reading about the Supreme Court’s decision upholding Michigan’s ban on
affirmative action — and by extension similar measures passed by voters in
California, Texas, Florida and Washington — might develop the misimpression that
affirmative action is on the wane. In fact, it’s alive and well: Public and
private colleges routinely give preferential treatment to children of alumni.
If you have kids, or plan on having them someday, you know that acceptance rates
at elite colleges are at historic lows. Stanford led the stingy pack, admitting
but 5 percent of applicants, with Harvard and Yale trailing close behind at 5.9
percent and 6.3 percent respectively.
For “legacies,” the picture isn’t nearly so bleak. Reviewing admission data from
30 top colleges in the Economics of Education Review, the researcher Michael
Hurwitz concluded that children of alumni had a 45 percent greater chance of
admission. A Princeton team found the advantage to be worth the equivalent of
160 additional points on an applicant’s SAT, nearly as much as being a star
athlete or African-American or Hispanic.
At Harvard, my alma mater, the legacy acceptance rate is 30 percent, which is
not an unusual number at elite colleges. That’s roughly five times the overall
The disparity is so great it makes the most sense to conceptualize college
applications to elite colleges as two separate competitions: one for children
whose parents are legacies, the other for children whose parents aren’t.
Admissions officers will hasten to tell you that in a meritocracy many legacies
would get in anyway. Let’s pause to consider the usefulness of the term
“meritocracy” in a system where the deck is stacked at every level in favor of
rich, white students before conceding the premise. It’s surely true that many
children of alumni are brilliant, hard-working and deserving of a seat at a top
college. That’s quite different from saying the system is fair. In 2003,
Harvard’s admissions dean said that the SAT scores of legacy admits were “just
two points below the school’s overall average.” These are students who have
enjoyed a lifetime of advantage. We’d expect them to have outperformed
nonlegacies, at least by a bit, and yet they’ve done slightly worse.
Reasonable minds can differ on the morality and wisdom of race-based affirmative
action. Where I teach, at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, which is about
as egalitarian as institutions come, I’ve seen firsthand what the data show:
College is a ticket out of poverty, and exposing young men and women to diverse
classmates and role models raises the ceiling on what they believe is possible
for themselves. That said, I acknowledge the desire for a colorblind,
meritocratic society as an honorable position. But how can anyone defend making
an exception for children of alumni?
One needn’t have a dog in this hunt to be troubled by legacy. It’s disastrous
public policy. Because of legacy admissions, elite colleges look almost nothing
like America. Consider these facts: To be a 1 percenter, a family needs an
annual income of approximately $390,000. When the Harvard Crimson surveyed this
year’s freshman class, 14 percent of respondents reported annual family income
above $500,000. Another 15 percent came from families making more than $250,000
per year. Only 20 percent reported incomes less than $65,000. This is the amount
below which Harvard will allow a student to go free of charge. It’s also just
above the national median family income. So, at least as many Harvard students
come from families in the top 1 percent as the bottom 50 percent. Of course this
says nothing of middle-class families, for whom private college is now
These facts will trouble any parent of modest means, but it’s time to recognize
this as an American problem. Together with environmental destruction, social
inequality is the defining failure of our generation. The richest .01 percent of
American families possess 11.1 percent of the national wealth, but 22 percent of
American children live in poverty.
There are only two ways this gets better. One is a huge reformation of the tax
structure. The other is improved access to higher education. Few investments
yield a greater return than a college degree. Education has great potential to
combat inequality, but progress simply isn’t possible if legacy persists.
To justify this practice there would need to be, in lawyer language, a
compelling justification. There is none. Elite colleges defend legacy as
necessary to fund-raising. It isn’t. Neither Oxford nor Cambridge nor M.I.T.
considers legacy. Their prestige is intact, they attract great students, and
they have ample endowments. Moreover, technology has transformed fund-raising.
Presidential candidates raise money through grass-roots campaigns; colleges can,
Legacy evolved largely as a doctrine to legitimize the exclusion of Jews from
elite schools. It endures today as a mechanism for reinforcing inequality, with
particularly harsh consequences for Asians, and fundamentally contradicts the
rhetoric of access in which elite colleges routinely engage.
Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Princeton and Columbia collectively have endowments of
about $100 billion. They have the means to end this abhorrent practice with a
stroke of a pen and the financial resources to endure whatever uncertainty
ensues. Just a hunch, but I think the economically diverse students admitted to
these great colleges would be successful and generous to their alma maters, not
in the hope of securing their child a place in a class, but out of genuine
appreciation of a legacy of equal access.
Mandery, a professor at John Jay College
Justice, is the author of “A Wild Justice:
The Death and
Resurrection of Capital Punishment
A version of
this op-ed appears in print on April 25, 2014,
on page A25 of
the New York edition with the headline:
than a decade educators have been expecting the Internet to transform that
bastion of tradition and authority, the university. Digital utopians have
envisioned a world of virtual campuses and “distributed” learning. They imagine
a business model in which online courses are consumer-rated like products on
Amazon, tuition is set by auction services like eBay, and students are judged
not by grades but by skills they have mastered, like levels of a videogame.
Presumably, for the Friday kegger you go to the Genius Bar.
It’s true that online education has proliferated, from community colleges to the
free OpenCourseWare lecture videos offered by M.I.T. (The New York Times Company
is in the game, too, with its Knowledge Network.) But the Internet has so far
scarcely disturbed the traditional practice or the economics at the high end,
the great schools that are one of the few remaining advantages America has in a
competitive world. Our top-rated universities and colleges have no want of
customers willing to pay handsomely for the kind of education their parents got;
thus elite schools have little incentive to dilute the value of the credentials
Two recent events at Stanford University suggest that the day is growing nearer
when quality higher education confronts the technological disruptions that have
already upended the music and book industries, humbled enterprises from Kodak to
the Postal Service (not to mention the newspaper business), and helped
destabilize despots across the Middle East.
One development is a competition among prestige universities to open a branch
campus in applied sciences in New York City. This is Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s
attempt to create a locus of entrepreneurial education that would mate with
venture capital to spawn new enterprises and enrich the city’s economy.
Stanford, which has provided much of the info-tech Viagra for Silicon Valley,
and Cornell, a biotechnology powerhouse, appear to be the main rivals.
But more interesting than the contest between Stanford and Cornell is the one
between Stanford and Stanford.
The Stanford bid for a New York campus is a bet on the value of place. The
premise is that Stanford can repeat the success it achieved by marrying itself
to the Silicon Valley marketplace. The school’s proposal (unsubtly titled
“Silicon Valley II”) envisions a bricks-and-mortar residential campus on an
island in the East River, built around a community of 100 faculty members and
2,200 students and strategically situated to catalyze new businesses in the
Meanwhile, one of Stanford’s most inventive professors, Sebastian Thrun, is
making an alternative claim on the future. Thrun, a German-born and largely
self-taught expert in robotics, is famous for leading the team that built
Google’s self-driving car. He is offering his “Introduction to Artificial
Intelligence” course online and free of charge. His remote students will get the
same lectures as students paying $50,000 a year, the same assignments, the same
exams and, if they pass, a “statement of accomplishment” (though not Stanford
credit). When The Times wrote about this last month, 58,000 students had signed
up for the course. After the article, enrollment leapt to 130,000, from across
Thrun’s ultimate mission is a virtual university in which the best professors
broadcast their lectures to tens of thousands of students. Testing, peer
interaction and grading would happen online; a cadre of teaching assistants
would provide some human supervision; and the price would be within reach of
almost anyone. “Literally, we can probably get the same quality of education I
teach in class for about 1 to 2 percent of the cost,” Thrun told me.
The traditional university, in his view, serves a fortunate few, inefficiently,
with a business model built on exclusivity. “I’m not at all against the
on-campus experience,” he said. “I love it. It’s great. It has a lot of things
which cannot be replaced by anything online. But it’s also insanely
Thrun acknowledges that there are still serious quality-control problems to be
licked. How do you keep an invisible student from cheating? How do you even know
who is sitting at that remote keyboard? Will the education really be as
compelling — and will it last? Thrun believes there are technological answers to
all of these questions, some of them
being worked out already by other online frontiersmen.
“If we can solve this,” he said, “I think it will disrupt all of higher
Disrupt is right. It would be an earthquake for the majority of colleges that
depend on tuition income rather than big endowments and research grants. Many
could go the way of local newspapers. There would be huge audiences and
paychecks for superstar teachers, but dimmer prospects for those who are less
It’s ironic — or maybe just fitting — that this is playing out at Stanford,
which has served as midwife to many disruptive technologies. By forging a
symbiotic relationship with venture capital and teaching students how to
navigate markets, Stanford claims to have spawned an estimated 5,000 businesses.
