Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Blog CLXVIII (148): Option 1 Revisited

It has been a while since this blog reproduced a report from another media.  This article in the Times Higher Education offers a good reason to return to this practice. It is a good, even handed reporting and analysis on trends taking place here in the United States in the history business.   It combines issues recently discussed in this blog, including: 1) the ramifications of rising tuition and 2) the real possibility that outsiders will intervene in higher education to fix the huge surplus of people holding the Ph.D. degree.  This article was written by John Marcus and was published as: "U.S. Historians Defend their Discipline."  Here is that article:

Some history professors in Florida are paying more attention these days to the future than to the past.

The historians have organised themselves to promote the value of their discipline against a growing sentiment that history is “non-strategic” in an economy that needs more engineers, scientists, entrepreneurs and workers in the health professions.

This is no longer just an academic issue. Like several other US politicians, Florida’s governor, Republican Rick Scott, has questioned whether taxpayers should continue fully subsidising public universities to teach subjects he says are in low demand. Academics in the humanities and some social sciences fear this threatens the survival of their departments. 
“If I’m going to take money from a citizen to put into education, then I’m going to take that money to create jobs,” Scott told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. “Is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists? I don’t think so.”
The Republican governors of North Carolina and Wisconsin have made similar pronouncements. “If you want to take gender studies that’s fine. Go to a private school and take it,” said North Carolina’s governor, Patrick McCrory.
“But I don’t want to subsidise that if that’s not going to get someone a job.”
Wisconsin’s governor, Scott Walker, has said that public technical colleges in his state should be judged on whether “young people [are] getting degrees in jobs that are open and needed today, not just the jobs that the universities want to give us.” 
This debate about the relative worth of the sciences versus the humanities is not new. But it has been propelled by the escalating cost of higher education. 
As students fall deeper into debt to pay for their tuition, more than two- thirds now believe the goal of going to a university is to increase their earning power, according to research by Arthur Levine, president emeritus of Teachers College, Columbia University. 
About 88 per cent of this year’s first-year undergraduates in the US say that “getting a better job” is the top reason they enrolled, according to a survey by the University of California, Los Angeles’ Higher Education Research Institute (The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2012). In 2006, 71 per cent gave that reason.

Internal Division
The debate has even driven a wedge between conventional four-year universities and some two-year community colleges, which enrol about half of the nation’s post-secondary students and typically focus on vocational education.

“It is time we all accept the fact that a traditional four-year liberal arts education is a poor investment for America’s middle class,” Tom Snyder, president of Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana, has written. “Today’s economy cannot support more art history or philosophy majors.”

In response, several associations of universities with four-year courses are fighting back. The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) is aggressively advocating the importance of imparting “broad knowledge and transferable skills.”  And the Council of Independent Colleges has established a Campaign for the Liberal Arts that will provide research and data to dispel stereotypes about the discipline.

“There is a new and heightened perception driving this trend that associations and organisations need to help the public better understand the value of the liberal arts,” said Laura Wilcox, the council’s spokeswoman.

The organisations contend that what employers really want from universities is not job training but graduates who can think critically, write and speak well, and solve problems.

“[Employers] say, ‘I want an engineer who can talk to people. I want an engineer who can write a memo. I want an engineer who doesn’t act like a goof.’ Everybody rolls their eyes when [employers] do that, but the data says they’re right,” said Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

An AAC&U survey of corporate executives found that nearly 90 per cent want workers with verbal and written communication skills, 75 per cent are looking for graduates who understand ethical decision-making, and 70 per cent say they need innovative and creative employees.

“None of this is to [criticise] the disciplines of science and engineering and technology, but we also need to train people in the art of understanding the world around them, where they fit into society and all of those sorts of things,” said Norman Goda, a history professor at the University of Florida who has helped to organise a petition against the governor’s proposal to charge lower fees for “strategic” majors in high workplace demand and more for “non-strategic” - largely humanities - majors, such as history.

“I can’t predict the downfall of man if there are fewer history majors but the cumulative effect over decades would surely not be a good one,” he added. 

Class Divisions
Others say the trend could deepen class divisions as some students will continue to be able to afford a humanities education while others will have no choice but to seek specific job skills.

“The rich get education and the poor get training,” Carnevale said. “It’s a way of reproducing class. The higher education system is now in cahoots with the economy to reproduce class.” Already, he added, “there are a lot of kids who are not getting a real education any more. They’re getting training.”

