TIME Education

University of California System Approves Steep Tuition Hike

CA: UC Berkeley Students Rally Against Tuition Fee Hikes
Students rallied to demonstrate against the university's plan to increase tuition fees over the next five years at the University of California, Berkeley campus on Nov. 18, 2014, in Berkeley, Calif. Alex Milan Tracy—Sipa USA

Students are being asked to pay more as the state reduces its funding

Tuition at University of California schools could rise by as much as 28% by 2019 under a plan approved Thursday.

The 14-7 vote by the system’s regent board pitted top state officials, including Gov. Jerry Brown, against those who run the UC’s 10-campus system, including its president, Janet Napolitano.

Students at UC campuses protested the proposed tuition hike ahead of the decision. Students at the University of California, Berkeley staged an all-night sit-in and students on hand for the vote itself, which took place in San Francisco, shouted their protests inside the meeting room and clashed with police outside.

Tuition at UC campuses has more than tripled since 2001, even without the increase just approved. Students and their families have shouldered more of the financial burden of attending UC schools in recent years, as the state has cut back the share of overall expenses it covers. The economic downturn accelerated this trend in California and at public universities and colleges across the country. Napolitano, who conceived and proposed the tuition hike plan, said increases could be scaled back before they go into effect if the state provides more direct funding for the UC system. Negotiations between Napolitano and state officials over how to fund UC will now begin in earnest.

Brown, who was reelected by a wide margin earlier this month, criticized the tuition hike plan and had asked Napolitano and other UC regents to further study how costs could be cut within the system in lieu of raising tuition. Awarding degrees in three years instead of the standard four and more online courses were among the ideas Brown wanted to see considered.

In-state tuition and fees at the University of California is $12,192, compared to a national average of $8,893 for all public colleges, according to the College Board. The cost of attending four-year colleges in the second-tier California State University system is below the national average. Napolitano has said the UC system needs to increase funding to cover pension and faculty costs, increase enrollment and maintain its world-class reputation. More than half of all UC students pay no tuition because their costs are coverage by public and private grants distributed based on income.

TIME Education

What California’s College Tuition Hike Says About the Future of Higher Education

CA: UC Berkeley Students Rally Against Tuition Fee Hikes
Students rallied to demonstrate against the university's plan to increase tuition fees over the next five years at the University of California, Berkeley campus on Nov. 18, 2014, in Berkeley, Calif. Alex Milan Tracy—Sipa USA

As state funding dwindles, students at public universities are being asked to pick up more of the tab

When does a public university system become one in name only? That’s the question facing California as officials in charge of the state’s prestigious, but financially-struggling university system clash over how to keep it afloat.

On Nov. 20, the regents that control the University of California system will vote on a proposal to increase tuition at its 10 campuses by as much as 5% a year for the next five years. This year’s tuition and fees for in-state students is $12,192, which could rise to $15,564 by the 2019-20 school year under the proposal. The plan was conceived and put forward by Janet Napolitano, who took over the UC system in 2013.

The fight over the tuition increase pits Napolitano, the former governor of Arizona and federal homeland security chief, against Governor Jerry Brown, a popular figure in the state who was just re-elected with a sizable mandate. Brown has said he opposes increasing tuition, and would restore some state funding cut during the recession only if it stays flat. Brown is a regent and is among a handful of those on the board who have already indicated they will reject Napolitano’s proposal.

“There is a game of chicken,” says Hans Johnson, a higher education expert at the non-partisan Public Policy Institute of California. “It’s not clear to me at all how it’s going to turn out.”

Underlying the clash of big personalities is a philosophical debate about the changing funding models for public universities. In 1960, California created a lofty master plan that said higher education should be free or very low-cost for residents. “We’ve moved away from that pretty dramatically,” says Johnson. “It’s almost traumatic for California to think about it.” In recent decades, the state has decreased the share of overall public higher education costs it pays for and the system has become increasingly dependent on student contributions, among other sources, for the difference. In the 2001-02 academic year, in-state tuition and fees for UC campuses was $3,429, about one-third of the cost today. Similar trends have played out in state university systems elsewhere as well.

