Dear Incoming College Freshman,

StandWithUs, Your Campus Partner For Israelimage007

Hey There College Freshman,

Congratulations on entering college! We’re guessing that you’re pretty excited right about now, and maybe even a little nervous. You’re entering a whole new world – one that offers you the opportunity to not only have fun and grow into the person you want to be, but also to meet new friends and make a positive impact on the people around you. Our team here at StandWithUs is excited for you, and we wanted you to know that we’re here to empower you in many different ways. From educational resources about Israel and connections with the pro-Israel community to grants and internship opportunities, we’ve got your back every step of the way. [Read more…]

Anti-Semitism On Campus

Do you wonder how today’s Jewish students’ college experience is different from yours?

In the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s film, “Crossing the Line 2,” the filmmaker takes the viewer along as he walks through the gauntlet of anti-Israel activists at several college campuses. The viewer gets to experience speakers being shouted down, professors assaulting students, and anti-Israel activists openly calling for the destruction of Israel. I am very ashamed that Temple University, my alma mater, is one of the schools featured in this film.

On May 14, a screening of the film will take place at Congregation Or Ami in Lafayette Hill. The film will be followed by a panel discussion between student representatives, guest speakers from U.S. universities, and student organizations.

The New Face of Anti-Semitism on Campus

Do you wonder how today’s Jewish students’ college experience is different from yours?

In the Jerusalem U‘s film, “Crossing the Line 2,” the filmmaker takes the viewer along as he walks through the gauntlet of anti-Israel activists at several college campuses. The viewer gets to experience speakers being shouted down, professors assaulting students, and anti-Israel activists openly calling for the destruction of Israel. I am very ashamed that Temple University, my alma mater, is one of the schools featured in this film.

On May 14, a screening of the film will take place at Congregation Or Ami in Lafayette Hill. The film will be followed by a panel discussion between student representatives, guest speakers from U.S. universities, and student organizations.

Jewish Organizations Stand Up for Jewish Students’ Rights on Campus

A group of Jewish organizations have joined together and drafted a letter for college administrators, describing the climate of intimidation and fear on U.S. college campuses that Jewish students are experiencing as a result of the uptick in anti-Semitic incidents.

"Students for Justice in Palestine" presenting fake evicition notices to Jewish students. Photo by Christine Capozziello.

“Students for Justice in Palestine” presenting fake eviction notices to Jewish students. Photo by Christine Capozziello.

Many college presidents are too cowed to assert the university’s right to expect a certain decorum on campus. Institutions that were created to promote respectful dialogue, and the exchange of different ideas, have been highjacked by organizations determined to intimidate and shout down anyone who does not toe their philosophical line.

I am appalled when I see people who have been invited to lecture being rudely interrupted and shouted down by members of the audience. As a parent, I am not prepared to relinquish my children’s constitutional rights when they cross the college threshold. Some Jewish students have encountered threatening behavior and harassment because they are Jewish and/or pro-Israel. I am not alone.

The letter instructs college administrators how to provide Jewish students with a safe, non-hostile college experience. You can do your part to let the college presidents know how you feel and what you want them to do about rising antisemitism on our campuses: Sign the letter and send it to the president of the college of your choice.

Not Alone – Protecting Students From Sexual Assault

by The White House Press Office

One in five women is sexually assaulted while in college. Most often, it happens her freshman or sophomore year. In the great majority of cases, it’s by someone she knows – and also most often, she does not report what happened. And though fewer, men, too, are victimized.

The administration is committed to putting an end to this violence. That’s why the President established the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault on January 22, 2014, with a mandate to strengthen federal enforcement efforts and provide schools with additional tools to combat sexual assault on their campuses.  
Today, the Task Force is announcing a series of actions to: (1) identify the scope of the problem on college campuses, (2) help prevent campus sexual assault, (3) help schools respond effectively when a student is assaulted, and (4) improve, and make more transparent, the federal government’s enforcement efforts. It will continue to pursue additional executive or legislative actions in the future.

These steps build on the Administration’s previous work to combat sexual assault. The Task Force formulated its recommendations after a 90-day review period during which it heard from thousands of people from across the country — via 27 online and in-person listening sessions and written comments from a wide variety of stakeholders.

Helping Schools Identify the Problem: Climate Surveys

Campus sexual assault is chronically underreported – so victim reports don’t provide a fair measure of the problem. A campus climate survey, however, can. So, today:

The Task Force will provide schools with a toolkit for developing and conducting a climate survey. This survey has evidence-based sample questions that schools can use to gauge the prevalence of sexual assault on campus, test students’ attitudes and awareness about the issue, and craft solutions. The administration will call on schools to voluntarily conduct the climate survey next year and, based on what it learns, it will further refine the survey methodology. This process will culminate in a survey for all schools to use.

The Task Force will explore legislative or administrative options to require colleges and universities to conduct an evidence-based survey in 2016. A mandate for schools to periodically conduct a climate survey will change the national dynamic: with a better picture of what’s really happening on campus, schools will be able to more effectively tackle the problem and measure the success of their efforts.  

Preventing Sexual Assault – and Bringing in the Bystander

The college years are formative for many students. If the task force implements effective prevention programs, today’s students will leave college knowing that sexual assault is simply unacceptable. And that, in itself, can create a sea change.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted a systematic review of primary prevention strategies for reducing sexual violence, and is releasing an advance summary of its findings. This review summarizes some of the best available research in the area, and highlights evidence-based prevention strategies that work, some that are promising, and those that don’t work. The report points to steps colleges can take now to prevent sexual assault on their campuses.

