Volume 10 (2013)


HER-O (Higher Education in Review-Online) is a forum for online content that supplements HER's peer-reviewed print content.

International Student Diversification and the High-Tuition High-Aid Model

posted Mar 23, 2014, 9:02 PM by Frank Fernandez   [ updated Mar 23, 2014, 9:52 PM ]

Although we typically discuss international students as one group, it is important to keep in mind that these students are not one uniform population (Levin, 2012). Students from China and students from Saudi Arabia are just as different as students from China and the United States. Institutions of higher education (IHE) must diversify their international student portfolio to stay true to the mission of diversity. In order to diversify this portfolio, the funding structure for international students must change. A common model for tuition and aid disbursement in the U.S. is the high-tuition, high-aid (HH)  model. This model is often used to execute student access and diversity missions (Curse &Singell, 2010). Unfortunately, this is often done without regard to international student diversity and access. Here I will explore the high tuition high aid (HH) model and its potential application to international students.  

The Current Application of the HH Model

Many IHEs use price discrimination in order to attract high achieving or culturally diverse students, and allow access to students who would not be capable of attending otherwise (Weisbrod, Ballou, & Asch, 2008). This is done to craft a class where the students themselves can be inputs that increase the value of the overall educational experience (Winston, 1999). Price discrimination works because students have different price elasticities, what a student is willing to pay for college. For domestic students, funding is awarded based on their expected price elasticity (Toukoushina & Paulsen, 2006). Students who can afford to pay more will often do so because they are not as price sensitive and vice versa (Curse & Singell, 2010). This principle is the foundation of the HH model.

In the HH model, the average student pays more money but this creates surplus revenue that is used to fund financial aid for students who could not afford to attend, or would choose a different IHE, otherwise. It is known that this system often does not generate enough revenue to aid all of the students that need funding: the excess funding must come from government subsidies or fund raising (Curse &Singell, 2010). IHEs with international students may submit the international student’s excess tuition dollars into the pot of money to help fund domestic students. This is typically a one-way street. International students are not usually aid eligible.

Price discrimination in higher education is a way of achieving vertical equity. This is the idea that students should be able to attend college despite their ability to pay. This idea need not be applied to solely domestic students. International students bring all of the advantages that justify price discrimination: cultural diversity (Caluya, Probyn, & Vyas, 2011); high academic aptitude (Mamiseishvili, 2012); and, potentially, economically diverse students (Aw, 2012).  International students should not be “cash cows” used to produce revenue for domestic students (Caluya et al., 2011). They are actually valuable inputs that can enrich the student experience. Perhaps these students should be funded accordingly.

Mission of Diversification: Application to Types of IHEs

The decision to fund international students would be heavily dependent on the mission of the school. It is known that IHEs are constantly trying to balance their mission and their finances, this is known as the two-good framework.  The mission of an institution often depends on the type of school and the source of their funding (Weisbrod, Ballou, & Asch, 2008). Public schools tend to have their mission focus on students from their own geographic area, so they may not be able to implement a model such as this. However, many private institution’s missions do not specify that they are to serve only domestic students. In fact, many scholars believe that the mission of an IHEs goes beyond borders (Aw, 2012).  In addition, in 2011, 50% of institutions said that their missions include international or global education (CIGE, 2012). Schools who believe this should not depend on international students to pay the way of domestic students; instead they should work to ensure access to international students the same way they ensure access to domestic students.  This means attempting vertical equity for international students as well. Unfortunately, while some schools may be attempting to implement similar plans for international students, many are not. The international HH model is a way to do exactly this.

A New HH Model: The International HH Model

A model that supports international students would have to put international and domestic student tuition into two separate pots, domestic and international.  International revenue would no longer be used to supplement domestic students, but rather to supplement international students from developing countries that could not afford U.S. tuition just yet. As the elasticity of the students from different countries changes so too would the cost of tuition for these students. For example, Chinese students could subsidize the tuition of Indonesian students for a few years. When the Indonesian economy picks up, the Indonesian students could help subsidize the new developing nation’s students; this cycle could continue. The most qualified applicants from all over the world would be able to attend, not just the most qualified applicants from the richest countries. This could apply to economic diversity within countries as well. Scholars and practitioners have long lamented the fact that the U.S. only educates the young elites of other countries (Aw, 2012).  The application of this model could help to correct this, by funding less wealthy students.