This is a campus where grad school applicants are routinely asked if they have
done a startup, and some professors have gotten very, very rich.
John Hennessy, Stanford’s president, gave the university’s blessing to Thrun’s
experiment, which he calls “an initial demonstration,” but he is cautious about
the grander dream of a digitized university. He can imagine a virtual campus for
some specialized programs and continuing education, and thinks the power of
distributed learning can be incorporated in undergraduate education — for
example, supplanting the large lecture that is often filled with students paying
more attention to their laptops. He endorses online teaching as a way to educate
students, in the developing world or our own, who cannot hope for the full
But Hennessy is a passionate advocate for an actual campus, especially in
undergraduate education. There is nothing quite like the give and take of a live
community to hone critical thinking, writing and public speaking skills, he
says. And it’s not at all clear that online students learn the most important
lesson of all: how to keep learning.
As The Times’s Matt Richtel recently reported, there is remarkably little data
showing that technology-centric schooling improves basic learning. It is quite
possible that the infatuation with technology has diverted money from things
known to work — training better teachers, giving kids more time in school.
THE Stanford president is hardly a technophobe. Hennessy came up through
computer engineering, used his sabbatical to start a successful microprocessor
company, and sits on the boards of Google and Cisco Systems.
“In the same way that a lot of things go into the cost of a newspaper that have
nothing to do with the quality of the reporting — the cost of newsprint and
delivery — we should ask the same thing about universities,” Hennessy told me.
“When is the infrastructure of the university particularly valuable — as it is,
I believe, for an undergraduate residential experience — and when is it
secondary to the learning process?”
But, he notes, “One has to think about the sustainability of all these things.
In the end, the content providers have to get paid.”
I see a larger point, familiar to all of us who have lived through digital-age
disorder. There are disrupters, like Sebastian Thrun, or Napster, or the
tweeting rebels in Tahrir Square. And there are adapters, like John Hennessy, or
iTunes, or the novice statesmen trying to build a new Egypt. Progress depends on
Who could be against an experiment that promises the treasure of education to a
vast, underserved world? But we should be careful, in our idealism, not to
diminish something that is already a wonder of the world.
COMMENCEMENT is a special time on college campuses: an
occasion for students, families, faculty and administrators to come together to
celebrate a job well done. And perhaps there is reason to be pleased. In recent
surveys of college seniors, more than 90 percent report gaining subject-specific
knowledge and developing the ability to think critically and analytically.
Almost 9 out of 10 report that overall, they were satisfied with their
We would be happy to join in the celebrations if it weren’t for our recent
research, which raises doubts about the quality of undergraduate learning in the
United States. Over four years, we followed the progress of several thousand
students in more than two dozen diverse four-year colleges and universities. We
found that large numbers of the students were making their way through college
with minimal exposure to rigorous coursework, only a modest investment of effort
and little or no meaningful improvement in skills like writing and reasoning.
In a typical semester, for instance, 32 percent of the students did not take a
single course with more than 40 pages of reading per week, and 50 percent did
not take any course requiring more than 20 pages of writing over the semester.
The average student spent only about 12 to 13 hours per week studying — about
half the time a full-time college student in 1960 spent studying, according to
the labor economists Philip S. Babcock and Mindy S. Marks.
Not surprisingly, a large number of the students showed no significant progress
on tests of critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing that were
administered when they began college and then again at the ends of their
sophomore and senior years. If the test that we used, the Collegiate Learning
Assessment, were scaled on a traditional 0-to-100 point range, 45 percent of the
students would not have demonstrated gains of even one point over the first two
years of college, and 36 percent would not have shown such gains over four years
Why is the overall quality of undergraduate learning so poor?
While some colleges are starved for resources, for many others it’s not for lack
of money. Even at those colleges where for the past several decades tuition has
far outpaced the rate of inflation, students are taught by fewer full-time
tenured faculty members while being looked after by a greatly expanded number of
counselors who serve an array of social and personal needs. At the same time,
many schools are investing in deluxe dormitory rooms, elaborate student centers
and expensive gyms. Simply put: academic investments are a lower priority.
The situation reflects a larger cultural change in the relationship between
students and colleges. The authority of educators has diminished, and students
are increasingly thought of, by themselves and their colleges, as “clients” or
“consumers.” When 18-year-olds are emboldened to see themselves in this manner,
many look for ways to attain an educational credential effortlessly and
comfortably. And they are catered to accordingly. The customer is always right.
Federal legislation has facilitated this shift. The funds from Pell Grants and
subsidized loans, by being assigned to students to spend on academic
institutions they have chosen rather than being packaged as institutional grants
for colleges to dispense, have empowered students — for good but also for ill.
And expanded privacy protections have created obstacles for colleges in
providing information on student performance to parents, undercutting a
traditional check on student lassitude.
Fortunately, there are some relatively simple, practical steps that colleges and
universities could take to address the problem. Too many institutions, for
instance, rely primarily on student course evaluations to assess teaching. This
creates perverse incentives for professors to demand little and give out good
grades. (Indeed, the 36 percent of students in our study who reported spending
five or fewer hours per week studying alone still had an average G.P.A. of
3.16.) On those commendable occasions when professors and academic departments
do maintain rigor, they risk declines in student enrollments. And since
resources are typically distributed based on enrollments, rigorous classes are
likely to be canceled and rigorous programs shrunk. Distributing resources and
rewards based on student learning instead of student satisfaction would help
stop this race to the bottom.
Others involved in education can help, too. College trustees, instead of
worrying primarily about institutional rankings and fiscal concerns, could hold
administrators accountable for assessing and improving learning. Alumni as well
as parents and students on college tours could ignore institutional facades and
focus on educational substance. And the Department of Education could make
available nationally representative longitudinal data on undergraduate learning
outcomes for research purposes, as it has been doing for decades for primary and
Most of all, we hope that during this commencement season, our faculty
colleagues will pause to consider the state of undergraduate learning and our
collective responsibility to increase academic rigor on our campuses.
Richard Arum, a professor of sociology and education
at New York
and Josipa Roksa, an assistant professor of sociology
nation’s colleges and universities received charitable contributions of $28
billion in 2010, an increase of 0.5 percent from the previous year, according to
the annual survey by the Council for Aid to Education.
Support for higher education, measured in total dollars, is at the same level
now as it was in 2006, the council said. But adjusted for inflation, it was 8
percent lower last year than in 2006.
“We’re still not out of the woods,” said Ann E. Kaplan, director of the
council’s Voluntary Support of Education survey. “Charitable contributions to
education are recovering very slowly.”
Stanford raised $599 million from private donors last year, more than any other
university. It was followed by Harvard, which raised $597 million, and Johns
Hopkins University, which raised $428 million. But all three raised less in 2010
than in 2009, the survey found, as did most of the top 20 institutions.
While the survey included 996 institutions, the top 20 colleges and universities
accounted for a quarter of all gifts to higher education last year.
Four of the top 20 universities — the University of Southern California, Duke
University, Indiana University and the University of California, Berkeley —
received charitable contributions in 2010 that were more than 10 percent greater
than the previous year.
Over all, alumni giving and participation declined last year, while donations
from companies and foundations increased modestly.
The share of alumni who contribute to their college has been declining for
years, even when the economy was strong. According to the survey, alumni
participation averaged 9.8 percent last year, compared with 11.9 percent in 2006
— and the average gift was $1,080 last year, compared with $1,195 four years
A new study
of admissions at 30 highly selective colleges found that legacy applicants get a
big advantage over those with no family connections to the institution — but the
benefit is far greater for those with a parent who earned an undergraduate
degree at the college than for those with other family connections.
According to the study, by Michael Hurwitz, a doctoral student at the Harvard
Graduate School of Education, applicants to a parent’s alma mater had, on
average, seven times the odds of admission of nonlegacy applicants. Those whose
parents did graduate work there or who had a grandparent, sibling, uncle or aunt
who attended the college were, by comparison, only twice as likely to be
Legacy admissions have become an increasingly touchy issue for colleges.
Admissions officers mostly play down the impact of legacy status. But a growing
body of research shows that family connections count for a lot — and Mr.
Hurwitz’s study found a larger impact than previous studies.
