The College World on Tilt- A 5 Step Action Plan to Require of Colleges
The predictable behavior of college has shown itself in full force over the last week. It all started with Brown University President Paxson broadcasting to the country “reopening colleges in the fall should be a national priority.” To provide a simple translation, what she is saying is- America, it is in your interest to allow us to continue in our golden-goose business model, our luxurious lifestyles, our prestige perception, and our high salaries.
Had she said it was their top priority, I would completely agree, but no, it’s not a national priority. You see, this is not a Covid-19 problem, rather it’s a problem that’s been caused by the very colleges themselves. Sure, Covid-19 has exposed the problem of colleges. What’s the problem?
For the past 20 years, colleges have done some very good things, such as expanding the breadth of college majors, study-abroad opportunities, and research development. Our Colleges are among the best in the world at delivering and extending (oh my) education, but not at delivering jobs! Imagine the hypocrisy of having the number one weighted factor that goes into college rankings as the 6-year graduation rate! Why isn’t it based on four years?
So, to begin with, college goals are not in alignment with student-family goals. That’s a serious business problem. Let us not forget, parents are the customer, the buyer. Colleges are the service provider, the seller.
With that in mind, during the worst recession that we have personally experienced, colleges have managed to double their price. We now have thirty colleges or so approaching the $80,000/ year cost. We have twenty state universities with a cost of $60,000/ year for out-of-state students. The national average cost of state universities for in-state students approximates $30,000/ year…all paid for with after-tax dollars.
Over the past five years, we’ve seen an overwhelming number of colleges convert their University Need-based Aid (the aid that does not have to be repaid) to student loans. I call this the Financialization of College. And they have the nerve to call loans financial aid as a way to trick the parents into buying what they have to sell, which is the Grand Illusion. They sell the illusion of grandeur, prestige, status, privilege, and obligation all designed to facilitate the emotional-purchase of a parent desperate to support their child at any cost.
During this past 20 years, colleges have spent billions of dollars to build up the Grand Illusion. They have invested mightily in fabulous sports facilities, luxurious dorms, gourmet cafeterias, and overall campus beauty. In doing so, they have become completely reliant on parent’s willingness to pay their ever-increasing price. Herein lies the answer to the question- what is causing the college tilt?
It’s not the coronavirus, rather, it’s the parent’s unwillingness to pay for the illusion any longer. It’s the shift in the mindset of parents who have been running scared of colleges for many years and all too willing to pay for the privilege of their association. As the summer of 2020 draws near, parents will take a stand against the college stance that everything will continue as normal, when in fact it’s not normal. Parents will not be willing to risk their family finance and retirement without greater assurance of achieving the end goal—JOB OPPORTUNITY.
The college tilt worsens each passing week. College dorms, cafeterias, and classrooms sat empty for the last two months, but that doesn’t worry me. Most colleges received sizable stimulus-package payments to cover it. Texas A&M received nearly $40,000,000. Harvard, a college with a $50 Billion endowment fund received nearly $10,000,000 as if they needed a penny. Couldn’t this money have gone to the local restauranteur, gym owner, or hairstylist who’s been shut down for the same two months?
Speaking of Harvard though, a prominent professor from there tweeted this week- “We can’t charge Harvard fees for a University of Phoenix education.” That’s refreshing to hear!
Now that the standard deadline for enrollment passed, several hundred colleges have announced an extended period for which an accepted student can enroll. The colleges will posture it by saying they are doing us a favor by not imposing their deadlines upon us, the general public. Of course, that’s false. Rather, the only reason they would extend the enrollment deadline is due to not having sufficient enrollments.
Colleges are trying their hardest to hold onto their golden-goose business model, to act as if everything will be back to normal in 3-4 months. Texas A&M just announced their plan to be open in the fall with their fill of students on campus and a plan to play football games in front of packed crowds.
Texas A&M Athletic Director Bjork just said yesterday- “The social distancing in a 100,000-seat stadium ... that could be challenging,” Bjork thinks filling their College Station Football Stadium in four months will be challenging. How about impossible, irresponsible, and reckless?
The college-tilt will continue in its downward spiral as we move through the summer and close in on the fall semester ahead. Their realization that freshmen enrollments are way down; the freshmen no-show rate will skyrocket; the student-return rate will plummet; and, international students may not have flights available. It’s all in the response of parents who want answers, assurances, solutions, and outcomes more now than ever before.
What scares colleges the most is they don’t have a clear sense yet how strong the parent-fortitude is at this time.
They have thrived on parents willing to give-in on this well-constructed perceived rite-of-passage known as college.
Colleges will underestimate the new parent-fortitude!
The colleges will spend more time dodging, defending, and deferring than planning, preparing, and adjusting. As a result, many known colleges may shutter in the next few years. The future existence and relevance of each college will depend on their immediate responses and decisions, which are lagging right now.
A classic example comes from a northeastern college (I’ll protect the name) having 2,000 students; an application acceptance rate of 77% (very high) to go with an enrollment rate of 11% (very low); an endowment fund (their reserves) of $150M; and having just spent $140M on a new high-rise dorm with the prospect of low attendance ahead. How are they feeling right now?
Although I love college as it’s been my work and passion for these same 20 years, let’s not be mistaken here, colleges have it coming. The game they’ve known and loved will now change forever for the good of America’s youth.
This is indeed a national matter of interest to the parents of young children who would’ve never been able to afford college otherwise. Hope is on the horizon for young families with the glass-ceiling of college cracked.
If colleges are to resume operations in the fall, it will not be normal as they wish it to be, but rather, it will begin to reflect college-in-the-new-normal. It will reflect the time that parents take back the power-position and assert their interests as a marketplace of buyers, onto the colleges as a source of educational services. Parents are in control.
