The Irony of Catholic Colleges


Pope Francis has made serving the poor a central tenet of his papacy. “Wealth makes us poor,” he told Cuban worshippers on Sunday, urging them not to forget “the smallest, the most abandoned.” Now that the pope has made his first visit to the United States, it might be worth exploring how that message is being applied at the nation’s Catholic colleges.

Six of the top 20 nonprofit colleges that are most expensive for low-income students are Catholic institutions, according to a ProPublica analysis of recently released federal data. At almost half of all Catholic colleges, low-income students graduate with more than $20,000 in federal loans. (See ProPublica’s Debt by Degrees interactive, which shows how American colleges compare in how much federal student loan debt students accumulate.)

At Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., where Pope Francis spoke on Wednesday, the school’s poorest students pay over $31,000 a year in tuition, even after discounts from scholarships—more than any other research university in the nation. Students also graduate with a significant amount of debt: $26,000. And just 12 percent of its students are low-income.

Gerald Beyer, a Christian ethics professor from Villanova University, said schools should be doing more. “Empowering the poor is a key part of Catholic social teaching, and education is an essential means of achieving this goal,” he said. “Catholic institutions need to rethink their own policies.”

Several schools, including Catholic University, said financial struggles have limited their ability to provide aid. Catholic University recently laid off a handful of staff members. The school also points to its relatively modest endowment: $308 million.

“We are unfortunately not a school with an endowment that starts with a B,” said Christopher Lydon, vice president for enrollment management and marketing at Catholic University.

Notre Dame, Boston College, and Georgetown—all Catholic schools with endowments worth more than a billion dollars—offer more generous financial aid to their poorest students.

But like Catholic University, the schools don’t enroll many of them. The percentage of students who receive Pell grants—federal grants for students whose families typically earn under $30,000—is less than 14 percent at each of the schools. Nonprofit four-year colleges on average have around 40 percent Pell grant recipients.

The wealthier Catholic universities say that they are working hard to enroll more low-income students. Georgetown and Boston College have need-blind admissions and guarantee to meet the full needs of students through financial aid. Notre Dame, which has an $8 billion endowment, recently announced a $20 million fund to cover college expenses for low-income students. The school also has begun to enroll undocumented students and give them funds to match Pell grants, for which they are ineligible.

“Notre Dame is devoting considerable resources to attracting and, as importantly, supporting students from low socioeconomic households,” said the school’s spokesman, Dennis K. Brown.

Some Catholic universities with modest resources stand out for serving the poor. Just down the road from Catholic University sits Trinity Washington, which has some well-known graduates, including Rep. Nancy Pelosi. The women’s university has a tiny $11 million endowment. But nearly 65 percent of its students receive Pell grants. The poorest students graduate with on average $16,000 of debt from federal loans.

Trinity Washington’s president, Patricia McGuire, believes that other Catholic schools should follow a similar path. “There’s a whole group of schools that want to be in the Ivy Leagues and want to be considered prestigious, and then there’s the rest of us who believe education is not about competition,” said McGuire. “Every institution needs to examine its own conscience about whether it could do more for students on the margins.”

Anthony Carnevale, a professor at Georgetown and the director of the university’s Center on Education and the Workforce, says the lack of low-income students is being driven by college ratings and competition for high-performing applicants. “Christianity, let alone Catholicism, is supposed to be about taking care of each other and throwing the money changers out of the temple, but Jesus didn’t have to run a college,” said Carnevale. “The only way for colleges to survive is to become more and more selective, and in this country, it means whiter and wealthier.”


This article appears courtesy of ProPublica.

The Influx of Latino Students at Historically Black Colleges


Ramiro Bautista sought to accomplish two things after graduating from a two-year college in 2005. Primarily, he wanted to get into a four-year college with a reputable business program. Secondly, he wanted to be near a friend who received a full athletic scholarship to a certain university. That college turned out to be Prairie View A&M University, a historically black college about 45 minutes northwest of Houston.

Back then, says Bautista, Latinos were a miniscule presence on the campus, accounting for less than 3 percent of the student body. Since fall 2000, growth of Latinos on campus has been more than 230 percent, according to the university. Despite a small drop during the last academic year, Latinos now make up more than 5 percent of the population.

“When I came here in 2005 the outreach wasn’t there,” says Bautista, who stuck around after graduation in 2007 to get his MBA, is currently pursuing his doctorate there, and serves as the university’s assistant registrar. “For the last three to five years, the university has been targeting markets with heavy populations of Latinos. As a result, there’s been a steady increase in the number of Latinos.”

For several years, he says, the university employed a full-time recruiter, a Latino who was also an alumnus and whose primary responsibility was attracting Latino prospects.

He says that A&M has also introduced a Direct Connect Program aimed at community-college students looking to transfer to a four-year university. Based on the terms of the Direct Connect Program, students from Texas public community colleges with associate degrees who are U.S. citizens and residents of Texas may transfer to Prairie View A&M University and are eligible to pay the same fixed tuition and mandatory-fees rate, at the time of registration, as that of their prior institution. These students will also receive a Direct Connect Tuition Assistance Scholarship to offset the cost.

* * *

Diversity is increasingly becoming a priority for many historically black colleges. In recent years, many have worked diligently to attract international students as well as students of other races and ethnicities, especially Latinos.

This is particularly true in states that have high numbers of Latinos, such as Texas.

Some higher-education experts say that the mission of HBCUs to serve the historically disenfranchised strikes a chord with Latinos.

Dr. Deborah Santiago, chief operating officer and vice president for policy at Excelencia in Education, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group that promotes the interests of Latinos in higher education, says that HBCUs generally tend to be more student focused and have faculty who are culturally competent, making them attractive to emerging populations such as Latinos.

That’s a view echoed by Dr. Marybeth Gasman, a professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania.

“HBCUs o­ften have family environments and Latinos feel more comfortable in these environments,” she says, adding that HBCUs generally have lower tuition and that this appeals to Latinos, many of whom come from lower-income families.

Adds Dr. Jerry Crawford, an associate professor of journalism at the University of Kansas, who has done extensive research on HBCUs, “Ever since the 1890s, their mission has always been to educate the underserved. Most people equate HBCUs with African Americans. However, many times HBCUs took [other] people of lower socioeconomic status.”

The ability to recruit Latinos, he says, is even more critical today as more colleges operate as businesses and those who fail to do so go belly up. Latinos, he says, are a potentially bountiful market for all colleges, including HBCUs.

“More and more Hispanics are becoming aware of filling out Pell grants,” Crawford says. “More are becoming college eligible. More universities are allowing students who don’t have full documentation to enter college.”

Santiago says that it is in the best interest of HBCUs to recruit Latinos.

* * *

“The reality is the number of Latinos eligible to go to college has increased,” says Santiago. “There is an awareness of that. HBCUs have found ways to try to be more competitive. They are being smart. Their survival can depend on recruiting more students and widening their base. Given the precarious situation of some HBCUs, their future could depend on their ability to attract these students.”

Linda Jackson, the director of university relations for Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, Texas, an institution that has seen 14 years of consecutive enrollment growth, says 19 percent of the approximately 1,030 students in 2010 were Latino, compared to 10 percent in 2004. She says Latino enrollment has hovered at around 19 percent since 2010.

Jackson attributes the significant number of Latinos to several factors, including Texas’ large Latino population and the university’s attractive array of academic offerings. She says the university has an enrollment strategy in place aimed at targeting numerous groups, including working adults, traditional African American students, and Latinos.

At Paul Quinn College in Dallas, President Michael Sorrell says 20 percent of the incoming students this year are Latinos, up from about 15 percent last year. He says approximately 12 percent of the student body is Latino.

