Monthly Archives: August 2014

The High Cost of Higher Education and Emergence of Affordable Alternatives.

August 28th, 2014


The Good Old Days

According to a 2013 Bloomberg Report, “the cost of higher education has surged more than 500 percent since 1985.” Seventy years ago, most Americans thought college was only for the wealthy elite. This perspective changed after World War II with the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, better known as the GI Bill of Rights. The law made higher education affordable and veterans who never would have thought of going beyond high school were enrolling in college.

June 22, 1944: FDR signs GI Bill or Rights

One would have expected this surge in college enrollment to give rise to higher tuition, but that was not the case. In fact, states embraced the idea. Benefitting from the booming postwar economy, states were spending unprecedented sums of money to expand higher education while the government was setting up programs to help families pay for tuition. This led to the implementation of the National Defense Student Loan program, later called the Federal Perkins Loan program, which did for civilians what the GI Bill had done for veterans and helped expand access to a college education even more.

With the civil rights movement came the landmark Higher Education Act of 1965 that promoted greater college access for women and minorities. Colleges and universities looked at ways they could help by providing grants and other forms of student financial aid in partnership with the new federal program.

Trouble in Paradise

But a shift began to happen in the mid 1970’s when college tuition and fees began to climb triggered by double-digit inflation, an oil embargo and a sputtering economy. We started seeing the emergence of private loans, heavily subsidized by the federal government, replacing federal grants that became the main source of money for college students from both poor and middle-class households. Public investment in higher education dropped forcing the colleges to look elsewhere to replace their loss of funding. They did this by increasing tuition and fees and gradually the perception that higher tuition meant a better quality of education became a commonly accepted belief system.

And today, with the sluggish economy and a job market that is unable to meet the demand of new graduates who are burdened with unprecedentedly high student loan debts, the rising cost of higher education in proportion to its merits are debatable. Parents are beginning to look at higher education with a keener eye and helping their children find less-expensive options as they realized that guaranteed access to affordable college education is no longer the entitlement many Americans thought it was 40 years ago.

What’s the alternative?

Parents are looking at alternatives to the high-priced four-year institutions, and one is the community college. The current price of a four-year state institution is triple that of a community college. High school graduates can easily transition into a community college, which is an excellent preparation for what lies ahead at a four-year institution. At a community college they can complete the general education requirements at a fraction of the cost it would have been had they entered a four-year institution. A student completing the GE requirements at a community college can transfer to a four-year institution to complete the courses for a major.

Another possible good news about community colleges is that California’s state legislature has passed a bill that will allow a small number of community colleges to offer the bachelor’s degree. If Governor Jerry Brown signs the bill, California will be the 22nd to expand the reach of community colleges. The goal is not to compete directly with traditional four-year institution but offer baccalaureate programs in workforce fields such as dental hygiene, information technology, and automotive-technology management, to name a few. In California, the total tuition for a community college bachelor’s degree will be $10,560. Compared to a traditional college education, a community college bachelor’s degree is a great bargain. This affordable tuition can be seen as a threat to private, for-profit schools that offer the same type of workforce degrees.

Other affordable alternatives, of course, include the MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), which at this time appear to benefit mostly those who already have a college degree and the discipline for self-study. But a new school has emerged which WGBH did a story on and it’s called the Minerva Project, a for-profit university offering online courses to students while moving them around the world together throughout the four years. Minerva Project is launching its first class this fall with thirty mostly non-U.S. institutions who will take the online classes starting in San Francisco, followed by Berlin and then Buenos Aires. The cost of this innovative tuition is $10,000 per year plus living expenses.

When it comes to higher education, parents are becoming smart consumers and it is beginning to look like there are alternatives that are affordable and offer the college bound students the training which prepares them academically and the skills needed for the real world.

Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert



Filed under Credentials, Education, History, Politics

Walter Benjamin: Why Is Art Worth More Than Music?

