Everyone I know got rid of it except for one person and they’ve been complaining enough that it is looking like they are going to stop it.

    There is a difference to a place like ODU trying to outfit regular kids in the area, compared to UVA and W&M that have deeper pockets and parents with deeper pockets.

  2. a fools errand… trying to untangle that mess and to what end?

    • This from Mr. “Just Show Me The Facts”? I’m shocked — shocked, I tell you!

      Thank you, Jim, for beginning to take us down this difficult road carefully. Given the fuss made here over ‘slush fund’ allegations and rationalizations and sources, getting a clear baseline picture of the State’s piece of the action and the impact of the “2005 Restructuring Act” is essential. I hope you can also keep an eye out for comparables in other States — not that Virginia necessarily has any comparables or that we’d necessarily recognize them through each State’s own version of the funding fog.

      • I’m all for the facts ! but I’m a skeptic on something like this because of exactly what you see.. people who are not trained as statisticians trying to do analysis that requires a background in that field to know how to go about ferreting out data that is valid – as opposed to folks just picking and choosing what they want to believe about the data and you do see this when people start off making claims about 2-2 and 1-1.. without anything to show for it other than what they believe.

        Bacon to his credit recognizes the complexity of the data.. but then he’s often succumbed in the past to the same temptation to draw conclusions based on his own reasoning.. or interpretation.

        As someone who spent more than 30 years working with folks who analyzed data to try to zero in on to just two things to be able to get a valid one-to-one relationship.. it convinced me that the process for getting a valid result can be long and complicated even for folks who have academic degrees in the field…

        so when I see something like this data – I’m a skeptic as to what can be derived from it by people who are not credentialed data analysts….

        too many “studies: these days are done by folks who are not academically trained in this discipline. and they make really bad rookie mistakes and just make totally unprovable claims…

        there is an easy way to “prove” a claimed relationship… you just go to some point in the data and run the algorithm and see if it actually does generate the expected result.. at that point.

        so if the relationship is truly 2-1 then you should be able to go anywhere on the timeline – and see if the predicted result matches the actual.

        when you start saying it only works for some parts of the timeline – and you start carving up the timeline to exclude the places it does not work – well.. you’re done.. you don’t really have anything of any real use.

        see a real predictable relationship is of this form – where the equation itself changes in accordance with how the data plots..

        where any X correctly generates what Y is.

        if you can’t do that – then you aint got the right “sauce” recipe

        For the tuition data above.. it’s going to be a complex relationship unless you can isolate the tuition data.. so that the resulting equation does predict…

  3. Yeah, and let’s forget trying to unravel healthcare as well (and why we pay twice as much of GDP for healthcare as other developed countries and have worse outcomes). Jim should recognize we are in the era of tiny little attention spans and write about the Kardashians.

    • Well here’s something that will snap some folks socks:

      The Best College in Every State

      http://time.com/money/4398295/best-college-in-every-state/

    • Yes, look how much money Kim Kardashian has made without wasting her time or cash on a college education. That Time survey is interesting, and no surprise to see UVa ranked high; only, who can decipher what “best college” means?

      • U.Va. puts the rest of the state schools to shame. Did you see the recent U.S. News Grad School rankings? U.Va. was in the top 40 in every single program ranked this year (Law, Nursing, Medicine, Education, Business Engineering, History, Economics, English, Sociology, Political Science, and Psychology). Law, Ed, History, Business, Nursing, English, and Psychology were all top 20 programs.

        And while some have been skeptical about the school’s plan to move up the undergraduate rankings….the stats they released this week about the 2021 class are a big improvement SAT-wise over the recent past. Now, the trick is whether they can get them to enroll (yield). But if they’re successful in holding onto these kids, they’ll start to move up fairly quickly. They’ll need to use the SIF to throw money at the 1600 SAT kids to boost that ranking.

        • If you look at the CNN Money ratings https://time.com/money/4398295/best-college-in-every-state/

          UVA’s costs are comparable to many other schools and way less than others..