By examining the present HH model one can see that international students are often used as “cash cows” to add to domestic student funding (Caluya et al., 2011). Presently, the HH model does not account for the need to diversify international students, but it could. Diversifying international students would stay true to the mission of diversity and access in a global sense. This is something we should be moving toward in an increasingly globalized world.

Tiffany Viggiano is a first year graduate student in Higher Education Administration and Policy at the University of California, Riverside. Using her Anthropology background, Tiffany hopes that her research will internationalize higher education as a way of bringing greater diversity to the community college. She has received numerous academic honors, including the Chancellors Distinguished Fellowship, and graduated Magna Cum Laude with a B.S. in Anthropology last year.


Aw, F. (2012). The International Student Question: 45 Years Later. Journal of College Admission, (214), 10–11.

Caluya, G., Probyn, E., & Vyas, S. (2011). “Affective Eduscapes”: The Case of Indian Students within Australian International Higher Education. Cambridge Journal of Education, 41(1), 85–99.

Center for International and Global Engagement (CIGE). (2012). Mapping Internationalization on U.S Campuses. American Council on Education.

Curs, B. R., & Singell, L. D. J. (2010). Aim High or Go Low? Pricing Strategies and Enrollment Effects When the Net Price Elasticity Varies with Need and Ability. Journal of Higher Education, 81(4), 515–543.

Levin, John S.. Understanding the Community Colleges. New York: Routledge, 2013. Print.

Mamiseishvili, K. (2012). International student persistence in U.S. postsecondary institutions. Higher Education, 64(1), 1–17. doi:10.1007/s10734-011-9477-0

Toukoushian, R. K., & Paulsen, M. B. (2006). Applying Economics to Institutional Research. New Directions for Institutional Research No. 132. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Weisbrod, B. A., Ballou, J. P., & Asch, E. D. (2008). Mission Money: Understanding the University. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Winston, G. (1999). Subsidies, hierarchy and peers: the awkward economics of higher education. The Journal of Economic Perspectives, 13(1), 13-36.


Affirmative Action as a Precarious Value

posted Nov 8, 2013, 12:10 AM by Frank Fernandez   [ updated Nov 8, 2013, 1:34 AM ]

By Frank Fernandez, The Pennsylvania State University

“Institutions which one generation regards as only a makeshift approximation to the realization of a principle, the next generation honors as the nearest possible approximation to that principle, and the next worships as the principle itself.  It takes scarcely three generations for the apotheosis.  The grandson accepts his grandfather’s hesitating experiment as an integral part of the fixed constitution of nature.” 

-          Woodrow Wilson (1887, p. 209)

When we look around us, we take for granted the battles fought by previous generations.  As Woodrow Wilson wrote, cautious gains become ubiquitous with time.  Women’s suffrage, Social Security, the Civil Rights Act, Title IX and female sports—each of these was once a radical proposition, vehemently opposed.  Why does affirmative action buck this trend?  Why is it that instead of growing more sacred with time, affirmative action is repeatedly attacked (first in Bakke, then Grutter, and now Fisher—not to mention state bans such as California’s Proposition 209 and Michigan’s Proposal 2)? America is still plagued with inequality and intolerance, but the question remains, why have some efforts toward equality been more accepted than others?

Historically speaking, selective admissions processes were created as a means for exclusion (see Jerome Karabel’s The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton).  Americans’ demand for access to higher education grew faster than colleges and universities could bear, so more and more colleges formalized selective admissions procedures.  This has led to what David Labaree has characterized as the Groucho Marx complex; like Marx, many prospective students “don’t want to belong to any club [university] that would accept me [them] as one of its members.”  (In the recent Fisher v. University of Texas case, Abigail Noel Fisher was unsatisfied with her acceptance to Louisiana State University.)  Part of the problem is that because of competitive admissions processes, some people see affirmative action as rigging a zero-sum game. 

Still, this doesn’t fully answer why affirmative action has not been enshrined as a hallowed American institution.  We love when men like Barack Obama and Ted Cruz live out the American dream, rising from humble beginnings to attend some of the nation’s most selective universities and become leaders of society; however, we vacillate in our commitment to policies that can make real-life Horatio Alger stories more a rule than an exception.

We know that values can change over time otherwise there would never be social progress.  But we don’t often think about what makes some values stronger than others.  Burton Clark’s writing offers a way to think through this problem.  Clark argues that social values are precarious when they are not articulated in stakeholders’ goals or standards.  He also finds that values are precarious when they are seen as belonging to smaller groups and are not accepted by the larger “host” population. 

Secure values, then, are those that are clearly defined in behavior and strongly established in the minds of many.  Such values literally take care of themselves.  Precarious values, on the other hand, need deliberately intentioned agents, for they must be normatively defined, or socially established, or both. (pp. 8-9)

The overwhelming consensus of social science research* shows that affirmative action has social and academic benefits for majority students—the classmates of minority students.  Although affirmative action has many intentional agents, I would argue that the idea that affirmative action benefits everyone has not been “strongly established in the minds of many.” 

Moving forward we must continue to normatively define and socially establish support for affirmative action.  We must continue to find—and more importantly publicize—evidence that shows the benefits of affirmative action.  Too often, evaluation metrics do not account for ethnic or socioeconomic diversity in university admissions.  Diversity is not, but could easily be, included in the U.S. News and World Report’s rankings and other popular sources that are accessible to students and their parents (and valued by institutions).  Special efforts should be taken in “new destination” states and areas that are becoming more ethnically diverse so that they do not adopt reactionary affirmative action bans as others have before them. 

It has been said that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”  There was a day when women were not allowed in the academy, but two centuries later women outnumber men in American higher education.  I am optimistic that America’s colleges and universities will be diverse and dynamic learning environments, but only if we are defenders of diversity and strengthen the precarious value of affirmative action. 


Frank Fernandez is a PhD Candidate in Higher Education and Research Assistant at Penn State's  Center for the Study of Higher Education. 

*For summaries of social science research see:

Brief for American Social Science Researchers as Amici Curiae Supporting Respondents, Fisher v. University of Texas, 570 U.S. ___(2013) (no. 11-345). Retrieved from

Brief for Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles as Amicus Curiae Supporting Respondents, Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action (no. 12-682). Retrieved from http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/publications/supreme_court_preview/briefs-v2/12-682_resp_amcu_crp-etal.authcheckdam.pdf

Garces, L. M. Social science research and the courts: Informing post-Grutter v. Bollinger developments in higher education cases. Educational Policy, 27(4), 591-614. Retrieved from



Clark, B. (2008). On Higher Education: Selected Writings: 1956-2006. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press.

Wilson, W. (1887). The study of administration. Political science quarterly, 2(2), 197-222.

The Difficulty in Data: A Look at How Used Car Lots Can Help to Explain Challenges Facing Obama’s College Ratings System

posted Sep 23, 2013, 7:14 PM by Frank Fernandez   [ updated Nov 8, 2013, 12:15 AM ]

By Justin Ortagus, The Pennsylvania State University

President Obama recently unveiled a plan that would tie federal aid to a college ratings system.  The fact sheet provided by the White House outlines the general plan to rate higher education institutions based on the following performance measures:

  • Access (number of students receiving Pell grants)
  • Affordability (average tuition, scholarships, and student loan debt)
  • Student Outcomes (graduation and transfer rates, graduate earnings, and advanced degrees of graduates)

Although it’s far too early to label Obama’s college ratings proposal a patent failure or success, one fact is unavoidable: the magic is in the metrics.  In order to add insight and explicate concerns pertaining to the college ratings system, I will examine select challenges through the lens of a used car lot.