August 21st, 2014


German Philosopher Walter Benjamin: 1892-1940

Walter Benjamin was a German philosopher (1892-1940) whose most famous work from 1936 was called The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. You can read here. In his famous work, he discusses originality, authenticity, and mass production of art. He writes about the “aura” that original works of art possess and the loss of that “aura” in works that have been reproduced. A painting by Picasso has an aura. A lithograph by Picasso in a run of 250 copies does not. The lithograph is not the original. Neither does photography have an aura. In his thinking, photos are the image of an image.


Why is Man With Blue Guitar worth so much more than Kind Of Blue?

What about music? Why is an original master tape of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue worth eons less than Picasso’s Man with the Blue Guitar? Why do most iconic jazz musicians make so much less money than iconic fine artists? Why didn’t Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, or John Coltrane fetch the kind of money Jackson Pollock, Robert Rauschenberg, or Mark Rothko have made? Is it because record companies pressed thousands if not millions of their records, and that all performances on those records were identical? What about the master tape, the original? Is it worth less because it has been copied, just like lithographs?

And yet a signed copy of say, Kind of Blue would still be worth much less than a signed lithograph by Matisse or Picasso.

Walter Benjamin committed suicide in 1940 when he believed he couldn’t cross the Spanish / French border and escape death from the nazis. He had gone there, like Hemingway and George Orwell, to help the Republicans. When Franco called in the Luftwaffe to test out the new ME 109s and bomb Guernica, Picasso painted the horrendous painting of the same name. Too bad Walter Benjamin didn’t live longer, or write about musical recordings and the rise of the music industry after World War II.


Tom Schnabel, M.A.

Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres

Blogs for Rhythm Planet

Author & Music educator, UCLA, SCIARC, currently doing music salons

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Yachay: A South American Silicon Valley in Ecuador

August 14th, 2014


Ecuador is creating a new city of knowledge called Yachay; a Quechua Indian word that means knowledge, or learning. It is building a research university and city in Urcuquí, Imbabura Province to function as an academic, technological and scientific. The campus expands over an area of approximately 12,000 acres near the snowcapped Andean peaks in northern Ecuador. In one promotional video on Yachay, the tag line is: Ciudad de Conocimiento (City of Knowledge) Investiga! Innova! Produce! (Research! Innovate! Produce!)

Yachay is to become the first planned city of its kind and its mission is to transform the country into an exporter of knowledge which Ecuador sees as the key to access the new global economic structure. Yachay University is a proposed institution planned by the government of Ecuador.

Image of the future City of Knowledge, Yachay

The idea came about in 2013 after President Rafael Correa toured Asia and so impressed was he with the technologically advanced research and business clusters in the countries he had visited, in particular South Korea and Singapore, that he envisioned something similar for Ecuador. Rich in oil and gold deposits, the country’s natural resources may soon run out which is why President Correa wants to steer Ecuador away from an economy that is largely based on oil-extraction and mining. He wants to take Ecuador through an academic and technological revolution with Yachay; a $1.04 billion initiative to build a research university surrounded by labs, industrial parks and, ultimately, a city…a South American Silicon Valley in Ecuador.

The heart of Yachay will be Yachay University (Universidad de Investigación de Tecnología Experimental), the technological experimental university that Ecuador wants to make into an important academic establishment. The focus of the university is to develop research around five key areas: life science, nanoscience, petrochemistry, renewable energies, information and communications technology. Yachay University will be one of four universities, and supposed to collaborate with public and private research institutions. Here’s the link to the promotional YouTube video on Yachay

The university will cater to 4000 students, offering internationally recognized undergraduate, graduate and doctorate degree programs. It will facilitate access to national and international research endeavors. The institution is said to retain world-class teaching staff that will work with Ecuadoran universities on research projects. According to a July 14th article in the Miami Herald: “Some 174 students have been recruited from across the country and are taking intensive math and English courses on campus as they prepare for formal studies next year.”

Rene Ramirez, Ecuadorian Minister of Higher Education, Science, Technology, and Innovation, hopes Yachay University will one day be on par with the likes of Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the California Institute of Technology. Yachay University has already attracted the likes of Sanford, Cal Tech and Kansas State University is offering English language instructions. According to September 2013 plans, the University was to open in the first quarter of 2014.

