Thursday, June 08, 2017

American Higher Education: An Autopsy

Throughout American history, our colleges and universities have enjoyed a respect, even a reverence, from the American people. And for good reason: A college degree has long been seen as the ticket to the American Dream—as the merit-based path onward and upward.

No more.

Over the past half-century, a growing number of America’s campuses have come to be seen by those who pay for them as inefficient and thus overly expensive, at best, or as anti-individual liberty and thus anti-American, at worst. For some critics, they fail on both counts.

Our universities have not helped themselves in rebutting this public perception. Quite the contrary. Recently, a growing number of colleges and universities have doubled-down in their ongoing war on free speech and thought, as documented by annual surveys conducted by the nonpartisan Foundation for Individual Right in Education (FIRE).

If these universities thought that the premium given to a bachelor’s degree would continue to trump public concerns over campus censorship, they should have been disabused of this notion after the fallout from the 2015 protests at the University of Missouri (Mizzou). Public disgust over these protests, as well as over the Mizzou administration’s spineless response to them, has led to a back-breaking decline in freshman enrollments as well as donations, as I documented here.

In addition, a number of states have enacted or are looking to enact legislation aimed restoring the First Amendment at their public colleges and universities. FIRE notes that “Virginia,  Missouri, Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky, and Utah have all passed legislation to end the use of free speech zones at public colleges within their states, and similar bills are pending in California (Constitutional Amendment 14)(SB. 472), Louisiana, Michigan (S. 349)(S. 350), New York, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin.”

This week saw the latest entrant into the campus culture wars when a bipartisan resolution was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives calling on public colleges and universities to terminate campus “free speech zones” (small areas on campus to which the First Amendment is effectively quarantined.)
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House Resolution 307 was introduced by Representative Phil Roe (R-Tennessee), and cosponsored by Representatives Jamie Raskin (D-Maryland), Todd Rokita (R-Indiana), Rick W. Allen (R-Georgia) Glenn Grothman (R-Wisconsin), Jason Lewis (R-Minnesota), and Bradley Byrne (R-Alabama).

The resolution rehearses the judicial record that unambiguously requires all public colleges and universities to uphold the First Amendment. It then cites FIRE’s nationwide research, which reveals that “roughly 1 in 10 of America’s top colleges and universities quarantine student expression to so-called ‘free speech zones,’ that more than 20 speakers were disinvited from speaking on campuses in 2016, and [whose] survey of 449 schools found that almost 40 percent maintain severely restrictive speech codes that clearly and substantially prohibit constitutionally protected speech.”

The House Resolution also quotes the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which argues, ‘‘’Speech codes adopted by government-financed state colleges and universities amount to government censorship, in violation of the Constitution.’”  The ACLU goes on to assert that “’all campuses should adhere to First Amendment principles because academic freedom is a bedrock of education in a free society.’’’

In a press advisory on the House Resolution, Representative Roe stated: “With our current political climate, it’s more crucial than ever that colleges and universities protect all First Amendment rights.” He goes on to decry the fact that “frequently a vocal minority of dissenters” are “allowed to drown out or block alternative viewpoints or thoughts from even being shared. . . . With this bipartisan resolution, we can send a strong message that Congress expects universities to protect and foster the free and open exchange of ideas.”

This move by the U.S. House—added to the likeminded efforts of various state legislatures and students and alums—represents a formidable force.

Will the universities listen?

Perhaps, but consider higher education’s prior history of flouting the law. In Jonathan Zimmerman’s new book, “Campus Politics: What Everyone Needs to Know (2016), he notes the instances in the past in which courts have struck down various schools’ speech codes. How did the institutions respond? Zimmerman answers, “Many universities retained [these illegal speech codes] or added new ones, even in the face of judicial decisions prohibiting them.”

As someone who spent thirty years in the Academy—as a student, professor, and senior administrator—I was less than shocked by Zimmerman’s revelation. Why? Because my experience has taught me that some in the universities today look down their noses at the average Americans who send them their children, their tuition payments, and their tax dollars. Nothing less than contempt explains their open disobedience—even to federal judicial decrees.

In short, our universities have none but themselves to blame for the growing public backlash from which they are suffering—and will likely suffer further if they continue to treat concerns over campus censorship with what sometimes appears to be smug indifference. By letting ideology trump scholarship, by elevating feelings over rational arguments, by strangling the quest for truth—their reason for being—at the altar of political correctness, our colleges and universities have squandered the almost-devotional respect felt for them by the larger society.

In this light, these schools should be grateful for the public pressure being brought to bear on them. The public’s indignation may be school’s last hope of being saved—from themselves.


Americans View Higher Education as Key to American Dream

Black and Hispanic Parents Value Higher Education the Most

San Jose and New York -- In today's high-tech economy, Americans believe that a college education has replaced a high school diploma as the gateway to the middle class, according to the most extensive public opinion survey ever conducted about Americans' views on higher education.

The survey, prepared by Public Agenda and released nationwide by several independent nonprofit organizations, finds that a towering 87% of Americans believe that a college education has become as important as a high school diploma used to be. And three out of four Americans (76%) think that there cannot be too many people with education and training beyond high school.

This is a dramatic shift in Americans' views about higher education, said John Immerwahr, author of the report. Back in 1993, a majority of Americans thought that too many people were going to college.

