Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Senate Fiddles While College Debt Explodes

America's accumulated college-loan debt will surpass $1 trillion this year; what is our leadership doing about it? The Obama Administration took over the student loan market and expanded Pell Grants, but hasn't accomplished anything to address the root cause of the crisis: exploding college fees and related costs. The only thing they've done is criticize innovators and entrepreneurs.

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP), chaired by Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), issued a new report calling into question the costs and performance of For-Profit universities. There are actually hundreds of these schools, perhaps the most well-known being University of Phoenix and Devry University. The report provides some damning statistics about For-Profits which should concern us all, since a large amount of free federal money (Pell Grants) is handed out to their students. Their cost of recruiting is much higher than private and public universities (the Establishment), and their four-year graduation rate 31 percent compared to 52 percent for Establishment schools.

When I read the report and its analysis, my only thought was "Wow! Is the committee staff really this dense?" Here are a few points:

1. Wouldn't you expect the graduation rates to be lower at For-Profits? After all, how many of the best students in the country are going to University of Phoenix rather than Yale, Stanford, UCLA, or Texas? It's obvious that they're not attracting top-tier students, so it makes sense that their dropout rate would be higher.

2. The fact that more money is spent on recruitment also makes sense. Every high school in America has guidance counselors who direct students to Establishment colleges. Have you ever heard of a high school counselor telling a student that he should be going to Devry? The report leads one to believe that Establishment schools average a little over one staff person who does recruiting. Obviously, the people who compiled that statistic never had a kid go to college. That is just foolish.

3. The report also talks about the cost per student, but the numbers used don't reflect the huge costs underwritten by states for public schools, or the cost to the federal treasury for tax deductions taken for "charitable" donations to Establishment schools. The comparison of costs is absolutely and totally slanted.

This is the fourth "study" done by this committee on For-Profit colleges in the last two years. And how many have been done on Establishment schools? Zero. One might come to the conclusion that someone has a vendetta against For-Profit schools. Since the Committee Chair is Senator Harkin, the finger must be pointed at him.

When I discussed the issue with Elizabeth Donovan, Deputy Press Secretary for HELP, she indicated that there had indeed been hearings on the Establishment schools and at my request kindly sent me copies of the witness statements. It struck me as strange that all of the testimony came from representatives of public schools, even though private schools (except Hillsdale College) receive substantial federal money.

I asked Ms. Donovan why representatives of private schools were not included, but she was unwilling to answer. I then asked whether there would be any similar studies released on Establishment schools. Again, she was unwilling to reply. But on September 13, 2012, the committee held a two-hour hearing on the soaring costs of Establishment schools. They concluded that costs are escalating because states are cutting their higher education budgets, and that schools are holding committee meetings and discussions in an effort to control costs. The reaction of the Senate committee was basically - that's cool.

To its credit, the Republican minority, headed by Senator Enzi (R-Wyoming), issued a statement denouncing the For-Profit study. While acknowledging challenges in these particular schools, they asked the big question: why is so much effort being spent on For-Profit colleges, which represents 10% of the education industry, while Establishment schools, which represent 90%, are being ignored? It's like focusing on your child's performance in P.E. when they are failing math, English, and social studies. The minority enumerated the many reasons why the full report had been manipulated to make the industry look bad. And it questioned why Senator Harkin is unwilling to address the main issue - Establishment schools piling huge amounts of debt onto the public without a shred of accountability.

We deserve some real answers. Young adults are told that if they want to succeed, they must graduate from college. Today, parents are breaking themselves financially and their children are piling up ridiculous levels of debt. Increasingly, students are graduating with little hope of finding a job lucrative enough to pay off their debt, or with a degree that is useless for obtaining a position. And yet nobody asks why schools are issuing degrees in silly majors or why so many schools promote majors for which there is little demand for the graduates. More important, why are costs soaring way above the inflation rate, and why are the rapidly-increasing numbers of administrators getting paid so much? How about the falsehood of "not-for-profit" schools whose "one-class-a-week" professors earn salaries as high as $300,000 and college presidents earn $500,000 and up? There is nothing "not for profit" for these schools except their misleading titles.

Richard Cordray, Elizabeth Warren's stand-in at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, broached the subject of why student loans are excluded from bankruptcy and suggested a rule change. I suspect that President Obama may in his second term run with this proposal, which means that a large portion of another $1 trillion - as well as any debt incurred in the future - will be dumped on the shoulders of American taxpayers. The Administration bemoans the debt level, but does nothing to correct the root causes. Obama's ally in the Senate spends his time fiddling with 10% of the schools while Rome is burning.

Then again, is anyone really surprised?


Public schools retain grip on Britain's elite

The Telegraph still sometimes uses "Public schools" in the traditional sense

More than 10% of the best UK high-flyers were educated at a handful of prestigious private schools, new research suggests. It also reveals that a degree from Oxford or Cambridge is vital for some professions, with more than half of the leading lights in the diplomatic service, the law and the civil service graduating from one of the two institutions.

The study, conducted by the Sutton Trust, looked at the educational backgrounds of nearly 8,000 people who featured in the birthday lists of national and Sunday papers last year by examining official website profiles, Who's Who and by direct contact.

It found that 10 elite fee-paying schools produced 12% of the leading high-flyers examined for the study.