Yachay wants to attract new, innovative and high tech businesses in telecommunications, petrochemistry, health sciences and nano technology. Companies such as Microsoft, Cisco Systems, and China Telecom have already set up in Yachay. The goal is to attract foreign investors converting Yachay into a hub of employment.

Success as a world-class research university requires not only financial security as well as also autonomy on the part of the institution, but to the critics of this project, Yachay is seen as a government enterprise leaving little room for academic freedom. Other critics see Yachay as a university of the elites, isolated and cut off from the rest of Ecuador operating in a vacuum while much of the country is poor and underdeveloped. Many also argue as to why the billions spent on building Yachay is not being allocated to Ecuador’s existing struggling public universities. Supporters of Yachay argue that Ecuador’s public institutions have failed to make any progress in research and innovation and that Yachay University in fact will help reduce the country’s brain drain. An example I recently heard was a report on Yachay by NPR’s All Things Considered about a 17-year old Ecuadoran who turned down a full scholarship to a top university in Belgium to study genetic engineering in order to attend Yachay University.

All this sounds very ambitious, or as the blogger Eric Mack said in his post, this could very well be the pipeline to the future or a pipe dream. I, for one, would like to see this ambitious endeavor succeed, but not at the expense of the country’s existing public universities. Guess we’ll have to wait and see.

The Frustrated Evaluator


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10 Fast Facts on Mauritania

August 7th, 2014


Recently, I saw a performance by the Mauritanian singer Noura Mint Seymali, who plays the 9-string harp, the ardin (reserved only for women), and her talented musicians at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. The Skirball hosts free summer concerts bringing in international artists and performers to give us Angelenos a taste of the musical flavors from around the world. Noura’s melodic voice and music, a blend of Berber, Afro-pop, and desert blues had everyone on their feet dancing; transporting us to a desert oasis thousands of miles away.

YouTube link:

Influenced by its Moorish past, Mauritania has a rich and thriving music culture (as evidenced by the performers I saw at the Skirball).

In terms of geography, Mauritania (three times the size of Arizona) is situated in northwest Africa with about 350 mi (592 km) of coastline on the Atlantic Ocean. In the north, it is bordered by Morocco and on the east by Algeria and Mali, and Senegal on the south. The country is 70% desert and growing because of ongoing droughts, with the exception of the fertile Senegal River valley in the south and grazing land in the north.

Image source: Steve McCurry’s Blog

The history of Mauritania dates back to the 3rd century AD. The original settlers of Mauritania were the Bafours people. Berber tribes began migrating to the region between the 3rd and 7th century AD removing all traces of the Bafours people. The Mauritanian Thirty-Year War occurred between 1644 and 1647 when the Beber fought against the Beni Hassan tribes and Maqil Arab invaders.

Mauritania was first explored by the Portuguese in the 15th century, but by the 19th century the French had gained control and became one of the colonies that constituted French West Africa. In 1946, it was named a French overseas territory.

Now, here are some fast facts on Mauritania:

1. Mauritania gained its independence from France on Nov. 28, 1960, and was admitted to the United Nations in 1961. (Having once been a French colony, Mauritannia’s education system has been heavily influenced by the francophone system which is still prevalent today even after its independence.)

2. The capital of Mauritania is Nouakchott, which means “place of the winds.” It was designated as the country’s capital only in 1960 and is therefore one of the world’s newest capitals.

Nouakchott, capital of Mauritannia

3. Mauritania is one of the last countries to abolish slavery. It passed a law in 1981 to abolish slavery. Yet, according to 2003 estimates, despite the legislation against slavery, there still exists around 90,000 slaves in Mauritania.

Image source:

4. Majority of Mauritanians are devout Moslems and belong to the Sunni sect.

5. Arabic is the official and national language. Other languages spoken include: Pulaar, Soninke, Wolof (all national languages), French, Hassaniya (a variety of Arabic).


6. If you look at Mauritania from space, you can see a clear bull’s-eye-like image called “The Eye of Africa.” It is a Richat structure with a diameter of about 30 miles and believed to be the result of the simultaneous lifting of the underlying geology. It is, nevertheless, quite striking.