          Given the fact – and yes it is a fact – that UVA (and much of Va) college prices are in line with others across the country – why are we – plowing this ” college is too high in Va because the state is underfunding it” meme over and over?

          UVA has become a popular Brand name school.. naysayers using tactics to impugn it for not keeping prices low – flies in the face of other college costs across the country… it’s not just a Virginia “thing”… Many schools that are well known – and usually have a national-scale sports program are not among the lower priced schools but that does not mean that there is not an abundance of low-priced options – there are, and more important, it definitely does not mean it’s the job of the state to make them reduce prices and/or boost subsidies.

          we have real problems in the State – unfunded liabilities, MedicAid costs, the opioid problem, k-12 schools that have lost accreditation and yet we have this group of folks who essentially want the State to force Higher Ed to lower prices..

  4. there are a couple of links to their methodology

  5. We had this argument in another post, when we were discussing whether it was relevant for Dominion to cite rate comparisons when justifying the suspension of the SCC’s constitutional authority over rates…

    The argument is whether the price of higher education is justified and whether it is sustainable, and what the high cost and debt loads will do to our economy in the coming decades. I don’t give a flying fig in that discussion where UVA, W&M or any other school “ranks” on various measures. Just like with the utility citing its chosen statistics, that is a marketing tactic and a distraction. Whether you use Blake’s numbers, Tony’s or any one else’s, the trend line means higher education will be only available for the rich. Just like health care.

    As a member of SCHEV, I was sympathetic to the argument that declining state support was a big part of the problem. But four years on SCHEV and observations since have persuaded me the schools also have no inclination to control costs or worry about debt, and have to share the blame. To the extent any of them think there is blame at all. And the problem is actually the same as with the utility in that 1) there is no real price choice available and 2) the legislature is disinclined to take control.

    • @Steve – my perception is that there are far more options for higher ed than at any time… there are options for virtually any income level – provided the student has an adequate k-12 foundation.

      Even health care has “options” including the proverbial ER-route which I
      will admit is not as good as the high-priced spreads…

      but from my point of view – what Govt’s role in higher ed and health care is – to provide a MINIMUM quality/quantity standard for those of lower incomes.. and only then if the market does not provide it.

      So I’m not talking about bogus for-profit schools nor “crap” health insurance but real options and higher Ed has fared much better than health care …

      for higher Ed – we have a wide and deep array of quality choices and yes, it’s true some of them that used to be “affordable” are no longer.. but others like Community Colleges and online learning have joined the options.

      even for health care – the govt cannot and should not provide “all you can consume” health care no matter one’s income. Medicaid and managed care clinics are for those of lesser means.

      For education – I keep advocating that the state taxpayers fund students – not Universities. Let the student and their parents start with the voucher to look for choices that meet their financial needs. As long as there are legitimate choices at the lower end – state taxpayers have done their duty.

      they have no duty to “help” people “afford” higher cost higher ed choices no more than taxpayers should be subsidizing botox for low income fatties.

      here’s the tune we ought to be singing on subsidizing higher ed in my view: ” The Rolling Stones – You Can’t Always Get What You Want “

      • Larry, the steady, unrelenting, unjustified growth in spending and cost at the “high ranked” universities – closely followed by the pack — is proof positive that they very much can get what they want. And do.

        • Steve – Oh I totally agree with you.. and the worst thing state taxpayers could do – is get sucked into it… “for the middle class “kids” ”

          At some point – the State has to stop being the sucker… and stop “protecting” those poor 100K middle class families from being denied their rightful legacy to a brand-name school for “cheap”.