The CDC and the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women will pilot and evaluate prevention strategies on college campuses. This work will build on the CDC’s systematic review, and will identify and fill gaps in the research on sexual violence prevention.

Getting Bystanders to Step In and Help Is a Promising Practice.  Bystander intervention programs work to change social norms, and teach everyone to speak out and intervene if someone is at risk of being assaulted. These programs are among those the CDC found most promising.

Helping Schools Respond Effectively When A Student is Sexually Assaulted: Confidentiality, Training, Better Investigations, and Community Partnerships

By law, schools that receive federal funds are obliged to protect students from sexual assault. It is the Task Force’s mission to help schools meet not only the letter, but the spirit, of that obligation. And that can mean a number of things – from giving a victim a confidential place to turn for advice and support, to providing specialized training for school officials, to effectively investigating and finding out what happened, to sanctioning the perpetrator, to doing everything it can to help a survivor recover.

Many survivors need someone to talk to in confidence. While many survivors of sexual assault are ready to press forward with a formal complaint right away, others aren’t so sure. For some, having a confidential place to go can mean the difference between getting help and staying silent. Today, the Department of Education is releasing new guidance clarifying that on-campus counselors and advocates can talk to a survivor in confidence.  This support can help victims come forward, get help, and make a formal report if they choose to.

The Task Force is providing a sample confidentiality and reporting policy. Even victims who make a formal report may still request that the information be held in confidence, and that the school not investigate or take action against the perpetrator.  Schools, however, also have an obligation to keep the larger community safe. To help them strike this balance, the Task Force is providing schools with a sample reporting and confidentiality policy, which recommends factors a school should consider in making this decision.

The Task Force is providing specialized training for school officials. School officials and first responders need to understand how sexual assault occurs, the tactics used by perpetrators, and the common reactions of victims. The Justice Department will help by developing new training programs for campus officials involved in investigating and adjudicating sexual assault cases and by launching a technical assistance project for campus officials. The Department of Education will develop training materials for campus health center staff to improve services to victims.

The Task Force will give schools guidance on how to improve their investigative and adjudicative protocols. It needs to know more about what investigative and adjudicative systems work best on campus. The Justice Department will undertake this work, and will begin evaluating different models this year with the goal of identifying the most promising practices. The Department of Education’s new guidance also urges some important improvements to the disciplinary process.

The Task Force is helping schools forge partnerships with community resources. Community partnerships are critical to getting survivors the help they need: while some schools can provide comprehensive services on campus, others may need to partner with community-based organizations. Rape crisis centers in particular can help schools better serve their students. The Task Force is releasing a sample agreement between schools and rape crisis centers, so survivors have a full network of services in place.

Improving and Making More Transparent Federal Enforcement Efforts

To better address sexual assault at our nation’s schools, the federal government needs to both strengthen its enforcement efforts and increase coordination among responsible agencies.  Importantly, it also needs to improve communication with survivors, parents, school administrators, faculty, and the public, by making its efforts more transparent.

On Tuesday, the Task Force is launching a dedicated website – www.NotAlone.gov – to make enforcement data public and to make other resources accessible to students and schools. On the website, students can learn about their rights, search enforcement data, and read about how to file a complaint. The website will also help schools and advocates: it will make available federal guidance on legal obligations, best available evidence and research, and relevant legislation. Finally, the website will have trustworthy resources from outside the federal government, such as hotline numbers and mental health services locatable by simply typing in a zip code.

The Department of Education is providing more clarity on schools’ legal obligations. The Department of Education is releasing answers to frequently asked questions about schools’ legal obligations to prevent and respond to sexual assault.  Among many other topics, the new guidance makes clear that federal law protects all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, immigration status, or whether they have a disability. It also makes clear questions about a survivor’s sexual history with anyone other than the alleged perpetrator shouldn’t be permitted during a judicial hearing, and also that a previous sexual relationship doesn’t imply consent or preclude a finding of sexual violence. And that schools should take steps to protect and assist a survivor pending an investigation.

The Departments of Justice and Education have entered into an agreement clarifying each agency’s role. Both agencies have a critical role to play in enforcing the laws that require schools to prevent and respond to sexual assault on their campuses. The agencies have entered into a formal agreement to increase coordination and strengthen enforcement.

Next Steps

The action steps highlighted in this report are the initial phase of an ongoing plan and commitment to putting an end to this violence on campuses. The Task Force will continue to work toward solutions, clarity, and better coordination. It will review the legal frameworks surrounding sexual assault for possible regulatory or statutory improvements, and seek new resources to enhance enforcement. Campus law enforcement agencies have special expertise- and they, too, should be tapped to play a more central role. And it will also consider how its recommendations apply to public elementary and secondary schools – and what more we can do to help there.

Is Private College Education Worth the Following Debt?

— by Kenneth R. Myers, Esq.

One segment of our society that is disproportionately facing unemployment, debt load and powerlessness is our youth who are considering college, going to college, or recently graduated.

Issues today include whether taking on the high cost of a private college education is worthwhile, how much student tuition debt accumulates during college, and how the debt affects lives after graduation. Here is an excellent video seeking to expand understanding of the true dimension of the economic difficulties facing many of these young people and their families.

