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Understanding health care choices in light of the Affordable Care Act

June 16th, 2014
Dr. Ira Friedman is director of the Stanford Vaden Health Center.

Dr. Ira Friedman is director of the Stanford Vaden Health Center.

Dr. Ira Friedman answers questions for parents about Stanford health-care options, especially in light of the Affordable Care Act.

What new choices has the Affordable Care Act presented students and their parents since its implementation?

The big change occurred in 2012 when the ACA mandated dependent coverage under parents’ employer plans until age 26. Now, 69 percent of our undergraduates are covered by their parents’ plans, and it seems to be serving them well. However, with employer plans becoming more expensive, parents may shift to high-deductible plans, plans with limited out-of-area coverage and plans with restrictive provider networks. Students covered by these plans while away at school could experience greater barriers to getting necessary primary medical, specialist and mental health care.

How does Stanford’s Cardinal Care compare to alternative choices now made possible by ACA and to employer insurance carried by many parents?

Stanford’s Cardinal Care is a top-rung “platinum” plan, meaning it is very comprehensive in its coverage of medical expenses. In addition, the Cardinal Care provider network is strong locally (including Stanford University Medical Center) and throughout the U.S. It is particularly good at covering our students who are studying, doing research and traveling overseas.

What percentage of Stanford undergraduates choose Cardinal Care?

Around 27 percent of undergraduates are enrolled in Cardinal Care.

Why is it so important for college-age students to have insurance?

We don’t want our students to interrupt their studies or graduate with large medical bills, and we want our students to have full access to treatment and preventive services while they pursue their studies.

Given ACA and other options available to families, why does Stanford charge a campus health fee covering services at Vaden Health Center?

The health fee allows us to maintain a high-quality medical and mental health and counseling center on our campus. Funded only by the students studying on the main campus, it is customized to meet the needs of students and oriented toward easy access to care. To illustrate how it works, recently a female student developed a medical problem late at night, went online, selected an early morning appointment at Vaden Health Center and was treated and on her way to class by 9 a.m.

How can parents and their students learn more about health care choices while at Stanford?

We are just about to publish a new resource. Later this month parents can expect to see our new publication, “Student Health Matters” in their postal mail, email in-box or on the website. Let us know if it makes the choices more clear.

What advice do you have for parents?

When choosing a health plan, beware of high-deductible coverage, HMO-style plans and other plans that restrict provider access in the Stanford area. I wouldn’t want students to delay necessary tests, specialist consultations or mental health care due to high out-of-pocket costs or because local providers are excluded.

Provost creates committee to advise on sexual assault issues

June 13th, 2014
Provost John Etchemendy

Provost John Etchemendy

A new faculty-student committee will be convened by Provost John Etchemendy to suggest ways of improving educational efforts around sexual assault and to provide advice on Stanford’s disciplinary process for reported cases of sexual assault.

The committee will be co-chaired by M. Elizabeth Magill, the Richard E. Lang Professor and Dean of Stanford Law School, and Elizabeth Woodson, president of the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU).

Etchemendy said the committee, which will begin work this summer, will be asked to review and make suggestions on a number of related issues. The first is expanding educational efforts for students around sexual assault and harassment.

Incoming students this fall will receive new online training before arriving on campus, and as in the past, they will receive additional live training during New Student Orientation, Etchemendy said. There also are preliminary plans to work with the ASSU on a new educational campaign regarding “affirmative consent.” The new committee will be asked to suggest further ways of building student awareness of sexual assault and its prevention, as well as address related campus climate issues.

In addition, the committee will be asked to consider the university’s disciplinary process for reported cases of sexual assault – including but not limited to the question of whether expulsion should be the “presumptive” outcome of the disciplinary process when a student is found responsible.

Etchemendy informed the senate about the committee in response to a question from Faculty Senate Chair David Palumbo-Liu about the university’s processes. Students have raised concerns about the outcome of a case that has been through Stanford’s confidential disciplinary process.

Etchemendy noted that the student disciplinary process at Stanford was established by agreement between students and the faculty. Stanford’s current disciplinary process for reported cases of sexual misconduct, called the Alternate Review Process, was approved by the ASSU and the Faculty Senate last year after a successful three-year pilot.

In that process, individual cases are reviewed by five-member panels consisting of at least three students and up to two faculty or staff members. The panels make a finding of responsibility in the case and also recommend appropriate disciplinary actions. Both decisions may be appealed to the vice provost for student affairs. The process is focused on whether student conduct has violated Stanford policy, and the process occurs whether or not a criminal case moves forward.