          All the problems we DO HAVE in the State from NoVa’s reliance on the Federal Debt for it’s economy to thousands of it’s working citizens not having health care to the (if you believe Bacon) “massive unfunded liabilities” of the State pension system to Dominion running amok on it’s own selfish agenda… we need to prioritize.. and the “problem” with 100K families lacking “access” to an “affordable” brand name University is not a priority.. taxpayers have no responsibility to help folks of substantial financial means to “afford” .. their wants…when most of them have health care and pensions.. lots of food and homes many typical working folks in Va could never afford.

          these folks should be sent packing.. to go whine elsewhere…

    • Steve H., you say, “the problem [with higher-ed] is actually the same as with the utility in that 1) there is no real price choice available and 2) the legislature is disinclined to take control.” This brings up a really interesting point: With the utility, everyone goes in with their eyes open — there is an exclusive territory for the utility and its operations are cost-plus — which together add up to total monopoly control. So, the 19th century solution which we still use is government control over allowable rates and quality of service, as part of a bargain with the utility for granting it an exclusive franchise. And the 20th century layers on top of that are (1) comprehensive regulation of rates and services through a specialized agency (the SCC) that acts on behalf of the legislature and exercises a quasi-legislative, quasi-judicial authority over the utility to determine the appropriate cost-plus rate level and approve its long-term capital needs, and (2) and an implicit (explicit?) bargain between the legislature and the agency that the GA will not interfere with the agency’s comprehensive oversight unless the agency really screws things up.

      In Virginia, it’s the GA that has interfered with this utility regulatory scheme over the past decade, at the request of Dominion (who set out to do an end run around the SCC and has succeeded mightily). In addition, the GA has cowed the SCC into passing the buck on those critical long term planning issues like how VA should implement the CPP, and the future of North Anna 3, and the potential for stranded cost from new gas generation.

      The way I see it, the regulatory scheme for higher education is less clearly justified in theory and certainly rates and services controls are less fully implemented in Virginia, than for utilities. There is nothing as exclusive as an assigned territory, and there is considerable competition out there with the private higher-ed sector and with other States, but the availability of hard demand (due to social/economic pressure on kids to get that college degree) and soft price resistance (due to discounting through scholarships and easy loans) and pressure to turn college into a cushy 4-year paradise for young adults, means the price keeps going up, and the available subsidized in-State slots in State-supported flagship schools exceeds demand. There is nothing equivalent to the SCC (although I asked Jim the other day if SCHEV had anything like cost-control authority); whatever regulating is done, is now done by the GA itself. And they have regulated in a negative sense: they have chosen to spin the pricing problem off to the schools and their alumni, but also kept SCHEV around for oversight and advice and (what?).

      So I’m left with, we have a State-run regulatory system for public higher ed in Virginia, but the legislature has walked away from regulating it, and the goals and tools available are murky, and the costs being regulated are opaque, and the price structure from the student consumer perspective is what you might expect from folks trying to hide the ball.

      Is this what you mean by “the legislature is disinclined to take control”?

  6. there’s a way to fix this problem …. basically the state has to set up a competitive environment since the schools have managed to evade the existing market mechanisms.

    Any kid in Va who graduates from high school and has the grades to get into college – will be provided with a voucher/tax credit for all tuition/book/fee costs (only, no room/board) at any “qualifying” school that has been determined to be offering a “right priced” enrollment.

    The vouchers will be means-tested so they are free to any kid who is at or under 400% of poverty level – and then for others at a reduced level – much the same way that tax credits work.. The vouchers will also be only available to those who stay within limits on loans. If you have to high an income or borrow too much – it lowers the amount of credit.

    Any college that participates will also get a full share of state funding – whatever the GA decides they can afford in a given year.

    those who do not participate will receive a lower amount, perhaps none.

    We need to set up a system that is fair and equitable to all students and that incentivizes them and their parents to be prudent in the selection and costs.

    We’ve got the tail wagging the dog right now. We need that to be reversed.

  7. Why the rising costs of getting a college education is shameful and needs be corrected, I am afraid we are missing the larger and far more damaging shame.

    College undergraduate education is being destroyed in the country daily. Particularly at the nations ranked and select colleges, our undergraduates today are getting no Liberal Arts and Sciences education at all.

  8. It is important to monitor the cost of college tuition as it relates to state funding of public institutions. Still, I suggest that, on this hunt, one needs to make sure that one does not get lost hopelessly in the weeds. Hence become so ensnared in the weeds of numbers and statistics that one misses altogether the ongoing destruction of the garden and all its glories.

