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College Students Are Feeling the Squeeze
December 7, 2008 8:16 AM   Subscribe

The economic mess is squeezing everyone but many college students are really feeling it. Syracuse University has made an emergency appeal for aid for 400 current students who may not be able to return for the spring semester without an infusion of cash; Harvard University lost an incredible 22 percent of its very fat endowment but is trying to raise money through a $600 million bond issue.

At least a dozen states are trying to balance their budgets by raising tuition, some at mid-term, bringing some protests.
Of course, huge increases in costs are not new. And maybe exaggerated expectations of what colleges should provide play a role.
posted by etaoin (39 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thanks for the additional post secondary education.
posted by gman at 8:22 AM on December 7, 2008


Where was this post on Friday when I was writing a last-minute final paper on this kind of stuff?

I used the one gman linked though.
posted by baphomet at 8:35 AM on December 7, 2008


Well, the Syracuse students can always go to community college for four semesters and still get a degree from Syracuse instead of a SUNY or CUNY, if it means so much to them.
posted by anniecat at 8:41 AM on December 7, 2008


There is a lot of waste of spending in higher education ($20,000 or whatever for a nightly lecture from so and so expert, professional development funds, up to date equipment and A/V and computer stuff) - one wonders how in the hell these colleges and universities used to be so cheap. My father's generation could work in a factory or on a farm in the summer and pay for tuition for that year, even private universities. Even the college I went to has seen annual tuition rise $10,000 in only six years. I couldn't believe it when an old friend told me it's now over $40,000/year to attend.
posted by billysumday at 8:54 AM on December 7, 2008


Thanks for this post. I was wondering how much Harvard's endowment was hit.
posted by zippy at 8:58 AM on December 7, 2008


Well, the athletes do need their tutors and exclusive tutoring centers.
CHAMPAIGN — The Irwin Academic Services Center at the University of Illinois is outfitted with computer labs and classrooms; staffed with tutors, counselors and learning specialists; furnished with oversize leather chairs and Oriental rugs—and off-limits to 99 percent of the student body....
posted by orthogonality at 9:03 AM on December 7, 2008


Fuck higher ed "endowments" and the tax free status they enjoy and the twice the CPI ed-cost increases each year for the last 25 years and the ed loan banking industry and their can't-lose fed guaranteed student loans at market rates that will take most of my adult life to pay off while it costs $800 a year to attend college in France.
Just another abuse of privilege scam that exploits middle class aspirations. May they all come back as gym teachers in their next life.
posted by Fupped Duck at 9:11 AM on December 7, 2008 [8 favorites]


College costs a lot for the same reason that a Rolex costs a lot. Because it costing a lot is proof that its better. Higher education has two very different functions (for the consumer). It is supposed to educate and to accredit. Expensive schools give superior accreditation because they are expensive. The level of education provided might be better but no one has any interest in evaluating that. Most of the educating isn't that expensive. You use a textbook for a year, you see some lectures, you talk to your peers about some things, you do some assignments and get some notes in the margins from someone making very little money, and maybe if you feel like it you ask some very smart, knowledgeable people questions that might even require being very smart and knowledgeable to answer. Lots of colleges give away a lot of the actual education for free. Because that's not what they're selling. Not when it gets right down to it.

A rolex isn't a cheap watch to make. But it isn't expensive in anyway that matters. People don't want a rolex because it tells the time really well. Or even because it looks so good. They want it because it is expensive, and the fact that it's expensive is proof that you're better than other people.

What I would do if I was in charge of things is separate accreditation from education. With tests. Yeah tests suck and are unfair, and they are hard to make fair. But right now there is a test and it is can you pay 100 grand to make sure that your learning is correctly choreographed for four years and maybe learn some things so you can wear one of the right sweatshirts while you go jogging.
posted by I Foody at 9:57 AM on December 7, 2008 [4 favorites]


Well, here in TN, where the state is facing a projected $1billion budget deficit, the Tennessee Board of Regents (one of the 2 public higher ed systems in the state) is considering a whole host of solutions, including faculty "furloughs." The furloughs, if passed (the motion was tabled until January) would basically allow the state to stop paying faculty for specified periods of time, without any change in the workload.

Some of the other proposals include requiring students to take a certain number of online courses, and providing incentives for students who take "automated" online courses with no direct support from faculty.