Etchemendy said it is inevitable that in difficult and highly charged cases, one party or the other, and often both, will be unhappy with aspects of the process or outcome. Nevertheless, he welcomed recommendations for procedural improvements from the new committee, and he appealed to all members of the campus community to view themselves as responsible for creating a positive and respectful campus climate.

“We all have to take responsibility for the climate on campus,” he said.

Stanford introduces new financial tools for parents

June 13th, 2014

Stanford, one of the few remaining institutions that admit undergraduates without regard for their ability to pay, is introducing a new installment program for parents and working with a company that offers innovative peer-to-peer loan programs.

Stanford University is introducing two new financial tools to make college payments easier for families.

Beginning this summer, the university will offer families of undergraduates the opportunity to pay for their largest educational expenses – tuition, room and board – over the nine months of the academic year instead of in three quarterly outlays.

Under the installment program, parents of undergraduates will be able to begin spreading their payments out as early as July for the 2014-15 school year. The program will be offered without fee. Parents can learn more about the installment payment plan by visiting the Student Financial Services website.

Karen Cooper

Karen Cooper is director of financial aid at Stanford

In addition, Stanford will work with SoFi, created by Stanford graduates, to encourage the company to provide parent loans. SoFi, which was started by four alumni of Stanford Graduate School of Business, is a peer-to-peer lender that augments loan programs with career coaching, entrepreneurship support and unemployment protection.

Both new programs were reviewed by Stanford’s Board of Trustees on June 11.

Stanford, one of the few remaining universities that admit U.S. students without regard for financial need, already has an aggressive undergraduate financial aid program. Under enhancements instituted in 2007, parents with typical assets and family incomes below $100,000 are expected to pay nothing toward tuition. More than 75 percent of Stanford students graduate without debt.

Still, Stanford is aware that, even with its generous financial aid program, some families struggle, according to Karen Cooper, director of financial aid at Stanford.

“We’ve been talking to parents for some time about what we could do to make it easier for them,” Cooper said. “Even with our generous aid program, parents who haven’t saved for college costs are often looking for financing alternatives. Although our parents have access to the federal parent loan program, with an origination fee over 4 percent and a 7.21 percent interest rate, we saw some parents having to make difficult choices. This alternative from SoFi gives parents another viable option.”

SoFi was launched to offer innovative alternatives to federal or bank-secured loans in light of the national student debt burden. The parent loan program will be limited to U.S. citizens or permanent residents who meet credit approval criteria. Information on the program is available online.

“While Stanford has among the strongest need-based financial aid programs in the country, the university is also committed to providing a strong and reasonable parent-loan program, if and when it is necessary,” said Richard Shaw, Stanford dean of undergraduate admission and financial aid. “We are pleased that SoFi has agreed to assist the parents of enrolling Stanford undergraduates with a very strong and viable option to help them meet their assessed contribution toward their children’s cost, when necessary.”

Stanford prepares to welcome 30,000 for Commencement Weekend

May 2nd, 2014
Stanford grads

Stanford’s 123rd Commencement Weekend is scheduled for June 13-15.

Husband and wife philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates will share the podium as the 2014 Commencement speakers at Stanford.

Stanford’s 123rd Commencement Weekend, scheduled June 13-15, will also feature a Class Day lecture by Associate Professor of Communication Fred Turner and a Baccalaureate address by Zen Buddhist priest and poet Norman Fischer. The Class Day lecture and Baccalaureate ceremony are both on Saturday.

Stanford’s Commencement annually attracts about 30,000 people. So families are encouraged to make travel arrangements well in advance. Download the online e-program, which provides an overview in brief of the entire weekend.

Elaine Enos, executive director of the Office of Special Events and Protocol, answers questions for parents and family members about Stanford’s Commencement Weekend.

What are the most important pieces of advice you have for parents and family members coming to Commencement?

The first is to make hotel reservations as soon as possible if you have not already done so. There are a limited number of hotels in the Palo Alto area near the university. Visit the travel and lodging website for links to information about hotels throughout the Bay Area. It is very important to plan your visit in advance.

The second is to be sure to wear comfortable clothing, but especially comfortable shoes. General transportation on campus is not always available, and Stanford is a very large campus. The many events we hold during Commencement Weekend are not always in close proximity. Much of the center of campus will be closed to vehicular traffic that weekend, so you can’t count on being able to drive between events. There will be some shuttle services available, but families should be prepared to do a fair amount of walking.


