“Put a Glock to Their Heads”

by Dr. Watson Scott Swail, President & CEO, Educational Policy Institute

“This is hard for you because you think of the students as cuddly bunnies, but you can’t. You just have to drown the bunnies. Put a Glock to their heads.”


The above is a quote from former Mount St. Mary’s University President Simon Newman earlier this year. I say former, because the quote, in part, forced him to resign from his position only a few weeks after stating this to other faculty and less than a year after being hired for the job.

The undoing of the former private equity manager began with his insistence that a freshman student survey be used to weed out 20-25 students as a strategy to increase student retention rates 4 to 5 percent. Certain faculty members rightly had significant issues for the imprudent use of a student survey.

The student newspaper published the quote and other insights into the President’s actions. It is said that President Newman fired two personnel who were in the line of fire, including the advisor to the student newspaper. Although he reversed those firings shortly thereafter due to increasing faculty pressure, the faculty senate voted 87 to 3 to demand that he resign. He did.

So here are the two faces of student retention. Or perhaps the two edges of a sharply-honed sword that can cut efficiently in two separate directions. Policymakers and stakeholders continue to push for more efficiency in higher education, as they should. However, the downside is that administrators will sometimes resort to dastardly strategies to bring up their rankings in US News & World Report, the Times Higher Education Rankings, and other highly-noted systems that institutions use to promote themselves, and that students and families use in the college-choice stage.

We have the complexity of working as a unit to increase retention rates, graduation rates, and student learning at universities, while simultaneously keeping a watchful eye on how the university works, in an ethical and moral manner, to help students. These issues can certainly be mutually symbiotic, but when ill-considered, they can cause devastation to students and institutions.

There is seemingly constant fight on many colleges about student retention. The “glock to the head” circle includes faculty and staff who believe that students should be able to stand alone. Students are adults now and should be able to weather the academic and social conditions that college brings. Conversely, the “bunny cuddlers” believe that institutions should be extremely cognizant of student experiences and do whatever possible to ensure potential success for every student.

It should be little surprise that I rest with the latter group. But I wouldn’t call myself a cuddler because I have some understanding and appreciation for the former. At institutions of higher education, there must be an acknowledge of both sides of this issue. There is some truth that students must be able to serve as their own best self-advocate and stand for themselves. But the truth is, college is tough for almost anybody, especially for those who are historically underrepresented in college, such as low-income, first-generation, and minority student groups. Some students are as young as 17. Going to college is hard. Going away to college even harder.

But holding hands and easing the pathway must be done strategically to allow students to build confidence and acquire the necessary skill sets and knowledge to persevere, both academically and socially, through the college experience. Making college too easy is not the answer. And neither is making it so cold and empty that students feel lost.

I’m a proponent of ensuring the right fit between students and institutions, or students and faculty members. The Admissions Office is critical to ensuring that the students who are admitted and subsequently enroll have the wherewithal to persist. They must possess the basic skills to succeed. If they do not, they probably are better served not being admitted. Of course, many institutions suffer from a Macbethian thirst for more and more students, requiring that they enroll students who ultimately will not graduate from their university. Instead, these recruits will stay around for a semester, a year, and sometimes more. But they won’t graduate.

This is the ethical concern of institutions of higher education. If an institution believes they should put a glock to the head, that is only because they themselves failed along the way. They failed during the admissions process; they failed as teachers and educators; they failed as social workers.

Do me a favor: when you consider how to improve student success at your institution, keep in mind the culture you wish to enhance and nurture across your campus. Which side are you on?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

So How Much Does Student Departure Cost Your Institution?

By Dr. Watson Scott Swail, President & CEO, Educational Policy Institute

In 2013, state and federal governments spent approximately $150 billion on higher education. This includes funding for Pell Grants, state grants, research, and direct subsidies for students. To put this in some perspective, federal funding amounted to $227 per person in the US, and about double that if state funds are included. On the federal level, this accounts for 2 percent of the federal budget. By comparison, the US defense budget in 2013 was $610 billion, or 17.5 percent of the US budget. This isn’t to discount the value of $75 million in federal money. That amount is simply huge, but everything pales in comparison to the US Department of Defense budget.

Beyond state and federal funds, parents and students pay over $63 million annually on tuition and fee charges. This does not include student housing fees.

The point is simple: higher education is big business. There are currently over 27 million students attending 7,000+ Title IV institutions in the US.[1] With graduate rates for all Title IV institutions averaging 50 percent, and grad rates at four-year institutions about 10 points higher, there are a lot of students that fail to earn a degree. Students loose in opportunity cost and student debt; institutions loose by spending a lot of funds on students that do not complete and leave a lot of potential revenue on the table.

The Educational Policy Institute created the Retention Calculator to try and put a number to this issue. The calculator is free for use and we urge institutional administrators to use the calculator to help guide their student success initiatives and campus budgeting.


For today’s example, I am using Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond, Virginia, and Youngstown State University (YSU) in Youngstown, Ohio, both of which were picked for no particular purpose. The numbers used in the calculation were pulled from institutional documents, IPEDs, the College Board, and other sources. I had to generate some numbers based on others. Understand that although I believe this is by far the best cost calculator available, it is still not a perfect science because of the various imperfections of higher education data and the sheer complication of cost and price. But it provides a legitimate record of cost for the university.




Basic Input:

  • VCU has approximately 31,000 students, of whom 24,000 are undergraduates, of which 2,000 are incoming transfers.
  • Based on a 34 percent enrollment rate from new admits, VCU has approximately 5,000 freshman students.
  • Eleven percent of VCU students are from out of state, paying a tuition fee of $31,464.
  • In state tuition is $12,772.
  • Over the past several years, tuition and fee charges have increased, on average, 10 percent per year.
  • $7,600 in state subsidy per students. This is only a national average provided by the College Board. Certainly these numbers vary greatly by institution and state.
  • The fall-to-fall freshman retention rate at VCU is 86 percent.
  • The six-year graduation rate is 62 percent.