And at a time when admission to elite colleges has become increasingly
competitive, critics say the legacy admissions advantage stands as an
undemocratic obstacle to social mobility.
“It’s fundamentally unfair because it’s a preference that advantages the already
advantaged,” said Richard D. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century
Foundation, a nonprofit research organization. “It has nothing to do with the
individual merit of the applicant.”
Mr. Kahlenberg, the author of “Affirmative Action for the Rich: Legacy
Preferences in College Admissions,” said a legal challenge to legacy preferences
is becoming likely. Public university preferences could be attacked as
unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection, he
said, while private universities might be vulnerable under an 1866 civil rights
statute prohibiting discrimination based on “ancestry.”
Mr. Hurwitz’s study, published in “Economics of Education Review,” looked at
data from 133,236 applicants for 2007 college admission, and analyzed the
outcomes of the 61,962 who applied to more than one of the elite colleges. That
allowed him to compare how much more likely they were to be offered admission
where they had family connections.
“I was able to take into account all the applicant’s characteristics,” Mr.
Hurwitz said, “because they were the same at every school they applied to. About
the only thing that would be different was their legacy status.”
Family donations were not included in the data.
On average, Mr. Hurwitz’s study found, legacy applicants had slightly higher SAT
scores than others. Education researchers point out that students whose parents
attended elite colleges are also more likely to have advantages like family
wealth and private school education.
Thomas P. Espenshade, a Princeton sociologist who has studied legacy admissions,
said Mr. Hurwitz’s study was the first to compare the advantage to students
applying to a parent’s alma mater with that of students with other family ties.
Mr. Espenshade pointed out that legacy status is just one of many possible
“We did a paper that found that if you are an athlete, you have 4.2 times the
likelihood of admission as a nonathlete,” he said. “The advantages for
underrepresented minorities are pretty big, too.”
Mr. Hurwitz said applicants with the highest SATs got the biggest legacy
Among the 30 colleges, the legacy advantage varied enormously: one college was
more than 15 times as likely to accept legacy applicants, while at another, the
effect was insignificant.
As a condition of access to the data, Mr. Hurwitz said, he agreed not to
identify the colleges.
Given a table showing characteristics like high endowments and SAT scores and
low acceptance rates, it seemed apparent that they are the members of the
Consortium on Financing Higher Education, a group made up of the Ivy Leagues and
two dozen other private research universities and liberal arts colleges.
Searching for solace in bleak unemployment numbers, policy makers and
commentators often cite the relatively low joblessness among college graduates,
which is currently 5.1 percent compared with 10 percent for high school
graduates and an overall jobless rate of 9.8 percent. Ben Bernanke, the chairman
of the Federal Reserve, cited the data recently on “60 Minutes” to make the
point that “educational differences” are a root cause of income inequality.
A college education is better than no college education and correlates with
higher pay. But as a cure for unemployment or as a way to narrow the chasm
between the rich and everyone else, “more college” is a too-easy answer. Over
the past year, for example, the unemployment rate for college grads under age 25
has averaged 9.2 percent, up from 8.8 percent a year earlier and 5.8 percent in
the first year of the recession that began in December 2007. That means recent
grads have about the same level of unemployment as the general population. It
also suggests that many employed recent grads may be doing work that doesn’t
require a college degree.
Even more disturbing, there is no guarantee that unemployed or underemployed
college grads will move into much better jobs as conditions improve. Early bouts
of joblessness, or starting in a lower-level job with lower pay, can mean lower
levels of career attainment and earnings over a lifetime.Graduates who have been
out of work or underemployed in the downturn may also find themselves at a
competitive disadvantage with freshly minted college graduates as the economy
When it comes to income inequality, college-educated workers make more than
noncollege-educated ones. But higher pay for college grads cannot explain the
profound inequality in the United States. The latest installment of the
groundbreaking work on income inequality by the economists Thomas Piketty and
Emmanuel Saez shows that the richest 1 percent of American households — those
making more than $370,000 a year — received 21 percent of total income in 2008.
That was slightly below the highs of the bubble years but still among the
highest percentages since the Roaring Twenties.
The top 10 percent — those making more than $110,000 — received 48 percent of
total income, leaving 52 percent for the bottom 90 percent. Where are
college-educated workers? Their median pay has basically stagnated for the past
10 years, at roughly $72,000 a year for men and $52,000 a year for women.
A big reason for the huge gains at the top is the outsize pay of executives,
bankers and traders. Lower on the income ladder, workers have not fared well, in
part because health care has consumed an ever-larger share of compensation and
bargaining power has diminished with the decline in labor unions.
College is still the path to higher-paying professions. But without a concerted
effort to develop new industries, the weakened economy will be hard pressed to
create enough better-paid positions to absorb all graduates.
And to combat inequality, the drive for more college and more jobs must coincide
with efforts to preserve and improve the policies, programs and institutions
that have fostered shared prosperity and broad opportunity — Social Security,
Medicare, public schools, progressive taxation, unions, affirmative action,
regulation of financial markets and enforcement of labor laws.
College is not a cure-all, but it will certainly take the best and brightest
minds to confront those challenges.
Fla. — The frontier in the battle to defeat student cheating may be here at the
testing center of the University of Central Florida.
No gum is allowed during an exam: chewing could disguise a student’s speaking
into a hands-free cellphone to an accomplice outside.
The 228 computers that students use are recessed into desk tops so that anyone
trying to photograph the screen — using, say, a pen with a hidden camera, in
order to help a friend who will take the test later — is easy to spot.
Scratch paper is allowed — but it is stamped with the date and must be turned in
When a proctor sees something suspicious, he records the student’s real-time
work at the computer and directs an overhead camera to zoom in, and both sets of
images are burned onto a CD for evidence.
Taylor Ellis, the associate dean who runs the testing center within the business
school at Central Florida, the nation’s third-largest campus by enrollment, said
that cheating had dropped significantly, to 14 suspected incidents out of 64,000
exams administered during the spring semester.
“I will never stop it completely, but I’ll find out about it,” Mr. Ellis said.
As the eternal temptation of students to cheat has gone high-tech — not just on
exams, but also by cutting and pasting from the Internet and sharing of homework
online like music files — educators have responded with their own efforts to
This summer, as incoming freshmen fill out forms to select roommates and
courses, some colleges — Duke and Bowdoin among them — are also requiring them
to complete online tutorials about plagiarism before they can enroll.
Anti-plagiarism services requiring students to submit papers to be vetted for
copying is a booming business. Fifty-five percent of colleges and universities
now use such a service, according to the Campus Computing Survey.
The best-known service, Turnitin.com, is engaged in an endless cat-and-mouse
game with technologically savvy students who try to outsmart it. “The Turnitin
algorithms are updated on an on-going basis,” the company warned last month in a
blog post titled “Can Students ‘Trick’ Turnitin?”
The extent of student cheating, difficult to measure precisely, appears
widespread at colleges. In surveys of 14,000 undergraduates over the last four
years, an average of 61 percent admitted to cheating on assignments and exams.
The figure declined somewhat from 65 percent earlier in the decade, but the
researcher who conducted the surveys, Donald L. McCabe, a business professor at
Rutgers, doubts there is less of it. Instead, he suspects students no longer
regard certain acts as cheating at all, for instance, cutting and pasting a few
sentences at a time from the Internet.
Andrew Daines, who graduated in May from Cornell, where he served on a board in
the College of Arts and Sciences that hears cheating cases, said Internet
plagiarism was so common that professors told him they had replaced written
assignments with tests and in-class writing.
Mr. Daines, a philosophy major, contributed to pages that Cornell added last
month to its student Web site to bring attention to academic integrity. They
include a link to a voluntary tutorial on avoiding plagiarism and a strongly
worded admonition that “other generations may not have had as many temptations
to cheat or plagiarize as yours,” and urging students to view this as a
Mr. Daines said he was especially disturbed by an epidemic of students’ copying
homework. “The term ‘collaborative work’ has been taken to this unbelievable
extreme where it means, because of the ease of e-mailing, one person looking at
someone else who’s done the assignment,” he said.
At M.I.T., David E. Pritchard, a physics professor, was able to accurately
measure homework copying with software he had developed for another purpose — to
allow students to complete sets of physics problems online. Some answered the
questions so fast, “at first I thought we had some geniuses here at M.I.T.,” Dr.
Pritchard said. Then he realized they were completing problems in less time than
it took to read them and were copying the answers — mostly, it turned out, from
e-mail from friends who had already done the assignment.