Eton College - the former school of David Cameron, Boris Johnson, the Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry - educated 330 high-flyers, a total of 4% of the UK's elite, the study says.

Among other former Eton pupils are Olympic gold medallist Sir Matthew Pinsent and actors Hugh Laurie and Dominic West.

Alongside Eton, the other nine top private schools, collectively teaching 12% of those whose education backgrounds were examined, are Winchester College, Charterhouse School, Rugby School, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg's old school Westminster, Marlborough College, Dulwich College, Harrow School, St Paul's Boys' School, where Chancellor George Osborne was educated, and Wellington College.

Overall, almost half (44%) of the people studied went to private school, 27% attended a grammar school, 21% were educated at comprehensives or other state schools and 8% went to a former direct grant school.

The study found that the comprehensives producing the most high-flyers - with six people each - are Haverstock School, attended by Labour leader Ed Miliband and his brother, former foreign secretary David Miliband, and Holland Park School, which was attended by former environment minister Hilary Benn. Both are in London.

The research, due to be published later today at an event to mark the Sutton Trust's 15th anniversary, also looked at university education.

It found that overall, almost a third (31%) of high-flyers went to Oxbridge, and another fifth attended another leading university. Some 62% of high-flyers in the diplomatic service are Oxbridge graduates, along with 58% of those in the law, and 55% of those at the top of the civil service.

But just 1% of top pop stars attended one of these two institutions, along with 8% of leading sportsmen and 8% of actors and actresses.

Sutton Trust chairman Sir Peter Lampl said: "This analysis shows how dominant leading universities and schools remain across the professions in Britain. That's why it is so important that access to our leading schools and universities is on the basis of ability alone."

In the last 15 years, the Sutton Trust has helped to improve access to top universities and shown ways in which leading private schools could be opened up on the basis of ability, he said.  He added: "But studies like this - and over 120 pieces of research commissioned by the trust since 1997 - show how far we still need to go to improve social mobility in this country and ensure that every young person can achieve his or her potential, regardless of their family background."

The study examined the educational background of leading individuals working in business, finance, the arts, education, public services, sport, law and journalism.

Education Secretary Michael Gove has in the past described the dominance of the public schoolboy prominent roles in British society is "morally indefensible".

In a speech to independent school headteachers in May, Mr Gove said the sheer scale of privately-educated men in positions of power in business, politics, media, comedy, sport and music was proof of a "deep problem in our country" which politicians have failed to tackle with "anything like the radicalism required".

Lord Moynihan, chairman of the British Olympic Association and himself public school-educated, raised the issue of public school dominance in British Olympic sport in the run up to the London 2012 Games, saying: "It's one of the worst statistics in British sport."


We shouldn't have to open our facilities for state pupils, insists British private schools chief

Private schools should not be expected to open up their facilities to pupils from local state schools, a leading headmistress said yesterday.

Louise Robinson, president of the Girls' Schools Association, said it was `beyond the pale' for the Government to insist that private schools share their `unique selling points', such as facilities and resources, with the `competition'.

She said that middle class parents who manage to find the money for private school fees should not be expected to bankroll state pupils who want to use the same resources.

Her comments are likely to spark fierce debate among private school heads, many of whom justify their schools' `charitable' status by stressing the ways in which they share facilities with local state schools and the community.

David Cameron and Education Secretary Michael Gove have praised this practice and urged independent schools to go further, pooling their `DNA' with state schools by extending financial backing and lending their `brands' to academies.

But Mrs Robinson, head of Merchant Taylors' Girls' School in Crosby, Liverpool, said parents already faced increasing fees due to the growing weight of regulation and red tape that private schools must follow.

She said they should not be expected to pay for an independent education only to see the money spent on `local competition'.

She questioned why, for example, private schools should help set up combined cadet forces (CCFs) for state pupils.

Mrs Robinson stressed that many private schools were keen to help the state sector `on their own terms' but said it was wrong for the Government to impose the practice.

`Michael Gove has been very clear about the rules of co-operating with us, asking us to share our resources or facilities,' she told the GSA's annual conference in Liverpool.  `Many of us happily do this already with a wide variety of schools on our own terms.

`But when we are squeezed between the tightening rules and regulations being imposed upon us, the rising cost of our provision and the ability of middle-class parents to pay our increasing fees, it seems a bit beyond the pale to ask if we will share aspects of our unique selling points with local competition.

`And competition it is; why should my school offer its CCF expertise and experience to parents who could have sent their children to my school, but chose not to, or to a Government which criticises my morality?

`The current government cannot decide whether they are for or against independent schools: they want our DNA, our sponsorship of academies, but we know academies are not the answer to everyone's prayers.'

Mrs Robinson said many private school heads backed an `open access' scheme with poorer parents given financial help to give their children an independent education.

Fees would depend on parental income, with the wealthiest paying full fees and others paying nothing and the Government making up the shortfall.

In a wide-ranging speech, she also forecast that pupils will be able to play video games and learn from the comfort of their homes using web-based lessons and Skype in `Star Trek schools' of the future.

Britain's school system was failing to keep up with 21st century technology and must modernise to equip pupils with the skills they will need in the future, she added.

Her call came days after Mr Gove announced plans for a computer science curriculum with the same status as traditional subjects.

Pupils as young as seven could be required to learn how to `code' computer programs.

Mrs Robinson said she was calling for more `creative curriculum decisions'.


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