Three Dirty Academic Words Ending in ‘Ity’

Posted on October 3rd, 2014, by Leave a comment

UPDATE: Ayaan Hirsi Ali spoke to Yale last night without significant interruption or disturbance according to the Yale Daily News, and received a standing ovation.

A decade ago, the favorite word out of university presidents’ mouths was “diversity.” A few years later, the cool word to use was “sustainability.” Today, the new mot du jour is “civility.” Universities have ruined all three of these once perfectly good words. For the record, I am against “diversity,” “sustainability,” and “civility” –at least as they are misused by university apparatchiks.

“Diversity” came to mean evaluating people not on their intellectual merit, the strength of their character, or other legitimate means, but rather by some biological group characteristic, such as the color of their skin or their gender. The maddening thing about the term was the Orwellian dimension of it all –universities were bragging about their commitment to “diversity” meaning skin color and other such genetically determined characteristics, when they were becoming increasingly contemptuous and even hostile to meaningful, good diversity — a wide range of different ideas and opinions. According to Harry Enten, who analyzed the politics of commencement speakers at top 30 universities for 2013 and 2014, 25 Democratic political figures were invited to speak, but no Republicans. Where is the diversity there?

Then came “sustainability.” To this day, I am not sure what it is. But most of what is called “sustainable” activity is to my mind truly ignorant, wasteful, inefficient behavior in any meaningful economic sense. Colleges will spend $30 million on solar panels that lower electric bills by $1 million a year, for a low rate of return of 3.3 percent –and that does not account for depreciation and maintenance costs, making the investment completely non-economic by any sensible measure. Students would get a better value from better uses of university resources. Sustainability coordinators will urge the university food czars and czarinas to “buy local foods,” when it is often far more costly to do so. The law of comparative advantage says the wealth of nations is thwarted if people fail to trade over long distances. The same people who say global warming is going to hurt us soon despite 15 years of continuous global cooling are convincing universities to waste monies and raise tuition fees to promote bad policies that are costly.

Now, there’s “civility,” the most dangerous word of all. It is a code word that means that people on campus should express themselves in a way that offends no one. It is a form of censorship. It is anti-freedom of speech, the antithesis of what a great university is all about. Universities increasingly are trying to muzzle freedom of expression. To be sure, there are a few limits on speech that are legitimate –persons who threaten to kill persons who disagree with them are going too far. At my university, the Student Senate president recently condemned Israel in a strident fashion, which while arguably moronic and wrong, was legitimate speech, but when she implied she might be speaking for both the student body and the university as a whole, she went too far, and the university president was correct in condemning that claim.

The latest episode in the free speech wars is occurring now at Yale. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is speaking there. This is the woman to whom Brandeis withdrew an invitation to speech at its commencement. Muslim students at Yale protested her visit, but President Peter Solovey issued a good statement defining Ali’s right to speak. But then, with approval apparently from the university, the school’s chaplain, Sharon Kugler, said “We are deeply concerned by Ms. Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s long record of disparaging, and arguably hateful comments about Muslims and Islam.” She proposed the Buckley Program that sponsored Ali’s visit add some anti-Ali speakers.

This is outrageous on multiple grounds. First of all, as one who has read Ali’s writings, listened to her speak, and conversed at some length with her personally, Ali may be speaking “hurtful” things to some Muslims –but they appear to be the truth. She has fought genital mutilation and other offenses against women. She has pointed out passages from the Koran that are not particularly in keeping with modern views on right and wrong. She has told the truth as she knows it. She has exposed barbaric practices. She is doing exactly what persons like her should be doing on university campuses. Should her sponsors be forced to offer alternative speakers? No. Absolutely not. What those disagreeing with Ms. Ali should do is offer alternative speakers themselves with different perspectives, not try to stop Ms. Ali’s appearance. And Yale should repudiate the chaplain’s use of the word “we” to imply she is speaking for an entire university community.

A good very brief new book on the “civility” charade comes from Greg Kukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), Freedom from Speech, which picks up on other campus pathologies, such as speech codes and the new rather inane concept of “trigger warnings” to alert our tender little minds that someone might say something with which some might strongly disagree.

