Thursday, June 28, 2012

How About a Three-Year B.A.? - WSJ opinion

Read original article at  WSJ.com
By FAY VINCENT
As the costs of attending college continue to mount, often well beyond the rate of inflation, the search is on for ways to economize. One seemingly obvious way is to reduce the number of years required to graduate. Last month, Wesleyan University, the private liberal-arts college in Middletown, Conn., did just that.
President Michael Roth announced that his institution would encourage students who wanted to complete the requirements for the Bachelor of Arts degree in three years rather than the customary four. These students would take some course work during the summer along with their normal load during the school year.
"I think it's important to show that liberal arts colleges, even ones as selective as Wesleyan, are trying to do something about affordability," he told the Associated Press. Tuition, room and board there is nearing $50,000 per year.
There are a smattering of other colleges across the nation that have three-year programs, but none with as high an academic profile. And while the Wesleyan decision has not attracted much attention or discussion, I suspect there will be more such cost-saving efforts in coming years.
For years there have been few market incentives for those in higher education to be efficient or productive. Higher tuition bills were passed on to parents and students, who paid up or took on greater debt.
Now there are louder and louder calls by outsiders to restrain higher tuitions, and more attempts to control costs within these institutions. There may even be misguided efforts by Congress to impose some kind of price controls.
To meet the challenges, colleges and universities will have to become more efficient. One way would be to operate on a 12-month basis. Today many if not most schools close for the summer. Much of the educational plant remains seriously underutilized, as are the faculty. The traditional educational calendar was originally designed to accommodate the growing season in the agrarian economy of the 19th century. Needless to say, that economy is long gone.
In the classic economic model, so long as productivity increases faster than the cost of labor, there is no inflationary pressure. Higher labor costs are offset by higher output. But in higher education, several factors disturb the model.
As tuition costs have increased sharply over the years, the productivity of the plant and faculties has decreased in part as the school year has become shorter. When I graduated from Williams College in 1960, the number of class days in the academic year was 164. Today it is 145.
As school administrations over the years have steadily shortened the educational year, students were the losers. It is difficult not to conclude that my generation got a better education because we got more of it.
Intra-year vacations are now longer, ostensibly in the North to save fuel in the winter. The teaching faculty works fewer teaching days and the pressure on tuition is heavily affected by the costs of faculty and related administrators. The adoption of the 12-month school year, along with a longer academic calendar, will be contentious—but the effort to reduce tuition costs has to begin with the demand that the faculty and plant be used more productively.
It is not entirely clear why there has not been greater pressure to control the costs of higher education. Perhaps one explanation is that reforms have often been led by the elite schools with high academic rankings and healthy endowments. In those places the endowment can cushion economic pressures. The luxury of underproductive physical plants, long summer vacations and low productivity can be offset by the robust investment returns from the endowment. But now even the richest schools are feeling the pressure.
Mr. Vincent, a former CEO of Columbia Pictures Industries and commissioner of Major League Baseball, has served as a trustee of Fairfield University, Williams College and Carleton College.

Lawmakers Offer Struggling Research Universities Sympathy, Not Cash

Read Original article at  The Chronicle of Higher Education

Lawmakers Offer Struggling Research Universities Sympathy, Not Cash 1
James N. Siedow, vice provost for research at Duke U., testifies at a U.S. House hearing on a National Research Council review of the nation's research universities.
  
After two years of carefully crafting their arguments for increased federal support, leaders of the nation's research universities heard plenty of sympathy when they came before Congress on Wednesday for its verdict.
"Research universities play a vital role in America's ability to maintain its competitiveness in an increasingly technologically developed world," the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Research and Science Education, Rep. Mo Brooks, Republican of Alabama, said in opening a hearing on a new National Research Council review of American research universities.
But as far as actually helping research universities cope with cuts in state and federal support, Mr. Brooks made clear there would be limits. "We've got a lot of competing demands" for federal money, especially at a time of economic uncertainty, he said.
The hearing in the Republican-controlled House was the first public examination of the report, which was issued two weeks ago by a 22-member panel of university and business leaders formed by the National Research Council at the request of lawmakers from both parties.
The lawmakers were responding to a request from the research universities, especially public institutions, which have seen state legislatures cut their support by an average of about 25 percent nationwide in the past few years.
The National Research Council panel, led by Charles O. Holliday Jr., a retired chairman and chief executive officer of the DuPont chemical company, recommended a series of 10 actions that universities, governments, and industry could take together to help America retain its global dominance in university-based research.
The list includes calls for universities to hold down costs and boost graduation rates among science and engineering majors, for federal and state governments to revive their financial support, and for industry to form partnerships with universities that emphasize broad educational and economic goals rather than individual projects and job-specific training.
Mr. Brooks and his subcommittee, which is part of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, didn't delve deeply into the details of the recommendations. He did, however, cite one that called on the federal government to begin a program of matching state and private donations for facilities and endowed faculty chairs.
That idea, Mr. Brooks said, doesn't appear to "take into account the nation's true economic condition."
Mr. Holliday quickly assured him that the NRC study panel pondered the matter "at great length" and recognized that universities couldn't expect significant new government support in the near future. Mr. Holliday said he instead would emphasize other suggestions for helping research universities cover expenses, such as greater collaborations with industry.
Examples include work that DuPont has carried out with universities in developing biofuels, Mr. Holliday said. "In the short term, we can do much more of that," he said.

A Pitch for Less Regulation

Along with Mr. Holliday, the subcommittee invited testimony from top research officials from four institutions—Auburn University, Duke University, Texas A&M University at College Station, and the University of Arizona—none of whom served on the NRC panel.
The four highlighted various aspects of the panel's report, including expanding federal research tax credits, expanding cooperation between institutions, and improving methods for translating research findings into commercial applications.
They got their most enthusiastic response from the Republican-dominated subcommittee, however, when they suggested that Congress could save them money if it reduced the burden of government regulations on their operations.
"Regulations are just burying us," said James N. Siedow, vice provost for research at Duke.
Leslie P. Tolbert, senior vice president for research at Arizona, said specific areas needing attention include financial conflict-of-interest regulations, "effort reporting" rules designed to ensure scientists spend a promised amount of time on a grant, and export-control laws.
Subcommittee Republicans, led by Mr. Brooks, promised to devote staff time to working with universities on specific solutions. Lawmakers are ready "to get into the weeds a bit" to solve the regulatory issue, Mr. Brooks said.
A few other lawmakers had their own concerns. Rep. Randy Hultgren, an Illinois Republican whose district includes the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, said he's concerned that federal labs have suffered even more than research universities in terms of federal budget cuts, and said he has recommended that Fermilab officials respond by developing even deeper partnerships with universities.
And Rep. Ralph M. Hall, a Republican of Texas who serves as chairman of the full House science committee, repeatedly pleaded with Jeffrey R. Seemann, vice president for research at Texas A&M, to help ensure his granddaughter gets good grades at his institution.
Universities can at least take comfort from the hearing that federal lawmakers appear concerned about the future of American research universities and remain willing to help out, as much as they can, said Howard J. Gobstein, an executive vice president at the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities.
In reality, though, many public universities are now getting only about 10 percent of their operating budgets from their states, and it's hard to be optimistic that those numbers will change, Mr. Gobstein said after the hearing. With that level of support, it's not clear how universities will fulfill their public missions, he said. "I don't have a good answer for that."

Federal-Loan Changes May Curb Graduate Study

Read Original article at  The Chronicle of Higher Education

End to federal subsidy is likely to increase students' debt burden

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At the U. of Georgia, Andrew Belasco (left) and Michael Trivette worry that the federal-loan subsidy cut will hamper efforts to complete their degrees.
  
