Category Archives: Education (higher ed)

Students Gaining Bargaining Power with Colleges

Graphic credit: Wall Street Journal

by James A. Bacon

In  a properly functioning marketplace, consumers exert power through their ability to comparison shop and bargain with sellers. One of the main limits to this consumer power is something economists call “information asymmetry.” Information asymmetry occurs when sellers of a good or service possess more information than buyers, and it typically allows them to charge more.

Information asymmetry is likely a contributor to the runaway cost in the cost of college attendance over the past few decades. A major factor in any consumer’s decision is price; in the case of higher education, price refers to charges for tuition, fees, room, and board. Higher-ed institutions traditionally knew a lot more about a student’s finances than students knew about the institutions’. Enjoying a tremendous advantage through this information asymmetry, higher-ed institutions have been able to charge higher prices than they would have otherwise. But the asymmetry is eroding.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal describes how families are bargaining over college costs — and winning. After decades of runaway tuition increases, families are pushing back. Students are applying to more schools in the hope of having more options, and in the COVID-19-driven recession, in which enrollment is expected to decline, they are emboldened to press for bigger breaks on tuition. Desperate to fill dormitories as classrooms, many higher-ed institutions are yielding. Continue reading

Housing Grants Just a COVID Relief Rounding Error

By Steve Haner

Will $50 million be enough? Will that get all the Virginians who have fallen behind due to COVID-19 square on their rent or mortgage payments? Or is that amount, in a relief program now fleshed out by the Northam Administration, merely a start?

There is a hint on the program’s web page, now available. “Financial assistance is a one-time payment with opportunity for renewal based on availability of funding and the household’s need for additional assistance and continued eligibility.” A Senate committee was told last week that Governor Ralph Northam is considering spending hundreds of millions more for the same purpose.

This first $50 million is just the latest way that the billions of federal dollars flowing into Virginia as COVID-19 relief will be used. Within that operation, it is a  rounding error. On June 23, primary day, the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee met virtually to be briefed, among other things, on how the four waves of federal assistance have been or will be spent.

The usual suspects of the Capitol Hill press corps may not have been there (or to be exact, may not have been monitoring the Zoom conference.) The primary results and the Phase 3 announcement held their attention. A week later the unreported reports are still worth reviewing and links to them follow below.

Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne, in his presentation, estimated that Virginia has received more than $28 billion in direct aid – $6.5 billion direct to the state and local governments, $14.4 billion to state businesses in the Payroll Protection Program and $7.3 billion pledged to municipal liquidity facility loans to cover revenue losses.  Continue reading

Sweet Briar Thrives Amidst Coronavirus Epidemic

The Sweet Briar campus. Photo credit: Heather Rousseau for the Washington Post.

by James A. Bacon

I’ve long admired Meredith Woo, president of Sweet Briar College, who salvaged the troubled liberal arts college three or four years back by radically restructuring its business model. Hacking out administrative costs, reorganizing the curriculum, and clarifying its mission, she slashed the cost of attendance by 32%. She then built on distinctive niches such as equestrian and artisinal agriculture programs where the college could stand out as unique. Now she’s plugging Sweet Briar’s bucolic rural setting north of Lynchburg as a refuge from COVID-19.

“We are one of the only colleges that can maintain social distancing,” Woo told the Washington Post. “We can be as safe as home — if not safer than home.”

The onslaught of COVID-19 is expected to be devastating to small liberal arts colleges generally, as parents and students weigh the pros and cons of attending college without assurances that the institutions won’t shut down again if the virus rebounds this fall. Sweet Briar seems well positioned to weather another viral storm. Writes the Post: Continue reading

Updates from the Higher-Ed Apocalypse: VSU, RU, and JMU

VSU President Makola Abdullah

by James A. Bacon

Accelerated by the COVID-19 epidemic, the wrenching restructuring of the higher-ed industry is moving from small, private liberal arts colleges to the weaker public universities. Here’s the latest news from Virginia State University and Radford University.

VSU, a 138-year-old historically black institution, faces a 10% drop in enrollment, big losses in dormitory and cafeteria revenue, and a $26 million operating deficit, reports the Richmond Free Press. President Makola M. Abdullah has told the board of visitors that the university likely will have to dip into its $21 million reserve fund to cover some of the deficit, including debt payments for residence halls and buildings.

