Sam Petulla

Sam Petulla is a writer based in Washington, DC. His writing has appeared in Wired, Inside Higher Ed, and at the Nieman Journalism Lab's Web site.

Recent Articles

Rick Perry's Higher Education Woes

Texas Governor Rick Perry’s has had a tough go with higher education. Costs to attend the state's college have shot past the support the state provides to students. State community colleges, for example, are 90 percent more expensive since 2000 while, over the same period, government spending increased only 23 percent. The disparity is even more pronounced for the major flagship universities. On top of that, in the most recent budget, no appropriations were made for enrollment increases, and state financial aid was cut 15 percent. So what is Governor Perry’s tonic for this sour mixture? Forcing local governments to choose to raise taxes and making Texas’s nationally-renowned research universities more like for-profit colleges. Governor Perry’s big idea to fix the cost problem in higher education is to try to make a college degree cost $10,000 by implementing what he calls the “Seven Breakthrough Solutions.” Right now, a Texas public school can cost as much as $70,000. So, no surprise...

For Whom the Pell Tolls

The Hill reports that Pell Grants have become a sticking point between the freshman GOP and John Boehner for the passage of his debt-ceiling compromise plan. Representative Denny Rehberg described the right's grievances with the program on a talk show in April: "So you can go to college on Pell Grants — maybe I should not be telling anybody this because it’s turning out to be the welfare of the 21st century.” But if the GOP actually thinks Pell’s size is harming the economy, it’s certainly not making a strong argument. Pell is, it’s true, much larger today than it was even a few years ago. It’s grown roughly 150 percent since 2006-2007. A number of nonpartisan institutes are concerned it may be too large and are analyzing its size. But according to New America , only 25 percent of that growth is attributable to the increase in the maximum size of the grant eligible students can receive. Instead, the increase is caused by changes to eligibility requirements and by the fact that more...

The Future of Low-income Students

Yesterday, a number of groups, including Campus Progress and The Education Trust , came together for "Save Pell Day." The reason? Pell’s in trouble. The budget passed by the House earlier this year reduced the maximum grant by 45 percent, kicking about 1.5 million students out of the program. Representative Paul Ryan’s proposal for next year reduces the grant a comparable amount. And in the debt-reduction talks, Pell has repeatedly come up as an area prime for cuts. For those who are unfamiliar with the Pell grant program, it is money paid directly to low-income, qualifying students who can then put it toward tuition and college expenses. Unlike student loans, it does not have to be paid back. Pell's size has increased roughly 150 percent from 2005-2006 to 2010-2011 -- from $14.4 to $34.4 billion. The program is about 30 years old and is one of the signature pieces of federal loan legislation -- you could call it the "social security" or "medicare" of college access. So, no surprise,...

None of the Above

With the budget fight consuming Washington, Obama's education reform stalls.

(Flickr/Medill DC)Secretary of Education Arne Duncan
It's hard to tell whether Education Secretary Arne Duncan, a former basketball star, is faking a pass. But if Congress doesn't reauthorize No Child Left Behind (NCLB) -- the Bush-era education-reform law that used standardized tests to hold schools accountable for performance -- by the time kids go back to school this fall, Duncan is threatening to ignore it. The education secretary said he would use the authority NCLB grants him to issue regulation waivers to school districts in exchange for reforms consistent with the Obama administration's goals. There may be a political calculus to Duncan's new push: the looming election. More than two years into the president's term and a year after releasing a blueprint for reforming the law, the administration's education agenda has taken a back seat to the spending wars that now consume Washington. Next month, the National Education Association (NEA), the country's largest teachers union, which has called for an overhaul, will decide at its...

Did We Create a Monster?

Does the federal government need to regulate enrollment in Women's Studies programs based on how their graduates fare in the job market? What about Chinese Literature? Religious Studies? Last week's announcement of new rules to bear down on career colleges like the University of Phoenix, which offer degrees in programs like Health Administration and Criminal Justice Administration, weren't designed to force those questions. These programs come under a different section in the Higher Education Act, excluding them from regulations for how much money their graduates make. But the new rules -- the gainful employment rules, as they're called -- could push federal regulators to start peering under the hood of more traditional colleges majors, [according to reporting by]( ) *Inside Higher Ed*. The issue is that the new regulations create the regulatory structure and a political vacuum ripe for more regulations. The...