Category Archives: Education (higher ed)

A Look at Richmond and COVID-19

By Peter Galuszka

Here is a roundup story I wrote for Style Weekly that was published today that explains the effects of COVID-19 on the Richmond area. Hopefully, BR readers will find it of interest.

It was a tough piece to report. The impacts of the deadly virus are very complicated and multi-faceted. An especially hard part was trying to keep with the fast-changing news, notably the number of new cases and deaths. We were updating right up until the story closed Monday afternoon. It was hard to talk to people with social-distancing and closings.

The experience shows the delicate balancing act between taking tough measures to stem the contagion and keeping the economy going. My view is that tough measures are needed because without them, it will all be much worse, particularly more illness and death as the experience in Italy has shown.

Incredibly, our utterly incompetent president, Donald Trump, now wants to focus on the economy more than taking necessary containment steps. It’s far too soon for that. Regrettably, a number of Bacon’s Rebellion commenters are sounding the same irresponsible tune in keeping with their big business and anti-regulation laud of free market capitalism. Continue reading

Millions More for Higher Ed — with Strings Attached

by James A. Bacon

Among the billions of additional spending for traditional Democratic-leaning constituencies in the next two-year budget, the General Assembly is ladling out $80 million more in state support for higher education. Unlike with most new expenditures, lawmakers are demanding something in return: To get their share of the moolah, public colleges and universities cannot boost their tuition in FY 2021.

How refreshing. Legislators are holding a branch of state government — public higher education — accountable for performance. They’re not micro-managing the higher-ed institutions; they’re not telling them how to do their job. But they’re not blindly shoveling money into a broken system either.

Think of it as a paradigm shift for the way government should operate. Set a metric — tuition & fees — by which to gauge performance. Then set a target: zero increase. Reward institutions who achieve the goal and withhold added funds from those that don’t.

Better yet, there’s more to the legislation. Writes James Toscano, president of the Partners for College Affordability and Public Trust in a recent Richmond Times-Dispatch op-ed: Continue reading

COVID-19 as Boost to Telework, Distance Learning

by James A. Bacon

The COVID-19 virus may change our lives in ways we can only begin to imagine. Believe it or not, some of them might even be positive. Consider the impact of today’s stories upon Virginia’s higher-ed and transportation systems.

A  boost to distance learning. The University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, and James Madison University may follow the lead of Harvard and other Ivy League institutions in moving classes online.

Virginia Tech sent a letter to faculty members Monday urging them to prepare options for delivering coursework outside the classroom, reports Virginia Business. “We must accelerate planning necessary to sustain our academic mission, including the use of online platforms to deliver instruction,” said Provost Cyril Clark. “Please use this spring break when most classes are not in session to become familiar with strategies to continue teaching through disruptions and to plan for the possibility that students and faculty may not be able to meet for course sessions in person.”

“We are looking at how do we move our courses online,” said JMU spokeperson Caitlyn Read. “Our libraries and our online learning centers have ratcheted up support services for faculty who are looking … to get classes online.

Update: UVa has made the decision to move all classes online. So has Virginia Tech.

Schools out for summer. Schools out forever! OK, that quote from rocker Alice Cooper might be a slight exaggeration. But Fairfax County Public Schools, which serves 188,000 students, will close all of its nearly 200 schools for “staff development day/student holiday” next Monday, the Washington Post reports. The purpose: “to provide an opportunity for staff to prepare for the possibility of distance learning in the event of a school(s) closure.” Continue reading

Will the Tuition Incentive Work a Second Time?

Data Source: Virginia Department of Planning & Budget

by James A. Bacon

In a gambit to hold the line on the rising cost of college attendance, the General Assembly last year budgeted $52.5 in incentives to be distributed to higher-ed institutions that froze in-state tuition increases. It worked. Governing boards of every institution agreed to hold steady on tuition and mandatory fees. This year lawmakers in the House of Delegates are hoping for a repeat, proposing a comparable incentive: $111.8 million spread over two years.

Governor Ralph Northam did not include the sum in his proposed budget, however, nor did the state Senate in the budget it passed last week. The fate of the initiative will be worked out in the Senate-House budget conference.

“If passed, three straight years of tuition freezes would give Virginians a chance to play financial catch-up when it comes to the share of household income they’ve been spending on college education,” James Toscano, president of the Partners for College Affordability and Public Trust, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Continue reading

Why Won’t They Let Professor Funke In?