As the nation's student-loan debt surpasses the $1-trillion mark, alarming students, parents, and politicians, few are thinking about the effects it is having on people like Michael J. Trivette, a 28-year-old graduate student in higher education at the University of Georgia.
He has taken out $8,000 in loans for his Ph.D. program in higher education even as he works diligently to finish paying off his undergraduate debt. The debt that Mr. Trivette and other graduate students like him have accumulated to pay for their postbaccalaureate studies accounts for a third of the total student-loan debt in the United States, but much of the national conversation is about undergraduates.
Two-thirds of Ph.D. and other doctoral students and nearly three-quarters of master's students graduate with loan debt, according to the Council of Graduate Schools. On average, the cumulative debt of master's-degree students is over $50,000; for doctoral students, it is about $77,000.
And now, the debt burden on graduates is set to grow, beginning July 1. After that date, students pursuing advanced degrees will no longer qualify for the in-school interest subsidy on Stafford loans. That means they will have to start paying the interest on their loans while they are enrolled or let it build up, adding to their debt.
The rules are not changing for subsidized loans borrowed before July 1. The interest rate on graduate loans will remain at 6.8 percent, and there will be no change in the maximum yearly amount that students can borrow.
The total debt borne by graduate students is expected to increase as about $125-billion in graduate-student borrowing is shifted from the subsidized to the unsubsidized program, costing students $18.1-billion over the next decade, according to estimates by the Congressional Budget Office.

Mr. Trivette, who will enter the third year of his Ph.D. program, has paid back all but $1,300 of the $26,000 he owed for undergraduate student loans. In his first two years of graduate school, he took out loans for books and student fees. He earns about $19,000 a year as a teaching assistant, which covers basic living expenses but not other rising costs, including student fees, which went up by $400 this academic year.
He says he's not a spendthrift and uses his student-loan options sparingly, yet he feels like Sisyphus, condemned to an eternity of rolling a massive boulder up a steep hill, only to have it roll back down each time he nears the top.
Mr. Trivette's boulder, student-loan debt, probably will get heavier as he and thousands of other graduate and professional-school students with federal loans face new types of costs because of changes in the law. After the July 1 changes, he says he will be less willing to take out loans because, unlike under the older rules that defer paying interest, the interest will start accruing while he's enrolled. But he still may have to borrow from the federal government to make ends meet, and he is bracing for the higher monthly payments that would result.
With the elimination of the subsidized-loan option, graduate students who take out large amounts of loans could owe hundreds of dollars more per month. For example, a graduate student who has borrowed $65,000 in subsidized loans from the federal government—the maximum amount now allowed—would have to take out an unsubsidized loan, requiring $207 more in payments per month in interest over the course of 10 years, including while still enrolled in school.
Graduate students also will no longer be eligible for special incentives for repaying their loans on time. Students now pay a 1-percent origination fee when they take out a loan but are given a refund equal to half that amount when they make 12 successive on-time payments in the first year after graduation. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that eliminating this credit would save the federal government $3.6-billion over the next 10 years.
The changes to graduate students' loan programs are the result of the debt-ceiling deal signed into law last summer. They are projected to save the federal government $21.6-billion over the next 10 years, money that will be put toward Pell Grants for financially needy undergraduates. This is the first time in the history of the federal student-loan program that an existing borrower benefit will be eliminated for a particular group of students, according to organizations that represent graduate and professional-school students.
Graduate students are worried about what this will mean for their wallets and for their ability to finish their degrees. And some of their advocates say that enrollment and retention rates may drop.

'Glossed Over'

Andrew S. Belasco, also a second-year doctoral student in higher education at the University of Georgia, says the problems of debt taken on by graduate students are glossed over because people often perceive graduate school as a privilege.
"To secure employment, a graduate degree is a necessity if you want job security or to advance in certain fields," Mr. Belasco says. "Those in favor of the subsidy cut tend to believe that graduate students can take on more debt because they will have a higher income when they finish school."
Mr. Belasco and Mr. Trivette have been researching borrowing patterns among graduate students nationwide, something they say is grossly understudied. They compared borrowing for the periods 1999-2000 and 2007-8, the last year for which data were available. They presented their findings in June at the annual meeting of the Association for Institutional Research.
They found that a higher proportion of graduate students took on student-loan debt. In 2007-8, 57 percent of graduate students said they had borrowed for school, compared with 49 percent in the earlier period, based on data from the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study.
The greatest increase in borrowing occurred among master's students. Of those who completed their degrees in 2007-8, 55 percent had taken out student loans, compared with 42 percent in the earlier period.
Students in master's programs generally do not get fellowships, Mr. Belasco says, and universities continue to expand those programs, which are often revenue generators. "Colleges are going to find ways to capitalize on this new demand for graduate education and will look seriously at M.A. students because they are more willing to pay their own way and at a higher rate than other types of grad students," Mr. Belasco says.
For doctoral students, Mr. Belasco and Mr. Trivette found a significantly higher amount of average borrowing, from $19,178 in 1999-2000 to $42,828 in 2007-8. The increase was attributed mostly to loans among those who completed degrees in education, psychology, science, engineering, and the ministry.
At the start of their study, Mr. Belasco and Mr. Trivette expected to see a significant rise in the average amount that graduate students borrowed for their education, given the steady rise in tuition. They did not see a sharp rise, although the time period of 2007-8 came just before the onset of the economic crisis. They will be able to analyze graduate-student borrowing patterns since the 2008 recession when the next National Postsecondary Student Aid Study is released in early 2013, and the data should indicate whether borrowing levels have increased as a result of changing economic conditions and state cuts in support for higher education.
The Council of Graduate Schools' research on how graduate-student debt affects different groups of students suggests that eliminating the in-school interest subsidy is likely to have the greatest effect on the debt levels of women and of students from underrepresented minority groups. At the master's and doctoral levels, black and Hispanic students have higher average cumulative loan amounts than their white and Asian counterparts. And women have higher debt levels than men.

Heavier Burdens

Organizations representing graduate students and those in professional schools say that taking benefits away from people who pursue advanced degrees will negatively affect students and graduate education in both the short and long terms.
"We are deeply concerned and disappointed," says Joanne Canyon-Heller, president of the National Association of Graduate Admissions Professionals.
Ms. Canyon-Heller is worried that the subsidy cut will affect retention more than enrollment. Because women and minority students tend to come from lower income brackets than their peers, they often have to take out more money to finance their education. "Anything that causes them not to be successful, like taking on more debt, is going to affect their ability to finish," she says.
Mr. Belasco, who is married with two children, says that despite a full fellowship and stipend, he must still find a way to support his family while he attends graduate school. "I've already had to dig into savings," he says. "Until now, I was able to meet our living expenses through subsidized loans. I no longer have that option."
He says he'll be reluctant to take on more loans after the subsidy cut takes effect. He expects to complete his degree in four years and hopes he won't be forced to shorten his time in the program because of increased costs. The fourth year, he explains, is crucial to expand publications and strengthen the research skills needed to get a faculty job or policy position.
Eliminating the in-school interest subsidy also will increase the cost of attendance at a time when the job market is sluggish and advanced degrees offer little shield from unemployment.
Patricia McAllister, vice president of government relations and external affairs at the Council of Graduate Schools, says the subsidy cut comes as growing numbers of jobs require people with postbaccalaureate credentials. By 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects, 2.6 million new jobs will require people with advanced degrees.
"We should be encouraging more students to pursue graduate studies," Ms. McAllister says. "But at the very time we are seeing the bureau's data, this new policy will make it more difficult for people to pursue advanced degrees."
Graduate students and their advocates see the new changes adding yet another layer to a vicious cycle.
"A lot of parents helped out their kids for their undergraduate education but can't help with grad school because they don't have the money," Ms. Canyon-Heller says. "People are graduating from undergrad with more debt and can't think about how to pay for grad school at the same time that they are being told that they need to get a good job.
Graduate-Student Debt Varies by Race, Gender, and Field of Study
Here are the percentages of graduate students, by category, who took out loans in 2007-8 (the most recent year for which data are available).
 
Master's students
Doctoral students
By race and gender
Asian, all 35% 19%
Male 36% 13%
Female 34% 25%
Average cumulative debt $17,781 $22,337
     
Black, all 68% 62%
Male 61% 56%
Female 71% 66%
Average cumulative debt $16,237 $22,281
     
Hispanic, all 58% 41%
Male 54% 34%
Female 61% 48%
Average cumulative debt $16,742 $21,954
     
White, all 41% 38%
Male 37% 36%
Female 44% 38%
Average cumulative debt $15,112 $19,457
     
By field of study
Anthropology N/A 31%
Architecture 74% N/A
Biological/biomedical science 34% 14%
Business 45% 43%
Communication/journalism 56% N/A
Computer/information science 25% 44%
Economics N/A 8%
Education 44% 39%
Engineering 14% 8%
English language/literature 51% 34%
Foreign languages/literature 25% 16%
Health professions 52% 55%
History 28% 25%
Interdisciplinary studies 31% 14%
Library science 35% N/A
Mathematics/statistics 29% 17%
Philosophy/religion 36% 24%
Physical sciences 25% 12%
Political science N/A 30%
Psychology 69% 63%
Public administration/social services 53% 27%
Sociology N/A 33%
Visual/performing arts 40% 38%
Note: N/A means sample size is too small to report meaningful percentage.
Source: National Center for Education Statistics, 2007-8 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study.

