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How Much Do Big Education Nonprofits Pay Their Bosses?

December 2nd, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Education

The Securities and Exchange Commission recently finalized a rule forcing businesses to share data with workers that expose how much more their chief executives make than they do.

In that spirit, let’s take a look at the compensation of the chief executives of three very large education non-profit organizations heavily involved in standardized testing — the College Entrance Examination Board, known as the College Board, which owns the SAT college admissions exam and the Advanced Placement program; the Educational Testing Service, which administers the SAT and AP exams for the College Board as well as other assessments for other organizations); and ACT, Inc., which owns the ACT college admissions and also is responsible for other tests and programs.

It’s easy to mistake big non-profits such as these as for-profit companies, because they operate in similar fashion. They pay their top people a lot of money, charge fees for their services, make investments, market and lobby legislators. So how well do their executives do financially? Pretty darn well, it turns out. And many of their subordinates do just fine, too.

According to the latest publicly available 990 tax forms filed to the IRS by the three organizations, which operate under 501(c)3 tax exempt status because of their declared educational missions:

  • Kurt Landgraf, now the former president and chief executive officer of the Educational Testing Service, earned for the 2013 fiscal year ending Dec. 31, 2013: $1,307,314 in reportable compensation and $42,210 in estimated other compensation from the organization and related organizations. [See the ETS 990 here.]
  • Jon Whitmore, the chief executive officer of ACT, earned for the 2013 fiscal year ending Aug. 31, 2014: $672,853 in salary, plus a bonus of $150,000, and other reportable compensation of $12,949, plus retirement contributions of $57,152,  plus other nontaxable benefits of $18,109. That’s a total of $911,073. [See the ACT 990 here.]
  • David Coleman, the president and chief executive officer of the College Board, as well as a trustee, earned for the 2013 fiscal year ending June 30, 2014: $690,854 in reportable compensation plus $43,338 in other compensation from the organization and related organizations. Total: $734,192. (Coleman, a co-author of the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts, joined the College Board in 2012, and was new in his job). [See the College Board 990 here.]

High compensations at big non-profit organizations are permitted by the U.S. tax code. Major hospitals and research institutions are tax-exempt non-profits, as, in fact, was the National Football League for decades. (The NFL announced earlier this year it was ending its tax-exempt status, which, according to this Washington Post story, means that it will have to pay taxes on its income but “will no longer have to file yearly tax forms that publicly disclose details like executive pay, including for Commissioner Roger Goodell, who made $44 million in 2012.”)

A spokesman for the Internal Revenue Service said agency officials would not discuss the issue of tax-exempt status for the College Board, the ACT and ETS. But Marcus Owen, an attorney who was the director of the Exempt Organizations Division of the Internal Revenue Service for 10 years, said that non-profit organizations can pay their chief executives what “comparable institutions would pay for similar services under similar circumstances.” He said, “You can’t say $100,000 is too much or too little or just right without knowing more,” adding that non-profits that exceed market rates for compensation purposes are required to pay an excise tax.

In 2007, the Iowa attorney general’s office wanted the IRS to review the salaries of the Iowa City-based ACT after The Des Moines Register disclosed that ACT was paying board members more than 98 percent of nonprofit corporations nationally and that some ACT board members received more than $40,000 annually to attend four meetings. The ACT remained nonprofit.

Spokesmen for the College Board, the ETS and ACTs said that executive compensation experts help them set salaries for their leaders. Tom Ewing, director of external affairs at the Educational Testing Service, said:

ETS’s executive compensation, including for our president, is informed by guidance from expert independent compensation consultants and relevant market data for similar executive positions in organizations of comparable size and complexity to ETS. It is also based on the principle that we have to attract people who can best help us fulfill our mission to advance learning and opportunity.

Zach Goldberg, director of media relations for the College Board, said in an e-mail:

College Board salaries are within the standard range for similar organizations. Executive salaries – including our president’s salary – are set by our Board of Trustees in consultation with independent, external compensation experts. These outside experts benchmark salaries against comparable organizations, including educational organizations and other not-for-profit institutions. College Board executive salaries are very much in line with the capabilities of professionals required to run an organization of this size and complexity.

The College Board is a non-profit, membership organization comprised of more than 6,000 colleges, schools and districts. All revenue is reinvested into programs aimed at expanding educational opportunities for all students, including exam fee reductions for low-income students. The College Board contributes more than $75 million in fee waivers to students each year.