Hajo Funk. Photo credit: Main-Echo

By Peter Galuszka

There’s a very curious case involving the University of Virginia that involves freedom of speech and free education, but it doesn’t involve the usual complaints of Mr. Jefferson’s University being a hotbed of Bolshevism.

Rather, it involves a renowned German professor who has had a rough time getting a U.S. visa after he was invited to teach in Charlottesville, according to the Cavalier Daily. Political scientist Hajo Funke had been invited to lead two courses as The Max Kade Distinguished Visiting Professor. On Thursday, he finally got his visa after a months-long wait.

Funke’s specialty is the study of right-wing politics, notably the re-emergence of the trends in Europe which has seen the rise of white supremacism, anti-immigration and anti-Semitism. Some examples include Hungary, Poland, Russia, France and other countries.

He had been slated to teach two courses, “Right-Wing Populism and the Far Right” and “Historical Political Memory” but had had to do them via teleconferencing from Berlin.

The university invited him to teach in November and he went to the U.S. Consulate in Germany to apply for the appropriate visa. Surprisingly, he was told that approval was being delayed with no reason given. According to the media, one possible reason is that he had visited Iran to see his wife’s family and to do some research. Continue reading

More Data on Why Students Don’t Complete College Degrees

by James A. Bacon

The biggest reasons students take college courses but fail to complete a degree are work-related, according to a Strada Education Network survey of more than 42,00 adults nationally with some college but no degree. Seventeen percent cited “work-related” reasons for ceasing their studies. The second mostly commonly cited reason was financial pressure, followed closely by life events/personal problems.

When people rack up thousands of dollars in student loans without obtaining an educational credential that will enable them to qualify for a better job, it is both a personal setback and a waste of social resources. The Strada study is important because it helps identify the reasons why many students fail to get degrees, and it provides lawmakers and colleges guidance in how to address the college dropout issue.

Governor Ralph Northam has budgeted $145 million to make community college tuition-free for low- and middle-income students pursuing jobs in high-demand fields. He cited numbers from Reynolds Community College showing that full-time students who dropped out before completing their degrees “usually had earned a 3.1 grade point average when they left school.” If they didn’t leave for academic reasons, the Governor surmised, they must have left for a lack of money.

After checking the Reynolds data, I found that conclusion was unwarranted. Although the data ruled out low GPAs as a reason for at least 40% to those who did not return for a second year of study, it did not address what their motivations were. I suggested that one other reason might be because they had found a job. There could have been other reasons.

However, the Strada data provides some evidence in support of Northam’s position. Continue reading

More Transparency Coming for Higher Ed?

by James A. Bacon

The General Assembly is considering three bills that would improve transparency and governance in higher education. If enacted, they would a add small measure of accountability to Virginia’s colleges and universities.

A better accounting of costs. HB 927, introduced by Del. Carrie Coyner, R-Chesterfield, would provide for the State Council 0f Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) to collect financial data from public colleges and universities broken down by program and discipline. The data would include operational or instructional costs, General Fund and Nongeneral Fund revenue, and planned expenditures.

This would be fantastic. For years I have been calling for deeper analysis of the cost structures of Virginia’s public universities, and SCHEV is the logical organization to collect and examine the data. SCHEV is already doing some of this. For instance, right now it embarking upon a five-year review of the number of degrees granted and majors declared in different programs and departments. HB 927 would drill deeper.

Universities love to grow new programs but hate to shrink old ones. Continue reading

Northam Budget Stiffs Online Students

Liberty University graduates from online programs — stiffed in governor’s proposed budget.

by James A. Bacon

While Governor Ralph Northam’s proposed 2020-22 budget lavishes tens of millions of extra dollars on higher education, it does cut back in one area — support for distance learning. Specifically, the budget would tighten eligibility requirements for the Tuition Assistance Grant to exclude Virginia students at private, nonprofit colleges and universities who take online courses.

Northam wants to bolster the TAG program, the purpose of which is to support private nonprofit higher-ed institutions based in Virginia, by increasing annual grant awards from $3,400 per residential college student to $4,000. But the budget would end support for Virginia students taking courses online. As it turns out, two institutions with the most biggest online enrollments, Liberty University and Regent University, have conservative leadership.

