FOR many Americans, life has become all competition all the time. Workers across the socioeconomic spectrum, from hotel housekeepers to surgeons, have stories about toiling 12- to 16-hour days (often without overtime pay) and experiencing anxiety attacks and exhaustion. Public health experts have begun talking about stress as an epidemic.
The people who can compete and succeed in this culture are an ever-narrower slice of American society: largely young people who are healthy, and wealthy enough not to have to care for family members. An individual company can of course favor these individuals, as health insurers once did, and then pass them off to other businesses when they become parents or need to tend to their own parents. But this model of winning at all costs reinforces a distinctive American pathology of not making room for caregiving. The result: We hemorrhage talent and hollow out our society.
To begin with, we are losing women. America has unlocked the talent of its women in a way that few nations can match; girls are outpacing boys in high schools, universities and graduate schools and are now entering the work force at higher salaries. But the ranks of those women still thin significantly as they rise toward the top, from more than 50 percent at entry level to 10 to 20 percent in senior management. Far too many discover that what was once a manageable and enjoyable work-family balance can no longer be sustained — regardless of ambition, confidence or even a partner who shares tasks equally.
Every family’s situation is different; some women may be able to handle with ease conditions that don’t work for others. But many women who started out with all the ambition in the world find themselves in a place they never expected to be. They do not choose to leave their jobs; they are shut out by the refusal of their bosses to make it possible for them to fit their family life and their work life together. In her book “Opting Out? Why Women Really Quit Careers and Head Home,” the sociologist Pamela Stone calls this a “forced choice.” “Denial of requests to work part time, layoffs or relocations,” she writes, will push even the most ambitious woman out of the work force.
A young lawyer I know from Virginia was offered a general counsel position, which she determined she could take but only if she could work from home one day a week to be with her two children. Her employer refused. Still another woman wrote to me about her aspiration to an executive-level position and the predicament of doing so with a 2-year-old at home: “The dilemma is in no way the result of having a toddler: After all, executive men seem to enjoy increased promotions with every additional offspring. It is the way work continues to be circumscribed as something that happens ‘in an office,’ and/or ‘between 8–6’ that causes such conflict. I haven’t yet been presented with a shred of reasonable justification for insisting my job requires me to be sitting in this fixed, 15 sq foot room, 20 miles from my home.”
The problem is even more acute for the 42 million women in America on the brink of poverty. Not showing up for work because a child has an ear infection, schools close for a snow day, or an elderly parent must go to the doctor puts their jobs at risk, and losing their jobs means that they can no longer care properly for their children — some 28 million — and other relatives who depend on them. They are often suffering not only from too little flexibility but also too much, as many low-wage service jobs no longer have a guaranteed number of hours a week.
This looks like a “women’s problem,” but it’s not. It’s a work problem — the problem of an antiquated and broken system. When law firms and corporations lose talented women who reject lock-step career paths and question promotion systems that elevate quantity of hours worked over quality of the work itself, the problem is not with the women. When an abundance of overly rigid workplaces causes 42 million American citizens to live day to day in fear that just one single setback will prevent them from being able to care for their children, it’s not their problem, but ours.
THE problem is with the workplace, or more precisely, with a workplace designed for the “Mad Men” era, for “Leave It to Beaver” families in which one partner does all the work of earning an income and the other partner does all the work of turning that income into care — the care that is indispensable for our children, our sick and disabled, our elderly. Our families and our responsibilities don’t look like that anymore, but our workplaces do not fit the realities of our lives.
Irene Padavic, a Florida State sociologist, Robin J. Ely, a Harvard Business School professor, and Erin Reid from Boston University’s Questrom School of Business were asked to conduct a detailed study of a midsize global consulting firm where top management thought they had a “gender problem.” The firm had a paucity of women at the highest levels — just 10 percent of partners were women, compared with nearly 40 percent of junior associates.
After careful study, Professors Padavic, Ely and Reid found that an equal number of men and women had left the firm in the preceding three years, a simple fact that contradicted management’s women, work and family story. Some of the men also left because of the long hours; others “suffered in silence or otherwise made do.” The firm’s key human resources problem was not gender, as management believed, but rather a culture of overwork.
The firm’s leadership resisted these findings. They didn’t want to be told that they needed to overhaul their entire organizational philosophy or that they were overpromising to clients and overdelivering (for example, making hundred-slide PowerPoint presentations that the client couldn’t even use). They wanted to be told that the firm’s problem was work-family conflict for women, a narrative that would allow them to adopt a set of policies specifically aimed at helping women work part time, or be mentored, or join support networks. As Professors Padavic, Ely and Reid wryly concluded, their attitude “required a rejection of evidence on the part of evidence-driven analysts.”
Bad work culture is everyone’s problem, for men just as much as for women. It’s a problem for working parents, not just working mothers. For working children who need time to take care of their own parents, not just working daughters. For anyone who does not have the luxury of a full-time lead parent or caregiver at home.
But there’s good news. Men are also beginning to ask for and take paternity leave and to take lead parent roles. According to a continuing study by the Families and Work Institute, only a third of employed millennial men think that couples should take on traditional gender roles. Some tech companies warring for talent are also beginning to compete by offering longer paternity leaves, which will hardly affect the average American workplace, but is a sign of changing cultural attitudes.
EVEN if men and women join forces to demand changes in the workplace, though, we cannot do this alone, as individuals trying to make our lives work and as workers and bosses trying to make room for care. Some other company can always keep prices down by demanding more, burning out its employees and casting them aside when they are done. To be fully competitive as a country, we are going to have to emulate other industrialized countries and build an infrastructure of care. We used to have one; it was called women at home. But with 57 percent of those women in the labor force, that infrastructure has crumbled and it’s not coming back.
To support care just as we support competition, we will need some combination of the following: high-quality and affordable child care and elder care; paid family and medical leave for women and men; a right to request part-time or flexible work; investment in early education comparable to our investment in elementary and secondary education; comprehensive job protection for pregnant workers; higher wages and training for paid caregivers; community support structures to allow elders to live at home longer; and reform of elementary and secondary school schedules to meet the needs of a digital rather than an agricultural economy.
These proposals are not so far-fetched as they may seem. President Obama put forward proposals to expand access to affordable, high-quality child care in his 2016 budget. Hillary Rodham Clinton has made providing a foundation for working families, including child care, one of the central aspects of her campaign. One of the few states that offers paid family leave (workers pay the cost out of a small increase in their payroll tax) is New Jersey, under the Republican governor Chris Christie.
Republican senators have sponsored a bill that would allow employers to offer employees paid leave hours instead of overtime pay; some polls show that a majority of women who vote Republican support paid family leave. Senator Kelly Ayotte, Republican of New Hampshire, is co-leader of a bipartisan caucus across both the Senate and the House devoted to assisting family caregivers. She follows in the footsteps of former Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Republican of Texas, who successfully sponsored legislation to allow homemakers to contribute to retirement accounts the same way that salaried workers can. And as the baby boom becomes an elder boom, we can expect a whole new constituency for care, on both sides of the aisle.