Given this scenario, the 5,000 freshman students at VCU will translate into approximately 3,100 graduates within six years. Based on the output from the EPI Retention Calculator, here are the findings:

  • VCU will lose 700 of their freshman students by the start of the sophomore year, leaving 4,300 of the original cohort. That cohort will drop to 3,135 students by year six (62 percent graduation rate).
  • The cost of losing students at the current rate is $36 million in this academic year.
  • The cost associated with losing only the students from the freshman cohort climbs to $54 million over a four-year period.
  • The cost associated with losing all students during these six years is $86 million.

Let us be real for a moment: there is no way that any institution can retain all students over a six-year period, unless your name is Harvard, which has a 98 percent fall-to-fall retention rate and, get this, a 98 percent six-year graduation rate, meaning that after the first year, Harvard doesn’t lose anyone. That is truly unbelievable. Yale is hardly outdone with a 99 percent fall-to-fall rate and 97 percent six-year graduation rate. Within Virginia, the University of Virginia has a 97 percent fall-to-fall rate and 93 percent six-year graduation rate.

The Ivy Leagues and other very selective institutions are outstanding and tell us two things: (1) these are among the most selective institutions in the world; and (2) they do prudence with respect to student support services to students on campus. The moderately selective and non-selective universities are in a difficult boat, however. Their incoming students are more diverse, academically and otherwise, with entering student SATs of 900 to 1200 rather than 1500 and above. This makes all the difference in the world in terms of retaining students. However, one rule applies to all universities regardless of whom they admit: promise to do whatever possible to help students succeed.

If institutions dedicate themselves to improving student and academic services to enhance the student experience, they can increase the percentage of students returning after freshman, sophomore, and junior years and, in turn, increase the four- and six-year graduation rates at their institutions.

Here is the dollar value of improving the fall-to-fall rate at VCU:

  • If VCU increased its freshman-to-sophomore rates 2.5 percent, they would save $2.5 million in this academic year and up to $10 million across a four-year period.
  • If they increase that rate to five percent, the current year savings are $4.9 million and four-year rates approximately $19 million.



Basic Input:

  • YSU has approximately 12,400 students, of whom 11,100 are undergraduates, of which 500 are incoming transfers.
  • Based on a 36 percent enrollment rate from new admits, YSU has approximately 2,868 freshman students.
  • 13 percent of YSU students are from out of state, paying a tuition fee of $8,557, not much different than the instate mark of $8,317.
  • Tuition and fee charges have increased less than one percent over the last several years.
  • $7,600 in state subsidy per student, which is a national average provided by the College Board. These data vary greatly by institution and state so these are a filler.
  • The fall-to-fall freshman retention rate at YSU is 86 percent.
  • The six-year graduation rate is 30 percent.

Given this scenario, the 2,868 freshman students at YSU will translate into approximately 866 graduates within six years. Based on the output from the EPI Retention Calculator, here are the findings:

  • YSU will lose 700 of their freshman students by the start of the sophomore year, leaving 2,151 of their original cohort. That cohort will drop to 847 (approx.) by year six (30 percent graduation rate).
  • The cost of losing students at the current rate is $28 million in this academic year.
  • The cost associated with losing only the students from the freshman cohort climbs to $35 million over a four-year period.
  • The cost associated with losing all students during these four years is $60 million.

As said with the VCU example, YSU cannot retain all students over a six-year period. But they can do better and the money saved would easily pay for whatever efforts they spend, as long as they can front load the effort.

  • If YSU increased its freshman-to-sophomore rates 2.5 percent, they would save $609,000 in this academic year and up to $3.5 million across a four-year period.
  • If they increase that rate to five percent, the current year savings are $1.2 million and four-year rates approximately $7 million.

* * * * *

These calculations are highly conservative. They do not include the cost to institutions for inflated staffing and infrastructure for recruiting and admitting 150 percent of their expended student body. Institutions understand that they will hemorrhage students, so they build it into their staffing model. If institutions could be more effective in (a) recruiting better-fit students who have a higher propensity of success, and (b) do more with the students while under their care, then institutions could hire accordingly and spend accordingly. Instead of working at a 150-percent model, they could perhaps work at a 120- or 110-percent model. Harvard works on a 102-percent model. Pretty cool.


New EPI Retention Calculator Record

Date Time: 11/28/2016 2:30:31 PM UTC

Field Value
Institution Name Virginia Commonwealth University
2-4 Year 4 Year
Full Time Freshmen 5000
Out of state Percent 11%
In-State Cost 12772
Out-of-State Cost 31464
Annual Fee Increase 10%
Subsidy 7600
Year1 return for Year2 86%
Year2 return for Year3 90%
Year3 return for Year4 90%
Year4 completed 90%


  Percentage Increase in Freshman Retention Rate
Student Retention 0 % 2.5 % 5.0 % 7.5 % 10.0 % 12.5 %
Original Freshman Cohort 5,000 5,000 5,000 5,000 5,000 5,000
Freshman-to-Sophmore Cohort 4,300 4,425 4,550 4,675 4,800 4,925
Sophmore-to-Junior Cohort 3,870 3,982 4,095 4,208 4,320 4,432
Junior-to-Senior Cohort 3,483 3,584 3,686 3,787 3,888 3,989
Senior-to-Complete 3,135 3,226 3,317 3,408 3,499 3,590


The cost of student attrition to your institution: Lost Revenue Change in Lost Revenue by Increasing Freshman-to-Sophomore Retention by:
    2.5% 5.0% 7.5% 10.0% 12.5%
THIS ACADEMIC YEAR ONLY — from all students (sophomore, junior, and seniors) who did not return from the previous academic year. 36,272,884 33,857,880 31,418,965 29,003,961 26,588,956 24,173,952
FRESHMAN STUDENTS ONLY — those who will never return to your institution over a typical four-year period. 53,752,429 44,153,781 34,555,133 24,956,485 15,357,837 5,759,189
ALL STUDENTS, ALL YEARS — Freshman, sophomore, junior, and seniors who left over a typical four-year period. 86,003,085 77,365,217 68,701,806 60,011,060 51,373,191 42,735,322


