What Will Obama’s Legacy be when it Comes to Diversity on College Campuses?

With less than two years left in office, President Barack Obama still has a lofty agenda when it comes to education in America. From supporting wider access to universal Pre-K all the way up to a proposal for two free years of community college for everyone, President Obama has taken an immersive approach to education that challenges the status quo. When it is all said and done, what will President Obama’s college diversity legacy look like?

More people of color in college leadership positions

Though he has not introduced any official legislation that demands more people of color in leadership spots, the President’s mere presence in the nation’s highest position has paved the way for others to step up in their own industries. I predict a steep rise in minority faculty members, deans and college presidents in the coming decade due indirectly to the example set by this President. His push for more minority graduates will also mean more minority college leaders being fed into university systems.

More minorities graduating from college

The rate of students entering colleges across the nation was already at a record-high when President Obama took office, but so was college debt. Between unchecked student loan interest rates and for-profit universities recruiting non-traditional and minority students without the right support programs in place for those students to graduate, the college landscape had become ineffective for many of the nation’s students. In his tenure, President Obama has worked hard to make the cost of college more affordable, through more federal Pell grants and more federally-backed student loans, as well as loan repayment programs that offer caps on income or loan forgiveness clauses. This has helped all students but an argument can be made that making college more affordable will prove a long-term improvement when it comes to minority graduates who were deterred by the high cost in the first place.

Specifically, President Obama has put minority-friendly programs in place like My Brother’s Keeper that address the specific problems that particular groups face when it comes to obtaining an education. He has also made K-12 schools more accountable for getting their students college-ready with federally-funded incentives like Race to the Top, which focuses on closing the achievement gap between white and minority students. In order to feed colleges more minority students who are ready for the tasks, the grades that come before the college years must be considered – and the President seems get that, and to have a good grasp of the bigger picture of what a college education means for minorities.

More high-skilled minorities in the workforce

With his proposal for tuition-free community college for the first two years for all students, President Obama is ensuring that this next generation of high school graduates will be able to elevate their educations beyond the K-12 years. This applies to all students, but here again is a point where minorities will benefit most. By essentially making the first two years of a college education an extension of the high school years, with some performance requirements attached, minorities will not face the financial roadblock that often accompanies entering college right after high school. Perhaps the area where minorities will see the biggest boost if this proposal becomes law is in the portion that will allow older students who never completed college right after high school to go back to school too. Non-traditional minority students will not have to go the for-profit college route to return to school or find a way to carve out tuition to community colleges from household budgets.

President Obama has always been outspoken about his goals of breaking down barriers in the way of minorities who want to obtain a college education, particularly young men of color. As he completes his term in office, I expect to see him confront these initiatives with even more aggression to cement his legacy as a President that worked hard to improve the diversity on American college campuses.

Click here to read all our posts concerning the Achievement Gap.

Diverse Conversations: The Difference Between Diversity and Equity

The nature of higher education is changing and the student population is changing at colleges and universities across the country. With luck, the promotion of equality in higher education will continue to engender equality in education – not only in terms of student access, actually, but in terms of employment. But how does diversity and equity work out in education – in the practice of teaching in higher education? Given the issues of equality and diversity within education, how, in today’s changing context, can we move on and teach these principles effectively?

To grapple with this issue, I spoke to Dr. Adriel A. Hilton, Director, College Student Personnel Program & Assistant Professor of College Student Personnel at Western Carolina University. Dr. Hilton served as past director for the Center for African American Research and Policy as well as Assistant Vice President for Inclusion Initiatives at Grand Valley State University. He also served as chief diversity officer and executive assistant to the President & Assistant Secretary to the Board of Trustees at Upper Iowa University.

Q: Concentrating on this issue of equality and diversity, first, let’s talk about how they are related. How do you see the relationship between equality and diversity in higher education?

A: I find it interesting that two words with contrasting meanings are used jointly as a way to improve higher education. Equality is synonymous with likeness, uniformity, fairness, and homology; while diversity, on the other hand, means unlikeness, variance, mixed, and heterogeneity. Yet, when the words are synced with higher education, they become mutually beneficial, having a powerful impact.

Much research has been done on the effects of diversity in higher education, concluding it has very positive effects on students. Exposure to diversity—whether it be cultural, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or those with disabilities—provides students the opportunity to learn about and from each other, resulting in cognitive growth and citizenship.

The equality factor in higher education is to assure all students legally start off on a level playing field. Equity policies have evolved over the years—from the first affirmative action laws in the 60s to the One Florida Initiative of the late 90s to the Student Non-Discrimination Act of 2013. These laws were not intended to give preferential treatment, but are an effort to break down the barriers that discourage underrepresented populations from enrolling in college and suffering injustices in the workplace. These efforts are still widely debated, particularly quotas, but with colleges today focusing on promoting diversity, having some sort of equality policies in place on campus set expectations for students, faculty, and staff. They set standards of respect and call for all students to view each other as equals and for faculty and staff to treat each student, regardless of his or her differences, the same.

Q: Do you think higher education institutions are sufficiently aware of the difference and if not, why not?

