Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Why the Protestors at UW Madison are Right

This post is from Professor Chad Goldberg.

In his April 29 statement on Palermo's Pizza, Interim Chancellor David Ward wrote: "On November 29, 2012, NLRB Regional Director Irving Gottschalk issued a decision that found the majority of the alleged labor law violations against Palermo’s lacked merit. The NLRB findings were appealed by representatives of the workers. Earlier today [April 29, 2013] the appeal was denied based on insufficient evidence. Throughout this process, we stated that we would weigh findings by the NLRB as we considered additional action…. We are encouraging Palermo’s, the workers and the NLRB to reach an agreement on rehiring the remaining workers who are not covered by today’s appeal decision. While we acknowledge the viewpoints represented by UW-Madison students and the Workers’Rights Consortium, we believe that cutting ties with Palermo’s at this time is not warranted based on the facts." [http://www.news.wisc.edu/21728]

Others on campus have also questioned yesterday's student occupation of the chancellor's office in light of the recent NLRB ruling. 

One would hope that a liberal arts education would militate against this kind of intellectual and moral complacency. Why does the WRC merely express a viewpoint, while the NLRB determines facts? Why should the campus community regard the NLRB as the supreme arbiter or the only valid source of judgment or evidence in this dispute? Why do members of the campus community who in other instances pride themselves on their critical thinking skills hesitate to question the NLRB? Better knowledge of U.S. labor history would serve all of us well. It would remind us that the NLRB is in fact a political body that reflects the presidential appointments made to it--or blocked by the Congress.  Indeed, in recent years it has become politicized to an unprecedented extent by Republican refusal to approve President Obama's appointments. [http://jeffweintraub.blogspot.com/2010/02/republican-obstructionism-watch-why.html

As a result of this politicization, the board is not merely a legal and regulatory framework for struggles between labor and management; it is itself an object and terrain of struggle.

Furthermore, as my colleague Sara Goldrick-Rab has rightly pointed out, the NLRB concerns itself with federal labor laws; it does not define the code of conduct at UW-Madison. The Worker Rights Consortium, an independent worker rights monitoring organization with which the university is affiliated, and the UW-Madison Labor Codes Licensing Compliance Committee, the campus shared governance body designated to make recommendations on these issues, have both investigated Palermo's Pizza and found it guilty of violating UW’s code of conduct. There is no contradiction here with the NLRB ruling: even if Palermo's is not in violation of federal labor laws, it can still be in violation of the university's code of conduct.

Interim Chancellor Ward's dismissal of the recommendations of the Labor Codes Licensing Compliance Committee is another troubling sign of the erosion of shared governance on our campus. Worse yet, it shows a troubling moral complacency which the students who occupied his office rightly reject. They understand that the only thing necessary for the triumph of injustice is for good people to do nothing. Those students are an inspiration to all of us on campus who believe that the university's code of conduct should be taken seriously.

Chad Alan Goldberg
Professor of Sociology, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Vice President, United Faculty & Academic Staff, AFT Local 223

Monday, April 29, 2013

Student Activism Continues at UW-Madison

UW-Madison has a rich history of activism among its students, and that history evolves today as students stand in solidarity with the workers of Palermo's pizza and the good folks of Voces de la Frontera. 

What will outgoing Interim Chancellor David Ward do? Why not act, given widespread public support and his short remaining tenure?

 Here's what you need to know:

(1) UW-Madison's students have always been ahead of the curve when it comes to standing up for the rights of underdogs throughout the world.  It's no surprise they're ahead of the NLRB on this one.

(2) UW-Madison's code of ethics is independent from the rulings of the NLRB or any other entity and is supposed to reflect our values, not those of others.

(3) It is abundantly clear that moral leadership is lacking on both the so-called Left and the Right in Wisconsin, especially when it comes to standing up to corporate interests seeking to keep wages low and profits high.  It is far harder to battle these interests than to cede to them.

I have the great admiration and respect for students who take the time to educate themselves on the political economy of universities and challenge administrators to do the same.  I have no doubt that if Chancellor Ward doesn't soon take action, these students will begin to expose the private interests that appear to inhibit him from doing so.

April 29, 2013

Students Occupy UW-Madison Chancellor’s Office

12 students storm administration building demanding termination of school’s contract with Milwaukee frozen pizza firm

Students will remain in Bascom Hall until Chancellor David Ward agrees cut the contract

Sam Klepfer, soviet.thriller@gmail.com, 608-772-4415
Claire Hintz, clairehintz@gmail.com, 651-955-8370
Maxwell John Love, maxwelllove@gmail.com, 724-557-6269

WHAT: Rally outside the ongoing occupation of UW Chancellor David Ward’s office
WHO: UWMad@Palermo’s, a coalition of student groups; labor and community supporters
WHEN: Monday, April 29th at 4:30pm
WHERE: Outside Chancellor Ward’s office, 161 Bascom Hall, 500 Lincoln Drive, Madison, WI

At 2:15pm today, 12 students entered Chancellor Ward’s office to protest his refusal to uphold UW-Madison’s code of conduct for companies that produce goods using UW logos. The students are demanding that the university cut ties with Milwaukee-based frozen pizza manufacturer Palermo Villa Inc over the company’s labor practices.

