May 19, 2013, 7:57 pm
It’s commencement season on college campuses, the time when graduating students see their years of effort culminate in a victory: getting the degree. That road to commencement was longer for some students than for others, though, and eventually those varying journeys will be reflected in the institution’s graduation rate.
The value of that number has been debated almost from the day it was first calculated in the mid-1990s. The flaws of the official government rate are well known: It counts only full-time, first-time students who enroll in the fall, excluding those who transfer out of the institution or transfer in and eventually graduate.
But even if you ignore those flaws, questions remain about whether graduation rates should be used to judge the quality of an institution and, more important, considered by prospective students when they select a college. Despite these…
April 22, 2013, 12:57 pm
Twice in the last week and a half I have been seated next to a recent college dropout on an airplane flight.
One left Ohio University after a semester last fall, and the other dropped out of a performing-arts college in Los Angeles after two years. Both had accumulated debt. One of the former students was about to start work on a cruise ship, and the other hoped to perform on a cruise ship. Both had the same goal: to earn enough money to go back to college eventually.
Neither of the students quite knew why they had gone to college in the first place except that it was expected of them by parents and counselors. Both had done minimal research on the institutions they eventually selected. They didn’t pay much attention, if any, to the numbers they should have considered in making their choices: graduation rates, net prices, how much they would pay each month on their student loans,…
April 17, 2013, 6:13 pm
Scottsdale, Ariz. — Steve Case is one of the few technology leaders who has lived through two Internet revolutions. The founder of AOL made an appearance this week at the Education Innovation Summit, the upstart gathering that in its fourth year attracted some 1,400 entrepreneurs, financiers, and educators to the Arizona desert.
Most entrepreneurs from the 100-plus companies that pitched their ideas at the conference were too young to recall the ubiquitous shrink-wrapped CDs that helped AOL grow during the 1990s, but Case’s advice on change and innovation still found an audience among many of the twentysomethings in the room. Case’s core message perhaps carried even more significance for college leaders who are struggling with an unsustainable business model but who remained largely absent from this meeting.
To Case, the first Internet wave, which ended with the tech crash of…
March 19, 2013, 8:42 pm
Higher education in the United States is measured in units of time: three-credit courses, 15-week semesters, and academic years with fall and spring semesters.
The decision by the Education Department on Tuesday to clarify its rules and outline a process for providing federal aid to students enrolled in “competency-based” programs has potentially far-reaching consequences beyond just rethinking how colleges award credits based on what students actually know instead of time spent in a seat. It might mark the beginning of reimagining the entire academic calendar and providing much-needed flexibility for students to pursue opportunities outside of standard courses that help shape their undergraduate lives.
For now, the Education Department’s decision provides a lift to three traditional universities starting competency-based degree programs this year: Northern Arizona University…
March 14, 2013, 1:53 pm
One knock on publicly traded companies is that their leaders’ judgment is sometimes clouded by the intense drive for profits to please the short-term demands of Wall Street.
In the nonprofit sector of higher ed, profit is often measured by prestige. The drive for prestige often clouds the judgment of trustees and presidents, leading them to veer from their mission and, for the last decade or so, to go on a spending spree to keep up with the Joneses in terms of campus amenities or try to climb in the various rankings.
Most presidents will say they don’t care about rankings. They just did so again in a forthcoming survey of campus executives, conducted by The Chronicle, in which presidents put improved U.S. News & World Report rankings dead last in a list of measures by which they judge their success.
But that message obviously hasn’t filtered down to their PR officers, who…
February 21, 2013, 3:47 pm
Even as President Obama, a handful of governors, and several private foundations continue to push American higher education to graduate more students so that the United States has the world’s highest portion of people with college credentials, a sobering report in this week’s New York Times detailed the real-world impact of producing more degrees simply to reach a goal. The article looked at degree inflation in Atlanta and the proliferation in that city of college-educated workers who hold low-paying jobs that, just a few years ago, didn’t require degrees.
The piece, which generated more than a thousand comments from readers, quoted mostly graduates of regional public universities in Georgia and for-profit colleges. It illustrated that, despite the rhetoric from those advocating more “high-quality postsecondary credentials,” we have come to think of this national goal as…
February 6, 2013, 1:52 pm
Ever since the country’s top universities teamed up last year in loose federations to offer free online classes to the masses, MOOCs have become a household word in higher-education circles. They remain a sensation and a curiosity on the higher-ed conference circuit this winter, where nearly every meeting seems to feature the leaders of the various MOOC providers: Coursera, edX, and Udacity. The New York Times declared 2012 “the year of the MOOC.” The Chronicle dedicated its Online Learning supplement to the subject last fall.
Critics of MOOCs have emerged just as quickly, with some of the biggest naysayers mocking the idea that a supersize lecture course could be considered innovative. Others simply worry about the impact of MOOCs on no-name institutions without deep pockets or superstar professors.
Lost in the debate is that the MOOC phenomenon is an important evolutionary…
January 24, 2013, 2:58 pm
The release this week of a bill of rights for learning in the digital age was criticized by some who said the document had been put together by a group that didn’t include the very people it is meant to protect: students.
The problem is, there is no traditional learner anymore. What’s more, we no longer even have a common definition of “higher education.” The lack of consensus about what the higher-education system in the United States should be producing is largely to blame for the pressures facing colleges and universities today, from lagging financial support to proving their value to students and parents.
We desperately need some sort of rallying cry, akin to the post-World War II period of the GI Bill, the late-1950s space race, or the introduction of the modern financial-aid programs with the first Higher Education Act, in 1965. The lack of consensus, which dates back…
January 9, 2013, 3:51 pm
Gavin Newsom at UCLA. (Todd Cheney)
You won’t often find the lieutenant governor of a state at a higher-ed conference, but there was Gavin Newsom of California sitting next to me on Tuesday at UCLA for a discussion about how online learning might help the state’s cash-starved public colleges increase access. He wasn’t there just for a photo-op. He stayed basically the entire day and took notes. A lot of them, and on the subject (I looked). He rarely glanced down at his phone.
The meeting was another in a series of what seem like weekly gatherings on the subject of innovation in higher ed. At most of those meetings, I’m struck by some important constituency that is not represented. Most of the time it’s the faculty. Sometimes it’s lawmakers or trustees. And other times it’s students, especially the…
December 19, 2012, 5:31 pm
The Chronicle this week published a news analysis questioning whether the current nonstop talk over innovation in higher ed is creating a system for those who can least afford a traditional education but need it the most. The piece generated plenty of reaction in the comments, which I’d group into two opposing camps:
- Face-to-face education is the established and verified mode of instruction, and any other way depersonalizes education, is uncontrolled, and most of all, is ineffective.
- Using technology to supplement and, in some cases, replace face-to-face instruction helps personalize learning for students, focuses classroom time on what they haven’t already mastered, and most important, meets students where and how they learn today. As a result, traditional brick-and-mortar colleges are doomed.
As usual with almost any policy debate these days, very few commenters were…