Reversing that shift will not be easy. The proportion of students majoring in the humanities has already fallen to just 8 per cent, according to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, down from a peak of more than 17 per cent in 1967.

“The issue of questioning the value of the liberal arts has been going on for more than just the past few years. It’s been going on for decades,” Goda said.

“Part of the problem that the liberal arts has always had is that you really cannot quantify what we do.

“The possibility of someone with a nursing degree going into nursing is very, very high. Someone with an English degree or a history degree could go into any one of a number of fields. They train you for a number of careers - not necessarily one,” he added.

More Likely to Get a Job
Yet no matter what the university associations say, students with degrees in the sciences are incontrovertibly more likely to get a job and make more money than graduates in the humanities. The unemployment rate in 2012 for recent history majors was 10.2 per cent, compared with 7.5 per cent for students who majored in engineering, the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce reports.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers reports that humanities and social science graduates earn $36,988 (£24,437) a year compared with $61,913 for engineering graduates.

“There’s more and more tension about this, especially as prices go up,” Carnevale said.
That tension is clearly being felt in history departments and by faculty in other humanities disciplines.

“When tenured faculty retire, they’re not going to be replaced,” Goda said. “What you may have, and what you have had, is the detritus of history, English and political science departments being combined into a department of humanities.

“And once you tear down departments like those, it’s tough, if it’s possible at all, to restore them.”

Here is my take.  First, as I said before, a very good article that gives a lot of good information.

Second--and people might not like this one--but Governor Scott has a point.  If the market is saturated with history Ph.D.s, then is there really a social need for the State of Florida need to produce more? Scott was talking about the humanities in general and not focusing on the Ph.D. but rather undergraduates, but his question gets to the heart of the issue: supply and demand.  When supply exceeds demand, one of the responses is to reduce the supply. 

Third, while Scott has a good point, Governors McCrory and Walker have taken it too far.  Colleges and universities are not vocational/technical schools.  They simply are not.

Fourth, while they are wrong and right, the governors are certainly within their rights to impose change on colleges and universities.  If the academic community in general, and history in particular, refuses to police itself and respond to broad social and economic factors, then others will do it for them.  Scholars will resent that action, because it will probably do a lot more damage than if they had responded and developed a program or policies of their own.  One easy way to do that is to reduce the costs of tuition, which is a major factor (but not the only one) for this outside intervention.  (There are several reasons why tuition has increased; some of it is beyond the control of colleges and universities; some of it is within their control). 

Fifth, Professor Goda is correct.  Once a department and program gets terminated it will probably stay terminated.  On the other hand, Carnevale is wrong.  There is hardly going to be a new form of class warfare between the rich liberal arts majors and the poor accounting and marketing students. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Blog CLXVII (147): "Reform Time" Part II

Perspectives on History (February 2013)
My article "Reform Time: Some Proposals to Help Solve the Job Crisis" is now fully available on-line.  The AHA staff opened the article to the general public (members and non-members alike), so readers will not hit a paywall if they try to access the article. Rather than reproduce it here, I am linking to the AHA's website.  If you want citation information, it is: Nicholas Evan Sarantakes, "Reform Time: Some Proposals to Help Solve the Job Crisis" Perspectives on History, vol. 54, no. 4 (April 2013), 38-39.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Blog CXLVI (146): History vs. Applied History vs. Public History

I wrote an article for the AHA newsletter Perspectives on History that is out in the current issue.  I basically use it to push some reform recommendations on the AHA that will help the organization improve job opportunities for those who are looking for work.  A good deal of editing was involved to get the article down to the required word limit.  I dropped a couple of my recommendations and also eliminated a discussion of history vs. public history vs. applied history.  The purpose of this posting is to expand on that last point since very little of it got into the final version. 

The term “applied history” is not common.  I see “applied history” as disciplines that use existing historical knowledge to address practical problems in other fields and professions.  I wish I could claim it as my own, but the first time I heard it was in 2001 at a teaching workshop when Andrew J. Bacevich, a historian teaching in an international relations department, used it to describe the courses he taught.  It is a pretty good description of the courses that I teach at the Naval War College.  These classes are about two-thirds history (military and diplomatic) and about one-third political science (international relations and political theory).  We are using the history to develop analytical skills among our students so they can become strategists for the armed services (our students are military officers or civil servants working for various agencies of the U.S. government—State Department, Federal Bureau of Investigations, etc.).  Some of the questions we explore are historical in nature, while others are designed to test theories or answer ahistorical issues.

