Commentary

The yawning and growing gap between rich and poor college students

In case you missed it in the end-of-the-year hubbub, there was a powerful, worth-your-time December story by reporters Jon Marcus and Holly Hacker at the Hechinger Report entitled “The rich-poor divide on America’s college campuses is getting wider, fast: Rich, poor take paths even more dramatically divergent than in the past, new data show.” According to the authors, higher education is increasingly, like the rest of our society, divided into classes of haves and have-nots. In many instances, wealthy kids go to exclusive schools that look a lot like country clubs and resorts while poorer students scramble to survive on dingy, overcrowded campuses run by overworked and underpaid teachers and administrators:

“Once acclaimed as the equal-opportunity stepping stone to the middle class, and a way of closing that divide, higher education has instead become more segregated than ever by wealth and race as state funding has fallen and colleges and universities — and even states and the federal government — are shifting financial aid from lower-income to higher-income students. This has created a system that spends the least on those who need the most help and the most on those who arguably need the least. While almost all the students who go to selective institutions such as Trinity graduate and get good jobs, many students from the poorest families end up even worse off than they started out, struggling to repay loans they took out to pay for degrees they never get.”

The story goes on to explain in great detail how the systems we have constructed are designed to favor wealthier students and families in myriad ways:

“It’s not about academic ability. The lowest-income students with the highest scores on eighth-grade standardized tests are less likely to go to selective colleges than the highest-income students with the lowest test scores, according to the Education Trust, which advocates for students who are being left behind in this way. If they do manage to make it to a top school, many do well — at Trinity, for instance, finishing with even higher graduation rates than their wealthier classmates. Read more

News

UNC Board of Governors face protest, chooses new board chair and interim president

It was a busy day at the final meeting of the year for the University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors meeting.

A half-dozen group of student and faculty protesters disrupted Friday’s meeting with their objections to the selection of Margaret Spellings as the next UNC president, according to WRAL.

Spellings served as President George W. Bush’s education secretary, and some have questioned her ties to for-profit higher education companies.

Friday’s meeting was also the final board meeting for UNC President Tom Ross.

Junius Gonzales, the system’s senior vice-president of academic affairs, was selected to serve as the interim president until Spellings arrives in North Carolina in March to take over as president.

Junius Gonzales (left) and Louis Bissette (right)

Junius Gonzales (left) and Louis Bissette (right)

Gonzales, a psychiatrist who came to the UNC system last year after working at the University of Texas at El Paso, will take on the interim president role on Jan. 4, the day after Ross’ officially leaves, according to a news release from the UNC system.

The UNC board also chose its new chair, Louis Bissette, an Asheville attorney. Bissette, the vice-chair for the board, had stepped in after John Fennebresque resigned his position and left the board days after Spellings was hired.

To read more about Friday’s meeting, and the Spellings protests, read this piece by WRAL’s Mark Binker, or this account by the News & Observer.

Commentary

Spellings critics: Partisan ideologue is unfit to lead UNC

[Editor’s note: Protesters, demanding reconsideration of the UNC Board of Governors’ recent decision to name Margaret Spellings as UNC system President, are expected to demonstrate at today’s board meeting. The following essay in support of the protest was written by frequent N.C. Policy Watch contributor Michael C. Behrent, a Professor at Appalachian State, and Ralph Wilson, a researcher at the higher education advocacy group UnKoch My Campus.]

Margaret Spellings: It’s all about the party
By Michael C. Behrent and Ralph Wilson

In late November, incoming UNC president Margaret Spellings made a trip to North Carolina, during which she tried to quell some of the outrage her record and secretive appointment by the UNC Board of Governors has triggered. She told the News and Observer that she had learned from her experience as President George W. Bush’s Education Secretary that public service “has to be about the ideas and the ideals, as opposed to party.”

Yet as more facts emerge about Spellings’ record, it becomes increasingly apparent that her “ideas and ideals” have always been first and foremost those of her party and its ideological agenda. For over a decade, she has worked tirelessly to end public education as we know it, be it through privatization, high-stakes testing, the imposition of a right-wing ideology on the school system and profiteering off of student debt.

True, she recently informed the News and Observer that she would resign at the year’s end from her position on the advisory board of Ceannate, a for-profit college loan company. But her political connections to movements to privatize public education, deny climate change, and dictate school curricular changes reflective of her own ideological agenda make her unfit to serve at the helm of UNC, a system that has long exemplified this country’s ideals of accessible, high-quality public education serving the common good.