A: I would like to think that anyone employed in higher education appreciates equality and diversity and acts accordingly, but I am not that naive—hence the need for equality regulations and policies. Personal experience has proved that people in higher education are human first, with learned prejudices that have been passed down through the generations and of which are hard to let go. It is only through knowledge of and exposure to people of different races, culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and those with disabilities, that insight is gained about another person’s lived experiences. Without this knowledge, any degree of empathy, respect, or joy about any person who is unlike us is impossible to understand. When no conscious effort is made to learn about diversity and equality, progress is impeded.

Q: Explain why you feel it is imperative that courses in diversity and equality are included in college curricula.

A: The obvious answer is knowledge about diversity equips our graduates with the tools needed to effectively cope in today’s diverse workplace and global society. We now live in an age where technology has allowed us to easily connect with all types of people from around the world. Sensitivity toward a person’s culture, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and disability is an absolute must.

Community service is another motivation for colleges to offer diversity and equality courses. Who better to pass on the importance of a college education to underrepresented teens than someone who has been through the process? When college students serve as role models through partnership programs with local public schools, it can be very fulfilling and even lead to a lifelong passion for community service.

However, the main reason diversity and equality should be taught at the college level is that it helps to develop empathetic, socially conscious individuals. I think former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is a good example of a college-educated, empathetic, and socially conscious, wealthy white male.

According to the NCSL (National Council of State Legislatures) website, when Governor Bush issued the One Florida Initiative in 1999, his intent was to reform college preparation in Florida public schools (P-12) for all students, regardless of race or ethnicity, and to do away with race-based college admissions. He stated in a press release, “With my One Florida Initiative, we can increase opportunity and diversity in the state universities and state contracting without using policies that discriminate or pit one racial group against another.”

According to the Foundation for Excellence in Education (Bush is founder and board chairman of FEE) website “…during his two terms, Bush championed major reform of education in Florida, raised academic standards, required accountability in public schools …created the most ambitious school choice program in the nation …progress is measurable …more high school seniors are earning a diploma …fewer students are dropping out …third through 10th grade students are outscoring 60-70 percent of their peers in all other states in both reading and math.”

Bush recognized a problem, developed a solution, and put it into action. In my opinion, without a strong conviction toward diversity and equity, Bush would not have seen the potential in all students, no matter their class, race, gender, religion, or disability, nor would he have been empathetic or cared enough to want to help the under-served population so they too had a chance to be successful.

Q: What advice would you give to fellow academics and administrators looking to teach diversity and equality and promote it?

A: Be objective. Teach from diverse perspectives – the first-generation Black male, the low-income Hispanic teen, women, disabled Veterans. Tell people’s stories, past and present. Bring in experts to speak. But most importantly, have your students be a part of the discussion by honestly sharing their own experiences, asking hard questions, and having healthy debates so that they become personally vested in the learning process. Finally, initiate community service programs that partner with local schools to get students involved. It is through service that they will be able to see first-hand what a positive impact they can have on the lives of others. Remember, as instructors, our job is to plant the seed. It is the student’s responsibility to take that seed (knowledge) and, hopefully, choose to nurture it and make it grow.

We would like to thank Dr. Hilton for taking time out of his busy schedule to meet with us.





Are Historically Black Colleges and Universities Worth Saving?

If you haven’t been paying much attention to the debate concerning the relevance and effectiveness of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), now is the time to sit up and take notice. If you don’t, there is a chance it could soon be too late. Over the last two decades, we have seen the number of HBCUs in the United States sharply decline and this greatly concerns me. Those who believe in the benefits of HBCUs need to stand up and let their voices be heard, before these important institutions are gone forever.

HBCUs are coming under fire for everything from not improving their failing infrastructures to producing lower graduation rates, and more. But we need to take a moment to look at why people should pull together, rally around them, and help them make it through turbulent economic times. HBCUs have helped to educate some of the most prominent African American figures in this country’s history, including Jesse Jackson, Samuel L. Jackson, Martin Luther King Jr., Spike Lee, and Thurgood Marshall, among many others.

HBCUs provide cultural benefits, as well as providing an affordable education. This cultural foundation has been important to the African American community for over a century. Our HBCUs were there, supporting the community and educating our people, long before other colleges would even let them through the door. So are we saying that, just because mainstream American colleges will now let black students in, we should abandon the institutions that supported us and helped us get to where we are today?

HBCUs are a part of African American tradition, going back generations. They were not only there during the struggle; they helped our people get through it! We owe them our support and respect. They were there for us, and it is time, right now, for us to be there for them.

The biggest reason that HBCUs are fading is because they are often lack sufficient funding, which makes it difficult for them to survive. Without adequate funding, they will end up deteriorating and are apt to become a thing of the past. The low completion rate at HBCUs has also been a contributing factor to their demise. But I believe that it is the other way around: the lack of funding has contributed to the lower graduation rates. HBCUs have to deal with the fact that many of their academically eligible students drop out of college each year because their financial needs cannot be met with Pell Grants and other aid. A large portion of HBCUs have small endowments, so there isn’t a huge rainy day fund to tap into when financial challenges arise.

In my home state of Mississippi, I grew up attending athletic and cultural functions at Tougaloo College, Alcorn State University, Mississippi Valley State University and Jackson State University. These universities are sources of great pride and a part of the African American intellectual tradition. Now is the time when people who support HBUCs, including advocates, organizations, faculty, students and alumni, need to rally together to help save this historical piece of African American history. If these groups come together and make their voices heard, we will be able to save these institutions. But make no mistake, if there is no rally, if there is no coming together to let the powers-that-be know that we want them saved, then I predict that they will be gone in 50 or so years. And they will not return. Nobody is going to turn back the hands of time and open another historically black college or university, because it wouldn’t be historic. Right now, they are historic, and they need our support and rescue!