Fact Sheet: Obama’s Better Bargain for Middle Class Families in PA

Tuition at the University of Hawaii 1974-1975

A higher education is the single most important investment students can make in their own futures. At the same time, it has never been more expensive. That is why since taking office, President Obama has made historic investments in college affordability, increasing the maximum Pell Grant award for working and middle class families by more than $900, creating the American Opportunity Tax Credit, and enacting effective student loan reforms eliminating bank subsidies and making college more affordable.  

However, despite these measures, college tuition keeps rising. The average tuition at a public four-year college has increased by more than 250 percent over the past three decades, while incomes for typical families grew by only 16 percent, according to data from the College Board. In Pennsylvania, about 902,200 undergraduate students are enrolled in higher education institutions across the state. For the 2011-12 school year, the average cost of attendance for in-state undergraduate students at public colleges and universities living on campus reached $24,713 in Pennsylvania. And according to estimates from The Institute for College Access and Success, graduating seniors who borrowed to attend college in Pennsylvania left school with an average of $29,959 in debt.

Declining state funding has forced students to shoulder a bigger proportion of college costs; tuition has almost doubled as a share of public college revenues over the past 25 years from 25 percent to 47 percent. While a college education remains a worthwhile investment overall, the average borrower now graduates with over $26,000 in debt. Only 58 percent of full-time students who began college in 2004 earned a four-year degree within six years. Loan default rates are rising, and too many young adults are burdened with debt as they seek to start a family, buy a home, launch a business, or save for retirement.

Plan details and more after the jump.

President’s Plan for Making College More Affordable:

Paying for Performance:

  • Tie financial aid to college performance, starting with publishing new college ratings before the 2015 school year.
  • Challenge states to fund public colleges based on performance.
  • Hold students and colleges receiving student aid responsible for making progress toward a degree.

Promoting Innovation and Competition:

  • Challenge colleges to offer students a greater range of affordable, high-quality options than they do today.
  • Give consumers clear, transparent information on college performance to help them make the decisions that work best for them.
  • Encourage innovation by stripping away unnecessary regulations.

Ensuring that Student Debt Remains Affordable:

  • Help ensure borrowers can afford their federal student loan debt by allowing all borrowers to cap their payments at 10 percent of their monthly income.
  • Reach out to struggling borrowers to ensure that they are aware of the flexible options available to help them to repay their debt.

President Obama outlined an ambitious new agenda to combat rising college costs and make college affordable for American families. His plan will measure college performance through a new ratings system so students and families have the information to select schools that provide the best value. And after this ratings system is well established, Congress can tie federal student aid to college performance so that students maximize their federal aid at institutions providing the best value. The President’s plan will also take down barriers that stand in the way of competition and innovation particularly in the use of new technology, and shine a light on the most cutting-edge college practices for providing high value at low costs. And to help student borrowers struggling with their existing debt, the President is committed to ensuring that all borrowers who need it can have access to the Pay As You Earn plan that caps loan payments at 10 percent of income, and is directing the Department of Education to ramp up its efforts to reach out to students struggling with their loans to make sure they know and understand all their repayment options.  

Pay Colleges and Students for Performance

The federal government provides over $150 billion each year in student financial aid. Of that total, higher education institutions in Pennsylvania will receive more than $7,039,000,000 in federal student aid funding (including Pell Grants, undergraduate federal student loans, graduate and parent federal student loans, and campus-based aid) in the 2013-14 school year. Meanwhile, all fifty states collectively invest over $70 billion in public colleges and universities. The vast majority of these resources nationwide are allocated among colleges based on the number of students who enroll, not the number who earn degrees or what they learn. President Obama’s plan will connect student aid to outcomes, which will in turn drive a better, more affordable education for all students:

Tie Financial Aid to College Value: To identify colleges for providing the best value and encourage all colleges to improve, President Obama is directing the Department of Education to develop and publish a new college ratings system that would be available for students and families before the 2015 college year. In the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, the President will seek legislation allocating financial aid based upon these college ratings by 2018, once the ratings system is well established. Students can continue to choose whichever college they want, but taxpayer dollars will be steered toward high-performing colleges that provide the best value.  

  • New College Ratings before 2015. Before the 2015 school year, the Department of Education will develop a new ratings system to help students compare the value offered by colleges and encourage colleges to improve. These ratings will compare colleges with similar missions and identify colleges that do the most to help students from disadvantaged backgrounds as well as colleges that are improving their performance. The results will be published on the College Scorecard. The Department will develop these ratings through public hearings around the country to gather the input of students and parents, state leaders, college presidents, and others with ideas on how to publish excellent ratings that put a fundamental premium on measuring value and ensure that access for those with economic or other disadvantages are encouraged, not discouraged. The ratings will be based upon such measures as:
    • Access, such as percentage of students receiving Pell grants;
    • Affordability, such as average tuition, scholarships, and loan debt; and
    • Outcomes, such as graduation and transfer rates, graduate earnings, and advanced degrees of college graduates.

  • Base Student Aid on College Value by 2018. Over the next four years, the Department of Education will refine these measurements, while colleges have an opportunity to improve their performance and ratings. The Administration will seek legislation using this new rating system to transform the way federal aid is awarded to colleges once the ratings are well developed. Students attending high-performing colleges could receive larger Pell Grants and more affordable student loans.

