Sunday, September 08, 2013

Are college costs not so bad after all?

Obama’s touting more free money, reports are pouring in that tuition fees are rising—but college is still well within reach for most of us, and the wage premium remains huge, says Nick Gillespie

It’s back-to-college time, which means it’s the season for bitching and moaning about rising college costs, lack of access to higher education, and the pressing need for even more taxpayer-funded subsidies to the leaders of tomorrow. In just the past few weeks, we’ve been subjected to breathless reports that “college tuition costs” have risen 500 percent since 1985 and a mini campaign swing by President Obama touting more free money for students and a federally sanctioned knockoff of college guides already provided by the Princeton Review, U.S. News & World Report, Washington Monthly, Barron’s, and countless other sources.

Enough already. The plain facts are that college is still well within reach of most Americans, the wage premium for a college sheepskin remains huge, and student loans are not a new form of indentured servitude. You wouldn’t get any of that from grandstanding politicians always looking for a new way to rob Peter to buy Paul’s vote, an educational establishment that’s always on the hunt for new revenue sources, and a news media that alternates between the credulity and ignorance of, well, a first-semester freshman.

According to the latest figures from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), total tuition, fees, room, and board at four-year colleges for the 2011–12 academic year came to $23,066 on average. For state schools, the cost was substantially less (about $16,000 per year), and for private schools, it was substantially more (about $34,000 per year). In inflation-adjusted dollars (as opposed to the unadjusted figures favored by alarmists), that’s about twice as much as costs were in 1985. As a recent New York Times headline put it, “College Costs: Rising, Yet Often Exaggerated.”

Rising costs (and we’ll get to reasons for those in a moment) haven’t deterred people from going to college. About 68 percent of high school seniors enroll in two- or four-year higher education right after they graduate, a percentage that has stayed at or near historic highs for the past decade. (In 1985, by comparison, just 58 percent enrolled.) If college were being priced out of the reach of most Americans, that percentage would surely be cratering, especially in the depths of the Great Recession.

Coming up with $23,000 a year for a conventional residential college is a lot of money, but the sticker price is routinely offset by various grants and other forms of aid (as in everything else, only suckers pay retail). There’s also a good reason why so many people go on for more schooling. Depending on your assumptions, a college degree generally increases lifetime earnings between $280,000 and $1 million. According to NCES, full-time, annual median earnings for college grads between 25 and 34 are about $15,000 per year more than they are for high school grads.

As important, college grads at every stage of their careers are far less likely to be unemployed than nongrads. Recent grads are about 2 percentage points less likely to be unemployed than the typical worker, and older college grads are half as likely to be unemployed as those with a high school diploma.

There’s been a lot of hand-wringing over whether today’s grads are overqualified for the jobs they do take. Ohio University economist and higher-ed curmudgeon Richard Vedder is always quick to point out that there are “115,520 janitors in the United States with bachelor’s degrees or more.” But as researchers at the New York Federal Reserve Bank have pointed out, the 1980s and ’90s saw similar levels of underemployment of recent grads. (My first job when I graduated from college in 1985 was pumping gas; six months later, I started my first full-time journalism gig.) Despite some delays caused by the rotten economy, there’s every reason to believe that college grads will continue to filter into jobs that are higher paying and more in line with their interests, skills, and abilities.

That’s good news for students who take out federally subsidized loans to pay for postsecondary education. Few aid programs come in for as much abuse as federal student loans, which, despite lower-than-market-level interest rates and longer-than-typical payback periods, are routinely castigated as rip-offs that push students into economic despair and neo-serfdom. That’s simply not true. For starters, just 35 percent of high school grads going on to two- or four-year institutions take out any loans (public or private) out in a given year. That’s according to Sallie Mae, the agency that oversees the federal loan program.


Michigan State reassigns teaching duties of professor caught on tape bashing Republicans

 Michigan State University has relieved one of its professors of his courses after he was recorded denigrating Republicans before a classroom of nearly 400 students.

But the professor remains a full-time faculty member at the university.

MSU administration officials began investigating professor William Penn and a nine-minute video of him telling his Integrative Studies in the Arts and Humanities class last Thursday that Republicans have a racist agenda and "raped this country."

On Thursday, the university reassigned Penn's teaching duties in the early afternoon.

"On Sept. 3, university leaders were made aware of several statements made by Professor William Penn in a classroom," MSU spokesperson Kent Cassella said in a statement. "Once MSU was made aware of the situation the Office of the Provost immediately began a review.