Sorrell, who’s been president for eight years, says that, in addition to Texas, the students come from many other locales around the country, including Detroit, Chicago, New York, and California.

He insists that Paul Quinn doesn’t recruit students based on race or ethnicity, but on whether they are a fit for the college’s values, which include placing the team above the individual.

“I always found it distasteful when schools recruited me because I’m black,” says Sorrell, a Duke University-trained attorney. “I don’t want to be your diversity experience. To me, there’s a higher level of sincerity when people view me as more than just a skin color.”

That said, his senior recruiter, a graduate of the college, is Latina. “She wasn’t hired for any reason other than the fact that she’s good,” he says.

Sorrell adds that Paul Quinn entices students for other reasons, including the fact that the students receive a vigorous liberal-arts education, earn professional work experience in their last two years, and typically graduate with no more than $10,000 in debt.

Experts say that it’s too early to say how the influx of Latinos is transforming the culture of HBCUs, but they say they’ve been quick to notice changes such as the emergence of Latino fraternities and sororities.

Bautista says that, at Prairie View A&M, he’s seen a heightened participation in student life by Latinos. He says several Latinos hold student leadership positions. One pledged the historically black sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha. Another, a student-athlete, was crowned Miss Puerto Rico and will be representing the commonwealth in the Miss America pageant. Many Latino cultural events, such as Day of the Dead, a Mexican festival that honors ancestors, now dot the student life calendar.

Sorrell says that, at Paul Quinn College, administrators have worked to mesh the cultures. An academic year kick-off event early in August, for example, featured dishes from both African American and Latino cultures.

* * *

But not everyone has been quick to embrace the changes at some of these HBCUs.

Chad Dion Lassiter, an alumnus of Johnson C. Smith College in Charlotte and a member of the Board of Trustees of the Community College of Philadelphia, says that sometimes there is pushback from alumni who fear that the heritage of the institution may be eroded by the influx of Latino students.

“During homecoming, I may get an alum saying, ‘So why does this Hispanic guy or girl want to go here?’” says Lassiter, a social worker who also teaches at West Chester University and the University of Pennsylvania. “I don’t think they understand that it is a similar population. It is xenophobia. They think something is going to get lost. One in particular said, ‘Why don’t they go to their own universities?’ I said, ‘That right there is irrational hatred. Why not open our doors to a group that has been similarly marginalized and oppressed?’”

“The pushback comes from ignorance and xenophobia and not fundamentally understanding who’s coming and celebrating differences and not losing your mission as you do it. Ultimately we learn more about ourselves as we interact with [other] people of color. It enriches the university environment and the overall culture. It has the potential to enrich us and ultimately that is the greatest form of liberation. I think we’re better because of our interaction with Hispanic people.”

Santiago says change in higher education can be difficult. She notes that some at predominantly white institutions have expressed concerns when those colleges became designated Hispanic-serving institutions.

As she says, “There’s always concern that mission creep will dilute the integrity of the institution and its initial purpose.”

But Crawford says that the reality is, for HBCUs to survive in the 21st century, they must do business differently. And doing business differently means aggressively going after all students, he says.

“St. Paul’s in Virginia was shuttered last year because [the school] couldn’t come up with $5 million,” he says. “It’s important that these HBCUs understand that their mission is supposed to be to educate people, but to do that you have to have accredited programs. These schools should not struggle. There are enough first-generation students to go around.”


This article appears courtesy of Diverse: Issues in Higher Education.

Are Healthier School Lunches Doomed?

Long mocked for its inedibility, campus cafeteria food is undergoing a federally mandated transformation, and schools are realizing it’s going to take more than sprinkling kale on pizza to really change the way students eat.

A recent New York Times article examined the challenges on the school-nutrition landscape, and the fallout from a federal overhaul of mandatory standards for school meals.

More fruits and vegetables are on the menu, but uneaten portions of the supposedly healthier meals too often wind up in the trash can, concludes the reporter Kate Murphy. Federal lawmakers are debating whether to keep the new standards, signed into law in 2012:

The Department of Agriculture is urging Congress to reauthorize the act to give children and cafeteria operators enough time to adjust. But farm-fresh food, scratch cooking, and nutrition education cost money that less affluent school districts like Detroit Public Schools don’t have. The solution there was to take advantage of the Community Eligibility Provision (C.E.P.) in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which allows high-poverty districts to provide free meals to all students. That way they get more money from the government and don’t have to rely so much on sales to better-off students who have other options.

There’s evidence some school districts are getting the hang of the new regulations, and that school meals are improving in both quality and appeal. Murphy cites Detroit as just one example, where all deep-fat fryers have been removed from the campus cafeterias and fresh greens are grown in the district’s own gardens.

But there are myriad challenges to getting students to not only accept, but actually consume, unfamiliar foods. One such obstacle is that many kids come to school with their preferences already firmly entrenched by the fare they eat at home. That can be tough to overcome. As The Times reported, countries with lower rates of childhood obesity, like Finland and France, have school lunch menus that seem more concerned with broadening students’ palates than with calorie counts. And kids get more time to actually eat their meals and interact with their classmates.

Time can be a issue for U.S. schools, particularly overcrowded high schools where the first lunch shift can come before 10 a.m. (Many schools call them “nutrition breaks,” instead, to avoid the obvious irony.) And in the younger grades, kids sometimes leave their meals unfinished so they have more time to play outside. (The National Education Association supports the “Recess First” campaign, which encourages schools to let kids play before they’re they asked to eat.) With recess curtailed and even eliminated in many districts, the lunch break is the only chance some students have to socialize.

In a recent story, NPR reported on a new study of a low-income school district in Massachusetts, which concluded kids with fewer than 20 minutes for lunch weren’t eating enough. From NPR:

(Researchers) saw these students eating 13 percent less of their main entree and 12 percent less of their vegetables. They drank 10 percent less milk, too, compared with students who had 25 minutes or more to eat. They also found more food waste among kids who had less time to eat.

“Many children, especially those from low-income families, rely on school meals for up to half their daily energy intake, so it is essential that we give students a sufficient amount of time to eat their lunches,” Juliana Cohen, a Harvard University School of Public Health researcher and the study’s lead author, said in a statement.

These are all problems. It’s also a problem that too many children come to school hungry, and go home to houses with inadequate food supplies to meet a family’s needs. But how much of the burden to find solutions should rest with schools?

I posed that question a few years ago, after the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the adolescent obesity rate had hit a 30-year high. In the wake of that disturbing statistic, the American Medical Association called for requiring anti-obesity lessons at the K-12 level.

That hasn’t happened yet, and many educators—and, frankly, familieswould probably prefer those extra minutes used to restore recess or expand physical education programs that were curtailed in the recession’s wake. But it’s clear schools realize they have a tremendous opportunity to influence student health. And what’s served in the cafeterias is only a small slice of that apple.


This post appears courtesy of the Education Writers Association.

What Happens to Pell Grant Recipients After They Enroll?


A new report released Thursday provides a detailed look at the graduation rates of low-income college students. At many colleges, low-income students graduate at much lower rates than their high-income peers.

At the University of Missouri-Kansas City, only 35 percent of Pell grant recipients graduate college, a rate that is more than 20 percentage points lower than that of their wealthier peers. And at St. Andrews, a liberal arts college in Laurinburg, North Carolina, only 13 percent of Pell grant recipients graduate, more than 50 percentage points less than students who don’t receive the grants.

