Category Archives: Education (higher ed)

A “Campus Culture of Rape” or a “Culture of Drunken, Hook-up Sex”?

Watch it, buddy, make sure you read the University of Virginia's "Definitions of Prohibited Contact" before you touch that woman!

Watch it, buddy, make sure you read the University of Virginia’s “Definitions of Prohibited Contact” before you touch that woman!

by James A. Bacon

In the wake of gang rape allegations aired last week by Rolling Stone magazine, University of Virginia officials declare themselves to be angered by the incident and determined to prevent anything like it from happening again. “I write you in great sorrow, great rage, but most importantly, with great determination,” wrote President Kathleen Sullivan in a letter to the University of Virginia community. “Meaningful change is necessary. … This will require institutional change, cultural change, and legislative change, and it will not be easy. We are making those changes.”

If past is any precedent, we can look forward to a more verbose Student Sexual Misconduct Policy replete with legalese of the sort one might read in an Apple App user agreement, the hiring of more administrators to enforce the policy, the occasional drumming out of sexual offenders and… virtually no change to the “culture of rape” that led to the gang rape in the first place.

The reason that change will not occur is that the University of Virginia, like colleges and universities across the country, are caught between conflicting moral imperatives which Baby Boomer administrators are incapable of reconciling. On the one hand, Boomer administrators are appalled by sexual violence against women, which appears to have reached unprecedented proportions on their watch. On the other hand, they are unwilling to do anything to curb the licentiousness and promiscuity of the drunken hook-up culture that pervades the student culture and creates an ethical gray area regarding what constitutes a woman’s “consent” to sexual activity.

The only way that university bureaucrats know how to deal with this inherent conflict is to put into place stricter rules and procedures that students will ignore, just as they’ve ignored all the past rules and procedures. Even if the new regime of campus justice does succeed in bring more sexual transgressions into the maw of administrative review, students may well respond in unexpected ways. Already, male students are using videotapes to successfully refute charges of rape, according to the Women for Men blog. The net effect could well be to spur young more students to surreptitiously videotape themselves and their paramours in the act.

The problem is human nature. Young men and women, who are at the peak of their sex drive during their campus years, are obsessed with sex. This obsession is hard-wired into the species. Different civilizations and cultures over the eons have devised various mechanisms to channel and control the sex drive. In the United States the prudish “Victorian morality” prevailed for many years. That system stressed premarital abstinence and the strict policing of college campuses to limit the opportunities of couples to engage in sex. The system of Victorian morality was far from perfect, even on its own terms — it was, after all, fighting against human nature. Some women did get pregnant. Rapes did occur. As correspondent Gerald Cooper reminds me, in the so-called “Lawn Scandal,” three young men from prominent Virginia families were implicated in the gang bang of a young woman in a room on the Lawn around 1954. But there was no “campus culture of rape” in which 20% of all women were raped during their four years in college.

Victorian values were swamped by the sexual revolution and the rise of feminism. Few people who grew up in the 1960s or later regret the overthrow of the ancien regime. Most people, even many cultural conservatives, accept the proposition that single people should be free to express their sexuality. (Victorian morality still prevails when it comes to respecting the vows of matrimony; not everyone lives up to the moral norm but almost everyone accepts it.) On college campuses, the floodgates opened. When colleges ceased policing students’ sexual activities, students were free to pursue their primal instincts. Residential colleges like UVa threw together thousands of young people at the peak of sexual desire and looked the other way as a new culture arose that mixed heavy drinking with sexual license.

The Baby Boomers who dominate the ranks of college administrations today shocked their parents with their cavalier attitude toward sex before marriage. A few Boomers engaged in “swinging,” or the swapping of sexual partners, but that behavior was relegated to the fringe. The prevailing ethos among Boomers, even among singles, was to restrict sex to monogamous relationships. Boomers had more sexual partners than their parents did, but their morality still frowned on sexual promiscuity.

Now it is the Baby Boomers’ turn to be shocked by their children. Prevailing feminist theory on college campuses, reinforced by pop culture figures like Madonna, deemed it chic for women to be as sexually “empowered” as men, in effect to have sex with whomever they wanted whenever they wanted. For many men, this development was a dream come true — women offered sex without the encumbrances of emotional commitment. Whereas Boomer women bartered sexual access for emotional commitment, many  (not all, of course) Millennial women demanded nothing in return. Young people in college today live in a state of moral anarchy, some retaining vestiges of traditional morality, while others abide by no discernible sexual morality of any kind. The only recognized standard is the admonition that women must “consent” to sex.

