Amid Student Protests – University of California to Raise Tuition 27.6%

California Tuition Hike

Dear Commons Community,

Over the protests of hundreds of angry and chanting students, a panel of the University of California Board of Regents gave preliminary approval yesterday to a plan to raise tuition 27.6 percent over five years, turning aside a last-ditch effort by Gov. Jerry Brown to block it. As reported in The New York Times:

The day unfolded as a showdown between Mr. Brown, who holds himself out as a force for fiscal restraint, and Janet Napolitano, the president of the university system, who has insisted that only more money from the state can head off the tuition increase. Mr. Brown has countered that if the regents went ahead with the increase, they would get less from Sacramento, not more, and he bolstered his position by appointing two allies this week to vacant seats on the board.

But even as sign-waving protesters tried to block entrances to the building, which led to shoving and jostling as officials tried to make their way in, Ms. Napolitano got her way: Under the plan, undergraduate tuition and fees for California residents would rise from $12,192 a year to as much as $15,560 in 2019-20.”

Versions of California’s higher education battles have been playing out in states across the country in recent years. State governments slashed support for public universities during the recession, driving big tuition increases and drawing criticism from political leaders. In several states, university administrators have frozen tuition, while protesting that they are still underfunded by their states.



Fewer Teacher Candidates Pass New York State Certification Exams!

Dear Commons Community,

New York State saw a significant drop in the number of candidates who passed teacher certification tests last year as tougher exams were introduced, state officials said yesterday, portraying the results as a long-needed move to raise the level of teaching and the performance of teacher preparation schools.   As reported in the New York Times:

“In the 2013-14 school year, 11,843 teachers earned their certification in New York, a drop of about 20 percent from the previous two years.

Candidates without certification cannot teach in public schools, and education schools with high failure rates may eventually lose their accreditation.

The fall in certifications resembles, in some respects, the state’s experience with the Common Core, a set of more rigorous learning standards for students that has been adopted by New York and most other states. New tests aligned with the Common Core have led to large drops in scores and criticism from parents, teachers and some governors.

State officials and some education advocates say the new standards will help bring the supply of teachers more in line with demand.

“New York is producing too many teachers, and for me that is the biggest takeaway,” said Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality. “If we really want to solve much of what ails the teaching profession, we need to be more selective.”


In New York, some education schools say the new teaching tests are hurting minority candidates the most. While many education experts celebrated New York’s result as an important step in enhancing teacher quality, state officials conceded that the new standards were likely to have a disproportionate impact on minority applicants. They described that situation as an extension of an achievement gap that begins in elementary school and continues throughout much of postsecondary education.

Administrators said they were starting to see some evidence of this at places like Lehman College in the Bronx, where passing rates for each of the new certification tests were lower than the statewide averages last year.

“We are largely serving what I would call minority populations not only because of the color of their skin,” said Harriet R. Fayne, the dean of the Lehman School of Education. “We serve recent immigrants. We serve individuals who have had interrupted formal education. We serve individuals whose first language might not be English.”

Ms. Fayne compared the first year of the new certification exams to the first year of testing under the Common Core, when test scores fell across much of the state. She said Lehman was working on several fronts to improve its passing rate in the coming years. “The issue is really one of time,” she said.”

Harriet Fayne makes a most significant point for those teacher education programs that serve largely minority and immigrant student populations.




On Renaming Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall!

Dear Commons Community,

One of New York City’s venerable institutions, Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall, the home of the New York Philharmonic, will have a new name soon. The announcement last week was that the Fisher family has agreed to relinquish the name so the Philharmonic and Lincoln Center can lure a large donor with the promise of rechristening the building. As reported in the New York Times:

“The unusual agreement, announced on Thursday, is a significant turnaround from 12 years ago, when the family of Avery Fisher, the music philanthropist who gave $10 million in 1973 to support the building, threatened legal action if the concert hall was rebuilt or renovated under a new name.

Lincoln Center is essentially paying the family $15 million for permission to drop the name and has included several other inducements, like a promise to feature prominent tributes to Mr. Fisher in the new lobby of the concert hall.

While the ability to raise money through naming opportunities has become a staple tool for arts organizations, perhaps no event speaks louder to its utility as a fund-raising mechanism than Lincoln Center’s willingness to pay the family of a veteran donor to step away so it can court a new benefactor…

Organizations like the Philharmonic and Lincoln Center cannot hope to raise the sums required for ambitious reconstructions or expansions without being able to dangle the carrot of a donor’s name emblazoned over the door.

