SHELL GAMING, PART II

(Part I here)

Not everything I described yesterday applies universally – obviously. Elite universities tend to play a different game (since they don't need to do anything to get boatloads of applicants) and some public schools are seriously constrained by decisions made in state capitals. But bear in mind that the vast majority of the 6000-plus degree-granting higher education institutions in this country are hurting or starting to hurt for enrollment. For every Stanford that kinda just does whatever the hell it wants there are ten New England or Midwestern private schools scrambling to make their enrollment target.

To summarize Part I:

1. For ethical and economic reasons, higher ed is going all-out to recruit 1st Gen and non-traditional students
2. Those applicants are the least likely to understand that the full stated tuition price is not what he/she is likely to pay
3. 1st Gen students opt out of applying for places they think they can't afford, lacking the insider understanding that, as a heavily targeted and recruited population, he or she is likely to get substantial discounts
4. The cycle of failing to bring in 1st Gen and underrepresented students continues

The question we closed with is: If few students are paying "full freight" at a lot of universities, why is the stated tuition price always so high? What's the point of saying your tuition is x when the average student is paying (x/2)?

There are three answers of varying complexity.

One is a feedback loop in which expectations of discounts (from students with college-educated, hyper-well-researching parents who are likely well-off and successful) pushes tuition higher. If you know everyone is expecting to be able to tell their friends "Junior got a 50% scholarship" but you still need to make some money, pushing the base price as high as possible makes sense. This is simple enough.

Two, universities hurting for enrollment can cultivate what a colleague (not at my current or previous universities) euphemistically calls "no discount students" by targeting marginal or underwhelming students with rich parents. Mom and Dad have money and want Junior to go to a good school. Junior's grades and test scores are pretty bad. Good School says, look, your kid is under the admissions bar here and *ordinarily* we would have to reject this application, but…well, maybe we can make an exception. Think about the incentives here. Mom and Dad are less concerned about money than about Junior's future. Junior would like to go somewhere Good. The university can easily justify sliding a few below-average applicants in under the bar (and when such students end up succeeding, everyone can feel good about that). It's an all-around win, excepting of course for the faculty who have to teach incoming freshmen who may lack the ability to do work at a college level. But no university administrator has ever cared about that, so.

Finally, there is the elephant in the room: non-US students. High base tuition rates are primarily intended to soak international applicants. They never get discounts. In fact, some places create a separate, even higher price point for them. And while domestic applicants are sensitive to tuition rates – push it too high and they simply go elsewhere – internationals tend not to be for a couple of reasons. One, the students (particularly from Asia) whose parents are sending them to the US for college tend to be among the very wealthiest. You are *not* getting a cross-section of India's population when you look at students from India coming to US universities. Second, in many cases (China, the Middle East, etc.) neither the student nor their family is writing the checks. When the state is footing the bill, the students could care less. I'd be shocked if some of them even know what the tuition rate is.

Schools of every type are working double-time to bulk up on international students now, creating new programs to appeal to the needs and wants of foreign governments that are, in effect, wealthy patrons. Oh, China wants a million electrical engineers? Well heck, we can expand that program easily. The percentage of foreign students on US campuses – many of which are very poorly prepared to integrate and accommodate the needs of anything other than American white kids – is rising not out of some soft-headed liberal desire for multiculturalism. It is strictly a matter of economics. Every US applicant who comes to campus at a discount has an international student counterpart who is getting reamed on tuition – and probably couldn't care less. Everybody wins!

Of course, everybody doesn't win. But that's a story for another day.

That day will be tomorrow.

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35 thoughts on “SHELL GAMING, PART II”

  • Yep. Foreign students. Especially (for now) Chinese students. During admission season you can't swing a dead mouse (why does everyone swing a cat? A fully-extended full-grown cat can be as long as a yard!) without hitting admissions officers around here, especially those from small, expensive private colleges. Even in my tiny little nothing town of only a million people. Chinese parents pay full rate (or perhaps even more, as Ed says) and everyone wants that sweet, sweet rich-parent money.

    Doesn't matter that the student has neither the English skills nor the critical thinking skills to be successful – even a year or two of full-freight dues replenishes the old coffers a bit. So much so that many (most?) of these schools are willing to look the other way when they read the applications. Personal statements that read as if they were written by a Pulitzer-winning authors? Sure, that's legit. Rec letters written by names of people NOT EVEN AT THE SCHOOL? We good. Transcripts full of A grades in AP courses but no accompanying AP scores submitted? No problem.