The great question is how to interpret consent. The overwhelming majority of “rapes” on college campuses occur in a party context in which men and women alike are intoxicated. Sometimes the lines are clear. When a man plies a woman with a date rape drug and has sex with her, everyone would agree that that’s a case of rape, even if there was no violence involved. Everyone would agree that the gang rape at the University of Virginia, if it occurred as described, was horrific. No one sympathizes with the rapists in either case.

But the lines become blurred in an instance, say, in which a women gets drunk, starts making out with a guy, who also happens to be drunk, has sex with him and at some point along the line changes her mind. Is that “rape?” If so, do we place that in the same category of moral and criminal culpability as a case in which, say, a man stalks a woman and rapes her at gunpoint? Feminists might argue that in an oppressive, patriarchal society such a distinction is meaningless. Most people see a big difference.

Further blurring the lines is the rise of the exhibitionist “sexting” culture. Baby Boomers find themselves prudishly aghast as they hear of Millennials emailing photos of their their genitals to love interests. Do the kids have no sense of privacy at all? Then there is the phenomenon of “revenge porn.” Men create videotapes of themselves having sex with girlfriends and then post the videos online to get back at them for some perceived offense. Those trends have made it into the news, but they are just the tip of the iceberg. Google “college sex party” and browse the results. You will find dozens, if not hundreds, of videos posted of college kids stripping, walking around nude, engaging in oral sex and copulating without embarrassment in front of their peers. This kind of behavior may be extreme and unrepresentative of the general student population but its very existence is indicative of how thoroughly the old sexual norms have been obliterated.

I offer as a hypothesis the proposition that the college rape epidemic is deeply rooted in the drunken hook-up culture of the Millennial generation. Liberal Boomer college administrators, who make a fetish of being non-judgmental, have allowed this culture to arise without contesting it. The consequence is that as a matter of routine every Friday and Saturday night, young men and women are thrown into situations where the lines between consensual and non-consensual sex are blurred beyond recognition. It should come as no surprise that the victims of sexual transgressions and their friends are so often morally ambivalent about whether to report incidents or not.

Given the tenor of what takes place in college frat houses, dormitories or the bushes behind the Rotunda, how likely is it that the University of Virginia’s “Definitions of Prohibited Conduct” will have any effect upon students’ behavior?

The party desiring to initiate sexual activity is responsible for obtaining Effective Consent. In order to obtain Effective Consent, permission must be given prior to or contemporaneously with the sexual activity in question. Effective Consent should never be assumed. Lack of protest or resistance does not constitute Effective Consent. “No” means no, but nothing (silence, passivity, inertia) also means no. A verbal “No,” even if it sounds indecisive or insincere, should always be treated as a denial of Effective Consent. If there is confusion as to whether Effective Consent is present (e.g., words, gestures or other indications of hesitation or reluctance), the parties should stop the sexual activity immediately.

Surely they jest.  As reasonable as all of this may sound to a 55-year-old university administrator, it’s not likely to have much impact on 20-year-olds in the throes of passion. President Sullivan asserts that the University is working on making the institutional, cultural and legislative changes needed to end the college rape epidemic. I’d laugh if it weren’t so tragic. The only way to change the culture of drunken hook-up sex is to impose a regime so stifling and oppressive that the college students would rise in revolt. It will not happen.

Mamas, Don’t Let Your Daughters Grow up To Be Co-Eds

Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house at UVa.

Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house at UVa.

When I visited Virginia Tech a few weeks ago, the lead story in the campus newspaper was a take-out on the supposed “campus rape culture.” The number is widely touted that 20% of women are the victims of sexual assault while at campus. My instinct is to dismiss that figure as a figment of the feminist fringe, in which transgressions of any kind, from unwanted touching to real rape, are conflated as “sexual violence.” Many incidents are fueled by the combustible combination of rampant drunkenness and the casual sex of the hook-up culture, in which all normal standards of behavior are obliterated.