Bill and Melinda Gates

What if families have a member who has difficulty walking?

If a member of your family is disabled or has mobility concerns, please be in touch with us as soon as possible. We strongly encourage you to plan in advance by visiting the Disability Resources page on our website. There is a form to request special assistance. We can also offer advice about finding wheelchair-accessible hotels, for instance.

I cannot stress this enough: Families need to plan their campus activities early and before they arrive at Stanford if they have a member with mobility challenges. We are limited in what we can do if asked to respond on the day of the events. It’s very important that families contact us and discuss their needs in advance. We’ve seen the experiences of families greatly diminished because mobility issues were so challenging for them.

Many families may find it easiest to use a wheelchair to transport a disabled family member from one location to another. For most families in general, it is simply a matter of allowing for more time. Whatever the circumstances, families should be in touch with us. I cannot stress this point enough.

What will the weather be like, and what type of apparel to you recommend?

We suggest bringing lightweight clothing for the weekend’s events since the majority of the activities will be held outdoors. Be prepared for warm if not hot weather. Temperatures during the day can range from 75 degrees to the low 90s, and the sun that time of year can be very strong. We also strongly recommend hats, visors and sun block, especially for the Commencement ceremony itself. Water will generally be available at the ceremonies, but we urge families to bring additional drinking water to have with you, especially if you will be walking around campus.

Is there any limit to the number of family members who can attend Commencement?

No. There is plenty of room in the Stanford Stadium for everyone who wants to come. No tickets are required to attend the main ceremony. However, please check with the graduate’s department, as some diploma ceremonies may have limited seating or require tickets.

Stanford's Commencement is held in Stanford Stadium.

Stanford’s Commencement is held in Stanford Stadium.

Why are there two ceremonies—the main one in the stadium and then a second, departmental ceremony somewhere else?

All graduates attend the main ceremony. The sheer number doesn’t allow for the awarding of individual diplomas. That happens at the smaller departmental diploma ceremonies, which occur right after the main ceremony. These ceremonies are located all around the campus, with the core of them in or near the Main Quad. They provide a more intimate experience for students with their families and faculty members.

The departmental diploma ceremonies are outlined in the e-program online. We recommend you download the program for use throughout the weekend. The Commencement program you will receive when you enter the stadium on Sunday also will include a map of diploma sites. There also will be information booths along your route to the diploma ceremonies, and our staff can assist you in finding your way.

How long do the two ceremonies take?

Commencement is generally less than two hours, depending on the length of the graduation speech. The length of the individual department ceremonies varies widely depending on the number of graduates to be honored. There is plenty of time to get from the Commencement ceremony to the individual diploma ceremonies.

Is food available for purchase at Commencement?

Yes, but it will be a limited menu: beverages like coffee, tea, juices and some limited breakfast pastries, hot dogs, burgers, fries and such. At Commencement, you can also purchase flowers and Stanford items from the bookstore.

Is there enough parking so that families can drive to the stadium for Commencement?

Parking is available—but limited—for the Commencement ceremony on Sunday. It’s best to plan in advance by visiting the parking and transportation website. The campus will be very crowded throughout the day. Another critical issue will be traffic congestion, particularly after the main ceremony has concluded. There will be some shuttle service, but the easiest way to get around the many events is by walking. For some families, that may not possible, so we strongly encourage planning in advance to review alternate parking lots near the diploma ceremony they plan to attend. The website contains maps with locations and parking information as well.

Stanford's Walky Walk

Stanford’s Walky Walk

How do you explain the Wacky Walk to families who have never experienced this Stanford tradition?

Instead of the processional march that one generally sees at university graduations, Stanford seniors enter the field through what’s become known as the “Wacky Walk.” It includes some walking, some running and some parading around. Students create their own events and characters on the field for about 15 minutes. The antics, often creative and funny, have become part of the Commencement tradition over the years.

For answers to more questions about Commencement, visit the Commencement website and note the “For Parents” section, call the Commencement information line at 650-725-1957 or email us at

Engineering coterm students gain skills and experience

April 8th, 2014

About 40 percent of the school’s undergraduates become coterms (formally known as coterminal students), leveraging their time at Stanford to add a master’s degree to their credentials.

