Musings from a Midwest Road Trip

One of the best things about being a faculty member is the incredible flexibility during the summer. Although I am only on a nine-month contract and have to hustle for grant or contract funding to maintain a nice standard of living (here is what I did last summer), it’s great to be in almost complete control of my schedule for three months out of the year. I had the pleasure of spending much of early June on the road in the Midwest, mixing some time with my family and friends alongside more typical academic obligations. Here are some musings from 900 miles behind the wheel across some of the most beautiful scenery in America.

After some time with my parents, my wife and I went to Kansas City for a friend’s wedding. But since we are both Truman State University alumni, we had to make a stop at the Harry S. Truman presidential library in Independence, Missouri. In the midst of all of the exhibits (including the famous Zimmermann Telegram), there was a well-worn display on some aspects of Truman’s legacy that are still being debated today. Truman is well-known in higher education circles for the commission that he established, and many of these ideas keep popping up on a regular basis.

We then took a walk in downtown Kansas City, which has been revitalized over the last decade. (Ed policy friends: you’re going to love going to AEFP there next year!) One of the downtown attractions is the College Basketball Experience, which also hosts the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame. I was struck by the graphic outside the building, which prominently featured a Creighton basketball player. This raises questions about whether players should be paid for their likenesses, even when the organization using the likeness is nonprofit.

After a gorgeous drive through corn and soybean fields (and listening to a near no-hitter on the radio), I was in Champaign, Illinois for a conference on state funding volatility in higher education hosted by the University of Illinois. Illinois knows something about the topic, but it was good to see a sense of normalcy (and construction cranes!) after a second year of consistent state funding recently came through. I presented my draft paper examining whether star research faculty members leave public research universities after state funding cuts—and I found little evidence of this. (Thanks to Eric Kelderman for this nice writeup in The Chronicle!) I also enjoyed the art outside the conference room, including this nice sign that would look great in my office.

I was then back in New Jersey for a few days to chair a dissertation defense and cut the grass before heading to Minneapolis to give a talk on higher education accountability at the Lawlor Group’s Summer Seminar for administrators at private nonprofit colleges. I usually speak with policy and scholarly audiences, so it was great to learn from a different group of people over the course of two days. It has been great to travel around for a while over the last few weeks, but now it’s nice to be back in New Jersey for a prolonged stretch of time. Time to write!

The 2018 Net Price Madness Bracket

Every year, I take the 68 teams in the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament and fill out a bracket based on colleges with the lowest net price of attendance (defined as the total cost of attendance less all grant aid received). My 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014 and 2013 brackets are preserved for posterity—and often aren’t terribly successful on the hardwood. My 2015 winner (Wichita State) won two games in the tournament, while prior winners New Orleans (2017), Fresno State (2016), Louisiana-Lafayette (2014), and North Carolina A&T (2013) emerged victorious for having the lowest net price but failed to win a single game. But at least West Virginia (a regional champion last year) won two games, so maybe there is some hope for this method.

I created a bracket using 2015-16 data (the most recent available through the U.S. Department of Education for the net price of attendance for all first-time, full-time students receiving grant aid I should note that these net price measures are far from perfect—the data are now three years old and colleges can manipulate these numbers through the living allowance portion of the cost of attendance. Nevertheless, they provide some insights regarding college affordability—and they may not be a bad way to pick that tossup 8/9 game that you’ll probably get wrong anyway.

The final four teams in the bracket are the following, with the full dataset available here:

East: Cal State-Fullerton ($8,170)

West: UNC-Chapel Hill ($10,077)

South: Wright State ($14,464)

Midwest: New Mexico State ($10,213)

Kudos to Cal State-Fullerton for having the lowest net price for all students ($8,170), with an additional shout-out to UNC-Chapel Hill for having the lowest net price among teams that are likely to make it to the final weekend of basketball ($10,077). (Also, kudos to the North Carolina system for having two universities in the last eight.)

Additionally, although I didn’t do a bracket for students in the lowest family income category (below $30,000) this year, the University of Michigan has the lowest net price in that category (at $2,660). Although Michigan doesn’t serve that many low-income students, a new program (designed in part by all-star Michigan economist Susan Dynarski) guarantees four years of free tuition for in-state students with family incomes below $65,000. That’s a good step for a wealthy public university to take.