About 20 percent copied one-third or more of their homework, according to a
study Dr. Pritchard and colleagues published this year. Students who copy
homework find answers at sites like Course Hero, which is a kind of Napster of
homework sharing, where students from more than 3,500 institutions upload
papers, class notes and past exams.
Another site, Cramster, specializes in solutions to textbook questions in
science and engineering. It boasts answers from 77 physics textbooks — but not
Dr. Pritchard’s popular “Mastering Physics,” an online tutorial, because his
publisher, Pearson, searches the Web for solutions and requests they be taken
down to protect its copyright.
“You can use technology as well for detecting as for committing” cheating, Dr.
The most popular anti-cheating technology, Turnitin.com, says it is now used by
9,500 high schools and colleges. Students submit written assignments to be
compared with billions of archived Web pages and millions of other student
papers, before they are sent to instructors. The company says that schools using
the service for several years experience a decline in plagiarism.
Cheaters trying to outfox Turnitin have tried many tricks, some described in
blogs and videos. One is to replace every “e” in plagiarized text with a foreign
letter that looks like it, such as a Cyrillic “e,” meant to fool Turnitin’s
scanners. Another is to use the Macros tool in Microsoft Word to hide copied
text. Turnitin says neither scheme works.
Some educators have rejected the service and other anti-cheating technologies on
the grounds that they presume students are guilty, undermining the trust that
instructors seek with students.
Washington & Lee University, for example, concluded several years ago that
Turnitin was inconsistent with the school’s honor code, “which starts from a
basis of trusting our students,” said Dawn Watkins, vice president for student
affairs. “Services like Turnitin.com give the implication that we are
anticipating our students will cheat.”
For the similar reasons, some students at the University of Central Florida
objected to the business school’s testing center with its eye-in-the-sky video
in its early days, Dr. Ellis said.
But last week during final exams after a summer semester, almost no students
voiced such concerns. Rose Calixte, a senior, was told during an exam to turn
her cap backward, a rule meant to prevent students from writing notes under the
brim. Ms. Calixte disapproved of the fashion statement but didn’t knock the
reason: “This is college. There is the possibility for people to cheat.”
A first-year M.B.A. student, Ashley Haumann, said that when she was an
undergraduate at the University of Florida, “everyone cheated” in her accounting
class of 300 by comparing answers during quizzes. She preferred the highly
monitored testing center because it “encourages you to be ready for the test
because you can’t turn and ask, ‘What’d you get?’ ”
For educators uncomfortable in the role of anti-cheating enforcer, an online
tutorial in plagiarism may prove an elegantly simple technological fix.
That was the finding of a study published by the National Bureau of Economic
Research in January. Students at an unnamed selective college who completed a
Web tutorial were shown to plagiarize two-thirds less than students who did not.
(The study also found that plagiarism was concentrated among students with lower
The tutorial “had an outsize impact,” said Thomas S. Dee, a co-author, who is
now an economist at the University of Virginia.
“Many instructors don’t want to create this kind of adversarial environment with
their students where there is a presumption of guilt,” Mr. Dee said. “Our
results suggest a tutorial worked by educating students rather than by
Only a handful of colleges currently require students to complete such a
tutorial, which typically illustrates how to cite a source or even someone
else’s ideas, followed by a quiz.
The tutorial that Bowdoin uses was developed with its neighbor colleges Bates
and Colby several years ago. Part of the reason it is required for enrollment,
said Suzanne B. Lovett, a Bowdoin psychology professor whose specialty is
cognitive development, is that Internet-age students see so many examples of
text, music and images copied online without credit that they may not fully
understand the idea of plagiarism.
As for Central Florida’s testing center, one of its most recent cheating cases
had nothing to do with the Internet, cellphones or anything tech. A heavily
tattooed student was found with notes written on his arm. He had blended them
into his body art.
November 8, 2008
The New York Times
By TAMAR LEWIN
Arizona State University, anticipating at least $25 million in
budget cuts this fiscal year — on top of the $30 million already cut — is ending
its contracts with as many as 200 adjunct instructors.
Boston University, Cornell and Brown have announced selective hiring freezes.
And Tufts University, which for the last two years has, proudly, been one of the
few colleges in the nation that could afford to be need-blind — that is, to
admit the best-qualified applicants and meet their full financial need — may not
be able to maintain that generosity for next year’s incoming class. This fall,
Tufts suspended new capital projects and budgeted more for financial aid. But
with the market downturn, and the likelihood that more applicants will need
bigger aid packages, need-blind admissions may go by the wayside.
“The target of being need-blind is our highest priority,” said Lawrence S.
Bacow, president of Tufts. “But with what’s happening in the larger economy, we
expect that the incoming class is going to be needier. That’s the real
Tough economic times have come to public and private universities alike, and
rich or poor, they are figuring out how to respond. Many are announcing hiring
freezes, postponing construction projects or putting off planned capital
With endowment values and charitable gifts likely to decline, the process of
setting next year’s tuition low enough to keep students coming, but high enough
to support operations, is trickier than ever.
Dozens of college presidents, especially at wealthy institutions, have sent
letters and e-mail to students and their families describing their financial
situation and belt-tightening plans.
At Williams College, for example, President Morton Owen Schapiro wrote that with
last year’s negative return on the endowment and the worsening situation since
June, some renovation and facilities spending would be reduced and nonessential
openings left unfilled.
Many students, increasingly conscious of costs, are flocking to their state
universities; at Binghamton University, part of the New York State university
system, applications were up 50 percent this fall. But with this year’s state
budget problems, tuition increases at public universities may be especially
steep. Some public universities have already announced midyear tuition
With endowment values shrinking, variable-rate debt costs rising and states
cutting their financing, colleges face challenges on multiple fronts, said Molly
Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education.
“There’s no evidence of a complete meltdown,” Ms. Broad said, “but the problems
are serious enough that higher education is going to need help from the
And as in other sectors, she said, some financially shaky institutions will most
likely be seeking mergers.
Nationwide, retrenchment announcements are coming fast and furious, as state
after state reduces education financing.
The University of Florida, which eliminated 430 faculty and staff positions this
year, was told recently to cut next year’s budget by 10 percent, probably
requiring more layoffs. Financing for the University of Massachusetts system was
cut $24.6 million for the current fiscal year.
On Thursday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California proposed a midyear budget
cut of $65.5 million for the University of California system — on top of the $48
million reduction already in the budget.
“Budget cuts mean that campuses won’t be able to fill faculty vacancies, that
the student-faculty ratio rises, that students have lecturers instead of tenured
professors,” said Mark G. Yudof, president of the California system. “Higher
education is very labor intensive. We may be getting to the point where there
will have to be some basic change in the model.”
Private colleges, too, are tightening their belts — turning down thermostats,
scrapping plans for new gardens or quads, reducing faculty raises.
But many are also increasing their pool of financial aid.
Vassar College will give out $1 million more in financial aid this year than
originally budgeted, even though the endowment, which provides a third of its
operating budget, dropped to $765 million at the end of September, down $80
million from late June. President Catharine Bond Hill of Vassar said the college
would reduce its operating costs, but remain need-blind.
Many institutions with small endowments, however, will probably become more
need-sensitive than usual this year, quietly offering places to fewer students
who need large aid packages.
At Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, Robert J. Massa, the vice president for
enrollment and student life, said that about 200 applicants last year might have
been accepted if they had not needed so much financial help, but that that
number might rise to 250 this year.
Dickinson’s endowment was $280 million in mid-October, Mr. Massa said, down from
$350 million in June. And while more than three quarters of the college’s
operating budget comes from student fees, some endowment revenue will have to be
“Here’s the rub,” Mr. Massa said. “I really don’t think that colleges can afford
to increase their tuition price at higher than inflation this year. I don’t
think the public will stand for it. What we’ve done in higher education is let
our dreams and aspirations dictate our cost structure.”
Most colleges will have a better sense next month of how many students are
struggling, when second-semester tuition bills come due.
Paola Aguilar, a sophomore at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Va., is
worrying about whether she can afford to return next year.
“My mom became a Realtor last year to try to earn more money, but that didn’t
help,” Ms. Aguilar said. “I’ve talked to the people here, and they’ve helped me
out a little more for next semester, but as of right now, if I don’t get more
help, I’ll have to leave next year and go somewhere cheaper, near home.”
Tracy Fitzsimmons, Shenandoah’s president, said she began hearing about
students’ financial anxieties in mid-September.