Applied history is also a good term for a number of other professions that study the past on a regular basis.  These career paths include historians teaching in other disciplines, archaeologists, social scientists, librarians, archivists, and editors.

History—and by that I mean the type of study that one regularly encounters in a department of history at a college or university—develops information to explain and understand phenomena, events, and trends of the past.  We can call this “history,” or  “academic history,” or “basic history” or “pure history.”

The real question then is how is “applied history” different from "public history”?  In some very real ways it is the same thing.  As I understand it, the term “public history” replaced “applied history” as a basic descriptor.  Needless to say, this term is a bit confusing.  Consider this comment from James McPherson, the Pulitzer Prize winning historian who served as president of the American Historical Association in 2003: “I cannot remember exactly when I first encountered the term 'public history.' It does not seem all that many years ago. And I am embarrassed to confess that I initially thought public history was the story of public events—the kind of history that most of us taught and wrote before the private lives of ordinary people in home and family became an important field of historical inquiry.”

While the term “public history” is one that many historians might recognized instead of “applied history,” it is incredibly vague.  It is often used to describe some very different activities that have little to do with the public sphere. The job duties of "applied historians" like myself and Bacevich are not that much different than what an academic historian at some place like...oh, say...the University of Kansas or Kansas State University might be doing.  In fact, Bacevich is an academic; he is a tenured faculty member at Boston University.  My job is also pretty much the same as some one at Kansas or Kansas State, I grade papers, run seminars, read books, and do service work for the college and my department.  There are many other people that use history to explore the issues relevant to their academic fields and they are often housed in different departments at a college or university.  They include people studying: economics, music, math, art, kinesiology, and business.  Most archaeologists, social scientists, librarians, editors of historical paper collections, and archivists are also academics.

Public historians, I would argue, are primarily those that are interfacing with a large audience comprised of the general, non-academic public. This description is not to say that doing intellectually irrelevant work or having little interchange with academics.  The big difference for them is that history is very often a consumable product for their audiences that might exist for educational purposes, but could also exist for entertainment or for issues specific to certain professional disciplines.  Teaching is usually not in their mission set.  People in these fields include historical preservationists, journalists, documentary filmmakers, professional writers, national historical park staffs, museum curators, staff historians of government agencies, and individuals working for research firms.  Public historians might have a Ph.D. in history, but many times it is something they earn along the way to bolster their other professional experiences and credentials. (In this sense, the Ph.D. is not a two way street; while it helps someone in these fields, the degree does not in and of itself make one qualified to do this type of work).

Much of this discussion got cut from the Perspectives article, which was appropriate.   It took the article off target.  I also wrote at great length about public history in Blog XLVI (46): The History Ph.D. as Public Historian.  It is a good essay and has been one of the more popular postings on this blog.  This discussion, though, explains a major thrust of that previous article.  There is a big, huge divide between historians working in academic history departments and those scholars working in applied or public history.  In Blog XLVI, I quoted Alexandra Lord, a historian for the U.S. Public Health Service, on this matter: “While researching about different careers and the many ways in which one can practice history, I was struck by the academic community’s failure to regard those outside academia as historians engaged in scholarly and valuable work.  Having embraced these foolish prejudices as a graduate student and then a professor, I have come now, as a nonacademic historian, to wonder why these prejudices are so pervasive. What does it say about our profession when we believe that historians who work with senators, reporters, policy analysts, and the general public should not be the among the best of our profession? What does it say when we dismiss the historian who uses his or her degree in a unique and innovative fashion that promotes the study of history?”

So, why is this relevant to an article about reforming the AHA in the hopes of improving the job market?

Glad you asked.  A basic problem the AHA faces—even if it don't know it—is it isolated.  Most AHA leaders have gone from undergrad status to graduate school to faculty positions, and have very little knowledge of other professional opportunities for historians.  The AHA needs to make efforts to reach out to other fields.  One way as I discuss in the article is to open up the AHA presidency to people in these other fields.  That recommendation is in the article. Another way—which got cut—is to create an "applied history" division within the AHA to reach out to scholars working in other disciplines and/or public history.  My hope is that the organization can sponsor conferences and sessions at the annual meeting, arrange for the publication of articles in Perspectives, and provide services like including "applied/public historians" in the annual directory of history departments in a noticeable way (maybe make it a directory of institutions rather than departments) or make advertising jobs in perspective cheap and affordable for other organizations.  The ultimate goal of all this broadening activity is to alert AHA members—be they mentors to young scholars or the job seekers themeselves—to the employment opportunities that exist beyond the history department. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Blog CXLV (145): Success Stories

Today's posting represents the start of a new series for the In the Service of Clio blog.  This series "Success Stories" is an attempt to share what some new scholars have done to beat the odds and find steady employment.  This series will not dominate for a year, the way the "Eight Questions" series did and a number of other pieces will appear in between postings that are part of this undertaking.