Let’s start with the upcoming fall semester. For colleges to resume operations in the fall in a safe and affordable manner for their client-families and students, these are my 5 Step Actions of Parents to Require of Colleges.
Step # 1- The 50 / 50 Rule
My rule calls for 50% of the students to study on campus in the fall while 50% remain at home for taking online classes. In the spring, it reverses. This rule provides every student with experiencing one semester on campus while studying online (off-campus) in the other semester.
This will appease the students to some degree as they are now fearful of spending the entire next year at home… something of which the parents are also fearful. It also gives the colleges a stepping-stone year to prepare and plan for the new-normal college environment that lies ahead.
To go along with this, colleges must provide a 50% tuition-rate discount to students for the semester they spend off-campus studying online. This has to become a non-negotiable outcome. Colleges will work very hard to deflect this eventual policy, but in the end analysis, it is fair and reasonable for both sides.
Tuition rates must be capped for the next five years at a rate not to exceed the 2019 school-year rate. Parents have to insist upon this for safeguarding their own personal interests. It too is fair and reasonable for both sides.
An unfortunate result is that international students will automatically default into the Spring semester for their on-campus studies. The necessary safety procedures for providing an isolation-style quarantine of students upon arriving from out-of-country cannot possibly be in place by August. Most international student-families will see this as a suitable alternative to taking a year off or studying online at home for the year.
Step # 2- The Housing on-Campus Rule
With half the students studying on campus, the colleges should require all students to live in a dorm on campus.
To go with this, the college must provide a free meal plan for all dorm residents.
Room & Board rates need to be locked in and capped for five years based on the 2019 school-year rate.
This rule serves twofold: one, it limits exposure to the outside elements by keeping the students better contained on campus; and two, the free meal plan is a necessary cost discount for appealing to the families.
Step # 3- Eliminating the “Non-Essential”
When you think of college, can you identify and draw a line between essential versus non-essential activities?
I can. All education-related activities are essential. Therefore, by default non-educational activities are non-essential.
For the fall semester, it is necessary to eliminate non-essential activities. Unfortunately, this includes canceling all college sport team activities, such as games, practices, and group meetings. This will help preserve social-distancing matters as you just can’t have the close contact that comes with sports. It also eliminates the unnecessary health-risk exposure of teams and fans traveling between colleges.
In conjunction, visitors of the college need to be limited to people deemed to be "essential". This would limit visitors on campus to be either direct-family members or service-vendors.
To stick with the theme here, marketing mail is flooding student’s home mailboxes. It’s all generated upon a student’s SAT registration. Colleges buy the lists and begin with their mail. That’s a non-essential practice costing colleges millions of dollars each year without providing an ounce of educational benefit. It must come to an end. The money saved there would be much better utilized if spent on developing a Job-Resource Center…brilliant!
Step # 4- A Testing Policy
This action-step calls for the mutual participation and commitment of colleges, parents, and students to form a responsibility-alliance. It requires the college to perform adequate testing and screening of everyone on campus while monitoring, restricting, and tracking activities both on and off-campus.
There must be a unified understanding of responsibilities among the college, its students, and their parents. Each party must be able to rely on one another. Full compliance must be required by all involved.
Students and parents will need to sign a “Responsibility, Compliance, and Acceptance” document complete with certain legal waivers designed to prevent class-action lawsuits.
The testing-policy must include a consortium-arrangement among all colleges (by region) providing a collaborative effort for ensuring consistent application and full compliance among the various colleges.
Absent of an effective testing-policy, colleges would subject themselves to becoming a community “hot-zone”.
Should there be a Covid-19 breakout on campus, an entire community would be greatly affected. If this were to occur, massive lawsuits would follow. The only way to prevent this is to have a comprehensive testing policy accompanied by a signed document of “Responsibility, Compliance, and Acceptance.”
Step # 5- A 5-Year Plan, a 3-phase approach
Phase 1. College costs must be capped and restricted from further increases for five years. This will actually serve the college well to rid themselves of costs associated with non-essential activities and non-relevant programming.
It will facilitate the eventual outcome no matter their immediate distaste for it.
Phase 2. College degree-programs need to be streamlined by eliminating general-education and non-relevant courses. Some courses can be pushed back onto the high schools, some can be flatly eliminated. This plan has the potential of turning the traditional 4-year degree into a more-directed streamlined 3-year degree…saving parents thousands on college costs.
Phase 3. Colleges need to develop career-specific degree programs that would act as a double Master of Science program. It would be a 3-year, 60-credit program with the middle-year used as a co-op job-training year.
The outcome here is designed to turn colleges into job-resource centers converting non-essential expenses into job-essential activities. It will substantially decrease the cost of college to parents across America. It will deliver improved outcomes. And certainly, graduate-level programs can continue to exist.
Overall, I’m not suggesting for a moment that colleges have any level of willingness to go down this path. But in typical Economic Supply & Demand fashion, businesses eventually have to comply with market demands if they are to remain in business. Just because colleges don’t pay taxes doesn’t mean they’re not a business. Rather, they are very big businesses who are masters at carrying out their business model often to the detriment of their consumers.
It has now caught up to them. Their glass-ceiling has been cracked. The College World is in full tilt.
I have polled dozens of parents who have all insisted that they will not pay full tuition in the fall for their child to be at home taking online classes. Colleges need to hear that message clear in order to compel their officials to make the right decisions in making college affordable and accessible to the general public once again.
In constructing this complete plan, I’m giving parents a framework to follow which they can use for taking appropriate action. Parents across America are united in their desire for this course of action to materialize. It is on every parent’s mind who has a child in college or preparing for college. It is of great interest to every parent with grade-school children and younger.
Here’s my message to Brown University President Paxson- Making college accessible again to mainstream families across America is a national priority.