The High Cost of Low Tuition

The Florida legislature voted this spring to allow three universities to raise tuition well above the average for Florida’s state universities – up to 40 percent over four years for the University of Florida and Florida State, up to 30 per cent in the case of the University of South Florida. Although Governor Charles Crist had threatened a veto, he changed his mind, and tuition is going up in the fall of 2008.

When it comes to setting tuition, who is right – the legislators, following the lead of university administrators, who want significant increases in tuition — or the governor, who signed the bill reluctantly and vetoed a system-wide 5 per cent increase in tuition this fall? (Editor’s note: The legislature eventually overrode the governor’s veto.)

What “Helicopter Parents” Should Really Want

“Helicopter parents” are in the news again. These are parents of college students who don’t let go—they “hover” over their children, staying in constant electronic communication. When a problem arises, they drop down and help the students get out of a fix. At the extreme, this behavior annoys university officials, and some administrators fear that these parents are keeping their children from growing up.

Helicopter parents got a bit of a boost recently, however, from a surprising direction—a new effort by colleges to be accountable. A national survey discovered that students whose parents took an active role in their school life were more “satisfied with every aspect of their college experience,” George Kuh, director of the survey, told the Washington Post (Nov. 5).

What Makes A Truly Educated Man? (Or Woman)

Pondering what makes an educated citizen is as old as the ancient Greeks and as recent as the October 11, 2007, meeting of the University of North Carolina Board of Governors.

Responding to a request by Board of Governors chairman Jim Phillips, officials from three UNC campuses told the board how they updated their general education (“GenEd”) requirements. These are the courses that students take to develop the “whole person” (using the university’s terminology).

Don’t think that UNC campuses have a core or common curriculum to which all students are exposed, however. UNC-Chapel Hill students have 2000 courses from which they can choose their “Gen Ed” classes. At N. C. State students can adopt “thematic tracks” such as environmentalism or follow one of six interdisciplinary programs to meet the requirements. Fayetteville State is more focused on specific outcomes—what should graduates “know and be able to do.”

These ways of developing the whole person may have merit, but they are a far cry from the tradition of liberal learning (an earlier term for “developing the whole person”) that underlay the creation of the University of North Carolina and many other American universities.

Admissions Standards Suggested for Entire UNC System

The University of North Carolina moved a step closer to setting system-wide minimum admission standards at the Board of Governors meeting on October 11. Speaking at a policy session, Harold Martin, senior vice president for academic affairs, proposed to the board the following minimum criteria for entering freshmen in 2013: a 2.5 grade point average in high school and a minimum SAT score of 800 (out of 1600 total) or ACT score of 17 (out of 35).

Today, although each university campus sets its own admission standards, there is no statewide requirement, and some campuses in the UNC system have none. If approved by the Board of Governors in January, initial standards would start in the fall of 2009 with a 2.0 GPA and 700 SAT or 15 ACT, and increase incrementally until the 2013 levels are achieved. Martin added that the chancellor would always have the right to waive requirements for a maximum of 1 per cent of students.

One-Stop College Shopping (Sort of)

It is about to become easier for parents and potential students to compare 540 or so private colleges around the country — fifteen of them in North Carolina. On September 26, the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) will launch a colorful, breezy, and information-packed web site about these schools called the U-Can Consumer Information Initiative.

This is the first step in a growing effort by colleges and universities to become more accountable to students and the public. As college tuition mounts, many Americans are forced to reconsider whether a college degree is worth its price, and whether intercollegiate athletics and campus parties are overwhelming the educational aspects of the college experience.

The concern came to a head a year ago with a report by the Commission on the Future of Higher Education, a national committee appointed by Education Secretary Margaret Spellings. It called for more transparency, perhaps in the form of a national database with easily compared information.

Learn and Earn:

Editor’s Note: Jane S. Shaw is the executive vice president of the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in Raleigh. Alyn Berry, while an intern with the John Locke Foundation, provided research assistance.

One of the most puzzling education programs I have come across is “Learn and Earn,” which the legislature recently expanded with $6.2 million for the next two fiscal years.

Learn and Earn, initiated by the governor in 2004, is an “early college” program composed of small high schools located mostly on community college campuses. Students can progress through high school and then get an associate’s degree — in only five years of school. Since all of it is free to the student, the successful graduate obtains the equivalent of two years of college virtually without charge.

This program was supposed to reduce the high school dropout rate.

Frankly, this doesn’t make much sense. Potential dropouts – by definition – don’t value the first degree (the high school diploma) very highly. Why would they be willing to work hard for a second one?

New Era Looms for Community College System

The North Carolina Community College System is choosing a successor to H. Martin Lancaster, its current president, who will step down in May 2008. In a series of meetings, the search committee has solicited public comment about the “qualifications and characteristics” needed by the next president.

The July 11 meeting in Raleigh, chaired by Norma B. Turnage, vice chair of the committee, was low-key, with only eight commentators. But enough issues surfaced to suggest that the next president will face some troublesome conflicts.

Even Mother Jones ranks colleges!

The famed U.S. News college rankings have been making news themselves. As George Leef reported in late April, some college presidents (24 at last count) are refusing to cooperate with the magazine; the Washington Post carried a story about the flap in May, and the Chronicle of Higher Education had a cover story labeled “The Numbers that Rankle.”

Disgruntlement with the U.S. News rankings has some validity. They depend a lot on reputation, plus inputs such as students’ SAT scores and faculty-student ratio – not on actual education (which is hard to measure). Graduation rates are something of an exception – they are at least an outcome, not an input.

A Dental School for ECU?

RALEIGH — Many North Carolinians, especially in rural areas, suffer from lack of dental care. Would a $100 million new dental school at East Carolina University provide it? The General Assembly is pondering that question.

Although the proposed ECU dental school has significant political support, its future is uncertain. In 2006, the legislature gave ECU $3 million to plan the school. But the governor has proposed that funds for building it go into a bond issue, to be presented to the voters in November.

The House and Senate are still developing their budgets. On May 3, appropriations subcommittees proposed only $1 million for the dental school’s professional staff and $2.5 million for capital planning.