Reconsidering Financial Aid Policies

Financial aid is a tool that has multiple purposes and is being used strategically to meet the goals of educational institutions. And it’s a problem. Basic public policy says if you have a lot of goals and not enough tools, then you’re going to run into problems. And that’s really what’s going on now—that we’re using one tool to meet all these frequently conflicting goals. You can’t talk about financial aid in isolation. . . . The reason that you need so much financial aid is because you have this high tuition, and one reason tuition is so high is because there’s a lot of money going to financial aid, and that’s a problem. You can’t actually talk about whether tuition is too high without thinking about how much students are actually paying, because so many students are not paying that high price. . . . And financial aid is not separate from admissions. When we talk about financial aid policies, we tend to think about, Is it need based? Is it merit based? When you talk about need-blind admissions, you think, Are we admitting students without regard to their financial circumstances? Or do we say, We don’t have that much money to give out, so we’ve got to have some students who can pay the bill?

— Sandy Baum, Professor Emerita of Economics, Skidmore College, from her talk, “Financial Aid: Moral Imperative or Unsustainable Burden?” March 5, 2013, sponsored by the University Senate

Geometric Expansion in Higher Education

If the knowledge base is expanding geometrically, certainly the course catalogue ought to expand geometrically as well, right? And it does. There is almost no defense against admitting any new course to the curriculum. We do it regularly. We do it over and over again. . . . What underlies the propensity [to expand] in part, is that we’ve turned ourselves into independent contractors. We like to teach what we know best. In a radically expanding knowledge base, we actually know less and less of the knowledge base, so we spend more time teaching the slice we know.

— Robert Zemsky Robert W. Woodruff Professor and Chair of the Learning Alliance for Higher Education at the University of Pennsylvania, from his talk, “A Faculty Encamped Just North of Armageddon,” December 4, 2012, sponsored by the University Senate

The Changing Face of Higher Education

At many private universities, a large fraction of the undergraduate teaching is already done by non-tenure track faculty, which some research, including my own, suggests may have an adverse effect on student outcomes. We need to figure out ways to use technology, simultaneously reduce instructional cost, and improve educational outcomes, especially in large introductory classes. And although MOOCs (massive open online courses) are in vogue now, and Emory has jumped on the bandwagon, we really don’t know what their effects are likely to be. However, there has been very careful work done by the National Center for Academic Transformation and the Carnegie Mellon University Open Learning Initiative, both of which suggest that introductory classes in a wide variety of subject matter areas can be redesigned with the use of technology to promote active learning, enhance course persistence, and reduce costs. The question is, why haven’t these things caught on very, very quickly? One answer is that such a movement is often not supported by faculty, especially senior faculty like me, who either do not want to put the time into completely restructuring how they offer classes—it’s very convenient for me to keep doing things the way I have been doing them in the past and leave it to younger people to bear the brunt of the changes—or the faculty also worry that the savings achieved will result in smaller departmental size and fewer colleagues. And the answer is they probably will, but that may be necessary.

— Ronald G. Ehrenberg, Irving M. Ives Professor of Industrial and Labor Relations and Economics, Cornell University, from his talk “Is the Golden Age of Private Research Universities Over?”, October 23, 2012, sponsored by the University Senate