Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Spellings Commission Revisited

By Richard Vedder

I decided to take a short vacation from blogging, both because I am traveling a good deal on business these days, and because I am trying to work on the sequel to Going Broke By Degree with my sidekick Andy Gillen. But my friend Charlie Miller (chair of the Spellings Commission) called yesterday, and out of it comes today's blog.

Charlie told me about a couple studies worth reading. One is the report, out today, from the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) that reviews and assesses the performance of the Spellings Commission. Apparently it is a scholarly, balanced work, done by academics. Doug Lederman reports today in INSIDE HIGHER EDUCATION that the work criticizes the Commission some for being confrontational and harsh, and also representatives of various special interest groups for simply saying "no" and not offering constructive alternatives to what the Commission said.

I have not read the NACUBO report. But as a member of the commission and arguably one of its more confrontational members, I say the allegedly harsh tone was needed, that our audience was NOT mainly the higher education community itself, and that strong rhetorical flourishes helped accomplish a significant increase in the dialog over the need and nature of educational reform. We were trying to reach the American public, not just the players within the academy or even the Congress or Administration. Indeed, I preferred the original draft of the report prepared by Ben Wildavsky that was even more severe in its criticism.

Phil Gramm is right. America is increasingly a nation of whiners. The higher ed community is horrified whenever anyone says negative things about it. It is a group of spoiled and highly subsidized members of the chattering classes that needs to get real --something the Spellings Commission said in a very mild and civil way. People are still complaining about the report’s TONE --more than its substance.

Thursday and Friday Secretary Spellings is holding a Higher Education Summit in Chicago. I hope she uses the occasion to say some bold things about the nature and condition of higher education today --and offer some suggested changes, particularly in the bizarre, perverse and dysfunctional way the federal government gets involved in funding. I hope she moves in the direction of supporting empowering students more than financial aid offices, for example, and reducing the incentives for colleges to use federal funds as a means of reordering institutional resources to negate some of the intended impact of federal aid. Example: College A wants to give Kid B a $10,000 reduction in tuition from the sticker price. The Federal Government gives College A $4,000 to distribute to kid B in Pell Grant funds, so the college reduces the amount of its own support to, say, $7,000. The student on net is only $1,000 better off than without the Pell Grant, but the college gets $3,000 more to spend --which it might give as additional "merit" aid to some wealthy kid with a SAT composite of 1580 which it wants to nab to increase its selectivity rating with US News and World Report. The college and other students, not the student for whom the money is intended, is the prime beneficiary of the grant. I don't think Student Financial Aid offices should be getting federal money to disburse --the money should go to the kids themselves --with NO notification to the college in question.

Spellings should, rhetorically at least, advocate change. The White House, tired and largely brain dead, won't let her do bold things, but the time has come to ignore the White House and do the right thing. There are worse things than being fired and thrown off the Ship of State shortly before it sinks. I am eating dinner with the Secretary Thursday night and I hope to give this advice to her. I hope she takes it.


Eveningsun said...

"I am eating dinner with the Secretary Thursday night and I hope to give this advice to her. I hope she takes it."

For your sake, I hope the food is good.

capeman said...

eveningsun, I am sure he will earn what he deserves. Our superlative economist dining with our even more eminent Secretary of Education -- she was what, on a school board in Texas before this? Last chance before the Bush Administration goes its desultory way into the sunset. I can hardly wait to hear an account of this momentous encounter.

Daniel said...

Gee, if only there were some constructive, intelligent comments, instead of the standard, intellectually-empty Bush-bashing or general third-grade-level whining that usually graces the comments sections of these blogs.

Grow up, eveningsuun. Grow up, capeman.

Dr. Vedder makes some excellent points regarding the issue of federal student aid policies, and programs. How about some discussion of those?

Practitioner said...