“They’d tell me they were thinking they might have to move off campus next
semester and stay three to a bedroom, or give up the meal plan and just eat one
meal a day,” Ms. Fitzsimmons said.
Shenandoah has started an emergency grant fund for students, increased its loan
program and prepared to stretch out spring tuition payments for hard-pressed
Economic uncertainty touches every facet of higher education.
“We are planning to begin a capital campaign of $150-185 million,” said Karen R.
Lawrence, president of Sarah Lawrence College. “We will still do that. We’re not
compromising our ambitions, but the timing will be a little bit deferred.”
At the wealthiest institutions, endowment revenue usually covers about a third
of operating costs, and most colleges and universities spend a percentage of
their endowment, based on its average value over the previous three years,
helping to smooth out economic ups and downs.
In recent years, with tuition rising faster than inflation, college
affordability has become a significant issue. And with the sharp growth of
endowments in recent years — Harvard’s hit $36.9 billion this summer — some
politicians, notably Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, have
pushed for a requirement that colleges spend 5 percent of their endowments. Many
of the wealthiest institutions responded by expanding financial aid last year,
with dozens of them replacing loans with grants.
This fall, more universities are taking steps to increase affordability.
Benedictine University, a Roman Catholic institution in Illinois, is freezing
tuition; Vanderbilt University will replace loans with grants; Boston University
has expanded scholarships for students who graduated from Boston public schools;
and the University of Toledo announced free tuition for needy, high-performing
graduates of Ohio’s six largest public school systems.
Presidents of many expensive private colleges are wondering how much more
tuition pressure families can bear.
“I wouldn’t deny that a tuition freeze has occurred to me, but we can’t afford
heroic gestures,” said Sandy Ungar, president of Goucher College in Baltimore.
Given the current climate, some say, colleges need to re-examine all of their
“Several years ago, we started thinking about sustainability in environmental
terms,” said Dick Celeste, the president of Colorado College. “Now we need to be
thinking about sustainability in economic terms.”
Thu Oct 30, 2008
By Andrew Stern
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Higher education has been a growth
industry in the United States, evidenced by swelling enrollments, expanding
campuses and growing endowments. But the global economic crisis has caught
colleges and universities in a vice.
With their endowments shrinking along with stock markets, some schools may raise
tuition more than usual, even as students complain it is already too expensive
and struggle to get loans.
"This will definitely test many schools," said Ronald Watts, the finance chief
of Oberlin College, an elite private school in Ohio whose endowment of nearly
$750 million has shrunk by about 15 percent in the past four months.
To be sure, schools have proven resilient in past recessions, helped by rising
student enrollment as people seek a leg-up in a bleak job market.
"It's not going to be as drastic as what corporations are doing," Watts said.
"You don't just eliminate people and lay off faculty and expect not to destroy
your academic program."
Nevertheless, a few schools have already announced fresh tuition hikes, and
school officials said they were keeping a close eye on their finances. And, with
schools under financial pressure, local economies all over the country are
likely to suffer.
Tuition increases have outpaced inflation for years. Tuition and fees at public
universities have risen 175 percent since 1992, while the consumer price index
rose 48 percent.
At the University of Wisconsin in Madison, the school's $1.8 billion endowment
has shrunk by 18 percent since the start of the year, Sandy Wilcox of the
University of Wisconsin Foundation said. Dipping into the endowment to make a
promised contribution to the school's budget only shrinks it further.
Wisconsin, like many schools with substantial endowments -- 400 have endowments
over $100 million and 76 above $1 billion -- use a three-year averaging system
to smooth out how much they pay out from earnings.
RAINY DAY FUND
The wealthiest schools have come to rely on endowments and there has been
growing pressure from Congress to boost payouts, threatening to take away their
nonprofit, tax-free status if they don't comply.
For most other schools, small endowments serve as a "rainy day fund" that can
disappear quickly in tough times, said John Griswold of Commonfund, which
manages money for nonprofits.
"Schools we're most concerned about are smaller, less well-endowed private
colleges," said Roger Goodman, vice president at Moody's Investors Service,
which assigns credit ratings to 500 schools. He said endowment balances have
likely plummeted by 30 percent or more.
"You still need a college degree to be a full participant in the work force," he
said. "What we may see is a shifting (of applicants) from the higher-priced,
small, private colleges, to a lower-priced four-year university, and from the
four-year universities to community colleges for a couple of years."
A survey of 2,500 prospective students by MeritAid.com found 57 percent were now
considering less-expensive colleges due to the economic downturn.
Many prospective students encounter sticker shock when confronted by the $50,000
price tag at schools like Oberlin, Boston University and Bennington College in
But financial aid and federal loans remain available, and families whose assets
have declined qualify for more aid.
Boosting access to college is one plank of Democratic presidential hopeful
Barack Obama's platform. This may add pressure on publicly-funded universities
to boost enrollment, which has already climbed 10 percent since 2002.
Sticker prices at private colleges are usually much higher than pubic schools,
but students rarely pay full price.
"Sometimes a small, liberal arts college will actually be better for a student
and more affordable than in-state (public schools)," said Ken Himmelman,
Bennington's dean of admissions.
Public universities, which educate roughly 75 percent of the 17.5 million U.S.
students, are anticipating cuts in state appropriations, which cover a
substantial chunk of their costs.
State tax receipts have declined due to the economic slowdown and the bursting
of the housing bubble.
"They'll look to the university to cut. They don't want to cut prisons, or
roads," Wisconsin's Wilcox said.
Massachusetts' public universities have cut budgets by 5 percent as their part
in covering a state-wide shortfall.
Some public and private schools have declared hiring freezes and made efforts to
reduce expenses because of shrunken endowments, and actual or expected declines
in gifts and government support.
The state of Arizona cut its contribution to the state university system by 4
percent this year and 5 percent next year -- with another mid-year cut possible,
Its more than 118,000 university students may have to absorb a tuition hike next
year of 10 percent or more.
Hawaii lowered its contribution 2 percent, though enrollment rose 6 percent.
Pennsylvania's public universities will raise tuition 4 percent next year ahead
of state cuts.
California sliced 1 percent off its $3 billion contribution to universities but
more cuts are expected as tax revenues lag projections. This spring, New York
reduced its contribution and warned another 30 percent cut may be in the offing.
The bursting of the housing bubble has dried up home equity loans many families
have used to pay tuition. And the stock market drop has shrunk some families'
savings for education.
Often, much of the media's focus is on wealthy private schools with
multibillion-dollar endowments like Harvard and Yale, which have promised to
cover costs for many of those fortunate enough to gain admission.
But at less well-heeled private schools, which make up most of the United
States' unrivaled roster of 4,300 nonprofit institutions of higher learning,
significant tuition increases may be unavoidable.
"If history repeats itself, you're going to have falling state support on a
per-student basis, rising enrollments, and probably rises in tuition," said Paul
Lingenfelter, president of State Higher Education Executive Officers.
Some schools may try to wring more out of their campuses. Professors may have to
teach more courses, schools may rent out underutilized campus buildings, or even
sell dormitories to hoteliers and lease them back, suggested Richard Vedder, who
heads the Center for College Affordability and Productivity.
"Schools normally rely on tuition increases" to offset falls in government and
donor support, Vedder said. "But as economic conditions worsen, students are
going to be resistant, plus there is political pressure not to raise tuition. In
dollar terms, budgets may be equal to last year, and some may be forced into
some sort of austerity mode."
(Reuters) - Higher education in the United States has been
viewed as recession-proof, but the global financial crisis is already having an
Here are some facts about enrollment, endowments, and finances at the nation's
- An October 16 report from Moody's Investors Service estimated endowment losses
at 5 percent to 7 percent in the year to June 30. Since then, spending and
endowment losses sliced another 30 percent off schools' cash and investments.
- For the nation's public universities, which educate three out of four
students, state subsidies covered a little over half of their budget costs last
year, down from two-thirds in 1998. Tuition has grown to cover more than a third
of their budgets, up from one-fifth 15 years ago.
- Endowments supported around 10 percent of the average school's budget. At
Harvard (endowment $34.6 billion as of June 30), Yale ($22.5 billion), and other
wealthy institutions, earnings from the endowment covered roughly 40 percent of
costs. The average expenditure out of wealthy schools' endowments was 4.4
percent of assets.
- A total of 76 colleges and universities had more than $1 billion in their
endowments as of June 30. The wealthiest 400 schools had more than $400 billion
in assets in 2007. But fewer than 400 schools had at least $100 million in their
endowments, with most having less than $10 million.
