Thursday, August 21, 2014

Birds of a Feather Flock Together: ECI’s Very Partisan ‘Bi-Partisan’ Policy Advisory Board

Educational Choice Illinois (ECI) is “a 501c3 public charity, dedicated to advancing public policy that expands quality educational options for Illinois children in need” that recently released an announcement celebrating the creation of its “bipartisanPolicy Advisory Board.  Their board, 31 members in total, is tasked with “[assisting] ECI in setting its policy agenda” in addition to meeting with community leaders, legislators, participating in outreach, etc.

What is especially interesting about the Board is its composition.  While ECI reports that the Board is “bipartisan,” it is clear that those who sit on the Board are far from bipartisan when it comes to educational policy.  Of the 31 members, at least 23 work for organizations/think-tanks that are overtly in favor of pro-privatization education reforms (e.g., charter schools, vouchers, etc.), and none are known skeptics.  Of the other 8 members, their history or current position on reform cannot be readily ascertained.  Though, as a lobbyist, Vince Williams – who is among the 8 – is likely to advocate for the majority opinion of the Advisory Board – which, in this case, is predominately comprised of pro-privatization ideologues.  Thus, given the history of pro-privatization activities from the members of this Board, one must ask if it was their disposition — as opposed to, say, expertise on the issue — that was ultimately the litmus test for their participation.

In ECI’s promotional video, Myles Mendoza (Executive Director) states that, “[ECI] is a group that really thinks very, very differently about education.  What we care about most are the interests of children, plain and simple.”  Given the composition of its Advisory Board, it becomes clear that ECI does not think “very, very differently” among itself since almost all of its members have a history of advocating for pro-privatization reforms.  In their video, Lisa Graham Keegan (ECI Board member and Chair of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers) states, “I’m a big fan of watching how geese fly because they fly in formation and they take that one goose out in front who takes the brunt and to let that goose in front take them where they need to go, it’s very clear to me that Illinois is head goose here.  And you’re going to hear a lot of honking from a lot of places but you’re going to take us where the rest of the country is going to go.”

In the case of ECI, the goose out front is its new Policy Director Joshua Dwyer.  Dwyer, in his former role at the free-market oriented Illinois Policy Institute, advocated for lifting the charter school cap, increasing online learning, and expanding school vouchers.  Operating under the assumption that market-based school reforms are the panacea of the supposed “crisis” in public education, Dwyer — with masters degrees in public policy and journalism — purported that “the main goal of any reforms should be to allow students in Chicago’s lowest-performing elementary and high schools to leave their schools immediately.”  That is, education reform ought not attempt at mending areas of public schooling that need to be addressed; rather, the goal of any reform ought to lead to an abandoning of local public schools – as opposed to addressing the school-based or systemic issues that cause poor performance.

The assumption that schools fail due to a lack of competition and thereby create a dichotomy of “good” schools where students succeed and “bad” schools where students fall behind is the typical ideology and rhetoric of pro-privatization reformers.  Though, on the face of it, it is hypocritical to suggest that injecting market-competition reforms into schools will somehow create level playing fields and equitable outcomes.  By definition, competition requires winners and losers.

Thus, the “honking” that we will likely hear from ECI’s new Policy Advisory Board will all sound the same as they fly in formation towards privatizing education by promoting more charters and more vouchers – all of which “flies” in the face of real evidence.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Unlocking the Interlocking Relationship Between International Student Enrollment in Public Universities and Declining State Appropriations Operations Revenue

“The interlocking relationship between public institutions, tuition and fee policies, and state appropriations is an area that seems to be pervasively misunderstood by taxpayers and policymakers” (Alexander, 2011).

International student enrollment within U.S. higher education has experienced significant growth since 2007 (Institute of International Education, 2013).  The growth of this demographic in public institutions has gained increased media attention (e.g. Chicago Tribune, Crain’s Detroit Business,  and The New York Times).   Generally, these reports are not favorable to the universities as the media often focus on increases of international student enrollments then jumps to conclusions toward how this affects the in-state domestic students’ chances of entering into these universities.    Commonly, there is minimal reporting that specifically links international student enrollment increases to declining state appropriations operations revenue.  For example, one report extensively stated, “During a decade of declining state funding, the additional revenue by non-resident freshmen is budget friendly” and another superficially reported that, “But disapproval seems to have quieted in recent years with the decline in state funding to U.I. and public institutions, and the recognition that full-tuition-paying international students help the bottom line.”   In media reports full of numbers, they often seem to fail to report some of the numbers that may help the public better understand why enrollments of international students are increasing. 


