Posts Tagged ‘students’

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. . .and students go on food stamps.

According to a new report by Moody Investor’s Service (cost: $550), the richest American universities are getting even richer.*

The coffers of the nation’s 40 wealthiest universities, including Harvard University, Stanford University and the University of Michigan, are filling at a faster rate than those of other schools, thanks to particularly strong investment performances and generous donors, according to a report to be published Thursday by Moody’s Investors Service.

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

The 10 richest institutions held nearly one-third of total cash and investments at four-year schools in fiscal 2014, while the top 40 accounted for two-thirds. Wealth was concentrated among elite schools at similar rates before the financial crisis, but the gap shrunk as top schools lost big on more-volatile investments in 2008 and 2009.

They have more than recovered since then. Schools on Moody’s top-40 list saw assets grow by 50% between fiscal 2009 and fiscal 2014, significantly outperforming other schools with strong credit ratings but smaller asset bases.

Meanwhile, with tuition skyrocketing and wages remaining stagnant, more and more students are forced to rely on food stamps.

the price of tuition has risen 1,120% between 1980 and 2010. Tuition at four-year public colleges has gone up 25% since 2007. Many students are forced to choose between low-wage jobs to help pay for tuition and unpaid internships for credit to build experience in their chosen field.

Colleges, aware of the financial troubles their students face, have begun opening food banks on their campuses. In Massachusetts, 12 of the state’s 29 public college campuses operate pantries, according to the Boston Globe, and about 200 colleges nationwide now operate pantries, reports the Wall Street Journal.

It’s no surprise then that on Wednesday, Fight for $15 campaign organizers expected students from 170 campuses to join in what was the largest US protest by low-wage workers.

“It’s important for students to be involved because even if we aren’t working for McDonald’s or Walmart, we are still on McDonald’s or Walmart type of wages,” Robert Ascherman, a student activist from NYU, told the Guardian on Wednesday. He says some students have to choose between buying food or buying textbooks.

From 2001 to 2010, the percentage of US students on food stamps has more than doubled to 12.6%, up from 5.4%, according to a 2013 analysis by Philip Trostel, professor of economics and public policy at the University of Maine.

*Here are the lists of the ten wealthiest private and public universities in the United States:

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Disclaimer: I relied on food stamps in graduate school, until the Reagan administration cut back the program. I now work for one of the 10 richest private universities in the country.

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One of the themes of the conference this past weekend was a university mired in a crisis that has, at least in part, been created by the top-down management of boards of governors and academic administrators. So, there was a great deal of discussion of “unsettling the university” by forming unions and instituting more faculty governance.

However, otherwise dedicated and creative scholars had some difficulty imagining another alternative: the self-governing university. A university without bosses or, if you prefer, a university in which the workers are their own bosses.

As it turns out, that’s the topic of an essay by Shaila Dawan that was published while I was at the conference. She explains that, in the face of massive inequality (as analyzed by, among others, Thomas Piketty),

The oft-proposed remedy for this state of affairs is redistribution — namely, taxing the rich to benefit the poor. Piketty, in fact, proposes a global tax, one that can’t be avoided by private jet. Others want to raise the minimum wage. In contrast to those Band-Aids, worker co-ops require no politically unpalatable dictates. And by placing workers’ needs ahead of profits, they address the root cause of economic disparity. “If you don’t want inequality,” says Richard Wolff, the author of “Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism,” “don’t distribute income unequally in the first place.”

Exactly. The same, of course, might be true in universities. Perhaps even more so, because our colleges and universities both include profound inequalities (e.g., among campuses, academic units, and individual faculty members and staff) and reflect the growing inequalities in the wider society (e.g., in terms of unequal access to different kinds of higher education).

Creating colleges and universities that are owned and run by their workers (both faculty and staff, mind you) can—just like the bakeries and other enterprises mentioned by Dawan—change the way education is produced and, particularly important, the way the surplus is appropriated and distributed. In both private and public universities, the faculty and staff produce a surplus that is appropriated not by themselves, as a group, but by their “bosses,” the small number of individuals who sit on boards of trustees or regents (who, in turn, hire the growing number of administrators who run the institutions on a daily basis).

What if, instead, the university workers made up their own board (or, in larger institutions, elected representatives to a board) and hired the university administrators? Such a board would directly involve the workers in appropriating and distributing the surplus they produce and mean that they—not a board filled with representatives of large business and political cronies from outside the university—would decide on the general parameters of how the university functions. The worker-board would then hire administrators to carry out those decisions on a daily basis.

I understand, there are no guarantees. But it’s certainly likely the worker-owned university (with new roles for both students, who have to work with professors to get a good education, and members of the larger community, who want their children to get a good education) would both include and create much less inequality than is the case right now. And, at the same time, they would work with others to improve the quality of higher education.

Now, that would be real unsettling of the university. And the people who work in our institutions of higher education know they don’t need bosses to accomplish that.

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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.

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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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