“Alabama Football Follies”

A loyal reader sent me a link to this op-ed piece in the New York Times by Joe Nocera, “Alabama Football Follies.” It’s about the move to do away with football at the University of Alabama at Birmingham followed by the outcry and the reinstatement of football. It’s of interest here since EMU is specifically mentioned as one of the poster children for spending too much money on athletics:

Schools in smaller conferences — Alabama-Birmingham is in Conference USA — have struggled to keep up, especially state schools whose budgets have been cut by their legislatures. (According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, state spending per student in Alabama has declined over 36 percent since 2008.) USA Today does an annual ranking of university athletic department balance sheets, and you can clearly see this trend. Rutgers University had a $36 million deficit; the University of Connecticut, $27 million; the University of Massachusetts, $26 million; Eastern Michigan University, $25 million — and on the list goes.

But there is one other part of this story that is a bit of a silver-ish lining. The president who cancelled football at UAB, Ray Watts, insisted that the university would not pay more than $20 million for football and if the “various interests” in the community wanted more (and they wanted a lot more), they were going to have to find the money themselves. And they did: “By the end of May, the city’s corporate leaders had pledged to make up the additional $17.2 million subsidy, and had made a promising start on raising the $13 million or so needed for the practice facility.”

I agree with Nocera, that there are many better ways to spend the money than on football. But at least there was significant community “buy-in” to football at UAB. Could EMU’s football team come close to raising money like this?

“EMU business students offer free tax preparation services for income-qualifying residents”

I saw an EMU press release about this too, but here’s a link to the mLive piece: “EMU business students offer free tax preparation services for income-qualifying residents.” The first couple of paragraphs:

Members of Eastern Michigan University’s Beta Alpha Psi honorary accounting society, and the Accounting Club of the EMU College of Business are offering a free tax preparation program students and members of the community.

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance service is being offered to individuals and families with annual income less than $53,000 or $60,000, depending on their filing method. Each student volunteer involved in the VITA service is certified with the Internal Revenue Service to ensure the filings are done accurately.

Pretty cool– though the notion that there’s a student club where the idea of “fun” is preparing tax returns is hard for me to wrap my brain around.

“Study: Students often clueless about how much they owe”/Obama’s Community College “plan”

From the Freep comes “Study: Students often clueless about how much they owe.” A quote from the opening:

Terrance Mitchell knows. Rebecca Williams doesn’t. Eric Simon isn’t sure, but he thinks he might.

Mitchell, a junior at the University of Michigan, owes $13,500 in federal student loans. Williams, a sophomore at Eastern Michigan University, has no clue how much she owes. Simon, a senior at Wayne State University, thinks he owes about $20,000, but isn’t real sure.

That range of knowledge about student loans is common, a new study has found.

There are some other interesting passages here about the percentages pf students who have to borrow money, about the rise in private (and more expensive) college loans, and so forth.  I have to say that I have some sympathy with Williams because while I didn’t borrow a lot of money during my college career, I didn’t really know the amounts or the consequences of that borrowing until I was actually paying it back.

With all of this, it is probably no wonder that Obama has proposed funding two years of community college for everyone by a combination of state and federal funding. Inside Higher Ed described it a bit here, “Federal Promise Unveiled.” The problem with all of this right now though is I think I actually (and for the first and likely last time) agree with Speaker of the House John Boehner on this: it’s more of a “talking point” than it is a “plan” at this stage.

“Student Tuition Now Officially Pays More Than States For Public College Funding”

This isn’t exactly news to anyone who even vaguely follows trends in higher education, but it’s a good article that sums up one of the main reasons why tuition at even public colleges is so high: from the Huffington Post comes “Student Tuition Now Officially Pays More Than States For Public College Funding.” A quote:

Students now pay more of the cost of attending public universities than state governments, according to a recent Government Accountability Office report, and the federal agency says it’s making college unaffordable.

Tuition officially surpassed state funding in fiscal year 2012, the GAO found, accounting for 25 percent of public college revenue. Meanwhile all state sources dipped from 32 percent in 2003 to 23 percent in 2012.

This is one of those articles I think I’ll email to my relatives who wanted to quiz me about tuition rates over the holiday break.

And in the “rich continue to get richer” category of things….

From mLive comes “Report: U-M’s $9.7 billion endowment four times what it was 15 years ago.” Essentially, U of M has invested well and keeps getting big donations.

The comments are interesting though, as is this last paragraph:

The state provides just 16 percent of the school’s general fund budget, compared to in 1960 when the state’s contributions totaled 78 percent of the general fund budget.