By Andrew Myers

Today Justin Rosenstein is the co-founder of startup Asana and former engineering technical lead at Facebook. But only a few years ago he was an engineering student in Stanford’s coterm program, which allows students to pursue master’s degrees while still undergraduates.

The School of Engineering is located in the Huang Building.

The School of Engineering is located in the Huang Building.

“I was really grateful for the opportunity to seamlessly transition from undergrad into doing more advanced research,” said Rosenstein, whose company created a popular web-based productivity tool. “In particular, being able to go deep on my primary love – computer science – while continuing to take classes in my other areas of interest, including psychology and poetry, was a really special opportunity.”

Rosenstein isn’t alone. About 40 percent of School of Engineering undergraduates opt to pursue a coterminal master’s degree, according to recent data. Many do so for the reasons he cites – the opportunity to expand study of their majors and of classes outside their majors. For others, the primary reason is professional: An engineering master’s degree is highly valued in the marketplace.

“The coterm program brings a talented and diverse set of undergrads into our master’s program. They strengthen our student population – and faculty love them,” said Brad Osgood, a professor of electrical engineering and associate dean for student affairs in the School of Engineering.

Before he co-founded Instagram – the enormously popular photo-sharing app purchased by Facebook – Mike Krieger was a coterm student at Stanford. He earned his master’s and bachelor’s degrees in symbolic systems, an interdisciplinary field that blends cognitive sciences such as linguistics and psychology with technical fields such as artificial intelligence to explore how people and computers communicate through symbols.

In practical terms, Krieger credits the coterm for a direct impact on his success at Instagram. “While the undergrad degree offered broad perspective with a bit of everything, the coterm provided focus and depth. I learned how humans form networks and share information, both of which were valuable in the formulation of Instagram. Plus, I got to publish two papers, which I’m still proud of today.”

See the entire story on the School of Engineering website.

Applicants for Class of 2018 set record at Stanford

April 8th, 2014

Stanford sent notification letters in late March to high school students around the world, inviting them to join the Class of 2018.

The university has offered admission to 2,138 students, including 748 applicants who were accepted last December through the early action program.

Richard H. Shaw, dean of admission and financial aid, said the Class of 2018 was thoughtfully selected from 42,167 candidates, the largest application pool in Stanford’s history. Last year, Stanford received 38,828 applications.

The students admitted to the Class of 2018 come from 50 states and 71 countries.

“I am simply in awe of the exceptional accomplishments of students admitted to Stanford in the Class of 2018,” Shaw said.

“They were selected from a very competitive group of applicants and emerged as quite extraordinary in our review. Of course the beauty of these young people is that they truly represent the broad and deep diversity of the world. We believe they will be spectacular members of the Stanford family.”

Students admitted under the early and regular decision admission programs have until May 1 to accept Stanford’s offer.

Stanford to offer new undergraduate majors integrating humanities and computer science

March 7th, 2014

In a new experiment aimed at integrating the humanities and computer science while providing students with unique educational experiences, Stanford will offer undergraduates the opportunity to pursue a new “joint major” in computer science and either English or music starting in fall 2014. The Faculty Senate approved the new joint majors on Thursday, March 6.

The new degrees are distinct from “dual degrees” or “double majors.” Rather than completing all of the requirements for two separate majors, students who choose a joint major will pursue a curriculum integrating coursework from both disciplines.

The Faculty Senate laid the groundwork Feb. 20 when it approved a six-year pilot structure for a new Joint Majors Program, allowing Stanford departments to team up to offer joint majors. In its action Thursday, the senate approved the first two such majors on a pilot basis – one in computer science and English, the other in computer science and music.

Additional joint major proposals are expected to come forward in the near future.

“The worlds of the humanities and computer science are coming closer together,” said Nicholas Jenkins, associate professor of English and director of the CS+X initiative in Stanford’s Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education. “Computational methods are an increasingly important part of humanities study, and the aesthetic, cognitive, ethical and communicative issues central to the humanities are important to the future of computing. Stanford should be at the forefront of integrating these disciplines.

“We’re also seeing students who want to balance their academic passions with pragmatic considerations about their career development, and this kind of program addresses that need. The intellectual landscape is changing, and the workplace landscape is changing. We’re looking to help cultivate, and provide academic structure for, a new generation of both humanists who can code and computer engineers whose creativity and adaptability is enhanced by immersion in the humanities. With Stanford’s amazingly talented undergraduates, we hope we can educate a new type of humanist and a new type of engineer.”

