Category Archives: Education (higher ed)

In Defense of Teresa Sullivan

Jim Bacon defends Teresa Sullivan? What's next, earthshakes, hurricanes and volcanic eruptions?

Jim Bacon defends Teresa Sullivan. What’s next, earthquakes, hurricanes and volcanic eruptions?

by James A. Bacon

Things have come to a strange pass when I find myself defending University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan. In past posts, I have been highly critical of her performance. But, while I think there are legitimate grounds for criticizing her, some attacks just go too far. A recent case in point is an op-ed published by Del. David I. Ramadan, R-Loudoun, in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

In arguing that it’s time for Sullivan to “go” — presumably to resign — he lays upon her the full responsibility of every sin real and alleged that has been hurled against UVa in the two or three years, from the supposed “epidemic of rape” to ABC agents’ use of excessive force to subdue a black student who’d been drinking near the university grounds.

Perhaps there is rough justice at work here. Citing two documents — an American Association of Universities (AAU) “campus climate” survey and an Office of Civil Rights report on UVa’s response to sexual assaults — Ramadan paints a picture of UVa where one in four women say they they have been sexually assaulted during the past academic year and the university has acted insufficiently to eliminate the “hostile environment” toward women. That’s especially rich because Sullivan, through words and actions, contributed to that perception. In so doing, she helped perpetuate the atmosphere of hysteria that threatens to consume her. But blaming her for failing to address the supposed rape epidemic is manifestly unfair.

Ramadan wrote:

At the University of Virginia [the number of rape, assault or sexual misconduct] was 23.8 percent, with 13.4 percent of undergraduate women saying they had been assaulted during the past academic year alone. In plain English, it means that almost 2,000 daughters — daughters who wanted only a decent education — may have suffered unspeakably.

And also:

The disturbing report issued by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) tells a sickening story of gang rape and multiple accusation against the same accused perpetrators, says the university failed “to eliminate a hostile environment” and, worse still, didn’t act to protect the safety of the broader university community.

Let’s make something clear: The two documents Ramadan cites are highly politicized, created to advance the Obama administration’s “war on women” narrative. A sincere, well-meaning, liberal woman, Sullivan is collateral damage.

Let’s talk first about the AAU survey. The survey was conducted in a wave of orchestrated hype to advance the narrative that an “epidemic of rape” is sweeping through American universities. There is indeed an epidemic of sexual misbehavior, much of it revolving around the excessive use of drugs and alcohol, but the study methodology and conclusions were designed to create the impression that thousands of young women are being subjected to violent rape on campus. There is a problem with rape on campus — and any rape is too many — but the problem is not nearly as severe as portrayed.

The first thing you need to know about the survey is that it was based upon a response rate of 26.4% — one quarter of the student body.  The study never accounts for the possibility that the sample might have been biased by the fact that students (especially women) who had experienced sexual assault were far more likely to participate in order to make their voices felt, or that the highly vocal and well organized anti-rape movement on campus likewise might have spurred like-minded people to take part. I would argue that the highly emotional atmosphere of UVa in the wake of the Rolling Stone gang rape allegations skewed the participation rate. This is confirmed by the fact that the 26.4% response rate at UVa was significantly higher than the 19.3% average response rate for the other 27 institutions of higher education  included in the survey.

Now, let’s dig into the number of self-reported victims of sexual assault. Ramadan correctly quotes the AAU study as saying that 23.8 percent of female undergraduates reportedly experienced some kind of “sexual assault” since entering UVa. But that includes a wide range of offenses.


The percentage of undergraduate women who described themselves as victims of rape (forced to have sex by physical force or the threat of force) was only 3.0%. Of course, that’s way too many — the only permissible percentage is zero — but it’s a far, far cry from one in eight! The overwhelming majority of these “sexual assaults” constituted unwanted sex that occurred as a result of “incapacitation” — the parties were inebriated — or of unwanted groping. I condemn both, but they are a very different matter than violent rape.

