23 February 2017

Should the State University of New York at Fredonia raise or lower its admission standard?

Stephen Kershnar
At the Crossroads: The State University of New York at Fredonia
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
February 19, 2017

            The State University of New York at Fredonia has declining enrollment and it faces a decision. It can emphasize student quality or quantity and shape its identity in so doing.

Fredonia has had at least 5,000 students per year and usually more than 5,300 students from 2000-2013 (roughly, 5,100 in 2000 and 5,800 in 2010). After that the student body has been getting smaller. It was down to roughly 4600 students in 2016 and will likely be noticeably below that in 2017.

The percentage of freshmen in the bottom half of their high school class has also increased over the years from 9% in 2000 and 12% in 2010 to 17% in 2015. On the other hand, there has been an increase in the strongest freshmen (top 10% of their high school class) from 15% in 2000 and 16% in 2010 to 19% in 2015. Thus, the average freshman appears to be losing ground in the sense that she is less likely to be in the top half of her class. Still, the school is attracting more of the strongest freshman, at least as a percentage. The freshmen numbers can mislead though because, at least until recently, they did not include disadvantaged students (Educational Development Program and Full Opportunity Program). If these students were included, the numbers would likely be worse.   

Along the way, the quality of Fredonia’s students relative to its competitors has declined. Its SAT range (25% and 75% percentiles) has its students tied with SUNY-Purchase for 8th. It ranks below competitor schools such as Brockport, Cortland, Geneseo, New Paltz, Oneonta, and Oswego. It is also behind the university centers (consider, for example, Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, and Stony Brook). It does, however, rank ahead of competitor schools such as Buffalo State, Old Westbury, and Plattsburgh. The SAT is a moderately good predictor of grades and its predictive power increases when combined with high school grade point average.

Whether Fredonia is diverse depends on the type of diversity in which one is interested. On average, it is a school for students from New York’s upper middle class. More specifically, the undergraduate population is mostly from New York (96%), heavily white (75-80%), and majority female (57%).

Fredonia’s student body tends to come from the upper middle class with a median family income of $97,000 and with 4 out of 10 coming from the top 20% of family incomes (2013 numbers from The New York Times). Nearly, 1 out of 6 students comes from the top 10% of incomes, but almost none (less than 1%) come from very rich families (top 1%). These families do better than the average family in Western New York. In 2015, the median household income of Western New York was $57,000.  

Surprisingly few of Fredonia’s students come from poor families. Only 5% come from a poor family (income from the bottom 20%). So while 20-25% of its students are racially or ethnically diverse, far fewer are from poor families. 

In different ways, Fredonia’s elite competitors, Geneseo and Buffalo, have similar profiles. Geneseo is similar in being 60% female and 79% white. However, on average, its students come from richer families (median family income: $125,000). Buffalo’s undergraduate students on average come from families who make about the same as do the families of Fredonia students (median income $99,000), but it is majority male (56%) and much less white (50% white) than Fredonia or Geneseo.  

Faced with declining enrollment and a slight drop in the ability of the average student, Fredonia has to decide what to do. It could change its admissions standards. If the standards are lowered, then the school will have more students, which will allow it to offer more programs and hire more faculty and staff. On the other hand, the cost to the school’s reputation might be significant. This could be costly if this were to make it more difficult to attract students, especially better students, or if it were to lower faculty morale. Also, the caliber of education might worsen if the quality of students’ education is affected by their classmates’ ability. If the school were to raise standards, this could have the opposite effect on enrollment, number of programs, reputation, morale, and, perhaps, learning.

Before deciding what to do with admissions, it is worth considering what justifies Fredonia’s existence? Because it is a state school, Fredonia is in part funded by coercively obtained tax dollars, sometimes taken from taxpayers who make less than families who send their kids there. This makes it important that the school’s justification be made clear.

If what justifies Fredonia is that it provides equal opportunity, then the school should be focusing on increasing the number of students from poor or otherwise disadvantaged families. The idea here that students from upper middle class and richer families will have plenty of educational opportunity without Fredonia and its peers. Increasing the focus on disadvantaged students might be done, for example, by shifting resources to the programs for disadvantaged students. It also might be done by emphasizing programs that serve the disadvantaged. Consider, for example, education, social work, and criminal justice. Another way this might be done is by shifting merit-based scholarships to need-based ones.   

Alternatively, if the school is justified by its economic contribution to New Yorkers, then it is less clear that resources should be spent on disadvantaged students. Both a student’s SAT scores and her family’s socio-economic status affect her graduation rate. As Jason DeParle reported in The New York Times, among those college students whose families were in the bottom half of income distribution and who had below-average test scores, fewer than one in ten graduated from college. If the state wants a good return on its investment, those students should not be the focus of the state’s efforts.   

Fredonia’s mission will get even murkier if, as Governor Cuomo proposes, the state makes college tuition-free for most students. It is unclear whether spending even more taxpayer dollars should move the school in an equal-opportunity direction or economic direction.