Change in our individual workplaces and in our broader politics also depends on culture change: fundamental shifts in the way we think, talk and confer prestige. If we really valued care, we would not regard time out for caregiving — for your children, parents, spouse, sibling or any other member of your extended or constructed family — as a black hole on a résumé. We would see it as engaging in a socially, personally and professionally valuable activity. We would see men who lean out for care as role models just as much as women who lean in for work. We would think managing kids matters as much as managing money.
Impossible, right? Yet I grew up in a society where my mother set out little vases of cigarettes on the table at dinner parties, where blacks and whites had to use different bathrooms, and in which almost everyone claimed to be heterosexual. That seems a lifetime ago, but I’m not so old. Our world has changed over the past 50 years, vastly for the better from the point of view of African-Americans, the L.G.B.T. community and families who lost loved ones to lung cancer. Given the magnitude of that change, think about how much we can still do.
We can, all of us, stand up for care. Until we do, men and women will never be equal; not while both are responsible for providing cash but only women are responsible for providing care. And though individual Americans might win out in our current system, America as a whole will never be as competitive as it ought to be. If we do not act, over time our families and communities, the foundation of our flourishing, will wither.
The women’s movement has brought many of us the right to compete on equal terms; it’s time for all of us to claim an equal right to care.
How does tiny Xavier University in New Orleans manage to send more African-American students to medical school than any other college in the country?
By NIKOLE HANNAH-JONESSEPT. 9, 2015
Norman Francis was just a few years into his tenure as president of Xavier University of Louisiana, a small Catholic institution in New Orleans, when a report that came across his desk alarmed him. It was an accounting of the nation’s medical students, and it found that the already tiny number of black students attending medical school was dropping.
It was the 1970s, at the tail end of the civil rights movement. Francis, a black man in his early 40s, had spent most of his life under the suffocating apartheid of the Jim Crow South. But after decades of hard-fought battles and the passage of three major civil rights laws, doors were supposed to be opening, not closing. Francis, the son of a hotel bellhop, had stepped through one of those doors himself when he became the first black student to be admitted to Loyola University’s law school in 1952.
Francis believed he was in a unique position to address the dearth of black doctors. Xavier served a nearly all-black student body of just over 1,300. At the time, most of Xavier’s science department was housed in an old surplus Army building donated to the college by the military after World War II. It had no air-conditioning, and the heater was so loud in the winter that instructors had to switch it off to be heard. But the science program had always been strong, if underfunded, and began producing its first medical-school students not long after the university was founded in 1925.
Today, Xavier’s campus is mostly wedged between a canal and the Pontchartrain Expressway in Gert Town, a neighborhood in the western part of New Orleans. It has some 3,000 students and consistently produces more black students who apply to and then graduate from medical school than any other institution in the country. More than big state schools like Michigan or Florida. More than elite Ivies like Harvard and Yale. Xavier is also first in the nation in graduating black students with bachelor’s degrees in biology and physics. It is among the top four institutions graduating black pharmacists. It is third in the nation in black graduates who go on to earn doctorates in science and engineering.
Xavier has accomplished this without expansive, high-tech facilities — its entire science program is housed in a single complex. It has accomplished this while charging tuition that, at $19,800 a year, is considerably less than that of many private colleges and flagship public universities. It has accomplished this without filling its classrooms with the nation’s elite black students. Most of Xavier’s students are the first in their families to attend college, and more than half come from lower-income homes.
‘‘The question always comes: ‘Well, how did this happen, and why are we No.1?’ ’’ said Francis, who recently retired from Xavier after 47 years as president. We were sitting in the dining room of his stately home in the Lake Terrace neighborhood on a sweltering day in August as he thought about the answer. ‘‘We decided we could do something about it. And what we did, what our faculty did, was just plain common sense.’’
Xavier University exists within a constellation of more than 100 schoolsfederally designated as historically black colleges and universities. To achieve this designation, colleges must have opened before 1964 — the year Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, which banned racial discrimination in all public facilities and institutions — and must have been founded with the express purpose of educating black Americans, though students of any race can, and do, attend them.
The first of these historically black colleges, now called Cheyney University, was opened by a Quaker in Pennsylvania in 1837, at a time when black students were barred from most institutions of higher learning in the North and the South. But after the Civil War, colleges for black students proliferated across the South to serve the millions of newly freed people. They were founded by churches, philanthropists and the federal Freedmen’s Bureau, and then by states, after an 1890 federal law required states with segregated schools to open at least one black land-grant college. By the 1920s, black colleges dotted every Southern state and a few Northern ones.
Around that time, a nun named Katharine Drexel, an heiress to a Philadelphia banker who has since been sainted, used part of her inheritance to open Xavier for black Catholics in New Orleans who were not allowed to attend the white Catholic colleges in town. It remains the only black Catholic college in the country. Its mission is the same as every other historically black college. While many colleges were started to groom the children of the nation’s elite, the goal of historically black colleges has always been to pull up through education the nation’s most marginalized — first the children of former slaves, then the children of sharecroppers and maids and today the children of America’s still separate and unequal K-12 educational system.
Because of this mandate, the colleges have been one of the most important institutions in building the nation’s black middle class. The list of prominent Americans who studied within the classrooms of historically black colleges is striking. Among them are Julian Bond, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Sean Combs, W.E.B. DuBois, Medgar Evers, Ralph Ellison, Nikki Giovanni, Alex Haley, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, James Weldon Johnson, Spike Lee, Toni Morrison, Oprah Winfrey, Marian Wright Edelman and Andrew Young.
The colleges, created as a result of the nation’s system of legal segregation, produced the very Americans who would eventually take down that system. Thurgood Marshall, who argued the Brown v. Board of Education case before the Supreme Court and later became its first black justice, went to Lincoln University in Pennsylvania and Howard University’s law school. Four freshmen at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro started the large-scale sit-in movement in 1960. Two Fisk University students, Diane Nash and John Lewis, the long-serving congressman, helped found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and were pivotal in the struggle for civil rights across the South. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is the most notable alumnus of one of these institutions; he entered Morehouse College in Atlanta at the age of 15.
With black students now attending schools that were once off limits, the percentage of black students who attend historically black colleges has declined from 90 percent in 1960 to just 11 percent today. But the role of these schools has not changed; they are still focused on addressing the needs of those whom privilege has passed over. Nearly three of four students at historically black colleges come from low-income families, compared with about half of all American college students, and most are still first-generation college attendees. Though the institutions account for just 3 percent of all colleges, they award 16 percent of the bachelor’s degrees earned by black students. Further, historically black colleges have always been incubators of black leadership; in the 1990s, the last time data was collected, graduates of these schools accounted for 80 percent of the nation’s black judges, 50 percent of black doctors and lawyers and 40 percent of black members of Congress. Along with Xavier, other historically black colleges like Morehouse, Howard, Hampton and Spelman are also among the top feeder schools for black medical students.