The study found 51 percent of Pell students graduate nationwide, compared to 65 percent of non-Pell students. The average gap between wealthy and poor students at the same schools is much smaller: an average of 5.7 percentage points. That’s because many Pell students attend schools with low graduation rates. (You can now look up whether poor students are graduating at the same rate as their classmates in ProPublica’s newly updated interactive database, Debt by Degrees.)

Ben Miller, the senior director for postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress, said that schools with large graduation gaps deserve greater scrutiny.

“Colleges have responsibility to ensure that the students they enroll are well served,” said Miller. “If you’re going to enroll someone, you should do the absolute best you can to graduate them, or else don’t take their money.”

The new report comes on the heels of recently released federal education data that has brought new focus on how low-income students fare at college, including how much federal debt they take on and how much they earn after graduation. The graduation rates of low-income students were not included in that data.

The group behind the new report, the Education Trust, collected the graduation rates of Pell grant recipients — typically students whose families make less than $30,000 a year — for a selection of more than 1,000 colleges across the country.

A spokesman for University of Missouri-Kansas City said many of their students are low-income and that the school is working to do better. “We are not satisfied with that gap,” said John Martellaro. “We are investing more resources in our student success programs in an effort to narrow that gap.” (Read their full statement.)

St. Andrews did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

At more than a third of the colleges studied, schools were able to serve their Pell students almost as well as non-Pell students, with a gap of less than 3 percentage points.

Other schools have managed to graduate Pell students at an even higher rate than their non-Pell peers. According to the new data, nearly 90 percent of Pell recipients are able to graduate Smith College, compared with an 85 percent graduation rate of non-Pell students. And at Western Oregon University, Pell recipients have a graduation rate of 50 percent — nearly 10 percentage points better than their peers.

Both schools worked hard to ensure high graduation rates, including improving admissions policies and bolstering financial aid, as well as increasing advising and support services for students at school, says the new report.

The Pell grant program is the nation’s largest need-based student grant program, giving out billions of dollars annually. Yet for years, the data on Pell recipient graduation rates was mostly hidden from the public eye.

Although colleges are required to give the government graduation-rate data that’s broken down by gender and race, the data is not required to be reported by income or Pell grant status. Since 2008, schools are required to disclose Pell graduation rate data if it’s requested by prospective students.

“It’s kind of astounding when you think about how much money is spent on the Pell grant program,” said Andrew Kelly, the director of the Center on Higher Education Reform at the American Enterprise Institute. “We don’t have any idea about how much of that money goes to producing degrees. We don’t know what happens to Pell recipients after they enroll.”

In order to collect Pell graduation rates, the Education Trust filed requests for data through state higher education systems as well as with the schools themselves. Some of the data was purchased from U.S. News and World Report. However, only around 1,150 schools were included in the report, out of the more than 7,000 institutions in the country. The survey also did not include data from for-profit colleges, where many Pell-recipients attend school.


This article appears courtesy of ProPublica. Sisi Wei contributed to this report.

A Student Newspaper Fights ‘The Coddling of the Middlebury Mind’

Instead of learning skills and techniques to help people in need, we read thousands-upon-thousands of pages of material about “microagressions” and “microinsults,” often in “studies” that directly contradict each other. Instead of belonging to a community of generally like-minded, altruistic peers, we are all fragmented along every conceivable social fault line of identity politics, “social locations,” and “intersectionalities.” Instead of sharing what we know with each other, we often sit for hours in silence in classes so as not to risk offending anyone else in the slightest.


When I graduate, I fear that I will have no discernible, useful skills to use in the real world. What I will have is crippling debt. And an extensive vocabulary that I can use to label every slight and injury with staggering precision.

Another reader snarks, “Perhaps we should just give into these overly coddled college students by rewarding them with Participation Diplomas.” Reader S.G. presents a new angle:

Whether you oppose or support trigger warnings, I’ve rarely seen anyone address the impact they would have on classes where the curriculum is student submitted work.


Assuming trigger warnings are mandatory, what message does it send to young writers, painters, or musicians that they’ll need to provide advance notice of potentially troubling concepts in their work or risk academic punishment? Even if trigger warnings aren’t mandatory, it doesn’t seem much better to have a system where they’re “strongly encouraged” to the point not including them would be seen as a major social negative. We like to pretend the negative effects of peer pressure and social ostracizing are things we leave behind in high school. They’re not. They have weight.

Another reader, William Petersen, insists that the PC problem spans ideologies:

I have seen more “right leaning” local school boards dispense completely with history or science books that criticize the myth of American Exceptionalism, teach the Theory of Evolution, and/or try to re-write curriculum to fit certain Conservative or Christian presumptions of “what is appropriate” for young people, than I have liberal adjunct professors invoking trigger warnings to dampen right-leaning opinions in the lecture hall. The coddling, that Lukianoff and Haidt rightly criticize, is apolitical in many respects.

Another reader agrees:

Instructors do get some students from time to time who think they have the right not to have their sensibilities offended. This extreme orthodoxy emanates from both liberal AND conservative students.


This is not to suggest there is no such thing as “microagression,” but I think they are making a mountain out of a molehill. Some students are EXPLOITING this situation and creating an atmosphere of paranoia, sometimes because they simply don’t like the instructor, or worse, as a pre-emptive excuse for their own bad performance. I suspect some are just looking for an excuse to nail your ass with whatever tools are at their disposal. I have had these kinds of problems on four occasions— twice with black females, once with a gay male student, and once with two evangelicals in tandem.


I find the root of it is usually that they are disgruntled with their grades and want to punish YOU, so at bottom it’s really a kind of temper tantrum. They are spoiled brats and they know exactly what buttons to push. They can make your life a living hell and they know how to do it. This is the main reason I am retiring from academia.

But Greg Hom warns:

This trend to not allow speech is not confined to the academy by any means. When politicians try to disallow the words “global warming” or “climate change” in political discussion because it goes against their “beliefs,” they are contributing to this nonsense.

Another reader looks to literature and sees life imitating art:

In Ray Bradbury’s 1953 novella 451 Fahrenheit, he worried about society developing institutionalized restrictions on discussing difficult concepts such as race relations, sexual perversion, and political differences because they might hurt people’s feelings. The whole PC movement described in this cover story is a mirror of the speech that the “Fire Captain” made to Montag before he burnt the house with the hidden library of banned books. And the multiple screens on walls and in miniature in Montag’s house which enabled his insecure wife to be in constant touch with her “cousins” was Bradbury’s prescient vision of our overwhelming obsession in 2015 with Facebook and Twitter.

Another looks to advertising:

There’s an interesting article by The Last Psychiatrist that long-windedly examines the idea that Dove Soap’s “Real Beauty” campaign was not specifically crafted to answer any real questions about how we perceive beauty but instead to set up Dove as a voice of authority in that sphere. If we were arguing about Dove’s opinion on beauty, the author posits, it could only benefit Dove no matter which way the argument was settled because by discussing it were were making the assumption that Dove’s opinion mattered at all. By creating an argument, Dove set itself up as an important voice on beauty, which helped it sell soap. It’s hard to argue this wasn’t effective.


In the case of campus PC, we see something similar but twisted into a new form. The administrations of the offending colleges could very easily settle the issue once and for all by simply rejecting the idea of microaggressions and by refusing to get involved in matters of free speech. “Discourse is important,” they could say, as everyone else does.


That the administration of these schools does not do so tells us something. They’ve set up a system where the students bring them complaints on a regular basis regarding the speech and actions of other students, and in those instances the school is expected to render a ruling on the particular instance of speech. It doesn’t matter what the issues are or how the school rules: the point is to condition the students into regarding the University as the authority on what speech and thoughts are acceptable.


This isn’t the University’s job, and the idea that we’ve allowed government-funded establishments to expand their power in this way should be objectionable to us.