Perceptions of Prestige

Why does a BMW typically cost more than a Toyota?  Consumers pay a premium for the perception of prestige.  Since most people don’t profess to be automotive experts, we often rely on the sticker price to serve as an informal indicator of a car’s quality.  Colleges and universities work in a similar way.  Even if an institution’s U.S. News & World Report ranking drops, its tuition usually increases for the same reason consumers pay a premium for luxury cars: the price of a product is viewed as an informal indicator of its quality.  To lower tuition would be to signify a drop in academic quality.  Since Obama’s college ratings system is intended to assess value and inform policy, it should be distinct from U.S. News & World Report’s rankings.  Despite claims to the contrary, the general college ratings plan proposed by the White House has metrics that overlap with U.S. News & World Report’s rankings data and could serve to offer further advantages for already advantaged institutions.

Sticker Price vs. Net Price

Each college or university, much like a used car, has a sticker price.  When consumers enter a used car lot, they often negotiate the sticker price and end up paying a net amount much lower than the advertised price.  For low-income students, tuition represents a sticker price that should mean little when considering the net cost of higher education.  Specifically, elite higher education institutions with large endowments would be able to offer more generous student aid packages in order to skim from the highest achieving low-income students and subsequently improve their college rating.

The manner by which the college ratings plan evaluates affordability has yet to be explained in detail, but distinctions between sticker price and net price complicate the issue and make it increasingly difficult to evaluate institutions with wide variations in the size of their endowment.  Although the college ratings system is advertised as a boost to higher education institutions willing to promote innovation or cut the price of tuition, decreases in state funding have forced many effective non-elites to rely upon tuition in order to survive.  The (yet-to-be-released) details of these data are paramount in determining the effectiveness of the college ratings plan.

Deceptive Practices

The pay structure of a used car salesman incentivizes the optimization of net profit by any means necessary.  Since the customer’s best interest is not aligned with the salesman’s ability to acquire resources, deceptive practices often occur.  Undesirable behaviors are typically explained by the reward structures in place.  A variety of reward systems have been found to incentivize certain behaviors despite hoping for an alternative behavior.  In higher education, high stakes college rankings offer incentive for colleges and universities to provide misleading data in order to improve their annual ranking.  For instance, Emory University recently disclosed its consistent misreporting of institutional data.  In hopes of achieving a higher ranking, the admissions and institutional research offices at Emory exaggerated the average SAT and ACT scores of its students.  Additionally, several law schools have faced legal action in response to misleading claims and statistics related to graduates’ job placement, average student debt, and average salary.

The reasoning for altered data is simple: higher education institutions in question are dependent on the resources associated with improved performance.  Since Obama’s college ratings system could dictate federal aid and indirectly affect enrollment patterns, it would have considerable power over many higher education institutions.  When tied with critical resources, the power associated with a college ratings system has the ability to force an institution to do something it wouldn’t do under different circumstances.  As a result, regulation measures of reported institutional data are paramount when considering future legislation pertaining to tying federal resources to college ratings.

The Task at Hand

Simply put, the devil is in the details.  Many would agree with those who claim the current financial model in higher education is unsustainable, but it’s important to think critically about challenges and implications associated with metrics to be used when rating colleges and universities.  While the promotion of innovation in higher education appears to be a positive development, several questions related to federal performance funding remain underdeveloped or completely unaddressed.

Justin Ortagus is a Ph.D. candidate in the Higher Education Program at the Pennsylvania State University. He received his B.A. in English and M.Ed. in Educational Leadership from the University of Florida. Justin's research interests revolve around issues related to college rankings, online education, and the cost crisis in higher education. He currently works with Dr. John Cheslock and Dr. Fred Loomis as a graduate assistant for Penn State's  graduate certificate program in Institutional Research.

Book Review - Generation on a Tightrope: A Portrait of Today’s College Student

posted Sep 6, 2013, 9:32 AM by Frank Fernandez   [ updated Sep 23, 2013, 8:38 PM ]

By Shelley Errington Nicholson, University of Massachusetts at Amherst

Generation on a tightrope: A portrait of today’s college student is reviewed in an attempt
to synthesize themes relevant to higher education practitioners. This book review examines the
third volume dedicated to deconstructing the attitudes of a particular generation of college
students. This review highlights the author’s success in creating a readable and useful text for
working with current or previous generations of college students.