  Change in Revenue by Increasing the Freshman-to-Sophomore Retention rate by:
  2.5% 5.0% 7.5% 10.0% 12.5%
THIS ACADEMIC YEAR ONLY — from all students (sophomore, junior, and seniors) who did not return from the previous academic year. 2,415,004 4,853,919 7,268,923 9,683,927 12,098,932
FRESHMAN STUDENTS ONLY — those who will never return to your institution over a typical four-year period. 9,598,648 19,197,296 28,795,944 38,394,592 47,993,241
ALL STUDENTS, ALL YEARS — Freshman, sophomore, junior, and seniors who left over a typical four-year period. 8,637,869 17,301,279 25,992,026 34,629,894 43,267,763


New EPI Retention Calculator Record

Date Time: 11/28/2016 5:18:19 PM UTC

Field Value
Institution Name Youngstown State University
2-4 Year 4 Year
Full Time Freshmen 2868
Out of state Percent 13%
In-State Cost 8317
Out-of-State Cost 8557
Annual Fee Increase 1%
Subsidy 7600
Year1 return for Year2 75%
Year2 return for Year3 75%
Year3 return for Year4 80%
Year4 completed 80%


  Percentage Increase in Freshman Retention Rate
Student Retention 0 % 2.5 % 5.0 % 7.5 % 10.0 % 12.5 %
Original Freshman Cohort 2,868 2,868 2,868 2,868 2,868 2,868
Freshman-to-Sophmore Cohort 2,151 2,223 2,294 2,366 2,438 2,510
Sophmore-to-Junior Cohort 1,613 1,667 1,721 1,775 1,828 1,882
Junior-to-Senior Cohort 1,291 1,334 1,377 1,420 1,463 1,506
Senior-to-Complete 1,032 1,067 1,101 1,136 1,170 1,205


The cost of student attrition to your institution: Lost Revenue Change in Lost Revenue by Increasing Freshman-to-Sophomore Retention by:
    2.5% 5.0% 7.5% 10.0% 12.5%
THIS ACADEMIC YEAR ONLY — from all students (sophomore, junior, and seniors) who did not return from the previous academic year. 25,281,963 24,592,600 23,903,238 23,213,876 22,524,513 21,835,151
FRESHMAN STUDENTS ONLY — those who will never return to your institution over a typical four-year period. 34,666,118 31,185,002 27,752,234 24,271,117 20,790,001 17,308,885
ALL STUDENTS, ALL YEARS — Freshman, sophomore, junior, and seniors who left over a typical four-year period. 56,248,849 53,479,051 50,741,485 47,971,687 45,250,407 42,480,608


  Change in Revenue by Increasing the Freshman-to-Sophomore Retention rate by:
  2.5% 5.0% 7.5% 10.0% 12.5%
THIS ACADEMIC YEAR ONLY — from all students (sophomore, junior, and seniors) who did not return from the previous academic year. 689,362 1,378,725 2,068,087 2,757,449 3,446,812
FRESHMAN STUDENTS ONLY — those who will never return to your institution over a typical four-year period. 3,481,116 6,913,884 10,395,001 13,876,117 17,357,233
ALL STUDENTS, ALL YEARS — Freshman, sophomore, junior, and seniors who left over a typical four-year period. 2,769,798 5,507,364 8,277,162 10,998,442 13,768,241

Title IV institutions are those that are approved and accredited to provide federal financial aid to students. The 27 million number is unduplicated students. See http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2016/2016112rev.pdf.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

When Money Trumps Education: A Story of Wealth and Educational Legacy

by Dr. Watson Scott Swail, President & CEO, Educational Policy Institute

Higher education is about legacy. If a parent goes to a certain university, it is likely that their children will go to college. If the parent graduated from an Ivy-League or very selective institution, it is more likely that their kids will attend that institution. A 2005 study of 180,000 students who attended selective institutions that legacies chance of admissions was 20 percent higher than non-legacy students when SAT scores were held equal.


Many universities, especially very selective institutions, have legacy policies that allow children of alumni to pass through admissions, regardless of entrance examination score. The case in point exists in front of us with Donald Trump’s family. Three of Donald Trump’s children went to the University of Pennsylvania under the legacy preference clause. We have no information on whether they would have gained admissions regardless. A more interesting case is that of Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump’s husband. Jared is the son of real estate mogul Charles Kushner, who went to prison in 2005 for illegal campaign contributions, tax evasion, and witness tampering. Kushner gave Donald Trump’s campaign $100,000 this year.

Here is the interesting part. The same year that Kushner’s son Jared entered Harvard University, the father gave Harvard a $2.5 million gift. When Jared applied and was admitted to the law program at NYU several years later, Charles gifted $3 million to the university.

These are the stories of two extraordinarily affluent families influencing the admissions policies of various universities by legacy and by money.

Is this appropriate?

Whether appropriate or not, this is a common courtesy bestowed upon influential alums and/or donors. Money buys access. Donald Trump has said he would revolt against lobbies and preferences as president in the White House. But he used his preference to get his kids into Wharton just like Kushner used his influence to get his sons into Harvard and NYU. It happens in many other ways, too. But most notably is legacy at these institutions.

Many institutions will argue that legacy is a good thing for the university because it creates an atmosphere of prestige and worth at an institution. Not all universities have blanket legacy rules: some give legacies extra admissions point as they might for an athlete or a musician. But there is a benefit to being legacy.

For families who come from historically underrepresented backgrounds, such as minority or low-income, there is no similar legacy. They do not get the same opportunity benefit. And legacy begets legacy, continuing potentially forever in a pyramid dynamic. One person who graduates from Harvard can extend the legacy rule to dozens of family members over generations via these rules.

Is this appropriate? From my vantage point, I understand having a legacy rule, but I also understand having a limits on the policy, such that academics and other factors remain important considerations in the admissions decision.

The “pay-to-play” schemes are more notorious and challenging. In many ways, they are akin to the illegal campaign contributions that Charles Kushner made in the 2000s. Just because someone gives to University A should not mean their child is “given” admissions into that university. This is how slippery slopes are made. If that works, then why couldn’t I give a $100,000 campaign contribution to a future president and not expect some pay back?

Right now, Charles Kushner’s son is part of Trump’s transition team. Donald Trump is asking that he receive security clearance. Pay back?