Many people are currently asking whether HBCUs are worth saving in the first place. I ask, how can these historical institutions, which represent African American culture, tradition and struggle for educational equality, not be considered worth saving? If they are not worth saving, then it makes it very difficult to find any other piece of African American heritage that is worth saving. These educational institutions are symbols of our people that must not be ignored.

I urge those who care about these institutions to speak out, show your support, and demand that adequate funding be provided to them, so that they can make it through these turbulent economic times. It’s not just about saving a college or university. This is a metaphor for saving ourselves! With proper funding, these schools will thrive, carrying on our culture and traditions as they were meant to do.

In the words of the great Eldridge Cleaver, “You’re either part of the solution or part of the problem.” Which will you be?

Read all of our posts about HBCUs by clicking here.

Key Things to Consider When Choosing a Higher Education Program

If you’re looking at enrolling in a higher education program in the coming months or years, it is important to consider a wide variety of factors. While many people really just look at the academic reputation of a facility, there are many other elements that are just as important and should be weighed up carefully. Before you spend the time and money on a course or program, here are some things you need to look into.


First, it’s important to think about how far you will have to travel from home in order to attend a facility. While students just out of school may be keen to get as far away from their families as possible, doing so does up the costs involved because it takes away the opportunity of still living (and eating) at home. You should also investigate if the campus you’re keen on is actually close to anything else, such as places where you might be able to get a job to help with expenses, or food outlets, accommodation options, nightlife, bookshops, transportation choices, or other resources relevant to your needs.

Location is important for older students, too. If you have a job that you’re trying to fit studying around, it can make a big difference if you find a nearby educational institution and don’t have to add in many extra hours of travel each week. Also, if you have a family and need to be close to home to organize school drop-offs, pick-ups, extra-curricular activities, and the like, you would also likely need to consider the distance a facility will be from your home.

Flexibility of Courses

Another thing to think about when comparing educational providers is how flexible they are. For example, are the programs you’re interested in flexible enough that they will allow you to study all the topics you want or need to learn about, or would you be locked into having to complete many units that aren’t so suitable?

If you need to fit studies in around a job or other commitments, the flexibility on offer at an institution is also key. For example, you may need to find a continuing education program that can be studied online, at any time of the day or night; or you might want to select a course that can be accelerated and finished in, say, two years rather than three. If overseas study is important to you, you should also look into the availability of spending a semester or more abroad during your studies.

Career Support Provided

Something else that a lot of students don’t consider enough when deciding on a campus is the type, and amount, of career support provided by the facility. After all, you’re not just enrolling in a course for the fun of it, but rather to land a promotion, your dream job, or the kind of work experience that will help you to build a successful business. As such, choosing an education provider that is dedicated to helping students find work and build connections is of particular importance.

When comparing institutions, find out if they have a robust careers services center on campus or via an online portal; and try to find out specific information about the number of students per career counselor, and the availability of meetings. You should ask about job fairs, on-campus interviews, networking and alumni groups, internship placements, and the like. It pays to find out about the professors or teachers you will be working closely with too — that is, have they worked in the field themselves, and do they have connections with relevant employers that could be helpful?

University Culture and Facilities

Lastly, take the time to find out about the type of culture you would find yourself amongst if you choose a particular education provider, and the facilities that will be provided. For example, does the campus have a positive school spirit and a sense of community? Is there diversity on campus? Examine whether there seem to be students from many different backgrounds and cultures attending programs, that you could get to know and learn from; and ask yourself whether you would likely be happy and fit in if you attend there.

If you need particular facilities or services in order to be comfortable and/or prosperous at an institution, make sure these will be provided, too. You might need, for instance, to ask about disabled bathrooms, ramps, and parking spots on campus; the safety record of the area and the security provided; sporting facilities and groups; other extracurricular clubs; financial aid and scholarship opportunities; or on-site housing options.

Despite Doubts, MBAs Are More Valuable Than Ever

It isn’t difficult to find online articles casting doubts on MBAs. A typically American degree program designed to prepare the ambitious for careers in business leadership, the MBA has been a useful tool in securing high-profile jobs for more than a century. Yet, recently, the proliferation of the two-year business school degree amongst job applicants has convinced many so-called experts that employers simply aren’t wowed by MBAs any longer.

Of course, this is far from true. In fact, a recent study performed by the Graduate Management Admissions Council found that more than 86 percent of employers around the globe are eager to hire MBA grads. That rate rises above 90 percent in the United States and Far East, including China and Japan. Not only is their unemployment rate remarkably low, but MBA-holders also enjoy higher salaries than their less-educated, less-experienced peers: Nearly half of all MBAs report a base salary of nearly $125,000, and another third of MBAs earn between $100,000 and $125,000, while the national average for income hovers around $30,000.