Growing Proportions of Graduate Students Are Taking on Debt
The percentage of graduate students who borrowed for postbaccalaurate degrees has increased over all, while the average debt load has decreased. All figures are in 2008 dollars.
 
1999-2000
2007-8
Graduate Degree % Borrowing Mean cumulative debt % Borrowing Mean cumulative debt
All graduate students 48.7% $47,270 56.6% $41,002
         
Degree Type
Master's 42.0% $31,372 55.2% $31,031
Professional 86.7% $88,991 86.8% $89,680
Doctoral 43.5% $42,242 46.6% $56,480
         
Degree Program
Master of science 37.5% $31,576 49.9% $30,684
Master of arts 43.5% $29,650 60.8% $29,975
Master of education 33.5% $21,957 55.9% $26,487
Master of business administration 39.9% $39,698 55.5% $31,927
Other master's degree (e.g., M.P.A., M.S.W., M.P.H.) 56.9% $32,085 57.7% $35,946
Law (J.D. or LL.B.) 86.8% $75,195 88.6% $80,081
Doctor of philosophy 41.9% $42,573 35.4% $44,995
Doctor of medicine (M.D., D.M.D., Pharm.D., D.V.M.) 86.5% $103,368 84.0% $105,423
Other doctorate (e.g., Ed.D., Psy.D., D.Min.) 45.9% $41,789 64.3% $66,565
Source: Andrew S. Belasco and Michael J. Trivette, doctoral students at the University of Georgia, compiled data from the 2000 and 2008 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study.

AAUP Proposes Giving Contingent Faculty a Bigger Role in College Governance

New Report on Contingent Faculty and Governance

As the AAUP has documented time and time again, the proportion of faculty appointments that are “contingent”—lacking the benefits and protections of tenure and a planned long-term relationship with an institution—has increased dramatically over the past few decades. By 2009—the latest year for which national data are available—75 percent of US faculty appointments were off the tenure track, and 60 percent were part-time.
The structures of faculty governance, however, as well as AAUP policies on the subject tend to assume a faculty that is employed primarily full time and on the tenure track. The participation in institutional and departmental governance of faculty holding contingent appointments—the great majority of faculty—is uneven, with some institutions encouraging it, some barring it, and others incorporating various groups of contingent faculty in different, sometimes token, ways. In short, the current state of affairs couples a steadily rising proportion of faculty in contingent appointments with a system in which such faculty are only sometimes included in governance structures.
A report just out from the AAUP examines these issues and makes recommendations for the inclusion of faculty holding contingent appointments in campus governance structures.
Recommendations include:
  • Faculty members who hold contingent appointments should be afforded responsibilities and opportunities in governance similar to those of their tenured and tenure-track colleagues.
  • Institutional policies should define as “faculty” and include in governance bodies at all levels individuals whose appointments consist primarily of teaching or research activities conducted at a professional level.
  • Eligibility for voting and holding office should be the same for all faculty regardless of full- or part-time status.
  • All members of the faculty should be eligible to vote in all elections for college and university governance bodies on the basis of one person, one vote.
  • While faculty in contingent appointments may be restricted from participating in the evaluation of tenured and tenure-track faculty, they should have the opportunity to contribute to the evaluation of contingent faculty.
  • All faculty members should, in the conduct of governance activities, be explicitly protected by institutional policies from retaliation.
  • Faculty holding contingent appointments should be compensated in a way that takes into consideration the full range of their appointment responsibilities, which should include service.

Produced by a joint subcommittee of two AAUP standing committees, the report is published for comment and may be revised in response to comments received. Comments should be addressed to Gwendolyn Bradley (gbradley@aaup.org) by September 10.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

What We Learned at UVa - Innovations - The Chronicle of Higher Education

Read original article at The Chronicle of Higher Education

June 27, 2012, 4:03 pm
As much as I like and respect President Teresa Sullivan of the University of Virginia, the two-week struggle to restore her to her office was never about her. It was about who gets to guide the future of a great public research university. And in a sense, it was about how all great public research universities will be governed and guided in the next few years.
That’s why it was so gratifying to receive supportive correspondence from people around the world. Alumni and students were the most vocal. They saw the potential hijacking of UVa by a small cabal of market- and techno-fundamentalists as a clear danger to not only the traditions of their alma mater but to the very value of the degrees they have earned.
I have had a day to reflect on how it all went down. I compiled a few bullet points that I hope outline a bit of how we accomplished what two weeks ago seemed impossible. We have already seen a similar attempted ouster of President Bill Powers of the University of Texas at Austin. And we have seen a successful removal of Texas A&M’s President Elsa Murano in 2009. In each case, the president was accused by business-minded board members of failing to move fast enough toward a radically different model of higher education.
We at the University of Virginia hope that more universities that encounter such hostile takeovers manage to fend them off the way Texas and Virginia did. And we feel for our colleagues at Texas A&M who must recover from such trauma and humiliation under difficult circumstances. We hope that others can learn from our experience.
• Faculty discipline makes all the difference.
“Discipline” is not a word one usually associates with committees of faculty members. And it’s almost never applied to a faculty senate. But our Faculty Senate surprised everyone with its careful articulation of reasonable demands, its moral authority to speak for the entire faculty of every school at the university, and its clear, unified, sober response to every development. When many of us doubted that we could persuade the Board of Visitors to restore President Sullivan, the core leadership of the Faculty Senate refused to waiver from that clear and modest demand. They saw her restoration as the only conceivable way to undo the damage to the university’s reputation, and they said so repeatedly in the press, before the board, and to the broader faculty. The senate leadership avoided histrionics and hyperbole. The president of the senate, George Cohen, a law professor who has taught at UVa since 1992, presented an image that the Board of Visitors had to respect. Not coincidentally, Cohen teaches courses on “professional responsibility.”
The lesson here is that department chairs like me must take the appointment of representatives to the Faculty Senate very seriously. We should not put first-year assistant professors in the senate to learn all about the how the university works. And we should not put our most demonstrative, politically unsavvy senior colleagues in the senate either, because they might not exhibit the discipline, wisdom, and self-control needed in a crisis.
Every public university across the country could face a similar crisis soon. It might not be a showdown with a board. It could be a clash with the president or provost. It could be a schism within the faculty. Regardless, a trustworthy faculty senate is essential at those moments. We at UVa will never again take it for granted.
• Trust students to get it fast and get it right.
Before faculty members like me went public with our sense of outrage and analysis of the cause of the meltdown at UVa, students were organizing themselves via Facebook and Twitter. The rector might have timed this coup to hit when the fewest students were in Charlottesville. But she apparently ignored the potential of the very digital technologies she seemed to champion in her back-channel e-mail messages. This event was so easy to oppose on procedural grounds that students did not need much time to wait around for long and detailed explanations. They sensed immediately that the rector had violated UVa’s “community of trust.” Many students instantly saw that the rector had violated the honor code, something most UVa alumni and students hold dear and take seriously. It became a clear case of right and wrong to students. It helped that President Sullivan had spent two years strolling the grounds with a smile and time to chat with students. She is the most visible and accessible president I have ever seen. And students sensed that her demeanor meant she appreciates and respects students. That goodwill came rushing back to her when she needed it most. A student-led Facebook group quickly swelled to more than 16,000 members. That group coordinated a huge rally over the second weekend of the crisis and a steady letter-writing campaign to board members, the governor, and legislators. That meant that students in Jakarta, Jamaica, and Jamestown felt invested and involved. It meant that no one could doubt the broad commitment that students had to a broad liberal education. Without instant and loud student support, the faculty could not have claimed so easily that it had the best interest of students at heart. The students had our backs. And we will never forget that.
• Let alumni work their magic.
This coup was engineered by a fraction of the Board of Visitors acting in a manipulative and dishonest way. These board members were assisted by two or three billionaires who had decided that President Sullivan was not their kind of president. But the vast majority of UVa alumni were thrilled with the messages that President Sullivan had sent them over the first two years of her time in office. Most UVa alumni had not known a president other than John Casteen, who served for 20 years before stepping down in 2010. It’s not that alumni were emotionally attached to Sullivan or particularly aware of her initiatives. Those were mostly internal, financial, unspectacular, and prudent. The alumni reacted viscerally against the ouster for the same reason the students, Virginia taxpayers, and editorial boards of major Virginia newspapers did: You just don’t treat people that way.
But it went beyond that. UVa alums also treasure the traditions of the place. Those traditions include deep respect for faculty. Again, I can testify from personal experience that the reverence that students and alumni hold toward UVa faculty is overwhelming. I’ve been here only five years, so I have not yet earned that level of respect myself. But I feel it and benefit from the decades of goodwill that my predecessors have built up with their good works.
• Spread the word about how great the university is.
UVa is a special place. So much of this alumni and student activism might be hard to replicate in places less steeped in tradition and reverence. But if faculty members anywhere do their jobs with passion and commitment and let people know about it, it’s not hard to get the public to listen and respect the message.
We have heard for years that scholars have to work on their message to justify their jobs, especially if they toil in unsexy or nonutilitarian fields. I don’t think that’s a good enough reason to “go public.” But connecting with a larger public to share passion, curiosity, and a commitment to the public good can have its own rewards. It’s not about interviewing for our jobs over and over again. It’s about showing respect for taxpayers, parents, students, and alumni. They want to know what we do and why we do it. Dozens of faculty members took the opportunity of this crisis to reintroduce ourselves to the public. We bragged about our students. We gushed about our colleagues’ work. We invited people to come visit to see what we do. We explained that the public research university is both broad and deep, that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and that public service is one of the core missions of any responsible public university.
That activity mattered immensely. It countered some pernicious stereotypes about complacent, out-of-touch, tweedy academics who are deaf to public concerns. We were able to articulate all the innovative stuff we do in classrooms and labs. And for once, reporters and radio talk-show hosts wanted to sincerely know why all of this matters and why anyone should value the public research university.
This fight is not over. It has only just begun. There are plenty of pundits, think tanks, and consulting firms issuing bloated PowerPoint presentations in the guise of “policy statements” or “analysis.” The misinformation about public higher education is thick and strong. Those spreading the myths are well financed and get top billing in major media outlets.
Higher education needs its own corps of articulate thinkers, writers, and speakers to counter this propaganda. But more important, we all need to better engage with the lives, minds, and concerns of students, alumni, and the public. It’s not just a strategy to deal with the next attack. It’s good practice in general. It’s the ethical way to be a devoted and responsible public servant.