7. With about 40% of its population still below the poverty line, Mauritania depends heavily on iron ore exports, fishing and off shore oil wells for its economic progress. In addition to ion ore, Mauritania’s other natural resources include gold, gypsum, phosphate, diamonds, copper and oil.

8. Mauritania’s extensive coastline offers excellent opportunities for those who wish to explore the beach, surf, swim or fish in the sea.


9. France’s colonial influence is apparent in Mauritania’s education system that follows the francophone system. Primary school covers 6 years and begins at age six, followed by 7 years of secondary education which leads to the Secondary Education Diploma “Diplome du Baccalauréat de l’Enseignement du Secondaire” (BAC),

10. Mauritania’s University of Nouakchott offers two-year Diploma programs (“Diplome d’Etudes Universitaires Géneralés” also called “DEUG”) followed by two additional years for the “Maitrise.” There are also seven specialized institutions of higher education

Bonus fact:
11. Mauritania’s Bay of Nouadhibou, hides one of the biggest ships cemeteries in the world. There are more than 300 wrecks from all nations beached permanently on its shores. (For more images of shipwrecks on Mauritania’s shores click here:



Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert



Filed under Education, History, Human Interest, Politics, Travel

5 Safety Tips for International Students on U.S. Campuses

August 1st, 2014


For many years I served as an advisor to international students and counseled them on selecting colleges that would best meet their academic, financial and social needs. Going to college is a major milestone and for international students and their parents, college in another country can be an even bigger transition. For parents of international students, the thought of sending their son and daughter to a country thousands of miles away is daunting, no matter what the benefits may be.

Unfortunately news of shootings on campus, and the recent fatal stabbing of a graduate student from China at a prominent university in California who was walking back to his dorm room after meeting with his study group have escalated concerns on the overall safety and security of students at U.S. institutions. Even though U.S. college officials have in place lots of campus safety measures, there a few steps parents and international students can take to ensure a safe college experience.

1. Check into safety statistics: A good place to start is the college’s website. Start by entering “Safety” in the search bar and hit enter and see what information is revealed. According to federal law, all U.S. colleges must disclose statistics on crimes such as rape, murder, robbery, and arson that occurred on their campus. If you are unable to find this information on the college’s website, go the Department of Education’s online Campus Safety and Security Data Analysis Cutting Tool.

2. Safety programs: Next, look to see what safety and precautionary recommendations the college provides. Some of these include late-night escort services that will deliver the student back to his/her as dorm room as well as and designated safe spots on campus to call for help during emergencies.

3. Research the surrounding area:


With nearly 3000 colleges and universities in the United States, you are going to have a variety of institutions in locations just as varied, from small town college campuses in the Midwest to colleges in large metropolitan areas. One thing to do is look at the map of the U.S. and when selecting a college, find out more about the state and city its located in and do a quick study of its geography and even catch up on some local news by doing an internet search of the town. Ideally, a site visit by parents with their college-bound child would be the way to see at first hand not only the campus but the surrounding neighborhood.

4. Ask questions:


If you can’t do the site visit, don’t hesitate to set up an appointment for a phone call or a Skype chat with the admissions and international student counselors at the colleges you’re considering and ask them about the safety measures on their campuses. You can also stop by the EducationUSA Office at the US Embassy in your country who will be able to offer you unbiased advice on questions you may have about the location of your college and any supporting information concerning the overall safety of the area.

5. Get to know your campus security:


Once you have arrived and checked into your dorm room and registered in your classes, get to know all there is to know about the college campus. Attend any orientation programs offered and find out the location of the campus security. Learn the layout of campus by getting a map and familiarize yourself with the area. Invite your roommate or others in your orientation group to go on a campus exploration tour of your own and learn first hand where your classrooms will be and other important buildings and facilities.

Student safety is number one for all U.S. colleges and they work hard in making sure that their campuses are secure and safe. College should be a memorable experience both academically and socially and though you may quickly settle into your classes and dorm life and begin to feel comfortable, it is important to always be aware of your safety and security.

You will find a slew of websites on campus safety from different colleges on the Internet. Here are a few links to articles we thought you may find interesting and helpful.


Nora K. Saidi
Executive Director, ACEI


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