The first contribution in this series comes from Heather Dichter.  She is an assistant professor in the Department of Sport Management and Media at Ithaca College.  She has previously taught at Franklin College Switzerland, York College of Pennsylvania, and the University of Toronto.  She received her Ph.D. from the University of Toronto with a dissertation entitled "Sporting Democracy: The Western Allies’ Reconstruction of Germany Through Sport, 1944-1952," for which she received several research grants by organizations such as the Society for Historians for American Foreign Relations, the George Marshall Foundation, the International Society for Olympic Historians, and the Norway-America Association.  She has a forthcoming article in History of Education, has had her work appear in Stadion, and co-edited a special issue of Sport in Society on the Olympic Reform process in the aftermath of the Salt Lake City bidding scandal.  She is currently co-editing with Andrew Johns an anthology on sport and foreign relations after 1945, as well as working on a monograph on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the bidding process for the 1968 Olympic Games. Here is her essay:
The process by which I came to work in a pre-professional program at a comprehensive college with a history Ph.D. seems, at first glance, an strange fit – yet, the nature of my historical research and my extracurricular experiences outside of graduate school provided me with the qualities which my current department desired in its faculty. 
My interest in sport history began as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, almost always selecting a sport topic when I had a free choice for the research papers in my history classes.  I continued to pursue this aspect within my graduate studies, writing on sport in Germany during the occupation and Cold War.  While I was in graduate school, in addition to any teaching assistant or research assistant positions I held, I also continued to work in athletic media relations.  I had first worked in this field while a senior at the University of Michigan, volunteering in the Athletic Media Relations department.  When I moved to Chapel Hill to attend the University of North Carolina, I worked in their Athletic Communications office.  I took a year off between my M.A. and Ph.D., returning to Ann Arbor to work full-time as an intern in the Athletic Media Relations office – and also presenting two conference papers so as not to be completely away from academia.  It didn’t hurt being in a town with such great libraries, either.  With USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program also located in Ann Arbor, I was able to gain some experience working at an international sporting event.  During the course of my doctoral studies at the University of Toronto, I also spent two and a half seasons working with the American Hockey League teams in Toronto (first the Road Runners, then the Marlies). 
The project I chose for my dissertation not only used traditional archival materials, but I wanted to use sport organization records.  Unlike other scholars who have not been successful in gaining access to these types of files, my experiences working in sport enabled me to conduct research in the records of several national and international sport federations in Europe.  I also volunteered with the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Cologne, working in the evenings and weekends when the archives were closed. 
The University of Toronto had provided me with the opportunity to develop a course on Sport and Globalization, which I taught twice there and, later, at Franklin College in Lugano, Switzerland.  However, I completed my Ph.D. in 2008, right as the prospects for academic history jobs became grim.  I realized, with my experience working in sport and my contacts across the U.S. as well as the globe, I could apply for jobs in both history departments as well as sport management departments. 
Sport management is a growing field which many universities and colleges are adding to their curriculum because they recognize the interest in sport among students as well as the size of the industry.  Because it is such a young field, there are few people who have received a Ph.D. in sport management.  Thus, these departments are largely staffed by people who have industry experience alongside advanced education: MBA, J.D., Ed.D., or Ph.D. in another area but with a focus on sport.  This aspect worked in my favor. 
The Department of Sport Management and Media at Ithaca College hired me in 2012 to teach courses in two of their three majors: sport media and sport studies.  This interdisciplinary department offers three majors: B.S. in sport management, B.S. in sport media, and B.A. in sport studies (a liberal arts combination of history, sociology, and philosophy).  During this first year I am teaching courses in the history of sport, the evolution of sport media (an historical examination of the intersection of sport and media), and an introductory course on sport media.  Whereas in a history department I might only have an opportunity to teach a course on sport once every few years, or include the occasional sport example in a course, teaching in a sport management department allows all of the courses I teach to be about the topic which I find most interesting: sport. 
Introductory courses in a pre-professional program provide an overview of the industry, introducing the various aspects of the industry and types of positions available within the field to the students.  Unlike teaching an introductory course such as western civilization, which many students often take only because it fulfills a general education requirement and do not have much interest in the course, my Introduction to Sport Media course has been an exciting adventure in terms of creating the course and opening students’ eyes to the many possibilities of working in sport – and that being a journalist or broadcaster are not the only opportunities in sport and media.  The course includes media theory, historical content, practical experiences, and writing assignments that provide opportunities to practice writing industry-specific pieces as well as critical thinking papers more in line with a liberal arts discipline. 
My contacts from having worked in sport, as well as the contacts I made throughout the course of my doctoral research, have provided excellent resources for my role as a faculty member in the Department of Sport Management and Media.  My students greatly enjoy the guest talks (often via skype) that these industry professionals have done with the class.  My industry contacts are also useful as I advise students and help them locate opportunities for the two internships required for the sport media major.  Advising is an important part of my position, and one reason why many students choose to enroll in the program at Ithaca College is because of the strong alumni network and the loyalty which the Department of Sport Management and Media alumni have for the program.  My contacts in Europe at the national and international sport federations have also been useful as I plan a short-term study abroad course for students to experience sport cultures that are different than the professional and college sports which dominate the American sport landscape.  My students will not only experience several other sport cultures, but also have an opportunity to work an international sport event. 
I spent four years on the job market, and while I am not in a history department, I am not far from my history roots.  Teaching in an interdisciplinary pre-professional program enables me to focus on the academic area that interests me the most – sport – as well work closely with students throughout their four years as they develop in both their intellectual and professional capacities.  When I first started graduate school I thought of my work in sport and my academic work as two separate parts of my life; as a faculty member in the Department of Sport Management and Media at Ithaca College, I am able to bring all of these experiences together. 
When others bemoaned the lack of job openings in their field of history, I did not share their sentiments because I was busy applying to history jobs as well as openings in other fields.  Many graduate students develop their research interests as an outgrowth of personal experiences and interests, and I encourage those students to think about ways in which these areas can work together in an academic capacity.  Look for other programs and departments which, on the surface might not appear to be a natural fit for someone with a Ph.D. in history but which coincide with aspects of one’s research and extracurricular activities. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Blog CLXIV (144): "Reform Time"

