University Decision to Cut Tuition 10 Percent Every Year Sparks Debate Over College Costs

Fascinating discussion in the New York Times Opinion Page. Could cutting tuition be the key to reforming higher education? Seems unlikely, yet Sewanee (University of the South) is doing it!  And so far… it’s working.


Cutting Tuition: A First Step?

Sewanee is leading the way... back to the future?

Despite the outcry over high college costs, tuition rates are still going up. Princeton, Brown, Stanford and George Washington, for example, all announced increases in the last few weeks.

But a Tennessee college, the University of the South, better known as Sewanee, is reducing the cost to attend the school next year by 10 percent.

Tuition, fees, and room and board are all affected, with the overall cost falling from around $46,000 to about $41,500. The university said it will alter its student aid formula, but officials say no students will pay more next year than they pay now, and most will pay less.

Is this an example that other colleges might follow, or it is simply a good strategy for a school in Sewanee’s particular niche: “selective” but needing to stay competitive in a heated market? When is a tuition cut really a cut? What will it take for colleges to control their costs?

Read the Debaters’ Positions

Study Claims Colleges Failing to Produce Politically and Civically Engaged Citizens

New study by right leaning Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) shows civic leadership lacking in college grads.

Wilmington, DE – Typical college mission statements normally include aspirations to cultivate informed citizens who are politically active and engaged.  A startling new report on civic literacy statistically proves that these goals are not achieved by U.S. colleges and universities.

Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI), a nonprofit, nonpartisan educational organization, releases its fifth annual National Civic Literacy Report assessing how well America’s colleges and universities are preparing graduates for lives of informed and responsible civic duty.  In this year’s report, Enlightened Citizenship: How Civic Knowledge Trumps a College Degree in Promoting Active Civic Engagement, ISI seeks to answer the “Big Question”—is college capable of producing informed and engaged citizens?

“Our study clearly shows that college has absolutely zero positive influence in encouraging graduates to become actively engaged in more consequential aspects of the political process, like expressing your views to elected officials, donating your time to candidates you believe in, and attending various political events,” states Dr.Richard Brake, co-chair of ISI’s National Civic Literacy Board.  “Instead, becoming educated about American history and the fundamental principles that shape our Republic ensures citizens will do more to influence the electoral process than simply casting a vote.”

The report was based on a comprehensive survey which determined, among other things, whether respondents had engaged in passive (e.g. voting) and/or active (e.g. signing a petition, attending a rally) political and community activities at least once in their lifetime.

Key findings of ISI’s rigorous scientific study include:

• College fails to promote high levels of civic knowledge, with a bachelor’s degree exerting zero influence on a graduates’ “active” civic engagement
• Gaining greater civic knowledge trumps college as the leading factor in encouraging active civic engagement
•  Frequent religious attendance and civic self-education increases active citizenship.

According to Jameson Cunningham of Shirley & Banister Public Affairs, the study reveals that “college has zero positive influence in encouraging its grads to become politically engaged—although many universities promote this ability in their mission statements.” He sites Georgetown University as an example of schools seeking to produce graduates who will be “responsible and active participants in civic life.”  Yet Georgetown alumni “are no more likely to attend a rally, write a letter to the editor or volunteer for a candidate than the average citizen.” Whereas, a self educating movement such as “the Tea Party is a prime example where increased civic education leads to increased active civic engagement.”


ISI was founded in 1953, by Frank Chodorov and William F. Buckley, Jr. Over the years, ISI has established itself as a leading conservative educational think tank. IIt claims to be an “educational pillar of the conservative movement and the leading source of information about a free society for the many students and teachers who reject the post-modernist zeitgeist.”[1]

Complete findings in the 2011 Report, available at

[1] Lee Edwards, Educating for Liberty: The First Half-Century of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 2003).

Revisiting the Value of Elite Colleges: Why that Pricey School May Not Payoff Like You Hoped

By DAVID LEONHARDT in the New York Times

A decade ago, two economists — Stacy Dale and Alan Krueger — published a research paper arguing that elite colleges did not seem to give most graduates an earnings boost. As you might expect, the paper received a ton of attention. Ms. Dale and Mr. Krueger have just finished a new version of the study — with vastly more and better data, covering people into their 40s and 50s, as well as looking at a set of more recent college graduates — and the new version comes to the same conclusion. 