“This unties the Gordian knot,” Katherine G. Farley, Lincoln Center’s chairwoman, said of the agreement. She said it was too early in the process to discuss whose name might replace Mr. Fisher’s on the building or what the price tag for such a high-profile philanthropic mantle might be.

The New York State Theater at Lincoln Center became the David H. Koch Theater in 2008, when Mr. Koch, the oil-and-gas billionaire, contributed $100 million toward its renovation. That same year, the New York Public Library’s flagship on Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street was named for Stephen A. Schwarzman, a Wall Street financier who donated $100 million toward that building’s expansion.

The Fisher agreement, which came together over the last three months, was made with the three children of Mr. Fisher, who died in 1994: Nancy Fisher, Charles Avery Fisher and Barbara Fisher Snow.”

Unfortunately the cost of major renovations have forced Lincoln Center to make these kinds of decisions but it seems crass to me that we are selling the names of New York City’s cultural jewels to the highest bidder. There are many New Yorkers, for instance, who resent the fact that the New York State Theater now bears the name of David Koch who has become a poster child for the corrupting impact of unrestrained and undisclosed money in American politics.



Child Homelessness Surges in the United States!

Homeless Children

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Dear Commons Community,

Child homelessness increased by 8 percent nationally from 2012 to 2013, according to the report, America’s Youngest Outcasts, issued  by the National Center on Family Homelessness. The report also warns of potentially devastating effects on children’s educational, emotional and social development, as well as on their parents’ health, employment prospects and parenting abilities.  The report included a composite index ranking the states (see above) on the extent of child homelessness, efforts to combat it, and the overall level of child well-being. States with the best scores were Minnesota, Nebraska and Massachusetts. At the bottom were Alabama, Mississippi and California.

As reported in The Huffington Post:

“The number of homeless children in the U.S. has surged in recent years to an all-time high, amounting to one child in every 30, according to a comprehensive state-by-state report that blames the nation’s high poverty rate, the lack of affordable housing and the impacts of pervasive domestic violence.

Titled “America’s Youngest Outcasts,” the report being issued Monday by the National Center on Family Homelessness calculates that nearly 2.5 million American children were homeless at some point in 2013. The number is based on the Department of Education’s latest count of 1.3 million homeless children in public schools, supplemented by estimates of homeless pre-school children not counted by the DOE.

The problem is particularly severe in California, which has one-eighth of the U.S. population but accounts for more than one-fifth of the homeless children with a tally of nearly 527,000.

Carmela DeCandia, director of the national center and a co-author of the report, noted that the federal government has made progress in reducing homelessness among veterans and chronically homeless adults.

“The same level of attention and resources has not been targeted to help families and children,” she said. “As a society, we’re going to pay a high price, in human and economic terms.”

It is a travesty that we allow this to happen in our country.  A couple of weeks ago we spent hundreds of millions of dollars on electioneering yet we struggle to provide assistance to homeless children.


International Student Numbers Continue Record-Breaking Growth in American Higher Education!

International Students

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Dear Commons Community,

American colleges and universities are attracting more international students than any other time in their history. In 2013-14, colleges in the United States enrolled a record 886,052 foreign students, an increase of 8 percent over the previous year, according to the latest “Open Doors” report from the Institute of International Education. As reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education:

“American campuses have never been more international.

While the boom in students from abroad is longstanding and well known, dig deeper into the data and you’ll find several trends that have implications for how colleges recruit overseas and create opportunities for American students to study abroad.

China remains the dynamo of global-student mobility, at times driving up international enrollments all by itself. In 2013-14, Chinese students accounted for almost 60 percent of the foreign-student growth at American colleges. Think about it this way: One of every three international students in the United States holds a Chinese passport…

The fast-growing group of student-visa holders aren’t seeking bachelor’s degrees or Ph.D.’s. They aren’t learning to speak in English. In fact, they aren’t actually studying at all.

They are part of a program known as Optional Practical Training, a designation that allows international students to temporarily stay and work in the United States after graduation.

More than one in 10 international students is on OPT, as the program is known, up 12 percent, the fourth consecutive annual increase.

Part of the growth is simply a result of the boom in international students, says Rajika Bhandari, deputy vice president for research and evaluation at the Institute of International Education. OPT is popular with foreign graduates whose employment options are limited during their studies and seize the opportunity to gain work experience for the job market when they return home.

