Listen: Higher education in the Obama administration

MPR’s Kerri Miller interviews Arthur Levine, President of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, and Vincent Tinto, Professor at Syracuse University, on the cost of high education.

The cost of higher education is giving 2-year colleges new attention for those looking for affordable education. Reports suggest that community colleges should be more selective and challenge their students more.


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KERRI MILLER: Coming up on the first hour of Midmorning, a special newsmaker segment about the announcement later this morning of Barack Obama's economic team. But for most of the hour, we'll talk about the new president's plans to make college more accessible and more affordable. All of that when Midmorning begins in a moment. I hope you'll stay with us.


First, news.

CARL KASELL: From NPR News in Washington, I'm Carl Kasell. The government has agreed to guarantee hundreds of billions of dollars in potential losses at Citigroup. The move is aimed at stabilizing the troubled banking giant's balance sheet. NPR's Jim Zarroli reports.

JIM ZARROLI: Federal regulators met with Citigroup over the weekend to try to come up with a rescue plan. The New York based banking giant has seen its share price plunge because ongoing concerns among investors about its mortgage market losses. Under the plan, the government will guarantee more than $300 billion worth of potential losses. It will also inject $20 billion in fresh capital into the company in exchange for shares paying an 8% dividend, that is in addition to the $25 billion the bank has already received through the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program.

In a joint statement, the Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation said the actions were necessary to strengthen the financial system and protect US taxpayers and the economy. Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York.

CARL KASELL: Two deadly bombs exploded in Baghdad today, killing at least 18 people. NPR's Ivan Watson reports from Baghdad.

IVAN WATSON: Iraqi police say more than a dozen women working for Iraq's ministry of trade were killed on their way to work this morning by a bomb that was attached to their minibus. Meanwhile, Iraqi police and American soldiers cordoned off a main street after a separate deadly bomb exploded this morning near the entrance to Baghdad's heavily fortified green zone. This Iraqi police officer says the explosives were detonated by a female suicide bomber.

SPEAKER 1: Woman and remote control, OK, and boom.

IVAN WATSON: In the aftermath, security forces closed the entrance to the green zone, forcing the delay of a session of the Iraqi parliament which is located inside. Ivan Watson, NPR News, Baghdad.

CARL KASELL: President Bush has returned to Washington after attending his eighth and final summit of the 21-nation Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Peru. The president was able to get his fellow Pacific Rim leaders to endorse comprehensive action to remedy the global financial crisis. They endorsed the action plan drafted a week earlier in Washington by the group of 20.

That group represents the world's richest nations and major developing countries and includes some of the APEC members. Both groups now are on record pledging to cooperate on economic stimulus measures, overhaul financial regulations, and avoid the temptation to erect new trade barriers during the current downturn. Prices are higher in early trading on Wall Street. At this hour, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 64 points to 8,121, the NASDAQ composite index is up 18 points to 1,402. This is NPR News.

ANNOUNCER 1: Support for news comes from HoMedics, makers of products designed for living well. Shiatsu back massagers with heat are available at retailers nationwide.

PERRY FINELLI: From Minnesota Public Radio News, I'm Perry Finelli. Election officials around the state continue hand-counting ballots in Minnesota's US Senate race today. About 2/3 of the ballots have been recounted. Republican incumbent Norm Coleman held a 215-vote margin over Democrat Al Franken before the recount started.

Meanwhile, the state canvassing board meets Wednesday to discuss whether rejected absentee ballots should be included in the recount. Coleman's campaign says the ballot should not be considered because they weren't counted on election day. Attorneys for Franken say several people had their absentee ballots rejected, even though they should not have been.

Two Texas men accused of possessing Molotov cocktails during the Republican National Convention were scheduled to go on trial today, but it's been postponed. 23-year-old David McKay and 22-year-old Bradley Crowder were allegedly part of a protest group that planned to use the incendiary devices to destroy property or injure police during the convention. A picket line is greeting visitors to Regina Medical Center in Hastings this morning. About 230 workers planned to strike until 6:00 AM Wednesday.

The workers have been negotiating a new contract the last month, but the union rejected an offer that would increase worker's share of pension contributions and health care premiums. [INAUDIBLE] of the union representing the workers says the hospital should find other ways to balance its budget.

SPEAKER 2: This is going to affect our whole community, and not just workers at the hospital and in our bargaining unit. It will affect the RNs and LPNs, other contracts that are at the hospital, and by extension, the entire community when we all are getting much less in our pension.

PERRY FINELLI: Hospital officials have announced contingency plans, including shifting employees and bringing in temporary workers. Right now in the Twin Cities, skies are sunny. Temperature is 29 degrees. This is Minnesota Public Radio News.

KERRI MILLER: This is Midmorning on Minnesota Public Radio. I'm Kerri Miller. This hour, tough times and a renewed focus for college-bound kids. If you comb the speeches that first one in Springfield, Illinois to the last ones in Virginia and Indiana, you'll find repeated campaign trail promises from Barack Obama to help more young people go to college. But even as Obama was making those pledges in the final days of his campaign, higher education administrators in places like California, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Minnesota were preparing to make cuts to everything from faculty staffing and salaries to the number of students they'll enroll in the years to come.

Last week, leaders of the California State University system announced they would cut 10,000 students from its campuses because of the state's budget crisis at Kent State in Ohio, a tuition freeze is in danger as state legislators struggle to appropriate subsidies that have kept the freeze in place. In Wisconsin, a $3 billion state deficit is almost certain to result in cuts to the state university system. And here in Minnesota, MnSCU's board of Trustees is ready to scale back its request to the state legislature because of the looming deficit, all of which will make the new president's promises on higher education even more of a challenge to keep.

