Contemplating the Cost of College – Time for a System Adjustment?

In the midst of commencement season, there is good news from the America’s Promise Alliance regarding high school graduation rates in the United States. In 2014, the rate hit a record high of 82.3 percent, with a reduction in the number of schools with low graduation rates. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 69 percent of new high school graduates continue their education at a college or university. Unfortunately, the cost of attending public two-and-four year colleges continues to increase, while state funding for these institutions remains below pre-recession levels.

A May 2016 brief from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explores how the cuts to higher education funding have resulted in these ever-increasing costs being passed on to students and families. Twenty states have cut funding by 20 percent or more since the recession. In Pennsylvania, per-student funding is 33 percent less than it was during 2007-08, even as tuition has increased.

Nationally, tuition increased nearly 30 percent from 2007-08 to 2014-15, while the median income decreased by 6.5 percent during that same time period.  Tuition alone for an incoming student at my (private 4-year) alma mater increased 348 percent since my own freshman year (total inflation between January of that year January 2016 calculated to be 86 percent).  Not surprisingly, the amount of debt that students graduate from public four-year colleges with has increased by 18 percent since 2007-08. To put this in perspective, the authors point out that in the 6 years prior to the recession the average amount of student debt increased just one percent.

A concern raised in this brief, Funding Down, Tuition Up State Cuts to Higher Education Threaten Quality and Affordability at Public Colleges, is that while tuition and fees have increased, faculty positions have been reduced or replaced by part-time instructors, classes have been cut, services for the student body have been scaled back, and some campuses have closed altogether. Students and families are taking on more debt to meet the increased costs but appear to be getting less.

Analyses and opinions vary on what has led to the jump in the cost of higher education and on any possible remedies. Perhaps it is time to adjust a system that has been in place for too long – before another bubble situation (similar to mortgages).  Perhaps student success outcomes should be tied to funding? There are no easy answers. Yet, although anecdotal, there seems to be a swath of the population that make too much for their academically successful teenager to receive aid, but too little to not require high 5-figure loans to off set the expense of a bachelor’s degree.  Is this the new normal?

Positive Student Performance Outcomes Linked to Ethnic Studies Curriculum

The inclusion of ethnic studies (ES) in high school curricula is a topic of much debate, with one state banning some ES classes and another state’s Governor vetoing a bill that would have mandated them in public schools. Although both critics and supporters of culturally relevant teaching have strong views regarding its impact on students, there was little quantitative research in this area. Until now.

A study out of Stanford University found statistically significant increases in key academic outcomes among at-risk students in ES classes.  Data from several student cohorts from 3 schools in the San Francisco Unified School District indicate that those students enrolled in the classes increased school attendance by 21 percent, GPA by 1.4 points and academic credits earned by 23.  Male students and Hispanic students showed the largest increase in positive outcomes.

The authors of the study note that while their work offers empirical evidence of the impact of culturally relevant pedagogy on student performance, questions remain on the scalability of the approach and the size of the effect (if any) on students with higher levels of academic achievement. The paper is available for download on the Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis webpage.



Citation: Dee, T., & Penner, E. (2016). The Casual Effects of Cultural Relevance: Evidence from an Ethnic Studies Curriculum (CEPA Working Paper No.16-01). Retrieved from Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis:

Pennsylvania’s Student Achievement Gap

As students ready themselves to return to their classrooms, a report from the RAND Corporation looks past test scores to the issue of Pennsylvania’s student achievement gap – one of the largest in the country.  Although data from 2013 Pennsylvania standardized tests ranks the Commonwealth among the top ten states in student performance (according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)) RAND found sizable achievement gaps according to race/ethnicity, economic status, parent education, and school district.

Some study findings:

  • An achievement gap by race/ethnicity: The proportion of white students achieving proficiency or above in reading and math was 24 to 38 percent larger than African-American and Latino students.
  • An achievement gap by economic status: Students from lower economic statuses had lower proficiency scores, and were estimated to be an average of two or three years behind their peers from higher economic statuses.
  • An achievement gap by district: After removing the highest and lowest performing school districts, RAND found performance gaps between districts similar those identified in the race/ethnicity and economic analyses.  Low performing school districts were identified in both urban and rural areas.

The report, The Economic Impact of Achievement Gaps in Pennsylvania’s Public Schools by Lynne Karoly, also compares the achievement of Pennsylvania students both nationally and globally, and examines the impact that gaps in academic performance may have on Pennsylvania’s  economy.  The full report is available at the RAND website.




Report  Citation: Karoly, Lynn A.. The Economic Impact of Achievement Gaps in Pennsylvania’s Public Schools. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2015.

Interview Series: Darelle Porter, Program Director at Ozanam, Inc

Darelle Porter
Darelle Porter

Darelle Porter is a Program Director at Ozanam, Inc., a Pittsburgh nonprofit that provides educational programming, athletic competition, social and cultural activities, and support services to enhance the lives of local youth.  Darelle has been involved with Ozanam for 35 years. He is also a volunteer with Cash For Kids – Swin Cash’s foundation that works with youth from the McKeesport area.

Years in the Pittsburgh area:

I was born and raised in Pittsburgh. I graduated from the University of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Public Schools.

What was your first job?

My first job after high school was working at Ozanam. I started working at Ozanam in the 11th grade.

How were you drawn to nonprofit work?

I was drawn to nonprofit work to give my children and other kids the experience I had with Ozanam as a youth.

What is the first thing you do each day?

The first thing I do each morning is check my phone for any new messages. My son Darelle Jr. is a freshman in college and my daughter Michaela is a sophomore in high school. My cell phone is my computer, alarm clock, phone book and clock with all the modern technology.

What keeps you motivated?

The thing that keeps me motivated is thinking any kid who walks through the door could have been me 35 years ago. I want to give each and every one of them a positive experience and a place for that to happen.

"The thing that keeps me motivated is thinking any kid who walks through the door could have been me 35 years ago."
“The thing that keeps me motivated is thinking any kid who walks through the door could have been me 35 years ago.”

What is the best piece of advice that you’ve been given?

The best advice I have been given is something my grandfather told me when I was in the 1st grade. He told me in life there are not that many things that are free, but an education is one of them…take advantage of your education so you can live a better life than I have now.

What are you reading?

I am currently reading up on some of the best practices for nonprofit organizations.

What current trend(s) or issue(s) do you see currently affecting your corner of the nonprofit sector?

The current issues I see affecting our program are the difficulty getting funding and getting more parents involved in the program. I think parental involvement is one of the problems that having more funding can address. With proper funding, Ozanam would be able to get a social worker/counselor to establish a safe haven for children and their parents to deal with some of the issues they face on a daily basis. Ozanam would also be able to make dinner available for adults with additional funding that keeps the parents involved. This would allow Ozanam to bridge the gap that is present with family bonding time.

What is one goal that you hope to accomplish in 2015?  

 The one goal I hope to accomplish in 2015 is to promote the Ozanam brand to more people. I feel if more people know about what we are doing, the more children Ozanam can serve in a positive way.

What is the best thing about the nonprofit sector in Pittsburgh?

The best thing about the nonprofit sector in Pittsburgh is the amount of foundations that support nonprofit organizations. However, there are so many people doing similar things that go after the same funding.

What does Ozanam have coming up? 

We have a Youth Leadership Conference on May 27, 2015 at the Ammon Recreation Center at 2217 Bedford Avenue, Pittsburgh, Pa. 15219.

June 6, 2015, 18U Girls Summer League starts

June 15, 2015, 12U Boys Summer League  starts

June 17, 2015,  16U Boys Summer League starts

June 22, 2015, Summer Camp  starts