That said, rape that everyone recognizes as rape does occur. One such incident, which allegedly occurred at the University of Virginia, is profiled in Rolling Stone. The story of a first year student gang raped in the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house, if accurate, is absolutely horrifying. What allegedly followed (or didn’t follow) is a travesty. Writes author Sabrina Rubin Erdely:

At UVA, rapes are kept quiet, both by students – who brush off sexual assaults as regrettable but inevitable casualties of their cherished party culture – and by an administration that critics say is less concerned with protecting students than it is with protecting its own reputation from scandal. Some UVA women, so sickened by the university’s culture of hidden sexual violence, have taken to calling it “UVrApe.”

Maybe that’s a fair take on what’s happening at UVa and other colleges, maybe it’s not. There are a lot of conservatives like me whom, I suspect, get turned off by the blather associating campus sexual violence with “patriarchal attitudes” and other such nonsense, as if society ever condoned rape as a “boys will be boys” thing to be swept under the rug. It was social conservatives, after all, who warned that the mixing of genders in college dormitories, the relaxation of visitation rules and the collapse of traditional moral values would lead to precisely the phenomenon we’re discussing today. Such fears were dismissed at the time, of course, as the hilariously antiquated thinking of prissy, tea-sipping old bitties.

But here we are. Feminists have discovered a “culture of rape” in what are arguably the most thoroughly enlightened and liberal institutions in the entire country, our colleges and universities. While I don’t think the Rolling Stone article has captured the entire truth of what’s happening on college campuses, I think it has captured part of the truth. And even that partial truth is ugly enough to take very seriously.

I would ask Virginia newspapers, why did Rolling Stone break this story, not you? If there is a campus rape epidemic on college campuses, are you going to continue to ignore it, highlighting only the cable news spectacles, like that of missing UVa student Hannah Graham, that are unrepresentative of the college experience? Conversely, if there’s not a campus rape epidemic, are you going to ignore that story, too? If the whole problem is wildly exaggerated — analogous, say, to the satanism scare of a couple decades ago — worried parents of college co-eds would like to know.

My suspicion is that there is a widespread problem but that it’s not as white-and-black as portrayed. College kids are… how shall I put this politely…. incredibly horny. The old social mores that held horniness in check have been obliterated. Concentrate thousands of males and females of the same age in a college campus, tear down the moral inhibitions against promiscuous sexuality, and dissolve inhibitions and judgment in a haze of alcohol, and you’re going to have a lot of sexual encounters, some percentage of which, in retrospect, are worthy of criminal punishment and some percentage of which participants simply regret. There is a cultural problem here. It’s not one of oppressive “patriarchy.” But it’s very real.

(Hat tip: The Nutshell by Frank Muraca. Check out Frank’s newsletter — it’s a short but punchy round-up of Virginia news, well worth reading.)

Eagles Soar Over Turkeys!

UMWEAGLEBy Peter Galuszka

I had to swallow my bile when I read a recent post by James A. Bacon that the University of Mary Washington is not a “prestige institution with strong pricing power and a large backlog of students clamoring to get in.”

The arrogance of that statement is stunning as is its underlying sexism. I speak as a parent of an Eagle, my daughter, who was a National Honor Society high school student, chose Mary Wash, had a great experience and graduated magna cum laude with a double major.

As a Hoo, Bacon  is surprisingly  ignorant of Mary Wash’s history. Believe it or not, it was considered the “female” part of the grand University of Virginia, which back in the day was so sexist as a public school it relegated women to limited positions, such as nursing, on the Charlottesville campus.

An example is my cousin-in-law who now lives in Tennessee. A Richmonder by birth, she went to Mary Wash (not a “prestige” institution) because that’s what bright young women did back in the 1950s. She then transferred to Mr. Jefferson’s University where she got a nursing degree and enjoyed long career in nursing and health care management before retiring.

Along the way, she married my cousin, a Hoo Class of 1966 back when it was all male and the guys trotted from class to class to beer bust dressed up in preppie herringbone jackets and ties. Female companionship was available only via road trips to Longwood or Sweetbriar or (heavens forbid!) Mary Wash.

So where the hell does Bacon come off with his dismissive and insulting comment? He also includes Christopher Newport University as lacking in “prestige” even though it is one of the best, up-and-coming public schools in Virginia. When I need political analysis I often call Steve Farsnworth at Mary Wash or Quentin Kidd at CNU. Next time I talk to them, I will tell them that they lack “prestige.”

Granted, Mary Wash has an acceptance rate of 80 percent. But Virginia Tech has an acceptance rate of 70 percent. VCU’s is 64 percent. These are not as selective as  U.Va’s which has a rate of 30 percent. (I have another daughter at the school). So what?

