December 11, 2012, 8:20 pm
Last month, as part of The Chronicle’s series on reinventing college, I suggested that the United States needs more structured, maturing experiences for high-school graduates to ease their path to college. The column generated dozens of comments, mostly in support of the idea.
Now it’s time for the hard part: How would we build such detours on the way to college? Which entities would take the lead in building them? And what are the hurdles to making the concept viable?
Plenty of models for alternative pathways already exist, except nearly all of them are geared exclusively toward easing the transition from college to the work world. The one with perhaps the highest profile is Teach For America, which places recent college graduates as teachers in struggling schools. Last year nearly 48,000 graduates applied for just 5,200 slots in the program.
Taking a page from the success of…
December 2, 2012, 11:39 am
One of the many criticisms about the current fascination with massive open online courses, or MOOC’s, is that they fail to improve on a basic pedagogical problem that many universities face: the large size of lecture classes. Indeed, MOOC’s exacerbate the problem by enrolling tens of thousands of students rather than just hundreds.
Much of that line of criticism about MOOC’s, of course, comes from professors at traditional institutions who continue to teach large lecture classes themselves. They don’t have much of a choice, they say. Universities need large intro-level lecture courses in some disciplines to subsidize smaller upper-division courses and graduate work in others.
“The reality is that English has been subsidizing chemistry as long as there has been chemistry,” says Jane Wellman, the former executive director of the Delta Cost Project on Postsecondary Costs,…
November 25, 2012, 1:28 pm
The tight hold American colleges and universities have on academic credit—what it is worth and who awards it—is about to undergo a well overdue stress test.
Two announcements in as many months have the potential to perhaps finally better define the value of credits in higher education.
The first is the announcement by the American Council on Education that it will review a handful of free online courses offered by elite universities through Coursera and may recommend that other colleges accept credit for them.
Ultimately, individual colleges have the final say as to whether to accept credits, even if ACE approves the massive open online courses, or MOOC’s. But the institutions that are part of the Coursera federation of MOOC’s are supposedly the best in the country.
Right now, it is easy for most institutions to deny students who ask to transfer credits from their local…
November 5, 2012, 8:18 pm
The Association of American Universities operates its club in such secret that most presidents who yearn to get into it have no idea when another exclusive invite might be extended. So a dozen or so university presidents who aspire to be members were probably disappointed on Monday when the AAU announced it was welcoming another expensive private institution to its ranks, Boston University.
Membership in the AAU has become the benchmark for research universities to show the world that they have made the big time. As a result, university leaders who want to be part of the group seem willing to do almost anything to prove they are worthy, including spending their own tuition dollars to gain an advantage in the federal research rankings that matter so much to the AAU.
Many times, those efforts turn into a fool’s errand: A Chronicle study last year found that half of the universities…
October 27, 2012, 11:37 pm
Say you asked the CEO of any major company whether they believed their products were worth the price customers paid.
Think two out of five of them would answer no? Probably not.
Yet that’s exactly what college presidents said about the educational product of higher education in a poll released this month by Time magazine and the Carnegie Corporation. Forty-one percent of higher-education leaders agreed that “at many colleges, the education students receive is not worth what they pay for it.” Let’s hope they weren’t thinking about their own institutions when they answered the question.
More worrisome is that in the same survey, college presidents were far outnumbered in their opinion by the public: Eighty percent of the general population said the education at many colleges wasn’t worth the price. This value gap between presidents and the public is similar to one The …
October 11, 2012, 3:05 pm
The economy is changing at warp speed. Some of the jobs most in demand in 2010 did not even exist in 2004. What’s more, Americans switch jobs, on average, about every four years.
Against this backdrop, colleges and universities are trying to figure out how best to prepare students for this evolving world. The trend since the 1960s had been toward occupational or vocational degrees, what some call practical degrees. The most popular undergraduate major today is business.
But debates have erupted on many campuses between those who advocate for the content of a practical major and others who think that the skills of a liberal-arts major are the best insurance in a rapidly changing world.
Meanwhile, students are hedging their bets: The number of double majors is on the rise, particularly at the most elite schools where supercharged students want to do it all and where the ranks of…
October 4, 2012, 6:40 am
In many industries, competition lowers prices, promotes innovation, and often leads to product differentiation. But even with 4,500 colleges and universities, American higher education seems to defy those rules. Prices rise faster than inflation, colleges are seen as resistant to change, and there is a sameness to many institutions, despite all the rhetoric about the diversity of our higher-education system.
Few colleges want to be seen as “stepping away from the herd in meaningful ways” because they are so obsessed with moving to the next level, maintains the late J. Douglas Toma in a recent book, The Organization of Higher Education.
“Prestige is to higher education as profit is to corporations,” writes Toma, who was a professor of higher education at the University of Georgia. (He died of cancer in May 2011 at age 47.)
To reduce the cost of higher education to student…
September 24, 2012, 11:04 am
Much is made of President Obama’s goal that by 2020, the United States will lead the world in the proportion of college graduates. Less often discussed is that the president and others have also challenged Americans to commit to at least one year of education or training past high school.
We continue to cling to a single, iconic image of life after high school as a four-year college campus. In doing so, we exclude large portions of the American population from sharing in the nation’s economic successes. In 1970, seven of every 10 workers with a high-school diploma or less were in the middle class; today fewer than four in 10 remain there. By 2020, two out of every three jobs will require some sort of education after high school.
What must happen is fairly simple: expanding the notion of what constitutes an education after high school. That definition should include
September 12, 2012, 3:09 pm
For much of the first decade of the new millennium, Samuel J. Palmisano and A.G. Lafley led two of the biggest names in American business: IBM and Procter & Gamble. By the time they were named chief executive officers, the two iconic companies were in need of the makeovers the two leaders eventually helped engineer. The two men have something else in common as well: They graduated from college with degrees in the liberal arts.
Palmisano and Lafley both credit their undergraduate education for their accomplishments. As chief executives, and now in retirement, they often talk about the inherent importance of the liberal arts to a successful workplace where creativity, problem solving, flexibility, and teamwork are paramount.
With the liberal arts “you get to exercise your whole brain,” says Lafley, who graduated with a history degree from Hamilton College. “Inductively…
August 12, 2012, 12:23 pm
The talk in Washington these days, when not about the presidential election, is about the coming fiscal cliff, the result of tax increases and spending cuts set at the start of next year. On campuses, talk of a different kind of fiscal cliff is the subject of much speculation. The question on the minds of many college leaders is whether this is the year that they have been fearing since the economic collapse of 2008.
After years of hyping their record numbers of applications, fewer colleges seemed to tout those numbers this past spring. This summer, at meetings of admissions officers that I attended in New York and Minnesota, I heard plenty of concern over rising tuition discount rates, flat or falling net tuition revenue, and declining yield numbers. Keeping that trifecta in balance is a juggling act for most tuition-dependent colleges, and for years, it was only a concern of private…