Today, we're going to talk about the framework that President-elect Obama has come up with and put it to the test. Can he really deliver on a pledge to make college more affordable? How will he bring more low income and minority students to higher education? Where's the money going to come from, given the financial challenges that face both the federal government and state legislatures? And how do community colleges fit in?

We're going to ask our guests, but we'd like your view as well. If you're in college or you recently graduated, tell us what the new president should know about your experience as he creates his higher education policy. And if you're a professor or administrator at a college or university, I hope you'll weigh in as well. What does President-elect Obama need to know about this as he prepares to take office?

So if you're in college, you've recently graduated from college, share a little bit about your experience that would be valuable for the President-elect to know as he creates this framework for higher education. And if you're a professor or an administrator to college or university, we hope you'll join the conversation as well. 800-242-2828. If you're listening in the metro area, 651-227-6000.

If you're online this morning, and click on Send a Question. 800-242-2828, metro 651-227-6000. If you're online this morning, and click on Send a Question. To our guests this morning, Arthur Levine is with us. He's president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation in Princeton, New Jersey, and president emeritus of Teachers College at Columbia University.

And we've linked his recent article, "Higher Education in the Age of Obama," to our Midmorning page website. And he's with us from Princeton. Mr. Levine, good to have you with us.

ARTHUR LEVINE: Nice to be with you.

KERRI MILLER: And Vincent Tinto is with us. He's a professor in the higher education program at Syracuse and an advisor to the group that recently published a survey titled community college survey of student engagement. And he joins us from Syracuse. So Mr. Tinto, thank you for being with us. Arthur-- Vincent Tinto, are you there with us? All right, we're having some phone problems, I think, to Syracuse. So we'll figure that out.

Arthur Levine, I'll turn to you first then. It strikes me that President-elect Obama comes into the office at a time filled with a lot of difficulty for colleges and universities, but also some opportunity. And here's how I see that. You tell me if you agree with this.

Difficult because of the budget crisis that the federal government and state governments face. Opportunity, though, because we know that as unemployment rises, more people will decide to go back and further their education. So more people, I would think, would be enrolling in schools. Tell me how you see this.

ARTHUR LEVINE: I agree with you. I'd take a slightly different cut. And what I'd say is I think the conditions are exactly as you stated, which is there's no federal money. Federal money will be tied up in the bailout. It'll be tied up in health and energy, which are higher priorities. It'll be tied up in the war.

States are in exactly the condition that you described, which is running deficits across the country. And institutions of higher education will find themselves without the ability to raise funds they once had and greater number of students who need aid. At the same time, bad economies do drive people to college. The problem is there isn't going to be enough money to support them.

So what I fear is there aren't the resources. And the opportunity isn't really an opportunity. It's a need. It's a great need by our country.

KERRI MILLER: And so when you say it's a great need here, I mean, are colleges and universities really prepared for more people that will be coming in to further their education but also to make the kinds of cuts that we know are coming at least from the federal government?

ARTHUR LEVINE: I'm not sure they're ready yet. And you can see the results in Minnesota. At least one Christian college has closed, which is Oak Hill Christian. In addition, University of Minnesota is beginning faculty cuts and staff cuts. And other colleges around the state varying from the U to Carleton to Macalester are all losing students. I mean, are all losing endowment, excuse me.

KERRI MILLER: Because of the investments that they've made or why?

ARTHUR LEVINE: Yeah, their endowments are being cut by the market crash.

KERRI MILLER: And you wrote in your piece for Inside Higher Ed a couple of weeks ago, on the eve of the new Obama administration, it's clear that politics and finances will require the new president to scale back his plans for higher Ed and just about everything else. And your point on the finances is well taken. We'll talk about that in just a second. But what did you mean when you talked about the politics of this?

ARTHUR LEVINE: Simply the politics of public opinion, which is to say that if you look at opinion polls in the 2000 election, education was 1 or 2. If you look at it in 2004, education was number 5 in public opinion polls. And in the most recent election, it wasn't even on the polls.

What's true in addition is that the biggest supporters for education reform and education spending had been baby boomers because they had kids in college and kids in school. And today, their kids are largely through school, which means that their focus has changed. And now, they're looking at their parents who are frail and who need help. And they're going to be the most ardent supporters for health care, for Social Security, and for elder care.

They make up a majority of the voters in America. And when they switch priorities, every politician in America from dog catcher to president of the United States needs to be out in front on those issues.

KERRI MILLER: So do you think there's the political will, though, for that?

ARTHUR LEVINE: Political will for?

KERRI MILLER: Political will to make some of the decisions that they're going to have to make in Washington about this.

ARTHUR LEVINE: Yeah, they're going to have to make those decisions. There are a limited number of dollars and the decisions we made by where they allocate.

KERRI MILLER: All right, let me put out-- we're having a few microphone problems here, Mr. Levine, and also some phone problems. So I'll explain to our listeners here what's going on. If you're listening in this morning, we're talking about Barack Obama's framework that he's put out here for higher education.

We've seen the outlines of it. Of course, now, the transition team is working on that, and we expect to see more details as he comes into office. But we've asked some guests this morning to join us as we talk about some of his priorities for higher Ed. Made many promises on the campaign trail to make college more accessible and more affordable to college-bound kids. And of course, for families who will have heard that as good news, but we're asking our guests this morning about how the administration facing all of the financial fallout.

More news about that this morning on Citigroup facing all of this financial fallout and about how they actually do that. So we're going to our listeners this morning and saying, are there some things about your own experience that President-elect Obama should know as he creates this outline for higher education? If you have just graduated from college, you're in college right now, what would you tell the president-elect about that should be included in this new plan? And if you're an administrator at a college or university or a professor, what should know as he creates this framework?