As for me, I graduated from Tufts University (acceptance rate of 17 percent) but I am sure Mr. Bacon will point out that Tufts is considered a “safety” school for kids not bright enough to get into Harvard or Yale.

I call on Eagles everywhere to protest Bacon’s snobbery.  Phone me and I will give you his address.

Debt and Deferred Maintenance at Virginia Colleges


by James A. Bacon

Above, readers will find the chart I called for in yesterdays blog post: the debt burden of Virginia colleges and universities as a percentage of their budgeted revenues. The higher the debt-to-revenue ratio, the more leveraged the institution and, hence, the greater the risk of financial difficulties if and when student enrollments decline. This chart is useful because it suggests that we should start paying closer attention to Christopher Newport University and the University of Mary Washington, both of which have borrowed heavily to fund their building expansions.

Having a high debt/revenue ratio is not necessarily a worrisome sign. The University of Virginia also appears to have borrowed heavily, but (a) it has a multi-billion dollar endowment and a wealthy alumni base to fall back upon in times of trouble, and (b) there is such a high demand to attend the university that there is a negligible chance that it will see an involuntary decline in enrollment. By contrast, Norfolk State University, in the news recently for its eroding financial condition, has a modest debt load. Still, all other things being equal, a high debt-to-revenue ratio puts an institution at greater financial risk.

The debt figures, by the way, I took from the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission’s latest report on higher education. The figure denotes the outstanding principal and interest payments due over the next thirty years (FY 2014 to FY 2043). The revenue numbers come from the Virginia state budget “operating budget summary” combining both General Fund and Nongeneral Fund revenues.

Virginia State University and Norfolk State University are widely reported to be experiencing major financial difficulties, in large part reflecting their status as Historically Black Colleges and Universities fifty years after the formal end of racial segregation in America and the lower incomes of their student populations.

But, as Bacon’s Rebellion has been warning and the JLARC report confirms, rising tuition, fees and other expenses are outpacing the ability of students and their families to pay for colleges across the board, with the result that enrollment in Virginia colleges and universities declined last year. Declining enrollment translates into falling revenue, which can be especially devastating to institutions with high debt burdens.

My analysis suggests that Christopher Newport and Mary Washington, the two most highly leveraged public higher ed institutions in the state, could be among the most vulnerable. Neither is a prestige institution with strong pricing power and a large backlog of students clamoring to get in. In a positive sign, however, Christopher Newport’s enrollment did increase by 75 FTE students in 2013-2014 compared to the year before, according to State Council for Higher Education in Virginia data. On the other hand, Mary Washington’s enrollment declined by 138. I don’t want to make too much of one year’s enrollment data but if I were a board trustee at Mary Washington, I’d set a very high hurdle for any additional borrowing.

By contrast, Radford University serves a similar market niche, as a small/medium-sized liberal arts university appealing mainly to in-state students. Radford’s board has kept a very tight lid on debt, and the institution has the lowest debt/revenue ratio of all the colleges.

One more factor should should be considered in our analysis — deferred maintenance. Christopher Newport’s campus is so new that it has a negligible deferred maintenance backlog — about $0.5 million, according to JLARC. That contrasts to Virginia Tech’s $274.5 million backlog, the largest of any higher ed institution in Virginia. In theory, Christopher Newport won’t have major maintenance issues until it has paid off most of its 30-year debt. Mary Washington, by contrast, has racked up $42.5 million in deferred maintenance.

Deferred maintenance, Virginia public four-year institutions. Table credit: JLARC

Deferred maintenance, Virginia public four-year institutions. Table credit: JLARC

Virginia’s College Spending Binge

Higher education spending per student at Virginia public universities compared to regional and national averages. Graphic credit:  JLARC

Higher education spending per student at Virginia public universities compared to regional and national averages. Graphic credit: JLARC

by James A. Bacon

Great minds think alike. The wonks at the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) apparently have been obsessing over the issue of college overindebtedness, just as I have here at Bacon’s Rebellion. In its newly issued report, “Addressing the Cost of Public Higher Education in Virginia,” JLARC has found that Virginia’s public colleges and universities have far outspent their peers nationally and regionally on buildings and other capital projects, with the result that they are saddled with major debt and interest payments.

