Steven Brill’s book: Tailspin

I am reading it now. I did not realize that he would write about two of my favorite higher education institutions: Amherst College and UC Irvine, both in the context of bridging the moats that currently exclude many (if not most) from the benefits of 21st century American meritocracy. Amherst, because its former President, Anthony Marx, put in place a program to actively reach out beyond the usual legacies and elite high schools in its recruitment of freshman. UC Irvine, because like my own institution (George Mason), it has focused on educating bright students who are from under-represented backgrounds. And by that I mean backgrounds that historically have not had access to the top-flight resources that a UC education is all about. Reason to be a bit optimistic.

On the other hand, Brill really focuses on the legal and financial ecosystems, what he calls the Casino Economy. I wish he also wrote more about scientists and engineers in the same context of the American meritocracy.

William Deresiewicz on higher ed….

His long piece essay/movie review entitled The Miseducation of America is here from the Chronicle. It’s well worth the read, although I suspect some of our loyal readers may disagree with his positions on MOOCS and other proffered solutions to the mess we seem to find ourselves in.

Money quote:

The truth is, there are powerful forces at work in our society that are actively hostile to the college ideal. That distrust critical thinking and deny the proposition that democracy necessitates an educated citizenry. That have no use for larger social purposes. That decline to recognize the worth of that which can’t be bought or sold. Above all, that reject the view that higher education is a basic human right.

The best tuition cap of all?

Hat tip to Steve Fiore, the idea from Robert Samuels is here. Money quote:

Rather than directly paying for public higher-education institutions, state and federal governments have often relied on tax deductions and credits to support individual students. But what this system has achieved is a tremendous subsidy for upper-middle-class and wealthy families, while lower-income students are forced to take out huge loans to pay for their education.

It’ll be interesting to see what the future of public higher ed really looks like. My guess is qualitatively different from what we have today.

Non-discretionary personal spending…

Apparently we’re just like the federal government, our personal budgets are being squeezed by what amounts to non-discretionary outlays: health care and education. Patrick Appel in Andrew Sullivan’s Dish, here.

My own analogy with the non-discretionary side of the federal budget stems from two facts: health care is central to both and the mandatory expenditure nature squeezes cuts onto what’s left. In the case of the feds that includes R&D (like NIH and NSF). In the case of Mom and Pop, probably they are doing less retail shopping…and in fact that fits the latest data.

Public Intellectuals….

Carnegie Mellon’s Jeffrey Williams has an excellent piece on public intellectuals and Stefan Collini in particular, here. The context is the current higher education debate in the UK (also taking place here in the States).

The money quote:

It was a historically unique situation, he noted: “I’m lucky in my generation. If I had been born 15 or 20 years earlier, from my social background I certainly wouldn’t have had most of the opportunities that I have had.” And, given the cuts enacted in the Thatcher era, “if I’d been born 15 or 20 years later, certainly in Britain, I think the road would have been much rockier in the lack of jobs and declining working conditions in universities.”

Thoughts on the Obama higher ed plan

First, I’ve never been impressed with government ability to pick winners and losers (NIH and NSF are such successful agencies precisely because they emphasize peer review). Second, as Tyler Cowen pointed out, there will be colleges that game the system–just as they do with the US News ratings today. Third, in my opinion, the underlying problem is the macro-withdrawal of state support for the public institutions that used to be the core of affordable higher ed. This withdrawal is what has generated the large increases in tuition–this contrary to much of the conventional wisdom on this issue. The Obama higher ed plan without any substantive change in state support creates a zero-sum game for the colleges, but it’s not going to be able to magically solve the problem.

Finally, I can’t conceive that this plan will be able to make its way through the paralyzed Congress–at least now.

So I’m skeptical.

Stay tuned….