Last Thursday, the House of Representatives passed HR 3393, the Student and Family Tax Simplification Act. The vote was 227-187, largely split along party lines. If enacted, the bill would make substantial changes to how higher education tax credits and deductions function. The key provisions are:
- Eliminates Hope Scholarship and Lifetime Learning Credits and expand the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC)
- Expands access to the AOTC to individuals who have been convicted of a felony drug offense (currently these individuals are ineligible)
- Requires taxpayer to list on her tax return the employer identification number of the college to which tuition/qualified educational expenses were paid
- Excludes Pell Grants from taxable gross income
The Hope Credit, which had been in effect for taxable years beginning before 2009 and is due to be available again for taxable years beginning after 2017, grants a non-refundable credit up to a maximum of $1,950 per eligible student for the first two years of postsecondary education. For taxable years beginning 2010-2017, the American Opportunity Tax Credit has been in place. The AOTC is a modification of the Hope Credit, and its provisions are similar, though more extensive. Under current AOTC regulations, the maximum allowable credit is $2,500 per eligible student, and the credit may be claimed for the first four years of postsecondary education. The AOTC is partially refundable by up to 40% of the credit. The Lifetime Learning Credit is distinct from the Hope and AOTC credits in that it may be claimed for an unlimited number of taxable years, at any stage in a taxpayer's postsecondary education. The LLC is non-refundable and equals 20% of qualified tuition and related expenses of up to $10,000 (i.e., maximum credit eligible to be received is $2,000).
Under HR 3393, an overhauled AOTC would replace both Hope and Lifetime Learning Credits. The new AOTC would be permanent, and the credits would function as follows:
- 100% credit for qualified tuition and expenses of up to $2,000 and 25% credit for qualified tuition and expenses exceeding $2,000 but not exceeding $4,000, for a maximum total credit of $2,500
- Up to $1,500 of this credit will be refundable
- Increases income level for phase-out of credit
- Allows inflation adjustments to the income level for phase-out in taxable years beginning after 2018
Tax benefits for postsecondary education expenses have been garnering much recent attention. In June, NACAC and PCACAC member Jayne Fonash testified at a Senate hearing
on how tax benefits might reduce student loan debt. The same day, the Consortium for Higher Education Tax Reform hosted a panel discussion and white paper release
at New America Foundation.
Activity on higher education tax benefit reform is also happening elsewhere in Congress. In February, House Ways & Means Committee Chairman David Camp (MI-R) released a discussion draft
of comprehensive tax reforms, which include several measures affecting postsecondary education (click here
for a section-by-section summary of the draft). Inside Higher Ed summarized
the most significant proposals, which include, among others, consolidation of credits into a modified and permanent AOTC; eliminate deductions for interest accrued on student loans while still enrolled in school; eliminate exemptions for most student loan forgiveness programs; and limit student earnings exempt from Social Security taxation to $1,200. In April 2013, Charles Schumer (NY-D) introduced a Senate bill
to consolidate education benefits into a modified, permanent AOTC.
A common thread among the many proposals is the desire to make permanent and expand the popular, partially-refundable AOTC, while eliminating the two other primary tax credit programs - the Hope and Lifetime Learning Credits. This has drawn criticism from advocates who say the modifications will harm graduate students, who are most apt to take advantage of the Lifetime Learning Credit. For his part, President Obama issued a statement
after the House passed HR 3933, saying that although he supports making the AOTC permanent, "the Administration opposes H.R 3393 because it is part of a broader effort to pass permanent, unpaid-for extensions of traditional tax extenders that, taken together, would add approximately $800 billion to the deficit." Because of the limited time left on the Congressional calendar and the President's opposition to the bill, we do not expect to see the House measure move forward. Nonetheless, with these considerations of tax reform happening contemporaneously with major undertakings to reauthorize and update the Higher Education Act as well as ongoing discussions about student debt, it is doubtful that the topic will avoid more prominent reconsideration.
When Social Class Meets Ethnicity: College Going Experiences of Chinese and Korean Immigrant Families
The Review of Higher Education, Volume 37, Number 3, Spring 2014
Eunyoung Kim, of Seton Hall University, has published a mixed methods analysis of the impact that social class and ethnicity has on the college going experiences of Chinese and Korean students. Her research is important for understanding the factors that contribute to the success of East Asian immigrants and how college going experiences of Koreans and Chinese students differ. She focuses her qualitative analysis on the role of parental involvement and expectations for Chinese and Korean undergraduates. Her research provides a more nuanced understanding of cultural and structural elements that contribute to East Asian student success.