800-242-2828. If you're listening in the metro area, 651-227-6000. If you're online this morning, and click on Send a Question. We'll start getting to some of these calls in just a moment. Also having some phone problems here with our other guests, Vincent Tinto. We hope to get to him in a moment.

Arthur Levine, president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation in Princeton, New Jersey and president emeritus of Teachers College at Columbia University. He recently wrote a piece for higher education magazine. And you can find that linked to the Midmorning page at

OK, we talked a bit about the political will. Tell me financially whether the onus, Mr. Levine, is going to fall more on the federal government or is it going to fall more on state governments. And it sounds like in the short term, that's going to be a problem too.

ARTHUR LEVINE: The big danger I think is that each of those groups acts independently. So the federal government says we really don't have money for the big issues that President-elect Obama identified during the campaign. So we'll expect the states to pick up that responsibility. And the states don't have the revenues to do it. This is really a time in which it's critical that the federal government and states and institutions of come together in a summit to discover how they're going to deal with the basic issues.

KERRI MILLER: You said in a summit?


KERRI MILLER: How would you imagine that happening?

ARTHUR LEVINE: This is a good time for the president-elect to-- or as soon as he takes office to bring together those three parties. The governors are ready to come together. Institutions of higher education realize that their condition is troubling. I think it's possible to reach accord on the issues that together all three parties are going to invest in.

KERRI MILLER: But aren't the states at a summit like that going to say, look, we're facing-- Minnesota is going to face a very large shortfall. We know Wisconsin-- we're getting news that they've got a $3 billion projected shortfall. We heard what's going on in Ohio, California.

States are going to say, well, there's only so much money to go around. And often, they turn to the university system for cuts in situations like this.

ARTHUR LEVINE: I think Governor Pawlenty has been a strong supporter of education in the state and a strong supporter of higher education and realizes that the future of Minnesota in terms of competitiveness, ability to attract industry, having a labor force that's employable all is dependent upon quality higher education, which is both affordable and permits access to the populations that should be college going. I think people would like a solution here, are unwilling to punt-- will punt individually but unwilling to punt together.

KERRI MILLER: Well, what's the solution, though? I mean, higher taxes, what?

ARTHUR LEVINE: No. The solution is going to be we can't do it all. We can't invest in every aspect of higher education that's going to be desirable. So we need to pick one or two. And the two that seem most likely and most important at the moment are affordability. It's the only way the middle class can go to college. And second, access, it's the only way the poor can go to college.

KERRI MILLER: We've got an online comment here from Joy in Richfield who says that President-elect Obama should increase the time before repayment begins on student loans. It's now six months. Finding a job is harder. 12 months may help. Is that an idea that's worth consideration?

ARTHUR LEVINE: Sure. It's a wonderful idea. It's much like extending unemployment insurance. One of the things that's going to have to happen is deciding who we bail out. Are we going to bail out industry alone or are we going to bail out homeowners or are we going to bail out our future, which is the people who need to go to college and get degrees?

KERRI MILLER: Let's go to the phones. 800-242-2828, 651-227-6000, online, and click on Send a Question. We hope Vincent Tinto can join us here at the newsbreak. Just having a couple phone problems with him. But we do want to talk about community colleges as well. If not today, we'll put that on the agenda for a future conversation.

To Shana in Roseville, hi, Shana. Hi, Shana. Are you there? It's just not our day today. Arthur, let me see if we can bring in Wanda in Farmington. Hi, Wanda. Oh, boy, it's you and me, Arthur.


KERRI MILLER: Wait a minute. Wait, I think I hear--

AUDIENCE: My concern is I think to the Obama administration. I'm in school right now. I'm 44 years old. I'm a single parent, and I have two children who are also in school. But the accessibility to funding is so difficult. And I pay-- I work full time, and I pay out of my own pocket to go to school because-- and I don't make that much money.

But the accessibility to having funding should be more widespread because if education is so important with the Obama administration, it should be more affordable for our-- funding for not only the middle class. With two people-- two children and myself going to school, it's very expensive. And if the administration wants us to increase higher education, it has to be accessible, not only to us as well because you have to pay back your loans while you're going to school. And I can't even get funding.

And I'm a nurse, and working full time and going to school makes it very difficult living on my own and things of that sort. There has to be money out there to help these people to further their education. And furthering their education is becoming more and more important to getting those jobs that make it more affordable to live even in the middle class. So the Obama administration needs to be aware of that and make it affordable, not only for the middle class but to get these people who are in the class that's poor accessibility without being even further in debt.

KERRI MILLER: All right, I appreciate the call Wanda. Arthur Levine, I noticed that in that piece, you wrote that as colleges consider greater partnerships maybe with state and federal governments on accessibility and affordability, that there is going to be a demand for more financial accountability from the colleges themselves. What did you mean?

ARTHUR LEVINE: That accountability is going to come, I think, from government. In times in which we're unable to fund colleges and universities at the level they deserve to be funded at, there's been a tendency on the part of government to demand new efficiencies, new ways of saving money, and for colleges and universities to pick up a greater share of the activity, including access to graduation rates and affordability themselves which they can't do.

KERRI MILLER: When you say accountability, are you saying that there will be more of the-- what? Onus on colleges and universities to say here's why we need this tuition increase. Here's why we need additional money from state and federal governments. I mean, more transparency in their financials or specifically what?

ARTHUR LEVINE: That's exactly right, more transparency and greater effectiveness in terms of the agendas of affordability and access.