Just sayin.’ Money Trumps Education.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Insatiable Desire for Fundraising in Education

by Dr. Watson Scott Swail, President & CEO, Educational Policy Institute

If you have kids, at some point you’ve either heard of, supported, or even participated in your local Parent Teacher Association (PTA) or Organization (PTA). These arms-length non-for-profit organizations provide funds and other support to local schools. The new movie, Bad Moms, showcases PTOs in a tremendously poor light (led in a very funny way by Christina Applegate), but these organizations do help in significant ways. I’ve seen PTOs provide funds for school playgrounds, digital signage, and scholarships.


Like any organization, PTOs vary in numbers and strength. Some are small linkages of parents that conduct bake sales and other events and raise modest amounts of money to purchase supplies for teachers (e.g., paper, pencils, pens, which is insane when you think about it) while others are large, well-organized units that raise tens of thousands of dollars each year and have significant clout in the school. What is also interesting to note is that the larger PTOs tend to exist in the most affluent neighborhoods with the best public schools.

So what?

It means that advantage always has advantage, even in the public school system. People who live in nicer areas with nicer schools and better teachers also have larger support systems, such as the PTOs. While the funding from the schools is fairly set, these PTOs raise huge dollars for their affluent public schools compared to those living in less-privileged areas. It isn’t a bad thing to raise money necessarily, but it continues to tilt the table of opportunity for underserved populations.

In public higher education, fundraising has become a major focal point. If you speak with college presidents and VPs of fundraising, finding donors is about survival. They blame state legislators for not providing the money necessary to operate their institutions, which is mostly true. But not to be lost in this conversation is the unbridled quest of institutions to be bigger and better. Again, not a bad thing on the surface. Who doesn’t want better institutions with better services and buildings? But at what cost?

My point is that public institutions, whether they be elementary, secondary, or postsecondary, are looking to the private sector for more of their operating funds to increase their advantage over other schools. In some ways, it is a zero-sum game, because since everyone is doing it, there may be no significant difference in competition, except for the example I gave above where the best schools are simply better at fund raising.

Would we be better served by ensuring that schools have the necessary funding to operate at a high level and remove them from the fundraising game? Currently, there is little incentive to reduce the quest for higher and higher infrastructure because institutions are finding they can be successful at fundraising. The Chronicle of Higher Education and InsideHigherEd.com recently posted articles about how to better fundraise at institutions, and many national organizations focus on improved fundraising. One of the most prestigious positions at a public institution is the fundraiser. At private institutions, it is the hedge-funds guy. Think I jest? At Harvard, the top TWO fund managers earned $69 million in compensation in 2003. In 2012, 10 Harvard executives earned a combined $44 million and had a staff of 200 people (paid from a different budget).

Money is big business in higher education.

While the devil is in the details, the devil is mostly in currency. Money makes higher education go ‘round. And with it, comes an insatiable desire to build and collect more. And state policymakers are loving it because lets them off the financial hook.

It’s time to put the state governments back on the hook and perhaps limit fundraising for public institutions. While institutions claim that they the fundraising to compete, they wouldn’t if we restructured the system from the ground up.

Stay tuned.



Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

One Heck of a Week

by Dr. Watson Scott Swail, President & CEO, Educational Policy Institute

Unless you were part of a very tight group of people in the Donald Trump campaign, you were likely surprised at the outcome of last Tuesday’s Presidential Election. Trump shocked the nation with his victory, and when I say nation, I mean everyone, from voters, to children, to prognosticators, and especially pollsters. Pollsters got this so wrong that an election that was set to be a landslide ended as a huge upturn of political society.


To be fair and honest, I was not particularly thrilled with the outcome of this election. But it “is what it is,” as we like to say, and America will move forward. My hope is that Donald Trump will rebound and not be like he was during his campaign. That he will be more “presidential,” less likely to lash out at 3am on twitter, and do things not just for the greater good, but with all citizens in mind, not just those who voted for him. In the end, that is what people want their president to be—fair and open minded, with the understanding that he leads 330 million people, not just the 60 million that voted for him.

With Trump’s acceptance on early Wednesday morning, he sounded a conciliatory tone that was, well, presidential. There existed a moment of calmness that this may not be us unnerving for some as we thought.

But then the activity began and the ground began to shake.

First was the announcement of Myron Ebell, a climate denier, as head of the EPA transition. It doesn’t seem to make much sense to appoint someone like Ebell unless you want to upend current federal policy and alter agreements in support of dirty coal and oil, setting back energy policy 40 years. Second, on Friday afternoon during a taping for 60 minutes that aired last night, Trump announced that he would immediately pursue, lock up, and deport up to 3 million illegal aliens who have criminal records. From an argumentative point of view, most of us could understand the point, but it is much more complex than it seems. Not all of the “criminals” are severe criminals. They aren’t all murders or rapists, of any of a serious ilk. But regardless, how we find and deport that many people is currently not logistically feasible. We can try, but we aren’t going to find a majority of them. What happens to the other, non-criminal illegal immigrants is unknown.

Then yesterday, Trump made the announcement that Stephen Bannon will serve as Chief Strategist of the Administration. Bannon is the former head of Breitbart News, a news agency that is anything but accurate and makes Fox News look like MSNBC by comparison. Breitbart is well known for its anti-Semitic and racist viewpoints.

From an education perspective, we aren’t really sure what Trump will do. Ben Carson has been floated as a possible Secretary of Education. Dr. Carson seems like a smart, decent person, so it is hard to argue that he would not be a good fit. What we do not know is what will happen with the US Department of Education in the near future. Will funding be significantly cut under Trump? Or will he heed pressure from right-wing demagogues who want the Department completely vanquished from the federal government?

The latter is unlikely. I think the days have passed when Republicans wanted to dismantle ED. But a majority of them would like to shrink it, and they will have their opportunity to do so. The Trump Chief of Staff is Reince Priebus, the Chairman of the GOP party. Priebus was chair of the Wisconsin Republican Party and helped bring Governor Scott Walker to power, who cut funding for the university system by hundreds of millions of dollars and weakened the power of academia in the state. Walker’s efforts sent shudders through American higher education. We will see if Priebus extends a similar effort via the US Department of Education.


