It was speculated that Republican gains in Congress last November could stall the Senate’s aggressive investigation of the for-profit higher education industry and sweeping new Department of Education regulations that are set to go into effect July 1. While bipartisan action in the House did attempt to block some of the regulations, particularly the controversial gainful employment rule, they survived the final 2011 budget deal.
Meanwhile, as federal efforts to better regulate this run-away industry, which enrolls 10 percent of total students, eats up 24 percent of federal aid and accounts for 45 percent of student loan defaults while making billions of dollars of profit annually, continues, several states, including Florida and Illinois, have launched their own investigations. Today, it has been reported that Attorneys General from at least 10 states will embark on a joint investigation of the industry.
Adding to pressure facing the industry is widespread media coverage, including investigative efforts from the New York Times, ABC News, and Frontline, among others. Even Stephen Colbert has addressed the topic.
While the for profit higher education industry lobbying effort is massive (likely paid for with the federal student aid dollars that, on average, make up over 90 percent of the annual operating budgets for these institutions), mounting scrutiny has already had effect as some of the industry’s largest actors have begun ‘maturing’ some of their practices ahead of anticipated regulations.
For past OPBlog posts on this continuing story see:
CUPA-HR salary survey data, analyzed by Inside Higher Education, shows that, similar to faculty members, median pay for senior and mid-level administrators at public institutions of higher education was flat in 2010.
At private institutions, members of all three categories showed modest gains of between 1 and 2 percent, contributing to a growing gap between pay at public and private institutions.
The New York Review of Books has published a high level review of the recent spate of ‘higher education in crisis’ books. In Our Universities: How Bad? How Good?, Peter Brooks takes a look at common themes contained in four recent publications on the state of higher education in the US.
Read the whole piece if you get a chance, but we have pulled out a couple of passages that especially struck us:
- “On the whole, one has to say that the relative autonomy of the American university has been far more beneficial than the contrary. American higher education is a nonsystem that is messy, reduplicative, unfair—just like American society as a whole—but it has made genuine commitments to quality and to a greater degree of social justice, to the extent that is within its control, than most other institutions of the society.”
- “Research and teaching have always cohabited: anyone who teaches a subject well wants to know more about it, and when she knows more, to impart that knowledge. Universities when true to themselves have always been places that harbor recondite subjects of little immediate utility—places where you can study hieroglyphics and Coptic as well as string theory and the habits of lemmings—places half in and half out of the world. No country needs that more than the US, where the pragmatic has always dominated.”
- “[Universities] often fail, they need reform and course correction, but they are not, at their best, merely venal and self-serving. They deserve better critics than they have got at present.”
Two higher education news stories leapt out at us this morning as emblematic:
- Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett announced 50 percent state funding cuts for four-year public institutions. The largest institution, Penn State, would see its state subsidy reduced from $465 million per year to $233 million. The University describes the proposed cuts as devastating: “A reduction of this magnitude would necessitate massive budget cuts, layoffs and tuition increases, with a devastating effect on many students, employees and their families,” said Al Horvath, senior vice president for Finance and Business. “While we have for many months been planning for a potential state funding cut, we could not have envisioned one so damaging to the future of the University and the Commonwealth.”
- Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, the University of Southern California kicked off the day with an announcement of a new, record high, unrestricted $200 million gift to the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. The College will be named after the alumni donors, David and Dana Dornsife, who told the Los Angeles Times that they “had confidence in USC faculty and administrators to spend it wisely.” USC intends to use the money primarily to enhance the humanities and social sciences through faculty hiring, graduate fellowships and research funding.
As mentioned in yesterday’s post about faculty salaries, the growing resource gap between public and private institutions predates the Great Recession, which appears to be dramatically accelerating the existing trend. Read the 2009 Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU) report, Competitiveness of Public Research Universities & Consequences for the Country, to learn more about this concern: “from 1987 through 2006 revenue per student in private research universities in every revenue category except state funding has grown to be multiples of that available to the publics.”
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report and recommendations, DOD Education Benefits: Increased Oversight of Tuition Assistance Program is Needed, ahead of another Senate hearing focused on the conduct of for-profit colleges, this time held by Senator Tom Carper.
The GAO report focused on the DOD Military Tuition Assistance Program, which provides tuition benefits for active duty soldiers. In 2009, the program provided $517 million in tuition assistance to over 375,000 service members of which for-profit institutions received a disproportionate amount. The report addressed two primary points:
- DOD oversight of schools receiving Tuition Assistance Program funds
- The extent to which DOD coordinates with accrediting agencies and the U.S. Department of Education in its oversight activities
The Senators discussed the gaps in oversight exposed by the report, and also discussed the fact that Tuition Assistance Program revenue is not included in the calculation to determine whether at least 10 percent of annual revenue comes from non-federal sources, which is required for an institution to be eligible to receive federal student aid. This is a rule that Senator Tom Harkin has specifically mentioned as a target for reform in earlier hearings he has held on for-profit institutions.
