Sunday, December 16, 2012

Barack Obama's Most Important Move: As a Dad

There is a reason he is our president. Barack Obama regained my faith in him tonight.  Here are some of his most important words.

Here in Newtown, I come to offer the love and prayers of a nation. I am very mindful that mere words cannot match the depths of your sorrow, nor can they heal your wounded hearts.

I can only hope it helps for you to know that you’re not alone in your grief, that our world, too, has been torn apart, that all across this land of ours, we have wept with you. We’ve pulled our children tight....

....We bear responsibility for every child, because we’re counting on everybody else to help look after ours, that we’re all parents, that they are all our children.

This is our first task, caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.

And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we’re meeting our obligations?

Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children, all of them, safe from harm?

Can we claim, as a nation, that we’re all together there, letting them know they are loved and teaching them to love in return?

Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose?

I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer’s no. We’re not doing enough. And we will have to change....

We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society, but that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely we can do better than this....

We can’t accept events like this as routine.

Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?

Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?...

There’s only one thing we can be sure of, and that is the love that we have for our children, for our families, for each other. The warmth of a small child’s embrace, that is true.

The memories we have of them, the joy that they bring, the wonder we see through their eyes, that fierce and boundless love we feel for them, a love that takes us out of ourselves and binds us to something larger, we know that’s what matters.

We know we’re always doing right when we’re taking care of them, when we’re teaching them well, when we’re showing acts of kindness. We don’t go wrong when we do that...."


Dear Charlotte, Daniel, Olivia, Josephine, Ana, Dylan, Madeline, Catherine, Chase, Jesse, James, Grace, Emilie, Jack, Noah, Caroline, Jessica, Benjamin, Avielle, and Allison:

Children all over America will remember what you did for us.  Finally moving our leaders to positions of strength.  We will back them.  We will push them. We will not forget.

Much love,

Sara, Liam, Annie, and Conor

Saturday, December 15, 2012

You Are Killing Our Kids

It's impossible to tuck our kids in tonight, seeing the complete and utter excitement in their eyes about their futures (my daughter, age 2, said "I need to eat more foods so I can get tall and be allowed to go on the bus with my brother to school!"), without understanding that it is our responsibility as the adults to DO something to make them safer.  Enough already with the childish fear of the NRA!  The tobacco lobby was once all-powerful too.  Then we woke up and realized cigarettes were killing us all, and we put a stop to it.  Smoking is way down, including among teens.  The tide can turn. It's on us to make it happen.

Wherever there's a powerful lobby there are powerful wealthy backers. The strength of the NRA lies not in the many average fools who think that having guns in their homes makes them safer (tell that to the gun-toting mama whose boy killed her before shooting those 20 children in Connecticut), but in the obscene wealth possessed by the gun manufacturers. Who are these people, and how have they managed to twist the 2nd amendment into some rationale for the right for regular people to bear assault rifles?

I'm far from an expert on this topic, but what I do know is that social movements require individuals that get informed enough to be smart, inspired actors. And since I can't stomach sending my kids off to school even one more day without knowing that I DID SOMETHING to try and make them even a little bit safer, well, I'll take this one on.  And I hope you will too.

The tiniest bit of research tonight led me to learn a few things I had no idea about:

(1) Gun stocks are on the rise.  Smith & Wesson, among other gun manufacturers, is more profitable than ever.  At a growth rate of 10% per year on average, and much higher for the top sellers, business is booming.

(2) The industry is promoting gun use successfully among women and children.  Just like cigarette manufacturers, this mature industry is constantly seeking to expand its market and thus has encouraged an explosion of so-called shooting shows, including for audiences at the History Channel and the Discovery Channel.  The number of "shotgun" and "rifle" badges given to the Boy Scouts of America is up nearly 30 percent in the last decade, and the participation of women in shooting shows has experienced similar growth.

(3) Manufacturers of "high-capacity clips" -- which should remind you of extra-nicotine added cigarettes times 10 -- are major donors to the NRA and hold two board seats.  Why these high volume clips are considered requisite for self-defense is beyond me. What I do know is that each of the 20 six and seven-year-old children in Connecticut was riddled by between 3 and 10 bullets.

Guns and cigarettes go hand in hand.  It took America nearly a century to stand up to tobacco, but it happened.  The time is now for guns. Call it what it is-- profitting on the backs of dead children.   And put a stop to it.  Join us.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Let's Write It Down

"What happens when the gun shoots through you, Mom? Does your heart come out?"

