Archive for the ‘education’ Category
State defunding of public higher education has received a lot of attention in recent years. And budget cuts like the $250 million one Scott Walker made this year to the University of Wisconsin mean this trend continues to get media play.
Less visible in the media, but still well known, is that as public funding has eroded, colleges have become more dependent on tuition dollars for revenue. For public institutions, this has meant both tuition increases for in-state students and, where possible, a greater percentage of out-of-state and international students. While the net price of college hasn’t increased nearly as much as the sticker price, it’s still beat the cost of inflation year after year.
Both of these narratives are completely true. Yet this story of a shift from public to private funding overlooks one critical factor: the expansion of federal student aid.
During the past two decades, as state appropriations per postsecondary student flattened then declined, federally supported financial aid made massive gains. In 2002 its volume passed that of state appropriations, and by 2010 it was twice as large.
Stunning, right? This suggests a very different story than the one about the privatization of public universities we hear so much about. Instead, it looks like there’s been a shift from state funding of higher ed to federal funding. So what’s going on here?
Well, a couple of things. First, the federal aid figures include both grants and loans. Data sources like the College Board and the Delta Cost Project include loans as part of net tuition, not as federal funding. That makes sense, if you’re interested in the financial burden of college on students and their families. And the loans don’t cost the government anything like their face value.
But counting this way downplays the fact that those loans ultimately exist because the federal government makes them possible. Colleges are doubly dependent in this scenario: on students’ choices about where to attend, but also on the feds to make them available in the first place. And if you’re coming at this from an organizational perspective, we should expect resource dependence — whether on students, on the feds, or both — to have effects.
Second, this chart collapses public, private non-profit, and for-profit institutions together. The state appropriations are only going to publics (which also enroll about three-quarters of the students). But as of 2010, more than a quarter of student aid was going to the 10% of students enrolled in for-profit institutions. Moreover, because private colleges are so much more expensive than public colleges, they also receive a disproportionate fraction of federal loans. I haven’t pulled these numbers apart by institution type. But if we just compared state appropriations and federal aid to students at public institutions, the chart would surely be less dramatic.
It would be misrepresenting reality to say that public institutions have experienced a substantial shift from state to federal dependence (at least without substantially more number crunching). And it would be similarly wrong to argue that schools haven’t become more tuition dependent (since loans do come to schools via individual students).
But you can absolutely make the case that at the field level, higher education has increased its dependence on the federal government relative to state governments. And this makes colleges susceptible to a whole wave of federal demands that simply weren’t there before. The college ratings system Obama proposed and then abandoned is one example of this. Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s drumbeating for accountability is another.
Colleges have a lot of political clout and are well-organized. They ground the ratings proposal into a shadow of its former self. And it will take a lot of doing before we see No College Student Left Behind.
Nevertheless, if organization theory tells us anything, it’s that resource dependence matters. When, five years down the road, we get a Race to the Top rewarding colleges that meet completion and job placement goals at a given tuition cost, I know where I’ll be looking: at that point in 2002 where higher ed waved goodbye to the states and hello to the feds.
I no longer tell people that I teach “critical thinking” in my classes. My view is that “critical thinking” is a poorly defined buzzword that people use when they can’t articulate what they are actually teaching. For example, look at the wiki entry for “critical thinking:”
Critical thinking is clear, reasoned thinking involving critique. Its details vary amongst those who define it. According to Beyer (1995), critical thinking means making clear, reasoned judgments. During the process of critical thinking, ideas should be reasoned and well thought out/judged.
Notice that the first sentence is literally circular. The third sentence actually adds some content – clarity and reason. If you read the rest of the wiki, the definitions vary wildly from tautological to begging the question. E.g., don’t you first need critical thinking to discover if “participatory democracy” is a prerequisite for critical thinking?
If I don’t teach critical thinking, then what do I teach? Turns out that there is a simple answer: sociology. Other people teach stuff like physics or philosophy. Very concrete. The Critical Thinker might ask: don’t you teach a version of critical thinking? Not quite. My courses do not promise to teach vaguely defined analytical strategies. I teach specific forms of critique. For example, if I am teaching statistics for social science students, I don’t teach “clarity,” rather I teach about sampling, Type 1 and Type 2 errors, and related issues. Similarly, my colleagues in other courses teach specific arguments and ideas. The philosopher might teach about syllogism, and the economist might teach about opportunity costs, which people may not appreciate.
Obtaining truth is hard and there is no magical form of thinking called “critical thinking” that can be separated from specific domains. Aside from a very simple general rules of thumb, such as “don’t be emotional in arguing” or “show my your evidence,” the best way to be improve your thinking is to learn from those who have spent a lifetime actually trying to figure out specific problems.
In the Face of Inequality: How Black Colleges Adapt is a new book on historically black colleges by Melissa E. Wooten. The purpose of the book is to ask how the field of HBCs has evolved over its history and to provide a sociological answer to this question. The book is built on a series of questions that most organizational theorists would find intuitive – how is the HBC field organized? How do HBCs pursue collective action? How do they build legitimacy and how have they responded to the ere of desegregation?
