Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Obama Fosters the Skyrocketing Tuition He Criticized in His State of the Union Address

In his State of the Union address, President Obama decried skyrocketing college tuition, attempting to take advantage of public anger over the steadily-worsening college tuition bubble. This was ironic, since his own administration has done much to foster rising college tuitions.

For example, it imposed the 90-10 rule, which forced low-cost educational institutions to raise their tuition to comply with a new federal regulation requiring them to charge enough over federal financial aid so that at least 10 percent of education costs don’t come from financial aid. For example, Corinthian College had diploma programs in health care and other fields that can be completed in a year or less. Until 2011, many of those programs had a total cost of about $15,000, which meant that federal grants and loans could cover nearly 100 percent of their cost. In response to the Education Department’s rule, the college raised tuition to comply with the 90/10 rule. The net result of the Obama Education Department’s rule was to “create a perverse, no-win ‘Catch-22’ that could prevent low-income students from attending college,” by encouraging such colleges to raise tuition to outstrip rising financial aid by more than ten percent.

Administration allies like Senator Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) are now pushing a new rule, the 85-15 rule, that would require low-cost institutions to further raise tuition so that at least 15 percent of education costs aren’t covered by financial aid. (With this kind of mentality, it is no wonder that college graduation rates have actually “fallen somewhat since the 1970s” “among poor and working-class students.”)

As George Leef of the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy notes, “Obama’s talk about getting tough with colleges over tuition is pure political blather. One reason costs keep going up, thus necessitating tuition increases, is that schools keep adding administrative positions like Chief Diversity Officer. College spending is responsible for the jobs of a great many of Obama’s most zealous supporters. It’s easy to demagogue college costs, but this is nothing more than theatrics.” There are now more college administrators than faculty at California State University, and colleges, partly to comply with bureaucratic mandates, are creating new positions for liberal bureaucrats even as they raise student tuition to record levels:

The University of California at San Diego, for example, is creating a new full-time “vice chancellor for equity, diversity, and inclusion.” This position would augment UC San Diego’s already massive diversity apparatus, which includes the Chancellor’s Diversity Office, the associate vice chancellor for faculty equity, the assistant vice chancellor for diversity, the faculty equity advisors, the graduate diversity coordinators, the staff diversity liaison, the undergraduate student diversity liaison, the graduate student diversity liaison, the chief diversity officer, the director of development for diversity initiatives, the Office of Academic Diversity and Equal Opportunity, the Committee on Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Issues, the Committee on the Status of Women, the Campus Council on Climate, Culture and Inclusion, the Diversity Council, and the directors of the Cross-Cultural Center, the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Center, and the Women’s Center.

Other colleges raised spending on administrators as much as 600 percent in recent years.

As a result of increasing federal financial aid, colleges have been able to increase tuition faster than inflation, year after year, secure in the knowledge that they can rake in ever-rising government subsidies and skyrocketing tuition. College students are learning less and less even as higher education spending explodes.

Students have little choice but to pay inflated tuition bills into the education industrial-complex, as they vie with each other for scarce entry-level jobs by acquiring ever more degrees that show their ability to jump through hoops and master difficult (but largely useless) skills. The net result is an educational arms race in which people compete to see who can acquire the most paper credentials. There are now 8,000 waiters and 5,057 janitors with PhD’s or other advanced degrees, and millions of Americans have useless college degrees.

Obama’s State of the Union address also contained false claims about outsourcing and corporate taxes, as well as a misguided proposal that could undermine discipline and order in inner-city schools that have high drop-out rates, and another proposal that could shrink Americans’ 401(k)s and increase the cost of mortgage financing in the future.

The Education Department recently made college officials’ lives more difficult by trying to alter the burden of proof long used by many colleges in sexual harassment cases (despite the lack of any legal basis for doing so), and by seeking to discourage procedures such as cross-examination that safeguard accuracy and due process in campus disciplinary proceedings.


Stay in School or We'll Make You

Many teenage kids regard school as the functional equivalent of prison -- where they are forced to endure oppressive rules, bad food and unpleasant company. For them, Barack Obama has a message: There will be no parole.

In his State of the Union address, the president came out in favor of warehousing youngsters for longer than ever. We know, insisted Obama, "that when students aren't allowed to walk away from their education, more of them walk the stage to get their diploma. So tonight, I call on every State to require that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn 18."

Most states now allow students to drop out at 16 or 17. As a general rule, though, quitting high school restricts your options and reduces your income. Few adults would advise a youngster to leave without a diploma.

But general rules don't apply in all cases. The question here is not whether most students are better off finishing high school; it's whether the kids who otherwise would drop out are better off being forced to finish high school.

That's a very different question. Candidates who stay in the presidential race past April are far more likely to get the nomination than candidates who give up in January. But Rick Perry wasn't going to win even if he had stayed in till Christmas. If you're headed in the wrong direction, it doesn't help to keep going.