KERRI MILLER: Meaning what, though, when you say effectiveness on the agenda?

ARTHUR LEVINE: That they will be able to-- that their tuitions won't rise alarmingly so that people can't afford them and that they will provide the financial aid that's necessary to enroll new students who have high need.

KERRI MILLER: All right, back to the phones. To Paula in Grand Forks, hi, Paula.


KERRI MILLER: Hi. What do you want to tell us? Hi, Paula. Are you there? Oh, oh all right, we're having more phone problems here. Arthur, sorry about that. I don't know, things are going--

ARTHUR LEVINE: No problem.

KERRI MILLER: Things are going-- you and I will just talk. How's that?

ARTHUR LEVINE: By the way, if I could have one initiative, any one initiative-


ARTHUR LEVINE: It would be the equivalent of a GI Bill, which came in 1944 with soldiers returning home and allowed people to go to college. And the rationale for that wasn't that President Roosevelt thought it was a really good idea to send people to college, is that he was worried that the labor market would be glutted as it was after World War I with returning GIs. We're in the same situation today, which is that if people can't afford to go to college, there are no jobs for them.

So the result is we can either pay unemployment insurance or we can pay for people to go to college. It makes much more sense in terms of America's economic competitiveness to pay for people to go to college.

KERRI MILLER: When you say a kind of GI Bill, of course, you're not-- you don't just mean that this would apply to people who have done military service?


KERRI MILLER: And where would the money for something like that come from?

ARTHUR LEVINE: Where it's going to have to come from is the bailout fund. We're going to have to think about how we bail out Americans most effectively. And this would be one of the best investments.

KERRI MILLER: We have an online comment here, Arthur Levine, from Charles in Chaska who says, I'm an adult that has lost their job numerous times due to outsourcing with that understanding. I have gone back to school, and I'm currently enrolled. And I think he would tell us here that having a hard time paying tuition costs.

Is it your sense that colleges and universities are too quick to come back to the students themselves and the parents themselves to say, look, there's nothing else to be done here, we need to raise tuition yet again? Or are they being as careful as they should be about tuition hikes?

ARTHUR LEVINE: I think in the past, they could have been more careful about those kinds of issues. But I think today, the issues are very, very real. None of the three sources that we've talked about have additional revenues. So they really need to plan how we use those revenues together.

KERRI MILLER: But I'm not clear about whether you're saying-- are you saying that they are cautious enough about this or are some schools just too quick to raise tuition?

ARTHUR LEVINE: I think in the past, that's been an issue. But today, given the obstacles that we've talked about, declining endowments, inability to raise funds, and higher need on the part of students, institutions have got to get money somewhere. And tuition is the most likely place to go. It's not desirable, but it's the only place to go.

KERRI MILLER: But it's such a vicious circle, isn't it?


KERRI MILLER: Because the more they do that, the more it puts some of those schools out of reach of students who can't pay that tuition.

ARTHUR LEVINE: I agree, but they shouldn't be made to bear the entire burden of the lack of state and federal support. They can't.

KERRI MILLER: I want to let our callers know, who are trying to call in to join our conversation here, that we're having some pretty serious phone problems. We're working on that. So as we get that fixed, I promise we'll take your calls. But that's why you're calling in and maybe you're getting a busy signal or the phone is just ringing. Again, working on that.

Arthur Levine is with us this morning as we talk about this framework that Barack Obama has created. Right now, we see the outlines of a policy. I'm sure they'll be filling that in as President-elect Obama takes office. But we're talking about some of the things that the administration should know from the experience of college students, people who have just graduated from college or are going back to college in midlife and mid-career, and the experience from people who work at colleges as administrators or professors.

What should this administration know as they fill in the details of this idea of making college more accessible and more affordable? Something that Barack Obama talked at length about on the campaign trail. That's what we're talking about this morning.

We'll also have a special newsmaker segment this morning at about quarter of to talk about the president-elect's unveiling of his economic team at 11 o'clock our time in Chicago. So we'll talk about all of that in the second half of the conversation. To the newsroom and Perry Finelli, good morning, Perry.

PERRY FINELLI: Kerri stocks are sharply higher so far this morning, extending Friday's big rally. Investors are hoping the government's plan to inject $20 billion into Citigroup and guarantee more than $300 billion in risky assets will address some of the uncertainty hounding the financial sector. The government's rescue of Citigroup includes help for distressed homeowners who will see their mortgages modified to avoid foreclosure.

The plan will mirror one that has borrowers paying interest rates of about 3% for five years. Rates are reduced, so they aren't paying more than 38% of their pre-tax income on housing. President-elect Barack Obama will formally introduce his new economic team today. Included will be Timothy Geithner, his pick for Treasury Secretary. Congress is already being pushed to have Obama's massive economic recovery plan passed by the time he takes office.

President Bush is hosting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for a private dinner as both leaders count down their days in office. The conversation is expected to focus on Iran's nuclear threat and the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. It has been a bloody day in Iraq where a series of bombings, mostly in Baghdad, killed nearly two dozen people. The first bombing left 13 government workers dead on board a bus in Baghdad. Less than an hour later, a female suicide bomber killed seven others at a green zone checkpoint.

Astronauts are getting ready for one last spacewalk outside the International Space Station before coming home. There are a few chores still on the list. Astronauts will finish up some repairs to the joints the station's solar power panels are attached to. And a state-run newspaper in China is blasting the new Guns N' Roses album, which is called Chinese Democracy. The paper says the album is an attack on China and part of a Western plot to control the world.