Please note that these numbers refer to undergraduate women. The rate of such incidents for female graduate students is about one-third the rate for undergraduates. The percentage for married graduate females was even lower — pretty close to the incidence for society at large, I would wager. In other words, the epidemic of rape/regret sex/unwanted groping is overwhelmingly an undergraduate phenomenon, not a phenomenon afflicted female students randomly across campus. Why would that be? Could it have something to do with the culture of hook-ups and drunken sex that is much more prevalent among undergrads than graduate students? If that’s the case, it changes the complexion of the problem. Continue reading

Income, Ethnicity and Student Indebtedness

by James A. Bacon

Both sides of America’s ideological divide acknowledge that student debt is a huge and growing problem, and both sides deem the climbing delinquency rate on student loans to be a bad thing. The question is what to do about it. The Obama administration has chosen to target private career colleges, whose students accumulate disproportionately large loans and fall behind on their debt payments at disproportionately high rates.

As the Obama administration points out, students at for-profit colleges represent only about 13 percent of the total higher education population, but about 31 percent of all student loans and nearly half of all loan defaults. “Higher education should open up doors of opportunity, but students in these low-performing programs often end up worse off than before they enrolled: saddled by debt and with few—if any—options for a career,” said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan in a press release last year.

The recent publication by the Department of Education (DOE)’s online College Scorecard” was designed to bring some transparency to the cost and performance of public colleges, private not-for-profit colleges and private for-profit career colleges. There is no question that attendees of for-profit institutions experience are far more likely to fall short on student loan payments. But for-profit institutions argue that their programs aren’t the problem. The problem is that their students consist disproportionately of low-income and minority students who have trouble carrying their debt load regardless of the type of educational institution they attend.

Drawing upon College Scoreboard data, I decided to look and see what the situation looked like for Virginia-based institutions. Do private, for-profit colleges in the Old Dominion fit the stereotype of preying upon low-income and/or minority students and saddling them with unmanageable levels of debt?

First, I collected College Scoreboard data on (a) for-profit colleges, (b) community colleges, and (c) two public universities with high percentages of low-income and minority student bodies, Norfolk State University and Virginia State University. Then I plotted four different variables against the percentage of students at each institution that failed to pay at least $1 of the principal balance on their federal loans within three years of leaving school.

One logical explanation for the failure to pay down debt is low post-school earnings of students. The lower a student’s earnings, the heavier the burden of student-loan debt, whatever the size. There is indeed a modest correlation between earnings and debt troubles, as seen in this chart:

Data source: College Scoreboard

The R² of 0.125 suggests that about 1/8th of the variability in students’ ability to support their debt hinges on how much they earn after they leave college (making no distinction between whether they graduate or not). That’s not insignificant, but it’s less important than other variables.

Next I looked at the size of the monthly student-loan payments. All other things being equal, students with larger monthly payments, I conjectured, would have a harder time keeping up with their debt than students with smaller payments. This hypothesis is borne out by the numbers.


The R² of 0.2642 was twice as high as that for post-college earnings, suggesting that this variable has twice the explanatory value as post-college earnings. Continue reading

Another Tool for Grading Colleges


University of Virginia. Source: College ScoreCard

by James A. Bacon

The U.S. Department of Education has published a new online College Scoreboard, which provides useful data for anyone thinking about where to attend college — and for anyone such as citizens, alumni and legislators who wish to appraise the quality of education provided by each institution.

The searchable data provides statistical profiles of virtually every higher educational institution in Virginia and the country — from the University of Virginia to the Art Institute of Washington-Dulles. The tool is a wonk’s dream, providing all sorts of ways to slice and dice the data.

To provide an example, I have highlighted above my alma mater, the University of Virginia. The average cost of attendance, at $17,149, is right at the national average. But the graduation rate is far higher, among the very highest in the country, and the average salary of graduates is significantly higher.

The database allows us to drill deeper to find, for example, that 95% of UVa graduates are paying down their debt, compared to 67% nationally, 24% receive federal loans and, of those who do, they average $19,500 indebtedness upon graduation. The profile breaks down the student body by race/ethnicity and provides the range of SAT scores as well.


Virginia State University

At the other end of the scale is Virginia State University, the seeming sad sack of Virginia’s public university system, where the graduation rate is a meager 41%, and the post-graduation salary $24,000 less than at UVa. Eighty-five percent of all VSU students receive federal loans and, despite a lower tuition than UVa, they average $28,451 in total debt. With such a high debt load, no wonder only 47% are paying down their debt.