Reader K.P. notes an example:

I went to a small private school, the University of Tulsa. The year after I graduated, they suspended (effectively expelled) a senior. His crime? His then-fiancé (a non-student) had written a rude Facebook post with some incendiary remarks about a faculty member and another student. The administration claimed the student didn’t act quickly enough to take down his fiancé’s post and brought the rod of discipline down on his head. He lost tens of thousands of dollars and probably had his career prospects damaged over somebody else’s impolite speech.

Another reader criticizes a part of the cover story that hasn’t been noted yet:

In discussing disinvitation of campus speakers, Haidt and Lukianoff fret that Condoleezza Rice and Christine Lagarde were disqualified from sharing their perspectives. Not only have both of these powerful figures had more than ample opportunities to share their perspectives in the past, but commencement speeches are not public forums from which they are being barred. Instead, speakers are personally invited to confer advice to graduating students, however trite. If a majority of students do not wish to receive someone’s advice, they are free not to. Why seek advice from the abhorrent?


Yes, in the examples given above, the speakers would likely have had an encouraging word for females aspiring to powerful positions, but so would many others who happen not to be complicit in outright misdeeds. Is Dick Cheney free to continue to spout his self-aggrandizing evil over the airwaves? Sure, but we certainly don’t have to provide an audience for him.

Another reader takes a step back:

Up till now, I had been reluctantly moving towards giving up on The Atlantic; that it had fallen totally in thrall to the worship of every imaginable liberal piety, to the exclusion of all other sensibilities. So understand how thrilling it was for me to read this vigorous and well-reasoned broadside directed against the campus thought police, which basically accused the conjurers of all things PC to be suffering from mental illness, and to be endangering students with same.

Another felt differently:

I think this story was the final nail in the coffin for me for The Atlantic. I reread this a few times. I looked for the word ‘tenure’ to appear in the article. I did a text search. The word never appeared.


Tenure has been disappearing in the name of cost-cutting. There are some schools where the concept barely exists. You have adjunct professors, some with Ph.Ds, who are essentially in paycheck-to-paycheck, quarter-to-quarter jobs. The universities who employ them are increasing non-academic staff but cutting tenured professors. Adjunct professors don’t require health insurance. If they’re unpopular, they’re easy to fire.


To me, this is the real decline of American Minds. It’s shocking to me how such a basic principle seemed to escape the authors.

One more reader:

While I’m not American, I am a recent grad and it was interesting to read this essay and compare it with my own uni experiences. Many of the same issues are currently playing out here in New Zealand, though perhaps not to the same degree of absurdity. Great article, well written, interesting, informative, well researched. I was so impressed I even turned off adblock for The Atlantic website.

Thanks! Ads keep the lights on.

What If the Answer Isn’t College, but Longer High School?


Few 18-year-olds can say that they earn more than $50,000 a year work­ing at a For­tune 500 com­pany in New York City. Rad­cliffe Sad­dler can.

The Brook­lyn teen­ager gradu­ated in June from the pub­lic school known as P-Tech, short for Path­ways in Tech­no­logy Early Col­lege High School. He en­rolled in the fall of 2011, as part of the school’s in­aug­ur­al class of 103 stu­dents. The strong em­phas­is on math, sci­ence, and writ­ing sur­prised him as a fresh­man, though he’d al­ways been a good stu­dent.

“I did not un­der­stand the level of work it would re­quire,” he re­calls, “and that, some­times, it would re­quire me to give up hanging out with my friends.”

But the sac­ri­fice was worth it. Sad­dler fol­lowed the tra­ject­ory laid out for P-Tech stu­dents and en­rolled in his first col­lege class—in­tro­duct­ory en­gin­eer­ing—after he com­pleted the ninth grade. By the time he gradu­ated, he earned both a high-school dip­loma and an as­so­ci­ate’s de­gree in com­puter sci­ence—not to men­tion a job of­fer from IBM. He fin­ished the six-year pro­gram in just four in­cred­ibly busy years.

P-Tech star­ted in 2011 as a pub­lic-private part­ner­ship between IBM, the New York City De­part­ment of Edu­ca­tion, the City Uni­versity of New York, and New York City Col­lege of Tech­no­logy. At the depth of the eco­nom­ic re­ces­sion, city edu­cat­ors were look­ing for a way to con­nect high schools with po­ten­tial employers. They found a will­ing part­ner in IBM for an ex­per­i­ment to give students a bet­ter handle on the skills they’d need in the work­place. They took over an old build­ing of a fail­ing school in the Brook­lyn neigh­bor­hood of Crown Heights, which has a his­tory of high crime and ra­cial ten­sion.

P-Tech re­vo­lu­tion­izes the struc­ture of high school by en­cour­aging stu­dents to attend the school for grades 9 through 14. This es­sen­tially ex­tends high school in­to the early years of col­lege. Over those six years, the goal is for stu­dents to com­plete both a high-school dip­loma and an as­so­ci­ate’s de­gree. Gradu­ates can either enter the work­force equipped with a post­sec­ond­ary de­gree—no tu­ition, so no stu­dent debt—or con­tin­ue on to a tra­di­tion­al col­lege with a bevy of class credits in hand.

Stan Litow is IBM’s vice pres­id­ent of cor­por­ate cit­izen­ship and cor­por­ate af­fairs—and a former deputy chan­cel­lor of New York City pub­lic schools—who was intimately in­volved with the found­ing of P-Tech. “The idea of get­ting in­to the work­force with just a high-school dip­loma is an idea from the past,” he says now. “We needed to come up with a new mod­el.”

The one in Brook­lyn in­volves an in­tens­ive part­ner­ship with a big busi­ness. IBM helped design the school and con­tin­ues to provide P-Tech stu­dents with ment­ors, in­tern­ships, a ded­ic­ated staff per­son, and count­less hours of pro bono work—an in­vest­ment that Litow fig­ures is worth $1 mil­lion to $2 mil­lion a year. All P-Tech gradu­ates are first in line for avail­able jobs at IBM that fit their skill level.

The most in­triguing part of the P-Tech ex­per­i­ment is its fo­cus on dis­ad­vant­aged teen­agers who don’t usu­ally get col­lege-level train­ing in sci­ence and math. No en­trance ex­am is re­quired, as it is for the Bronx High School of Sci­ence and New York’s oth­er elite pub­lic schools. Fully 95 per­cent of the stu­dents are Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans or His­pan­ics, and 80 per­cent are poor enough to qual­i­fy for sub­sid­ized school lunches; nearly three-quar­ters are male. The ma­jor­ity of them would be the first in their fam­il­ies to at­tend col­lege.

“If you look at who is get­ting the 21st-cen­tury jobs, they are not chil­dren of col­or from low-in­come neigh­bor­hoods,” Litow says. In 1970, only 6 per­cent of the poor held a col­lege de­gree, a fig­ure that has barely budged—it’s now at 9 per­cent—in the dec­ades since. “If you don’t get at the core is­sue of edu­ca­tion and skills,” he warns, “then you will not solve this prob­lem.”

The ac­claim P-Tech has drawn as a mod­el of in­nov­a­tion for high schools in poor neigh­bor­hoods, as well as a way to make col­lege easi­er to af­ford, earned a vis­it from Pres­id­ent Obama in 2013. The P-Tech mod­el has ex­pan­ded to 40 oth­er schools in New York, Con­necti­c­ut, and Illinois, with nu­mer­ous busi­ness part­ners, in­clud­ing Cisco Sys­tems, Mo­torola, and Ve­r­i­zon.