The sit in comes after a 200-day campaign by a coalition of students, workers, and concerned Wisconsinites. The Labor Licensing Policy Committee, the campus shared governance body designated to make recommendations on these issues, determined in November that Palermo’s was in violation of the university’s code of conduct, and recommended cutting ties with the company.

“We’re occupying the office until Chancellor Ward agrees to cut ties with Palermo’s,” said Claire Hintz, one of the students occupying the office. “It’s outrageous that the Chancellor still refuses to enforce our code of conduct by cutting ties with this irresponsible company.”

In January, the Dane County Board of Supervisors joined the chorus of groups calling for a contract cut, passing a resolution of support. Then in February, the Worker Rights Consortium, an independent worker rights monitoring organization the university is affiliated with, reported that “Palermo has committed serious violations of worker rights and that these violations remain ongoing,” and therefore was in violation of the university’s code of conduct and international labor rights standards.

“Chancellor Ward has abandoned the Palermo’s workers and callously ignored the moral standards that UW claims to uphold,” said Cornell Zbikowski, another of the occupying students. “The Palermo’s workers have been on strike for 11 months as David Ward hides and counts the days until retirement. I’m ashamed to call David Ward my Chancellor.”

At 4:30pm, supporters will rally outside of Bascom Hall. At 6:00pm, the Solidarity Singers will lead the crowd in song.

UWMad@Palermo’s is a coalition of student groups dedicated to ending UW-Madison’s contract with Palermo’s Pizza, including the Student Labor Action Coalition, Working Class Student Union, United Council, ISO, and TAA.


WHY: It has been over 200 days since students first confronted Chancellor Ward to uphold the university's code of conduct and cut the contract with Palermo's and he has yet to take any action on this issue. Students have already utilized University channels including receiving recommendations from shared governance groups such as the Labor Licensing Policy Committee in November, receiving a resolution from County Board to support the UW-Madison cut, and having Palermo’s workers come to campus to meet with the Chancellor, and publicizing findings from the corporate investigation by the WRC (who found 4 separate code violations: health and safety, harassment and abuse, work hours, and freedom of association). Yet Ward has remained unmoved on this issue. Over 10,000 signatures have been gathered supporting UW-Madison cutting their contract with Palermo’s. Students will sit-in until Chancellor Ward agrees to uphold the University’s code of conduct and cut the contract with Palermo’s. Students and community members are joining together to hold Ward accountable for his lack of action in protecting and upholding the rights of workers who are directly connected with our university.

******* UPDATES*********************

This was more than a handful of students today.

Students were arrested. I am awaiting details.

Friday, April 19, 2013

It's Good to Be an Education Optimist

Once in awhile people ask me how I can continue to call myself an education optimist when the "new normal" is so grim.  They ask, "why do you continue tilting at windmills instead of being pragmatic and accepting the situation?"

The answer is simple: acceptance is unnecessary and defeat is not an option.  I challenge the status quo for the sake of students.

Today, I want to say Take that, windmill!

The University of Wisconsin System just ceded to the demands of students across the State and agreed to cap a tuition increase at no more than 2% for the coming year and eliminate the waiting list for the Wisconsin Higher Education Grant.  This is a stunning reversal, as President Kevin Reilly had been lobbying against students, insisting that no cap was necessary.

What happened?  Well, as I have long insisted, the issue is not entirely about a lack of state funding being provided to higher education but how administrators are spending it.  When the incentives for administrators cause they to advance the interests of institutions over the needs of students, accountability measures are required to prevent that.  UW System just got called out, as an audit just revealed that a $404 million balance from tuition payments in 2011-2012 was leftover, unspent, while tuition was hiked by 5.5%.  SERIOUSLY??? Those cash reserves were being held for "specific planned future activities," according to the System.  Sorry Charlie, no way. That is something you do with appropriations, not tuition.  If you aim to help future students and promote stability, that's a public good, and should be on the public dime. This is an outgrowth of the same mindset that's diminished tuition and pushed students into debt-- the same old public / private benefits nonsense. Honestly, the students should demand NO increase and hold firm on doing it for 2 or more years!

So, here we are-- they said it couldn't be done-- the net price of attending UW System schools will likely stay flat or decline over the next year.  HURRAH!