After providing an overview of the HBC field, Wooten answers these questions by looking at “adaptive episodes” where HBCs come together to address various financial and political problems. For example, there is a highly informative discussion of the United Negro College Fund, which remains one of the most important financial instruments for supporting Black students seeking a college education. The UNCF is also one of the most important accreditation agencies in the HBC field. The gist of the argument about the UNCF is that was both a financial project and also a legitimacy building project. It also had some important unintented consequences – by favoring standards selected by UNCF donors, HBCs were encouraged to adopt the forms that did not directly challenge the social and political practices that ensured low status for Blacks.
Aside from being an important sociological study of the HBC field, In the Face of Inequality is an important example of institutionalism 3.0 – the research project linking institutional theory with other major streams of modern sociology. This text connects institutionalism with race theory. For these reasons, it’s a good book. Recommended!
As events continue to unfold in Wisconsin, defenses of tenure are popping up in various places. For the most part, these are focused on how weakening tenure would 1) limit academic freedom, 2) drive faculty to other universities, and 3) subject them to political reprisals.
These are all true. One only has to think about climate research, or UNC’s Poverty Center, to realize that the threat to academic freedom is very real.
What is less clear is why the public should care. Sure, some will. But lots of people believe climate science is corrupt, and that centers like UNC’s are inappropriately political. Any good defense of the public university—of tenure within it or support for it more generally—has to appeal to a broad swath of people.
I suggested the other day that the business community cares about science, and that that is one potential source of support for higher ed, at least, if not necessarily for tenure. But what the average American cares about most with regard to universities is not science, but teaching.
Clay Shirky argued at Crooked Timber that in fact professors don’t do very much teaching, and when the public learns this they will revolt. I think he sees the world too much through the lens of NYU, and that if you look at the higher ed field as a whole, there is lots of teaching going on, including by tenure-track faculty.
But where he is right is that what most people outside higher ed care about is not research, but teaching. Fortunately, there are strong arguments to be made that link tenure and teaching quality. For example, Mikaila pointed out in the comments that
performance funding initiatives which emphasize on-time graduation rates would tend to encourage a decrease in academic rigor so that students make adequate academic progress and do not fail or withdraw from courses–something we could easily achieve by giving our students open-book fill-in-the-blank tests with As for all. It is tenure which protects us from such a demand and thus tenure that gives us the best chance of ensuring that students have the opportunity to receive a high-quality, rigorous education that challenges them and helps them learn and develop the skills which will benefit them economically, socially, culturally, and personally for the rest of their lives.
These are the kinds of arguments that are likely to have traction. Not that tenure is good for professors, or things like academic freedom that a minority of people care about. But tenure is good for students.
The flip side of that is that we can’t profess that tenure helps students and then denigrate or simply neglect teaching. Nor can we go along with “I won’t grade you too hard as long as you don’t demand too much.” Nor is this position compatible with allowing the system to continue to survive on contingent labor.
I’m still working out what the ethical thing to do is as someone who is (as we all are, in one way or another) caught up in this system. One thing I’m pretty sure about, though: appealing to faculty self-interest is not a winning strategy for gaining public support.
One of the most time-consuming (but big-impact*) responsibilities of an academic is teaching. However, graduate school training for teaching can vary. At some institutions, an academic-in-training may teach his/her own course right away. This trial by fire approach can be all-consuming for the first course preps.
At other institutions, an academic-in-training can closely observe experienced instructors and learn tricks of the trade as a teaching assistant. Serving as a (in Ivy Tower-speak) teaching fellow for a large, popular intro to sociology class, I learned how colleague David J. Frank introduced groupwork, cold-called names, and demonstrated how to apply various theoretical perspectives using a game he called “Stump the Professor.” Under the mentorship of Peter V. Marsden, I learned how to grade. Both of us scored papers independently and then compared our scores for inter-rater reliability; we then reconciled the few disparate scores after a discussion. From Richard J. Hackman, I learned how to use stories (and humor) to illustrate phenomena, as well as how to refine lesson plans and exercises.
As a professor, I still observe colleagues’ teaching, which has introduced me to techniques for teaching student teams. Meetings and conversations with colleagues are also opportunities to trade tips and troubleshoot scenarios.
Over the years, I’ve also read various books on teaching and followed discussion threads on teaching at the CHE forum. A few weeks ago, I read Dan Spalding‘s recently published second edition How to Teach Adults (creative commons licensed e-book version here, yay!). His book is an excellent guidebook to teaching, covering the gamut of how to construct lesson plans, how to deal with difficult behaviors in the classroom, and how to set up a professional identity as an educator. Drawing on his experiences teaching English as another language to immigrants, Spalding offers handy checklists and tips that can improve the teaching experience for novice and master instructors alike. For instance, the book discusses the concept of student comfort zones, and the author provides a handy metaphor for how students must “exercise” outside of class for the fullest benefit of education.
Spalding’s approach is thoughtfully provocative. To wit, he compares teaching styles with governance:
Below is a list of countries and the different types of teaching they correspond
with. Which is yours?*
North Korea: A tyrannical regime led by a distant autocrat.
Classroom: A teacher who ruthlessly enforces arbitrary rules.
