Monthly Archives: November 2011

If high tuition is “normal”, then “normal” sucks

In the wake last night’s flap at Baruch College, I saw a number of tweets in my “CUNY” search column that expressed a sentiment like the following: “CUNY students are complaining about a $300 tuition increase? They’re spoiled – $300 is nothing, and CUNY tuition is already a bargain.” (Several were less politely phrased than this.)

It’s true that, compared to the cost of private schools – and maybe even other public institutions, I’m not sure – CUNY is pretty cheap. But it’s unwarranted to leap from the observation that CUNY tuition is relatively less expensive to the judgment that CUNY students have nothing to complain about.

The first reason is that, for many students in CUNY’s target demographic, $300/year is a significant amount of money. When you consider that the $300 hike is slated to happen once per year for the next five years, it becomes less controvertible that the increase is significant. A student in her first year at a four-year CUNY school will pay an additional $1,800 over her next three years, an increase of about 11% over what her tuition would be at current rates. (The percentage is higher at community colleges.) Even if you know nothing about CUNY students, there’s no question that an 11% (or higher) increase is something worth getting upset about.

And there’s something more insidious lurking behind the “they’re spoiled” sentiments: the idea that the insane costs of higher education are somehow “normal”, or even “the way things ought to be”. Charts like this one (assembled here from Consumer Price Index data) suggest that tuition increases have outpaced inflation by about two to one in the past decade or so. Unless wages have also outpaced inflation in this way (which, ahem, I doubt they have), it means that college tuition is, in some objective sense, a greater proportion of income than it used to be. Why should this seem right? Is higher education is a privilege that should be available only to people with financial means? In what way is income a meaningful indicator of who should be able to go to college?

Look at it another way. If the “CUNY students are spoiled” comments comes from people who are pissed off about the fact that they pay far more for their private schools – if it’s sour grapes – then it’s downright idiotic. People paying outrageous tuition to private schools, scraping by only by recourse to enormous student loans, should be right alongside of CUNY students, fighting the cultural sentiment that allows their $40K tuition to seem somehow acceptable. I fall into this category myself. My student loan debt is staggering. My wife and I make good money, and pay off large amounts of principle on our loans every month – but still we’ll be 40 before they’re paid off. If this is normal, then “normal” is something that we should all be resisting.

New WordPress plugin: Add User Autocomplete

Add User Autocomplete

Add User Autocomplete

Site admins on a WordPress Network can add existing network members to their site on the Dashboard > Users > Add New panel. But the interface requires that one know either the email address or the username of the user in question. My new plugin, Add User Autocomplete, makes the Add Existing User workflow a bit easier, by adding autocomplete/autosuggest to the Email Address/Username field. Just start typing, and the plugin will return matching users; arrow down or click on the intended user to add her to the Add User list.

A few additional bonuses provided by the plugin, aside from autocomplete:

  • In addition to return email address and username matches, the plugin also checks against the display_name and user_url fields. So if my username is ‘admin’, and my email address is ‘’, but my display name around the site is ‘Boone Gorges’, you’ll be able to find me by searching on ‘Boone’.
  • You can add many users to a blog at once. Search for one user, select and hit Return, and then search for another.
  • Prettier success messages. When you submit the Add New User page, your success message will give you a list of the users invited, instead of a generic “Invitations have been sent” type message.

Add User Autocomplete requires WP 3.1 and JavaScript. The plugin was developed for the CUNY Academic Commons. Check out the plugin at or follow its development at Github.

New BuddyPress plugin: BP Better Directories

BP Better Directories

BP Better Directories

BP Better Directories is a new BuddyPress plugin that will turn your (kinda boring) member directories into something a lot slicker. Site admins select which fields they’d like to be filterable in member directories. Site visitors can then use a nice AJAX interface for narrowing search results.

This plugin is being developed for the CUNY Academic Commons, and is in early beta. Don’t use on a live site. There’s also a pretty good chance that the technique I’m using in the guts of the plugin won’t scale all that well without proper caching. You have been warned! (Also, it requires at least BP 1.5.1.)

Download the plugin or follow its development on Github.