The recession accelerated public schools’ reliance on private money. At UC, the system receives some $460 million less per year in state funds than it did in the 2007-08 school year.

“As a political matter, state officials have made the judgment they don’t want to pay for higher education for our citizens,” says David Plank, an economist at Policy Analysis for California Education, a non-partisan research center. “What were once public universities are now private universities that receive some subsidy from the states.”

Napolitano says that if UC is to remain a world-class educational and research institution, it needs more money, no matter the source. And she says students and families will need to fill the gap left by the state. The proposed tuition increase would affect only around half of the student body. Thanks to income-based federal and state grants, about 55% of UC students pay no tuition.

Gavin Newsom, California’s lieutenant governor, has said he and Brown were blind-sided by the tuition increase proposal. The governor’s office has said Napolitano’s plan could void a plan Brown has endorsed to increase state funding 4 percent per year if tuition stays flat. Napolitano has said she never made a deal and if was one was struck before she took charge, she hasn’t found any record of it. “It was unilateral. It wasn’t anything we agreed to,” says Steve Montiel, a spokesman for Napolitano.

On the eve of today’s meeting of the regents planning board, the speaker of the California state assembly reportedly proposed directing $50 million in additional state general funds to UC to stave off increased costs for students. The proposal followed student protests at at least two UC campuses this week.

TIME Education

One Expert’s Secrets to Staying Sane While Applying to College

Don't get so caught up in SAT scores and grades

In an era of rising tuition and worries about “paper classes,” it’s easy for students (and parents) to get overwhelmed about making the right decisions during the college admissions process.

Admissions expert Pamela Donnelly, author of the recently published 4 Keys to College Admissions Success, offers several tips for families looking for a way to stay sane.

The process “is a blip on the chart of a much larger movie called life,” Donnelly says, encouraging students to not get so caught up on SAT scores and grades that it becomes overwhelming. Once applications are in, Donnelly wants students to “let it go” and celebrate the completion of the process rather than stressing about where they may get in.

Catch more of her tips in the video above.

TIME Education

The Real Student Debt Problem No One is Talking About

College Student Graduation Debt Loans
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Graduate students make up just 14% of university enrollment, but account for nearly 40% of student debt

An Army veteran, Anthony Manfre paid for his associate’s and bachelor’s degrees mostly with his GI Bill benefits, although he also took out $4,000 worth of student loans.

“At the time, I thought that was a lot,” he says. “And now I look back and wish I only owed that much.”

That’s because Manfre went on to graduate school, picking up a master’s degree before setting off on the long road to a doctorate in marriage and family therapy while borrowing to also pay his living expenses. And now he’s $200,000 in debt.

“In the back of my mind I was always thinking, this money is an investment — that later on, when I graduate and get a job, I’ll be able to pay it off,” says Manfre, who earns $61,500 a year working for the Veterans Administration. “But now I don’t think I’m going to get the return I thought I would.”

Much of the concern about ballooning student debt has focused on undergrads taking out steep loans to pay for the rising cost of college. Largely overlooked are a principal source of the problem: graduate students like Manfre, who are less likely to have support from parents or other sources, and who face almost no limits on how much they borrow.

Graduate students now collectively owe as much as 40 percent of the estimated $1.2 trillion in outstanding student debt, according to the New America Foundation, even though they make up only 14 percent of all university enrollment.

“People focus on the undergraduates, because there are more of them and they’re younger and more naïve,” says Joel Best, a professor at the University of Delaware and coauthor of The Student Loan Mess. “They aren’t really paying attention to graduate students, but graduate students are really stacking up substantial student-loan debt.”

This indifference helps graduate programs get away with continually increasing their prices, Best says. “They can charge whatever they want and say to themselves that they don’t need to worry about it, the students can get loans.”

