All posts by Eugene Nandwa

Eugene Nandwa is the Publisher of the Claremont Independent and a sophomore at Claremont McKenna College majoring in International Relations. Despite his birth and six-year residence in Kenya and consequent 12 years in Birmingham, Eugene posses neither a Kenyan nor a southern accent. His hobbies include playing basketball and lacrosse, and arguing with Harry Arnold. When he is not watching The Godfather, you can find him persuading other people of its greatness.

The Farce of Two CMCs: A Rebuttal to The Student Life

In today’s knowledge-based economy, higher education has become increasingly important in influencing social and economic prosperity. Unfortunately, education is an opportunity that is still not afforded to many. In an effort to alleviate this problem, colleges have tried to implement policies such as affirmative action to increase racial diversity. To increase socio-economic diversity, they have used tools such as Pell Grants and need blind admissions. In the TSL’s “A Tale of Two CMCs,” Carlos Ballesteros argues that CMC has actively sought to exclude low-income minority students from the student body. Ballesteros points out that, as international student admission numbers have risen, the admission of low-income minority students has fallen. This is relevant since CMC does not offer any financial aid to international students outside of merit scholarships, implying that international students have financial means that many others do not. He also states that, as this change has occurred, the college has simultaneously ended relations with Quest Bridge and Posse (two highly selective scholarship programs for low-income minorities). This, Ballesteros argues, supports his belief that CMC is cynically replacing low-income students with wealthy international students. There are, however, two problems in his analysis.

At the beginning of the article, Ballesteros tries to establish an implausible causal link in the general correlation between the rise of international students and decrease in low-income students; however, as we are told so many times in our statistics classes, correlation does not signify causation. A more plausible hypothesis could be that the overall number of low-income students applying to CMC has decreased in the aftermath of the Great Recession. According to the College Board’s college guidance outlines, many first generation students are not very knowledgeable about the college application process and/or are pressured to enter the workforce earlier. Keeping this in mind, due to the Great Recession and the slow recovery afterward, many low-income students probably entered the workforce instead of going to college, or opted for a more practical, skill-based education at a larger state school. Furthermore, research has shown that low-income students are less likely to apply to college in general (Fitzgerald and Delaney 2002; McDonough 1997; McDonough 1998), and are also less likely to enroll at more elite colleges (Bowen and Bok 1998; Hurtado et al. 1997)

Ballesteros also fails to give a full picture of economic diversity by limiting the scope of argument to the number of Pell grant recipients,. This is because Pell grants are fundamentally limited in their ability to measure economic diversity. Pell Grants are granted based on financial need versus cost of the school, and up to $50,000 in income. The maximum amount of funds that a student can receive through Pell grants amounts to exactly $5730. This equates to approximately 13% of CMC’s $45,000 tuition. Considering that this is such a small portion of CMC’s tuition, it is conceivable that falling Pell grant rates might actually mean that many low-income students are simply pursuing better scholarship options. Ballesteros’ argument also presupposes that the decreasing numbers of Pell grant recipients enrolled at CMC automatically implies a decrease in “economic diversity.” However, as David Leonhardt of Upshot says, “A college that enrolls many students from families making $75,000 a year may be somewhat more economically diverse than a college with an identical share of Pell recipients but fewer middle-income students.” Therefore, a better, more accurate measure of economic diversity would be calculating the number of students in each income bracket.

Additionally, Ballesteros critiques CMC’s decision to end partnerships with Questbridge and Posse as another example of CMC replacing low-income students with international ones. For those who do not know, Questbridge and Posse are full scholarship programs for low-income, high-achieving students and only partner with 35 and 51 colleges, respectively (which is a very small percentage of the 3500+ degree granting institutions in the US). Questbridge and Posse, while great programs, are also highly competitive. According to statistics from the Questbridge website, in 2013 there were 12,818 applicants to the Questbridge program. Of those applying, only 440 became finalists who were offered admission and college match scholarships. If considered a finalist, Questbridge will match the student to a partner school that they believe is a good fit for them. Many low-income students believe that Questbridge and other related programs are the only way to pay for college, but, in fact, if these students applied to many of the partner schools independently, they would have a better chance of attending that school. This is because many colleges, like CMC, offer 100% of demonstrated need. By ending their partnership with Questbridge and Posse, CMC (whose admissions are need-blind) allows low-income students to apply directly to the school they wish to attend and have a better chance to receive the money they need to attend college.

