We’ve been talking a lot about college on the Billfold lately, which brings up an important question: How do you know if you chose the right school? People in our society make a fetish about picking the place that’s right for you as though there’s only one correct answer, and as though “the place that will give you the most aid” or “the state school closest to home” isn’t the guiding principle behind the way a lot of us make this choice.
Universities seem to serve as kind of a “You complete me” soul-mate stand-in. And for maybe the same reason we talk about “the one” in a romantic context, we take for granted that “the right” college exists out there for everyone interested in higher education. Doesn’t that raise expectations to an unreasonable level? After all, how do you evaluate the choice once you’ve made it?
In this Gawker polemic against Bard college, an expensive liberal arts school author Leah Finnegan attended for two years before transferring to a public university in the South, Finnegan argues that the fates of eccentric, longstanding college president Leon Botstein and the college itself are linked: “When Leon dies, Bard will perhaps die as well.” In other words, she suggests that Bard, like so many non-profits, suffers from Founder’s Syndrome.
Founder’s Syndrome occurs when a single individual or a small group of individuals bring an organization through tough times (a start-up, a growth spurt, a financial collapse, etc.). Often these sorts of situations require a strong passionate personality – someone who can make fast decisions and motivate people to action.Once those rough times are over, however, the decision-making needs of the organization change, requiring mechanisms for shared responsibility and authority. It is when those decision-making mechanisms don’t change, regardless of growth and changes on the program side, that Founder’s Syndrome becomes an issue. We see this most frequently with organizations that have grown from a mom-and-pop operation to a $12 million community powerhouse, while decisions are still made as if the founders are gathered around someone’s living room, desperately trying to hold things together.
Founder’s Syndrome isn’t necessarily about the actual founder of an organization. The central figure could be the person who took over from the founder. It could be someone who took over in a time of crisis, and led the organization to clear waters. Or it could just be someone who has been at the helm forever. The “founder” could be the CEO. Or it could be a board member, or a handful of board members who have either been there since the beginning or have ridden the organization through tough times.
But the main symptom of Founder’s Syndrome is that decisions are not made collectively. Most decisions are simply made by the “founder.” All other parties merely rubber stamp what the founder suggests. There is generally strong resistance to any change in that decision-making, where the Founder might lose his/her total control of the organization. Boards of these organizations usually don’t govern, but instead “approve” what the founder suggests. Planning isn’t done collectively, but by the founder. And plans / ideas that do NOT come from the founder usually don’t go very far.
Partly because Leon “hates money,” Finnegan argues, Leon’s school, despite tuition hikes, is hanging on by a thread.
Maybe you don’t need yet more proof that going to graduating from college is a wise financial decision. But these charts are so pretty! And informative:
In her first year after college, the college grad is earning $40.405, while the high school grad, even with four years in the workplace, is only earning $33,245. (In other words, that college education is paying off from day one.) That’s not to say the high school graduate’s four years’ headstart means nothing: It takes until 15 years after high-school graduation — more than a decade after college graduation — for the college grad’s lifetime earnings to finally overtake those of the high-school grad. At that point, the college grad is earning $71,839 per year, while the high-school grad is earning only 60% of that sum — just $43,045. …
[E]ven after accounting for the cost of college, the median college graduate will have total earnings, 18 years after graduation, greater than 75% of high-school graduates.
It’s an especially sweet deal if you’re a dude. The fellas start making more out of the gate and never stop.
The fan chart of male against female earnings for four-year college graduates is, if anything, even scarier. It demonstrates that men, over the course of their careers, consistently earn more than 75% of women with equal educational attainment.
Here’s the best/worst factoid of all:
What’s more important in terms of earnings — being a science graduate, or being a man? The answer: being a man. Here’s the chart of male arts graduates versus female science graduates: the male arts graduates clearly do better. And that’s not because the women aren’t working: the chart only shows the salaries of full-time female employees.
Despite effort, or the appearance of it, there has been no change in terms of getting high-achievers from low-income families to elite schools.
In 2006, at the 82 schools rated “most competitive” by Barron’s Profiles of American Colleges, 14 percent of American undergraduates came from the poorer half of the nation’s families, according to researchers at the University of Michigan and Georgetown University who analyzed data from federal surveys. That was unchanged from 1982. And at a narrower, more elite group of 28 private colleges and universities, including all eight Ivy League members, researchers at Vassar and Williams Colleges found that from 2001 to 2009, a period of major increases in financial aid at those schools, enrollment of students from the bottom 40 percent of family incomes increased from just 10 percent to 11 percent.
What does make a difference? Investments of money, which most schools either can’t or won’t prioritize, and investments of time, like sending admissions officers to schools that are off the beaten track. Also, perhaps most importantly, helping students understand that the sticker price at high-end colleges is not what most middle- and working-class families pay: