Friday, March 20, 2020

Coronavirus presents new challenges and opportunities to higher education

The coronavirus public health emergency has triggered deep, and possibly lasting, changes in many industries and institutions — airlines, cruise ships, public schools, entertainment venues and other places where large numbers of people congregate in limited space. Colleges and universities, especially those with traditional on-campus residential models, are no exception.

The Department of Education and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have issued specific guidance for higher education institutions to follow to prevent and respond to the COVID-19 outbreak. The CDC guidance includes advice on updating emergency operation plans, communicating with students and faculty, ensuring safe housing and meal deliveries, and coordinating with public health officials when making decisions to cancel classes or study-abroad programs. The Education Department’s guidance focuses primarily on flexibility in adjusting financial aid for students affected by class and internship cancellations that may reduce their credit load below the minimum level for eligibility. 

The American College Health Association has issued guidance for student health centers on planning and responding to coronavirus outbreaks, including stockpiling appropriate medical supplies and informing the campus community.

Already, universities are beginning to cancel courses for the remainder of the winter term, shifting instruction and final examinations to an online format. Among the first were the University of Washington, University of Seattle, and the Seattle campus of Boston-based Northeastern University. Beyond the state of Washington, which to date has had the highest concentration of COVID-19 deaths, other universities are warning they may follow suit.

Duke University issued advice to students leaving for spring break on how to stay healthy, noting that classes could be canceled if any member of the campus community tests positive for the coronavirus. Yale University told students leaving for spring break to take essential items home in case the campus delays re-opening. Kahlil Greene, Yale’s undergraduate student president, noted that having spring break coincide with the disease outbreak made things more uncertain. “Everyone’s dispersing and then everyone’s coming back together. In many people’s minds, that makes it more likely that something is going to happen on campus,” Greene told the New York Times.

Many people remember the H1N1 — or swine flu — outbreak in 2009, which affected between 11 and 21 percent of the global population, according to the Washington Post. Fortunately, its effects proved to be mild and it’s now part of the periodically-recurring family of flu-like viruses. Optimists hope that COVID-19 will be either completely eradicated or at least relegated to the same status as H1N1.

The longer-term impact on colleges and universities is likely to bring forward some opportunities. The most apparent benefit is online education. So many major universities have adopted online degree programs in recent years that opposition from old-school professors has dwindled. Most research on online college coursework has concluded that benefits outweigh its limitations. A 2017 study by the Brookings Institution noted, “Online courses offer the promise of access regardless of where students live or what time they can participate, potentially redefining educational opportunities for those least well-served in traditional classrooms. Moreover, online platforms offer the promise, through artificial intelligence, of providing the optimal course pacing and content to fit each student’s needs and thereby improve educational quality and learning.”

Online education mostly originated in the for-profit sector of higher education around 20 years ago, and during its formative period, it was roundly criticized for lower quality curriculum design, susceptibility to student cheating, and lack of classroom support services. Fortunately, as technology improved and competition arose, including nonprofit competitors, the online experience today offers many features that arguably improve upon the traditional “chalk and talk” classroom. The regulatory purge of many poor-quality for-profit schools during the Obama administration has left a more responsible cadre of higher-quality for-profits remaining in the online space. 

Experts in online higher education report a strong interest in adopting online courses from universities that have had little or no online presence. Luyen Chou, chief learning officer for 2U, sees the coronavirus scare as part of a longer-term trend toward more online coursework. “Events like the coronavirus give you a short-term spike in interest, but this is part of a much larger trend,” Chou observes.

New public health menaces also have expanded higher educational marketplaces for health care education. The 10-year employment growth contained in the Department of Labor’s 2018 Occupational Outlook Handbook projects nearly 155,000 new jobs for medical assistants, a 23  percent growth rate (considered much faster than average), and more than 35,000 new jobs for clinical lab technologists, an 11 percent growth rate. Importantly, these projections were made before the emergence of COVID-19.

These are just two of the health care jobs on the front lines of the response to the coronavirus outbreak. Medical assistants typically are the “first faces” people see in their doctor’s office, checking vital signs, updating medical charts and performing routine tests. Clinical lab technologists will perform the lab work on COVID-19 test kits. Both medical assistants and entry-level lab technologists can be trained within one or two academic years. Most, and sometimes all, of the coursework can be offered online.

Higher education has been reshaping itself for the past decade because of disruptive changes brought about by dramatic shifts in the labor force, new technologies and differences in generational preferences for gaining knowledge and skills. The coronavirus is yet another type of disruption likely to accelerate the radical transformation of higher education.


California’s Anti-School Tax Revolt

Something unexpected happened in California on Super Tuesday. While most media attention was focused on the state’s presidential primary for the Democrat party, there was also one statewide proposition on the ballot, which would have authorized the state government to borrow $15 billion to repair and upgrade schools, to be paid for by raising taxes on Californians.

KTLA describes what was at stake for the state’s voters on 2020’s Proposition 13:

"The only statewide measure on Tuesday’s California primary ballot is a $15 billion bond to repair and modernize aging schools, many of which are more than a half-century old and have issues ranging from leaky roofs and old wiring to toxic mold.

Some $9 billion from Proposition 13 would go to K-12 schools, with priority given to addressing health and safety concerns such as removing asbestos and eliminating lead from drinking water.

Of that, $5.8 billion would go to updating school facilities, followed by $2.8 billion for new construction and $500 million each for charter schools and facilities for technical education.

The borrowed money does come with a price tag: taxpayers would owe an estimated $11 billion in interest over the next 35 years, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office."

In addition to the state’s teachers’ unions, who would directly stand to benefit from the measure, Proposition 13 was backed by leading state political leaders, including Governor Gavin Newsom (D) and all of the national presidential candidates for the Democrat Party competing in the state’s Super Tuesday primary.

The high level of competition among the Democratic party’s presidential candidates brought high numbers of enthusiastic supporters to the polls, which should have bode well for Proposition 13 because registered Democratic Party voters in California outnumber registered Republican voters by nearly a 2-to-1 margin.

And yet, they refused to pass 2020’s Proposition 13. The Associated Press‘ Michael R. Blood writes an epitaph for the measure:

"Everyone knows that living in California comes with a price: Its residents pay some of the nation’s highest taxes on the money they earn, the gas they pump and the clothes they wear. But for the moment, at least, it appears voters have had enough.

The defeat Tuesday of the largest borrowing proposal in the history of California schools—$15 billion for repairs—has opened the question of whether Californian voters put a temporary halt to the growth of government debt because of the unsettled political scene, or because they are on the cusp of a tax revolt akin to one in the 1970s that brought landmark changes to property taxes.

By itself, the crash of the question on the March 3 primary ballot was striking—it’s been a generation since a state school bond failed and there was no telling moment prior to the election indicating voters had soured on it.

But it didn’t stop there. Voters rejected more than half of the 237 local tax and bond measures on that ballot, with several dozen contests still undecided as California authorities wade through hundreds of thousands of uncounted ballots, according to a tally by the California Taxpayers Association."

Blood cites a range of comments across the political spectrum to explain the election outcome. He quotes Dan Newman, a spokesman for a group backing the proposition, as chalking up the loss to voter “grumpiness toward taxes statewide.” Similarly, low-tax advocate Jon Coupal reportedly described the outcome as the result of voters having “grown cynical after repeatedly authorizing more money and debt for government with scant evidence that services or classrooms are improving.”

There may be something to that latter view. One of the biggest issues facing states across the nation is the role public employee pensions are playing in diverting tax dollars from the public services desired by voters. That problem is very pronounced in California, where EdSource, a California education advocacy group, produced a video describing the undesirable effects rising teacher pension costs are having on California’s schools:

EdSource’s video makes a point of the teacher with a $90,000 final income getting an annual guaranteed pension of $60,000, but no Social Security income. In 2017, the Motley Fool estimated that a person earning $100,000 a year while working would collect over $32,000 in annual Social Security income after they retired. California’s teachers who become fully vested in their government-provided pension plans retire much wealthier than most Americans.

It costs a lot to provide these very generous guaranteed pensions. The average cost for teacher pensions in California doubled to $1,000 per student in the 2017-18 school year. Since student enrollment in California’s public schools is falling, the cost to taxpayers of providing exceptionally generous pensions to teachers in the state has only been rising.

That means less and less money that voters approve for schools will be used to do the things that they expect schools to do. Is it any wonder that California’s voters are becoming tax fatigued?


We’re All Homeschoolers Now

In the fight against coronavirus, 33 states have closed some 64,000 schools, affecting more than 32.5 million students, Education Week reports.

Texas is waiving state testing requirements for school districts, New York is relaxing state requirements for how many days a year schools have to be open, and, in California, the Los Angeles Unified School District announced a partnership with PBS to put school lessons on television for students at home.

The District of Columbia and Puerto Rico also have closed schools to help curb the spread of the new coronavirus disease, which health experts call COVID-19.

Like other institutions, schools should implement social-distancing policies. Keeping that policy in mind while trying to help needy students, some schools—including those in Ohio, Michigan, and New York—have begun providing pick-up breakfasts and lunches at designated places for eligible students.

A rapidly flourishing market of online resources is beginning to meet the content needs of millions of students across the country.