Ed Colby, director of public relations for ACT, said in an e-mail:

Compensation of the CEO is determined by ACT’s Board of Directors based upon a process that includes periodic compensation studies conducted by an independent consultant. Factors considered in the review process include organizational size, geographic location, the nature of services provided, the level of experience and specific responsibilities of the position considered and the components of the compensation offered. Based on this review, the Board believes that ACT’s compensation is reasonable.

Bob Schaeffer, public education director of the National Center for Fair and Open Test, FairTest, a national nonprofit organization that works to curb the abuse and misuse of standardized tests, said in an e-mail that the operations of these non-profits are “similar to taxable corporations,” such as NCS Pearson, and he called for their tax-exempt status to be reevaluated by the IRS and state authorities.

He also called for fees associated with college admissions testing to be substantially reduced to reflect actual costs, and said that there should be more public oversight and regulation of the activities of the testing companies because of the role standardized tests play in higher education. He wrote in an e-mail:

It’s time to examine the examiners by holding the standardized testing industry accountable for failing to operate cost-effectively. Both the IRS and Congress should look into the fat salaries paid to executives at the tax-exempt testing companies. Federal and state officials should also investigate these “not for profit” organizations for overcharging students and parents to pad their bottom lines. The behavior of the College Board and Educational Testing Service is particularly outrageous: they have millions in cash-on-hand but refuse to compensate students for the disruption in their lives caused by the June 6 SAT timing/scoring error.

(Schaeffer is referring to the botched June 6 administration of the SAT in the United States, which forced the College Board to discard two of 10 sections of the SAT — or 22 percent of the test — because of printing errors on test booklets.)

FairTest, for what it’s worth, operates on a different scale than do the three big testing nonprofits. Its 990 tax form for the 2013 fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2014, shows a total revenue of $145,332 — and not a single employee earned $100,000 or more.

The biggest organization of the three big testing non-profits in terms of revenues is the ETS, with $1.14 billion in revenues and $1.11 billion in expenses, according to the 2013 tax form. It’s total assets were $941,669,696, less than the College Board’s, which were more than $1 billion. The ETS gets about half of its revenues from higher education testing, with K-12 testing about 30 percent of its revenues. The College Board paid the ETS $322 million for “testing services” in the 2013 fiscal year.

ETS paid some members of its Board of Directors at a rate up to $103,000 a year for what is reported as approximately two hours of work a week, about $1,000 an hour. And more than three dozen top executives received more than $300,000 in total annual compensation; seven of those topped half a million dollars. For example, Philip Tabbiner, senior vice president for business innovation and growth, earned $655,055 in reportable compensation. Randy Bennett, Frederiksen Chair for assessment innovation, earned $316,450 in reportable compensation and a total of $489,758. Donado Yvette, vice president and treasurer, earned $422,793 in reportable compensation.

At the College Board, senior vice president Peter Negroni earned a total of $811,873 — the majority part of a severance package. That total was more than what was listed for Coleman, the College Board president.

The College Board itself claimed total assets that topped $1 billion, and its “assessment” programs — mostly the SAT and PSAT — took in $333 million but spent $289 million, for a net of $44 million. ACT’s total assets were $530,638,419 for fiscal 2013.

The College Board spent $1,768,295 on lobbying Congress and other public officials, the form says. ACT’s 990 form reported $674,485 in lobbying expenses, and the ETS, $40,851.

Here are some salaries from the ETS 990. You can see the full 990 forms here, here and here:


Here are some salaries from the ACT 990:



Here are salaries from the College Board 990:


By Valerie Strauss
September 30, 2015
The Washington Post

Ratings firm predicts that small college and university closures will triple, mergers double

December 1st, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Education

The inability of small colleges to increase their revenue will result in triple the number of closures in the coming years, a new Moody’s report projects.

Closure rates of small colleges and universities will triple in the coming years, and mergers will double.

Those are the predictions of a Moody’s Investor Service report released Friday that highlights a persistent inability among small colleges to increase revenue, which could lead as many as 15 institutions a year to shut their doors for good by 2017.

The 10-year average for college closures is five annually. So far this year two colleges have closed, and in 2014 six closed. Moody’s cautions that even as closures are predicted to rise, the number will remain less than 1 percent of some 2,300 existing nonprofit colleges. Meanwhile, the number of mergers is predicted to double, reaching four to six a year, up from the 10-year average of two to three a year.

