AAUP: Universal Scholarships?

Last week, over n the AAUP listserv. Robert Wood referred to an NPR article describing a program in Michigan where philanthropists in Kalamazoo fund universal college tuition. Rob asked, “Imagine if we were able to set one of these funds up statewide in Washington? How much would it cost?   Who might pay?” (full post below)

My response:

Rob,  this idea leaves me with a taste of Dickens’ England. 
It seems to me that there is a much better chance that Seattle’s uber wealthy could be encouraged to create a scholarship for Washington’s best students just as their colleague Phil Knight in Oregon supports the best Oregon Ducks!
In  Oregon, Phil Knight, the NIKE founder who tried to buy his way into the UW through a previous Provost, is widely seen as owning the University of Oregon.   I have no doubt that Mr. Knight is very generous to the University of Oregon in ways that fit his idea of the nature of a great university.  Obviously this includes generous gifts to buy gladiators, aka student-athletes, to play for “his” Ducks.
To be fair, Mr. Knight has also made extensive donations to academic programs.  Nonetheless, you should ask yourself, why would one of our uber wealthy want to donate money to lower tuition costs for all UW students … much less all Washington state students?   People like Messers Bezos and Allen do not really live here. Between private jets, yachts, apartments, pied a terre, and homes scattered around the world.
Where is the glory in your proposal?
Unlike Mr. Knight, Bill Gates has given a lot of money to education.  He gets great attention for that effort and, under our system, Bill and Melinda Gates have the right to spend their money on whatever they want!  Mr. Gates, however, has focused his educational philanthropy on the widely accepted American idea that all children benefit from a college degree.  If that is the premise, then the effect is to argue that public funding, including philanthropic donations, should focus on quantity rather than quality.  Do you think that measures up to the pleasure or pride Paul Allen had last year when the Seahawks won the Superbowl?
I also think your proposal is at odds with the focus this List has had on contingent faculty.  The idea of sending all kids to college,  has a corollary that much that is done in college should be rote instruction. If we want all kids to go to college, then we need a very efficient system to push them through so they will be qualified to get degrees.  This means that public dollars should be spent not on creating an elite academic atmosphere where tenure supports freedom of discussion, but a more structured atmosphere where teachers are hired not to be scholars but to coach students to getting a well-defined body of material that will lead to a job. Returning to Mr. Gates, part of his philanthropy has been support for Western Governors’ University … a pass fail, “competence” based degree granting institution that has replaced faculty with “coaches” who help WGU students pass their pass fail tests.
WGU is already a Washington State University. How would you feel if Mr. Bezos bought WGU and created the Amazon free tuition program for all kids who passed these pass-fail tests?
It seems to me that football may be a better model for encouraging  philanthropy, esp. give the examples of how Mr. Knight and Mr. Bezos support elite athletes.  Similarly, I have read of Mr. Bezos and, for that matter, Mr. Gates, that both of these men have achieved a great deal by recruiting from the elites of the best schools.  In Mr. Bezos case he grew up in a poor family but was able to succeed because of great opportunities available in public schools.
Instead of asking for a universal scholarship program, why not encourage support for a highly selective scholarship program directed at finding the best students, regardless of parental wealth or ethnic history? 
On Wed, Apr 16, 2014 at 9:25 AM, Robert Wood <[email protected]> wrote:

Dear Colleagues,
Below is an NPR article describing an interesting idea for        funding college tuition. Imagine if we were able to set one of        these funds up statewide in Washington? How much would it cost?        Who might pay? Our state is flush with philanthropists who could        help repair our damaged state education system.
The Wikipedia article on the Kalamazoo          Promise provides a little more information. Not only does         the financing system ensure that residents of Kalamazoo get free        college tuition, it also conditions it on them having attended         public schools, which helps strengthen the public school system.

How One Michigan City Is Sending Kids To College Tuition-Free       by NPR Staff- April 16, 2014

Paying for college presents a tremendous hurdle to many        families, from wading through paperwork and navigating financial         aid to understanding the long-term implications of college debt.

But what if the city you lived in footed the bill for college?         That’s what Kalamazoo, Mich., has been doing for almost a        decade. In 2005, a group of anonymous donors launched an        ambitious program. They pledged enough money to pay the tuition        of most students who graduate from the district’s public high        schools to attend any of Michigan’s public universities or        community colleges.