Cloudy skies for Northern Minnesota today with a chance of snow showers becoming mostly cloudy in the south with a chance of snow showers this afternoon in the southeast. Highs today, mid-20s in the north, upper 30s in the south. Right now in the Twin Cities, the temperature is 29. Skies are sunny. It is 9:30. This is Minnesota Public Radio News.

CATHY WURZER: A lot of things that people say don't make much sense when you take them out of context.

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CATHY WURZER: I'm Cathy Wurzer, regional host of Morning Edition here on Minnesota Public Radio News. Our job each day is to sort through the information and events and ideas that are swirling in our world and put them into context for you. Listen weekday mornings from 4:00 to 9:00 and online at

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KERRI MILLER: We're back on Midmorning on Minnesota Public Radio. I'm Kerri Miller. Coming up at 10 o'clock, we're talking about memory and forgetting. The brain, it turns out, has got to forget a lot of the information that it takes in to work as efficiently and as effectively as it can. So we're going to talk about new research on memory and forgetting.

I don't know, this show that we're in right now might be one that I want to forget. No, just kidding. Going back to our conversation, this hour with Arthur Levine, about colleges and universities accessibility and affordability. Having some phone problems here. So for our listeners who are trying to get in on this, I hope you'll be persistent.

We're working on those phone issues. In the meantime, Arthur Levine is a trooper for us. He's president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation in Princeton, New Jersey and president emeritus of Teachers College at Columbia University. And Arthur Levine, I appreciate you hanging in here with me.

Online from-- let me see. There was a question here about-- from Barbara and Egon. She says the cost of higher Ed has tripled in real dollars since the '60s. Why? Isn't the solution a restructuring of inefficient colleges and universities? Is she right about that, Arthur Levine?

Oh, oh. Let's see if we can pull up Arthur Levine here. No? All right. All right, if you're listening in here, more phone problems, more bored problems. Let's see if we can find our guests. We'll try to redial Arthur Levine here for you. If you're listening in this morning, we're talking about the framework that President-elect Barack Obama is creating for higher education.

And as you know, he talked about this at length during the campaign where he discussed his ideas to make college more affordable and more accessible. And we had hoped to have an in-depth conversation this morning about what the president-elect should know as he creates that policy. And so we were asking our listeners here, and looks like a lot of them would like to join into the conversation, but we're having a difficult time hearing from our listeners on this.

We have some online questions here. I'll put these out, and hopefully, when we get our guests back, he can try to answer them. From Mary Beth in Maplewood, she says the military offers good education benefits right now. My son is taking advantage of this. What happened to the idea of service rather than handouts?

And from Jenny in Edina writes, would it help to standardize academic requirements between two-year to four-year colleges so students start at a cheaper school and move up after two years? All right, so we're working on trying to get our guests back here. We're going to go back to National Public Radio here.

I should tell you that we are preparing to hear from President-elect Barack Obama in Chicago as he unveils his economic team. That happens at 11 o'clock our time. We'll take that live. In the meantime, we're going to take you back to National Public Radio because we're having so many technical problems here.

And let me promise you this, that we will reschedule a conversation on higher education because we have had so many technical problems and been unable to talk about this in the way that we had hoped. And part of this conversation was going to be about community colleges. And we'll get that back into the discussion as well because there's a new survey out that says that community colleges are not serving students with the kind of rigor that students would like them to be served with. So we'll talk about that when we reschedule this conversation. For now, back in just a moment to National Public Radio.

ANNOUNCER 4: Sex how tomorrow moves.

STEVE INSKEEP: In Afghanistan the increasing violence has included insurgent attacks on food convoys. This is adding to the worries about a potential food crisis. In fact, by some estimates about one third of the country's population is facing some level of food shortages.

We're going to get an assessment now from Tony Banbury. He's the World Food Program's regional director for Asia. And he is at the airport in Kabul. Welcome back to the program, Mr. Banbury.

TONY BANBURY: Thank you very much. It's nice to speak to you again, Steve.

STEVE INSKEEP: Is the violence we mentioned the only reason for a food shortage in Afghanistan?

TONY BANBURY: It's certainly having a major impact on our ability to deliver food to people who need it. But high food prices hit Afghanistan very hard early this year. And we're about to head into the winter. And it's usually a very harsh winter here. And the combination of those factors is presenting a very challenging humanitarian situation for the people and for the World Food Program.

STEVE INSKEEP: So when you've moved around the country, what have you seen?

TONY BANBURY: I just got off a plane from Herat. That's in the far West of Afghanistan. Herat city is on the ancient Silk Road right near the Iranian border. And there, people are very concerned about what was going to happen during the winter. It used to be a very secure place, but unfortunately, the security situation has deteriorated significantly in that area.

And so that combination I just spoke of deteriorating security, winter coming on, high food prices is very much in evidence in Herat. And the people there are in a tough situation.

STEVE INSKEEP: Do you essentially have to say, as someone who's regional director of the World Food Program, if you don't get a reasonable amount of safety, you're not going to put your drivers at risk? You're not going to allow a certain percentage of the food to be stolen. You're just not going to run the trucks. Do you have to say that at some point?

TONY BANBURY: Safety is always a major concern. And we do have to make that difficult decision. But I'll give you an example. In Herat, just a couple of weeks ago, we were trying to pre-position wheat in a place called Ghuryan District, a very insecure area.

And the convoy had to go through a narrow pass. And Spanish NATO troops went to secure that pass in advance of the convoy. They ended up getting in a three-day fight.

STEVE INSKEEP: The line was breaking up just a little bit. Did you see a three-day fight?

TONY BANBURY: Yes, it was a three-day battle that the Spanish NATO troops were involved in on and off over this one pass. It was an attempt by them to secure that pass. And in the end, it just was not possible. So we were not able to get that convoy through.

That being said, we are now pre-positioning food, so they have it when the winter comes. And the high passes are closed off by snow. Many roads will be closed off. So we are successfully getting food to the vast majority of the people we're trying to reach, but there are a few places where so far, we have not been able to get in.

STEVE INSKEEP: Mr. Banbury, the Afghans as a people strike me as somebody who've gone through so much hardship that they've become incredibly resourceful, incredibly tough. They can get by with the least of resources. Does this situation strike you as being even worse, though, than situations they faced in the past?

TONY BANBURY: The Afghan people are tremendously resourceful, have been for a long time. But they are forced into very difficult coping strategies, whether it's to deal with food or the winter. For instance, in Herat, I was asking folks there how they were going to keep their mud huts warm during the winter. And the poorest of the people burn tire pieces inside their mud houses during the winter.

No ventilation, young children, you can imagine what that's like. So the situation is very bad, particularly for the poorest and most vulnerable.

STEVE INSKEEP: Tony Banbury is in Kabul, Afghanistan. Thanks very much.

TONY BANBURY: Thank you.



STEVE INSKEEP: It's Morning Edition from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep. We're getting a better idea of the people that President-elect Barack Obama is choosing for his economic team. So this morning, we'll learn more from a reporter who has covered three of them. David Wessel is economics editor of The Wall Street Journal and a regular guest on this program. David, good morning.

DAVID WESSEL: Good morning, Steve.

STEVE INSKEEP: Let's start with the choice for Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner, who is not deeply familiar to many Americans but deeply familiar in the financial world.

DAVID WESSEL: That's right. Geithner is currently the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. He's kind of been the field marshal for the Fed and the Treasury on the frontlines as Wall Street has crumbled. He has a very interesting background.

He's never worked in business. He worked at the Treasury for 12 years. Grew up in Asia and Africa. His father was a development specialist. So he's got quite a bit of international experience in addition to this Wall Street experience. And he's very much in the no-drama Obama mode, a guy who works well with very difficult people.

STEVE INSKEEP: Does the fact that he's not a professional economist suggest something about his outlook on the world?

DAVID WESSEL: I think he's very flexible ideologically. He was involved in a lot of crisis management during the Asian financial crisis in the '90s. He's not wedded to a particular view, very pragmatic, I'd say.

STEVE INSKEEP: And David, when you say that he's been the field marshal for the financial bailout in the last few months, does his selection as Treasury Secretary suggest that President-elect Obama essentially approves of what's been done so far?

DAVID WESSEL: That's a good question. It certainly gives that impression. I don't think so. I think that we'll learn as things evolve that Geithner would like to have done some things differently than, say, Hank Paulson, the Treasury Secretary. And I think that they have learned from some of their mistakes.

But it does suggest that President-elect Obama would rather have some continuity for the sake of making the situation better than some kind of abrupt change in direction.

STEVE INSKEEP: We're talking with The Wall Street Journal's David Wessel about choices for the economic team of President-elect Barack Obama. And let's move on to another name, David Wessel, Larry Summers, who was Treasury Secretary during the Clinton administration, is now set to be White House economic policy coordinator. Is that a step up?

DAVID WESSEL: Well, it's probably a step up in the sense that he will be the architect of President-elect Obama's response to this very frightening financial and economic crisis. It may not rank high in the hierarchy of the Constitution and stuff like that, but it's pretty clear he'll be central to the operation, very close to the president. He'll be the thinker, the brains of the operation. And Geithner is likely to be more the implementer.

STEVE INSKEEP: And does that suggest another kind of continuity? Here's a guy from the Clinton administration.

DAVID WESSEL: Well, they're all from the Clinton administration. It turns out that President-elect Obama has looked to a lot of the veterans of the last administration to help him out here. I think they represent one wing of the Clinton administration, though, a very centrist, pragmatic economic policy, not wedded to the more liberal left labor wing of the party.

STEVE INSKEEP: Does another appointment suggest something about Obama's approach, David Wessel? Because he reached into Congress to the Congressional Budget Office director, Peter Orszag, and wants him to be the White House budget director.

DAVID WESSEL: Right, I think that that's a choice of a guy who's a very strong technocrat, someone who worked in the Clinton White House again, went to the Brookings Institution, ran a think tank that some of the Democrats set up. He knows the budget well. He has some experience now working with Congress. And he's very concerned about fiscal discipline and health care costs in the long run.

So I think it's an important signal that while they fight the current crisis, this seems to me a group of people who will be quite concerned about the long term fiscal position of the US as well.

STEVE INSKEEP: And are these people who will have credibility when they go to Congress and say, we need these tough decisions made?

DAVID WESSEL: I think so. I think all three of these men have been around Congress during these crises and have fairly high stature among the Democrats as people who sort of know what to do.

STEVE INSKEEP: David, thanks very much.

DAVID WESSEL: A pleasure.

STEVE INSKEEP: David Wessel is economics editor of The Wall Street Journal. We're hoping to persuade you there are two holidays this week. The first is Thanksgiving. The second the day after Thanksgiving is new. We're calling it the National Day of Listening. It's your chance to sit down and talk with a loved one, the way that people do with our StoryCorps project.

Here's how I interviewed my mom and dad. My brothers helped come up with questions about how my parents grew up in an Indiana farm town. My mom, Judy Inskeep, remembers the house where she spent much of the 1940s.

JUDY INSKEEP: We moved there during the war. And we could not get electricity in the house because you could not get the wiring to run up to the house because it was back a long lane.