"The dean of the College of Arts and Letters and a representative from the provost’s office met with Penn, who acknowledged that some of his comments were inappropriate, disrespectful and offensive and may have negatively affected the learning environment."

Penn taught at least three courses this semester, all of which will be take over by alternate instructors, Cassella said.

"Michigan State University is committed to creating a learning environment that is characterized by mutual respect and civility where diverse ideas can be explored," Cassella's statement reads.

Penn, 64, has worked at MSU since 1987. He is a tenured writing professor at the university.

MSU spokesperson Jason Cody said Penn remains a full-time professor at the university, but a decision on his courseload for the upcoming semester had not been made by Thursday.

"His employment status remains unchanged—he's still a full professor," Cody said.

The secretly recorded video, publicized on a conservative college news website called, shows Penn lecturing during the first day of his IAH class on literature, cultures and identities. On the video, he tells students Republicans aim to suppress African American voters, then later criticizes Mitt Romney and takes a personal jab at Ann Romney.

"Ann Romney a first lady?" Penn says in the video. "And remember this if you're just going to be a greedy bastard your whole life and just try to get things... In order to be rich like Mitt Romney and hide all your income offshore in the Cayman Islands, you have to be—think about this—Mitt Romney.

"Anybody here want to be Mitt Romney? Him? I mean, married to her?"

The video made national headlines Wednesday, even appearing on Fox News' "The O'Reilly Factor."

The Michigan GOP issued a news release late Wednesday calling for Penn's resignation. Some members of the MSU Board of Trustees expressed their displeasure with the professor's remarks. Trustee Mitch Lyons hinted that the university should send a strong message and dismiss Penn.

Penn did not return multiple calls seeking comment.


Migrant influx fuels new crisis in British schools: Now secondary schools face 'timebomb' shortage of places, reveals secret report

Secondary schools face an overcrowding  crisis due to Labour’s failure to deal with the effects of immigration.

A leaked government document reveals that within two years, classes will struggle to accommodate tens of thousands of pupils.

The previous government’s ministers repeatedly ignored warnings about the fallout from soaring immigration and a baby boom – and even told councils to close schools with too many ‘surplus’ places.

Yet this week the Mail revealed how pupils are now packed into primary schools like sardines, with a third  of councils introducing extra reception classes.

The problem has already spread to many secondaries, with one in five either full or taking on pupils ‘in excess of capacity’. In response, councils are opening super-sized schools for 2,000-plus students.

Now a ‘restricted’ paper prepared by the Department for Education – which carries a warning that it is ‘very sensitive and should not be forwarded’ – has laid bare the scale of the so-called ‘ticking timebomb’ caused by Labour’s lack of planning, adding that ministers have ‘faced fears of an impending shortage for some years’.

A steady increase in the number of babies being born has helped fuel the crisis, with 120,000 more born in 2011 than in 2002. In addition, there has been a ‘threefold increase in net long-term migration since the mid-1990s’, the report adds.

The seven-page document cites evidence collected by the Home Office that the ‘impact of immigration has been substantial’, adding that it was seen ‘as an important contributory factor, through both the arrival of migrant children and the high birth rates of some migrant groups’.

It says an additional 35,000 secondary places will be needed by 2015, adding: ‘This shortage of places is the direct result of the increase in the birth rates since 2002 and the surge in net migration since the mid-1990s.’

It points out that despite multiple warnings to ministers, there was ‘no increase in funding to respond to the rising school population’ until the Coalition came to power in 2010.

Data released under the Freedom of Information Act confirms that internal estimates from the Labour government in May 2007 pointed to a rapid increase in the school population.

Nevertheless, seven months later Labour’s Education Department, then led by Ed Balls, advised councils to ‘close schools with consistently poor performance and/or excessive surplus places’.

Rocky Gill, deputy leader of Barking and Dagenham Council in East London, which is considering introducing three-day school weeks due to the shortage of places, said: ‘It’s a ticking timebomb as the kids go through the primaries, heading to the secondaries.

‘The Government really needs to act because otherwise we’ll have a national crisis for the secondaries in a matter of two or three years.’

The Coalition has more than doubled spending on creating new school places, with £5billion committed between 2011/12 and 2014/15.

For the start of the new school year, primary schools are expected to have 110,000 more places. Ministers insist their response will deal with the increasing demand.

But Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, said Labour ‘were warned repeatedly that they hadn’t done enough to plan for a growing population – and once more it’s been left to the Coalition government to clean up the mess’.

‘Labour cut 200,000 primary places, slashed the amount spent on areas of population growth, and let immigration soar – and all this in the middle of a baby boom,’ he said.


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