Kim’s research focuses on a group she describes as “1.5” generation immigrants who came to the United States as young children. This group is interesting to Kim because they are likely to face challenges navigating cultural traditions at home and the education system of their new country. Korean and Chinese student experiences often vary by economic standing and ethnic differences. Kim found that both groups understood the importance of attending college for obtaining professional and financial security. Both groups reported that attending college and excelling academically were important for fulfilling parental expectations. However, educational goals varied by ethnicity. Many Korean students approached education with an eye towards their own personal fulfillment. This was partially attributed to the reasons for their immigrant status. A number of Korean students had voluntarily immigrated to avoid the hyper-competitive Korean educational culture. Chinese students, who often hailed from working-class families, saw their educational achievement as key to their family’s well-being.
Korean students were more likely to benefit from well-established ethnic networks which were essential for distributing information about college admission among families. Many Korean students were raised in suburban areas and mentioned the role that Korean churches and after-school academies played in facilitating a college going culture. Chinese students were more likely to have been raised in urban areas and depended on school provided resources such as teachers and counselors for guidance. Chinese students often reported that both of their parents worked and did not speak English well so they weren’t able to become as involved with the college planning process.
Both groups of students reported conflicts arising from expectations about enrolling in a utilitarian major. Korean and Chinese students said that parents often stressed the importance of lucrative majors related to science or technology. Chinese students, in particular, were likely to report that they felt obligated to study a utilitarian major due to their parent’s considerable sacrifice.
Kim’s subjects reported a tension between attending a prestigious university and the affordability of college. Both Korean and Chinese students reported that attending a selective college was important to their parents. However, the Chinese students in Kim’s study were more likely to be in-state and interested in staying close to home to assist with their parents’ businesses on the weekends. Overall, Chinese students were much more sensitive to tuition prices and proximity.
Kim notes that both groups report that parental involvement was an important factor in their decision to go to college. Overall, Chinese students felt a greater obligation to help improve their parents social standing. Both groups reported an interest in attending more selective or out of state institutions but felt that the Midwestern state university they attended was the best mixture of affordability, relative prestige, and academic strength.
The full report can be found here.
Understanding the Writing Habits of Tomorrow's Students: Technology and College Readiness.
The Journal of College Higher Education, Volume 84, Number 4, July/August 2013
College level writing has changed nearly as much as colleges themselves in recent years. While the standard research paper is still dominant, students must now write successfully across a variety of formats in order to succeed in college. Stefani R. Relles and William G. Tierney have explored the relative digital deficits that low-income students bring to college in a recent paper. It has been shown that less than a fifth of students assigned to remedial English ever complete a bachelor’s degree but less is known about the extent that deficits in digital writing affect students.
In order to explore the digital dimension of low income student under-preparedness, Relles and Tierney examined the digital writing of 91 low income students enrolled in a remedial education class. They examined the writing on social-media posts that were created specifically for the class. The posts were examined for their proficiency in visualization, appropriation, and performance. Visualization was defined as the ability to construct and argument with an appropriately chosen image. Appropriation referred to the student’s ability to use the works of others to construct arguments. Finally, performance was the degree to which students could write dexterously with different voices depending on the message and medium. Proficiency in these skills could support college level writing that requires students to develop arguments, cite literature, and use the appropriate tone.
Three quarters of students demonstrated poor proficiency with visualization and appropriation. The students fared slightly better with performance but the voice of their posts was often disjointed and lacked an identity message consistent with their profile. Overall, only a minority of students who performed well did so across all three categories. In general the students presented a low level of proficiency with navigating new media and lacked proficiency in “basic internet survival skills.” These results are unfortunate because they demonstrate a poor disposal to developing thetical arguments, citing evidence appropriately, and developing an academic voice appropriate for college level assignments. Relles and Tierney stress that the wake of digitization will create new forms of inequality for students and that digital deficiencies pose a “latent threat” for low-income students in college.
The full report can be found here.
Tuesday afternoon, in a 2-1 ruling, the Fifth
Circuit Court of Appeals held that the race-conscious admission policy
used by The University of Texas-Austin is constitutional.