When that medical-school report came across Francis’ desk all those years ago, he was certain of one thing: The small number of black students entering medical school was not a reflection of their capabilities. It was a reflection of the shoddy schooling so many of them received before they ever arrived at the college gate. If Xavier was going build a program to turn large numbers of its students into doctors, Francis knew the college was going to have to do more than just teach science. It was going to have to figure out how to overcome years of educational gaps.
Historically Black Colleges and Universities
Fall enrollment in 2013 at historically black colleges and universities.
Pierre Johnson was just the kind of student the college president had in mind. Johnson grew up in the 1980s on the South Side of Chicago, the oldest child of a single mother who emphasized the importance of education even as she battled drug addiction. School always came easy to Johnson; he worked hard in class and did his homework every night.
When Johnson was 10, his mother became pregnant, and he started accompanying her to doctor appointments. The science of how a tiny group of cells transforms in the womb into a baby, the magic and mystery of the birth process, fascinated him, and something else captured his attention, too, something he had never seen before. His mom’s obstetrician was a black man.
The little boy thought about the way the white doctors at the public clinic had treated his mom with indifference and often disdain. But this black doctor, ‘‘he didn’t look down on her,’’ Johnson recalled. ‘‘He knew she was a good woman who had a problem. And he gave me, at least, something to say: ‘I can do that.’ ’’ Johnson thought to himself that he would become a doctor, too.
A few years later, he enrolled at an all-black, mostly poor South Side high school, where he continued to excel in all his classes and dreamed of a life as a physician. On his own, he paged through college guides at the local library, looking for schools with strong pre-med programs. He came across Xavier, which boasted of sending the largest number of black graduates to medical school. He had never been to Louisiana, but he decided, ‘‘That’s where I’m going.’’
Johnson graduated second in his class in 1998. He headed to Xavier full of confidence and expectations. As he moved into his dorm, he found it invigorating to be around so many smart young black people with similar goals. He felt as though he fit in. And then he took his first college science classes. ‘‘It was a pure shock,’’ he said. ‘‘I was extremely unprepared. Stuff that kids knew from high school, general physics and chemistry, I had no idea, none. I had never done poorly academically my whole life, and I realized for four years of high school, I had never been challenged.’’ Johnson’s high school did not offer the Advanced Placement chemistry and biology classes that some of his Xavier classmates had taken. But it was worse than that. Johnson’s high school did not even offer the basic high-school courses, like physics, that are needed to succeed in a typical pre-med program. ‘‘I wanted to be a doctor,’’ he said. ‘‘But I did not even know what the periodic table was.’’
Johnson’s experience is depressingly familiar to Francis. While many students at Xavier and other historically black colleges come from middle-class homes, have gone to good schools and have parents who graduated from college, too many do not. ‘‘I used to say there was no relationship between being poor and being bright. I watched all of my life young people who were poor and very bright. But research shows if you are black and born poor, you are going to live in a poor neighborhood, going to go to a poor school, and by and large, you are going to stay that way,’’ Francis said. ‘‘To come out of that system, you would have to rise much higher than other youngsters who had every resource.’’
During Francis’ decades at Xavier, racial disparities in K-12 education remained firmly entrenched. Black public-school students are more segregated now than at any time since the mid-1970s. Instead of receiving more resources to help them succeed, black students, almost without exception, get less. National data from the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights show that black students are the least likely to attend high schools that offer algebra, physics and chemistry. A report released in July by the ACT and the United Negro College Fund laid out the tragic consequences: Nearly two-thirds of black students who took the ACT did not meet any of the test’s college-readiness benchmarks, twice the national average.
At Xavier, Johnson found himself the embodiment of those statistics, and he was reeling. As he sat in his general biology and chemistry classes, in which even basic concepts were unfamiliar, he tried to quiet the rising panic, thinking that if he did what he had always done, just worked harder, he would get it. A few short months earlier, he was among the smartest kids in school; now he found himself studying all night only to eke out C’s and D’s on the weekly quizzes given by his professors. Johnson realized that if he was going to make it, he needed help. He scheduled an appointment with Professor J.W. Carmichael.
Carmichael, a chemistry professor, arrived at Xavier in 1970, not long after Francis was named president. At the time, Carmichael was young, untenured and brashly outspoken about what the college could be doing to place more of its students in medical schools. Despite its rigorous science program, Xavier was sending only about five to eight graduates to medical school each year.
Carmichael’s candor caught Francis’ attention, and he chose him to run the pre-med program and implement his vision. Francis believed that Xavier should not follow the example of most pre-med programs — ‘‘Look to your left, look to your right; only one of you will still be here at the end’’ — which work to weed out students. To him, that model squandered the talent of far too many students, especially black ones. Instead of compelling students to compete against one another, he said, it made much more sense, both morally and practically, to encourage better-prepared students to help their classmates who weren’t as fortunate to catch up.
Carmichael, who is in his 70s now, is short and a bit frumpy and wears oversize glasses. He is white and grew up in a poor family in rural New Mexico, and he knew something about what students like Johnson experienced when they arrived at college. As the new pre-med adviser, Carmichael worked with faculty members across the sciences to set up a highly structured system to address students’ problems early and direct them toward help.
When Johnson walked through the door of Carmichael’s office, it meant the program was working as planned. The quizzes Johnson did so poorly on in his first few weeks were designed as part of Xavier’s early-alert system. Carmichael believed that a student needed to know he was failing long before he took his midterm exam. He connected Johnson to tutoring centers set up for each of his science courses. There, Johnson met students from other classes, and they began holding large study groups led by a particularly brilliant classmate who would quickly learn the material and then teach it to others. Students would stay up until the wee hours of the morning helping one another. ‘‘You have almost a hundred kids asking questions, discussing the material,’’ Johnson said. ‘‘To see the material broken down that way was just amazing. And if you didn’t get it, they’d explain it again. And if you still didn’t get it, they’d explain it again.’’
These study groups encouraged just the sort of collaboration Francis had imagined. ‘‘It took the competition out of it,’’ Johnson said. ‘‘It wasn’t, ‘I’m mad because you got an A.’ It was, ‘How do we both do that on the next test?’ We had this feeling if we all stuck together and helped each other, we would make it.’’ Marybeth Gasman, an education professor and the head of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Minority Serving Institutions, which does research on and assists colleges that serve large numbers of black, Latino, Asian and Native American students, has carefully examined Xavier’s program and says no school is better at developing students’ shared responsibility for one another’s success. ‘‘It is dumbfounding to see,’’ she said.
What makes Xavier’s program most unusual is its strictly tailored uniform curriculum in freshman chemistry and biology. The faculty members collaborate on what they will teach and create a workbook for these courses that every professor must use. If professors want to teach something not in a workbook, they must present it to the faculty group for approval. The workbooks take the complicated material in science textbooks, which often overwhelms students, and specifies, step by step, everything students need to know for the class. The faculty members then incorporate regular tests and drills, not only to assess students but also to evaluate whether professors need to adjust their teaching. ‘‘This is fundamentally different than the way curriculum is taught across the country,’’ Gasman said. ‘‘What happens with faculty in general: We don’t want anyone telling us what to do in our classes; we pick our textbooks; we know what is right for our students. But they teach to where the students are and not just the way they want to teach.’’
