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You are still free to discriminate against LGBT people

Just a reminder.

RedEquality

Campus Pride usually highlights the best colleges for LGBT youth, as expensive as they may be. But for the first time today, the advocacy group is calling out the worst campuses for queer students.

“Most people are shocked when they learn that there are college campuses still today that openly discriminate against LGBTQ youth,” said Campus Pride executive director Shane Windmeyer in a statement accompanying the Shame List released today. “It is an unspoken secret in higher education, how [schools] use religion as a tool for cowardice and discrimination.”

That secret has been spoken about more openly in the past several months, as the U.S. Department of Education announced in January that it was creating a searchable database listing every U.S. college and university that requested a waiver from the LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination protections outlined in Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex (including gender identity) in schools that recieve federal funds.

In order to qualify for a religious exemption to Title IX through the Department of Education, an institution must prove that following the law conflicts with specific tenets of that school’s stated religious affiliation, and it must be operated by a religious institution, among other requirements. Schools must outline the specific policies that would be affected by Title IX requirements and explain how the institution’s religious doctrine conflicts with the legal requirement not to discriminate based on sex or gender identity.

The Shame List features 102 schools from across the country, including postsecondary schools with historically anti-LGBT policies, along with those that requested officials exemptions from Title IX. Any school that met either or both of these requirements was placed on the list, which Campus Pride calls a roll of “the absolute worst.”

Campus Pride spent six months combing over the the  Department of Education’s database on schools that have requested and received faith-based Title IX waivers, cross-referencing that list with additional research on schools that have policies viewed as hostile to LGBT students.

“Our job as Campus Pride is to make sure that every person in the country knows that these campuses decided that they are going to openly discriminate against LGBT young people,” Windmeyer told The Advocate via phone. “This list uncovers the religion-based bigotry that is harmful and perpetuated against LGBTQ youth on these campuses.”

Texas, California, Missouri, Florida, Oklahoma, and Kentucky all have more than four colleges on the Shame List, Windmeyer said, adding that the South has the highest density of schools on Campus Pride’s list. The 102 schools on the list account for roughly 2 percent of the 5,000 colleges and universities in the U.S., according to the Department of Education.

The Human Rights Campaign previously shed some light on the growing number of schools requesting religious exemptions in 2015 with its “Hidden Discrimination” report. In that year, 55 colleges either applied for or were granted the exemption, effectively arguing that their faith doctrine required them to allow discrimination in admissions, housing, athletics, facilities, and rules of behavior based on gender identity or sexual orientation.

“Ultimately these campuses are dangerous for vulnerable LGBTQ youth and others,” said Windmeyer. “All families and youth deserve to know this information — and so do corporations who do business with these campuses — from those who hire and recruit, vendors who contract food service, sell books, make donations and in any other way provides goods or services to a college or university.”

Nine of those 102 schools are here in Texas. Despite the bluster from certain circles, existing law shields these religious institutions from having to deviate from their belief that some classes of people are inferior to others. That’s not going to change, though I certainly hope that some day the institutions themselves will decide on their own to change. Just keep this in mind when the Legislature is in session next spring and the bluster about “religious liberty” being “under assault” is in full flower. The DMN has more.

Tracking diplomas

From the Texas Tribune:

Among young Texans who started eighth grade in 2001, less than one-fifth went on to earn a higher education credential within six years of their high school graduation. And rates were even lower among African-American and Hispanic students and those who were economically disadvantaged, according to data analyzed by two state education agencies and presented Tuesday in a Texas Tribune news application.

Since 2012, Houston Endowment, a philanthropic foundation and sponsor of the news app, has advocated for the use of “cohort tracking” to evaluate the state’s education pipeline. The analysis begins with all Texas students entering eighth grade in a given year and follows them for 11 years, giving them six years after high school to earn a post-secondary degree.

George Grainger, senior program officer for Houston Endowment’s education initiatives, said he believes it’s a valid performance index for the entire education pipeline, not just higher education. “We felt if we put our name on this, we can talk about it in a way that a state agency is perhaps not able to,” he said.

Cohort tracking is something the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board had been doing for some time — but quietly. Houston Endowment approached the agency about running the numbers again and providing an annual snapshot of the education system, this time for public consumption.

Texas Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes called the idea of using the simple, easy-to-understand metric — rather than standard metrics like college graduation rates — “a minor act of genius.”

“If your final number is 19 out of 100 students receiving some form of post-secondary credential, you know there’s an awful lot of leakage in the pipeline,” Paredes said.

The story is about a better way to track higher education outcomes among graduating classes. The NCAA does something similar to track athletes’ graduation rates. There are some holes in this method – it doesn’t count people who spend a couple of years in the military before going on to graduate from college, and it loses track of people who move out of state before graduating high school – but it’s an improvement over what we had been doing to track this achievement. There are some predictable disparities due to race and to income level, and while there are some encouraging trends the fact remains that a huge percentage of current students will not get a college degree. While we all agree that not everyone needs to go to college and that more needs to be done to support kids who want to be on a more vocational track, the fact remains that on balance, not getting a college degree means greatly reducing earning potential. The embedded chart comes via Kevin Drum, who comments:

The chart from Pew Research tells the story. In 1965, high school grads earned 19 percent less than college grads. Since then, the earnings of college grads have gone up (though slowly over the past two decades), while the earnings of high school grads have plummeted. As a result, high school grads today earn a whopping 39 percent less than college grads. Life for the 47 percent of Americans who have high school diplomas but no more is an increasingly parlous one.

This is our future, Texas. What are we doing about it?

Open source textbooks

This is a great idea.

The words “free” and “college” aren’t often used in the same sentence, but a philanthropic venture at Rice University is drawing attention for bringing them together.

OpenStax College, a nonprofit publishing organization founded by a Rice professor, offers free online textbooks for the five most-attended college courses in the country. They’re mostly introductory courses that students must take to move on to upper level classes. In some classes, the required textbook can cost as much as $250.

With rising tuition and fees, some students struggle to cover the costs of textbooks and supplies, which also have increased. Students will shell out an average of $1,200 on textbooks this school year, up about 3 percent from last year, according to the College Board, a nonprofit that tracks colleges costs.

“Textbooks are so expensive, especially for community college students,” said founder and electrical engineering professor Richard Baraniuk. “Some drop out because of the cost of learning materials. We decided to do something about it.”

OpenStax’s goal is to save 1 million college students $95 million over the next five years.

About 80 institutions have adopted the organization’s first two titles – College Physics and Introduction to Sociology – since they were published in June. More than 75,000 users have viewed them and more than 40,000 have downloaded pdf versions. Print versions are also available for $30.

Another option introduced two weeks ago is the interactive ibook version of College Physics, which includes graphics, videos and demonstrations. Students can download the textbook on an iPad or iPod for $4.99.

[…]

The real question is whether open source publishers are sustainable. Flat World Knowledge, a for-profit open source publisher, recently announced that starting Jan. 1, it will begin charging a fee for online textbooks. The company’s co-founder, Jeff Shelstad, told the Chronicle of Higher Education the move was because of cost and limited capital.

Baraniuk believes OpenStax will be sustainable. The organization is already generating revenue through profit sharing with for-profit companies that offer ancillary textbook features for a fee. It also earns revenue from its print and ibook versions, he said.

We’ve been talking about electronic textbooks for several years now, though it’s taken off slowly. I suppose availability and distribution are part of the reason for that, and if so then this sort of scheme ought to address those issues. It also seems to me that these textbooks don’t need to be free for this to be a success – a donation model, or a modest subscription plan should be workable and should be true to the idea of making these texts affordable to students. I figure it’s just a matter of time before something like this becomes the norm. Anyone out there have any direct experience with this? Leave a comment and let us know.

What can you get for $10,000?

You can now get a college degree – at some colleges, in some programs, if you’re lucky.