    Check, check, and check. Just write that check, parents, and we'll all have rainbows and unicorns forever.

  • Regarding full-freight students, unis also love out-of-state students who pay full freight….unless they're sportzball athletes, in which case they pay nothing and take up space an actual student who wants to get an education would take.

  • If anyone is interested in an example of what I'm saying, I gave this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MCOc7Xqj-kQ as a week-long homework with a question set that followed the movie chronologically to my graduating HS seniors who have been taking AP biology for two years.

    They said it was too hard to understand the English.

    They will all attend American or British Unis this fall.

  • I have had to recommend to foreign students to not take, or drop, as their command of the language deficit. The locals aren't much better.

  • I’m an international student who went to the most expensive college in the states (hmc). Definitely not true that international students never get a discount…I paid about 8% of tuition. But maybe they’re soaking the Asians differently (I’m Jamaican and black, so I tick a few checkboxes at least)

  • @Renee And I would strongly suspect that your transcripts were honest. Plus, you speak English.

  • I work at a large state school that has been aggressively recruiting foreign students for 6 or 7 years. No discounts for them. You'll be shocked to learn that after climbing steadily for several years, in the last couple years foreign enrollment has dropped dramatically. Wonder what could have happened in 2016 to cause that?

  • Charles Eicher says:

    My midwestern state University system has only ONE international office to recruit foreign students: Beijing. I personally paid full tuition using student loans and some tiny Pell grants. When I came back to finish my degree, I even paid out of state tuition for a couple of semesters, until I could re-establish my local status.

    Now when I applied to grad school, they explicitly told me that I was exactly the type of person they wanted, they could offer me a full ride with a salary as a TA, and I could probably get a Fullbright for study overseas (which was my primary goal). But then they said, there was one problem: I have a bachelor's from this school and they never hire their own bachelors for masters programs. I asked if they could offer a waiver, they said they'd get back to me. That was about 5 years ago and no callback. Dammit, I didn't want to study here except on paper, I wanted to study in Kyoto.

  • Beijing tends to produce really good students. The competition for international programs is fierce, so only the best get in. And those Beijing programs value and guard their reputations greatly, so they don't all the shenanigans that go on in most other programs.

  • Off-topic anecdote about pricing for professional school tuition:
    Yale runs a college and a graduate school. Yale also runs twelve "professional schools" offering graduate education in everything from law and medicine to forestry and drama. Yale's stingiest alumni are MFA holders from its School of Art. In the 1980s the School's Dean explained its pricing strategy: there was no endowment from the University, and instead the School kicked back 39% of all billed tuition as "scholarships", i.e. discounts, on tuition bills. The discounts were not applied evenly, but they were applied: the heiresses got anywhere from 1% to 3%, the truly impoverished got anywhere from 39% to 45%. The School of Art's tuition was also among the highest in the world. That high tuition made poor students eligible to borrow the *maximum* amount of government-insured student loans. The first order of business for the School's financial aid officer was having students first endorse their student loan checks over to the School. The officer captured the School's share, then disbursed any remainder. For students with "unmet financial need" there was sometimes no remainder.

  • If I am ever lost at sea or in a "Castaway" situation, do not call the Navy, Coast Guard, or any other Search-and-Rescue forces.

    Call the University of Illinois Alumni Association. Those bastards will track me down wherever I am. They are relentless.

  • They'll airdrop a laptop so you can participate in the annual "building fund" drive.

    Speaking of building funds, when will some smart state decided that naming huge new buildings with massively expensive equipment should not necessariy be named for the "Family" or individual who donated approximately 1-2% of the cost of the edifice–especially considering that most of them are making their money by fucking the public who, one way or another actually PAID for the fucking thing?

  • @ Major Kong

    In the past I have stamped Alumni mail “Return to Sender” and “No Longer at This Address”, but it never works for very long.

    @ Ed

    Are we going to gloss over that this is a well-worn Used Car Salesman tactic? “Normally I’d have to charge a gazillion dollars for our Supersize Land Cruiser, But golly gee my sales are down this month and I like you, so we’ll offer you a bunch of deals and trade ins to drop the cost to $100,000. My boss comes back tomorrow though, so you have to deal today!!!”

