Archives for category: Higher Education

Faculty members, staff, and students are unhappy with the selection of Margaret Spellings as the new president of the University of North Carolina. Her experience as Secretary of Education for President George W. Bush propelled her into this position.

In this article, two faculty  members–Altha Cravey,  associate professor of geography at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Robert Siegel, associate professor of English at East Carolina University–challenge Spellings’ lucrative association in recent years with predatory for-profit institutions and a debt-collection agency. They believe that her background does not fit the needs of a world-class institution that seeks to provide high quality at relatively low costs for students.

They write:

UNC needs a president who will help the university system continue to give students the best education possible while avoiding unnecessary tuition hikes. Unfortunately, Spellings’ background of supporting for-profit colleges who prey on students – and then profiting off those same students when they default on their loans – suggests that she and the Board of Governors have very distinct priorities.

Spellings made over $330,000 working for the Apollo Group, the parent company of University of Phoenix, a for-profit online college that has been widely criticized for taking advantage of its students and delivering poor results. Although federal education funds account for nearly 90 percent of the company’s revenue, graduation rates were as low as 4 percent under Spellings’ tenure.


The Apollo Group’s corporate goals are to increase shareholders’ profits by lowering standards and raising admission and fees. The company has even come under fire for targeting veterans to obtain G.I. Bill funding. After a federal investigation into the Apollo Group’s practices, the for-profit company laid off 600 workers and closed 115 “campuses” – while its founder received a $5 million “retirement bonus.”

The investigation found that students who attend for-profit colleges end up defaulting on their student loans at nearly three times the rate of students who attended public and nonprofit schools. As a result, nearly half of all student loan defaults nationwide are from students who attended for-profit colleges.

That’s why it is particularly troubling that Spellings also served as board chair of the Ceannate Corporation, a student loan collection agency. Student loan debt now accounts for the highest percentage of consumer debt, and despite widespread calls to reform the student loan industry, Spellings and the Ceannate Corporation have simply profited off of it….

Spellings’ defense of for-profit colleges is perhaps just as disturbing as the predatory practices these institutions use to fleece students. “(For-profit colleges) invented higher education in a way that was more convenient for working adults, and many in traditional higher education have responded,” she told the Board of Governors. “The reason I did it was because I learned a lot about how we can serve our students and think of them as customers in providing a product in convenient ways for them.”

In another article, Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore, a professor of history at Yale University who holds UNC degrees, cites statements that Spellings has made recently and in the past that cast doubt on her willingness to welcome gay students and faculty on campus. Gilmore insists that Spellings must publicly accept UNC’s non-discrimination policy  or resign.

Spellings seems unwilling to do that. When asked at the news conference about her past comments regarding gay citizens, she responded, “I’m not going to comment on those lifestyles.” Then she explained her demand as secretary of education that PBS refund federal money spent on the animated program “Buster the Bunny” because it included four gay characters among many. Her opposition, she said, was “a matter of how we use taxpayer dollars.”

Part of her job as president of UNC will be to “use taxpayer dollars” to foster a welcoming environment and combat discrimination based on sexual orientation. Moreover, she actually has the responsibility to “comment on those lifestyles” by demonstratively welcoming them to UNC.



Our frequent commentator, Laura H. Chapman, here reflects on the current view of the role of higher education–not as a place of exploration and liberal learning, but as a preparation for the global workplace.


She writes:


For higher education, some new metrics from USDE were supposed to show “best value education” meaning cost versus payoff for graduates in paychecks–return on investment. The policy was marketed as being “transparent” for the benefit of customers of education. Even without formal requirements from USDE, the governors in more than one state are pushing for the same thing. Ohio’s Kasich is among them, but he wants evidence of economic payoffs for Ohio.


This “economic outcomes only” philosophy will turn many public institutions of higher education into something like trade schools, kill off studies in the arts and humanities, tank basic research, and take the short-term political gain from this “transformative strategy” pretending there are no historically informed and valid sources of information on the benefits produced by these institutions, not just economic.