The main struggle for many small colleges — which are defined by Moody’s as private colleges with operating revenue below $100 million and public colleges below $200 million — is declining enrollment.

Small colleges are often tuition dependent, meaning they face financial struggle when enrollment declines or even remains flat. Revenue softness leads to “a reduced ability to invest in academic programs, student life and facilities,” which in turn negatively affects colleges’ ability to meet the desires of prospective students, Moody’s notes. And softer demand means that struggling colleges either lose students to other institutions or aren’t able to charge enough tuition to fully cover expenses. A recent report from the National Association of College and University Business Officers found that private colleges offered freshmen an average discount rate of 48 percent last year — an all-time high.

The result is more and more students enrolling in larger colleges, further contributing to the plight of small institutions.

And a growing number of small colleges are experiencing revenue struggles, Moody’s found. The percentage of small colleges with a sustained three-year growth rate of less than 2 percent increased fivefold, to 50 percent, from 2006 to 2014.

Kent Chabotar, former president of Guilford College and an expert on higher education finance, says many colleges face what he calls “an iron triangle of doom” that makes survival difficult for the underresourced.

“There are fewer students out there. Of those students, fewer are attending colleges and universities. And it’s costing us more to get them in terms of financial aid,” he offered.

Moody’s predicts that struggling public institutions are more likely to merge into a larger system than close, in part because of the political difficulty of closing a publicly funded institution. Meanwhile, private colleges are more susceptible to closure.

Mergers, after all, can be difficult to achieve. For example, the financially struggling Montserrat College of Art attempted to merge with the public Salem State University this summer, but after months of negotiations a merger was deemed too complicated and costly for Salem State.

“It can be hard to make that happen,” said Dennis M. Gephardt, a senior credit analyst at Moody’s. “Even institutional priorities and sensitivities can stand in the way of even semi-obvious mergers. It’s not always straightforward.”

And for that reason, Moody’s expects closures to outpace mergers in the coming years. Yet Chabotar highlights how colleges are historically reluctant to close, and predicts that many struggling institutions will look toward mergers before they consider closing their doors.

“There’s going to be more mergers and alliances than they’re projecting. Schools will do anything to survive. The last thing a school wants to do is shut down. Just look at Sweet Briar,” Chabotar said, referring to how Sweet Briar College earlier this year abandoned plans to shut down after a surge of support from alumnae.

It’s this reluctance, combined with the agility of smaller colleges, that leads Richard Ekman, president of the Council of Independent Colleges, to believe that Moody’s predictions are “grossly overstated.”

“There have been predictions of doom and gloom in the past, but it simply hasn’t happened,” he said, recalling how some predicted growing closure rates in the 1990s when tuition discount rates began rising steeply. Yet the number of closures didn’t increase substantially, he said.

“These small, private institutions have this unbelievable ability to be imaginative,” he continued. “Their ability to be proactive is much better than [that of] larger, more cumbersome institutions.”

Gephardt said Moody’s did factor institutions’ tenacity into its analysis. Without that consideration, he said, the number of predicted closures would have been even higher.


September 28, 2015
Inside HigherEd

PSE students should focus on transferrable skills on day one

November 30th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Canada, Education

As you begin your college or university studies, you’re probably focused on earning your diploma or degree. But in order to be career ready upon graduation, you’ll also need to develop a host of “21st century” or “transferable” skills in demand by employers, including creative, critical and analytical thinking skills.

Post-secondary institutions are finding helpful and innovative ways to help students develop both the knowledge and skills needed to eventually launch successful careers.

Queen’s University in Kingston, for instance, has developed “major maps” tailored specifically to each undergraduate program. “The maps have sections about the kinds of skills students can develop that are complimentary to their degree through things like volunteering, engaging with their community and doing international experiences,” says career counsellor Christine Fader.

A “co-curricular opportunities directory” allows students to search extracurricular opportunities by learning outcomes. Students who want to develop leadership skills, for instance, may choose to volunteer as a peer learning assistant or university issues committee member. Those eager to develop a global perspective can become an Engineers without Borders club member.

Meanwhile, a skills workshop helps students identify the skills they’ve developed — often unwittingly — and how to communicate those skills to prospective employers, says Fader.

But the pressure to develop transferable skills can be overwhelming. Queen’s launched a campaign called “It all adds up” to help students make informed decisions about how best to spend their time. “A lot of students are already doing a lot,” says Fader. “It’s about helping them understand that what they’re doing means something.”