Given how counterintuitive that conclusion is and, that some other economists have been skeptical of it, I want to devote a post to the new paper.

The starting point is the obvious fact that graduates of elite colleges make more money than graduates of less elite colleges. This pattern holds even when you control for the SAT scores and grades of graduates. By themselves, these patterns seem to suggest that the college is a major reason for the earnings difference.

But Ms. Dale — an economist at Mathematica, a research firm — and Mr. Krueger — a Princeton economist and former contributor to this blog — added a new variable in their research. They also controlled for the colleges that students applied to and were accepted by.

Doing so allowed them to capture much more information about the students than SAT scores and grades do. Someone who applies to Duke, Williams or Yale may be signaling that he or she is more confident and ambitious than someone with similar scores and grades who does not apply. Someone who is accepted by a highly selective school may have other skills that their scores didn’t pick up, but that the admissions officers noticed.

Once the two economists added these new variables, the earnings difference disappeared… It’s still deeply surprising that choosing to go to, say, Xavier instead of Columbia may not affect your future earnings.

Alan Krueger’s last word:

“My advice to students: Don’t believe that the only school worth attending is one that would not admit you. That you go to college is more important than where you go. Find a school whose academic strengths match your interests and that devotes resources to instruction in those fields. Recognize that your own motivation, ambition and talents will determine your success more than the college name on your diploma.”

Read the entire article…










Tough Questions for Christian Colleges: The End of the (Evangelical) World As We Know It, by Richard Flory

Richard Flory, one of my very bright former colleagues at a stalwart CCCU school, is currently associate research professor of sociology and senior research associate at the University of Southern California’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture.

In the aftermath of the Rob Bell universalism controversy Richard is asking some very tough questions confronting leaders of the Christian College movement about the future of Christian Higher Education in the midst of dramatic worldview shift among younger evangelicals.

I’m interested in everyone’s take on this, but especially CCCU and ABHE leaders in particular.  What are your thoughts?

The End of the (Evangelical) World As We Know It

USC Associate Professor Richard Flory

Several recent reports suggest that the evangelical Christian world, as we have come to know it over the last 30 years, may be changing forever…

(R)eports of younger evangelicals suggest that they have a distinctly different perspective than their elders on such issues as gay identity and marriage, the environment, how to address poverty and other social justice issues. As writers for the New York Times and TransMissions have reported, they are even, apparently, arguing against a traditional conception of hell.

While it is not exactly clear the extent to which these beliefs are really a part of the worldview of younger evangelicals, or how they may translate into different forms of social action, they do suggest that important changes are unfolding within a important sector of American society…

There are several angles that reporters might pursue, starting with whether the theological reorientation of charismatic leaders like Rob Bell really represents a broad trend within evangelicalism (or are they getting attention because they’re savvy about self-promotion and the usefulness of pushing their opponents’ buttons).

Further, reporters need to ask not only how many younger evangelicals there are who support a more progressive interpretation of the Gospel, but what influence they might actually have on politics and culture.

For example, what might these changes mean for key evangelical institutions such as churches, colleges and seminaries? John Thune and Mike Huckabee, two potential Republican presidential candidates, are products of evangelical schools. Will these institutions support changes in scriptural interpretation and social ethics, or will they maintain their traditional role of working to keep young evangelicals within the range of acceptable beliefs and practices?

…Ultimately, only time will tell. But in the meantime, there are many lines of inquiry that reporters can pursue to help us understand whether and how younger evangelicals represent new wine in old wineskins. Or whether they are just the same vintage in a shiny new bottle.

Your Thoughts?

Richard is the co-author of Growing Up in America: The Power of Race in the Lives of Teens (Stanford, 2010) and Finding Faith: The Spiritual Quest of the Post-Boomer Generation (Rutgers, 2008).

Read Richard’s entire article on USC’s website.

Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses

Two reviews of what may be the most important book on American Higher Education in Recent Years: Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa.

