Best Wishes for the Holidays from Collegeville



Click image above to watch the 2014 SJU Christmas Message or visit

At the Saint John’s and Saint Ben’s Christmas celebration at the Town and Country Club earlier this month, we revived an old tradition of singing Silent Night in German. The history of the song goes back to Austria in 1818 and it has been recorded more than 700 times in the past 40 years. The CSB/ SJU alumni are not quite ready for a public performance, but you might enjoy some other versions that were featured on NPR recently.


And in Collegeville, we’ve wrapped up classes, the snow has fallen and the tree is trimmed. As we prepare for the birth of Christ, I hope you’ll enjoy the sights and sounds of Saint John’s in this video greeting.

Merry Christmas to all and blessings to you in the New Year!

By |December 22nd, 2014|Categories: Uncategorized||0 Comments

Why a Liberal Arts Education Really is the Finest Undergraduate Experience

Students at February 2014 McCarthy Center Politics and a Pint event.

Students at February 2014 McCarthy Center Politics and a Pint event.

There was a nice bit of press for the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University recently.  The Star Tribune published an editorial on immigration reform co-authored by three students (Sarah Evans, Hunter Huntoon and Michael Macken) and classics professor Jason Schlude.  This kind of co-authored publication by undergraduates and a professor is a little unusual to be sure, but the back story is even rarer in higher education and reveals some important truths about a residential liberal arts experience.

The editorial, entitled, “Ted Cruz, Cicero and the Classics,” began in a classics course, and each subsequent step reveals a little more about the educational experience at the small number of schools like CSB and SJU.

  1. Engaged Pedagogy.  Schlude, like many good professors, seeks to engage his students in the material they are learning and looks to find examples that make his subject relevant for millennial students.  This task can be a bit more challenging for a classicist than an economist but when Senator Ted Cruz made a reference to Cicero, Schlude decided to use it in his class.  This creativity is not that rare among good professors, but it is not automatic.
  2. Group work.  In the professional world, working in groups, especially in creative settings, has become more common.  The best faculty think about how to respond to such demands, even if it requires them to modify their previous teaching methods.  Schlude, in this case, thought it useful to have the students work together on a project that might traditionally have been an individual assignment.  In this setting, students learn valuable listening and collaborative skills.
  3. Campus outreach. When the class project went well, Schlude and his student thought it might be good to share what they had learned with the broader community.  Through the McCarthy Center at Saint John’s, they put on a public presentation on the use of rhetoric in the immigration debate that enhanced the liberal arts experience of the students who did not happen to be in this course.  In addition, the students got to hone their public presentation skills.  While this obviously took additional time and energy on the part of the professor and the students, they provided a great learning experience for the campus community.
  4. Public outreach. While even the effort to reach out to the campus community is was a bit rare, Schlude and the students took their project one step further.  They decided to share their efforts with the public.  They recast their work into a written form that was appropriate for public consumption and then submitted it to the Star Tribune, which wisely accepted it, as noted above.  Faculty occasionally participate in such public intellectual discussions (faculty members like Louis Johnston, Nick Hayes and Annette Atkins are regulars on Minnesota Public Radio), but these are typically solo efforts.  When students are involved, they are typically working as research assistants and more often than not they are graduate students.  In this rare case, Schlude made undergraduates his collaborators and co-authors, a generous act for any professor but especially for an assistant professor who might naturally be focused on his own publication record.

A fortuitous public event, a creative faculty member and engaged students provided our students with a series of invaluable learning experiences that they will remember for years after they have graduated.

This kind of learning does not occur only at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University, but I can say with great confidence that it happens most often at small, residential, liberal arts schools because of our unique and rare (only 5% of undergraduates attend such institutions) educational model and the kinds of faculty and students we attract.

By |December 15th, 2014|Categories: Higher Education, History||0 Comments

Sticker Shock and Discounts

One of the most pressing issues on the higher education agenda is the cost of college.  For nearly four decades, the costs of college have risen faster than inflation, rising even faster than health care costs, as this chart from the Freakonomics blog attests:

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The annual Chronicle of Higher Education compilation of tuition data has recently come out  and it has led to the usual articles and blog posts with titles such as, “Cost of College Crosses $260,000 Threshold,” based on scary charts like this:

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Those of us in higher education and our students and their families are painfully aware of this reality.  There are understandable and perfectly reasonable explanations for this growth in tuition (the labor intensive nature of our industry, technological changes, improvements in the quality of the educational experience, etc.) that I won’t detail here.

What is too often missing in the simplistic version of this story, like the chart above, is something that should be obvious: financial aid.  Unlike health care, our customers typically get a means tested price and many of those students then get a further “merit-based” discount after the means testing.   Virtually every mainstream institution of higher education offers need based aid to its students.

Families are asked to submit financial data which is used to determine an expected family contribution and then schools, subject to their resources, put together a financial aid package consisting of grants (free money), work study jobs and loans. In addition, many schools, save the most elite, then offer additional merit based aid to attract strong students to their instituion.  Merit is typically academically determined–using grades and test scores–but it can also include musical or artistic abilities or volunteer service.  (Athletic ability can come into play at schools that have athletic scholarships, but that is not permitted at Division III institutions like Saint John’s and the College of Saint Benedict.)

The dollar amounts of merit aid are not trivial.  At CSB and SJU the top merit scholarship, a Trustees Scholarship, is worth about half the price of tuition. Financial aid and increased discounting has actually kept the cost of education down in ways that are rarely noted in the press.  For the 17 schools that make up the Minnesota Private College Council, average inflation-adjusted tuition paid by entering students has been flat for a decade, even as the average sticker price for tuition has risen by about 50%.

Interestingly, the Department of Education, not always viewed as the most helpful bureaucracy, recognizes this reality and provides a “Scorecard” to help students and families  get a more accurate picture of true costs of education at different institutions.  The  Saint John’s score card at Department of Education’s College Scorecard site is here.

Most agree that need based aid is essential in higher education and while one might legitimately debate the pros and cons of merit aid, the important reality in discussions of tuition costs and inflation is that many if not most students get a significant discount from the sticker price.  At many tuition driven schools that provide significant merit aid, the discount on tuition is 50% or above.

So a more legitimate headline should read something like, “Average Cost of College Crosses $160,000.”  (Room and board are not typically discounted in the  same way tuition is.)   Certainly this is still very real money for most families, but it has the benefit of being more accurate and helpful to students and families who are making decisions about the most important investment most of them will ever make.

By |December 8th, 2014|Categories: Economics, Higher Education||0 Comments