The next week marks an important time for the 2012 presidential election. The competition for the GOP candidate position heats up, with Michigan and Arizona holding their primaries today and with Super Tuesday just around the corner. As front-runner Mitt Romney is heavily favored to win the popular vote in Arizona (and will therefore be granted all its delegates), the focus of today is concentrated around Michigan’s primary―Romney’s home state. The formula used by Michigan to distribute its 30 delegates is based on its 14 congressional districts, with each district awarding two. The remaining two delegates will be awarded to the candidate that wins the overall state popular vote. This means that Romney and his biggest competitor Rick Santorum, could both walk away gaining the same amount of delegates.
Although Santorum trails Romney in terms of total number of delegates already accumulated, a loss in Romney’s home state could be a big factor down the line. Initially, Romney thought he had Michigan on lockdown; “Romney was born and raised in Michigan. He has vastly outspent his rivals in the state, won coveted endorsements, and until two weeks ago had a comfortable lead in the polls.” (boston.com) Not to mention his father, George W. Romney, was governor of Michigan during the 60’s.
A loss here could cause people to start reevaluating their loyalties and turn their considerations towards Santorum. The former senator of Pennsylvania, Santorum, has strengthened his campaign by upsetting Romney in the Colorado primary and gathering other wins in Iowa, Missouri, and Minnesota. Performing well in Michigan, a general-election swing state, today could prove to be valuable in the future. It would also help build momentum for Super Tuesday (March 6th) when Massachusetts, Ohio, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Alaska, Idaho, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, and Georgia all vote.
Head here for more opinions on this year’s election race.
The installment of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was initially seen as a breakthrough step in helping all children reach academic proficiency standards while simultaneously helping to create better schools and educators. But as Bush’s education law celebrates its 10th birthday, many are finally realizing that NCLB’s promise was just too good to be true. Now critics are labeling the law as federal overreach and insisting that changes have to be made to alter the Act’s impractical expectations. Here are the highlights of NCLB, so you can decide for yourself.
How it was designed:
- States must individually develop achievement standards if they are to receive Federal funding
- Within each state, all students in the same grade must complete the required basic skills assessment
- Schools will be publicly labeled based on their test results, to increase accountability on a school and teacher level
- By the year 2014, every child will test on grade level in reading and math
- The Act brought awareness to neglected schools where many thought performance was normal
- Based on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), test scores in reading and math improved in several age groups, particularly within the lowest-achieving students
- According to the National Council for Disabilities (NCD), NCLB has changed the attitude towards students with disabilities by including them within the statewide standards
- The importance of standardized testing altered the material being taught in class, encouraging teachers to focus on a more narrow set of skills (think less art, science, and history, more reading and math) just so they can pass the assessment
- High-performing and gifted students are now receiving less attention than other students and have seen slower progress
- Thousands of schools were labeled as failures (a term that becomes less inspiring year after year)
- The gains seen based on test scores have plateaued, perhaps signaling the need for an update
To gain more insight on the No Child Left Behind debate, click here.
An Open Letter to Obama: Everyone knows college is too expensive, so here’s what you can do about it
Dear President Obama,
In certain ways I think you have to identify with the Occupy movement, even if it’s a political burden to say anything definitively in favor of economic equality. You and your wife had $120,000 in student debt after finishing school, right? I suspect the economy was a little better, though—better poised to allow the pursuit of ambitions. Still, you worked hard and paid it off. That’s admirable.
But as of November, there are more than four unemployed Americans for every open job , so the mantra of “just get a job you lazy occupier” only works for those Wall Street cronies, who’ve demonstrated, once again, how bad they are at math. Irony of the decade, perhaps?
But let’s take politics out of it and address something everyone can agree is a problem: the cost of a higher education, which is a source of many headaches, both in a rhetorical sense, since we all like to argue about who’s to blame and why, and in a fiscal one, since debt-burdens are heavier than ever. Both are results of a bipartisan failure to act—since your administration and a Republican-dominated Congress can’t seem to do anything but sit on talk shows and fight.
I’ve already written much on how to help manage student debt and why it’s not the best idea to forgive it outright, but would like to take the opportunity to remind you that the federal government supplements state-based higher education budgets in the amount of about $100 billion annually via student-based aid, like low-rate loans and grant money.
That means the federal government has leverage over both public and private universities because of the large amount of money you directly contribute to students, who in turn directly pay tuition bills, meaning you should be more involved in how universities, even private ones, spend their money. That money came from you and your money came from us. I’d say it’s an issue of consumer protection: tuition rates are increasing twice as fast as inflation and yet the degrees we’re earning seem worth less than the cost of getting them.
We’ll save a discussion on the value of degrees over a lifetime of potential earnings for later. This is about a more immediate matter: the original cost.
There’s a million things colleges spend their money on. And while each of those things add up, I’m going to focus on the primary expense besides infrastructure: the cost of actually educating, which is a question of staff and faculty size, hours worked, and number of classes taught.
- What to note about students and their performance
- Efficiency is key. The more students a school can educate without increasing the amount of resources they expend while educating them, the lower the total cost. That means poor performance costs schools more money. Student who fail and retake classes, or take more classes than they need, are a larger financial burden than students who finish school quickly.
