Friday, January 27, 2006

Social Inclusion in Tertiary Education

When I meet with European colleagues at the annual meeting of the European Access Network I am struck by their commitment to "social inclusion" in tertiary education. It is a term they use often. This is not a term I hear in policy dialogue in the United States. And I have come to think its not just a difference in terminology. I do not think that American's think of higher education and social inclusion as linked in any particular way.

The Europeans speak of national commissions and ministerial reports that provide guidance to national policy makers, program designers and resource commitments to broadening opportunity for tertiary education. They link these commission reports to national initiatives. And the annual report Education at a Glance published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) provides abundant evidence that their initiatives have produced huge gains in tertiary education participation and attainment over at least the last 15 years.

Meanwhile in the United States our college participation rates have stopped growing in the 1990s (different data sets give slightly different dates), and we now have an older generation that has more higher education than does the generation of their children, according to OECD data. While the Europeans (and the rest of the world) make bold initiatives to increase the human capital of their future workforces, we have turned away from progressive social policy toward social exclusion and reinforcement of disparities in educational attainment, income and wealth.

In the United States since about 1980 we have come to practice social exclusion. This began with federal retreat from need-based financial aid, with state decisions to shift the costs of higher education from taxpayers to students and to create large merit scholarship programs, and with self-indulgent enrollment management practices of selective admission 4-year colleges and universities that focus on students born into affluence.

In the short term the enrollment consequences of the shift from the socially inclusive policies of the 1960s and 1970s to the socially exclusive policies of the 1980s, 1990s and this decade are now clear in higher education participation and distribution data. College participation rates have been stagnant since the mid 1990s, low income and minority students are increasing excluded from 4-year institutions and are increasingly concentrated in public 2-year and proprietary institutions, the United States usually ranks last among the 30 OECD countries in gains in college participation rates since about 1990, and the gains in bachelor's degree attainment since 1980 have gone overwhelmingly to students born into the top quartile of family income (about $96,000 per year).

In the long term the economic and social consequences of the shift from social inclusion to social exclusion will mean that higher education is causing income concentration, political disengagement and social, racial and class segregation. The failure to sustain a national commitment to social inclusion (won over dead bodies in the brutal 1960s) is leading us to the injustices likely to repeat the cycle. The social exclusion choices we have made in federal, state and institutional higher education policies since 1980 are leading us back to conditions that by thoughtful choice no one should ever want to repeat.

Monday, January 23, 2006

The Boys Project and the Messiah

I have now been pounding away on the problems of boys in education (especially higher education) since 1995 and I have nothing to show for it. Clearly talking about the scarcity of boys in college accomplishes little more than making people aware that it exists.

For several years reporters (usually women, who like to write about this issue) have been challenging me: Okay, so what do we do about the problem? What do you recommend be done? I just don't know. As one who studies demography I can see that there is a serious problem. I only know that affirmative action for boys in college admissions could diminish opportunities for better prepared and motivated women. I oppose affirmative action for males because it addresses symptoms and not causes--although I am not sure what the causes are.

So, after a fruitless decade where males continue to fall ever farther behind females, a messiah steps forward and agrees to lead a national effort to do something based on real science. And sure enough, as I had long suspected, it is a woman: Prof. Judith Kleinfeld of the University of Alaska at Fairbanks. Dr. Kleinfeld has written on the subject of males in education in the past. She is now organizing a national boys project and is gathering the kind of scientific talent that we might expect to provide answers to the question: Okay, so what should we do about the problem?

This boys project will begin at the beginning: How are little boys different from little girls, and what does this mean for the educational experience we design for each? At last I can see a way to make progress on this terribly important issue.

Friday, January 20, 2006

State Tax Fund Appropriations for Higher Education

FY2006 state tax fund appropriations for higher education have been reported by Jim Palmer and his colleagues at Illinois State University (see Grapevine). We have added the control of state personal income to his data to measure state investment effort in higher education. The Grapevine data and our reworking of it present a decidedly mixed picture of state higher education funding.

FY2006 state tax fund appropriations for higher education was $6.89 per $1000 of state personal income. This was the same as FY2005, and slightly above the low of $6.87 for FY2004. While state appropriations increased by 5.90 percent between FY2005 and FY2005, state personal income (the presumed state tax base) increased by 5.96 percent between CY2003 and CY2004.

But overall state investment effort has been ratcheting downward since FY1976 when it peaked at $10.58. The downward lurches have occurred during periods of economic recession in the early 1980s, early 1990s and again in the early 2000s. The current pause awaits the next national economic recession before lurching downward further. Historically corrections and Medicaid have been crowding higher education (and everything else) out of state budgets. The reduction in state investment effort in higher education since about FY1980 has been accompanied by huge increases in the tuition and fees paid by college students. Effectively states have been shifting the costs of higher education from state taxpayers to students enrolled in public colleges and universities.

States vary widely in their state tax investment effort for higher education. In FY2006 the national leaders are New Mexico ($14.42), Wyoming ($12.76), Hawaii ($11.95), North Carolina ($11.69) and North Dakota ($11.60). The national laggards are New Hampshire ($2.46), Massachusetts ($3.40), Colorado ($3.58), Vermont ($4.16) and Missouri ($4.88).

For current management purposes the year-to-year changes are most important. Between FY2005 and FY2006 19 states increased their investment effort, 4 states held steady, and 28 states reduced their higher education investment effort. The largest gainers are Hawaii (+$1.21), Alabama (+$.90), North Dakota (+$.53), Montana (+$.41) and Oklahoma (+$.34). The largest losers are West Virginia (-$.82), Mississippi (-$.79), Iowa (-$.76), Wyoming (-$.41) and Idaho (-$.40).

