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Major Banks Back Away from Loans to Community College Students June 6, 2008

Posted by twilightandreason in Higher Education.
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Note: The Black on Campus blog has now moved to blackoncampus.com. This is an excerpt. Read the entire post at Blackoncampus.com.

Today’s New York Times reports that the current credit crisis has triggered an unprecedented retreat from community colleges by several of the nation’s major banks. These banks include Citibank, JP Morgan Chase, SunTrust and PNC. Banks have also begun to drop certain 4-year institutions, including less competitive and for-profit schools…

[Read the rest of this post at Blackoncampus.com]

Congress Acts to Stem the Tide of Rising Textbook Costs April 25, 2008

Posted by twilightandreason in Higher Education.
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Getting into college is only the first step. To successfully complete an undergraduate program a student must have textbooks; and every student (past or present) who has been all or partly responsible for shouldering the cost of their books knows that simply being able to afford the high cost of college textbooks can be a challenge in and of itself.

The high cost of textbooks disproportionately impacts Black, Latin American, and Native American students, the great majority of whom receive financial aid, and a significant proportion of whom are first-generation college matriculants. For these students, the exorbitant price of some college texts poses a much greater financial hardship than decreasing the amount of money available for clothing and entertainment. Such students often fund their school books through part-time or full-time work, the proceeds from which must also cover housing, food, tuition and — for these often uninsured students — any healthcare costs. For students with children, the financial hardship of inflated textbook prices is amplified.

The shocking cost of many college textbooks also conveys a powerfully elitist message about the culture of higher education, a message that can undermine the success of students for whom the college environment — with it’s upper-middle class and 2nd- and 3rd-generation college matriculants — can feel like an alien environment in which the scholarship student, the student of color, and/or the first-generation student is an interloper or imposter. For these and other economically marginalized students, the experience of walking into the campus bookstore and realizing that the price of the required texts exceeds his or her available funds can be a sad reinforcement of that student’s deepest doubts about whether or not he or she even belongs in school.

In a surprising but welcome move, however, the U.S. House of Representatives has taken important steps toward alleviating the burden of textbook costs for all students on campus. An editorial in today’s New York Times describes the magnitude of this problem and Congress’s pending legislation on the issue:

College students and their families are rightly outraged about the bankrupting costs of textbooks that have nearly tripled since the 1980s, mainly because of marginally useful CD-ROMs and other supplements. A bill pending in Congress would require publishers to sell “unbundled” versions of the books — minus the pricey add-ons. Even more important, it would require publishers to reveal book prices in marketing material so that professors could choose less-expensive titles.

Like the Times editors, I agree that this is “a good first step”; but unbundling college textbooks will only address one aspect of the problem. Even unbundled, textbooks are grotesquely overpriced, with some books costing $100.00 or more, and all of this for a book that will have little resale value, because students in subsequent years will likely be forced to purchased a newer edition.

The Times editorial poses several possible solutions to this problem:

[…] colleges and universities will need to embrace new methods of textbook development and distribution if they want to rein in runaway costs. That means using digital textbooks, which can often be presented online free of charge or in hard copies for as little as one-fifth the cost of traditional books. The digital books can also be easily customized and updated.

The editorial also highlights some initiatives already in place to reduce the cost to students of required course materials:

Schools are beginning to balk at outrageous pricing. Rice University offers textbooks for some classes free online and charges a nominal fee for the printed version. A new company called Flat World Knowledge, based in Nyack, N.Y., plans to offer online textbooks free and hopes to make its profit by selling supplemental materials like study guides and hard copies printed on demand.

In my opinion, schools cannot embrace textbook cost reform fast enough. Politicians, pundits, and social activists across the nation are decrying Black students’ alleged belief that education is a “white thing.” I do not, in fact, believe that this is true; but if it was — if the prevailing belief among Black youth was, indeed, that book learnin’ is a white thing — then I say, who can blame them. Nothing conveys that education is for rich, white people only, like the discovery that the cost of a single textbook for your calculus course is $178.00.

Posted by Ajuan Mance

The Best Schools in Life Are Free? April 20, 2008

Posted by twilightandreason in Higher Education.
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There is a truth that high school guidance counselors and college admission officers know. Some veteran teachers and coaches know it too, as do a growing number of college journalists. It’s a truth that seems, on its surface, to contradict common sense, conventional wisdom , and handed-down knowledge regarding the cost of a college education; and yet — strangely enough — it remains hidden from those students and families whom it would benefit the most.

The simple truth to which I refer is this: despite the higher stated cost for tuition, private colleges and universities are the cheaper, more cost-effective choice for students, especially those coming from low- and middle-income families. This was the case even before the recent trend among highly selective institutions toward 1)replacing student loans with grant aid for students at all levels, and 2)eliminating tuition costs altogether for students whose families fall within the middle and lower economic brackets.

A short 5 years ago, well before this trend began, the generous need-based financial aid pacakges offered by many of America’s wealthiest private colleges and universities brought the actual cost to students and their families of — to name one example — a Duke University education below the cost of a UNC – Chapel Hill education, even for in-state students, and especially for students at the lowest income levels.

With 1) the recent elimination of loan aid in favor of grant aid for students at all levels, 2 ) the full remission of college tuition for virtually all middle-income students, and 3) the full funding (tuition, room, and board) for working-class and poor students and their families, selective private institutions have become the option of choice for competitive college applicants needing financial assistance. Ironically, though, the affordability of private colleges and universities relative to their public counterparts remains largely overlooked by many who might seriously wish to consider this option, especially those who hail from some of the less affluent Black, Latino, and Native American communities. 

How much time will pass before this becomes widespread knowledge in low- and middle-income communities of color stands to be seen. So too does the long-term impact upon minority enrollments at selective public institutions, especially in states like California, in which prohibitions against affirmative action limit state universities’ ability to replace minority applicants drawn away from their campuses by the greater affordability of private education with students of color who present with less traditional qualifications.

Here is a list of those colleges and universities that have replaced loan aid with grant aid for students at all income levels: Amherst, Bowdoin, Claremont McKenna, Colby, Columbia, Dartmouth, Davidson, Harvard, Haverford, Pomona, Princeton, Stanford, Swarthmore, Williams Yale.

At the following institutions, parents who make $60,000.00 or less will be required to pay absolutely nothing towards the cost of their children’s college education: Columbia, Harvard, Stanford, Yale, Brown, Duke. 

For a complete list of private colleges and universities that have eliminated loans, tuition, and/or room and board for portions of their student bodies, take a look at this CHART that appeared on today’s NewYorkTimes.com website.

Posted by Ajuan Mance