Sunday, September 02, 2018

CT School Board Chairman Resigns After Vote to Recite Pledge of Allegiance

The chairman of a Connecticut school district's board of education resigned after the board voted to begin each meeting by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

He said he should not be forced to publicly voice support for the ideals of the pledge, The Associated Press reported.

Adams later said that he had not planned to resign but felt it was appropriate after the board took the vote.

The Pledge of Allegiance has been a hot-button issue in other places as well.

Last month, an Atlanta charter school sought to move the pledge from its morning schoolwide assembly into a classroom-only part of the day, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

“Over the past couple of years it has become increasingly obvious that more and more of our community were choosing to not stand and/or recite the pledge. There are many emotions around this and we want everyone in our school family to start their day in a positive manner. After all, that is the whole purpose of our morning meeting,” principal Lara Zelski said.

Zelski said the school wanted a schoolwide pledge that reflected its demographics.

The concept ran into headwinds and was abandoned almost immediately.

Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, for example, said, “I’m sure our House Education Committee will examine whether taxpayer funds should be used to instill such a divisive ideology in our students.”


At many small colleges, administrative spending is surging

At private colleges across New England, spending on administrative salaries and wages has grown more than twice as fast as student enrollment over the past decade, federal data show, as schools meet demand for more services and strive to compete for an increasingly small pool of high school graduates.

The overall student population increased by 11 percent in the decade between 2007 and 2016, the most recent data available. But during that same period, spending on administrators grew by about 30 percent.

In an era where many small private schools are increasingly unable to keep up with costs as a result of slowing tuition revenue growth, this disconnect between the rising payroll expenses and sluggish enrollment gains raises questions about the sustainability of their business model.

“In general, spending even on the noninstructional parts of higher education tends to improve student outcomes, but it’s also to a point where the cost of educating a student is going up much faster than family income,” said Robert Kelchen, a Seton Hall professor who is an expert in higher education finance.

The Globe reviewed data from 132 private four-year, nonprofit colleges and universities in New England. The list includes elite schools like Harvard with rich endowments, as well as smaller, more tuition-dependent colleges and specialty schools. The amply endowed schools aren’t in the same squeeze because they can partially fund operations with investment earnings.

Expenses are outpacing revenue at smallest N.E. colleges
A Globe review of federal data shows that many small, private colleges in the region are struggling to meet expenses as their tuition revenue has declined.

Spending on midlevel, nonacademic staff positions described as “academic support” and “student services” grew most dramatically: by 34 and 36 percent respectively. In some cases that growth represents pay increases and in other cases more staff.

Meanwhile, many schools are experiencing enrollment decline or sluggish growth — a particular problem at the smallest schools because they depend heavily on tuition revenue and are under pressure not to raise prices too sharply.

At some schools the increases in administrative spending have been substantial. At Worcester Polytechnic Institute, student enrollment grew by about 57 percent while spending on administrative salaries grew by about 151 percent, data show. At Regis College, enrollment grew by about 47 percent while spending on administrative salaries rose 115 percent. At Wentworth Institute of Technology, enrollment grew by about 26 percent while spending on administrative salaries grew by about 109 percent, according to the data.

Colleges say the increased spending is largely in response to students who expect them to provide more services than they did 10 years ago. Indeed, the business of educating young people is vastly different today. Many small colleges, in particular, enroll a population that needs more individual attention — academic support and career services — often because they are the first in their family to attend college.

“The students in this generation and their families, they come to all of us with significantly higher expectations for services,” said David Ellis, the chief financial officer at Becker College in Worcester.

Students expect the latest technology, for example, Ellis said. The school had about three technology staffers a decade ago and 10 now.

At Becker, which has about 1,800 students and an annual sticker price of $53,000 per year, enrollment grew by about 32 percent over a decade when spending on administrative salaries and wages grew by about 86 percent, data show.

That growth could be a good thing, according to several higher education experts. “The real question is whether students are getting an additional value which is commensurate with this type of increased administrative spending,” said Douglas Webber, an associate economics professor at Temple University who studies higher education.