The virtues of the university as a vibrant source of new knowledge have been channeled into the business of learning to be an entrepreneur, doing the elevator pitch, getting the business plan in place and getting capital for a start up and go for it, then do your deals. Lots of very wealthy people and some fantastic achievements have come from this way of looking at the value of higher education. Donald Trump knows this drill, flaunts it, runs for President on it. Meanwhile the university as a reservoir of uncommon knowledge and expertise, well spring of new knowledge, and safe haven for learning what others have thought (and why), learning to question what you think, and learning what life may offer beyond a job–all of that is being portrayed as a lost cause.


That lost-cause view is evident in The American Enterprise Institute’s recent publication: “An Education Agenda for 2016: Conservative Solutions for Expanding Opportunity.” This 92 page report is telling its audience to ridicule “traditional” college curricula, tenured faculty, and middle class college students who “graduate from college completely unprepared to deal with the hazards, hassles, inconveniences, and disappointments of the real world.”


The report recommends that politicians stereotype college educators, say that they “see their students as mere children who are to be protected from the adult word, including through the use of strictly enforced, politically correct speech codes.”


The report freely recommends that colleges and universities be described as expensive venues that “offer whatever educational programs their tenured faculty are willing and able to teach, regardless of actual workforce needs.”


This is the attack language of persons who are among the intellectual elite in our nation.


They have learned that it works. There are no penalties for being rude, crude, and shortsighted and also a graduate of Harvard, Yale, Brandeis, Dartmouth, the University of Chicago, Columbia University, or Notre Dame. Just throw out this stereotyping language to dismantle public education.


The bios of the authors of this agenda indicate that, collectively, they attended seventeen different universities. Seven of these are public.


I am not certain that there are any voices left to be advocates for aims in higher education broader than an immediate payoff in paychecks. It is clear that one of the major conservative solutions for expanding “opportunity” to be in charge of education policy is to use a bully pulpit of privilege to demean the work of faculty and public colleges and universities.


Bottom line: The intellectual elite are marketing anti-intellectualism in order to gain control of national policy in education. They do not want to be the company of well-informed citizens who can discern the difference between spin and substance.

Former Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings has been chosen as the new President of the 17-campus University of North Carolina system. She will be paid $775,000. Spellings was Secretary of Education during the second term of President George W. Bush.

Spellings has a B.A. in political science from the University of Houston.

According to her Wikipedia biography,

Margaret Spellings earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from the University of Houston in 1979 and worked in an education reform commission under Texas Governor William P. Clements and as associate executive director for the Texas Association of School Boards. Before her appointment to George W. Bush’s presidential administration, Spellings was the political director for Bush’s first gubernatorial campaign in 1994, and later became a senior advisor to Bush during his term as Governor of Texas from 1995 to 2000….

In September 2005, Spellings announced the formation of the Secretary of Education’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education, which has also been referred to as the Spellings Commission.[11] The commission was charged with recommending a national strategy for reforming post-secondary education, with a particular focus on how well colleges and universities were preparing students for the 21st-century workplace. It had a secondary focus on how well high schools were preparing students for post-secondary education. Spellings described the work of the commission as a natural extension into higher education of the reforms carried out under No Child Left Behind, and is quoted as saying: “It’s time we turn this elephant around and upside down and take a look at it.”

The new president of the distinguished UNC campus has no record as a scholar, has no advanced degrees, and is prepared to bring NCLB reforms with her. Good luck to all!

If you read one blog post today, make it this one.

It is a comic strip (along the lines of “Charlie Hebdo”) that shows why American students are “screwed” by a system that causes them to start life deep in debt.

In the Nordic countries (Finland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden), higher education is a basic right, and universal access is free. Students even get a stipend to help with their expenses.

Why? Because education is the ultimate investment in a nation’s future.

We say we want more students to go to college; we want them to be college-and-career-ready. President Ibama says by 2020, we should have the highest college graduation rate in the world.

The credentials needed for good jobs go higher and higher. People with a college degree earn more than those without one.

But we have policies that put college education out of reach or make it a financial burden for those who want a college education. Our federal Department of Education pays billions to subpar, predatory for-profit colleges and universities with very low graduation rates, despite the fact that they prey on the poor, minorities, and immigrants trying to improve their lives but ending up deep in debt with a crummy education.