Good luck to Richard Vedder as he tries to talk sense about the flaws in federal aid to the Secretary. He is up against a formidable higher education establishment whose strategy is to praise Pell grants as wonderful while eviserating them quietly in the privacy of the financial aid office and insisting nothing is amiss. As to his prescription of not allowing financial aid offices to handle Pell grants: institutions would impute aid sent directly to students, as they often do for the value of education tax credits, and little would change. An alternative solution would be to require transparency in the handling of federal funds, which the Secretary has called for but never implemented, even though she has the power to do so under the Higher Education Act. Sunshine is a powerful disinfectant.

capeman said...

daniel -- look in the mirror.

As for Vedder's "excellent points", here is an example of the level of his thinking and expression. Talk about third-grade level! And his fans like it when he dishes it out, but not when he gets it back in the face.

"Phil Gramm is right. America is increasingly a nation of whiners. The higher ed community is horrified whenever anyone says negative things about it. It is a group of spoiled and highly subsidized members of the chattering classes that needs to get real"

Daniel said...

"And his fans like it when he dishes it out, but not when he gets it back in the face."

I'm still waiting for capeman to actually offer an intelligent criticism. Ridiculing the current secretary of education because she was on a school board is hardly an intelligent criticism. It's a typical type of argument offered by the left when they have no argument. They resort to name calling. So far, that's all capeman has offered up.

capeman said...

daniel -- I'm waiting for Spellings or her groupie Vedder to say something intelligent before I offer my pearls of wisdom.

But I'll break my rule and offer just one:

If Spellings really thinks the Pell grants are just a ripoff by the colleges, she should say so and propose that the program be eliminated, thereby saving the taxpayers a lot of money. If students are really not benefiting, nobody will miss the grants (except perhaps the greedy colleges).

I'm not holding my breath waiting for either the Bush administration in its dying days, or Congress, to do this.

Daniel said...

I think that Dr. Vedder has a very valid point about Pell grants in particular and about federal student aid in general. College costs rise so quickly because there is no market mechanism to hold them down. Rising tuition costs are subsidized by the federal government because the moment college costs rise, the government rushes in with more money to loan. There is never any stepping back and asking whether this is a good idea or why are the schools raising their prices.

Divorcing the schools from the federal loan process is an interesting idea. Let the schools evaluate candidates for their own (the school's) internal available aid. Let the students deal directly through the lenders for their money, not through the school's financial aid office. Pell grants can still exist, but give them directly to the students, not to the schools to give to the students.

capeman said...

daniel, you are hopelessly conflicted. On the one hand, you say you believe that "College costs rise so quickly because there is no market mechanism to hold them down." On the other hand, you seem to want to continue federal loan aid to students, but not through the schools (but you also mention the schools' "own internal aid".) And you seem to want to continue the Pell grants and other federal aid that supposedly are responsible for rising costs.

In short, you seem hopelessly confused and conflicted, you want to have it both ways or all ways at once.

Divorce the federal aid from the schools? Fine, we'll see whether there has been good reasons for the schools to be involved. (Hint: the schools involvement helps the kids get the tuition check to the bursar in time). But try the experiment, get the schools out of the way, see how it works. (Just make sure the checks arrive before class starts.) It might even save the schools a lot of money. (Again, just be sure the checks arrive ahead of time).

Eveningsun said...

Daniel, my comment above was my way of expressing doubt that, at this stage of the game, Vedder's dinnertime advice will change the course of education history. That's neither Bush-bashing nor whining, just reality. It was Vedder who called the Bush White House "brain dead." Not me.

Tuition at my institution is $2,300 per year. Fees are another $750 or so. Classes are small. Even with the state subsidy, total costs are probably close to those at "$7,376 U" touted here at College Affordability.

How do we do it? Instead of beating their heads against the wall in the hope of establishing a free-market higher-ed utopia in which the Invisible Hand will create the Best of All Possible Worlds, my state's legislature simply caps tuition and decides how much to subsidize. The rest of us spoiled whiners then try to do the best job we can within those limits. Oddly enough, we manage to hire good faculty (not so hard given the academic job market the last couple decades). We offer quality classes at a faculty-student ratio of about 17:1. We sponsor competitive sports teams, and we graduate students who get jobs or go on to graduate school. All of which might be characterized as "doing something constructive" by anyone with an ounce of respect for the thousands of faculty like me who, believe it or not, actually work hard and maybe even do some educating.