A person who tries to stop another person from speaking peacefully is intolerant. Why aren’t universities spending more time talking about tolerance, and less about talking about “civility,” a code word for suppression of ideas, including some “inconvenient truths?”


This post originally appeared on our Higher Education and the Economy blog at

College: Adventures With Pollyanna

Posted on September 30th, 2014, by Leave a comment

After reading the Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa book Aspiring Adults Adrift, a sequel to their 2011 book Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, I thought of the 1913 novel Pollyanna. The term today refers to a blindly optimistic person — one who remains naively positive about things regardless of the evidence. That is pretty much how Arum and Roksa describe today’s recent college graduate in “Adrift 2.0.”

Having previously demonstrated that students typically show very little improvement in their collegiate years in the generic but important skills of developing critical reasoning and an ability to write well, Arum and Roksa turn their attention to two things: the socialization dimension of higher education and post-graduation outcomes. Again, the findings are not pretty. Students today are very much absorbed by making and enjoying friends in college –to the point of spending far more time on this “consumption” dimension of higher education than on the more “investment” oriented dimension of acquiring knowledge, the ability to think, the desire to become civically engaged, etc. Students typically study for only a dozen or so hours each week –and a lot of that is in groups. Even the academic learning process has been socialized.

And to what benefit? One very important dimension of success (probably even more important than the authors, both sociologists, are willing to admit) is the ability of college graduates to transition into jobs that are both remunerative and enjoyable. Yet, the Arum and Roksa graduates to a very large extent found themselves taking jobs that paid poorly. Indeed, over half (53 percent) of those not continuing in school either were unemployed, working part-time, or in jobs paying under $30,000 a year two years after graduation. To be sure, this is in 2011 in the aftermath of the Great Recession, but recent data from the New York Federal Reserve and other places suggests this result is actually pretty close to the truth even today.

Yet the recent graduates were not downtrodden. Most of those interviewed thought they would have a better life over their lifetime than that of their parents. They thought their current mediocre economic position was temporary, even though a solid majority was still getting some financial support from their parents. The pecuniary advantages of going to college, but it will take some time.

The gap between perception and reality among recent college graduates is appalling. They think they are pretty smart and knowledgeable, while the objective evidence suggests the best single word to describe the group (although this certainly does not apply to all of them) is “clueless.” They simply don’t know that they don’t know — much — about the world in which they live. The ethos — once confined to the university academic ghetto known as the College of Education — that life is all about having a high self-esteem, has spread throughout the university.  It is as if Forest Gump has married Pollyanna, and they are poorer than church mice and dumber than the typical Division I football player, but they are happy.

You might say, “So what?” If we are happy during our finite years on Earth, isn’t that success? Perhaps the colleges are right in promoting socialization, with schools copying Texas Tech’s multi-million dollar “lazy river” that allows students to relax and sleep off their alcoholic haze while floating on some rubber raft. A recent National Bureau of Economic Research study shows colleges get more bang for the buck with respect to luring students by emphasizing amenities rather than academics. Make the students happy: Plato is out, hedonism is in. To be crude and slightly over-exaggerating, it appears to young America college is primarily about getting drunk, getting laid, and feeling good about one’s self.

But what are the opportunity costs? In 30 years, are these young Americans going to be running or ruining America? What happened to rigor, to hard work, to learning? To be sure, this sounds (and is) the rant of an old traditional college professor. And I, in my 50th year of teaching at The Ohio University, have had some of the best students of my career in the last few years — young men and women who work hard, are smart, and are doing very well in their post-graduate careers. But they are a minority. Also, as one who teaches at what is always a contender on the lists of the nation’s leading party schools, I am the first to admit that some good comes from the socialization — it is often important vocationally to develop interpersonal communication skills, for example, and the party-going student does that typically better than the nerd who spends Friday and Saturday nights in the library reading, or fantasizing about the classmate that he or she would like to get to know in the biblical sense.