It should be obvious that MBAs remain valuable in the job market. Though the cost of living and tuition prices have increased in recent years, education is more available than ever before. Now, workers can apply to top online MBA programs and while maintaining their full-time employment — bettering their career prospects without creating a two-year gap in their work experience. Plus, MBAs continue to be the best way for workers to prepare for higher-level positions because the programs provide students with the skills and knowledge they’ll need as business leaders, including:

Business Strategy

How does an entrepreneur begin a business? How does a business leader create growth? These questions and others regarding business strategy don’t have intuitive answers. Because every business situation is unique, prospective leaders must be equipped with the right knowledge and experience to create an effective strategy under specific circumstances. During MBA studies, students are programmed to approach scenarios strategically, considering all variables and options before solving problems; therefore, MBA grads are more effective long-term leaders in business.

Communication and Collaboration

Communication is the most important skill for any relationship, but business leaders must master written and verbal communication strategies if they expect to successfully manage their teams. Though the abilities to communicate and to collaborate are often seen as innate, the truth is only thorough practice makes a person great at expressing ideas and working with others. Fortunately, top online MBA programs teach future leaders effective communication methods, especially business jargon and writing techniques mandatory for upper-level managers.

Research and Analysis

Big data is becoming such an integral tool for modern businesses that all potential leaders must have some experience compiling and using data before they find employment. MBA students spend much of their time researching and analyzing all sorts of business data, from descriptive and diagnostic sets to predictive and prescriptive sets. By the time they graduate, most MBAs are near-experts in using data to make informed decisions, and many feel comfortable accumulating and organizing data, as well.


Though not a hard business skill, the ability of a business leader to see potential benefit in every relationship is a significant boon for employers. Hiring a worker with many business connections gives businesses greater access to high-quality resources, including funding, vendors, and even new talent. If nothing else, MBA programs are mills for tight-knit, exceedingly successful networks, and grads inevitably make links with peers, professors, and successful professionals, which they can take advantage of for future business success.

Project and Risk Management

Business is inherently risky, but experienced and educated business leaders understand how to mitigate the worst risks while achieving success. Properly organizing projects and assigning priority to certain tasks is a primary method for lowering risk. MBA students receive theoretical and practical training in risk and project management: Within their courses, they learn the correct strategies, and in balancing their course loads, they receive sufficient experience applying those strategies.

Technical Ability

While excellent business leaders have plenty of strong soft skills, to be effective in their jobs, they must also have the technical skill to use common business tools and methods. MBA programs — especially the online variety — compel students to use the devices and software they will most likely manipulate in their future careers. Being familiar with such tools dramatically reduces a leaders’ training time and makes them more effective, sooner.




A Free College Education: A Basic American Right?

Earning a college education is something that is a double-edged sword for the nation’s youngest adults and for some of their parents too. Society dictates that some form of secondary education is an absolute must for lifetime success but the cost associated with earning those credentials is debilitating. The Washington Post reports that the average college student will graduate with $25,000 in debt. With over $1 trillion in outstanding loans, student debt outweighs credit card debt and is exempt from bankruptcy protection.

Some may say this is just the cost of doing business and that a few years (or decades) of repaying student loans is worth the cost in the long run. If a person truly values his future, repaying loans and interest rates are just part of proving his dedication. To each his own, and other related monikers.

But what if that mentality were flipped? What if there was no cost to obtain a college education and it was viewed as a basic right, much like the K-12 public school system? It seems that the knee-jerk response is to claim that the nation can’t afford it. The trillion-dollar college education industry, coupled with the lending companies that “help” finance these endeavors, would feasibly go under if students did not have to find, earn or borrow the tens of thousands necessary to prove they care about their career.

Perhaps that’s true. But how would the economy as a whole look if college student debt disappeared? Instead of taking the first, low-paying job that came along in order to desperately find the cash to start repaying loans, maybe students would hold out for the perfect job where their talents and education could be best utilized. Instead of the nearly 22 million young adults living at home with their parents, maybe those kids would invest in their own housing and start contributing to that industry faster. Parents who save every penny in order to pay for college would feasibly have more cash to put back into other aspects of the economy, strengthening whatever industries they touched.

When the facts are really examined, it seems that the only ones truly benefitting from the current higher education model are the institutions themselves and the companies that support lending. In the second quarter of this year, private lender Sallie Mae reported $543 million in net income. In 2013 alone, Sallie Mae has spent over $1.2 million lobbying against legislation meant to relieve some of the college debt strain. Much like the skyrocketing healthcare industry costs over the past two decades, colleges and lenders have been left to their own devices with improper regulations.

The result is the “soaring college costs” we hear so much about today. According to the College Board in 1992 one year of college at a public four-year institution cost around $7,500 in today’s dollars. Now that cost is $10,000 higher. Private nonprofits cost around $17,000 in 1992; today the cost is nearly $24,000.  The cost of college is a runaway train at this point. College costs have risen faster than the inflation rate for decades.

While an economy hindrance, the high price tag of a college education has very little resistance when observing the nation’s population as a whole. Colleges and lending companies have, for the most part, gotten “a pass” because the pursuit of knowledge is deemed a worthy one where price should never be considered an issue. Under the guise of a better-educated workforce, colleges and lenders have been able to get away with more than any other industry providing a basic, American service. What would the reaction be if utility costs rose that quickly, or the price of a gallon of milk?

For a college education to really have the intended impact on the individual and society as a whole, it needs to be affordable – or completely free. It is a basic American right.

Do you think a free college education system would have a positive impact on the economy?