The effort, called the Kalamazoo Promise, has spent about $50        million assisting more than 3,000 students from the city.

One of them, Erica Adams, was a high school sophomore when the        program launched. She’s since graduated from Michigan State        University and is now a foster care specialist for the state of        Michigan.

Adams and Kalamazoo resident Michelle Miller-Adams, author of a        book about the program, The Power of a Promise: Education and        Economic Renewal in Kalamazoo, both spoke with NPR’s Michel        Martin about how the program has changed how students and        educators think about opportunities beyond high school.

Interview Highlights

On how the program is changing expectations among students and        educators in Kalamazoo

Adams: Back when I was going to school, before the Promise was        announced, teachers weren’t really asking, “Well, what school        are you going to after graduation,” or, “What are you going to        major in?” It was, “What are your plans after graduation?”

Whereas now, it’s teachers telling you, “What school are you        going to?” So it completely just changed the mindset that I        think a lot of our administrators have — our educators and our        kids have — in our community.

Miller-Adams: That’s even happening at the elementary school        level. I have a daughter who’s been in Kalamazoo Public Schools        elementary school for about five years. And, yeah, that        college-going culture and attitude and expectations penetrates        all the way down to kindergarten.

Adams: I think it kind of just lets all the kids know, too,        that there’s somebody out here that thinks that I’m worthy of        having this education, regardless of my family situation [or]        what class we are.

The stipulations for the Promise are not, you have to have a         3.5 GPA and all these extracurricular activities. You have to        just have the willpower to do it, and that’s pretty much it. And        I just think that that’s an amazing blessing, that somebody or a         group of people put that much faith in this community.

On how the Promise broadens opportunity for Kalamazoo students        after high school

Miller-Adams: We … see a great deal of freedom that students        are experiencing in being able to follow their passion and, most        importantly, graduating with either no or very low levels of        debt. … And that opens up a huge range of possibilities. That        opens up the possibility of graduate school for a lot of        students. So the impacts are really pretty subtle and nuanced.

Adams: I had always [known] that I wanted to go to college. But        it definitely just broadened all the opportunities as to where I        could go. And it also kind of helped me to do exactly what I        wanted to do, rather than what was going to be feasible for me        and what I could afford — as opposed to a community college or        something of that nature. …

I also probably [would have studied] nursing or something like        that, just because I know those are jobs where typically … you        can find jobs easily. … So when the Promise was announced, I        was like, “Big 10 Universities, here I come!”

On less-tangible benefits to the Kalamazoo community

Miller-Adams: We tend to focus on kids who weren’t going to go        to college and now can go to college. The reality of the impact        is much more complex than that. Students are able to choose        different colleges. …

We [also] sometimes see — I hate to call it “trading down,” but        we see a shift in college preferences because of the requirement        that you attend a public in-state institution. But, you know,        that’s quite good for the state, that more of our top students        are being driven to public in-state institutions. …

I think [the Promise donors] were also hoping to really        strengthen and reinvigorate the school district that serves the        urban core of our region. … They were clearly looking … for        a transformative investment that would change not only the        school district that serves our city, which is a high-poverty        school district that had been shrinking for many years … but        also something that would transform the broader community. …

And they were also seeking to make Kalamazoo a more attractive        place for people to live and work, especially those people who        value education. They wanted to make Kalamazoo “stickier.”        That’s a term we hear a lot — harder to leave, more welcoming to        come to.

On why Promise students are almost as likely to drop out of        college as other college students

Miller-Adams: Yeah, I think that’s one of the surprises that we        find in the data. I think that we will see it change. This is a        very long-term program. It’s set up to continue in perpetuity.        And, you know, we’re only really eight years into it in terms of        eligible classes.

The reality is that if you have things going on in your life,        either academically or more importantly in your home life, that        are keeping you from being successful in school … the        Kalamazoo Promise does not change those things. It doesn’t take        away a precarious home life, or insecure housing, or lack of        access to food or really poor support in the home for your        learning. …

The reality is that we are still a very high-poverty district        in a high-poverty city. And kids … experience tremendous        stresses. And so it’s not that none of those kids can overcome        those. But it is a lot harder for those students to really stay        in school, be successful and make full use of the Promise. Lots        of them are trying. [Copyright 2014 NPR]

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