Deja vu? Here is a
recap of the case, Fisher v. UT-Austin, and how it ended up back at the appellate
court after reaching the Supreme Court in 2012-13. Below is a discussion of the majority opion, the dissent, and a look ahead at what could come next.
Abigail Fisher, and why did she sue UT-Austin?
Fisher, a 2008 Texas high school graduate, applied for admission to
UT-Austin's class of 2012. She was denied admission, and sued the University,
claiming that its admission policies violated her 14th Amendment rights under
the Equal Protection Clause.
does UT-Austin admit its freshman class?
The bulk of UT-Austin's
freshman class (approximately 80% annually) is automatically admitted under what is known as
Texas' Top Ten Percent law. This law guarantees admission to the public
university of one's choice for students in the top ten percent of their high
school class. Although it is known as the Top Ten Percent policy, the actual
percentage cutoff has, since the Fall 2011 admission cycle, been stricter;
applicants who were granted automatic admission for Fall 2015 enrollment were in
the top 7% of their high school class. This fluctuation is due to a stipulation
that the University, in order to achieve a diverse class, may admit up to 25%
of its class through holistic review, rather than the Top ten Percent policy.
Thus, since admitting the top 10% of all high school students would result in
enrolling far beyond 75% of the class, the University is permitted to modify
the rank cutoff.
The remainder of the
freshman class (those not admitted through the Top Ten Percent plan) is
admitted through what UT-Austin calls a holistic review process. This process
involves calculating two measures for each applicant. The first
measure is the Academic Index (AI), which takes into account factors such
as class rank, test scores, and high school coursework. The second measure
is the Personal Achievement Index, which looks at the strength of an
applicant's essays, leadership qualities, co-curricular involvement, and
demographic features such as socioeconomic background, primary language spoken
at home, family educational background, and race. An applicant's AI and
PAI are placed on a matrix for each academic program, and then admission
officers use a "stair-step" method to select students to admit to a
Why does UT-Austin use holistic
review to supplement the Top Ten Percent plan, and why is race a factor used in
The Top Ten Percent rule
guarantees that the highest-ranked students in Texas are admitted to UT-Austin,
regardless of how their academic credentials compare with one another.
This assures some level of diversity is achieved in the freshman
class. Unfortunately, Texas public schools are largely segregated, and
school resources vary dramatically. The result is that the top ten percent of
students at School A will have had an education and lived experiences nigh
unrecognizable from the education and experiences of their top ten percent
peers at School B. What the Top Ten Percent plan does not capture are those
students who do not rank in the top decile, but who bring with them
perspectives, achievements, and qualities that would enrich the UT-Austin
community. Because of how racially segregated Texas public schools are,
minority students in majority-white schools are not always captured through the
Top Ten Percent plan, just as white students in a majority-minority school may
be passed over. Race is not used as a stand-alone factor in review, and
neither is a specific weight assigned to race as opposed to another factor that
contributes to a composite PAI measure. By having the latitude to evaluate
students using far more information than just one data point (e.g., decile
rank), the University admission officers are able to help shape a class that is
diverse in many regards.
How is race currently
allowed to be used in public college admission decisions?
There have been two*
landmark Supreme Court cases involving the use of race in college admission.
of the University of California v. Bakke (1978):
upholds the use of race as a factor in admission decisions, but forbids the use
of a quota system (i.e., reserving a specific number of seats in a class for
v. Bollinger (2003): upholds the use of race as a factor in admission, so long as it
is not the dominant factor; that is, race may serve as a “plus” for
underrepresented students, but it must be one of several factors considered.
precedents were established in Bakke and Grutter that impact how Fisher was decided:
as a compelling government interest: Historically,
consideration of race in admission had been used as a means of helping right
the damage done by segregation, a goal that was a compelling public interest.
Grutter established the precedent that a diverse student body brings with it
educational benefits that are a compelling state interest unto themselves:
classroom discussions will be more informed, multidimensional, and reflect a
wider array of perspectives, and students will learn to interact with others
who come from different backgrounds, which will serve them well when they enter
a professional world ever more global and diverse.
mass of underrepresented students: While a quota system of
racial consideration was expressly outlawed in Bakke, Grutter confirmed
that universities have a compelling interest in achieving a “critical mass” of
underrepresented students in order to ensure that the students do not feel
isolated or perceive themselves to be spokesmen for their demographic, to be
certain enough opportunities exist for students of different backgrounds to
meaningfully interact and reap the educational benefits of diversity.
tailored use of race: The use of race in college admission must be narrowly tailored
to achieving the goal of attaining the benefits of diversity and reaching a
critical mass. That is, race may not be used indiscriminately without
exhausting other means of achieving the desired diversity, and its use must in
line with the “plus” factor consideration permitted in Bakke.