George Brown College’s school of design also recognizes the importance of helping its students develop hard and soft skills, such as the ability to use social media to promote their work and connect with clients in a meaningful way, how to manage a design project and how to deal with conflict with clients, says special projects co-ordinator Lori Endes.

The school recently launched a gallery-style store called IN that offers students real-world experience. “We have a small line of products developed by students and geared towards students. We focused initially on getting graphic designers to think three-dimensionally about their graphics in an entrepreneurial way,” Endes says.

“For example, a pattern-making workshop was applied to wallets. We get students to pitch ideas about the kinds of products they’d like to see in the store.” The school hopes to eventually work with other departments, including fashion and jewelry. “The goal of the IN store is to find the brightest and best student designers out there; incubate them with extra skills and get their work into the world.”

Meanwhile, George Brown’s office of research and innovation launched a digital badging program last year that will acknowledge students who participate in applied research. Students are rewarded for skills including problem-solving, team-building and the ability to find innovative solutions to industry problems and can display their digital badges in places visible to prospective employers, such as on their LinkedIn or Facebook profiles.

Employability skills 2000+

The Conference Board of Canada says the following “employability skills 2000+” are needed to enter, stay in and progress in the world of work:

  • Fundamental skills: Communicate, use numbers, manage information, think and solve problems
  • Personal management skills: Demonstrate positive attitudes and behaviours, be responsible, be adaptable, learn continuously, work safely
  • Teamwork skills: Work with others, participate in projects and tasks

— Source:

By Linda White
Thursday, September 24, 2015
Toronto Sun

Universities must not pick and choose which groups deserve defending, writes National Post contributor

November 25th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Canada, Education

As the pages of the National Post and newspapers across Canada can attest, our universities continue to act as microcosms of our wider society. Nowhere does this axiom play out more acutely than in the realm of human rights.

Upon resuming classes this fall, Canadian students were confronted with propaganda posters promoting a “White Students Union” — a loaded phrase if ever there was one. Toronto universities clearly understood this tactic as an offensive and inappropriate ploy suggestive of white supremacy movements, and correctly pulled the posters down.

As a human rights advocacy organization, the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies (FSWC) disagrees with divisive propaganda on Canadian campuses. We do support free speech, but with limitations on spreading hate and intolerance — particularly when it is directed toward one particular group of people. Unfortunately, many Canadian universities maintain a remarkable level of hypocrisy in deciding which groups are entitled to the level of empathy and understanding that lead to the tearing down of the above-mentioned posters; and nowhere is this hypocrisy worse than at York University in Toronto.

In York’s Student Center hangs a pro-Palestinian poster, which promotes the use of violence against Israel and has been sanctioned by the university and the student union. Despite complaints by scores of Jewish students who feel victimized each time they see this poster, and requests to tear it down because it promotes violence and reinforces anti-Semitic attitudes already rampant at the university, Jewish students on campus continue to be subjected to the hatred implicit in this poster. On behalf of students concerned that their voices were not being heard, FSWC lodged the following (summarized) complaint:

“The subject of this complaint is the mural entitled ‘Palestinian Roots’ that is currently displayed in the York University Student Centre. The mural depicts a young man staring off at a bulldozer that is facing an olive tree. The scarf that hangs over his shoulder displays a Palestinian flag next to a borderless map of Israel. The man is seen holding rocks in his hands behind his back. The artist’s explanation states that the images represent the ‘defenceless, the antagonist and the other.’

“The symbolism and meaning behind these images is indisputable. To Jewish students and supporters of Israel, the mural represents a form of intimidation and warfare extending from the highly anti-Israel and anti-Semitic climate on campus. It serves as justification for the violent rock-throwing that occurs daily in Israel against the Jewish community, and as support for the delegitimization of the State of Israel as indicated by the image of the map on the man’s scarf. When viewed in context, (in the student centre of a university already overflowing with tension and hate related to the Israel-Palestine conflict, and where physically and emotionally violent incidents against Jewish and pro-Israel students have occurred), this mural is hardly innocuous.”

As of this past weekend, there have been at least 23 rock-throwing or Molotov-cocktail attacks against Israelis by Palestinians throughout the country; one large rock landed in a car right next to a baby in its car seat. Had its trajectory been slightly different, the baby would have been killed. This poster is more than a mere piece of art — it is propaganda, and a clear call to murder.