Numerous companies such as Zearn and STMath are providing their materials online for free during the coronavirus outbreak. Existing options such as Khan Academy offer a wealth of educational resources for families navigating homeschooling for perhaps the first time. Prenda microschool is offering its coursework to families for just $100 for the remainder of the year.

Here is a fantastic list of online learning resources that every family should bookmark on their computers during this pandemic.

National School Choice Week has online resources categorized by content area. You can find online tools such as communications platforms, math, social studies, English language arts, and foreign language education.

Be sure to check out “Daddy School” while you’re at it.

Also available are virtual visits to museums, including the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, and 2,500 other museums that have partnered with Google to make their art and virtual tours available online.

The Met will offer opera performances online for free beginning at 7:30 every evening through March 22. When you have a chance, check out some 450 online courses available for free from Ivy League universities.

Many of these online learning providers have been doing this for a long time, and traditional school districts should look to either imitate them or work with them—so that districts don’t try to create something from scratch and then realize it doesn’t work.

The list of online resources for families and teachers is growing as social distancing becomes the necessary, new normal. But policy actions by officials in school districts and state governments, as well as at the federal level, can maximize health and safety and provide learning opportunities for students.

District and State Level Policies

States and school districts should put online learning resources on their websites. They could include links such as those above to existing private resources and tools, along with links to virtual platforms (such as Blackboard) enabling families to contact teachers directly, access lessons, and stay in touch virtually with classmates.

State restrictions on teacher certification should be lifted temporarily to free up the supply of online tutors, allowing anyone with a bachelor’s degree to provide instruction online.

States should restructure per-pupil K-12 education funding in the form of emergency or temporary education savings accounts for families of children with special needs, so that they may continue to receive the therapy they need. Five states currently have ESA options in place. (Parents receive a portion of their child’s per-pupil public school funding in a restricted-use account that they then can use to pay for any education-related service, product, or provider of choice.)
Federal Policies

At the federal level, Congress should immediately but temporarily make funding authorized under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act both student-centered and portable, allowing children with special needs to access learning services to which they’re entitled under federal law. These IDEA funds could be used to pay for in-home tutors and behavioral therapies, among numerous other allowable uses, to help children with special needs continue to have access to service providers that are so critical in their lives.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act requires every state to administer reading, mathematics, and science assessments annually to all students in tested grades, the outcomes of which are used in state accountability plans. Although the U.S. Department of Education currently is providing targeted waivers to federal testing provisions under ESEA, it temporarily should provide a blanket waiver to all states, enabling them to postpone testing until this pandemic has subsided.

The coronavirus pandemic has created unprecedented health challenges, which have affected schools from the earliest grades through college. These temporary measures can provide some relief and flexibility, helping schools to better meet the needs of families during this challenging time.

And the growing body of online learning resources can help parents as they navigate this new normal.


Thursday, March 19, 2020

Georgetown Gets a Title VI Wakeup Call

until next year, but he’s already left his mark on academe. This past tax day, he sent Education Secretary Betsy DeVos a letter objecting to the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies’ (CMES) use of federal Title VI funds for the anti-Semitic performance of a Palestinian rapper at UNC in March. A flurry of communications between Department of Education (DoE) and UNC officials resulted, most notably the ominous August DoE letter detailing CMES’ myriad violations of Title VI regulations.

Almost overnight, the higher education lobby suffered an emotional meltdown, House Democrats expressed their “concern” by demanding a raft of DoE documents, and academics fretted that public support might become contingent on performance rather than privilege.

But the fun may just be getting started.

In mid-December, Rep. Denver Riggleman (R-Va.) joined the fray with his own letter to DeVos calling attention to Title VI abuses at Georgetown University’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies (CCAS), the school’s Title VI–supported Middle East studies unit. He nails CCAS for its “systemic support for biased, anti-American, pro-BDS individuals and scholarship” that “are not in accordance with the mission of Title VI funds and contrary to America’s national security interests.”

Citing research from the Middle East Forum and elsewhere, Riggleman zeroes in on CCAS professors’ active support of BDS, in clear violation of Title VI requirements to “promote access to research and training overseas, including through linkages to overseas institutions.” Demanding a boycott of Israel is indefensible under these rubrics, yet CCAS-affiliated faculty don’t care. Why should they, given DOE’s decades of hands-off, devil-may-care attitude toward enforcement of its own rules?

As Middle East scholar Martin Kramer has documented, Title VI recipients’ split with Washington’s national security goals emerged in the political turmoil of the mid-1960s. After dodging Nixon’s attempts to end the program (Congress proved to be its savior), by the late-1970s Title VI had become, according to Kramer, “a secure semi-entitlement, backed up by the full weight of the higher education lobby.” Despite cutbacks under the Obama administration and the proposed elimination of funding in Trump’s recent budgets, this professorial perk has remained unscathed — until now.

Mounting evidence supports bringing under control a program whose beneficiaries hold federal law in contempt. Riggleman notes that four professors at CCAS — Osama Abi-Mershed, Judith Tucker, Yvonne Haddad, and Rochelle Davis — are signatories to pro-BDS letters. Tucker, in particular, is singled out for opprobrium. As immediate past president of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), the umbrella group for scholars of the region, she accelerated what Riggleman calls MESA’s “consistently anti-American, anti-Western, and anti-Israel perspective on scholarship and political issues.”

Tucker also makes her biases clear through her adamant opposition to the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, designed to help the departments of education and justice “effectively determine whether an investigation of an incident of anti-Semitism is warranted under their statutory anti-discrimination enforcement authority.” Tucker writes that she shares the authors of the act’s concerns about anti-Semitism in the United States, but Riggleman notes that the provisions of the act that Tucker claims sets forth a dangerously “narrow definition” of anti-Semitism include “[c]alling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews,” “[m]aking mendacious, dehumanizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of the Jews as a collective,” and “[a]ccusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.”

CCAS’ biases don’t end there, however. As Riggleman notes, its board of advisers includes several Gulf-state elites whose appointments present conflicts of interest with both Georgetown’s mission to support objective scholarship uninfluenced by foreign interests and Title VI’s objectives of helping secure America’s national security. They include Abdulrahman bin Saud Al-Thani, the terrorist-supporting Qatar’s minister of state, and Turki bin Faisal Al-Saud, chairman of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies in Saudi Arabia. The latter follows another prominent Saudi, Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, whose $20 million gift in 2005 made Georgetown the seat of Islamist propaganda in the United States. Such men thwart rather than help fulfill the original purpose of Title VI.

Examples of thwarting — or, at best, ignoring — the objectives of Title VI funding aren’t limited to Georgetown. Research by the Middle East Forum and others shows disregard of Title VI rules among many recipients, including, among many others, the University of Texas at Austin, Columbia University, and UCLA. Such widespread disregard for the provision’s statutory mandates is inexcusable, not only for its waste of resources but also for the politicized, biased scholarship and teaching that results. That Middle East studies programs harbor professors who advocate BDS or issue apologias for terrorism illustrates the field’s moral and intellectual decadence. That such rot is supported by taxpayer dollars in clear violation of federal law and DoE rules demands immediate congressional and executive-branch action to correct the corrupt status quo. Riggleman’s actions should be emulated by his colleagues regarding Title VI–funded Middle East studies centers in their states, with an additional proviso: comply with the law or lose federal funding.


UK: Muslim students less likely to be awarded top class degrees

Students from Muslim families are less likely to be awarded top class degrees than students from other religions or beliefs, according to research examining UK higher education attainment for people of different faith backgrounds.

The research, based on official statistics gathered from more than two million students attending British universities, found that just 65% of students identifying as Muslim gained firsts and upper second class degrees as undergraduates, compared with more than 76% of all other students.

The attainment gap was particularly wide among those gaining first class honours: only 18% of Muslims were awarded the top classification – a lower proportion than in all other other religious groups and than the nearly 30% of students with no religion who gained firsts. Sikh and Hindu students were also less likely to be awarded first class degrees.

“Reasons for differences in degree award by student’s religion during their time in [higher education] are complex and difficult to disentangle from other characteristics associated with religion,” the report by Advance HE noted.

It suggested that differences in students’ backgrounds and experiences, differences in treatment from staff and other students, and “barriers specifically associated with religious observation” could all play a part in explaining the attainment gap.

The researchers found that the gap between Muslims and others got wider as the proportion of Muslims studying at an institution fell. Universities with Muslims making up just 3% of students saw the worst outcomes compared with their peers, including those in leading Russell Group universities.

The researchers also noted that the performance of Muslim students was inversely related to the proportion of Muslim staff at an institution: for every additional percentage point of Muslim staff, the attainment gap between Muslims and non-Muslims shrank by more than by two percentage points.

Previous research has found that the perceptions of other students and staff – including outright Islamophobia – and a lack of acknowledgement of students’ religion contribute to the negative experiences of Muslim students.

The Advance HE study is the first of its kind to examine how students’ experiences at university can differ according to their religion and beliefs, using responses recorded by the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

The responses from young people enrolled as students in 2017-18 found that nearly half declared they had no religious beliefs, while a third said they were Christian. Some 9% were Muslim, 2% Hindu, 1.7% Buddhist, while just 0.9% were Sikh and 0.4% were Jewish.

But the study also found that a higher proportion of university staff described themselves as Christian compared to students, while the reverse was true for Muslims: only 3% of staff said they were Muslim.