    The subject here is not statistics. Or even money. Its about people. And one of nature’s most difficult and perilous of tasks – helping kids pass through always painful adolescence to become meaningful and productive adults in a healthy society.

    So its also about colleges and universities preserving those kids’ legacy and building upon that legacy of their culture while helping to build those kids into adults who are capable of keeping and enhancing their world so it is worth living it.

    Our colleges and universities are failing miserably at this. Why can’t we and they seem able do their traditional mission anymore in this country? Why does the cost of higher education rise in direct proportion to its failure to Educate our kids?

    In a recent comment here I spoke at length about my admiration and respect for former UVA President Edgar Shannon Jr. and Frank Hereford. But it was during their terms at UVA that forces beyond their control laid the seeds of destruction that today engulfs our entire system of higher education. This includes our elite Universities and Colleges, places like UVA and William & Mary.

    If that judgement that we are undermining our kids and their future during college sounds radical, it is not. Many respected educators today have written many books on this subject. They are as alarmed as I am.

    Indeed the overwhelming fact is that today the higher its cost to the student, the less that undergraduate at college receives in return for his or her money.

    Today’s Higher Education in far too many institutions, including our most elite, harms many students, their health, their happiness, and their welfare, not to mention their education. And the bad habits they acquire trying to get into college and spending years in College are more a more today bleeding into their lives as heavily damaged adults.

    For example, their continuing reliance on the hook up culture beyond college has increased dramatically over the past few years. More and more of these kids, thanks directly to their ruinous college experiences are now unable to establish and maintain stable intimate relations. This is a growing scourge now particularly among young post college women, as well as men.

    Indeed more serious and ethical educators view today’s process of getting kids through high school into a good college and through it to graduate school to demean and undermine the student. College today turns otherwise healthy kids into fearfully lost commodities as it undermines the ground that all young people need to build and stand on uniquely for themselves if they are to survive and thrive in the today’s alien World.

    I believe that assertion is undeniable in fact. The evidence is overwhelming – safe spaces, mass hysteria, micro aggressions, a growing array of passive aggressive, neurotic and otherwise unhealthy behaviors – all of this is plain to see within our college and grad students who are increasingly are unable to cope with, much less succeed among the hard knocks of the real world.

    Go to UVA website and look carefully at UVa’s offered undergraduate curriculum. Start anywhere, to don’t miss looking at the Departments of English and American History. Don’t glance at it, don’t look away. Study it, think about it, reach your own judgement of what’s being fed out kids.

    For, instead of giving our students to tools they need, a strong education, our system of higher education today actively works to strip its students of their identity, their history, their language, their cultural treasures, their sense of right and wrong, their sense of who they are and where they came from, and where they need and want to go. And along the way our colleges are destroying our kids sense of confident independence of thought, judgement and action, including their own free expression of what the truly believe.

    And so our colleges today disarm their students of the armor, and with it the emotional and spiritual and moral grounding, to do successfully even the most basic of things necessary for life and living. Like being able to mate with another individual long term, and stay with the other person to raise a family and take care of their mate afterward, and to hold a job or fearlessly pursue a dream unique to themselves and so be truly and deeply happy .

    Or even to just find a unique place in this world for them among caring friends and neighbors, not to mention their crying need to find meaning in their lives and a reason for their own being in this world.

  9. RF, the picture you paint is a bleak one, of a curriculum that strips its own consumers of their wholesome identity. At a fundamental level, you raise this question: what is higher education’s goal — to offer what the student seeks to learn, or to inculcate the student in what the faculty thinks the student should learn?

    I admit, the choice is somewhat more subtle. Students today choose a curriculum for themselves; the faculty have abandoned the concept of a minimum of required undergraduate courses in a distributed number of disciplines, but are still supposed to insist upon certain basics within that curriculum, yet apparently today they often will accept a basket of electives for a “curriculum.” Yet, bottom line, the courses offered are what the students are asking for, will sign up for, will pay for. So the pressure on the school is to fill its course catalog with utilitarian, popular, even trendy stuff. Not, those elements of a “gentleman’s education” of the past.