Logic would dictate that if the White Students Union posters must come down, so too should the Palestinian Roots poster. Standards for free speech should be applied in a consistent and non-discriminatory way. At York University, students feel there is a double standard employed both by student leaders and by the administration where Israel and Jewish students are concerned. At York and many other universities, tolerance for hate speech has actually increased — but only where Israel and the Jewish community are concerned.

I do not believe that university campuses should become bastions of hate propaganda of any kind. When one group feels assaulted year after year (as Jewish students on numerous university campuses do), it is symptomatic of rampant hate and discrimination, not free speech. When it comes to free speech, there should be an equal playing field for all — and university administrations must be held accountable if they promote inconsistent and discriminatory standards. York’s reputation is in a precarious position; its administration should take immediate steps to do the right thing and tear the poster down.

By Avi Benlolo, National Post | September 21, 2015
National Post


US students going abroad for more affordable college

November 19th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Education

As the annual costs of attending college in the US continue to rise, American students are turning to cheaper, comparable schools abroad for postsecondary education. According to Allan Goodman, President of the Institute of International Education, “many [European] degree programs have courses taught in English, many of them have very robust scholarships or are tuition-free, and the subjects are very relevant to the world in which we live.” The UK was the most popular destination for US students studying abroad, while Canada was the second most popular, garnering 20% of the PSE market share among Americans studying abroad in 2011–2012. However, the article warns about the possible drawbacks of studying abroad, as students might encounter unappealing teaching styles and fail to make the valuable career contacts available at US schools.

Wall Street Journal
By Andrew Blackman
Sept. 20, 2015

Rethinking the “hypersensitive” student

November 18th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Education

Hypersensitivity isn’t the only problem with today’s campuses 

“Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities,” reads The Atlantic’s latest feature, “The Coddling of the American Mind.” “A movement is arising … to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense.”

It’s a sentiment that, as a student at the University of Toronto, immediately struck a chord with me. That’s because earlier this year, I did something that offended a lot of people.

I wrote an article for the campus newspaper against the use of trigger warnings – notices that a post contains information that some may find traumatizing – in academic settings. Specifically, I didn’t think they should be applied to course syllabi. It seems dangerous to label academic material in a way that means students can choose whether or not to engage with it, regardless of its merit.

The article received a strong negative response. One commenter wrote, “You are really lucky to have this point of view, because it means you have not experienced trauma in your life to such an extent that reminders of painful memories overcome you” – it was a view shared by several students over various social-media platforms.

In the aftermath, what was hard to take was not that there were those who disagreed with me, but the way in which they were choosing to do so – the strength of their opposition without seeming to engage with the nuances of what I had written, and the anger at my having spoken to something outside my “lived experience.”

It’s these sorts of incidents that have some writers drawing the conclusion that our campuses are becoming oversensitive. The cover of The Atlantic declares that the rise of the “new political correctness” is “ruining education.”

Such claims are, however, an oversimplification.

For almost every person who struck out against what I had written, there was one who agreed – advocates of “free speech,” who praised it as a stab against too-liberal “PC” students.

When I reflect on my experience, I don’t find myself looking at a campus dominated by the “overly sensitive” or the “politically correct,” though there are some to whom the label might apply – what I see is a mosaic of highly polarized groups.

Ideally, and perhaps naively, I had intended my article to prompt an open discussion on the merits of, and problems with, the use of the trigger warning in our classrooms. Instead, I found myself vilified by those who felt what I had written was attacking something I didn’t understand, or championed by those who saw me as putting the oversensitive in their place.

This reaction is, to my mind, reflective of the state of today’s campuses. Not, as some might suggest, full of hypersensitive students unable to deal with difficult or upsetting concepts. Instead, made up of disparate groups who, instead of engaging each other in conversation, exist in opposition to one another.

This is not a world of students who are scared of ideas – they attack them, consider themselves at war with them and, in doing so, one another. The admittedly idyllic concept of rational academic discussion is all too easily tossed aside in favour of fiercely held debates, where a person’s character is fair game.

It’s a world where moral aspersions are all too easy to make. With discussions about highly contentious issues taking place more and more frequently online, it doesn’t take much to make the leap from “I disagree with how you feel about that issue” to “I think less of you as a person for your opinion.” This is not a climate that encourages communication between differently minded students.

This is not a situation unique to university classrooms, but it is one with the ability to limit academic discussion. In such an environment, it seems inevitable that students will spend their time with those with whom they are already in agreement, and engage with those who disagree only through the medium of angry dissent.

