Category Archives: Education (higher ed)

VDOE Spikes Public School Collaboration with Dream Academy

Joann Henry, program director of the Dream Academy

The Dream Academy, a Richmond nonprofit, is an adult education center that has worked in a collaborative relationship with the Richmond Public Schools. The academy provides the instruction and pays the school system to review student transcripts and authorize the diplomas. The program has helped more than 250 grown-ups, mostly African-Americans, earn their diplomas.

That relationship now is on the rocks. Virginia Department of Education officials have nixed the agreement on the grounds that the Dream Academy is a private organization. Now the nonprofit has no choice but to pursue private accreditation.

The incident raises issues regarding the legality of of public/private collaboration for adult education anywhere in Virginia.  Continue reading

Professors Teaching Less, Students Studying Less

Richard Vedder

Richard Vedder is the nation’s foremost authority on college costs and productivity. His op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today is a devastating indictment of U.S. higher education. Compared to a half century ago, college professors are teaching less, students are studying less, and the ratio of administrators to faculty has soared.

He makes several points, some of which we’ve highlighted on Bacon’s Rebellion and bear repeating, and some of which we have overlooked:

Students studying less. College students today don’t study as hard as in generations past. According to surveys of student work habits, the average time spent in class and studying is about 27 hours a week. That compares to 40 hours weekly in the mid-20th century. Continue reading

Bacon Bits: I-81 Taxes, VCCS Shrinkage, Solar

The Numbers on Interstate 81:  Tax First, Explain Later

When you approve a major tax increase with amendments proposed just a few days before the General Assembly’s reconvened session, as happened last week, discussion is limited and there is almost no hard data on the financial impact available to the public.  You tax first and explain later.

The details appeared at this week’s meeting of the Commonwealth Transportation Board, which was given some charts on the six-year revenue and spending projections behind Governor Ralph Northam’s successful amendments. About 41 percent of the anticipated $1.5 billion over six years will support Interstate 81 projects, just a start on the $2 billion in planned improvements to that congested artery. Almost 60 percent is not for I-81. This is not a fix for I-81, but is something bigger than a Band-Aid.  Continue reading

Tuition Monster Tamed? Don’t Relax Just Yet.

Virginia 529’s Tuition Monster

It is premature to declare victory in the effort to restore sanity to tuition decisions at Virginia’s state colleges, but several factors seem to be coming together to give students and their families a break for the coming school term. Repeat:  For the coming school term.

One year’s pause, or “breather” to use a word bandied about during the General Assembly session, in tuition increases will not reverse the trends making Virginia higher education too expensive for many without a crushing level of debt. And this year’s pause, if it happens, took several years in a row of improving state funding to accomplish.  Continue reading

GMU Lefties Protest Kavanaugh, Cabrera Holds Firm… for Now

The progression of student protest movements: from “free speech” in the 1960s to “suppressed speech” in the 2010s. (Images taken from a student protester Twitter feed.)

Citing trauma to the psyches of sexual assault survivors, students at George Mason University are calling for George Mason University President Angel Cabrera to fire U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh from his new post as a visiting professor at GMU’s Antonin Scalia Law School.

So far, Cabrera is holding firm. At a recent board of visitors meeting, the GMU President said that Kavanaugh’s appointment was approved by the law school faculty in January and that he stands behind the decision, according to The College Fix website.

So far nearly 3,300 students have signed a petition demanding that GMU “terminate and void all contracts and affiliation with Brett Kavanaugh at George Mason University.” Several students, including some who said they were sexual assault survivors, made their concerns known during a public-address session of the Board of Visitors.

Said one female student: “As someone who has survived sexual assault three times I do not feel comfortable with someone who has sexual assault allegations like walking on campus.” Continue reading

Coming to Higher-Ed Near You: Transparency, Tuition Freezes

by James Toscano

The year 2019 has been a historic one for public higher education in the Commonwealth.  Thanks to a series of recent state and institutional policy decisions, Virginia’s colleges and universities are on a track to more transparency, accountability, and affordability.

Click for more legible image.