Many were skeptical when Gov. Rick Perry last year challenged Texas public colleges and universities to offer degrees costing no more than $10,000.

Now 14 institutions have embraced the concept, which Perry sees as a promising way to rein in college costs and increase access.

Several schools began offering bargain degrees this fall, and others are scheduled to start programs next year, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, a cheerleader for the concept.

“We’ve really been a bully pulpit to look at ways to bend the cost curve in terms of tuition and fees,” board spokesman Dominic Chavez said. “We articulate it as a challenge. Ten thousand dollars is a goal. Let’s see how many programs we can get for affordable pathways.”

In-state tuition and fees in Texas have increased by 90 percent in eight years.

The average cost was about $7,300 per year in 2011-12.

[…]

“Our concern is that the idea of the $10,000 degree is diverting attention from the very real conversation about rising costs that must happen among all the members of the higher-education community,” said Ann McGlashan, an associate professor of German and Russian at Baylor University and president of the Texas Conference of the American Association of University Professors.

Texas and other states have dramatically cut higher-education money over the years, forcing tuition up. Now political leaders want to put pressure on universities to reverse the trend while ignoring cost-cutting measures they have already taken, said Dan Hurley, director of state relations for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

“While we support the idea, the $10,000 mark is an artificially set figure,” Hurley said. “To deliver a college education at or below that mark is a little too elementary, given all the dynamics at play. It gets folks excited, but it’s not a sophisticated approach to encouraging system performance.”

[…]

Baylor’s McGlashan said students eligible for $10,000 degrees often have attended well-funded high-schools that offer many dual-credit and Advanced Placement classes that give them a head start.

“It also targets those who know very early on what they want to do with their lives,” she said.

“We need to be talking about the students who don’t have these advantages and what can be done to bring down costs for them. It’s time to put everything on the table and think outside the box.”

I have not paid close attention to this piece of policy from Rick Perry, partly because I don’t take policy ideas from him seriously, and partly because there’s only so many things I can pay close attention to at one time. If this becomes a viable option for a significant number of students, then I will give him credit for it, however grudgingly. I just want to point out that getting a degree at any of the flagship public universities in Texas used to be a pretty affordable proposition, back before tuition was deregulated by Perry and Tom Craddick and the rest of the Republican legislature in 2003, in response to the first budget crisis faced during Perry’s tenure. A Google search for “University of Texas tuition 2003” led me to this page, which told me that the Undergraduate Flat-Rate Tuition Fall 2002 / Spring 2003 (per semester) at UT was $2,357.00 for College of Liberal Arts, and $2,504.00 for College of Natural Sciences. That’s per semester, so you’d be looking at about $20K in tuition over four years, and of course there’s still room and board and books and transportation, all of which students in the $10K Degree program would need to pay for as well. In return you’d have gotten a degree in the program of your choice at UT, not too shabby a deal if you ask me. The reason in-state tuition has increased so much in the past eight years – that is, since tuition deregulation became the law of the land – is because eight years ago the state greatly scaled back its financial support for public universities, and gave those universities the burden and the freedom to make up the difference by charging more. Point being, if we’d never deregulated in the first place but instead continued the long tradition of supporting public higher education in Texas, we wouldn’t be having this conversation today. Let’s not lose sight of that.

Our education gap

Apparently, we have one in Houston.

The Houston area doesn’t have enough educated workers to fill all the jobs that local industry creates, according to a study released today by the Brookings Institution.

That education gap, in turn, pushes up the local unemployment rate, according to the study, which ranked the Houston area 94th among the nation’s 100 largest regions. The Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington area came in at No. 96.

The average job in Houston requires 13.53 years of education, said Jonathan Rothwell, senior research analyst at Brookings in Washington, D.C. The average Houston area resident has only 13.31 years.

The study used several years of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to determine the type and number of jobs in each region and what kind of education is required to do the work. It compared that to a Census Bureau survey of actual education levels for each community.

You can see the executive summary here and the full report here. Personally, I’m skeptical that such a small difference in the average amount of education makes that much difference, but I suppose one way of looking at it is that it probably reflects college graduation rates as much as anything, and it’s easy enough to see how that could correlate to employment. Anyway, read it for yourself and see what you think.

How does college tuition in Texas compare to other states?

In a previous post, John left the following comment:

Out of curiosity how much does a year at UT/A&M cost? How does that compare to Ohio St/Michigan/Cal/UVA/Washington etc. I would think this is a good time to do the revenue side and charge more for tuition if UT is still fairly inexpensive relative to other state schools.

I thought that was a fair question, so I decided to take a look into it. Let’s start by seeing how much one semester’s worth of tuition is at the University of Texas and at Texas A&M. First, for UT:

The tuition charged is in part dependent on the amount of state support received by the institution. In the early 1970s the state paid for nearly 85 percent of the cost of running the educational side of The University of Texas at Austin. Today, the state-appropriated fraction of the total budget for UT Austin is below 20 percent. The growing gap between what it costs to run the university and what the state is able to contribute has been covered in part by private donations, efficiency and other actions taken by the university. However, if the university is to maintain delivery of the quality of education for which it has become known, it determined it had to ask the students attending the university to pay for an increasing share of that gap. The University of Texas at Austin’s tuition places it well below tuition at comparable universities, and the university continues to be a nationally recognized great value in higher education.

If you look at that page, you will see that one semester tuition, for a resident student ranges from $4,493 for the Liberal Arts college to $5,163 for the Business program. Next, there’s A&M:

The cost of attending Texas A&M University can vary, depending on a student’s classification, residency status, personal needs and spending habits. Where the course is taught will also affect cost. Below are estimates to provide a reasonable idea of what it will cost to take a course or courses. The most current rates and information available at the time of publishing are used, and are subject to change.

You then have to look here for the current year. As with UT, there’s a range of tuition costs, for one semester tuition, 12-18 credit hours, from $4,193 for non-business programs to $4,803 for business.

So how do they stack up against peer institutions? To answer that question, I looked at two different groups of peers – a selection of public schools from the Association of American Universities, of which UT is a member, and the non-Texas schools that currently comprise the Big XII. Note that there is some overlap between the two – the University of Colorado, for example, is a member of both. A few words about my methodology before we begin:

– I only looked at tuition, for one semester. Some schools print tuition rates for the nine month (i.e., fall through spring) academic year – I simply divided that by two and rounded up to the next dollar for simplicity. Some present rates per credit hour – in those cases, I assumed 15 credit hours for a semester.

– I only used resident tuition rates. In all cases, non-resident tuition was between double and triple the non-resident rate. Since residents’ taxes support the public universities, that seems fair enough.

– All other costs – room and board, books, various fees – were left out of this calculation. For what it’s worth, my eyeball estimate of room and board was that it pretty consistently fell into the $7,500 to $10,000 range for the year. I didn’t bother looking at anything else. Note that for UC-Berkeley, tuition is called a fee, for reasons that escape me.

– Some schools have one flat rate, others have different rates for different programs, as UT and A&M do. In those cases, I reported the range as above. Generally speaking, programs like liberal arts, fine arts, journalism, and nursing fell on the lower end, and programs like business, engineering, architecture, and computer science fell on the higher end.

– Some schools charge more for upperclassmen than they do for freshmen and sophomores. In those cases, I reported the frosh/soph rates.

I think that about covers it. So without further ado, here are some AAU schools:

The University of Michigan

One semester tuition: Ranges from $5,824 to $8,087, depending on the program.

The University of Virginia

One semester tuition: $5,418 (Note: Page lists full year tuition costs.)

The Ohio State University

One semester tuition: $4,760 (Note: Page lists full year tuition costs.)

The University of North Carolina

One semester tuition: $3,182 (Note: Page lists full year tuition costs.)