For Johnson, when the workbooks and the study groups weren’t enough, he would spend hours after class in his professors’ offices as they patiently walked him through the material. By the second semester, Johnson was exhausted, but he was earning A’s and B’s again.
Excelling in biology and chemistry is only part of what gets students into medical school. Just as critical to Xavier’s success is the blueprint it created to help students navigate every step in the process of becoming desirable medical-school candidates. ‘‘Our formula is built on believing there is no point in time where a pre-med student at this university shouldn’t know what they ought to be doing to get into medical school,’’ Quo Vadis Webster, Xavier’s current pre-med adviser, told me. By the end of the first semester, Johnson and other pre-med students needed to turn in the first of many personal statements that were critiqued by the university’s writing center. These essays, written and rewritten several times, would eventually become the ones included in their medical-school applications.
Johnson attended weekly meetings with Carmichael, at which he continually received checklists and timelines, learned of research and internship opportunities and met graduates who spoke firsthand about getting into medical school. The pre-med office had Johnson and his classmates gather their letters of recommendation early, made sure they were good enough and then kept them on file until they were needed. Johnson prepared for his MCATs with the help of professors, whom Carmichael had instructed to take the exams themselves so they would know what their students should expect. Wearing a suit and tie, Johnson took part in mock interviews. And when the time came, Carmichael looked over every inch of Johnson’s application to make sure it would pass muster before he sent it out. Webster noted that wealthy students at elite schools pay thousands of dollars to agencies that help perfect their medical-school applications and for courses that help prepare them for the medical exams. Xavier’s pre-med office, with a dedicated staff of two, provides nearly all of these services free.
Former students told me again and again that Carmichael’s involvement was something akin to fierce parenting; he believed in his students and would not let them fail. He would stand in the hall, near a wall decorated with the photos of smiling Xavierites who had become doctors, and reprimand students who professors reported had missed a class or a deadline. Students had to turn in cards signed by their professors showing how they had done on quizzes. Carmichael would send letters to parents on brightly colored paper saying, ‘‘Your child wants to go to medical school,’’ but warning that for some reason, the student hadn’t done x, y and z. If that didn’t work, he would pick up the phone and call a student’s home. ‘‘There is a constant monitoring,’’ Francis said. ‘‘We expect you to learn, and if you need support, you are going to get it.’’ He has a name for this system: love and pain.
The system worked for Johnson. After his rocky start, he graduated from Xavier on time in 2002 with a B average. Though the holes in his education continued to challenge him — he had to take the MCATs three times — he attended medical school at the University of Illinois in Peoria, where he was the only black student in his class. It was jarring to go there from Xavier’s nurturing environment. Johnson said he felt like a man on an island; no one seemed to care if he succeeded or failed. But he pressed on, and two years ago, Johnson, who is now 35, completed his ob-gyn residency. He works in a practice in Decatur, Ill., where he sees mothers with sons who remind him of his 10-year-old self, before he learned how hard it would be for a kid like him to become a doctor. Without Xavier, he said, ‘‘I wouldn’t have made it.’’
Historically black colleges like Xavier have written the guidebook on how to educate the nation’s neediest students, but they have always done so with less, and many of these schools are now struggling to survive. Though federal law required states to treat them and predominantly white colleges equally, states never did. Lawsuits over the years have argued that states still fail to do so. In 2004, Mississippi agreed to pay three historically black colleges $503 million when it settled a 30-year-old lawsuit accusing the state of discrimination in how it funded and supported its black public colleges. Alabama settled a similar case in 2006, and in 2013, a federal judge found that Maryland discriminated against its historically black colleges. Louisiana is home to three public, four-year historically black colleges. Last year, the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education published a study showing that while these three colleges awarded 40 percent of all bachelor’s degrees earned by black students at the state’s public universities, they bore the largest percentage of state funding cuts.
As they have fought to get their equal share of government funding, these colleges have also struggled to build endowments. Nationally, black students are the most likely to borrow money to pay for school, and they also graduate with the highest student-loan debt. That means it takes them much longer before they can write checks to their alma maters instead of to their loan holders. Although the colleges helped build the black middle class, the black middle class is often not in a position to give back. Even in the best of economic times, the unemployment rate for black college graduates is more than twice that of white college graduates. An August study released by the Federal Reserve of St. Louis found that a college degree did little to protect black wealth — the median net worth of black college graduates dropped nearly 56 percent from 1992 to 2013, while it rose 86 percent for white college graduates during that same period. The average black family has managed to accumulate about $7,000 in wealth, compared with $111,000 for the average white household, making it difficult for historically black colleges to find parents and grandparents affluent enough to write big checks for buildings, programs and scholarships. Alumni do give, Francis said, but the donations are often small.
The endowments at the nation’s black colleges reflect this stark reality. Howard University in Washington has the largest endowment of all the colleges by far, at $586 million. (The largest endowment among historically white institutions is Harvard’s $32 billion.) Over all, the gap between the endowments of historically black colleges and others has doubled in the last two decades.
Without big endowments, the colleges rely heavily on tuition, making them extremely vulnerable to stagnating or declining enrollments. Because they are designed to serve students with little wealth, they cannot make up the shortfall by raising tuition. The average tuition of private historically black colleges is half that of private predominantly white colleges. This means they are often not in a position to pay competitive faculty salaries and build the fancy buildings and other facilities that college students shop for.
Families of students at historically black colleges rely heavily on PLUS loans, federal loans that parents can take out to help pay their children’s tuition. In recent years, the tightening of lending criteria for PLUS loans has caused a sharp drop in enrollment at historically black colleges. In 2012, the Education Department rejected the PLUS loan applications of 14,616 students going to historically black colleges, costing the institutions an estimated $168 million.
Some of the colleges, both private and public, have started buckling under the financial pressures of meeting very high student need with very few resources. Morehouse College laid off some 50 staff members in 2012. The South Carolina Legislature threatened to shutter for a year the state’s only public historically black college, South Carolina State University, because it could no longer pay its bills after years of declining enrollment and funding cuts. In 2013, after Grambling State University in Louisiana lost one-third of its state funding over five years, the football team protested its crumbling facilities and 31-hour bus rides to other schools by refusing to travel to a game. Cheyney State, the first historically black college, is deeply in debt, and a Pennsylvania state auditor has called the school’s outlook ‘‘bleak.’’ The most unthinkable occurred in 2013, when a board member at Howard, long considered the black Harvard, warned that without significant changes, the venerable institution would be insolvent within a few years.
Xavier is trying to weather its own financial struggles. The university reached its highest enrollment in school history, some 4,100 students, in August 2005. Two weeks later, Hurricane Katrina hit, swamping the campus under as much as six feet of water. Xavier was forced to make repairs and take out loans. One thousand students never came back. ‘‘Our enrollment is at a standstill,’’ Francis said. ‘‘The next few years are going to be very difficult for small schools, and particularly for black schools.’’
This summer, in the weeks before he stepped down as the longest-serving college president in the United States, Francis traveled across the country on what he called a legacy tour, visiting alumni and raising money for a scholarship campaign. Under his tenure, the school has helped produce thousands of doctors, enrollment has more than doubled and the endowment has grown from $2 million when he started to $161 million today.