Engage States with a Race to the Top for Higher Education that Has Higher Value and Lower Costs: The President requested $1 billion in Race to the Top funding to spur state higher education reforms and reshape the federal-state partnership by ensuring that states maintain funding for public higher education. About three-quarters of college students attend a community college or public university, and declining state funding has been the biggest reason for rising tuition at public institutions. The Race to the Top competition will have a special focus on promoting paying for value as opposed to enrollment or just seat time. States typically fund colleges based on enrollment rather than on their success at graduating students or other measures of the value they offer. There are notable exceptions, like Tennessee, Indiana and Ohio, which fund colleges based on performance. To build on their examples, the President’s plan would also encourage states to provide accelerated learning opportunities, smooth the transition from high school to college and between two- and four-year colleges, and strengthen collaboration between high schools and colleges.  

Reward Colleges for Results with a Pell Bonus and Higher Accountability:
To encourage colleges to enroll and graduate low- and moderate-income students, the President will propose legislation to give colleges a bonus based upon the number of Pell students they graduate. And the Administration will prevent the waste of Pell dollars by requiring colleges with high dropout rates to disburse student aid over the course of the semester as students face expenses, rather than in a lump sum at the beginning of the semester, so students who drop out do not receive Pell Grants for time they are not in school.  

Demand Student Responsibility for Academic Performance: There are projected to be about 279,000 Pell Grant recipients and 439,300 undergraduate federal student loan borrowers in Pennsylvania in the 2013-14 school year. To ensure students are making progress toward their degrees, the President will also propose legislation strengthening academic progress requirements of student aid programs, such as requiring students to complete a certain percentage of their classes before receiving continued funding. These changes would encourage students to complete their studies on time, thereby reducing their debt, and will be designed to ensure that disadvantaged students have every opportunity to succeed.  

Promote Innovation and Competition

A rising tide of innovation has the potential to shake up the higher education landscape. Promising approaches include three-year accelerated degrees, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), and “flipped” or “hybrid” classrooms where students watch lectures at home and online and faculty challenge them to solve problems and deepen their knowledge in class. Some of these approaches are still being developed, and too few students are seeing their benefits. The federal government can act as a catalyst for innovation, spurring innovation in a way that drives down costs while preserving quality.  

To promote innovation and competition in the higher education marketplace, the President’s plan will publish better information on how colleges are performing, help demonstrate that new approaches can improve learning and reduce costs, and offer colleges regulatory flexibility to innovate. And the President is challenging colleges and other higher education leaders to adopt one or more of these promising practices that we know offer breakthroughs on cost, quality, or both — or create something better themselves:  

Award Credits Based on Learning, not Seat Time. Western Governors University is a competency-based online university serving more than 20,000 students with relatively low costs — about $6,000 per year for most degrees with an average time to a bachelor’s degree of only 30 months. A number of other institutions have also established competency-based programs, including Southern New Hampshire University and the University of Wisconsin system.

Use Technology to Redesign Courses. Redesigned courses that integrate online platforms (like MOOCs) or blend in-person and online experiences can accelerate the pace of student learning. The National Center for Academic Transformation has shown the effectiveness of the thoughtful use of technology across a wide range of academic disciplines, improving learning outcomes for students while reducing costs by nearly 40 percent on average. Carnegie Mellon University’s Open Learning Initiative has developed a hybrid statistics course used at six public universities, and its students performed as well as their peers in a traditional course in only 75 percent of the time. Arizona State University’s interactive algebra lessons helped students perform 10 percent better, despite meeting half as often, and at a lower cost. The University of Maryland redesigned an introductory psychology course, reducing costs by 70 percent while raising pass rates. New York’s Open SUNY initiative brings together every online program offered system-wide, helping students complete more quickly.

Use Technology for Student Services. Online learning communities and e-advising tools encourage persistence and alert instructors when additional help is needed. Technology is enabling students from across campuses and across the world to collaborate through online study groups and in-person meet-ups. MOOC-provider Coursera has online forums in which the median response time for questions posed by students is 22 minutes. To help students choose the courses that will allow them to earn a degree as quickly as possible, Austin Peay State University has developed the “Degree Compass” system that draws on the past performance of students in thousands of classes to guide a student through a course, in a similar manner to the way Netflix or Pandora draw on users’ past experience to guide movie or music choices.  

Recognize Prior Learning and Promote Dual Enrollment. Colleges can also award credit for prior learning experiences, similar to current Administration efforts to recognize the skills of returning veterans. Dual-enrollment opportunities let high school students earn credits before arriving at college, which can save them money by accelerating their time to degree.

To help colleges innovate and improve quality and outcomes, the Administration will:

Empower Students with Information: New college ratings will help students compare the value offered by different colleges. The Department of Education will enlist entrepreneurs and technology leaders with a “Datapalooza” to catalyze new private-sector tools, services, and apps to help students evaluate and select colleges. The effort will be complemented by earnings information by college that will be released for the first time on Administration’s College Scorecard this fall.