It has also freed lawmakers to raise interest rates on graduate and professional students, who are being charged rates nearly 50% more than those paid by undergrads. In 2012, to save about $1.8 billion a year, Congress also stopped subsidizing the interest that accumulates on federal student loans taken out by graduate students while they’re in school and for six months after they finish. And a proposal to streamline existing federal tax credits would reduce the deductions they will be able to take for educational expenses.

Often past the point at which their parents help them pay for their tuition, room, and board, graduate students borrow an average of nearly three times more per year than undergraduates, according to the College Board. And while the average debt of undergraduates has more than doubled since 1989, according to the Brookings Institution, it has more than quadrupled during that time for graduate students.

This comes at a time when the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the fastest-growing careers through 2022 will require workers to have graduate degrees.

“We might have a philosophical discussion about, ‘Do you need a master’s degree for X, Y, and Z,’ but in a free and open marketplace employers are asking for them,” says Suzanne Ortega, president of the Council of Graduate Schools.

It’s also true that those workers will make more money than people without graduate educations. An employee with a master’s degree earns about 20% more than one with only a bachelor’s degree, while those with professional degrees can make around 55% more, according to BLS calculations.

But not all of them. Teachers, for example, can have a particularly hard time earning enough to pay back their debt. About 16% of U.S. master’s degrees are in education and the median debt for graduates is $50,879, according to the New America Foundation— up from $30,724 a decade ago. The yearly salary for the average public school teacher with a master’s degree is $57,830.

And while enrollment in graduate programs has increased 41 percent since 2000, according to the U.S. Department of Education, the Council of Graduate Schools reports that the pace of applications has stalled — in part because people are put off by the cost.

“We’re going to have graduate enrollment going down in our universities, because people can’t afford to take on that level of debt,” says Neleen Leslie, president of the National Association of Graduate-Professional Students and a doctoral student at Florida State University. “There’s a misperception that people who pursue advanced degrees are going to be able to make enough to pay back those loans. That’s not necessarily true.”

Now a new measure to help ease student debt could cause problems for everyone else.

In an executive order issued in June, President Obama expanded a little-known provision called income-based repayment that allows borrowers to limit their monthly federal loan repayments to 10% of their incomes, and forgives any remaining debt after 20 years. That’s down from 15% and 25 years, respectively.

Obama said the change was meant to help undergraduates. “If you got a professional degree like a law degree, you would probably be able to pay it off,” the Harvard Law School grad said when he signed the order. But federal loans account for the largest share of graduate student debt, and some education policy experts worry that it could encourage grad students to borrow even more than they already do.

“Why the hell should you worry about how much you’re borrowing? Borrow a million, you’ll still have to pay off the same amount,” says Best.

The potential benefit for higher-earning graduate students is “a policy accident,” says Jason Delisle, director of the Federal Education Budget Project at the New America Foundation. “And who’s going to figure this out? Probably people with graduate degrees.”

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education-news outlet affiliated with Teachers College, Columbia University.

Read next: How A College Grad Paid Off $28,000 in 3 Years on a $30,000 Salary

TIME Education

Why Ph.D.s Shouldn’t Teach College Students

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jacomstephens—Getty Images

Marty Nemko holds a Ph.D. in educational psychology from UC Berkeley and is a career and personal coach.

Professors, the campus and even the university as an institution need to be replaced

Despite a college degree’s enormous cost, almost half of college freshmen (43%) don’t graduate even if given six years. If they graduate, a 2011 national study found, 36% of the 1,600 students tested “did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning” in four years. And in the just-published follow-up, which tracked those students since their graduation in 2009, one-quarter were living at home two years after graduation and more than half said their lives lacked direction. Twenty percent were earning less than $30,000 a year, half of those less than $20,000.

Hidebound higher education

College hasn’t changed much in centuries. For the most part, there’s still a research-oriented Ph.D. sage on the stage lecturing on the liberal arts to a student body too often ill-prepared and uninterested in that. That occurs on a plush campus with a porcine administration, which results in a four-year sticker price at a brand-name private college of more than $200,000. (And those are 2012 figures. They’re higher now. Plus, those figures exclude tens of thousands of dollars in books, travel, living expenses and miscellany.)