“Total debt service for the state’s 15 four-year public institutions grew from $106.2 million in FY 2002 to $421.4 million in FY 2013,” writes JLARC in its executive summary. “Debt service on this institutional debt is equivalent to nine percent of E&G (Education & General) spending by the four-year public institutions in Virginia.”

Last year, Virginia spent almost $2,872 per student on capital projects more than twice the national average of $1,353. In FY 2009, Virginia institutions spent more than three times the national average. As JLARC observes, this spending occurred despite declines in state support and despite the increasing inability of students to afford higher education.

Meanwhile existing facilities have deteriorated. “As of FY 2011, the total deferred maintenance on E&G facilities was estimated at $1.4 billion, or approximately 19 percent of the replacement value of Virginia’s higher education E&G. … National research has found that every $1 of deferred maintenance results in $4 to $5 in long-term capital liabilities.”

Bacon’s bottom line: Building great facilities certainly adds to the allure of Virginia institutions. Handsome facilities are highly visible to prospect faculty and students, while deferred maintenance and other issues go unnoticed. And, as Peter G. observes in a post below, the impact on urban redevelopment can be striking. The City of Richmond has benefited enormously from the capital spending boom at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Indebtedness and leveraged balance sheets can work for enterprises when the market is expanding and new revenues can cover the cost. But it’s a recipe for disaster if the market tops out or, God forbid, enrollments start to shrink — as is actually happening in Virginia today. Colleges and universities cannot prune their debt burden without defaulting, an act that would effectively sign an institution’s debt warrant. System-wide, $400 million in annual debt service is baked into the cost structure. If higher ed institutions have to start cutting, that’s a big chunk that cannot be touched. Other line items must suffer all the more.

JLARC could have added considerable value to an already valuable report by compiling total indebtedness and debt-to-revenue ratios at each of Virginia’s 15 higher ed institutions. It would be nice to have some advance warning of which institutions are especially at risk. Who knows, maybe such data would encourage asleep-at-the-switch trustees on university boards to start asking tougher questions.

How Not to Spend Public College Money

vsu multi-use

Virginia State’s multi-use center

By Peter Galuszka

As Virginia’s students and their families struggle paying their tuition and related expenses, the state’s 15 public universities continue to charge excessively for mandatory fees for athletics and massive bricks and mortars projects.

These are the conclusions by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) which has issued a series of studies on college spending to the General Assembly. Dubious fees and a $7 billion collegiate construction boom are some of the reasons why the average tuition for in-state students has risen 122 percent over a decade.

One doesn’t have to look far to see the shiny new buildings. At Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, former President Eugene Trani spent decades expanding his school’s two campuses. In the process, he transformed downtown for the better but one must ask why the huge expansion seemed to get more attention and resources than raising the school’s academic status. . Late this summer, VCU ordered a $21 million budget cut to help the state with its $881 million revenue shortfall.

In Charlottesville, students at the University of Virginia can enjoy the recently completed $100 million South Lawn project that was a decade in the making and added a patch of new buildings. It is now adding a children’s medicine building at his health care complex.

For one of the stranger examples of dysfunctional spending, consider Virginia State University near Petersburg. The small, historically Black school is well into building an $84 million multi-use center that would serve students as well as offer a venue for community events, much like VCU’s Siegel Center which hosts graduation ceremonies for many area high schools.

As the center is being built, school officials plan to use it to help transform the surrounding areas of the small town of Ettrick. They are using the model of VCU about 25 miles up Interstate 95 as a blueprint for linking school expansion with local community development.

Yet VSU faces such serious financial problems that its president Keith Miller, stepped down unexpectedly on Halloween. Thanks to shortfalls in financial aid and other problems, the school ended up with a sudden $19 million shortfall. Attendance at the school is down 1,000 from last year and 550 short from what the administration had expected.

Students complain that they found out about cuts in their state and federal aid only at the very last minute and many had to drop out. VSU has been through a series of financial problems that have forced it to switch to a fast food-only menu at one of its dining halls. Laboratory equipment is scarce, students say.

They wonder why the school is busy erecting a huge new multi-use center when they have many more obvious and pressing problems at hand. A school spokesman says that funding for the new center is handled by a foundation and is not directly linked to the school’s financial system. VSU is expected to name an interim president later this week after more than 900 students signed petitions asking for a wholesale revamp of the school’s top management.

