Study: Growing Disparity in Top State Colleges

The nation’s top public universities are doling out so much money to students from relatively privileged backgrounds that the campuses are becoming less diverse than even elite private schools, according to a report covered by the Washington Post.

From 2003 to 2007, public research universities increased the amount of aid to students whose parents make at least $115,000 a year by 28 percent, to $361.4 million, said the Education Trust, a nonprofit advocacy group.

Those schools routinely award as much in financial aid to students whose parents make more than $80,000 a year as to those whose parents make less than $54,000 a year, according to the report, “Opportunity Adrift.”

The report suggests that the universities have neglected their mission to educate their states’ diverse populations in favor of recruiting high-achieving students from relatively wealthy families who can help the schools climb in national rankings….

Thirty years ago, a federal Pell Grant covered most of the cost of attending a four-year college; today it covers about a third, making it more difficult for low-income students to attend their states’ flagship schools. The typical low-income student is stuck with a bill totaling about 70 percent of the family’s annual income, the report says.


Shifting Funds from Prisons to Schools

Here is a very cool proposal by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Why not shift funds from prisons to state colleges? From the New York Times:

The governor said he would also push for a constitutional amendment prohibiting the percentage of the state budget earmarked for prisons from exceeding what is set aside for its public university system….

The governor, a Republican, also used the opportunity to take a swipe at the proposed federal health care legislation — for which he has shown support — criticizing it as yet another federal program that requires the state to put out money it no longer has.

While the governor provided few details of his new plan, much of the prison cost savings he envisions would come though privatizing services or prisons themselves, anathema in a state where the union for corrections officers has held political sway for years.

His proposal, a constitutional amendment, would require a vote at the ballot box. California’s state schools, some of the best and most affordable in the country, have been a major victim in the state’s budget crisis.


Weekly Parenting News Roundup

Cross-posted at Daily Kos.

What’s up all?

My family is in the thick of the holiday season, which means back-to-back birthday parties for kids with November and December birthdays plus holiday parties. I am already burned out and we are not even in Thanksgiving! Ayayay!

Anyways, some girlfriends and I are treating ourselves to the 10 a.m. showing of A New Moon today. I know, it is utterly shameless that moms in their 30s are cramming in a theater with teenagers — if they are up that early — to see this movie. LOL! Oh, by the way, there was also a lot on the news front this week, too.

Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, a co-founder at, wrote an essay on the real reasons women are not happy — as gleefully reported by media outlets.

In case you aren’t bidding for Leggo waffles online, Kellogg’s has reported that there is a Leggo waffle shortage in the country that will last until the middle of 2010, according to MSN Money. One of its bakeries was flooded.

A Canadian couple won a legal battle to exclude their three children from completing homework assignments, according to the Guardian in the UK. The couple, Sherri and Tom Milley of Calgary, Alberta, filed their lawsuit after years of struggling to make their children complete homework assignments, especially since there is no evidence it actually improves school performance. Do you agree or disagree with the Milleys’s actions?

We had a helpful thread on the best parenting advice we have received. What would you add to the list?

The Washington Post had a fascinating feature on how Arizona is the “wild west” of charter schools. Stanford researchers have found that while some charter schools are fantastic, others woefully lag behind traditional public schools.

Probably nothing garnered more discussion this week than our suggestions for People’s Sexiest Man Alive. Johnny Depp won the honor, but this Twilight fan was disappointed it wasn’t Robert Pattinson. (Hey, he is 23. That is still legal!) We also had a popular thread on our favorite Thanksgiving recipes. Thank you, “Thank God for Air America,” for putting that up!

If your child received a scholarship to attend a state school and was also accepted to an Ivy League school, which one would you choose? In light of escalating costs at all schools, we had a long discussion on this. Was your college worth the costs?

In case you missed it, our Erika is having a BOY and not the girl an earlier ultrasound showed. Felicades mujer!

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


Are Ivy League Schools Worth the Price?

If your child received a scholarship to attend a state school and was also accepted to an Ivy League school, which one would you choose?

A mom posed this question to Washington Post columnist Michelle Singletary. Here is what Singletary had to say:

I think you stand your financial ground. You are right. She’s young and irresponsible and likely sees that Ivy League school much like she sees brand-name jeans. It’s a must have.

But that’s not true. You can live a great life and get a fulfilling job without going to a brand-name school. I just don’t get this thinking our culture has passed on to young folks that college is worth the cost at any price tag.

It’s not. And I have dozens and dozens of e-mails, letters and testimonies from broke college graduates who are struggling financially that prove otherwise.