The April issue of Perspectives on History, the newsletter of the American Historical Association, is out and it includes an article I wrote "Reform Time: Some Proposals to Help Solve the Job Crisis."  My arguments will not be new to the readers of this blog, but I wanted to alert readers to be on the lookout for this piece.  I will have several references to it in the next couple of weeks.

First, I want to note that Allen Mikaelian did an impressive job of editing the essay.  I am not sure if he bought my arguments or not, but in a good give and take, we cut the article down to 1,500 words without doing much damage.  I did remove a couple of items, but why I did that I will explain later. 

Second, the AHA staff reads this blog regularly.  This fact, I think, made them receptive to publishing my article, since they have known for a while that I have been trying to offer alternatives and ideas to solve professional issues, but they are looking for other voices.  Here is Mikaelian's assessment:
We who work on Perspectives on History and AHA social media find it all but impossible either to regard the public as a straw man or to please only ourselves, because our reading public—AHA members, nonmembers in the discipline, interested parties in other disciplines, reporters looking for a story—are always present. As creative, thoughtful people in the habit of writing and discussing, who are also plugged into social media, they let us know quickly and in many formats exactly what they think of the ideas presented in the latest issue or blog post... 
The articles in this issue by Johann Neem and Nicholas Sarantakes are exactly what we want to see. Neem responds to the Tuning project with a cautionary tale from the history of higher education, and Sarantakes reacts to the "Plan B" and "Plan C" articles offered in these pages by Anthony Grafton and James Grossman. When we receive more articles like these—thoughtfully critical of AHA projects, publications, or positions; well written; offered in the spirit of advancing the conversation—we will publish them. As editor, I'll even work to make their arguments sharper.
Much the same goes for comments and blog posts on other sites that concern things we've published. We want to link to them and promote them. They should be part of the conversation, but that can't happen if we don't know they exist.
The Tuning Project is an AHA exercise in studying and then defining what a student should be able to understand and do when they graduate with a history degree.