If schools beef up their academic advising, career services, counseling, and other programs that help students stay healthy, graduate, and get jobs, that can be a wise investment, experts said. The problem is that no matter how valuable the services, the cost of a college education is becoming prohibitively expensive.

Kelchen, the Seton Hall professor, said that in some cases these new employees do jobs that used to be tacked on to professors’ responsibilities, like helping students choose which classes to take and majors to choose. Meanwhile, other types of jobs have gone away, he said. For instance, some administrative support roles have been replaced by technology.

But while these new employees and services are likely adding value to students’ experience, the cost is passed on. These days many students’ parents take out supplementary loans to help cover the cost of their child’s schooling — leaving both students and parents with substantial debt.

Much attention is paid these days to the high pay of college presidents and top administrators. The president of Becker, for example, made $534,000 in the most recent data available.

But Kelchen said that while these costs are real, they are not the biggest driver of high tuition prices. Also, he said, the job of a president has become more difficult because the decline in the high school population has forced schools to compete more aggressively for students. And the 24-hour news cycle can amplify the smallest negative incident on campus into a public relations nightmare.

Spending on wages for teaching also increased at about the same rate as administrators, the data show. Several schools said that is because they have raised the salaries of their professors to attract higher-quality candidates.

A Wentworth spokesperson said the school added new undergraduate programs that required new faculty and administrative support staff. It also hired 20 technology services employees to replace a contracted service provider it used.

WPI said it has also launched new programs and departments as well as nonacademic programs to support students and faculty.

A Regis College spokesman said the school expanded its four schools, launched online programs, grew its graduate programs, and invested in academic and nonacademic tutoring, coaching, and mental health counseling.

Providence College, a Catholic school of about 4,900 students, increased salaries to be able to recruit more competitively, according to the school’s chief financial officer, John Sweeney. In the past the school relied on unpaid friars who have been replaced with paid faculty, he said. But the college is also competing for students, which means traveling farther afield to recruit.

Many colleges have also increased their spending on “enrollment management,” the complex game of calculating what it will take to attract students and how to get them to stay.

Providence College also just completed a $185 million capital campaign, and Sweeney said it hired more fund-raisers. But he said his college is financially healthy and can support such growth. “We’ve spent money and it’s attracted more students who pay a much larger share,” he said.

Providence College enrollment declined slightly during the 10-year period through 2016, whereas spending on administrative salaries grew by about 60 percent.

Such federal data comes with caveats. Each school inputs its numbers differently and some count jobs in different categories. Inconsistencies can also arise when the employee who enters the data each year leaves and someone else takes over. For these reasons, schools caution against a close comparison of one college to another, but at a high level, trends emerge.

“We’re meeting student need in very important ways, and that of course comes with cost,” said Steven Kaplan, the president of the University of New Haven, where the price for tuition plus room and board is around $55,000. Enrollment grew about 60 percent over 10 years while institutional support grew 164 percent, data show.

Kaplan said the school has doubled its enrollment during his 15 years as president and dramatically increased salaries to attract better people. The school had one part-time career services employee back then and seven now, he said. “You’ve got to consider the value,” he said.


Harvard admissions ‘may be infected with racial bias,’ DOJ says

The US Justice Department on Thursday said that Harvard University’s admissions process “may be infected with racial bias,” weighing in on a case that could dismantle decades-long affirmative action policies in higher education.

Harvard has failed to show that its use of race in admissions decisions is narrowly tailored as required by law, the Justice Department said in documents it filed in support of a federal lawsuit brought by a group representing Asian-American students.

Harvard’s reliance on personal traits — such as kindness, leadership, and courage — in evaluating applicants hurts Asian-American students, who often receive lower scores from admissions officers than other applicants, the Justice Department said in its filing.

The government’s intervention in the Harvard lawsuit had been expected, but is nonetheless significant and reflects the Trump administration’s aggressive push to end race-based admissions policies, experts said. The Justice Department has also launched its own investigation into Harvard’s admissions policies and whether they discriminate against Asian-American applicants.