I wouldn’t turn down a scholarship to a good school. In fact, I didn’t. I got a full scholarship to my state school, the University of Maryland at College Park. Initially I didn’t want to go. My preference was to go out of state, but my grandmother would have none of that. Big Mama was right. I received a great education and ended up working at the Post alongside colleagues from Ivy League schools, and my path to the paper wasn’t any harder than theirs.

Stick to your word and if she wants to borrow the amount of money it takes to get through an Ivy League school without a scholarship or grant, let her be hardheaded and spend decades trying to pay off that debt. Let her take the hit and experience the consequences of her decision. As Big Mama used to say: “A hard head will make for a soft behind.”

LOL! I love that last line. Do you agree?


Texans to Pre-Pay College Tuition

Texas officials just unveiled a program that would allow Texas parents to “lock in” current state tuition rates for their children, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

No matter how young their children are, Texas residents can buy credits at current tuition levels for two-year community colleges and four-year state universities like the University of Texas.

This is the second time the state has encouraged participation in this program.

The state’s original prepaid tuition plan, launched in 1996, now has 119,000 active accounts. But the state stopped accepting participants in 2003 amid concern that the fund’s investment proceeds weren’t keeping up with escalating tuition and fees. Earlier that year, lawmakers voted to allow universities to set their own tuition rates.

UT-Austin now budgets $8 million a year to cover a shortfall in state funding for more than 1,000 students who have contracts with what was initially called the Texas Tomorrow Fund.

The shortfall isn’t expected to increase greatly in coming years, (UT Executive Vice Provost Steve) Monti said, but “no matter how you count, it’s real money.”

As of Aug. 31, 2007, the tomorrow fund was projecting a shortfall in proceeds of $165 million. (State Comptroller Susan) Combs has said the shortfall could exceed $3 billion by 2029.

Over the past five years, Combs said, the average tuition increase at Texas public colleges and universities was nearly 10 percent.

(Kevin Deiters, director of the educational opportunities and investment division of the comptroller’s office,) said the new fund’s asset allocation presumes an annual rate of return of 8 percent.

Combs suggested that residents use an online calculator, which presents the costs of Texas institutions ranging from community colleges through the state’s priciest public universities, where an education at current rates would cost about $40,000 over four years.

My biggest question is where else will the state raise the funds to make up for the shortfall? Also, what if these children earn scholarships at an out-of-state or private school? Would their parents be able to receive a refund?

What do you think? Would you participate in this program?


Judge: No Credit for Christian Courses

Via ParentDish: A federal judge ruled that the University of California could reject course credit for religious classes, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The ruling affects students hailing from Christian high schools.

Rejecting claims of religious discrimination and stifling of free expression, U.S. District Judge James Otero of Los Angeles said UC’s review committees cited legitimate reasons for rejecting the texts – not because they contained religious viewpoints, but because they omitted important topics in science and history and failed to teach critical thinking.

Otero’s ruling Friday, which focused on specific courses and texts, followed his decision in March that found no anti-religious bias in the university’s system of reviewing high school classes. Now that the lawsuit has been dismissed, a group of Christian schools has appealed Otero’s rulings to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

“It appears the UC is attempting to secularize private religious schools,” attorney Jennifer Monk of Advocates for Faith and Freedom said Tuesday. Her clients include the Association of Christian Schools International, two Southern California high schools and several students.

I am a Christian, but I hate this argument put forward by the Christian schools. It reeks of the “Christians are being persecuted” argument every time they keep gays and lesbians from legally marrying, for example. It sounds like they are the ones trying to impose their beliefs on secular schools.

The University of California, by the way, has accepted courses like “Chemistry for Christian Schools” and “Biology: God’s Living Creation,” according to the Chronicle. It only rejects those classes that have zero historical or scientific content outside the bible.

What do you think? Are either the Christians or the school out of bounds here?


Good Luck Getting Into College

I am glad I am not a prospective college student today. When I entered college 13 years ago, I had been accepted to all five schools I applied to and managed to secure enough financial aid to attend my first choice — Boston University. I graduated with some debt, but 1999 was the heyday of the dotcoms so I had my pick of jobs that could pay for it.

Nowadays, entrance into a respectable four-year college — much less gainful employment to pay for it — is hard to come by. According to this story in Newsweek, the children of baby boomers are flooding state universities, first tier and even second tier colleges with a record-breaking number of applications.

State schools like Rutgers — which accepted me in 1995 — have seen their applications almost double from 26,000 to 43,000 that it cannot accommodate all the prospective visitors. All tours are booked and it plans to build a visitors center.

Even worse, many smart and ambitious high school students are left crestfallen as they must apply to as many colleges possible — a feat in itself — and accept their fair share of slim envelopes.