Like other historically black higher-ed institutions, VSU has struggled in a marketplace where larger, more prestigious institutions offering more financial aid are competing for African-American students. The university has teetered on the brink of financial collapse before but has always managed to fight its way back. The Northam administration’s response to the COVID epidemic has undermined the business model of every Virginia institution by limiting the number of students who can reside in dormitories, and VSU is no exception. Continue reading

Get Ready for the Taxpayer-Funded University Bailout

by Shaun Kenney

Consider for a moment how much of a college or university’s budget comes from room and board, not to mention the prosperity of the surrounding economy.

Now consider the precarious position most colleges and universities are in America, beset on all sides by administrators, federal and state regulations, and a college campus culture that imposes students upon professors who stray from the current McCarthyism.

More than any other institution in America, our college campuses and universities are struggling with how to open up on-time with students packed into dorms in the face of a pandemic.

Which means one thing and one thing only: TAXPAYER FUNDED BAILOUT.

The University of Virginia’s endowment is enormous, standing at close to $7 billion dollars in 2019. Richmond, VCU, Washington & Lee, Liberty and Virginia Tech all stand north of $1 billion, with the College of William & Mary standing just under that $1 billion threshold. Continue reading

Look, Over There, a Squirrel!

The new, politically correct UVa logo. How long before someone decides this, too, is insensitive? The term “cavalier” refers to English aristocrats and monarchists of the 1600s. Didn’t they support slavery? Wasn’t Governor Berkeley, the man who suppressed the uprising of poor whites and freed slaves known as Bacon’s Rebellion, a cavalier? Isn’t it time to jettison this anachronistic, militarist and offensive logo?

by James A. Bacon

Ever alert to signs of racism so subtle that most people can’t see them, the University of Virginia has altered its new V-Sabre logo to remove curves that had been added to the sword  handles. At the unveiling of the original logo, the university had noted that “detail was added to the grip of the sabres that mimics the design of the serpentine walls found on the Grounds.”

The serpentine walls have long been revered as one of a highlight of Thomas Jefferson’s design of the original university lawn, pavilions and environs. But Mr. Jefferson erected the walls for the purpose of keeping slaves out of view. Ergo, in the words of Virginia athletics director Carla Williams, there was a “negative connotation between the serpentine walls and slavery.”

Williams apologized to those who “bear the pain of slavery in our history.”

Interesting. As best I can tell, Williams has never apologized to those who bear the pain of the $28,335 cost of attendance (2019-20 academic year) at the University of Virginia, a cost that has increased 14% in just four years and, even with financial aid, causes disproportionate hardship on poor minorities who attend the university. Continue reading

Administrative Bloat and Racial Inequity in Higher Ed

Source: James V. Koch

by James A. Bacon

Recently, I told the story of how Virginia Commonwealth University, which prides itself for embracing minorities and first-generation college students, is enacting a left-wing social justice regime. While fostering a culture of minority victimhood and grievance, VCU charges its students $25,419 in tuition, fees, room, and board. Among the “students of color” who graduate, seven out of ten borrow money to pay their way through college. On average they entered the job market $31,500 in debt.

Where does all this money go? Does it actually cost $25,400 a year to provide a residential four-year education? Or does the tuition support a bloated administrative structure that serves the pay, perks and priorities of college administrators and faculty? Now, thanks to James V. Koch, economist and president emeritus of Old Dominion University, there is a way to answer those questions.

Administrative costs at VCU amounted to $5,800 per weighted, full-time-equivalent (FTE) student in the 2017-18 academic year, according to data Koch compiled for his forthcoming book, “Runaway College Costs.” Among the ten Virginia public higher-ed institutions surveyed, VCU has seen the greatest percentage increase — 128% — in inflation-adjusted administrative costs over 14 years. Continue reading

VCU Has Gone Full Social Justice Warrior

Aashir Nasim

by James A. Bacon

Virginia Commonwealth University is making no effort to sugar coat the message. It has taken sides in America’s culture wars. And it will crush anyone on its campus who doesn’t go along.

In remarks to the VCU board of visitors Friday, Aashir Nasim, vice president of institutional equity, effectiveness and success, laid out the case with startling clarity. He was not going rogue. He spoke with the full approval of the university administration, and his full remarks can be found on the VCU website.

