Posts Tagged ‘students’


The largest university in the United States—the University of Phoenix, part of the Apollo Education Group [ht: ja]—has been given an F by Wall Street investors. Its stock tumbled almost 30 percent in today’s trading.

A key problem is that, while for-profit colleges only enroll roughly 12 percent of the nation’s students, students at those colleges accounted for about half of student loan defaults in 2013. And, as we know, the quality of education continues to be dismal.


Student enrollments and revenues have thus been falling in recent years. Degreed enrollment in the Apollo Education Group was most recently 227,400 students, less than half its own peak five years ago and down 13.5 percent from the first quarter of fiscal 2014. This year it will be lucky to take in $2.7 billion, although it had revenues close to $5 billion in 2010.

This would be the perfect time for public colleges and universities to attract many of the students who are leaving the for-profit sector of higher education. The problem is, public institutions are behaving more and more like their for-profit counterparts, being forced to rely more and more on tuition payments from students, who are taking on increasing levels of debt, instead of public financing.

In that sense, the country as a whole deserves an F for its failure to provide high-quality, affordable higher education to its citizens.


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According to Tyler Kingkade, students now pay more of the cost of attending public universities than do state governments. So much for the public in public universities!

The milestone was actually reached in 2012. And there are still other public monies (from local and, especially, the federal government) that are being used to fund public higher education.


But the state portion has declined since 2003 from 32 to 23 percent, while tuition revenues have increased from 17 to 26 percent.

No wonder students and their families are going deeper and deeper into debt.


After the crash of 2008, in the midst of the Second Great Depression, students around the world have been calling for radical changes in the way economics is taught. They know that the discipline of economics, today as in the past, includes more than neoclassical economics—but, for the most part, students are not being exposed to concepts and methods other than those of neoclassical economic theory.

There are, of course, a handful of departments where non-mainstream theories have been developed and taught, alongside and in addition to neoclassical (and, for that matter, traditional Keynesian) economics. In the United States, in terms of Ph.D.-granting institutions, they include the University of Massachusetts at Amherst (where I received my degree), American University, the University of Missouri-Kansas City, the University of Utah, and New School University.

As Aaron Steelman recognizes, that handful also once included the University of Notre Dame. But that is no longer the case, since the current Department of Economics advertises itself as as purely neoclassical department.

Unfortunately, Steelman gets the history wrong.

In 2003, administrators at the University of Notre Dame decided to split the Department of Economics into two: the Department of Economics and Policy Studies (DEPS) and the Department of Economics and Econometrics (DEE). Why the divide? In large part because there were significant differences in methodological approaches and fields of study within the department.

Those who considered themselves within the “mainstream” of the profession, generally using a neoclassical framework to examine issues such as economic growth and industrial organization, tended to move to the DEE. Those whose work was generally considered more “heterodox” or “pluralistic,” employing a variety of methodological approaches to address questions regarding race and gender, inequality, and the development of economic thought, among others, tended to form the nucleus of the DEPS. Less than a decade later, the DEPS was closed by university administrators and what was simply called the Department of Economics emerged again.

Faculty within the DEE tended to neatly fit into the new department, while many faculty members within the DEPS moved to various departments throughout the university.

First, the university administration decided to split the existing department of economics into two not because there were “significant differences in methodological approaches and fields of study within the department.” Those differences had existed for decades, which was precisely one of the strengths of the department. Graduate and undergraduate students, within and across courses, were regularly exposed to and encouraged to think critically about both mainstream (neoclassical and Keynesian) and heterodox (Post Keynesian, radical, Marxian, and institutionalist) approaches to economics. No, the decision was made in order to eliminate the heterodox component of the economics program: by splitting the department in 2003 (and giving all new hires and control over the Ph.D. program to a new department, Economics and Econometrics) and then dissolving the original renamed department (Economics and Policy Studies) in 2010.

Second, there were no particular differences, then or now, in terms of areas of study. Faculty members in the original (pre-2003) department of economics conducted research and taught courses on a wide range of subjects: microeconomics, macroeconomics, labor, development, public policy, industrial organization, and so on. Just as faculty members do now, in the new (post-2010) department of economics. The only difference was students who took courses in the original department were exposed to many different methods and approaches; students today only learn one approach.

Finally, faculty members were not assigned to the two departments in 2003 according to their different methodological approaches. There were plenty of neoclassical economists in Economics and Policy Studies. The sole criterion was how faculty members voted: the 16 members of the original Department of Economics who voted against splitting the department were assigned to Economics and Policy Studies, while the 5 members who voted in favor of splitting the department comprised the nucleus of Economics and Econometrics. In other words, the decision was political not methodological.