But sitting in his cool dining room this summer, Francis said he also felt discouraged. With just 3,000 students, Xavier is ‘‘too small to be the No.1 institution sending African-American students to medical school.’’ The college’s ranking, he said, says as much about America’s failure as it does about Xavier’s success.
Despite all of Francis’ efforts, and those of other historically black colleges, the number of black doctors is still meager; black Americans make up 13 percent of the population but account for barely 4 percent of the nation’s doctors — about the same as it has been for decades.
In August, just weeks after Francis retired, the Association of American Medical Colleges, the same organization that issued the report some 40 years earlier that he took as a call to act, published another report. Just 515 black men entered medical school last year. Even though the nation’s black population is much larger now, that number is 27 fewer than the 542 black men who went to medical school in 1978.
The way Francis sees it, those statistics should be the nation’s shame. American schools have not absorbed the lessons that historically black colleges have to teach about how to better develop and support talented students stifled in poor communities across the land. Too many universities, he said, are content to recruit the most privileged and high-achieving students in the United States and other countries. He said he saw historically black colleges ‘‘as the conscience of the nation.’’ But, he added, ‘‘I am not as sanguine about whether this nation fully understands the role we play — what we’ve done for this country with so little.’’
Correction: September 12, 2015
Because of an editing error, an article on Page 30 this weekend about Xavier University erroneously attributes a distinction to South Carolina State University. It is the only public historically black college in the state, not the only historically black college.
Serving as Mother Teresa’s personal physician late in her life inspired Dr. Devi Shetty to create an affordable health-care system for the poor. The company he founded, Narayana Health, now operates 32 hospitals across India.
By Eva Tam And Lukas Messmer
Updated Sept. 16, 2015 6:14 a.m. ET
Indian philanthropist and cardiac surgeon Dr. Devi Prasad Shetty is the Chairman of Narayana Health in Bangalore. Born in a small village, Shetty went to school in Bangalore before studying in the UK. After returning to India in 1989, Mother Teresa had a heart attack, and Dr. Shetty was called to operate on her. From then on, he served as her personal physician.
Shetty founded Narayana Health in 2000. He is often called the “Henry Ford” of heart surgery in India. 12 percent of heart surgeries in India are performed by Narayana doctors. Narayana Health is a network of 32 hospitals in 20 locations throughout India. The company provides affordable health care to India’s poorest citizens. Shetty plans to expand Narayana Health internationally to Africa, Asia and Latin America. His first hospital outside of India is in the Cayman Islands.
What does Narayana Health do?
The reason why the hospitals are known here is because we’re very affordable to the common man of this country. We work with economies of scale. As you do more operations your results get better and costs go down. This building where I’m sitting now [Bangalore] is a hospital which has the infrastructure to perform 60 major heart surgeries in a day. We attract patients from 76 countries. Right now we do 37 surgeries every day.
What is your business model?
First of all, we have invested a huge amount of money in the infrastructure of the hospitals. If the same amount of infrastructure is provided in hospitals in the U.S. and Europe, it hardly gets used for eight to nine hours a day. We use our infrastructure for 14 to 15 hours a day. Secondly, we perform one of the largest number of heart surgeries in the world. Through working with us, companies capture 12% of the Indian market for cardiac health care. This brings our input costs down. Third, we’re also an academic institution training heart surgeons, cardiologists, perfusionists and nurses. We conduct 79 training programs on campus, so half of the workforce here is not paid by us. They are students undergoing a training program.
One of the methods your company uses to save money is to replace American products with Indian ones. Can you give an example of how that helps you cut costs?
Five years ago, we decided to use disposable gowns and drapes during heart operations; 99% of the hospitals in India still use linen gowns and drapes. It’s very hard to clean blood-drenched linen. We talked to two multinational companies and asked them to provide us with disposable gowns for each operation, but they wanted us to pay 5,000 rupees ($75). We were willing to pay them 2,500 rupees ($37), but they refused. Then we contacted a factory, and asked them to produce these disposable gowns. In four years, that company became the largest surgical disposable company in India. Now they can export their product all over the world, and we buy their product for 900 rupees ($13).
Tell us about Narayana Health’s partnerships with insurance companies.
We charge only $1,200 to $1,400 for heart operations; 80% of the country’s population cannot even afford that to save their lives. How do you make it affordable to them? Eleven years ago, we launched a new microhealth-insurance scheme called Yeshasvini Microhealth Insurance. We had 1.7 million farmers paying 11 cents each month for insurance. The insurance scheme links 400 hospitals, and the farmers can go to any of these hospitals and get any operation free of cost. All they have to pay is 11 cents a month.
What were some of the challenges you encountered when you started the company?
At the beginning, we had a problem with some suppliers taking us for a ride, and a few other problems that any company would run into. We were naive; we didn’t know how the real world runs. We made mistakes, and we learned. I was blessed in having good people at that time to sort out the mess.
What was it like being Mother Teresa’s personal physician?
One thing I loved about Mother Teresa is her simplicity. She had simple solutions to complex problems. Like how do you describe the work of a cardiac surgeon? She described it the best. One day, she was in the hospital, and she used to accompany me when I was doing rounds in the cardiac ICU. She was looking at a little baby. She said, “Doctor, I know why you are here.” I said, “Why am I here?” “When God created these children with heart problems, he realized he made a mistake so he sent you here to fix it.” That’s the best definition of a heart surgeon.
Do you feel your work is making an impact in India?
Our direct contribution may not be as great. Operating on 30 patients a day doesn’t change the world, but we are proving that affordable health care can be a business model. When we started our journey, people discouraged us. They said there is no such thing as low-cost health care. Health care is expensive and will always be expensive, but people will eventually become wealthy and then they can afford it. When I grew up, I looked at some of the richest countries in the world, struggling to offer health care to its citizens. I realized that even if India becomes a rich country, it will not be able to guarantee health care to everyone. We have to change the way we’re doing things.
What are your plans for expansion?
We started a hospital in the Cayman Islands which are close to Florida. We want to show our model of affordable, low-cost, quality health care to the Western hemisphere. We also have a major interest in Africa. Essentially we want to democratize health care across the world.
The center of gravity for economic thought in the United States has long been found along the two miles in Cambridge, Mass., that run between Harvard University and M.I.T. But there is new competition for that title, and it is quite a bit farther west.
Stanford University has lured an all-star lineup of economists to Palo Alto, Calif., in the last few years — and fended off Harvard’s and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s attempts to woo Stanford economists.
The newest Stanford professors include a Nobel laureate — Alvin E. Roth, formerly of Harvard — but the shift is more noticeable among top young economists. Of the 11 people who have won the John Bates Clark Medal for best economist under age 40 since 2000, four are now at Stanford, more than at any other university. Two of them joined in the last few months: the inequality researcher Raj Chetty, who came from Harvard, and Matthew Gentzkow, who left the University of Chicago.