Academic Drift 1

by Scot McKnight

While college enrollment is at an all-time high, college learning may be at an all-time low

In their new stunning book, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, a book that uses an ancient genre — the academic jeremiad — with exquisite accuracy, Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa prove — not contend — that students are not learning what they should, professors are not doing all they could, administrators are not focused on education enough and, as if that weren’t a glassful, society is and will continue to suffer is something isn’t done about it.

This will have to be a series, and I am asking for your observations as we march through some of these themes, so today I want to sketch their four-fold areas of concern. Before I do that, though, I want to emphasize that we are talking degrees here and not either/or. It is easy to criticize educators and it is far easier to do so than to do something about it that improves the situation. I consider what I do to be a privilege and I love my students — well, most of them. This book focuses on problems in order to foster change and improvement.

Do you see these concerns? Any others?

So, now, on to the areas of concern:

First, students. Here is a set of facts: From the 1920s to the 1960s full-time college/university students spent approximately 40 hours in academic pursuits — classes and study. Today the students spend 27 hours. That means about 13 hours a week studying. Prior to the 60s it was about 25 hours.

This diminution of time has resulted in no appreciative change in grade point average or upon progress toward completion of the degree.

Second, professors.  The major shift has been toward “if you leave me alone I will leave you alone” posture. The big issues here are these: professors have increasingly been asked to spend more time on non-academic, non-teaching activities, have not been compensated sufficiently, and are increasingly more stimulated by and interested in research. Part of this is financial, but another part is the publication is seen as the #1 most important element of both recognition and promotion. Professors are therefore distracted from teaching — by their research, by committee work, by added responsibilities… Faculty spend about 11 hours on academic tasks like teaching and advising, and the rest of their time is spent on other things, often nonacademic institutional tasks. Many profs I know have to scramble to find time for research. The result is that less time is spent with students than one might think.

I add an observation: I find three kinds of professors. Some are research-oriented and scramble and work for time to do that research; some are much more focused on teaching and student interaction; and others seem more interested in the politics of the institution and work their way into administrative posts or into influence with the Senate or somehow shaping the institution itself.

Third, administrators. Their studies show that administrators too are distracted just as much, if not more, from the academic task of education to other things — like support staff, review, and raising funds. They call what has happened here over time ” nonacademic professionalization.” The Admin task is often concerned with the many facets of the school — like sports teams, community service projects, campus enhancement and alumni loyalty.

Fourth, education itself. This can be reduced to a simplicity that is accurate: the university/college has shifted in emphasis from preparing students for moral and civic lives of virtue to professional employability. Students increasingly see education as an instrument to get them to the next phase of life and less as a place of formation.

Continue series…


Academically Adrift: A Must-Read

By Richard Vedder

The most significant book on higher education written in recent years is out,Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, by Richard Arum of New York University and Josipa Roksa of the University of Virginia. While I have not read every word of this new University of Chicago Press book, I have read enough of it and an accompanying summary to know that it is very, very important, and extremely devastating in what it says about American higher education today. Basically, students study little and, as a consequence, learn little.

Arum and Roksa wed data from two very important but underutilized test instruments, the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA), and the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE). These instruments are used at hundreds of schools, and the Arum and Roksa book is based on detailed results from a good sized sample of students from 29 institutions. The CLA measures things such as aptitude with respect to critical learning and writing skills, while the NSSE mostly measures how students are engaged at school, in large part measured by how they use their time.

For the reader not familiar with some of the findings, Arum and Roksa conclude:

  • “gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing skills (i.e., general collegiate skills) are either exceedingly small or empirically non-existent for a large proportion of students”;
  • 36 percent of students experienced no significant improvement in learning (as measured by the CLA) over four years of schooling;
  • less than one-half of seniors had completed  over 20 pages of writing for a course in the prior semester;
  • total time spent  in academic pursuits is 16 percent; students are academically engaged, typically, well under 30 hours per week;
  • scholarship from earlier decades suggest there has been a sharp decline in both academic work effort and learning;
  • “students…majoring in traditional liberal-arts fields…demonstrated significantly higher gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing skills over time than students in other fields of study. Students majoring in business, education, social work , and communications had the lowest measurable gains”;
  • 35 percent of the students sampled spent five hours or less a week studying alone; the average for all students was under 9 hours.

