Is Louisiana State University preparing for “academic bankruptcy”?

LSU president F. King AlexanderThe president of Louisiana State University announced that he had started planning for “financial exigency.”  This follows that state’s governor’s call for major cuts to public higher education, which I noted two months ago.

Louisiana’s flagship university began putting together the paperwork for declaring financial exigency this week when the Legislature appeared to make little progress on finding a state budget solution, according to F. King Alexander, president and chancellor of LSU.

“We don’t say that to scare people,” he said. “Basically, it is how we are going to survive.”

Other Louisiana public campuses might do this as well:

[Sandra Woodley, president of the University of Louisiana system] said several of her campuses — though she would not specifically mention which ones — would have to file for financial exigency if no additional state funding is found.

The Times-Picayune explains what this means:

Being in a state of financial exigency means a university’s funding situation is so difficult that the viability of the entire institution is threatened. The status makes it easier for public colleges to shut down programs and lay off tenured faculty, but it also tarnishes the school’s reputation, making it harder to recruit faculty and students.

“shut down programs and lay off tenured faculty”: yes, exigency makes it easier to perform a queen sacrifice.

Here’s the magnitude of possible state funding reductions: Continue reading

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Reading Robert Putnam, _Our Kids_, chapter 4, “Schooling”

Robert Putnam, _Our Kids_Let’s continue our online reading of Robert Putnam’s new book, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis.

In this post we move on to chapter four, simply titled “Schooling,” a topic central to this blog and my work. As with previous chapters I’ll summarize its content, then offer some reflections, followed by questions.  Because this subject is so important, I’m going to spend more time and more than 1700 words on this chapter.

Warning: if you care about education, this is a rough chapter.

1. Summary

As the twenty-first century opened, a family’s socioeconomic status (SES) had become even more important than test scores in predicting which eighth graders would graduate from college.(189)

It’s educational apartheid, a caste system driven by economic class.*

This chapter argues that schooling does not provide a level playing field for kids from different economic classes, but reflects that divide.  “The American public school today is as a kind of echo chamber in which the advantages or disadvantages that children bring with them to school have effects on other kids.” (182)

Once again Our Kids establishes a setting for stories, this time in California’s Orange County, where extremes of wealth and poverty can now be found in close proximity.  The characters in this venue aren’t white, as with many in chapter two, or black, as in chapter three, but Latino.  Once again Putnam sees economic difference trumping race: “economic inequality within the Latin community in Orange County has grown significantly during the past four decades” (136).  Characters include Latinos wealthy  (Clara, Ricardo, and their children Isabella and Michael) and poor (Lola and Sofia).

The upper-class family’s parents focused intensely on education, picking neighborhoods based on SAT scores (142) and sending their child to a very competitive magnet school (“15 students get 2400 on their SATs”, 144).  The school was – presumably is – very intense, with long hours, challenging curricula, plentiful extracurricular activities.

The poor family’s schooling experience is enormously different.  The older sister was not able to take high school seriously, since she had become, in effect, her younger sibling’s sole caregiver (151-152).  Which made her typical for students in that school, in a way:

“What were academics like in your school?” we ask.

Lola: There wasn’t any.

Sofia: [Laughing] What’s “academics”? (154)

Continue reading

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What Americans think about college, according to Gallup: love, concern, and racial difference

Gallup logoA new Gallup poll reveals some American attitudes about higher education.  The results of “Postsecondary Education Aspirations and Barriers” are quite useful for academia.  Americans seems to view colleges and universities like a beloved family member who’s run into serious personal problems: with care and concern, marked by persistent racial differences.

In some ways we’re still bullish on higher education. 96% see having “a degree or professional certificate beyond high school” in a good light, both for “getting good job” and for “having a high quality of life.”  We think college has some virtues when it comes to job preparation: “About three-quarters of U.S. adults (73%) agree or strongly agree that employers value the knowledge and skills students obtain through the process of earning a college degree…”

We’re even ok with going into debt, if asked the right way:

More than half (62%) say that $20,000 or more in debt is reasonable, and 40% say that $30,000 or more in debt is reasonable for attaining a bachelor’s degree.

We are also very helpful to other people trying to get into tertiary study.  Which is a very American thing, based on our history of volunteerism and civic engagement:

One-third (33%) say they have mentored a student who was enrolled in college. More than one-third (36%) say they have given money to a college or university to support future students. Nearly half (47%) say they have given money to an organization that awards college scholarships or grants, and a majority (60%) say they have encouraged an employer to provide training or education opportunities to employees. Have you ever done any of the following?

However, Americans see major problems with access to higher education.  39% – more than one third – don’t think that “education beyond high school is available to anyone in this country who needs it.”  Worse, 79% – more than three quarters of Americans adults – answered “Do you think education beyond high school is affordable for everyone in this country who needs it?” with a “no”. Continue reading

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Higher education becomes even more unequal, and a major proposal

Harvard building, photo by Ross M KarchnerAmerican higher education is becoming even more unequal, according to Moody’s.  Universities with the largest endowments now own a larger share of the entire sector’s wealth than previously.

Some data to consider:

The 10 richest universities in America hold nearly a third of the total wealth, in cash and investments, amassed by about 500 public and private institutions. The 40 richest hold almost two-thirds of the total wealth.

The Matthew Effect is in play:

These schools are drawing an outsized share of gifts to colleges and universities. Their assets grew at at a far faster rate from 2009 to 2014 than the portfolios of schools in the middle and bottom of the pack.

As a Moody’s lead puts it,

Schools on Moody’s top-40 list saw assets grow by 50% between fiscal 2009 and fiscal 2014…

“It’s really a tale of two college towns, if you will, or cities,” said Karen Kedem, vice president and senior credit officer at Moody’s. “Looking ahead, the expectation is that this [gap] will only widen.”