Time, not for reform, but for reinvention

The meteoric rise in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), which see an average enrollment of 43,000 students per course, is an early sign that the public wants change. But MOOCs aren’t the answer. Sure, they’re free and available to all, but because they’re still taught largely by those professor types to often unprepared students, the completion and learning rates are low. MOOCs have a completion rate of only 10%.

Undergraduate courses should not be taught mainly by Ph.D.s. The gap between their and their students’ intellectual capabilities and interests is too great. The instructors should be mainly bachelor’s-level graduates who themselves had to work hard to get an A. Just as you’d probably learn computer basics better if taught by someone who had to work to acquire mastery rather than by a born computer whiz, the same is true of most undergraduate courses. To be licensed to teach, prospective instructors should have to complete a pedagogy boot camp, a one-weekend to one-semester intensive, which ironically, in most colleges, is required of teaching assistants but not of professors.

Most courses would be taught via online interactive video, which would both save much money—no campus required—and allow a dream team of the world’s most transformational instructors to teach. That way, everyone—from the poorest, weakest student to the most brilliant—would have access to the best in interactive instruction. In addition, the online format allows for individualized pacing and exciting simulations impossible to provide in a nation’s worth of live classes.

Extracurriculars would occur at local gyms, swimming pools, theaters and athletic fields. Where those were insufficient, facilities on existing campuses would be used, but much of campuses could be sold off.

Importantly, courses would not be attached to any institution. Anyone could submit his or her course for approval to the U.S. Department of Education. Screening would be done only for quality and rigor, not for censorship of content. If approved, the instructor, when posting availability of the course on one of the existing MOOC sites (Coursera, edX or Udemy), could include a badge saying the course is U.S. government–approved for X units of undergraduate credit. When a student has completed the specified number and type of courses to comprise a bachelor’s degree, the student would submit proof of completion to the Department of Education, plus the results of a proctored exam that would assess if the student had acquired bachelor’s-level skills in reading, writing, critical thinking and mathematical reasoning. If so, they would be granted a U.S. bachelor’s degree.

The result would be a far better college education at far lower cost.

A high-quality pathway for academically weak students

Today, we push nearly everyone to college, even those who did poorly in high school, for whom college is unlikely to be the best way to spend their years and money. America needs a major apprenticeship initiative like those in Germany and England: a partnership between schools and employers that creates a high-quality experience for high schoolers whose track record indicates they’re more likely to succeed in a practical curriculum than by deriving geometric theorems, deciphering the intricacies of Milton or applying quantum mechanics.

In the meantime, what to do?

Higher education’s glacial pace of change, despite years of withering criticism, does not portend major improvement in the offing. So what’s the current crop of would-be college attendees to do?

Attending college should not be a fait accompli. If you did poorly in high school or are burned out on academics, you’re likely to join the almost half of college freshmen who don’t graduate even if given six years. So you might want to consider a noncollege path. For example, while not ideal, America does have a system of apprenticeships. Or try to work at the elbow of a successful, ethical business owner or nonprofit executive. Or consider the military: It offers training in a wide range of career fields. Or take just a gap semester or year to refresh and edify yourself in the real world before starting college. Try some focused traveling—for example, visit elementary schools in different areas and keep a blog. Or start a simple business. Even if it fails, you will have learned much about entrepreneurship, organization, people and life.

A College Report Card

If you are planning to attend college, you’ll make a wiser choice if you ask each prospective school’s admissions office for the following information, which collectively make up what I call the College Report Card:

  • Results of the most recent student-satisfaction survey.
  • The most recent report by a visiting accreditation team (for a college to retain accreditation, a team of experts periodically visits for a few days and writes a report listing the identified strengths, weaknesses and recommendations).
  • The four-year graduation rate.
  • The average four-year student’s growth in writing, analytic reasoning and mathematical reasoning (many institutions use a standardized exam like the Collegiate Learning Assessment).
  • The percentage of students who graduate with their intended major who are professionally employed or in graduate school within six months of graduation.