“No American should be denied admission to school because of their race,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement. “As a recipient of taxpayer dollars, Harvard has a responsibility to conduct its admissions policy without racial discrimination by using meaningful admissions criteria that meet lawful requirements. . . . The admissions policies at our colleges and universities are important and must be conducted lawfully.”

Harvard University’s own internal research raised alarms about how Asian-American applicants are treated by the college’s admissions process.

In recent months, the department rescinded Obama-era guidelines encouraging schools to take a student’s race into account in admissions when trying to promote diversity.

The Justice Department adopted many of the positions of Students for Fair Admissions, which brought the lawsuit against Harvard, and asked US District Court Judge Allison Burroughs to allow the case to proceed.

The case is scheduled to go to trial in October in Boston and will probably ultimately be decided in the US Supreme Court in the coming years.

Harvard has denied it discriminates against Asian-American applicants and said that its use of race in admissions meets legal requirements and ensures that all students learn on a campus that is diverse.

Harvard is “deeply disappointed” in the Justice Department’s intervention and alliance with Students for Fair Admissions, said Anna Cowenhoven, a spokeswoman for the college.

The Justice Department is “recycling the same misleading and hollow arguments that prove nothing more than the emptiness of the case against Harvard,” Cowenhoven said.

Yet few deny that when the Justice Department speaks, judges do listen.

Under the Obama administration, Justice Department officials used so-called statements of interest to weigh in on civil rights debates, from prisoner and disability rights to policing.

The previous administration often stepped in at the appellate court level to offer its interpretation of the law, said Vanita Gupta, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division under the Obama administration. “It matters when the United States opines on an issue,” Gupta said. “Courts take notice.”

Still, on Thursday the Justice Department went even further by offering its perspective on a case that has yet to go to trial and where the facts aren’t settled, she said. “They are being aggressive and not afraid of taking unprecedented action,” Gupta said.

That’s welcome news to supporters of race-blind policies.

Edward Blum, who leads Students for Fair Admissions and backed earlier unsuccessful efforts to end affirmative action in higher education, said the organization was “gratified that, after careful analysis of the evidence submitted in this case, the US Department of Justice has concluded Harvard’s admissions policies are in violation of our nation’s civil rights laws.”

The Trump administration seems more determined than even the George W. Bush administration to end race-conscious practices, said Linda Chavez, chair of the Center for Equal Opportunity, a conservative think tank, and a former Reagan administration official.

“There should be a sell-by date and expiration date,” for affirmative action policies, Chavez said. “I think we are moving to that. I am more hopeful than I’ve been.”

The Supreme Court has narrowly preserved affirmative action, and colleges and universities are currently allowed to consider race as one of many factors in admissions. But the composition of the court is likely to change by the time the Harvard case gets there.

This high-stakes case is being closely watched by university leaders, legal scholars, and conservative and liberal interest groups. A host of other elite colleges have also filed briefs in support of Harvard in recent weeks. And the case has divided many in the Asian-American community.

On Thursday, an army of interested parties — including several economists, a group of about 530 social scientists and scholars, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the American Civil Liberties Union — filed briefs supporting Harvard.

Race-blind advocacy groups, including Southeastern Legal Foundation, the Center for Equal Opportunity, and the Reason Foundation, submitted court documents opposing Harvard.

This case isn’t simply about Harvard, but represents a threat to the broader issues of race and equity in higher education, said Dennis Parker, the director of the Racial Justice Program at the ACLU.

Affirmative action policies were designed to remedy centuries of discrimination and are still needed, Parker said. “The argument that you should be colorblind doesn’t reflect the fact that there are still barriers for people of color,” Parker said.

While the Justice Department is not specifically arguing for an end to affirmative action in its filing, officials haven’t ruled out that position as this Harvard case progresses. Justice officials have pointed to states such as California and Michigan that ban the use of race in admissions to public colleges and universities, and contend that institutions can achieve diversity by considering other factors, such as income.

Yet the results of these state bans are mixed. In California, for example, which banned the use of race in 1996, the number of African-American and Hispanic students at the most elite public universities dropped drastically and has only begun to recover to pre-ban levels more recently.


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