JLARC found other areas of concern, such as forcing students to pay mandatory fees for sometimes oversized athletic programs that tend to operate in their own worlds that have little relevance for most students. Not every student cares about all of the sports or has time to support every team. Plus, JLARC says that the state should reconsider its methods of handing out financial aid to make sure that low and middle income students are the ones who actually get it.

One hears a lot about overpaid professors and administrators. But the JLARC studies suggest their salaries may be less of a problem than using colleges as cash cows for construction projects and to prop up ambitious sports programs that may have very little to do with the schools they represent.

UVa vs. Student Body


How out of control is public university spending in Virginia? The University of Virginia may not be entirely representative of a higher education system that runs the gamut from the College of William & Mary to George Mason University, from Tidewater Community College to Longwood University. But it does represent the unrestrained id of higher education untrammeled, by virtue of its excellent reputation, by the constraints of market demand.

The chart above, contributed by a source who prefers to remain anonymous, shows how the growth in tuition and fees charged by UVa have consistently outstripped Virginians’ median household incomes between fiscal 2003 and fiscal 2013.

The usual response is, “The General Assembly made me do it.” Grappling with declining state support, UVa supposedly had nowhere to turn but tuition and fees to make up the balance.

I decided to check the numbers from General Assembly budget documents. Here’s what I found, comparing fiscal 2003 to fiscal 2013, the same period covered in the chart above.
Lo and behold, what do we find? State support stayed level over the 10-year period (increasing 1.6%) while Nongeneral spending (comprising tuition, fees, room, board, R&D and ancillary spending) leaped 73%. With state support holding steady and other spending soaring, it is ludicrous to blame the increase in tuition & fees on cuts in state spending.

The truth is, UVa spending has ballooned. The university has paid for that spending by jacking up tuition & fees because it can. Its brand name and quality education give it the pricing power to do so.

In the 2014 fiscal year, the General Assembly bumped up state support for UVa by $7 million. But then budget shortfalls required cutbacks of $6.5 million this fiscal year and $9 million the next, which at that point actually will produce decline in state support compared to 2003. And you can bet your bottom dollar that UVa will justify continued hikes in tuition & fees by shifting all blame to the penurious policies of the commonwealth.


Virginia College Enrollments Decline, SCHEV Wants Higher Tuitions

by James A. Bacon

Yesterday, when asking how long Virginia universities could defy the national decline in student enrollments, I spoke just a hair too soon. I quoted 2012-2013 data to the effect that Virginia public higher education institutions were holding their own. Unbeknownst to me, the State Council on Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) was releasing updated enrollment numbers at a board meeting the very same day.

Turns out that enrollment at state colleges and universities fell below 400,000 this fall for the first time since 2008. In her Times-Dispatch article, reporter Karin Kapsidelis does not tell us how big of a tumble that was percentage-wise, but it was sufficient to cause considerable consternation among SCHEV board members.

The council then proceeded simultaneously to (a) bemoan the 78% increase in the number of students requiring financial aid since 2011, and (b) endorse tuition increases that would make college even more unaffordable. SCHEV estimates an average tuition increase in 3.7% will be needed to just to support its priorities of paying for faculty raises and covering maintenance costs of new buildings coming online in fiscal year 2016.

pc_incomeLet us ask ourselves if there might be any connection between rising tuition and the increasing need for financial aid. Let’s see now… Real per capita incomes in Virginia have barely budged since 2011, yet tuition, fees and other college-related expenses have ratcheted ever higher at a rate considerably faster than inflation. If public colleges follow SCHEV’s recommendations and continue jacking up tuition by 3.7% annually, and if wages continue to stagnate, then college attendance, already unaffordable for many, will become even more unaffordable. As college becomes even more unaffordable, enrollments will continue to drop. This is not rocket science, people!

It is true that the decline in state support is partly to blame for the increasing cost of going to college. But so has the growth in administrative overhead, student fees (much of which goes toward athletic programs), and the cost of fancy food courts and new dormitories. Moreover, public colleges have continued to build new physical facilities, raising the question of whether they have over-built. Indeed, one of SCHEV’s highest priorities for increased revenue is to cover the growing cost of building operations.

If you build more buildings in anticipation of ever-rising enrollments and those enrollments don’t occur, what happens? You still have to pay the bonds used to finance the building construction, and you still have to pay to maintain the buildings. Either you raise tuition to cover the higher costs, which makes your institution more unaffordable… which drives down enrollment… or you scrimp on maintenance, which means your facilities go to hell… which drives down enrollment.