The University of California at Berkeley

One semester tuition: $5,469 (Note: Page lists full year tuition costs, which is for some reason labeled “Fees”.)

For what it’s worth, in Googling Cal’s tuition, I came across this NYT story from March of 2010 that calls Call “still a bargain” and notes that its annual tuition had gone up quite a bit, from about $7700 to over $10K, in recent years due to budget shortfalls.

The State University of New York

One semester tuition: $2,485 (Note: Page lists full year tuition costs.)

There are many SUNY campuses, some of which are AAU members and some of which are not. I simply Googled “SUNY tuition”, I did not specify a campus. Far as I can tell, it’s uniform across the system.

The University of Indiana

One semester tuition: $4,062 (Spring 2011)

Michigan State University

One semester tuition: $5,861 (Note: Page lists full year tuition costs.)

The University of Florida

One semester tuition: $2,510

The University of Washington

One semester tuition: $4,351

Putting this group into a chart for easy reading, using the lowest rates from the schools that had ranges:

School Tuition ======================== SUNY $2,485 Florida $2,510 North Carolina $3,182 Indiana $4,062 A&M $4,193 Washington $4,351 UT $4,493 Ohio State $4,760 Virginia $5,418 Cal-Berkeley $5,469 Michigan $5,824

Pretty much in the middle, as things stand now – in fact, A&M is just about smack-dab in between SUNY and Michigan. Bear in mind that this is before any tuition increases, which could be as much as $1,000 for a year, or $500 for a semester.

Now on to the Big XII schools:

The University of Oklahoma

One semester tuition: $3,927 (Note: Page lists full year tuition costs.)

Oklahoma State University

One semester tuition: $2,051 (Calculated as 15 hours of Undergraduate Tuition.)

The University of Nebraska

One semester tuition: $3,656 (Note: Page lists full year tuition costs.)

The University of Missouri

One semester tuition: $3,684 (Calculated as 15 hours of Undergraduate Tuition.)

The University of Kansas

One semester tuition: $3,937

Kansas State University

One semester tuition: $3,114

The University of Colorado

One semester tuition ranges from $3,509 to $5,610, depending on the program.

Iowa State University

One semester tuition: $3,326 (Note: Page lists full year tuition costs.)

Now let’s update that chart:

School Tuition ======================== Oklahoma State $2,051 SUNY $2,485 Florida $2,510 Kansas State $3,114 North Carolina $3,182 Iowa State $3,326 Colorado $3,509 Nebraska $3,656 Missouri $3,684 Oklahoma $3,927 Kansas $3,937 Indiana $4,062 A&M $4,193 Washington $4,351 UT $4,493 Ohio State $4,760 Virginia $5,418 Cal-Berkeley $5,469 Michigan $5,824

Compared to their athletic peers, UT and A&M are already the two most expensive schools, and they’re about to become more so.

So there you have it. I don’t know if this changes anyone’s mind, but at least now you have a basis for comparison.

Higher tuition coming

Well, what did you expect?

The 63,000 students of the University of Houston System could be paying higher tuition as early as the fall semester, Chancellor Renu Khator told a Senate committee Monday.

Testifying before the Senate Finance Committee, Khator said that a tuition increase is one of a number of strategies she and her fellow administrators are considering as they grapple with a projected $81 million budget cut for the biennium.

“The item is open; let me put it this way,” she told lawmakers. She said the system’s board or regents would make a decision in April or May.

That would be in addition to whatever furloughs and pay cuts UH might need to impose as well. Though the story doesn’t suggest an amount, State Rep. Mike Villarreal suggests the increases would be in the $1000 per year range. The “Texas Century” sure is off to a roaring start.

Furloughs and pay cuts: Not just for school districts

For public universities, too.

Francisco Cigarroa, chancellor of the University of Texas System, asked state senators on Wednesday for flexibility to cut pay for faculty and staff and mandate furloughs to cope with budget cuts topping 20 percent.

[…]

Kicking off several days of testimony by Texas public universities, Cigarroa asked for the ability to reduce pay and use furloughs, which are prohibited by state law, and for lawmakers to jettison data-reporting requirements that are duplicative and unnecessary.

If the cuts stand, they will make higher education less accessible and affordable for students and chip away at the overall quality of institutions, he said. In a weak position to recruit and hang on to great faculty, the state’s seven emerging research universities — including the University of Texas at San Antonio and – will lose steam in their quest for Tier One research status, he said.

As before, I’d say furloughs and pay cuts are a slightly less unpalatable alternative to firing a bunch of people. They’re not going to make our universities any better, they’re not going to help them attract and retain talent, and they’re not going to do the students who will be at these schools over the next two years any favors. I don’t see much evidence that the Republicans particularly care about any of that.

Budget cuts won’t just affect public universities

From my inbox, an email from the new President of my alma mater.

Dear Mr. Kuffner:

As you may be aware, the State of Texas faces an unprecedented budget shortfall of between $15 billion and $28 billion for the next two years. Budget proposals under consideration by the 82nd Session of the Texas Legislature include massive cuts to health and education, including a 41 percent cutback in Texas Equalization Grants (TEG). More than 400 Trinity students from Texas receive this grant because they qualify for need-based funding and attend a private college.

If you are a former TEG recipient, I encourage you to contact your legislators and urge them to restore full funding to the Texas Equalization Grants program. Even if you did not receive TEG funding as a Trinity student, I encourage you to make contact as the proposed reductions could have an adverse impact on current and future Trinitonians from Texas. As an economist, I can assure you that cuts to TEG will not save the State of Texas money but will only further increase the financial burden on families and public institutions.

A template letter is attached for your convenience and offers you an opportunity for personalization. I ask that you send the letters by mail, as most members of the Legislature immediately delete e-mail. The links provided below will enable you to identify your hometown Representative and Senator and place their contact information in the letters. Once you open the Web site address below, click on “How Do I…” and follow the link to “Find who represents me.” There you can fill in the fields with your hometown information.

The proposed reduction is serious, but I am optimistic that it will not be so severe by the end of the process. A letter from you to your elected officials will aid in Trinity’s efforts as I work with members of the Texas Legislature to restore as much of the proposed reduction as possible.

Sincerely,

Dennis A. Ahlburg

Here’s the sample letter they’d like us alums to write. I feel pretty confident that my Rep and my Senator will do the right thing, so I’ll leave it to y’all to pick up the mantle as you see fit. I figure if Trinity is calling on its alums to get involved like this, other private universities are as well. Whether they’ll have any more luck than the public schools, I don’t know. But there’s no choice but to try and hope for the best.

Public universities can read the writing on the wall

With polling evidence suggesting that people are willing to accept some cuts in higher education funding, the only question for public universities and community colleges is how bad will it be?

“I think all of us felt as though we were making real progress for higher education in Texas after the 2009 session. Now, it looks like a lot of those gains will be lost,” said state Rep. Joaquín Castro, a San Antonio Democrat and vice chairman of the House higher education committee.

Public community colleges and universities already have begun grappling with budget cuts by increasing class sizes, shedding full-time employees and filling the teaching ranks with part-time professors.

Further cuts could force them to defer maintenance projects, reduce academic offerings and cut programs that aren’t core to the teaching mission, according to college leaders.

It also could mean higher tuition for students and families, and in the case of community colleges, higher taxes for local property owners.

“It is going to be a tough session. (Lawmakers) are not going to raise taxes, we know that,” said Ricardo Romo, president of the University of Texas at San Antonio. “There will be cuts, but no one knows where the cuts will be.”

Yes, when your local community college board of trustees votes to increase their tax rate, don’t blame it on them. The Legislature will have made them do it.

We get the college graduation rates we pay for

Just a couple of related items of interest. First, from the man who would be Governor if we lived in a just world.

