If you’re a grad student, it’s best to read the latest report from the National Science Foundation with a large glass of single-malt whiskey in hand. Scratch that: The top-shelf whiskey is probably out of your budget. Well, Trader Joe’s“Two Buck Chuck” is good, too!
Liquid courage is a necessity when examining the data on Ph.D.s in the latest NSF report, “The Survey of Earned Doctorates,” which utilized figures from the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center. The report finds that many newly minted Ph.D.s complete school after nearly 10 years of studies with significant debt and without the promise of a job. Yet few people seem to be paying attention to these findings; graduate programs are producing more Ph.D.s than ever before.
As you pick your bracket for March Madness, stop for a moment and ponder what some might describe as the madness of the coaches’ salaries. According to U.S. News & World Report, the highest-paid 25 college basketball coaches earn between roughly $2 million and $6 million per year. Those figures don’t include generous perks, such as private jets and housing allowances, or severance packages. There are millions more in bonuses for coaches who take their teams to the championships. And coaches can supplement that income with private endorsement deals, speaking fees, and summer camps.
While million-dollar-plus salaries are commonplace in professional sports, they are highly unusual in the world of higher education, where adjunct faculty and tenured full professors earn between $20,000 to $126,000. The average college president brings in $475,403. In fact, coaches are the highest-paid public employees in several states, including Kentucky and Kansas.
Last month, I talked with Colin McEnroe from Connecticut’s NPR about the open access movement. I haven’t listened to the show, because I can’t stand the sound of my own voice. I hope I’m not too screechy.
This January, two students at Mount St. Mary’s University reported in the campus newspaper, The Mountain Echo, that their college president planned to dismiss about two dozen students in September in an effort to improve the school’s retention rate. In a now-infamous conversation with a small group of faculty and administrators, the president, Simon Newman, explained that professors shouldn’t feel so sentimental about holding on to students who are unlikely to succeed. “This is hard for you because you think of the students as cuddly bunnies, but you can’t,” The Mountain Echo quoted Newman as saying. “You just have to drown the bunnies … put a Glock to their heads.”
Needless to say, the story of a college administrator who compares struggling teenage students to fluffy woodland creatures that should be murdered with a semi-automatic pistol is a PR disaster. It’s not exactly the caring sentiment that parents expect from a small, traditional Catholic college in rural Maryland that has promised to protect their children.
Chicago’s public schools are in trouble. Nearly $6 billion in debt, the district staved off immediate financial collapse this month only by selling $725 million in bonds to Wall Street at an unusually high interest rate. Meanwhile, thousands of protesters organized by the Chicago Teachers Union clogged streets in the Loop during the evening rush hour last week, demanding higher salaries, greater contributions to pension and health-care plans, and a cap on charter schools. Chicago Public Schools is the third largest district in the nation.
In response to this crisis, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner proposed a rather extreme remedy: a state takeover of the city’s public schools. The move—which could ultimately be rejected by the Democratically controlled legislature—would involve taking control from local education and political leaders over some, or even all, schools in the district. Eleven states, most of them led by Republican governors, have similarly passed or debated legislation to create state-run school districts in the past year, including Michigan, Arkansas, Nevada, and Wisconsin. But research and past experience show that takeovers by themselves are not a cure all for the problems faced by struggling urban schools.
I’m a card-carrying member of three parent school associations. I write the weekly newsletter for the special-education parents’ group and help organize social events for disabled kids. But my involvement is minimal compared to the extraordinary efforts by others who raise money for schools in our town. With fundraising skills honed by former careers in business and law, these parents tap into the deep pockets of residents to collect large sums of money, which purchase items as small as a doormat in front of the school for muddy boots to costly gifts, like Chromebooks for every child. These groups also assist those in the community who are less affluent, providing college scholarships and helping create social connections for marginalized families with special-needs children.
But is all this work from parent-school groups—work that is done with the best of intentions—unfairly increasing advantages in already privileged communities? Are my volunteer activities magnifying the differences between rich and poor school districts? Education policy experts disagree about the impact of these groups in schools.