In K-12, there is speculation that the Administration will end the Common Core, which is interesting because the Common Core is a non-federal, non-profit entity that is supported in large part by the Republican-majority National Governors Association. However, it is possible that the Trump Administration could remove current strings to Race to the Top funding that support the Common Core (this is likely), if not eliminate RTTT and many other programs like it, including i3 and First in the World. There is talk that more federal money will be targeted to charter schools.

There are large parts of the Department of Education that can’t really be touched in a considerable way. They could be moved, but not eliminated. The Department currently runs the Direct Loan programs for higher education, and it is possible that a Trump Administration could revert the program back to private banks. But the Department would still need to administer the program, so the SFA could not be eliminated completely. The Department also provides legislation and financial support for Special Education and other programs that focus on historically underrepresented population.Title I programs focused on poor and minority students could be challenged, as well as English Language Acquisition grants and other “leveling” grants could be dismantled. These programs could not easily be eliminated without widespread and widesweeping legislation that Congress is unlikely to want to remove or change.

However, other programs could exit. Current programs that focus on low-income and minority students could disappear. Trio and GEAR, for instance, could be gone in a second if the president wants them gone. Certainly, the idea of free community college is off the table, but Republicans have stood up for a more affordable higher education, so something positive may come in this light.

It is too early to understand the ramifications of a Trump Presidency, the good and the bad. The reality is that with GOP control of the White House, the House, the Senate, and soon the Judiciary, Congress can do almost whatever it wants if they can agree with one another.

And that will be the challenge within the Republican Party.

As with the Democrats, Republicans do not all read from the same book. Trump will still be forced to create coalitions within his own party, and then, and only then, will they be able to ramrod legislation through Congress. But this will be no easy feat, given than Congress controls the purse strings of the federal government, not the president. Trump can veto, but if he does, he puts himself in a tough situation against his own party.

Whether you voted Republican, Democrat, Independent, or not at all, there is one thing we can all agree on: this will be a very interesting 2017.

Stay tuned, folks.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Long & Winding Road: Election Day 2016

by Watson Scott Swail, President & CEO, Educational Policy Institute

Today is the day when we can march to the polls, sit back, and finally say “Thank God this brutal campaign is FINALLY over!” If you are still upright and in good health, congratulate yourself for enduring our political version of The Hunger Games.

The US Presidential Election process is unlike any other around the world. While the Canadian and British elections last a mere 8-10 weeks, this election began on Wednesday, November 7th, 2012, the day after the last Presidential Election. On that day, the media started speculating about who would run in 2016 since the second term of a presidential term is always kind of lame duck. In 2013, both Clinton and Trump formed unofficial exploratory committees, and, along with dozens of other also rans, began running in earnest in early 2015. This campaign literally changed how our cable news networks behaved and organized. CNN, once the proud conveyor of world and domestic news, now became a one-issue source of political information, as did MSNBC and Fox. The only respite was the occasional disaster or populous death.

This morning on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Mike Barnicle said that “This pageant for democracy that we witness today it is truly extraordinary and makes you really proud to be an American citizen.”

I could not disagree more.

This campaign, among all others, has reduced the political trust and process to a shadow of what it once was. Jon Meacham of Time Magazine reminded us that fewer than 1-in-5 voters trust the federal government and that there is a palpable paranoia of trust in politicians. While some say that these long campaigns strengthen candidates and build character, the low-brow mudslinging has weakened the presidency and the respective candidates. The brand of President of the United States has been cheapened, in large part, by a reality TV show star who has little respect for authority, rules, and the law in general.

A lot of people are wondering how we ended up with these two candidates out of 330 million people in the US. It is simple: the system heralded them. They both won their primaries, which also seemed to go on forever. Say what you want, but this is the system we built; the one we deserve.

Given the latest polls and trends, by tomorrow morning the President-Elect is likely to be Hillary Clinton, with some pundits expecting a landslide in terms of electoral votes plus a win in the area of 4-5 percentage points in the popular vote. We will see, because until people actually vote, you can never count on what the voting population will do.

Regardless, the real challenge is what happens starting on January 20 when the President-Elect is inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States. At that moment, the President must deal with a divided Congress: a group of 535 elected officials that, Congress after Congress, has managed to conduct a trickle of business that is so important for this nation to run effectively. If Hillary wins, the GOP have already thrown down a preemptive gauntlet to stand in the way of her Supreme Court nominations and other campaign promises. If Trump wins, the GOP will work diligently to mold him to do what they want to do. Don’t think he will run Congress. He won’t. No president does.

I’m not so sure either direction is helpful for the future of this nation.

In the end, nothing is too disastrous, even though, in the midst of a hostile campaign, it seems like the world could end if your candidate does not get elected. That never holds true. The same political system that makes it so difficult to get anything done is also the one that ensures that nothing dastardly or destructive happens. Some may argue, but mostly, this is accurate.

This election is not rigged. There is no voter fraud to speak of. This is just another important election in the history of this nation. They all are.

Democracies are not perfect political systems. They get dirty. Ugly. But they do provide us with an important opportunity to exercise our unique right and privilege to vote our beliefs and conscience. In 20112, only 57.5 percent of Americans voted. That is a shame, because voting is one of the greatest opportunities an individual can have in life.

Please do not waste such a grand opportunity. There is nothing quite as fulfilling as walking out of a voting booth with an “I Voted” sticker on your shirt or jacket. You contributed to our society by a simple vote. It is important.

Regardless of how you vote, do one thing today if you haven’t already:


Enjoy your day.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Learning World: A Tribute to Alvin Toffler

by Dr. Watson Scott Swail, President & CEO, Educational Policy Institute

Alvin Toffler was one of the original futurists, beyond Scotsman Adam Smith, who, a few centuries before, was able to offer, in a tangible way, how economics worked via his “Wealth of Nations.” Toffler was able to view the transfer of culture and society from an industrial revolution to a knowledge society. Toffler passed away only a few months ago (June 27, 2016) and was the author of many top selling books, including “Future Shock” (1970) and “The Third Wave” (1980). I studied the latter during my joint program at Red River College/University of Manitoba Program back in the early 80s. Preparing to be an industrial arts/technology instructor, this was required reading. And it changed me.