It is a highly polarized academic universe, and one that seems to feature many echo chambers, but rarely a broader, far-reaching conversation.


The Globe and Mail



New US college “scorecard” puts spotlight on post-graduation earnings

November 12th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Education

The White House has pulled back further on its initial attempt to establish a government-run US college rating system and has replaced it with a newly announced college “scorecard” system. This system will place significant focus on the post-graduation earnings of colleges’ students and these students’ ability to pay down their federal loans. However, critics have argued that the system only tracks students who have received federal student aid, which might drastically skew the scorecard’s ratings. The scorecard will specifically track the average earnings of students 10 years after graduation and compare it against average US incomes to verify whether student investments in education are justifiable from a financial perspective. Again, critics have been quick to point out that the current scorecard system does not account for what subjects the students of certain colleges studied in, which could also skew overall ratings.

The White House on Saturday unveiled the new college-information website that it developed once it abandoned its ill-fated plan to rate colleges.

The new College Scorecard site, which replaces an older one of the same name, features a more modern and user-friendly design and some new information about colleges not previously available on the predecessor site or from other federal data sources. Notably, for each college, it includes measurements of students’ earnings six and 10 years after they started at a college and data showing the proportion of the college’s students who are repaying their student loans.

Most of the rest of the information on the new Scorecard is already available in existing federal databases, such as College Navigator.

The big reveal for the Scorecard was designed for maximum political effect. It came on the same day President Obama devoted his weekly radio address to a discussion of the Scorecard and two days before he was to join the education secretary, Arne Duncan, in Iowa, to meet with high-school students and parents to discuss college access and affordability.

The Obama administration scuttled its plan to develop college ratings after hearing from numerous experts and college officials who noted the complexity of creating a single rating system for colleges with so many different missions, student profiles, and resources.

The new Scorecard has already drawn a similar critique in a statement provided by the American Council on Education. ACE officials were briefed on the Scorecard by the Education Department.

“Developing a system of this size and scope is a complicated and nuanced endeavor, and the department has done so without any external review,” said Molly Corbett Broad, president of the organization, which represents colleges. “Given what we believe are significant data limitations, this revamped Scorecard may or may not provide meaningful information to the students and families it was designed to help. For example, it appears the system only provides a single number for an entire institution regardless of whether a student studied chemical engineering or philosophy, and only includes the earnings of federal student-loan borrowers.”

Earnings and Repayment Data

The new College Scorecard uses earnings data obtained from the Internal Revenue Service and displays it in two ways. It shows the median salary of students 10 years after they first enrolled in the college (and compares it to the national average of $34,343); and it shows the proportion of a college’s students with incomes greater than that of the average high-school graduate (about $25,000) six years after enrolling in the college. Data for students who did not receive federal loans or grants are not included.

For now, the Scorecard’s earnings numbers do not make distinctions based on what students studied, but the department said that could come in later versions. A number of college reformers have been pressing for more information on the earnings of college graduates, and several college guides already produce such reports, based on private sources like PayScale. Still, the use of earnings data in a government-run college-search tool remains controversial to many in higher education.

The Scorecard’s use of repayment rates as a measurement also introduces a new approach to assessing how a college’s students are managing their student-loan debt. It shows the proportion of students who have paid at least $1 toward the principal on their student loans within three years of leaving college. Many experts contend that such a “repayment rate” metric offers a more complete picture than the default rates that the department tracks and publishes each year. That is because some colleges keep those rates lower using “default-management” tactics that are not always in the best interests of the borrowers.

A number of outside groups had urged the department to include additional consumer-oriented features, such as warning flags for colleges that are under federal or state investigation. It doesn’t. But it does indicate if the college is among those that the Department of Education has placed under a category of surveillance it calls “Heightened Cash Monitoring 2″ for financial or other reasons.

In a briefing with reporters Friday evening, White House officials said the new Scorecard, specifically designed for use on mobile devices, would be of better help to students in finding the right college than many of the existing commercial guides.

The department also created a new “technical site” for researchers, policy makers, and others, which will include analyses and additional data, such as college-graduation rates for students who receive Pell Grants.

September 12, 2015
By Goldie Blumenstyk
The Chronicle of Higher Education

Money looks at what US college tuition cost a century ago

November 4th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Education

With concerns over the cost of college appearing in US presidential campaign messages and many news cycles, the team at Money has run a series of calculations to determine what several well-known colleges would charge for tuition today if they had stuck with their prices from a hundred years ago. After adjusting for inflation, the editors found that tuition at Harvard would cost $3,544 today if it were to accurately reflect 1915 prices; the actual cost of tuition at Harvard today is $45,278. MIT would charge $5,907 if its rates had remained the same, while today it charges $46,704. Finally, Stanford University would charge $0, as its tuition was free in 1915. However, the university now charges $45,729. The team at Money ultimately found that while the consumer price index has risen 2,263% over the past century, the average cost of tuition has increased a “staggering” 42,930%.


Thursday, September 3, 2015
Academica Group
Academica Top Ten Newsletter

Forbes examines the “faulty economics” of higher education

October 30th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Education

As the presidential primary season goes into full swing, candidates in both parties are championing a number of ideas designed to address the higher education affordability crisis. The proposals run the gamut—from federal measures to impose greater accountability on universities, to income-based repayment of student loans, to community college for free, and to four-year college for free.

But while the proposals differ, their differences are less important than what they share. What they all have in common is a fundamental misunderstanding of what’s driving the crisis that all sides seek to solve.

They fail to understand that the factors composing the dilemma we face—tuition hyperinflation, burdensome student-loan debt, and poor student learning—are to some extent branches of the same tree, whose roots are found in the well-intentioned but what has proved to be catastrophically naïve assumption that virtually all high school graduates should go to college. Charles Murray has written eloquently on this topic in his book, Real Education, which I reviewed here.

We can see the destructive effects of the college-for-all agenda when we look more closely at each of the elements of our higher-education crisis mentioned above—affordability, debt, and poor student learning.

When it comes to the increasing unaffordability of higher education (average tuitions have risen 440 percent in the past quarter century, far outpacing contemporaneous increases in general inflation), there is a growing consensus that the policies of the federal government itself have caused a good deal of the unprecedented spike. How? A recent study by the Federal Reserve Bank has confirmed what former U.S. Secretary of Education saw nearly thirty years ago, when he observed that increases in government subsidies to college students allow colleges and universities “blithely” to hike tuitions. The Federal Reserve Bank has found that every new dollar of Pell Grants or subsidized student loans results in universities raising tuitions between 55 and 65 cents.

What led the federal government to adopt and then repeatedly expand taxpayer subsidies for student loans? Without them, the country could not hope to reach its new goal of ensuring that all who want to go to college could afford to do so. This began as the more reasonable and defensible goal of subsidizing able students who were poor. But the subsequent iterations of the loan-subsidy program have expanded it to include a good number of students from families who are not poor. In time, the flawed premise animating these programs metastasized to such an extent that the results have been no less than scandalous. A recent report on the practices of Georgetown University makes this point. The elite law school counsels its students on how to manipulate the Income-Based Repayment Plan to shift large portions of their student-loan debt onto the backs of taxpayers.

Bearing this in mind, the crisis of crushing student-loan debt comes better into focus as both a cause and an effect of tuition hyperinflation. It exists as an effect because would-be college students and their parents, struggling to keep pace with rising tuitions, have been forced to borrow at historic proportions. Today, for the first time in our history, total student-loan debt, which stands at $1.2 trillion, exceeds total national credit-card debt, and this in a country fairly addicted to credit cards. It exists as a cause for the reasons stated earlier: When more money is in the hands of consumers, they will buy more; when they buy more, sellers will raise prices. Yet this simple fact of economics appears lost on those who have criticized Bennett’s hypothesis for nearly three decades—and appears still lost on those whose “solution” to the debt crisis is to quench the fire by dousing it with ever-greater quantities of inflammable student-loan subsides, paid for by federal taxpayers.

In short, when the national goal became college for virtually everybody, it sent millions more flocking to college campuses than had previously been the case. This increased demand, enabled by federal subsidies, could not help but to produce the sharp increases in tuitions—and with them, a concomitant increase in debt—that students and their parents have suffered under since.

But the drive to make college accessible for virtually all high school graduates has had an even more profound, and more destructive, consequence than the financial quagmire described above. The most tragic effect has been the decline in student learning. Sending millions more students to college has proved to cost more than mere money. As Murray accurately notes, a genuine liberal arts and sciences core curriculum—a staple of higher education institutions up until roughly fifty years ago—is too difficult for more than about 20 percent of high school graduates. What, then, to do when the goal became sending far more than this percentage to college? Inevitably, this could not be accomplished without lowering standards. Today, most universities have abandoned a required core curriculum, replacing it with “cafeteria-style” education—a little of this, a little of that, but nothing by way of a unified vision of the good life at which liberal education had aimed in the past.