Second, Minnesota legislators took a major step yesterday towards a tuition cap of their own, as the Senate voted to increase spending on higher education by $263 million in exchange for institutional performance accountability and a freeze on tuition increases at the state's universities.  This is remarkable-- using appropriations to drive down the costs of a college education on behalf of the people of one's state. Gee, whoever thought of that!

So folks, the strategy works. Get out there and insist on budgetary transparency and accountability for our institutions of higher education and simultaneously demand that legislators do whatever they can to drive down tuition.  This is the most effective strategy to reducing student debt in the near term.  We can do it!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Students' Rights: The WISPIRG Debacle

I had the privilege of serving alongside a representative from U.S. PIRG during Senate testimony yesterday, and so today, in support of the hard work they are doing on behalf of students everywhere, I want to weigh in on the situation here in Wisconsin.

UW-Madison Interim Chancellor David Ward recently released his decision on the Associated Students of Madison (ASM)'s approved segregated university fee budget following months of student decision-making. One focus of his decision was removing a majority of the budget for WISPIRG, a statewide, student-directed and funded public interest group and registered student organization, despite student approval.  

The issue of WISPIRG’s funding has received much attention lately, from students, the Associated Students of Madison, the Chancellor, and the media. And now in light of Chancellor Ward’s decision, ASM is preparing an appeal to the Regents. 

WISPIRG was founded by Madison students in 1989 in order to tackle public interest issues and provide students a vital civic engagement experience.  In order to do this, WISPIRG students hire a staff of professional organizers, advocates and researchers to train and organize students to run local and statewide campaigns, research the problems, and lobby on behalf of students in the state capitol and in Washington, D.C.  Here at UW-Madison, WISPIRG is funded by student segregated fees through ASM, and in the past has received contracts to allowed students to work with these staff. 

Over the years, UW-Madison students have reaffirmed their support for WISPIRG's funding many times, through referenda, thousands of petition signatures, and the approval of over 20 different sessions of student government.  WISPIRG's funding and contract not only honor the tradition of student control over student fees, but are also consistent with Wisconsin State Statute 36.09(5), which grants students the responsibility of making decisions regarding student fees that fund campus activities.

Last year, Chancellor Ward removed a majority of the funding approved by ASM, leaving WISPIRG without full funding for the current academic year. Students and faculty have since demonstrated widespread support for ASM’s decision and called on the Chancellor to reconsider his decision with over 4,500 petitions, over 100 faculty signed on to an endorsement,  numerous letters published in the papers, and several personal e-mails sent to the Chancellor. Then this past semester WISPIRG's funding was again approved by ASM, sending a message to the Chancellor that students will not back down on their right to make decisions on segregated fees.   Yet, Chancellor Ward removed funding for all staff members from WISPIRG’s budget and has refused to grant the contract that ASM requested in order for WISPIRG to exist next year.

Aside from the fact that the Chancellor is not respecting student decisions, the timing of his decision seems to indicate a lack of good faith effort to engage in shared governance with students and to respect their rights. This recent decision was made one day after the deadline for students to appeal to the Regents and for Chancellor to present a revised budget.  He has since changed the deadline to appeal, but if students are held to the highest standard when abiding by policies, then the Chancellor should be held to the same standard. 

The Chancellor provided little detail in his memo to ASM leaders to explain his decision. In the past he has released a public “clarification” on his decision, but his reasoning is not very clear at all. He claims that Regent Financial Policy prevents ASM from funding professional staff for student organizations, like the staff that WISPIRG works with, through ASM’s processes.  Students, faculty and staff have on multiple occasions asked the Chancellor and UW-Legal where exactly in related policy it says that students are violating policy, but no one has been able to point out where exactly it says that what students are doing is wrong. (This is a behavior I have observed many, many times over the last decade here.)

What isn’t clear is why the relevant policies are being interpreted in a new way that not only prevents students from funding a group that they have funded since 1989, but also differs from the intent of the policy and the interpretation of past chancellors.

UW-Madison has a rich history of shared governance and of students standing up for their rights, but that legacy is threatened when the Chancellor selectively uses discretion to deny students of decision-making power.

Students have voted to fund WISPIRG and grant the group a contract for over 20 years, and during that time Chancellors have agreed with ASM’s decision to approve a contract.  ASM has voted for years to fund WISPIRG to work with professional staff on important advocacy campaigns to fight for the public interest, so why is this time different? 

The Chancellor’s decisions for FY13 and FY14 are a departure from the decision and reasoning of past Chancellors who have ultimately allowed students to exercise their right to allocate segregated fees.

I strongly urge President Reilly to accept the Student Services Finance Committee’s appeal on WISPIRG’s budget and respect students by re-considering Chancellor Ward’s decision. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Case for Ending Student Loans

Sometimes public problems deserve massive public solutions. This is one of those times.  