- Tuition, room and board at private four-year schools in 2007-2008 averaged
$31,019, up 7 percent from two years ago after adjusting for inflation. The cost
of public schools was $16,758 for in-state students, $24,955 for out-of-state
students, up 5 percent in the last two years after inflation.
- Federal loan aid for higher education increased 60 percent between 1996 and
2005. Students borrowed $77 billion last year to pay expenses to attend colleges
and universities. Two out of three students received grants -- discounts on
tuition -- averaging $9,300 at private schools and $3,600 at public schools.
- College seniors who graduated in 2007 carried 6 percent more student loan debt
that the class of 2006. Starting salaries for graduates rose 3 percent in the
- An online survey found 16 percent of prospective students put college searches
on hold because they couldn't afford it.
Sources: State Higher Education Executive Officers;
The Project on Student Debt;
Center for College Affordability and Productivity;
The New York Times
By TAMAR LEWIN
Sexton, the president of New York University, first met Omar Saif Ghobash, an
investor trying to entice him to open a branch campus in the United Arab
Emirates, Mr. Sexton was not sure what to make of the proposal — so he asked for
a $50 million gift.
“It’s like earnest money: if you’re a $50 million donor, I’ll take you
seriously,” Mr. Sexton said. “It’s a way to test their bona fides.” In the end,
the money materialized from the government of Abu Dhabi, one of the seven
Mr. Sexton has long been committed to building N.Y.U.’s international presence,
increasing study-abroad sites, opening programs in Singapore, and exploring new
partnerships in France. But the plans for a comprehensive liberal-arts branch
campus in the Persian Gulf, set to open in 2010, are in a class by themselves,
and Mr. Sexton is already talking about the flow of professors and students he
envisions between New York and Abu Dhabi.
The American system of higher education, long the envy of the world, is becoming
an important export as more universities take their programs overseas.
In a kind of educational gold rush, American universities are competing to set
up outposts in countries with limited higher education opportunities. American
universities — not to mention Australian and British ones, which also offer
instruction in English, the lingua franca of academia — are starting, or
expanding, hundreds of programs and partnerships in booming markets like China,
India and Singapore.
And many are now considering full-fledged foreign branch campuses, particularly
in the oil-rich Middle East. Already, students in the Persian Gulf state of
Qatar can attend an American university without the expense, culture shock or
post-9/11 visa problems of traveling to America.
At Education City in Doha, Qatar’s capital, they can study medicine at Weill
Medical College of Cornell University, international affairs at Georgetown,
computer science and business at Carnegie Mellon, fine arts at Virginia
Commonwealth, engineering at Texas A&M, and soon, journalism at Northwestern.
In Dubai, another emirate, Michigan State University and Rochester Institute of
Technology will offer classes this fall.
“Where universities are heading now is toward becoming global universities,”
said Howard Rollins, the former director of international programs at Georgia
Tech, which has degree programs in France, Singapore, Italy, South Africa and
China, and plans for India. “We’ll have more and more universities competing
internationally for resources, faculty and the best students.”
Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, internationalization has moved
high on the agenda at most universities, to prepare students for a globalized
world, and to help faculty members stay up-to-date in their disciplines.
Overseas programs can help American universities raise their profile, build
international relationships, attract top research talent who, in turn, may
attract grants and produce patents, and gain access to a new pool of
tuition-paying students, just as the number of college-age Americans is about to
Even public universities, whose primary mission is to educate in-state students,
are trying to establish a global brand in an era of limited state financing.
Partly, it is about prestige. American universities have long worried about
their ratings in U.S. News and World Report. These days, they are also mindful
of the international rankings published in Britain, by the Times Higher
Education Supplement, and in China, by Shanghai Jiao Tong University.
The demand from overseas is huge. At the University of Washington, the
administrator in charge of overseas programs said she received about a proposal
a week. “It’s almost like spam,” said the official, Susan Jeffords, whose
position as vice provost for global affairs was created just two years ago.
Traditionally, top universities built their international presence through
study-abroad sites, research partnerships, faculty exchanges and joint degree
programs offered with foreign universities. Yale has dozens of research
collaborations with Chinese universities. Overseas branches, with the same
requirements and degrees as the home campuses, are a newer — and riskier —
“I still think the downside is lower than the upside is high,” said Amy Gutmann,
president of the University of Pennsylvania. “The risk is that we couldn’t
deliver the same quality education that we do here, and that it would mean
diluting our faculty strength at home.”
While universities with overseas branches insist that the education equals what
is offered in the United States, much of the faculty is hired locally, on a
short-term basis. And certainly overseas branches raise fundamental questions:
Will the programs reflect American values and culture, or the host country’s?
Will American taxpayers end up footing part of the bill for overseas students?
What happens if relations between the United States and the host country
deteriorate? And will foreign branches that spread American know-how hurt
“A lot of these educators are trying to present themselves as benevolent and
altruistic, when in reality, their programs are aimed at making money,” said
Representative Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican who has criticized the
David J. Skorton, the president of Cornell, on the other hand, said the global
drive benefited the United States. “Higher education is the most important
diplomatic asset we have,” he said. “I believe these programs can actually
reduce friction between countries and cultures.”
While the Persian Gulf campus of N.Y.U. is on the horizon, George Mason
University is up and running — though not at full speed — in Ras al Khaymah,
another one of the emirates.
George Mason, a public university in Fairfax, Va., arrived in the gulf in 2005
with a tiny language program intended to help students achieve college-level
English skills and meet the university’s admission standards for the degree
programs that were beginning the next year.
George Mason expected to have 200 undergraduates in 2006, and grow from there.
But it enrolled nowhere near that many, then or now. It had just 57 degree
students — 3 in biology, 27 in business and 27 in engineering — at the start of
this academic year, joined by a few more students and programs this semester.
The project, an hour north of Dubai’s skyscrapers and 7,000 miles from Virginia,
is still finding its way. “I will freely confess that it’s all been more
complicated than I expected,” said Peter Stearns, George Mason’s provost.
The Ras al Khaymah campus has had a succession of deans. Simple tasks like
ordering books take months, in part because of government censors. Local
licensing, still not complete, has been far more rigorous than expected. And it
has not been easy to find interested students with the SAT scores and English
skills that George Mason requires for admissions.
“I’m optimistic, but if you look at it as a business, you can only take losses
for so long,” said Dr. Abul R. Hasan, the academic dean, who is from the South
Dakota School of Mines and Technology. “Our goal is to have 2,000 students five
years from now. What makes it difficult is that if you’re giving the George
Mason degree, you cannot lower your standards.”
Aisha Ravindran, a professor from India with no previous connection to George
Mason, teaches students the same communications class required for business
majors at the Virginia campus — but in the Arabian desert, it lands differently.
Dr. Ravindran uses the same slides, showing emoticons and lists of nonverbal
taboos to spread the American business ideal of diversity and inclusiveness. She
emphasizes the need to use language that includes all listeners.
And suddenly, there is an odd mismatch between the American curriculum and the
local culture. In a country where homosexual acts are illegal, Dr. Ravindran’s
slide show suggests using “partner” or “life partner,” since “husband” or “wife”
might exclude some listeners. And in a country where mosques are ubiquitous, the
slides counsel students to avoid the word “church” and substitute “place of
The Ras al Khaymah students include Bangladeshis, Palestinians, Egyptians,
Indians, Iraqis, Lebanese, Syrians and more, most from families that can afford
the $5,400-a-semester tuition. But George Mason has attracted few citizens of
The students say they love the small classes, diversity and camaraderie. Their
dorm feels much like an American fraternity house, without the haze of alcohol.
Some praise George Mason’s pedagogy, which they say differs substantially from
the rote learning of their high schools.
“At my local school in Abu Dhabi, it was all what the teachers told you, what
was in the book,” said Mona Bar Houm, a Palestinian student who grew up in Abu
Dhabi. “Here you’re asked to come up with your personal ideas.”
But what matters most, they say, is getting an American degree. “It means
something if I go home to Bangladesh with an American degree,” said Abdul Mukit,
a business student. “It doesn’t need to be Harvard. It’s good enough to be just
an American degree.”
Whether that degree really reflects George Mason is open to question. None of
the faculty members came from George Mason, although that is likely to change
next year. The money is not from George Mason, either: Ras al Khaymah bears all
Nonetheless, Sharon Siverts, the vice president in charge of the campus, said:
“What’s George Mason is everything we do. The admissions are done at George
Mason, by George Mason standards. The degree programs are Mason programs.”