In the closing of the article, I said that my ideas were a constructive effort to help solve professional problems that historians are facing.  You might not like the ideas—and that is okay—but if you like my ideas or have better ones to solve employment issues—and that is the real issue, not praising or criticizing my article—I hope you will offer up your voice and let the AHA know in some form or fashion.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Blog CLXIII (143): Tuition and the Future of History

One of the impressions I have picked up over three years of writing this blog, is that most historians do not like economics.  Problem is it is a legitimate academic discipline and current economic issues suggest that earning a Ph.D. in history is going to become a lot more difficult.  

Over the last few weeks there has been some modest interest in policy circles about tuition increases at public colleges.  Last year average costs went up 8.3 percent, which according to The Wall Street Journal, is the highest single year on record.  Why?  The answer is fairly simple: state governments have been cutting appropriates to higher education, and the schools responded with tuition increases to make good the loses. 

These cuts have been so severe that supply and demand dynamics have not compensated.  Consider the case of Florida.  Funding for the State University System of Florida went down  more than $1 billion over the last six years, even as enrollment went up by more than 35,000 students.

Other schools have simply stopped or reduced certain functions. The worst example comes from the Golden State.  The California State University System declined to take most transfer students this past year.  Over the past three years the system has rejected about 20,000 students who otherwise qualified for admission.

Sandy Baum of the George Washington University Graduate School of Education and Human Development, told The Wall Street Journal that tuition was a major problem facing higher education: "Unless we make public funding a higher priority, the funds are going to have to come from parents and students."

In a moment of bipartisan unity, both Republican and Democratic leaders have called for tuition reform.  "We can’t just keep subsidizing skyrocketing tuition; we’ll run out of money," President Barack Obama said in his 2012 State of the Union address.  "So let me put colleges and universities on notice: If you can’t stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down.  Higher education can’t be a luxury--it is an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford."  Later in the year, Governor Rick Perry of Texas said, he wanted to impose a four year tax freeze on state funded colleges and universities.  "If you get out of the University of Texas with a $50,000 debt, I don't know if we've served you well," he explained. "We'll tell an incoming freshman, this is what the university will charge you for four years."

Easy words.  Cheap words. 

Don't get me wrong, there is no doubt that tuition has gone up over the past ten years.  After controlling for inflation, tuition and fees are now 26 percent higher at private four-year colleges, 47 percent at public two-year colleges, and 66 percent at public four-year colleges. Why?  Because they can. This is what the market will bear.  As this chart shows, student loans are the second-largest form of private debt in the United States:

The acronym HELOC stands for home equity line of credit.

Something worth pointing out--student debt has grown rapidly in comparison to other kinds of debt.  Some of this staying power is because consumers have lowered other forms of debt during the recession. Student debt, however, is different, because it represents an investment in a future career and earning power rather than consumption.  Another reason, many people see additional education as an alternative to trying to find a job in a down market. A college degree is an obvious necessity for increased earning power.  People who know and understand that fact and will pay nearly anything for a degree, and colleges know that they know, which is why they get away with fee and tuition increases that are well over the rate of inflation.

I would love it if the President's plan actually happened.  It would lead to a larger pool of students, which would lead to more faculty positions and more salary.  Sad to say, though, it ain't going to happen.  The reasons why are explained in a good article by Timothy Noah in the New Republic.

Still, that is a lot of debt.  What options does a student have?  Several, actually.  Undergraduates can enroll in cheap schools.  Americans at Canadian schools is a growing phenomenon.  Students can also graduate fast, taking heavy loads, doing summer school, graduating a semester or two early.  Another is to major in a field that promises a good rate of return on the investment, which is a fancy way of saying students are gravitating to the fields of study that have the potential for well-paying jobs following graduation.  There might be other options, but the real issue I want to raise is this: how does growing student debt affect the field of history? 

Will students majoring in history decline or increase?  Most of the attention on tuition costs has focused on undergraduates, but it will have an impact on graduate students.  What happens to a history department when funding goes down despite an increase in student numbers?  What will happen to teaching assistant positions as history enrollments decline?  How likely are students with $50,000 in debt to go to graduate school in history?  How likely is it that there will be new positions for these Ph.D.s when they finish their dissertation? 

I don't have the answer to all of those questions, but the general direction of the likely answers do not bode well for those wanting to earn a Ph.D.  In short, these issues suggest that it is going to be harder and more unwise to go to graduate school in history in the near future.