The Next Economy

P-Tech’s strategy is to over­haul the tra­di­tion­al pub­lic-high school ex­per­i­ence, in everything from the cal­en­dar to the role of ment­ors in stu­dents’ lives. The flow of the school day—and year—looks dif­fer­ent. Groggy teen­agers start the day (when, re­search shows, their brains are still wak­ing up) with phys­ic­al edu­ca­tion classes, and they wait un­til 9:20 or so for aca­dem­ics. The school day lasts un­til 4:06 p.m. Sum­mer va­ca­tion is lim­ited to two weeks in Au­gust. Dur­ing stu­dents’ first year, in ninth grade, they take no courses in sci­ence or his­tory, giv­ing them more time to work on read­ing and math—to “bring them to a high­er level,” says Rashid Dav­is, P-Tech’s prin­cip­al.

The ment­ors, culled from all corners of IBM, are im­port­ant. They com­mit to check­ing in with their stu­dent for 30 minutes every week, either on­line or in per­son, and they of­fer ad­vice on everything from course­work to how to be­have as an in­tern. Sad­dler had an in­tern­ship at IBM Glob­al In­sur­ance, re­search­ing the in­sur­ance in­dustry.

By far, the biggest be­ne­fit to at­tend­ing P-Tech is the as­so­ci­ate’s de­gree that every gradu­ate earns, either in com­puter sci­ence or in en­gin­eer­ing. This em­phas­is on at­tend­ing col­legelevel classes, some­times on a com­munity-col­lege cam­pus, begins in ninth grade. “The de­cision to enter P-Tech is the de­cision to choose college,” says an IBM guide to de­vel­op­ing tech­no­logy-cent­ric schools such as P-Tech.

Earn­ing an as­so­ci­ate’s de­gree along with a high school dip­loma makes col­lege more af­ford­able. P-Tech stu­dents pay noth­ing, not even for books, for “the opportun­ity to com­plete a post­sec­ond­ary cre­den­tial,” Dav­is says. “I see stu­dents try­ing as hard as they can in spite of all of their cir­cum­stances.”

Many of the stu­dents from its in­aug­ur­al class are ex­pec­ted to gradu­ate by June 2017, six years after the pro­gram star­ted. Six of them, in­clud­ing Sad­dler, have fin­ished two years early. Three of those have taken jobs at IBM; the oth­ers at­tend col­lege.

Sad­dler chose a job as an as­so­ci­ate ana­lyst in mar­ket re­search at IBM be­cause “I want to own my own com­pany,” he ex­plains. His fath­er is a man­ager at a construc­tion com­pany, and his moth­er is work­ing to­ward a nurs­ing de­gree; the fam­ily moved from Ja­maica when Rad­cliffe, the eld­est of three sons, was 6 years old. “Hav­ing this busi­ness ex­per­i­ence is amaz­ing,” he adds. “What oth­er 18-year-old could say, ‘I worked at a For­tune 500 com­pany right out of high school’?”

But Sad­dler hasn’t giv­en up on fur­ther edu­ca­tion. With an as­so­ci­ate’s de­gree in hand, he plans to at­tend col­lege on a part-time basis start­ing next spring.

A High School Where College Is Not the Goal


PHILADELPHIA—The halls of Randolph Technical High School looks like almost any other public school in an urban core: a labyrinth of classrooms and lockers housed in an old building, hallways loud with constant chatter and chaos as students and teachers bustle around. But inside these classrooms, students are just as likely to be found working dental X-ray machines or learning how to sauté vegetables as they are to be sitting at a desk, learning about math or history.

Eighteen-year-old Johnika Tavares just graduated from Randolph in June with a specialization in health care. She’s now taking classes at a nearby college and working as a home health aide. She’s able to grasp the concepts and medical terminology easily, she says, because she’s seen most of it already during her time at Randolph.

Joe Williams, who now runs Randolph’s welding program, is another former student. Last year, he says, he had a 100 percent success rate—all of his seniors got jobs. The profession is so highly in demand that he’s been able to help secure partnerships with five outside companies, creating a job pipeline for students. “You’ll have a 17-year-old graduating making $45,000 or $50,000 a year as opposed to working for a fast food company, flipping burgers,” he says.

Randolph is one of this city’s Career and Technical Education High Schools, where all students participate in vocational programs. In addition to the five high schools, the city also runs programs at traditional high schools throughout the city, for a total of 111 programs in 28 high schools. All students take standard classes such as math and English, but they also choose a speciality where they can earn college credit or a professional certification in areas such as dentistry, carpentry, automotive repair, vending, or health care.

Gillian White

The goal is to graduate kids who have options. They can go on to a community college or a four-year degree program. They can also start a career with a marketable skill and three years of training behind them, making them more likely to secure a job and higher wages, instead of floundering out in the job market, where more than 10 percent of young adults with only a high school diploma are unemployed and more than 20 percent live in poverty, according to Pew Research Center.

In Philadelphia, demand for programs like the one at Randolph is outstripping the school district’s ability to accommodate students. David Kipphut, the deputy chief of the CTE program in Philadelphia tells me that it’s not unusual to have thousands of applicants for a program with only 200 to 300 spaces in some instances. At Randolph the school year began over capacity, with more than 600 students slotted for only about 580 openings.

Demand varies, of course, depending on the program and subject matter. Some programs have empty seats while others are forced to turn away more than half of the kids who are interested. According to Kipphut, the district wants the program to expand significantly over the next few years. The program’s current capacity is  8,000 students. The school district has said that they would like to see that grow to 12,000—which would make about one-third of all district public-school students CTE participants.

But the cost of those increases would be substantial and “we don’t have that kind of money,” Kipphut tells me. Teaching professional skills requires professional equipment. Ovens and cooktops in the culinary arts department, X-ray machines in the dental specialization. All told, equipment and materials can costs millions of dollars. For a program like CTE to work, the skills that students are learning need to be readily applicable as soon as they graduate. Training on old machines won’t work for a vast number of the competencies. As technology changes, the schools need to stay on top of advancements for their students to have a shot. But that can be increasingly difficult, especially since funding at the federal and district level is shrinking around the country.

The Next Economy


Currently the approved per-student state subsidy for CTE programs is about $900. The state’s new governor has proposed increasing that allotment to over $4,000, which would please Kipphut, though he doubts it will come to be. In order to make such a significant funding jump it would mean cutting something else in the budget, or passing an increase in taxes or fees. “We have a Democratic governor and a Republican legislature,” he says. “It’s all politics.” For now, it’s unclear if the growth Kipphut would like to see is something the city and state will provide room for.

The setup of Philadelphia’s CTE program is a bit different than that of many others around the country, where CTE programs are all housed in one specialized center and schools form a consortium, to pool funding and resources so all kids in the district can attend programs at one, up-to-date, well-maintained center. But in this city, CTE programs are vast and widespread, in part to cut down on the centralized costs and hassle of bussing. Having programs around the city means that students are more likely to be able to participate without trekking long distances. The multiple-location approach is also a means of bolstering the district’s troubled neighborhood schools, which have seen huge budget declines, brain drains, and decreased academic performance as the school district has struggled and more kids depart for magnet schools, charters, and private schools.

A student works in the welding program at Randolph High School (Gillian White)

Partnerships with companies and agencies that benefit from a supply of young, skilled workers have become an important part of Philadelphia’s CTE success story on both the front and back end. San Francisco-based Cantaloupe Systems donates machines for Randolph’s vending program, which teaches kids the intertwined robotics, mechanics, and electrical skills behind everything from soda machines to self-checkout systems. The school has a partnership in the works with SEPTA, Philadelphia’s transit authority, which  hopefully will hire students from the program once the city’s transit lines convert to a new electronic pass system. And Williams’s successful welding program? That had been on hiatus for years until Airgas, which is headquartered in Pennsylvania, donated a crop of new machinery about three years ago.