Parents of high school students, meanwhile, are just as resolute when talking about education and training for their own children. Almost two-thirds (62%) of those surveyed believe that a college education is absolutely necessary for their children.

American views about the importance of higher education have now coalesced, said Patrick Callan, President of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, an independent organization working to improve higher education policy. This is an important change in attitudes.

The value placed on a college education, however, is highest among those who have the lowest rates of college participation: African American and Hispanic parents are more likely to emphasize higher education than either white parents or the population as a whole.

When asked to choose a single factor that a young person most needs to succeed in the world today, 65% of Hispanic parents and 47% of African American parents select a college education. In contrast, only 33% of white parents choose a college education as the top choice though this percentage still outranks the other choices, such as knowing how to get along with people and a good work ethic.

This finding shatters a persistent stereotype throughout much of America-that low levels of preparation for college can be traced to parents who don't value higher education enough.

In contrast, participation rates among these three groups as measured by the percentage of 18 to 24 year olds enrolled in higher education are lowest among Hispanics (20%), followed by African Americans (30%). Whites have almost double the participation rate (37%) as Hispanics.

Providing people with opportunities for higher education is the way American society promotes social and economic mobility, said Deborah Wadsworth, President of Public Agenda. For now, most Americans are generally satisfied with the availability of higher education. However, tougher economic times or changes that violate the public's values might cloud this rosy outlook.

College Costs

The survey also finds that Americans have a clear sense of who has the most difficulty paying for college: almost half (46%) of Americans say that students from low-income families have less opportunity for college than other groups. In contrast, only 16% of Americans say that students from middle-class families have less opportunity than other groups.

The report finds that the vast majority of high school parents (69%) who expect their children to go to college are at least somewhat worried about paying for tuition and other expenses. At the same time, 93% of parents believe they will find a way to pay the price.

Although Americans are willing to make sacrifices to send their children to college, they want colleges and universities to do a better job of keeping tuition low without cutting quality. Nearly two-thirds of Americans strongly agree that colleges should be doing a much better job of keeping down their costs.

These findings are drawn from a broad study of public attitudes about higher education, including issues such as college preparation and remediation, priorities for colleges, and the importance of teaching analytical thinking and other life skills.

Great Expectations: How the Public and ParentsWhite, African American and HispanicView Higher Education is based on a telephone survey of 1,015 adults, plus oversamples of white, African American, and Hispanic parents of high-school-age children.

John Immerwahr, author of the report, is a Senior Research Fellow at Public Agenda and Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs at Villanova University.

The report was released today by four independent nonprofit organizations: The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education promotes public policies that enhance Americans' opportunities for education and training beyond high school. Public Agenda regularly reports on public attitudes about major policy issues. The Consortium for Policy Research in Education conducts and publishes research on education issues. The National Center for Postsecondary Improvement identifies and analyzes the challenges facing postsecondary education.


DeVos says school spending and student outcomes aren’t related, but some research suggests otherwise

More money is not the answer for schools, suggested U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in Senate testimony Tuesday — but a wave of new studies show that additional money for schools can make a big difference for students.

In an exchange with Louisiana Senator John Kennedy, DeVos reiterated her view on the topic. Kennedy began by saying, “Do you find it at all strange that in America now, we seem to judge success in education by how much money we’re spending as opposed to whether our kids are learning?”

DeVos replied, “I do find that strange. In fact, in the last administration there was $7 billion invested specifically into schools that were failing … to improve them and there was absolutely zero outcome from that investment.”

“The notion that spending more money is going to bring about different results is ill-placed and ill-advised,” she said.

DeVos was relying on evidence from one specific program, but the broader research on money in education generally paints a more positive picture.

“There’s this notion out there that increased spending doesn’t help,” said Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach who has studied school spending and is the director the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution. “There’s good evidence that indeed increased spending does help — it increases student test scores and it improves later life outcomes.”

A few major national studies have reached that conclusion.

One analysis, published in the peer-reviewed Quarterly Journal of Economics, found that court-ordered increases in school spending caused students to attend college at higher rates and earn more money as adults. Another study, coauthored by Schanzenbach, showed that when states increased spending they saw substantial increases in scores on the federal NAEP exam.

Other national research has linked more spending to higher graduation rates and greater social mobility.
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State-specific studies have pointed to similar results. Research in California, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Ohio have also found gains caused by additional education spending.

None of this research is bulletproof because money is never randomly assigned to schools, but the studies do make efforts to look specifically at the effects of additional spending itself.

Skeptics often point to the fact that education spending has increased while overall performance on federal high school exams has been flat, but according to Schanzenbach this approach to determining the impact of additional resources is problematic.

“If we want to think about what’s the effect of school funding, you can’t do correlations — you need a research design to isolate what happens when more money is pumped into the system,” she said.

In her testimony and in other instances, DeVos’s has highlighted the Obama-era school turnaround program, which produced some successes but did not seem to have much if any overall impact, according to a federal study of the program.

But Schanzenbach says this does not show that resources don’t matter. “That is an evaluation of a particular program, targeted at particular schools,” she said. “I don’t think we get to step back and say we learned something fundamental about the relationship between spending and student achievement.”


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