One week of bad stories about higher education financing, and I feel fine

Somedays it’s hard to discern signals about an emerging topic.  Other times they just fight with each other to leap across the transom.

Today the subject is higher education finances in crisis.  One of the datapoints is personal, while the rest are public information.

On Thursday my daughter called to complain.  This isn’t a new thing for a parent of a kid away at college, and the topic also wasn’t new.  Gwynneth was enraged at textbook prices, and was shocked by her latest required purchase.

How much is she paying for one (1) language class’ materials?  Three hundred dollars ($300 US).  One item is digital.  The other is a 3rd or 4th edition print textbook.

This is the most commonly taught language in American education, folks.  It’s also one for which there are tons (montones, I think) of open education resources available.

The same day Gwynneth called, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) (not my favorite source) ran a piece critical of rising textbook costs.  Their research yielded this interesting price comparison:

textbook costs rising _AEI

Notice that recreational books actually dropped in price.  Did ebooks play a role there?  I don’t know.  The data overall sound right to me, based on my other research.

Being the AEI, they blame governmental policies (federal aid and loans, i.e. the Bennett Hypothesis), which doesn’t persuade me.  They do also recommend open education resources (OER)…. which the majority of faculty still say they don’t know anything about.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday Corey Robin wrote about the City University of New York (CUNY) somehow losing track of $600,000.   The New York Times raises the idea that the money as “improperly diverted“.   Robin simply calls it corruption.  CUNY’s president yesterday denied the whole thing.

Don’t miss Robin’s bitter conclusion:

One of the reasons why, politically, it’s worse when corruption happens at an institution like CUNY or in a labor union—as opposed to the legalized or even illegal corruption that goes on at the highest reaches of the political economy—is that these are, or are supposed to be, sites of opposition to all that is wrong and wretched in the world. These are institutions that are supposed to remove the muck of ages.

It’s hard enough to believe in that kind of transformative work, and those kinds of transformative institutions, under the best of conditions. But when corruption becomes a part of the picture, it’s impossible.

Corruption is pure poison. It destroys everything. Even—or especially—the promise of that transformation.

Yesterday’s news trawl then pointed to this quietly announced datapoint about student debt.  According to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, the total amount owed by students who’ve taken classes in American high ed is $1,363,146,300,000.  That’s more than one  and one-third trillion dollars.

Lest you think that’s a blip or exception, take a gander at the curve below:

student loans 2007-2016 St Louis Fed

Interesting similarity to that textbook curve, eh?

Here’s a nice, clean list of that amount as it changed from 2006 through now.

At the same time, these colleges and universities are planning on laying off faculty and staff: the University of Alaska.  Elgin Community College.  Hiram College.  That’s just from the past few days, as chronicled by the redoubtable Recession Realities in Higher Ed blog.

I was going to conclude this post with notes about austerity, neoliberalism, financialization, and more.  I was going to rant about the open imperative.  But I’ll hang fire for now.  As one classic meme has it (HT to Ian), here’s the thinking in much of American higher ed in 2016:

This is fine

 

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6 Responses to One week of bad stories about higher education financing, and I feel fine

  1. ​ Very small typo: the total amount owed by students who’ve taken classes in American high ed is $1,363.146,300,000.

    Peace & Resistance

    Mark Corbett Wilson

    “In a world of change, the learners shall inherit the earth, while the learned shall find themselves perfectly suited for a world that no longer exists.” ~ Eric Hoffer

    On Sat, Sep 3, 2016 at 12:32 PM, Bryan Alexander wrote:

    > Bryan Alexander posted: “Somedays it’s hard to discern signals about an > emerging topic. Other times they just fight with each other to leap across > the transom. Today the subject is higher education finances in crisis. One > of the datapoints is personal, while the rest are pub” >

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  2. Thanks Bryan. I sometimes can’t believe we are even writing about this and sending our young people off merrily into debt. In the UK there is NO awareness of open textbooks at all. Lots of work to do! Here are some of my recent fag-packet calculations: http://vivrolfe.com/blog/textbooks-cost-whaaaat/

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  3. As an independent school, we have our students purchase their own books from 6-12th grade. Over the last 4 or 5 years, we’ve made a concerted effort to reduce those costs. In some cases, a digital version is significantly cheaper. In some cases, not. Language and science books are notoriously expensive. The school purchases some books so students don’t have to (we purchased all the math books this year, for example, all digital). But the other thing we did was do the research on cheaper options and provide those options to our students, so they could easily find the new and used options rather than having to search around themselves. We do have 2 or 3 departments that create their own materials. But most know nothing about OER. We’ve been immensely frustrated by certain publishers, who charge crazy amounts of money and/or who make it difficult to purchase digital versions of their books. Every year, we agonize over this issue.

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