JUDY INSKEEP: No radio. But we played a lot of games and did a lot of reading. And if you don't have something, you don't miss it.

STEVE INSKEEP: The other thing we were interested in, Mom, was the fact that you went to college, because we were trying to think-- your parents didn't go to college, did they?


STEVE INSKEEP: Well, it would have been easy for you not to go to college.

JUDY INSKEEP: Well, my mom wanted to go to college. She got a scholarship to go to college. As a matter of fact, she wanted to be an English teacher and a writer. But she was the second oldest of 12 children, and there was no money.

STEVE INSKEEP: Even with the scholarship?

JUDY INSKEEP: Even with the scholarship, because it was not-- it didn't pay everything. So I don't know, education was just always important to her and my dad. My dad didn't go to high school. He went two weeks to high school and quit, so he could help his mother with his younger brothers and sisters because his father had died.

They just saw the need that he was going to have to earn some money to help the family. He didn't go to high school, but he was very intelligent. And I remember-- I was in algebra class. I was having trouble with this problem, and he worked the problem for me. And he never had an algebra. So I just realized that he was a pretty smart man.

STEVE INSKEEP: So was it assumed that you would go to college, even though your parents had not gone to college?

JUDY INSKEEP: Well, I don't know that they assumed that we needed to go to college. I think they hoped we would. We didn't have a lot of extra money, but they thought that it was important to make sure that I got through college.

STEVE INSKEEP: How did it happen of all the things that you could study that you ended up becoming the English teacher that your mom had wanted to be?

JUDY INSKEEP: Well, I loved English. I just-- I liked working with words. And I was not very good at writing like she was, but--

STEVE INSKEEP: Oh, she was a better writer than you?

JUDY INSKEEP: She used to tell stories about when she was in school. She used to write a story, a chapter every night. And then the next morning on the bus, she would read it to the kids. And they would wait eagerly for the next chapter of her story that she was writing.

STEVE INSKEEP: Oh, my goodness. That's a side of her I never imagined in all the time that I knew her. Well, she must have been very proud of you that you--

JUDY INSKEEP: Well, I think she was.

STEVE INSKEEP: Did she ever say how she felt about the fact that she'd wanted to be an English teacher and then she got to help you be one?

JUDY INSKEEP: No, she never influenced me anyway, but I suppose I got that desire from her.

STEVE INSKEEP: Judy Wright from Sheridan, Indiana became an English teacher. She married another young teacher, Roland Inskeep, and one of their sons went on to host this program. Maybe I got my desire from them, the desire to learn something and pass it on.

We'll hear more conversations all week as we prepare for what we call the National Day of Listening. Tomorrow, Renee Montagne tracks down one of the first people she ever interviewed. You can hear other NPR National Day of Listening stories at our website,



ANNOUNCER 5: Morning Edition is a production of NPR News, which is solely responsible for its content. Find out about the music and artists you hear on NPR and discover new music. Visit our website, This is NPR.

KERRI MILLER: You're listening to Morning Edition at the moment. I'm Kerri Miller, usually the host of Midmorning. We're having some technical problems here. If you listened to the first part of our conversation on colleges and universities, you hear me saying that we are having some phone problems and some engineering problems. We're trying to get that worked out.

In the meantime, we're going to bring you another 10 minutes or so of Morning Edition. And then a special hour at 10 o'clock will replace our conversation that we were going to have about memory and the brain's necessity of forgetting. We will have a rain check on that conversation. I'm looking forward to it. We'll try to reschedule that for next week or the week after.

In the meantime, we're going to bring you an episode of Radiolab. This is an hour-long piece that they did on yellow fluff and other oddities of the universe. If you've listened to these Radiolabs, it's really engaging radio. I hope you'll listen in. Again, we're going to play Radiolab in place of our usual 10 o'clock hour here of Midmorning because we're having some technical problems.

Hoping to get those worked out. Want to let you know that we are going to try to go live this morning to Chicago when President-elect Barack Obama introduces his economic team to the nation. He's holding a press conference where he will unveil his team.

We're hearing, of course, that Timothy Geithner, currently the chair of the New York Federal Reserve, is his choice for Treasury Secretary. More details about that. I hope you'll listen in. This is Minnesota Public Radio, and I'm Kerri Miller.

STEVE INSKEEP: You would think that the last thing that most parents need in their lives is more misbehaved children. Yet people do watch TV shows like Supernanny, a British nanny dispenses advice to some pretty desperate American parents. NPR's Elizabeth Blair takes a look at what viewers get out of watching other people's screaming kids.

SPEAKER 7: They're every parent's worst nightmare.

SPEAKER 8: Enough already. I told you to stop complaining.

SPEAKER 7: Kids completely out of control and--

ELIZABETH BLAIR: Kids out of control and parents totally unhinged, that's what millions of people see when they tune into the shows Supernanny and Nanny 911. Here's the concept. A family living in chaos is observed by a seasoned British nanny.

JO FROST: Mom was holding the door to keep Tory in, but then little Tommy would come out. And then she'd go and put little Tommy back, and Tory would come out.

SPEAKER 10: Close it.

ELIZABETH BLAIR: The nanny figures out what the parents are doing wrong and trains them in techniques to make things better. So what is the appeal of watching another family's meltdown? Let's get a professional opinion from a nanny at the playground.

SPEAKER 11: I mean, why do you watch it?

MARLENE TAYLOR: I look at it because I want to see how the American people deal with their children.

ELIZABETH BLAIR: Sitting on a park bench with her two little charges, Marlene Taylor is a nanny in Washington DC.