Jewish students were the most academically successful among all groups: nearly nine out of 10 graduated with a first or 2.1 degree. And eight out of 10 students with no religion also achieved a first or 2.1.

Students in Northern Ireland were most likely to identify by religion than their peers in the rest of the UK: more than 70% said they were Christian compared to 33% in Scotland, while only 25% said they had no religion compared with 49% in England.


Adult education program to remain

With schools shut down until at least March 29 over concerns of spreading the coronavirus, it was business as usual for the Altoona Area School Board on Monday evening, although it was conducted in a different room.

To minimize the risk of spreading germs, the board moved its meeting to the auditorium where people could spread out.

Moving quickly through the agenda, the board decided to keep its adult education program. Board members chose to abandon last month’s suggestion to look at eliminating the program to save money after public outcry.

“We need to keep it,” board member Rick Hoover said. “We invite people to the meetings all the time, and I tell them their voices matter. They were very eloquent and made great points. I think it is very important to keep this program going.”

Board member Sharon Bream said that if the district would have shut the program down, it would have continued somewhere else.

“I think there is a misconception among the public that if we don’t continue this program, it goes away, but that is not the case.” she said. “The state will find someone else to run it.”

Board member Dave Francis said the program’s success is because of the way the district runs it and he doesn’t want someone else taking over.

“My point is to keep it with us because of our staff,” he said. “We have been very successful, so I would hate to pass it off to someone else.”

Board member Ron Johnson said he visited the Stev­ens building where the program is held to get a feel for it.

“I … talked to the instructors and students and asked them to convince me to keep it open,” he said. “They were just coming out of the rooms to talk to me about it.”


Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Biden Updates His Higher Education Plan

Last year, former Vice President Joe Biden released his higher education plan as part of his presidential campaign. Among many components, it made community college tuition-free for all American families and provided a significant increase in the Pell Grant. Biden is now the all-but-certain Democratic nominee and is doing something many candidates do as other candidates drop out: adopt some of their ideas. Today ahead of his one-on-one debate with Senator Sanders, Biden announced that he has done that and released his new higher education plan.

This weekend Biden announced that he was embracing two ideas of other candidates. First, he was endorsing Senator Elizabeth Warren’s bankruptcy plan. Second, he was embracing part of a proposal from Senator Bernie Sanders—the College for All Act of 2017. This bill would make public community colleges tuition-free for all American families and public four-year colleges tuition-free for families earning up to $125,000 annually.

Sanders supporters might criticize this because in his updated plan released in 2019 Sanders made tuition free for all families, regardless of their income. Sanders’s new plan also included a one-time student debt forgiveness proposal in his plan (though he did not eliminate the student loan program). Biden did not embrace that idea and, while Sanders supporters might not like that, many other voters will be glad to see he didn’t embrace such a big proposal.

Not making public college tuition-free for all families became a contentious issue last fall between Senator Warren and Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Warren provided it to all families and Buttigieg limited it to families earning below $100,000, though reduced tuition for families up to $150,000.

It is likely some might attack Biden in a similar way. But that misses some important points. While the heated debate focused on the number of students who weren’t covered under Buttigieg’s plan, it missed that most students would be covered, by far. Biden’s plan would cover more than 80 percent of students. And beyond that many of the highest income earning families send their students to elite private institutions.

This new plan is a big step for Biden and shows he is trying to consolidate support from Democrats including among liberals. A new poll released this morning showed that Biden had 61% of Democrats nationally support Biden compared to 32% for Sanders. Adopting plans from other candidates will only help him signal to the broader Democratic electorate that he will unify the party.


Trump’s Waiver of Student Loan Interest Is complicated

At the end of a week full of talk about bailouts and stimulus, President Trump said Friday afternoon that he was waiving interest on all student loans held by federal government agencies. Right away, the most obvious question was this: How much would monthly payments fall for the tens of millions of borrowers? By nightfall, the Department of Education had a surprising answer.

Monthly payments aren’t going to go down at all. Instead, the entire payment will go toward paying down the principal amount on the loan. The result will be little shortterm relief for many of the borrowers who celebrated the announcement. Instead, they will benefit later — say, if they pay enough principal during the waiver period to shorten the scheduled term of their loans.

There is a group of borrowers who could benefit a great deal: those whose incomes have fallen, or might fall soon, because of the economic contagion of the coronavirus. When borrowers pause their monthly payments because of a hardship — a status known as forbearance — the interest normally continues to pile up until they can start paying again. Now, no interest will accrue as long as the waiver is in effect. This is true both for people already in forbearance and for those who may be soon.

It’s not clear who decided to do things this way and why, or even if any of this was the initial intention of the White House. Establishing an interest-rate waiver that lowered bills would have been enormously complicated: The federal government relies on several outside servicers to bill borrowers and collect their payments, and many have committed errors in recent years.

So there’s a lot we don’t know, and there are many questions the Department of Education could not immediately answer. We’ll get to those, but first, a bit more about what we do know. The waiver will cover plenty of borrowers. The federal government is the biggest holder of student debt, with $1.2 trillion in direct loans to more than 35 million borrowers.

But it doesn’t apply to every student loan out there. Loans issued through state agencies and others, including from big private lenders like Sallie Mae, are not covered. Other loans that are not part of the waiver program include the majority of Federal Family Education Loans, which are mostly held by commercial lenders, and school-held Perkins loans.

The waiver is automatic; you don’t have to contact your loan servicer to be eligible. And the Education Department said that it expected servicers to have “operationalized” the change in about a week and that the waiver would be retroactive to Friday.

Interest will be waived for borrowers who are in incomedriven repayment plans, which includes everyone seeking to have their loans erased by the public service loan forgiveness program. People in that program, which covers all sorts of workers, including health care professionals and emergency medical workers, will still have their monthly payments count toward their 120-payment goal, even if they aren’t required to pay anything at all because their income is very low.

But many questions are still unanswered.

 *. Most important: Will the waived interest be tacked on to the principal once the waiver period ends? I asked about this repeatedly, but the Department of Education did not offer an answer. This is crucial: If the waived interest is added back later — a process known as capitalization of unpaid interest — it could be costly for borrowers.

 *. Are federal PLUS loans, which graduate students and parents use, part of the waiver? There is no reason they wouldn’t be, but I could not get confirmation on this.

 *. Does the Department of Education really have confidence that its loan servicers can handle these changes on the fly, in a week or so? I don’t.

The entire federal student loan system has grown more complex over time, so making a substantive change poses a serious challenge. On top of that, many servicers have sown confusion among borrowers, especially those in the public service loan forgiveness program. Servicers are likely already experiencing high call volumes, as restaurant workers and others lose their jobs or see their incomes fall. And there’s no telling what might happen if they need to send their call center employees home.


The Responsible Solution to the Student Debt Crisis

“There is no doubt that it is around the family and the home that all the greatest virtues, the most dominating virtues of human, are created, strengthened and maintained,” Winston Churchill said in 1948 on the birth of Prince Charles. Marriage and parenthood, in other words, are the bedrock of a healthy and flourishing society, but student debt has prevented young Americans from starting families.

Millions of college students start their adult lives with tens of thousands of dollars—sometimes more—in debt weighing them down. The mounting pressure of debt looms large over their lives like a specter, affecting monumental life decisions, particularly marriage. Recent studies show that student debt has them canceling or putting off this joyous milestone.

Unlike previous generations, marriage has become out of reach for young Americans. The U.S. Census Bureau said that “In prior generations, young adults were expected to have finished school, found a job, and set up their own household during their 20s — most often with their spouse and with a child soon to follow.” But this isn’t the case anymore for a majority of the millennial and younger populations.

Rather, they finish school with debt and can find a job—although in many cases not in the field they studied and earning far less than they expected—but are unable to reach the next building blocks. The Chicago Tribune reported that while about 85 percent of women 25 to 29 had married in 1976, their marriage rate dropped to 46 percent in 2014; and for men 25 to 29, it plunged from 75 percent to 32 percent. One in three young Americans are now delaying marriage due to debt. This is unprecedented.

The consequences of the steep decline in marriage has trickled down to other aspects of their lives. As marriage gets delayed, so does homeownership—another crucial cultural milestone. For most millennials, it won’t be until they are at least in their 40s before they can own a home. And this isn’t because they particularly love renting: nearly 90 percent of millennials want to own a home, but almost 70 percent have said that they can’t afford it. They've had to delay it due to student debt, which has put the American Dream on hold for our children.

The decades-long ideal of a cul-de-sac home with a white picket fence in a friendly neighborhood is replaced with the grey, concrete slabs of a brutish apartment building, in which the constant flow of new tenants makes it impossible to build the bonds of a lasting community. As social cohesion plummets, the cumulative result is modern history’s unhappiest generation, which is unable to enjoy the important life milestones of their parents’ generations.

But there’s a way we can help young Americans without resorting to the unfeasible socialist policies of Bernie Sanders, which includes erasing $1.6 trillion in student debt with higher taxes. Companies—if they want—should be able to contribute tax-free dollars to help pay down the student debt of their employees (a benefit that could also help them attract top talent).

While this isn’t possible currently, there is a bill in Congress that would make it a reality. The Employer Participation in Repayment Act (S.460) would let businesses pay down their workers’ student debt by allowing them to contribute $5,250 annually tax-free. Employers can already pay that tax-free amount towards the tuition payments of student workers, but not towards their debt after they have graduated. This bill would bridge the gap between student tuition and debt. Under the tax system, the two would finally be treated the same.