Aside from donations, funding for the programs arrives in fits and starts, some from the district, some from federal grants, and some from teachers and administrators seeking out and applying for grants from a myriad of sources. Darryl Overton, Randolph’s principal, is open about the fact that part of his role is to be a salesman of sorts, marketing the school to interested parties who might consider gifts or donations.

Several projects this year are being funded through a grant from SkillsUSA and Lowes, put together by the heads of Randolph’s construction, dentistry, and auto departments. Then there’s the massive donation the district’s CTE program got from the Middleton family, who are also partial owners of the Philadelphia Phillies. The money from the Middletons, along with district funds and other grants helped to build the program’s new $6.1 million Center for Advanced Manufacturing at Benjamin Franklin High school.

For now the program is making it work, but year to year, it can be difficult to estimate exactly how much the program will be able to grow, especially with so much fiscal uncertainty. Federal Perkins loans, which have long been one of the most important funding sources for the city’s CTE programs, have been shrinking, down about half a million dollars this year, Kipphut tells me.  And the school district is in disarray when it comes to funding, which was cut drastically under the last governor. Currently the state is facing a billion dollar deficit, and it hasn’t even managed to pass a new budget.

Money isn’t the only problem facing CTE programs. There can still be a stigma attached to vocational education, left over from the days when it was considered a last resort. “This used to be the place to throw students who weren’t going anywhere. They’d say, ‘They’re not going to college, let’s try to get them to do something,’” James Esposito, the construction teacher tells me as we tour his shop. “They didn’t think we were really teachers.”

There’s also a question of who exactly, such programs are meant to serve. Some critics feel that these programs, especially in inner cities, can marginalize vulnerable students, hinting that college isn’t an appropriate path for them. That feeling can be especially difficult to shake when you look at the makeup of CTE programs. At Randolph the majority of students that are black or Hispanic. That’s true of all CTE programs within the district, where black and Hispanic kids represent a higher share of students than in the district’s neighborhood schools overall.

James Esposito stands in his construction classroom. (Gillian White)

But Overton doesn’t see it that way. He says it’s a place where all kinds of students can succeed, including ones who have potential but don’t perform well in traditional settings, such as kids with learning disabilities, a group that makes up nearly a quarter of the school’s students. “If they don’t get an opportunity here, and they’re not going to college, where are they going to learn a trade and become successful?” he says.

The results in Philadelphia would suggest that perhaps critics’ fears aren’t well founded. According to a recent report that followed the performance of the cohort of 9th graders who started high school in 2010-2011, students in CTE programs perform about as well on tests as their peers and and are more likely to complete school. The high-school graduation rate for CTE participants was 84 percent, compared to only 65 percent for all Philadelphia high schoolers. And 75 percent of CTE students go on to pursue post-secondary education of some kind, with about 40 percent heading to four-year colleges—a higher share than graduates in the district overall. The data also showed that the graduation gap between white and Asian students, and black and Hispanic students closes by about 10 percentage points when comparing traditional students to CTE students.

Still it can be hard to get the message across that teaching students technical skills can be an effective way to prepare them for whatever path they choose next, even if it isn’t higher education. “It isn’t PC to say, ‘After high school you don’t have to go to college,’” Kipphut whispers to me.


Stigma or not, the CTE faculty seems excited. In each classroom teachers laughed and joked with kids, or carefully stood by, giving them pointers on their technique or overseeing the work. In many rooms, kids were cutting into their lunch time to continue working on projects, and they too, seemed to take pride in the work they were doing. In every classroom, teachers have examples of students who came in with borderline grades and disciplinary problems, but great attendance and a strong work ethic. Overton says most wind up sticking with it, graduating, and the school is able to help them find a job or internship. These are the kids, Overton says, that could have been lost in traditional schools that gave up on them too soon. “You have a kid that probably wouldn’t have had a chance. Now they have the opportunity to become successful.”

How One University President Is Trying to Save Public Higher Ed


On the morning of June 3, Senator Lamar Alexander walks into an ornate meeting room in the Dirksen Senate Office Building and gavels open a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee to a standing-room-only crowd. At seventy-five, the gray-haired Tennessee Republican has started to hunch over and shuffle as he walks. But he retains the man-in-charge air of a twelve-year Senate veteran and a former two-term governor, president of his state’s flagship university, U.S. secretary of education, and, briefly, presidential candidate. Alexander only recently won control of this powerful committee, once headed by Ted Kennedy. He has made no secret of his desire to use the perch to put his mark on history as a capstone to his long career—by, among other things, rewriting the Higher Education Act (HEA), the federal statute that controls everything from student loans to support for minority-serving institutions.

Alexander hopes to make HEA reauthorization in part a vehicle to deregulate higher education; he believes that there is a significant amount of costly and burdensome federal red tape imposed on states and colleges and that they should have more flexibility. But as today’s hearing on college affordability proceeds, it becomes clear that things aren’t going as he might have liked. The problem is that the Democrats’ star witness, the Louisiana State University president F. King Alexander, is stealing the show. Dressed in a suit with an LSU pin and a tie of LSU purple, King Alexander not only shares a last name with the senator (though they are not related), he’s also a southerner from the Tennessee Valley who has thought deeply about the effects of federal policy on higher education. Yet King’s ideas for ensuring college affordability are the polar opposite of Lamar’s: the LSU president wants more federal regulation—including on his own state and university.

The “greatest challenge facing public universities,” King Alexander explains, is that states today spend about half as much on higher education on a per capita income basis as they did in 1981. This is a direct result, he says, of a regulatory failure built into federal law. In other areas of federal policy, such as transportation and health care, federal dollars come with strings attached—states have to pitch in a set amount of money too. That’s not the case for higher education, where money follows the student to private and public colleges alike, and states have no requirements to fund public universities at a certain (or indeed any) level. The result is that when states are under budget pressure, as they have been in the years since the financial crisis, they slash spending on higher ed. The burden of those cuts then gets shifted to students, in the form of higher tuition, and to the federal government, in greater spending on grants, tax credits, and subsidized student loans.

F. King Alexander (Jim Zietz / LSU)

On the current course, King continues, within twenty years at least eight states—including Colorado, Louisiana, Massachusetts, and South Carolina—will spend no public money on their state universities, and in the rest of the country public higher education will be a shell of its former self. Lamar listens, rocking back and forth in his chair.

When it comes time for questions, the Republicans mostly ignore King, focusing on the other witnesses, but nearly every Democrat calls on him. Patty Murray and Al Franken ask King about specific ways the federal government can use regulations—they prefer the term “leverage”—to encourage states to fund public higher education. Sheldon Whitehouse argues that there’s no reason to “flood” the higher education system with federal dollars if the government doesn’t stop states from disinvesting in public higher education—a surprising statement considering that another Democratic senator from his state of Rhode Island created the modern aid system and the party has historically favored flooding it.

One committee Republican, however, does engage with King. Bill Cassidy, a freshman senator from Louisiana who was sworn in just seven months ago and obtained both his undergraduate and medical degrees from LSU, confesses to a conflicted view about King’s argument. “I’m against states being mandated to do something, but it appears unless states are mandated to do something they’re not going to do so.” King replies that if the federal government doesn’t force states to do something, then the costs will shift onto the federal government and the individual students. Lamar, appearing to grow more upset with the turn the hearing is taking, walks over as Cassidy gets up to leave the hearing room and whispers into his ear for more than a minute.