Finally, the author proposes that one solution to alleviating the decreasing number of low-income students enrolled in CMC is an income-based affirmative action policy as a solution that, like race-based affirmative action, only treats the symptoms of a broken education system. Educational equality goes beyond equating the number of students admitted in one demographic to students admitted of another demographic. The author’s entire argument falsely rests upon the assumption that the only diversity international kids bring is in the different currencies they carry. I would like to point out that, regardless of socio-economic background, international students come from an entirely different country. They bring different perspectives and experiences, which no American, regardless of socio-economic background or race could replicate. Surely, need-blind admissions policy, which CMC has, coupled with educational system reform, is a more equitable solution.

The Importance of an Open Mind

On April 23, 2014, Charles Murray’s talk to Azusa Pacific University’s students and faculty was cancelled due to the concern that he would offend students of color. He was one of several speakers subject to student protest last spring — a list which also includes the more famous Condoleezza Rice, Christine Lagarde, and Hirsa Ali. The justification offered for each protest was that the speaker held discriminatory beliefs harmful to certain groups of people. It is important to note, though, that while speakers like Murray offended some, they would not have been invited to speak in the first place if the protesters were the consensus voice on the issue.

Brewing in the background of the protests were instances in which colleges and universities were banning Christian groups from campuses all over the country. InterVarsity’s Christian group at Vanderbilt University had their group recognition rescinded, and similar events occurred in April at Rollins College. Each Christian group’s membership policy allowed members to hail from any walk of life, but required leaders of these groups to hold Christian beliefs in order to maintain the group’s unique identity. This reasoning was found to be in violation of anti-discrimination policies at many schools, which resulted in the groups’ termination. This situation poses a bit of a quagmire for schools that choose to condemn these groups because colleges are in effect trying to promote tolerance of different viewpoints and beliefs by shutting down the very groups they aim to tolerate. As you might suspect, the specific hypocrisy in banning political speakers and peaceful Christian groups from a college campus reflects a larger hypocrisy in the political correctness movement.

Shortly after being uninvited from Azusa Pacific University, Charles Murray spoke at the CMC Athenaeum where he was received with little incident. Immediately following his speech, however, the CMC Forum published an article in which the author heavily criticized Murray not for his speech (in which Murray carefully bracketed questions of race from his discussion), but for previously authored works in which he makes potentially racist claims. The article I’m highlighting suggests an important general point: in cases where a speaker’s talk is dubiously objectionable the speaker should be the subject of thoughtful reasoned discussion. After all, the way we arrive at the truth is by carefully refining our views through reasoned discussion. Judging a speaker based solely on his or her past works precludes this kind of refining discussion. It is true that there are speakers who hold uncontroversially racist or harmful beliefs, like Klansmen and Holocaust-deniers. Discourse with these kinds of people usually is not productive. But in cases where a speaker endorses a controversial view, reasoned discourse in the form of a Q and A is the best way to get to the bottom of their (potentially) flawed ideology.

As freshmen, you are entering college with a mostly blank slate. Meaning, for the most part, nobody knows what your political leanings are, or what you personally believe. You’ll be tempted to identify yourself as a liberal or conservative right off the bat, but here’s my advice: don’t. Take advantage of your situation and try to stay away from the kind of ideological rigidity that drives people to attempt to silence voices on the other side of the issue.

Because of the massive number of different policies, which tend to be lumped under the taglines ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative,’ many people who identify strongly with one party or the other (i.e. partisans), prime themselves to think along party lines even about policies they have never heard of before. A recent study done by Emory University Psychologists demonstrated that partisans are more likely to discount any information that challenged their preexisting beliefs than nonpartisans. In other words, calling yourself a Republican or a Democrat will make you more likely to make decisions based on conservative or liberal rhetoric rather than sound reasons. Bearing in mind this psychological predisposition, keeping an open mind has a variety of benefits including:

1. It’ll make you smarter — Forcing yourself to think through thorny political issues with analytical rigor is great exercise for those brain muscles.