Perhaps the first step then in deciding what to do with Fredonia’s admissions standards is to decide what justifies it. 

08 February 2017

In Defense of Trump's Delay in Refugee Admission

Stephen Kershnar
Donald Trump’s Delay in Accepting Refugees
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
February 6, 2016

            Donald Trump put a temporary three-month delay on people coming into the U.S. from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan, and Yemen. He limited refugee admission to 50,000 a year. After he did so, all hell broke loose. Among other things, he has been harshly criticized for implementing a Muslim ban, breaking new legal ground, violating the Constitution, and failing to recognize that refugees are the children of God.  

            The criticism is unbelievably ignorant. First, because the delay is not a ban and does not apply to the five most populous Muslim nations, it is not a Muslim ban.

Second, this does not break new legal ground. President Carter delayed Iranian immigration in 1980 and President Obama delayed processing of Iraqi refugees in 2011. The ban does not violate the Constitution because people who are neither citizens nor residents and are not held by the U.S. government do not have Constitutional rights. Even if they did, they would not include a right to immigrate to the U.S. There is an issue as to whether the policy violates the 1980 Refugee Act or the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, but in any case the issue is not a Constitutional question.

The Chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops charged that by implementing this policy, the country fails to respect the dignity of potential refugees. 50,000 refugees a year was, roughly, the average for the George W. Bush and Obama administrations at least through 2015 (data from the Migration Policy Institute). The country admitted fewer in 2002-2003 and 2006-2007. The Obama administration had planned on opening up the spigot (110,000 refugees in 2017), but luckily neither he nor Hillary are in a position to do so.

More generally, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in 2013 there were more than 14 million refugees. We already let in roughly a million immigrants a year. Unless we are going to admit millions more per year, there has to a limit. Trump set forth a generous limit. Saying that this fails to recognize refugees’ dignity is childish nonsense.

There is good reason to believe that Trump’s delay is tied to security. First, citing Germany’s intelligence agency, Reuters reports that ISIS is sending fighters disguised as refugees to Europe. Writing in the Washington Post, Sudarsan Raghavan reports that a 2015 poll found that one in five Syrians supports ISIS. At the very least, this tells us that we should consider whether our vetting process works.    

Second, as National Review’s David French has pointed out, given the string of horrific attacks by Muslim immigrants and their radicalized children, it is clear that our current approach and that of our European brethren is failing. Consider the string of attacks in Boston (marathon bombing), Brussels, Chattanooga, Fort Hood (American soldiers shot), Nice (truck attack), Orlando (gay nightclub slaughter), Paris (Charlie Hebdo and later concert slaughter), San Bernardino, 9-11, and on and on.  French points out that we know some Somalian immigrants and their children launched jihadist attacks in the U.S. and tried to leave the U.S. to join ISIS. Even if only a few of these attacks were done by refugees from the seven countries, the fact that the population is vulnerable to be being radicalized makes them a threat worth taking seriously.   

That the risk is not worth taking can be seen when one considers other undesirable features of some members of these groups. First, their anti-Semitism and anti-gay attitudes make them bad neighbors. Muslim anti-Semitism is causing Jews to flee France. Elsewhere gays are fleeing Muslim populations. We should be hesitant to subject American Jews and gays to such hatred. Fun fact: Herald Sun reports that six of the seven delayed nations ban Israeli Jews from visiting.  

Also, according to Rick Noak, writing in The Independent, mostly Muslim immigrants from North Africa (for example, Morocco and Algeria) sexually assaulted nearly 1,200 German women on 2015-2016 New Year’s Eve in seven German cities. Also, from 1997-2013, nearly 1,400 female children and teenagers were sexually trafficked, abused, raped, and abducted by Muslim British-Pakistanis in England. We should think long and hard before subjecting American women and girls to such misogyny.

Consider the threats or attacks made against Salman Rushdie, Pam Geller, and the Danish cartoonist who drew Mohammed (attacked with an axe) as well as the killing of moviemaker Theo van Gogh. We might consider whether this population will enhance or lessen our free speech.   

Financially, refugees are a bad deal. Writing in Breitbart, Caroline May found that in 2013, the Office of Refugee Resettlement reported that of the of Middle Eastern refugees to the U.S. accepted between 2008 and 2013,  91% percent received food stamps, 73% were on Medicaid or Refugee Medical Assistance and 68% percent were on cash welfare. Assuming that over a lifetime, the average refugee receives $300,000 more in government benefits than she pays out in taxes (a conservative estimate based on a Heritage Foundation study of illegal aliens), the 50,000 immigrants that Trump wants to let in this year will cost U.S. taxpayers $15 billion. This is plenty generous.   

If we must continue to flood the country with immigrants, we should choose the best and brightest or, at least, people who don’t hate our way of life. By analogy, Cornell University chooses elite students. There’s no reason why the American people can’t choose their neighbors in a similar way.    