Because really, who needs professors anyway?
posted by DiscourseMarker at 10:06 AM on December 7, 2008


I could see online courses as a cost saving measure, but sans interaction with an educator? What happens if you have a question, post it to askmefi?

I'm actually kind of stuck right now as far as my college education goes, since I'm not really sure what's going to be happening with my job I'm a little wary of comitting to classes that I may or may not be able to even take. And I go to a community college, not a four year.
posted by Talanvor at 10:16 AM on December 7, 2008


Fuck higher ed "endowments" and the tax free status they enjoy and the twice the CPI ed-cost increases each year for the last 25 years and the ed loan banking industry and their can't-lose fed guaranteed student loans at market rates that will take most of my adult life to pay off while it costs $800 a year to attend college in France.

How do any of those things relate to each other?
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:18 AM on December 7, 2008


What I would do if I was in charge of things is separate accreditation from education. With tests. Yeah tests suck and are unfair, and they are hard to make fair.

Tests are also not really good ways to evaluate learning in the areas of critical thinking, analysis, innovation, etc. -- all the things that higher education is supposed to develop. One of the biggest problems in American education (from k-12 to higher ed) is the move towards a testing culture. We need assessment, yes, but it needs to be more creative and qualitative, not purely quantitative based on the regurgitation of memorized "knowledge."
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:21 AM on December 7, 2008


I could see online courses as a cost saving measure, but sans interaction with an educator?

Online courses are a very, very sticky wicket. If you have an instructor teaching an online course, it actually requires a lot more work to prepare, guide students, respond, etc. So, it may be cost saving for the university admin, it amounts to a pay cut for the faculty member (or, more likely, adjunct or grad student).

Online courses w/o instructors raise issues of intellectual property. A faculty member essentially owns the curriculum he or she teaches. If you have them put it online in an automated form, all of a sudden it becomes the property of the university. The university can roll it out to thousands of people without paying an instructor; and then, what kind of education are the students really getting? Some people can learn independently, but for most people it takes years of learning under the guidance of someone else before you can learn those skills and motivation. Automated online courses turn education from a life-changing experience to a series of hoops and check-boxes.
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:25 AM on December 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Because it costing a lot is proof that its better.

Yet another person who believes that universities throw money into a giant hole just to get rid of it. Until you get over the idea that universities are expensive due to a conspiracy, you don't have anything to contribute.
posted by kiltedtaco at 10:26 AM on December 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


Discourse Marker, then there's this, about Arizona State letting 200 adjunct professors go, virtually without warning.

Sorry, don't like to add to my own posts but it seemed particularly relevant to some of the comments.
posted by etaoin at 10:29 AM on December 7, 2008


Professional development is money well spent. Developing an online course that is automated is not. Didn't TN delay paying UT faculty fairly recently, around 2003 or so?
posted by Tehanu at 10:31 AM on December 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


if education were free and and admission based solely on merit: how many good middle class kids would be beaten out by overachievers now shunted into the military or the trades, etc. Most college students see that degree as a golden ticket to a certain kind of job, and it is a golden ticket only if not everyone can get one...
posted by geos at 10:53 AM on December 7, 2008


I think we need to think about a future where our children are educated strongly in high school and leave those institutions with a specialized associates degree rather than a simple high school diploma. College admissions will become more merit-based and schools will specialize more and practical work will be valued more. Journalism school will become like medical school.
posted by parmanparman at 11:16 AM on December 7, 2008


I like that idea, parmanparman. A high school education used to be the ticket to a solid job. Now it is elaborate baby-sitting. Undergrad is on its way to the same thing. We need to reverse that -- build education solidly from the beginning.
posted by Saxon Kane at 11:23 AM on December 7, 2008


Yet another person who believes that universities throw money into a giant hole just to get rid of it. Until you get over the idea that universities are expensive due to a conspiracy, you don't have anything to contribute.

I don't think that they "waste" money. I think as far as the mission is concerned many universities spend a great deal of money on items of limited utility. I think many universities are spending money on being prestigious. University education doesn't compete on cost as much as most goods because being low cost signals low value to people that hire graduates. Universities don't compete very much on the caliber of education offered because it is almost impossible to evaluate. They compete for prestige because it is what students want because it is what employers want.