“This is largely a continuation of a longtime trend”, notes Inside Higher Ed.  It fits neatly, and sadly, into my New Gilded Age scenario.  “For the richest colleges, though, the battle appears to be all but over — and they’ve won,” observes Lawrence Biemiller.

There are many reasons for this trend, including giant tax benefits, but I’d like to note one very large cause: growing economic inequality in America as a whole.  The Boston Globe sums it up:

“What we see again and again is that the most elite universities are those universities who have the most wealthy alumni,” said David Callahan, editor of Inside Philanthropy.

That bifurcation is a trend in the American economy in general, and higher education, an economic engine in New England, is no exception.

So what is to be done? Continue reading

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University of Wisconsin-Madison prepares a queen sacrifice

University of Wisconsin crestThe University of Wisconsin-Madison will cut academic positions and programs in order to cope with state budget cuts, according to the university’s chancellor.  This could be a major queen sacrifice.

The process began in early February, when Wisconsin governor Walker called for massive cuts to public higher education.  Negotiations followed, but they didn’t succeed in protecting the campus.  According to chancellor Blank, the cuts are already in the pipeline:

The reductions have been planned and will be carried out by our deans and directors, who know best which programs can be cut while minimizing the impact on the student experience and our core educational mission. Starting today, campus leaders are sharing information about their plans for budget cuts in their units.

At least some faculty are also aware of the plan, according to local public radio.

What is the nature of these cuts?  Specific details aren’t out yet, but there is this outline in Blank’s post:

  • Program closures and mergers: Several programs across campus will be ended or restructured, including in the areas of information technology, agriculture, and the arts.
  • Academic offerings and services: The job eliminations will likely lead to larger classes and fewer course options. Reductions in advising services may hurt time to degree and retention.
  • Support services: Services that support students, faculty and staff, such as information technology, will be reduced. We will invest less in maintaining our buildings and facilities. [emphases added]

This involves “the elimination of approximately 400 positions.” Continue reading

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University of Alaska sacrifices the queen

University of Alaska logoThe University of Alaska system president announced the end of several academic programs, offering another example of what I’ve been calling the queen sacrifice.  This is when an academic institution, facing major challenges, cuts into the core of a campus.

In Alaska’s case, programs to be cut include: “a teacher mentoring program… a program with the University of Washington to train Alaskans to become doctors [and] a new veterinary degree partnership.”

On top of that,

More cuts will likely be announced in the weeks ahead. UAF Chancellor Brian Rogers will give a report today on efforts to prioritize dozens of programs for possible elimination or reduction.

What’s the reason for these cuts?  UA is state-funded, and the state is “facing a $3.5 billion deficit.”  That seems to be due to the fall of the price on oil, taxes on which play a key role in Alaska’s state revenue.

Worse, these financial and program cuts are likely to continue: “‘We see nothing to suggest that ’17 is going to be any better,’ said Gamble, who met with regents at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Kuskokwim Campus in Bethel.”

Rural branch campuses expect more cuts to their own budgets.

According to the UA news site, “Chancellors Rogers and Pugh updated the board on program prioritization efforts underway at UAF and UAS in preparation for difficult financial times ahead”. Indeed.

The stress of these cuts seems to have helped drive one UA campus chancellor into retirement.

What does this tell us about higher education?  There are some local particulars, like the oil tax angle.  But that cause neatly coincides with the effect felt in many states, of dropping state spending on education.

The program selection is unusual.  I’m not sure why teacher preparation lost out, unless Alaska’s K-12 schools are seeing serious drops in student numbers.  The medical and veterinary cuts don’t make much sense, as demand for medical services isn’t declining.

Let’s see what those new programs cuts target, and share our sympathies for the poor faculty, staff, and students.

(thanks to Chris Lott for providing on the ground information for this post)

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Reading Robert Putnam, _Our Kids_, chapter 3: “Parenting”

Robert Putnam, _Our Kids_Let’s continue our online reading of Robert Putnam’s new book, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis.

In this post we move on from families to child-rearing, with chapter three, “Parenting”. As with previous chapters I’ll summarize its content, then offer some reflections, followed by questions.

1. Summary

Now Our Kids focuses on how parents raise children, and how children grow up in their homes.  It’s a pretty narrow and powerful focus.

In this chapter the narrative setting shifts again, this time to Atlanta.  Putnam identifies another contrasting pair of families, here black families rich and poor.  One lives in Buckhead, the other a little ways south.  Actually, there are two poor family stories.

One major argument of this chapter is that economic divisions have opened up within a racial minority, becoming deeper and more significant than racial divides.

Atlanta has more black college graduates and more concentrated black poverty than any of the other ten largest metropolitan area in America.  In that sense, Atlanta seems on its way to encompassing three cities, two of them prosperous and two of them black. (82; emphasis in original)

Different family stories display these gaps.  Desmond and his parents are clearly very successful economically and socially (84-92).  In contrast Lauren, Michelle, and their mother fight hard rise to stay just above the poverty line, but with the real possibility ad lived experience of falling under it (92-101).  Elijah’s experience is worse, living in the ghetto, surrounded by poverty, crime, and intermittent relatives (101-108).  His is clearly an example of what Valerie Bock referred to as an “embattled family”.

Buckhead, Atlanta

Buckhead, Atlanta


This chapter describes two very different parenting cultures that have surfaced over the past generation.  Our Kids uses Annette Lareau’s research that describes “two class-based models of parenting in America society today,” concerted cultivation and natural growth (118). Continue reading

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