After all the senators have had their chance to ask questions, Lamar delays the conclusion of the hearing to spar specifically with King. How could he want more federal mandates when it’s federal mandates in other policy areas, like Medicaid, that force states to divert funding from higher education? King perches forward in his chair as Lamar speaks, ready to counter. Yes, it’s true, King replies, that governors very much oppose federal mandates, but they certainly respond to the incentives they create. During the recession, a federal mandate within stimulus funding prevented states from cutting higher education; only when the stimulus money ran out did states slash those budgets. That, says King, is proof that federal mandates work, whether governors like it or not. Lamar shoots back that he is completely opposed to federal mandates. “I think that if you have that you might as well just have the federal government take over all the states. Wouldn’t be anything left for governors or legislators to decide, and so I would respectfully disagree.” With that, Lamar ends the hearing.

The plate tectonics of higher education are rumbling. Fiscal and ideological pressures are pushing toward a clash over the role of the federal government in higher education. For many years, the Democrats were primarily focused on making the existing student aid program more generous. But with $1.2 trillion in outstanding federal student loan debt and continued state disinvestment in public higher education, Democrats are quickly coming around, as the hearing suggests, to King’s view that pumping ever-more resources into federal student aid is a mug’s game. The basic rules need to change. HEA reauthorization is one vehicle for that change, but given GOP resistance and the general gridlock in Congress, it’s probably not the most promising one. Instead, this is an issue that’s likely to play out in the presidential race. Democratic presidential candidates have already started to appeal to their progressive base by talking about “debt-free college,” and the emerging details of these plans all revolve around the federal government forcing states to fund public higher education. To make their case, the candidates need allies knowledgeable enough about the complicated policy architecture of federal-state higher education funding to advise them, and credible enough to be spokespeople for the needed changes. More than anyone else, that person is F. King Alexander.

* * *

The Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College is the flagship campus of the LSU system and is located in Baton Rouge, an hour’s drive north of New Orleans. The campus, which has multiple exits off of the I-10 freeway, is a large presence in the city, both in terms of land and the number of people it employs.

Jim Zietz / LSU

Baton Rouge in early June is similar to Washington, D.C., in August—after about thirty minutes outside you resent that society requires you to wear clothes, now that they are drenched with sweat and stuck to your skin. LSU battles the heat with giant southern live oak trees (Quercus virginiana), which seem to cool the entire campus and offer a much-needed refuge from the sun. The oaks are sacred—people who park their cars near the exposed roots are heavily fined. Strolling through the quad, you encounter one of the limbs of a giant tree growing downward, sprawled on the ground like a student lying out in the sun. You might recognize LSU’s trees, grass, and understated buildings from the Pitch Perfect movies, in which LSU stars as Barden University.

Bobby Jindal, Budget Cuts, and the Uncertain Fate of Louisiana’s Universities



But better information is just the first step in his crusade to save the publics and force a reckoning on the privates. The second step, as he revealed at the hearing on Capitol Hill, is for Washington to get states to stop cutting their higher education budgets as a condition for receiving federal student aid. The third step is to starve the privates. In King’s mind, privates have no right to federal dollars, and the history of their actions suggests that they do not have their students’ best interests at heart.

King finally comes up for air to tell his staff, who surround us at the table, about his day. He just showed off LSU’s brand-new NCAA Golf Championship trophy to some politicians, who wanted photographs with the players. King was doing some last-minute schmoozing with his most important funders: the Louisiana state legislature.

Washington Monthly.

LGBT Students and Campus Sexual Assault

The Association of American Universities, an “elite” higher-education trade group, has just released what’s been described as one of the largest surveys ever conducted on campus sexual assault among college students.


The survey’s findings are being published at a time when attention on sexual assault in postsecondary settings—with Congress considering a slate of federal legislation to address the problem and the Obama administration actively investigating more than 130 institutions for potential Title IX violations—is at an all-time high. Yet despite all the scrutiny, little reliable data exists to fully understand the prevalence and nature of the problem; sexual harassment is notoriously underreported, particularly in official data.


While these results, which are based on student responses, are still empirically limited, they do offer more information than most existing research. And they aren’t very surprising in that they indicate campus sexual assault is a common problem—one that higher-ed institutions don’t seem to be tackling very effectively, on top of the widespread perception among college presidents that it’s not an issue on their own campuses. Half to three-quarters of students at each of the 27 institutions surveyed reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment, which can include acts ranging from rape through forced penetration to stalking.


One aspect of the results that may be surprising, at least when considering how little the topic has figured in commentary on and coverage of the problem, is the degree to which LGBT students report being victims of sexual harassment. According to the survey, LGBT and non-heterosexual students last school year experienced significantly higher rates of sexual assault and harassment, as well as violence from an intimate partner, than their heterosexual peers.


Overall, three in four LGBT students reported experiencing sexual harassment. Nine percent of LGBT-identifying respondents said they experienced sexual assault involving penetration (compared to 7 percent of women). Such assault—rape that can entail either force or incapacitation—is considered the most serious type of sexual harassment, according to the AAU report. When categorized by gender, those who didn’t provide an answer or identified as transgender, genderqueer or non-conforming, or questioning experienced such rape at the highest rates, too.


The AAU survey included responses from more than 150,000 students at both private and public research institutions, including California Institute of Technology, Michigan State, the University of Arizona, Washington University in St. Louis, and all but one member (Princeton) of the Ivy League. It’s more reliable than studies based on official statistics given how few incidents are formally reported: Only about a quarter of the students in the AAU survey who said they’d experienced some form of harassment said they reported the incidents to school or law-enforcement officials. Yet the overall response rate for the AAU survey was 19 percent, and it’s important not to think of the participating students and schools as a random sample of the national landscape.









The study is said to be one of the most extensive to be conducted among LGBT college students—a noteworthy highlight given existing research, including a 2010 CDC study showing that the LGBT population at large experiences sexual assault at higher rates than its heterosexual counterpart. Bisexual women appear to experience especially disproportionate rates of sexual “victimization,” according to the CDC report, as do bisexual men and lesbian women.


“Sexual assault in the LGBT community is often rendered invisible or dismissed outright,” The National Center for Lesbian Rights’ Lauren Paulk wrote in a blog post last year. Among other statistics, Paulk cited data suggesting that roughly two-thirds of transgender people have experienced sexual assault in their lifetimes—one reason LGBT supporters have advocated for gender-neutral restrooms and facilities on college campuses and in K-12 schools. About three in

five LGBT students had been sexually harassed at school, and nearly 18 percent reported that such events occurred often or frequently, according to a 2013 survey of school climates. Those trends for its part has faced resistance from critics who have claimed, despite lacking evidence, that such policies will lead to greater rates of sexual harassment in educational settings.

When Schooling Meets Policing


The events have grabbed headlines and public attention, sparking what are now all too familiar debates in the United States about police overreach. In Raleigh, North Carolina, a water-balloon fight at Enloe High School, initiated as a senior-day prank, ended with eight teens arrested and two dozen police officers dispatched to the campus “to restore order.” When a Virginia 4-year-old with ADHD threw a temper tantrum in his prekindergarten classroom late last year—allegedly throwing blocks and hitting and kicking his educators—the school’s principal, according to reports, summoned a deputy assigned to the school, who then handcuffed the child and transported in a squad car to the sheriff’s office. And in a recent episode whose news has since gone viral, a Texas, teen with a keen interest in gadgets built a clock, took it to school to show his teacher, and was sent to juvenile detention when police mistook his device for a bomb.