Leaving aside the refugee issue, the country has added nearly 131 million people since the 1965 immigration bill, 55% came from immigrants and their descendants (Pew Research Center). I don’t see a good argument why the country should keep on adding people at such a fast clip. By 1980, the country was plenty crowded.

Trump promised the American people that he would sharply reduce, if not stop, the torrent of immigrants (legal and illegal) flooding our country. Americans voted for him in large part because of this promise. He should live up to his word and not waste time with such a sissy half-measure. 

31 January 2017

New York State: Schools Way Out of Control

Stephen Kershnar
Education Spending and the Middle-Class-Parent Test
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
January 23, 2017

            New Yorkers who just paid their taxes have got to be wondering why they let their schools spend beyond any sense of decency.   

            Consider the spending orgy. Emma Brown writing in The Washington Post report that in 2013, the U.S. states’ education spending averaged $10,700. This is generous. In contrast, New York spends $19,800, $9,000 more per student than average. This is outrageous.

To see this another way, consider that in 2013, New York school districts spent $59 billion on the public elementary-secondary school system. Only California spent more ($66 billion) and it has nearly twice as many people. All this spending accomplishes little. Nationally, the Education Week Resource Center found that New York’s schools are at best average when compared by math and reading proficiency in the 4th and 8th grades. 

Even in this big spending state, Dunkirk and Fredonia hold their own. A 2016 Education Week Research Center analysis of federal data found that per student Dunkirk spends a piggish $25,200 per student. Fredonia is less piggish, but still plenty piggy, at $21,500 per student.

Someone has to pay for all this spending, which unsurprisingly leads to a weighty tax burden. The U.S. Census Bureau (again using 2013 numbers) found New York to be among the select few states that spend more than $55 on schools per $1,000 in personal income.

            New Yorkers’ generosity can be seen in that fellow citizens in effect give the average family with two children $40,000 a year. This gift is rarely accompanied by gratitude. When was the last time you heard a mother of three children thank her fellow citizens for the nearly $60,000 in benefits her family was given? You are more likely to hear her complain about some benefit she thinks her children are entitled to, but didn’t receive. When the complaint comes from an unwed mother without real income, this is a bit much.    

            Here is a rule of thumb for when school spending is an unjust burden on taxpayers. If most middle class parents would not spend their own money for a school with all the bells and whistles, it is wrong to force others to do so. On this test, if most middle class parents would not pay an extra $9,000 a year for a school that has gym, shop, art, music, drama, etc., then taxpayers shouldn’t be made to do so. The same is true for afterschool drama, music, and sports programs or for the army of extra administrators as well as the nurses, guidance counselors, psychologists, and so on that drive up school costs. The underlying idea here is that if the person who most loves a child and stands to benefit from her success does not think a school with all the fixings is worth the money, neither should taxpayers.  

            Even if the amount of money spent on schools were reasonable, it is worth considering whether more of the spending should focus on core subjects, specifically, English, history, math, and science. It is an interesting question whether the array of programs and employees lessen the focus on the most important subjects.
A common objection to the above line of criticism is that regardless of whether they have cheap parents, the discretionary programs benefit children. Because children should be our priority, the spending is worthwhile.

One problem with this objection is that it is unclear whether these programs would disappear if they weren’t in the public schools. Many children do not receive free or subsidized food and yet eat well. Similarly, many sports and arts programs would exist in the private sector were they not paid for by taxpayers. Travel teams in soccer, hockey, and wrestling and private dance studios are often very well coached and run, and are at least as good as their public school counterparts. If the concern is for the poor, then they could be subsidized directly in the way that Medicaid, food stamps, and free school lunches do so. Surely, this is more efficient than making taxpayers pay for recreational activities of doctors’ and lawyers’ kids.  

            A second problem with this objection is that not every benefit is worth the cost and it is far from clear that outside of the core curriculum, government-school programs in states like New York and California are worth the cost. Were the money spent on such programs returned to taxpayers or, perhaps, spent by the government elsewhere, it would do quite a lot of good. Whether it would do more good than the current spending on discretionary programs in government schools is an empirical question and not that one can be answered merely by citing a benefit to students.

            The real problem with the spending level, though, isn’t whether it is displacing private programs or making the world a better place, it’s the sheer weight of school taxes. Were New York to have excellent schools, rather than mediocre ones, taxes would still be too damn high. People have their own projects in life. They want to have children, buy houses, invest in their own businesses, give to charities, or work fewer hours. Forcing them every year to hand over thousands of hard earned dollars for other people’s children is unreasonable, especially when the money is spent guidance counselors, golf coaches, school psychologists, additional administrators, and so on. Many people would rather spend their money on themselves and there’s nothing wrong with that.

For some people, their property tax burden costs as much as their mortgage. For some retirees, taxes painfully cut into their income. For all but the wealthy, property taxes in New York are obnoxious. The fact that parents of school age children seem to ungrateful for how hard their neighbors had to work to pay for their children to go to a school with all the bells and whistles just pours salt into the wound. 

New York needs to reduce school spending to a decent level.