Why Obama floated the idea, with minimal explanation, is an open question. But the National Education Association, the country's biggest teachers union, has been pushing it. If you were cynical, you might think the union likes the proposal because it would mean more kids in school, which would mean more jobs for teachers, and that Obama likes it because the NEA endorsed him.

But even if their motives are pristine, it doesn't mean they are sound. The problem is that the youngsters who are most likely to drop out are the ones who are least likely to learn if they stay.

If they are 1) struggling to pass, 2) unwilling to apply themselves, 3) chronically tardy and absent or 4) simply not very bright, they won't learn much from being locked in a cell -- I mean a classroom -- for two extra years.

James Heckman, a Nobel laureate economist at the University of Chicago who specializes in education, is skeptical of the proposal. At the college level, he told me, "The returns to people who are not very able or not very motivated are typically quite low." There is evidence that kids may get some benefit from being required to stay in high school until 16 instead of 15, he says, but "it's a weak reed to lean on."

Let's also not forget that the highest dropout rates are in the worst schools. Even the kids who want an education often graduate from these schools barely able to read. Where does Obama get the idea that the reluctant students, compelled to remain, will reap a rich harvest of learning?

It might be argued that even if there is no benefit from keeping these students around till they turn 18, there can't be any harm. But think again.

The presence of disruptive, unmotivated kids in a class is a drain on teachers, a distraction to other students and a daily obstacle to learning. One of the best things you can do for students who want to do the right thing is to remove those who would rather goof off or make trouble.

It's not clear that laws like this will even work. A 2010 Johns Hopkins University study found that when six states raised the mandatory attendance age, three saw no increase in graduation rates -- and one saw a decline. Coauthor Robert Balfanz praises the 18-year-old mandate, but told The New York Times that "it's not the magical thing that in itself will keep kids in school."

If you want to keep unwilling students in school, you can spend money on truancy enforcement, which means taking money away from the willing students. It would be more rational to use the funds on education improvements so more kids will choose to stay.

A private company -- or a private school -- whose customers are fleeing has to come up with ways to keep them around. In Obama's public sector, there is a quicker solution: Lock the exits.


Competitive British parents 'taking joy out of childhood'

Competitive parents are taking the joy out of childhood by subjecting sons and daughters to regular tutoring at a young age, a leading headmistress has warned.

Mothers and fathers risk undermining their children’s natural development with evening and weekend lessons in the three-Rs – in addition to more than 40 hours of school work and extra curricular activities, it is claimed.

Alexia Bracewell, the head of fee-paying Longacre School in Guildford, Surrey, told how parents of three-year-olds regularly approached teachers to enquire what was needed to make sure children gain top Sats results or pass senior school entry exams.

She warned that many families were “setting their children up to fail” by pushing them too hard during the early years. “The joy of childhood is fast disappearing with parents eagerly inflicting one activity after another in a desperate bid to ensure their child succeeds,” she said.

“Parents’ ambition and intervention in their child’s education is undoubtedly hampering a pupil’s enjoyment and ability to develop at an individual rate… Of course, you must be sympathetic to parents but the pressure needs to be controlled. “I regularly see the inescapable problem of competitive parents.

“It is a natural instinct to want the best for your child. but the claws come out in some parents when their child fails to get the lead role in the school play, does not get selected for the 1st XI or fails to win a particular prize.”

Tutoring is increasingly popular in preparation for the 11-plus and Common Entrance – the traditional entry exams for grammar schools and private senior schools.

One study has suggested almost half of families now pay for private tutors to prepare sons and daughters for the 11-plus and a further 30 per cent coach them at home. Most received between 12 months and two years' worth of tuition, it was revealed.

Growing numbers of children are also tutored for GCSEs and A-levels, particularly amid rising competition for places at the best universities.

But writing in Attain, the magazine for the Independent Association of Prep Schools, Mrs Bracewell warned that exam cramming was “ultimately counterproductive”.

She also called for greater regulation of the tutoring industry to reduce the number of “unqualified, inexperienced and possibility fraudulent tutors”.

“If a child requires this level of support to gain entry to a school, how will they endure the level of expectation going forwards?” she said. “Parents are inadvertently setting their children up to fail unless they are prepared to invest financially in a lifetime of tutoring, which of course does not consider the implications for the child and the increasing peer pressure of adolescence.”

Nicholas Allen, the headmaster of Newton Prep School, London, and chairman-elect of the IAPS, said some parents were “reliving their own life” through their children.

“The most difficult thing that heads have to deal with is when not only do the parents have overwhelming ambition which is way beyond the child’s capacity or motivation, but also there’s a sense that they are reliving their own life, their own ambitions, through their children," he told Attain.

William Stadlen, founder of Holland Park Tuition, London, said the comments overlooked the “basic benefits” of being tutored by professional agencies.

He said parents should “enlist the support of a well-reputed organisation as referred by your child’s school and apply tuition only where absolutely necessary and ensure it is targeted at specific issues highlighted by your son or daughter’s teacher”.

“A tutor should enhance a child’s appreciation of a subject, build her confidence and set her free to enjoy the experience of school once short term problems have been addressed,” he said.


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