In the last 30 years, Americans with only a high school diploma experienced a drop in average income from $36,600 to $30,000 in inflation-adjusted dollars, while incomes of those with a bachelor’s degree rose to $50,000. The unemployment rate for college graduates is less than half the rate of those with only a high school diploma and less than a third of those who never finished high school.

No state has more at stake in higher education than Texas, with 1 million unemployed and one-tenth of all young Americans in public schools. In the next decade, young Texans will account for almost 40 percent of our nation’s total growth in public school enrollment. Two years ago, business leaders on our state’s Select Commission on Higher Education and Global Competitiveness reported: “Texas is not globally competitive. The state faces a downward spiral in quality of life and economic competitiveness if it fails to educate more of its growing population. … Unlike states with higher average incomes or growing economies throughout the world, in Texas, young workers, under 34, now have a smaller percentage of degrees than older workers.”

Public investment in university research also helps attract the grants and philanthropy needed to strengthen and expand the number of Texas’ Tier 1 research universities, which serve as magnets for new businesses and economic growth.

The state government invests about 70 cents a day per resident in support of higher education. Other business-oriented states have found a way to do more. North Carolina and Georgia, with a combined population far less than Texas, together invest substantially more than Texas each year in higher education. North Carolina has long used universities to spur high-wage job growth and in the last five years has increased its full-time college enrollment at a much faster rate than Texas.

And from the Texas Trib:

Nationally, 52 percent of Hispanic students and 58 percent of black students are unable to earn a bachelor’s degree in six years, compared to 40 percent of white students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

“What is increasingly evident now that wasn’t evident 10 or 20 years ago is the extent to which this is a national phenomenon,” said Steve Murdock, a sociology professor at Rice University and previously the state demographer of Texas and head of the U.S. Census Bureau. “This is not a Texas issue. It’s not a California issue. It’s a national issue.”

For the U.S. to maintain — let alone grow — a college-educated workforce, Murdock said, those numbers will have to change.

[…]

In 2007, recognizing the demographic shift — and its accompanying challenges — [the University of] Texas set up a Division of Diversity and Community Engagement. With an annual budget of $30.4 million, it encourages minority high school students to apply to college and then supports them with a complex framework of programs that include tutoring, personal advising.

“The question is, can we get them the support to help them over the gaps?” said Gregory Vincent, vice president of diversity and community engagement.

The results, so far, have been promising. Generally, students in the division’s programs have grade point averages and retention rates as good as or better than the average in their respective classes. “The good news is that our students come highly motivated, so our challenges aren’t as great as you’d expect, despite assumptions some people might make about their backgrounds,” said Aileen Bumphus, executive director of the Gateway Program, an initiative under the Diversity and Community Engagement umbrella that works with about 300 first-generation students in each class.

Such programs have been crucial for students like Oscar Ayala, a UT senior from Houston who majors in biomedical engineering. Both of his parents are from Mexico, and neither attended college. “When it came time in high school to get ready for college, I didn’t know what that meant,” Ayala said.

But that success may prove difficult to maintain, depending in large part on decisions the Texas Legislature will make this year to confront a budget shortfall that could reach $20 billion or more. About $5 million of the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement budget comes from state funds. Educators are particularly worried about cuts to the state’s largest financial aid program, which primarily serves minority students.

Robert S. Nelsen, president of the University of Texas-Pan American, an institution that is 89 percent Hispanic, said cuts to the aid program would be “devastating” to the area.

Just something to keep in mind when we start hearing about the inevitable cuts to higher education funding that the Republican Legislature is about to impose on us. The effect of these cuts will last a lot longer than the next fiscal period. But at least we’ll have a balanced budget, and Dan Patrick will keep his property taxes low.

What today’s budget cuts will mean tomorrow

We know cuts are coming to public education and higher education. Let’s turn once again to Steve Murdock, the former State Demographer who is now a professor at Rice University, to hear what that will mean for Texas’ future.

Texas’ prosperity hinges on education. The numbers are troubling, however. The state ranks 36th in the nation, with just 71.9 percent of students graduating from high school, according to the U.S. Department of Education. African-American and Hispanic students are twice as likely to drop out as Anglo students. By 2040, at least 30 percent of Texas’ work force will consist of workers without a high-school diploma if current trends continue, Murdock says. “If we don’t close the gaps now, there’s going to be a significant reduction in household income later,” he says.

A high school dropout is more likely to earn poverty-level wages of about $14,500 a year. That’s at least $7,000 less than someone with a high school diploma. The mounting costs for social services and the prison system should worry state leaders. Nearly 75 percent of state prison inmates are high school dropouts. Every year’s worth of dropouts means a loss of $377 million in Medicaid, prison expenses and lost tax revenue, according to the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation.

Another challenge is enrolling more students in higher education. Hispanics trail other students, making up just 29 percent of total college enrollment. In 2000, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board created the “Closing the Gaps 2015” program, with the goal of enrolling 630,000 more Texans in college, including 5.7 percent of the Hispanic population, by 2015.

Enrollment is increasing, but slower than educators hoped. The agency admitted in its 2009 report that it had fallen behind on its goals to recruit more African-American males and Hispanics. One big hurdle is cost. Those who do have high school diplomas struggle to pay increasing tuition rates. More than 60 percent of students apply for student aid. But state-based grant and loan programs like the Texas Grant Program and B-On-Time Loan Program have run out of funding. With an estimated $24 billion state budget shortfall in 2011, it’s doubtful that those coffers will be replenished any time soon. For many, a four-year college degree is already out of reach.

The economic gap will continue to widen if more Texans don’t seek higher education degrees. A person with a college diploma can expect to make $1 million more on average in a lifetime than a person without a high school diploma, says economist Ray Perryman, president of the Perryman Group, a financial-analysis firm.

[…]

The state’s economic health in 2040 depends on whether its leaders today take a shortsighted approach to governing or choose to invest for the long term. With an estimated $24 billion budget shortfall this legislative session, lawmakers will be facing tough decisions that will have a ripple effect for future generations. “I hope that we don’t get into across-the-board cuts,” says Perryman. “When there’s budget cuts, education always seems to take it on the chin. We need some real leadership to prioritize our needs and make some tough decisions.”

If state leaders don’t make those tough decisions now, future generations could be less educated, less economically competitive, have higher levels of poverty and be in greater need of government assistance. It’s up to the state’s leadership and its people to reverse that course.

Sadly, this is the leadership we’ve got, and we all know what to expect from it. This will be Rick Perry’s legacy.

Killing the DREAM in Texas

Something else to look forward to.

State Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt (R-Lexington) has filed legislation that would abolish Texas law granting in-state tuition to certain undocumented college students. The 2001 law, written by then-state Rep. Rick Noriega (D-Houston), was a precursor to the federal DREAM Act recently defeated by GOP members of the U.S. Senate.

State Rep. Leo Berman (R-Tyler) said he would file legislation to abolish the law if it survives an ongoing legal challenge in Houston, according to a November story in theTexas Independent. At the time, Noriega said that if the law was repealed, “Essentially, we’d be stamping out hope. Frankly, as a Texan, I just don’t think that’s who we are.”

Gov. Rick Perry signed House Bill 1403 into law in June 2001. The Texas Senate passed the bill with a final vote of 27-3 (with GOP Sens. Mike Jackson, Jane Nelson and Jeff Wentworth voting ‘nay’), and the Texas House passed the bill with a final vote of 130-2 (with GOP Reps. Will Hartnett and Jerry Madden voting ‘nay’).

Kleinschmidt’s HB 464 would tie a dependent student’s residency status to his/her parents’ domicile. According to the bill, “A person who is not authorized by law to be present in the United States may not be considered a resident of this state” to qualify for reduced in-state tuition.

A few points…

1. It cannot be said often enough: This is the team Aaron Pena decided to join. You own this now, Aaron.

2. One wonders if Rick Perry, who has generally not joined up with the Berman/Riddle xenophobia group, will have the cojones to veto this bill if it comes before him. I for one would not count on it.