Stanford’s success with economists is part of a larger campaign to stake a claim as the country’s top university. Its draw combines a status as the nation’s “it” university — now with the lowest undergraduate acceptance rate and a narrow No. 2 behind Harvard for the biggest fund-raising haul — with its proximity to many of the world’s most dynamic companies. Its battle with Eastern universities echoes fights in other industries in which established companies, whether hotels or automobile makers, are being challenged by Silicon Valley money and entrepreneurship.
And it is a reflection of a broader shift in the study of economics, in which the most cutting-edge work increasingly relies less on a big-brained individual scholar developing mathematical theories, and more on the ability to crunch extensive sets of data to glean insights about topics as varied as how incomes differ across society and how industries organize themselves.
“Who wouldn’t want to be where the future of the world is being made?” said Tyler Cowen, an economist at George Mason University (and regular contributor to The New York Times) who often blogs about trends in academic economics. Stanford’s economics department, he said, “has an excitement about it which Boston and Cambridge can’t touch.”
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In economics, Stanford has frequently been ranked just behind Harvard, M.I.T., Princeton and the University of Chicago, including in the most recent U.S. News & World Report survey of graduate school rankings, conducted in 2013, and in calculations of which department’s scholars are most frequently cited in academic literature. That might change. In the last four years, Stanford has increased the number of senior faculty by 25 percent, and 11 scholars with millions in cumulative salary have either been recruited from other top programs or resisted poaching attempts by those programs.
That said, Stanford’s reputation in the future may depend less on a few big-name recruits than on its ability to train the Ph.D.s whose scholarship is widely cited and reshapes important economic debates, or who become influential policy makers who advise presidents and lead central banks. The last 10 people to serve as chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers have all had a Ph.D. from either Harvard or M.I.T. (the last without one was Janet L. Yellen, who left the job in 1999, and received hers from Yale). Among the Ph.D. economists who have exerted great influence on global economic policy in recent years, the former Federal Reserve chairman, Ben S. Bernanke; the European Central Bank president, Mario Draghi; the retiring International Monetary Fund chief economist, Olivier Blanchard; and the Fed vice chairman, Stanley Fischer, all studied at M.I.T.
Unsurprisingly, many of those with top East Coast programs view Cambridge’s intellectual leadership role as safe. “Stanford’s keen interest in recruiting Harvard faculty is testimony to our strength,” said David Laibson, chairman of the Harvard economics department. “We’ve got a big target on our back because many of the world’s most exciting, creative, and innovative scholars are on our faculty, and Stanford is rightly going for some of them.” He notes that his department has lots of collaboration with other schools at Harvard, and that nearby M.I.T. and the National Bureau of Economic Research create a deep concentration of economic thinking, and said the department is on a recruiting push of its own.
But the recent recruiting success of Stanford shows something broader about how the economics profession is changing. The specialties of the new recruits vary, but they are all examples of how the momentum in economics has shifted away from theoretical modeling and toward “empirical microeconomics,” the analysis of how things work in the real world, often arranging complex experiments or exploiting large sets of data. That kind of work requires lots of research assistants, work across disciplines including fields like sociology and computer science, and the use of advanced computational techniques unavailable a generation ago.
That trend is evident across leading economics departments — the traditional powerhouses have plenty of scholars doing work in the same vein, including work by Esther Duflo at M.I.T. on how to test ways to fight global poverty and by Roland G. Fryer Jr. at Harvard on the roots of racial inequality. But the scholars who have newly signed on with Stanford described a university particularly well suited to research in that vein, with a combination of lab space, strong budgets for research support and proximity to engineering talent.
“I was very happy where I was in Chicago, but it felt like there is a sense of excitement and really building something at Stanford,” Mr. Gentzkow said. “Stanford as a university is in a really strong position right now, and has a lot of resources, and seems very committed to using those resources to build on the frontier of economics.”
Recent hires said that their compensation packages were about the same as their previous employers offered, though in some cases with more generous research budgets. Provost John W. Etchemendy argued that the university’s recruiting had benefited from cross-departmental work as economists share ideas and resources with, for example, computer science and statistics departments.
Mr. Roth, who joined Stanford from Harvard in 2012, cited his own work on kidney transplants as an example. He has led efforts to build a “paired exchange” system through which people who cannot donate a kidney to a loved one because of a mismatch in blood type, antigens or antibodies can instead donate a kidney to a recipient who is a match and who has a donor willing and able to donate to the other recipient. He collaborates with colleagues from the medical and engineering schools. “This gets very computationally complex,” he said.
Mr. Chetty, meanwhile, saw benefits in the concentration of research that uses Big Data, large sets of research that are hard to compile and analyze. His work has examined, for example, whether the quality of a kindergarten teacher has long-lasting effects on a person’s life and earnings.
“Some of the attraction of the Bay Area is simply the fact that there are exciting opportunities with data and methods and machine learning,” he said. And that type of work requires lab space that more closely resembles that needed in the hard sciences — a fact Stanford has exploited.
Less clear is whether the agglomeration of economic stars at Stanford will ever amount to the kind of coherent school of thought that has been achieved at some other great universities.
The Chicago School, under the intellectual imprint of Milton Friedman, was a leader in neoclassical thought that emphasizes the efficiency of markets and the risks of government intervention. M.I.T.’s economics department has a long record of economic thought in the Keynesian tradition, and it produced several of the top policy makers who have guided the world economy through the tumultuous last several years.
“There isn’t a Stanford school of thought,” said B. Douglas Bernheim, chairman of the university’s economics department. “This isn’t a doctrinaire place. Generally doctrine involves simplification, and increasingly we recognize that these social issues we’re trying to figure out are phenomenally complicated. The consensus at Stanford has focused around the idea that you have to be open to a lot of approaches and ways of thinking about things, and to be rigorous, thorough and careful in bringing the highest standard of craft to bear on your research.”
In other words, it is less about the specific conclusion a scholar reaches, and more about how they get there.
“My sense is this is a good development for economics,” Mr. Chetty said. “I think Stanford is going to be another great department at the level of Harvard and M.I.T. doing this type of work, which is an example of economics becoming a deeper field. It’s a great thing for all the universities — I don’t think it’s a zero-sum game.”
And in its recent recruiting, Stanford may have had a secret weapon, coming from the skies. “Even the weather cooperated with us this year,” Mr. Bernheim said. “Nine feet of snow in Boston this past winter couldn’t have hurt.”
WITH the presidential race well underway, Labor Day is a good time to consider how our political leaders are grappling with the many challenges facing American workers. While the next president will confront a host of important labor and economic issues, one is poised to be a particularly significant factor in 2016 and beyond: the freelance economy.
For better or worse, freelancing is becoming the new normal in America. There are now 53 million freelance workers nationwide, according to a 2014 study that the Freelancers Union helped commission. These workers include 38 percent of millennials and they contribute $715 billion annually to the United States economy. As jobs that long sustained the middle class grow scarce, the freelance economy is revolutionizing the way that we live and work.
Some argue that freelancing has become more common as a result of America’s economic struggles. For many freelancers, that is undoubtedly true. But an increasing number of workers are voluntarily opting out of conventional employment to pursue freelance opportunities.