As I explained in my testimony to the U.S. Senate HELP committee this morning, student loans have been a requirement for college attendance in the United States.  It is no longer possible for the vast majority of American families to afford college without taking on debt.  It isn't a "choice." While we can disagree about whether or not the personal benefits of that debt are "worthwhile," the policy question is whether the social consequences are tenable.

I argue that they are not.  While the average student loan debt under income-based repayment plans may be "manageable" under current financial industry standards (meaning it represents no more than 10% of annual income) that does not mean it has no negative impacts. (The evidence is far from clear that the debt will in fact be manageable-- the Australians are reportedly amazed that we think lessons from their experiences can reasonably be imported to our very different country and higher education space.)   Having student loan debt very likely decreases the likelihood of borrowing for other things, including buying a home, starting a family, and other hallmarks of American middle-class life.  It also comes with a special kind of stress, as it is not dischargeable, ever, even in death. 

Even more importantly, loans have facilitated bad behaviors on the part of colleges and universities that have other wide-ranging social effects. For example, by attaching a large monetary value to each student, they encourage colleges to enroll students and not spend money to serve them well. They have enabled the expansion of prices affecting even those families who do not borrow.  And they perpetuate the long-standing but ill-supported argument that the private benefits of education outweigh the social benefits (the truth is that the former are measured more accurately and more often than the latter, so comparisons are not yet possible).

Milton Friedman is the godfather of the student loan crisis in higher education.  The same man who created the voucher system destroying our public schools and much of Latin America began advocating in the 1960s for a free-market approach to higher education financing that would shift the burden of funding college from government entirely to students-- this was his explicit goal. Incredibly, he also managed to convince people that this would be more equitable than the alternative of charging everyone less.  Only a market devotee and a political ideologue more committed to theory than evidence would do this.  But many economists around him were convinced and helped to push for the "Middle Income Student Assistance Act" of 1978 which originated the guaranteed student loan program in the name of "choice." Unsurprisingly, the private colleges and universities and the burgeoning proprietary sector were major supporters.

The student loan crisis we now experienced is therefore a manufactured one.  It was an enormous mistake to shift the focus of financial aid from access to choice, and a mistake we must undo.  Here are the next steps:

1. The reauthorization of the Higher Education Act of 2013 should end the guaranteed student loan program.  Private banks will not see funding student loans as a good deal, and they will eventually disappear.

2. Stripped of loans as a way to finance college, families and students nationwide will immediately look at the costs of attendance at our colleges and universities and express outrage-- outrage that is long overdue.  They will demand that their state legislatures driven down those costs immediately. These voices will be loud, numerous, and powerful.

3. State legislatures will respond, acting to force down the costs of attendance at their public colleges and universities by increasing income taxes and devoting more appropriations to funding them.  They will not simply starve the public colleges and universities because the public will not demand it-- families and students will not abide by seeing the quality eroded. They will learn, fast, that price and quality are not one and the same.

4. With prices substantially lowered at public institutions, the different between public and private colleges and universities will be quite large.  Privates will either respond by lowering their prices (unlikely), standing firm, or closing.  The latter would be just fine-- private institutions should operate only where the market demands it, there is no need for government subsidies.   Nearly all for-profit institutions will close as well.

5. Without student loans to pay for the costs of private education, students entering the private sector will mainly be wealthy, just as they are in k-12 private schools. However, given the widespread belief among private institutions in student diversity and their social justice commitments, these institutions will continue to use their endowments to provide scholarships.  Pell Grant recipients attending private institutions will have those additional funds to support their needs at those more expensive schools.

The result: a strong public system of higher education sufficiently resourced to educate the masses, and a smaller array of private opportunities for those who can afford them or whom private colleges deem worthy of sponsorship.  A college education for all without debt.  Sufficiently lowered prices to make covering the costs unmet by grant aid with a modest amount of work. 

Am I honestly suggesting we go "backwards"? No.  This isn't regression, this is progression. We tried out Friedman's ideas, and they failed, exacerbating socioeconomic inequality in education outcomes, and running millions of Americans into debt.  His approach benefitted private interests, not public ones.  That's precisely what he meant for them to do-- and we collectively fell for it.  Having learned our lessons, it's time to rethink the entire approach and move forward. 

Please, tell me what you think. It's a conversation worth having. 

My Testimony to the U.S. Senate

This morning, I testified before the United State's Senate HELP committee on the topic of college affordability. My written testimony can be found here.  The text of my oral testimony follows, and I have added a q&a to respond to several questions I expect to receive.  I welcome your feedback.


Good morning, Chairman Harkin, Senator Alexander, and Members of the Committee. Thank you all for this opportunity.