Three years ago, Mr. Ghobash, the Oxford-educated investor from the United Arab
Emirates, heard a presentation by a private company, American Higher Education
Inc., trying to broker a partnership between Kuwait and an American university.
Mr. Ghobash, wanting to bring liberal arts to his country, hired the company to
submit a proposal for a gulf campus run by a well-regarded American university.
American Higher Education officials said they introduced him to N.Y.U. Mr.
Ghobash spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the company’s fees, talked
with many N.Y.U. officials and paid for a delegation to visit the emirates
before meeting Mr. Sexton, the university president, in June 2005.
Mr. Sexton said he solicited the $50 million gift to emphasize that he was not
interested in a business-model deal and that academic excellence was expensive.
Mr. Ghobash declined to be interviewed. But according to American Higher
Education officials, $50 million was more than Mr. Ghobash could handle.
So when the agreement for the Abu Dhabi campus New York University was signed
last fall, Mr. Ghobash and the company were out of the picture, and the
government of Abu Dhabi — the richest of the emirates — was the partner to build
and operate the N.Y.U. campus. The Executive Affairs Authority of Abu Dhabi made
the gift in November 2007.
“The crown prince shares our vision of Abu Dhabi becoming an idea capital for
the whole region,” Mr. Sexton said. “We’re going to be a global network
university. This is central to what N.Y.U. is going to be in the future. There’s
a commitment, on both sides, to have both campuses grow together, so that by
2020, both N.Y.U. and N.Y.U.-Abu Dhabi will in the world’s top 10 universities.”
Neither side will put a price tag on the plan. But both emphasize their shared
ambition to create an entity central to the intellectual life not just of the
Persian Gulf but also of South Asia and the Middle East.
“We totally buy into John’s view of idea capitals,” said Khaldoon al-Mubarak,
chairman of the Executive Affairs Authority. “This is not a commercially driven
relationship. It’s a commitment to generations to come, to research. We see eye
to eye. We see this as a Catholic marriage. It’s forever.”
It is also, for New York University, a chance to grow, given Abu Dhabi’s promise
to replace whatever the New York campus loses to the gulf.
“If, say, 10 percent of the physics department goes there, they will pay to
expand the physics department here by 10 percent,” Mr. Sexton said. “That’s a
wonderful opportunity, and we think our faculty will see it that way and step
Mr. Sexton is leading the way: next fall, even before the campus is built, he
plans to teach a course in Abu Dhabi, leaving New York every other Friday
evening, getting to Abu Dhabi on Saturday, teaching Sunday and returning to his
New York office Monday morning.
“The crown prince loved the idea and said he wanted to take the class,” Mr.
Sexton said. “But I said, ‘No, think how that would be for the other students.’
While the gulf’s wealth has drawn many American universities, others dream of
China’s enormous population.
In October, the New York Institute of Technology, a private university offering
career-oriented training, opened a Nanjing campus in collaboration with Nanjing
University of Posts and Telecommunications, and dozens of American universities
offer joint or dual degrees through Chinese universities.
Kean University, a public university in New Jersey, had hoped mightily to be the
first with a freestanding undergraduate campus in China. Two years ago, Kean
announced its agreement to open a branch of the university in Wenzhou in
September 2007. Whether the campus will materialize remains to be seen. Kean is
still awaiting final approval from China, which prefers programs run through
“I’m optimistic,” said Dawood Farahi, Kean’s president. “I’m Lewis and Clark,
looking for the Northwest Passage.”
In fact, his negotiations have been much like uncharted exploration. “It’s very
cumbersome negotiating with the Chinese,” he said. “The deal you struck
yesterday is not necessarily good today. The Chinese sign an agreement, and then
the next day, you get a fax saying they want an amendment.” Still, he persists,
noting, “One out of every five humans on the planet is Chinese.”
Beyond the geopolitical, there are other reasons, pedagogic and economic.
“A lot of our students are internationally illiterate,” Dr. Farahi said. “It
would be very good for them to have professors who’ve taught in China, to be
able to study in China, and to have more awareness of the rest of the world. And
I think I can make a few bucks there.” Under the accord, he said, up to 8
percent of the Wenzhou revenues could be used to support New Jersey.
With state support for public universities a constant challenge, new financing
sources are vital, especially for lesser-known universities. “It’s precisely
because we’re third tier that I have to find things that jettison us out of our
orbit and into something spectacular,” Dr. Farahi said.
Possibilities and Alarms
Most overseas campuses offer only a narrow slice of American higher education,
most often programs in business, science, engineering and computers.
Schools of technology have the most cachet. So although the New York Institute
of Technology may not be one of America’s leading universities, it is a leading
globalizer, with programs in Bahrain, Jordan, Abu Dhabi, Canada, Brazil and
“We’re leveraging what we’ve got, which is the New York in our first name and
the Technology in our last name,” said Edward Guiliano, the institute’s
president. “I believe that in the 21st century, there will be a new class of
truly global universities. There isn’t one yet, but we’re as close as anybody.”
Some huge universities get a toehold in the gulf with tiny programs. At a villa
in Abu Dhabi, the University of Washington, a research colossus, offers short
courses to citizens of the emirates, mostly women, in a government job-training
“We’re very eager to have a presence here,” said Marisa Nickle, who runs the
program. “In the gulf, it’s not what’s here now, it’s what’s coming. Everybody’s
on the way.”
Some lawmakers are wondering how that rush overseas will affect the United
States. In July, the House Science and Technology subcommittee on research and
science education held a hearing on university globalization.
Mr. Rohrabacher, the California lawmaker, raises alarms. “I’m someone who
believes that Americans should watch out for Americans first,” he said. “It’s
one thing for universities here to send professors overseas and do exchange
programs, which do make sense, but it’s another thing to have us running
educational programs overseas.”
The subcommittee chairman, Representative Brian Baird, a Washington Democrat,
disagrees. “If the U.S. universities aren’t doing this, someone else likely
will,” he said. “I think it’s better that we be invited in than that we be left
Still, he said he worried that the foreign branches could undermine an important
American asset — the number of world leaders who were students in the United
“I do wonder,” he said, “if we establish many of these campuses overseas, do we
lose some of that cross-pollination”
LAST month, Harvard reached into its deep pockets — its endowment is $35
billion — and changed the way it calculates student financial aid. The aim, its
press release says, is “to make Harvard College more affordable for families
across the income spectrum.” Last week, Yale, whose $22.5 billion endowment is
growing even faster than Harvard’s, followed suit. Yale’s president, Richard
Levin, said he didn’t want students to have to choose “between Yale and Harvard
based on cost.”
Who will benefit? Mostly the people Harvard calls “middle- and upper-middle
income families,” by which it means those earning $120,000 to $180,000 each
year. Yale stretches its new plan to include families earning $200,000. (The
median family income in the United States is around $50,000.)
Next year, each of these institutions will add more than $20 million to what
they now spend on financial aid, reducing the cost of a college year for
families earning $180,000 to $18,000, from $30,000. That’s good news for
students at Harvard or Yale. But it’s bad news for many hoping to attend other
private four-year colleges — and for the nation in general.
The problem is that most colleges will feel compelled to follow Harvard and
Yale’s lead in price-discounting. Yet few have enough money to give more aid to
relatively wealthy students without taking it away from relatively poor ones.
Most colleges already tend to favor the affluent because their budgets require
it. More than 90 percent of America’s private colleges have endowments less than
1 percent the size of Harvard’s. Giving an upper-middle-class applicant even a
generous partial scholarship puts less strain on their budgets than giving a
full scholarship to a student whose family can afford to pay nothing.
In 2004, Lawrence Summers, then Harvard’s president, pointed out that
three-fourths of the students at selective colleges come from the top income
quartile and only 9 percent from the bottom two quartiles combined. And as
Donald Heller, a professor of education at Pennsylvania State University, has
shown in a number of studies, colleges are increasingly awarding grant money in
the form of so-called merit scholarships not based on financial need. More of
this assistance is going to students in the top income quartile than to any
other income group.
It is understandable that Harvard and Yale want to make themselves more
affordable. But the way they’re going about it sets an example that is likely to
make it even harder for low-income students to attend the best college for which
they are qualified. Harvard’s stated motive is to stop prospective students from
“voting with their feet” by choosing public universities or other private
colleges. But surely this is not a very serious problem for a university that
each year turns away hundreds of high school valedictorians and whose yield (the
percentage of admitted applicants who enroll) is around 80 percent.