Seed Innovation and Measure What Works: To demonstrate what works, President Obama has proposed a new $260 million First in the World fund to test and evaluate innovative approaches to higher education that yield dramatically better outcomes, and to develop new ways for colleges to demonstrate that they are helping their students learn. In addition, the Department of Labor is planning to grant an additional $500 million to community colleges and eligible four-year colleges and universities next year. A portion of these resources will be used to promote accelerated degree paths and credentials that would drive more high-quality and affordable options for adult workers and students. Through these efforts, the Administration will work with business and philanthropy to support industry partnerships to enrich student learning with valuable job exploration and experience.  

Reduce Regulatory Barriers: The Department will use its authority to issue regulatory waivers for “experimental sites” that promote high-quality, low-cost innovations in higher education, such as making it possible for students to get financial aid based on how much they learn, rather than the amount of time they spend in class. Pilot opportunities could include enabling colleges to offer Pell grants to high school students taking college courses, allowing federal financial aid to be used to pay test fees when students seek academic credit for prior learning, and combining traditional and competency-based courses into a single program of study. The Department will also support efforts to remove state regulatory barriers to distance education.

Finally, the President will challenge leaders in states, philanthropy, and the private sector to make their own commitments to improve college value while reducing costs. For example, states can redesign the transition to postsecondary education and commit to strategies to improve student learning and enhance student advising, such as hybrid learning pilots, adaptive learning platforms, and digital tutors. Philanthropists can create initiatives, pilots and prizes for colleges that advance competency-based education, accelerated degrees, and the integration of new technologies into on-campus teaching and learning. Investors and entrepreneurs can directly support and develop new technologies and innovations that accelerate student learning while evaluating the effectiveness of different approaches. And employers and industry groups can collaborate with postsecondary institutions and new providers to develop high-quality, low-cost degrees in growing sectors of the economy, offer work-based learning experiences to students, and hire graduates who demonstrate the knowledge and skills employers need.

Ensure Student Debt Is Affordable

In Pennsylvania, about 1,885,600 student loan borrowers owe an outstanding total debt of more than $42,031,000,000. While bringing down costs for current and future college students, President Obama will also help students with existing debt to manage their obligations.

Income-driven repayment plans allow borrowers to take responsibility for their federal student loan debt with more flexible repayment terms, while helping professionals like teachers and nurses who take on critical jobs in our society that require significant education but may result in modest salaries. These plans allow students to fully repay their student debt on a sliding scale that adjusts monthly payments based on changing income and growing families. Nearly two-thirds of people that currently participate in the income-driven repayment plans make less than $60,000 a year. Currently, about 2 million of 37 million federal student loan borrowers are benefitting from income-driven plans.

Make All Borrowers Eligible for Pay As You Earn: To make sure that students and families have an easy-to-understand insurance policy against unmanageable debt now and in the future, the President has proposed allowing all student borrowers to cap their federal student loan payments at 10 percent of their monthly income. Currently, students who first borrowed before 2008 or have not borrowed since 2011 are not eligible for the President’s Pay As You Earn plan. In addition, the Administration will work with Congress to ensure that the benefits are targeted to the neediest borrowers.

Launching an Enrollment Campaign for Pay As You Earn: Beginning this fall, the Department of Education will contact borrowers who have fallen behind on their student loan payments, undergraduate borrowers with higher-than-average debts, and borrowers in deferment or forbearance because of financial hardship or unemployment to ensure they have the information they need to choose the right repayment option for them. Starting in 2014, the Department of Education and the Department of Treasury will work to help borrowers learn about and enroll in Pay As You Earn and Income-Based Repayment plans when they file their taxes. And to assist guidance counselors and other advisers who guide students through the process of selecting and financing their higher education, the Administration will launch a “one-stop shop” that will include important resources for choosing among various income-driven repayment options.    

New Report: Pennsylvania Needs to Invest in Education

— by Chris Lilienthal

The best way for Pennsylvania to grow its economy is by investing in a well-educated workforce, according to a new study from the Economic Analysis and Research Network (EARN), a network of 61 state/local and 25 national economic think tanks coordinated by the Economic Policy Institute.

As college students return to campus and children head back to the classroom, this new report finds a strong link between the educational attainment of a state’s workforce and both productivity and workers’ pay. Expanding access to high-quality education will create more economic opportunity for Pennsylvania residents and do more to strengthen the state’s overall economy than anything else.

More after the jump.
“To paraphrase James Carville, ‘it’s invest in education, stupid,'” said Dr. Stephen Herzenberg, economist and executive director of the Keystone Research Center, a member of the EARN Network. “The powerful evidence that states making investments in education have more robust economies raises fundamental questions about recent Pennsylvania policies.”

The report, Education Investment is Key to State Prosperity, was authored by Noah Berger, president of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, and Peter Fisher, research director at the Iowa Policy Project.

At the heart of the paper is evidence that states with larger increases in college-degree share from 1979 to 2012 enjoyed faster productivity growth:

  • For example, the top 10 states (measured by change in education levels) increased their share of adults (25 and over) with a bachelor’s degree by an average of 18 percentage points, twice as much as the 9 percentage points in the bottom 10 states.
  • The top 10 states also experienced productivity growth nearly twice as large: 82% versus 44% in the bottom 10 states. Investment in education by a state is also associated with higher living standards for typical workers. Top 10 states (measured by the increase in college-degree share) saw median compensation (pay plus benefits) rise by about 20% compared with barely any increase in bottom 10 states (4%).