*Note: At the time Fisher was heard by the Supreme Court, Schuette v. BAMN had not yet been heard (and, ultimately, its ruling is not one that addresses the consitutionality of race-conscious admission practices), and the Court has yet to rule on Fisher.
How has the case
progressed through the court system?
Fisher v. UT-Austin stepped
into the popular spotlight in 2012, when the U.S. Supreme Court granted a writ
of certiorari, agreeing to hear the case. Prior to arriving at the Supreme
Court, lower courts had all ruled in favor of UT-Austin. When the case reached
the Supreme Court, the Justices ruled 7-1 (Justice Ginsburg in dissent, and
Justice Kagan having recused herself) that the lower court had failed to
apply "strict scrutiny" and had granted too much deference to the
University. The case was remanded to the lower court for reconsideration using
increased scrutiny. In the several opinions (1 majority, 2 concurring, 1
dissent) that accompanied the ruling, several Justices hinted at -- or
stated explicitly -- their thoughts on the proper role race should, or should
not, play in college admission. Nonetheless, the Court effectively avoided
issuing an opinion on race-conscious admission per se, identifying instead a
procedural error in how the lower court had handled the case. This is how the
case found its way back to the appellate court for this most recent ruling.
Which brings us back to Tuesday’s ruling.
In its reconsideration
of Fisher, the court
paid close attention to whether or not the use of race at UT-Austin is, indeed, narrowly-tailored. To arrive at its conclusion, the court looked specifically at two factors:
1) Previous attempts to achieve diversity at UT-Austin using other admission procedures and techniques
2) The actual effect of the holistic review process on UT-Austin's freshman class demographics.
On the first point, the court concluded that UT-Austin had previously attempted race-blind (or facially race-blind, given the Top Ten Percent plan and the segregation of Texas' public school system) admission, which had failed to secure sufficient diversity. The institution had also pursued outreach measures and admission recruitment practices designed to target underrepresented populations. Work-arounds to avoid explicit consideration of race simply fell short of success. Given this demonstrated record of multifaceted approaches to diversity recruitment and enrollment, the court found that UT-Austin's consideration of race as one of many factors for a small percentage of admitted students (~80% of freshman class admitted via Top Ten Percent plan) met requirement of narrow tailoring.
In discussing the second point, the actual impact of race-conscious admission, the court noted the intense competition for seats in the ~20% of the class remaining for holistic review applications. Academic standards for admission under holistic review are set high, Minority students admitted under holistic review are actually underrepresented as compared to their share of the UT-Austin population. For the class entering in Fall 2008, the year Fisher had applied for admission, only 3.3% of the freshman class were black and Hispanic students admitted through holistic review, while 12% of the students admitted through holistic review were white. The total share of students admitted that year through holistic review was 19%. Minorities were underrepresented within this group, with 12% of Hispanic students and 16% of black students admitted through holistic review. Meanwhile, 24% of all white students were admitted holistic review. The court found the data reveal just how subtly race functions as a "plus" factor in UT-Austin's holistic review process, serving as minimally as necessary to help the University attain its Grutter-sanctioned goal of a critical mass of underrepresented students. In no uncertain terms, Judge Higginbotham, writing for the majority, said this of UT-Austin's holistic review process: "Given the test score gaps between minority and non-minority applicants, if holistic review was not designed to evaluate each individual's contributions to UT Austin's diversity, including those that stem from race, holistic admissions would approach an all-white enterprise."
The majority also noted a problem in Fisher's contention that the Top Ten Percent plan ought to be to ensure diversity, especially given the holistic review process' relatively minute contribution to the numbers of enrolled underrepresented students. Bakke established that a quota system in race-conscious admission is impermissible. Because of the stark segregation of Texas public schools, a de facto quota system would result if 100% of the class were admitted under the Top Ten Percent plan. To allow students to benefit from the diversity of experience and perspective of students in the bottom 90% of classes in majority-white and majority-minority schools, the Top Ten Percent policy must be augmented by a holistic review.