Deal reached to extend student loan interest rate

Read original article at  Inside Higher Ed

June 27, 2012 - 3:00am
WASHINGTON -- With less than a week remaining until the interest rate on federally subsidized student loans is set to double, Senate leaders said Tuesday afternoon that they had agreed on a compromise to keep the rate at 3.4 percent for another year.
The $6 billion extension would be paid for in part by changing eligibility rules for subsidized loans, which are awarded based on financial need and on which the government pays the interest while borrowers are enrolled in college. Once students had been pursuing a bachelor's degree for more than six years, or an associate degree for more than three, they would no longer be eligible to take out additional subsidized loans -- a change that would save about $1.2 billion. The remainder of the cost would reportedly be covered by changes to pension laws, and the student loan measure might be combined with a federal transportation bill that also has a July 1 deadline for renewal.
The proposed change to eligibility rules might disappoint some student aid advocates. Senate Democrats had hoped to pay for the interest rate extension without any financial damage to other financial aid programs. The limitation -- that subsidized loan eligibility be limited to 150 percent of a program’s time to degree -- was originally proposed by President Obama in his budget request for fiscal year 2013, and adopted by Senate Democrats in an appropriations bill voted on in committee last week.
But in the administration and Senate budgets, the $1.2 billion savings from limiting subsidized loan eligibility would have been used to help fill a looming shortfall in Pell Grants in 2014. Redirecting those savings to keeping the interest rate low for another year means the shortfall is even larger than it otherwise would have been.
That means the next Congress will confront not only another scheduled increase in the interest rate -- which would now double in 2014 -- but a $6 billion Pell Grant shortfall.
The scheduled interest rate increase for subsidized student loans, which would affect about 7 million borrowers taking out new loans after July 1, was long foreseen. In the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007, Congress set the rate to gradually decrease, bottoming out this year at 3.4 percent, before doubling to 6.8 percent, the 2007 rate, on Sunday.
The change would have added about $1,000 to the cost of the average student loan. Obama seized on the issue as his re-election campaign began, giving speeches on college campuses urging students to demand that Congress act to prevent the increase. While Congressional Republicans initially resisted, Mitt Romney, the presumed Republican nominee, soon echoed Obama’s call. For more than a month, the dispute centered not around whether the interest rate would be extended, but on how Congress would pay for it.
It’s unclear how many students will be affected by the change in eligibility rules. Students already have a lifetime borrowing limit of $23,000 in subsidized federal loans, which full-time students studying for a bachelor’s degree would already reach in less than six years if they were borrowing the maximum amount each year.
Students in two-year programs would be more likely to hit the eligibility limit before the lifetime cap, but at least at community colleges, those students are also less likely to borrow than are their counterparts at four-year colleges. About 20 percent of community college students borrow to attend college.
Questions also remain about how the limit would be applied to part-time students, who routinely take longer than full-time students to get degrees.
A vote on the student loan measure -- which might be attached either to a new bill funding the Federal Highway Administration or to an extension of the transportation bill currently in effect, although it might stand on its own -- is expected by the end of the week, when Congress leaves for the July 4 recess.