That’s not necessarily to say that VSU as a institution is doing a bad job. Clearly, VSU is serving a very different demographic than UVa — predominantly African-American with lower SAT and ACT scores in contrast to UVa’s predominantly white/Asian student body with high SAT and ACT scores. UVa looks good by many measures because it selects the academic cream of the crop of all races/ethnicities, while VSU provides a higher ed option to students who might not be able to attend college anywhere else.

I was curious: Does the superior salary performance of UVa students reflect anything more than the selectivity of the student body? All other things being equal, one would expect smarter students to get higher-paying jobs in America’s knowledge economy than less academically proficient students. Is UVa providing real educational value added, or is it just using its prestige to recruit smarter students?

As a first stab at answering that question I ran a scatter chart correlating average SAT scores with average salary for each public institution. (The College Scoreboard database does not provide average SAT scores, but it does provide SAT ranges for reading, math and writing, so I averaged the high and low of the ranges for each.) The result:

Negative outliers (above the line): Green, CNU; Purple, W&M; red, UVa. Positive outliers: yellow, VSU; dark blue, VMI; yellow, GMU.

Negative outliers (above the line): Green, CNU; Purple, W&M; red, UVa. Positive outliers: orange, VSU; dark blue, VMI; yellow, GMU. Click for bigger image.


Click more bigger image.

Here is the raw data that goes into that chart:

The R² for the slope suggests that 75.6% of the variation in salary can be attributed to SAT scores. Clearly, student selectivity is the dominant explanation for the variation in salaries. But it’s not the only explanation. The other 24.4% can be explained by other factors such as the quality of the educational experience, the value of the alumni network or other factors. Institutions below the trend line exhibit a higher pay/SAT ratio, while those above exhibit a lower pay/SAT ratio. Continue reading

Building the Ed-Tech Research Network


by James A. Bacon

K-12 schools and higher ed institutions across the United States are expected to spend a combined $11.3 billion on education technology in 2015. So many new products are flooding the educational marketplace that educators are finding it difficult to make informed decisions about which to use. To address this challenge, the Jefferson Education Accelerator (JEA) is partnering with American Institutes for Research (AIR) to expand JEA’s network of experts and researchers.

JEA, an initiative of the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, launched in February as an educational accelerator/incubator. Its big value-add is a nationwide network of K-12 schools and colleges that provide efficacy studies of new products and services. Washington, D.C.-based AIR uses social science research to gain insights into education, health and the workforce. Among the issues it has addressed recently: what and how summer schoolers learn, school discipline reform, and early childhood education quality ratings.

“AIR brings a breadth and depth of experience in research, evaluation, and technical assistance that we believe will complement the Curry School expertise and support the objectives of JEA,” said Bart Epstein, founding CEO of the accelerator.

Last month Reston-based Echo 360, developer of a learning platform, joined as JEA’s first customer. For an undisclosed sum, JEA will help the Steve Case-funded technology company conduct research and scale its operations.  “Our review of its internal data shows strong evidence of significant impact on student engagement and outcomes,” Epstein said in a press release.

“We know that traditional lectures present a significant challenge for institutions grappling with completion rates and student engagement. Echo360 already shows strong evidence of supporting faculty and engaging students,” said Robert Pianta, dean of the Curry School. “At UVA, we’re excited to further explore how technology like theirs can help faculty and institutional leaders improve actual student success.”

Bacon’s bottom line: U.S. K-12 education is in a rut. It costs too much and it has failed to move the needle on educational outcomes. Applying technology to revolutionize teaching methods is, in theory, one way to jump-start the industry. But technology is not a magic wand; the effectiveness of the new technology tools is notoriously difficult to evaluate. Implemented carelessly, technology initiatives can squander a lot of money.  Field-testing the tools in real-world conditions and evaluating them with scientifically valid methods should help take the politics and the anecdotal out of decisions on which technologies to deploy.

Pell Grants: Soaking Taxpayers and Creating Debt Slaves?

pell_loansby James A. Bacon

Earlier this month the Hechinger Report found that a large percentage of the beneficiaries of federal Pell grants to students from low-income families never graduate. The study also found that the federal government, despite spending $300 billion on the program since 2000, doesn’t keep track. The feds have doubled their commitment to the program since the 2007-2008 school year with absolutely no idea of what results they are getting.