But why should governments subsidize the country club dimensions of higher education for mostly middle and upper income persons? We tax real country clubs, not subsidize them. Why should we do different for colleges and universities?


Richard Vedder directs the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, teaches at Ohio University, and is an Adjunct Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

Misconceptions About The Profit Motive In Higher Education

Posted on August 21st, 2014, by Leave a comment

Daniel Bennett, a research fellow at CCAP, has a piece in the most recent edition of Career College Central which challenges the conventional “problems” that a profit motive brings to higher education. He discusses the difference between the short term profit: luring a naive student to capture the federal money that comes with it with no regard for the student’s outcome or well-being, with a more likely goal of long term profit: Develop top notch programs that produce successful graduates, increasing the reputation of the institution. He says:

It is in the investors’ best long-term interest to pursue a strategy that seeks to develop a strong brand name by offering an educational product that satisfies its consumers; demands at a price at or below their willingness to pay. In contrast to the view espoused by Shireman and other critics, the profit motive actually provides an incentive for collegs to meet the educational needs of their students.

He further discusses the role of Moral Hazard in higher education, and has a discussion of whether information asymmetries are a market or government failure.


Read the full story here.

Dr. Vedder to Appear on NPR Today at 2:10pm EST

Posted on August 20th, 2014, by Leave a comment

Dr. Vedder will join a panel including Sandra Baum of the Urban institute, President Michael Roth of Wesleyan College, and Graeme Wood of The Atlantic this afternoon on KCRW’s “To the Point” hosted by Warren Olney.  The panel will discuss the rising cost of college tuition and what colleges are doing about it. The program will run from 2:10pm to 2:45pm Eastern Time.

Tune in to your local NPR affiliate, or online here.


Schools That Are Keeping Costs Low: Infographic

Posted on August 20th, 2014, by Leave a comment

While we generally do not accept guest infographics, this one is interesting as it highlights the Affordability aspect of higher education that we promote.

The underlying data is provided here.


Making College Affordable

Bloomberg Chart of the Day: Soaring Costs of College

Posted on August 18th, 2014, by Leave a comment

Bloomberg ran a chart of the day today tracking the rise of college tuition over the past 35 years. In the discussion section they quote Richard Vedder saying:

Some schools are effectively limiting cost increases by bigger tuition discounting, but on the whole college presidents have not adjusted to a fundamental shift in attitudes toward the value of a high-cost education … Colleges are too slow to reinvent themselves.


The chart of the day is below. Find the full story here.



O’Bannon v. NCAA Ruling Could be a Game Changer

Posted on August 15th, 2014, by Leave a comment

On Friday, August 8th, Federal Judge Claudia Wilken of United States District Court in Oakland California handed down a 99-page ruling that prohibitions of player compensation by the National Collegiate Athletic Association violate Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act. O’Bannon brought forth a class action lawsuit against the NCAA in 2009 to “challenge the association’s rules restricting compensation for elite men’s football and basketball players. In particular, Plaintiffs seek to challenge the set of rules that bar student-athletes from receiving a share of the revenue that the NCAA … earn(s) from the sale of licenses to use the student-athletes’ names, images, and likenesses.”

Ed O’Bannon, Power Forward for the 1995 Championship UCLA Bruins. (photo credit: Los Angeles Times)

The Amateurism Fallacy

In the course of the trial, the NCAA argued that it’s restrictions on player compensation established to maintain amateurism in collegiate athletics. In her ruling, Judge Wilken outlines how the bylaws surrounding amateurism and compensation have changed drastically over the NCAA’s 100+ year history. She states, “Indeed, education – which the NCAA now considers the primary motivation for participating in intercollegiate athletics – was not even a recognized motivation for amateur athletes during the years when the NCAA prohibited athletic scholarships.”  She rules that the court finds these restrictions on student-athlete compensation “not justified by the definition of amateurism in its current bylaws” and that the “restrictions on … compensation do not promote competitive balance.”