3. Having said that, if the Senate maintains some form of the 2/3 rule, in whole or (more likely) in part by simply excluding voter ID legislation from it as they did in 2009, then perhaps Perry will be spared the decision. I suspect that would be his preferred option.

More non-specific cuts discussed: Film at 11

I have three things to say about this story about impending budget cuts to public higher education.

Colleges and universities expect double-digit cuts. Financial aid may be cut, too.

“There’s no way to get through this without somebody being impacted,” said Brenda Hellyer, chancellor of San Jacinto College.

Schools will react by increasing class sizes, cutting class sections and, maybe, offering fewer degree programs. Many schools will order layoffs or furloughs; the state’s two largest universities already have implemented early retirement programs for faculty.

Faculty members who still have jobs may have to teach more classes. Tuition will go up, even though governing boards are leery of dramatic increases.

And community colleges, which depend on property taxes for part of their budgets, will consider raising tax rates.

“If there are areas where we can be more efficient, we ought to do it, whether we’re talking about teaching loads or research loads,” said Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas and chairman of the House Higher Education Committee. “We don’t want systems that have too much bureaucracy and prove the perception that higher education is not as efficient as it can be.”

1. We have seen, and will continue to see over the next week or two, many stories that speculate about how this section of the state’s budget or that will be cut and by how much and what they’ll do about it. What all of these stories have in common is a distinct lack of specifics, both in terms of what types of things will get cut, and how much money will be trimmed out. Rep. Branch’s quote is an excellent illustration of this. This suggests to me that nobody who will be responsible for making these decisions – that is, Republicans – have a clear idea about what they will attempt to do. I believe this is partly because they haven’t fully grasped the magnitude of it – there’s a lot of denial out there about the size of the deficit, never mind the cause of it – partly because there was very little campaigning about anything specific related to the budget, and partly because the Republicans have boxed themselves into a corner by taking tax increases and potentially the Rainy Day Fund off the table. The first meeting of the Appropriations and Ways And Means committees are going to be a splash of cold water in the face for a lot of people.

2. Even without much in the way of specifics, I still get the impression that what is being talked around doesn’t really add up to much. I admit, this is hard to say for sure, given how vague and hand-wavey everything has been so far. But when you’re talking $25 billion, which is about a third of the state’s revenue, you can’t bridge that gap by little cuts here and there. I really don’t think these guys have any idea what they’re in for, and that’s just scary.

3. As with public education, one wonders how much the people in charge care about the end results. If all of the benchmarks that we’ve claimed to have been working to improve – test scores, graduation rates, college enrollment rates, and so forth – take a plunge after the Lege does its dirty work, how will we react? Will we accept that this was a bad policy decision to make and work to fix it, or will we frantically search for scapegoats to blame it all on? I don’t know about you, but I’d bet on the latter. Martha, who has one kid in college and another a year out, has more.

Branch makes the case for stimulus spending

I don’t know if that’s what he intended, but it sure is what he did.

State Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, said Thursday that Texas should consider seizing one advantage from hard times, which would be to let universities lock in contractors and borrowing costs at steep discounts.

“If there’s a real need for a building going forward, this is a good time to build,” Branch, who heads the House Higher Education Committee, said at an Austin forum sponsored by the online news outlet Texas Tribune.

Branch acknowledged that financial aid and academic funding are “on the table” for cuts next session because of the state’s huge budget deficit.

[…]

Branch said there’s no guarantee the Senate would go along.

Still, he said some of America’s most popular infrastructure projects – dams, bridges, parkways – were built during the Great Depression. Lean times present opportunities, he said.

“Interest rates are historically low and construction costs are down 20 [percent] to 30 percent,” he said. Campuses could spend a year on planning, Branch said, and the state could issue bonds in 2013, so costs over the next two years would be “almost nothing.”

This is basically the argument that many progressives have been making about infrastructure spending, and how this is absolutely the right time to be doing it. It would be a huge boost for the economy and for the employment rate, given that construction has suffered the most in this downturn, it would be an excellent long-term investment, and it would be taking advantage of historically low costs and interest rates. What’s not to love? I wish Rep. Branch lots of luck in convincing other members of his party of the wisdom of this idea.

Reinventing higher education

More stuff from last week to catch up on: Good luck with that.

The state’s higher education agency called Thursday for sweeping changes in policy, including a revised method of funding community colleges and public universities, a greater emphasis on merit for certain financial aid and a series of cost-cutting measures.

The proposals, which would require legislative action, come at a difficult time for higher education: Enrollment is surging just as the state’s finances are looking increasingly bleak.

The latest estimates put the overall shortfall at about $24 billion for the next two-year budget.

“We want to reinvent public higher education — reinvent it in a more cost-efficient way and reinvent it in a way that gives better academic results,” said Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes.

“And we think that we can do that. I’m sure we’ll need more financial resources over time, but not nearly as much as we would need if we didn’t change the way we deliver education.”

[…]

The recommendations on cost-cutting were developed for the coordinating board by a 20-member advisory panel of higher education leaders and business executives led by Fred W. Heldenfels IV , the board’s chairman. Perry issued an executive order last year directing the board to look for savings, and perhaps not surprisingly, some recommendations echo policies the governor has urged lawmakers to adopt in recent years.

The coordinating board wants 10 percent of the base funding for universities to be indexed to so-called “student outcomes,” such as graduation rates; total degrees awarded; degrees awarded to students from low-income families or those otherwise deemed at-risk; and degrees in science, technology, engineering, math and other fields considered high-priority.

Ten percent of community college funding would be on the basis of degrees awarded, certificates completed, college-level math course completions and other performance measures.

Currently, base funding is strictly a function of enrollment. Paredes said the recommendation was limited to 10 percent of base funding to avoid making draconian changes in the middle of a budget crisis. But that should be enough to prompt improvements, he said, and the percentage could be ramped up later.

These and other recommendations could save $4.2 billion over four years by raising graduation rates and achieving other cost efficiencies, Heldenfels said.

I’m sure anything that involves cost savings will get a hearing next spring. I’m less sure about the part where funding increases over time. Like I said, good luck with that.

Story on Texas’ “dropout factories”

Last month I blogged about this Washington Monthly story about colleges with extremely low graduation rates. Here’s a Star-Telegram article about that, which contains some reaction from a couple of the Texas schools named in the original piece.

One factor holding down graduation rates is the changing makeup of college students. Once, most lived at four-year schools. But a growing trend is first-generation college students from working-class families who help support relatives while taking classes.

That’s a factor at Sul Ross, President Ricardo Maestas said.

Many Sul Ross students take longer than six years to graduate because they have to balance school with work, he said. The Alpine-based university of 2,124 students offers rural communities in 19 counties near Big Bend programs in education, agriculture and animal science. Sul Ross is the only viable higher education option for many students between El Paso and San Antonio, Maestas said.

“You can’t judge a book by its cover or by one data point,” he said. “Yes, we have some problems we have to solve.”

[…]

Maestas said officials at Sul Ross are trying to find out why more students don’t finish. They are also taking a new look at recruiting efforts; students from large cities may not be the right fit for a rural school, he said. Every year, the university loses about half of the entering class, in part because some 84 percent are working students and 53 percent are low income.

It’s at least possible that if the study conducted by the Washington Monthly had used an eight year deadline for graduation, Sul Ross might have fared better, though I doubt it would make that much of a difference. If they really are trying to figure out where their problems are and to take concrete steps to address them, that’s the main thing. Remember, though, that the schools Sul Ross was compared to for this story were schools with a similar profile; in other words, other schools with a high percentage of low income, working students. There’s plenty they can learn from the schools that have better graduation rates.

Michael Dressman, interim provost at UT-Downtown, said that while the ranking shows that improvement is needed, it doesn’t present a complete story. The school is open-admission and serves largely students who also work.