For decades, state appropriations for large, research universities, have been in decline (The College Board).   As appropriations decline, legislatures expect that universities will generate institution-controlled revenue to bridge funding gaps (Hovey, 1999).   Reacting to an eroding financial relationship with the states, universities have been forced away from the public good paradigm toward a privatized, revenue generating paradigm where institutions are now “seeking to generate revenue from their core educational, research and services functions…” (Slaughter and Rhoades, 2004).  One market identified as a viable source of revenue are international undergraduate students, hence the recent significant enrollment increases of this demographic.   In fact, the revenue generated from this demographic has turned into big business as international students supply $17b in tuition and fees, an overall $24b to the U.S. economy, and is responsible for the creation of roughly 300,000 jobs.    Essentially, international student enrollment supports more U.S. jobs than Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google combined.

The table below displays the annual average decline in state appropriations from 2007-2012 and shows the relationship between inflation adjusted state appropriations and undergraduate full-time international student [UG FTI] enrollment.   The numbers are based on my original research using IPEDS reported data and focuses on the public universities of the Big Ten, many of which hold top spots in national enrollment of international students.  The table shows that each university, sans Maryland, has experienced state appropriations operations revenue declines, some of which are more profound than others.  It also suggests that for most of these universities there are correlations between losses in inflation adjusted state appropriations and UG FTI enrollment.   Essentially, for every million dollars removed in inflation adjusted appropriations, the universities are expected to enroll more UG FTI students.  The exact numbers per individual university are found within the table.



The bar graphic shows 2007-2012 trends of inflation adjusted state appropriations and collected international student and fees (estimated via base tuition), projected to the year 2020.   The forecasts suggest that aggregate estimated international student enrollment tuition and fees will soon overcome aggregate state appropriations.  By 2020, the total estimated international student tuition and fees should exceed $3 billion for just these 13 universities, with seven universities projected collect more revenue in international student tuition than they do in state appropriations. 



This data signals that state legislatures’ facilitation of declines in appropriations holds influence on enrollment of UG FTI student enrollment.  Basically, through decreased financial support, state legislatures are positioning the universities to act as privatized entities.  This argument is often lost in public media outlets because the decreased financial commitment from states to universities is not deeply reported on, especially within articles that explore international student enrollments.   See the throwaway sentences cited earlier. 

Before I finish, I wish to make my personal position explicitly clear.  My stance on international student enrollment in U.S. institutions is one of inclusion.  I believe these students are an asset to our universities as they subsidize domestic tuition and fees and bring unique perspectives to our classrooms. 

Fundamentally, I believe the problem is not within the practice of enrollment international students, but instead is with international students’ ability to remain in the U.S. post-graduation.  Specifically, I believe that the federal H-1B work visa and citizenship policies are too limiting.  These restrictive laws are an issue because almost 50% of international students indicate a desire to stay and work within the U.S. beyond graduation, but are forced to leave.    As higher education institutions use this demographic to generate revenue, whether by choice or through reactions to legislatures’ actions, I believe it is their ethical duty to influence modification of these restrictive policies.   

Yet, that is the topic for a forthcoming blog. 

Friday, August 08, 2014

"Racing to Nowhere: Abandoning the Promise of Universal Education"

MillerComm Lecture by David Blacker

Monday, September 29, 2014

David Blacker (University of Delaware) is author of The Falling Rate of Learning and the Neoliberal Endgame.

Universal education is beloved as an ideal while its reality is being extinguished. Heralded as expansions of access where we “race to the top” and “leave no child behind,” initiatives involving marketization, austerity, privatization and student debt combine to eliminate and expel growing segments of the rising generation.  Why is this happening?  And why now?  David J. Blacker outlines a coherent framework for understanding the current onslaught against all levels of public education. It all comes down to deep and troubling changes in the economy that “education reform” cannot touch and that nobody wants to talk about. 

This event is co-sponsored by the Forum on the Future of Public Education