Virginia’s system of higher education is nearing a crisis but the educational and political establishment is unwilling to face to underlying economic realities.

How Long Can Virginia Colleges Defy the Enrollment Turndown?


Source: StatChat. Click for larger image.

How will Virginia colleges and universities fare going forward against a national backdrop of declining college enrollment? Luke Juday offers an interesting perspective at the Stat Chat blog, noting that the post-18-year-old age cohort is expected to shrink over the next two decades. Writes Juday:

If we think about the graduating high school seniors who might be entering college, there would have been close to 4.6 million 18 year-olds in 2009.  Five years later, there are only 4.2 million – And the 17 year-olds preparing for college are the smallest age cohort younger than 35 – at 4,176,000.  The next set of them (current 16 year-olds) will be even smaller. In fact, we should expect a slowly declining pool of college-aged students for the foreseeable future, as illustrated by the graph [above].

So far, Virginia’s public and private universities seem to be bucking the trend, experiencing a small enrollment increase overall during the 2012-2013 year, according to the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia. However some universities — most notably Virginia Commonwealth University, Norfolk State University and Virginia State University — saw significant declines. It’s dangerous to draw conclusions from one year’s worth of data, however, so those numbers may or may not reflect longer-term trends.

Juday also notes that Hispanic and African-American children will constitute a growing share of the college-bound population. Insofar as those two demographic groups have been less likely to attend college than non-Hispanic whites, whether due to lower average income or other reasons, the changing racial make-up of the student population may crimp enrollments as well.

Combine declining enrollments with relentlessly increasing tuition, fees and other college expenses, and it’s hard to see how even Virginia’s vaunted undergraduate higher-ed system will be able to maintain its numbers. Norfolk State and Virginia State have been experiencing well-publicized difficulties. Don’t be surprised to see problems surfacing at other institutions, especially those that have borrowed heavily to build new facilities.

Update: The National Center for Educational Statistics projects that enrollment growth at American colleges and universities will increase by three million between 2012 and 2022. That represents a considerable slowdown from the past, but an increase nonetheless. The projections do not account, however, for “the cost of a college education, the economic value of an education, and the impact of distance learning due to technological changes.” (Hat tip: Matt Thornhill.)


The Forbidden City Comes to Virginia

forbidden cityBy Peter Galuszka

The Forbidden City has come to Virginia and it’s definitely worth a look.

Rarely-seen works from the Palace Museum in Beijing’s Forbidden City, the imperial residence of Chinese emperors from the Ming to the end of the Qing Dynasty (roughly from about 1406 to 1912) go on display tomorrow at the Virginia Museum of Fine Art in Richmond.

Putting the exhibits together took lots of work and diplomacy, VMFA Alex Nygeres told guests and the news media Wednesday at a morning event. There were plenty of visits back and forth and there are plans for the VMFA to reciprocate by sending its famed Faberge Egg exhibit from the Russian Romanov era to China. The Ambassador from the People’s Republic of China to the U.S. attended a gala, $10,000 a table event the evening of Oct. 14.

I’m no expert of Chinese art, but the exhibit was highly impressive. The many works included court paintings, religious artifacts and costumes, including an early form of body armor for soldiers which consisted of layers of tough cloth protecting vital organs and appendages.

The exhibit opens at a time of unsettled relations between the U.S. and the People’s Republic. China has been torn by pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. Workers’ expectations are rising as China’s economy is slowing. Beijing is becoming more aggressive as a regional military power and its efforts to censor Web-based information and launch cyber spying are worrisome.

Another issue is that given the tough, expansionist diplomacy of Russia’s Vladimir Putin and the negative reaction from the West, Moscow is looking for more links with China. Relations between the two have always been up and down. Not that long ago, experts believed that if there were a nuclear weapons attacks, it might occur between those two countries. Now, peace has returned and both may be able to exploit their close geography and relative strengths in energy and population in a way based on economics and not Communist ideology.

On the bright side, China does have money and is fast developing expertise. China’s Shandong Tranlin paper company is investing $2 billion in a modern paper plant in eastern Chesterfield County that will employ 2,000. It won’t use trees, but leftovers from farm fields and is supposed to be less polluting than paper mills most Americans are familiar with. What’s more, Gov. Terry McAuliffe is off on a trade mission to China in a few days.

In any event, the Forbidden City is worth a look. It runs until Jan. 11.