I have been writing in OPPORTUNITY about the privatization of public higher education since the early 1990s. (My first analyses were from the early 1980s.) Others have recently picked up this theme. While I have watched public institutions struggle with inadequate state appropriations for 25 years a number of things have become obvious to me:
  • The problem is not going away. The aging of the population places extraordinary demands on state budgets and higher education cannot compete with old folks. Higher education never could compete with health care and corrections. It probably cannot compete with tax cutting initiatives.
  • Higher education is far too self-absorbed in its own Ivory Tower world to understand how disengaged it has become from the pressing issues facing elected state officials.
  • The costs of public higher education have been and will continue to be relentlessly shifted from state taxpayers to students. Very few states have made any provision to cover these tuition increases for students who cannot afford them. The states have taken a walk on this one.
  • States are largely responsible for the college affordability crisis. The burden of this failure is born entirely by students born into the bottom half of the family income distribution who are increasingly concentrated in public 2-year colleges while students born into affluent families are increasingly concentrated in 4-year colleges and universities.
  • Private higher education has used the real financing problems of public higher education as a smokescreen for very large tuition increases of their own that have been used to feather their own nests. The growing compensation differential between private and public higher education faculty is the clearest evidence of this.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Male Shares of Undergraduates by Family Income

The scarcity of males in higher education has strong class-based roots: males are under-represented compared to females by the largest margin at the lowest family income levels. As income rises the gap narrows. In this analysis we used data from five National Postsecondary Student Aid Studies (NPSAS) to examine the male shares of various undergraduate enrollments. The NPSAS studies used were for 1990, 1993, 1996, 2000 and 2004. Remember that males are about 51% of the college-age population.

Among dependent undergraduates (students less than age 24) males were 47.0% of all undergraduate students in 2004. They were 48.3% in 1990, 48.6% in 1993, 47.4% in 1996 and 46.7% in 2000. By quartiles of parental income the male shares in 2004 were: 44.0% in the bottom quartile ($0 to $34,288), 45.3% in the second quartile ($34,289 to $62,240), 47.6% in the third quartile ($62,241 to $95,006), and 51.7% in the top quartile ($95,007 and over). Between 1990 and 2004 the male share of undergraduate enrollment declined by 1.5% in the bottom parental income quartile, by 2.3% in the second quartile, by 2.2% in the third quartile and by 0.8 percent in the top quartile.

Among independent undergraduates (age 24 and over) males were 37.8 percent of undergraduates in 2004. They were 41.2% in 1990, 40.7% in 1993, 39.1% in 1996, and 40.8% in 2000. By quartiles of student/spouse' income in 2004 males were 39.5% in the bottom quartile ($0 to $6823), 37.3% in the second quartile ($6824 to $16,776), 35.5% in the third quartile ($16,777 to $34,048) and 39.0% of the top quartile ($34,049 and up). Between 1990 and 2004 the male share declined by 0.8% in the bottom quartile, 5.4% in the second quartile, 8.2% in the third quartile and 0.7% in the top quartile.

The only good news in these data is that the male share of black dependent undergraduate enrollments rose by 4.5% between 1990 and 2004. This was the only racial/ethnic group that experienced an increase and this increase occurred in all four quartiles of parental income. If blacks are the canaries in the coal mine on this issue then the turn around for dependent black males is a good omen since they led the original decline in male shares of undergraduate enrollments.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Double Standard for Labor Economists

Labor economists must be carefully watched for what they say compared to what they do. My experience is that they do not all believe that what is good for the goose is good for the gander. Two cases to make this point:

One labor economist at the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) for decades has pointed out that only 20 percent of all jobs in the economy require a college degree (1970s) or more recently only 30 percent do. This has caused no end of trouble in state budgeting for higher education where typically 60 percent or more of high school graduates go on to college. States have used this BLS figure as justification for reducing state investment in higher education. However this economist sent both of his children (100 percent) to college.

Another labor economist at the Economic Policy Institute recently told me that there is recent labor market weakness in the absorption of college graduates into the labor force. That means that government investment in higher education can be reduced. He said that as an economist he would offer one set of advice to the President about appropriate government investment levels in college trained workers, but that as a father he practiced a different (and far higher) standard for his own children. 100 percent of his children attended college.

Besides this hypocrisy I have long been troubled by the disparity between economists' fascination with economic growth, efficient allocation of resources and other important economic principles and their indifference to the allocation of social resources and economic growth benefits. Income and wealth concentration are trivial within the profession. And when it comes to who gets a higher education one hears not a peep that the share of bachelor's degrees awarded to students born into the top quartile of family income has grown from 44 percent in 1979 to 58 percent by 2004. At the same time the share of bachelor's degrees awarded to people in the bottom half of the family income distribution has gone from 28 percent in 1979 to 21 percent by 2004.

The double standard of these two labor economists is troubling because they claim a greater share of higher educational opportunity for their own children than they advise for others, and it is always those with lowest incomes and weakest political voices that bear the consequences of their influential policy recommendations. The indifference of these kinds of economic policy influences to growing inequality in the U.S. is ultimately socially destructive, democratically divisive and economically weakening. I remain deeply troubled by the myopic, tunnel vision of many economists in their public policy work. Their work deserves only a narrow respect and voice.