At Yale, Mr. Levin has acknowledged that another motive for the new policy is to
blunt the growing pressure on wealthy universities to spend more income from
their endowments. But is supporting upper-middle-class students the wisest way
to dispense the additional money?
In fact, the new policy represents a step backward from the leadership that some
elite colleges previously exerted. During the Summers presidency, Harvard
focused on the problems of needy students by combining increased financial aid
and recruitment in low-income areas, raising its percentage of students eligible
for federal Pell grants to 11.9 percent in 2006, from 9.4 percent in 2004.
Harvard demonstrated to other colleges that there is undiscovered talent in the
two bottom income quartiles.
In a society that claims to believe in equal opportunity, our top universities
should lead by example. The scandalous fact is that between 2004 and 2006 — an
era of enormous private wealth accumulation — 27 of the 30 top-ranked American
universities and 26 of the top 30 liberal arts colleges saw a decline in the
percentage of low-income (Pell-grant-eligible) students. The problem Mr. Summers
described is only growing worse. While some upper-middle-class families have to
sacrifice in order to pay for college and may deserve more financial help, most
of their children find a way to attend college. Low-income students earn
bachelor’s degrees at less than one-third the rate of high-income students.
Only a few colleges can afford to make tuition affordable for both the poor and
the affluent. For every college to become accessible to talented students
regardless of income, the federal government must create enhanced grant
programs, progressive tax incentives and programs that reduce the debt of
graduates who spend time in public service. Otherwise, America will be the
loser, no matter who wins the Harvard-Yale game.
Roger Lehecka, a former dean of students at Columbia,
consults for scholarship
programs for needy students.
Andrew Delbanco is the director of American studies
GREENCASTLE, Ind. — When a psychology professor at DePauw University here
surveyed students, they described one sorority as a group of “daddy’s little
princesses” and another as “offbeat hippies.” The sisters of Delta Zeta were
seen as “socially awkward.”
Worried that a negative stereotype of the sorority was contributing to a decline
in membership that had left its Greek-columned house here half empty, Delta
Zeta’s national officers interviewed 35 DePauw members in November, quizzing
them about their dedication to recruitment. They judged 23 of the women
insufficiently committed and later told them to vacate the sorority house.
The 23 members included every woman who was overweight. They also included the
only black, Korean and Vietnamese members. The dozen students allowed to stay
were slender and popular with fraternity men — conventionally pretty women the
sorority hoped could attract new recruits. Six of the 12 were so infuriated they
“Virtually everyone who didn’t fit a certain sorority member archetype was told
to leave,” said Kate Holloway, a senior who withdrew from the chapter during its
“I sensed the disrespect with which this was to be carried out and got fed up,”
Ms. Holloway added. “I didn’t have room in my life for these women to come in
and tell my sisters of three years that they weren’t needed.”
Ms. Holloway is not the only angry one. The reorganization has left a messy
aftermath of recrimination and tears on this rural campus of 2,400 students, 50
miles southwest of Indianapolis.
The mass eviction battered the self-esteem of many of the former sorority
members, and some withdrew from classes in depression. There have been student
protests, outraged letters from alumni and parents, and a faculty petition
calling the sorority’s action unethical.
DePauw’s president, Robert G. Bottoms, issued a two-page letter of reprimand to
the sorority. In an interview in his office, Dr. Bottoms said he had been
stunned by the sorority’s insensitivity.
“I had no hint they were going to disrupt the chapter with a membership
reduction of this proportion in the middle of the year,” he said. “It’s been
The president of Delta Zeta, which has its headquarters in Oxford, Ohio, and its
other national officers declined to be interviewed. Responding by e-mail to
questions, Cynthia Winslow Menges, the executive director, said the sorority had
not evicted the 23 women, even though the national officers sent those women
form letters that said: “The membership review team has recommended you for
alumna status. Chapter members receiving alumnae status should plan to relocate
from the chapter house no later than Jan. 29, 2007.”
Ms. Menges asserted that the women themselves had, in effect, made their own
decisions to leave by demonstrating a lack of commitment to meet recruitment
goals. The sorority paid each woman who left $300 to cover the difference
between sorority and campus housing.
The sorority “is saddened that the isolated incident at DePauw has been
mischaracterized,” Ms. Menges wrote. Asked for clarification, the sorority’s
public relations representative e-mailed a statement saying its actions were
aimed at the “enrichment of student life at DePauw.”
This is not the first time that the DePauw chapter of Delta Zeta has stirred
controversy. In 1982, it attracted national attention when a black student was
not allowed to join, provoking accusations of racial discrimination.
Earlier this month, an Alabama lawyer and several other DePauw alumni who
graduated in 1970 described in a letter to The DePauw, the student newspaper,
how Delta Zeta’s national leadership had tried unsuccessfully to block a young
woman with a black father and a white mother from joining its DePauw chapter in
Despite those incidents, the chapter appears to have been home to a diverse
community over the years, partly because it has attracted brainy women,
including many science and math majors, as well as talented disabled women,
without focusing as exclusively as some sororities on potential recruits’ sex
appeal, former sorority members said.
“I had a sister I could go to a bar with if I had boy problems,” said Erin
Swisshelm, a junior biochemistry major who withdrew from the sorority in
October. “I had a sister I could talk about religion with. I had a sister I
could be nerdy about science with. That’s why I liked Delta Zeta, because I had
all these amazing women around me.”
But over the years DePauw students had attached a negative stereotype to the
chapter, as evidenced by the survey that Pam Propsom, a psychology professor,
conducts each year in her class. That image had hurt recruitment, and the
national officers had repeatedly warned the chapter that unless its membership
increased, the chapter could close.
At the start of the fall term the national office was especially determined to
raise recruitment because 2009 is the 100th anniversary of the DePauw chapter’s
founding. In September, Ms. Menges and Kathi Heatherly, a national vice
president of the sorority, visited the chapter to announce a reorganization plan
they said would include an interview with each woman about her commitment. The
women were urged to look their best for the interviews.
The tone left four women so unsettled that they withdrew from the chapter almost
Robin Lamkin, a junior who is an editor at The DePauw and was one of the 23
women evicted, said many of her sisters bought new outfits and modeled them for
each other before the interviews. Many women declared their willingness to
recruit diligently, Ms. Lamkin said.
A few days after the interviews, national representatives took over the house to
hold a recruiting event. They asked most members to stay upstairs in their
rooms. To welcome freshmen downstairs, they assembled a team that included
several of the women eventually asked to stay in the sorority, along with some
slender women invited from the sorority’s chapter at Indiana University, Ms.
“They had these unassuming freshman girls downstairs with these plastic women
from Indiana University, and 25 of my sisters hiding upstairs,” she said. “It
was so fake, so completely dehumanized. I said, ‘This calls for a little joke.’
Ms. Holloway put on a wig and some John Lennon rose-colored glasses, burst
through the front door and skipped around singing, “Ooooh! Delta Zeta!” and
The face of one of the national representatives, she recalled, “was like I’d run
over her puppy with my car.”
The national representatives announced their decisions in the form letters,
delivered on Dec. 2, which said that Delta Zeta intended to increase membership
to 95 by the 2009 anniversary, and that it would recruit using a “core group of
Elizabeth Haneline, a senior computer science major who was among those evicted,
returned to the house that afternoon and found some women in tears. Even the
chapter’s president had been kicked out, Ms. Haneline said, while “other women
who had done almost nothing for the chapter were asked to stay.”
Six of the 12 women who were asked to stay left the sorority, including Joanna
Kieschnick, a sophomore majoring in English literature. “They said, ‘You’re not
good enough’ to so many people who have put their heart and soul into this
chapter that I can’t stay,” she said.
In the months since, Cynthia Babington, DePauw’s dean of students, has fielded
angry calls from parents, she said. Robert Hershberger, chairman of the modern
languages department, circulated the faculty petition; 55 professors signed it.
“We were especially troubled that the women they expelled were less about image
and more about academic achievement and social service,” Dr. Hershberger said.
During rush activities this month, 11 first-year students accepted invitations
to join Delta Zeta, but only three have sought membership.
On Feb. 2, Rachel Pappas, a junior who is the chapter’s former secretary,
printed 200 posters calling on students to gather that afternoon at the student
union. About 50 students showed up and heard Ms. Pappas say the sorority’s
national leaders had misrepresented the truth when they asserted they had
evicted women for lack of commitment.
“The injustice of the lies,” she said, “is contemptible.”