Archive for Friday, August 30, 2013

A look at how KU and its students would fare under President Obama’s higher education reforms

August 30, 2013


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Last week President Barack Obama toured the country to promote an ambitious proposal to reform higher education by, among other possibilities, turning the federal student aid program into a system of carrots and sticks for colleges.

Kansas University officials say they are making progress in some of the key areas that could be tied to aid under the plan, but they hope any new system takes quality of education and other factors into account.

At the center of the plan would be a new “College Scorecard” released by the U.S. Department of Education that would rate institutions based on their access and affordability to students as well as student outcomes.

If Congress goes along with the president’s plan, the federal government would start distributing student aid based on the rankings. Currently the federal government gives out $150 billion each year in grants and loans, all of it based on enrollment figures for colleges. Kansas students receive about $1.27 billion in federal aid.

Incentives under scrutiny

How exactly the education department would measure things like student outcomes is still not decided, but already it is a source of controversy.

The White House offered graduation rates as one possibility. KU provost Jeffrey Vitter points out that the university has worked hard to build “a pipeline of getting students into and through KU.” The university currently shows the highest graduation rates for incoming freshman classes among state universities.

Vitter said he was concerned that a focus on graduation rates could erode the quality of education should colleges start competing over graduation rates, maybe even “giving grades away."

“We’re working hard to increase accessibility and affordability (at KU), but we must protect quality as well,” he said.

The president would need Congress on board to distribute student aid based on the ranking system, but not to create the ranking system itself. The administration said that the education department will release the first edition of the scorecard in 2015.

More financial and informational transparency in higher education is something long overdue to many observers.

“We do a very bad job in higher education with providing parents and students with good information that they can use to make comparisons and wise decisions,” said Christopher Morphew, a professor at the University of Iowa College of Education and former KU faculty member.

Controlling costs

Under the president's proposal, tuition costs and student debt levels at schools could also determine where aid goes.

The cost of college is something very much on people’s minds these days as tuition around the country rockets ahead of inflation. This year’s 4.4 percent tuition increase at KU is the smallest spike in more than 10 years. Most yearly tuition increases since 2002 have been at or above 6 percent.

Vitter pointed to KU's cost-cutting program, dubbed "Changing for Excellence," as one way the university is trying keep college affordable for students.

Looking at the higher education system as whole, colleges have few incentives to cut costs. Morphew points out that colleges try to attract students with luxurious housing and campus amenities.

Colleges effectively tell students: “We’re going to have the lowest student-faculty ratio. We’re going to have student life and campus life that is luxurious. If you want to start your own club, start your own club,” he said.

The end result is an “arms race” in spending among universities. And historically, that's helped them attract high-ability students.

State partnerships

Another driver behind tuition increases is the decreased spending in real dollars on higher education among U.S. states. Kansas is no exception to that trend. The state is one of the few to cut higher education outright.

About $2.6 million in revenue from the most recent tuition increase at KU approved by the state’s Board of Regents is meant to offset state $5.3 million in state budget cuts to the Lawrence and Edwards campuses.

If tuition at Kansas schools stays on that path, and if the president’s proposals become law, college students in Kansas could be at disadvantage in the future.

With or without such a policy in place, Vitter said “we need a strong state commitment to go along with our efforts” to cut costs and maintain education quality.


ashmole 4 years, 8 months ago

Providing "good information" by no means assures that people make "wise decisions." Colleges (like car companies and political parties) spend fortunes on marketing to assure that prospective students will want what they are offering. And, of course, surveys show that the vast majority of graduates are satisfied or very satisfied with the colleges they attended.

Frankly, all we need is another government mandate imposing new costs and reporting responsibilities on state and private organizations. One reason for rising college tuition that never gets enough attention in the media is the accelerating cost of federal government regulations and the increasing intrusion of Washington into all aspects of higher education. Colleges are loathe to complain, given their perennial reliance on federal grants and student loan programs that support tuition.

Barack Obama chiding colleges about rising costs is ludicrous in any case. As CEO of the organization running more red ink than any other in the world, he is hardly in the position to be lecturing anyone about financial restraint and good management.

Carol Bowen 4 years, 8 months ago

Ashmole, Your comments are so partisan, it's difficult to discern any logic. Universities are not forced to use federal dollars. Some schools do not. Of course, most graduates are satisfied with their schools. What about the students who did not graduate? The highest dropout rate is during the freshmen and sophomore years. That's a lot of Pell grant money and student loans down the drain. The student loans are debts that affect the overall economy. Universities are loathe to evaluate their programs based on effectiveness. . .

I have not read a hint of another government mandate. I have read that we need to consider changing our current criteria for distributing student aid.

question4u 4 years, 8 months ago

"Everything Obama does has an agenda with one thing in mind, redistribution of wealth and outcome with no consideration of individual rights or merit."

Please explain.

Distributing student aid based solely on graduation rates sounds like a bad idea for a lot of reasons, but there is certainly no obvious way in which it involves "redistribution of wealth and outcome with no consideration of individual rights or merit." How can a plan based on rankings involve no consideration of merit? The consideration may be misplaced, but no consideration of merit? Really?

Also, please explain how the proposed College Scorecard that rates "institutions based on their access and affordability to students as well as student outcomes" involves "no consideration of individual rights."

"Open your eyes America" isn't an argument and it's about as short on details as any statement could be.

KU_cynic 4 years, 8 months ago

This story's online headline is "A look at how KU and its students would fare under President Obama’s higher education reforms."

Yet, the article provides almost zero information that is KU-specific.

By all means, Ben, adapt national news-service-fed stories on higher education for your Kansas and KU readers. But, if you're going to promise original reporting on KU then you'd better deliver. This time you didn't.

IreneAdler84 4 years, 8 months ago

If you want to know why tuition is rising. You need look no further than Topeka (see link below).

As for how KU will fare-we will likely do fine. This initiative is being driven by the desire to shut off Pell Grant money to fly by night for profit "colleges" like Kaplan, and University of Phoenix and a lot of VoTech schools and beauty colleges. These "colleges" admit anyone with a pulse and then strive to keep unqualified students enrolled long enough to keep their Pell grant money. Students who do graduate often cannot get jobs because instructional quality is so poor and have much higher rates of students who default on their student loans than do reputable universities. KU is not perfect, but we are not the problem.

KU funding graphic

KU funding graphic

Kyle Seiwert 4 years, 8 months ago

'Vitter said he was concerned that a focus on graduation rates could erode the quality of education should colleges start competing over graduation rates, maybe even “giving grades away." '

The irony from the Kansas provost, while probably not intentional, is hilarious. Because that certainly doesn't happen at Kansas.

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