These are not the sorts of questions I expected my 5-year-old son to be asking me on this, the seventh night of Chanukah. What happened to "can I have another piece of chocolate?"

As impossible as it sounds, a young man walked into a school this morning, shoved past a brave principal and school counselor, and did his best to shoot as many young children as possible.  Little boys and girls whose parents had kissed them goodbye after packing their lunch, bundling them up in coats, hats, and mittens, and sending them off to practice their reading and handwriting and maybe do a little art.  Off at work, these parents sat, as my husband and I do every day, thinking of them but mainly unconcerned, knowing that hugs would reconnect the dots at day's end.

Never again.

I spent this afternoon fighting off tears in a faculty meeting, trying not to play out the scenarios that confronted my son's peers in Newtown, Connecticut. Trying not to think about the look on that teacher's face as she was shot while teaching, trying not the hear the screams and wide open mouths of children just hoping it was a game and yelling for mom and wondering where dad was and then falling, falling to the ground---gone forever while sisters and brothers ran in distant halls unable to help....I kept drifting in and out of the meeting, trying to stay engaged while feeling so enraged, such fury, such complete helplessness, shouting it out with a Tweet once in awhile ("end the NRA" cried my fingers valiantly)... no point.

I didn't want Conor to wonder about my sadness tonight, mistaking it for something else. And I never, ever want to hear him again asking for a toy gun.  So I decided to tell him, when his baby sister was out of earshot, what today meant for those kids.  He listened, and said "wow" and seemed to really struggle. "Can I see him, the shooter?" he asked. "Can I watch the video of him doing the shooting?"  No, I said, "there's no video."

"But what happens, Mom, do they just fall down? And they never come back?"

Yes. They never come back.  We just move on. We can't quite bring ourselves to do more. We are too chicken, it seems, to fight with our fellow Americans who mechanically argues for the right to purchase guns without background checks or waiting periods, the right to own high capacity magazines, and the right to own automatic assault weapons.  Even though they make no sense.  Even though our silence can kill our kids.  Even though we know exactly what's right. We just fall down.

I can't take this anymore. My son knew exactly what to do, and he did it.  He said, "We will draw a picture of a gun and then cross it out, Mom.  We will write 'No guns allowed. No bad guys.'  I will tell those guys at school, it's not cool.  Let's do that. Let's write it down."

And he did.  He signed it: "Conor, Annie, Mom, Dad." That's our family. We're lucky enough to still all be here tonight, alive.

God bless America. It's long past time to fix the 2nd Amendment. Let's get it written down.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Choices, Choices, Choices

As expected, the UW Regents moved forward Friday, approving the proposal from the UW-Madison Administration to raise the cap on out-of-state enrollment even though it hadn't been vetted through proper shared governance channels.  The cap was moved from 25% to 27.5%, rather than to 30% as requested.

In typical style, everyone involved acted like this represented the wise, informed choice arrived at through careful decision-making. Of course, we have real choices given the "new normal," a context so normalized at this point that the vast majority of our campus intellectuals can't even see that "normal" is a political agenda.

But as I constantly work to help my students understand, there is always a choice. And the lack of careful thought being paid by the state and its universities to this particular choice could easily come at the expense of Wisconsin residents. Sure, there are other options.  Let's consider the range of possibilities.


1. Unless explicitly noted, each scenario below works with the previously existing 25% cap on OOS to adjust the student body to achieve greater diversity and/or greater revenue for UW-Madison.  You could do the same exercise with 27.5% percent.

2. I illustrate three dimensions of diversity here-- socioeconomic (via %Pell), national geographic (via OOS), and international.  Of course there are others, but not knowing, for example, the % of racial/ethnic minorities within each current category of students I couldn't do the modeling (for example, what % of WI residents at Madison are racial/ethnic minority now?)  It would help if that sort of thing were publicly available.

3. Since the %Pell is a characteristic often recognized in rankings and accountability metrics, I consider it by applying it to Wisconsin residents only. This could be an error-- if, for example, a sizable proportion of Madison's Pell enrollment comes from OOS.  I strongly suspect this isn't the case, however, given that college choices of Pell students tend to be geographically constrained and Pell recipients are more expensive for the university's budget (e.g. because they require more institutional aid).