This common-sense solution has endorsements from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Republican leadership team, including Senators John Thune and Roy Blunt, as well as 33 other conservative senators. More support, however, is needed for the Employer Participation in Repayment Act to get past Congress.

Some senators, who have family formation as a priority, could provide the pivotal votes for the bill. Senator Marco Rubio, for example, wrote that “marriage now resembles a luxury good” and is working to remove the financial barriers to marriage. Of course, one way to make it easier is by allowing employers to help their workers pay off their student debt. With his endorsement, he would join the 16 members of the House from Florida who have co-sponsored the bill, which would particularly benefit the state’s large military and senior communities who shoulder a sizable share of the country's total student debt.

Republicans can move the needle on this issue and can help young Americans afford the same milestones in life that we cherish today.


Tuesday, March 17, 2020

How to win the campus free-speech wars

Why we shouldn't look to governments to solve the censorship crisis.

I became a university lecturer almost 50 years ago, in 1974. At that time in British higher education, there were occasional attempts to shut down discussion and limit freedom of speech. But the vast majority of academics and students were relatively open-minded, and serious clashes of views were a regular feature of campus life.

In the decades since, I have witnessed a significant change. Universities have become increasingly intolerant, and academics and students no longer think free speech is a big deal. Incredibly, the cultural climate that prevails within British higher education is now far less tolerant than in the world outside.

In recent weeks, we have seen the No Platforming of Selina Todd, an Oxford University professor who was prevented from speaking at an event at the Oxford International Women’s Festival because of her views on transgender issues. And former home secretary Amber Rudd was disinvited from an Oxford University student-society event, following pressure from other student groups over her links to the Windrush scandal.

As such brazen displays of intolerance have become more widespread, parliamentarians have begun to discuss the possibility of introducing a law, or new procedures, to strengthen the right to free speech in universities. It has been reported that the government is considering bringing forward an 11-clause bill, drafted within the Department for Education, that would make good on the Tory party’s 2019 manifesto pledge to ‘strengthen academic freedom and free speech in universities’.

This is not the first time that a Conservative government has raised concerns about the fragile state of free speech in universities. Back in 2017, the then universities minister, Jo Johnson, insisted that universities must ‘pledge’ to protect free speech or face being fined or even deregistered by the newly created Office for Students (OfS). He wanted to make the protection of free speech a statutory duty, and a condition of registration with the OfS. The aim of this policy was to hold university authorities to account for the illiberal behaviour of students’ unions.

But so far, no new legislation requiring universities to protect freedom of speech has been passed. Moreover, there is no clear evidence it would make any difference even if new laws were passed. The 1986 Education Act, enacted after several Tory politicians were No Platformed during the early 1980s, already requires universities to uphold freedom of speech. And yet, ever since, we have seen a rise in campus intolerance, not a decline.

I am not surprised by the failure of the law to uphold free speech in universities. No government can enforce freedom if a substantial number of people are against it.

There is no administrative solution to the problem of free speech

The enactment of new laws is an inappropriate and clumsy way of challenging illiberal practices on campuses. Illiberalism and intolerance are deeply entrenched in academic culture. Indeed, the problem begins early, when schoolchildren are told that there are some things they can’t say. By the time young people arrive at university, they have already learned that speech acts that offend ought to be shut down, and perpetrators of offence are legitimate targets of censorship.

Unless children are fortunate enough to encounter a non-conforming teacher, willing to challenge the culture of offence and the politicisation of identity, they will have heard very little about the moral and intellectual significance of freedom. Typically, a cohort of new undergraduates arrives on campus with a meagre understanding of what freedom means in practice, and an ignorance of why the pursuit of the truth depends on a willingness to be exposed to challenging, and even disturbing, ideas.

Campus culture today regards free speech and academic freedom with suspicion. Many student activists, and quite a few academics, assert that only those on the right are interested in free speech. They then dismiss talk of a free-speech crisis on campus as the paranoid fantasy of old, white, heterosexual men.

As it happens, active supporters of intolerance are still a minority within the campus community. The problem is that instead of challenging this minority, most academics and students prefer an easy life. So they are reluctant to challenge the identity entrepreneurs who see offence and bigotry everywhere and who call for language to be policed. Instead, students and academics often self-censor so as to avoid being hassled by the intolerant minority. It means that the culture war now being waged on campuses by identitarians, rarely meets with serious resistance.

Relying on the law to alter the political climate on campuses is a folly. Free speech cannot be enforced by government decree without ceasing to be, well, free. People have to be convinced of the importance of free speech through a battle of ideas. Laws don’t convince. They coerce.

This battle of ideas, this battle for hearts and minds, can only be conducted effectively from within education. It will be a long, protracted battle, which will necessarily begin at school.

How can an enlightened government help?

If a government is genuinely interested in protecting the culture of freedom within and without academia, there are four practical steps it can take.

First, it can desist from promoting the politicisation of identity and the policing of speech. Recent UK governments, Labour and Tory alike, have encouraged the policing of speech by expanding the meaning of hate crime. They have also promoted identity politics – especially the agenda of trans activists – and have acquiesced to its censorious claims. Government needs to remove laws and procedures that criminalise speech, except in circumstances where words are clearly used to incite acts of violence.

Second, students’ union membership should be made an entirely voluntary act. Students’ unions, like any voluntary organisations, should be funded by their members, not publicly subsidised. Such steps would make students’ unions more accountable, and would reduce the resources available for the promotion of anti-democratic activities.

Third, university students and academics should have recourse to legal assistance if they face politically motivated charges, bans and other forms of administrative punishment for their behaviour. Experience shows that if victims of intolerance rely on internal university procedures, they are far less likely to receive justice than if they were able to appeal to due process.

Fourth, the government should examine increasing funding to higher education with a view to encouraging the establishment of new institutions that are genuinely committed to democratic humanist values and which take freedom seriously. As an initial step, policymakers should encourage the establishment of new institutions designed to train teachers. In this way, countering the influence of illiberal pedagogy could have an important influence on the outlook of a new generation of teachers.

These four proposals are designed to change campus culture for the better. Not through government diktat, but through the provision of resources and support for individuals prepared to challenge the forces of intolerance and illiberalism within British universities.


Cost of a Western Pa. college has increased 35% over the past decade

Career and guidance counselors have shifted the way they prepare students for college as the cost of attending area colleges and universities continues to climb.

Instead of encouraging students to choose a school and field of study where they could explore and find themselves, the focus is now on earning a practical degree — one that would justify the debilitating price tag.

The cost of education at 24 institutions in the region — public and private — has increased by an average of 35% in the past 10 years, according to data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), a survey repository within the U.S. Department of Education.

Nationally, costs have risen about 25% at private colleges and 30% at public colleges, according to data from the College Board.

The data combines tuition, room and board, books and fees.

Over the years, Karen Litzinger, a career counselor in Pittsburgh, has grown used to advising prospective college students to consider their potential debt and return on investment for their field of study.

“These people are so young. They’re not necessarily thinking and running the numbers to do basically a cost-benefit analysis,” Litzinger said.

But such calculations have to be commonplace today. Litzinger said there has been a “societal shift.” People used to go to college to explore and get to know themselves. Now, she said, the “college experience” is hardly a factor, and that frustrates her.

“It would be sad to not have the college experience be more than simply getting your degree to get a good job with good pay,” Litzinger said. “To function as a society, we need to be our best selves, and that requires learning about ourselves and teamwork and a little something more than your actual discipline.”

Natalie Momplaisir, director of the local counseling organization College Grad Career Counseling, agreed that education is viewed differently now that the country is saddled with trillions of dollars in student debt — more than $68 billion in Pennsylvania alone.

“People are just going in, getting their degree and getting out so they can get a job,” Momplaisir said. “And there’s so much confusion for students, too, about if college is even worth it.”

Momplaisir said that while she and other counselors used to encourage students to take advantage of financial aid wherever they could, they’re now suggesting students find more grant funding, dip into their savings more and compromise with less-expensive state schools.

“You might have a degree from an awesome school, but you are buried in debt and only making $30,000,” she said.

Every school in Western Pennsylvania has experienced increased costs in recent years — most by around 30%. The University of Pittsburgh campuses increased the least with costs rising only 24% from 2009-19.

The institution that saw the greatest cost jump in the past decade was Clarion University of Pennsylvania, which climbed from $18,210 for in-state students in 2009 to $27,975 in 2019 — an increase of 54%.

Pam Gent, Clarion’s provost, said the increase is due to renovations in the university’s lowest-priced residence halls. But Clarion, like other schools in the state system, also is struggling with dwindling state funds, she said. Gent said that in the 1990s, the state supplemented about 55% of Clarion’s tuition cost. Now, it covers about 27%.

“The biggest change in cost for us is the fact that the state has not made the appropriations that they used to,” Gent said.

In an attempt to ease students’ financial burden, the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education implemented a tuition freeze last year, and Clarion also implemented a freeze to housing costs.

Carnegie Mellon University approved a 3.2% undergraduate tuition increase last month, further driving up the cost of one of the most expensive universities in the area and nation. Even without the increase, CMU was the fifth most expensive institution in Pennsylvania and within the top 50 in the U.S., according to U.S. Department of Education data.