MARLENE TAYLOR: I'm from the island. And I think here the parents are too lax. Sometimes we wonder why they have kids. I'm being honest with you, because when you see what the children do to the parents, it's like I can't believe. I can't believe.

SPEAKER 10: No fighting. Do you hear me?

CARRIE KIRBY: Oh, yeah, I watch it, and my husband thinks I'm crazy for wanting to put it on.

ELIZABETH BLAIR: Carrie Kirby is representative of a huge part of the audience for nanny TV shows, the Mom. She's a big fan of Supernanny's Jo Frost on ABC. She also writes a Chicago moms blog. Kirby says she learns a lot by peering into another family's dirty laundry.

CARRIE KIRBY: It's almost like a free parenting class. I mean, I have learned some useful things from it. She does a timeout technique almost every episode.

JO FROST: Explain.

SPEAKER 12: Boy, Look at me.

JO FROST: Just talk.

ELIZABETH BLAIR: Like a coach training an athlete, here's Jo Frost working with a dad as he tries to keep his little girl on the naughty step.

SPEAKER 12: You'll get off the step when you learn how to share with Tommy. You understand?

JO FROST: No, what is it that she did wrong?

SPEAKER 12: You were screaming, and you took-- you wanted to take everything.

JO FROST: That's why you're on this step.

SPEAKER 12: That's why you're on the step.

CARRIE KIRBY: It's like a cautionary tale. Some of the parenting things, I already knew I should be doing this. I should be firm about that. But when you see how bad it can be if you don't do these things, it really gets you to do them.

ELIZABETH BLAIR: But Kirby says the best part about watching Supernanny--

CARRIE KIRBY: Is just reassurance that my kids are not nearly as bad as some of the other kids out there, and my parenting skills are not as bad as some of those parents.

ELIZABETH BLAIR: Ah, nothing like feeling a little pleasure in someone else's pain. But let's get clinical. Kimberly Bell is a clinic associate at the Hanna Perkins Center for Child development in Cleveland.

KIMBERLY BELL: Maybe I'll have a parent session. And the parent will say, oh, did you see Nanny 911 last night?

ELIZABETH BLAIR: Dr. Bell is concerned that these shows make dealing with the inner psyche of a child look easy.

KIMBERLY BELL: You're not just seeing children that are out of control. You're seeing children that are in a great deal of emotional pain. So parents want that to stop. And so any time they're given a technique, they really want that quick fix.

ELIZABETH BLAIR: But Supernanny Jo Frost says there is nothing quick or easy about the process the families go through.

JO FROST: I really do salute their courage, because without those families, they wouldn't have helped the millions of people that have received that help. So really, the thank you is to those families.

SPEAKER 13: I think will be a really happy family soon.

ELIZABETH BLAIR: After all, on these nanny TV shows, a family's rawest moments are on display. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

STEVE INSKEEP: And you can watch a video of Supernanny Jo Frost explaining the principles of the naughty step at our website, And now let's talk about a band which maybe could have used a nanny over the years. The hard rocking group Guns N' Roses was one of the biggest bands of the '80s. By some estimates, it sold close to 100 million records worldwide, but it's been 17 years since the band released an album of new material.

Every few years, there was a rumor that an album was imminent, but it never came out until yesterday. It's called Chinese Democracy. And NPR's Stephen Thompson has a review.

STEPHEN THOMPSON: Chinese Democracy is real. You can walk into a store, for now just Best Buy, and walk out with a Guns N' Roses album many thought would never exist.

[ROCK MUSIC] No one ever told me when I was alone

They just thought I would know better, better

STEPHEN THOMPSON: It's been a myth and a punchline. Singer Axl Rose blew through more than $10 million and all of his original collaborators in a decade of tinkering. So how does it sound?

(SINGING) The hardest part this troubled heart has never yet been through now

Was to heal the scars that got their start inside someone like you now

STEPHEN THOMPSON: Believe it or not, it sounds like a new Guns N' Roses record with muscular guitars and vocals that squeal and seethe. Chinese Democracy can't live up to expectations, nor can it live down the delays that made it legendary.


What do you get if you crack open the fevered brain of Axl Rose today is more of the testiness and paranoia he's been peddling since the beginning.

(SINGING) I've got a funny feeling

There's something wrong today

I've got a funny feeling

And it won't go away.

STEPHEN THOMPSON: After three bombastic ringers, Chinese Democracy gets flabby. A ballad called "Street of Dreams" shows why the phrase "street of dreams" should be banned from rock music. "Madagascar" didn't need a string section or a sample from the "I Have a Dream" speech. And GNR's big guitars sound overproduced and indistinct. They're too often used as blunt instruments.

(SINGING) It don't really matter

You gonna find out for yourself

No, it don't really matter

You're gonna leave this thing to somebody else

STEPHEN THOMPSON: Still, Chinese Democracy wins points just for entering the world. After all these years, hearing it is like finally seeing the monster at the end of a horror movie. It's no longer a mystery, but at least now, the real action begins.

(SINGING) Our baby got to rule the nation

But all I got is precious time

STEVE INSKEEP: The review of the new album from Guns N' Roses comes from NPR's Stephen Thompson. And you heard it on Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


ANNOUNCER 6: Support for NPR comes from Enterprise Florida, helping innovative businesses locate, expand, and start up in Florida innovation hub of the Americas online at E Florida US from CSX whose trains move a ton of freight 423 miles on one gallon of fuel to help reduce fuel consumption. CSX, how tomorrow moves. And from the Department of Homeland Security, offering e-verify, confirming the legal working status of new hires at e-verify. This is NPR, National Public Radio.

KERRI MILLER: And you're listening to Minnesota Public Radio.

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