The hefty price of ‘study drug’ misuse on college campuses

Lina Begdache, Binghamton University, State University of New York

Nonmedical use of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) drugs on college campuses, such as Adderall, Ritalin, Concerta and Vyvanse, has exploded in the past decade, with a parallel rise in depression disorders and binge drinking among young adults.

These ADHD drugs act as a brain stimulant that are normally prescribed to individuals who display symptoms of ADHD. These stimulants boost the availability of dopamine, a chemical responsible for transmitting signals between the nerve cells (neurons) of the brain.

But now a growing student population has been using them as “study” drugs – that help them stay up all night and concentrate. According to a 2007 National Institutes of Health (NIH) study, abuse of nonmedical prescription drugs among college students, such as ADHD meds, increased from 8.3 percent in 1996 to 14.6 percent in 2006.

Besides helping with concentration, dopamine is also associated with motivation and pleasurable feelings. Individuals who use these ADHD drugs nonmedically experience a surge in dopamine similar to that caused by illicit drugs which induces a great sense of well-being.

My journey with investigating the effect of the stimulant use nonmedically on college campuses started with a question from a student seven years ago. The question was about the long-term effect of misuse on brain and physical health. Having an educational background in cell and molecular biology with a concentration in neuroscience, I started a literature review and soon became an educator on the topic to teach students about the effects of such stimulant misuse on the maturing brain.

College students who take ADHD drugs without medical need could risk developing drug dependence as well as a host of mental ailments.

Substance abuse in college

College students have been reported to use many stimulants, including but not limited to Adderrall, Ritalin and Dexedrine.

According to the 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, students who used Adderall for nonmedical purposes were three times more likely than those who had not used Adderall nonmedically to use marijuana. They were also eight times more likely to use cocaine. In addition, 90 percent of the students who used Adderall nonmedically were binge alcohol consumers.

College students use ADHD drugs as ‘study’ drugs. David A Ellis, CC BY

Generally, college students who abuse ADHD drugs are white, male and part of a fraternity or a sorority. Often they have a low GPA as well.

ADHD drugs appear harmless to many, as often they are prescribed by physicians, even though these drugs have a “Black Box warning,” which
appears on a prescription drug’s label to call attention to serious or life-threatening risks. Despite such a strict warning from the FDA, many practitioners end up prescribing them based on subjective reporting of symptoms of ADHD. The lack of a gold standard for ADHD diagnosis has, in fact, led to physicians overprescribing the drug.

Furthermore, students who get hold of these prescriptions can easily sell pills on the black market. Students who buy these pills illicitly miss seeing the warning about potential abuse, addiction and other side effects.

What’s more, a chewable form of an ADHD drug has been recently introduced in the market. These are fruity-flavored extended-release drugs that dissolve instantly in the mouth. They are targeted for children for a fast medicated response, but present a great potential for abuse.

The neurobiology of addiction

What are the consequences of taking these drugs without a medical condition?

The nonmedical use of the ADHD drugs (stimulants) is of great concern because it raises levels of dopamine the same way illicit drugs do. Therefore, abuse of these drugs may cause the same effect on addiction, brain rewiring and behavioral alteration.

While students may be aware of the harmful effects of “doing drugs,” the use of the ADHD drugs nonmedically may seem harmless because they are prescription medicine.

There is a limited body of knowledge on the effect of long-term nonmedical ADHD drug abuse on the developing brain. Of concern are potential permanent alterations taking place in the pathways of nerve cells of the maturing brain.

ADHD drugs could be addictive, if used without medical necessity. Since brain development continues into the mid-20s and the young brain is remarkably plastic, this sets up a risk of developing chronic substance abuse, addiction and mental ailments.

Nonmedical ADHD drugs, like any illegal drug, collectively activate a nerve pathway known as the “reward system of the brain.” This reward system is responsible for positive feelings such as motivation and pleasure. From an evolutionary point of view, the circuit controls an individual’s responses to motivation and pleasure (e.g., food and sex) which promote survival and fitness, respectively.

The response of the brain reward system to natural cues is highly regulated by a homeostatic mechanism – a process by which the body maintains its constant internal environment.

Individuals can ‘function’ only when the brain is on drugs. Steve Snodgrass, CC BY

However, a nonmedical ADHD drug, like an illegal drug, overactivates this “reward circuit,” thereby disturbing the brain’s internal balance. This causes the brain to maladapt (structurally and functionally) and turn the brain into being “substance-dependent.” These changes happen at the genetic level.

A consequence of this is that the brain starts to need an increased dosage of the drug to respond to the natural cues for motivation and life pleasures. This sets the stage for more substance abuse. The individual then reaches for higher doses and more potent substances. Eventually, a cycle of further dependence and drug abuse ensues.

Impact of abuse

The concern with the nonmedical ADHD drug abuse is that it might prime the brain for use of other substances such as alcohol, cocaine and marijuana (something that the national surveys mentioned above revealed).

Major behavioral changes emerge such as compulsive drug seeking, aggression, mood swings, psychosis, abnormal libido and suicidal thoughts.

In fact, there have been documented cases of college students who have taken their lives following an addiction to nonmedical ADHD drugs.

Animal studies show that the changes that lead to rewiring of the brain are due to an alteration in gene function. Some of these changes become permanent and heritable, especially with prolonged abuse, meaning that the altered (newly programmed) genes are passed down to offspring.

