Friday, December 30, 2011

Degree of frustration with cost of college

Outcry grows on soaring tuitions

As tuition costs skyrocket and graduates walk away saddled with ever-rising amounts of debt, American colleges now face a choice: Remain a part of the problem, or begin contributing to a solution.

The average cost to attend a public university shot up 8.3 percent this year, while private institutions raised their prices 4.3 percent. Over the past decade, tuition rates have risen 72 percent, and universities are now taking more heat than ever from government officials, education specialists and middle-class families, all of whom think the higher-education sector hasn’t done enough to reverse the trend.

If the current trajectory continues, getting a college degree could soon become cost-prohibitive for average Americans.

“They need to do their part. Right now, they aren’t doing enough,” Vice President Joseph R. Biden said during a speech to Florida high school students this month. “Right now, there are no real incentives to dissuade colleges and universities from continuing to raise tuition. It’s not going to be easy, but there’s no excuse for complacency.”

Many aren’t surprised by the reluctance to tackle out-of-control tuition costs. Universities, along with the professors they employ, have grown accustomed to an open checkbook. Instructors at public institutions earn, on average, about $70,000 per year, yet many teach only one or two classes each semester. College presidents, often pressured to keep up with their peers, sign off on expensive new fitness centers, performing-arts facilities or top-of-the-line dining halls, options deemed more important than reducing tuition for their customers.

But the students keep coming. Since most borrow money or depend on government assistance to attend college, families have become numb to the increases. Diplomas are deemed necessary for financial success, and there’s only one place to get them.

“It’s a great product to have when everybody wants it. Colleges have had the corner on the credential market, and that has allowed colleges to do, essentially, anything they’ve wanted,” said Jeffrey Selingo, editorial director for the Chronicle of Higher Education, while speaking a Capitol Hill tuition forum earlier this month.

“The wake-up call has happened in the past couple of years. What we’re seeing now is, people are saying that a college education may be the ticket to a better life, but not at any cost,” he said. “We’re finally seeing that the sustainability of this model isn’t going to work. I think what you’re going to see over the next five or 10 years is a number of colleges start to rethink their model.”

Some schools embrace change

The rethinking process has already begun at several institutions. Several years ago, Colorado Mesa University eliminated all of its deans, saving more than $500,000 each year.

“We made the decision to do away with them. I don’t think our students are missing [deans] whatsoever,” Colorado Mesa President Tim Foster told a House subcommittee earlier this month.

Many of the professors at Colorado Mesa carry nearly twice the average teaching load, reducing the university’s number of full-time instructors. As a result, tuition has gone up by less than half the national average in recent years.

Indiana’s Grace College and Seminary now offers a three-year degree program, which requires more classes per semester for students, but can cut 25 percent off post-college debt.

Grace President Ronald Manahan, also speaking at the House hearing, said 48 percent of freshmen enrolled in the program this academic year. “We could not simply stand by and wait for help” in reducing prices, he said.


All-girl classes at university 'lead to better grades' with some saying they are more comfortable without boys in the classroom

Girls perform better at university when taught in single-sex classes, research suggests. Academics who split their students into three groups – men-only, women-only and mixed – found that the women-only class received considerably higher marks at the end of the year.

The girls in the single-sex group said they felt more comfortable and confident in classes without boys.

The pilot project was designed to build upon the findings of earlier experiments with school-age pupils that showed girls were more willing to take risks and be competitive after being taught in single-sex groups.

For the latest study, University of Essex researchers Dr Patrick Nolen and Professor Alison Booth divided 800 first-year undergraduates into three groups for introductory courses in economics.

At the end of the year, the average member of the girls-only group did 7.5 per cent better on her exams than those in the other groups.

Attendance was a major factor, as girls were much more likely to turn up for classes if they were placed in single-sex classes. On average, girls in single-sex groups attended 71 per cent of the classes, while those being taught alongside boys attended just 63 per cent.

Although single-sex classes led to better exam scores among women, there were no significant effects on their coursework marks.

Study participant Corina Musat, 20, said: ‘I think the atmosphere was more friendly and we bonded because we were all girls.’

Emilia Matei, also 20, agreed. ‘I think it was the best class I had last year. I don’t know whether it was because it was a single-sex class or whether it was the teaching,’ she said.

‘In the all-girls’ class, you didn’t have to have that much courage to go to the blackboard and answer the question.’

The academics who carried out the study warned that girls who show less confidence in the classroom may be less competitive in the job market.

Dr Nolen, of the university’s department of economics, said: ‘I would like to see policy makers think about this. We should be investigating it and intervening pre-market in the environment in which students learn.’ His summary of the project in the New Economic Journal concluded: ‘This finding is relevant to the policy debate on whether or not single-sex classes within co-ed schools could be a useful way forward.’

The study that inspired the new research involved 260 teenagers from two girls’ schools, two boys’ schools and four co-educational schools in Suffolk and Essex.

The work showed that girls who went to single-sex schools were more competitive, even when they were in a mixed- sex environment.


Boarding schools 'increasingly popular' among British sixth-formers

Rising numbers of sixth-formers are being enrolled at boarding schools as parents seek to ”acclimatise” children into being away from home before university. Figures show that the number of 16 to 18-year-olds boarding at independent and state schools in Britain has soared by a fifth in the last decade.

More schools are building additional boarding facilities and allowing children to take advantage of more flexible hotel-style arrangements to cater for rising demand.

School leaders claim that many pupils are choosing to board for the first time in the sixth-form as preparation for university – softening the blow of being away from home at 18. The Boarding Schools Association said that the experience acted as an effective “bridge” between school and higher education.

It was also suggested that families were opting for boarding because professional parents are being forced to work into the evening and weekends to make ends meet in the downturn.

Some parents are being attracted by the rise in “flexi-boarding” – more casual arrangements that allow children to stay for few nights a week without making a full-time commitment.

Richard Harman, chairman of the BSA and headmaster of fee-paying Uppingham School in Rutland, said: “It prepares youngsters for living away from home but in a structured way with an appropriate level of pastoral support and increasingly parents and the pupils themselves are seeing the benefit of that.

“At university, suddenly you are responsible for your own decisions and it can be a big jump for many people. You do get quite a high drop out rate for that reason; it is very easy for youngsters in the first year of university to get lost in the system and homesick. Boarding schools act as an effective bridge to university.”

According to figures, the number of sixth-form pupils in state boarding schools has increased from 1,102 to 1,790 over the last decade. Over the same period, teenagers admitted to the fee-paying sector have increased from 24,929 to 29,322. It represents an overall increase of 19.5 per cent to more than 31,100 in the last academic year.

The comments come despite a rise in boarding school fees in recent years, with the most elite institutions now charging as much as £30,000 for sixth-formers.

But Mr Harman said many families saw it as a worthwhile investment – making sure children maximised their A-level results and were well prepared for university.

John Newton, the headmaster of Taunton School in Somerset, said sixth-form boarding was also a “sound lifestyle choice for parents as well as pupils”.

“After years of ending work early to run children to sports clubs, ballet classes and orchestra practices, hard working parents realise that boarding is the most efficient way to educate children as roundly as possible, while liberating them to lead proper professional lives,” he said. “These days that involves flexible working, late hours and weekends.”

Louis Eastwood, 16, has just started at Wymondham College, a state boarding school in Norfolk, after previously being enrolled at a day school. “It is a really big jump to living at home with your parents to going to university,” he said. “I think boarding school is something in the middle. You have still got to do your own washing and have your independence but have the support of the school environment.

“Obviously I miss my parents and the family home but at the same time there’s more opportunities to socialise and work and there’s less temptation to just say I will do all my work on a Sunday night.”


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