More than half of freelancers surveyed began freelancing by choice, as opposed to financial need, and nearly nine in 10 say they would not take a traditional full-time job if they were offered one.
That’s because the freelance or gig economy offers American workers the kind of flexibility and independence that was all but impossible to achieve in the past. Instead of watching the clock from a cubicle, freelancers generally set their own hours and are paid for their time. They can pick their kids up from school or go to the doctor without asking their bosses for permission. They don’t have to fight rush hour traffic every morning, and they get to decide for themselves whether to work late nights.
We are in the midst of a historic shift that rivals the transition from farms to factories. And yet, despite making up more than one-third of the American work force, freelancers don’t have access to the essential benefits and protections that come with traditional employment. This is the central challenge that our political leaders have failed to address.
In the presidential campaign, the freelance economy has become a point of contention between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Jeb Bush. Mr. Bush took a politically charged Uber ride in July in San Francisco, showing his support for the ride-hailing company after Mrs. Clinton pledged to “crack down on bosses who exploit employees by misclassifying them as contractors.” Republicans and Democrats are using the freelance economy to reinforce their traditional roles as advocates for business and labor, respectively.
But the freelance economy is more than a new frontier in old partisan battles over workers’ rights and government regulation. Freelancers, a rapidly expanding share of the electorate, have become a legitimate political constituency, and nobody is effectively speaking up for their needs.
Mrs. Clinton and the Democratic Party as a whole certainly have a much better track record on labor rights than their Republican opponents. Yet, while it’s clear that misclassified work is a serious problem that warrants punishment for bad actors, treating freelancers as employees will not solve all of our problems.
In the freelance economy, workers inevitably face periods without pay. But unemployment benefits are not available to most freelancers, so they have virtually no safety net. Even when they are working, freelancers don’t enjoy the essential health care and retirement benefits associated with salaried employment. While the Affordable Care Act is helping freelancers with lower incomes gain access to insurance, some who do not qualify for subsidies are struggling to cope with rising health care costs. And it’s nearly impossible for many freelancers to plan for retirement when they are forced to dip into their savings during periods between jobs.
In response, we should develop a new system of portable benefits that reflects the realities of episodic income. Specifically, freelancers should be allowed to put away pretax income into shared accounts, where clients would also make prorated contributions based on the number of hours worked.
This portable benefits system would be a new program, but it would not be another government entitlement. Instead, it would be administered by unions, nonprofits, faith-based groups and other community organizations that would collect payments and distribute benefits when freelancers needed them.
Finally, unlike traditional employees, freelancers have little recourse against wage theft. In New York City alone, according to our research, 77 percent of freelancers have faced denied or late payment in their careers. At last count, 44 percent had dealt with clients who refused to pay in the previous year. And while the average amount owed was more than $6,000, the maximum amount that New Yorkers can sue for in small claims court — which itself can be a costly, time-consuming process — is $5,000. That’s why freelancers need strict and enforceable protections from denied and late payment.
Until now, politicians have been talking about the gig economy using outdated language. They’re not talking about how we work today, and they’re certainly not talking about how we’re going to work tomorrow.
Editor’s Note: SARA HOROWITZ is CEO of the Freelancers Union
EPI’s Family Budget Calculator measures the income a family needs in order to attain a secure yet modest standard of living. The budgets estimate community-specific costs for 10 family types (one or two adults with zero to four children) in 618 locations. Compared with the federal poverty line and Supplemental Poverty Measure, EPI’s family budgets provide a more accurate and complete measure of economic security in America.
As a high school graduate and with the winds of opportunity seeming to be whirling around my mind as I consider what could await my future, I took the advice of our society in going to college. I had a goal of wanting to pursue my “American Dream” and make a positive impact on my community before I reach a ripe age of retirement. I attended Florida Gulf Coast University where I majored in Health Services Administration. As I went through my undergraduate, I began to think about what I wanted to do once I graduated. I found an interest in health law, so I decided that I would pursue a career as a health law attorney after graduation. I worked part-time at Starbucks, attended college full-time, and managed to study for the LSAT before taking it in June 2014.
I continued on into my senior year of college eager to graduate and enter into the next chapter of my life. I led a research team where we worked with the Parkinson Association of Southwest Florida researching the benefits of exercise for persons with Parkinson’s disease. As I graduated in December 2014, I was offered advice by the CEO of a healthcare company to build some work experience before jumping into law school. I thought this was wise counsel so I went on the job hunt.
Now seven months later, I am married and we are excitingly expecting our first child. After much hunting, I was finally hired by a local hospital, which is great, but I made more hourly at Starbucks than I do with a bachelor’s degree at the hospital. Anxiety has already set in as I think about my looming student loan bills and the paternal desire to care financially for my family.
I begin to look around at my fellow peers and notice a common occurrence. I see many peers whom I graduated with struggling to find a job in their selected field or making less than they were promised they would make out of college with a degree. I see many of my college-educated peers working at Starbucks, struggling to make ends meet. I remember a time when I was out with a friend who didn’t go to college. An older gentleman asked us if we were in school. I proudly said I was while my friend said he wasn’t but was working for a company with hopes of moving up within it. The older gentleman seemed to praise me more than my friend because I did the “right thing” in the eyes of our society by going to college. I now look at this friend who moved up in his company, makes three times more than I do now, and has no debt.
As I reflect on this, I can’t help but wonder where the problem is. I have come to the conclusion that the problem is a broken system. Young adults are promised higher income and more opportunity if they go to college. We feel good about our investment because we can see it worked for the previous generations. But as we graduate with a large sum of debt, we find the heart-breaking realization that what we were told isn’t what is true. As I was preparing for law school, I read many articles about how tuition continues to rise but job outlook and starting salaries are on the decrease. Do I regret going to college? Absolutely not, I would love to continue my education if I could afford it. But our system is broken and is in desperate need of change.
Colleges give prospective students very little information about how much money they can expect to earn in the job market. In part that’s because colleges may not want people to know, and in part it’s because such information is difficult and expensive to gather. Colleges are good at tracking down rich alumni to hit up for donations, but people who make little or no money are harder and less lucrative to find.
On Saturday, the federal government solved that problem by releasing a huge set of new data detailing the earnings of people who attended nearly every college and university in America. Although it abandonded efforts to rate the quality of colleges, the federal government matched data from the federal student financial aid system to federal tax returns. The Department of Education was thus able to calculate how much money people who enrolled in individual colleges in 2001 and 2002 were earning 10 years later.
On the surface, the trends aren’t surprising — students who enroll in wealthy, elite colleges earn more than those who do not. But the deeper that you delve into the data, the more clear it becomes how perilous the higher education market can be for students making expensive, important choices that don’t always pay off.
The national universities producing the top earners are no surprise: Harvard, M.I.T., Stanford and others that routinely top the annual U.S. News & World Report college rankings. The most troubling numbers show up far beneath the upper echelons of higher education. Elite institutions prop up the overall average earnings of college graduates nationwide. Although earnings of college graduates continue to outpace those of non-collegians by a significant margin, at some institutions, the earnings of students 10 years after enrollment are bleak.