The relationship between education and pay was much weaker before 1979, in part because large numbers of high-paid manufacturing jobs lifted up the wages of non-college workers. “It is more important now than ever that we invest in education, to boost the strength of the economy and for the sake of future generations of Pennsylvanians,” said Dr. Herzenberg.

Pennsylvania had the 12th-biggest increase in college-degree share since 1979, but still ranks in the middle of the pack, 26th, based on 2009 Census data. The large share of Pennsylvania adults with no education beyond high school also holds back the state’s productivity and wage levels, helping to explain why Pennsylvania had only the 28th largest increase in productivity since 1979, and the 33rd largest increase in compensation.

Of Pennsylvania’s neighbors, New Jersey and Maryland enjoyed top-10 increases in college-degree share, and top-third increases in productivity and median compensation. At the opposite end of the spectrum, West Virginia and Ohio finished 30th and 43rd respectively for the change in college degree attainment, and 43rd and 46th measured by change in median compensation.

According to the new study, Pennsylvania can increase the educational attainment of its population by investing in quality K-12 education, working to slow the growth of college tuition, and offering universal preschool programs. However, recent trends in Pennsylvania have gone in the opposite direction, with state budget cuts to higher education and K-12 schools, including funds that were used for full-day kindergarten and pre-K programs.

Meanwhile, the research evidence shows, cutting taxes to recruit employers from other states is shortsighted, promoting a race to the bottom that undermines the states’ ability to invest in, and attract, an educated workforce. The paper finds no consistent relationship between a state’s tax rates and its wages.

Instead of Just Making College Affordable, Make It Free

U.S. Unemployment Rate, 25 years and over:
July 2013 data:

Less than a high school diploma 11.0%
High school graduate, no college 7.6%
Some college or associate degree 6.0%
Bachelor’s degree and higher 3.8%

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

It is becoming increasingly difficult to get a job which pays a decent salary without a college education. Nevertheless, the cost of a college education is increasing exponentially, far outstripping inflation and typical salaries.

About one-third of college students receive subsidized Federal loans. The rate on these loans was fixed in 2007 at 3.4%. Last month, Congress let this rate expire, which caused the rate on new student loans to suddenly double to 6.8%, bringing a college education out of the reach of most students.

A life of privilege should not be the birthright of the privileged few, passed on from generation to generation like the titles of nobility, which we Americans have wisely forsaken (U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 9, Clause 8).

The outrage expressed by students, their parents, and all those concerned with the future of America’s highly educated workforce was heard in the halls of Congress. Last Friday, President Obama signed a compromise bill to lower interest rates. According to Cecilia Munoz, “Under the new law, nearly 11 million borrowers will see their interest rates decrease on new loans made after July 1, 2013. About 8.8 million undergraduate borrowers will see their rates on new loans drop from 6.80% to 3.86%, and about 1.5 million Graduate Unsubsidized Stafford borrowers will see their rates drop on new loans from 6.80% to 5.41%. Finally, over 1 million Grad PLUS and Parent PLUS borrowers will see their rates on new loans drop from 7.90% to 6.41% — the first reduction in years.” (Since these rates are based on the bond market, The Washington Post notes that “as the economy improves in the coming years, as it is expected to, those interest rates will likely climb and could soon be higher than current rates, unless Congress again acts.”)

Undergraduates may be breathing a sigh of relief as they prepare to go back to school this fall, but still their education will end up more expensive than ever, before putting college out of reach of more and more of America’s youth.

Will this satisfy the many voices that have been clamoring for the government to make education more affordable?

Yet, others are advancing toward a more ambitious objective: making higher education not just affordable, but free.

Three ideas for free tuition follow the jump.
Pay it forward, pay it back

Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) writes about the legislation he and State Representative Brendan F. Boyle (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery) are introducing in Harrisburg:

I will be introducing a landmark bill in the Pennsylvania Senate to make college affordable for every Pennsylvanian.

Growing up, my mom and I didn’t have much, and it was only because of programs like Pell Grants that I was able to go to Temple University for college. Since I graduated, tuition has risen astronomically, and state and federal financial assistance hasn’t been able to keep up. If I was finishing high school today, I would not be able to afford to go to Temple without taking on a mountain of debt.

That is why I will be introducing the “Pay It Forward, Pay It Back” program to make state, and state-related universities (like Temple) affordable for every student by letting them attend college with no money down and without paying high interest rates.

The way that it works is simple: we will create a fund from which students can draw funds to pay their tuition. After graduating and joining the workforce, students will “Pay Back” into the fund, interest free, through a small percentage — around 4% — of their income.  

The plan will eventually become self-sustaining, but until it does, we will use seed funding from a competitive, temporary tax on natural gas extraction.

Once this bill is signed into law, Pennsylvania will be one of the the nation’s leaders in affordable college education and every student will have the same opportunities that I did.

Boyle adds:

With Pennsylvania’s college graduates shouldering the second highest level of student loan debt in the country, the need to take a hard look at our existing system of funding higher education is urgent. This legislation would initiate the process of conducting a comprehensive, in-depth analysis of the Pay It Forward model.

There are currently a handful of states that are considering or have passed similar legislation, including Oregon, which last month passed legislation that Boyle credits as the impetus behind their proposal:

I think the number of states that have expressed interest in this model demonstrates that the traditional way of financing public higher education is fundamentally broken and that there is a strong demand for new ideas. The Oregon bill offers an excellent template for how such a game changing proposal should be approached. Given that this plan would likely require an investment of tens of billions of dollars before becoming solvent, carefully examining the merits and cost of Pay It Forward on an objective and nonpartisan basis will provide insight into whether such a program is feasible in Pennsylvania.