Sounding the refrain of America’s systemic racism, he made it clear that he and the administration, aren’t the slightest bit interested in debating those who might disagree. “We certainly don’t worry if people outside of VCU don’t think we are considering all sides of an issue when we send statements of solidarity and support that are centered on our core values as a university,” he said. “We will not get looped into parsing the false dichotomies between party crowds on our beaches during stay-at-home orders and protesters in the streets of our major cities after curfew.”

Under the direction of President Michael Rao, the university formed a task force in 2018 of 80 faculty, staff and students to provide recommendations regarding bias and discrimination. Since then, Nasim said, the university has been working on implementing the following: Continue reading

Hijacking George Floyd: UVa Edition

Racial/ethnic background of administrative staff: short on African-Americans but really short of Asians and Hispanics. Source: UVa Diversity Dashboard

Here’s yet another example of how white liberals are hijacking the George Floyd tragedy to advance their special-interest agendas on the grounds of social justice. University of Virginia President Jim Ryan announced that UVa will create a task to gather, solicit and prioritize recommendations about racial equity.

In a statement, Ryan said he felt “despair for the treatment experienced by so many people of color in this country – not just by police, but by every segment of society, including higher education, including here at UVA.” Ryan left it open as to the kind of recommendations the task force might submit.

Most likely the group will address campus policing policies. It will call for more diversity initiatives. It will make noises about remedying the racial disparities in faculty and staff hiring. But I am confident that the group won’t propose anything that its members weren’t already predisposed to doing before the George Floyd killing.

You can count on one thing for sure: The task force will not draw attention to the most fundamental injustice of all: the fact that UVa is organized and financed to advance the prestige, the intellectual pursuits and the financial well-being of its predominantly white administrative and faculty elites. Continue reading

Our Gutsy Governor

By Peter Galuszka

On June 24, 2015, Nikki Haley, a Republican who was South Carolina’s first non-white governor, called for the removal of a Confederate flag that had been flying over the state’s capitol grounds for years.

“This flag, while an integral part of our past, does not represent the future of our great state,” she said. Her action came a few days after an avowed white supremacist walked into an African-American church and opened fire, killing church members attending a service.

I was watching the news on TV when she made her gutsy move. I was deeply impressed.

And now, Ralph Northam, a Democrat who is governor of Virginia, has taken a similarly gutsy move. He has ordered that the state-owned statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee be removed from its stand on Monument Avenue in Richmond. It has been there for about 130 years, erected by white supremacists with deep sentiment for their romantic myths of Southern history.

“I believe in a Virginia that learns lessons from our past and we all know that our country needs that example right now,” Northam said. Continue reading

The Brewing Revolution in College Admissions

Greg Roberts, UVa dean of admission

by James A. Bacon

The traditional criteria for admitting applicants into colleges and universities is under assault. Critics from the left side of the political spectrum have been attacking SAT and ACT scores, originally devised as yardsticks to measure intellectual aptitude, as biased in favor of applicants from upper socio-economic groups. The University of California has committed to phase them out in their application process. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 epidemic has disrupted the administration of Advanced Placement exams, another marker of academic achievement, and the cancellation of classes and widespread shift of high schools to pass/fail grades threatens to render class rankings meaningless.

In the current turmoil, college admissions officers are gravitating toward criteria that will make it easier to do what many really want to do, which is admit more students from under-represented minority groups, specifically African-Americans and Hispanics. Opening avenues of upward social mobility for all segments of American society is a laudatory aim, but the rush to abandon SATs and other measures of aptitude could well backfire.

Among the institutions re-evaluating admissions criteria is the University of Virginia. The challenge, says a Wall Street Journal essay on the revolution in college admissions, is how to make the admissions more “holistic.”

“That’s the million-dollar question,” the essay quotes Greg Roberts, UVa dean of admission, as saying.  “We’ll need to be creative, particularly with 4,000+ prospective applicants for every admission officer per year at UVa. When I started in this profession 30 years ago, we had the opportunity to get to know  many of the applicants personally. I’d like to somehow get back to that type of personal engagement.” Continue reading

Snowflakes, Meet COVID-19


by James A. Bacon

Nearly three in four Virginia college students are combating anxiety, worry or other mental health challenges, according to a survey of more than 1,000 college students by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV).