The core of the joint major concept is integrated learning, one of the key recommendations of the 2012 Study of Undergraduate Education at Stanford (SUES).

To read the entire news article, visit the News Service website.

Provost talks about drinking, bike safety, choosing majors and the myths of college finances

February 25th, 2014
John Etchemendy

Provost John Etchemendy, left, talks with parents during Parents’ Weekend at Stanford. (Photo: L.A. Cicero)

Provost John Etchemendy welcomed parents and other family members to Parents’ Weekend on Feb. 21. In his speech, he asked parents to help curb risky drinking among students, increase bike safety and ensure students pick majors for the right reasons. Following is an edited version of his talk.

Thank you to all the family members who have joined us for Parents’ Weekend.

In the brief time we have, I’d like to review the results of some assignments we gave parents over the past year. Now, I can see some of you squirming. Assignment? What assignment? But, don’t worry. Nobody’s getting expelled.

As a reminder, we asked you, first, to talk to your kids about expectations around drinking and, second, to encourage them to wear bike helmets on campus. After I touch on both subjects and give you a new assignment, I will speak about university finances and what they mean for the resources and financial aid we provide your students.

First, let’s talk about student drinking.

Student drinking

Cardinal Nights ad

Cardinal Nights non-alcoholic events are attracting increasing numbers of students.

For the past two years, we’ve asked freshman parents to have candid conversations with their children about alcohol use. We’ve also published articles in the Parents’ Newsletter, hoping that parents would read them and have the same conversation.

Our surveys show that about 70 percent of parents do have those conversations. That’s good news because studies show that students who talk with their parents have fewer alcohol-related issues.

At Stanford, we’re seeing increased participation in the Cardinal Nights non-alcoholic student events we sponsor.

But we have a long way to go—as do our peers—in changing a student culture that equates risky drinking with fun. We hope you will help us end that culture by talking to your kids about your expectations around their drinking. We will continue to do so, too, but we don’t hold a candle to you when it comes to influencing their behavior.

That’s true, as well, with the second area of concern. In a recent Parents’ Newsletter, bike coordinator Ariadne Scott described her struggles to get your kids to wear bike helmets.

Bike safety

Here’s some quick background: There are thousands of bicyclists pedaling around Stanford each day in a constant whirl of wheeled chaos. Ninety-one percent of undergraduates ride bikes, but 89 percent of those won’t wear helmets, even though doing so reduces the risk of brain injury by 85 percent. Only 11 percent of undergraduates admit to wearing a helmet. The problem is that students don’t like helmet hair.

We do our best to convince your children to protect their most valuable asset: their exceptional brains.

Student testimonials help. For instance, Kali Lindsay talks to other students about crashing while on her way from her freshman dorm to an appointment at Meyer Library. She wasn’t wearing a helmet. All she recalled from that day was getting out of bed. The next thing she remembered were her parents coming to the hospital around 2 a.m., more than 12 hours later.

Kali sustained an epidural hematoma, which led to short-term memory loss and dizziness. Her head injuries prevented her from reading for almost two months and forced her to take the quarter off.

But Kali was lucky. She recovered. When she returned to school, she helped us create a program that last year provided helmet subsidies through the Campus Bike Shop to about 1,000 students.

I hope you will continue to help us convince your children that suffering a little helmet hair is far better than the alternative should they crash.

Choosing majors

And now I have a new assignment for you. I hope you will talk to your children about the major they have either chosen or are considering. Please make sure that they are choosing a major because they love the subject, not because they think that major will earn them a job.

Over the past several years, Stanford has seen an increase in the number of students majoring in computer science and a decrease in those selecting the humanities or social sciences. Now, there’s nothing wrong with majoring in computer science—except if you don’t really want to, but feel you have to for financial reasons. The same is true of students pursuing economics because they feel compelled to go into business, or biology because they believe they must become doctors. These are all great majors for those who have a passion for the subjects, but not for those who feel forced into them by imagined employment or parental pressure.

According to a report from the Association of American Colleges and Universities, humanities and social science majors earn a similar amount as pre-professional majors do over a lifetime.

Mark Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, speaking at Stanford. (Photo: L.A. Cicero)

Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, recently spoke at Stanford about his decision to major in psychology at Harvard and his interest in the classics and humanities. He told our students that the most interesting discoveries are being made at the intersections of disciplines. Technology, he explained, is a tool that you can use to solve different problems. But you have to know how to define a problem before you can solve it. And that’s where a broad liberal arts education comes in handy.