In the past 10 years, CMU’s cost of attendance has increased from $54,160 in 2009 to $72,283 in 2018. According to a message to students from Provost James Garrett Jr., tuition will be $57,560 with another $9,210 for room and board and $6,340 for a traditional first-year meal plan. In total, the cost of attending CMU will soon be more than $73,000.

Nationally, much of the increase in college costs is due to inflating operating costs for resources like salaries, utilities, supplies and materials, according to industry tools like the Commonfund Higher Education Price Index, which tracks cost drivers in higher education. Inflation for U.S. colleges and universities rose 2.5% in the 2019 fiscal year.

Litzinger said another possible reason for the increase is a shrinking population of college-going students. In the fall 2019 semester, overall college enrollment in the U.S. declined by more than 231,000 students from 2018, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Data Center.


Australia: Private schools cost taxpayers almost as much as public ones, report says

Different figures could no doubt have been produced by other researchers but that is not the main issue.  Choice is the issue.  Private schools give parents some choice of what sort of schooling they want for their kids.  They should be entitled to that. It's an important liberty.

Such schooling clearly saves the government on capital costs.  Governments don't build private schools. The school arrives at no cost to the taxpayer. State school building is a significant budget item for State governments.

How much it saves on running costs is only an issue for authoritarian Leftists who use the issue in an attempt to force all kids into one government-controlled mould:  Very Soviet

Governments would have been financially better off if all new enrolments since 2011 had gone to public schools, according to new research which questions the view that private schools lead to big taxpayer savings.

The paper debunks the oft-repeated claim that private schools save the public purse up to $8 billion a year, and argues the true figure is closer to $1 billion, and potentially less.

The School Money-go-round, by researcher and former principal Chris Bonnor and Sydney University academic Rachel Wilson, found the per-student taxpayer spend in some brackets of disadvantage is less at public than private schools.

"Since 2011, in fact, governments would have come out ahead [in terms of recurrent funding] if all new school enrolments had gone to public schools," Mr Bonnor said.
A new report says private schools save governments far less than most people think

A new report says private schools save governments far less than most people think Credit:Louie Douvis

The authors said the findings should lead to a national discussion over restructuring school funding, and prompt governments to make the non-government sector abide by the same rules as public schools. "They have no obligations to serve a wide variety of students," said Mr Bonnor.

Since the Gonski reforms, funding increases to private schools have outstripped those to public schools because the federal government, which provides most public funding to private schools, has met its targets faster than the states. States have a bigger cost because they are the majority funders of state schools, and there are two public schools for each private school.

By 2017 differences in per-student funding had narrowed to $13,300 in the public system, $11,500 for Catholic school students and $9600 in the independent sector on average, according to the most recent data from the My School website.

But the researchers argued those figures masked the fact that students in the public system were the most expensive to educate, because they had higher numbers of disadvantaged, Indigenous and disabled students.

When the authors - who also included the former principal of St Paul's Grammar, academic Paul Kidson - compared per-student spending on schools with similar students, the gap became much narrower.

Among disadvantaged schools, the median amount of per-student taxpayer money spent on Catholic students was highest at $14,350, followed by $13,850 in the independent sector and $13,450 in the government system.

When the researchers calculated the cost of funding all students at the same per-student cost of government students across all bands of disadvantage, they found the cost would be between $800 million and $1.1 billion.

"Advocates for school systems need to keep up to date with the changing financial situation," Mr Bonnor said. "Because non government schools charge fees, they are de facto selective schools on a socio-educational basis. In equivalent countries overseas, that doesn't happen."

Dr Wilson said there was increasing evidence that segregation eroded the quality of school systems. "Now is the time for a full, national discussion on this," she said. "There's a creeping awareness that across education we need some really bold reform.

"And these school funding arrangements would have to be central to how that would occur."

The chief executive of the Association of Independent Schools NSW, Geoff Newcombe, said one in three students attended private schools, and parents paid a third of the recurrent cost and 90 per cent of building costs.

"It is clear parents enrolling their children in non-government schools save taxpayers billions of dollars each year in recurrent and capital funding," he said. "Savings estimates will vary based on methodology.

Non-government schools are already required by governments to meet significant compliance obligations as part of their registration requirements. We welcome transparency and accountability."

A spokeswoman for the National Catholic Education Committee, said 2017 figures showed the Catholic system saved taxpayers $2.3 billion in savings from the amount deducted from the base level of government funding.

They also saved $1.3 billion in building costs. "Catholic schools funded 89 per cent of capital works with state and federal governments contributing only $152 million combined," she said. Private and public schools had different reporting requirements because they were different entities.

Peter Goss, the head of the school education program at the Grattan Institute, described the report as important, and said while the non-government sector would quibble over details, the central argument of the report was correct.

"Non-government schools no longer save taxpayers much at all," he said. "The sad reality is that unfairness is now baked into our school funding model.

"While Gonski 2.0 in 2017 was a big step forward, several policy decisions since then have taken us backwards. And we can’t even console ourselves by saying that we pay less tax because of it.”


Monday, March 16, 2020

Mass. officials release scathing review of Boston school system

NOTHING improves "low performing" (black) schools and nothing will.  How many decades of failure must the educators have before they learn that? Black educational ineptitude never changes.  Nothing can change it. That can be dealt with constructively if it is faced but facing it nobody will do.  There is always instead some new set of excuses for the failures

It is in fact a great pity that expectations of equality are put on blacks.  It serves them very badly.  They mostly just cannot do the work expected of them so fool around or drop out instead -- leading some of them to miss out on even basic literacy.

If they were led slowly through the grade school curriculum so that they had at least mastered the Grade 4 work by the end of their grade school years, they would have learnt at least something -- more than many do at the moment

The Boston school system has failed to address several longstanding problems, including lackluster classroom instruction in some schools and deficient programs for students with disabilities and language barriers, according to a scathing state review released Friday that recommends a wide-ranging overhaul of the schools.

“Many low-performing schools in the district have not improved,” the review found. “The district does not have a clear, coherent, district-wide strategy for supporting low-performing schools and has limited capacity to support all schools designated by [the state] as requiring assistance or intervention.”

Approximately one-third of the district’s students —16,656 — attend schools ranked in the bottom 10 percent of the state, the review noted. Onetime school turnaround successes, like the Blackstone and Orchard Gardens, have slid back into low performance. And more than a third of the principals leading turnaround efforts are inexperienced.

The recommendations, however, did not come anywhere close to the kinds of action some advocates had been pushing for and others had feared: a state takeover of the entire system or a portion of it. Instead, the recommendations stressed working in partnership with the district. The state will take the lead on implementing some measures, while the district will handle others under careful state monitoring, under an agreement between the city and the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The review seemingly left no stone unturned. It faulted the district for promoting segregation by funneling students with disabilities and language barriers to specific schools; for neglecting the conditions of its buildings; for operating a largely inefficient busing system; and for inequitably funding schools, forcing many students to be denied programs, courses, and other opportunities available in other city schools.

Some of the most troubling findings focused on the unequal education students receive, causing many Black and Latino students as well as those with disabilities and language barriers to trail behind. The review blamed a revolving door of district leadership, noting that in recent years district officials have lacked a “districtwide strategy to strengthen rigor" and knowledge about what is being taught in all the schools.

Consequently, state review team members rated the classroom instruction they observed as often “in the middle range,” meaning the kinds of approaches required to boost student learning were limited or inconsistent, and found a lack of consistency in high school graduation standards.

Boston schools Superintendent Brenda Cassellius, a former longtime Minnesota education commissioner who started her Boston job in July, said she found a lot of value in the state review and said the resulting state partnership will be helpful as she finalizes her district-improvement plan. Cassellius said overhauling the district’s lowest performing schools is her top priority.

“As a new superintendent coming in, [the review] provides another lens into our schools, classrooms, and district operations,” she said, noting the findings confirmed what she has been hearing and observing. “There is a great opportunity for technical assistance."

Specifically, the state will take the lead on developing outside partnerships — a move that will likely raise concerns among parents and teachers about private entities gaining greater influence in the school system. The state will also help the school system diversify its teaching force to better reflect the backgrounds of the system’s 54,000 students, renovate dilapidated bathrooms in most schools, and develop a concerted effort in specific parts of the city to bolster teacher training.

“Students benefit when the state enables collaborative solutions that fit the local context," Jeffrey Riley, the state’s education commissioner, said in a statement.

The Boston school system, for its part, will need to improve schools ranked among the lowest 10 percent of the state, adopt the state’s recommended college preparatory courses known as MassCore that align with admissions standards to state universities, improve the reliability of its school buses, and reduce the disproportionately high placement of students of color with disabilities in substantially separate classrooms — a practice the state has criticized for more than a decade.

Beyond those immediate actions, the state and the school system are formulating plans to tackle two other big challenges: the persistently low academic performance of students learning the English language and the wide variety of governing structures among the public schools — pilots, in-district charters, and others — each with some level of independence over curriculum, budgeting, and staffing.

School Committee Chairman Michael Loconto said the partnership will be helpful in closing achievement gaps and "build on success at all our schools.”

But Jessica Tang, president of the Boston Teachers Union, expressed hesitation about state involvement, blaming the state for underfunding programs for students with disabilities and those learning English.