Toffler, to me, was the first person to verbalize our new world order and put it in a perspective that made sense. The refrain from his work is simple: knowledge rules. Not coal. Not military. Not even automobiles and manufacturing. Not even politics.

Just knowledge. And those with knowledge will lead the third economic and social wave.

Toffler’s attribution to this construct can be hardly discarded. We are a world of 24/7 news (“news” is used very, very lightly), entertainment, and everything else we can imagine. Information is quite literally at our fingertips.[1]

Toffler wrote about this third wave of technology 36 years ago and he nailed it. Think about this for a moment: Alvin Toffler wrote about the importance of information before there was any type of personal computer (PC, for those who forgot). Before there was a Mac, an Internet, a thumb drive. He did this when the idea of a cell phone was either from Dick Tracy cartoons, Batman, or Maxwell Smart’s shoe phone. The thought of a smart phone or iPad was completely beyond us even in the 1970s. Heck, HBO didn’t show up until 1975 and ESPN in 1979, and they were fledglings at the time. Rarely can we look back at some evolutionist and see that they were right. Nostradamus may be well known about future projections from back in the 16th Century, but he was a nutcase at best who believed in the occult (and no, he did not anticipate JFK!).

Think, for a moment, the changes that have happened in this world over the past 50 years. Fifty years is a miniscule amount of time on our little blue planet. Still, the nature of the technological and societal change during this period far usurps any previous changes. We have moved from analogue to digital in a relative instant, revolutionizing and, to an extent, democratizing the world.

If I go back to my childhood, I remember the first truly instant camera, the Polaroid SX-70. My dad had one, like many dads at the time. It was seemingly unbelievable that we could take a photograph, and then, after a waiting period of 60 seconds, could actually see that photograph and have it in our hands. This was revolutionary.


Skip forward to today.

The only delay we have today in viewing a photograph or video is the millisecond after “press.” Unless you have it on voice activate, then there is no need to even tough the smart phone. Printing a photograph in today’s world is a simple process of either sending the photo to our printer or uploading to the one-hour photo store, which is usually ready in about 25 minutes for pickup.

Many of us remember researching our college papers using both the card catalogues (do you even know what those are?) and microfiche (do you even know what those are?). Quite

simply, the 70s and even 80s were a much, much different world, technologically speaking, than today. Sure, we had the Concorde and some other cool stuff, like Pong, but let’s be real: they all disappeared and only we remain. Well, us, as well as i7 Macs and Windows 10, and a world that is quite literally at our fingertips.

Knowledge rules.

The challenge is that we largely educate people the same way that we did when Toffler wrote his book(s), and similar to when Clark Kerr drafter the California Master Plan, and when John Dewey wrote Democracy and Education in 1916, a book that still was a mandatory read for my doctoral work at GW.

Technology is ubiquitous in education today, but it is poorly harnessed by most. Sure, we use the computer for research in classes, but we mostly use it as a word processor; a fancy IBM Selectric. Online classes now replace what were originally known as correspondence courses. But back then, you sent in your materials via snail mail and waited weeks or even months for feedback. Today it is relatively immediate. Feedback in minutes, hours, and rarely days.


But classroom teaching, beyond moving from an overhead projector to a smart board, is hardly transformative. Technology is used mostly to supplant prior technology, but rarely used to enhance pedagogy and learning.

There are teachers and other educators who are most certainly harnessing the power of technology to enhance their classroom productivity and learning. I’ve seen it. To suggest that it isn’t happening would be disingenuous to the hordes of top-shelf educators who are changing the world. But en masse, it isn’t happening.

In a global society, where two people can receive world news simultaneously from either a rice paddy in Sri Lanka or the 90th floor of One World Trade Center in New York, we can surely incorporate a better utilization of technology in our education systems. Toffler showed us a future light down a dark technological tunnel. And the industrial world followed, creating dynamic uses of digital technology that have transformed our world. Now is the time for the next step: enhancing the global education of all students via these same technologies.



[1] Hey Shireman, is that a correct use of “literally?” Ha!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Coaching for Student Success

by Dr. Watson Scott Swail, President & CEO, Educational Policy Institute


I came across a quick article today on Ohio University’s website titled: Are You a Good Coach–or a Great One? At the start, the article says:

“Successful coaches are more than great motivators. They are leaders, mentors, and teachers. They cultivate behaviors in their athletes that drive passion and performance.”

I am always intrigued that at many grade schools, the coach’s office is often right next to principal’s office. A coincidence you say? I think not. Coaches are coaches because they have a level of leadership that not everyone possesses. Coaches are often admired, if not exalted. As former Ohio State University President Gordon Gee said about his football coach, Jim Tressel, during the 2011 debacle where Tressel lost his job, “I’m just hoping that the coach doesn’t dismiss me!”  Tressel, by the way, is now president of Youngstown State University. Coincide? I think not.

People look to others who provide direction. Motivation. Coaching. Enthusiasm. Belief. And to those who do it in a way that is not only professional, but provocative and considerate.

The original article lists eight elements that can make a difference in being a good coach or a great coach. I’ve taken the liberty of paraphrasing and editing their list for teachers and others who are responsible for student learning. I encourage you to read the original coaching centric list as well. So here we go:

  1. Lead by example.

People notice when commitment and passion comes from the top. If you want your students to go the extra mile, you need to do the same. Let students understand the work ethic required to be successful. And it starts with you. Students watch what their elders and peers do and take from that. Just because you don’t always see it in their eyes or hear it in their expressions, do not think for a moment that they aren’t watching you. They are always watching you. Set the standard for work ethic; raise the bar; and dare every one of your students to meet those expectations.

  1. Share the game plan.

It is much easier to follow a higher road if everyone knows how best to follow that road. Good coaches and great teachers provide a clear vision of strategy and objective because students and athletes need to know why they are doing what they are being asked. If students understand that algebra is not just about crunching numbers but also to help develop the critical thinking ability, perhaps they’ll push less away from mathematics. If they understand that reading every day improves greatly your possession of language and increase their ability to think critically and communicate to others, perhaps they will read more. Learning isn’t a secret. Pull back the cloak and be honest and open about the game plan.