The NCAA also argued that it does not serve as a monopoly, and therefore was not guilty of enabling price fixing, arguing the plaintiff’s claim that the NCAA was in violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Act.  Wilken sides again with the Plaintiff, citing the Supreme Court when it relies on then Judge Sotomayor’s concurrence with Judge Salvino that “competitors ‘cannot simply get around’ antitrust liability by acting ‘through a third-party intermediary or ‘joint venture.’’” Here she points to the NCAA as establishing Monopsony practices that harm suppliers. She points to Mandeville Island Farms v. Am. Crystal Sugar Co. which provides the precedent “suppliers … are protected by antitrust laws even when the anti-competitive activity does not harm end-users”.

Addressing the issue of using the players’ names, images, and likenesses, the ruling of O’Bannon v. NCAA allows for universities to set up trust funds for players to be drawn from after graduation, or at the end of athletic eligibility. This effectively enables players to be compensated for their part in the multi-billion dollar industry that flourishes off the use of their likeness. This is in addition to annual payments that match the total cost of attending, including the previously capped amount (tuition, fees, room and board, books, certain supplies, tutoring, and academic support) and adding allowances for other incidentals.

Judge Wilken does enable the NCAA to impose limits on these trust fund amounts, however. The court rules that the NCAA cannot prohibit these payments on anything less than $5,000 per year. This total payout of $25,000 is much less than the hundreds of thousands that players were hoping to get, according to ESPN’s Lester Munson.

Other Antitrust Concerns

If the NCAA were truly pro-competition they would remove the limits to eligibility of transfer athletes that require a one year no playing probationary period after switching schools and teams. Further it would allow unbridled compensation for players, which would reduce the incentive for schools to expend resources on lavish facilities, and expensive coaches that currently seduce the college recruits.

Today the top teams in the big market conferences do not compete with Division 1 schools in lesser conferences. The Big 10 is leaps and bounds ahead of its neighboring Mid-American Conference (MAC).  The NCAA pretends to create a fair playing field for all schools across the same divisions through compensation probation, when in reality the schools that would entice players with large salaries, instead build the biggest stadiums, promise national coverage, and buy the best coaches.

This case highlights some of the problems that plague collegiate athletics, but the fact remains that these athletic programs in many markets are not self-sustaining. These programs rely on steep student subsidization which in turn increases the cost of attendance. This tied good (in order to receive the education you must also pay the fee to subsidize the athletic teams) opens even more room for anti-trust scrutiny, but on an institutional level.

NCAA Board Approves Autonomy for ‘Big 5 Conferences’

Other developments challenge the status quo elsewhere in the NCAA. Thursday, August 7th, the NCAA’s Division 1 Board of Directors voted to allow the “Big Five” athletic conferences – Southeastern Conference, ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, and Pacific-12 – autonomy to vote on changes in a vote of 16 to 2. One of the first items on the list of topics addresses a similar issue to what is discussed above, namely the additional benefits for student-athletes in the NCAA’s highest-revenue sports.  The Washington Post reports that this vote “puts an effective end to the suggestion that all 351 Division I programs operate on a level playing field.”

This new set up coupled with the recent ruling of O’Bannon v. NCAA open the door to increased recruiting compensation at these top schools, over the smaller programs. The smaller programs should be advised that to remain competitive with these major market teams is to incur huge costs to the institution. These costs will be transferred onto the students by way of higher fees, further increasing the cost of college.

Rising Confidence in Online Higher Ed

Posted on August 14th, 2014, by Leave a comment

Online higher education is steadily gaining favor as a credible alternative to the traditional classroom. According to a recent Gallup report, more U.S. adults agree or strongly agree that online colleges and universities offer high-quality education (37 percent) than did so in 2012 (33 percent) or 2011 (30 percent) when Gallup first introduced the report.

Although far more Americans agree that community colleges and traditional universities offer high-quality education (58 and 77 percent, respectively), increasing consumer trust in online education is notable. Online higher education has been a divisive issue amongst academics for years, seen by many as convenient and affordable but unremarkable in value and legitimacy.