2. It’ll make you wiser — Since the main way we figure out whether our beliefs are true is by testing them against opposing beliefs, by discussing complex issues with others you’ll get a better idea of which views are true.

3. It’ll make your professors and classmates respect you more – This is true partly because you’ll be smarter and wiser for your efforts, but also because you’ll craft a reputation for yourself as a fair-minded, thoughtful person.

As a concluding note, I want to make it clear that I realize many of the examples I catalogued in the first part of this article are instances of liberals silencing conservatives. Of course it’s true that conservatives often do the same thing, with Fox News and conservative talk radio being two major culprits. The main reason that I focused on instances where liberals sought to silence conservative perspectives is that I tend to think conservatively. But engaging in discussions in which others objectively listened to my opinions and independently weighed the pros and cons of my beliefs was the crux of a fruitful and enlightening year for me at CMC. As we enter into what is bound to be an interesting election year, try to engage in thoughtful discussions with people who don’t believe the same things as you, and weigh the merits of their arguments independently of your partisan predispositions.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore/Image Cropped

The Not-So-Great Equalizer: Higher Education’s Role in Fighting Income Inequality

Income inequality, defined by Barack Obama as “the greatest challenge of our time,” has been a growing problem in the United States for decades. One of the many solutions proposed by Obama to solve this problem is to increase the propagation of a college education. Obama recently hosted education leaders from across the nation, including Claremont McKenna College’s President Hiram Chodosh, for a White House Summit to discuss efforts made by high schools and colleges across the nation to increase college participation rates.

While there are many proponents of education reform who argue that propagating a college education is the way to reduce income disparity, I argue that, looking at the current demographic realities of the US, this is a noble but, ultimately, futile effort.

In his recent book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, Dr. Charles Murray argues that simply increasing the number of people who obtain a Bachelor’s Degree cannot solve income inequality. Murray contends that “the simple possession of a bachelor’s degree does not come close to capturing the complicated relationship between education and the nature of the new upper class,” as there are many hereditary factors which lead to income and cultural differences, which, in turn, create this income inequality.

Elite colleges have become a kind of sorting machine that allow for the intermingling of, mostly, rich, smart people. This is not because colleges have not done their job in allowing for the admission of a diverse student body, it is because rich people just tend to have better scores and higher application rates. This creates a situation where colleges become filled with rich, smart people, most of whom are going to find their future spouse there. Economists call this phenomenon assortative mating, the tendency of people with similar characteristics to marry and start families. Rich Morin of the Pew Research Center states, “Better-educated people are increasingly more likely to marry other better-educated people while those with less formal schooling are more likely to choose a less well-educated partner.”

According to Murray, the urge to be around people who are like-minded is a basic human impulse that starts at a very early age. So when people in college marry, this only keeps the people in this class separated, thereby perpetuating this income gap between the college-educated and their non-college-educated peers. This means that in order to truly get rid of income inequality, one would somehow have to quell this human instinct to mate with people that are just as smart, rich, or happy as us.

A Pew Research Center study further details the growth of the income disparity as a result of a college education. According to this study, in 1960, a couple composed of spouses who had a high school education would earn about 103 percent of the average household income. In 2005, the same couple would only earn 83 percent. Similarly, couples that both completed post-graduate studies in 1960 earned approximately 176 percent of the average household income, while, in 2005, that same couple would earn 219 percent.

Another way to interpret this would be that the income disparity has only increased between the educated and non-educated despite the increase in college-educated people. Ronald Brownstein of the National Journal states that “despite Washington’s huge investment in access, since 1970 the gap in college completion rates between students from the bottom and top fifths of the income ladder has doubled. Those from the top fifth are now seven times more likely to graduate than those from the bottom.”

Murray states that tests like the SAT were supposed to level the playing field for everyone, from the rural fields of Iowa to the elite private schools of the northeast. However, his studies show that children with at least one college educated parent tend to score higher on any test than students with none. And because college education is linked to higher income, this generally results in upper middle class students applying to more elite schools.

Critics of this theory of cognitive segregation argue that it is luck or good fortune that the well-off were born into their circumstances, and this does not inherently make them smarter. However, like Murray says, the adage, “Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations” came about due to observed reality. Murray argues that, if a child does not inherit the intelligence of their parents, the fortune won in one generation will not necessarily survive forward generations.