  1. Coach the person, not just the athlete.

Just as a coach must go beyond the X’s and O’s of skills and strategy, a teacher must go beyond mere academics with students. Teachers and others involved in learning must take an interest in the lives of students and be equipped to address their needs, help them grow, and cultivate a culture of excellence. People learn much better in an environment where they are cared and respected, and that happens when the teacher takes the opportunity to learn more about everyone in that classroom. Teach by example, but also take the opportunity to learn more about who you are teaching.

  1. Communicate effectively.

Back to the X’s and O’s, all of the technical knowledge in the world will not help you if you cannot communicate it effectively to your students. Take time to understand how your students learn and then tailor your instruction accordingly. The best teachers are able to deliver both criticism and praise in a way that’s well received and taken to heart.

  1. Keep your eye on the ball.

Success is a moving target. To stay relevant, you must commit to lifelong learning and continuous improvement. You must also strive to develop at a faster pace than your peers. This world changes at an astronomical rate, even within key academic disciplines. Ramp up your game through professional development so that, if necessary, you can alter the game plan to something that will benefit your students. To improve “them” requires that you improve “you.” This is what lifelong learning is all about. It isn’t just about “them.” It’s about you, too.

  1. Be a game changer.

Good teachers follow great teachers, and great teachers invent new ways to do things. Creativity is key to your success as a teacher, and your ability to remain open to innovative ideas and teaching philosophies is critical to your ability to be a great teacher. Read professional journals. See what your peers are doing. And bring something new to your classroom every day. Back in the old days, we used to joke about teachers and professors who brought their stack of 100 acetate slides in for the overhead projector. You know the ones? Especially those that were quite literally brown colored from age. Well, the same goes for PowerPoint. Although we may not be able to see the brown ting of time on them, we know how old they are. Reinvent your information so that it makes sense to today’s students, not their parents.

  1. Push for peak performance.

Great teachers make learning challenging – physically, mentally, tactically, and emotionally. They plan lessons with great attention to detail and ensure that every lesson provides the optimal environment in which students can reach their full potential.

  1. Stay humble.

Every teacher wants their students to be whomever they can be, but it only comes with the hard work of developing skills necessary to compete in this great world of ours. Our best teachers realize that it is about the student, not the teacher. Remember our role: to help others develop in to the greatest person they can, just like our teachers did for us.


I’ll leave you with a clip from the 1986 movie “Hoosiers,” with Gene Hackman. If this doesn’t say it all, not sure what does.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Toast to a Lower Drinking Age


by Watson Scott Swail, Ed.D., President, Educational Policy Institute

On July 17, 1984, the National Minimum Drinking Age Act was passed by Congress and signed by President Reagan. Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) was a major proponent of the law, and, due in large part to their involvement, the Act was passed with the caveat that if states did not follow the law they would lose 10 percent of their federal highway funds. This forced all states, including some of the holdouts like Florida, to acquiesce and accept the law.

Of the 190 countries with data on this issue, 157 (83 percent) have a minimum drinking age of 18 years old and only 13 have a drinking minimum of 21 years.[1] Joining the US in this policy are the Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Iraq, Kiribati, Micronesia, Mongolia, Nauru, Oman, Palau, Samoa, and Sri Lanka.

There are plenty of statistics that showcase the prevalence and use of alcohol and drugs in the United States and other countries. Proponents of changing the age back to 18 or 19 have a plethora of statistics that illustrate the 21 age limit has not had a dramatic impact on drinking underage, and opponents have their statistics that show the law has had a serious impact on underage drinking and the deleterious harm of alcohol. Both are right; and both are wrong. We can cherry pick our data.

In 2008, 100 college presidents signed a petition to lower the age from the current 21 years of age to 18, citing the problems associated with “under-aged” drinking and other issues on campus. Brit Kirwan, then chancellor of the University of Maryland system and a signer of the petition, noted: “It’s a very serious problem on college campuses, and it just seems to get worse and worse.” The current age, according to the signers, does not decrease drinking on campus. Rather, it breeds the practice of binge drinking.

Four years prior to the petition, the lead signer and President Emeritus of Middlebury College, John McCardell, Jr., wrote an Tin the New York times:

To lawmakers: the 21-year-old drinking age is bad social policy and terrible law. It is astonishing that college students have thus far acquiesced in so egregious an abridgment of the age of majority. Unfortunately, this acquiescence has taken the form of binge drinking. Campuses have become, depending on the enthusiasm of local law enforcement, either arms of the law or havens from the law.

He added about drunk driving and the issue of under-aged drinking:

And please — hold your fire about drunken driving. I am a charter member of Presidents Against Drunk Driving. This has nothing to do with drunken driving. If it did, we’d raise the driving age to 21. That would surely solve the problem.

So, why does this matter now?

One could argue it doesn’t. This has been a sealed deal for over 30 years. And while I have respect for MADD, they used poorly constructed statistics to make their case and leveraged a heavy weight with the President of the United States to enact a law that didn’t truly have a problem. This is not to say that drunk driving and other factors related to youthful alcohol imbibing are not serious. They are. But Mr. McCardell, Jr. was right: if you want to take care of the drunk driving issue, we can. And, if that were the case, we should then consider banning drinking altogether because there are drunk drivers of all ages and people die from alcohol daily at all age categories. We tried a ban back via the 18th Amendment back in 1919, only to have it repealed 14 years later.

I’ll restate the old argument of why have a 21-year old age limit when everything else in the nation is set at either 16 or 18. You drive at 16; you go to war at 18. You can be married at 18. You are tried as an adult at 18, because, by definition, you are an adult. But we don’t let them drink. We force them to do it behind closed doors and arguably force them to easier-access drugs of choice. While I do not have numbers to substantiate this claim, I have heard it through my college-aged kids.

The answer to the alcohol problem was never to raise the drinking age. The answer was in creating a responsible environment for responsible drinking. Some states instituted laws that only allowed beer and wine consumption at 18 and spirits at 21. This provided a ramp to learn to engage in responsible drinking. I think that makes perfect sense.