Judges King and Higginbotham comprised the majority.
Judge Garza dissented from the majority opion. Garza did not believe the majority held UT-Austin to the exacting standards of "strict scrutiny" required by the Supreme Court remand. Faulting the University for failing to define "critical mass," Garza contended that the court had no means of applying strict scrutiny; how can it examine the means to an end, when the end itself is undefined? He further challenged the UT-Austin's claim that race is a necessary factor to take into account during holistic. Because no specific points or value are assigned to race as its own category (race can factor in to an applicant's PAI measure, but it is a cumulativetive assessment of several items, only one of which is race), then the University, according to Garza, cannot prove that race truly is a necessary factor--its benefit is not quantifiable. As for qualifiable value, Garza argues that asserting the students admitted under the Top Ten Percent plan may not be diverse enough in their perspectives and backgrounds is effectively stereotyping, thus supporting the behavior the educational benefits of a diverse campus are meant to ameliorate. In his assessment of the case, Garza did not find UT-Austin had demonstrated sufficiently that its use of race is narrowly tailored to the degree that it meets established standards.
Fisher has indicated that she will be appealing the court's decision. There are two possible options for an appeal. Fisher could ask for a rehearing en banc by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. At this rehearing, her case would be heard by the full roster of judges, as opposed to the three-judge panel. Alternatively, Fisher could decide to bypass an en banc hearing and appeal directly to the Supreme Court. Neither the Appellate Court nor the Supreme Court is required to grant her appeal. Should she appeal for an en banc hearing and be denied, Fisher will be able to appeal to the Supreme Court, which may or may not grant her request. Additionally, should Fisher be granted an en banc hearing and should the court again rule against her, she could once more appeal to the Supreme Court, which would have the option of accepting or declining her appeal (or, alternatively, should the en banc court rule in Fisher's favor, UT-Austin would have this recourse). If the Supreme Court at any point declines to hear the case, the most recent lower court ruling will stand.
Unlike its K-12 companion, state higher education funding is not an entitlement. Thus, state appropriations for higher education are discretionary expenditures, able to be increased or decreased at legislative will. A new article, published in the July/August 2014 edition of The Journal of Higher Education, examines the ways partisanship and polarization in state legislatures impacts higher education funding.
The authors, Luciana Dar (Assistant Professor of Higher Education, UC Riverside) and Dong-Wook Lee (doctoral candidate in Politics and Policy, Claremont Graduate University), examined 44 states (excluded: AK, DE, ND, NE, VT, and WY) from 1977 through 2004. Chief among the study's findings was that when state legislatures featured a high proportion of seats held by Democratic representatives, state support for higher education funding increased. This effect, however, was subdued when polarization within the statehouses was more intense.
Taking a traditional cause-of-effect approach and turning it on its head, Dar and Lee approached their research from what they term an "effect-of-cause" lens. That is, if higher education is seen as a humanitarian endeavor to enrich people's lives intellectually, socially, and economically - ideals traditionally aligned with the Democratic party - (cause), one could expect that Democratic legislators would be more apt to favor higher education funding than their Republican counterparts (effect). Dar and Lee propose inverting this relationship between cause and effect: Democrats may seek to fund higher education less (effect) because they are also wanting to fund other programs that have similar goals (cause). In times of intense polarization, even legislatures with strong Democratic representation see a lower increase in funding for higher education. Dar and Lee contend that one of the reasons for this is that Democrats might be able to satisfy their agenda (cause) through supporting other, less contentious programs (effect).
Economic conditions also influence the effect strong Democratic representation has on higher education appropriations. Dar and Lee note that middle- and upper-middle-class students are disproportionally represented in higher education, and thus funds allocated to public college and university systems will have less direct impact on lower- and lower-middle-class individuals, a demographic for which Democrats tend to wish funding be increased. During economic downturns, Dar and Lee argue that Democrats may feel it is all the more important to target funds directly at these constituencies, as opposed to higher education systems that generally serve higher-income populations. The authors argue that understanding the complex interplay between partisanship, polarization, and economic conditions will help advocates as they lobby state legislatures for higher education support.
NACAC is a non-partisan association. To find out more about our legislative priorities and the bills we have supported, and how you can get involved with our advocacy efforts, please visit our Issues & Action page.