Anyway, if people like Vedder want to make any headway at all, they might want to take a look at those of us who already provide affordable college education. Instead he calls us names.

Daniel said...

I don't think I'm hopelessly conflicted (and there you go again, calling people names instead of criticizing the argument--why is that so hard for you to avoid?).

I would be in favor of doing away with federal involvement altogether. But separating the student loan process from the university is at least a step in that direction. In a better world, the government would not be involved at all and students would take out loans for their education the way they take them out for buying a car or anything else. And because THAT would be a more competitive environment as students would surely shop around for the best rate on a student loan as people now do for a car or a home loan, and quite frankly, as a higher proportion of students are inevitably turned down for loans because they're poor credit risks, there will be fewer students looking to attend college or at least to attend relatively expensive schools, and there would inevitably be a dampening effect on rising college costs.

(Then they can all go to eveningsun's $2300 per year utopia!)

capeman said...

Well, daniel, at least you've outed yourself, what you really want is to do away with federal involvement altogether, that is the real hope. OK, you're not hopelessly conflicted, you just sounded like it until you spilled the real agenda. Glad we've settled that.

As for name-calling --

"intellectually-empty ... general third-grade-level whining ... Grow up, eveningsuun. Grow up, capeman ..."

As I said before, look in the mirror. As I said before, you guys sure like to dish it out, but you sure as hell can't take it back.

Daniel said...

Oh, that's wonderful. You can certainly have it both ways. You engage in name calling, and when someone points out that you're engaging in name calling, you accuse them of calling you names! You sound just like Barack Obama.

capeman said...

daniel -- do all the name-calling you want, just don't be so two-faced about it.

You sound just like Hillary Clinton!

Chris said...

Good Ol' Doc Vedder. He certainly makes up for--in pandering, puffed up self importance and pathetic name dropping--what he sorely lacked in 40 years of tenured research at a third tier regional state college. Effin' Hack!

maxheadroom said...

Chris - After having read all of your comments since you began posting your anger and hate filled, drive-by BS; I believe you are the poster child for euthanasia.

Chris said...

I love you Vedder apologists. Honestly, I do. You're so G-D predictable. Someone comes along and punctures the bubble of pretentiousness that surrounds your fearless leader, and like gnats to the zapper, you half-witted clowns show up to attempt to intimidate, threaten and wish death upon the perpetrator.

Outstanding! Then again, I wouldn't expect anything greater from some Navy washouts who ended up in a doctoral in name only program at a THIRD TIER REGIONAL STATE COLLEGE being mentored by an academic washout. Like mentor; like sycophant.

Administrator said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Chris said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Administrator said...

Chris - You are in the presence of people who are undoubtedly endowed by Jesus Christ himself with greater intellect than you with your very small mind. This is especially true with regard to me. In matters of intellect, I am Mount Everest and you are Bunker Hill.

By the way, I thought my description of you was quite outstanding. I'm surprised that you can recognize genius. But then, compared to you, everyone else is a genius.

You never have mentioned the school you went to. Was it Dartmouth? If you truly believe that Mommy and Daddy sent you to a far superior school than any in Ohio; why not tell us what school you went to? What are you afraid of? You have been dodging that question for a very long time now. What's the problem? You embarrased? I think so. No, I know so.

Your use of the word "sycophant" that you love so much to use is quite misplaced. I certainly am not a servile, self-seeking flatterer. If you think I am a sycophant then I can only conclude that you are indeed mental. Did you not read my last reply to you? Was I flattering you? Ha! I am defending no one. I am taking direct aim at you. But you are too damn dumb to realize that.