The Department of Education calculated the percentage of students at each college who earned more than $25,000 per year, which is about what high school graduates earn. At hundreds of colleges, less than half of students met this threshold 10 years after enrolling. The list includes a raft of barber academies, cosmetology schools and for-profit colleges that often leave students with few job prospects and mountains of debt.
But some more well-known institutions weren’t far behind. At Bennington College in Vermont, over 48 percent of former students were earning less than $25,000 per year. A quarter were earning less than $10,600 per year. At Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, the median annual earnings were only $35,700. Results at the University of New Mexico were almost exactly the same.
The data reveals how much money students are borrowing in exchange for earnings after graduation. While U.C.L.A. and Penn State are both prestigious public research universities, recent U.C.L.A. grads leave with about 30 percent less debt, even as their predecessors are earning about 30 percent more money than counterparts at Penn State. Harvard students borrow barely a quarter of what Brandeis students take on, and earn nearly twice as much.
The return is unequal in other ways. There is an earnings gender gap at every top university. The size of the difference varies a great deal. At Duke, for example, women earned $93,100 per year on average, compared with $123,000 for men, a difference of $29,900. At Princeton, men earned more and women earned less, for a difference of $47,700. Women who enrolled at Cornell earned more than women who enrolled at Yale.
Defining higher education in purely economic terms risks exacerbating what some have described as the corporatization of the modern university. People get a lot more out of college than earnings potential. They learn to be better citizens and better human beings. The world needs dancers and poets along with the future investment bankers and tech entrepreneurs streaming out of elite schools.
The problem is that the dancers and poets are paying the same, ever-rising tuition, even though the necessary cost of running a good poetry program is probably not much more than it was in earlier times when college tuition was much less expensive than it is today. And you can’t pay your student loans back with citizenship — only dollars will do.
Colleges can ameliorate this problem by providing need-based financial aid to low-income students, reducing their debt burden and likelihood of loan default. The new data indicates that some colleges are more successful with this strategy than others.
At the University of Cincinnati, a third of low-income students (from households earning less than $30,000 per year) had failed to pay back any of their student loans five years after graduation. At the University of Alabama, the number was roughly a quarter; at Wayne State University in Detroit, over 40 percent. At the for-profit University of Phoenix, nearly two-thirds of poor students are in these dire straits.
It will take time for the raft of new federal earnings data to seep into the complex reputational ecosystem that continues to govern the higher education market. But this new bottom line will eventually become a permanent aspect of how colleges of all kinds are understood.
WASHINGTON — President Obama on Saturday abandoned his two-year effort to have the government create a system that explicitly rates the quality of the nation’s colleges and universities, a plan that was bitterly opposed by presidents at many of those institutions.
Under the original idea, announced by Mr. Obama with fanfare in 2013, all of the nation’s 7,000 institutions of higher education would have been assigned a ranking by the government, with the aim of publicly shaming low-rated schools that saddle students with high debt and poor earning potential.
Instead, the White House on Saturday unveiled a website that does not attempt to rate schools with any kind of grade, but provides information to prospective students and their parents about annual costs, graduation rates and salaries after graduation.
Mr. Obama praised the new website in his weekly address, saying that by using the new College Scorecard, “Americans will now have access to reliable data on every institution of higher education.”
But the new website falls far short of what the president had hoped for. When he announced the plan at the University at Buffalo in 2013, Mr. Obama put colleges on notice that schools performing poorly on his rating system would eventually lose access to billions of dollars in federal student aid money.
“I’m proposing major new reforms that will shake up the current system,” Mr. Obama said at the time. “Taxpayers shouldn’t be subsidizing students to go to schools where the kids aren’t graduating.”
Aides to Mr. Obama had described him as privately demanding from his staff bold action that would hold schools accountable, especially those that had low graduation rates and poor postgraduate income potential — even as they continued charging students tens of thousands of dollars each year to attend. Administration officials said at the time that the rating system would be in place by 2015.
But the plan quickly ran into fierce opposition. Critics, including many of the presidents at elite private colleges, lobbied furiously against the idea of a government rating system, saying it could force schools to prioritize money-making majors like accounting over those like English, history or philosophy.
Officials at many schools said the government had no business competing with college rating services like those offered by U.S. News and World Report. Many chose blunt language to describe what they said was a misguided effort by Mr. Obama and his administration.
Charles L. Flynn Jr., the president of the College of Mount St. Vincent in the Bronx, called the president’s idea “uncharacteristically clueless.” Adam F. Falk, the president of Williams College in Massachusetts, predicted that it would be “oversimplified to the point that it actually misleads.” And Kenneth W. Starr, who is the president of Baylor University in Waco, Tex., and who, as a prosecutor, led the investigations of President Bill Clinton, called it “quite wrongheaded.”
For months, administration officials dismissed the criticism, saying that the status quo was unacceptable and that the president was determined to make a rating system work.
In 2014, Cecilia Muñoz, the president’s chief domestic policy adviser, responded in an interview to the complaints from college presidents by saying: “There is an element to this conversation which is, ‘We hope to God you don’t do this.’ Our answer to that is: ‘This is happening.’ ”
But more than a year later, the new scorecard unveiled on Saturday does not attempt to rank colleges. And a fact sheet distributed by the White House makes no mention of linking the availability of federal student aid to a government ranking of a specific college.
David L. Warren, the president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, which strongly opposed the president’s rating plan, said on Saturday that he supported providing more information to students and families.
“This is a step in that direction,” Mr. Warren said. “It also appears that the tool will allow colleges and universities to tailor their profiles, which allows for showcasing the diversity of institutions nationwide.”
White House officials noted that while the new website will not be linked to student aid, the administration has fought to establish other rules to prevent federal dollars from going to some for-profit schools and other low-performing institutions.
They said the new scorecard — which can be found at collegescorecard.ed.gov — will allow students and parents to compare schools based on measurements that are important to them. Using the website, for example, a student might search for schools with average annual costs of under $10,000, a graduation rate higher than 75 percent and average salaries after graduation of more than $50,000 per year.
The data is based on students who have received a federal loan or grant to attend college, but officials said their economists believe it is representative of all students. And they said the new government data offers critical information that is not available elsewhere, a point underscored on Saturday as researchers began mining the data for trends. In a Twitter post, one writer called it an “amazing new treasure trove” of education data.
“You’ll be able to see how much each school’s graduates earn, how much debt they graduate with, and what percentage of a school’s students can pay back their loan,” Mr. Obama said in his weekly address.
Administration officials said the data that powers the scorecard was also being freely shared with companies and other organizations that already offer online college search tools. White House officials said three such sites — ScholarMatch, StartClass and College Abacus — already have begun using the data to enhance the information they provide.
Officials said they hoped the information would help students avoid making poor choices when deciding where to attend college.
“The new way of assessing college choices, with the help of technology and open data, makes it possible for anyone — a student, a school, a policy maker or a researcher — to decide what factors to evaluate,” the White House fact sheet said.