Keeping in mind Murray’s analysis, I would argue for a different strategy to combat income inequality. I contend that we must foster an education system that truly caters to children’s’ different learning abilities, thereby enabling them with tools for success in whichever type of employment best utilizes their strengths. One example of such a program would be apprenticeships. Apprenticeships would allow more scholarly children to continue in their education, while allowing for children more talented in other areas to go to trade schools and take part in on-the-job training. This would allow children to cultivate their strengths, irrespective of where those strengths may lie, which would, consequently, increase all children’s chances of success.

In trying to increase access to college to reduce income inequality, supporters of education reform have, in fact, missed the crux of the issue. The true problem lies not in increasing college access, but in addressing the stringent education standards that have only alienated children who have no hope of succeeding in the current academic climate. If there is any hope of reducing income inequality, it has to come from a reform of the education that will enable children to succeed in their own right. This can then create multiple pools of success as opposed to the one metric we have today: college.

Going Postal

The United States Postal Service (USPS) posted an improvement in its first quarter fiscal numbers this year – by posting a $354 million deficit. This number is an improvement because, a year ago, the USPS posted a $1.3 billion loss during its first quarter, which adds up to losses in 19 of the last 21 fiscal quarters.

The USPS is turning into a colossal liability that will soon translate into a government bailout if something is not done quickly. While partisan ideologies stand in the way of any meaningful reform, it is the consensus that Congress needs to take some sort of action to stop the financial hemorrhage that has become the national Postal Service.

The fall of the USPS has been a result of the decline in the use of physical “snail mail” as the primary form of correspondence, in favor of email and other web-based alternatives. The Postal Service woes are translating into higher prices for consumers. At the beginning of February, the price of first-class mail rose $.03, from $.46 to $.49.

While the rise in price may seem minimal, it actually indicates a serious problem for the Postal Service. USPS Board of Governors Chairman Mickey D. Barnett states that prices only increase due to the postal service’s “precarious financial condition.” Postal service rates usually rise in accordance with the annual raise in the consumer price index (CPI), which measures the price of the typical basket of goods that a consumer will buy in a given year. This usually results in an annual 0.1 percent hike in the price of stamps, but the raise this year was equal to almost 6.5 percent – a price change that indicates a drastic measure to remain financially solvent.

A recent NBC News article states that “[t]he USPS last increased prices for a first-class stamp by a penny in January of this year. At the time, the USPS cited losses of about $25 million per day amid declining mail volume as more people use email and social media.”

In addition to posting tremendous losses, the USPS has now asked for a bailout from Congress. Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe says the USPS will default on $5.7 billion retiree health benefit prepayments without governmental support.

“We cannot return the organization to long-term financial stability without passage of comprehensive postal reform legislation,” Donahoe said. “We appreciate the efforts of the House and Senate oversight committees to make this happen as soon as possible.”

One solution slowly gaining momentum is the movement to privatize the USPS. To this point, the Postal Service has been operating as a monopoly. Because they can always fall back on public support regardless of if they provide certain services efficiently and effectively, the Postal Service has little incentive to do just that. The lack of competition has allowed the USPS to compile losses and receive congressional help without any real efforts at improving their operating procedures or appeal to consumer tastes. While some point to congressional help as the solution to the national mail service’s woes, others believe that privatization would remove the thorn in the Postal Service’s side – namely, Congress itself.

New York Times columnist Joe Nocera makes this point, writing that “neither the management nor the workers really control the Postal Service. Even though the post office has been self-financed since the 1980s, it remains shackled by Congress, which simply can’t bring itself to allow the service to make its own decisions. And Congress won’t do so, as long as the post office remains part of the government.”

The United Kingdom just finished the process of privatizing their mail service, Royal Mail, and The Economist reports the transition thus far as a success: “A freed-up Royal Mail will compete with dozens of nifty competitors for its parcels business, as well as with a new breed of ‘lifestyle couriers,’ who trundle around goods ordered on the Web.”

In other countries, such as the Netherlands, Germany, and Austria, privatization of the mail service has resulted in lower prices across the board for consumers.

Michael Taube of the Washington Times writes, “Opening up the free market to private enterprise would ensure that real competition exists for mail delivery and postage rates. More businesses and jobs would be created in a thriving marketplace.”