In fact, a body of evidence is linking the process of addiction (among many chronic diseases) to altered gene function profile passed down by ancestors. This altered profile could predispose their offspring to certain disorders.

Currently, prescription of ADHD drug is based mostly on subjective self-reported symptoms, and a gold standard for ADHD diagnosis remains to be perfected. As a lyric from the rock band Marilyn Manson says:

Whatever does not kill you, it’s gonna leave a scar.

That’s the case with nonprescription ADHD drug abuse.

The Conversation

Lina Begdache, Research Assistant Professor, Binghamton University, State University of New York

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Are some students more at risk of assault on campuses?

Leah Daigle, Georgia State University

When students come to pursue their educational interests, they believe they are entering a safe environment. But while colleges are thought of as “ivory towers,” they can also be places where students could become victims of a crime.

In my research on victims of crime, I have found that particular types of students are more exposed to risks in a college environment. The risks are often tied to the party culture endemic on college campuses, where alcohol consumption is a major feature.

Who is on campus

Often these students choose to enroll in universities in the U.S. for a quality education or to be able to pursue the major and career path of their choice.

For almost all young people, this is the first time that they are away from home, responsible for themselves, without adult supervision and an abundance of unstructured time. Part of college culture involves spending time at parties and bars, recreational drug use and engaging in other risky behaviors (e.g., binge drinking, hooking up).

Alcohol consumption exposes students to risks.COD Newsroom, CC BY

Alcohol consumption becomes a major feature of such activities. Data indicate that about 65 percent of college students consume alcohol in a given month, and less than half of college students engage in binge drinking.

Research shows that such behaviors increase the likelihood of being a crime victim.

Drinking alcohol can increase the chances of being a crime victim because alcohol use impairs judgment and perception, decreases the ability to recognize and react to risk, impairs decision-making and delays reaction time.

Are all college students at risk?

Research shows about a third of college students could be victims of a crime during a given year. However, the risks could be different for different ethnic and racial groups on campus.

For example, there could be a higher risk for some groups such as non-Hispanic white men. This group faces the highest risk – most likely a result of participation in the party culture. White, male college students drink alcohol at greater levels and engage in more risky drinking than do female or African-American college students.

But there is a small percentage of international students who come to American campuses as well. In 2015, there were 1.13 million international college students enrolled in the U.S., with the largest percentage coming from China.

What is the risk international students face of being a victim?

International students face lower risks of assault. IFES – International Fellowship of Evangelical Students Follow, CC BY-NC

Our research explored this possibility, given that international students may have unique experiences before and while attending college in the U.S.

Our study used data from the Fall 2012 American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment II. This study is a national survey of college students that is done in the fall and spring. Our study sample included 26,012 students, 8.6 percent of whom were international students.

We found that overall, when asked about their experiences from the previous 12 months, international students were less likely to be “violently victimized” – that is, physically assaulted and/or verbally threatened – compared to domestic students. A physical assault might include being hit, punched, kicked, bitten or even shot, while a verbal threat might be experienced when a person is told that he or she is going to get beaten up or is going to be shot.

Nineteen percent of domestic students in our study indicated that they had been physically assaulted or verbally threatened, compared to 17 percent of international students.

Female international students are safer?

Subsequently, we looked at differences in risk for male and female international college students. We found that male international students were less likely to be victims of a crime, and so were international female students.

Our study found 22 percent of male international students had been assaulted or threatened, compared with 26 percent of male domestic students. Fourteen percent of female international students had been assaulted or threatened, while 16 percent of female domestic students faced these experiences.

These differences may seem small, and in magnitude, they are. But, we used a large sample of over 26,000 students, which leads us to feel confident that our findings are unlikely to be a result of a problem with our sample. Also, when you consider how many students attend college, a two percent difference (such as what we found between female international students and female domestic students in their risk) could be tens or hundreds of thousands of students.

In an additional set of analyses, we included other factors that previous research has shown to be related to risk on campus, such as alcohol consumption and being a first-year college student. We found that female international students faced fewer risks than did female domestic students. In fact, female international students’ odds of being harmed were 14 percent lower than female domestic students.

And why might this be the case? We found that female international students tended to have a less risky profile than their domestic student counterparts – they binge-drank less, were less likely to use drugs, were less likely to be a first-year undergraduate and were less likely to have a disability.

While there are still some unanswered questions, we believe there must be something unique about how female international students experience college. It is possible that female international students may not be fully engaging in college life. It is possible they might be under increased levels of guardianship or they may experience culture conflict.

Colleges should work to ensure that international students are a thriving part of the campus community while ensuring that they remain safe. Colleges should also provide culturally sensitive victim responses to international students.

The Conversation

Leah Daigle, Associate Professor of Criminal Justice and Criminology, Georgia State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Could a tweet or a text increase college enrollment or student achievement?

Peter Bergman, Teachers College, Columbia University

Can a few text messages, a timely email or a letter increase college enrollment and student achievement? Such “nudges,” designed carefully using behavioral economics, can be effective.

But when do they work – and when not?

Barriers to success

Consider students who have just graduated high school intending to enroll in college. Even among those who have been accepted to college, 15 percent of low-income students do not enroll by the next fall. For the large share who intend to enroll in community colleges, this number can be as high as 40 percent.