The program is popular with some employers as well, particularly in Silicon Valley.

Having fallen short in efforts to change visa rules to make it easier for foreign graduates to stay in the United States, the Obama administration has extended the time that students in high-demand science and technology fields can remain in the country on OPT, from 12 to 29 months.”

This is an important trend that one, validates the quality of American higher education and two, provides an important cultural dynamic for those colleges that have a sizeable international student population.




Privacy Concerns for ClassDojo and Other Behavior-Tracking Apps for Schoolchildren!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times has an article today that raises important questions about a student behavior-tracking program, ClassDojo, that is used in many school districts throughout the country. As reported in the article:

“ClassDojo is used by at least one teacher in roughly one out of three schools in the United States, according to its developer. The app is among the innovations to emerge from the estimated $7.9 billion education software market aimed at students from prekindergarten through high school.

Many teachers say the app helps them automate the task of recording classroom conduct, as well as allowing them to communicate directly with parents.

But some parents, teachers and privacy law scholars say ClassDojo, along with other unproven technologies that record sensitive information about students, is being adopted without sufficiently considering the ramifications for data privacy and fairness, like where and how the data might eventually be used.

These critics also say that the carrot-and-stick method of classroom discipline is outmoded, and that behavior apps themselves are too subjective, enabling teachers to reward or penalize students for amorphous acts like “disrespect.” They contend that behavior databases could potentially harm students’ reputations by unfairly some with “a problem child” label that could stick with them for years.”

ClassDojo may mean well in assisting teachers dealing with behavior issues but the risk of this data falling into the wrong hands is too great.  School districts would be wise to adopt policies that establish its proper use and with the consent of parents.



Seven Out of Ten College Grads Carried Some Form of Student Debt in 2013!

Student Debt States 2013

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Dear Commons Community,

For the class of 2013, seven out of 10 college students nationwide carried some form of education debt when they graduated, according to the ninth annual Project on Student Debt report from the Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS), a nonprofit organization. The average graduate was $28,400 in the red, the report says. In six states, students graduated with an average of more than $30,000 in education debt, and only New Mexico grads came in below the $20K mark, with an average of $18,656 in school debt. As reported in The Huffington Post:

New Hampshire, Delaware and Pennsylvania had the highest average student debt loads at $32,795, $32,571 and $32,528, respectively. Pennsylvania and New Hampshire also have the most expensive public colleges in the country, according to Department of Education figures.

California had the second-lowest average student debt behind New Mexico, with the average Golden State grad owing $20,340, according to Thursday’s report.

“As more students borrow, and borrow more,” the report states, “concerns about the effects of student loan debt — for individuals and the broader economy — have risen.”

“High student loan debt, risky private loans, and even low debt when paired with low earnings, can hold borrowers back from starting a family, buying a home, saving for retirement, starting a business, or saving for their own children’s education,” the report continues.

For-profit colleges were not included in the analysis because out of the 595 proprietary, four-year degree institutions queried for the study, only eight agreed to report debt figures for their 2013 graduates. The report says that of the public and nonprofit private bachelor’s degree-granting colleges the researchers contacted, 57 percent agreed to provide data for the analysis.

Private student loans currently account for about $150 billion of the outstanding $1.2 trillion in student loan debt nationwide, or about 12 percent of overall education debt. However, nearly 20 percent of the class of 2013 had private student loans, the Project on Student Debt found — suggesting that the prevalence of such loans could be on the rise.

The private student debt load is important to look at, the report says, because those loans often have higher interest rates and offer little if any recourse for borrowers who struggle with high payments. Unlike government loans, private student loans come with no options for income-based repayment or loan forgiveness.”


LaGuardia Community College and the Struggle for Donors at Two-Year Institutions!

Community Colleges Financials

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Dear Commons Community,

Using LaGuardia Community College as a case study, the New York Times has a featured article on the difficulties community colleges have in attracting private giving. The chart above says it all. Community colleges, a critical sector in American higher education generally rely extensively on public funding and student tuition. They attract very little private giving yet serve students with the greatest needs. As the article mentions:

“The chief impediments to fund-raising at community colleges are the most obvious ones: There is no base of well-off alumni from which to draw, and no accompanying reserve of pride that might be exploited. Community colleges are places of departure rather than arrival. A gilded education begets more privilege, and privilege itself has had a long tradition of expression in munificent reciprocal giving. At community colleges, there exists not a legacy culture but whatever might be considered its opposite, given that the ambition of anyone who makes it through the system successfully is to send a child somewhere far beyond it. When students from a community college ascend to the affluent classes, they tend to feel a stronger affinity to the institutions that eventually graduate them than to the places where, often, they had no option but to begin.