That’s how the long tradition of the eclectic, pluralist Notre Dame approach to economics was brought to an end—exactly when students around the world are calling for a new approach to economics education, one that includes a wide range of methods and theories. Students today correctly understand that the neoclassical economics they’re being taught as the only viable approach is both responsible for the crises that broke out in 2007-08 and has had little to offer once the crises broadened and deepened across the world. They want to see what else economics has to offer.

The problem, of course, is that many of their professors either don’t know about those alternative theories and approaches (because they themselves were never exposed to them in graduate school) or simply dismiss them (with the excuse that neoclassical economics is the only game in town if students want to be successful). That’s because most departments don’t offer anything other than neoclassical economics and, as Steelman correctly observes, students from programs that do offer heterodox economics are not hired “into departments at highly ranked research universities.”

All the more reason, then, for economics education to be transformed.


Many of us, college and university professors, would like to see our students take a more active role in their education. That’s because students are not consumers; they produce their own education in a collaborative manner with their professors and their fellow students. That’s the only way higher education can work.

Well, students at the University of Southern Maine, where the university administration is laying off faculty, closing academic programs, and imposing Draconian budget cuts, are demonstrating what it means to take an active role in their education.

One example, shown in the clip above, is students’ occupation of the most recent meeting of the University of Maine Board of Trustees.

A second example is a remarkable column by Michael Havlin, a recent graduate of the University of Southern Maine, who is now attending the University of Massachusetts Amherst for a dual master’s degree.

When I first enrolled at USM four years ago I was, frankly, a punk, a hoodlum, a trouble maker. When I enrolled, I had little intention of ever even actually graduating, let alone going on to pursue a secondary degree. I came to have fun and maybe get an OK job out of it.

And so, like the hoodlum that I was, I enrolled as a business major. The very first classroom I stepped into — late, of course — was Introduction to Microeconomics with Rachel Bouvier. I did not know at the time, but I would slowly find my passion in that classroom. After taking a few more courses in economics, I knew I had found my passion, and so I declared a second major.

My thoughts of quickly getting out of USM and finding some silly business job quickly dissipated as we analyzed topics such as inequality, labor rights and the environment.

I liked my business professors and courses a great deal, and I learned a lot in them. But, unlike in business, where I was taught how to do, in my economics classes, I was taught how to think. I learned how to write, how to analyze and how to challenge the status quo. I was inspired to actually do something with my life. My time with the economics department at USM gave me, the former hoodlum who comes from a working-class family, the opportunity to get an actual education. USM gave me the opportunity to pursue whatever dreams I wanted.

The University of Maine System Board of Trustees, USM President David Flanagan and Provost Joseph McDonnell apparently don’t want USM to be that kind of school anymore. Through their proposals to lay off 50 faculty members and cut two more academic programs, they’re sending the message that they don’t think that you — or your tuition — are worth a real education.

You can debate the reality of a financial crisis here at USM. In fact, a lot of people do, some of whom have Ph.D.’s in quantitative fields.

But, one thing you cannot debate is that the so-called budget crisis is being used to camouflage an agenda to drastically change the University of Southern Maine. My fear is that change will transform USM from a university at which you can get a transformative education like I did to one in which you can only learn how to punch numbers into an Excel spreadsheet or administer vaccinations at Maine Medical Center. The writing is on the walls: a USM whittled down to a center for job training in business, nursing and technology.

By cutting from USM’s academic core, the Board of Trustees is showing that the vision they have for USM is not one where students can be challenged and given the tools necessary to, perhaps, someday get a Ph.D. If you want that kind of education, you could go to a private school like Bowdoin or Bates — somewhere I am sure we can all afford.

It appears as though the administrators’ new vision is one where USM is simply an appendage to the corporate world, year after year, turning out debt-ridden, standardized workers to the business needs of southern Maine.

Maine is better than this. Mainers who can’t afford places like Bates and Bowdoin deserve a good education, too. We all deserve an opportunity to reach our potential.

We have a true gem here at USM, and we need to protect it, not just for ourselves, but for the future middle-class Mainers who want the same opportunity that I had.

A recent article chronicles national media attention on the situation at the University of Southern Maine. Here is the Facebook page of Students for USM’s future. You can donate directly to their campaign, the USMFuture Preservation Fund.