It would be a consumer boon if the government mandated that all colleges post the College Report Card on their home page.

We claim that American higher education is the world’s best. Like many claims, it deserves closer examination.

Marty Nemko is an award-winning career coach, writer, speaker and public radio host specializing in career/workplace issues and education reform. His writings and radio programs are archived on www.martynemko.com.

Read next: The War on Teacher Tenure

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Education

Harvard Professors Say New Sex Assault Policy Is ‘Stacked Against the Accused’

Letter to university signed by 28 well-known academics

More than two dozen current and former Harvard Law School professors asked the university to reverse its new, more stringent sexual assault policy, arguing in a letter published Tuesday that the new rules unfairly disadvantage students accused of misconduct.

The new policy, which took effect this fall, includes a provision that requires a “preponderance of evidence” to determine whether sexual assault occurred and creates a university-wide Office for Sexual and Gender-Based Dispute Resolution to handle misconduct complaints like harassment and rape, the Boston Globe reports.

It was announced after the U.S. Department of Education said in May that the Ivy League university was being investigated for its handling of those and similar claims.

The letter, which was signed by 28 well-known academics, alleges the new guidelines “are overwhelmingly stacked against the accused.”

Harvard disagreed in a statement Tuesday, saying the new guidelines “create an expert, neutral, fair, and objective mechanism for investigating sexual misconduct cases involving students.”

[Boston Globe]

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: September 30

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. China’s real battle is for the hearts and minds of Hong Kong. And China is losing.

By Rachel Lu in Foreign Policy

2. California’s new ‘Yes means yes’ consent law is an important first step toward ending America’s campus sexual assault epidemic.

By Robin Wilson in the Chronicle of Higher Education

3. The English language makes it harder for students to learn math.

By Sue Shellenbarger in the Wall Street Journal

4. Long lines at polling places dampen turnout and disproportionately hit poor and minority communities. States must devote the resources to making voting work.

By Chris Kromm in Facing South

5. To direct financial aid where it is most needed, colleges should focus on first-generation students.

By Tomiko Brown-Nagin in TIME

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Education

Why Women’s Colleges Are Opening the Door for Men

Student working at desk in library
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An effort to stop declining enrollment

Wilson College, a small women’s school in Pennsylvania, came close to shutting down once before. But a swell of opposition from staff and students in 1979 and a fundraising effort that raised $1.1 million in less than three months kept the college in business. Facing a similarly dire falloff in enrolled students and tuition revenue this year, the school turned to what it said is the only option for survival—admitting men.

One of a few dozen remaining women’s colleges in the U.S., Wilson said it can no longer afford to serve only half the population. While overall college enrollment has gone up by about 32% since 2000, enrollment at women-only colleges has fallen during that time by 29%. As a result, more women’s colleges are going co-ed. There were as many as 200 women’s colleges in 1960, according to the National Institute on Postsecondary Education. Today that number hovers around 44, as schools facing sluggish enrollment are forced to find ways to survive.

In the last two years, at least three other women’s colleges have gone coed or announced plans to. The first male students at William Peace University in Raleigh matriculated in 2012. Georgian Court University in New Jersey went co-ed last year. And Chatham University in Pittsburgh will admit men starting next fall.

At Wilson, undergraduate enrollment has been chronically low for 40 years, according to school spokesman Brian Speer. At its peak, the college enrolled 732 students, but it hasn’t had more than 338 since 1980. Last year, just under 600 applicants were offered admission—but only 100 chose to attend. That prompted the board of trustees to approve President Barbara Mistick’s plan to admit undergraduate men.

The process began last fall with undergraduate male commuter students. Male students who are living on campus arrived this fall. The shift to co-ed is part of a broader revitalization plan that also includes a 17% tuition reduction and a loan buyback program.

“This college has been trying to implement programs for 30 years to address the stagnant enrollment in the undergraduate college,” Speer said.“Those efforts have not gotten us anywhere near where we need to be.”