The Future of Teaching? Customized Classrooms

Read original article at  The Chronicle of Higher Education
 By Jeffrey R. Young
Most college courses are one-size-fits-all—a lecturer delivers the
same information to everyone in the room, regardless of whether
some students already know the material or others are utterly lost.
It doesn't have to be that way, says Chris Dede, a professor of
learning technologies at Harvard University. He outlines a vision of
how technology can help personalize learning in a new book that he
co-edited, called Digital Teaching Platforms: Customizing
Classroom Learning for Each Student.
His research focuses on elementary- and high-school classrooms,
but he says the approach has implications for colleges as well. The
Chronicle talked with Mr. Dede about his strategy, and why he sees
big changes on the horizon. And edited version of the conversation
follows.
Q. Do you think we've reached a tipping point for
education technology? Have we hit a moment where
things will change in a big way?
A. I do. It's a little like the tipping point a century ago, when
America shifted from the rural one-room schoolhouse to the
industrial-era school. We now have the kinds of technology that
would let us develop a 21st-century education system if we have the
political will to go ahead and do that.
Q. So it's not a sure thing, then. You're saying it's up to
individual policy makers and educators, right?
A. Exactly. These are transitions that don't take place automatically.
Just because you have a technology doesn't mean you're going to
use it or use it well. But just as people made the shift a century
ago—because the rural one-room schoolhouse was not capable of
meeting the demands of an industrial-era economy—so many
people, including myself, feel now that an industrial-era school
system is also not capable of meeting the demands of a global,
knowledge-based, innovation-centered economy. To the extent that
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people come to believe that, and come to see that we could redesign
education based around new technologies and more sophisticated
ideas about learning and teaching that have evolved over the last
century, then the chance is there to do that.
Q. You say in the conclusion of your book that schools will
not be able to teach the growing class sizes forced by
recent budget cuts without a technology platform to make
teaching more efficient.
A. Yes, as year after year of cuts hit districts, the vast majority of the
budget is people. All the fat is gone, all the muscle is gone. We're
now cutting into bone. And if you don't have some set of power tools
that the teachers can use, at some point class size becomes
unmanageable.
Q. And you think that with these digital "power tools,"
teachers can handle class sizes of 40 or more students?
A. I do. Obviously, it would be better not to have a class of that size.
I'm not saying that this is a desirable alternative. But if you have a
differentiated curriculum in digital form, and if you have formative
evaluation interwoven with that so the teacher is getting a steady
stream of information about where each student is, then the teacher
at the center of this digital teaching platform can assign the parts of
the curriculum to each student that make the most sense as the next
step.
Of course, there are parallels in other social services. The days of a
doctor making house calls are long gone. In modern medical care
you have a differentiated system of both people and technology that
allows a single physician to see a very large number of patients.
Q. What would you say is the most promising technology
for teachers?
A. What technology does is it enables collecting a very rich set of
information about student behaviors. So you have a digital
curriculum that is designed to be highly interactive. As students
interact, there's a time-stamped record of everything they're doing
that lives on a server. And if you have a system that's set up to
analyze that kind of information, it can provide very valuable
diagnostic data for the teacher to personalize instruction. If I'm a
teacher, and 70 percent of the class is benefiting from what I'm
saying in class now—which is a pretty good number—then I'm
losing the 15 percent at the top end who are bored, already know
this stuff, and are just being warehoused. And I'm losing the 15
percent at the bottom end who have no clue what I'm talking about.
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That's a lot of people to lose.
Now I'm able to have different instructional streams, so instead of a
one-size-fits-all strategy, I've got enrichment opportunities that the
top group can participate in, and I've got remedial activities that the
bottom group can participate in. And I still have activities for that
big middle group, and they're all happening at the same time
because of this digital teaching-platform idea.
Q. What do you think the takeaways are for higher
education?
A. They're largely for the huge freshman and sophomore
introductory courses that are a lot of the economic engines of higher
education, the 600- or 700-person lectures, where we can imagine
this being part of a "flipped classroom" model of higher education.
So yes, you're able to go view the lecture before the class on
streaming video, but beyond that there may be exercises of different
kinds that you can take that really help you, depending on how
much or how little you got out of the lecture.
Say at the end of the lecture you take some sort of a quick
assessment, and then the teaching platform says, "OK, you should
look at these additional materials." But it tells another student to
look at other additional materials. And then when you come into
class, everyone is closer to the same point, and the teacher can have
some kind of a dialogue or exercise, or small-group work, or
interacting through clickers, or so on. It opens up a much broader
range of teaching possibilities.
Q. What is the biggest challenge for the vision to emerge?
A. It's a different kind of pedagogy for the teacher to master. Now
you're not up there giving a lecture and just trying to keep
everybody hanging in there whether it's at the right level for them or
not. You're managing, if you will an orchestra, where some students
are hearing one melody and some students are hearing another
melody. You're maybe working with some individuals who need
more help than the teaching platform can provide, and you're
coming over to this other group doing small-group work, listening to
them for a minute, and keeping them on task. It's a more
complicated model of teacher performance that, when they know
how to do it, teachers are going to appreciate. Because frankly, it's
much more interesting than to stand up and give the same lecture
five times a day. But I think professional development will be the
biggest single challenge.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Huffington Post: UVA Turmoil Is 'Exhibit A' Of Troubles Public Colleges Face

 
UVA Turmoil Is 'Exhibit A' Of Troubles Public Colleges Face
 



Huffington Post: Senate Leaders Reach Agreement On Student Loans

 
Senate Leaders Reach Agreement On Student Loans
  

Fixing college through lower costs and better technology

Read original article at New York Times
Evan Hughes
By JEFF SELINGO
Published: June 26, 2012
Washington
NO matter what the University of Virginia's governing board decides today, when it is scheduled to determine the fate of the university's ousted president, Teresa A. Sullivan, the intense interest in the case shows how much anxiety surrounds the future of higher education - especially the question of whether university leaders are moving too slowly to position their schools for a rapidly changing world (as some of Ms. Sullivan's critics have suggested of her).
There is good reason for the anxiety. Setting aside the specifics of the Virginia drama, university leaders desperately need to transform how colleges do business. Higher education must make up for the mistakes it made in what I call the industry's "lost decade," from 1999 to 2009. Those years saw a surge in students pursuing higher education, driven partly by the colleges, which advertised heavily and created enticing new academic programs, services and fancy facilities.
The almost insatiable demand for a college credential meant that schools could raise their prices and families would go to almost any end, including taking on huge amounts of debt, to pay the bill. In 2003, only two colleges charged more than $40,000 a year for tuition, fees, and room and board; by 2009, 224 were above that mark. The total amount of outstanding student loan debt is now more than $1 trillion.
Students were not the only ones to go deeper into debt. So did schools, building lavish residence halls, recreational facilities and other amenities that contributed little to actual learning. The debt taken on by colleges has risen 88 percent since 2001, to $307 billion.
This heady period of growth occurred precisely when colleges had the financial flexibility to prepare for what was to come: fewer government dollars, a wave of financially needy students, a drop-off in the number of well-prepared high-school graduates who could afford to pay, and, of course, technological advances in teaching and learning. Instead, colleges continued to focus on their unsustainable model, assuming little would change.
Other information industries, from journalism to music to book publishing, enjoyed similar periods of success right before epic change enveloped them, seemingly overnight. We now know how those industries have been transformed by technology, resulting in the decline of the middleman - newspapers, record stores, bookstores and publishers.
Colleges and universities could be next, unless they act to mitigate the poor choices and inaction from the lost decade by looking for ways to lower costs, embrace technology and improve education.
One urgent need is to make better use of technology in the classroom. Despite resistance to the idea from academics, evidence suggests that technology can reduce costs, improve student performance and even tailor learning to individual students. The nonprofit National Center for Academic Transformation has redesigned courses on more than 200 campuses, cutting costs by an average of 37 percent, by using instructional software to reduce burdens on professors, frequent low-stakes online quizzes to gauge student progress, and alternative staffing (like undergraduate peer mentors).
Schools should also offer more online education. In just the past few months, several elite universities, including Stanford and Harvard, have announced multimillion-dollar efforts to provide several of their courses free, online, for everyone. Individual colleges should take advantage of this trend, perhaps ultimately shedding their lowest-quality courses (and their costs) and replacing them with the best courses offered by other institutions through loose federations or formal networks. This is the idea behind the New Paradigm Initiative, a group of 16 liberal-arts colleges in the South that have joined together to offer online and hybrid courses to students on any campus in the group.
Another key reform would be to reclaim academics as a top priority. Administrative expenses have grown faster than instruction on many campuses. In 2009, the consulting firm Bain & Company identified $112 million in annual savings just within the business operations at the University of California, Berkeley.
Academia also needs to cut back on low-quality graduate programs. Too many universities tried to become research institutions during the lost decade, adding graduate programs and research faculty, often using tuition dollars to finance their expansions. Today, too many of these programs remain far short of their goals, and their ambitions have come at a great cost to their core mission of educating undergraduates (as well as producing many dropouts and unemployed Ph.D.'s).
Finally, colleges should work to reduce the number of wasted credits. Most students take far more than the 120 credits required for a bachelor's degree, partly because of poor advising and partly because colleges often refuse to accept credits from other institutions or for "prior learning." Yet one-third of students today transfer from one college to another before earning a degree. Colleges make transferring credits difficult, often in the name of protecting academic quality, when often they are simply protecting their bottom line.
Higher education is a conservative, risk-averse industry. Add to this the fact that a majority of its leaders are nearing the safety net of retirement, and we have a recipe for the status quo. We can't afford another lost decade.

Bill Gates on Higher Ed

Read original article at The Chronicle of Higher Education
Bill Gates never finished college, but he is one of the single most powerful figures shaping higher education today. That influence comes through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, perhaps the world's richest philanthropy, which he co-chairs and which has made education one of its key missions.
The Chronicle sat down with Mr. Gates in an exclusive interview Monday to talk about his vision for how colleges can be transformed through technology. His approach is not simply to drop in tablet computers or other gadgets and hope change happens—a model he said has a "really horrible track record." Instead, the foundation awards grants to reformers working to fix "inefficiencies" in the current model of higher education that keep many students from graduating on time, or at all. And he argues for radical reform of college teaching, advocating a move toward a "flipped" classroom, where students watch videos from superstar professors as homework and use class time for group projects and other interactive activities. As he put it, "having a lot of kids sit in the lecture class will be viewed at some point as an antiquated thing."
The Microsoft founder doesn't claim to have all the answers. In fact, he describes the foundation's process as one of continual refinement: "to learn, make mistakes, try new things out, find new partners to do things."
The interview comes on the eve of Mr. Gates's keynote speech at an event Tuesday to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act, which created the nationwide system of land-grant colleges. The "convocation" will be held in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Association of Public Land-Grant Universities.
Below: A complete transcript of the conversation. First: Three video excerpts from the chat. (We'll post additional clips throughout the week.)