Just open the link.

If you have read recently that the U.S. Department of Education cracked down on predatory for-profit colleges, don’t believe it.

Read this story in today’s New York Times.

When the Obama administration agreed to erase the federal loan debt of some former students at Corinthian Colleges, a for-profit school that filed for bankruptcy in the face of charges of widespread fraud, education officials promised to “protect students from abusive colleges and safeguard the interests of taxpayers.”

But the Education Department, despite a crackdown against what it calls “bad actors,” continues to hand over tens of millions of dollars every month to other for-profit schools that have been accused of predatory behavior, substandard practices or illegal activity by its own officials or state attorneys general across the country.

Consider the Education Management Corporation, which runs 110 schools in the United States for chefs, artists and other trades. It has been investigated or sued in recent years by prosecutors in at least 12 states. The Justice Department has accused the company of illegally using incentives to pay its recruiters. And last year, investors filed a class-action lawsuit, contending that the company engaged in deceptive enrollment practices and manipulated federal student loan and grant programs.

Education Management nonetheless received more than $1.25 billion in federal money over the last school year.

The career training and for-profit college industry has been accused in recent years of preying on the poor, veterans and minorities by charging exorbitant fees for degrees that mostly fail to deliver promised skills and jobs.

Despite stepped-up scrutiny, hundreds of schools that have failed regulatory standards or been accused of violating legal statutes are still hauling in billions of dollars of government funds. They include tiny beauty schools with staggering loan default rates and online law schools with dismal graduation records and no bar association accreditation. Without government funds, which account for the overwhelming bulk of revenue, few of these institutions could attract students or stay in business.

The for-profit higher education industry hired the best lobbyists from both parties, and this is the result. Government-funded fraud against students goes on. Business as usual.

Investigative reporters David Sirota and Matthew Cunningham-Cook, writing in the International Business Times, detail Vice-President Joe Biden’s role in making it harder for college students to reduce their debts.

Jennifer Ryan did not love the idea of taking on debt, but she figured she was investing in her future. Eager to further her teaching career, she took out loans to gain certification and later pursued an advanced degree. But her studies came at a massive cost, leaving her confronting $192,000 in student loan debt.

“It’s overwhelming,” Ryan told International Business Times of her debts. “I can’t pay it back on the schedule the lenders have demanded.”

In the past, debtors in her position could have used bankruptcy court to shield them from some of their creditors. But a provision slipped into federal law in 2005 effectively bars most Americans from accessing bankruptcy protections for their private student loans.

In recent months, Democrats have touted legislation to roll back that law, as Americans now face more than $1.2 trillion in total outstanding debt from their government and private student loans. The bill is a crucial component of the party’s pro-middle-class economic message heading into 2016. Yet one of the lawmakers most responsible for limiting the legal options of Ryan and students like her is the man who some Democrats hope will be their party’s standard-bearer in 2016: Vice President Joe Biden.

As a senator from Delaware — a corporate tax haven where the financial industry is one of the state’s largest employers — Biden was one of the key proponents of the 2005 legislation that is now bearing down on students like Ryan. That bill effectively prevents the $150 billion worth of private student debt from being discharged, rescheduled or renegotiated as other debt can be in bankruptcy court.

Biden’s efforts in 2005 were no anomaly. Though the vice president has long portrayed himself as a champion of the struggling middle class — a man who famously commutes on Amtrak and mixes enthusiastically with blue-collar workers — the Delaware lawmaker has played a consistent and pivotal role in the financial industry’s four-decade campaign to make it harder for students to shield themselves and their families from creditors, according to an IBT review of bankruptcy legislation going back to the 1970s.

Biden’s political fortunes rose in tandem with the financial industry’s. At 29, he won the first of seven elections to the U.S. Senate, rising to chairman of the powerful Judiciary Committee, which vets bankruptcy legislation. On that committee, Biden helped lenders make it more difficult for Americans to reduce debt through bankruptcy — a trend that experts say encouraged banks to loan more freely with less fear that courts could erase their customers’ repayment obligations. At the same time, with more debtors barred from bankruptcy protections, the average American’s debt load went up by two-thirds over the last 40 years. Today, there is more than $10,000 of personal debt for every person in the country, as compared to roughly $6,000 in the early 1970s.