“It’s a kick in our morale,” Dressman said. “We know that we are doing a good job. We are trying to do a better job every year.”

He said his school is being judged on the staying power of a sliver of students — there are 1,000 first-time freshmen in a total enrollment of 12,900.

“I say, judge us by our graduates,” he said. “We rank 33rd in the country in the number of Hispanics graduating with bachelor’s degrees. Many of them took 10 or 12 years to get it, but they graduated.” Dressman said one successful alum is state Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston.

That’s a pretty non-responsive answer. Again, UH-Downtown, like Sul Ross, was judged in comparison to peer institutions, not to the UTs and A&Ms of the world. That includes a lot of open admission, majority minority, schools that serve working students. If those schools can graduate 50% or more of their students, so can UH-D. What’s their plan to do better? Their current and future students have a right to know that.

Cutting TEXAS grants

Paying for college keeps getting harder for a lot of people in Texas.

Each year since 2003, the TEXAS grant program has had more applicants than it’s been able to help.

In 2009, lawmakers added $110 million to the program. But with an anticipated shortfall of up to $18 billion in the next two-year budget, total university financial aid could be up for as much as $108 million in cuts.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, author of the legislation that created the TEXAS grant, said such cuts could turn back the clock on the gains the state has made over the past several years.

Under the proposed cuts, two out of every three eligible students who applied would not get the TEXAS grants. During the 2011-12 academic year, 56,000 community college and university students are expected to apply, and there would only be enough money for 18,700.

Most of the money will have to be devoted to maintaining help for students who have already been awarded two- or four-year grants.

“In our struggling economy, the last thing we need to be doing is setting up roadblocks for those seeking to obtain a postsecondary education,” said Ellis, D-Houston.

State Rep. Dan Branch, who chairs the House Higher Education subcommittee, said there are reasons to feel optimistic because of the Legislature’s demonstrated priority for financial aid.

“Ultimately, it’s not only an investment in human capital, it’s an economic development,” said Branch, R-Dallas. “The opportunity to break out and make a higher income ultimately brings in tax revenue.”

He said, however, that in the middle of a tough budget cycle, it’s hard to make promises or think of adding more monies to the program. Lawmakers have said they may limit scholarships to students with better academic records to save money during the upcoming session.

You can talk all you want about how good an investment this is, but if keeping Dan Patrick’s taxes low is a higher priority, then it’s all just talk. We could properly fund the TEXAS grants program, and many other programs, if we wanted to. Budget shortfall or not, we do what we choose to do. Part of the issue with the TEXAS grants is the same as the problem with the Texas Tomorrow Fund, which is that the decision made by the Lege and the Republican leadership in 2003 to deregulate tuition has made college that much more expensive. Whatever we decide to do next year, we’ll be feeling the effects long after that.

Dropout factories

Lots of people have recommended this Washington Monthly story about colleges with extremely low graduation rates, and now I’m recommending it to you. I’d never given this any thought before, but having read the story, it’s quite clear to me that this is a serious problem, and it’s going to require some thought to figure out the best way to deal with it. Just getting the information out there is a good start, and I hope high school guidance counselors across the country are reading this and steering their kids away from these schools. The “bottom 50” list is here, and unfortunately Texas schools predominate, as eight of them make an appearance:

Jarvis Christian College
Texas College
Texas Southern University
University of Houston, Downtown
Paul Quinn College
Huston-Tillotson University
University of Texas at Brownsville
Sul Ross State University

JCC is in Hawkins, which is north of Tyler, where Texas College is located. Paul Quinn is in Dallas, Huston-Tillotson is in Austin, and Sul Ross is in Alpine. No other state had more than four schools on this dubious list – we’re number one! – so hopefully this will spur some action. Check it out, and see what you think.

68 is a difficult number to work with

The poobahs of the NCAA are gathering this week to discuss the nuts and bolts of the new 68-team basketball tournament, and they’ve got a challenge on their hands.

After meeting in May, the [10-member Men’s Basketball] committee asked NCAA schools to offer opinions on the recommended expansion to four opening-round games, one in each region. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith confirmed there were three options on the list — making the eight lowest seeds in the tourney play in the opening round, making the last eight at-large teams in the field play or a combination of the two.

The only thing clear-cut heading into the meetings, which start Sunday, is this: There is a wide split between what the big schools and small schools want.

Teams playing in conferences such as the Southland, like [UTSA athletic director Lynn] Hickey’s Roadrunners, or the Southwestern Athletic, a league made up primarily of historically black colleges and universities, don’t want to be pigeonholed into playing an extra tourney game each year. Power-conference schools, which usually take most of the 34 at-large bids, think they should avoid the opening-round games, too.

So Smith and Hickey must figure out how to play both advocate and arbiter.

“My responsibility is to the groups I represent, so I need to be very well informed about what they want,” Hickey said.

I’d say the fairest solution is the combo plan – make the four bottom seeds, and the four last-in at large teams do the play-in games. The main problem with that, of course, is that it slots those at large teams in as 16 seeds, where they would otherwise likely have been no worse than 12 or 13. But it’s also not fair to essentially consign eight conferences to the minor leagues and deny them a guaranteed opportunity to play a team they’d never get to play otherwise. This to me is another argument in favor of the 96-team tournament plan that seemed to be on track earlier this year. An opening round with four games, much like the current play-in game, doesn’t feel like it’s part of the tournament as a whole. It feels more like an afterthought, or an extra obstacle to playing in the main event. There’s little drama, no chance of a Cinderella story, and likely very little audience for it. By contrast, an opening round with 64 teams (as would be the case with NCAA-96) or 32 teams (as you’d have in an 80-team tournament) feels like the real thing, with a diverse set of teams and much higher stakes as some of those teams will have aspirations for going deeper into the tournament. I understand the NCAA’s desire to take a baby step on tournament expansion, but now that they have done so and seen that what they got out of it was a baby improvement but a grown-up problem, I hope they’ll move up their schedule for considering when to take the logical next step.

We can’t just cut our way out of the budget deficit, take 2

Some cuts cost a lot more than they purport to save.

Public colleges and universities in Texas are absorbing a 5 percent cut in state funding by laying off employees, deferring repairs, scaling back travel and finding other savings. But the prospect of an additional reduction of 10 percent in the next two-year budget has some higher education leaders questioning the state’s commitment to boosting enrollment.

“It couldn’t come at a worse time, because we’re experiencing record double-digit enrollment growth,” said Rey García, president of the Texas Association of Community Colleges. “If the state’s not going to pay for the cost of enrollment growth, we may not be able to grow, and we may have to abandon the state’s goal of more access to higher education.”

[…]

Higher education constitutes only about 15 percent of the state’s current $87 billion general revenue fund — the portion of the budget over which the Legislature has control — but it is especially vulnerable in tight fiscal times. The reason: Several other high-dollar slices of the budget pie, including Medicaid, children’s health insurance, public education and pension contributions, are exempt from cuts.

Higher education is a target not because there is fat to be trimmed but because it’s something that can be cut, unlike large swaths of the budget. But you could zero out higher education funding and you’d still only close $13 billion of the $18 billion projected gap – yes, Governor Perry, every credible person in the state believes the gap will be $18 billion.

Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes, the coordinating board’s top administrator, said in a letter to Perry and legislative leaders earlier this year that financial aid is integral to “Closing the Gaps by 2015.”

That is the state’s set of goals for increasing enrollment, especially for minority students, to bring Texas up to par with other states. The goals include boosting enrollment by 630,000 students, to 1.7 million, from 2000 to 2015.

“Financial aid is a critical tool for recruiting, retaining and graduating the large majority of the students we need to attract into higher education to meet our state goals,” Paredes wrote. “These students come from the poorer segments of our population and financial aid is indispensable.”