4. I assume, unless explicitly noted, that MN students count as "residents" when computing the cap since that's the rule.

5. I assume that international students are less expensive than other students because they do not qualify for financial aid.

6. I assume that it is possible to increase the proportion of Pell recipients and international students without diminishing the academic preparedness standards of the institution.  This can be achieved in several ways: (a) Waiving the ACT requirement for all or some students -- for example it could be waived for Wisconsin residents. The ACT is predictive of freshman year GPA and very little else-- it is not a useful assessment of how capable individuals are of succeeding at UW-Madison. (b) Recruiting in low-cost ways in a variety of additional countries, rather than focusing on a single nation or small set of nations with a limited pool.  Anyone rejecting this contention should be asked to provide evidence to the contrary- -rather hard given the many studies showing the sizable pool of high-ability low-income students currently not in college.

Where things stand now

This is approximately the current distribution of UW-Madison students. The percent Pell is slightly off (around 12%) but it has bumped around in minor ways for years. The main points are that (a) %Pell is well below that of our peer institutions (there's a nice paper by Bob Haveman of LaFollette on this), (b) Wisconsin residents are just 63% of the total now, even with the 25% cap, (c) international students are a small fraction of our allowable OOS enrollment, and (d) MN residents are dramatically overrepresented among U.S. students from outside Wisconsin.

Chart 2 shows that under the existing 25% cap, we could increase diversity and raise additional revenue by (a) reducing the percent of OOS students from the U.S. and increasing the representation of international students and (b) reducing the percent of WI residents who don't qualify for the Pell Grant and increasing the percent of students on the Pell grant (which would require some of the revenue from the international students, and a relaxation of our admissions focus on the ACT score).

Chart 3 shows that the previous cap was insufficiently specified to protect a UW-Madison focus on Wisconsin residents, and the new cap doesn't do this either.  The new cap requires 200 additional seats for WI residents but this could be done by expanding overall enrollment-- the proportion WI resident could still decline.  Thus, it would be possible for the % Wisconsin (and the %Pell) to decline below 50%, and the % international to fully replace the % OOS-- if Madison so chose.

Of course, the scenario in Chart 3 isn't likely in the near future-- though it is possible. I think that instead we are moving towards Chart 4 by growing enrollment a bit.  This is a more diverse campus in that it's more international, and national diversity is increased a bit by trading MN students for WI students, and it raises revenue. But it does nothing to increase the socioeconomic diversity of the institution.  (After all, the constituency for that group, I'm told, amounts to me and my friends.)  Heck, why not go for 0% Pell while you're at it, and maximize the heck out of students' dollars?

That would lead you closer to Chart 5-- still allowable under the prior and current caps, as long as overall enrollment grows.  We can let in more MN students, and cut WI representation, and diversify further through more international enrollment.  Nothing really to stop us, especially if we're headed for lots of online classes.

Finally, let me leave you with what I think is fairly close to the optimal scenario. This one does require a change, but it's one that the Regents should like.   If the goal of the cap is to protect seats for WI students, then we should count MN students as the out-of-state students they are. We can keep reciprocity while doing this (though one should ask-- why?). But it requires a change to the cap, since MN -- currently not counted-- would count towards it.  Under this scenario, we could diversify both in terms of U.S. states and internationally, and use the increased revenue to increase socioeconomic diversity by increasing the %Pell.  The current % Wisconsin remains the same. That's a change to the cap that would have made plenty of sense and given Madison administration more wiggle room without endangering enrollment among WI residents.

These are just a handful of options. Each one reflects a different composition of the student body. It is for that reason that any efforts to alter the constraints we face should be fully vetted through shared governance.  Constraints both help and hinder us-- they help us focus in the face of temptation, and when badly specified they prevent us from doing actual and real good.

Before Madison administrators sought changes from the Regents, they should have been required to show their cards-- which of these scenarios are they after?  Why should we imagine they plan to give primary responsibility for these academic decisions to their faculty, staff, and students-- even though it's specified in Chapter 36.09?  After all, remember, they feel they "have no choices."

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Enrollment Management at UW-Madison

UW-Madison is bringing a proposal before the UW System Board of Regents this week to change the cap on the percentage of undergraduates from out-of-state from 25 to 30%.