Until this year, the trendline of skyrocketing tuition and fees in Virginia — an 80% increase over the past decade — showed no signs of slowing. In a springtime ritual, some institutions had raised tuition for 17 straight years.

Just last year, tuition and fees increased an average 5% across all public two- and four-year institutions in the Commonwealth, bumping Virginia up one spot to #6 for highest tuition and fees in the nation for public four-year institutions. Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Centrists, Solar, and CNU

A force for centrism and pragmatism. While Virginia increasingly emulates the hyper-polarized politics of Washington, D.C., a new group has entered the fray. Unite Virginia, an arm of Unite America, held  a “Unity breakfast” yesterday in Richmond to honor four Republican and Democratic legislators for their bipartisanship. Unite America, launched in 2013, says it is building a movement to “elect common-sense, independent candidates” to serve people, not party bosses or special interests, reports The Virginia Mercury. The organization will make endorsements and contribute to Virginia General Assembly campaigns this year.

Giant solar project approved in Charles City County. sPower’s proposed solar mega-project in Spotsylvania County remains mired in controversy, but the solar developer has had better luck in Charles City County. The Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to approve a special-use permit for the $415 million project. The solar farm will be built on 1,400 acres. Utah-based sPower will put an additional 800 acres at the site into conservation. The permit requires that the solar farm install a 100- to 300-foot vegetated barrier around the perimeter, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Continue reading

UVa Raising Minimum Wage to $15

Demonstrators backing the Living Wage in a rally outside the Rotunda earlier this month. Photo credit: Cavalier Daily

I’ll give the University of Virginia credit for raising the minimum wage it pays its employees to $15 an hour. The University is putting its money where its proverbial mouth is. It doesn’t just preach social justice for others — it practices its version of social justice itself.

It turns out that increasing the minimum wage for 1,400 employees on the Grounds is a bit trickier than envisioned, however. As the Cavalier Daily reports, “a variety of legal barriers may complicate that endeavor for those who are employed by external contractors rather than the University itself.” UVa President Jim Ryan said the increase, which will go into full effect Jan.1, 2020,  will apply to only 60% of full-time employees who earn less than $15 an hour. But the university is working to extend the same wage to outside contractors. Said Ryan: “This is legally and logistically more complicated, but our goal is to make it happen.” Continue reading

Fatherless Households and SOLs

Source: Cranky’s Blog

We know that the percentage of “economically disadvantaged” students in a school district is correlated significantly with Standards of Learning failure rates. But is poverty the driver behind low test scores, or is it just correlated with a third factor that is the real driver? Over on Cranky’s Blog, John Butcher ran an interesting analysis: He correlated English reading pass rates in a Virginia school district with the percentage of no-husband households in the jurisdiction. The results can be seen in the graph above. The percentage of no-husband households accounts for roughly 40% of the variability in SOL pass-rate performance.

John was addressing a different issue from the one I am interested in. He was making the argument that school districts should not be judged on raw SOL pass rates. Given the fact that SOL pass rates are strongly correlated with poverty, and even more strongly correlated with the percentage of fatherless children, schools should not be held accountable for their district’s demographics. They should be held accountable for under-performing on a demographically adjusted basis. (Even by that standard, he notes, the City of Richmond schools underperform “atrociously.”)

While I totally agree with the point Butcher is making — schools should be judged on their educational value added, not the demographics of their student bodies — my interest in this post is different. To what extent is the sociological background of Virginia’s students responsible for poor educational outcomes? Continue reading

Enjoy the Basketball Game — and Thank a Student

As a basketball fan, I’m delighted that five Virginia teams — UVa, Virginia Tech, VCU, ODU and Liberty — will participate in the NCAA tournament this month. That’s more than basketball powerhouse North Carolina (heh! heh!), and it may be more teams than from any other state. After UVa chokes early in the tournament, I’ll still have up to four other teams to root for!

I’m less enthralled, however, by the fact that the teams’ success has been funded in part by an increase in student fees, thus contributing to the higher-ed affordability crisis.