It turns out the odds of getting into a selective college have never been worse. Why? It’s simple demographics. A little less than two decades ago the biggest population bulge in the history of America, the baby boomers, were busy having kids. Now those kids are in junior high school and high school and creating a demographic boomlet all their own. This spring the largest number of high-school graduates in the history of the country—some 3.32 million—will don a cap and gown, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Next year, at the peak of the peak, the number of high-school graduates is expected to top 3.33 million. “For many middle- and upper-middle-class kids, the transition from high school to college was never without some obvious stress,” says Barmak Nassirian, spokesman for the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. “But now it has become a multiyear nightmare.”

Last year about three-quarters of four-year colleges and universities reported an increase in the number of applications from the previous year. This year applications are pouring in again. The deadline for most colleges  is between Dec. 1 and Jan. 15, and although administrators don’t tally the numbers of applications they receive until later in the year, many admissions officers—even some at schools not normally considered highly selective—are already calling it a banner year. Last year Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., got 4,000 applications for 455 seats. By the first week in December the school had already topped that number—and the deadline was still six weeks away. Colorado College, which received 3,410 applications for 500 seats in 2002, expects to break 5,000 this year. Last year Ball State in Muncie, Ind., saw applications jump 22 percent when it got 13,000 applications for 3,100 spaces. So far this year applications are up an additional 15 percent.

School admissions officers are in the unenviable position of having to reject a record number students, including those who boast the credentials to do the work. But save your hankies. These admissions officers admit this is a good time for their schools because they can become more selective in applicants, thus receive a boost in their reputations and coffers.

So, despite the fact that some schools are turning away larger and larger numbers of hopeful applicants, colleges are spending big bucks on marketing, about $2,000 per student, to keep applications rolling in. And it’s not just glossy brochures and interactive Web sites. Ball State, for instance, recently hired a public relations firm to create a brand image for the school and come up with a tag line (“Education, redefined”). These days the university advertises itself on billboards and through a series of slick television ads. When it comes to marketing, “sometimes it feels like we’re all locked in an arms race,” admits Bryn Mawr admissions chief Jenny Rickard. “But no college wants to back away,” even though they are getting more than enough applicants to keep their institutions healthy…

By 2015 the number of high-school graduates will begin to drop back out of the stratosphere. But admissions directors are already worrying about the shrinking pool of future applicants, especially the sliver of those who can afford to foot the $40,000 annual tab. The most selective institutions have begun to aggressively recruit applicants from China, Korea, India and South America. Publicly, college admissions officers say they’re encouraging international students to enroll in order to improve diversity on campus. At most colleges, though, the active outreach is directed at wealthy international students who can afford to pay the full sticker price of a private four-year education.

I was turned off by the corporate greed of these schools. At a time when the economy is sagging and most working class families cannot afford even state school, I am left wondering when our colleges and universities will answer their call of duty. (At least Harvard is attempting to give middle class families grants so as not to saddle students with debt. Then again, it is impossible to get into Harvard!)

Also, perhaps it is time for upper middle class families to consider the only institutions that are actually filling a need in our communities: community colleges. My sister received an affordable and quality education at Berkeley Community College. After receiving her fair share of rejection letters at “elite“ schools, she will attend San Francisco State University at the end of the month. I assured her that the workload will be challenging — I took a course there and never returned! — and she will be prepared for the workforce without the debt I accumulated at BU.

The “elite” schools can SUCK it.


The Top Colleges and Universities

The Washington Monthly just published its own guide for the top national universities, liberal arts colleges and community colleges.

Unlike the better known U.S. News and World Report rankings, WM based its findings on three criteria:

The first is social mobility: does the school do a good job recruiting and graduating poorer students? The second is research: is the school supporting the scientific and humanistic study that is key to our national strength, by producing PhDs and winning research grants? And the third is service: how effectively does the school foster an ethic of giving back to the country, either through military or civilian service?

That said, the top 10 national universities are, according to WM:

1.) Texas A&M University
2.) University of California, Los Angeles
3.) Universitiy of California, Berkeley
4.) University of California, San Diego
5.) Pennsylvania State University, University Park
6.) University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
7.) Cornell University
8.) University of California, Davis
9.) Stanford University
10.) South Carolina State University

The top 10 liberal arts colleges:

1.) Presbyterian College
2.) Smith College
3.) Wheaton College
4.) Wesleyan University
5.) Virginia Military Institute
6.) Claremont McKenna College
7.) Bucknell University
8.) Williams College
9.) Amherst College
10.) Spelman College

For a list of the top 30 community colleges, click here.

I was proud to see so many of our state schools in the “top university“ category. Awesome!