There’s never been a more important time to address the issue of college affordability.  College is now the main road to a stable, secure life, and in this age of global knowledge markets, it is college-educated workers who will be the main driver of the U.S.’s prosperity. But the research evidence is clear:  most families and students find the high cost of college attendance unbearable, and it’s affecting their choices about whether to attend college, where to go, and even whether or not to finish the degrees and certificates they start. As access to college becomes more difficult, public frustration is emerging and is spilling over towards other institutions and indeed into the streets.

Today Americans are experiencing annual declines in family income, yet net price of attending public colleges and universities continues to rise by almost $500 per year—that’s after taking aid into account. In the early 1970s, the maximum Pell Grant covered almost 80% of the costs of attending a public 4-year institution--today it covers barely 30%.  With so little help, even low-income families are left with a bill of about $12,000 a year. For many, that’s the equivalent of up to 70% of their annual income. And so unsurprisingly, only about 1 in 10 find their way a college degree.

It hasn’t always been this way. The idea that students should bear most of the costs of college comes from a time when college cost much less and powerful people thought markets were saviors.  Students today are just as responsible as ever, and just as willing to work for their education, but their task is plainly impossible.  Covering that $12,000 in unmet need requires a student to work at least 35 hours a week, 52 weeks a year at the federal minimum wage. That arrangement is untenable, and moreover compromises their chances of completing their degrees.

Congress got it right in 1972 when it affirmed the societal goal of universal access to postsecondary education as a citizen’s right.  Understanding that low tuition supplemented by the Pell grant was the most effective means of supporting access, it invested heavily in that key program.

But within a decade, the needs of students and families fell by the wayside, and our financial aid system has never recovered.  Acting on the theory that higher education would become more “equitable” and efficient by operating on free market principles, policymakers began reducing the availability of grant aid, increasing the availability of loans, and de facto encouraging rising costs of attendance we see today.

This was a mistake.  The decision to move away from a low-tuition approach to higher education, coupled with a refusal to regulate how institutions set prices has forced millions of students into debt.  Loans are the new normal because of political choices, not because there are no alternatives.  College today what the high school was a century ago, and yet students are being required to both work and borrow for it.

The consequences are evident—I’ve spent the last five years with a team of researchers on the ground in Wisconsin documenting the results.  Let me tell you about Chloe, who I met when she enrolled in a Wisconsin technical college after finishing high school in a small, rural Wisconsin town of just 1,800 people. Chloe wanted to become a veterinary technician. Since she was the first person in her family to even try college, they had no savings.  So she got the Pell and figured she was set.  Not quite. As a last-ditch effort to ensure that she had enough resources for books, she’d sold her family’s horse, whom she’d raised on their farm as a teenager. It broke her heart, but she didn’t know what else to do.  The horse was just a short-term fix: a month later, she found herself short of gas money.  So she took a job at a fast food restaurant, but they couldn’t offer enough hours, so she found a second job at a fabric store, working one job in the morning and the other at night. She attended class in-between, getting home at midnight, and beginning her day again at 6 am. Working left little time for studying, but she feared loans, since she had seen credit card debt nearly destroy her mother’s finances.  Running from job to school to job, she was exhausted, hungry, and stressed.

Six months later, I checked on Chloe, and found that college was done—she’d dropped out.  The two-job-plus-school routine led her to fall asleep in her classes, and she’d earned a 1.9 GPA—putting her on academic probation. Her program of study didn’t allow for that, and kicked her out.  Furious, confused, and unsure whom to talk to, Chloe bailed.  Several weeks later, a bank began calling—the student loan she’d accepted during finals week, when she was trying to find another way forward, was now coming due. Unemployed, in debt, and disillusioned, Chloe was dodging their calls.

Making it this hard to pursue a college degree is weakening our great nation. We have to return to a demonstrably effective approach to putting college within reach of all Americans by providing a meaningful Pell Grant targeted to the neediest families, distributed early enough to help students prepare for college, and stripped of all unnecessary requirements.  This should be matched by a difficult but necessary effort to drive down college costs by ending the ineffective tax credits flowing to wealthy families, stemming the tide of indebtedness by capping the interest rate on student loans, and using incentives to push states and institutions to return to a focus on providing high-quality postsecondary education, not glorified summer camps, that are accessible to all Americans.  My written testimony contains specific recommendations aimed at accomplishing these goals.

My grandfather is here today because he’s a great example of what happens when Congress acts on behalf of all students. The GI Bill made it possible for him to graduate from NYU in 1950 – the first person in his family to earn a college degree. He went on to graduate and postgraduate education and is still practicing as a psychoanalyst doing work he loves, alongside my grandmother, a writer.  He is my constant reminder of the wonderful lives Congress has helped the hard-working people of this nation lead by supporting their educational dreams.  I know we can do better right now for students like Chloe and the millions like her.  Help us find our way back to the original goals and intentions of financial aid, and we will all benefit.