In this post, I'm going to focus on the factual basis for the proposal itself.  I'm not going to speak to the process through which it was brought to the Regents, which I am fairly certain violated shared governance. I'm just going to examine the veracity of statements the UW-Madison Administration has made in support of this proposal using publicly available data.  I think the numbers alone suggest a need for further consideration before any decisions can be made. This motion should be tabled.

In its proposal, Madison makes the following remarks:

1. The UW Admissions Policy counts Minnesota residents -- who receive tuition reciprocity--  in a separate category, and thus they are not counted as either residents or non-residents.  This is uncommon.  It means that the percent of out-of-state students (OOS) cannot be used to fully understand access for Wisconsin residents.  It leaves the general public with the impression that a cap of 25% on OOS means that Wisconsin residents comprise 75% of the institution.  They do not.  At UW-Madison, Wisconsin residents are 63% of the undergraduate enrollment.  

This calculation is especially important when comparing the percentage of OOS in UW System or Madison to the percentage at other institutions.  In repeatedly stating that UW-Madison is "alone in the Big 10" in having a cap on non-resident enrollment, the Administration neglects three facts:
  • Many schools in the Big 10 have alternative options for high- achieving students in the state-- another flagship, or a set of very highly respected private schools.  These help restrict the market of the Big 10 school for out-of-state students, such that a cap isn't needed. In addition, in one case a Big 10 school is private (Northwestern) and in two others, their origins make them defacto private (U. Michigan and Penn State). Those different missions make the comparison irrelevant.
  • When counting only Wisconsin residents as in-state students, the state ranks in the bottom 15 of state public institutions serving in-state residents.  Pennsylvania, Virginia, New York, Minnesota, North Carolina, Washington, Illinois, Ohio, Texas etc-- all have institutions enrolling a higher fraction of in-state students than we do. It cannot be said, then, that Madison is "behind the times" in enrolling out-of-state students.  It is behind-the-times in offering discounted tuition at UW-Madison to students in Minnesota, whose families are wealthier than those in Wisconsin. (Sidenote: Perhaps reciprocity could continue at other UW universities, where OOS enrollment is much lower and MN plays a more important role-- while ending reciprocity at Madison.)
2. This year, the enrollment composition of new freshmen at Madison changed.  According to the proposal, "The unanticipated and increased number of non-resident freshmen choosing to enroll at UW-Madison contributed to UW-Madison’s non-resident enrollment of 25.8%." This suggests that the unanticipated "surprise" was in the yield of non-residents-- specifically, the number of admitted students who chose to attend the university.

Let's take a closer look.  This document shows that this year, the number of applicants to UW-Madison went up by 51 students. The number of admitted students, however, went up by 1,214. In other words, UW-Madison accepted 54.6% of those who applied, up from 50.05% in 2011. Who were the students accepted at so much higher rates? Unsurprisingly, 61% of them were international students.  In other words, UW-Madison saw a 4% growth in the rate of applications among international students, and matched that with a 53% increase in the acceptance rate of those students (it jumped from 26.9 to 41.3%). There's no way that happened by accident-- admissions decisions are made by a thoughtful staff carefully overseen by a team of professionals.  Admissions, unlike yield, can be completely controlled by the institution.  Now, however,  the yield of those international students was 30.6%-- a number that Provost DeLuca apparently found surprising.  This probably because the yield the prior year was 20.5% but that was clearly an off year-- the average yield for international students over the prior nine years was 35.6%!  I'm sure the hard working people in Academic Planning knew better than to base their projections for yield on one year of data.

Therefore, it was clearly the decision to increase the admission rate of international students, and not the "unanticipated and increased number of non-resident freshmen choosing to enroll" that drove up the percent of non-resident students. 

That was the "surprise" in 2012.  Sure, Madison decided to admit more Wisconsin residents, despite a decline in applications, but that was clearly a strategic move to ensure that the cap wasn't further displaced.  The Administration made a calculated decision to go after international students, and now claims that "whoops we hit the cap"-- and asks that the cap be removed.

3. The document then goes on to make the case that OOS students contribute to the learning experience at UW-Madison.  This "diversity" argument relies heavily on the interaction occurring among students  on campus.

Regarding this, two facts should be noted:
  • OOS students attending UW-Madison are much wealthier than Wisconsin residents. This study by scholars at La Follette shows that both Minnesota students and those from other states have average family incomes of around $100,000 (MN) and up-- approaching $130,000 for those from other states. In comparison, the average family income of Wisconsin residents attending UW-Madison is under $80,000.  Such socioeconomic differences are not easily overcome on college campuses, and the documented reality in both research studies and on our own campus is that these students live in different worlds. "Lucky" is a dorm inhabited by the "Coasties" and inaccessible to most Wisconsin students.  Students recruited from out-of-state enjoy family resources and experiences that compel them to seek amenities at UW-Madison which Wisconsin residents simply don't demand (heck, they are saving on tuition compared to their likely private alternatives).  This in turn creates pressure on student fees and creates a "keeping up with the joneses" situation.  It would be helpful to see evidence that diverse socioeconomic interactions on campus and in classrooms are being fostered at Madison before we invest further in bringing more wealthy students-- as opposed to more low-income students-- to campus. 
  • In making its argument, the University seems to treat Minnesota students as if they are just like Wisconsin residents. In fact, they are not, demographically speaking. And they comprise 12% of undergraduates.  If the mix is 63% Wisconsin and 37% non-Wisconsin, is that insufficient geography diversity to ensure good learning experiences?  How much within-Wisconsin geographic diversity is achieved now?
4. The proposal promises to reserve at least 3,500 seats at UW-Madison for Wisconsin residents.  It notes, "Since the number of Wisconsin high school graduates is declining and will continue to
decline over the next several years, the proposal to commit to enrolling 3,500 Wisconsin resident new freshmen by admitting 200 more Wisconsin resident students represents an enrollment of a higher fraction of the high school class than in recent years, and a higher number than the average of the past several years."

Here, are additional facts needed for context.
  • While birth rates are declining, the fraction of students seeking to attend college is rising.  Rates of ACT-test taking are rising (and will go up further as it becomes mandatory) and so are FAFSA completion rates. These factors will eventually grow the Wisconsin resident applications.  There is little evidence of decreased interest in UW-Madison.  Applications and yields are down somewhat among Wisconsin residents, yes, but that decline coincided with the recession and Madison's tuition hike (Madison Initiative for Undergraduates). It cannot be said to be divorced (or necessarily related) to those changes.
  •  UW-Madison is already turning down about 1,000 well-qualified Wisconsin residents each year. This proposal addresses just one-fifth of that need.  It leaves 800 well-qualified students to very likely go out-of-state to college, or "undermatch" in-state. That is a form of brain drain currently not tracked (Madison only reports on where their accepted students go, not where their applicants who are not accepted go-- the latter would give a fuller picture of their enrollment management policy impacts). 
  • There is clear room for improvement in recruiting students to apply to Madison. This report indicates that at UW-Madison "efforts to increase the enrollments of students from smaller Wisconsin communities need continued and sustained focus on recruiting and outreach to high schools in these communities." Other efforts, such as going "test-optional" in acknowledgement of the systematic racial bias present in the ACT and SAT, would also boost the size of the applicant pool, and diversify it-- though it's sure to be met with racially-tinged charges of a "weakened applicant pool."
5. The proposal says that in order to fix the "mistake" of a higher-than-expected yield of out-of-state (international) students, "UW-Madison would have to enroll about 3,700 resident students in the fall new freshman class each year—a number that far exceeds historic levels and that would create additional financial pressures and bottlenecks."

But, the earlier statement said that Madison would commit to 3,500 seats. Are we to believe that 200 additional students are impossible to find and impossible to afford-- and would create "bottlenecks"-- despite the "Educational Innovation" going on around us?

Finally, shouldn't this have occurred to the Administration before it rashly made the decision to dramatically increase acceptances of international students? A decision it never discussed with shared governance bodies?

Caps are put into place by states to provide a balance against institutional behavior that is self-interested.   I wish it weren't needed here. But institutions respond to incentives.  The cap exists to protect Madison from its own rational impulses, requiring it to balance these with the needs of the state. No other check on the revenue-maximizing instincts of the Administration exists. And clearly, this Administration is mainly about maximizing revenue-- not about shared governance, not about access or affordability, and not about transparency.

The Administration claims that even with the cap lifted UW-Madison will not race to hit the 30% mark. I  see little reason to believe this.  Chancellor Ward is leaving campus, and there is no check on what will happen in his absence.  It's clear that the people in power under Biddy Martin are still running the show. Old habits die hard.