Not everyone is on board. Students and alumni have formed two groups to protest the change. One, Wilson College Women, is led by lawyer and 1980 graduate Gretchen Van Ness; it has 465 members on its Facebook page. Another, Wild Wilson Women, has more than 1,400 members.

Van Ness, who sat on the commission that made suggestions to Mistick, said it didn’t support coeducation as a way to boost enrollment. She accused the administration of breaking state Department of Education protocol that requires it to propose amendments to the college’s articles of incorporation and wait for approval before making changes. The college filed an application to change its charter with the state last year but didn’t wait for approval before admitting male commuter students that fall. Instead, Van Ness and others said, the college immediately advertised itself as co-ed, hired coaches for male athletic teams, and started preparing dorms for male residential students. Van Ness said this is illegal but Wilson maintains that changes to its charter in 1993 gave it permission to admit men.

“All of a sudden, Wilson’s identity as a women’s college had just disappeared,” Van Ness said.

In June, the women behind Wilson College Women were granted a hearing at the state Department of Education, where they made the case for state intervention that would block any further undergraduate coed operations at the school. The Department has not said when it will issue a ruling.

At Chatham University, the decision to admit men was much less controversial.

“It’s been a topic of conversation for 20 years. The idea was to keep the undergraduate women’s college and diversify the graduate programs,” said school spokesman Bill Campbell.

In 1992, men were invited to apply to graduate and other programs. Enrollment was temporarily boosted by the move, but it went down again in 2008.

“Less and less women are interested in women’s colleges today,” Campbell said.“Can we feasibly continue to put this much money to this mission decision?”

At Chatham, Campbell said the decision to admit men was proactive—the school relied on a February report from Standard & Poor’s that predicted the next few years to be especially tough for small, narrowly-focused colleges as an indication of trouble to come. Chatham got a low BBB- rating in the report.

Admitting men can be a financial solution for struggling schools, but it’s important for women to have a range of choices when they pick a college, said Marilyn Hammond, president of the Women’s College Coalition.

“What’s at stake is that there will be limits again to the options women have if women’s colleges don’t exist,” she said.

At Wilson, Van Ness and other opponents said they hope the state will protect that option. Van Ness was a junior and president of the student government at Wilson in 1979, when faculty and students protested the school’s closure, which was eventually blocked by a judge.

“We made history once,” Van Ness said. “As tough as it is out there in the constantly changing world of higher education, there is still a place for women’s colleges.”

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education-news outlet based at Teachers College, Columbia University.

TIME Education

This Exclusive Hotel Chain Is Teaching Colleges How To Treat Students

University College students
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It's part of an effort to serve students as customers

The audience is rapt as the man in the impeccably tailored black suit describes the secrets that have made his multibillion-dollar company an international leader in customer service.

They’re here to find out how to do a better job of it themselves, in this case from a general manager in the Ritz-Carlton hotel chain, at whose suburban St. Louis location this three-day conference is taking place.

It’s common for business leaders to seek out ideas that can improve their own customer service and employee morale. But the people in this audience are in the business of something that seems far removed from high-end hotels: They’re college presidents and administrators, mostly from community and technical schools. The conference was organized by the Continuous Quality Improvement Network, or CQIN, a small and little-known organization that uses private-sector lessons from companies — including Disney, Kimberly-Clark, Southwest Airlines, and Ritz-Carlton — to improve the notoriously impersonal and bureaucratic front-office student support functions blamed for worsening the already high college dropout rate.

“There’s almost a confrontational relationship with students in some places,” says John Politi, CQIN’s executive director.

Among the examples of higher education’s bad customer service: Registrars, financial-aid offices, and academic advisors are often spread out in separate offices open only during business hours in an era when increasing numbers of students go to school at night or on the weekends. And even when they are on duty, there can be long waits, since there’s an average of only one academic advisor for every 400 students, according to the advocacy organization Complete College America.

Increasing numbers of students who are the first in their families to go to college struggle to cut through this red tape and end up piling up and paying for credits they don’t need. Research by the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University, found that half of community-college students don’t even know advising is available to them.