Critics will no doubt argue that the CLA is an imperfect test instrument or that the sample of schools was too small and unrepresentative. What strikes me most, however, is that these findings are similar to those found in other studies (e.g. the Time Use Survey of the Bureau of Labor Statistics), and with my own personal observations based on a half century of involvement in higher education in all types of institutions ranging from mid-quality state universities to elite private liberal-arts colleges and prestigious private research institutions.

Moreover, the survey seems to confirm that many of the modern-day trends in higher education have

lowered the quality of the educational experience…

Continue reading…


Cultivating the Spirit: How College Can Enhance Students’ Inner Lives

In honor of today’s National Collegiate Day of Prayer, I thought I would highlight Alexander W. AstinHelen S. AstinJennifer A. Lindholm‘s new book, Cultivating the Spirit: How College Can Enhance Students’ Inner Lives.

Noted expert on college student spirituality, Parker J. Palmer, calls their work “A groundbreaking study of the spiritual growth of college students … This is an essential book for anyone in academia who cares about the education of the whole person.”

Cultivating the Spirit details the findings of “Spirituality in Higher Education: Students’ Search for Meaning and Purpose,” UCLA‘s seven-year study examining the role that college plays in facilitating the development of students’ spiritual qualities.  Study highlights include:

The Study

“In 2003, we began a seven-year study examining how students change during the college years and the role that college plays in facilitating the development of their spiritual and religious qualities. Funded by the John Templeton Foundation, “Spirituality in Higher Education: Students’ Search for Meaning and Purpose,” is the first national longitudinal study of students’ spiritual growth.

We analyzed extensive data collected from 14, 527 students attending 136 colleges and universities nationwide, undertook personal interviews with individual students, held focus groups, and also surveyed and interviewed faculty. We developed measures of… five “Spiritual Qualities,” and five “Religious Qualities.”

Prayer Vigil at Northern Illinois University: Spirituality becomes MORE important to students while in college not less

The Findings

We found (that) Although religious engagement declines somewhat during college, [however] students’ spiritual qualities grow substantially.

Students show the greatest degree of growth in the five spiritual qualities if they are actively engaged in “inner work” through self-reflection, contemplation, or meditation.

Meditation and self-reflection are among the most powerful tools for enhancing students’ spiritual development.

Providing students with more opportunities to connect with their “inner selves” facilitates growth in their academic and leadership skills, contributes to their intellectual self-confidence and psychological well-being, and enhances their satisfaction with college.

Students also show substantial increases in Spiritual Quest when their faculty encourage them to explore questions of meaning and purpose or otherwise show support for their spiritual development.

Educational experiences and practices that promote spiritual development – especially service learning, interdisciplinary courses, study abroad, self-reflection, and meditation – have uniformly positive effects on traditional college outcomes.

The Conclusion

It is our shared belief that the findings provide a powerful argument for the proposition that higher education should attend more to students’ spiritual development, because spirituality is essential to students’ lives.

Assisting students’ spiritual growth will help create a new generation who are more caring, more globally aware, and more committed to social justice than previous generations, while also enabling students to respond to the many stresses and tensions of our rapidly changing technological society with a greater sense of equanimity.

If colleges and universities [better] emphasized activities and practices that promote spiritual development – such as self-reflection, interdisciplinary studies, and study abroad – how would traditional outcomes such as academic performance and leadership development be affected?”

So… you might want to consider joining in praying for our nation’s college students today.  It might be one the best things we can do to increase the effectiveness of our colleges.

Video: Malcolm Gladwell Challenges Accuracy of US News College Ranking System

Best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell (The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers: The Story of Success) caused quite a stir with his New Yorker piece challenging the veracity of college ranking systems such as the U.S. News and World Report franchise: The Order of Things: What the College Rankings Really Tell Us.

In this follow up interview, Malcolm elaborates on why such ranking systems are inherently flawed.


Note: The audio at the start of the video is poor, however the college conversation does not begin until 34:45 into the recording. I suggest simply starting at that point.

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