You could save yourself hundreds of dollars this year if you stopped running your air conditioner. But you won’t do that, because the pain and suffering you’d inflict would be far greater than the monetary value of the savings you’d see. Texas is both a fast-growing state, and a state with a large number of young people in it, many of whom are minorities and from lower income brackets. We can invest in their future – which is to say, our own future – by ensuring they have a path to a college education and a professional career. Or we can cut them off from all that, severely limiting their earning potential and reducing the state’s overall wealth as well as its attractiveness to businesses. It’s our choice.

NCAA tournament expands

To 68 teams, which is a lot less than 96.

The three-team expansion is much more modest than 80- and 96-team proposals the NCAA outlined just a few weeks ago at the Final Four. The move coincides with the new, 14-year broadcasting arrangement that interim NCAA president Jim Isch said will provide an average of $740 million to its conferences and schools each year.

So there will be four play-in games instead of one. That’s great news for the last three bubble teams, but I think it sucks for the auto-bid conferences that always get 15- and 16-seeds, because now instead of getting to play a Duke or Kentucky or Kansas, they’ll be stuck with a Vermont or a Prairie View. Which is to say, for half of them their Tournament experience won’t be any different than a regular season game for them, except it’ll be on TV. I suppose no one really cares about that, though.

The men’s tournament last expanded in 2001, adding one team to the 64-team field that was set in 1985. Talk of tweaking March Madness again generated a lot of chatter from fans worried the competition would be watered down and those who feared the additional bracket guesswork needed to predict a winner.

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, who favored expansion, said the proposal was “better than nothing.”

“As a coach I’d like to see more people get in but 68 is a good step and the easiest way, to have the least amount of turmoil,” Boeheim said. “There’s really no way to do a little bit bigger expansion. You can’t expand by eight, 10. There’s no way to figure that out. This is the easiest way and hopefully down the road there will be a bigger expansion.”

I seem to recall they went from 48 to 64 all at once, so I don’t think the 96 team proposal would have caused that much actual turmoil, outside of the usual wailing and gnashing of teeth that these things always bring about. Be that as it may, there’s no reason future expansion can’t or won’t happen, and once people are used to the idea of 68 teams, it may be easier to take the step to 80. We’ll see how it goes.

NCAA 96 on the way

Let the wailing and gnashing of teeth from the reactionaries begin.

The NCAA appears to be on the verge of expanding the men’s basketball tournament to 96 teams.

Insisting that nothing has been decided, NCAA vice president Greg Shaheen nonetheless outlined a detailed plan Thursday that included the logistics and timing of a 96-team tournament, how much time off the players would have and even revenue distribution.

Shaheen said the NCAA looked at keeping the current 65-team field and expanding to 68 or 80 teams, but decided the bigger bracket was the best fit logistically and financially.

It would be played during the same time frame as the current three-week tournament and include first-round byes for 32 teams.

Although the plan still needs to be approved by the Division I Men’s Basketball Committee and passed on to the board of directors, most of the details already seem to be in place.

“We needed to make sure that we did everything possible to use the due diligence window to understand ourselves and understand what the future would hold,” Shaheen said. “So that’s what we’re doing, that’s the process we’re undertaking. We’ve been handling it every day for the last several months and years, as we studied for the benefit of the organization.”

As you know, I favor this idea, and I think that the doomsayers are largely full of it. Sure, this is about money as much as anything else – what isn’t these days? – but it’s also sensible and is in my opinion more likely to intensify interest in the tournament than dilute it. I also think you’ll see some more competitive games in the first round for the top seeds.

“I don’t see any watering down at all,” Minnesota coach Tubby Smith said. “I think there are a number of teams playing in the NIT that could have gotten in, and I think there will be more people and more excitement with more teams in.”

What you’ll get with NCAA96 is the 34 or so teams that everyone agrees are Tournament-worthy, plus the automatic qualifiers from the little conferences that seldom win games – bear in mind, of course, that the Horizon League, home of Butler, used to be one of those conferences – plus the teams that would have made it to the NIT, most of are better than many of the teams in the second group. Putting it another way, the 23 and 24 seeds of tomorrow are the 15 and 16 seeds of today. Whatever seeds survive to play the #1s will almost certainly be a tougher matchup for them than the 16 seeds are now.

Friday random ten: Old school

Three weeks ago was my 25-year high school reunion. This weekend is Alumni Weekend at my university. I couldn’t attend either, but I could put together a school-and-nostalgia oriented Friday Random Ten.

1. Schoolhouse Rock Medley – Lager Rhythms
2. My Old School – Steely Dan
3. School’s Out – Alice Cooper
4. Bust The High School Students – Austin Lounge Lizards
5. Smoking In The Boys’ Room – Motley Crue
6. Bright College Days – Tom Lehrer
7. The Good Old Days – The Lodger
8. Didn’t Go To College – Austin Lounge Lizards
9. Old Friends – Simon and Garfunkel
10. Beer – Asylum Street Spankers

Ten songs about beer would have been a pretty good summation of my college career, but I thought I’d be a bit broader here, just for the heck of it. What are you nostalgic for this week?

College for $99 a month

Behold the future of higher education.

StraighterLine is the brainchild of a man named Burck Smith, an Internet entrepreneur bent on altering the DNA of higher education as we have known it for the better part of 500 years. Rather than students being tethered to ivy-covered quads or an anonymous commuter campus, Smith envisions a world where they can seamlessly assemble credits and degrees from multiple online providers, each specializing in certain subjects and—most importantly—fiercely competing on price. Smith himself may be the person who revolutionizes the university, or he may not be. But someone with the means and vision to fundamentally reorder the way students experience and pay for higher education is bound to emerge.

In recent years, Americans have grown accustomed to living amid the smoking wreckage of various once-proud industries—automakers bankrupt, brand-name Wall Street banks in ruins, newspapers dying by the dozen. It’s tempting in such circumstances to take comfort in the seeming permanency of our colleges and universities, in the notion that our world-beating higher education system will reliably produce research and knowledge workers for decades to come. But this is an illusion. Colleges are caught in the same kind of debt-fueled price spiral that just blew up the real estate market. They’re also in the information business in a time when technology is driving down the cost of selling information to record, destabilizing lows.

In combination, these two trends threaten to shake the foundation of the modern university, in much the same way that other seemingly impregnable institutions have been torn apart. In some ways, the upheaval will be a welcome one. Students will benefit enormously from radically lower prices—particularly people like Solvig who lack disposable income and need higher learning to compete in an ever-more treacherous economy. But these huge changes will also seriously threaten the ability of universities to provide all the things beyond teaching on which society depends: science, culture, the transmission of our civilization from one generation to the next.

It’s a fascinating read, part awesome and part scary. Or maybe it’s just a whole lot of hype and doesn’t really mean much.

The stories of working people putting themselves through accelerated degree programs through self-study are inspiring, and all, but there’s nothing really new here. There has never really been any question about whether hard-working and motivated students could learn at their own pace– these stories pre-date the Internet. The history of science is full of brilliant auto-didacts who learned their subject from public libraries and the like, and anybody who has spent any time in higher education has encountered somebody who was self-taught or home-schooled who blew away all their peers.

The question has always been whether self-paced online education can work on a mass scale– for people who aren’t motivated to put in 18 hours a day studying toward a specific goal. I don’t really see anything in the article that addresses that question. I think this has the potential to be a great deal for people with a strong sense of self-motivation and good work ethic, but I suspect they’ll end up making lots of money off people who start classes, and then lose interest, but never get around to officially dropping out.

Check it out and decide for yourself. Thanks to Steve Benen for the link.

Wash your hands

College football teams try to stave off a bunch of players missing games due to the flu.

As players across Texas and the nation prepare for a new season, the high-tech world of college football is taking on the essential dynamics of a second-grade health class.