“We’re a people business,” says Gayle Saunders, president of Richland Community College in Illinois and an at-large member of the CQIN executive board. “Yet we found out we had a number of places where it was easy for students to exit our colleges and maybe not ever come back.”

The first hurdle to addressing this is regarding students as customers. That may seem like a minor semantic distinction but Politi says higher education wrestles mightily with it.

“The ‘customer’ issue is alive and well,” he says. “The mindset, particularly from faculty members, is that a customer is always right, and they will not accept the concept that the student is always right.”

Jackson College President Daniel Phelan says it’s possible to cater to customers without compromising students.

“They are customers until the moment they walk into the classroom,” Phelan says of pupils at the Mississippi school. “Then they become students.”

Lee Rasch, president of Western Technical College in Wisconsin and a past president of CQIN, urges his faculty to compare students to members of a health or fitness club.

“Obviously, they need to take their own responsibility for their fitness or wellness regimen,” Rasch says. “But there are also things we can do that make a huge difference for the student — the customer.”

To Laura Helminski, a retired faculty member at Rio Salado College in Arizona who is active in CQIN, this sort hair-splitting misunderstands how many students think. “Our students say, ‘Damn tootin’ I’m a customer,’” she says. “‘I’m paying all this money to go here.’”

It was Helminski who instructed the higher-education types at the conference to pick up their pencils after Ritz-Carlton general manager Doug Chang left the stage (quipping, before he did, “You’re not our usual group”) and make the audacious comparison of their experiences in the elegant hotel with students’ perceptions of their campuses.

“’We’re here to help you,’” she says, summarizing the Ritz staff’s credo. “Translate that back to your own organization. You have places marked, ‘No students.’ ‘Faculty parking only.’ What kind of message does that send?”

The point of all of these exercises seems stunningly self-evident: that students should be at the center of what colleges do.

“My boss is not the board. My boss is not the president. My boss is not the academic vice president,” says Tom Thibodeau, who teaches a management philosophy called “servant leadership” at Viterbo University in Wisconsin, where many students are the children of area farmers. “My boss is a farmer.”

There’s a practical reason for this renewed emphasis on the consumer, says Davis Jenkins, a senior research associate at the Community College Research Center. As states cut the amount they spend on higher education, public universities and colleges have become increasingly dependent on tuition.

“And the more they rely on tuition, the more they’re going to have to have programs that lead somewhere, and to have programs that lead somewhere, they have to be responsive,” Jenkins says.

At Western Technical College, everyone who works on the president’s floor of the administration building holds something akin to the daily employee lineup at Ritz-Carlton hotels. The goal is to be as prepared for problems with students or other employees as the Ritz-Carloton is for upcoming functions and arriving guests.

At Richland Community College, new employees go through eight hours of training in practices modeled on principles of customer service from the Disney theme parks, including moderating their tone of voice and never considering a conversation finished until the customer is satisfied.

“It’s a very personal approach,” says Saunders, Richland’s president. “We don’t let you go until we’ve got everything taken care of that you need.”

A monthly performance scorecard the school uses to track things such as the number of students who are on track to degrees and the number getting jobs when they finish was based on a concept used by the Poudre Valley Health System in Colorado. “It’s focused on measuring what we’re doing and continuously trying to improve it every day,” says Saunders.

The presidents say these changes have lowered their number of dropouts and increased their graduation rates—dramatically, in some cases—though CQIN is only now beginning to collect statistics about this.

“We are large businesses and need to be entrepreneurial, even if we are nonprofit,” Saunders says.

Without that urgency, Phelan says, “we’re going to be less and less relevant to more and more people.”

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education-news outlet affiliated with Teachers College, Columbia University.