According to Richmond BizSense, revenue from the Virginia Commonwealth University athletics program has more than doubled in the past eight years, zooming from $16.3 million in FY 2010 to $34.2 million in FY 2017. The largest source of athletics revenue was student fees. Continue reading

Passing Class No Guarantee of Certificate In New State Workforce Program

Average earnings three years before and one after completing the VCCS FastForward workforce certificate program. Source: SCHEV. Click for larger view.

Virginia’s FastForward workforce credential program now in its third year is showing good success in getting students through training, but a high number of people in some programs do not earn the matching certificate.  Those who achieve both usually show the highest wage growth.

For those who went into the program earning under $20,000 a year, the subsequent increase in earnings is dramatic, almost 140 percent year over year.  “We are serving a very high need population, even compared to the traditional community college population,” said Lori Dwyer, assistant vice chancellor for programs for the Virginia Community College System.   Continue reading

More Public Input Coming for College Tuition Hikes

VCU students protest tuition hikes and adjunct pay last year. Photo credit; WCVE.

Before voting on tuition increases, board members of Virginia universities will have to listen to public input from students and families, if Governor Ralph Northam signs a bill passed by the General Assembly.

SB 1118 sponsored by Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, with a companion bill sponsored by Del. Jason Miyares, R-Virginia Beach, would “require governing board[s] of each public institution of higher education, prior to a vote on an increase in undergraduate tuition or mandatory fees, to permit public comment on the proposed increase at a meeting of the governing board.”

The prevailing practice is for tuition proposals to work their way through financial committees and then get voted on by the full board of trustees with relatively little discussion. Board of visitors members are wined and dined by university presidents, and they rarely rock the boat. Administrators spoon-feed them information, and conflicting views are rarely heard. Unlike corporate board members who own stock in the company they govern, university board members have no financial skin in the game. Many are alumni whose main concern is enhancing the prestige of the alma mater they love. Continue reading

Re-Examining the Role of Elite Higher Ed in American Society

Princeton. Ivied walls or moss-backed walls?

by Reed Fawell III

“Going to Yale Could Make You Rich, or Lonely,” by Lyman Stone, published in The Federalist on Dec. 19, 2018, exposed some surprising findings regarding the costs and benefits of college attendance. Stone is worth quoting at length:

There’s a long-standing economic consensus that, for high schoolers smart enough to get admitted into the University of Kentucky (average SAT score of about 1000-1100) and Yale (average SAT score of about 1400-1600), it really doesn’t matter which college they attend … [Researchers have identified] how much money students earn 10 or 20 years later. It turns out going to Yale doesn’t add one penny to how much money a Yale admit earns.”

Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Rider U Screws U Know Who

Now that the State Corporation Commission has finally approved Dominion Energy Virginia’s Rider U, mandated by the General Assembly to force us all to pay for underground lines serving just a few customers, let me explain how perfectly this scheme put the company ahead of its customers.  (For case details, the Richmond Times-Dispatch has this good story, picking up some themes from an earlier Bacon’s Rebellion post.)

Set aside discussions of the “Strategic Underground Program” because the merits do not matter for this illustration.  Start with the information that Rider U is a stand-alone line item on your bill, a financial silo on Dominion’s books, with a guarantee that the utility will recover in full the cost of construction with a profit margin over time.  No risk to the shareholders.

Any benefit to the customers, and there will be some certainly, shows up as reduced maintenance and repair costs and fewer interruptions.  Those maintenance and repair costs are covered by the main portion of your bill, the base rates, outside the Rider U silo.   Say it’s a one-to-one ratio, and the $70 million spent putting lines underground saves $70 million over five years in repair costs.  The fewer interruptions also add base rate revenue outside the silo.

Continue reading

Read All About It: The Virginia Way

Former Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling

In his defense, you must realize that Bill Bolling is not a lawyer, so he couldn’t do what some lawyer-legislators do at the end of their careers and become a judge.  With the Virginia Retirement System’s pensions based on the highest salary period, you must top out as governor or attorney general or a cabinet member or judge, something with a real salary if you want that monthly thank-you-for-life from the taxpayers to have any zeroes on it.

Continue reading