The 2017 Net Price Madness Bracket

Every year, I take the 68 teams in the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament and fill out a bracket based on colleges with the lowest net price of attendance (defined as the total cost of attendance less all grant aid received). My 2016, 2015, 2014 and 2013 brackets are preserved for posterity—and often aren’t terribly successful on the hardwood. My 2015 winner (Wichita State) won two games in the tournament, while prior winners Fresno State (2016), Louisiana-Lafayette (2014), and North Carolina A&T (2013) emerged victorious for having the lowest net price but failed to win a single game. However, North Carolina (a Final Four selection for low-income students in 2016) did actually advance to the championship game before getting beaten by pricey Villanova.

I created two brackets this year using 2014-15 data (the most recent available through the U.S. Department of Education): one for the net price of attendance for all first-time, full-time students receiving grant aid and one focusing on students who received federal financial aid with family incomes below $30,000 per year. I should note that these net price measures are far from perfect—the data are now three years old and colleges can manipulate these numbers through the living allowance portion of the cost of attendance. Nevertheless, they provide some insights regarding college affordability—and they may not be a bad way to pick that tossup 8/9 game that you’ll probably get wrong anyway.

The final four teams in each bracket are the following, with the full dataset available here:

All students receiving grant aid

East: New Orleans ($8,867)

West: West Virginia ($10,405)

South: Northern Kentucky ($9,173)

Midwest: North Carolina Central ($9,793)

Low-income students only

East: Florida ($7,024)

West: Princeton ($3,461)

South: Northern Kentucky (5,030)

Midwest: Michigan ($3,414)

A big congratulations to the University of New Orleans for having the lowest net price for all students and to the University of Michigan for having the lowest net price for its (fairly small percentage of) low-income students. And a hearty lack of congratulations to Southern Methodist for having the highest net price for all students ($36,602) and Gonzaga for having the highest for low-income students ($30,166).

The 2016 Net Price Madness Bracket

Every year, I take the 68 teams in the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament and fill out a bracket based on colleges with the lowest net price of attendance (defined as the total cost of attendance less all grant aid received). My 2015, 2014 and 2013 brackets are preserved for posterity—and aren’t terribly successful on the hardwood. My 2015 winner (Wichita State) won two games in the tournament, while prior winners Louisiana-Lafayette and North Carolina A&T emerged victorious for having the lowest net price but failed to win a single game.

I created two brackets this year using 2013-14 data (the most recent available through the U.S. Department of Education): one for the net price of attendance for all students and one focusing on students with family incomes below $30,000 per year. The final four teams in each bracket are the following:

All student receiving aid

East: Wichita State ($9,843)

West: Cal State-Bakersfield ($5,690)

South: West Virginia ($9,380)

Midwest: Fresno State ($5,599)

netprice_all_2016

Low-income students only

East: Vanderbilt ($6,905)

West: Yale ($3,918)

South: North Carolina ($4,431)

Midwest: Fresno State ($3,835)

netprice_low_2016

A big congratulations to Fresno State and the state of California for winning this year’s edition of Net Price Madness across both categories.

Will Recent Protests Affect Higher Education Leadership?

Over the last week, much attention in the higher education world has turned to the saga of University of Missouri-Columbia graduate student Jonathan Butler, who engaged in a hunger strike in an effort to get Missouri’s system president Timothy Wolfe to resign due to a perceived lack of attention paid to racism on at the Columbia campus. His effort quickly gained attention via social media, particularly when Mizzou’s football team decided over the weekend not to play any more games until Wolfe was removed. Wolfe resigned today in the face of overwhelming pressure (including from Republican legislators), handing the protesters a huge win.

Wolfe’s speedy resignation clearly shows both the power of social media and the power of big-time college athletics. For example, Wolfe’s $459,000 salary was far less than the $1 million Mizzou would have had to pay Brigham Young University for cancelling the game, not to mention additional revenues Mizzou would have gained from a lucrative neutral-site game in Kansas City. It’s truly remarkable that arguably the two most influential college football programs of the decade are Northwestern (for its players’ attempt to unionize in recent years) and Mizzou—programs that have combined for zero conference championships since 2001.