The heartbreaking results of this lowering of standards have been documented in Arum and Roksa’s Academically Adrift, which should have stirred higher education more than it did when it revealed that 36 percent of college students nationwide show little or no increase in fundamental academic skills—critical thinking, complex reasoning, and clear writing—after four years invested in college.

Other national, longitudinal studies confirm the dramatic decline in university standards. For example, in the early ‘60s, college students studied an average of 24 hours a week alone. Today, that number has slipped to 14. Equally alarming, these less-diligent students receive historically high grades. Fifty years ago, “A” grades went to 15 percent of college students nationwide. Today, an A is the most common grade given in college (43 percent). Moreover, 73 percent of all grades awarded today are either A’s or B’s. Given these lax standards at universities, it is unsurprising that Arum and Roksa found what they did.

But even this massive, decades-long, watering-down of college curricula and grading standards has not succeeded in fulfilling the unfulfillable vision of college for all. Consider these facts: Roughly half of all who enroll in college never graduate. Of the half who do, we know from Academically Adrift that 36 percent fail to demonstrate any substantive increase in learning. This means that, of all the students who enroll in college, only 32 percent succeed in acquiring both a degree and the knowledge that a degree is meant to signify.

As bad as these statistics are, they barely communicate the true human toll exacted by our utopian project. Today, those without college degrees feel like second-class citizens. With this has come a denigration of the mechanical and other talents needed to succeed at skilled trades, which, on average, can pay well.

Worse, those students who, contrary to their interests and aptitude, feel compelled by public pressure to attend college, only then to drop out, suffer a double-blow. They are left not only demoralized by their “failure,” but also often find themselves burdened with student-loan debt, which is all the more difficult for them to repay because they do not have a degree.

Higher-education reformers look at this bleak picture and wonder why all the ostensible solutions to the higher-education crisis serve only to double-down on the misguided premise that produced the crisis in the first place. Until and unless we jettison our utopian expectations, increasing numbers of students will continue to pay more and more and learn less and less.

By Tom Lindsay
Aug 29, 2015

Retiring St Clair president speaks out on government funding

October 29th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Canada, Education

John Strasser is retiring as President of St Clair College after 15 years in that role. Both the Windsor and Chatham campuses have grown substantially during his tenure, with major construction projects and increases in enrolment. In a final interview with, Strasser spoke out, expressing his frustration that the federal and provincial governments do not fund colleges and universities equally. “Many of the policy makers and decision makers are university trained, and I understand that. But St Clair College produces a higher quality graduate than many, many universities in this country,” said Strasser. “To sit there and make smug decisions that if universities did it then it must be better. It’s incorrect. It’s just taking a status that’s probably 50 years past its prime and recycling it.”

Dr. John Strasser is spending his last day on the job meeting with college officials in both Windsor and Chatham.

Strasser admits he’s had offers from some organizations, but says he’s taking a pause on making any decisions. Instead, he’s looking forward to spending time at his family’s cottage in Cape Breton.

During his tenure, campuses have both grown substantially with the addition of the Ford Centre for Excellence in Manufacturing in Windsor and the Mary Uniac Health Science Education Centre in Chatham. Enrolment also grew to about 7,000 full-time students in Windsor and 1,300 in Chatham this past school year.

In his final interview with, Strasser expresses frustration colleges and universities aren’t funded equally by federal and provincial governments and hopes that changes in the future.

“Many of the policymakers and decision-makers are university trained, and I understand that. But, St. Clair College produces a higher quality graduate than many, many universities in this country,” says Strasser. “To sit there and make smug decisions that if universities did it than it must be better. It’s incorrect. It’s just taking a status that’s probably 50 years past its prime and recycling it. There’s no logic that defends that.”

Should governments ever give colleges and universities equal funding, Strasser suggests equipment would be one good investment.

“There’s no sense in giving a post-secondary institution funding to build a $50 to $100-million building and then have lab equipment that’s from the 1960s.”

On Tuesday, senior vice-president of college operations, Patti France takes over as president.

France is the first female head of the college and climbed up the ladder, starting out in a support staff position in the Registrar’s Office more than 25 years ago.

“She’ll do a terrific job,” said Strasser.

By on August 31, 2015, Blackburn News