    A “liberal education” is something that used to be defined by scholars, not by social mores. Where is a “liberal education” found in today’s course catalog? OK, it may be hard to spot amidst the junk. But, you suggest the school goes beyond satisfying consumer demand and offers courses that are intended to corrupt the very values sought from their education by the students who attend them. Who is it who intends this perverse result? Is this intentional or merely a byproduct of consumer choice? And what could be done to correct it?

    • Acbar –

      Thanks for your observations, comments and questions. As you say, they are targeted directly to “At a fundamental level, you raise this question: what is higher education’s goal — to offer what the student seeks to learn, or to inculcate the student in what the faculty thinks the student should learn?”

      Before I get to that specific question, let me first put it within a framework that I believe bleeds into any specific comments I suggest to your question.

      I suspect that there are at least four macro forces that feed directly into the education today, its quality, scope, and content, including specific courses, and their content, that are offered to undergraduates today in say the top 70 or so undergraduate programs in America today.

      These four macro forces described in a nutshell would include:

      1. The overall cultural decline of American society generally. Say as described generally by Eberstadt’s Commentary article discussed below. As I will later note, the problems directly impacting today’s curriculum started in the 1960s.

      2/ The vast expansion of Federal funding of higher education over the past two decades. This includes tuition grants since roughly the year 2000. It also includes a vast expansion of research grants during the Obama administration.

      In my view this Federal funding has driven up costs across the board while driving down the quality of education, particularly at the non select colleges.

      The more recent vast expansion of federal funding of university research has had at least five adverse, inter-related and highly dangerous impacts.

      A/ It has pulled universities even further away from their original mission of teaching students and transferred it the chasing research grants. B/ It has dramatically compromised the quality, integrity and fruits of university research. C/ It has pulled funding away from undergraduate school, particularly Liberal Arts and Sciences, and it has corrupt the content of curriculum suitable for and critical to undergraduate education. D/ This federal funding now threatens to imperil the financial health of many institutions, particular those striving for more regional and national prominence. E/ Now also it has given the Federal Government overwhelming control of all institutions of higher education, public and private, to dictate the “results” the Federal Government expects from university whatever the subject – whether it be global warming, courses offered for basic undergraduate education, or for regulation the sexual behavior of students, or anything else on the endlessly expanding menu of what the government deems to be important in the lives of its citizens . F/ This federal funding has turbo charged the rankings quest of all select institutions, a process that corrupts the higher education in myriad ways, throughout is entire system from top to bottom.

      Now back to the third of four inter-related Macro Impacts, RANKINGS:

      3. Long before the great expansion and adverse impact of today’s federal funding of higher education tuition’s and research turbo charged the Ranking Quest as dictated by the likes of US News and World Report, these largely false and highly misleading rankings of educational competence and performance have been doing great harm since the late 1980s. Whether it be to society and the universities generally, or to the college student experience generally throughout the system, starting with students preparing for and gaining admittance to college and then living through college and now also graduate school, and now far beyond their participation in higher education as students. We will discuss this in detail later.

      4/ The forth Macro forces that impact undergraduate education are problems festering within the colleges themselves.

      The corruption today of a/ the Faculty tenure system, b/ the facultly research peer review system c/ the faculty compensation, promotion and work systems, d/ the university administration system and its mission.

      I will discuss in detail all these matters. For now I believe that these elements standing alone and working together, have deeply corrupted the student undergraduate educational experience across the board, ranging from students curriculum choice and content to social life, to opportunity to gain character development and coping skills as well as learning skills.

      In light of this, I believe that out of control football programs (and they are out of control) are the least of today’s higher education problems.

      The comments are obviously very broad brush and unfair to the many fine administrators and faculty at work today in many institutions. But I believe all these systemic problems feed directly into the questions you’ve initially asked above, namely:

      “At a fundamental level, you raise this question: what is higher education’s goal — to offer what the student seeks to learn, or to inculcate the student in what the faculty thinks the student should learn?”

      Directly below, and soon, I’ll try to give my views on your specific comments.