Questions & Answers 

The central thesis of my oral testimony is when it comes to promoting equitable access to postsecondary education the combination of low tuition and modest financial aid is a superior approach to a massive program of federal student aid.

Q: Don’t we know that the low tuition model is inefficient and inequitable, since it subsidizes the wealthy?

A: No. That’s a theoretical supposition, and one that’s not borne out by much research.  Historically, the largest increases in higher education participation have occurred in places and at institutions of low tuition.  A long body of research indicates that financial aid alone doesn’t achieve the same results. The high tuition-high aid model fails because the subsidies never really reach the neediest students, and the costs aren’t borne only by the rich, but also by the middle-class.  The American middle-class is losing ground, and is unable to subsidize anyone else.  It is bearing the costs of this strategy with student debt, and this is unsustainable.

By keeping tuition low we help everyone. By providing aid for the neediest, we help the poor more.  A low tuition model is the same approach undergirding Social Security, one of our most successful programs.  Because we know from existing data that children from the country’s wealthiest families almost never attend public universities, by funding this approach with a progressive taxation system, we place a greater burden on the wealthiest 10% who will ultimately pay twice—once via taxes, and twice by sending their children to private schools.  That is far more equitable and efficient, especially since it will achieve the equity in outcomes that we desire.

Q: Aren’t you overreacting to what is essentially an informational deficiency on the part of needy students?

No.  The needs analysis and the distribution of aid is inherently complicated in the current system and this is why efforts to simplify fail over and over again. It is always difficult to distinguish the truly needy from the somewhat needy from the modestly needy; this is true the world over.  Complex systems arise to try and solve this problem, and the result is increased involvement in institutional policy-making and poorly designed formulas and regulations that inadvertently threaten the autonomy of colleges and universities and the long-term political commitment to equity in access to quality, public education.  The current needs analysis is undemocratic, bureaucratic, arbitrary and open to evasion.

Q: Are you proposing that we degrade the quality of our colleges and universities to promote access?

A:  Not at all.  I am proposing that we use taxes rather than financial aid to fund public colleges and universities, and I am proposing that we significantly increase their diversity by ensuring that more students from all family backgrounds can afford to participate.

If we want to keep costs down further, we should decline to subsidize the costs of attendance at private and for-profit institutions entirely.  Will these institutions suffer? Not if the market for their form of education can survive without government subsidies.  Why should government intervene in the free market to prop them up?

Q: Given that we now have income-contingent repayment plans, why should we care if students take loans?

A:  No American should be forced to take on debt of any amount simply because they want the opportunity to receive an education that every citizen now needs to fully succeed in society.  A century ago that meant high school; today it means college.  Paying off student debt each month under income contingent repayment might be “manageable” in terms defined by the financial industry, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t reducing the quality of peoples’ lives.

Q: Why should the public pay for private goods?

A:  First, it is ironic that these distinctions are drawn when it comes to students but not when it comes to institutions.  Higher education policy has been remarkably silent when it comes to distinguishing between public and private institutions, or between for-profit and non-profits ones.  Financial aid eligibility is extended to students at all types, ignoring important distinctions in how they are financed—even though in its current form student assistance is effectively a form of institutional assistance.  In fact, the historical record shows that much of the political support for providing aid in this way came from lobbyists from the private colleges, who hoped that aid would help narrow the tuition gap between publics and privates by encouraging public tuitions to rise. In theory, they thought free market financing would be equitable to the needy, promote freedom of choice, remove regulations, and improve the quality of education through greater competition.

Second, while many claim that the individual benefits outweigh the societal, the fact is that this is a function of the greater difficulty of measuring social benefits.  As the late Joseph Pechman of Brookings argued, higher education provides numerous societal benefits but even the state of the art in social science isn’t advanced enough to measure them.

Furthermore, there is no reason to distinguish among levels of education in terms of public financing rationales or between education and other provisions such as national parks or police protection.  Low tuition is justified by social necessity, and the costs of any subsidies should be returned via increased tax revenue over time—and if it is not, we simply need to adjust the income taxes.

Q: Are you suggesting that the growth in student loans was intentional?

A: In a word, yes.  Beginning in 1955, economist Milton Friedman began promoting the idea that higher education could be financed through student loans, and particularly through income-contingent repayment plans.  In 1968, he published an article arguing that higher education should operate without public subsidies in accordance with “free market” principles.  Several other reports by economists piggy-backed on these ideas, noting that this could allow tuition to rise to account for a larger percentage of the total cost of education.