Last week Liberty President Jerry Falwell Jr., one of the rare higher-ed leaders to openly praise President Trump, suggested that the Democratic governor was targeting Liberty for his conservative views. Liberty’s online enrollment includes about 2,000 Virginia students. Assuming the university lost $3,400 per student, the budget would impact Liberty negatively by $6.8 million. “The very people they claim to champion are the ones they are harming,” he told Inside Higher Ed. “Those who claim to be tolerant are usually the most intolerant.”

The Northam administration denies any political motivation. “The purpose of the TAG program is to help address and offset the cost of college, notably brick-and-mortar costs associated with attending college,” a Northam spokesperson told the publication. Continue reading

Private Nonprofit Colleges Need to Adapt or Die

Virginia private nonprofit institutions with enrollment of 500 or more.

by James A. Bacon

With the college-age population expected to drop 15% between 2025 and 2029, Virginia’s 28 private liberal arts colleges are facing hard times ahead. And Governor Ralph Northam’s proposal to make community college free for lower-income students won’t help. The tuition gulf between private colleges and publicly supported colleges will get only wider.

Writing in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Phyllis W. Jordan, editorial director of the Washington, D.C.,-based FutureEd think tank, raises the alarm. The private colleges, many of which are located in small towns and rural areas, are economic anchors of their communities. If they fail, they knock out an economic underpinning of communities with few alternative sources of business activity and employment.

So, what’s the solution? Unfortunately, Jordan’s proposal — to match bigger state subsidies of public colleges with bigger subsidies for private colleges — is just plain awful. Subsidies replace one set of problems with a different set of problems. Continue reading

Taboo Views on Race and Higher Ed

Willfred Reilly

by James A. Bacon

The reason for the academic under-performance of African-American students in K-12 and college is a matter of contentious debate in the United States. The dominant narrative holds that African-Americans are held back by racism either overt or unconscious. Conversely, some hew to the view that genetic factors such as IQ are to blame. But to Willfred Reilly, a political science professor at Kentucky State University, the answer is neither: It’s the culture.

A single observation disproves both the racism and genetic theories, he says: Black immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean Islands in the United States are prospering. Says he: “All of these brothers from Africa and the islands do as well as whites do.” 

The culture of Africans and islanders differs from that of many African-Americans. “One of the biggest predictors [in educational outcomes] is how much you study. That’s 70 to 80 percent of it. The other is having a dad at home. If you adjust for hours studied and dads at home, there’s virtually no difference between the races.”

To Reilly’s way of thinking, the genetic view is pernicious. But it’s not terribly influential. By contrast, the view that blames all the problems of African-Americans on white racism — what he calls the Continuing Oppression Narrative (CON) — is far more entrenched and, at this point in time, more dangerous. Policies based on that narrative have unintended consequences that do considerable harm. Continue reading

Progressivism as a Cause of Racial Inequity in Schools

Source: “The Secret Shame”

by James A. Bacon

Chris Stewart has long dedicated himself to community activism and racial equity in public schools. He has served on the Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Education and, as a nonprofit CEO, he has championed grassroots movements to spur innovation in family and education policy. Somewhere along the line, it dawned upon him that something about “progressive” educational policies weren’t working.

Chris Stewart

His home state of Minnesota considers itself a “progressive exemplar,” he writes in the introduction to a study released this month, “The Secret Shame: How America’s Most Progressive Cities Betray their Commitment to Educational Opportunity for All.” “[But] educational outcomes for students of color and American Indians are among the worst in the nation.”

Progressives need to come to grips with a hard reality, Stewart says: The disparity in educational outcomes between whites on the one hand and African-Americans and Hispanics on the other is far greater in progressive cities than in conservative cities. Of particular interest to readers of Bacon’s Rebellion, the study finds that the city with the smallest disparity — a disparity so small it barely registers — is Virginia Beach. The city with the second biggest disparity is not far away — Washington, D.C. Continue reading

No Basis for Governor’s Community College Claim

Enrollment trend at Reynolds Community College.

by James A. Bacon

Last month Governor Ralph Northam announced a plan to spend $145 million to make community college tuition-free for low- and middle-income students pursuing jobs in high-demand fields. As justification for this massive entitlement expansion, he cited numbers from Reynolds Community College showing that students who dropped out before completing their degrees “usually had earned a 3.1 grade point average when they left school.” The reason they left, he asserted, was not an inability to keep up academically but a lack of money.