But we understand the urge to seek a return on investment from the substantial commitment to a child’s college education. After all, we’re parents, too, and we, too, pay for tuition.

Myths of college finances

And that brings me to the subject of college finances. I’d like to correct some of the mythology that has grown around the college-cost debate.

The first of these myths is that the financial return for attending college is less now than it used to be because of the high cost of tuition and challenging employment prospects.

That’s just not true. The value of an investment in college is higher now than it’s ever been. The college premium, which measures the difference between the earnings of college graduates and high school graduates, is at its highest level ever. And nationwide, the proportion of recent graduates who have gotten jobs coming out of college has been virtually unchanged from before the recession. Throughout the recession, in fact, the unemployment rate for bachelor’s degree holders has consistently been half that of non-college graduates. College remains a wise investment.

The second myth is that colleges are not preparing students with the skills needed in the current workplace. That’s not true either. All of the economic data suggests the exact opposite — the productivity of U.S. college graduates in the workplace is actually increasing. To take just one example, a recent Milken Institute study found that for each additional year of college attained by the residents of a region, the per capita gross domestic product of the region increases 17.4 percent. The authors of the study attribute the increased regional productivity to the increased productivity of a college-educated workforce.

Then there are a host of myths about college debt. Figures reported in the national press about the typical student debt tend to be greatly inflated. What most people are interested in is how much a typical student must borrow to finance an undergraduate degree. But most of the reported figures lump together all student loan debt—for both undergraduate degrees and professional degrees. Graduating with $100,000 in debt from medical or business school is not the same as getting a bachelor’s degree with that kind of debt burden.

They also fail to differentiate between types of schools. The debt at for-profit colleges is, for instance, much higher than at public institutions or private ones like Stanford. Furthermore, the press tends to report data on the average debt level among those who borrowed, not the median debt among all students, both those who borrowed and those who did not.

The most recent reliable Department of Education report for those earning bachelor’s degrees was done in 2008, and it shows that about a third of college graduates have no debt, and about 65 percent have debt less than $20,000. The median debt for all graduating seniors was slightly over $10,000 for those receiving a bachelor’s degree. Less than a half of one percent graduated with $100,000 in debt.

These levels have no doubt gone up since 2008, but they are nowhere near what is usually reported. At Stanford, 77 percent of the Class of 2013 graduated debt-free. Of the 23 percent who graduated with debt, the median amount was $13,000. This is probably less than an average new car loan. I wish more people involved in this debate understood those numbers.

Nevertheless, college indebtedness continues to be portrayed as a crisis, and that’s the fourth myth that concerns me. College debt does indeed exceed total credit-card debt and total auto loans, both of which have dropped since the beginning of the recession. It is in fact the only kind of household debt that continued to increase throughout the recession.

Why is this happening? Well, partly because more students are going to college, and that’s a good thing. It is in the interest of the students and the nation that more high school graduates go on to college.

But another reason is that the cost of college has been increasing, and that’s not a good thing. The largest price increases have been at public universities, because states have been reducing their general funds subsidies.

But there is another nuance missing in this debate: What we are also seeing is a decline in college savings. In other words, a lot of families are substituting debt for college savings. They have chosen an alternative way of spreading the cost of college over multiple years, just as they might buy a refrigerator with debt rather than a layaway plan.

So is it a crisis? When corporate America increases its debt to invest in physical capital — new factories, for instance — we do not consider it a crisis. It is an investment in future productivity. So I don’t believe it is necessarily a crisis when individuals borrow to invest in their own human capital, especially given the unquestioned return on investment in a college degree. Indeed, the Hamilton Project estimates that a student’s spending on college has a financial return of over 15 percent, more than twice the average return of a stock market investment over the past 60 years.

Which brings me to my final myth—that is that college costs are increasing faster than inflation largely because of wasteful spending on, for example, lavish dorms, recreation centers and sports facilities.

The truth is that in a university’s overall budget, capital costs for so-called amenities, such as recreation centers, constitute a very small fraction of the budget. Amortized over the life of the asset, they may account for a few dollars of the annual tuition bill, but not much more.

In the past decade, Stanford has indeed invested in its recreational centers and sports facilities, as have many of our peers, largely in an attempt to encourage healthy life styles among our faculty, staff and students. You should know that Stanford’s facilities have all been privately financed through philanthropy.