What is a "Damascus edge"? There is Damascus steel that is by far inferior to steels such as 154CM, 440A, 440B, 440C, et. al. - or any other steel used in knife and sword making. The edge is sharpened to a 20 to 30 degree angle on a knife or sword blade.

Speaking of blades, have you given any thought to alternative uses of razor blades?

Keep trying you dim-wit on steroids.

Chris said...

OK? Why then, with your Everest like intellect, would you feel the need to delete your own posts...much less my response to it. Oh the Everest-like power that one must feel being the moderator of this sick little exercise.

So what in my post merited it's deletion? Shame over your infantile resort to scatological metaphors? Embarrassment over my referring to this blog as "an intellectual train wreck?" The incursion of harsh reality of my using the adjective "alleged" to describe Dr. Dick's foundation.

No, I know what it was. My ranking--which any academic, newly minted Ph.D, research foundation or aspiring high school senior would agree with--of Ohio's public universities. Let me reiterate it for your Everestesque genius.

Ohio State>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>Miami of Ohio>>>>>>University of Cincinnati>>>>>>>>>>>>>>Ohio U.

C'mon now. Admit it. Freedom can only truly come from self-awareness. Once you admit what an academic backwater Ohio U. is, you can begin to come to grip with your own irrelevance. Doesn't that feel better.

Administrator said...

Chris - there you go again. I'm talking about you and to you; and you're talking about the blogger.

In the comment that was deleted, I said, "you are a mental sociopath and/or you work for the government." You said you didn't work for the government. So I guess that pretty well sums it up.

My comment that you thought was outstanding had nothing to do with "scatological" matters. It had everything to do with heterosexual fornication. Your comment could be construed as "revealing".

As far as deleting comments, I didn't delete my own comment. And how in the world could I delete yours you dummy? Maybe you can start a conspiracy theory now!

I don't give a shit about Ohio U., Ohio state, and the others. I just wonder what traumatic experience has made you such a condescending, arrogant child. Especially when said child is too cowardly to tell me what school they went to.

The way I see it is that your anger and hateful comments are not passive. There is something very personal going on with you. I think you got kicked out of Ohio U because you were a non-hacker. But even if my guess is incorrect, the premise remains true - this is all personal for you.

Admit it, your self awareness concludes that you are a victim. And you love to wallow in victimization because for you, victimization explains away all of your quite dramatic shortcomings. Do you hate your mother? Did she have any children that lived?

Chris said...

The University of Chicago, asswipe....uhhh...I mean, administrator. Happy now? Had I been forced to limit myself intellectually to the fourth best public university in the state of Ohio (that would be Ohio U.), we wouldn't be having this dialogue, as I would have whacked myself out of shame prior to matriculation.

BTW, you did delete your own comment--the first of the two deleted comments. The one where you so wittily referred to me, metaphorically, as the brown part running down my "mama's" crack.

Then again, I'm sure such metaphors are enthusiastically greeted with acclaim--not to mention a resounding chorus of banjo music--in the academic backwater that is Athens, Ohio.

Disclaimer: poster has the utmost respect for Ohio State University, Oberlin College, Kenyon College and Case-Western University.

Administrator said...

U went to U of Chicago? Isn't that like going to "Al Capone State" or something like that. Get your degree on-line?

I went to "Bear Grass Teacher's College" in Haiti.

What you continue to refer to as a "metaphorical" comment was not a metaphor at all - it was an expert literal opinion. I said the best part of you ran down the [deleted] of your mama's [deleted] and ended up as a [delted] [deleted] on the [deleted].

Well Chris, since you finally said something positive in your disclaimer, I'm going to end my joyful jousting with you.

You are a funny person. So here is a joke for you:

A lady has had many facelifts.

After her latest facelift, she wakes up, looks in the mirror and finds big bags under her eyes.

"Look at these huge bags under my eyes," yelling at the Doctor.

"Those are your boobs" replies the Doctor.

In futility, the woman responds, "Well, that explains the beard"