But the Mizzou protests may have significant implications for higher education leadership going forward. New university or system presidents are being protested in Iowa and North Carolina, and Mizzou doesn’t seem that atypical among large universities in concerns about racism and leadership. Below are three main ways in which the leadership of colleges and systems may change as a result of these recent protests:

 

(1) Will the voices of students, faculty, staff, and the public in the presidential selection process change? One way to potentially avoid protests like in Missouri, Iowa, and North Carolina would be to give stakeholders a larger voice in the selection process of new leaders. These stakeholders often have a representative on the selection committee, but these committees are increasingly shielded from public view in order to keep candidates’ identities anonymous for as long as possible. Groups who are unhappy with current leadership may seek representation on the selection committees, which could improve the perceived legitimacy of presidential searches but result in a longer timeline for selecting new leaders.

(2) Will this change who is willing to become a college or system president? Much has been made about the protests in Iowa and North Carolina being due to the selection of non-academics as leaders, and Wolfe had no background in higher education prior to his selection. This sounds like an opportunity for academics to regain their traditional position as college presidents, but I have to wonder if your garden-variety distinguished professor is willing to take on such a high-pressure public role in light of additional protests and demands. (In addition, managing an athletic department might have just gotten more challenging.)

(3) Will future presidents demand financial protection against the risk of ouster? The typical tenure of a college president has fallen from 8.5 years in 2006 to 7 years in 2012 amid pressures from trustees, legislators, donors, and internal stakeholders. If the result of Wolfe’s ouster is additional resignation demands at other colleges, I would expect to see larger buyout packages placed into future presidents’ contracts in order to insulate leaders from the threat of losing their jobs. College football provides some good examples here, as a number of head coaches are being paid millions of dollars to simply go away.

Although it is too early to tell whether protests at other colleges will result in leaders resigning or being forced out, the potential seems to be there if stakeholders coordinate their actions around a popular cause. But these conditions have existed at many colleges for decades, so it’s unclear whether Mizzou’s successful protests are a one-time success for protesters or a start of more ousters.

The 2015 Net Price Madness Bracket

Every year, I take the 68 teams in the 2015 NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament and fill out a bracket based on colleges with the lowest net price of attendance (defined as the total cost of attendance less all grant aid received). My 2014 and 2013 brackets are preserved for posterity, with Louisiana-Lafayette and North Carolina A&T emerging victorious for having the lowest net price without having won a single game.

In 2015, the final four teams standing (based on net price) are:

MIDWEST REGION: Wichita State [WINNER] (net price of $9,039*, 46% graduation rate, 36% Pell)

WEST REGION: North Carolina (net price of $11,994, 90% graduation rate, 21% Pell)

[An earlier version of this post incorrectly had BYU beating North Carolina. My apologies for that error, which has been corrected.]

EAST REGION: Wyoming (net price of $11,484, 54% graduation rate, 24% Pell)

SOUTH REGION: San Diego State (net price of $9,856, 66% graduation rate, 40% Pell)

netprice

All data for the bracket can be found here.

*NOTE: Wichita State has a reported net price of $9,039, but the net prices for each household income bracket are higher than $9,039. Something isn’t right here, but what would March Madness be without any controversy?

Indiana deserves special plaudits for having a net price for the lowest-income students of just $4,632—although the 19% Pell enrollment rate is quite low.

Also, thanks to Andy Saultz for catching an error in the VCU/Ohio State game. Much appreciated!

Why I’m Conflicted About College Athletics

As a college professor doing research in higher education finance and accountability policy, there are many times when my enjoyment of college athletics leaves me conflicted. I enjoy watching my beloved Wisconsin Badgers get the best of (most of) their Big Ten opponents on a regular basis, but I also recognize that at all but the few dozen wealthiest universities, college athletics are heavily subsidized by student fees. (Answering whether athletics programs are actually profitable is very difficult due to concerns with cost allocations, assumptions about whether students are induced to attend because of athletics, and how revenue is disbursed.)

In the past year, colleges in the “Power Five” athletic conferences (Big Ten, Big 12, Atlantic Coast, Pacific-12, and Southeastern Conferences) gained additional autonomy from the rest of the NCAA. They then voted to increase athletic scholarships by $2,000-$4,000 per year per athlete to cover the full cost of attendance, which is definitely a good thing for those athletes. Other Division I colleges can choose to also increase scholarships, but not without significant budgetary implications. For a college with 250 scholarship athletes (not an unrealistic number for a college with football), the cost could approach one million dollars per year. My concern is that those increases are likely to be funded out of the pockets of students and/or by cutting non-revenue sports like wrestling and track and field.