So what caused Stanford, for instance, to increase its tuition this year? Ironically, one of the main factors pushing up costs here and elsewhere is the college premium — again, that’s the wages paid to highly educated employees — that I alluded to earlier.

Fifty-nine percent of our expenditures at Stanford are for people. And virtually all of our employees—whether faculty, staff or administrators—are highly educated. They benefit from the college premium. In other words, the same phenomenon that increases the financial return of going to college also increases the cost of attending college.

But, thanks to substantial increases in financial aid, the average net price of a Stanford education—meaning, the average amount students pay to attend Stanford, taking financial aid into consideration and adjusting for inflation—has actually dropped 5 percent over the last decade. As good as that sounds, I know it’s hard to believe, especially if you are footing the entire bill.

That doesn’t mean we are satisfied. Please know that we work hard to keep a Stanford education accessible. While the total amount we spend on an undergraduate’s education is almost $100,000 per year, thanks to gifts and endowment income, we can keep even full tuition substantially lower than this.

In closing, I simply want to make this assurance to you as parents: We remain committed to keeping a Stanford education affordable and to preserving access for the brightest undergraduates, regardless of their financial circumstances. We are one of the very few institutions lucky enough to still be need-blind, meaning that we will meet a family’s full demonstrated need. Concerns about the cost of higher education will likely lead to changes here and elsewhere in the future. But I don’t see Stanford’s commitment to making its education affordable to those who are admitted changing anytime. That is our number one priority.

Parents’ Weekend offers a window into students’ world

February 24th, 2014
Parent t-shirt

More than 3,600 family members attended the annual Parents’ Weekend on Feb. 21 and 22. Photo: L.A. Cicero

More than 3,600 family members arrived on campus Feb. 21 and 22 to take part in lectures, tours, performances and question-and-answer sessions with senior officials, including university Provost John Etchemendy and President John Hennessy.

The smiles on students and their family members matched the sunny skies. The two days were packed with opportunities for family members to share their students’ Stanford experiences. University photographer Linda Cicero and videographer Kurt Hickman captured some of the highlights.

See the slideshow.

See the video.

Abundance of caution closes Stanford campus buildings

February 12th, 2014

Out of an abundance of caution, the Department of Public Safety (DPS) closed Tresidder Memorial Union and many of the surrounding buildings Tuesday morning in response to a reported suspicious backpack.

By 12:30 p.m., police determined that there was no threat and began the process of reopening the closed buildings. Among the buildings closed were Tresidder, Old Union, Dinkelspiel, the Faculty Club, the Firehouse and the Humanities Center.  Faculty, staff and students in other area buildings, including those along Capistrano Way, were asked to shelter in place until the situation was resolved.

Classes and operations throughout the rest of the campus continued uninterrupted.

The backpack, which a passerby reported as being suspicious, was found shoved inside a newspaper receptacle outside of Tresidder around 8:55 a.m., prompting an activation of the university’s AlertSU system. Faculty, staff and students were asked to stay clear of the area through messages received through texts, emails, university tweets and posts to the university’s main and emergency websites and phone hotlines.

The area was ringed with yellow caution tape and posted deputies and security personnel from Stanford DPS and police officers from Palo Alto. Also involved were members of the Palo Alto Fire Department, the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office Bomb Squad and the Santa Clara County Hazmat Team.  Stanford police and the Palo Alto Fire Department created a unified command center in the Tresidder Union parking lot to direct operations.

According to Stanford Police Chief Laura Wilson, members of the Santa Clara County Sheriff ‘s Office bomb squad deployed robots to initially investigate the backpack.  Wilson noted that officers respond to suspicious packages and abandoned backpacks on campus on a somewhat routine basis.

“This one made the responding officers uncomfortable,” Wilson said, “which is why we decided to use an abundance of caution in how we responded to the situation.”

She said, “This incident proves the importance of people being attentive to their surroundings and reporting concerns promptly to campus police. The emergency response personnel who responded to this incident also appreciate the cooperation of the campus community in staying calm and clear of the area to allow police to conduct an investigation.  I was impressed by the community’s remarkable discipline in staying away from the area.”

Wilson added, “Stanford is also very grateful to our mutual aid emergency response partners as well as university response personnel for their help in resolving this situation.  The teamwork was strong and the communication worked well.”

After being removed by the Santa Clara County Bomb Squad, the package was analyzed and determined to contain personal effects.