- What to note about faculty and their workload
- Ever since college replaced high school as the “standard of education”—as in, these days everyone goes—there’s been a trend in academics: competition for talent. Schools swoon over intellects and attract them with high-paying jobs and the promise of small teaching loads, leaving them time to research and write. That means they have to hire more faculty to teach the same number of classes, or compensate more graduate students to teach entry-level courses. Either way the economics are bad: more pay and less work.
Given that four-year graduation rates by state hover between 40-60% (according the New America Foundations’ Federal Education Budget Project) and the efficiency of teaching has gone down, it’s no surprise that tuition prices increase twice as fast as inflation.
Except those are things we can change. And when we do change them, costs will shrink and hopefully those savings will be passed on to the consumer—I say “consumer” because, if we’re honest, we have to admit that higher education isn’t a public service anymore, it’s an industry—in the form of a tuition freeze. Or, at the very least, a slower rate of increase in tuition prices over time. Here’s how:
All merit-based and some need-based aid should become performance-based. Just because someone performed well in the past doesn’t mean they’ll perform well in college. All merit-based aid originating at universities should come with a requisite: no failing classes and students must finish their degree in four years. If a student can’t meet those requirements, they must forfeit their aid. And if they don’t graduate at all, they must pay it back. Likewise, some need-based federal aid, like Pell grants, should also be performance-based, which will encourage low-income students to work harder and finish school faster. Free money should come with expectations. And succeeding should come with rewards.
Hold schools responsible for the success of their students. If the federal government instituted a policy of “selective aid”—meaning the Department of Education only provides subsidized aid and free grant money, like Pell grants, to students attending universities meeting specific guidelines, such as high graduation rates—then schools across the board will be motivated to teach more efficiently because their budgets are on the line.
Introduce new methodology into the classroom. Give the Old Guard the boot in favor of new teaching methods. The University of Maryland cut the rate of students receiving D’s and F’s in chemistry from 30% to 15% by reducing lectures in favor of group work: students teamed up in fours, asking questions and engaging professors directly. That means all those students who would’ve failed don’t need to retake the class, and that class doesn’t need as many sections or professors teaching it. That lowers the university’s cost.
Increase the required teaching load. Sure, high-profile faculty attract more students, but if they’re courted to schools with high salaries and small teaching loads with the promise of much time for research or writing, they only bolster the university’s reputation instead of their bottom line. In fact, the Chronicle of Higher Education asked an interesting question about the effect of such practices on tuition prices, then dug through Texas university data and discovered something surprising. In their own words: “What if the 80 percent of the faculty with the lowest teaching load taught only half as much as the top 20 percent, and the money saved (from needing fewer faculty to teach) was used to reduce tuition fees, how much could they be reduced? The answer: over 50 percent.” In Texas, that’d save students about $4,250 annually.
The point, Mr. President, is that we’re dealing with a struggling economy, a huge debt-load, and few prospects of improvement. The solution to the educational debt crisis, then, is more important than ever. And it’s not just about restructuring income-based repayment for federal aid or even boosting federal aid funding as a whole. We need to attack the problem where it starts: on campus.
The holidays are a blessing and a curse. For college students, it means a vacation from your dorm or apartment you share with a roommate who never does the dishes. It means peace and quiet from constant talk of your top job prospects after you graduate. It means a return to home-cooked meals, your family and your friends to celebrate and ring in the New Year.
The bad news? Traveling
The holidays are the peak time of year for planes, trains and automobiles, but the worst time for travelers. Mostly because there are too many of them: the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) reported that holiday travel, especially over the winter, increases 23% above average. On average, 3.2 million more people travel during the holidays than they do the rest of the year. Given that huge increase travel, ticket prices always sky-rocket and a quick trip home can end up costing college students some big bucks. According to the BTS, the average price of an Amtrak ticket has increased around $10, the air travel price index, a method used to gauge the average cost of air travel, has increased around 15 points and the average price of gasoline increased $1 per gallon. As a student, paying those prices to travel means you’ll have to keep an eye out for high paying jobs after graduation.
Unfortunately, it’s not only the cost of travel that’s increasing. Many modes of transportation are becoming less effective. Amtrak, for one, has been on a downhill slide. In the past two years alone, their trains have dropped from 85% on-time to just around 70% on-time. Car travel also seems to be on the decline. The total number of miles traveled peaked in August of 2007 at 271 billion, according to the BTS. Since then traffic hasn’t come close to those numbers. Peak travel times are consistently lower year after year.
During the holidays especially, everything is in motion, all at once. So even though your last exam is graded and filed, your vacation doesn’t really start until you’ve navigated the check-in lines, ticket counters and miles upon miles of brake lights. Airline delays, traffic jams and train breakdowns are just a few things you could encounter in trying to get home this year for the holidays.
Just remember to leave early to allow for delays. And despite the doom and gloom of transportation, you’ll make it home. Think of the positive things: home-cooked meals and free laundry will be yours soon enough.
Evan Thomas is a senior at UCSB studying architecture and the environment. He also interns for FindTheData.org, an unbiased comparison engine based in Santa Barbara, CA. He is currently working on a career forecast tool that will help college students decide what career field to enter after graduation.