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Rock the Ivory Tower initiative brings grassroots level to seven solutions

The Americans for Prosperity Foundation launched a new higher education reform initiative, “Rock the Ivory Tower,” aimed at making college education “more accessible, affordable and transparent for college students,” the group said Tuesday.

In a video, one student points out that the average college graduate today carries a student loan debt of $22,000 to $27,000, and that the interest on that loan in a ten-year period is almost $10,000. This level of debt can keep students from fully participating in the economy, and making major purchases like a house and car, the student points out. The group says that tuition costs have become unsustainable, increasing 70 percent since 2003.

Rock the Ivory Tower has already been featured in a Texas Tribune/New York Times story, as a long-term rival to the Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education, which has organized to oppose the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Seven Breakthrough Solutions.

This week the group is raising its visibility with the press release and a social media campaign on Facebook and Twitter.

Meanwhile, the Texas Exes publication, the Alcalde, ran an analysis by the Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education’s J.J. Baskin, countered statements by the UT Regents’ former adviser Rick O’Donnell in a series of interviews with Texas newspapers last week.

Baskin said that O’Donnell, who was fired earlier this year and reached a settlement with the university last week, was wrong in claiming the recent higher education debate isn’t about the value of research. “It really is about research,“ he said:

Mr. O’Donnell suggests that the controversy at hand is not about research and that UT-Austin advocates raise that issue as a red herring. The sense of research being under attack is real. He can diminish the significance of his flawed white paper on research or implementing budgets that separate research from teaching, but this is the core of what makes UT-Austin exceptional and was the foundation for the burnt-orange call to arms.

Baskin said that alumni concerns over the hiring of O’Donnell came out of a “flawed, non-inclusive and alarming hiring process, as well as his writings and associations” and that O’Donnell’s hiring made him the 18th highest-paid employee during a system-wide hiring freeze, in the face of massive budget cuts and the most serious budget troubles Texas has ever faced.

There are only two major market forces in higher education, the labor force (faculty), and the learning force, (students). Faculty chose where to teach, and a great faculty member can teach anywhere. Great students are recruited and choose the institution they believe is the best match. One of the most important factors for both groups is prestige.

He said that there are lessons to be learned from A&M’s “red and black” reports, which rated faculty according to revenue generated and size of classes taught. He pointed out that the lowering in faculty morale that resulted from the report has hampered faculty recruitment, and that A&M’s national prestige was damaged as it experienced its first peer-reviewed rating decrease in a decade.

“Unvetted policies that potentially damage our most elusive capital — our reputation —interfere with our ability to attract the best and brightest,” Baskin wrote.

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