Speaking at the annual conference of the American Association of School Counselors (ASCA), First Lady Michelle Obama announced three major initiatives from the Obama administration to recognize and support school counselors.
- A July 28 event, which NACAC is supporting, hosted at the Harvard Graduate School of Education to discuss an "ambitious new agenda items to improve training, professional development and support for school counselors."
- Beginning next year, the White House will recognize a School Counselor of the Year in the same way it recognizes a Teacher of the Year.
- The Department of Education has issued new guidance to help school and school district administrators maximize federal funds available for supporting school counselors.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan introduced the compilation of federal resources with a letter to Chief State School Officers on June 30. Duncan wrote at length about the role school counselors play in helping students achieve their postsecondary plans. But, he noted, many counselors are unable to fully devote themselves to student guidance because non-counseling duties can dominate their responsibilities. NACAC has highlighted
this challenge in its advocacy on behalf of access to quality school counseling.
Duncan urged school administrators "to use the summer months to strategize and develop policies and programs that enable school counselors to become more effective at helping a greater number of students--especially low-income students, minority students, students with disabilities, and English learnings--successfully access postsecondary education or career opportunities." To help administrators achieve this, the letter included an enclosed summary of federal prorgrams and funds available, and how those resources may be used to assist schools in hiring, retention, and professional development opportunities for counselors, as well as to augment counseling-related activities.
You can read a copy of Duncan's letter here and view the resource list here.
The federal resources available include the Elementary and Secondary School Counseling program; the FAFSA Completion Initiative; Title I Part A (Schoolwide and Targeted Assistance Programs); Title II Part A (Improving Teacher Quality State Grants Program); the McKinney-Vento Education for Homeless Children and Youth Program; the Prevention and Intervention Programs for Children and Youths Who Are Neglected, Delinquent, or At Risk; School Improvement Grants; and Title IV Part B (21st Centry Community Learning Centers Program).
The College Board's Access & Diversity Collaborative has published its inaugural Issue Brief. The first edition, of what will be a quarterly series, focuses on Institional Leadership.
Through interviews with James Madison University President Johnathan Alger and Rutgers Univeristy - Newark Chancellor Nancy Cantor, the brief examines the challenges and opportunities campus leaders have to promote diversity at their institutions. Both Alger and Cantor highlight the importance of collaboration with local communities and K-12 systems to create a two-way flow of information and support. By building these strong links, they suggest, institutions will have an easier time recruiting and retaining underrepresented students.
In addition to the interviews, the brief includes summaries of recent court cases addressing the use of race in admission. The precedents established in these cases may be particularly useful to enrollment management teams following the Supreme Court's instructions in its remand of Fisher v. University of Texas - Austin.
Last year, NACAC and the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education issued the report, "Provisional Admission Practices: Blending Access and Support to Facilitate Student Success." Key findings in the report included:
- Provisional admission may be an overlooked and underutilized initiative at many four-year colleges and universities, particularly public institutions. Fewer than three out of five survey respondents (57%) reported having a provisional admission program.
- These programs were found to help academically underprepared students persist to the second year at equal rates to their peers with stronger academic profiles upon enrollment. Despite being considered academically underprepared upon enrollment, more than seven out of ten students in these programs complete the first year.
- Provisional admission programs helped -- (1) promote postsecondary access to four-year institutions; (2) strengthen students’ academic skills; (3) develop students’ study and time management skills; (4) build students’ confidence; (5) develop relationships between students and their peers and institutional staff and faculty.
Strategies to smooth the transition to postsecondary education for a broader, more diverse population will play a critical role in the future of higher education, particularly in light of recent court cases concerning to the consideration of race or ethnicity in admission and the continuing inability of institutional or governmental policies to overcome the income gaps in college access. Stay tuned to NACAC's research and policy web pages for more research- and policy-to-practice information.
Higher education is on the silver screen courtesy of Andrew Rossi, whose previous films include Page One: Inside The New York Times. In Ivory Tower, a broad range of topics in higher education are covered in a short period of time. The documentary profiles a variety of institutions such as Harvard, Spelman, Deep Springs, Cooper Union, and Bunker Hill Community College and features candid interviews with faculty and institutional leaders about how rising costs and an uncertain economic climate affect the respective schools. The documentary also profiles a number of higher education reformers and innovators who are looking to reinvent the traditional model of higher education, which they feel is failing to adequately control costs or meet our nation’s educational needs. Along the way, students, family members, faculty, staff, and other experts provide voice and context to how these issues personally affect the educational experience.