Uncle Sam may be flying blind, but Virginia is not. The Commonwealth has been collecting the data for years and reports the results for every public and private university in the state, reports the VLDS (Virginia Longitudinal Data System newsletter. According to Tod Massa with the State Council for Higher Education for Virginia, “Virginia knows more about the success of students in all the Title IV financial aid programs, which are not ours, than the federal government does.”

Pell grants for low-income students provide awards of up to $5,775 per student. Graduation rates for Pell recipients in Virginia can be seen here.

For all first-time, full-time college students entering a Virginia institution in the 2001 school year, 60.3% graduated within five years compared to 43.4% for Pell recipients. The graduation rate varied widely between institutions, however. The more elite the institution, the higher the graduation rate. For instance the Pell graduation rate within five years at the University of Virginia was 85% for freshmen enrolled in 2001, while it was 20% at Norfolk State University. (View data for individual institutions here.)

The disparity in graduation rates raises the question of whether the program is inducing poor students to attend college when they have no business doing so, either because they are unprepared for college-level work or because they struggle to pay the tuition, fees, room and board. A nearly $6,000 grant covers about a third or fourth of what it costs to attend a public university in Virginia. It would be interesting to know how many Pell recipients end up taking out student loans. It would be even more interesting to know how many Pell recipients end up saddled with student debt without the degree credential that would help them pay it off.

Virginia has the data to undertake such an analysis. The fact that the U.S. Department of Education does not is just disgraceful. It’s not often that a government wealth-distribution scheme can both squander your tax dollars and propel thousands  of would-be beneficiaries into debt slavery.


How Germans Control the Cost of Higher Ed

Th University of Cologne: spartan but inexpensive.

The University of Cologne: spartan but inexpensive.

by James A. Bacon

Imagine a college or university stripped down to its essentials: inculcating its students with a body of knowledge and critical thinking skills. Imagine no basketball teams, no dormitories, no gymnasium, no frills. Imagine professors who spend most of their time teaching by delivering lectures in large auditoriums, not engaging in the publish-or-perish rat race. Imagine a college that doesn’t support vast bureaucracies to sort through student admissions, promote economic development or minister to the latest government concerns about diversity, sexual assault and binge drinking.

Then, imagine that institution offering free tuition to everyone meeting the admittance criteria, and students graduating without $25,000-plus in student loan debt.

There are no universities like that in the United States, certainly not Virginia. But that’s pretty much what the German higher education system looks like.

In a fascinating article in Marketplace, Kirk Carapezza profiles the University of Cologne, Germany’s largest university, with 48,000 students. The university includes a law school and medical school. The average cost of an undergraduate degree in Germany is $32,000, which the German government provides for free.

Here in Virginia, VCU students will pay $63,000 in tuition and fees (assuming 2015 rates stay constant, which they won’t), with the result that many will carry tens of thousands of dollars in student debt when they graduate (assuming they do graduate). And they will pay that astronomical sum despite the fact that the Commonwealth of Virginia pays $27,000 per student this year in state support at VCU — only $5,000 per student per year shy of what it costs Germany to educate its students for free!

The problem in Virginia, as in the rest of the United States, is not that the state fails to support higher education, it’s that colleges and universities have let costs run totally out of control. Here are some of the ways the University of Cologne differs from the U.S. system while still managing to provide a quality of education commensurate with one of the world’s leading economies:

  • Campus. The University of Cologne doesn’t lavish money on architectural extravagance. Buildings are bland and utilitarian.
  • Room and board. The University of Cologne doesn’t have dormitories and food courts. Students live off campus.
  • Garages. No garages at the University of Cologne — but there is ample parking for bicycles.
  • Big time sports. Sorry, sports fans, no football teams, no, basketball teams, no Title IX athletic programs, and no athletic facilities needed to support them.
  • Faculty. Professors teach more than American professors, earn less and spend more time handling administrative tasks, which keeps down administrative bloat.
  • Campus activities. Nope, no active student clubs.
  • Administration. The article doesn’t address this, but I would conjecture that it’s a factor: Germans don’t have the obsession with race, ethnicity and gender that has given rise to a vast “diversity” administrative apparatus in the U.S. And the non-residential experience probably avoids the problems arising from America’s alcohol-fueled hookup culture that generates so many charges of sexual assault, along with the attendant bureaucracy to deal with it.