That increase — and its attendant interest payments — have generated huge profits for a financial industry that delivered more than $1.9 million of campaign contributions to Biden over his career, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Student debt, which grew as Biden climbed the Senate ladder and helped lenders tighten bankruptcy laws, spiked from $24 billion issued annually in 1990-91 to $110 billion in 2012-13, according to data from the Pew Research Center.

According to the Institute for College Access and Success, as of 2012, roughly one-fifth of recent graduates’ student debt was from private loans that “are typically more costly” than government loans.

Consequently, every major Democratic presidential candidate has introduced his or her own plan to reduce college debt. Biden himself has spotlighted the issue as he has publicly pondered a White House bid. Earlier this month he attended an event to discuss student debt at community colleges, telling students at Miami-Dade College: “I doubt there were many of you who could sit down and write a check for $6,000 in tuition without worrying about it.” His comments amplified his rhetoric from the 2012 election, when he decried the fact that “two-thirds of all the students who attend college take out loans to pay for school.” He said that the accumulated debt means that when the typical student graduates, “you get a diploma and you get stapled to it a $25,000 bill.”

But advocates for stronger protections for debtors argue that Biden was a driving force in creating the laws that made the problem worse.

“Joe Biden bears a large amount of responsibility for passage of the bankruptcy bill,” Ed Boltz, president of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, said in an interview with IBT.

That legislation created a crisis, said Northeastern University law professor Daniel Austin. Federal Reserve data show that about 1.1 million people face student debt loans of $100,000 or more, and roughly 167,000 face student loans of $200,000 or more.

In our blog discussion of Stanford’s requirement that Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai must take the SAT, a reader suggested that she should apply to Wellesley instead. Wellesley is my alma mater, and I seconded the idea. A few of our blog’s skeptics sent me copies of the admissions requirements to “prove” that Wellesley would not make any exceptions for Malala.

I contacted the administration at Wellesley and received this response from Joy St. John, the Dean of Admissions:

“I cannot say definitively what the admission decision would be in Mala​l​a’s case because
the Board of Admission (which includes faculty, students and administrators) makes
Wellesley’s admission decisions. I can say, though, that while Wellesley requires SAT
testing for admission (except when the student is living in a country where neither the
SAT or ACT is administered), we work to assist students (on a case-by-case basis) who
have questions or challenges in complying with the requirement. If Malala, a young
woman with such​ a ​distinguished background, also has compelling academic credentials,
we would work very hard to clear the path toward her admission to Wellesley.”

I take that response to mean that Wellesley would find a way to “clear the path” to admit this remarkable young woman, whose accomplishments dwarf the value of the SAT.

Malala, if you get this message, go to Wellesley and enjoy “the Wellesley Effect,” which has produced remarkable women of accomplishment and leadership.

Last year, Hampshire College in Massachusetts decided that it would no longer require either the SAT or the ACT for admission. This made Hampshire different from the 800+ colleges that are “test-optional,” where students may or may not submit their scores on college admission examinations. Hampshire College was founded in 1970 as an alternative private liberal arts college that was free to experiment with its curriculum; it relies on portfolios of work, rather than distribution requirements; it relies on narrative evaluations rather than grades and GPA. It is one of the top colleges in the nation in terms of the proportion of its graduates who continue to graduate school.

President Jonathan Lash wrote:

You won’t find our college in the U.S. News & Word Report “Best Colleges” rankings released this month. Last year Hampshire College decided not to accept SAT/ACT test scores from high school applicants seeking admission. That got us kicked off the rankings, disqualified us, per U.S. News rankings criteria. That’s OK with us.

We completely dropped standardized tests from our application as part of our new mission-driven admissions strategy, distinct from the “test-optional” policy that hundreds of colleges now follow. If we reduce education to the outcomes of a test, the only incentive for schools and students to innovate is in the form of improving test-taking and scores. Teaching to a test becomes stifling for teachers and students, far from the inspiring, adaptive education which most benefits students. Our greatly accelerating world needs graduates who are trained to address tough situations with innovation, ingenuity, entrepreneurship, and a capacity for mobilizing collaboration and cooperation.