  10. hey here’s a problem as bad or worse:

    ” Something startling is happening to middle-aged white Americans. Unlike every other age group, unlike every other racial and ethnic group, unlike their counterparts in other rich countries, death rates in this group have been rising, not falling.

    That finding was reported Monday by two Princeton economists, Angus Deaton, who last month won the 2015 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science, and Anne Case. Analyzing health and mortality data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and from other sources, they concluded that rising annual death rates among this group are being driven not by the big killers like heart disease and diabetes but by an epidemic of suicides and afflictions stemming from substance abuse: alcoholic liver disease and overdoses of heroin and prescription opioids.”

    They concluded that taken together, suicides, drugs and alcohol explained the overall increase in deaths. The effect was largely confined to people with a high school education or less. In that group, death rates rose by 22 percent while they actually fell for those with a college education.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/03/health/death-rates-rising-for-middle-aged-white-americans-study-finds.html

    • Larry –

      Cultural collapses wreak their destruction cumulatively.

      Hence, for example, these white middle aged Americans 45 to 54 who find themselves in the crisis of cultural collapse are the parents and neighbors who are also more likely to raise highly vulnerable children who are thrust unprepared into high school before heading off as damaged goods into the maelstrom of today’s college “experience.” Once there, whether it be in high school or college, the impact of damaged goods can easily by contagion spread like the flu and metastasize into a whirlwind.

      Remember too that some 70% of “today’s high school graduates” attend some form of “college.”

      And that this plague of white middle age pathologies – deaths by suicide, chronic liver diseases and cirrhosis, alcohol and drug poisoning – are only the tip of an iceberg of afflictions that infect growing numbers of people in our society irrespective of their class and income. So it includes people who are high school dropouts, and high school graduates, and college graduates from 1970s on.

      In short, what is cresting now or at least now reaching critical stage is a growing wave coming in from across time launched decades ago.

      • Before responding to Arbar’s comment above let me recommend the Feb. 15, 1017 article published in Commentary Magazine:

        https://www.commentarymagazine.com/articles/our-miserable-21st-century/

        Here Nicholas N. Eberstadt brilliantly describes the fix America is in today. His article covers many alarming indicators of todays national dysfunction. What struck me as he reeled off his list was how many of our now seemingly systemic problems relate to to the collapse of the Nations workforce, or what use to be its workforce.

        Whether it be the collapse of hours worked annually.
        Or the collapse of the wages Americans earn per hour.
        Or the number unemployed who’ve given up looking for work.
        Or the record loss of job growth among not only men but now also women aged 22-55 in record numbers. Or that nearly 60% of these greatly expanded groups now not working are living off disability insurance.
        Or our huge and growing number of felons now 20 million strong walking the streets, yet outcast from society.

        The list goes on and on, showing cultural collapse everywhere.

  11. Reed, that is an excellent, but depressing piece of commentary. Even though I live in the bubble Eberstadt describes, it captures vividly (and quantifiably) what I have sensed has been going on in the U.S. for a while. And it pains me greatly that the American dream of economic mobility has largely disappeared.

    We seem to have lost the ability to solve difficult problems. Even on this blog, we try, but we struggle to stay on topic, build any consensus, etc.

    I plan to be more optimistic tomorrow . . .

    Jim, that was a good, factual blog post.

  12. Reed, after nearly a week I won’t prolong this older string of comments but simply say, I look forward to your thoughtful remarks on higher education, and encourage you to post them directly, not as a reply buried in the comments to another post. I was, I admit, trying to provoke a reaction; you honored me with success. Thanks for the above.

  13. Thanks Acbar. And you honored me with your comments and questions. Your comments here above were not the first time you’re sparked ideas in my head. And put me on on search to find bottom. For only then does it feel right to let whatever happens happen. And at the moment there’s still a bunch of learning and assimilation going on that would not otherwise have happened. That is one great gift of Jim’s Bacon Rebellion, I takes you places that you otherwise likely would never go.

    Anyway, how this particular quest comes out, its form and content, I am not sure. Hopefully, though, its original, a contributes something. These are important subjects. Thanks.

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