Consider these facts:

As Bush’s Education Secretary, Spellings buried a study commissioned by her own Department that found that public schools performed as well as, if not better than, private schools. This finding, in conflict with the Bush administration’s pro-charter school/pro-privatization reform agenda, went completely unreported by Spellings’ office as it prepared to make $100 million dollars in school vouchers available under the No Child Left Behind Act. When confronted about the lack of disclosure, Spellings claimed that it was “was overlooked in [an] internal memo.” She later sent NPR a statement rejecting the findings: “This study, while it does contain noteworthy findings, it is an academic comparison of averages, and does not provide families the tools to make real world choices about their children’s education.”

Though Spellings has said little in public about her own views on environmental policy, she has close political and financial ties to influential climate change deniers. In 2010, Spellings became President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. The Chamber of Commerce, notorious for its climate denial, is intimately tied to the political machinations of Charles Koch’s network of donors, called the Freedom Partners. For instance, leaked information from Koch’s secret donor summits

Read more

Commentary, News

App State Faculty Senate: “Serious reservations” about Spellings as UNC president

App StateThe Faculty Senate at Appalachian State University in Boone — a UNC campus that is home to more than 18,000 students — released a statement today in which it expressed “serious reservations” about the appointment of Margaret Spellings as the new President of the UNC System. Spellings, who was selected for the position by the UNC Board of Governors in October, is scheduled to take office March 1 of next year.

In the statement (which was adopted by a vote of 27-0 with four abstentions), the App State faculty members cited several specific concerns about Spellings, including:

  • the Board of Governors’ secretive selection process that included no meaningful faculty involvement,
  • Spellings’ “record of pursuing policies that are contrary to the very idea and integrity of public higher education,”
  • “Her intolerant remarks and actions against the LGBT community,”
  • “Her involvement in the implementation of No Child Left Behind and the report…which promotes high-stakes standardized testing and the narrowing of the curriculum, as manifested by ‘teaching to the test'”
  • “Her involvement in the for-profit education sector, notably her service on the Board of Directors of the Apollo Education Group, the parent company of the University of Phoenix, which is noted for its high student dropout rates, the high rate of default on student debt and weak investment in instruction, among other problems” and
  • “Her advocacy to advance the pecuniary interests of Ceannate, a for-profit student-debt collection agency, by serving as chair of its Advisory Board during a time when student debt has risen dramatically in recent years.”

The statement goes on to call on the Board of Governors to, among other things:

  • revise its search procedures,
  • require Spellings “as a condition of her installation, publicly affirm her commitment to the existing mission statements of UNC’s member institutions, specifically as they relate to academic freedom and non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation,”
  • Require Spellings to “resign from all her affiliations with Ceannate” and
  • “explain in detail and in public the steps she took as a member of the Board of Directors of the Apollo Education Group to address concerns about the troubling practices of the for-profit education sectors.”

In sum, the demands sound like an excellent way for the Board and Spellings to allay the concerns of a large segment of the UNC community and the public at-large. Let’s hope they’re paying attention.

Click here to read the entire document.

Commentary, News

Chancellor endorses Koch Brothers-funded center at Western Carolina

As reported in this space two weeks ago, administrators at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee are considering a proposal by the controversial fossil fuel magnates, the Koch Brothers, that would give $2 million to the university to establish the WCU “Center for Study of Free Enterprise.” The proposal would make Western one of the largest university gift recipients in the country out of the scores of campuses currently receiving Koch money.

Monday, in an email to faculty, the chancellor at Western, David O. Belcher, announced that he is endorsing the proposal. Here is the text of the email:

Dear Colleagues,

I write to share with you my decision to endorse the recommendation of the Provost and Provost Council to establish the Center for the Study of Free Enterprise (CSFE). Western Carolina University’s Board of Trustees will consider this recommendation at their meeting scheduled later this week.

I have appreciated the healthy, robust conversation that this proposal has generated and which informed my own contemplation. It is my firm belief that the university, of all places, is and must be the locus of civil discourse and debate on the worthy issues and ideas of our time. I am grateful that, as demonstrated in this case, Western Carolina University is such an institution.

I trust you had a good Thanksgiving holiday and wish you well in these last weeks of the fall semester.

Yours,
David Belcher

As we also also reported previously, the proposal (which is being spearheaded by an arch-conservative economics professor) is opposed by Western’s Faculty Senate, which drew particular attention in an October statement to the fact that the Koch proposal is contingent upon the university matching the gift to the tune of $1.4 million. Unfortunately, the faculty opposition, which also highlighted the fact that other campus programs with outside funding could benefit from $1.4 million in matching university support, appears to have fallen of deaf ears.

As Chancellor Belcher noted in his email, Western’s Board of Trustees (which includes, among others, conservative firebrand and former Raleigh Mayor Tom Fetzer), will consider the proposal later this week.