Shelly Errington Nicholson is currently a second year doctoral student in Educational Policy and Leadership at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Shelley has worked at several institutions including Rice University and the University of Edinburgh. Shelley is the co-editor of the text Empowering Women in Higher Education and Student Affairs: Theory, Research, Narratives and Practice from Feminist Perspectives.

[Click below to download a pdf of the full review]

Call for online content

posted Aug 25, 2013, 2:28 PM by Frank Fernandez   [ updated Nov 8, 2013, 1:24 AM ]

Higher Education in Review (HER) invites submissions for content to be featured on the Higher Education in Review-Online (HER-O) website: www.higheredinreview.org

Proposed content should fall into one of two categories:

Book reviews should focus on books published in the past three years, which are relevant to higher education. (Reviews of older books may be accepted if the author can justify why a review in HER would be timely and a good fit for the journal.) Book reviews are important contributions to communities of scholars and practitioners in higher education. They inform readers about current advances in the field and encourage productive discourse.

Scholarly contributions that will be considered include: essays, thought pieces, editorials, discussions of current events, responses to other publications, and reflective pieces about professional experiences—either as researchers, academics, graduate students, or practitioners. These pieces are meant to facilitate discussion about societal and political issues in higher education.

Click here to download the full call for web submissions. 

Coursera: A Revolution, Devolution, or Mad Experiment?

posted Aug 30, 2012, 6:39 PM by Jessica Bennett

by Jessica Bennett, Associate Editor for Digital Content

It seems to me that Coursera is everywhere in higher education news and opinion pieces recently (see the embedded links throughout the piece), so I thought I’d use the inaugural post of the Higher Education in Review News RoundUp to provide a primer on Coursera, its Mass Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and some of the controversies and questions surrounding them..

Coursera, a self-labeled social entrepreneurial company, seeks to provide course content from faculty at top universities to any and all that are interested (see Coursera’s Vision).  Additionally, its courses are designed around five pedagogical foundations – the value of online learning,  the role of homework to aid in knowledge retention and learning, repeated opportunities to master content in assessments, the use of peer evaluations in assessments to provide varied and quick feedback, and the opportunity to actively engage material and each other online through multiple formats (see Coursera’s Pedagogical Foundations).  Coursera is free, and allows for varied levels of engagement.  Students who participate fully in a course (completing all assignments and quizzes) may receive documentation of participation from the faculty instructors.

All this sounds amazing.  Take the best courses that elite institutions have to offer and make them available to anyone, for free. Allow students to participate at varying levels of intensity. Engage in asynchronous education that increases flexibility for students. In fact, it sounds so amazing that as of early August, Coursera reached a cumulative enrollment of over1 million students (see Inside HigherEd).

The Atlantic’s Jordan Weissman hails Coursera as the most important experiment in higher education.  Weissman argues that the embrace of Coursera by elite institutions means that, via institutional isomorphic mechanisms, others will quickly be following suit.  Coursera’s real promise, he argues, lies in its ability to revolutionize the delivery of lectures, by offering a well-designed, sleek platform that allow institutions to side-step the costly creation of course-delivery user interfaces. 

Leaders seem to be agreeing. In a recent interview with Inside HigherEd, University of Virginia President Theresa Sullivan highlighted the benefits that a collaboration with Coursera provides to professors on-Grounds.  She suggests that the participating institutions have found that their residential students have an improved experience in both individual courses as well as the dividends provided to those who care about learning about how students learn.  Coursera, she argues, is an invaluable resource to those seeking to better understand student learning in an online context.

So what does Coursera have to offer residential students?  By freeing class time that might usually be taken up with introducing basic content material, university instructors are free to introduce more discussion, group work, and other proven learning-enhancing active learning activities.  The idea of “flipping” the classroom is growing in both the K-12 and higher education sectors, with some educators arguing that using class time for homework, problem solving, and discussion, and home time for basic content delivery, is a better use of educator’s time.

