Friday, July 27, 2007

meanwhile back in the real world

Paradoxically, it is precisely the meager financial aid outlays of endowment-rich colleges and universities that make the true miserliness of low payout practices most apparent. Stanford University spends $76 million on undergraduate financial aid, a sum that sounds generous but amounts to a mere 0.5 percent of the value of its endowment. The university spends just 4 percent of its $14 billion endowment toward operating expenses. If the 5 percent payout rule required Stanford to spend another 1 percent of its endowment, and that money was directed toward financial aid, students would enjoy $211 million in additional support. That is precisely the cost of letting all 6,600 Stanford undergraduates attend tuition-free.

from a piece by Lynne Munson on student debt at

a commenter gave a link to this piece by Phillip Greenspun arguing for tuition-free-MIT


Jenny Davidson said...

You know this already, Helen, and it certainly doesn't affect the central point of the article (I am obsessed with the need for more financial aid), but for non-US readers it's worth pointing out that the term "tuition" in such articles usually really means just that, and that the fees for room, board, health insurance etc. can easily run another twelve or thirteen thousand dollars per year.

for instance:

What middle-class family has a thousand dollars monthly to spare--for each kid in college?!?

I benefited from extremely generous financial aid in college, so I'm not really complaining on my own account (my last couple years, it covered full tuition plus gave me a check for about $1500/semester, by living off campus I could get by on a much smaller budget for food and housing and I worked as a temp in order to pay the bills, I was also paying off the loans my parents had taken out to cover their contribution for the first couple years of college and by the time I finished school I was pretty much debt-free, which seems amazing to me now--when I finished my PhD I am sorry to say I had a ton of consumer debt from six years of living on meager sums!).

The thing that all these better-off schools should do immediately is shift the balance in the funding packages they already give. Ex.: it has become (yes, this is depressing for other reasons, but what can you do...) very standard for a student to do 2-3 internships, or more, while in college, so that when s/he finishes it's with a resume that might actually get him/her an entry-level position in publishing or political campaigning or whatever. But if your financial aid package says you need to SAVE (that's not "make," that's SAVE) $5000 over the summer and several thousand dollars each semester, then you cannot afford to take an unpaid internship, you will miss out on the job connections and you will not be able to compete with your peers who were able to do such things. You also probably won't be able to afford to do a summer abroad studying a language after your sophomore year, again because you a re expected to contribute many thousands of dollars from that summer's earnings; this is an even more painful handicap in my view, hard to see how you get fluency in a difficult language like Russian or Chinese without studying abroad, and in many cases it's not practical to go abroad during the actual school year. (Columbia's core requirements make it difficult for instance.)

All right, I must stop ranting, I could go on forever about this!

Helen DeWitt said...

Yes, perhaps I should have made clear that in America tuition is only a small part of the costs. As you say, the role of unpaid internships in building up a CV for job applications makes the terms of these need-based grants extremely unfair to the recipients. In the long run a university would presumably trounce the competition if it maximised ALL students' chances of benefiting from their education, so I'm surprised that none has broken away from the pack and waived the student job requirement. NYU wants to be in the same rank as the big 4; weeeeeeeeeellllll, one thing it might do is look after the talent. While Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Stanford were milking a percentage of their students for the proceeds of badly-paid summer jobs NYU could be giving ALL its students the best possible chance.

Helen DeWitt said...

It seems odd that alumni take this lying down. If a group of alums had a commitment to the study of Chinese, for instance, one obvious step would be to club together and provide all undergraduates who wanted to spend time in China with both the necessary funds for the trip AND whatever it took to make up the university's summer job requirement.

Jenny Davidson said...

Yes, it wouldn't be that much money, really, and the university could be shamed into matching funds on something like this, or even just altering the numbers on the financial aid package.

I am obsessed with the need for a course in university finance that all professors who had any leanings towards administration or just cared about understanding how things work would offer, it could be developed/funded by the Mellon or Carnegie folks and then taught in different incarnations at lots of different business schools or schools of public affairs, whatever was the right fit--everything from how to read balance sheets, i.e. technical skills, to the broadest relationships between the economy at large and the financial underpinnings of higher education.

Leitmotifish said...

This is yet again, paperpools, very depressing reading. I can't believe I had to beg for night shifts on the manufacturing line so I can spend my entire worldly possessions on flying/buying linen/required (!) dental insurance for school/238 dollars for a student visa when they are just withholding money. This better be worth it. Very depressing reading indeed.

But on a less spoiled note: I really don't understand. I agree it is wrong for the American tax payer to pay so people could get tax cuts on giving to a charity organization that is not all that charitable even to itself (its own cause) I am disgusted by this hording money mentality as any (poor) person got to be. BUT... I think it is (from the root the root) funny that parents are expected to pay for the education of their almost 20 year old child. I think that if someone wants an education then they should work for a few years so they can afford the education they want. I think that if someone gives them the education for free they should say thank you. But I also think the university in the first place should be affordable after at the most three years of uneducated work. And I think in America people are going to keep paying for their children, inflating the prices so that universities are going to keep asking what your parents make to give you fin aid. and hoping the universities or the parents can change is fantasy. Even hoping students would change is fantasy. All this money stuff, very worrying for a student already too busy with worrying. I think everything is wrong from the root.