Thursday, November 13, 2008

Higher education and Wall Street collapse. Roundtable discussion Thursday November 13, 2008.

Bexley Public Radio sponsored a roundtable discussion of the impact of the Wall Street on higher education.

In a wide ranging discussion of Wall Street collapse college administrators and a banker discussed financial aid and student loans availability and eligibility; student applications and enrollments; faculty grants; university endowments; alumni giving; gifts of appreciated stock; and charitable gift annuities.

Participants in the round table were: Evelyn Levino, Vice President, Students, Franklin University; Will Kopp, Vice President, Institutional Advancement, Columbus State Community College; Mark Ramseth, President, Trinity Lutheran Seminary; Steve Koch, Professor, Communications, Capital University; Dave Mallet, President First Bexley Bank.

Professor Stephen Koch of Capital University communications department moderated the discussion. He began by asking about the Wall Street collapse on student enrollments.

Evelyn Levino and Will Kopp discussed admission inquiries from potential students.

Mark Ramseth, president of Trinity Lutheran Seminary said that the Trinity student body trends to be older than the other schools represented on the panel. The median age of Trinity students is in the range of 36 and 37 years. Many individuals thinking about graduate education at Trinity have families and own their residences so these potential students are less mobile that younger students and the decision to pursue graduate education is a major life changing decision.

President Mark Ramseth, Trinity Lutheran Seminary.

Banker Mallett said that the student loan market is more difficult. Fewer lenders are willing to undertake student loans. He also said that the federal government seems to be recognizing the contraction in student loans. He pointed to the recent comments of Secretary of the U.S. Treasury Paulson that recognized that consumer lending has been hampered as much as lending by financial institutions. In response to a question from Ramseth, Mallet said that regional and city center banks were restricting their lending even after federal bailout funds were received. Holding the funds as capital rather than lending the same funds helps the banks maintain favorable capital ratios for financial reporting.

Koch asked whether the panelists saw any indication that the distress of the financial markets is causing new financial planning and strategies to be developed for the expenses of higher education.

Will Kopp responded that he has recognized that students no longer approach their college educations as a continuous relationship with a single institution. He said students “swirl” their education, taking some courses at one school and then other courses at other schools and even on-line. This “swirled” course work is usually part of a coherent strategy to develop skills and knowledge useful in achieving specific career goals. The same “swirling” is used by students to achieve financial savings when they choose to take course work at particular institutions based on relative tuition charges. Kopp also noted that institutions like Capital, Columbus State and Franklin are responding to this student strategy by developing agreements and alliances that help students pursue their academic goals in a realistic financial environment.

Mark Ramseth said that students recognize that economic downturns can be occasions to improve their job skills through education. When the job market is soft, time can be spent in education.

Evelyn Levino commented that such student strategies make sense and that she would advise students “to go for it” because the end goal is education. Much can be learned from paying attention to the creative judgments that college students make. When the goal is education there can be many roads that students follow to get to that destination. Levino also commented that “self financing” should not be overlooked in the present environment. There are many students who work part-time and attend classes part-time to minimize the amount of debt incurred in their education. Will Kopp said that he is familiar with a some students who maintain fulltime employment with their class-work.

Professor Koch said that Capital University has a tuition discount program that encourages good grades. He commented that this is a form of financial aid that is unique in encouraging the core values of excellence in education.

Will Kopp commented on a Seniors to Sophomore program of the State of Ohio. The state government pays college tuition for high school students to take college courses. The program permits high school students to graduate with both a high school diploma and an associate degrees.

Professor Koch briefly discussed the financial environment on Wall Street and its impact on research grants awarded to faculty. Will Kopp commented on a recent New York Times article reporting on how college building projects are being effected by the Wall Street collapse. He also discussed Ohio Governor Ted Strickland’s commitment to education. State funds for higher education have permitted tuition levels to remain flat for two years.

Evelyn Levino said that the budgeting point of view at Franklin is to use funds to invest in the future of the institution. She continued by describing how professional organizations serving higher education are recognizing the dangers of the current financial turmoil. She said that the Student Aid Alliance recently contacted Congressional leaders to express concern that any federal economic stimulus program include student financial aid. Increases in federal Pell Grant programs were also mentioned.

Will Kopp said that many commentators were talking about ten-year plans to deal with the Wall Street collapse. He said that any governmental program of such long duration is not realistic unless it includes a component for higher education. In reference to any ten year plan.

Mark Ramseth offered the wry comment that “Markets can stay irrational longer than individuals can stay solvent.”

Steve Koch said that “A crisis cannot be the foundation of a plan.”

The discussion then turned to capital projects and bonds. Banker Mallett said that even bond markets are being effected by the fall in real estate values and the fall in equity prices. He said that currently the bond market is being dominated by financier Warren Buffett who is actively buying municipal bonds.

Koch and Mallett commented respectively on deficit spending and price levels. Mallett continued with observations on the current low interest rate levels on federal government bonds and that his family decision to “go to cash” with their children’s college savings,

Professor Koch asked whether any of the institutions represented in the roundtable was developing explicit strategies to respond to the Wall Street collapse. Will Kopp identified three components of a strategy at Columbus State Community College: recognition that the student body is diverse in age and experience; creating scholarships for students in age groups that normally are not eligible for scholarships; and creating partnerships with other educational institutions like Capital University and Franklin University that provide financial opportunities, benefits and choices for students.

Professor Koch asked if any of the panelists wanted to speculate on how long the financial crisis might last.

Evelyn Levino said that she had no empirical data to undergird her comments. Based on media reports, Levino said that she recognized radical changes in the short term and that it is her belief that we are going through a financial crisis. The practical effects of this crisis are evident in the rapid decline in housing prices and institutions and individuals “going to cash.” All of these practical effects of the crisis are not going to be fixed over night.

Will Kopp returned to the discussion of institutional strategies at Columbus State Community College. He said that students want to prepare for employment opportunities that “won’t be shipped overseas” and also in industries that provide valued products and services such as “sustainable,” and “green technologies.” An educational institution must respond to these interests and values of student populations.

Koch commented that educational opportunities are all the more important in an environment where job opportunities are “constricted.” He also discussed Capital University’s Center for Life Long Learning.

As closing observations, Mark Ramseth said that at Trinity Lutheran Seminary the economic realities that have developed are not being ignored and that “like a household” we are “re-prioritizing how we spend our resources.” He also observed that finances are central to meeting an institutions objectives and that the time and attention being devoted to the Wall Street collapse is necessary work for every institution.

Dave Mallett offered the observation that college expenses are a very significant part of family budgets. The effect of the Wall Street problems are being felt very close to home.

Evelyn Levino said that the sooner the Wall Street problems are recognized as impacting education, the sooner the country will “come out of the problem.”

Participants in the round table were: Evelyn Levino, Vice President, Students, Franklin University; Will Kopp, Vice President, Institutional Advancement, Columbus State Community College; Mark Ramseth, President, Trinity Lutheran Seminary; Steve Koch, Professor, Communications, Capital University; Dave Mallet, President First Bexley Bank.

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Design is copyright 2008. All rights reserved. Bexley Public Radio Foundation. Text is copyright 2008. All rights reserved. Bexley Public Radio Foundation.

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