A similar idea is being considered in California, where grantees would commit to paying 5% of their salary for the next 20 years.

This idea is not a Utopian, liberal, “pay what you can” dream. According to the journal Inside Higher Ed, the “concept was thought up, independently, by two Nobel winners in economics, Milton Friedman [noted Libertarian thinker] and James Tobin.”

Posse Scholars

Many promising students do not fulfill their potential, because they do not have the necessary support networks to guide them in their education. For that reason, the Posse Foundation steps into the breech and identifies at-risk youth “with extraordinary academic and leadership potential” while they are still in high school, organizing them into teams (or “posses”) of ten students.

The students in any posse are responsible for each other, support each other in their studies, and help each other stay out of trouble. The Posse Foundation’s university partners have committed to giving full scholarships each year to an entire posse, based on the posse’s total scores, grades, etc.

Knowing that they will earn this scholarship, or fail to do so, as a group, each posse is a team with a common goal to shoot for, and the raw talent to succeed. Since 1989, 4,884 public school student have succeeded as posse scholars. The posse continues to function when in the university of their choice and even beyond, as an invaluable, tried-and-tested support network for these talented youth, who may be the first children in their families to benefit from higher education.

President Obama has seen the value of the Posse Foundation’s work, and accordingly donated all of his $1,400,000 in Nobel Peace Prize money to the Posse Foundation, and 10 other charitable causes:  

The news that Posse will receive a generous gift of $125,000 came via a White House announcement.

“These organizations do extraordinary work in the United States and abroad helping students, veterans and countless others in need,” said President Obama. “I’m proud to support their work.”

The other nine organizations who will receive donations ranging from $100,000 to $250,000 are: AfriCare, the American Indian College Fund, the Appalachian Leadership and Education Foundation, the Central Asia Institute, the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund, College Summit, Fisher House, the Hispanic Scholarship Fund and the United Negro College Fund.

“On behalf of the entire Posse Foundation, I thank President Obama for this incredible acknowledgment and support”, says Posse President and Founder Deborah Bial. “For 20 years, Posse has been finding outstanding young people and connecting them to the great education they so deserve. The president’s support is more than financial; it is a message to the country that these young people are not only important, but needed as leaders. We are beyond thrilled.”

Loan Forgiveness

Another way students attend school for free is by committing to public service. Instead of giving back a small percentage of their salary for decades, they devote themselves to service for a shorter period of time. For example, the United States Armed Services will pay for students to attend medical school, if they agree to serve as a medic in the military for an equal number of years. Each year of free medical school equals one year of required service:

When you’re pursuing an advanced health care degree, the last thing on your mind should be how you’re going to pay for it. The U.S. Army can help with one of the most comprehensive scholarships available in the health care field — The F. Edward Hébert Armed Forces Health Professions Scholarship Program. Qualifying students receive full tuition for any accredited medical, dental, veterinary, psychology or optometry program, plus a generous monthly stipend of more than $2,000.

In fact, during summer break, the students receive officer’s salary while they get their military training.

Similar programs exist to encourage doctors to work for a few years in under-served rural communities, or for student to train (or engineers to retrain themselves) to teach science, technology, engineering or mathematics in poor urban neighborhoods.

These ideas may put higher education into everyone’s reach, and conversely, put everyone’s talents into the reach of society.

Why I Let My Students Cheat On Their Exam

— by Peter Nonacs

On test day for my Behavioral Ecology class at UCLA, I walked into the classroom bearing an impossibly difficult exam. Rather than being neatly arranged in alternate rows with pen or pencil in hand, my students sat in one tight group, with notes and books and laptops open and available. They were poised to share each other’s thoughts and to copy the best answers. As I distributed the tests, the students began to talk and write. All of this would normally be called cheating. But it was completely OK by me.

Who in their right mind would condone and encourage cheating among UCLA juniors and seniors? Perhaps someone with the idea that concepts in animal behavior can be taught by making their students live those concepts.

More after the jump.
Animals and their behavior have been my passions since my Kentucky boyhood, and I strive to nurture this love for nature in my students. Who isn’t amazed and entertained by videos of crafty animals, like Betty the tool-making crow, bending wires into hooks to retrieve baskets containing delicious mealworms? (And then hiding her rewards from a lummox of a mate who never works, but is all too good at purloining the hard-won rewards of others?)

Nevertheless, I’m a realist. Almost none of my students will go on to be “me” — a university professor who makes a living observing animals. The vast majority take my classes as a prelude to medical, dental, pharmacy, or veterinary school. Still, I want my students to walk away with something more than, “Animals are cool.” I want them to leave my class thinking like behavioral ecologists.

Much of evolution and natural selection can be summarized in three short words: “Life is games.” In any game, the object is to win-be that defined as leaving the most genes in the next generation, getting the best grade on a midterm, or successfully inculcating critical thinking into your students. An entire field of study, Game Theory, is devoted to mathematically describing the games that nature plays. Games can determine why ant colonies do what they do, how viruses evolve to exploit hosts, or how human societies organize and function.