Other things that college athletic programs do are unambiguously bad for athletes. A recent example of this is with national letters of intent, which bind athletes to a college at the end of the recruiting process. Earlier this month, prized linebacker recruit Roquan Smith made news by accepting a football scholarship from the University of Georgia (switching from UCLA) without signing the letter of intent. Once a letter is signed, a student cannot transfer without losing eligibility unless the college decides to let the student out. In the meantime, coaches often leave for other jobs without facing any employment restrictions.

As a professor, I also worry about the increased number of televised weeknight games long distances from campus that cause athletes difficulties attending class. It’s great to get exposure for your college on national television (and get serious television dollars), but this places a burden on athletes and faculty who work with those students. But if I’m not teaching one evening and a good game is on, will I watch it? Quite possibly. Should I? No.

I’m curious to get readers’ thoughts about how they manage the pros and cons of big-time college athletics. Even when the game is going on, I can’t help think about the students and the dollar signs behind them.

[NOTE: A previous version of the post incorrectly noted that Mr. Smith was intending to enroll at UCLA instead of the University of Georgia. Thanks to Ed Kilgore for pointing out this error.]

Should There Be Gainful Employment for College Athletes?

College athletics, particularly the big-revenue sports of NCAA Division I football and basketball, have been in the news lately for less-than-athletic reasons. The recent push by the Northwestern football team to unionize has led to further discussion of whether college athletes* should be compensated beyond their athletic scholarships. And the University of Connecticut’s national championship team in men’s basketball comes a year after they were banned from the tournament due to woeful academic performance and an eight percent graduation rate. (Big congrats to the UConn women’s team, who won another national championship while graduating 92% of students!)

Now things may not be quite as bad as they look. The NCAA’s preferred measure of academic progress is the Academic Progress Rate (APR), which is scored from 0 to 1000 based on retention and eligibility of athletes. Colleges aren’t penalized for athletes who leave without a degree, as long as they stay eligible while competing. This measure is likely more reasonable for athletes who leave for the professional ranks, but this excludes students who exhaust their eligibility and do not become professionals. The APR doesn’t take graduation into account—a significant limitation in this case.

I can’t help think of what could happen if the general principles of gainful employment—a hot political topic in the vocational portions of higher education—would apply to students with athletic scholarships. While the primary metrics of the current gainful employment proposal (debt to income ratios) may not apply to students with full scholarships, some sort of earning and employment measure could be used to track the future success of former athletes. If former players on college teams were unable to obtain professional athletic or academic major-related employment, the team could be subject to sanctions.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on gainful employment for college athletes in the comment section. I’m not taking an actual stand in favor or against this idea, but it’s something potentially worth additional discussion.

* I’m sure the NCAA would rather that I call them “student-athletes,” but I use “athletes” and “students” where appropriate.

The 2013 Net Price Madness Tournament

Millions and millions of Americans will be sitting on the couch over the next several weeks watching the NCAA college basketball tournaments—and I’ll be keeping an eye on my Wisconsin Badgers as the men’s team makes its way through the tournament. Those of us in the higher education community have made a variety of brackets highlighting different aspects of the participating institutions (see Inside Higher Ed’s looks at the men’s and women’s tournaments, using the academic performance rate for student-athletes, and one from The Awl based on tuition, with higher tuition resulting in advancement).

I take a different look at advancing colleges through the tournament—based on having the lowest net price of attendance. Net price is calculated as the total cost of attendance (tuition and fees, room and board, books, and a living allowance) less any grant aid received—among students receiving any grant aid. I use IPEDS data from 2010-11 for this analysis, and also show results if the analysis is limited to students with family income below $30,000 per year (most of whom will have an expected family contribution of zero). Data for the 2013 Net Price Madness Tournament is below:

midwest_2013

west_2013

south_2013east_2013

SOURCE: IPEDS.