I'm not saying that there is a conspiracy. I think the incentives are skewed. Making a gold watch isn't wasteful if your looking for jewelry but it is wasteful if you just want to know what time it is.

Tests are also not really good ways to evaluate learning in the areas of critical thinking, analysis, innovation, etc. -- all the things that higher education is supposed to develop. One of the biggest problems in American education (from k-12 to higher ed) is the move towards a testing culture. We need assessment, yes, but it needs to be more creative and qualitative, not purely quantitative based on the regurgitation of memorized "knowledge."

I agree. But what are the good ways of evaluating those things? Right now people are evaluated on where they went to schools. I would argue that as bad as tests are, the status quo is even worse. Because as it currently stands there's still a test only right now fifty percent of your score is determined by question 1) how deeply in debt do you want to start your adult life?
posted by I Foody at 11:23 AM on December 7, 2008 [4 favorites]


kiltedtaco, before you dismiss I Foody's argument, read this article.
COLLEGEVILLE, Pennsylvania: John Strassburger, the president of Ursinus College, a small liberal arts institution here in the eastern Pennsylvania countryside, vividly remembers the day that the chairman of the board told him the college was losing applicants because of its tuition.

It was too low.

So early in 2000 the board voted to raise tuition and fees 17.6 percent, to $23,460 (and to include a laptop for every incoming student to help soften the blow). Then it waited to see what would happen.

Ursinus received nearly 200 more applications than the year before. Within four years the size of the freshman class had risen 35 percent, to 454 students. Applicants had apparently assumed that if the college cost more, it must be better.

"It's bizarre and it's embarrassing, but it's probably true," Strassburger said.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 11:33 AM on December 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


Solon and Thanks, you just committed one of the most egregious acts of selective posting I've seen in quite some time. From your same article:

Ursinus also did something more: It raised student aid by nearly 20 percent, to just under $12.9 million, meaning that a majority of its students paid less than half price.
...
Average tuition at private, nonprofit four-year colleges in the United States — the price leaders — rose 81 percent from 1993 to 2004, more than double the inflation rate, according to the College Board, while campus-based financial aid rose 135 percent.


The entire point of your linked article was to discuss that although colleges raised the sticker price of admission, they also significantly increased the amount of aid to match (the ratio varies by school). Unfortunately, it says nothing about the average amount of debt students graduate with, which is the principal problem with university education right now.

So are colleges more expensive? Yes. Are they offering more in grants and loans? Yes.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 11:49 AM on December 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


SeizeTheDay, the part I was pointing out is that they received 200 more applications before increasing aid AFAIK.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 12:40 PM on December 7, 2008


That is - students don't know when applying how much aid they will receive, especially (I imangine) if it is the first year that tuition price goes up as there is no precedent. They find out after they have been admitted.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 12:44 PM on December 7, 2008


My apologies for the triple post. SeizeTheDay, I've just realized our miscommunication about the point of the article. I agree that it discusses how colleges have raised both tuition price and aid to match, but a more important point made is that students are more desiring of an expensive school and that in their minds expense = quality.

The Ursinus College President was not urged to simply give more aid to receive more applicants, but to raise tuition in addition to giving more aid.

"With the race for rankings and choice students shaping college pricing in the United States, the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, Rice University in Texas and the University of Richmond in Virginia are just a few that have sharply increased tuition to match colleges they consider their rivals, while also providing more financial aid."

"Lucie Lapovsky, a consultant who was once president of Mercy College in New York, conducted a study asking students to choose between a college charging $20,000 and offering no aid, and one charging $30,000 and offering a $10,000 scholarship. Students chose the pricier option."

It seems clear to me that in many ways college prestige is directly linked with usual sticker price in the minds of consumers. That's not to say there are no prestigious colleges and price doesn't matter at all.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 12:54 PM on December 7, 2008


Though the story about Ursinus doesn't mention it, I would bet that their marketing efforts went up along with the tuition increase. That could account for a good part of the increase in applications...students discovering that Ursinus even exists.

Our daughter is in the midst of applying to colleges and, from our viewpoint, I have to say that the process is entirely screwed-up. There really is no reliable way to evaluate the quality of education any particular school provides, despite all the ratings and reviews. Quite frankly, we live in a world so besotted with marketing claptrap and come-ons that you find yourself disbelieving everything. You really have a hard time differentiating helpful information from snake oil. So, more-and-more, kids take a scattershot approach to choosing a school...apply to as many schools as possible. Once accepted, you start working the financial aid counselors. Pick the school that gives you the best aid package (i.e. the package that leaves you with the smallest balance that you will have to self-finance.) It's sad that they have to resort to that approach, but that's the way the system has gone. It's not the student's fault. I'm pretty sure they would rather not have to expend so much energy and angst to financing. But, we're a capitalist society and, in the end, everything is about the bottom line. Education (like healthcare) has become more about profiting large financial corporations, rather than actually serving the consumer.

I also note that some private schools have started posting the different levels of basic financial aid on their websites. Generally, these are along the lines of SAT/ACT score-based financial aid only. The needs-based awards aren't posted, of course.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:10 PM on December 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


I am one of five children from a middle-class single-parent household. We children have spent about 35 years combined in higher education, all reached/aiming at master's degree. Three of us have switched schools when they find a more suitable subjects. One had a child and now continues her studies. I have spent 12 years enjoying interesting lectures enrolled in best university of the country (and occassional courses from two other universities in area), working half day for most of the time. None of us are especially ambitious, we've taken it slowly. Slowly we have transformed from education benefaciaries to tax payers. Total costs in tuitions: 0€. 0€ required savings for education. 0€ student loans. Free higher education for all. Worry for our future, as felt by our mother: relatively low.

This happy system is being eroded by cries for more competitive and younger workforce, and resulting decisions for maximum years to finish studies and focusing for lower targets. At this site, I am very often surprised by how much people have done and feel that they need to have done in so young age.

I am pretty sure that I have become a better person because of all those years learning for curiosity's sake. I'm not sure if I've become a better employer or entrepreneur. I am a bit worried which one is more important at the end; can we keep this system for our children too, or will we be outcompeted by some 23-year old whippersnappers with just enough practical knowledge? Anyway, the main point is once again to remind that the higher education doesn't have to be like that (linked articles), and if you feel like you deserve more equal and less cost/benefit-oriented system, it is probably true, and you can have it too.
posted by Free word order! at 1:20 PM on December 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


In the backrooms of my university there's a growing concern that our cash-strapped system will start doing what some other schools have done already. Paradoxically, this solution involves increased funding for some departments--expanding remedial education programs. Right now a student can be admitted to our school if they have a few deficiencies that can be made up while they work on their "real" major, but a few other schools in our area have started admitting students that are well the normal admission requirements with the provision that they spend 1-2 semesters "catching up" in remedial and developmental courses. Ostensibly this is making college "open to everyone", but right now they're doing their best to hide the fact that retention for these students is AWFUL. They're making it through the remedial courses and then flunking out during their first year of normal course work.

Unfortunately, this semi-ethical (at best) solution seems to be quietly expanding at some of our local competitors. Because it works--they get to point at their "growing enrollment" when they go up for funding, making it that much more politically painful to slash their budget, AND because it costs almost NOTHING to pay faculty qualified to teach the remedial courses. A high school teacher is considered qualified enough, and they're thrilled to be able to work another 3 or 4 hours a week for a 600 dollar paycheck at the end of the semester, when they may be teaching 20 students who are paying 400 or 500 dollars for that credit.

The failure of the public school system to prepare students for college is the only thing keeping a number of schools' heads above water right now. If the rumored 15% budget cut comes along, and the economy continues to drown the jobs that a recent high school graduate could normally get, I expect our largest freshman class ever.
posted by Benjy at 1:50 PM on December 7, 2008


Our daughter is in the midst of applying to colleges and, from our viewpoint, I have to say that the process is entirely screwed-up. There really is no reliable way to evaluate the quality of education any particular school provides, despite all the ratings and reviews.

Thorzdad, one of the secrets is that, among broad classes of schools, it doesn't matter too much. There are dozens of small liberal arts colleges which all offer roughly the same very good education. They are under pressure to make themselves seem distinctive, so they can make brochures that trumpet their special programs in whatever (their service-learning option, their junior year abroad program, etc), but effectively these schools are all staffed by very good faculty, with small class sizes, requirements that are not too burdensome, and good to great facilities. Students visiting often end up choosing based on which school has the more up-to-date gym, or student center, or that sort of thing.

There are sometimes broad cultural differences between the schools, which your daughter should try to get a sense of during a visit (eg emphasis on Greek life). If she has anything she specifically knows she wants to do (take photography, go to France, etc) she should get a firm answer about whether that is an easy thing to do at the school she's considering. But otherwise, the US News top 75 SLACS are all going to provide a good education for broadly the same price.

It does make a big difference whether you go to an SLAC or a major university. It makes a difference whether your school is in a big city or out in the country somewhere. It makes a difference if your school doesn't offer a program you really want. But beyond that, all the marketing crap about whether the school sees itself as Investing in Tomorrow's Leaders or Training a Caring Generation or whatever is just to be ignored.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:42 PM on December 7, 2008


One way of thinking about this is, the faculties are all good, for the most part - especially the younger faculty since competition for academic jobs is so high now that even people with very high-end PhDs are happy to get jobs teaching at comparatively low-end schools. She may get some bad profs, and if so she should switch classes if possible - but for the most part, the faculty end of things will be good. All SLACS prioritize teaching (sometimes not exclusively, but still much more than universities), she'll be able to get one-on-one attention at any of them.

Most of the middle tier SLACS have good but not university-level facilities (libraries, language-learning labs, science labs, etc). If she has a narrow interest, look into it, but otherwise these elements are probably not make-or-break. If the school is close to other schools (esp much bigger schools), that's good because she can probably use the other schools' resources to some extent.

So, for the most part what will make the difference in her education is the quality and interests of her classmates. There's no good way to rank schools on this. She just has to visit and spend time with the students, and try if she can to visit with more than one group of students on each campus (eg her host might not be her kind of person, but she should also try to get out to a meeting of the radio station, or go to a math class and stay after to talk to some of the students, etc).
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:02 PM on December 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'd add two things to LobsterMitten's analysis, and they are: 1) average class size, and 2) whether the teachers you get are faculty or not (many schools use grad students or lecturers to lead classes).
posted by zippy at 5:02 PM on December 7, 2008


... have a big effect on the education you get, as well.
posted by zippy at 5:02 PM on December 7, 2008


I always thought post-secondary education should be free, but with less theory and more innovation and support -- none of this coasting by taking first year bird courses all the way through, then begging professors to extend deadlines and sleep-walking. I'd get students to start their businesses from day one -- business plan, financing, cultivating a client-base in the community with morals. You'd have classes, but then you know you had a future and direction by the time you got out -- even if you ended up going to work for someone else. But I always thought there was a troubling unspoken lesson to rely on someone else to pave your way for you instead of getting off your duff and making your own way yourself -- at there wouldn't be panic or a sense of helplessness because you couldn't get funding from someone else -- you'd learn to find a way yourself...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 5:34 PM on December 7, 2008


Fuck higher ed "endowments" and the tax free status they enjoy

Yes, because middle-class families should be made to pay full price for higher education, just like those poor beleaguered rich folks.
posted by oaf at 5:48 PM on December 7, 2008


I'd get students to start their businesses from day one

But what if they don't want to start a business?

Or are you only talking about students in business courses?
posted by rtha at 5:51 PM on December 7, 2008


We can't give this money to schools! Won't someone think of the investment bankers? Beach houses don't grow on trees, you know.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 5:51 PM on December 7, 2008


Yes, as zippy points out, you want to know about what percentage of the courses are taught by tenured or tenure-track faculty, as opposed to lecturers, adjuncts etc. At a large university, many courses will be taught by grad students, less so at small lib arts colleges but you should still ask. If you're looking at small lib arts colleges, you will probably have small class sizes across the board.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:03 PM on December 7, 2008


Tests are also not really good ways to evaluate learning in the areas of critical thinking, analysis, innovation, etc. -- all the things that higher education is supposed to develop. One of the biggest problems in American education (from k-12 to higher ed) is the move towards a testing culture. We need assessment, yes, but it needs to be more creative and qualitative, not purely quantitative based on the regurgitation of memorized "knowledge."

Easy to do, just use questions based on McGuffey's Primer. If 5th graders in 1836 or so could be taught to get correct answers, why not a High School senior in 2008?
posted by Jumpin Jack Flash at 7:56 PM on December 7, 2008




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