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NC Budget and Tax Center, Poverty and Policy Matters

At a time when ensuring that all students receive a quality education is more important than ever, students from low-income families are increasingly less likely to experience academic success and educational opportunities than their affluent peers. In fact, students from affluent families are 10 times more likely to graduate from high school and go on to earn a college degree by age 24 compared to students from low-income families.

This skewed outcome alone is startling, but what it projects for North Carolina’s future is even more troubling. With an increasing number of jobs in the state, and nationally, expected to require some level of postsecondary education, we need more of our students from low-income families – who now represent a majority of students in our public schools – graduating from high school and going on to earn a postsecondary credential.

The United States is one of the few advanced nations where more educational resources tend to flow to schools serving better-off children than schools serving poor students, a recent New York Times article highlights. Read More

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School lunchesToday’s lunch links theme is: “Important subjects you can’t believe you didn’t already more about.”

Subject #1 is the the latest worrisome scoop on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. For those of you who didn’t make our September Crucial Conversation on the topic, the TPP is a secretly-negotiated trade deal to empower large corporations that many think will be much worse than NAFTA for the American public. Now, today, to continue the good news, the folks at WikiLeaks have released the secret text for the Intellectual Property Rights Chapter of the proposed treaty and spelled out numerous concerns about human rights that it may pose.

Subject #2 is a little less momentous, but might well impact the lives of folks you know in the near term; it concerns the already well-down-the-road plans to completely overhaul the venerable GED test. As the NC Justice Center’s Sabine Schoenbach reports this morning in this new policy brief, the changes will be significant — a new format, new computerization and higher fees to name three — and could leave a lot of North Carolinians behind absent thoughtful action.

Subject #3 is one you probably could’ve guessed at, but about which it’s still good to be reminded — namely, the amazing mythology about the supposed benefits of the conservative “education reform” agenda. Read More

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The Pope Center for Higher Education is promoting the disruption (or dismantling?) of traditional higher education by way of reduced university budgets and a takeover by for-profit education models, according to a presentation given last week by the Pope Center’s president, Jane Shaw.

In North Carolina, we’re seeing for the third year in a row the university system suffering the deepest cuts of the three branches of the state’s education system. At the same time, UNC Chapel Hill is one of many schools joining the increasingly popular MOOC movement, which is a revenue model that could ultimately cut costs by reducing the need for labor, i.e. professors. One lecture could reach tens of thousands of potentially paying customers (also known as students).

Are these actions part of a much larger campaign to dismantle traditional higher education?

Shaw’s presentation last week was given at the State Policy Network’s annual gathering. Her talk was called “Innovation in Higher Education.” Check out her presentation here.

Notable among Shaw’s remarks include “there’s a lot of fat in higher ed budgets,” and that good policies are “frustrated by leftwing faculty.”

Alternatively, Shaw asserted that “For-Profits ‘Get It.’” However, Shaw’s slide also indicated that there are some problems with the industry, namely that they produce high default rates and low graduation rates (known as ‘churn’) and they are under fire from the media and Congress.

Shaw also compared using online and for-profit education as a means to disrupt the traditional higher education model with Clayton Christensen’s description of how Sony’s 1947 pocket radio turned that industry upside down.

The pocket radio was arguably a superior product to what consumers previously had access to and paved the way for subsequent inventions like television, video players and so on.

For-profit schools by and large provide lower quality educational experiences, charge high tuition amounts and are heavily subsidized by the American taxpayer by way of the federal student aid program.

Shaw concluded her presentation by encouraging states to keep financial pressure on university budgets, bring Western Governors University branches into the state system as Texas has done, and encourage institutions to accept credits from elsewhere, like the company StraighterLine.

**This post was updated to reflect that Clayton Christensen is not associated with the University of Phoenix. We regret the error.

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The recent death of an 83-year old college professor that came on the heels of toiling in a career in which she was subject to very poor working conditions brings to light the plight of today’s working adjunct professors.

While many may think of cushy jobs as the norm for college professors, what folks don’t know is that higher education has dramatically changed how it staffs its colleges and universities during the past 40+ years.

According to data from the American Federation of Teachers, approximately 75 percent of all college faculty members held tenured or tenure-track positions in 1960. Today that number has fallen to less than 30 percent.

The result is that college campuses are primarily staffed with adjunct faculty who are often very highly qualified yet are afforded extremely low wages, no job security and no health care benefits. Many adjuncts must cobble together a career that comprises one-off teaching gigs at multiple institutions of higher education, never certain of their fate from one semester to the next.

The effects of this shift are seen in this sad story about Margaret Mary Vojtko, who died alone and penniless from a heart attack, just a short time after losing her adjunct position at Dusquesne University in Pittsburgh.

Even in the best of times, her income never cleared $25,000 per year, and she had no health insurance.

At the time of her death, she was undergoing radiation therapy for the cancer that had returned. Her home was falling apart because she could not afford to maintain it.

Read Vojtko’s story here.

NC Budget and Tax Center

The federal Pell Grant Program serves students from very poor families, according to a new report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). However, the ability of the Pell Grant to cover the cost of higher education has declined over time and will continue to in the years ahead. This student aid program was created in 1972 to help improve the access of low-income students to postsecondary education and is the largest federal student aid grant program. For 2012-13, nearly 9 million students across the United States received Pell grants at a cost of $32.4 billion dollars.

The report presents Congress with a range of options for potentially making changes to the federal Pell Grant Program. Eligibility and Pell grant award amounts are determined using various formulas and thresholds. Simply put, the program determines how much a family is expected to contribute towards the cost of a student’s postsecondary education – the estimated family contribution (EFC) – and based on this (EFC), a student may qualify for a Pell grant. The maximum Pell grant award is $5,645 for the 2013-2014 academic year.

The CBO report includes an abundance of data and information regarding the Pell Grant Program; however, the big takeaways highlight the type of students the program serves and the ability of the program to promote college affordability. Read More