When online education went toe-to-toe with traditional classroom-based learning in another recent Gallup report, Americans considered online better at “providing a wide range of options for curriculum” and offering “good value for the money.” Traditional education overshadowed this accomplishment, however, besting online in areas such as instruction, rigor, employer favorability, and student format.

In this regard, Gallup posits:

Although online colleges and universities are still in their nascent stage…findings seem to indicate an increasing acceptance of internet-based education as a viable alternative to other more traditional institutions. As online colleges continue to grow and adapt to the needs of students and the marketplace, they have the potential to lower costs and increase accessibility to higher education, while imparting knowledge and skills that may be more relevant to today’s high-tech employers.

Online education still has a fair amount of ground to cover. Only 15 percent of Americans believe online is better at “providing high-quality instruction from well-qualified instructors” than traditional classroom-based learning and even less (5 percent) believe online courses provide “excellent” material.

The bottom line in all of this, however, is that online education is stirring American interest. Eight percent of young adults are currently enrolled in online courses as access and affordability play a more prominent role in academic discussion. Seen as offering immense potential for advanced learning, make no doubt that as online education continues to expand and mature, so will its reception.

This post originally appeared on CCAP’s Innovations in Higher Education blog at

Athletic Scandals Were Headaches During Gottfredson’s Presidency

Posted on August 12th, 2014, by Leave a comment

UPDATE: In his resignation letter,  Gottfredson makes no mention of the two athletics scandals mentioned below. President Gottfredson cites his scholarly interests and family as factors for his resignation. The wording in the story below is updated accordingly.

The Chronicle of Higher ran an interesting story this morning on the University of Oregon presidency, calling the position a “Revolving door.”

The story points to a number of headaches that President Michael R. Gottfredson’s dealt with in his short stint at the University of Oregon: athletic scandals, unfriendly faculty, and a governance crisis while taking on a serious fundraising campaign.

The Chronicle notes that the faculty has long felt that the athletic spotlight has overshadowed the university’s academic mission.  Phil Knight, the co-founder and chairman of athletic retail giant Nike and accounting graduate from Oregon, donated $68 million to fund a 140,000 square foot facility. The facility includes a weight room that equipped with a 40 meter track — with cameras that analyze everything from the length of a players stride to the tilt of his head — and specially heated wading pools that reduce lactic acid.  It is worth noting that while Knight has paved the way to athletic success in green and gold, he has also pledged $500 million to the and Science School, expressing his commitment to academic excellence.

Oregon Ducks mascot at Cal.

Oregon Ducks. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This money has allowed the athletic department to become financially independent from the university, which has led to questions of accountability.  These scandals only support the claim that there is none. Further, while athletics have had all the focus in the past few years, the academics have suffered.

Oregon has fallen in our ranking of America’s Top Colleges for the second time in a row (210th in 2012; 217th in 2013; and 236th in 2012). As the academics fall, head coach Mark Helfrich is making a cool $1.8 million dollars base salary per year plus an array of potential bonuses for win records, bowl qualifications, and titles. If you think that’s an absurd sum remember that he’s only the 7th highest paid in the PAC 12 Division. Before Helfrich, Chip Kelly commanded $3.5 million and was considered one of the most powerful coaches in the game. Kelly left Oregon to fly with a bigger bird, taking a 6.5 million dollar head coaching job with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Thanks to flashy jerseys and lavish facilities the University of Oregon has become a household name. However, the athletic department continues to find itself in trouble, which diminishes any positive effects that athletics can sometimes have on academics.

Gottfredson’s athletic struggles are only one of many challenges that, as the Chronicle puts it, makes the presidency at University of Oregon so difficult. We wish Scott Coltrane, the university’s provost and now-interim president, the best of luck, and hope that he refocuses the school on academic success. What better time to do that than while the football team is on probation?

This post originally appeared on CCAP’s Higher Education and the Economy blog on

Chronicle: Problem with Government Affordability Measures

Posted on August 8th, 2014, by Leave a comment

Here is an interesting graphic from the Chronicle of Higher Education by Beckie Supiano and Soo Oh that discusses the difference in measuring family income by the U.S. Department of Education and by the wealthiest schools.