Japan: A corrupt democracy where most citizens still enjoy a good standard
Classroom: A bad teacher who gives everyone an ‘A.’
Madagascar: A weak state where the people live mostly independent from
Classroom: A teacher who gives suggestions to students who are free to
take or leave them.
United States: A nominal democracy where corporate interests hold almost
Classroom: A teacher who insists they listen to students but ends up doing
whatever the administration says.
*Hopefully, your class is like none of these countries!
In his final chapter, Spalding raises the larger context of the corporatization of education. He also discusses alienation amongst students and instructors and how institutions train for certain dispositions,** followed by the call to consider the transformative possibilities of teaching.
In short, Spalding’s book systematically shares the nuts and bolts of teaching while including a critical perspective of the vocation and its associated institutions. An insightful, must-read for educators!
** Marx/Weber/your favorite theorists are sometimes not credited by the author but are recognizable.
Arizona State has been in higher ed news a lot this week. The Atlantic just published a fairly fawning article on ASU’s partnership with Starbucks, featuring trenchant critiques of traditional colleges like, “The customer service is atrocious.”
Today, the news is ASU’s announcement that it will offer its entire freshman year online, through MOOCs. (Just when you thought they were dead!) Here’s the deal: ASU is partnering with EdX, the nonprofit Harvard-MIT collaboration, to produce the MOOCs. Students don’t have to apply, and they don’t have to pay in advance. But after they complete the class, if they decide they want college credit, they can pay ASU $300-600 (the final price is not set) and it will show up on a transcript indistinguishable from any other class.
Of course, people love to hate on ASU president Michael Crow. Dean Dad pointed out that Maricopa Community College, in ASU’s backyard, only charges $250 a credit and provides library access, among other amenities. John Warner focuses on the importance of the first year to student persistence, implying that disadvantaged students will be hurt. Jonathan Rees amps up the rhetoric, calling ASU the first “predator university.”
The Chronicle’s analysis focuses on what it sees as the catch: ASU’s MOOC students won’t be eligible for financial aid. Because students won’t officially enroll until after they’ve completed the MOOC, what they’ve learned is considered “prior knowledge,” making them ineligible for federal aid. ASU admits this is an obstacle, but suggested that “the university hoped to find some way to make aid possible in the future.”
What the Chronicle doesn’t point to, though, is where this road ultimately leads. There’s no way ASU is committing to this if it doesn’t see a pathway to federal aid down the road. Who among the underemployed folks ASU is targeting can cough up $600 to pay for a single course? That’s more than two weeks’ work at minimum wage.
And indeed, noises about how to solve this problem are already being made. Conversations are underway in the Senate about finding ways to give accreditation — and thus access to aid — to “nontraditional providers” like (drumroll…) EdX.
Truthfully, I’m not that worried about ASU and EdX. I think it’s going to prove hard to get the disadvantaged students they’re aiming for to finish MOOCs, even with financial aid, and even with ASU’s well-publicized innovations in data analytics. And I think that the nonprofit EdX, with its close ties to Harvard and MIT, is unlikely to launch a race to the bottom in extracting revenues from students.
But you know who would be happy to suck at the teat of the federal financial aid system? The edutech disruptors, who talk a good game about transforming higher education but will quickly enough start tranforming student loans into company profits once it’s time to raise the next round of venture capital.* When we have the opportunity to channel our financial aid dollars not only to the University of Phoenix but to the Disruptive EduBadge Academy, then we will have fully corrupted the system. The reason, if it needs to be spelled out, is that there is no reason to think that their courses will require learning, that pesky obstacle between them and those tantalizing financial aid dollars.
I’m not anti-technology, or anti-innovation. And I think traditional colleges are deeply flawed. But I am very, very much against expanding the money-laundering side of our financial aid system. And that is the coal mine into which the ASU-EdX canary is being lowered.
* I just Googled “silicon valley edutech” and got the San Francisco EduTech Meetup Group for — you can’t make this stuff up — “connecting folks who are passionate about the education space.”
There is a symposium for early career management doctoral students. You should apply!
he Southern Management Association (SMA) is pleased to offer a Pre-Doctoral Consortium which will be held October 28th at the 2015 SMA Annual Meeting in St. Pete Beach, Florida. The Consortium is designed to help those who are committed to, or seriously considering, earning a doctoral degree. The goals of the Consortium include: (1) helping students to gain a better understanding of key factors to consider in applying to doctoral programs, and (2) to provide students with a “realistic preview” of life as a doctoral student and beyond as faculty. We are seeking applicants and we hope that you will help us inform students who may be interested in pursuing a doctoral program.
The Consortium will award $500 stipends to invited participants. In addition, breakfast and lunch on the day of the Consortium will be provided, courtesy of SMA, and there will be a networking reception in the evening.The deadline for consortium application is June 28, 2015. All applicants must submit(a) An application form (attached),(b) A recommendation letter from a current or former faculty member,(c) A copy of their vita (resume), and(d) A photocopy of their government issued ID in order to verify that they will have attained the age of 21 on or before October 27th, 2015.Please send any questions or submit consortium registration materials electronically to Dr. Aaron Hill, Oklahoma State University, at email@example.com.