Purdue cuts # of PhD students, increases stipends. CNJ reallocates faculty time

Two interesting stories from Colleen Flaherty in InsideHigherEd. Please pass along other similar stories in the comments:


Pay for graduate teaching assistants in the College of Liberal Arts at Purdue University is among the lowest in the Big Ten — a little less than $14,000 a year, before taxes. So the college’s recent announcement that it’s raising graduate pay to $15,000 or more next year was good news — to some. Others say that while they applaud the college’s attention to an important issue, the modest pay bump doesn’t begin to make up for what Purdue is proposing in exchange: namely, a redistribution of college resources that includes major cuts to some of the largest graduate programs, and future cuts to overall graduate student enrollment.

New Jersey:

Back in 2003, the College of New Jersey looked into updating its traditional liberal arts curriculum in a way that prioritized data-driven, “high-impact” teaching practices – primarily engaging undergraduates in research. Both faculty members and administrators knew that process would have major implications for faculty workload (if they did it right, that is). So both groups made a concerted effort to work collaboratively on the project, working through and with the college’s Faculty Senate and American Federation of Teachers-affiliated union.

The process went quickly for so large a project: it took less than a year. By 2004-5, the college piloted its new curriculum and faculty workload model. Under the new system, faculty members were no longer teaching four courses per semester (and students were taking four courses instead of five, for one more credit each). Instead, professors now were teaching three courses, or 18 weighted hours, on average. Each course they did teach was to be more rigorous and engage students – mostly all undergraduates – in high-level research, to the extent possible.

"An investment in knowledge pays the best interest"

7/3/2013: Benjamin Franklin was a failure as an apprentice chandler and a runaway from his first apprenticeship as a printer. Eventually he figured out what to do with his life, and in the end donated L1,000 in his will to start a revolving fund to lend money to Boston students. (In 1908 Andrew Carnegie chipped in too, creating this technical college, which appropriately specializes in electrical technology and HVAC engineering.) Oregon now has two innovative programs under consideration to do something similar. The NYT reports today on one, which would tie repayment to future income:

This week, the Oregon Legislature approved a plan that could allow students to attend state colleges without paying tuition or taking out traditional loans. Instead, they would commit a small percentage of their future incomes to repaying the state; those who earn very little would pay very little. 

The proposal faces a series of procedural and practical hurdles and will not go into effect for at least a few years, but it could point to a new direction in the long-running debate over how to cope with the rising cost of higher education. While the approach has been used in Australia, national education groups say they do not know of any university in the United States trying it. 

The Oregon plan had an unusual, and unusually swift, gestation. Less than a year ago, neither elected officials nor advocacy groups there had even considered it.
It began last fall in a class at Portland State University called “Student Debt: Economics, Policy and Advocacy,” taught by Barbara Dudley, a longtime political activist who teaches in the school of urban and public affairs, and Mary C. King, a professor of economics. Ms. Dudley was referred to John R. Burbank, executive director of the Economic Opportunity Institute, a liberal policy group based in Seattle, who had studied the no-tuition approach. She, in turn, referred the students to him, and they adopted the idea as their group project for the semester. 

The students and Ms. Dudley later made a presentation to state lawmakers, including state Representative Michael Dembrow, Democrat of Portland and chairman of the higher education committee. The Working Families Party of Oregon — of which Ms. Dudley was a co-founder — put the proposal at the top of its legislative agenda, and Mr. Dembrow and others ran with it.

State Treasurer Ted Wheeler’s idea originates with the fact that, even if you ignore the benefits to society, the private return to education in terms of higher wages is far higher than the government’s cost of borrowing. Betsy Hammond explained the plan in the Oregonian last year:

Oregon currently awards about $50 million a year worth of “opportunity grants” — enough for just a fraction of eligible students who apply. More than 80 percent of students who qualify are turned down because the state runs out of money.
If lawmakers agree, voters would be asked to approve the plan in fall 2013 or spring 2014, said Wheeler’s policy director, Michael Selvaggio. The state would then sell $500 million in bonds to start the fund, which would be projected to grow to $6 billion in 30 years.

UO’s PathwaysOregon program uses these opportunity grants, private money, and federal aid to put together tuition free packages for to low income students – but it’s also underfunded and turns away many students.

What’s a college degree worth?

Lots of things. If you just compare the list price of tuition and fees and immediate average salary, you get this, for UVA.

Obviously this excludes the non-pecuniary benefits of 4 years of college fun and the lifetime benefits of knowing stuff, as well as career income. External benefits from a better educated population are also ignored. On the cost side it excludes the opportunity cost of 4 years of foregone income, and it does not account for scholarships – which probably go to the people who end up in higher paying majors.

The chart is from Bloomberg, the data is from CollegeMeasures.org, which will apparently will eventually produce similar data for the University of Oregon. I hope they start adding better controls – obviously this figure tells us nothing about the value added by college major, even if we restrict the dependent variable to initial income. Work like this should be taken with a block of salt.

Thanks to Ryan Frank for the tweet. 12/24/12.

Student loan snooze in NYT

5/14/2012: The average debt for a student graduating with a bachelor’s is about the same as the loan for a new car, and the average return is considerable larger. A lot of graduates have to get an installment loan online to help them pay back what they owe, but it’s not the end of the world, just look what they get in return; excellent career prospects and financial security for life. Of course, there are a few students who are worried about taking out a loan that might be helpful to them due to their lack of knowledge on loans. However, a simple search online for how do payday loans actually work could put them at ease. Sorry, this is not a crisis. There are plenty of shocking anecdotes, which the NYT gives too much play – but they should not drive overall policy. The discussion does have some good ideas:

Congress should change the law so that colleges and universities have skin in the game when they include loans in the financial aid “packages” that hundreds of thousands of college students are receiving as we speak. Right now, a mediocre private college that encourages a student to borrow $100,000 to get a B.A. in art history bears no consequences when that student defaults on her loan, can’t get a mortgage, delays starting a family and endures constant harassment from collection agents. What if the college itself had to reimburse taxpayers for part of the losses? All in all it can be quite a worrying idea. Not to mention the amount of pressure it puts on students to result in success. It’s a distressing thought that even the simplest things in life can be still be out of reach. Some students around the world may have access to a Right to buy scheme which can tell you if you are eligible to buy a house at a heavily discounted price depending on your situation. Eligibility can be quickly worked out on a right to buy mortgage calculator found online.

In most cases, it doesn’t matter what degree or certification you qualify with, as the reality of not being able to afford luxuries like mortgages remains the same. Even physicians struggle to get the money they need for a mortgage, unless of course, they look to see how this doctor loan program works, as this will be able to help them secure financing for a home. But unfortunately, people in other professions will struggle to get the money they need to live their life. As we know from Pres Berdahl’s debate with Dr. Pernsteiner at the Eugene City club, UO graduates have the lowest debt of those from all OUS institutions:

Obviously this pattern is in part driven by rich out-of-state parents paying the tuition with their checkbooks. Thanks for subsidizing our in-staters: I bet the debt results are similar if broken out for Oregon residents. The full Berdahl handout is here.
And as an astute commenter notes, UO also has the highest graduation rate. Imagine borrowing 25K to go to Western and then not even getting a degree.

Meanwhile, outside our ivory tower,

1/27/2012: things are *really* going to hell. From Susan Palmer in the RG:

The Springfield district also had a slight increase in the four-year graduation rate, up a point to 62 percent, even as one of its schools, Springfield High, saw its rate drop by almost 6 points. … The Bethel School District in west Eugene saw its overall graduation rate decline this year, to 57 percent from 62 percent.

And from an op-ed in the NYT:

Only 7 of 10 ninth graders today will get high school diplomas. A decade after the No Child Left Behind law mandated efforts to reduce the racial gap, about 80 percent of white and Asian students graduate from high school, compared with only 55 percent of blacks and Hispanics.  …

If we could reduce the current number of dropouts by just half, we would yield almost 700,000 new graduates a year, and it would more than pay for itself. Studies show that the typical high school graduate will obtain higher employment and earnings — an astonishing 50 percent to 100 percent increase in lifetime income — and will be less likely to draw on public money for health care and welfare and less likely to be involved in the criminal justice system. Further, because of the increased income, the typical graduate will contribute more in tax revenues over his lifetime than if he’d dropped out. 