In the past five years, mail volume has fallen by more than 20 percent, and USPS revenue has fallen by more than 12 percent. Partisan gridlock has stalled any meaningful reform, and workers are being released as demand for their labor decreases. Chairman of the Financial Strategy and Solutions Group at Citigroup Peter Orszag summarizes: “The U.S. Postal Service has a long and storied history. Yet it is now struggling because the world has changed and because congressional sclerosis has prevented it from adapting to the new realities. The best way to modernize it now is to move it out of the government.”

The story of the U.S. Postal Service is not just one of letters and stamps – it’s one that speaks to a greater lesson that Americans should not be quick to forget. Although there are those who propagate the necessity of more government it is often the bureaucracies created under all-expansive governments that countermine the necessity of such ideals. Such institutionalized bureaucracies are slow to respond to consumer pressures and changing tastes, and, more times than not, prevent true innovation from taking place.

Mad Women

Women’s employment opportunities have certainly increased since the “Mad Men” 60s, when a powerful glass ceiling precluded their advancement to leadership in virtually every major American enterprise, both public and private. Now, long removed from the days of Don Draper and Co., women have come a long way: they are equal, if not superior, to men in many sectors of the economy and many fields of knowledge.

Wage-wise, women are increasingly dominating the American workplace. According to a recent Forbes article, women control 60 percent of all wealth in the United States, which amounts to roughly $12 trillion. This statistic is only expected to increase, with some analysts having women increasing their control of aggregate wealth to $22 trillion by the year 2020, although this is admittedly a partial function of the demographic demise of male baby boomers.

Although women have not consistently arrived at the highest rungs of the economic ladder – just 15 Fortune 500 companies have women CEOs, and only 73 percent of such companies have female executives of any kind – those numbers are quickly changing as women continue to dominate the halls of colleges and universities across the nation. Indeed, because more and more graduates of higher education are women, the day is fast approaching when men will be a distinct minority in most board rooms and government agency front offices. For every 100 men, 140 women will graduate with a college degree at some level – while in 1960, there were 160 men for every 100 women who graduated.

This presents a problem for those who continue to assert pervasive gender inequality: feminists. Is the decline of one gender in one societal institution (in this case, men in education) something worthy of celebration if it leads to greater gender balance in other areas (more women in corporate leadership positions)?

“Many industries will see a shift in the male-female ratio in the coming decades simply because women are now more likely than men to get a bachelor’s degree,” a recent Scripps Voice column reads. “This trend extends to graduate programs, where 62.6 percent of Master’s degrees and 53.3 percent of Doctoral degrees are conferred to women according to the National Center for Educational statistics.”

“Hopefully over time, this trend in education will transfer to a more gender equitable workplace,” the column concludes.

While the author does appear to see this trend as a means for overall gender equality, she also shows very little concern for the growing imbalance among men and women within the ranks of education.

University of Michigan Economics and Finance Professor Mark Perry writes in his American Enterprise Institute blog that if women had been the opposite end of this educational imbalance, it would be deemed a “national crisis.”

“Just as a thought experiment – imagine the public reaction if the educational degree imbalances of 4.35 million bachelor’s degrees and 9.7 million college degrees overall favored men, and not women?” Perry said. “I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that a college degree imbalance that large in favor of men would be considered a ‘national crisis.’ College degree disparities, when women are over-represented, never seem to be much of a concern. And with those enormous gender imbalances in higher education favoring women, do we really need hundreds of women’s centers on college campuses all over the country, women’s only study lounges, and female-only campus housing for STEM degrees?”

It is often said that demography is destiny. As more and more advanced degrees are conferred upon women by the American higher education system – which remains the central arbiter of life-long income and wealth prospects for most people – the rise of women into positions of public and private leadership will be exponential, leaving men behind.

Few would disagree that feminism was instrumental in getting rid of the Pete Campbells of the “Mad Men” world. But we are now in a very different place. Instead of promoting gender equality, the modern movement now roots for women to do better than men at every turn and celebrates women’s achievements at the expense of male failure. The movement would have more credibility if it would call out gender bias against both men and women and if it would champion the day, paraphrasing Dr.King, when children grow up in an America where they are not judged by their gender but by the content of their character.