“The state has no grounds to say it should run the Boston schools that it has starved for so long,” she said in a statement. “While the memorandum does not constitute a state takeover, it appears to leave the door open in ways that could be dangerous for students and our communities, given the failed track record of top-down district takeovers.”

She also said it was “troubling that the state would release [the review] at a time when the community is grappling with an unprecedented state of emergency” because of the coronavirus that has educators, parents, and students on edge.

City Councilor Andrea Campbell also questioned the timing of releasing the review. "While we are all laser-focused on ensuring that Boston stays safe amid this outbreak of Covid-19, this report deserves close examination and discussion at a more appropriate time.”

The state began its review of the Boston school system in the fall and immediately sparked debate about receivership. Fueling some speculation was recent action in Rhode Island, which took over Providence schools, while other state reviews in Massachusetts led to receivership in Lawrence, Holyoke, and Southbridge.

The district’s educational record worsened in February when the state released four-year graduation rates for the Class of 2019, which dropped for the first time in more than a decade to 73.2 percent. The diploma-earning gap between Black and white students more than doubled, and Latino students continued to trail both groups.

But state reviews have rarely led to takeovers, and the Massachusetts accountability system, which rates every district each fall, most recently noted in September that Boston as a whole was making substantial progress toward meeting state improvement targets on such measures as MCAS scores. It did, however, call for improvement in nearly three dozen schools with low test scores.

City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George, who chairs the panel’s Education Committee, said she was pleased the state did not pursue receivership.

City Councilor Michelle Wu said the review nevertheless reinforces the urgency for broad-scale improvement.  “We are past the point of small fixes, or piloting programs here or there," she said. "We need to take this moment to really develop the implementation plans that will get the ideas and policy goals to actually match the experience of students and families in our schools.”

Keri Rodrigues, head of Massachusetts Parents United, called the partnership agreement a step in the right direction yet “shockingly vague.”  “Why should parents believe BPS will be able to do these things when it has never been able to do them before?” she said in a statement. “Why should we trust BPS to have the ability to implement transformational change on its own if the district’s track record indicates it is not capable of it?”

It remains unclear whether state intervention will move the needle. The last review conducted by the state in 2009 faulted both local and state officials for failing to carry through past state-developed interventions.

Janelle Dempsey, an attorney at Lawyers for Civil Rights, said she was not hopeful that the new state partnership would lead to significant improvement, calling the agreement “weak and flawed.”

“There are no provisions for ongoing monitoring, and many of the action steps are sweeping generalizations without meaningful guidance or targets," Dempsey said in a statement, adding it "does not go far or deep enough to provide real support for all students, particularly the most vulnerable.”


Remember the Professor Who Erased Pro-Life Messages on Campus? Here’s How His Actions Backfired

It has been almost two years since Fresno State Professor Greg Thatcher recruited students out of his classroom to help him wipe away university-approved pro-life chalk messages written by my student group, Students for Life at Fresno State.

All of this was caught on video.

Shortly after this incident, in May 2017, Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit on our behalf to defend our First Amendment rights. And a few months later, we won the case.

As part of a settlement agreement, the court ordered Thatcher never to interfere with Students for Life at Fresno State’s activities again. On top of that, he was responsible for almost $26,000 in attorney fees, $2,000 to myself and another student club officer, and was required to attend a free speech training given by ADF attorney Travis C. Barham.

At the time, I did not realize how much of an effect this event would have on us. But looking back, it could not have come at a better time.

Up until that point, our group had struggled with low membership, as we had only three or four active members. When we put up fliers on campus, they were repeatedly torn down and defaced. This run-in with Professor Thatcher? That’s how we finished off an already-disheartening year.

Needless to say, we were discouraged in our on-campus fight to end abortion.

But what Professor Thatcher meant for harm, God used for good.

Within hours, the video reached hundreds of thousands of views, gained national media attention, and prompted individuals on both sides of the abortion issue to discuss free speech for weeks online and on other various platforms.

Since our victory, Students for Life at Fresno State has grown to over 25 active members and become increasingly involved on campus, in the community, and even at the California Capitol. This past January, Students for Life of America even named us the “College Group of the Year.”

And personally, I have been able to use my experiences to help enhance my group, fight against pro-abortion legislation targeting college students in California, understand our rights as a pro-life student group on campus, and grow in my faith.

I also learned this important lesson:

Our ability to spread the pro-life message on campus goes hand-in-hand with our ability to speak freely.

If it were not for this right, we never would have met Jess, a student at Fresno State. Jess visited an information table we held outside on campus, where we passed out 12-week fetal models showing that each child at that stage has arms, legs, fingers, toes, and all the facial features of any human being. Jess took one of these models with her and displayed it on her rearview mirror.

Soon after, she found herself faced with an unplanned pregnancy.

Frantic about financial instability and feeling unready for motherhood, Jess sought out her options at a Planned Parenthood, where a counselor tried to convince her that abortion was her only option. While driving in her car one day, however, the fetal model caught her eye. The model helped her to humanize the baby in her womb, and after speaking with her boyfriend, she decided to choose life.

A few months later, she gave birth to baby Eden.

That same semester, she earned a 4.0 GPA and reconnected with our group. She is now a co-vice president of Students for Life at Fresno State and is dedicated to helping other pregnant students choose life.

Jess is one of many pregnant and parenting students across America who are targeted by the abortion industry. They are told they can’t have a baby and go to school – that they won’t reach their full potential as a mother. But Jess is proof that isn’t true.

Thanks to ADF, we are now free to speak that message on campus, offering hope and help to pregnant and parenting students. Thanks to Professor Thatcher, we are now stronger and better equipped to face the challenges that greet us as we advocate for life on campus and beyond. And thanks to the way God works all things for good, at least one mom chose life, and at least one life was saved.


Australia: Morrison government quietly mothballs laws to protect gay students and teachers

The Morrison government has quietly mothballed an inquiry which would have paved the way for long-promised laws to protect gay students and teachers from being expelled or sacked from religious schools.

The Australian Law Reform Commission has not yet started work on the inquiry, which was first referred to it nearly a year ago. President Sarah Derrington requested the deadline be extended until 12 months after the government's Religious Discrimination Bill passes Parliament - which is not guaranteed - making it highly unlikely any recommendations will be legislated before the next federal election.

Attorney-General Christian Porter made the change on March 2 but it was not announced by the government. The amendment appeared on the relevant webpage on the ALRC website last week.

Mr Porter told The Sun-Herald and The Sunday Age the delay "makes good sense as it will enable the commission to take into account the extraordinarily far-reaching public consultation process we undertook in developing the Religious Discrimination Bill".

But Anna Brown, a lawyer and the chief executive of LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Australia, said it was "irresponsible" to make the inquiry contingent on the bill's passage. "This spells danger and discrimination for students at religious schools, whichever way you look at it," she said.

The ALRC's general counsel Matt Corrigan said the commission asked for an extension because it was impossible to conduct the inquiry while the Religious Discrimination Bill was being considered by Parliament.

"We will not be starting on this inquiry until either a bill is passed or a final decision is made by [the] government," he said. "The two are inexorably linked and it's not possible to look at them separately."

Mr Morrison's initial 2018 pledge to protect gay students from being expelled or turned away from religious schools followed public outcry over the recommendations of Philip Ruddock's review into religious freedom, which revealed freedoms few realised existed under the law.

But later in the year the government back-tracked on that promise and referred the matter to the ALRC for a review, after failing to agree on a deal with the Labor opposition led by Bill Shorten.

In 2019, the government amended the terms of reference of the review to remove the issues being dealt with by the Religious Discrimination Bill, leaving the ALRC to focus on LGBTQ teachers and students. It also delayed the reporting date to 12 December 2020, with a discussion paper to be released in "early 2020".

The review has now been delayed for a second time, with an indefinite deadline of "12 months from the date the Religious Discrimination Bill is passed by Parliament". That bill has itself been delayed and reviewed multiple times, with no guarantee it will ever pass. The discussion paper's due date is now "TBA".

Even if the Religious Discrimination Bill becomes law this year, if the ALRC reports by late 2021 it is highly unlikely its recommendations would be legislated before the next election, due in 2022.

Mr Porter said the government still expected the bill to pass the Parliament. "But let's not forget that it was the former Labor government that introduced the exemptions allowing schools to exclude gay students," he said.

"That decision could have been overturned in the last Parliament, but Bill Shorten refused to allow a conscience vote, effectively blocking attempts by the Coalition to change the law."

Ms Brown said many faith-based organisations did not want the exemptions they currently enjoy under the law, and it was "irresponsible" to make the ALRC's long-awaited inquiry contingent on a bill that was "deeply flawed" may not pass.

"In the instance where the strong and broad community opposition to the bill prevails and it doesn't pass, the Prime Minister's promise to protect kids in schools looks destined to remain unfulfilled," she said.

There are relatively few instances of LGBTQ teachers being sacked or forced out of schools, and fewer still cases of LGBTQ students being expelled or turned away. But religious schools retain this power to discirminate and some of the major churches have expressed a desire to keep it.

For example, Sydney Anglican Archbishop Glenn Davies apologised after a backlash to a letter he facilitated, signed by 34 church schools, which argued for the preservation of the schools' power to discriminate against gay students and teachers.


