Too many colleges

As I’m pretty sure I’ve written before, I believe that in general private colleges just do not offer enough better educational experience to justify the additional expense.  I do think an NC resident will get a better education at Duke than UNC, but certainly not almost three times better.  That said, if you’ve got a lot of money to spare, I think you can still justify the expense of an elite private university.  There’s just no matching the amazing education you’ll get at an Ivy, Duke, Chicago, Stanford, etc.  What has always seemed nuts to me, though, is spending a similar amount of money on a non-elite private university.  Yes, their classes are smaller, but I guarantee you your flagship state university has better faculty and all sorts of other advantages.

Thus, I was pleased to see Slate’s Jordan Weisman write that a number of small, non-elite private colleges are in financial trouble.  I daresay, they should be:

These are agonizing times for small, private colleges. Enrollment is falling. Debts are rising. Tuition is high as it can go. And since the financial crisis, schools have been shuttering more often than normal.

Now, Moody’s Investor Service, which analyzes the credit worthiness of more 500 public and private nonprofit colleges, is delivering this grim prognosis for the future.

“What we’re concerned about is the death spiral—this continuing downward momentum for some institutions,” analyst Susan Fitzgerald tells Bloomberg. “We will see more closures than in the past.”

And that, I will add, might be a very good thing.

Small private colleges aren’t necessarily nefarious institutions, but they’re not exactly the heroes of higher education either. For the moment, forget about elite schools Amherst or Wesleyan (they’re doing fine, anyway). Instead, consider places likeAshland University in Ohio, which Moody’s has called a default risk. These institutions often cater to iffy students and produce mediocre graduation rates. But because they don’t have much in the way of endowments, they tend to charge high tuition, and leave undergraduates saddled with debts that simply might not be worthwhile. When all the aid is factored in, attending Ashland still costs $21,000 a year, according to the Department of Education. Meanwhile, only 59 percentgraduate after six years. And so, according to Payscale, it offers one of the lowest returns on investment of any college in the country.

Forget ROI which I find very problematic when applied to colleges in this manner, but it just seems crazy to me to invest way more money in an inferior educational product.  The truth is we surely have too many small private colleges in this country (hello, inefficiencies of small scale) and higher education would be just fine with fewer.

Infographic of the day

Great Don Draper marketing quotes.  I love having Mad Men back.  I just wish it didn’t have to share Sunday nights with Game of Thrones right now.  I never know which I should DVR and watch the next night.

Don Draper Moments of Marketing Wisdom

Whither the Republican women legislators?

I was talking with my Politics of Parenthood partner in crime, Laurel Elder, the other day about her other research on women in state legislatures.  I think this chart that sums up the issue is pretty amazing.


As for Laurel’s explanation, here’s from her abstract:

 From 1981 to 2014, the percent of Republican women legislators increased by only 3 percentage points nationally and actually went down in one fifth of states. Moreover, the gains of Republican women have come disproportionately in liberal states that are trending Democratic, while they have faced their biggest obstacles in conservative states dominated by Republicans. In contrast, women’s presence in the workforce appears to facilitate a steady increase in the representation of Democratic women. Democratic women have made impressive gains in all regions of the country, including the South, and in both conservative and liberal states.

The conversation was occasioned by my coming across some similar research on the issue by Danielle Thompson at the conference last week.  Her take:

To explain this divergence, I develop a theory of Party Fit. The central claim is that ideological conformity with the party shapes the decision to run for office. I find that, regardless of gender, moderate state legislators are less likely to be attracted to a congressional career and less likely to run for Congress than those at the ideological extremes. The findings have gendered implications because, first, Republican women in the pipeline have historically been to the left of their male counterparts, and second, there is a dearth of conservative women in the pipeline.

Does not look like we’ll see much change in this gap anytime soon.  From a political optics perspective, this probably benefits Democrat’s claims of the “Republican war on women.”  Also, I think it is a good thing to have more women in legislatures period (plenty of good PS on this).  And the fact that there’s this stagnation among Republican women is a significant impediment to actually getting more women in legislatures.

Photo of the day

From an Telegraph gallery of entrants in the “Velux Lovers of Light photography competition.”

Finalists in the international VELUX Lovers of Light photography competition
Sunset Cliffs, San Diego, USA by Thomas ZaglerPicture: Thomas Zagler
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