In this post, I questioned the numbers. I didn’t dispute them, but I wanted to know more about where they came from and what caveats might apply before committing to a $145 million spending program. I promised to ask J. Sarge (as we Richmond old-timers still refer to the college) where the 3.1 GPA number came from and report back.

So, I have obtained the information, and now I’m reporting back. Bottom line: Northam got part of the story right, but he drew totally unwarranted conclusions from the data. The justification for the $145 million initiative has no empirical foundation basis.

Let’s see what the Governor said when announcing the program in his State of the Commonwealth speech, and then let’s see what the data is to support it. Continue reading

A Deep Dive into the Data that W&M Does NOT Collect

by James A. Bacon

In the previous post, I outlined how the College of William & Mary is pondering how to deal with the nation’s enrollment crisis. Although W&M has had no difficulty keeping its enrollment numbers up in the face of a 30% increase in the cost of attendance over the past five years, the administration does worry that it may be compelled to accept a higher percentage of applicants, thus eroding its perception as an elite university. (I know, I know, what a problem to have. Waaaah!)

In seeking guidance from the Board of Visitors in November, the administration laid out the horrifying specter that, given increased market resistance to higher tuition and fees, W&M might actually be forced to cut costs to maintain its long-term financial viability. Rather than think about the unthinkable, however, the administration proceeded to explore strategies for increasing revenue by increasing enrollment.

Cost cutting is to higher-ed institutions, it appears, as kryptonite is to Superman, daylight to Dracula.

Dive into W&M’s November Board of Visitors presentations, and you’ll see an endless list of new initiatives, many of them advancing the progressive agenda on diversity and climate change, and zero analysis of the university’s cost structure. Continue reading

W&M Grapples with Enrollment Crisis

The student-faculty ratio at William & Mary (gold line) has declined in recent years, resulting in higher enrollment capacity (blue bars). Source: College of William & Mary. (Click image to enlarge.)

by James A. Bacon

Higher-ed in the United States is experiencing an enrollment crisis: A smaller generation of college-age students, a higher cost of attendance, and abundant employment opportunities have contributed to a decline in enrollment at colleges and universities for eight years running. And that worries the administration of the College of William & Mary.

In November the Board of Visitors at William & Mary addressed what the downturn might mean to the university’s high-tuition financial model. Unless new revenue sources are identified and costs contained, warned a presentation by the Ad Hoc Committee on Organizational Sustainability and Innovation, “W&M will be engaged in ongoing cost cutting to remain financially stable.”

“Unless we change our revenue stream or our cost model — that is, what we spend and how we spend it — then we would be in an ongoing cost-cutting mode for the foreseeable future to make sure that we remain in a balanced position,” Sam Jones, senior vice president for finance and administration, told the board, as reported by the Virginia Gazette. “Now that’s a significant statement for us to make but it’s really what the data has shown.”

After years of boosting tuition — W&M is the most expensive public higher-ed institution in Virginia — market constraints limit tuition “as a strategy going forward,” stated the presentation. As alternatives, W&M could consider enrollment growth or cost containment through process improvement. Continue reading

Radford’s $100 Million Boondoggle


by James A. Bacon

Governor Ralph Northam has allocated nearly $101 million in the next biennial budget to build the “Center for Adaptive Innovation and Creativity” at Radford University. If approved by the General Assembly, the allocation would represent the largest capital construction project in the history of Radford University, both in terms of total funding and square footage.

According to the Roanoke Times, the facility will include classrooms, studios and exhibition spaces, clinical research and laboratory space, and multi-use environments such as maker spaces, computer centers, and simulation and virtual/augmented reality labs.

That’s an eclectic mix of facilities. What, exactly, will the Center for Adaptive Innovation and Creativity do? According to a Radford University document, the Center will advance an inter-disciplinary approach to health and the arts. As an example of the kind of activity that would take place there, the document says that nursing students could interact with actors trained to simulate patients.

Perhaps I’m being uncharitable here, but this sounds like the kind of project that gets funded when the thinking in the governor’s office goes something like this: “Well, we’re giving money to everyone else in higher ed, and it’s been a while since we’ve tossed Radford a bone, and this is at the top of their wish list, so…” Continue reading