The larger and more profound challenge is the marketing of the mission itself — the entirely worthy but unglamorous cause of moving poor young adults, many of whom have been inadequately educated, up to the ranks of middle-income earners. How to sell this vision to the broader world?

The plight of community colleges has not captured the interest of the wealthy donor class, where the narrative of the young child plucked from poverty and channeled through a system that will get him to Princeton and repackage him in the image of his benefactors has proved to be so mythically compelling. In 2012, more than twice as much money — $297 million — was awarded to charter schools from the country’s largest foundations as was given to community colleges, even though two-year colleges educate nearly four times as many students.”

Community colleges are jewels of American higher education and have the most difficult missions of any of our postsecondary institutions. They should be celebrated and deserve the attention of America’s donors and foundations.

Great article!




Former President Bill Clinton: Democrats Lacked a National Message in the Recent Midterm Elections!

Dear Commons Community,

Former President Bill Clinton said yesterday that Democrats lacked a “national advertising campaign” in the recent midterm elections. Speaking during an interview with Politico: Clinton said:

“Republicans were helped by a larger bloc of voters who felt more strongly about the elections than members of his party. Democrats could have benefited from a national message that reinforced the party’s positions on refinancing student loans and promoting equal pay for women, he said.

“The people who were against us felt more strongly than the people who were for us. The people who were for us just in all the din couldn’t hear what was actually a fairly coherent economic message coming out,” Clinton told the publication during an event surrounding the 10th anniversary of his presidential center.

It was Clinton’s first extensive comments on Democrats’ sweeping losses in the November elections. Republicans gained control of the Senate majority, strengthened its hold on the House and won governor’s offices in several Democratic-leaning states. Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has not yet publicly discussed the recent elections, but her advisers are closely studying the results ahead of a potential presidential campaign in 2016.

The former president noted that in 2014 there was a “collapse” in the youth vote and Democrats saw a slight drop in the Hispanic vote. He suggested it may have been attributed to President Barack Obama’s decision not to issue an executive order on immigration, which he called a “tough call.”

He also urged Obama to avoid becoming a “lame duck” in his final two years in office “by continuing to have an agenda and using the budget process to make deals with Republicans.”

Good analysis!


University of Phoenix to Offer Free Courses to Students at Historically Black Colleges!

Dear Commons Community,

The University of Phoenix announced on Thursday that it had formed a partnership to offer some of its online courses free to students at historically black colleges. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education:

“The university has not yet made any arrangements with individual colleges, according to a spokesman, but has agreed to work with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, one of the three major fund-raising and membership organizations that support black colleges.

The deal is meant to help students at historically black colleges complete their degrees on time, as well as to give the colleges access to technology and online courses that they may not be able to offer on their own, said Johnny C. Taylor Jr., president and chief executive of the Thurgood Marshall fund.

After the University of Phoenix reaches an articulation agreement with an individual college, students at that institution will be able to take some required courses through Phoenix at no additional cost. The deal will be available to students at any of the nation’s 104 historically black colleges, not just the 47 public institutions that are members of the Thurgood Marshall fund.

For every student who signs up for one of the courses, Phoenix will make a donation to the Thurgood Marshall fund for future scholarships. The university has not specified the amount of those donations.

Phoenix is also pledging to introduce its online teaching methods to faculty members at black colleges and to “share insights into how technology can create effective modes and means of expanding access to learning resources and collaboration,” according to a news release.

Mr. Taylor said that the initial question he has heard about the deal is why a black college would agree to work with a competitor. The University of Phoenix already enrolls more black students than any historically black college, he said, and graduates the most black students every year.

“The main reason is, we have got to figure out how to enable online learning,” he said. The costs are so significant that even the largest black colleges have not been able to pursue it, he said.”h

This appears to be a strategic public relations move on the part of the University of Phoenix. The for-profit college sector has been rocked over the past four years by competition from MOOC providers and government investigations calling out these institutions for their predatory financial aid practices. The University of Phoenix last year eliminated about half of its 227 campuses and learning centers, and 800 jobs, in addition to the 700 positions it cut two years earlier.