On Business's Role in Higher Education

"If you're engaged in some inefficient practice, maybe that's a bad thing."

On Tablets in the Classroom

"Just giving people devices ... has a really horrible track record."

On the Meaning of MOOC's

"Even though I only have a high-school degree, I'm a professional student."

Q. You have been interested in education for quite a while. I was looking back at your 1995 book, The Road Ahead, and you laid out a vision of education and how it could be transformed with technology. It seems like some of that vision is still only just emerging, so many years later. Did it take longer than you thought it would?
A. Oh sure. Education has not been changed. That is, institutional education, whether it's K-12 or higher education, has not been substantially changed by the Internet. And we've seen that with other waves of technology. Where we had broadcast TV people thought would change things. We had early time-sharing computing—so-called CAI, computer-assisted instruction—where people could do these drills, and people thought that would change things. So it's easy to say that people have been overoptimistic in the past. But I think this wave is quite different. I think it's more fundamental. And we can say that individual education has changed. That is, for the highly-motivated student, the ability to go online and find lectures of various length—to see class materials—there's a lot of people who are learning far better because of those materials. But it's much harder to then take it for the broad set of students in the institutional framework and decide, OK, where is technology the best and where is the face-to-face the best. And they don't have very good metrics of what is their value-added. If you try and compare two universities, you'll find out a lot more about the inputs—this university has high SAT scores compared to this one. And it's sort of the opposite of what you'd think. You'd think people would say, "We take people with low SATs and make them really good lawyers." Instead they say, "We take people with very high SATs and we don't really know what we create, but at least they're smart when they show up here so maybe they still are when we're done with them." So it's a field without a kind of clear metric that then you can experiment and see if you're still continuing to achieve it.
Q. So who's to blame? Are there things like the U.S. News rankings or other pressures that give colleges the wrong incentives?
A. Well there certainly is a perverse set of incentives to a lot of universities to compete for the best students. And whether that comes out in terms of being more selective or investing in sort of the living experience, it's probably not where you'd like the innovation and energy to go. You'd like it to go into the completion rates, the quality of the employees that get generated by the learning experience. The various rankings have focused on the input side of the equation, not the output.
Q. There's a moving moment in Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs that describes a time when you visited Mr. Jobs at his house not long before his passing, and the two you reflected on the innovations you both led in technology. I understand that one thing Steve Jobs asked you that day was about how technology could change education. What did you tell him?
A. Well, I'd been involved in the education space because of my full-time foundation work. And so I'd been able to get out to various charter schools, to inner-city high schools, to community colleges, different universities, and learn about the financial situation about what discourages kids. And based on that, you get more of a sense of, OK where can technology come in? If the kids don't have to come to the campus quite as often, that would be good. But then what's the element that technology can't deliver? And it's through that that I really have developed a lot of optimism that we can build a hybrid. Something that's not purely digital but also that the efficiency of the face-to-face time is much greater. Where you take the kid who's demotivated or confused, or where something needs to be a group collaboration as opposed to the lecture. So I talked about the vision and what type of innovators we should draw in.
Q. Getting to some of those ideas, you're famously not a college graduate, since you left Harvard early to start Microsoft. So I'm curious what you think of EdX out of Harvard and MIT. What do you think of that model of certificates or badges for taking free online courses?
A. Well at the end of the day you've got to have something that employers really believe in. And today what they believe in by and large are degrees. And if you have a great degree then you're considered for jobs, and if you don't have that degree there's a lot of jobs you won't get consideration for. And so the question is, Can we transform this credentialing process? And in fact the ideal would be to separate out the idea of proving your knowledge from the way you acquire that knowledge. So even though I only have a high-school degree, I am a professional student. That is, I like to watch courses and do things online. So things like OpenCourseWare, the various lectures that have been put online, I consume a lot of those because I'm very interested.
Q. That's interesting. I'm hearing a lot about that idea in the tech industry—such as companies like Microsoft trying to hire programmers—but do you think this could work as well in things like humanities fields where it's harder to measure mastery?
A. Well, there are a lot of fields where things are fairly objective. If you want to be a nurse or a doctor, there are various exams that are given for those things. There are softer areas, like you want to be a salesman or something, but it's not even clear what college degree is appropriate for that. Employers have decided that having the breadth of knowledge that's associated with a four-year degree is often something they want to see in the people they give that job to. So instead of testing for that different profession, they'll be testing that you have that broader exposure.
Q. The Gates Foundation has given tens of millions of dollars to traditional universities and to some new upstart players in higher education. But with that amount it would be possible to build a new campus of your own—have you considered starting your own university?
A. Well, we have a couple of people who are starting new universities that we're getting behind. They're looking at low-cost models where they figure out the right student pool, where they use technology the right way.
For us, our role is different than that. Our role is to make sure that the universities that are out there that already have a lot of professors, a lot of real estate, a lot of reputation, that if there's ways that they can do things better, like looking at their completion rates and saying, OK, what are the best-practices? And seeing a student who seems to be disengaged, what do you to do to get them re-engaged?
Even these top universities often only have a 60-percent completion rate. And the average university will have something like a 30-percent completion rate. So you have an immense amount of wasted resource, and students who end up with a big loan and sort of a negative experience in terms of their own self-confidence. And so that failing student is a disaster for everyone. And yet there's been surprisingly little put into finding out who does it well. Even universities knowing their completion rates. It's only been recently with some things we and others have gotten behind that there have been standard metrics and a willingness to share what is actually a fairly embarrassing statistic for these universities and be able to say if somebody's got 80 percent, what are they doing? Is it the pool of people they bring in or what they're doing when they get there?
Q. The role of business in higher education is a hot topic these days. Many new online-education efforts are run by companies, and in some ways the controversy at the University of Virginia over the forced resignation of the president there was partly about how fast the institution should move online and adopt a more business-style approach. What would you say to those who worry that businesses, and in some cases even foundations like yours, are becoming too influential at traditional colleges?
A. Well, if you're against completion and measuring completion then, yeah, we're a real problem. Because we're saying, Hey, maybe we ought to look at that. Because budgets are so tight we're going to have to find best practices there, and if you're engaged in some inefficient practice, maybe that's a bad thing.
Our goal is pretty simple: Seeing the U.S. education system as a real gem. As the thing that's provided broad opportunity and made the country do very well. And so the question is how do we renew that when others have looked at what we do well and copied a lot of those things. And so their universities are getting a lot better. Their completion rates are better than ours. Their efficiency rates are better than ours. The number of students who go into science and math are better than ours. What is it that we need to do to strengthen this fundamental part of our country that both in a broad sort of economic level and an individual-rights level is the key enabler. And it's amazing how little effort's been put into this. Of saying, OK, why are some teachers at any different level way better than others? You've got universities in this country with a 7-percent completion rate. Why is it that they don't come under pressure to change what they're doing to come up with a better way of doing things? So if casting light on the current state of the system is a good thing, then we're a positive change. And if not, then people could feel differently.
Q. In blunter terms, some have asked what makes successful business people—even if they are successful at business—qualified to weigh in on the operation of universities?
A. Well, obviously anything that has to do with the universities is going to be figured out by people who've worked in universities, and it's going to be piloted in universities. I don't think there's any business people who are just walking out of their office door and walking over to a university and saying, Hey, reorganize your university this way. I've never heard of that. What we do is we fund universities who are on the cutting edge. And so it's people from universities who apply and say, Hey, I want to do this next-generation learning. Because you need the people doing the neat content, and the people who actually sit with the students and motivate the students and help them when they're confused, help them with the labs, you need those elements to come together.
Take remedial math, which is an absolute disaster. What destroys more self-confidence than any other educational thing in America is being assigned to some remedial math when you get into some college, and then it's not taught very well and you end up with this sense of, Hey, I can't really figure those things out. If we can take and bring the right technical things and people things to that, then that would make a huge difference.
So all the grants are to people in universities, and, yes, some people in universities disagree with other people in universities. But if you have a sense that completion is a good thing, then you're all eventually going to come to a consensus that yes, we can improve.
Q. Still, these grants do create an incentive—and it's not just your foundation, it's all foundations—to work toward the goals that the foundation has set out. It sounds like your argument is that you're placing a variety of bets, in a way, rather than telling universities that this is the way that it should be done with your grant money, which is pretty powerful.
A. We bet on the change agents within the universities. And so, various universities come to us and say, We have some ideas about completion rates, here are some things we want to try out, it's actually budget that holds us back from being able to do that. People come to us and say, We want to try a hybrid course where some piece is online, some piece is not, and we're aiming this at the students that are in the most need, not just the most elite. So that's who we're giving grants to, people who are trying out new things in universities. Now the idea that if you have a few universities that figure out how to do things well. how do you spread these best practices, that's a tough challenge. It's not the quite same way as in the private sector that if somebody's doing something better, the price signals force that to be adopted broadly. Here, things move very slowly even if they are an improvement.
Q. Some of what you've been talking about is getting people to completion by weeding out extraneous courses. There's a concern by some that that might create pressure to make universities into a kind of job-training area without the citizenship focus of that broad liberal-arts degree.
A. Right now, a lot of the institutions that are all-access are essentially overloaded. That is, if you're trying to get through in the appropriate amount of time you'll find yourself constantly not able to get into various required courses. And so if you're taking more years and more courses simply because you're being held out of the ones that are required for your degree, that's a real problem. And there's not very good metrics about that. Costs are being constrained because the state money is going down. They can only raise tuition a certain amount, and what happens is the federal support for tuition is really very up in the air, like so many elements of the federal budget right now. And so yes, it is important to distinguish when people are taking extra courses that broaden them as a citizen and that would be considered a plus, versus they're just marking time because they're being held up because the capacity doesn't exist in the system to let them do what they want to do. As you go through the student survey data, it's mostly the latter. But I'm the biggest believer in taking a lot of different things. And hopefully, if these courses are appealing enough, we can get people even after they've finished a college degree to want to go online and take these courses.
Q. At a conference in 2010, your said that in five years, "placed-based colleges," would be less important because of the rise of some of these video-based options and credentials. Should traditional college leaders be worried about their place-based model?
A. If they want to innovate, they should be worried about whether they're going to pick the right things and innovate in the right way. If the point is, can you just stay the same, I think the answer is no. Other countries are sending more kids to college. They're getting higher completion rates. They've moved ahead of us. The cost of an education just keeps going up. So you've go to see if you can change the way the system works. Having a lot of kids sit in the lecture class will be viewed at some point as an antiquated thing. On the other hand, having a bunch of kids come into a small study group where peers help each other, where you can explain why you're learning these various topics, that will be even more important. And so the skill sets that you want on the university campus and that you're really valuing and measuring and giving feedback to, I think those are shifting somewhat because we can take the lecture piece versus that study-group piece and make the lecture piece more of a shared element, and not have to have that duplicated again and again.
Yes, universities are somewhat reluctant to give up a piece. So it's not clear who those innovators will be. But I think its time is coming.
Q. Tablet computers are big these days. The Surface tablet was just released by Microsoft last week, and iPads are all over campuses, but it doesn't sound like your approach has been to give devices to students and hope things change that way. What do you think needs to happen for factors like tablets to really make a difference? Or is that not even part of the equation?
A. Just giving people devices has a really horrible track record. You really have to change the curriculum and the teacher. And it's never going to work on a device where you don't have a keyboard-type input. Students aren't there just to read things. They're actually supposed to be able to write and communicate. And so it's going to be more in the PC realm—it's going to be a low-cost PC that lets them be highly interactive.
But the device is not the key limiting factor at this point, at least in most countries. If we ever get the curriculum to be super, super good, then the access piece, which is the most expensive part, will be challenging, requiring special policies to let people get access. The device, you'll be able to check out of the library a portable PC, so I don't see that as the key thing right now.
Q. Is there a professor or teacher who inspired you to get into education? And of all the things that your foundation could invest in, why higher education, and where does that passion come from?
A. For the United States, I think the main area that will determine whether we retain our traditional strength or not is what we do in the education system, and I put K-12 and higher ed into that.
In higher ed, there's a part of it that has been extremely strong in the U.S.—the best in the world. You know it hasn't been easy for other people to do what we've done well. But for the first time now, we see them doing some of those things. The top universities in China, like Tsinghua, is a world-class university, absolutely in the top 50 universities in the world. So we have to double-down, particularly when there's new opportunity, which technology is bringing, and when there's a challenge, which all these budget issues are pretty dramatic in that regard. So there's nothing more catalytic. There's nothing that was more important to me in terms of the kind of opportunity I had personally. I went to a great high school. I went to a great university. I only went three years, but it doesn't matter; it was still extremely valuable to me to be in that environment. And I had fantastic professors throughout that whole thing. And so, if every kid could have that kind of education, we'd achieve a lot of goals both at the individual and country level.
Q. As a foundation, what's next? Do you see new areas, maybe domestic health care, say, or are there other new sectors that the foundation might get into?
A. Basically no, because until we achieve our goals in the areas we picked—globally, it's really health, agriculture, things having to do with helping poor people, and here in the U.S. it's education—because these are tough-enough problems. We want to learn, make mistakes, try new things out, find new partners. And so until we've done something quite dramatic, which in the best case would be in 10 to 20 years, we're not going to move on and do something else. So we've really picked our areas and hopefully every year we get a little bit better in how we pursue them.
Q. What did you learn from K-12 that you're bringing to higher ed?
A. In K-12 you learn a lot about the motivational aspects. Why should somebody learn algebra? It's so far away in terms of connecting that with a job or any life outcome. And how to make things interesting. K-12 has been more homogenized in terms of how it's done: what the standards are, what the personnel system looks like. One of the strengths of higher ed is the variety. But the variety has also meant that if somebody is doing something particularly well, it's hard to map that across a lot of different institutions. There aren't very many good metrics. At least in high schools we can talk about dropout rates. Completion rate was really opaque, and not talked about a lot. The quality-measure things are equally different. We don't have a gold standard like SAT scores or No Child Left Behind up at the collegiate level. And of course, kids are more dispersed in terms of what their career goals are at that point. So it's got some things that make it particularly challenging, but it has a lot in common, and I'd say it's equally important to get it right.

NLRB will revisit graduate studnets rights to organize

Monday, June 25, 2012

In This Online University, Students Do the Teaching as Well as the Learning - Technology

In This Online University, Students Do the Teaching as Well as the Learning 1

Two of the founders of Peer 2 Peer U., Jan Philipp Schmidt and Delia Browne. "The expertise lies in the group," he says. "Everyone brings something to the conversation."



Read original article at The Chronicle of Higher Education

A poet with a hankering to learn code recently teamed up with a Web developer who was curious about poetry as part of a new kind of teaching experience.
The lessons took place at Peer 2 Peer University, a three-year-old online institution where students learn together, at no charge, using materials found on the Web. The poet, Vanessa Gennarelli, and the programmer, John Britton, taught each other online, discovering unexpected bridges between their disciplines.
At a time when free online courses are enticing students with the opportunity to learn from star professors at prestigious colleges, P2PU, as it's known, is questioning whether instructors are needed at all.
The unusual institution, where anyone with a passion for a topic can set up a course, is experimenting with ways that students can navigate together through open courseware that's free on the Web.
  In This Online University, Students Do the Teaching as Well as the Learning 2
Jan Philipp Schmidt (second from left), a co-founder of P2PU, huddles with workshop participants involved in the free, online university.


In the process, the project is stimulating discussion in open-education circles about the evolving roles of peers and professors in the growing number of free online courses.
"The people who come to P2PU are attracted by the opportunity to take learning into their own hands and to create their own university," says Jan Philipp Schmidt, executive director and a founder of the nonprofit university, which is supported by grants from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the South Africa-based Shuttleworth Foundation, as well as individual donations.
Much of P2PU's traffic comes from word of mouth; the providers attracting most of the attention in the open-course world are the big-name universities offering massive open online courses, or MOOC's.
There's Udacity, which grew out of a course by two Stanford professors that attracted 160,000 registered users by the time the lessons began, and Coursera, another Stanford start-up, whose courses are taught by professors from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, the University of Pennsylvania, and Princeton and Stanford Universities. MIT, a pioneer in the movement, recently joined with Harvard in a new venture, edX.
P2PU, which began offering courses in 2009, has about 33,000 registered users, with about 1,700 new users joining each month, Mr. Schmidt says. The courses, which are offered in five languages and typically last six weeks, are offered through "schools" dedicated to education, Web design, mathematics, and social innovation.
Students can earn badges—informal alternatives to diplomas that some online programs offer—to show what they've learned, although P2PU has no accreditation.
Courses and workshops are offered by facilitators, only some of whom have teaching experience. Some are students who enjoyed their experiences in a course and decided to lead their own. But in all of the courses, the lines between teacher and student are blurred. "The expertise lies in the group," says Mr. Schmidt. "Everyone brings something to the conversation."
When plans for P2PU were announced, in 2008, the idea was to have well-known professors moderating the discussions, with graduate students serving as tutors and grading papers.
But finding volunteers to keep the courses going has been a challenge, the organizers admit, and the push recently has been toward transforming courses into "challenges" that require little or no mediation by outside experts.
In one recent challenge, called Writing for the Web, about 200 participants worked at their own pace through a series of tasks, which included creating a blog about something they cared passionately about or wanted to delve into more deeply. They read about what makes effective online writing and fleshed out their blogs, which their classmates critiqued, on topics such as cross-stitching and cyberpunks.
One student interested in circuitry and robot design described on a P2PU discussion board how his perfectionist tendencies had stymied his earlier blogging attempts and how he learned that blogging "isn't necessarily about publishing essays polished with multiple drafts and long periods of reflection."
The idea of self-paced challenges raised its own difficulties, though. Because students could drop in at any point and set their own pace, "the challenges didn't have a rhythm, and a lot of people really missed that," Mr. Schmidt says. "They said, 'I kind of need that drum major to beat the drum a little so I know when I'm expected to do something.'"
In response, P2PU is offering a mentorship program for students, more training for course facilitators, and a planned system in which students enter in cohorts.

Hacking a Poem

New providers of online courses may well find insights in P2PU's experiments with peer learning.
Learning takes place both within P2PU's courses and in the informal relationships that students strike up.
The partnership between Mr. Britton and Ms. Gennarelli is an example. Last fall he signed up for a workshop that she moderated on P2PU called "Hack this Poem," in which participants took poems apart and pieced them back together to see what made them work. After stumbling across the poem "This Is Just to Say," by William Carlos Williams, on a game developer's Web site, Mr. Britton recast it as a "rage comic," which he described as "a sort of Internet meme often used to express frustration."
The following month, Ms. Gennarelli, whose day job was editing open-source textbooks, asked if he'd be her mentor as she struggled to learn more about computer code and create an interactive online historical atlas.
She could have honed her skills by tuning in to video lectures from a tech guru from MIT or Stanford. Instead she turned to Mr. Britton, who describes himself on his P2PU profile page as a "hacker-at-large, college escapee, and world-traveling vagabond." Working outside the normal course structure, the two built a relationship in which he divided her project into manageable chunks, and she e-mailed him every other week with questions and updates.
He showed her how to plot historical markers on her atlas using Google Maps API, or standards that let people customize the company's mapping service. He also introduced her to other Web tools. "It was massively useful to come back to someone who could answer questions, connect the bits and pieces together, and move the goal post to the next activity," she wrote on her blog.
Both Ms. Gennarelli and Mr. Britton plan to build on that experience in the paid jobs they have taken at P2PU since they started learning together. She's the "learning lead," helping fine-tune the learning-and-assessment process, and he's the product manager.
The product they're tweaking, unlike what's offered by MOOC's, comes with no name-brand university affiliation and no professors.
So why would students sign up for P2PU?
"We have a very different model of what we think online education should look like," says Mr. Schmidt, who has also led open-education activities at University of the Western Cape, in South Africa.
P2PU's learning style reflects an approach that many classroom instructors have been taking for years as they've stepped away from the lectern to guide students working in small groups. And it's something that MOOC's, populous as they are, struggle to put into effect.
"People have been talking about the 'guide on the side' versus the 'sage on the stage' for some time," Mr. Schmidt says.
Stephen E. Carson, external-relations director at MIT OpenCourseWare, the free online publication of the university's lectures and other course materials, says peer learning is a natural extension of the first wave of open-course initiatives, which have focused on getting content out to large audiences at little or no cost.
"Everyone recognizes that education is about more than just content, and that it includes interactions with other learners and educators," says Mr. Carson, who serves on P2PU's advisory board.
"Peer 2 Peer University has played an important role in trying to sort out how this kind of peer learning takes place."
Such student-to-student learning happens in less structured ways in many large online classes, where students might break off into informal study groups using Google or Yahoo e-mail lists, or meet up on social news Web sites like Reddit.com. Some MIT classes provide links to a site called OpenStudy.
Kevin Carey, an education-policy analyst at the New America Foundation, says online learning is becoming increasingly social.
"People who are learning the same things are finding ways to come together," says Mr. Carey, who is a Chronicle blogger. "It's intriguing and consistent with the ongoing evolution of how these things we call courses are taking new shapes and forms on the Internet."

'Threatening to Beginners'

But discussion forums have drawbacks as well. A common complaint, especially in technology courses, is that often they are taken over by people with credentials and years of experience.
"It's totally threatening to beginners or people who aren't doing super well," says P2PU's Mr. Schmidt. "They don't want to ask questions, because they don't want to look stupid."
To help put people at ease, P2PU's new mentor program lets students who have completed a "challenge" click on a link and agree to help students who are floundering.
"The strongest and most effective way to build the knowledge of everyone in the group is for them to teach each other, so the student who doesn't understand as well can ask questions that the more-advanced students can answer," says Catherine M. Casserly, chief executive officer of Creative Commons, a nonprofit group working to expand free course materials and other online content.
The P2PU structure promotes such active learning and engagement, she says. "As peers become more engaged with each other, the facilitator can fade into the background but should always be there eavesdropping and bringing the topic back if it spins in a different direction."
Karen Fasimpaur, a former schoolteacher who runs a small education-technology start-up, struggled to find the right balance when offering her first course, in entrepreneurial marketing, for P2PU.
Wary of slipping into the talking-head role, she says, she considered the opposite extreme—the barely-there facilitator who basically says, "Here are the resources. Everybody go to town, and we'll just sit back and watch."
That didn't go over well. "A lot of people didn't really understand what peer learning was, and when I stepped back from the expert role, they'd say, 'We came here because we wanted you to teach us.'"
Now she plays a more active role in the courses she helps organize in P2PU's School of Education, which offers free professional development for K-12 teachers.
Ms. Fasimpaur started the school over the summer because she felt that the peer-learning approach would be a refreshing change for teachers who are expected to merely sit through lectures on how to encourage collaborative learning.
Some academics, however, remain skeptical about P2PU's approach. Jonathan Rees, a professor of history at Colorado State University at Pueblo, is one of them.
"We professors tend to get all misty-eyed when students can help explain difficult concepts to other students, but what happens if we collectively decide that it's acceptable for computers to do all the grading and for explanations from peers to be the only explanations students ever get?" he wrote on his blog recently. "I'll tell you what happens, professors lose their jobs."
Mr. Rees, a leader in the Colorado chapter of the American Association of University Professors, expanded on that thought in an e-mail interview with The Chronicle. "I think the Ph.D. means something," he wrote. "It says you know your field at least well enough to determine what needs to be covered in the course." Peer learning, he says, is better suited for a book club than for college.
Bill Maurer, a professor of anthropology at the University of California at Irvine, says faculty members who are trained to mediate touchy topics are better able to draw out students who might clam up in an open classroom. He also wonders whether peers can "help you think of the questions you aren't thinking and not just help you complete a task."
Mr. Schmidt isn't surprised by the criticism.
"People feel threatened because it feels like they're being replaced," he says. "But I think they should be thrilled by this. For me, the role of the professor isn't to be the guy who stands in front and talks for an hour, but the person who asks interesting questions and helps me discover my interests and passions."
Ms. Gennarelli, the poet, hopes that by drawing out students who were new to poetry, she played that role in the workshop she moderated with John Britton's input. "When John took apart the character of the prose and recast it from his experience, it made the class that much richer."