What about non-residential students, or the million people who have signed up for Coursera classes without being affiliated with one of its content providing universities?  These students are eligible for a letter of certification, which could possibly be used in an employment setting or other area to prove familiarity with given content matter.  However, Coursera students do not receive credit for their participation (except perhaps at the University of Washington).  For students seeking to learn for the sake of learning, this arrangement is likely sufficient.  However, despite its promise of open access, the question remains whether MOOCs and the Coursera format really offer a viable alternative.  Some have suggested that third party universities be used to credential students taking Coursera courses –  getting a Harvard education with a Small State College diploma.

Inside HigherEd’s Carlo Salerno doubts that Coursera and its ilk can properly provide what institutions of higher education and their potential consumers (students) are seeking.  Highlighting the role that prestige plays in Coursera’s current model, he argues that  institutions will not be motivated to offer credit to students in these courses because the open access prevents quality control of students, while students will be loathe to pay for credits at third-party institutions if they are not receiving credentials from the top tier institutions with which they are taking classes.

In addition, others raise the question of whether content delivered to several thousand students by a single prestigious university professor is really the equivalent of taking the course with that professor in residence.  The founders of Coursera suggest that, in effect, the essence of a Harvard or Stanford education lie in the on-campus experience of interaction with those students and faculty.  Additionally, while Coursera has developed a mechanism to allow quick feedback to all students via a peer-evaluation system, some question whether the feedback is sufficiently substantive or helpful. 

Finally, with all the attention focused on the MOOC format, some are perhaps painting too wide a stroke in discussing online learning. Mark Edmundson, professor at the University of Virginia and frequent commentator on issues of learning in higher education, delivers a scathing attack on online education – but seems to only be describing MOOCs.  See a fine response to Edmundson from Joshua Kim here. 

All this raises several questions that I’ll leave our readers to ponder: If institutions like Virginia hope to learn from their experiences with MOOCs, what should those lessons be given that most online course delivery that results in income generation requires a more focused approach (see Kim’s response, and Penn State’s World Campus as a specific example)?    How do sites like Coursera fit into the debate about college access for all?  What do Coursera and its students have to tell us about the credentialing function arguments about higher education?  With this version of online, private education sidestepping many of the critiques that institutions such as the University of Phoenix face, how should this change our discussion about online education in our higher ed programs?

Reform Comes to Higher Education

posted Jul 17, 2012, 6:57 AM by Travis York

An interesting piece in the Huffington Post about the purpose of higher education.  For Jackie Jenkins-Smith, President of Wheelock College, that purpose is educational opportunity.  It seems that the topic of higher education's purpose is constantly debated, and perhaps that is a good thing.   Unquestionably the issue of educational opportunity is a part of this debate and Jenkins-Smith nicely points out that, "While there are no quick, simple solutions, part of the answer lies in understanding how current -- and future -- generations of college bound students will acquire usable knowledge and skills." As tuition costs rise, educational opportunity decreases- how should those of us working in higher education address this issue?

Do Colleges Overlook Low-Income Students?

posted May 25, 2011, 10:52 AM by Jared Rodrigues

This piece from the New York Times (free) poses some interesting questions about whether top colleges are doing enough to recruit low-income students.  I'd invite any thoughts or opinions on the piece or whether all colleges should be doing more to combat the over representation of affluent students on our campuses.

Art as Medicine

posted May 22, 2011, 4:47 AM by Sarah Hoffman

As students of higher education, we learn as scripture that the arts and humanities are in decline - being replaced by professional education; we leave innovations in medical and business education left unexamined. To better understand the synthesis of the arts and professional education, we should explore how universities are incorporating the arts into their professional curriculum. A recent podcast from PRI's Studio 360 does just that. The program reviews research tying music therapy to patient recovery, and writing workshops for medical residents.

For other glimpses of this synthesis see the Shands Arts in Medicine center at the University of Florida,  the Program in Narrative Medicine at Columbia University, and the Medical Humanities resources at New York University.

New York Times Reports on AAUP Survey

posted Apr 11, 2011, 3:23 PM by Jared Rodrigues

The New York Times reported some results from an AAUP survey, including increases in professor pay, the gap between public and private universities in professor pay, and the continuing increase of non-tenure-track faculty hires.  The article is here.

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