Category Archives: Education (higher ed)

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

VUU’s $5,000 Tuition Reduction Gambit

by James A. Bacon

Wow! Virginia Union University, a private, historically black university in Richmond, has announced that it will slash undergraduate tuition from $15,530 to $10,530 (not including the $1,753 in fees) — or 32% — in the fall of 2020. Room and board can add another $10,000 to the cost of attendance, depending upon the option chosen.

“We realize how crippling student loan debt has become for students nation-wide,” said Dr. Hakim Lucas, President & CEO of Virginia Union University. “Students enroll in college seeking a career path that will allow opportunity for long-term financial stability. However, they end up spending most of their working years paying back student loans. Virginia Union is doing what it can to ensure that students in the Commonwealth and across the nation have access to an education that will equip them with the tools they need to be successful, while avoiding the crippling bill waiting at the other end of graduation.”

While the cost of undergraduate tuition will go down, VUU will increase tuition for master’s or doctorate programs.

Bacon’s bottom line: A 32% tuition cut is a big deal. The first question that occurs: What drove the board of trustees to such an action? College boards rarely suffer crises of conscience over tuition hikes; they normally charge what the market will bear. Continue reading

Northam Spending Spree Update: $300 Million for HBCUs

by James A. Bacon

In an effort to “level the playing field,” Governor Ralph Northam is proposing nearly $300 million in additional spending in the next two-year budget at Virginia’s two public historically black universities. Virginia State University would get $150 million more, and Norfolk State University would get $143 million more.

“Virginia’s historically black colleges and universities are tremendously important — but they have not always received the state funding they deserve,” he said in a statement Saturday, as reported by the Virginian-Pilot. “This budget package is about leveling the playing field and investing in these world-class institutions, so all students have equal access to a great higher education.”

Added Northam spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky: “NSU and VSU are receiving a significant level of new funding when compared to many other public 4-year universities in the Commonwealth.”

The bulk of the money would be allocated to one-time capital expenditures.

Northam’s justification for this lavish treatment is that Virginia’s public HBCUs “have not always received the state funding they deserve.” The Virginian-Pilot article makes no mention of any evidence the governor might have cited to back up that assertion. Continue reading

A Fruitful Collaboration

The $42 million AeroFarm investment (see previous post) isn’t the only cool thing happening in Danville… Amazon Web Services and Sumitomo Electric Lightwave collaborated with Danville Community College to create an innovative fiber-optic fusion splicing certificate. Approximately 30 individuals took part in the December 9-10 course.

Fusion splicing, according to a statement from the Governor’s Office, is the joining of two optical fibers to create a continuous light path that carries data in technologies such as phones, internet, and television. “Through lectures and hands-on lessons, students will become familiar with deploying a passive optical fiber network infrastructure. They will learn real-world deployment techniques with tools ranging from hand tools to state-of-the-art automated fusion splicing technology.”

Amazon Web Services, which is headquartered in Northern Virginia, is driving fiber-optic cable innovation, releasing new hyperscale products and solutions for the next generation of fiber-optic networks. The company needs to train workers to install and operate this state-of-the-art equipment, and has enlisted Sumitomo Electric Lightwave to host certificate courses at local community colleges across the U.S. Continue reading

Northam Proposes Another $145 Million Giveaway

by James A, Bacon

The spending avalanche keeps building. Governor Ralph Northam now is proposing to spend $145 million in the next two-year budget to make tuition-free community college available to “low- and middle-income” students who pursue jobs in high-demand fields.

The Governor’s “Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back” (G3) program would cover tuition, fees and books.

“Everyone deserves the opportunity to get a good education and a good job, no matter who you are or how much money you have,” Northam said in a statement. “This is an investment in equity and our economy — by helping Virginians get the skills they need, we’re building a world-class workforce while ensuring all Virginians can support themselves, their families, and their communities.”

There is so much sloppy thinking in this proposal that it’s hard to know where to begin. But I’ll try…. Continue reading

In Failure, the GOP Has an Opportunity to Reinvent Itself

Todd Gilbert, House Majority Leader and soon-to-be House Minority Leader: GOP must learn to appeal to suburban voters.

by James A. Bacon

So, the Republicans have wrapped up their annual “Advance” — a retreat at the Omni Homestead resort in Bath County. And if reports of the two newspapers that covered the event are to be believed — one from the Washington Post and one from the Roanoke Times — GOP leaders have absolutely no clue how to become competitive statewide.

Attendees do agree that they got shellacked in the November election, and they share a vague sense that they need to increase their appeal in the suburbs. But their only hope at this point resides in the conviction that Democrats will over-reach with Trump Derangement Syndrome in Washington and enact California-style legislation in Richmond. If voters get buyer’s remorse, they might start voting for Republicans again.

But you can’t defeat something with nothing, and there is no indication in either news account that Republicans gave much thought to what they stood for, other than not being insane. Continue reading

Despite Five Years of Programs, Campus “Rapes” Surged at UVa in 2018

by James A. Bacon

Five years ago, Rolling Stone magazine plunged the University of Virginia into turmoil with its infamous article, “A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA.” Though totally discredited, the story prompted intensive soul-searching by a campus administration primed to believe in the existence of a “rape culture” at the university. As documented in the latest edition of Cville magazine, the university dedicated considerable resources to address the problem of sexual assault.

The university adopted a Policy on Sexual and Gender-Based Harassment and Other Forms of Interpersonal Violence, instituted outreach and training programs, developed a system for reporting and tracking sexual assaults, hired a full-time Title IX coordinator, and beefed up its Equal opportunity and Civil Rights office staff. Counseling & Psychological Services nearly doubled its staff. The Women’s Center received more funding, hired trauma counselors and set up counseling hotlines.

But a curious thing happened. The incidence of sexual assault isn’t improving. Indeed, in 2018 the number of reported “rapes” leaped to 28 from 16 the year before. Continue reading

Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Anthropologists

The U.S. Department of Education College Scorecard has updated its searchable database so students can see median earnings for disciplines in which 20 or more degrees are granted. Just for yuks, I checked the data for Virginia Commonwealth University where my son is enrolled. It will surprise no one to see that students earning computer science degrees will earn more than three times as much in their first year following graduation as those who earn degrees in drama, music and anthropology.

Parents, if your kid doesn’t consult this tool, you should! See what you’re getting for your investment in his or her college education. Find out how much you’ll have to subsidize the little darling when he graduates!

— JAB

UVa Gearing Up for Another Hike in Tuition & Fees


by James A. Bacon

Later this week the University of Virginia Board of Visitors will consider increasing tuition by 3% to 4% in the 2020-21 school year and jacking up fees between 3% to 6%. Here is a copy of the PowerPoint presentation showing the arguments and data that the administration presented the board in its November meeting.

As usual, the UVA administration blames tuition increases on declines in state support for higher education.  “Responsibility for funding educational costs has shifted from the taxpayer to the student,” states one slide. “Increases in tuition have not kept pace with declines in general funds, leaving a gap of $3,648 per student in 2020-2021.”

While those numbers may justify tuition increases in previous decades — UVa bases its calculations on trends going back to 1990-91 — it overlooks the fact that between 2012 and 2018 (the latest year for which I could obtain data from UVa’s annual financial reports), state support increased by $20 million even while academic (non-hospital) spending increased by $511 million! (See support for these numbers here.) The state is to blame for higher tuition? Really? In what universe? Continue reading