“When Leon dies, Bard will perhaps die as well”

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. 

No Progress on Poor Kids at Top Colleges

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:

When Life Bites You In The Class: Around the World, in Oakland, and on Campus

Is “middle class” a useful appellation when it means such drastically different things in different places? We’re not even talking Pittsburgh vs. Brooklyn here, but, like, Los Angeles vs. Laos:

Middle class is as much a matter of perception as statistics—the number of Americans describing themselves as middle class has remained essentially unchanged in recent years even as their incomes and spending power have eroded. When the same term is used to describe an American household bringing in up to $100,000 per year (according to a recent poll; $250,000 if you’re Mitt Romney) and Laotians living on $2 per day (according to the Asian Development Bank), it may not be a very useful term.

It’s relative, in other words, dependent on context. It means you’re less well-off than the well-off and not as poor as the poor.

Sometimes it means that you’re a white girl in 1990s Oakland whose radical parents could live elsewhere but don’t. In that situation, you identify in key ways with your non-white classmates, neighbors, and fellow members of the local swim team — especially when it comes to trying to finally depose the fancy-pants country club team that shows up with their matching swim suits and their hubcap-size muffins and wins everything. In that case, you want what your team wants: to wrench victory from the soft hands of the enemy, even if only this once. But you also occasionally, guiltily yearn for the pop culture version of white adolescence, where everything is safe and clean, cute and funny:

Places I’ve Lived: A Dormitory for the Arts, Urban Hilltops, and a Former Department Store

Where have you lived, Marissa Barker?

Harvard: Too Rich to Be a Nonprofit?

Have you heard about Harvard's latest donation? It is for 350 MILLION DOLLARS and is the third biggest gift in the storied history of people giving their money to universities and having dorms named after them. This time the guy is naming the entire School of Public Health after his dad. Seems fair! Also seems like a good time to postulate about the purpose of non-profits beyond their technical definition, non? Annie Lowrey writes for The Daily Intelligencer arguing from, among other reasons, a utilitarian standpoint (Annie!) that Harvard is officially way too rich to be one.

Nail Polish That Might Save Your Life

Living with a kitchen of limited size, and also being on a budget, means having to be strategic. No single-utility items, a friend told me once, sternly. That was her policy. She refused to pay for any gadget – a bread-maker, a George Forman grill, a pineapple slicer — that did only one thing, because no number of delicious cuts of pineapple could make up for kitchen clutter. Appliances must multitask! Be useful, or begone.

I thought about that when I read this piece about nail polish that can detect date rape drugs.

Undercover Colors is currently raising cash to refine its prototype and pay executives. According to a securities filing, the four-person company, which recently appeared at the K50 Startup Showcase, just raised $100,000 from one investor, with $150,000 left to sell in the round. And it has additional cash from competition. The company won the Lulu eGames this spring, sponsored by N.C. State’s Entrepreneurship Initiative, a contest challenging students to design working solutions to real-world problems.

Though the article raises some questions, like how could be it be savvy enough to detect roofies and also nontoxic, and how much would Smart, Potentially Life-Saving Nail Polish cost — too much for your average college student?, it’s an intriguing idea. Veronica Mars would approve, and so, I imagine, would my clutter-conscious friends.

Labor (Profs) vs Management (Administration) at Colleges Heats Up

Four intrepid professors have risked their future prospects to highlight the insane disparity in what college administrators are paid vs. everyone else, starting a popular movement. Even more nutty: this happened in Canada.

The current president and vice-chancellor of the University of Alberta, Indira Samarasekera, is leaving next summer.* This means that her job, which pays at least 400,000 Canadian dollars (about $368,500), is up for grabs. I’m sure the search committee expected a lot of top talent in the application pool—but they probably didn’t expect 56 Canadian academics, fed up with a highly paid administration in the face of country-wide “austerity” measures, applying for Samarasekera’s job in groups of four.

The elaborate and serious joke—an HR performance piece, if you will, that would also happen to have spectacular results if it actually worked—is the brainchild of Dalhousie University professor Kathleen Cawsey and three friends, a Gang of Four whose pointed (and hilarious) cover letter has become a Canadian media cause célèbre.

Since each of us would love to get paid 1/4 of what the president is, the original letter pointed out, we’d be thrilled to share the position. As a bonus, we’d do an excellent job! Probably better than OSU’s E. Gordon Gee, who took a $6 million golden parachute with him when he retired in disgrace.

Rarely has a stunt so funny been quite so sobering.

Crop Tops Cropped from College, Education = Reparations?, Academic Rejection vs Other Kinds

+ UT-Austin signs tell women how to dress so as not to be distracting and, according to Jezebel, crop tops are out.

Here are the things you cannot wear, if you want to learn to be a nurse at the University of Texas:

Midriff-baring shirts Short-shorts Low-rise pants Low-cut shirts that reveal cleavage

My K-12 religious school had a dress code that prohibited all of these things and I still feel funny if I wear them. My mind has been warped forever on the issue of modesty, which means I can’t be trusted to know whether this is egregious. Dress codes! Always unfair, if they’re only targeted at women? Justified in a context that has something to do with God, or taxes, or death? Can we trust students at a certain age to know how to dress appropriately and/or to not get life-threateningly distracted by a glimpse of skin?

+ Uh oh. STEM magic doesn’t work as well for black folks.

The Value of College, in Chart Form

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.

“Choosing THE RIGHT School”: BS or Total BS?

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? 

“I’ll Have a Venti Skim Half-Cap Frappucino and a BA, Please. No Foam.”

Amazon wants you to win you back. In addition to a new Prime Music Streaming service and a deafening whisper campaign about the super secret mystery Kindle smartphone it might have up its sleeve, it is also launching Smile, a program that allows you to choose a charity the store will support. Thanks, guys! But wouldn’t it be easier to treat authors, publishers, and maybe even employees a little better?

Starbucks, another massive corporation that has gotten flak for taking over the world and putting the little guy out of business, is trying to drum up some goodwill of its own in a very unusual, but more direct, way: subsidizing undergraduate education.

Starbucks will provide a free online college education to thousands of its workers, without requiring that they remain with the company, through an unusual arrangement with Arizona State University, the company and the university will announce on Monday. The program is open to any of the company’s 135,000 United States employees, provided they work at least 20 hours a week and have the grades and test scores to gain admission to Arizona State. For a barista with at least two years of college credit, the company will pay full tuition; for those with fewer credits it will pay part of the cost, but even for many of them, courses will be free, with government and university aid. …

Many employers offer tuition reimbursement. But those programs usually come with limitations like the full cost not being paid, new employees being excluded, requiring that workers stay for years afterward, or limiting reimbursement to work-related courses. Starbucks is, in effect, inviting its workers, from the day they join the company, to study whatever they like, and then leave whenever they like — knowing that many of them, degrees in hand, will leave for better-paying jobs.

Investing in your employees as a business strategy happens to be good PR. Win-win-win. Is Bezos taking notes?