Meanwhile, the association that represents for-profit colleges is suing the US Department of Education in an attempt to block new federal regulations, and House Republicans included an amendment to block the controversial gainful employment rule from moving forward in their recently passed budget.
For past OPBlog posts on this continuing story see:
The economic outlook for state budgets remains bleak and additional steep cuts to public higher education inevitable, making it imperative to re-imagine how institutions can become more efficient and self-sufficient while remaining effective and accountable to the public. For many institutions greater autonomy from the practices and requirements of state government seems attractive, and this topic is explored in OPB’s latest brief on variations in institutional autonomy among the UW and its peers.
Last summer, Governor Gregoire created a Higher Education Task force, comprising both public and private leaders, and charged them with proposing a new funding strategy for public higher education, as well as new ideas for increasing institutional accountability. The Task Force released its report yesterday, January 3rd, recommending three major reforms to higher education policy in Washington State.
First, the group suggested that tuition setting authority be given to the universities to help make up for budget cuts from the legislature. Based on their proposal, the institutions would use a formula to determine appropriate tuition rates, taking into account state appropriations, tuition at peer institutions, and enrollment levels.
Second, the Task Force proposed the creation of a Washington Pledge Scholarship Program, which would be funded by private donors. They hope the fund would reach $ 1 billion by the end of the decade. Corporations would receive a tax credit for donating, although that benefit would not kick in until overall tax revenue returned to 2008 levels.
Third, they recommended that the state give cash incentives to universities that meet certain degree production targets. In addition, they encourage universities to make plans to reach retention goals set forth by the state.
Finally, the Task Force listed other money-saving strategies, such as including more online introductory-level classes, developing three-year degrees, giving more credit for college-level work done in high school and at other institutions, and eliminating underused degree programs.
Make sure to check the State Relations blog for a round-up of some of the local press coverage relating to this report.
We’ve previously mentioned the new book Why Does College Cost So Much? by two economists from the College of William and Mary, Robert Archibald and David Feldman. The authors have made a compelling argument that increasing higher education costs are not the result of institutional dysfunction, but of broader economic forces.
Read our summary of this book, and let us know what you think about their evidence, their conclusions, and their policy recommendations.
In advance of the 123rd annual meeting in Dallas on November 14, The Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU) has released the final report resulting from five regional meetings to discuss key concerns about the future of public research universities, one of which took place at UW Seattle on April 26, 2010.
The report, Ensuring Public Research Universities Remain Vital, outlines the important contributions that public research institutions like the UW make to knowledge, society and the economy. The report also reaffirms the need for institutions to remain committed to their public mission of providing world class education that is affordable and accessible, and for the states to remain committed to facilitating that mission by restoring and protecting the public investment in higher education.
Additionally, the report addresses ways that the federal government can help keep US public research institutions vital. First, by reforming indirect cost reimbursement rate setting policies and regulations associated with federal research grants. Second, by exploring ways that the federal government can partner with institutions to provide operating support, including endowed faculty chairs, funding for doctoral trainees, and new targeted research funding.
John Aubrey Douglass of UC Berkeley’s Center for Studies in Higher Education has issued a new report on the current status of higher education, and potential paths for growth and change into the future.
In Re-Imagining California Higher Education, Douglass argues that the existing model for higher education in California (here representative of higher education in states across the US) has changed only incrementally over recent decades and is ill suited, due primarily to the combination of declining per student funding and increased enrollment, to meet the near-term demands of the economy, much less US stated goals of dramatically increased participation and attainment for the future.
Douglass proposes that California boldy reimagine its higher education system by building on the existing strengths of its current tripartite system (two year community colleges, the four-year California State system, and the four-year UC research institutions). Among his proposals:
- An expanded community college sector that includes a set of institutions offering four year degrees and a set of institutions with a more explicit ‘transfer focus’.
- A new poli-technic institution sector that focuses on applied degrees in science, engineering and technology.
- A new online ‘open university’ that focuses on adult and/or placebound learners in California.
- Increased focus on international recruitment to attract funding dollars and top talent to the state.
- Increased focus on partnering with the federal government in funding institutions beyond basic research and financial aid to students.
With arguably the best– and certainly the largest– public higher education system in the country, if not world, the old saying ‘So goes California, so goes the nation’ comes to mind while reading Douglass’ report.
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