So last quarter I had an intriguing thought while preparing my Game Theory lectures. Tests are really just measures of how the Education Game is proceeding. Professors test to measure their success at teaching, and students take tests in order to get a good grade. Might these goals be maximized simultaneously? What if I let the students write their own rules for the test-taking game? Allow them to do everything we would normally call cheating?

A week before the test, I told my class that the Game Theory exam would be insanely hard-far harder than any that had established my rep as a hard prof. But as recompense, for this one time only, students could cheat. They could bring and use anything or anyone they liked, including animal behavior experts. (Richard Dawkins in town? Bring him!) They could surf the Web. They could talk to each other or call friends who’d taken the course before. They could offer me bribes. (I wouldn’t take them, but neither would I report it to the dean.) Only violations of state or federal criminal law such as kidnapping my dog, blackmail, or threats of violence were out of bounds.

Gasps filled the room. The students sputtered. They fretted. This must be a joke. I couldn’t possibly mean it. What, they asked, is the catch?

“None,” I replied. “You are UCLA students. The brightest of the bright. Let’s see what you can accomplish when you have no restrictions and the only thing that matters is getting the best answer possible.”

Once the shock wore off, they got sophisticated. In discussion section, they speculated, organized, and plotted. What would be the test’s payoff matrix? Would cooperation be rewarded or counter-productive? Would a large group work better, or smaller subgroups with specified tasks? What about “scroungers” who didn’t study but were planning to parasitize everyone else’s hard work? How much reciprocity would be demanded in order to share benefits? Was the test going to play out like a dog-eat-dog Hunger Games? In short, the students spent the entire week living Game Theory. It transformed a class where many did not even speak to each other into a coherent whole focused on a single task-beating their crazy professor’s nefarious scheme.

On the day of the hour-long test they faced a single question: “If evolution through natural selection is a game, what are the players, teams, rules, objectives, and outcomes?” One student immediately ran to the chalkboard, and she began to organize the outputs for each question section. The class divided tasks. They debated. They worked on hypotheses. Weak ones were rejected, promising ones were developed. Supportive evidence was added. A schedule was established for writing the consensus answers. (I remained in the room, hoping someone would ask me for my answers, because I had several enigmatic clues to divulge. But nobody thought that far afield!) As the test progressed, the majority (whom I shall call the “Mob”) decided to share one set of answers. Individuals within the Mob took turns writing paragraphs, and they all signed an author sheet to share the common grade. Three out of the 27 students opted out (I’ll call them the “Lone Wolves”). Although the Wolves listened and contributed to discussions, they preferred their individual variants over the Mob’s joint answer.

In the end, the students learned what social insects like ants and termites have known for hundreds of millions of years. To win at some games, cooperation is better than competition. Unity that arises through a diversity of opinion is stronger than any solitary competitor.

But did the students themselves realize this? To see, I presented the class with one last evil wrinkle two days later, after the test was graded but not yet returned. They had a choice, I said. Option A: They could get the test back and have it count toward their final grade. Option B: I would-sight unseen-shred the entire test. Poof, the grade would disappear as if it had never happened. But Option B meant they would never see their results; they would never know if their answers were correct.

“Oh, my, can we think about this for a couple of days?” they begged. No, I answered. More heated discussion followed. It was soon apparent that everyone had felt good about the process and their overall answers. The students unanimously chose to keep the test. Once again, the unity that arose through a diversity of opinion was right. The shared grade for the Mob was 20 percent higher than the averages on my previous, more normal, midterms. Among the Lone Wolves, one scored higher than the Mob, one about the same, and one scored lower.

Is the take-home message, then, that cheating is good? Well … no. Although by conventional test-taking rules, the students were cheating, they actually weren’t in this case. Instead, they were changing their goal in the Education Game from “Get a higher grade than my classmates” to “Get to the best answer.” This also required them to make new rules for test-taking. Obviously, when you make the rules there is no reason to cheat. Furthermore, being the rule-makers let students behave in a way that makes us a quintessentially unique species. We recognize when we are in a game, and more so than just playing along, we always try to bend the rules to our advantage.

Morally, of course, games can be tricky. Theory predicts that outcomes are often not to the betterment of the group or society. Nevertheless, this case had an interesting result. When the students got carte blanche to set the rules, altruism and cooperation won the day. How unlike a “normal” test where all students are solitary competitors, and teachers guard against any cheating! What my class showed was a very “human” trait: the ability to align what is “good for me” with what is “good for all” within the evolutionary games of our choosing.

In the end, the students achieved their goal: They earned an excellent grade. I also achieved my goal: I got them to spend a week thinking like behavioral ecologists. As a group they learned Game Theory better than any of my previous classes. In educational lingo, “flipping the classroom” means students are expected to prepare to come to class not for a lecture, but for a question-and-answer discussion. What I did was “flip the test.” Students were given all the intellectual tools beforehand and then, for an hour, they had to use them to generate well-reasoned answers to difficult questions.

The best tests will not only find out what students know but also stimulate thinking in novel ways. This is much more than regurgitating memorized facts. The test itself becomes a learning experience-where the very act of taking it leads to a deeper understanding of the subject.

Peter Nonacs is a professor in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department at UCLA. He studies the evolution of social behavior across species, ranging from viruses, to insects, to mammals and even occasionally humans.

This article was originally published at Zócalo Public Square.