The documentary draws on the most current research about student learning, higher education organization, and undergraduate life. The film also gives unprecedented access to the presidents of Stanford, Harvard, Wesleyan, and Cooper Union as they speculate about their own institution’s role within the changing higher education landscape. The movie acquaints the viewer with an overview of the history of higher education and the origins of many of the current problems within the field.
In some respects, Ivory Tower is two separate films woven into one. It depicts the role that technology might have in helping schools to transform into modern and mission-driven organizations. The film features several possible avenues for “disruptive innovation” such as Thiel Fellowships and distance learning. Rossi also devotes considerable time to two Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) start-ups and a high-profile attempt to integrate MOOC-based eLearning with traditional coursework. The second broad theme is the rising cost of attendance. While the film addresses the oft-cited trillion dollar figure of student debt, Ivory Tower also depicts the institutional role in running up inefficient expenditures on student amenities and lavish facilities, which contribute to increased operating costs, endanger institutional financial health, and undermine student learning. These themes come together in exceptional coverage of the 65 day student sit-in at Cooper Union, which was sparked by the administration’s decision to begin charging tuition at the once-free institution.
Ultimately the film leaves the viewer with more questions than answers. After featuring a wide variety of models, institutions, and perspectives, there does not appear to be a single, unified way forward that would satisfy agendas of all stakeholders in American higher education. The film does, however, provide an engaging overview of higher education and captures many schools in a state of change and transition.
Ivory Tower is currently playing is select cities and will air on CNN this fall. Let us know if you have the chance to see it and want to tell us what you think!
Educational Sorting and Residential Aspirations Among Rural High School Students:
What Are the Contributions of Schools and Educators to Rural Brain Drain.
Brain drain is one of a number of processes that have undermined rural communities. As economic opportunities shrink for young people, the most able and skilled often leave. This often leaves the least educated individuals behind and further undermines the economic viability of these communities. It has been argued that schools play an inadvertent role in brain drain by encouraging the best students to leave and pursue jobs elsewhere. Robert Petrin, Kai Schafft, and Judith Meeece have used a mixed methods approach to investigate this assertion and provide a more nuanced understanding of the causes of rural “brain drain.” They have found that perceptions of economic opportunity play a more important role in determining residential aspirations than community factors or contact with school staff.
Pertin, Schafft and Meece have looked closely into the factors which may contribute to rural brain drain. The research team created a multi-variate statistical model and analyzed survey data from a sample of 3,991 students at 70 different schools. The team also convened focus groups in order to contextualize their quantitative data. They classified students into four respective types based on academic ability and residential aspiration. The categories include, Achiever Leavers, Achiever Stayers, Non-academic Leavers, and Non-academic Stayers. Overall their findings suggest that perceptions of local economic conditions provided the most information about a student’s desire to stay.
The strongest covariate associated with the desire to stay was farm residence which is consistent with the influence of occupational outlook on residential aspirations. The second strongest variable was the perceived local availability of jobs. Across categories, it was found that contact with school counselors was not associated with an increased likelihood to stay thus casting doubt on the assumption that schools are encouraging brain drain. Female students were the most likely to report the desire to be living and working elsewhere by age thirty. This is consistent with other literature which indicates that rural women perceive themselves to be more sensitive to the labor market.
The qualitative data obtained from the focus groups revealed a marked ambivalence about rural brain drain. While there were “strong social norms” that encourage the most talented students to leave, this was usually acknowledged with resignation. Community leaders and teachers felt that leaving was an unfortunate but realistic option for students who could take advantage of better opportunities.
Interestingly, the team found that communities which were slightly more economically robust saw leaving as a way to boost the area’s overall human capital. Leaving was not perceived to be a threat if the community could eventually offer jobs to those who went elsewhere to learn valuable skills. Overall, Pertin, Schafft and Meece did not find any overwhelming evidence that high achieving students were being encouraged to leave. An individual student’s personal economic outlook was the strongest factor associated with the desire to leave. The policy implications for this are clear. Creating opportunities for students to use the skills acquired elsewhere could increase interest in staying among the best students. The authors conclude that the regional investment in rural areas might be the ultimate deterrent to brain drain.
The study can be found here