We weighed other factors in our decision:

· Standardized test scores do not predict a student’s success at our college

· SATs/ACTs are strongly biased against low-income students and students of color, at a time when diversity is critical to our mission

· We surveyed our students and learned not one of them had considered rankings when choosing to apply to colleges; instead they most cared about a college’s mission

· Some good students are bad test takers, particularly under stress, such as when a test may grant or deny college entry; Multiple-choice tests don’t reveal much about a student

· We’ve developed much better, fairer ways to assess students who will thrive at our college.

In our admissions, we review an applicant’s whole academic and lived experience. We consider an applicant’s ability to present themselves in essays and interviews, review their recommendations from mentors, and assess factors such as their community engagement and entrepreneurism. And yes, we look closely at high school academic records, though in an unconventional manner. We look for an overarching narrative that shows motivation, discipline, and the capacity for self-reflection. We look at grade point average (GPA) as a measure of performance over a range of courses and time, distinct from a one-test-on-one-day SAT/ACT score. A student’s consistent “A” grades may be coupled with evidence of curiosity and learning across disciplines, as well as leadership in civic or social causes. Another student may have overcome obstacles through determination, demonstrating promise of success in a demanding program. Strong high school graduates demonstrate purpose, a passion for authenticity, and commitment to positive change.

We’re seeing remarkable admissions results since disregarding standardized test scores:

· Our yield, the percentage of students who accepted our invitation to enroll, rose in a single year from 18% to 26%, an amazing turnaround

· The quantity of applications went down but the quality went up, likely because we made it harder to apply, asking for more essays; Our applicants collectively were more motivated, mature, disciplined and consistent in their high school years than past applicants

· Class diversity increased to 31% students of color, the most diverse in our history, up from 21% two years ago

· The percentage of students who are the first-generation from their family to attend college rose from 10% to 18% in this year’s class.

Our “No SAT/ACT policy” has also changed us in ways deeper than data and demographics: Not once did we sit in an Admissions committee meeting and “wish we had a test score.” Without the scores, every other detail of the student’s application became more vivid. Their academic record over four years, letters of recommendation, essays, in-person interviews, and the optional creative supplements gave us a more complete portrait than we had seen before. Applicants gave more attention to their applications including the optional components, putting us in a much better position to predict their likelihood of success here.

This move away from test scores and disqualification from the US News rankings has allowed us to innovate in ways we could not before. In other words, we are free to innovate rather than compromise our mission to satisfy rankings criteria:
-We no longer chase volumes of applications to superficially inflate our “selectivity” and game the US News rankings. We no longer have to worry that any applicant will “lower our average SAT/ACT scores” and thus lower our US News ranking. Instead we choose quality over quantity and focus attention and resources on each applicant and their full portfolio.

-At college fairs and information sessions, we don’t spend time answering high school families’ questions about our ranking and test score “cut-offs.” Instead we have conversations about the things that matter: What does our unique academic program look like and what qualities does a student need to be successful at it?

-An unexpected benefit: this shift has saved us significant time and operational expense. Having a smaller but more targeted, engaged, passionate, and robust applicant pool, we are able to streamline our resources.

How can US News rankings reliably measure college quality when their data-points focus primarily on the high school performance of the incoming class in such terms as GPA, SAT/ACT, class rank, and selectivity? These measures have nothing to do with the college’s results, except perhaps in the college’s aptitude for marketing and recruiting. Tests and rankings incentivize schools to conform to test performance and rankings criteria, at the expense of mission and innovation.

Our shift to a mission-driven approach to admissions is right for Hampshire College and the right thing to do. We fail students if we reduce them to a standardized test number tied more to their financial status than achievement. We fail students by perpetuating the myth that high standardized test scores signal “better” students. We are in the top one percent of colleges nationwide in the percentage of our undergraduate alumni who go on earn advanced degrees – this on the strength of an education where we assess their capabilities narratively, and where we never, not once, subject them to a numerical or letter grade on a test or course.