It’s hard to know what to make of this funding. Cynics might respond, “What else do you expect? We’ve raised a generation of snowflakes. College students been taught to be emotionally fragile. This is their first exposure to the brutal reality that life is hard.”

Others might validate the students’ anxieties and point to the survey as evidence of the downside of the college shutdowns, with their attendant issues of completing courses online, managing technology issues, maintaining employment, finding employment, and the like. I have argued on this blog that the Virginia Department of Health, Governor Ralph Northam and the media are fixated on COVID-19 statistics while downplaying the negative health effects of the shutdown that are difficult to measure — such as mental health. First comes stress, then anxiety, then depression, then substance abuse, then declining physical health and, sometimes, suicide. Continue reading

A Great Idea from Pennsylvania to Help Nursing Homes

by James C. Sherlock

Perhaps the Governor can call the General Assembly into special session to copy the best idea I have heard for a short-term fix to nursing home medical care.

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives has just passed the “Senior Protection Act” by a vote of 201-1 to appoint the state’s academic medical centers to take over responsibility for infection control, testing, surveillance and medical care supervision in the state’s nursing homes.

Says Pennsylvania Speaker of the House Mike Turzai:

“To ensure consistency of programs, response and study of clinical and public health outcomes, the legislation would establish a coordinated, collaborative public-private-partnership approach of regional health system collaboratives. These health collaboratives would administer/manage personnel, protocols, testing and expenditures to protect the seniors in these facilities.”

A 125-member Virginia COVID-19 Long-Term Care Facility Task Force was established on April 10. Go to https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/emergency-preparedness/ and click on Partner Briefing COVID19 Healthcare Coordination 5/8/2020 to find out what they have done. Continue reading

Jerry Falwell Jr., COVID-19 and the Insufferables

Jerry Falwell Jr.

by James A. Bacon

Writing for the Washington Post means never having to say you’re sorry. If you’re looking for examples, consider the case of Jerry Falwell Jr. and his decision to keep Liberty University open during the COVID-19 epidemic, even as virtually all other colleges and universities were shutting down.

“This public response indicates the staggering level of ignorance that informs Falwell’s leadership,” opined columnist Michael Gerson. “It is possible for students with mild or unnoticeable symptoms to spread the disease. … Yes, the fatality rate of infected colleges students is likely to be low. Yes places with broad community spread are more likely to see infection of the elderly and vulnerable, who are more likely to fill premature graves.”

“Irresponsible decisions like Jerry Falwell Jr.’s put untold numbers of people at risk,” ran the headline of a WaPo editorial. “These foolhardy, irresponsible decisions endanger not just those who … resumed their college studies but untold others who now run the risk of the novel coronavirus being passed on to them and their families.”

Liberty University moved most of its classes online. About 1,200 students made the choice to return. The New York Times reported that nearly a dozen students promptly came down “with symptoms that suggested Covid-19,” a factoid that was repeated endlessly in the media and mutated into the assertion that a dozen students actually had contracted the virus. Continue reading

Tuition “Freezes” Really Aren’t Freezes in a Deflationary Economy

by James A. Bacon

Wow, the James Madison University board of visitors voted Friday to keep tuition charges flat for in-state and out-of state students. The action follows decisions by the College of William & Mary, Virginia Commonwealth University and Christopher Newport University to freeze tuition and fees next academic year.

“The action taken today by the board of visitors is reflective of the care we have at JMU for our students and families, many of whom are facing financial hardship in the face of the COVID-19 crisis,” said JMU President Jonathan Alger in a statement. “This decision is yet another way in which we will continue to support students in that endeavor and help ensure access to learning.”

Yeah, right. Meanwhile, JMU will increase its mandatory fees by $124 next academic year, and jack up room & board by $384 — more than $500 — reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. In related news, the U.S. Commerce Department announced that personal incomes fell nationally by 2% in March, when the effects of the COVID-19 epidemic were being felt. Incomes likely lost even more ground in April as jobless claims accelerated. Many economists are warning of a deflationary economy, in which overall prices decline, which would mean that holding tuition, fees, room and board steady is the monetary equivalent of a price increase. Continue reading