But others were concerned, even then. Howard Bowen raised worries that loans would not be conducive “to the widening and deepening of learning” and admitted that “when large amounts of money are involved that I become apprehensive.”  Well, today loans are the new normal, and large amounts of money would be an understatement.

Q: Do you think this plan will ever be adopted?

A. Probably not, since the special interests backing it are incredibly powerful.  State governments will oppose it since it means they must spend tax dollars on education.  University administrators and faculty will oppose it since it diminishes their overall revenue.  Private colleges will oppose it for obvious reasons.  Free market economists will oppose it simply because it strikes them as irrational.

If you dislike this proposal, then please read my written testimony, since it contains numerous ways to improve the current system.

Q: Please summarize the benefits of your proposed model once more.

A:  Low tuition supplemented by need-based student aid brings five distinct advantages:
1.     It provides an acceptable level of financial risk for nearly all students.
2.     It is simple and non-bureaucratic
3.     The amount of financial aid needed is limited because of low tuition
4.     The institutional appropriations accompanying low tuition provide large amounts of capital for investment in institutional capabilities to meet student demand, and financial aid expands that for those serving more low-income students.
5.     It provides a government-assisted service that nearly every American hopes to access—it has strong popular demand.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

An Education Optimist Goes to Washington

It will be an incredible honor and immense responsibility to appear this Tuesday morning before the United States Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions for a hearing about college affordability. I am especially happy that the focus of this hearing is on the perspectives of students and families, since they view policy as enacted, not policy as intended.

The hearing will be webcast here beginning at 9 am Central/ 10 am Eastern.  My written testimony has been submitted and will be posted on the website following the hearing-- it is substantially longer and more detailed than my oral testimony, since I only get 5 minutes for that.

This committee is chaired by Senator Tom Harkin, and (be still my heart!) includes both Senator Tammy Baldwin and Senator Elizabeth Warren. I'm told they will both be present, and that Senator Baldwin will deliver my introduction.

I will be joined by a representative from the U.S. PIRG and two students. I look forward to this important conversation, and hope that you'll join me in it by tweeting to me @saragoldrickrab
I'll post some reactions and talk a bit about this uncommon experience after the hearing.  After my heart stops pounding, of course.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Grading as the New Battlefield

This guest post is authored by R. Thomas, a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Grading might not be the most exciting aspect of a teacher’s career but it might be one of the best sources of job security - particularly in light of proposed online courses with automated grading that aim to put professors out of work or into unappealing, low-wage, jobs.

Of course we’ve heard a lot about online education, MOOCs, merit badges, and competency assessments. As Clayton Christiansen describes it, universities save money with online education simply because there is a glut of PhDs. For years graduate schools have been over producing the amount of PhDs. Consequently talented instructors are more than willing to teach courses at low wages, with no benefits, and with essentially no job security. As he writes in The Innovative University,
“Adjunct instructors give the online educators two advantages. Rather than receiving an annual salary, as full-time faculty at traditional universities do, online instructors are paid by the course. This means that the online university can match teaching supply to student demand - the instructor is hired, or contracted for, only when it class is likely to have enough students to generate an operating profit.  Also, an online instructors teaching performance is easily monitored, and an underperformer has no contractual right to further employment.” (page 213)
According to this view, it will be a lower class of underpaid instructors that will help bring higher education to the masses at a cheaper cost. It is a Wal-Mart version of higher education- a vision that combines both inexpensive education and legions of poorly paid instructors.

One might hope that this is just a minority view, a freakish nonrepresentative example. In fact you might say that there are structural barriers to the spread of online education: instructors are simply needed to grade students’ essays and exams. Unfortunately widespread changes might not be so unlikely. Yesterday a New York Times article described an effort to go beyond multiple-choice and actually automate the grading of essays. The vision is that a few superstar lecturers will deliver content to hundreds of thousands of students, whose grades will be established by a computer. To say nothing of whether the computer can actually grade an essay, one can imagine the impact on jobs for PhD’s. Another article from the Chronicle of Higher Education described a similar vision. The State of California has proposed a new university that requires no coursework whatsoever. Students simply need to take multiple-choice exams to receive a degree.

American higher education is commonly characterized as unique among industries in having missed the technological revolution. Universities have simply not garnered the productivity gains that other industries have received, mainly because teaching cannot be automated. Consequently college is exceptionally expensive. Advocates for greater access and cheaper prices maintain admirable positions; however the question remains who will pay for greater access and cheaper tuition. Many students cannot afford to pay for it, the private sector will not pay for it, and the states will not pay for it. Such efforts as described in the New York Times and the Chronicle suggest a technological solution. Many professors are to be replaced by machines, just as factory workers were replaced by robots. Maintaining control of grading is one way of preventing this change. Indeed, ownership of grading may soon become a major battleground for American professors and it seems that at least some of the American professoriate is rising to the challenge.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Wisconsin Idea: Student Fee Allocation Norms in Wisconsin Surfacing in Other Big 10 Schools

This post is authored by Maria K. Giannopoulos,  Vice Chair of the Associated Students of Madison at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She can be reached at mgiannopoulo@wisc.edu 

In an article published by the Chronicle of Higher Education earlier this week, Anil Wadhwani of Northwestern and Jonathan Green of Cambridge describe how the Northwestern University administration is giving students a voice in the college budget process.

To some, giving students a voice regarding the use of their fees may be a no-brainer, but at many institutions administrators and staff unilaterally decide the distribution of fees and ideas for student services. The authors cite "shortsighted vision" and high student turnover as possible reasons to limit student engagement in the fee process. But at Northwestern, administration finally realized that despite these potential issues, student input was valuable and attainable.

In Wisconsin, our conception of student power is even stronger. The power of allocating and deciding on the use of fees is codified in state statute and in University of Wisconsin (UW) system policy. Chapter 36.09(5) in state statute declares, “Students shall have the primary responsibility for the formulation and review of policies concerning student life, services, and interests." Under Financial Policy 50, set by the UW System Board of Regents, Segregated University Fees (SUF) are allocated by students in consultation with the chancellor and subject to the final confirmation of the Board of Regents, in accordance with the statue mentioned above.

The system afforded by Wisconsin’s higher education governing documents highlights the shared governance that we students, faculty, staff, and administration use to make decisions. When all voices are present at the table, an outcome more fitting of the representative groups comes to fruition, rather than decisions made in the absence of key stakeholders. In the case of student fees, students allocate money to student groups and services. Who knows better than students about the needs and requirements of student life and services? No one.

Wadhwani and Green note that the committee at Northwestern is one that mirrors the SUF Allocation Committees across the state of Wisconsin. “The committee isn't a focus group, and it doesn't merely rubber-stamp the decisions of higher-ups. Rather, it allows Northwestern students to suggest concrete solutions to real problems with the undergraduate experience.”

This is a promising victory for student power in private colleges. Northwestern is the only private university within the Big 10, although University of Michigan and Penn State have private roots. Even though many private universities do have student input, they may only be bound to Trustees or a Board of Directors instead of a state statute or Board of Regents like we have in Wisconsin. The same could also be said for public institutions in other states nationwide.

Students in Wisconsin have a voice on how their money is spent, and it's about time that other institutions emulate the model we have here. 

The MOOC Industrial Complex (Part II)

About a month ago I began writing about the MOOC Industrial Complex.  As expected, it's growing rapidly.  Today's NY Times tells us that soon computers will be grading essays at the college level.

Not only will those brainy professors be replaced by technology, but heck even better, the computer will give you a "retake" so you can try and improve your grade! Gee, how lovely.  The creator even emphasizes the importance of that immediate feedback and instant gratification, since (oh my goodness!) students currently have to wait days-- or even weeks!!-- for their essays to be graded.

It won't be long now, we're told, as the system is "nearing the capability of human graders."

Watch out you graduate students and professor-- the machines are coming...

Just wait, as one of my favorite Twitterers Siva Vaidhyanathan writes, for the students to line up at the computers' office hours (??) to protest and renegotiate their grades.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Those Selfish PhD Candidates

One of the most stunning moments in the recent Ed Talks Wisconsin came towards the end of a Friday night discussion about MOOCs. The room was heavily populated with graduate students, many of whom were asking about the implications of these online courses for their employment prospects.  With the decoupling of teaching from their future responsibilities, many were (rightly) worried about how they'd be trained, funded, and what they'd do post degree.

As one student put it,"What's the incentive for the next generation of scholars to pursue a PhD?"
In response to that question, the Chancellor of the UW Colleges, Ray Cross, responded this way:
"Is your goal to get a PhD, or is your goal to change education?"

Many in the room looked up, confused about whether he was serious.

Well, an email that just arrived from UW-Madison suggests he was.  The newsletter it included contained the following key blurb:

"New program trains students to create online courses.  With the advent of online courses and degrees, a new program will teach students how to provide online course support. Student Online Course Support (SOCS) will help students find campus tech-related jobs, expose them to new career paths, and save the University funds by hiring student support. Tell your students about this opportunity."

Got that? It's full-speed ahead in support of the Flex Degree and the MOOCs here at Madison; above I linked to the course description that explicitly references these programs. Want a campus job? Get on board. And be sure, of course, to save the university money!

Will this next become a mandated part of our graduate training? Or will we no longer need those folks, as our younger Badger are trained and ready to serve?

ps. The video of Cross starts around the 1:32 minute mark.