Colleges and Universities
In its early months, Bernie Sanders's presidential campaign suffered from the impression that it was a protest candidacy more about discussing issues than about electing a president. More recently, it has looked more like a genuine effort to deny Hillary Clinton the nomination — an effort that seems likely to fail. But judged by that earlier standard, Sanders has been highly successful. I'll use myself as an example: Thanks to Sanders — and specifically thanks to his campaign — I've come around to the idea that the correct tuition for qualified students at public colleges and universities is $0.
According to a recent national Inside Higher Ed survey of college and university presidents, nearly one-third agree that sexual assault is prevalent on college campuses nationwide. But only 6 percent believe it’s prevalent at their own institutions. When the survey came out in April, pundits and critics immediately pounced, some of them lambasting the presidents as being “out of touch,” “delusional,” and “in denial” about sexual assault on their campuses. But the apparent gap between national and campus-specific perceptions may have less to do with what critics described as administrative myopia and more to do with the institutional structures of campuses themselves. Can this gap be explained sociologically? And what would such a sociological explanation suggest about sexual assault?
On Wednesday, the Obama administration will begin choking off the financial lifeline of for-profit colleges whose graduates can’t find well-paying jobs — and the move is likely to accelerate a wave of shutdowns for an industry taking assaults from all sides.
In February 2002, a 21-year-old junior at Alfred University in upstate New York was found dead in a creek after taking a beating from his fraternity brothers at Zeta Beta Tau. Although authorities couldn't prove the blows caused the young man's death, the circumstances prompted school officials to conclude, after years of trying to reform Greek culture on campus, that frats weren't worth saving. "The Greek system is beyond repair," the chairman of the school's board said at the time. The decision to ban fraternities came during a period of heightened scrutiny on university campuses across the country, in which a number of colleges eliminated school-sanctioned Greek life in response to allegations of binge drinking, hazing and sex assault.
On Friday, President Obama traveled to Tennessee to propose that community college be free for all Americans willing to work hard—just as elementary and secondary schooling has long been universally free to students. In today's economy, a high school degree no longer guarantees a middle-class income, so Obama properly wants to update the country's social contract to make two years of college, not just high school, something students receive at public expense. "This proposal would make two years of college the norm in the way that high school was the norm in the last century," White House domestic policy advisor Cecilia Munoz explained.
President Obama's proposal to offer two years of free community college to many students has plenty of hurdles ahead — chief among them the massive task of persuading a Republican Congress to go along. But the proposal is important, even if it's unlikely to happen, because it puts forward a radical idea: a future where free, universal education expands beyond K-12 through the first two years of college. That's a huge change. But tuition isn't the main barrier to a college degree for many community college students. If free tuition plans are going to succeed, they'll eventually have to grapple with that.
Under Chief Justice John Roberts, the Supreme Court has emerged as one of the most ideologically aggressive in decades, and its rightward trajectory is usually attributed to this simple fact: a majority of the justices are very conservative. Today’s Court contains, according to one study, four of the five most conservative justices to sit on the bench since FDR; Anthony Kennedy, the putative swing vote, is in the top ten.
After every recession since the Second World War, the legal profession swiftly and robustly recovered. Not this time. The market for lawyers shrank following the post-2008 recession, and no one thinks that it’s coming all the way back. What’s happened in the legal world represents a twist on developments in the larger economy. In law, as in the nation, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. With lawyers, though, it’s the system of professional education that’s directly contributing to inequality. In the legal world, the haves are doing better than fine. In 1985, average profits per partner in The American Lawyer’s list of leading law firms was $309,000 ($623,000 in current dollars); today, the profits per partner for roughly the same group is about $1.5 million.
I am 23 years old. I've got $60,000 in debt from student loans. I make around $10 an hour working as a cook, and I live off of about $20 a week after I cover rent and other expenses. Since I graduated, my degree has been pretty much useless. When people see that I have a degree, it's like it doesn't even mean anything. Every job that I've done, it's kind of been by personal relation or word of mouth.
Imagine corporations that intentionally target low-income single mothers as ideal customers. Imagine that these same companies claim to sell tickets to the American dream—gainful employment, the chance for a middle class life. Imagine that the fine print on these tickets, once purchased, reveals them to be little more than debt contracts, profitable to the corporation's investors, but disastrous for its customers. And imagine that these corporations receive tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies to do this dirty work. Now, know that these corporations actually exist and are universities. Over the last three decades, the price of a year of college has increased by more than 1,200%.
Lisa Sendrow, whose experience of college sexual assault was dismissed by The Washington Post's George Will, slammed the columnist for silencing the voices of survivors and rejected the idea she received any privileges from her status as a survivor, as Will suggested. Instead, she said she was diagnosed with PTSD following her assault and received violent threats after her story was first reported. Will's June 6 column sparked outrage from women's organizations, U.S. senators, and college rape survivors for suggesting that sexual assault victims -- or people who Will decided were only claiming to be sexual assault victims -- enjoyed "a coveted status that confers privileges.
Barack Obama’s plan for a universal rating system for America’s colleges and universities, announced last year and the subject of a New York Times front-pager this week, is bad news, say the nation’s college presidents. Given many college presidents’ lack of regard for the students they ostensibly serve, is it any wonder that I think it might actually be a good idea? The proposal as it currently stands—in its “version 1.0,” according to White House official Cecelia Muñoz—is tremendously flawed, but most of its flaws have fixes. And besides, even in its current state, I believe it would do more good than harm in regulating a system that now dangerously approaches a racket.
The GI Bill, passed in 1944, has played an important role in building the American middle class by giving millions of veterans a chance to attend college. It is a hallowed reminder of policymaking that promotes the public good. But in its most recent incarnation, this piece of legislation has been vulnerable to the abuses of the for-profit education industry: Since the 2008 passage of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, for-profit colleges have increasingly recognized that federal funds for returning servicemen and -women create a vast pool of money that they can tap into.
When Murray Hastie returned to New York in January 2006 after two tours of duty in Iraq, he hoped to use the GI Bill to complete his college education. Denied admission to two state colleges, Hastie came upon DeVry University. The day after he filled out an online request for information, a representative from the for-profit university visited him at his home and encouraged him to enroll in a biomedical informatics program in New Jersey.
Last winter, the Department of Veterans Affairs tasked its newly hired blogger, a cantankerous Iraq vet named Alex Horton, with investigating the website GIBill.com, one of many official-looking links that come up when you Google terms like "GI Bill schools." With names like ArmedForcesEDU.com and UseYourGIBill.us, these sites purport to inform military veterans how to best use their education benefits. In reality, Horton found, they're run by marketing firms hired by for-profit colleges to extol the virtues of high-priced online or evening courses. He concluded that GIBill.com "serves little purpose other than to funnel student veterans and convince them their options for education are limited to their advertisers."