Bacon’s bottom line: I’m not suggesting that Virginia switch wholesale to the German model. If people are willing to pay a premium to attend the University of Virginia, or even VCU, then they should be allowed to. But Virginia’s system of higher education also should provide a stripped-down educational option focusing on academics that enables students to forego the “residential experience” in exchange for vastly lower tuition and fees. It works for the Germans. It could work for us, too.

(Hat tip: Don Rippert.)

Student Debt and the Decline of New Business Formation

by James A. Bacon

Many are the ways in which burgeoning student debt — $1.2 trillion and rising — cripple the economy. On this blog we’ve discussed how debt delays family formation, housing purchases and consumer spending. Recent research from the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Board also suggests that student debt dampens new business formation, an insight that ties into another line of inquiry on this blog: understanding the slow rate of job creation in the current economic cycle.

The engine of job creation in the U.S. economy is new business formation. The spawning of new businesses has experienced a long-term decline since 1978, but that decline has been particularly pronounced since 2005. In recent years more firms have exited the marketplace than have entered it, as seen in this Brookings Institution graph below, taken from “Declining Business Dynamism in the United States: A Look at States and Metros,” published in 2014. The numbers may have improved in the past two  years, but probably not enough to change the long-term picture.


I have argued on this blog that the massive wave of regulation enacted in the past six years has dampened the economic recovery by imposing large new costs on businesses. As the regulatory burden has increased, economies of scale have shifted in favor of larger firms which have the resources to deal with the regulations. Numerous industry sectors are consolidating: banking, hospitals and health insurance most visibly. Industry consolidation may be a factor in explaining the decline in overall net business formation but it only goes so far.

The Brookings data shows that the problem isn’t an accelerating death rate of businesses — the exit rate of firms from the economy has remained fairly stable since 1978 — it’s the dearth of business births. I would suggest that regulation has dampened new business formation by creating barriers to entry in many industries.

While I still hew to that view, I think there’s more to the story. There also is strong evidence that the surge in student debt — $1.2 trillion and rising — has depressed new business creation among young people.

Image source: Federal Reserve Bank of Philadephia

Image source: Federal Reserve Bank of Philadephia. (Click for larger image.)

The authors of the recently published Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia paper, “The Impact of Student Loan Debt on Small Business Formation,” has found a “significant and economically meaningful” negative correlation between geographic variation in student loan debt and net business formation for small firms of one to four employees. “Based on our model, an increase of one standard deviation in student debt reduced the number of businesses with one to four employees by 14% on average between 2000 and 2010.” (Please don’t ask me to define “standard deviation.” Here’s an an explanation.)

Image source: Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. (Click for larger image.)

Image source: Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. (Click for larger image.)

To launch a business, especially a small business, individuals need access to capital, the authors argue. Small businesses receive approximately 75% of this capital from banks in the form of loans, credit cards and lines of credit, which are contingent upon the borrower’s credit-worthiness. “Given the importance of an entrepreneur’s personal debt capacity in financing a startup business, personal debt that is incurred early in life and that restricts a person’s ability to take on future debt can have profound implications for growth in small businesses,” the study says.

The growth in student debt over the past decade has damaged the credit-worthiness of an entire demographic cohort: 17% of student loans are delinquent, and another 44% are not being repaid due to borrowers either still being in school or having received a repayment deferral or forbearance. Even students who are paying their debt on schedule find their credit worthiness downgraded.

As the Wall Street Journal noted in an editorial today, the Kauffman Foundation has found that new entrepreneurs ages 20 to 34 fell to 23% of self-starters in 2013, down from 35% in 1996.

The U.S. system of higher education may be creating the best educated generation in American history, but it may be the least entrepreneurial in decades.

As Virginians seek ways to reignite a state economy hobbled by the decline in federal spending and an eroding business climate, we need to give more attention to what it takes to stimulate new business formation. And that should entail taking a closer look at the link between higher ed and student debt, and the link between student debt and new business formation. All the state and federal “programs” designed to promote new business formation, I suspect, don’t amount to a hill of beans compared to the rise in student indebtedness. Tackling student indebtedness gets us into a thicket of very complex issues that aren’t easily solved but that’s no excuse for failing to focus on what really matters.