At Hampshire College, we face the same financial challenges as many colleges. But these challenges provide an opportunity to think about who we are and what matters to us. We can not lose sight of our mission while seeking revenues or chasing rankings. We are committed to remaining disqualified from the US News rankings. We’re done with standardized testing, the SAT, and ACT.

– Jonathan Lash, President of Hampshire College, is also a Director of World Resources Institute, a DC-based environmental think tank, where he previously served as president. Jonathan is an widely recognized environmental leader who chaired President Bill Clinton’s Council on Sustainable Development and was the State of Vermont’s Environmental Secretary and Commissioner. He holds a law degree and master’s degree in education from Catholic University of America and a bachelor’s from Harvard College.

Malala Yousafzai is the Pakistani girl who was shot by the Taliban on her way to school; she survived to became a world-famous advocate for girls’ education.

She won the Nobel Peace Prize for her advocacy and courage.

She decided she wants to go to Stanford University to study politics and philosophy.

But Stanford will not accept her unless she takes the SAT and presumably scores the requisite points.

I can understand that Stanford wants to maintain its high standards, but shouldn’t a Nobel Prize count for more than an SAT score?

Paul Horton, history teacher at the University of Chicago Lab School, got exasperated about the steady stream of articles endorsing the Common Core in the Chronicle of Higher Education. So he wrote a letter warning the professoriate not to buy the corporate-funded CC propaganda. The letter should have been published as an opinion piece.

An excerpt:

“1. They are the product of a push by private foundations acting in the interest of multinational corporations to colonize public education in the United States and in other areas projected be developed as core production and assembly areas in the emerging global economy. A recent Washington Post article using a well-placed source within the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation essentially confirmed what many critics have suspected: that Bill Gates effectively controls the Department of Education in the United States through his former employees who serve in leadership positions within the Department of Education.

Our education secretary also does a lot of listening to Michael Barber of Pearson Education. Although Mr. Gates and Sir Michael, as well as other reformers, are doubtless well intentioned, they view the colonization of K-12 education in this country and elsewhere as a “win-win.” In their view, the quality of education will improve with greater accountability, and they will make billions creating and delivering accountability for students, teachers, and education schools.

To implement their plan, they are willing to jettison all ideas of collective responsibility for public education in a classic privatization pincer move: Chicago School of Economics ideas of “free choice” and “free markets” are used to legitimate privatization through virtual control of the editorial boards of major papers—the Murdoch chain, the Tribune chain, The Washington Post (now run by a neoliberal libertarian), and The New York Times—as well as center-liberal media like PBS and NPR. Money is funneled into NPR and PBS by organizations that support privatizing school reform in the name of “support for education programing.”

A Gates-funded Washington consulting firm, GMMB, works 24/7 to sell the Common Core Standards and all other elements of the Race to the Top mandates that call for more charter schools, a standardized-testing regime, and value-added assessments of teachers based on this testing regime. Likewise representatives of the Washington-based Fordham Institute work together with GMMB to send weekly talking points to major editorial boards and education reporters to ensure that representatives from an “independent foundation” are relentlessly quoted.

Not surprisingly, the Fordham Institute is hardly independent, and is heavily subsidized by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Michael Bloomberg, and the Broad Foundation, and many more funders of privatizing education. While GMMB attempts to control the discourse in the country’s major media outlets (Arne Duncan’s past press secretary is helping to coordinate this propaganda campaign within GMMB), McKinsey sells Microsoft and Pearson packages to fit the Race to the Top mandates.

The Los Angeles Independent Schools boondoggle that packed Pearson Common Core Curriculum lessons within Microsoft tablets and software is the wave of the future. Districts are sold packages that they cannot afford to comply with federal mandates that are pushed by private multinational corporations. What I am attempting to describe is the tip of a corporate iceberg that amounts to corporate control of education policy with very little participation of classroom teachers, parents, or school boards.

The idea that the Common Core Standards are the product of a democratic process is simply misrepresentation of fact—a big lie that GMMB, our education secretary, Bill Gates, Pearson Education, and the Fordham Institute propagate. What many rightfully be called corporate-education reform has bypassed the democratic process. For this reason alone, university faculty and administrators should not support the Common Core Curriculum and the Race to the Top.”


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