    Mayhaps the poorer set have met enough sales weasels to be well cautious of the ivory tower variety.

  • @Major Kong; I can do you one better; the University of West Virginia simply will not leave me alone. I get phone calls (my phone number is unlisted *and* my spouse's name is the only one on the bill, so that's unsettling). I get letters. I get cards. I get Alumni Newsletters printed on bright, shiny cardstock.

    I never went to the University of West Virginia. I had never even passed through West Virginia until I was in my 30s, and I've never seen their campus.

    I've told them so, over and over and over and over and over again. They don't care. I don't understand why they're so willing to spend thousands of dollars over the years sending me crap and begging for me to send them money when I've told them flat out that they're not my school and I have no intention of giving them any money.

  • P.S. On the topic of schools calling for money; I blocked the number of my youngest's school because they have been calling for a year now. The first time I answered the phone, I told them I'm already paying tuition and fees; they've already GOT all my money. My kid isn't even an alumna yet (she will be tomorrow!), so leave me the heck alone.

  • @ Katydid:

    When she is an Alumna (imagine mad funny emoji–here!) they really don't got some reason to call you, EVER!

    I don't get any phone calls or letters–or didn't, until I went to my 50th HS reunion last summer. They average an appeal a month. Maybe they actually do some good–I remember not much of that when I went there–so, they can do so without me.

  • @katydid Call "donor relations". Tell them "I want to be an all-units no-contact" If they contact you after that it's illegal, so if they contact you again, tell them you're gonna sue.

    From my daughter who works in the donations department of UCLA.

  • @democommie Oh, no. Parents of alumnae are PRIME TARGETS for donations outreach. Especially if the child lands a good position. (Because of my daughter's job, I know WAY MORE about college donations departments than is reasonable, just or necessary. Buy me a beer and I could bore you for HOURS about the intricacies of such!)

  • @April, thanks so much for this information!!! I'll see if they have a number for "donor relations" and call them on Monday.

    Also, I think they go after the parents of graduates because they figure the graduates themselves are loaded down with student loans to pay–no getting blood from a stone.

  • @ April:

    I have no children, so they won't be contacting me, except as "current occupant" but your suggestion about calling the uni's ,"collections" deparment, sounds reasonable.

    I have found, in the past, that telling them I have a list of 11,723 non-GMO's, NPO's and other worthy mendicants that I will be sending them so that they can add their name to the list. I also suggested that they call the local PO and ask them if they can just send the truckloads of crap over–once or twice a day–to the loading dock, as I have already blast mailed those 11,273 beggars with the address on the "return–donation enclosed" envelope.

  • @Katydid, the blood from a stone thing is true, but I remember a number of my law school classmates venting on Facebook about being contacted for donations literally days after graduation.

  • @democommie So I checked with my "inside source" (tee hee) and she said that, at UCLA at least, putting your name on a new building will cost essentially the entire cost of building said building. (She didn't know if this included fixtures and equipment). Putting your name on an existing building is a horse-trade – depends on the building, location, whatnot – but the cost would certainly be above 60% of the value of the building. She pointed out that the humanities building has never had a name on it because its location is so valuable and so high, no one wants to pay it. She also told me that one guy wanted to buy some exotic plants and put his name on them and was told that it would cost 25K for each plant for the name. (Plant cost extra). Obviously, YMMV with respect to other colleges/unis, but I think your 1-2% is pretty far off in most cases.

  • True Story; my undergrad degree had a small cohort of students. About a decade after graduation, we were invited to the school for a reunion and a complimentary ticket to a sportzball pageant (in this case, basketball). It was one of the times we were stationed in the USA, so we planned a family weekend near the school and the spouse kept the kids while I went and "reuned" with my peeps and a couple of the professors from my field. One of the administrators roamed through about 20 minutes in and gave us the happy-to-have-you-please-donate talk…and then came in 20 minutes after that to tell us we had to clear the room so some sportzball donors could have it. Being a smart-ass, I said, "then you can ask them to donate for me, too." (What was the admin going to do, revoke my undergrad degree after the fact?)

  • Addendum – She said you can find out what things cost for any campus by googling "capital naming opportunities".

  • @katydid – You do know, I'm sure, that degrees CAN be revoked, but not for being a smartass. Good on ya!