There are a number of possible reasons for this attrition: many families overestimate the cost of college because the sticker price of colleges can be much higher than the net price (the sticker price minus the potentially large amount of aid a low-income student could receive); students may struggle with complex financial aid forms; there may be a lack of support to guide them through the application process. So, even when low-income students who are high-achieving do enroll in college, the majority fail to enroll in a college that is comparable to their level of achievement.

Can a few text messages or a timely email overcome these barriers? My research uses behavioral economics to design low-cost, scalable interventions aimed at improving education outcomes. Behavioral economics suggests several important features to make a nudge effective: simplify complex information, make tasks easier to complete and ensure that support is timely.

So, what makes for an effective nudge?

Improving college enrollment

In 2012, researchers Ben Castleman and Lindsay Page sent 10 text messages to nearly 2,000 college-intending students the summer after high school graduation. These messages provided just-in-time reminders on key financial aid, housing and enrollment deadlines from early July to mid August.

Instead of set meetings with counselors, students could reply to messages and receive on-demand support from college guidance counselors to complete key tasks.

In another intervention – the Expanding College Opportunities Project (ECO) – researchers Caroline Hoxby and Sarah Turner worked to help high-achieving, low-income students enroll in colleges on par with their achievement. The intervention arrived to students as a packet in the mail.

What happens when an intervention arrives in a mail? Mail image via www.shutterstock.com

The mailer simplified information by providing a list of colleges tailored to each student’s location along with information about net costs, graduation rates, and application deadlines. Moreover, the mailer included easy-to-claim application fee waivers. All these features reduced both the complexity and cost in applying to a wider range of colleges.

In both cases, researchers found that it significantly improved college outcomes. College enrollment went up by 15 percent in the intervention designed to reduce summer melt for community college students. The ECO project increased the likelihood of admission to a selective college by 78 percent.

Getting parents involved

Of course, it’s not just at college enrollment time that nudging can be helpful. Parents also face behavioral barriers while their children are in middle and high school. Many parents underestimate the number of assignments their child has not turned in as well as the number of school days their child has missed. Unfortunately, schools often do a poor job communicating this information to parents in a timely fashion.

I tested an intervention that sent text messages to parents about their child’s missed assignments and grades. The messages were frequent – sent four times more often than report cards – and provided detailed information to parents about their child’s missed assignments and grades. Each message listed page numbers and problems students needed to complete so that parents could track their child’s progress.

The involvement of parents cam motivate children. More Good Foundation, CC BY-NC

Parents responded by communicating with the school more often and motivating their children to do the work: students turned in 25 percent more assignments, which led to significant improvements in grades and evidence of increased math scores.

When there is no impact

While these interventions are promising, there are important caveats.

For instance, our preliminary findings from ongoing research show that information alone may not be enough. We sent emails and letters to more than one hundred thousand college applicants about financial aid and education-related tax benefits. However, we didn’t provide any additional support to help families through the process of claiming these benefits.

In other words, we didn’t provide any support to complete the tasks – no fee waivers, no connection to guidance counselors – just the email and the letter. Without this support to answer questions or help families complete forms to claim the benefits, we found no impact, even when students opened the emails.

More generally, “nudges” often lead to modest impacts and should be considered only a part of the solution. But there’s a dearth of low-cost, scalable interventions in education, and behavioral economics can help.

Identifying the crucial decision points – when applications are due, forms need to be filled out or school choices are made – and supplying the just-in-time support to families is key.

The Conversation

Peter Bergman, Assistant Professor of Economics and Education, Teachers College, Columbia University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why debt-free college will not solve the real problems in America’s higher education system

David H. Feldman, College of William & Mary and Robert B. Archibald, College of William & Mary

On July 6, Hillary Clinton took a half-step toward Bernie Sanders’ free public college tuition plan. She proposed partnering with states to zero out tuition by 2020 for families making US$125,000 or less.

We know that American higher education faces serious long-term problems. However, reducing tuition or college debt to zero isn’t the right way to solve them.

We have been studying America’s higher education system and college costs. Our research tells us that the deep problems in American higher education today aren’t due to the fact that students borrow or pay tuition. It is because the schools serving the bulk of America’s underprivileged students are increasingly resource-starved.

So, what should our candidates be worrying about when it comes to higher education? And what policies might make a dent in our real problems?

Inequality in higher education

Let’s first look at how higher education has been split into separate and unequal worlds.

As researchers Caroline Hoxby and Sarah Turner have shown, students who attend a college ranked “most competitive” by Barron’s, a financial magazine, enjoy $27,000 of instructional spending per student. These include schools such as Yale, Duke, Kenyon and the University of Miami. At a “non-selective” four-year university that number drops to $5,000. This group includes many non-flagship state universities and small liberal arts colleges that accept most applicants.

The divide is further deepened as only a small percentage of low-income students are able to attend top universities. Only four percent of the students who attend the institutions rated as “most competitive” are from the bottom quarter of the socioeconomic status distribution. Students from the bottom half of the income distribution cluster at community colleges and non-selective four-year institutions.

Rising income inequality and declining state support for higher education further risks cementing in place this division between first class and steerage class education.