Overall Net Price

Round of 16

Midwest: North Carolina A&T ($6,147) vs. New Mexico State ($8,492), Middle Tennessee State ($9,148) vs. Albany ($12,697)

West: Wichita State ($8,079) vs. Ole Miss ($12,516), New Mexico ($10,272) vs. Iowa State ($13,554)

South: North Carolina ($11,028) vs. South Dakota State ($12,815), Northwestern State ($7,939) vs. San Diego State ($8,527)

East: North Carolina State ($9,847) vs. UNLV ($9,943), Davidson ($23,623) vs. Illinois ($15,610)

Final Four

North Carolina A&T ($6,147) vs. Wichita State ($8,079)

Northwestern State ($7,939) vs. North Carolina State ($9,847)

WINNER: North Carolina A&T (59% Pell, 41% grad rate)

Net Price (household income below $30k)

Round of 16

Midwest: North Carolina A&T ($4,774) vs. New Mexico State ($5,966), Michigan State ($5,569) vs. Duke ($8,049)

West: Southern University ($8,752) vs. Wisconsin ($6,363), Harvard ($1,297) vs. Iowa State ($8,636)

South: North Carolina ($4,101) vs. Michigan ($4,778), Florida ($3,778) vs. San Diego State ($3,454)

East: Indiana ($3,919) vs. UNLV ($6,412), Davidson ($7,165) vs. Illinois ($7,432)

Final Four

North Carolina A&T ($4,774) vs. Harvard ($1,297)

San Diego State ($3,454) vs. Indiana ($3,919)

WINNER: Harvard (11% Pell, 97% graduation rate)

Depending on which version of net price is used, the results do change substantially. Some colleges dramatically lower their net price of attendance for the neediest students, while others keep theirs more constant in spite of Pell Grant funds being available. Harvard’s victory on the lowest-income measure does ring somewhat hollow, as its percentage of students receiving Pell Grants (11%) tied with Villanova for the lowest in the tournament.

Thanks for reading this post, and feel free to use these picks if you choose to fill out a bracket for the real tournament. Do keep in mind that low net prices and basketball prowess may not exactly be correlated!

The Big N Conference and Athletic Realignment

Mentioning the name “Big Ten” evokes certain sentiments in the minds of many Americans. Although the conference is much more than just smashmouth, low-scoring football games played on chilly November days under gunmetal skies in places as exotic as Iowa City, Ann Arbor, and West Lafayette, football certainly does rule the roost in the conference. But there has traditionally been much more to the conference than big-time football.

As a doctoral student and a fan of so-called “minor sports” such as wrestling, I appreciate the other benefits of the Big Ten. The academic wing of the Big Ten (plus the University of Chicago, a former conference member in athletics before moving to Division III), the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, is an outstanding resource that helps make accessing research materials from other member colleges much easier. And the runaway financial success of the Big Ten Network helps make athletic programs a more free-standing enterprise, reduces student subsidies for athletics, and provides coverage of a wide range of sports besides football and basketball.

Few other conferences are as financially stable as the Big Ten—the Pacific 12 and Southeastern Conferences are the only other truly stable conferences. While the ironically named Big Ten swallowed up its twelfth member (Nebraska) in the last round of conference realignment, the Pac-12 added Utah and Colorado while the SEC added Missouri and Texas A&M. Three other large-school conferences (the ten-member Big 12, the Atlantic Coast Conference, and the Big East Conference—which also has members who do not play football) have been trying to survive, as one is unlikely to remain near the top of the athletic pecking order in another round of realignment.

The current conference order seemed fairly stable (minus the strange moves made by the Big East Conference) until this week. I was watching the Ohio State-Wisconsin football game Saturday afternoon when I saw an item on the bottom of the screen mentioning that the University of Maryland was in serious discussions to move to the Big Ten from the ACC. Sure enough, that move was made official on Monday, with the clear reasons for the expansion being Maryland’s large budget shortfall in athletics and the goal of adding more TV revenue in the next round of negotiations. Rutgers followed on Tuesday, with a big move from the struggling Big East Conference.

The fourteen-member Big Ten (let’s just call it the Big N, shall we?) may not be done adding members. Sixteen members is an appealing number, with potential candidates in the Universities of Virginia, North Carolina, Kansas, and Connecticut as well as possibly Notre Dame, a longtime point of discussion. Despite the increased amount of travel that college athletes must endure and the weakening of regional rivalries (such as Wisconsin versus Iowa in football), superconferences appear to be the way of the future. It is likely that the SEC and Pac-12 will add members to get to sixteen schools, with some merger of the ACC and Big East making up the fourth power conference. Everyone else will be fighting for scraps at the proverbial kids’ table.

I would love to hear predictions for how the big-time college conferences end up shaking out and whether academic factors will continue to be important for the Big Ten. Your comments and predictions are encouraged!