When the costs of investment to produce a new graduate are taken into account, there is a return of $1.45 to $3.55 for every dollar of investment, depending upon the educational intervention strategy. Under this estimate, each new graduate confers a net benefit to taxpayers of about $127,000 over the graduate’s lifetime.

As a self-interested professor, I’m all for more public investment in higher education. But the highest social return may well come from much earlier investments. And of course these students are not going to enroll at UO if they don’t graduate from HS. Here’s info on SAIL, a program run by volunteer UO professors, aimed at addressing this issue.

Gov picks Ben Cannon as education adviser

8/23/2011: Sorry I missed this Janie Har story when it came out last week:

Oregon Rep. Ben Cannon, D-Portland, is resigning from the Legislature to become Gov. John Kitzhaber’s top education adviser.

a Democrat now in his third term in the House, will replace Nancy
Golden, a temporary hire who has returned to her position as
superintendent of the Springfield School District this summer….

Cannon holds graduate degrees in Philosophy, Politics and Economics and
in Comparative and International Education from Oxford University. He received a
bachelor’s degree from Washington University, and is a graduate of West Linn High School. 

More on Mr. Cannon here. He writes about his biggest legislative failure, attempting to raise the beer tax, here.

Hamermesh and Riley on Tenure

7/12/2011: From the Texas Tribune. Motivated by the debate about measuring faculty productivity. Hamermesh is a labor economist at UT, Riley is the author of “The Faulty Lounges“. The clip is mostly about tenure. “The Hammer”, as he occasionally tries to get his colleagues to nickname him, has no hesitancy putting the blame for the current sad state of academia on the taxpayers and lazy administrators. Riley blames it on the emphasis on research.

Only 5 Colleges Do Well by Low-Income Students, Report Says

6/3/2011: Becky Supiano in the Chronicle:

To come up with a benchmark for affordability, the group used Npsas data to calculate how much of a family’s income would be required to pay the average cost of college after grant aid at colleges generally, and found that it was 27 percent of income for those who made $54,001 to $80,400.

The authors explain that “one possible way to identify model institutions is to look for those that, at the very least, expect their lowest-income students to contribute no more that what middle-income students do as a proportion of household income.”

So they calculated 27 percent of the average family income in the lowest group, about $17,000, and come up with about $4,600. By that guideline, 65 of the 1,186 colleges were affordable—10 private nonprofits, 55 public institutions, and no for-profits.

Next the group considered graduation rates. Because data on graduation rates for low-income students were not available, the authors looked at each college’s overall graduation rate. Only 29 of the colleges that met the net-price bar had graduation rates that were at least 50 percent.

Finally the group eliminated colleges from the set if less than 30 percent of their students received Pell Grants, the average of all the colleges in their analysis. After that final step, only the five were left.

 Interestingly, UNC-Greensboro was one of the 5. That’s were the much criticized former UO Provost Linda Brady landed. Her major accomplishment at UO was starting “Pathways Oregon” a program to pay UO tuition and fees for low income students. Last I heard, that program is now underfunded, and turning away eligible students.

Higher Ed bubble?

5/19/2011: Or the usual recession result? Don’t expect the NY Times to actually do any analysis. A quotefest from Catherine Rampell in the NY Times:

The median starting salary for students graduating from four-year colleges in 2009 and 2010 was $27,000, down from $30,000 for those who entered the work force in 2006 to 2008, according to a study released on Wednesday by the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University. That is a decline of 10 percent, even before taking inflation into account.

Of course, these are the lucky ones — the graduates who found a job. Among the members of the class of 2010, just 56 percent had held at least one job by this spring, when the survey was conducted. That compares with 90 percent of graduates from the classes of 2006 and 2007.

Or in case you’re over your thirty articles, get the story from Darin Moriki in the ODE:

Chereck said newly matriculated students should align their career choices with something they are passionate about and are able to perform well. If these areas are not easily identified, Chereck said it may be difficult for students to find a satisfying career. Chereck also noted that students eventually do not always get jobs that align with their selected major, because certain jobs are open to a variety of different skills.

“I think everybody has an impression of what they would like to be doing when they graduate,” Chereck said. “Sometimes people’s ideas are more scaled up than what the reality is, but I like the fact that people have dreams and are moving toward something.”