But to suggest that, for some reason and some very poorly used statistics, our 18-, 19-, and 20-year-old students shouldn’t be allowed to drink on campus and elsewhere in society seems arcane.

Let’s reduce the burden on college campuses and other areas of society and choose to promote responsible drinking.

[1] http://drinkingage.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=004294.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Age Old Question

Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court pose for formal group photo in the East Conference Room in Washington

How old is too old? Not as in, are you too old to still go out for Halloween? But as in: when should someone hang it up? As we continue to extend lifespans, and as the looming economic challenges with social security keep growing, organizations and governments need to deal with the issue of age and support.

In the US, Canada, and many other countries, mandatory retirement was outlawed many years ago, although in the United Kingdom, an employer can eliminate any employee over the age of 65 without reason. Legal petitions to this law have failed in recent years. However, even in the US, certain professions do mandate a retirement age. For instance, airline pilots must retire at 65; air traffic controllers at 56 with some exceptions; and several states have placed mandatory retirement on supreme court justices and other judges. We will return to this specific issue later.

Without doubt, retirement age is a very complex issue because it begs the question of when someone remains competent, at least cognitively, to skillfully do their job. The answer, of course, is: it depends. Some people are incredibly competent in their 80s and even 90s. Others are less fortunate in that they have either cognitive degeneration or physical ailments that make working life more difficult, if not impossible. We are what we are through our DNA, lifestyle choices, and things that just happen to us beyond our control. Let us not forget that many people want to retire, and for some the earlier the better. Others choose to work longer because they enjoy their occupation. Still others continue to work because they cannot afford to do otherwise. This will be an increasing challenge as people live longer, America gets grayer, and people are less prepared, financially, for retirement of any kind.

In higher education, institutions face a challenge because some faculty members hang on for a very, very long time. The value proposition of keeping a post-retirement age professor depends on the institution and the individual, and I’ve seen in many cases where faculty members in their late 70s and on are still being paid at the top scale. The upside is that many of these individuals are exceedingly knowledgeable and welcomed by the institution and students. There is value added. Antithetically, other individuals are less productive and less welcomed, essentially taking space that a younger Ph.D. candidate could have at a fraction of the cost. Ask any recent Ph.D. who wishes to be an academic what it is like getting a job out there. It is a very tough market.

As mentioned, some occupations have mandatory retirements. The question is, should there be more occupations that have mandatory retirements? Let us take the issue of President of the United States, for instance. This presidential election will feature two candidates who are beyond traditional retirement age. Donald Trump turned 70 in June and Hillary Clinton turns 69 in October. If either are elected and manage a two-term presidency, they would be 78 and 77 years of age, respectively, when they leave office. Is this an issue? I think it could be. POTUS 45 only needs to look back to POTUS 40, Ronald Reagan, to see the downside of not having an age limit for presidents. When Reagan was elected president in 1980, he was, and remains, the oldest president ever at 69-years old. Clinton could tie him and Trump would beat him. Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 1994, five years after he left office in 1989. However, he was showing signs of the disease as early as his reelection campaign in 1984. According to his son, Ron Jr., “There was just something that was off. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.” It was first noticed that his speech pattern was different. Then he needed notecards to make standard phone calls to people from the Oval Office. There has been discussion about how this impacted the presidency, but we’ll never really know. When Reagan ran for office, he said that he would step down if doctors suggested that he was unfit for office. Well, he was likely unfit for office during his section term. But because he was undiagnosed, and because any slippage was surely held close and confidential, he never stepped down.

About two decades ago, I met with some congressional colleagues of mine. The talk turned to older members of congress, especially about one particular members who would be found wandering the halls and not being able to find his way back to his office. There were many stories of former Senator Strom Thurmond having similar issues. Thurmond was 100 when he left office and died six months later. Democrat Robert Byrd of West Virginia died at 92 years of age. He was still in the Senate.

As stated, several states have mandatory age limits for supreme court justices and judges, but the US Supreme Court does not have a similar statute. In fact, the actual language of the Court says that justices “shall hold their offices during good behavior,” meaning that they hold their jobs for life unless impeached or resigned. Two sitting justices, Anthony Kennedy and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, are 80 and 83-years of age, respectively, and Stephen Breyer is 78-years old. The Chief Justice, John Roberts, is a youthful 61 and the newest justice, Elena Kagan, is the youngest at 56. The three others are in their 60s. By the way, Antonin Scalia, who died earlier this year, died one month before his 80th birthday.

It has been standard practice to nominate justices in their 50s or 60s to the Court, as it is expected they bring a career of wisdom and experience to the court. The oldest justice ever appointed to the Court was 65 years of age (Horace Lurton), and Oliver Wendell Homes was the oldest ever to serve (90-years old). For interest sake, William O. Douglas served the longest term of any justice, from 1939 to 1975. That’s a lot of seat time.

But when is a Justice of the Supreme Court too old to serve? When does senility or other forced begin to diminish the cognitive ability of the Court?

Again, it is difficult to say. However, for Supreme Court justices and members of congress, and arguably any elected member, I think there should be an upper age level for protection of the offices they serve and the citizens of the country. My number would be 70-years of age, but I think 75-years would be more palatable in a vote, considering that Congress, itself, has an average age of 61 years of age (see the info chart below).

As we know, the timing of a justice to step down from the Court is a supreme (sorry for the pun) political issue. Justices have been known to over-stay their time on the court with hope that a new president of their particular persuasion can be elected to office and nominate their replacement. Currently, the Supreme Court is one justice short with the passing of Justice Scalia, and the GOP-controlled House of Representatives has refused to proceed with President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland due to the election. Garland is a moderate judge who, under normal conditions, would probably be welcomed by Republicans. Now the GOP has to face the reality that if Ms. Clinton becomes the President Elect on November 8, she will likely back-burner Garland and nominate a much more liberal nominee to the 115th Congress in January 2017.

If there was a mandatory age of retirement for justices, then the addition of new nominees would, to some degree, be less political as they would happen when age happens, not when politicians want.


Click on graphic to go to webpage:




Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments