Friday, March 30, 2012

Harvard Layoffs Threaten the University’s Backbone

Read original article at  Labor Notes
Harvard has 73 libraries that comprise the largest private library collection in the world. The library system attracts researchers from around the world, a major draw for attracting the best faculty in all fields. From ancient maps to personal effects to photography collections, not to mention millions of books and journals in multiple languages, the materials of Harvard’s libraries are the keystone supporting billions of dollars in research grants awarded to the Harvard community each year.

Such a large collection is unusable without librarians and library staff to catalog materials and help researchers sift through the mountains of information. Most research using the Harvard library would be impossible without the aid of library workers.

Yet the Harvard administration feels its libraries are a drag on finances, as they do not directly create revenue. Library closings and staff reductions have been part of a continued corporatization of the university, begun under former President Larry Summers (who later was appointed to head President Obama’s National Economic Council). The focus on revenue and serving corporate ends has accelerated under current President Drew Faust’s recession-bound tenure.

In January, Harvard called a “library town hall” to announce that “the library workforce will be smaller than it is now”—by July. The news fell like a bombshell on close to 900 employees, both union members and managers, who still do not know how many people will lose their jobs.

Jeff Booth, a library assistant for over 25 years, said, “It affects you physically. You think that the prospect of losing a job is just a mental thing, but it makes me physically sick when I think that in six months I may not know how I’ll be able to help my children.”

Harvard libraries have already seen layoffs. In 2009, the administration laid off more than 275 workers. In every department, workers were asked to take on more tasks. Harvard claimed poverty as the recession caused its endowment to fall from $36 billion to a mere $25 billion. But in fiscal year 2011 the endowment grew 21.4 percent to $32 billion.

Library for the 21st Century

Harvard set the goal in 2009 of “creating a library for the 21st century.” Many assume this means removing books because “everything is online now.” However, more books are published in print now than ever before and often electronic resources require just as much labor to provide as physical resources.

The role of a library is constantly changing, but it continues to require substantial human labor.

Harvard’s present library system grew as schools and departments created their own libraries in order to focus service on a specific community.

The transition emphasizes centralization of “shared and technical services” such as interlibrary loan, cataloguing, and preservation. But in the past “shared services” has meant fewer jobs and bigger workloads.

The 2009 layoffs hit libraries particularly hard; 21 percent of library staff either took early retirement or were laid off. Workloads increased for those left.

Ed Dupree, 57, an assistant librarian for 19 years, describes the changes: “My workload has doubled since the layoffs of ’09, and gotten more complex. I do my old duties plus those of my former supervisor, who took the forced retirement. My department is backed up and service has inevitably declined.”

The service problems mean longer waits for materials, frustrating searches undertaken without aid or appropriate resources, and in some cases materials being mis-categorized and effectively lost forever.

Another longtime worker complained of the dumbing down of his job since 2009: “Many of the meaningful tasks of my work have been outsourced.”

How to Respond?

At the next meeting of the library transition team, the Harvard No Layoffs Campaign, a rank-and-file group of members of the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers/AFSCME 3650 (HUCTW), met the downsizers with a picket of 20.

The No Layoffs campaign reached out to local media and the Cambridge City Council. The Student Labor Action Movement and Occupy Harvard took up the cause and formed close working relations with the campaign.

Even without official union endorsement, more than 200 workers, students, faculty, and community members demonstrated against layoffs on February 9. SEIU and UNITE HERE (the second and third biggest unions on campus) were invited and sent unofficial messages of support.

Three days later, Occupy Harvard began a week-long occupation of the main undergraduate library. Students camped out in the café area and used the space to host discussions with library staff and the No Layoffs Campaign.

The HUCTW leadership, which champions a policy of jointness with management, never reached out to any of these groups. Instead, it met with library transition leaders “to get more information and express our serious concerns. …In our union’s experience, it is nearly always possible to meet the same ends without any involuntary layoffs.”

The HUCTW contract is set to expire June 30, yet HUCTW officials insist that layoffs are not a primary concern for upcoming negotiations. HUCTW members have no way of challenging this outlook except through outside channels, as twice-yearly membership meetings rarely turn out more than 1 percent of the membership.

Joshua Koritz is a member of HUCTW who has worked in the Harvard library system for six years. You can show your support for Harvard library workers by sending a letter of protest to with a copy to and

Thursday, March 29, 2012

No Financial Aid, No Problem. For-Profit University Sets $199-a-Month Tuition for Online Courses

Read original article at  The Chronicle of Higher Education
March 29, 2012
It's a higher-education puzzle: Students are flocking to Western Governors University, driving growth of 30 to 40 percent each year. You might expect that competitors would be clamoring to copy the nonprofit online institution's model, which focuses on whether students can show "competencies" rather than on counting how much time they've spent in class.
So why haven't they?
Two reasons, says the education entrepreneur Gene Wade. One, financial-aid regulatory problems that arise with self-paced models that aren't based on seat time. And two, opposition to how Western Governors changes the role of professor, chopping it into "course mentors" who help students master material, and graders who evaluate homework but do no teaching.
Mr. Wade hopes to clear those obstacles with a start-up company, UniversityNow, that borrows ideas from Western Governors while offering fresh twists on the model. One is cost. The for-profit's new venture—New Charter University, led by Sal Monaco, a former Western Governors provost—sidesteps the loan system by setting tuition so cheap that most students shouldn't need to borrow. The price: $796 per semester, or $199 a month, for as many classes as they can finish.
"This is not buying a house," says Mr. Wade, co-founder and chief executive of UniversityNow. "This is like, do I want to get cable?"
Another novelty: New Charter offers a try-it-before-you-buy-it platform that mimics the "freemium" model of many consumer Web services. Anyone can create an account and start working through its self-paced online courses free of charge. Their progress gets recorded. If they decide to pay up and enroll, they get access to an adviser (who helps navigate the university) and course specialists (who can discuss the material). They also get to take proctored online tests for course credit.
The project is the latest in a series of experiments that use technology to rethink the economics of higher education, from the $99-a-month introductory courses of StraighterLine to the huge free courses provided through Stanford and MIT.
For years, some analysts have argued that ready access to Pell Grants and federal loans actually props up colleges prices, notes Michael B. Horn, executive director for education at Innosight Institute, a think tank focused on innovation. That's because institutions have little incentive to charge anything beneath the floor set by available financial aid.
"Gene and his team are basically saying, the heck with that—we're going to go around it. We think people can afford it if we offer it at this low a price," Mr. Horn says. "That could be revolutionary."
Yet the project faces tall hurdles: Will employers value these degrees? Will students sign on? And, with a university that lacks regional accreditation right now­—New Charter is nationally accredited by the Distance Education and Training Council, and is considering seeking regional accreditation—will students be able to transfer its credits?
Mr. Wade banks on appealing to working adults who crave easier access to education. When asked who he views as the competition, his reply is "the line out the door at community college." In California, where Mr. Wade is based, nearly 140,000 first-time students at two-year institutions couldn't get into any courses at all during the previous academic year, according to a recent Los Angeles Times editorial about the impact of state budget cuts.
Mr. Wade himself benefited from a first-class education, despite being raised without much money in a housing project in a tough section of Boston. Growing up there, during an era when the city underwent forced busing to integrate its schools, felt like watching a "train wreck" but walking away unscathed. He attended high school at the prestigious Boston Latin School. With assistance from Project REACH, a program to help Boston minorities succeed in higher education, he went to Morehouse College. From there his path included a J.D. from Harvard Law, an M.B.A. from Wharton, and a career as an education entrepreneur.
The 42-year-old founded two earlier companies: LearnNow, a charter-school-management outfit that was sold to Edison Schools, and Platform Learning, a tutoring firm that served low-income students. So far, he's raised about $8 million from investors for UniversityNow, whose New Charter subsidiary is a rebranded, redesigned, and relocated version of an online institution once called Andrew Jackson University.

Breaking a Traditional Mold

To build the software, Mr. Wade looked beyond the traditional world of educational technology, recruiting developers from companies like Google. Signing up for the university feels more like creating an account with a Web platform like Facebook than the laborious process of starting a traditional program—in fact, New Charter lets you join with your Facebook ID. Students, whether paying or not, start each class by taking an assessment to establish whether they're ready for the course and what material within it they need to work on. Based on that, the system creates a pathway to guide them through the content. They skip stuff that they already know.
That was part of the appeal for Ruben Fragoso, who signed up for New Charter's M.B.A. program three weeks ago after stumbling on the university while Googling for information about online degrees. Mr. Fragoso, 53, lives in Albuquerque and works full time as a logistics coordinator for a solar power company. The Mexican-born father of two earned a bachelor's degree 12 years ago from Excelsior College. With New Charter, he mostly teaches himself, hunkering down in his home office after dinner to read and take quizzes. By week three, he hadn't interacted with any other students, and his instructor contact had been limited to a welcome e-mail. That was fine by him.
He likes that he can adjust his schedule to whatever fits—one course at a time if a subject is tough, or maybe three if he prefers. His company's education benefits—up to $5,000 a year—cover the whole thing. With years of business experience, he appreciates the option of heading quickly to a final test on a subject that is familiar to him.
"You don't have to sit there and read every single lesson, or do every single project, because the base is already there," he says.
At New Charter, even students who don't end up paying offer value to the university. That's because, behind the scenes, the Web site hoovers up data about what they clicked on and how they behaved. That data is used to help serve the next person with a similar profile—to diagnose them faster and recommend the right learning resources.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Website offers regular debates on wisdom of going to grad school

Read original article at  Inside Higher Ed
by Scott Jaschik

Three years into an economic downturn that worsened an already tough academic job market, a blog called "100 Reasons NOT to Go to Graduate School" has become popular with grad students seeking to vent.
Anonymously produced for two years by someone who says the blog is "the result of long experience," the steadily increasing number of comments on posts testifies that its point of view is resonating with many. The posts are a mix of analysis of the job market ("There are very few jobs"), the realities many see in graduate school ("Graduate seminars can be unbearable") and the impact of grad school on individuals' personal lives ("The one-body problem").
That last item is not a typo for the "two-body problem," a much-discussed challenge of academic couples finding jobs that is also discussed on the blog. Rather, the post is about why grad students may not be desirable mates for those who bypass the academic life. "[M]arrying a graduate student often means supporting a graduate student," the post explains.
It's of course old news at this point that some graduate programs (especially those in the humanities and social sciences, and those for which money is not plentiful) are shrinking. And some faculty members, on their own initiative, are declining to take on new graduate students in doctoral programs or are discouraging their undergraduates from considering graduate school. But the major disciplinary associations in the humanities and social sciences, even as they have become much more active in promoting non-academic careers for Ph.D.s and much more frank about the difficulties of the job market, have shied away from suggesting that graduate schools should become smaller.
In that environment, the "100 Reasons" blog seems to be touching a nerve -- not only with graduate students, but also with adjuncts, who face minimal job security and low wages.
A recent post on "the culture of fear" drew many responses (many of them, consistent with the post, anonymous) about the power gaps in academe. "Why are academics — of all people — afraid of writing (and speaking) honestly about their profession? Why do so many of those who do express themselves feel compelled to do so anonymously? The answer lies in the staggering power imbalance between academics and the people who employ them. That imbalance is so great because of the crippling realities of the academic job market," says the post. "The consequences of offending your colleagues and superiors in any way can be dire, because until you have tenure your employment is insecure; you are easily replaced. For the same reason, untenured college instructors often endure humiliating working conditions."
Many posts speak to the social and psychological difficulties of grad school. "A longing for some sense of shared experience is probably what drives graduate students to coffee places, where they sit for hours in uncomfortable chairs, hunched over their laptops or over piles of ungraded papers. There, at least for a while, they can be in the company of others who are as alone as they are," says a post on the topic of loneliness. Another post talks about the issue of friends who have nonacademic careers "passing you by": "They may never turn into millionaires — though that is far more likely in the real world than in the academic one — but they probably will pass you by. While you sit in a cramped living space working on your dissertation year after year, your friends will be working hard, too, but they will be earning salaries."
Complaints about grad school and the academic job market are widespread. And not all in the space have endorsed the blog. The blog Teaching College English finds many of the reasons to be "negatively slanted and biased." But "100 Reasons" is getting praised in comments on many discussions of the academic job market.
Generally, the blog's fans cite its realism. And in that spirit, the blogger realizes that many will ignore the advice and go to grad school anyway. So the blog also includes three pieces of advice "if you decide to go anyway." Those three pointers: "stay out of debt," "go to a prestigious school" and "finish as quickly as possible."

Faculty-Salary Increases at Public Colleges Trail Those at Private Ones

Read original article at  The Chronicle of Higher Education
Salaries for faculty members across all disciplines rose by 1.9 percent this year, nearly matching the 2-percent rise in senior administrator salaries, according to an annual report released this week by the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources.
But a divide remains between public-college faculty members and those at private colleges, according to the report, which reflects data for 813 public and private colleges. Private-college faculty members received a median salary increase of 2.3 percent for the 2012 fiscal year, compared with 1.1 percent for public-college faculty members.
Still, the annual salary increases for faculty members at public colleges were better than in the previous two years, when their salaries remained flat from the year before.
Andy Brantley, president of the human-resources association, known as CUPA-HR, said he was concerned about the divide between salary increases for faculty members at public colleges and those at private colleges. The gap has widened during the recession, he said.
A difference of about one percentage point in median increases might not represent a large difference in actual dollars, Mr. Brantley said. "But this differential, coupled with the differential that we also saw last year, is definitely something that public-institution leaders need to take note of."
"If this trend continues," Mr. Brantley added, "it could impact future recruitment and retention of faculty."

Increases Trail Inflation

Salaries for faculty members at both public and private colleges lagged behind inflation. Between 2010 and 2011, the Consumer Price Index rose by 3.2 percent.
Among all colleges, raises were roughly the same for all ranks, ranging from 1.7 percent for new assistant professors to 1.9 percent for full professors and assistant professors. Among full professors, architecture professors got the biggest salary bump in the 2012 fiscal year, an increase of 3.6 percent.
The three fields with the highest average salaries across all ranks have remained unchanged for five years: legal professions and studies; engineering; and business, management, marketing, and related support services. Law professors earned an average of $135,187, the highest of any full professor.
At the other end of the spectrum, the lowest salaries for new assistant professors varied among public and private colleges. But English language and literature professors were among the lowest paid at both types of institutions. New faculty members in that discipline earned an average of $51,874 at private institutions and $52,823 at public institutions.
Mr. Brantley said he is "cautiously optimistic" that colleges would be able to offer similar salary increases next year, although he expects institutions to remain conservative with raises.
"I do think that if the economy continues to stabilize and improve, public institutions will continue to find ways to reward faculty and staff," he said, "and private institutions will also continue to reward faculty and staff."

Michigan Governor Signs Bill Banning Graduate Student Unions

Read original Article at  The Chronicle of Higher Education

A bill to prohibit graduate-student research assistants at Michigan’s public universities from forming unions has been signed into law by the state’s Republican governor, Rick Snyder. The bill was signed on the same day that the Michigan Employee Relations Commission was scheduled to rule on whether research assistants should be classified as public employees entitled to collective-bargaining rights. The move ends a 10-month push to unionize Michigan’s 2,200 graduate researchers, an effort that divided the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and pitted the flagship campus’s president, who opposed the union effort, against her Board of Trustees, which endorsed redefining research assistants as public employees. Mr. Snyder said that classifying research assistants as public employees with union representation would fundamentally alter the “critical relationship between students and teachers,” according to the Detroit Free Press.

Community College in California Plans to Offer 2-Tier Course Pricing

Read original Article at The Chronicle of Higher Education
March 14, 2012, 12:06 am
Students who are shut out of classes they need at Santa Monica College, which is part of the California community-college system, may soon be offered another option—at a significantly higher price, the Los Angeles Times reported. The college is pursuing a plan to set up a nonprofit foundation that would offer some high-demand courses at a cost of about $200 per unit. Fees for regular community-college courses, set by the Legislature, are now $36 a unit, and scheduled to rise to $46 a unit this summer.
Critics question the fairness of Santa Monica’s plan and say it is tantamount to privatizing a public institution, but college officials defend it as a way of increasing access despite drastic cuts in state support. They also believe the plan is on solid legal ground. A spokesman in the state system’s chancellor’s office, however, said it does not appear to comply with state education codes.

Students Protest Doubling of Loan Interest Rates and Ask Congress for Relief

Students Protest Doubling of Loan Interest Rates and Ask Congress for Relief 1
Read Original Article at  The Chronicle of Higher Education

College students presented 130,000 letters to the Congressional leadership at the Capitol on Tuesday to protest the scheduled doubling of the interest rate on certain federally backed student loans this summer.
The interest rate on subsidized Stafford loans is set to double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent on July 1, increasing the average debt by $2,800 for the more than 7 million students receiving the loans, according to a spokesman for the Democratic members of the House Committee on Education & the Workforce.
In 2007, Congress voted to cut the Stafford interest rate in half by 2011, from 6.8 percent to 3.4 percent. The law containing that provision, the College Cost Reduction and Access Act, passed with bipartisan support. The cut cost an estimated $7.2-billion from 2007 to 2012, a burden that was shouldered almost entirely by lenders and loan-guarantee agencies, the Congressional Budget Office said.
Along with members of student advocacy groups, Sen. Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island, and Rep. Joe Courtney, Democrat of Connecticut, attended Tuesday's event at the Capitol. The two lawmakers are sponsoring related bills, introduced in the Senate (S 2051) and the House of Representatives (HR 3826) in January, to extend the 3.4-percent interest rate for another year. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that measure would cost $6.7-billion.
Mr. Reed said it will be a challenge to pass the bill through Congress.
"It's hard doing anything here these days, it seems. It's particularly hard when there is a time limit like July 1, but the president is with us, and we are going to try to move it as quickly as we can," the senator said at the event.
The letters were collected by a coalition of student advocacy groups, including the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, Campus Progress, Rebuild the Dream, and the United States Student Association.
Tyler Dowden, a first-generation college student attending Northern Arizona University, said if the interest rate doubles in July, he would have to pay an extra $3,500 in interest on an expected $25,000 in debt.
Representative Courtney said there are "serious discussions that are going on" with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, and the White House to try to pass the bill before the July deadline. During his State of the Union speech in January, President Obama asked Congress to prevent the interest rate from doubling, and he noted that student-loan debt has surpassed credit-card debt for the first time.
It is unlikely, however, that House Republicans will budge on this issue. Leaders of the education committee have said that keeping the interest rate at 3.4-percent is a Band-Aid solution for college affordability, and the responsibility for keeping college costs low should fall on institutions rather than the federal government.
"We all want to promote efforts that will reduce college costs, but the era of empty promises has to end," said John P. Kline Jr., a Republican from Minnesota who is the committee's chairman, in a January 27 statement. That statement followed a speech on college costs that the president gave at the University of Michigan. "The interest-rate hike students face is the result of a ticking time bomb set by Democrats five years ago," Mr. Kline said. "Simply calling for more of the same is a disservice to students and taxpayers."
In defending the potential added cost of the measure, Mr. Courtney suggested that Congress make budget cuts elsewhere— for example, on federal subsidies for oil companies and banks—to keep the Stafford interest rate low.

Online Classes and College Completion

Read Original Article at The Chronicle of Higher Education
The latest buzzword in higher education is "completion." It combines the idea of enrollment growth with what we used to call "retention"—that is, getting more students into college and then keeping them there long enough to graduate or (in the case of community-college students) transfer successfully to four-year institutions.
The completion concept is nothing new. We've been focused on increasing enrollment since I started in this profession more than 25 years ago, and we've also spent countless hours talking about how to do a better job of retaining and graduating students. The results have been mixed, at best. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, college enrollment grew by 9 percent in the 1990s and a whopping 38 percent from 1999 to 2009.
And yet, as Education Secretary Arne Duncan told PBS in a 2010 interview, completion rates have stagnated during those same two decades, with the United States slipping from first place to ninth among industrialized nations. "Other countries have passed us by," he said. "They're outworking us. They're outcompeting us." In other words, we've been doing a decent job of getting students in, but a poor job of getting them out with a degree in hand.
This time around, though, colleges may have added incentives to make retention a priority. President Obama himself has identified college completion as central to his economic agenda, calling education "the economic issue of our times" and vowing that America will once again lead "the world in college graduation rates by the end of this decade."
Moreover, governors and state education leaders have begun hinting strongly—and, in some cases, doing more than hinting—that future funds for colleges and universities may be tied to graduation rates rather than just to enrollment, as has traditionally been the case. As a result, community colleges, which are always looking to enlarge their slice of the pie and constantly fearful lest their already meager rations be further reduced, are rushing to get on board with the completion agenda.
I certainly agree that college completion is vital, both to our nation's economy and to our efforts to maintain an informed and engaged citizenry. Yet I'm concerned that some two-year institutions and systems might be taking the wrong approach, one that may ultimately prove counterproductive. Specifically (and predictably enough), many state systems have said that a key component of their plans to raise graduation rates involves increasing online offerings, despite strong evidence that online classes may have just the opposite effect.
For example, according to a report by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Washington state's Student Completion Initiative includes plans to "redesign ... high-enrollment-gatekeeper and precollege courses into online classes." A position paper on college completion produced by the National Conference of State Legislatures applauds Montana, among other states, for "expanding online learning options" and creating "a virtual community college as a low-cost option to expand access." And in my own home state, the recently released Complete College Georgia plan calls for institutions to "increase the array of online programs ... to enable all students ... to effectively pursue college completion." Those are just a few examples of what appears to be a national trend.
At first glance, the idea seems to make a lot of sense: Surely if we make it easier for students to get the credits they need by offering as many classes as possible online, more will finish. And no doubt that approach is cost-effective, at least in the short run. We can increase access without having to spend money upfront for infrastructure—money that, incidentally, we don't have. We can also reach potential student populations whose only access to college courses comes via the Internet.
Unfortunately, we seem to have forgotten that access and completion are not the same thing.
Simply getting more students to enroll isn't going to help much if too few of them ever finish. In fact, given Secretary Duncan's assertion that completion rates remain disappointing, even as enrollment grows, one might argue that we're setting many of those students up for failure.
To counter that argument, online enthusiasts point to a 2009 "meta-analysis" by the U.S. Department of Education that, they say, shows that online courses are not only cheaper and more convenient but also better. The report looked at 99 individual studies of online learning conducted since 1996 and concluded that "on average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction."
Nice try. But that study has serious flaws, especially as it pertains to community colleges. In the "Effectiveness of Fully Online Courses for College Students: Response to a Department of Education Meta-Analysis," Shanna Smith Jaggers and Thomas Bailey of the Community College Research Center at Columbia University point out that only 28 of the 99 studies examined in the Education Department report focused on courses that were fully online. Furthermore, only seven looked at semester-long courses, as opposed to short-term online programs on narrow topics, "such as how to use an Internet search engine."
In other words, out of all the studies reviewed by the Education Department, only a handful dealt with the kind of fully online, semester-long courses that are being touted as a means of increasing college-completion rates.
Even more alarming, for those of us on the front lines at community colleges, is the fact that all seven of those studies were conducted at midsize or large universities, five of which were rated as "selective" or "highly selective" by U.S. News & World Report. Those are not exactly the kinds of places that typically attract at-risk students—the ones least likely to complete their degrees. Community colleges do attract such students, and in large numbers.
Moreover, in six of the seven studies, withdrawal rates were not even mentioned, meaning that the research gauged only how well students performed after completing the course. The studies didn't tell us anything about those students who didn't complete the course.
Two other studies by researchers at Columbia's Community College Research Center do shed light on the role that online courses play in college completion—and the news isn't exactly good.
The more recent of the two, as reported by The Chronicle in July 2011, "followed the enrollment history of 51,000 community-college students in Washington state between 2004 and 2009 [and] found an eight percentage-point gap in completion rates between traditional and online courses." That comes on the heels of a 2010 study that reached similar conclusions about community-college students in Virginia: "Regardless of their initial level of preparation ... students were more likely to fail or withdraw from online courses than from face-to-face courses. In addition, students who took online coursework in early semesters were slightly less likely to return to school in subsequent semesters, and students who took a higher proportion of credits online were slightly less likely to attain an educational award or transfer to a four-year institution."
Did you catch that? According to the Columbia study, community-college students who take online courses are actually less likely to graduate or transfer.
Is it possible that we're taking the wrong approach?
Increasing access to college through more online offerings may indeed help with the first part of the completion equation: enrollment growth. But if, as the Columbia studies clearly show, the most at-risk students are less likely to finish when they "attend" classes online, then for that group of students this approach may actually do more harm than good.
That's precisely what Jaggers and Bailey conclude in their response to the Education Department's analysis: "While advocates argue that online learning is a promising means to increase access to college and to improve student progression through higher-education programs, the Department of Education report does not present evidence that fully online delivery produces superior learning outcomes for typical college courses, particularly among low-income and academically underprepared students. Indeed some evidence beyond the meta-analysis suggests that, without additional supports, online learning may even undercut progression among low-income and academically underprepared students."
All of this reminds me of a television commercial I saw recently. I don't even remember what product or company was being advertised. I just remember that the gist was, "If you're tired of dealing with Web sites and automated phone systems, do business with us. We'll give you the personal touch. You can even talk to a live person." And I remember thinking, "Maybe this is the wave of the future. Maybe we've reached our saturation point with virtual communication, and the businesses that succeed in the next decade will be those that make you feel like a person interacting with another person rather than some disembodied collection of ones and zeroes."
If that's the case, then maybe this is one lesson that colleges—especially community colleges, the "people's colleges"—can learn from the corporate world. Perhaps what the most at-risk students really need, instead of being herded into online courses, is the "personal touch." Maybe they need more face-to-face interaction with instructors and other students; more conferences in their professors' offices; more private, one-on-one tutoring sessions; more hanging out with their peers in the student center between classes.
Maybe allowing those students to sit at home, alone in front of their computers, with little in the way of emotional support—not to mention, in many cases, educational support—is actually a bad idea. Maybe instead of doing everything we can to encourage them to take as many of classes as possible online, we should be welcoming them to our campuses and into our classrooms.
If future funds for higher education really do follow completion rates, rather than just enrollment figures, then this approach could even end up being more cost-effective for colleges in the long run.
Rob Jenkins is an associate professor of English at Georgia Perimeter College and the author of "Building a Career in America's Community Colleges." He blogs at and writes monthly for our community-college column. The views expressed here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.

State and Local Spending on Higher Education Sank Again Last Year to NEW 25 YEAR LOW

Read Original Article at  The Chronicle of Higher Education

As if anyone associated with public higher education needed a reminder, 2011 was a lousy year for higher-education finance.
A new report from the State Higher Education Executive Officers confirms just how awful it was: State and local money for higher education fell to a quarter-century low for the second consecutive year, while enrollments continued their climb to record highs.
From the beginning of the recession, in the 2007-8 fiscal year, through the 2011 fiscal year, college enrollment increased nationally by 12.5 percent, to 11.5 million students, the report says. But state and local appropriations have decreased by $1.3-billion over the same period.
The national average for combined state and local support is now down to $6,290 per full-time student—2.5 percent less than in 2010 and the lowest amount in the past 25 years, the report concludes.
Largely to make up for the loss of state and local dollars, tuition revenue per student reached $4,774 in 2011, an all-time high, according to the report. Over the past 25 years, the percentage of educational revenue supported by tuition has climbed steadily, from 23.2 percent in 1986 to 43.3 percent in 2011.
States and institutions alike should work to reverse the trends of decreasing government support and increasing costs to students, the report concludes in a commentary section. Otherwise, it says, the economic future of the United States will be at risk.
"Other countries are rapidly improving the postsecondary education of their citizens; if the United States falls behind in either quality or the number of students who enroll and graduate, it will not be easy to catch up," George Pernsteiner, chair of SHEEO's executive committee and chancellor of the Oregon University System, said in a written statement accompanying the report.

Professors Are Graying and Staying, Creating a Faculty Bottleneck

Professors Are Graying and Staying, Creating a Faculty Bottleneck 1
Corey Wascinski for The Chronicle
At elite research universities, where longtime professors enjoy freedom and resources, many don't see the need to retire. The number of faculty members ages 65 and up more than doubled from 2000 to 2011.
Read Original Article at  The Chronicle of Higher Education

At some universities, 1 in 3 academics are now 60 or older

When Mary Beth Norton went to work at Cornell University in 1971, she was the history department's first female hire. But now the accomplished professor has a different mark of distinction: She is the oldest American-history scholar at Cornell.
"I've always thought of myself as the sweet young thing in the department," Ms. Norton, who will turn 69 this month, says with a laugh. "But that's not true anymore."
A growing proportion of the nation's professors are at the same point in their careers as Ms. Norton: ­still working, but with the end of their careers in sight. Their tendency to remain on the job as long as their work is enjoyable—or, during economic downturns, long enough to make sure they have enough money to live on in retirement—has led the professoriate to a crucial juncture.
Amid an aging American work force, the graying of college faculties is particularly notable. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of professors ages 65 and up has more than doubled between 2000 and 2011. At some institutions, including Cornell, more than one in three tenured or tenure-track professors are now 60 or older. At many others—including Duke and George Mason Universities and the Universities of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Texas at Austin, and Virginia—at least one in four are 60 or older. (See chart below.)
Colleges have been talking about an impending mass exodus of baby-boomer professors for at least the past decade, but it hasn't occurred yet because people in their 60s, in particular, aren't ready to retire. But even with the preponderance of older faculty in academe, experts say that widespread retirements aren't imminent, but instead will most likely take place in spurts over the next 10 years or so as more professors reach age 70.
In the meantime, the challenges of an aging work force are especially salient for colleges. Faculty can retire at will (a perk that began with the end of mandatory retirement in 1994), and young Ph.D.'s are waiting in the wings for jobs. Institutions are also struggling to manage faculty renewal at a time when the position left behind by a retired faculty member might be lost to budget cuts.
Older professors understand what's at stake. But at the same time, they have managed to craft professional and personal lives that they're not ready to walk away from. And some administrators, who are themselves often in the same age bracket as the faculty in question, can relate. Yet their task of preparing for the next generation, while managing the previous one, remains.
Data on faculty ages collected by The Chronicle provides a window into how the shifting demographics of professors is playing out similarly at all types of colleges across the nation. The problem is more pronounced at some places, particularly at elite research institutions like Cornell, where senior professors often have particular freedom to shape their academic pursuits to fit their interests. At other kinds of institutions where the workload isn't as flexible, studies have shown, faculty members are more inclined to retire.

At Cornell, the percentage of professors in their 70s and beyond has doubled since 2000; they now make up 6 percent of the university's 1,500-member faculty. Other places with a sizable percentage of faculty members in their 70s and older include Claremont McKenna College and the University of Texas at Austin, both of which have 7 percent of their faculty in that age group, and the University of Florida, with 6 percent.
The issue of aging faculty is complex, in part because of the nature of academic work. The faces behind the numbers, like Ralph M. Stein of Pace University, are lifelong academics who have often crafted careers at a single institution whose reputation they have helped to build. Their work isn't just a way to earn a living, but instead a major part of their identity. And that can make it difficult for professors to give up their jobs.
Mr. Stein, a founding member of the law school at Pace, is 68 and teaches eight courses each year. "As long as I can do the job, I'm going to keep doing it," he says. "If a person is still performing very well, I don't see why people should suggest that there's a moral or other obligation to let somebody else come in."
In fact, Mr. Stein adds, "Everybody who knows me knows I'm going out of here feet first."
For Peter J. Lang, an 81-year-old graduate research professor at the University of Florida, retirement would mean leaving behind the behavior-therapy research he has conducted over a career that has spanned three universities. "Right now I'm at a really exciting place in my research," says Mr. Lang, who has been employed at Florida for 30 years. "I'd like to hang in and see where it goes."

An Expensive Bottleneck

But on the departmental level, who stays and who goes dictates the game plan for a department's future. A department top-heavy with older faculty members most likely means that new hires, who often bring with them new fields of study and new course ideas, will be few and far between until more retirements occur.

The Aging Professoriate

Professors are not just boxes to be checked in actuarial tables, writes David Perlmutter. Take his father, for example.
Alma Acevedo is troubled by being asked when she would retire.
Faculty Transitions
Susan S. Meyer is chair of a philosophy department in transition at the University of Pennsylvania. Half of the department's 14 professors are nearly 60, or above, and the other half are 50 or under. One professor, who is participating in a phased-retirement plan, will leave at the end of this year. Another person, of retirement age, left for another university. The 60-and-above cohort in the department will shrink in the wake of the departures, and Ms. Meyer, 51, is hopeful that new hires will help the other end of the age spectrum grow.
"What we've got with no mandatory retirement is kind of a bottleneck at the most-expensive end at a lot of places," says Ms. Meyer, who is on sabbatical. "For department chairs that means there's an inability to renew the ranks. Our own graduate students are going off and there are fewer opportunities for them."
The philosophy department at Cornell has a standing committee that "keeps an eye on" young scholars the institution may want to recruit "if the right occasion unfolds," says Scott MacDonald, department chair. "We're small enough that we continually, and without reflection, know what the demographics are in the department."
He expects at least three professors to begin phased retirement in the next three years. In a department of 16 professors, Mr. MacDonald says, there is "a lump of 55- to 70-year-olds, a lump of early-career faculty, and we're a little bit low in the middle."
Meanwhile, young Ph.D.'s lament that retirements­ aren't happening quickly enough. One poster on The Chronicle's forums recently wondered when the tight academic job market would turn around.
"A part of me thinks that we're just waiting for the baby boomers to retire," the poster wrote. "I wonder how much of the difficult job market right now is a result of these people holding onto their jobs."
Indeed, in an expanding job market, the effect of legions of longtime professors still on the job "might not be as acute," says Peter Conn, a professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania and a Chronicle contributor, who has written about aging faculty and their effect on the job prospects of young scholars in the humanities. He is also a former dean of Penn's College of Arts and Sciences, where 7.3 percent of the tenured faculty was over 70 in 2010. "But in a shrinking market it seems to me to be obvious that new or younger colleagues looking for work are going to suffer," Mr. Conn, says.
But why quit, some professors say, when they have all the intellectual stimulation, work-life flexibility, and camaraderie they need on the job?

Productive, or Not?

At the core of conversations about older faculty members is the perennial question: Are they productive? The answer is: It depends. When professors have been around for decades, it's easy enough for them to simply maintain the status quo, refusing to freshen up tired lectures, shunning new scholarship, and barely bothering to take on departmental duties. But clearly age doesn't dictate levels of productivity. A young assistant professor can fall short of the mark, as well, by not cranking out enough research to attain tenure or never quite connecting with students in the classroom.
"Despite mythology to the contrary, there's very little evidence that older faculty become less productive," says Mr. Conn, who is 69. Faculty at top research universities, in particular, are "if anything, more productive," he adds, as tenure and rich resources work together in their favor.
When it comes to teaching, Ms. Meyer maintains that some of Penn's oldest teachers are among its best, mainly because they are more experienced. Still, "if someone's no longer able to do the work, that's a difficult conversation to have."
Department leaders also have to be cognizant of evening out work in departments, particularly in those with large numbers of older faculty. One of the perks of the job for longtime faculty members has often been the ability to pick and choose how much departmental work to take on, but that's not always possible.
"As people don't retire, but they're still full-time members of the department, you just can't have more and more of the work falling onto fewer and fewer people," says Ms. Meyer, who has been at Penn since 1994. "Unless they have declared a retirement, you have to insist that they do their fair share of work."
G. Howard Miller considers himself an example of how older faculty members can thrive when they work to reinvent themselves.
As Mr. Miller, an associate professor of history, neared the end of his almost 40-year career at the University of Texas at Austin, he says he began to keenly feel the age gap between him and his students. When he first arrived at the institution, in 1971, the commonalities between him and the students he taught were many, including that they were mostly native Texans who shared his Southern drawl. He also was not that much older than his most-senior students.
But as time passed, Texas's flagship campus grew into a nationally known research institution, and most of Mr. Miller's students started to come from outside Texas. And as he aged, a deeper disconnect grew. "The kinds of things I could assume that they knew about, the part of history that we had lived through, was not the same," he said. "Especially with the growth of technology, that gap got to be a little formidable."
Mr. Miller decided that he needed to scrap his standard lectures for his classes on the history of religion in America and instead begin to "speak the technical language that my students did." In the years before his retirement, which was at the end of the last academic year, he revamped his teaching style, which included turning one of his signature courses, "Jesus in American Culture," into a multimedia offering. It featured a video, music and audio recordings, and online lectures. Before he knew it, Mr. Miller says, the course drew attention from his peers, who nominated him for teaching awards that he ultimately won.
"I had to learn about using films and images and music and stop being a lecture-oriented professor," says Mr. Miller, who is now 70. "I carved out an entirely different type of reputation for myself at the university, and I was ­really rewarded for that. But if I had retired earlier, none of that would have happened."

Tough Talks

Mr. Miller, who said recent health problems had made it harder for him to get around campus, initiated talks with his department chair about his timetable for retiring. But not all professors raise the issue, and it's a dicey proposition for administrators to broach the subject with faculty.
"As an administrator I'm dealing with two conflicting messages," says Ralph J. Blasting, dean of liberal arts at Siena College. "The first is to plan three to five years out, and the second is to never use the 'r-word' with a faculty member because of perceptions of ageism and discrimination."
So administrators trying to make plans for new hires are often working only with age data and supposition.
"We can look at a department and we can determine who is close to retirement age, but that doesn't tell you much," Mr. Blasting says. "Someone 60 might want to work until they're 65 or work until they're 90."
But administrators have found some ways to plan. Mr. Blasting says the posttenure reviews he conducts every three years of his college's faculty have helped him get a better handle on when some professors might choose to retire. As faculty members discuss their goals for the next three years, it's not uncommon for someone to mention that the next time he or she meets with him, the person will probably want to talk about retirement.
"It just sets the stage for people to talk about their job and what they want to do in a way that's really helpful," Mr. Blasting says.
Institutions also rely on phased-retirement programs to help them fine-tune planning. Such programs typically offer professors a prorated salary as they scale back their duties, while maintaining a full retirement and health benefits. In return, professors must give administrators a specific retirement date up to three years in the future. Some institutions, like Cornell, allow professors to retire over a five-year period.
But experts on faculty-retirement patterns say that, even as institutions are doing more to work with faculty on financial planning, not enough are paying attention to the psychological effects of retirement and how to guide professors through the uncertainty about what their lives might be like after academe.
"Lots of places have an HR focus about retirement for faculty, like how to get your financing in order," says David Stein, an associate professor of work-force development and education at Ohio State, who has done research on aging faculty. "But they don't tend to get beyond that to, What am I going to do next? What does it mean to not be a faculty member? Some people have real issues with that."

Good Timing

Sometimes, retirement is all about timing. Lorraine Dorfman, a retired professor of social work at the University of Iowa, had contemplated entering phased retirement in 2001, right after her husband died. But after thinking about it for six months, she decided to wait. "I didn't want two big transitions," Ms. Dorfman says.
Eventually, Ms. Dorfman, who has done extensive research on retired professors, says she got to the point where she believed it was time to pass the baton. She retired in 2010 at age 74.
"Fields change, and most of us realize that there is a new crop of people who have been trained differently with new ideas and they deserve to be heard," Ms. Dorfman says.
Like many professors, she has continued to work in her field, including serving on dissertation committees and reviewing journal articles. But she is also enjoying the personal benefits of retirement. She had the time, for example, to take her teenage grandson on a trip to China last summer.
Elizabeth D. Earle is winding down her career the way she planned, too. A professor in Cornell's department of plant breeding and genetics, she is in her fifth and final year of phased retirement. The 74-year-old says she chose that path so she could begin to shed aspects of her work she was losing interest in, while still doing others where she felt she continued to shine.
A few years into her phased retirement, she closed down her lab, saying she had grown tired of competing for grants to support her research and the people who helped her do it. But she continues to teach. She has taught courses on genetically engineered crops, plant cell and tissue culture, and has made trips to West Africa to teach at a center for plant improvement there.
Ms. Earle, whose department has faculty who are mostly in their 50s and 60s, says she may have retired earlier if there had not been a phased-retirement program and she thought her leaving might benefit her program in some way.
That kind of sentiment illustrates how carefully many professors weigh what impact their retirement might have on their colleagues. It is not uncommon for faculty members to stay put as they try get a better sense of what will happen to their position, and their research areas, once they're gone.
"The retiring professor does care very much about the department and wants to be sure that their line is going to be renewed," Mr. Blasting says. "And not only that, but that the line will be renewed with their particular specialty."
David A. Hammer, a professor of nuclear engineering and electrical and computer engineering at Cornell, doesn't yet see the signs of that kind of renewal in his department. He and three other professors are the only four faculty members who work in his area, says Mr. Hammer, who has been at Cornell since 1977. Talk about new hires seems to center around landing professors who don't have the same specialty that soon-to-retire senior scholars do, Mr. Hammer says.
"Unless the word 'renewal' is used more forcefully, none of the four of us will be replaced," says Mr. Hammer, 68, who is now teaching a course on controlled fusion and an energy seminar. An obvious time for him to retire, he says, would be when his graduate students have all earned their doctorate degrees. "I'm pretty healthy, so I don't need to retire because of my health," says Mr. Hammer, whose wife is a longtime professor in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell. "And my wife isn't pounding on the table every evening saying, 'When are we going to retire?'"
Cornell officials aren't mounting a widespread push for retirements to happen either. G. Peter Lepage, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the institution, says demographics will ultimately do the trick.

Crunching the Numbers

Four years ago, Mr. Lepage examined the age distribution of the college's 500 faculty members. The theoretical physicist crunched the numbers back to 1983 and found that the faculty of Cornell's largest college was steadily aging. In 1983, 5 percent of the faculty was 65 and older, compared with 20 percent in 2011. The explanation, he says, is a simple one: A critical mass of faculty members hired in the 1970s had aged in place.
"Most of our faculty stay here, so what we have is a big lump of faculty members that have just been marching through our system," Mr. Lepage says.
Now the pace of retirements, he says, is gradually picking up. About 15 people retire each year in his college, he says, roughly double the annual rate of retirements in the late 1980s. Each year about a dozen more professors leave for other reasons.
Mr. Lepage's data were at the crux of a 2010 decision by the university's Board of Trustees to commit $100-million to hire new professors universitywide over the next decade. The plan, which donors will help finance, will allow young faculty members to establish themselves before the senior scholars they're replacing retire.
"We're basically hiring our reputation for the next 20 or 30 years," Mr. Lepage says.
The college has begun to "pre-fill" jobs, hiring young professors to take the place of senior professors who are expected to retire with the next decade. The College of Arts and Sciences needs to hire about 28 professors each year to replace faculty who leave. Last year, partly because of its pre-filling efforts, the college hired 35 professors.
Hiring new faculty in advance of retirements comes with obvious risks, but Cornell is constantly securing and setting aside "bridge funds" to cover the cost of hires that may overlap for as many as five years.
Ms. Norton, Cornell's oldest American-history professor, is one of the faculty members who has no immediate plans to retire.
She still enjoys teaching. In fact, a popular new course that she teaches with the principal investigator of the Mars Exploration Rover Mission, who is also a Cornell professor, has basically pushed thoughts of retirement off her radar.
"It's a very exciting class to teach," Ms. Norton says of the course, "History of Exploration: Land, Sea, Space." "I hate to give it up by retiring."
For now, Ms. Norton plans to teach through the next academic year. After that, "I'm leaving my options open," she says. "I'll likely retire sooner rather than later, but I haven't decided anything."

Proportion of Faculty 60 and Older Has Grown at Colleges Across the Country

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

U. of Oregon Faculty Vote to Unionize

Read original article at  The Chronicle of Higher Education
March 14, 2012, 2:29 pm

A wide range of different faculty types at the University of Oregon have voted to form a union affiliated with the American Association of University Professors and the American Federation of Teachers, according to a statement from union organizers. The AAUP says the formation of the union was supported by a majority of University of Oregon workers in each faculty category it would represent: tenured and tenure-track faculty, full-time and part-time contingent faculty, research assistants, research associates, and postdoctoral employees. The union will be formally certified once Oregon’s Employee Relations Board confirms the election’s results.

AAUP sent out the following letter as announcement:

CBC Colleagues,

Tuesday was a historic day for the AAUP.

Through a joint effort of the AAUP and AFT, we filed cards with the Oregon Employment Relations Board to certify that the AAUP and the AFT will be the joint collective bargaining agent for the tenure-track, non-tenure track, and research faculty at the University of Oregon.

Oregon is a “card-check” state, where we need to file cards from 50 percent of the bargaining unit plus one card. If a majority of cards is certified by the board, then we have a union. There are approximately 1,900 people in the bargaining unit, and we were able to obtain a majority of cards overall and also in each category of represented faculty.

This is a historic achievement, as we are now on the way to ensuring that faculty at this flagship research university have the ability to be represented collectively.

The campaign has been in process for more than two years, and this success is the result of a great deal of hard work and dedication from the faculty at the University of Oregon, AFT leaders and staff, AAUP staff, and faculty members from AAUP chapters who visited Oregon to assist with the effort. In addition to visits from me (Eastern Michigan University) and AAUP president Cary Nelson (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), faculty from Rutgers University (AAUP-AFT), Cal State East Bay, and the University of California, San Diego traveled to the University of Oregon to help out their colleagues.

On the staff level, our new organizing director Angela Hewett (who started in November 2011) made a few visits, and most importantly, worked with the AFT to design a final push to ensure that we would achieve a majority of the tenure-track faculty. Angela’s insights and perseverance were instrumental in achieving this victory.

As we move forward, we have an organizing drive with the AFT at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, as well as preliminary work in the University of California system. These are both very large projects, and we are hopeful that our victory at Oregon will be a springboard for more organizing victories as we move forward.

Howard Bunsis,
Chair, Collective Bargaining Congress

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Colorado House Votes to Let Public Colleges Offer Adjuncts Enforceable Contracts

Read Original Article at  The Chronicle of Higher Education
March 7, 2012, 11:35 am

The Colorado House of Representatives has passed a bill giving the state’s public colleges and public-college systems the authority to offer long-term, enforceable contracts to adjunct faculty members. Under current Colorado law, adjunct instructors enter into agreements to work at colleges but are technically considered “at will” employees subject to termination for any reason at any time.  The new measure, now pending in the state Senate’s education committee, would require the contracts with adjuncts to contain a provision allowing colleges to terminate the agreements in the event of a financial crisis.

5 Private Liberal-Arts Colleges Will Share a Professor

Read original article at The Chronicle of Higher Education
March 7, 2012, 6:40 pm

Five private liberal-arts colleges—four in West Virginia and one in Virginia—will share a remedial-mathematics professor, and two of them will share an American-history professor, in an effort to trim costs while maintaining a high quality of instruction, reports The Charleston Gazette. College officials told the newspaper that the collaboration, which is financed by a $150,000 grant from the Teagle Foundation and will involve both distance learning and face-to-face classroom instruction, will free up more math professors to teach higher-level courses and allow the use of a full-time professor rather than adjuncts for the history course. The colleges involved are: Bethany College, Davis & Elkins College, Emory & Henry College, the University of Charleston, and West Virginia Wesleyan College.

Could Many Universities Follow Borders Bookstores Into Oblivion?

Read Original Article At  The Chronicle of Higher Education
March 7, 2012, 7:44 pm
Atlanta — Higher education’s spin on the Silicon Valley garage. That was the vision laid out in September, when the Georgia Institute of Technology announced a new lab for disruptive ideas, the Center for 21st Century Universities. During a visit to Atlanta last week, I checked in to see how things were going, sitting down with Richard A. DeMillo, the center’s director and Georgia Tech’s former dean of computing, and Paul M.A. Baker, the center’s associate director. We talked about challenges and opportunities facing colleges at a time of economic pain and technological change—among them the chance that many universities might follow Borders Bookstores into oblivion.

Q. You recently wrote that universities are “bystanders” at the revolution happening around them, even as they think they’re at the center of it. How so?

Mr. DeMillo: It’s the same idea as the news industry. Local newspapers survived most of the last century on profits from classified ads. And what happened? Craigslist drove profits out of classified ads for local newspapers. If you think that it’s all revolving around you, and you’re going to be able to impose your value system on this train that’s leaving the station, that’s going to lead you to one set of decisions. Think of Carnegie Mellon, with its “Four Courses, Millions of Users” idea [which became the Open Learning Initiative], or Yale with the humanities courses, thinking that what the market really wants is universal access to these four courses at the highest quality. And really what the market is doing is something completely different. The higher-education market is reinventing what a university is, what a course is, what a student is, what the value is. I don’t know why anyone would think that the online revolution is about reproducing the classroom experience.

Q. So what is the revolution about?

Mr. DeMillo: You don’t know where events are going to take higher education. But if you want to be an important institution 20 years from now, you have to position yourself so that you can adapt to whatever those technology changes are. Whenever you have this kind of technological change, where there’s a large incumbency, the incumbents are inherently at a disadvantage. And we’re the incumbents.

Q. What are some of the most important changes happening now?

Mr. DeMillo: What you’re seeing, for example, is technology enabling a single master teacher to reach students on an individualized basis on a scale that is unprecedented. So when Sebastian Thrun offers his Intro to Robotics course and gets 150,000 students—that’s a big deal. Why is it a big deal? Well, because people who want to learn robotics want to learn from the master. And there’s something about the medium that he uses that makes that connection intimate. It’s not the same kind of connection that you get by pointing a camera at the front of the room and letting someone write on a whiteboard. These guys have figured out how to design a way of explaining the material that connects with people at scale. So Stanford all of a sudden becomes a place with a network of stakeholders that’s several orders of magnitude larger than it was 10 years ago. Every one of those students in India that wants to connect to Stanford now—connect to a mentor—now has a way to connect by bypassing their local institutions. Every institution that can’t offer a robotics course now has a way of offering a robotics course.

I think what you see happening now with the massive open courses is going to fundamentally change the business models. It’s going to put the notion of value front and center. Why would I want a credential from this university? Why would I want to pay tuition to this university? It really ups the stakes.

Mr. Baker: There used to be something called Borders, you may remember. Think of Borders, the bookstore, “X, Y, Z University,” the bookstore. If you’ve got Amazon as an analogue for these massively open courses, there is still a model where people actually go into bookstores because sometimes they want to touch, or they like hanging out, or there’s other value offered by that. What it means is that the university needs to rethink what it’s doing, how it’s doing it. And how it innovates in a way of surviving in the face of this. If I can do the Amazon equivalent of this open course, why should I come here? Well, maybe you shouldn’t. And that’s a client that is lost.

Mr. DeMillo: All you have to do is add up the amount of money spent on courses. Just take an introduction to computer science. Add up the amount of money that’s spent nationwide on introductory programming courses. It’s a big number, I’ll bet. What is the value received for that spend? If, in fact, there’s a large student population that can be served by a higher-quality course, what’s the argument for spending all that money on 6,000 introduction to programming courses?

Q. You really think that many universities could go the way of Borders?

Mr. DeMillo: Yeah. Well, you can see it already. We lost, in this university system, four institutions this year.

Mr. Baker: The University System of Georgia merged four institutions into other ones that were geographically within 50 miles. The programs essentially were replicated. And in an environment in which you’ve got reduced resources, you can’t afford to have essentially identical programs 50 miles apart.

Q. So what sort of learning landscape do you think might emerge?

Mr. DeMillo: One thing that you might see is highly tuned curricula, students being able to select from a range of things that they want to learn and a range of mentors that they want to interact with, whether you think of it as hacking degrees or pulling assessments from a menu of different universities. What does that mean for the individual university? It means that a university has to figure out where its true value sits in that landscape.

Mr. Baker: Another thing we’re looking at is development of a value index to try to calculate, to be vulgar, the return on investment. Our idea is to try to figure out ways of determining what constitutes value for a student, based on four or five personas. So for, let’s say, a mom returning at 50 who wants an education—she’s going to value certain things differently than a 17-year-old rocket scientist coming to Tech who wants to get through in three years and knows exactly what she wants to do.

Mr. Demillo: Jeff Selingo wrote a column about this, having one place to go to figure out the economic value of a degree from a university. It’s a great idea, but why focus only on the paycheck as an economic value? There are lots of indicators of value. Do students from this university go to graduate school by a disproportionately large number? Do they get fellowships? Are they people who stay in their profession for a long period of time? You start to build up a picture of what students tell you, of what alumni tell you, was the value of that education. Can we pull these metrics together and then say something interesting about our institution and by extension others?

Q. What other projects is your center working on right now?

Mr. DeMillo: The Khan Academy—small bursts of knowledge that may or may not be included in a curriculum—was a really interesting idea. Can students generate this kind of material in a way that’s useful for other students? That’s the genesis of our TechBurst competition [in which students create short videos that explain a single topic]. It turns out there’s a lot of interest on the part of the students at Georgia Tech in teaching what they know to their peers. The interesting part of the project is the unexpected things that you get. We had a discussion yesterday about mistakes. This is student-generated stuff, so is it right? Not all the time. Which causes great angst on the part of traditionalists, because now we have Georgia Tech TechBurst video that has errors in it. If these were instructional videos that we were marketing, that would be a very big deal. But they’re not. They’re the start of a thread of conversation among students. There’s one on gerrymandering. So it’s a political-science video, it’s cutely produced, but in some sense it’s not exactly right. And so what you would expect is now other students will come along and annotate that video, and say, well, that’s not exactly what gerrymandering is. And you’ll start to see this students-teaching-students peer-tutoring process taking place in real time.

Q. What about the massive open online course Georgia Tech will run in the fall?

Mr. DeMillo: The idea of a massive open course is something that people normally apply to introductory courses. What happens when you look at a massive open advanced seminar? A seminar room with 10,000 students, 50,000 students—what does that even mean? We’ve got some people here that have been blogging for quite a while about advanced topics. In fact, one of the blogs—Godel’s Lost Letter, by Professor Dick Lipton of Georgia Tech, and Ken Regan of the University at Buffalo—is about advanced computer theory, so it’s a very mathematical blog. It’s in the top 0.1 percent of WordPress blogs. A typical day is 5,000 to 10,000 page views. A hot day is 100,000. The question is can we take this blogging format and turn it into an online seminar.

Q. How would that work?

Mr. DeMillo: The blog is essentially an expression of a master teacher’s understanding of a field to people that want to learn about it. We think that there are some very simple layers that can be built under the existing blogging format that can essentially turn it into a massive open online seminar. It’s also a way of conducting scientific research. When you think about what happens in this blog, it celebrates the process of scientific discovery. I’ll just give you one example. Last year about this time some industrial scientist claimed that he had solved one of the outstanding problems in this area. In the normal course of events, the scientist would have written up the paper, would have sent it to a conference. It would have been refereed. Nine months later the paper would have been presented at the conference. People would have talked about it. It would have been written up to submit to a journal. Refereeing would have taken a couple of years for that. Well, the paper got submitted to Lipton’s blog. It just caused a flurry of activity. So thousands and thousands of scientists flocked to this paper, and essentially speeded up the refereeing of the paper, shortening the time from five years to a couple of weeks. It turns out that people came to believe that the claim was not valid, and the paper was incorrect. But what an education for future research students. You get to see the process of scientific discovery in action.

This is an interesting bookend to the idea of a massive open course. Because the people that are thinking about the massive open online courses for introductory material have a set of considerations. Students are at different levels of achievement. Assessment is very important. The credentialing process is dictated by whether or not you want credit. If you go to the other end of the curriculum, and say, well, what happens when we try to do these advanced courses at scale, credentialing is completely different. Assessment is completely different. You can’t rely on the same automation that you could in the introductory courses. Social networks become extremely important if you’re going to do this stuff at scale, because one professor can’t deal with 100,000 readers. He has to have a network of trusted people who would be able to answer questions. The anticipation is that a whole new set of problems would come up with these kinds of courses.

N.J. College Threatens to Sue Faculty-Union Representatives Over Corruption Allegations

Read Original Article at  The Chronicle of Higher Education

Ocean County College, a public two-year institution in New Jersey, is threatening to sue two faculty-union representatives for airing accusations that administrators engaged in illegal and unethical purchasing and procurement practices.

The college's Board of Trustees unanimously passed a resolution this week authorizing the institution's lawyer to sue the two union representatives for defamation unless they retract, and apologize for, recent accusations of impropriety.

The resolution says the board "vigorously disputes the outrageous defamatory allegations" made by the faculty representatives and "will not tolerate these continued, baseless attacks on the credibility and reputation" of the board, the college, its president, and other administrators.

College administrators say the union representatives are falsely accusing them of improprieties as a hardball tactic in their contract negotiations, which are at an impasse.

The board took its action in response to remarks made by Chris Berzinski, the New Jersey Education Association's liaison to the college, and Kathy Tietge, president of the college's NJEA-affiliated faculty union, the Faculty Association of Ocean County College. The two union representatives have been drawing attention to allegations contained in a lawsuit brought against the college and several of its officials by Joseph B. Reilly, a former purchasing manager who contends he was fired for refusing to go along with questionable business practices.

"Firing the whistleblower is not the solution," the two union representatives said last month at a news conference jointly held with Mr. Reilly to publicize his lawsuit's accusations. Mr. Berzinski and Ms. Tietge announced that they had turned documents related to Mr. Reilly's claims over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and they called for the resignation of college's president, Jon H. Larson, and any administrator or board member with knowledge of the allegations of financial impropriety raised by Mr. Reilly.

Although a statement they issued at the news conference spoke of "alleged illegal practices" at the college, Mr. Berzinski used stronger language in an exchange with reporters, describing Mr. Reilly's lawsuit as pointing to "major themes of unethical types of behaviors" and "flat-out illegalities" in terms of state contract law.

In his lawsuit, filed in state court, Mr. Reilly, a former state deputy attorney general, claims the college eliminated his position as procurement manager in late 2010, less than six months after he had been hired, because he refused to do the job in a manner that violated the law and because he had sought to bring questionable practices to the attention of administrators and the college's board.

Among the practices his lawsuit says he tried to stop were the awarding of contracts on a noncompetitive basis and an administrator's solicitation from vendors of donations to the college foundation. That practice, he alleged, created at least the appearance of a "pay to play" scheme.

In an interview on Wednesday, Mr. Berzinski stood by his earlier statements about Ocean County College officials, which, he said, have "nothing to do with the labor fight."

Illinois Bill Would End a Prized Perk: Tuition Discounts for Faculty and Staff

Read original article at The Chronicle of Higher Education

Illinois lawmakers are weighing whether to eliminate a faculty benefit that is highly prized by many professors and other university employees: tuition discounts for their children.

The legislation, which has passed a House committee and is now pending before Illinois' full House of Representatives, would get rid of the benefit, which allows faculty and staff members who have been employed at Illinois public universities for at least seven years to receive half-price tuition for their children. Each year, more than 2,000 students take advantage of the discount, costing the state about $8-million, according to the University of Illinois.

Advocates of the bill have said the state cannot afford to continue to offer the tuition discount and questioned why university employees should get a special break that other Illinois residents do not. The bill's sponsor, State Rep. Luis Arroyo, a Democrat, also has complained that there is no income limit on who can use the waivers. So they can aid presidents, for example, who earn annual salaries in the six figures.
University officials and faculty-union leaders, among others, oppose the bill, saying the tuition discount—which is offered by many universities across the country—is an important tool for recruiting and retaining top faculty members.

"The waivers are a reasonable benefit for our hard-working faculty and staff, who contribute greatly to the state's well-being through their teaching and research," said Michael J. Hogan, president of the University of Illinois. "The waivers are part of what universities consider the normal compensation package when we recruit faculty in a very competitive market. Without them we are at an extreme disadvantage."

Tuition benefits for faculty also have come under scrutiny in Oregon and Washington State. A group of five, private liberal-arts colleges—Lewis and Clark College, Reed College, the University of Puget Sound, Whitman College, and Willamette University—has decided to end a tuition-exchange program in which the faculty and staff of those colleges have been able to send their children, if admitted, to other institutions in the group at no cost. The program, which began in 1982, will end after the fall of 2015. A number of factors, including the fact that significant differences in numbers of employees among the colleges had led to imbalances in exchanges of students, contributed to the program's demise. The decision upset many professors who considered the benefit to be extremely valuable.

Rice University announces open-source textbooks

Readd original article at  Inside Higher Ed
February 7, 2012 - 3:00am

If ramen noodle sales spike at the start of every semester, here’s one possible reason: textbooks can cost as much as a class itself; materials for an introductory physics course can easily top $300.

Cost-conscious students can of course save money with used or online books and recoup some of their cash come buyback time. Still, it’s a steep price for most 18-year-olds.

But soon, introductory physics texts will have a new competitor, developed at Rice University. A free online physics book, peer-reviewed and designed to compete with major publishers’ offerings, will debut next month through the non-profit publisher OpenStax College.

Using Rice’s Connexions platform, OpenStax will offer free course materials for five common introductory classes. The textbooks are open to classes anywhere and organizers believe the programs could save students $90 million in the next five years if the books capture 10 percent of the national market. OpenStax is funded by grants from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the 20 Million Minds Foundation and the Maxfield Foundation.

Traditional publishers are quick to note that the new offerings will face competition.  J. Bruce Hildebrand, executive director for higher education of the Association of American Publishers, said any textbook’s use is ultimately determined by its academic value. “Free would appear to be difficult to compete with,” Hildebrand said. “The issue always, however, is the quality of the materials and whether they enable students to learn, pass their course and get their degree. Nothing else really counts.”

In the past, open-source materials have failed to gain traction among some professors; their accuracy could be difficult to confirm because they hadn't been peer-reviewed, and supplementary materials were often nonexistent or lacking because they weren't organized for large-scale use.

OpenStax believes it addressed those concerns with its new books, subjecting the texts to peer review and partnering with for-profit companies to offer supplementary materials for a cost.

Whether the books are used at Rice is up to each professor, but several colleges and universities – “in the low 10s” said Connexions founder and director Richard Baraniuk – have already signed on for the first batch of texts. Baraniuk sees a quality product with the potential to defray a student’s total cost and increase access to higher education and expects more colleges to integrate the books as word spreads.

While open-source materials are nothing new, a series of free self-contained textbooks designed to compete head-to-head with major publishers is. Instructors building a class with open-source materials now must assemble modules from several different places and verify each lesson’s usefulness and accuracy.

The new textbooks eliminate much of that work, which Baraniuk thinks will be make the free materials more palatable to professors who have been reluctant to adopt open-source lessons. In the next five years, OpenStax hopes to have free books for 20 of the most common college courses.

OpenStax used its grant money to hire experts to develop each textbook and then had their work peer reviewed. The process has taken more than 18 months and will go live next month with sociology and physics books. The only cost to users comes if an instructor decides to use supplementary material from a for-profit company OpenStax partners with, such as Sapling Learning.

Two introductory biology texts, one for majors and another for nonmajors, are slated to go online in the fall along with an anatomy and physiology book. Students and professors will be able to download PDF versions on their computers or access the information on a mobile device. Paper editions will be sold for the cost of printing. The 600-page, full-color sociology book is expected to sell for $30 for those who want a print version -- those content with digital will pay nothing. Leading introductory sociology texts routinely cost between $60 and $120 new.

For students struggling to buy books that sometimes cost more than their tuition, OpenStax editor-in-chief David Harris said it’s hard to overstate those savings. Community colleges catering to lower-income students have been among those most enthusiastic about the new materials, suggesting to Harris that the open-source books could help increase access to higher education.

But there are tradeoffs. Many faculty members have used the same books for years or even decades, and switching can mean adjusting reading schedules and redesigning lectures. The new books also lack some of the supplementary features offered by publishers, and haven’t been subjected to years of testing and revision like more-established texts.

"They don't have 50 supplements," Harris said. "If you need (overhead) transparencies, we're not the solution for you. But these are quality materials."

The new books aren’t an attack on the content of current textbooks, Harris said, but rather a result of prices that can scare students away from some classes. Nicole Allen, textbook advocate for the Student Public Interest Research Group, said open-source materials have the potential to reshape the current market.

“Textbooks are so expensive,” Allen said. “They can charge really high prices because students don’t have any choice but to buy their books.”

While the free books can be used to design a course around, instructors can also suggest them to students unable or unwilling to purchase a traditional text. They can also be modified by instructors, giving a professor the leeway to add local content or alter content so it aligns with a college’s religious moorings. Another benefit is that the books can be updated constantly, and don’t require a new edition to expand a chapter or correct a typo.

Hildebrand, the executive for the publishers’ trade group, said professors will ultimately decide whether Rice’s new books gain the foothold their founders expect.

“It’s a new piece of a very complex and ever-expanding puzzle,” Hildebrand said. “Faculty are tough -- they’re under massive pressure and they want the very best for the students. If Rice can meet the quality threshold that faculty demand, then they can participate in the market.”