Virginia ACT College-Readiness Scores on the Rise

Source: Virginia Department of Education

Source: Virginia Department of Education

by James A. Bacon Jr.

Some seemingly good news from the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE): Virginia’s college-bound students have shown steady improvement in their ACT college-readiness scores and significantly out-perform their peers nationally as ranked by the percentage of test takers who meet college-readiness benchmarks.

I say “seemingly” because the VDOE has shown a willingness to shamelessly spin data in the past. I don’t see any obvious signs of manipulation in the latest press release, but I don’t know enough to ascertain whether the data is being tortured or not.

Source: Virginia Department of Education

Source: Virginia Department of Education

“The upward trend in the performance of Virginia students on the ACT since 2012 corresponds with the implementation of college- and career-ready state standards and assessments in mathematics, language arts and science,” Board of Education President Billy K. Cannaday Jr. said in the press release. “The progress of students toward meeting these higher state expectations is reflected in the ACT.”

What seems especially encouraging is that Virginia scores have improved even as the percentage of high school graduates taking the test has increased. An estimated 30% of 2015 Virginia graduates took the ACT, up from 22% in 2010. (The pool of test takers includes public and private high school students as well as home schooled students.)

However, it is worth probing these results. The SAT remains the dominant college-admissions test. Not all college-bound students take the ACTs. I don’t know how the student profile of the ACT test taker may differ from the SAT test taker. If those most likely to take the ACTs are the best prepared academically, then it logically follows that enlarging the pool of test takers brings in students who are less prepared. If scores are improving despite this trend, the results appear to be all the more robust. Alternatively, if ACT test takers are participating because they are disappointed with their SAT results and they want an alternative test to present to college admissions offices, they may not represent the cream of the crop, with very different implications.

As the VDOE press release indicates, the College Board is expected to release its annual report on student achievement on SATs this September. If the SAT results match the ACT results, then something really good is going on. If not… you can draw your own conclusions.

Lopsided Gender Ratios and the “Epidemic of Rape”

by James A. Bacon

Jon Birgir, author of “Date-onomics: How Dating Became a Lopsided Numbers Game,” advances a fascinating theory on how the ratio of the sexes in U.S. colleges affects dating behavior. In colleges with more men, “traditional” dating patterns  predominate, while colleges with more women tend to have more intense hookup cultures.

The irony is that the dating culture isn’t established by the majority gender but the minority. In male-dominated campuses, women are in greater demand, hence are in a better position to set the terms of the relationship. Conversely, in female-dominated campuses, men are in greater demand, and they set the terms of the relationships. Insofar as college-age men are more interested in engaging in sex rather than establishing long-term relationships, the campus culture tilts toward a hook-up culture.

Thus, according to Birgir’s theory, the decades-long trend in which male-dominated campuses have evolved into female-dominated campuses has tilted the dating supply-and-demand equation decisively in favor of men. The result: boorish, sophomoric, sex-obsessed college males have an outsized say on the college dating culture. Says Birgir in a Washington Post interview:

It’s not just the social science I cite in the book, you can really see it in how kids talk about dating life at those schools.

I use data in the book from, which is a college review site. At the schools that are predominantly male, the kids talk about how students like to be in relationships. So for Georgia Tech, which is 66% male, the comment on was, “Tech is a fairly monogamous campus.” But for the schools that are skewed female, the hookup culture becomes more intense. So James Madison, which is 63% female, one comment is, “The deficiency of guys creates a scene that tends to embrace random hookups. …

People should know generally that the average gender ratio on campus these days is 57 to 43, which is one-third more women than men, and that is going to lead to a more libertine, a looser sexual culture on campus.

Now, let’s close the loop on the “epidemic of rape” issue I’ve been dissecting on Bacon’s Rebellion. I would argue that rising incidence of rape on Virginia college campuses (and campuses nationally) does not reflect a growing number of the violent encounters, often at gunpoint or knifepoint, that we traditionally thought of as rape but an outgrowth of the alcohol-fueled hookup culture that tends to be — this is a generality, and all generalities have exceptions — more gratifying to men than to women. A result of the hookup culture is that there are many unhappy women on college campuses today. Too many engage in sex that they hope will lead to a lasting relationship only to have their hopes dashed, often cruelly; they come to regret their action, and under the prevailing doctrine emanating from the U.S. Department of Education and arising from campus anti-rape movements, such encounters are now interpreted as rape. It is also possible that a growing number of men feel entitled to sex and that, after bouts of drunken making out, some of them resort to coercion to get what they want.