  • In wake of the latest school shooting (hell, I could write this practically every day, huh?) I can tell you that Chinese parents and kids are becoming more and more anxious about going to the US. Here's what I think – if ONE Chinese student is killed in a shooting, the noise level over here will be SO loud it might cut off the Chinese student to US pipeline completely. That's a fuckton of money! Maybe then there would be enough pressure on repugs to DO SOMETHING.

    Then again, maybe not. Fuck.

  • @ April:

    I will defer on the subject–except for this.

    A friend of mine who is an artist had a client who was interested in endowing a new arts building and when told that it would cost more than the $M or so he wanted to give to put his name on the building he immediately declined. The cost of the project was well north of $25M, IIRC, so, they were talking a couple of mil, I think.

    Recently, up here in Oswego, the state uni campus saw the completion of a $118M (prolly more than that after the "asbestos removal" bump). The late Dr. Shineman, a tenured prof, there, set up a foundation to distribute his estate and the foundation contributed $4M, his widow donated another $1M to bring it to $5M. The finished construction bears the name, "Richard S. Shineman Center".

    So, maybe it's got more to do with visibility and "name" institutions? I don't know but I do know that getting your name appended to a public building is wrong, imo, UNLESS you paid for it.

  • Something is very fucked up with commenting at the moment. It keeps telling me that my comment is double posted–not the one above, but the one that's under this.

    If this results in multiple posts I am really quite blameless.

    Sorry this:

    "Recently, up here in Oswego, the state uni campus saw the completion of a $118M (prolly more than that after the "asbestos removal" bump)"

    should have continued:

    "… science and technology center (part of a $250M construction campaign on the campus of SUNY-Oswego."

    BTW, Al Roker (who is SHORTER than Dustin Hoffman–I saw them standing next to each other on a Today Show airing a while back) and Steve Levy are graduates of SUNY-Oswego. Neither of them currently has a building named after them–although Mr. Levy apparently spent some cash to get name on the "Steve Levy Press Box" at the campus hockey rink (it's a beautiful new arena for the uni's hockey team. That hockey team. like most along the canadian border has a disproportionate number of former canadian "juniors (16–20ish)" playing hockey there, since they didn't make the cut for the pros–yet. They are exceedingly polite from the time they remove the skates until they've had a few too many Jaegernukerz or whatever it is young people drink to lose their minds, these days.

  • Ah, forgot this, April.

    Our local campus has over a hundred chinese fes and I've chatted some of them up on the bus. I cannot tell if they're the only ones who speak english well enough to do so but many of them are extraordinarily shy–and I'm not going by my standards.

    It is GOOD that fes are in our institutions. At least some of them will return home knowing that we are just people, like them not supermen or untermenschen. Perhaps they can grow something like we used to have before 1980 when "Hope", "Love" and "Fuck" were all 4 letter words with separate meanings.

  • @democommie Chinese people, in general, are shy. Students even more so.

    The Chinese government is of two minds when it comes to sending students overseas; OTOH, they desperately need people with the creativity and critical thinking skills their own education system doesn't teach, but on the other hand they realize that in the long run, having a bunch of people who have lived under more freedom than this government allows might be very destabilizing. It's interesting that during our graduation ceremony while I gave the usual inspirational pablum of "be all you can be and chase your dreams" type shit, the Chinese principal said what every Chinese principal I've ever heard over here says; "China has the best government in the world. Don't forget your motherland. Don't let western ideas blind you to the greatness of China."

    I totally agree that foreign exchange benefits everyone.

  • Oh, also with Xi becoming dictator-for-life, things are going to get even more strict for the Chinese, not more free. It's already started. They have started implementing a ratings system for every Chinese citizen that will be imprinted in the chip on their ID cards. This rating system will be based on every piece of data the government can collect (the government has listening chips in every computer and phone), and low ratings will bar citizens from taking trains or buses, getting better jobs, being able to travel overseas, and who knows what else.

  • One theory I have on the ever-increasing tuition cycle is that it is partly driven by the fact that many people confuse price and value i.e. the higher the tuition, the higher and more prestigious the anticipated quality of the institution. I suspect that the more "elite" schools raise tuition partly as a way of distinguishing themselves from the lesser schools – a sort of economic virtue-signalling for our crass and ignorant age.

  • @ April:

    Most of the few chinese people I've actually ever been around are pretty chattyy–maybe that's why they're here!

    Yeah, China can keep everything good from the west and none of the bad–contra history.

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