Sunday, March 15, 2020

How College Sports Turned into a Corrupt Mega-Business

College sports are a gigantic entertainment business that have nothing to do with the missions of the schools. Frequently, the highest-paid employee of a school is the football or basketball coach, and the athletics budget is hugely subsidized by fees paid by financially strapped students. Players who read and write at a middle-school level (if even that) are recruited to help teams win, but the academic work they do is laughable. Schools rack up big debts trying to win glory on the gridiron or court, even if it means scrimping on faculty salaries and building maintenance.

How did this lamentable state of affairs come about?

To find out, the book to read is Intercollegiate Athletics, Inc. by professor James T. Bennett. He has researched the history of college sports in America, starting with the earliest days (when contests were organized and run by students for their own enjoyment) up to the latest scandals and perversions. He explains how the sports juggernaut gathered force (first football, later basketball) and recounts the various efforts (mostly unsuccessful) to stop or at least slow it. And perhaps most usefully, he points out that the high cost of college sports falls mainly on students through mandatory fees—a tax on education that goes to benefit a pampered few.

If you’re bothered by the fact that, as the author reports on a recent study, Division I schools (the top level in the NCAA’s hierarchy) spend three to six times as much on athletics per athlete as they do on academics per student, then this is a book you’ll want to read.

The first intercollegiate sporting competition was not football, but rowing, when the Harvard and Yale teams met in 1852. Football started to gain popularity in the 1870s when students began organizing games between rival colleges. By the turn of the century, football was big. Winning had become so important that teams routinely brought in “ringers,” which is to say, good players who weren’t students at all. Injuries were common.

The first college presidents to speak out against this spectacle were Charles Eliot of Harvard and Nicholas Murray Butler of Columbia. Eliot criticized the “immoderate desire to win” that led to cheating and the militaristic aura surrounding football. At Columbia, Butler decided to abolish football in 1905, calling it an “academic nuisance” that interfered with studying. Butler’s abolition lasted only a decade, however.

From the Northeast, football soon spread to the South and the Midwest, where the problems identified by Eliot and Butler grew apace. One academic leader who tried to tame football’s malign influence was UNC president Frank Porter Graham. In 1935, he drew up a proposal to ban the recruitment of players and any preferential treatment of athletes in the awarding of scholarships, jobs, or loans.

How well was Graham’s proposal received? Bennett quotes him as saying that his critics “opened up with machine guns, and in some cases poison gas.” Attacked by alumni and many of the politicians who voted for UNC appropriations, Graham backed down quietly. Although he served until 1949, he never again attempted to do anything about the growing tumor of college football.

In the Midwest, the University of Chicago was king of the football realm in the 1920s and 1930s. The university’s president, William Rainey Harper, hired the famous coach Amos Alonzo Stagg and gave him carte blanche to win. Stagg did exactly that. His methods were often unscrupulous, but the “Monsters of the Midway” became a powerhouse. But when Robert Maynard Hutchins was named president in1929, he was extremely unhappy with the situation. He thought that sports should be merely an ancillary function of a university. “A college racing stable makes as much sense as college football,” he said.

Under Hutchins, Chicago instituted a rule that football players had to take the same courses as all other students, and that pulled the rug out from under Stagg’s mighty team. By 1939, it was a doormat, losing by such scores as 61-0 to Harvard and 85-0 to Michigan. At the end of that season, Hutchins announced that Chicago would drop intercollegiate football.

In a speech to the students, he explained his reasons: “I hope that it is not necessary for me to tell you that this is an educational institution, that education is primarily concerned with the training of the mind, and that athletics and social life, though they may contribute to it, are not the heart of it and cannot be permitted to interfere with it.”

To the saga of Chicago football, Bennett adds this humorous ending: “The Maroons locker room would be converted to house the Manhattan Project, giving a new meaning to the phrase long bomb.”

We learn that several other universities have also dropped football, including the University of Seattle and the University of Denver. Getting out of that costly extravaganza is feasible, although a university president who proposes it must be ready for fierce opposition.

Consider the tale of Ray Watts, president of the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). Football is almost a state religion in Alabama, but UAB wasn’t very successful and program costs were heavily subsidized by student fees and the university’s general budget. In 2014, looking at a bleak financial picture, Watts decided that the money football was absorbing would be better spent on academics and announced that the university was dropping the sport.

Getting out of that costly extravaganza is feasible, although a university president who proposes it must be ready for fierce opposition.

Poor President Watts—he hadn’t counted on the ferocious opposition to his pro-academic priorities. He was roasted in the press, excoriated by the alumni, and even the faculty lashed out with a vote of no confidence. To save his hide, Watts reversed field. After a fundraising drive brought in $20 million, he announced that football would be back in 2017. It is back, and so are the high costs.

On the other hand, if a college president wants to add big-time sports or move up to a “higher” conference, he’ll find plenty of support. He can hire consulting firms to produce “research” that will demonstrate how a sports move will have great long-term benefits. In such studies, the costs are always downplayed while the supposed benefits (such as increased school loyalty) are hyped.

This has “worked” at a number of schools, including UNC-Charlotte. In 2007, chancellor Philip Dubois decided that his school’s reputation would soar if it started playing top-level football. He got his way. Millions were spent to build the necessary stadium and hire the coaches. Student fees went from an already lofty $1,160 per student to $1,648. Since starting play in the Sunbelt Conference in 2008, UNCC teams haven’t won many games, but even if they had, is there any reason to believe that the institution would be the least bit better? Bennett doesn’t think so.

But sometimes common sense prevails and the idea of boosting school prestige through sports is shot down. One such case was at another UNC institution, Winston-Salem State. The administration foolishly committed to moving up to NCAA Division I in 2007. But three years into its transition, a new chancellor concluded that the cost, which included $10 million in facility upgrades, was not justified and the school went back to competing in Division II. No sense in throwing good money after bad.

Bennett’s penultimate chapter explores the way women’s sports have followed the ruinous path of men’s athletics, beginning in the 1970s. That topic merits a separate article.

And that brings us to the ultimate chapter: “Reform—or Renewal?”

Bennett is not optimistic that college sports will change for the better. Few college presidents have the backbone for a fight with the entrenched athletics establishment, the faculty is generally not interested in battling it, and hardly any students care much about the cost that athletics adds to their bills. How about federal intervention? Bennett mentions some legislative ideas that have been floating around Congress but isn’t enthusiastic about any.

How about paying college athletes? Bennett gives that idea the back of his hand. He writes, “If college football and basketball players do join the ranks of the officially salaried, we will have the strange spectacle of ordinary students paying increased fees in order to subsidize not just the education but the livelihoods, the salaries, of their far more feted and celebrated sports-playing fellow ‘students.’ And if you pay those who play revenue sports, the big-time sports factories may need to shutter non-revenue sports, which would run afoul of Title IX.”

If you read Intercollegiate Athletics, Inc. you’ll be convinced that we have a serious problem, but also that it’s a problem with no evident solution.


Want to save public schools? Embrace school choice

Debate over school choice has got ugly. A public school district administrator in Kentucky recently suggested he’d delay students’ graduations if the state legislature passes school choice legislation that would give tax credits to private donors who support voucher programs for kids to attend schools of their choice. The proposed program is similar to one in Florida, and the federal government has reportedly pledged up to $70 million in support to the Bluegrass State if it passes the bill.

At the heart of the outraged responses to such programs is the assumption that supporting public school students who want to attend private schools will undermine public education and hurt the kids left behind by transferring funds into private hands. However, research consistently shows that these claims are misguided. In fact, if you really want to improve the state of America’s public schools and the welfare of students, then school choice offers a way to do exactly that.

School choice is the surprisingly radical idea that families shouldn’t be denied the opportunity to choose the educational path that’s right for their children — including and especially low-income families. Yet, across the United States, students are not only deprived of the chance to attend private schools that might provide better opportunities due to financial circumstance, they also can’t even attend a better-regarded public school a few miles down the road, because they’re arbitrarily locked into a single public school by their zip code.

With a captive audience, as it were, this means that poorly-performing schools face no consequences and lack the incentive to improve the quality of their services. In fact, even in states like Arkansas that have allowed kids to transfer into public schools across district boundaries, not all government funding allocated for their education follows them to their new school. This means that schools that lose students to choice actually receive more funding per-pupil than before.

But extra funding seems to have little to do with improving failing schools. The United States spends a whopping $15,424 for every public school student it educates (a nearly threefold increase in real terms since 1960) despite student performance remaining flat over that period. This figure is also significantly higher than the average for countries in the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a 36-member forum of the world’s democratic, developed nations. In fact, it’s even above what the average OECD nation spends per-student on college education. Yet, with all that funding, the average American student still fails to outperform their OECD peers.

Clearly, public education in the United States doesn’t have a lack of funding. It has a problem with how the money is being spent. Indeed, administrative costs account for a substantial chunk of the spending increase at US schools in the last century — funding that doesn’t directly go into classrooms or into improving student outcomes, yet grew at thrice the pace of student growth between 1992 and 2009. Providing incentives to spend money more effectively, efficiently and in the best interests of families and kids, rather than on a bloated bureaucracy, is a must for improving outcomes.

That’s where school choice comes in.

When California adopted public school choice, for example, some schools lost students, while others gained them, as families ‘voted with their feet.’ In the end, however, both kinds of schools benefited and improved their outcomes, as those that lost students consulted with parents and focused on areas to work on in order to retain kids.