I am of two contradictory thoughts on this. First, the fact that the state has basically stopped investing in/paying for things at the University of Michigan (and of course this is true at all of the other state schools and in most of the other states) explains a lot about why there is such pressure on institutions to raise their own money and also to raise tuition. On the other hand, as a faculty member at the considerably less endowed university across town by the tower, I think what the state should do is stop funding U of M entirely and split up the money that’s going their now to the Easterns, Westerns, and Centrals of the state, the institutions that could really benefit from even a bit more support from the state.

“America’s Worst Colleges”

Kind of an interesting article in The Washington Monthly, “America’s Worst Colleges” by Ben Miller. Here are a long quote from the beginning:

… [T]he truth is that students choosing among selective schools are making largely inconsequential decisions. Whether it’s a northeastern private college, a well-regarded midwestern public institution, or some other school rich with financial and reputational resources, any option will provide students with what really matters: overwhelmingly high odds of graduating from a well-recognized college. For them, even the dreaded “safety school” is likely still a better option than the best choice available to large numbers of students.

Less-fortunate students, by contrast, are often forced to choose among the many colleges that get lumped into broad lower tiers on best colleges lists, or from private for-profit colleges that are not even ranked at all. Many of these colleges are dropout factories, where students are unlikely to graduate and prices, debt levels, and student loan default rates are high. For these students, the crucial question is where not to go to college. When you’re wandering through a minefield with destructive options that lead to high loan debt and no degree, it’s worth having a map.

Yet the newsstands don’t sell guides to America’s worst colleges. Nobody writes stories about high school seniors beset with anxiety about whether to attend a community college with a rock-bottom graduation rate, a nearby private college with shaky finances, or a shady for-profit institution.

Miller goes on and explains a couple of different categories of “the worst colleges,” all of which are either for-profit or private institutions– no public universities or colleges are on the list. I think there are ways to quibble with the way that Miller categorizes things here, but it’s an interesting list. And frankly, it’s the worst colleges (along with fly-by-night bartending schools and hairstyling “academies” and the like) that are the real problem with dropout rates and students not finishing and then defaulting in huge piles of student loan debt.

“EMU’s student government budget differs from other Michigan universities”

From The Eastern Echo comes “EMU’s student government budget differs from other Michigan universities,” which notes the differences between how much money EMU’s student govern receives every year versus comparable institutions. From the intro:

Eastern Michigan University Student Government’s reserve account is currently at $90,389.20. This is in addition to the 2014-15 budget of $256,439.35.

Expenditures from reserve accounts are not regulated by Student Government bylaws or voted on by the Student Government Senate. As currently constructed, Student Government President Desmond Miller has sole authority on use of the reserves.

The problem with this piece is it doesn’t explain at all what student government does with this money. $250K plus a $90K “slush fund” is a lot of money; assuming that student government officers and representatives aren’t being paid, what are they spending this money on exactly? That’s a lot of money for buying pizza for meetings or whatever.

New helmets? Really?

I didn’t see or hear anything about the Emus loss to the Kangaroos yesterday in mLive (though there is this post at Eagle Totem for those who are interested in any details), but I did notice news in my EMU feed from the official EMU web site, “EMU Debuts New Look in Akron.” That “new look” is new helmets, which are done in “a custom flat forest green metallic color, featuring a chrome diamond plate Block E logo on the side.”

Now, I realize that all EMU is doing here is following/chasing a trend in college football where teams are making things “exciting” by adding new uniforms and colors. There are lots of teams doing this nowadays; in fact, I believe Akron had new outfits at the game. And for all I know, maybe it is actually necessary for college football players go through a couple of helmets a year anyway. I kind of assume that helmets actually last pretty much forever, but maybe all the banging causes a lot of wear and tear and they have to be replaced.

But there is something about this latest weird marketing of “The Factory” look that really bugs me.

Let’s say these helmets cost $300 apiece (and they might have been a lot more than that), and let’s say there are 100 players on the EMU team (though I think that number is more like 120). That’s at least $30,000 for helmets, and probably a lot more– not because the team needed new helmets but as a fashion accessory.

Normally, I don’t like these kinds of comparisons of “the money we waste on football (or landscaping or computers or administrators or whatever) could be better spent on this other more important thing” because budgets don’t work quite like that. But $30K is actually a lot of money around here.  For example, if the folks in Welch Hall were able to “find” $30K to distribute to departments to make up for budget cuts, faculty would be thrilled. $30K goes a long way toward funding scholarships. And so forth.