“Wash your hands,” said Mike O’Shea, head athletic trainer at the University of Houston. “Stay away from guys if they’re sneezing. If you feel sick, go to the health center.”

[…]

At UH, O’Shea said he and coaches have emphasized basic hygiene in an effort to guard against illness. The UH health center is distributing bottles of hand sanitizer and distributing flyers from the Centers for Disease Control displaying the six stages of proper hand-washing technique and tips for covering mouths in case of coughs and sneezes.

Yeah, signs admonishing us to wash our hands and to cough carefully have shown up where I work, too. I find them amusing, but it is serious. Nobody wants the flu.

Elsewhere, Houston, Texas and Texas A&M are among schools that have reported no problems with flu-like symptoms thus far.

I feel certain that by the end of the year, no matter how much hand-washing they do, every team will have had someone experience flu-like symptoms.

The secret coaches’ poll

Starting next year, you may know which college football coaches are voting in the USA Today Top 25 coaches’ poll, but you may not know how they vote at the end of the year.

The final regular-season ballots in the USA Today Top 25 coaches’ poll will no longer be made public beginning with the 2010 season, the American Football Coaches Association announced Wednesday.

The return to a confidential voting process — for the first time since before the 2005 season — was among several changes for the USA Today poll.

The AFCA, which administers the coaches’ poll, opted to make the changes on the recommendation of a three-month independent study by Gallup World Poll of the voter selection process and voting procedures. The coaches’ poll is one of three components used to decide who plays in the Bowl Championship Series title game.

“It’s important that we make the coaches’ poll the best it can be, and putting in place the recommendations coming out of the Gallup study will help ensure that,” AFCA executive director Grant Teaff said in a statement.

[…]

Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, who voted in the coaches’ poll last year, isn’t sure keeping ballots confidential will change anything.

“It’s still going to be political no matter what happens,” said Leach, who had no problem disclosing final ballots. “There’s still going to be some politics and agendas involved with this no matter what. I don’t know if there is a way to avoid it 100 percent.”

I think Coach Leach is correct, though given that there’s a game that’s been designated as the “championship” game, I doubt it matters that much. The real question, I think, is why do we even bother having a coaches’ poll? Does anyone really think that during the season any coach is familiar enough with opponents that aren’t on their schedule to judge their merits relative to other schools with which they may not be familiar? We actually already know the answer to that, so why do we bother? What purpose, other than tradition, does the coaches’ poll serve?

Tuition reregulation passes the Senate

Off to the House.

The Texas Senate unanimously approved legislation today that would sharply restrict the ability of public university governing boards to raise tuition. The measure now goes to the House.

Lawmakers granted boards of regents virtually unfettered authority in 2003 to control tuition. Increases since then have prompted something of a legislative backlash.

Some lawmakers wanted to withdraw all tuition-setting power from regents. Others had proposed a temporary moratorium on increases.
Senate Bill 1443, whose primary author is Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, would allow governing boards to raise tuition, mandatory fees and course fees at the state’s 35 public universities, but it would strictly limit such increases.

As Floor Pass notes, SB1443 is also supposed to “encourage” the Lege to appropriate more money to higher ed to make up the shortfall, which will be a necessary ingredient to this. We’ll see what the House makes of it.

UPDATE: Here’s the Chron story on this.

More Tier I schools

Good news.

The Texas House on Friday voted unanimously on a plan making it easier for the University of Houston to gain elite status by gradually becoming a national “tier-one” research institution.

Houston, the country’s fourth largest city, deserves a public tier one university, said. Rep. Ellen Cohen, D-Houston, a member of the House Higher Education Committee.

“A tier-one university will attract that much more in the way of research and all the types of things that you can accomplish when you have tier one status,” she said.

Texas has two public tier-one schools — Texas A&M and the University of Texas at Austin. The lack of additional elite universities creates enrollment pressures at UT and A&M and causes a net loss each year of 6,000 high-achieving Texas high school graduates who leave for a top-tier university in another state.

Texas has identified seven emerging tier-one universities. Texas Tech, the University of Houston and the University of Texas at Dallas are generally considered in the upper echelon from which the next tier one university will emerge, said House Higher Education Chairman Dan Branch, R-Dallas, author of HB 51, which requires Senate action before it heads to Gov. Rick Perry.

A Legislative Study Group report (PDF) from last year showed that those seven schools weren’t all that far off financially from meeting Tier I status. If the Lege budgets the $50 million Rep. Branch mentions for this bill, that would help a couple of them get there. There’s a lot more that can and should be done, but this is a good first step. I’ve got a press release from Rep. Garnet Coleman on the House passage of HB51 beneath the fold, and Postcards has more.

In related news, the Senate Higher Education Committee took action on the matter of tuition.

Senate Bill 1443, by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, who chairs the panel, would limit increases in tuition and mandatory fees at the 35 institutions in various ways depending on a school’s current charges, recent increases and other circumstances. The limits include the inflation rate, 5 percent, $315 a year and $630 a year. The amount of legislative appropriations is also factored into the calculations.

That’s a key, as I’ve said before. We deregulated tuition so the state could cut its appropriations to the schools. We can’t now turn around and limit their ability to set tuition if we don’t make up the funding. I don’t know if SB1443 is adequate to that task, but at least it takes the need into account.

(more…)

Is the TAKS test at the end of the line?

If so, there’s a lot of people who won’t be sorry to see it go.

“We have counted on testing and testing only. And it’s caused a lot of angst in the schools,” Senate Public Education Chair Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, said Wednesday about the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.

“We’ll still test, but we’re using other variables to give us the results that we need.”

Shapiro and House Public Education Chair Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, plan to file the school accountability legislation on Thursday. The changes — which would start in the 2011-12 school year — aim to gradually elevate Texas into the top 10 states when it comes to preparing students for college or equipping them with workforce skills.

Texas ranked 46th in the country last year in the Scholastic Assessment Test scores and last among all states in the percentage of adult population with a high school diploma.

The bills in question are HB3 (Eissler) and SB3 (Shapiro). That’s quite a lofty goal they’ve set for this legislation, but a worthwhile one.

The legislative proposal contemplates a “Texas diploma” for college-bound students and a “standard diploma” for those seeking skilled workforce training and a related career. The standard diploma would require three years of English and one year of algebra.

“This diploma will be in a field that says you are certified and are skilled workforce ready,” Shapiro said.

Students would be measured by individual improvement instead of a single test score. Existing “exemplary” “recognized” and “acceptable” ratings for schools and school districts will be eliminated and replaced by an “accreditation tier” focused on individual student achievement based on readiness for college or career.

High school, middle school and elementary school campuses also can earn distinctions for excellence in a variety of areas, such as growth in student achievement, workforce readiness, second language learning, fine arts and physical fitness.

Student testing “will cover more than minimum skills,” Eissler said. Tests will be given in each grade level in an effort to get “an instant growth indicator,” Eissler said, measuring a student’s academic improvement from one year to the next.

We’ll have to see what the details are, but I like the general concept. The purpose of school is to prepare you for what comes next, and I think it makes more sense to evaluate them on that kind of metric than on a standardized test one, which is easy to game and doesn’t really measure anything useful. This is going to be a lot trickier to do, and I’ve no doubt there will be problems and disagreements with the implementation. But the direction strikes me as the right one, and so I hope this makes it through. EoW has more.

More on lowering the drinking age

I’ve blogged before about the Amethyst Initiative, and the arguments for and against their efforts to lower the minimum legal drinking age from 21 to 18 to combat what they call “a culture of dangerous binge drinking” on college campuses. Whatever you may think of this, some state legislatures are paying attention. The Thicket reviews some of the legislative action so far, and has a short podcast that discusses the reasons why this has gained traction, and the potential consequences from a federal funding perspective for any state that takes the plunge. Check it out.