TIME Education

The Reason College Costs More Than You Think

The Lyceum, oldest building on the campus of the University of Mississippi on April 12, 2008 in Oxford, Mississippi.
The Lyceum, the oldest building on the campus of the University of Mississippi Wesley Hitt—Getty Images

Freshmen say they’ll finish in four years, but most will be paying tuition for five or six years

When Alex Nichols started as a freshman at the University of Mississippi, he felt sure he’d earn his bachelor’s degree in four years. Five years later, and Nichols is back on the Oxford, Miss. campus for what he hopes is truly his final semester.

“There are a lot more students staying another semester or another year than I thought there would be when I got here,” Nichols says. “I meet people once a week who say, ‘Yes, I’m a second-year senior,’ or, ‘I’ve been here for five years.’”

They’re likely as surprised as Nichols still to be toiling away in school.

Nearly nine out of 10 freshmen think they’ll earn their bachelor’s degrees within the traditional four years, according to a nationwide survey conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA. But the U.S. Department of Education reports that fewer than half that many actually will. And about 45 percent won’t have finished even after six years.

That means the annual cost of college, a source of so much anxiety for families and students, often overlooks the enormous additional expense of the extra time it will actually take to graduate.

“It’s a huge inconvenience,” says Nichols, whose college career has been prolonged for the common reason that he changed majors and took courses he ended up not needing. His athletic scholarship — Nichols was a middle-distance runner on the cross-country team — ran out after four years. “I had to get some financial help from my parents.”

The average added cost of just one extra year at a four-year public university is $63,718 in tuition, fees, books, and living expenses, plus lost wages each of those many students could have been earning had they finished on time, according to the advocacy group Complete College America.

A separate report by the Los Angeles-based Campaign for College Opportunity finds that the average student at a California State University campus who takes six years instead of four to earn a bachelor’s degree will spend an additional $58,000 and earn $52,900 less over their lifetimes than a student who graduates on time, for a total loss of $110,900.

“The cost of college isn’t just what students and their families pay in tuition or fees,” says Michele Siqueiros, the organization’s executive director. “It’s also about time. That’s the hidden cost of a college education.”

So hidden that most families still unknowingly plan on four years for a bachelor’s degree, says Sylvia Hurtado, director of the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA.

Although the institute does not poll parents in its annual survey, “that high percentage of freshmen [who are confident they’ll finish in four years] is probably reflecting their parents’ expectation — ‘This is costing me a lot, so you’re going to be out in four years.’ So the students think, ‘Sure, why not?’ I don’t think the parents even initially entertain or plan for six years or some possible outcome like that.”

Yet many students almost immediately doom themselves to taking longer, since they register for fewer courses than they need to stay on track. Surveys of incoming freshmen in California and Indiana who said they expected to graduate in four years found that half signed up for fewer courses than they’d needed to meet that goal, according to a new report by the higher-education consulting firm HCM Strategists.

It’s not entirely the students’ fault.

More than half of community-college students are slowed down by having to retake subjects such as math and reading that they should have learned in high school, says Complete College America. And at some schools, budget cuts have made it difficult to register for the courses students do need to take. Two-thirds of students at one California State University campus weren’t able to get into their required courses, according to a 2010 study by the University of California’s Civil Rights Project.

Most state financial-aid programs, meanwhile, cover only four years. “They do not fund a fifth or sixth year,” says Stan Jones, president of Complete College America and a former Indiana commissioner of higher education. “And by that time the parents’ resources and the students’ resources have run out. So that fifth year is where you borrow.”

Students at the most elite colleges and universities tend not to have this problem, which means that schools with some of the highest annual tuition can turn out to be relative bargains. These schools “would have a revolt if their students had to go a fifth year,” Jones says. “But that recognition has really not hit the public sector yet, about the hidden cost of that extra year.”

Policymakers urge speeding students through remedial classes more quickly, adding more sections of required courses so students can get in when they need them, and encouraging students to take 15 credits per semester instead of the typical 12.

Change won’t come soon enough for Nichols, who is determined that it won’t take more than one extra semester to finish his degree in integrated marketing communications.

“That’s time you’re wasting,” he says, “that you could be out making money.”

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education-news outlet affiliated with Teachers College, Columbia University.

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