The gender ratio is not the only factor influencing the campus dating/sex culture. Administrative policies have an influence. So does the cultural background of the student body. The gender ratio at Liberty University, for instance, is more lopsided than it is at the University of Virginia, but I would be very much surprised if the hookup culture at that evangelical university is anywhere near as intense, if it exists at all. Similarly, I would conjecture that commuting campuses, in which student bodies are geographically dispersed, have less intense hookup cultures than campuses in which young men and women are thrown together in dormitories and have easy access to one another.

Yet Birgir’s hypothesis makes a lot of sense to me. Now, to take his conjecture to the next step…. I don’t believe there is any reliably comparable data on the number of complaints about sexual assault on Virginia campuses, but if there were, I would predict a meaningful correlation between the incidence of such complaints and the gender ratio of the student body.

What conclusions can we draw? One tentative conclusion is that student bodies with more balanced gender ratios are less likely to have hookup cultures and complaints of sexual assault than student bodies dominated by females. Insofar as the “epidemic of rape” is tied to the rise of the hookup culture, anything that restores more traditional dating patterns would be beneficial. Unfortunately, it is all but impossible to achieve balanced gender ratios across the board when, for biological and cultural reasons, women are far more better prepared for college and are admitted in much higher numbers. There is little appetite in American culture, even one supposedly dominated by the male “patriarchy,” for undermining the meritocratic principle of college admissions.

Birgir suggests another solution, although it won’t have much impact on college campuses for another 15 years or so — holding boys back in pre-school. Giving boys an extra year to mature in school, he suggests, will make them more competitive in college applications. Says Birgir: “If we essentially red-shirted boys and had them begin kindergarten a year later than girls, it would go a long way to closing this gap.”

Bureaucratizing the War on Men

campus_rapeby James A. Bacon

The bureaucratic machinery for prosecuting the Obama administration’s war on a supposed “epidemic of rape” — is building with frightening rapidity in Virginia. The University of Virginia spent about $1.5 million over the past year to comply with the U.S. Department of Education’s Title IX requirements, while Virginia Commonwealth University spent about $1 million, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Now state universities are discussing creation of a network of shared resources and investigators to address campus assaults. At a meeting of university presidents at the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV), UVa President Teresa Sullivan said a regional collaboration would help schools with fewer resource meet requirements of federal Title IX investigations.

This summer, UVa hired a new Title IX coordinator, two investigators and a coordinator for the federal Clery Act, which requires the disclosure of crime statistics. “Would I have rather hired four faculty members with that money? Yes, I would,” she said. “But we needed to do this to be in compliance.”

The “epidemic of rape” movement has overshot the mark, going way beyond the commendable objectives of combating campus rape and supporting the victims of rape. The new regime criminalizes sexual encounters — typically involving excess consumption of alcohol — that women regret in retrospect. Under the new logic, women are absolved of any responsibility for their own actions, while men who fail to obtain a woman’s “consent” during their drunken couplings are declared guilty of rape or sexual assault. The  apparatus being foisted into place is not merely solicitous to women but sometimes encourages them to file complaints when they were not initially disposed to do so, while administrative proceedings are stacked against men. As a consequence, an increasing number of men are heading to the courts to seek redress against university sanctions.

Meanwhile, a new puritanism is descending upon college campuses, as witnessed by the reaction to a sophomoric stunt by some Old Dominion University frat boys last week. Their offense: hanging a banner from their house saying, “Rowdy and fun—hope your baby girl is ready for a good time.” Suggestive jokes now are deemed worthy of administrative review and possible punishment.

To be totally clear, I find repugnant the kind of casual drunken sex on college campuses that leads to all too many regrettable and/or violent sexual encounters. I’m all in favor of throwing the book at rapists. I believe in chastising young men who treat young women boorishly. But I don’t favor criminalizing non-criminal acts, dismantling basic legal protections for men and squatting on free speech in order to accomplish that aim. There has to be a better way.