The same principle applies to private school choice. The competitive pressure placed on Florida’s public schools by its school voucher tax credit program resulted in higher reading and math scores, as well as lower suspension and absence rates. And a meta-analysis of various school choice voucher programs found that these programs have had, at best, significant positive effects, and at worst, negligible effects on education outcomes for public school kids. But a majority of the studies report had positive feedback.

Even if we ignore the benefits of competition that these programs produce for public schools, we shouldn’t forget that the point of education programs isn’t to empower schools — it’s to empower students. Families and kids choose schools for a variety of reasons, including for a safer environment, better academic, artistic or athletic programs, and even for proximity to family and friends. That right ought to be expanded, not restricted.

The wealthy already choose schools for their kids based on these criteria. Those opposing school choice programs, then, are only hurting low-income families who rely on and benefit from them the most. School choice isn’t just good for educational outcomes or pushing public schools to do better. It’s the right thing to do.

Satya Marar is a policy analyst with the Reason Foundation specializing in school finance.


Australia: University O-Week censors excel themselves

“Free speech crisis? What crisis?” Uttered in freaky unison, this frequen­t denial from university vice-chancellors has allowed them to resume normal programming.

That consists of VCs putting their heads in the sand rather than confronting those trying to nobble intellectual diversity on campus. It includes VCs sending long emails about how proud they are of their diversity programs, with no sense of the irony that diversity of opinion is not part of that program. And it means VCs devoting more energy to attracting foreign stud­ents than defending freedom of expression.

How much longer can univer­sity leaders ignore the accelerating rhythm to raids on free speech at Australian universities? Today, the most brazen opponents of free speech within universities are those who control student unions. Funded by other students’ money, the leaders of student unions use their union muscle to control what other students hear, read and learn. Not content with running social events, defending students’ rights or holding university management to account, a small group of students have assumed a new role as campus censor. And they imagine that if they provide a band and a BBQ, they can flex their polit­ical arm without reproach.

On Tuesday afternoon, the student association at Melbourne’s Monash University, which runs Orientation Week stalls, BBQs and other events aimed at offering students “a diverse introduction to Monash”, rejected an application from Generation Liberty to be part of the program’s activities.

Generation Liberty is a program run by the Institute of Public Affairs for young Australians, includi­ng university students, introduc­ing them to ideas, arguments, and perspectives that they may have missed at school or university. The program is a big hit; its growth, especially over the past 12 months, points to a real hunger for knowledge not addressed by schools and universities.

In an email, events officer Michel­e Fredregill from the Monash­ Student Association told fellow Monash student Luca Rossi, a Generation Liberty co-ordina­tor at the university: “We have carefully reviewed your booking request and discussed it internally. Regretfully we must decline your booking application on the basis of our terms and conditions. Generation Liberty’s positions on issues such as climate change do not align with MSA’s.”

This is what happens when zealotry is threatened by facts. There is nothing in the terms and conditions to justify denying Genera­tion Liberty’s application to be part of O-Week, which kicks off on Monday.

In any case, a student union, or any other body, cannot use “Ts & Cs” to contract out of obligations under Victoria’s Equal Opportunity Act 2010 not to discriminate against a person on the basis of their political beliefs or activities.

More sinister is MSA’s reference to not aligning with “Generation Liberty’s positions on issues such as climate change”. Neither Generation Liberty nor the IPA has a “position” on climate change. The 77-year-old research organisation and its younger offshoot, known as Gen Lib, produce research­ based on facts: the rest is left up to who is reading, listening or watching IPA papers, podcasts or YouTube videos.

Rossi, 19, has hit back at this MSA censorship. “As a student at Monash, it is insulting for your ­student association, who supposedly represents you, to basically say you can’t be trusted with your own thoughts, we have to think for you.”

The Monash law/arts student features in a series of Gen Lib YouTube videos launched late last year called What I Wasn’t Told.

At last count, What I Wasn’t Told … About Climate Change had attracted just shy of 200,000 views. The video includes links for the curious to read the research that justifies every statement.

Rossi says had Gen Lib been given the chance to join O-Week, “we would have set up a stall, handed out some stickers and badges, and if some students want to have a chat with us, then we give them the idea of freedom. And that’s it.”

What exactly are the officeholders of the student union at Monash afraid of? That some ­inquisitive students might grab a vegan burger from the MSA BBQ, then wander over to the Gen Lib stall and pick up a free sticker ­carrying the Jordan Peterson quote “In order to be able to think, you have to risk being offensive”?

Or maybe they fear the badge carrying these words from Ricky Gervais: “Just because you’re offended doesn’t mean you’re right.”

Another badge says: “Make ­Orwell Fiction Again.”

The only steadfast position taken by Gen Lib is a belief in open inquiry and students thinking for themselves. Clearly this belief in intellectual diversity does not align with the MSA.

Rossi, one of 16 Gen Lib campus co-ordinators at 15 Australian universities, is frustrated by the lack of transparency, too. “It’s shady,” he says, alluding to the decision by MSA president James McDonald to fob it off as an “operations issue” in answer to Rossi’s request for more details as to why the student union rejected Gen Lib’s application.

“It’s basically as little transpar­ency as possible: ‘You’re not allowed­ to be here because we don’t agree with your views. Now please go away’,” says Rossi.

Alas, passing the buck about incursio­ns into intellectual diversity happens at the highest levels about an issue that should be embedded in the DNA of every serious ­university.

When the student guild at the Queensland University of Technology refused Gen Lib’s applic­ation to be part of Market Week last month, vice-chancellor Margaret Sheil learned about it from the media and responded by ­saying QUT was committed to “a variety of contesting viewpoints”.

But when this asserted belief in contesting viewpoints has not filtere­d down to the student guild, it is clear that intellectual diversity is not embedded in QUT’s culture.

The dirty little secret is that stud­ent unions are baying campus censors, too. And it takes only a handful of students who control events such as Market Week at QUT and O-Week at Monash to undermine intellectual diversity for the rest of the student popul­ation. IPA research compiled last year revealed that 59 per cent of students believe they are sometimes prevented from voicing their opinions on controversial issues by other students.

For student unions, freedom of speech is a controversial issue.

It is a stark failure of logic and leadership when VCs try to dodge responsibility by saying stud­ent unions are “independent” from university administration. Student unions hold functions on campus, they are meant to represent other university students, and student unions are partly funded by ­compulsory student services and amenities fees paid by every stud­ent, except international ones.

Who then, if not university ­administrators, will hold these student censors to account?

It is not unreasonable for VCs, acting on behalf of all students, to require students within student unions or guilds to commit, in practice, to freedom of expression, open debate and intellectual diversity. That starts with O-Week ­activities.

Instead, there is a failure of accounta­bility right up and down the line. Just over a week ago, new Tasmanian Liberal senator Claire Chandler questioned professor Nick Saunders, chief commissioner of the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency, the body charged with holding universities to their part of the funding deal — universities receiv­e federal funding from taxpayers in return for delivering intellec­tual inquiry on campus. Saunders said the regulatory body has no authority to rein in censorship by student unions.

Chandler tells Inquirer: “One of the real policy questions that has to be answered here is: does a university’s obligation to promote free speech on campus extend to student unions … given that these unions are getting funding from universities, through services and amenities fees that are compulsory?”

Of course it should. More than that, it is time to restart the battle over compulsory fees that prop up these student censors. Whereas the Coalition government abolished­ compulsory student unionism in 2005, the Gillard governmen­t reintroduced them in 2010 in the form of the services and amenities fee. Ten years later, stud­ent unions are using these compulsory fees to fund their censorship­ of ideas and people on campus.

Chandler, who is passionate about universities fostering ­genuine intellectual freedom to sharpen young students’ minds, says that if the model code recommended by former High Court chief justice Robert French in his review of free speech at Australian universities doesn’t capture oblig­ations of student unions to free speech, then this “gap” needs to be addressed.

Fill the gap, by all means, but a code will not necessarily change a culture.

I saw a similar problem up close as a member of the ABC board for five years. There was, and remains, a deeply embedded culture among journalists, producers and higher levels of the tax-funded media behemo­th opposed to the intellectual diversity that is explicitly requir­ed under its charter.

Internal codes which purported to commit the ABC to their legislative charter made no difference up against that culture. Instead­, even egregious cases of bias by journalists were routinely met with management claims that editorial policies are too vague, dodging any finding of a breach of the policy. Management would suggest the ABC board redraft the policies, a useless “make work” exercise­, to remove areas of grey.

When another glaringly obvious episode arose of bias, often from the same journalist — recidiv­ists were not hard to find — the board would receive the same response. It’s all rather grey so we can’t do anything. In other words: go away, our ABC culture trumps a code and even a legislative charter mandating intellectual diversity.

The same scenario will unfold across Australian universities. Even the most beautifully crafted free-speech code will count for nothing until there is meaningful cultural change.

And that will not happen until the Morrison government moves to reduce funding to universities that do not implement cultural change.

Over to Education Minister Dan Tehan to walk the talk, remembering too that academic freedom was thrown under the bus when James Cook University decided­ to sack professor Peter Ridd on a bogus code of conduct claim. JCU has committed to spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend that action in courts, rather than defend intellectual ­diversity.

In the meantime, we are left to ponder the state of a higher educatio­n where codes, laws, regul­ators and the media are needed to remind VCs and student union­s about the core business of a ­university.