The details of each of these and other cases vary, but the results have largely been the same. In settings where schooling and policing intersect, the disciplining of students—often for behavior as innocuous as school-age pranks or as commonplace as temper tantrums, and in some cases including children who are so young they still have all their baby teeth—can extend beyond the purview of principals and school staff to law-enforcement who have little to do with education. Data suggests that this is a growing and, for some, disconcerting trend.


Estimates reported by The New York Times in 2009 indicated that as many as 17,000 sworn police officers were posted in U.S. schools at the time, and federal data included in a National Center of Education Statistics report offers a closer look at the characteristics of campus-based police. According to the report, a little over three in four high schools and the vast majority of large schools (those with 1,000 or more students)  have armed security staff, with only a slight statistical difference between urban and suburban areas. But there is great variation based on race and class: Schools where at least half of the children are nonwhite, as well as high-poverty schools (meaning those where at least 75 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch) are home to the highest percentages in the country of K-12-campus law enforcement.

The origin of school-employed police—who are often officially referred to as “school resource officers” (SROs)—dates back to the 1950s. It arose as part of an effort in Flint, Michigan, to foster relationships between local police and youth. That basic idea then spread to other locales, where SROs soon took on roles ranging from counselors and coaches to tutors and mentors. But in the 1990s, the initiative’s focus underwent a dramatic policy shift, with SROs drifting from their mission as community liaisons, largely thanks to the Justice Department’s “COPS in Schools” grant program. Between 1999 and 2008, the department’s community-policing division reportedly awarded in excess of $750 million in grants to more than 3,000 law-enforcement agencies, resulting in more than 6,500 newly hired SROs. And because the recruitment and training of these officers were largely overseen by conventional police departments, board and district officials—who are typically the decision-makers when it comes to school policies—had little, if any, clout over these efforts.


The sharp increase in campus-based law enforcement coincides with the 1999 Columbine High School shootings, which left 15 dead, including two teen gunmen, and prompted calls across the country for a stronger police presence on school grounds. The Sandy Hook massacre in 2012 also incited renewed interest in such efforts, with federal funds earmarked for SROs flowing to local police departments. In Montgomery County, Maryland, a suburb adjacent to Washington, D.C., the number of SROs doubled in the year following the Connecticut mass school shooting.



“The original point of SROs was to give young people the opportunity to interact with [police] officers in a positive way, and there is some reason to think this can be accomplished in some places,” said Emily Owens, a criminology professor at the University of Pennsylvania. “But of course, having an officer means that there will be an increased likelihood that law enforcement is involved in what would otherwise be a disciplinary event.”


Combined with the rapid expansion of zero-tolerance discipline in schools that accompanied the War on Drugs, these isolated yet seminal incidents of mass violence help explain the upsurge in school resource officers, making them a fixture in many of the nation’s schools. A recent survey conducted by the Department of Education found that 43 percent of public schools employ security staff, including school resource officers, while 28 percent have “sworn law enforcement officers routinely carrying a firearm.”

While law enforcement’s presence at schools is hardly a new phenomenon, its value and purpose has lately grown especially contentious. As police officers, those engaged in school-based law-enforcement are, in a way, “beat cops” who are often called on to serve as school disciplinarian. And some experts and juvenile-justice advocates cite systemic educational risks when police patrol school hallways. A report published by the Justice Policy Institute in 2011, “Education Under Arrest: The Case Against Police in Schools,” concludes that placing SROs and other police in educational institutions exaggerates how school misbehavior, much of it involving minor infractions, is interpreted—to the extent that such activities can be treated as criminal offenses.



These tendencies result in arguably unnecessary arrests that increase the likelihood that a child will end up in the juvenile-justice system—and later, as a byproduct of these experiences, adult prisons. According to the institute’s research, youth with court records are more inclined to drop out of high school, and because schools with SROs are more likely to see students arrested for minor offenses, the presence of such officers on campus can take a significant toll on students’ academic outcomes. When UPenn’s Owens examined the data, she found that, on average, “having SROs means more young children [youth under 14-years-old] will be arrested for stuff that happens in school.”

“Students are needlessly arrested for offenses as minor as … swearing at a teacher or throwing spitballs,” said Amanda Petteruti, a senior policy analyst who authored the Justice Policy Institute paper. “SROs lead to discipline applied without the filter of school administrators or policies.”

The inclination of SROs to criminalize youth behaviors, especially that of blacks and Latinos, has become particularly concerning for social-justice activists, community leaders, and parents. In the months following the McKinney, Texas, story, an analysis by the Austin-based public-interest law center Texas Appleseed found that police officers assigned to McKinney schools had arrested and ticketed black students at an “extremely high and unequal” rate. In a district where black students account for only 13 percent of the population, they make up 39 percent of arrests by McKinney SROs, the analysis found. Additionally, misdemeanor citations in McKinney against black students for “disorderly conduct” increased from 47 percent to 61 percent between January 2012 and June 2015, while ticketing of white students dropped from 28 percent to 15 percent over the same period.



Project NIA, a nonprofit aimed at eliminating youth incarceration that has tracked the arrests of students on school property in Chicago since 2010, has found comparable data. In the latest year available, according to a report from the organization, “nearly 30 black youth [in Chicago public schools] were arrested for every one white juvenile.”  

A recurring theme in debates over school police involves concern over the officers’ reportedly poor training; in McKinney, for example, the officers receive no special training before being dispatched to schools. In some cases, questions have also been raised about the amount of funding invested in such programs. In Chicago, for instance, “school police services”—the result of an agreement between the city’s police department and the mayor-appointed school board—cost taxpayers $13 million in 2013, a period during which Chicago students were protesting school-budget cuts and a shortage of school counselors.



Will School-Discipline Reform Actually Change Anything?



Meanwhile, a group of parents, students, and community members in the Bronx, alarmed at the high number of arrests and summonses issued by SROs in their schools, called for a public hearing in 2012 with the New York City Department of Education and the NYPD Safety Office. That discussion led to monthly meetings and, eventually, a training workshop for New York City school police—known in the city as “school safety agents”—at which rookie officers are tasked with reflecting on racial disparities in campus-arrest data, discussing the often hidden costs of arrests and summonses on students, and engaging in conflict resolution through role play. Since the trainings commenced in 2012, Bronx schools have seen a significant fall in arrests and summonses, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union. While the Bronx still outranks New York’s four other boroughs when it comes to the total number of arrests and summonses, the Bronx’s 2011-12 school year reports cited by the NYCLU showed 256 arrests and 796 summonses, compared to 86 arrests and 285 summonses in 2014-15.

Emma Hulse, a lead organizer for the New York City advocacy group New Settlement Parent Action Committee, calls the SRO training a “powerful model” of teamwork between local parents, the D.C.-based nonprofit Children’s Defense Fund, and NYPD leadership. “While we don’t always agree, the drop in arrests and summonses is a testament to [the NYPD’s] willingness to collaborate and openness to change,” she said. Joseph Ferdinand, a community member who leads the trainings for school-safety agents, has lived in the Bronx for 15 years and stepped forward to volunteer out of concern for neighborhood youth. “What I’ve seen in the [school police officers] we trained, they are more willing to understand rather than be understood,” said Ferdinand.

Absent the elimination of police on all school campuses—which as things stand seems like an unlikely scenario—investing in police training that involves the kinds of partnerships developed in the Bronx and revamping the role of law-enforcement officers assigned to schools is gaining momentum. Also recommended are clear standards that prohibit SROs from overseeing routine discipline problems, a stance that the National Association of School Resource Officers endorses.

“When it comes to formal discipline, especially suspensions and expulsions, there’s no place for law enforcement,” Maurice “Mo” Canady, the association’s executive director recently told Teaching Tolerance. With a new school year just underway, tens of thousands of public schools still have not received Canady’s memo.