But hey, they’ll look good against the backdrop of the grey turf.

A couple of advising and graduation rates articles

From mLive comes “Lack of academic advising costing college students time and money.” It is mostly about the conditions on the ground at Central Michigan University, but it could just as easily be about EMU. A few paragraphs:

Twelve of Michigan’s 15 public universities have four-year graduation rates lower than the national average, and that extra time on campus is costly to students, families, and the Michigan economy.

A majority of college students don’t earn a four-year degree in four years. Some switch majors or work part- or full-time. Others are enrolled in programs, such as engineering or education at some colleges, that are structured to take five years. But more should graduate on time, said Charlie Nutt, executive director of the National Academic Advising Association.

One reason cited for the low on-time graduation rates: inadequate academic counseling.

Counseling is critical for students who are making the huge adjustment from high school to college. “(Students) underestimate the amount of time it takes compared to a high school class,” Nutt said. “It’s a different type of preparation that they’re not prepared for.”

“There’s no question that in some cases, students don’t get the counseling,” said Patrick Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. “Proper counseling keeps them taking the course that keeps them on a steady path towards graduation. Budget crunches, however, cut back on that (counseling) staff.”

Sure, we could/should probably have more advisors, but I also think there are two things that places like EMU could do right now to help the situation. First, require students to see an advisor throughout their college careers– say once a year. And by “require,” I mean they physically have to go speak to someone who is authorized as an advisor and to get some kind of approval/signature before they are able to register for anymore classes. Second, faculty should do what is already contractually mandated and advise students on a regular basis. In other words, we don’t need to hire more advisors necessarily; we need to have more people who are already here doing some advising.

EMU is not likely to do either of these things. I think the powers that be are afraid of doing anything that might delay students from registering for classes (and paying those all-important tuition dollars), and making students do something other than self-advising would do that. If I were super-cynical, I’d also guess that EMU actually kind of likes it when students take classes they don’t need because that’s extra tuition dollars. As far as faculty advising goes: in my experience, too many faculty pass off that work because they claim they don’t know enough to tell students what classes to take when. That strikes me as silly. Besides the fact that basic advising isn’t rocket science, there’s always asking others for the right answer.

Also in mLive is another story along these lines,  “Tuition incentives pay off for students graduating in four years.” This one is mostly about Grand Valley State, which has doubled its graduation rate since 1990. Here’s a quote with an interesting info-graphic:

Twelve of Michigan’s 15 public universities have four-year graduation rates below the national average of 31 percent; at nine public universities, one in five students or fewer earn a four-year degree in four years.


Many go on to graduate following a fifth or sixth year, but those extra semesters are costly to students, parents and the state’s economy. “Should we accept a 20 percent grad rate over four years?” asked Blue. “Heck no. Not as a parent or a taxpayer.”

All good points, but one of the things for me with this chart is there is a correlation between test scores and the selectivity of the institution and the graduation rate of its students. Now, I’m not saying that a place like EMU ought to turn students away; I value the mission we have for extending access to higher education to those who wouldn’t have it if the only choices were the more elite institutions. But we also have to recognize that one of the impacts of that is we’ll never have the graduation rates of places like U of M.

At the same time, it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea for folks at EMU to study what’s going on at Grand Valley State, an institution not completely different from us. According to this chart, their six year graduation rate is 66%, while ours is 37%. Clearly there are lessons EMU could learn.

“Student Debt: The Rising U.S. Burden”

Here’s a “QuickTake” from Bloomberg I thought folks here might find interesting, “Student Debt: The Rising U.S. Burden.” To quote the opening paragraph:

In terms of American exceptionalism, student loan debt stands out. No other country imposes the kind of costs on college and university students that the U.S. does, and nowhere else do loans cover so much of those costs. Experts think that the $1.2 trillion in outstanding education debt in the U.S. is more than that of the rest of the world combined. It’s a situation that educators, consumer advocates and members of both political parties all decry. Agreement on solutions is harder to find. In the meantime, the level of student loans is increasingly seen not just as a burden on students but as a drag on the nation’s economy. Young adults are delaying setting up their own households in the face of a mountain of debt while default rates rise to dangerous levels. Recent studies also show a growing economic divergence between young Americans with and without student loans. There’s widespread agreement as to who is worst off: college dropouts. They’re stuck with debt but without the higher earnings a degree might have brought to help pay it off.

This piece mostly rehashes news most folks in higher ed already know about, and it skips by the real cause/solution here (at least in public education), which is more money for universities from the government. But still a good read.