Century Marks

Century Marks

Free ride (almost)

Stanford University has decided to provide free tuition to students whose parents make less than $125,000 a year. If the parents make less than $65,000, the school will cover room and board as well. Students are expected to contribute $5,000 each year from summer earnings, savings, or part-time employment. Stanford enrolls a high percentage of students from wealthy families, and it has one of the world’s largest endowments. It has a very straightforward approach to financial aid: middle-class students can find out before applying how much aid they’ll get, what they’ll need to contribute, and whether they can afford Stanford (Vox, April 1).

French revival?

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, a French Catholic, says that if you don’t show up early for mass at his parish in Paris, you might have to sit on folding chairs in a spillover space or even sit on the floor. There’s nothing unusual about his parish priest, although he does have Pope Francis’s spirit of generosity. Gobry’s parish is like other urban areas in France. Despite the country’s reputation for secularism, Gobry thinks the French church may be on the verge of a time of renewal (The Week, January 15).

Snow job

Snowpack in the mountains normally provides about a third of California’s water supply. Snowpack levels in the Sierra Nevada are now at the lowest level in recorded history—6 percent of the long-term average. This is disastrous for California’s Central Valley, the country’s most productive farming region. Last year farmers had to depend almost entirely on wells dug in the ground. Groundwater supplies are getting lower, and so much water has been taken out that the ground in the San Joaquin Valley sunk a half inch each month last summer. About 400,000 acres were left fallow last year due to the drought, a figure that could double this year. Governor Jerry Brown has mandated statewide water rationing, exempting agricultural business (NPR, April 1).

Buffett’s practices

Warren Buffett, the second wealthiest man in the world, likes to project an image of himself as a man who values responsible lending and affordable housing for people of modest means. A different picture is portrayed by Clayton Homes, the country’s largest builder and lender of manufactured housing, which was bought in 2003 by Berkshire Hathaway, the investment conglomerate controlled by Buffett. An investigation led by the Center for Public Integrity and the Seattle Times has discovered that the company engages in predatory loan practices and charges exorbitant interest rates and add-on fees, which trap many owners in homes they can’t afford that can’t be resold or refinanced (Center for Public Integrity, April 3).

On this rock

The Monastery of St. Matthew’s is one of the oldest in the world. It sits on the side of a mountain overlooking the Nineveh plains in Iraq, home to Christians since the first century. The monks still pray in the ancient language of Aramaic, Jesus’ language. The seven monks who remain at St. Matthew’s are threatened by the Islamic State, or ISIS. ISIS forces advanced near the gate of the monastery when they overtook the city of Mosul last summer. So far St. Matthew’s has survived the Persian and Ottoman empires, Mongol invaders, and Kurdish conquests (CBS News, March 22).