The Pitt News

Government, colleges must prioritize careful cost-reduction

By Simon Brown / Columnist

September 4, 2013

When Barack Obama enrolled for his first year at Occidental College in 1979, the average cost of a university education stood at roughly $8,700 per year. When he sends his daughter, Malia Obama, off to college in 2016, the cost will be about $18,300 per year — and that’s after being adjusted for inflation. Perhaps the president had this sentiment in mind when, two weeks ago, he publicly unveiled his plan to use federal financial support to encourage universities to reduce the price of the education that they provide. It would seem that he’s also well aware that most American families will have a much harder time paying that $18,300 than he and Michelle Obama will.The plan that the president fittingly announced at university campuses across New York and Pennsylvania calls for a system to rank universities — public, private and for-profit — along several metrics, including reduction of cost, accessibility to low-income students and graduation rates. These rankings would then correlate to the amount of federal support each university receives by way of student-loan programs. Simply put, if you go to a school with a better ranking, the federal government will allot you a more generous loan package. This plan promises to be a much-needed step in the right direction for higher-education policy. With the tug-of-war between public universities and their less-than-supportive state governments coupled with runaway costs of private and for-profit colleges, the federal government can provide a fresh voice in the conversation. And states and universities might actually pay attention when that voice is backed by billions of taxpayers’ dollars. You would be hard-pressed to find any university administrator or policymaker who doesn’t decry the rising cost of college education. Even more difficult, however, is finding any agreement on why the costs are rising in the first place. The current debate is no more than an intricate web of finger-pointing.Public universities blame austere state governments, and state governments blame irresponsible public universities. In the midst of this chicken-and-the-egg debate, the cost of financing for-profit colleges has skyrocketed with disappointing returns. The 13 percent of all enrolled college students who attend these institutions receive 25 percent of all federal student aid, even though only about 50 percent end up with a degree to show for it. It comes as no surprise, then, that these students also default on their loans at a rate much higher than those at non-profit colleges.Universities of all varieties enjoy the autonomy to set their tuition at whatever they deem necessary, and the funding mechanism for federal student loans will continue to foot the ever-mounting bill. So when universities incur the considerable cost to build extravagant new dining halls, residence halls and rock walls, they can often pass it off to taxpayers. The federal government, then, is perfectly positioned to discourage the needless expense and unfinished degrees that too often characterize the contemporary university. But just as with any hopeful policy goal, the devil is in the administrative details. Though no legislation now exists to stipulate the specifics of the ranking criteria, the generality of standards the president listed leave them open to gaping loopholes. The primary goal of the legislation is to financially reward institutions that can creatively reduce costs — an admirable goal, no doubt. However, the problem lies not just in the excessive costs of many universities, but also in their misplaced spending in programs that provide no value to a student’s education. Accordin...

Editorial: PA’s rights for same sex couples must follow federal change

By The Pitt News Editorial Staff

September 4, 2013

Under new rules that were announced Aug. 29, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Internal Revenue Service, along with the Treasury Department, have altered the benefits same-sex couples receive with regard to taxes and Medicare.The IRS now recognizes same-sex couples that are legall...

Editorial: Book prices put strain on students

By Pitt News Editorial Board

September 2, 2013

Tuition and room and board are often cited as factors behind the enormous total nationwide student-loan debt, which recently surpassed $1 trillion. One cost that is often overlooked, however, is the ballooning price of textbooks. According to a report issued by the U.S. Government Accountability Office,...

Casual Fridays 8/30/2013

By Editorial Staff

August 29, 2013

Sharp shooterA New Hampshire man called police after he apparently shot himself in the knee while sleeping. The man, whose name has not been released, suffers from a condition called parasomnia, which causes him to perform unnatural behaviors in his sleep. We can’t help but wonder if the man was dreaming he was Plaxico Burress when the shot was fired.The hero France dese...

Keep ‘high-order thinking’ without the high-stakes testing

By Simon Brown / Columnist

August 28, 2013

“The test was way too hard. Everyone I talked to totally failed it.” Unless you went to a very experimental school, you probably picked up this defense mechanism sometime in middle school to justify a particularly unimpressive grade. After the third or fourth time, however, your parents probabl...

Editorial: Achieve the ‘Dream’: End racism

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

August 28, 2013

Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Today, sadly, we still live in a society far removed from the goals King profoundly echoed to millions on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963.Fifty years ago, America witnessed mass racism and segreg...

PRISM oversteps boundaries, posing dark future for Americans

By Tiemoko Ballo / Columnist

August 27, 2013

This summer the world found out about the Planning Tool for Resource Integration, Synchronization and Management, or PRISM. This contrived acronym is the once-secret codename for an ominous and pervasive surveillance and data-mining program run by the National Security Agency.PRISM allows the NSA and the ...

Welcome Back: To Privatize or not to Privatize: Pennsylvania’s Dilemma

By Stephen Suss / Columnist

August 19, 2013

Nothing is more reminiscent of summer than the smell of barbeque while opening a cold beer with your friends. But Pennsylvania’s alcohol laws can make the price for beer painful, and locating it a difficult task. As an out-of-stater in Pennsylvania, it often feels like I’m stepping back into the Prohibition e...

Organized activities are needed to end “summer slide” for younger students

Organized activities are needed to end

By Simon Brown / For The Pitt News

July 17, 2013

If you were to ask any 12-year-old whether or not he’s excited for the onset of summer, his response wouldn’t be difficult to predict — that is, if he has the attention span to even provide one. Ask anyone whose school days are well behind him to recount some of his most cherished adolescent me...

Racial justice nowhere to be found in light of court verdict

Racial justice nowhere to be found in light of court verdict

By The Pitt News Staff

July 17, 2013

Justice for some is not justice for all. Unfortunately, those looking for immediate racial justice in the outcome of the Trayvon Martin case will have to look elsewhere.Saturday night’s court decision, which found George Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter in the shooting...

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