Rising inequality, declining state support

Consider the following facts: Most of the income growth since 1965 has gone to the richest 20 percent of American households. Since 2000, a household at the bottom fifth has lost $3,200, measured in 2014 dollars, or 13 percent of its income. But America’s richest five percent earns an extra $7,000.

U.S. household Income from 1967 to 2013. David Feldman, Author provided

For students from poor and middle-income families, stagnant or declining income is a real barrier to college access unless state or federal subsidies become more liberal.

But most states have cut funding to public universities. Between 2000-01 and 2014-15, annual state spending per full-time student fell by $2,573, measured in 2014 dollars. Over the same time period the annual tuition and fees paid by the average student at a public four-year university have risen by $2,038, also measured in 2014 dollars. Tuition increases have not fully recovered state cuts.

Despite tuition increases, public universities, and especially the less-selective non-flagships that serve the bulk of the population, are increasingly resource-starved.

Our calculations, based on data from the Delta Cost Project,which conducts research on how colleges spend their money, show the following: In 1987, public universities spent 88 cents for every dollar that private nonprofit institutions spent on the wages and salaries that drive instruction. By 1999 the ratio had fallen to 81 cents. And by 2010, it had fallen further, to 73 cents on the dollar.

This has consequences. Economists John Bound, Michael Lovenheim and Sarah Turner have found that falling graduation rates, especially among young men, are concentrated at resource-starved community colleges and less-selective public universities.

These researchers found that increases in the student/faculty ratio were the main culprit in declining graduation rates at public universities. This is driven by lack of resources. At community colleges, weaker student preparation is the problem, and this is a consequence of poverty.

What are candidates saying?

But these are not the issues that worry our candidates most. College debt has grabbed the headlines, so college debt has grabbed their attention.

Donald Trump. Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Donald Trump’s website currently contains nothing about higher education. But his campaign co-chair, Sam Clovis, recently offered the outlines of a Trump position. Among the proposals is that government should get out of the loan business – handing it back to private banks.

What would that mean for high school students, who have no collateral and no credit record? Banks generally will not lend money to 18-year-olds with nebulous plans, absent a guarantee. Clovis suggested the guarantee would come from colleges and universities, who would have to pay for student default. Their “skin” would be in the game.

In fact, Trump’s program would hand private banks a financial windfall, because they would earn the fees and interest, and if a student failed to keep up on payments, someone else would take the hit. In Trump’s world, those would be the schools that currently work with large numbers of “risky” underprivileged students.

Hillary Clinton’s platform contains a $25 billion fund to support private nonprofit colleges that serve underprivileged students. This would be, in our view, a step in the right direction if it could pass through Congress.

What we know about student debt

The substantive proposal in Clinton’s New College Compact is the following:

Every student should have the option to graduate from a public college or university in their state without taking on any student debt.

Our point is there is no good reason why debt should be off the table. Substantial gains go to the students who earn a degree, and reasonable amounts of debt are a good way to finance any long-run investment. Students who borrow near the average levels ($25,000 to $32,000), and who graduate, tend to have little difficulty paying back.

A demonstrator holds up a sign to protest student debt. Andrew Burton/Reuters

As Sandy Baum of the Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, has shown, most of the “extreme” debt is concentrated in two places. The first is graduate students. The returns to their degrees are larger and less uncertain.

A doctor with $160,000 in debt is in much better shape than a dropout who has $14,000 to pay. Most of the dropouts come from under-resourced schools that serve our most at-risk students – this is a problem that worsens inequality.

The second is the for-profit sector. Although for-profits account for only nine percent of degrees awarded, they are responsible for a quarter of the total number of students whose debt exceeds $50,000. For-profits serve a lot of older students and many veterans using GI benefits.

What needs to change

In our view, two reforms could help break the trend toward inequality in the American higher education system.

The first is related to the federal government’s need-based Pell Grants of up to $5,815 per academic year. Pell Grants, which are awarded to low-income, undergraduate students, do not have to be repaid. So, they reduce the price of a year in college.

Ashland CTC, CC BY-NC-ND

In today’s dollars, the current maximum Pell Grant has slightly less purchasing power than it did in 1978.

Yet the cost of services – which includes everything from restaurant meals and haircuts to dental care and higher education – has risen faster than the inflation rate. As a result, a Pell Grant covers a declining portion of the cost of a year in college. The maximum Pell Grant covered 94 percent of the tuition and fees at a public university in 2000-01. By 2015-16 it covered only 61 percent. Congress could set the Pell maximum simply by tying increases to an index of service prices.

The second reform that we suggest is a federal program to encourage states to raise their own investment in public universities. Former Democratic Senator Tom Harkin proposed giving states a federal grant based on how much funding they provided per student at their own public universities.

In Harkin’s proposal, states would qualify for a grant if they spent at least $2,865 per student annually. States that offered more funding of their own could get a bigger grant per student from the federal government.

The advantage of Harkin’s bill was that it did not propose to micromanage how the grant would be used. States could use it to hold down tuition growth, but they could also use it to improve the quality of the programming to help underprivileged students. Those are the students who currently fail in large numbers at underfunded public institutions.

We believe these two ideas alone could be a down payment on a fairer higher education system. These ideas would help funnel more resources into the colleges and universities that educate the vast majority of America’s at-risk student population.

The Conversation

David H. Feldman, Professor of Economics, College of William & Mary and Robert B. Archibald, Professor of Economics, College of William & Mary

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.