Sunday, December 21, 2014

Do Britain's "Studio Schools" Have Ideas for American Higher Education?

We in the liberal arts college world talk a good game about "hands on" and "practical experience" and "learning outside the classroom," but 99% of it amounts to little more than aspirational yammering. The modal form of implementation is an unpaid internship with a social justice slant. I'd guess that part of the problem is that we've allowed our various under-articulated motivations to be gathered under an umbrella term being hawked by NGOs whose ideological motivations we don't really understand without every really having serious conversations among ourselves about the why and how of it. In short, we are pretty incoherent about how it fits into our overall educational philosophy.

An ongoing project in Britain called "studio schools" might have some lessons for us. Akin to charter schools in the US, it is sponsored by the Young Foundation. It is premised on the idea that conventional education over-values cognitive skills in a world where real projects require a wide range of skills and the capacity to work in teams involving people with diverse skill sets. Studio Schools derive some of its mode from guild era training when it gives kids opportunities "to work on real projects, within real teams, in real settings."(Write to the Bone: Exploring issues in depth blog)

An important feature of studio schools is that they are not an alternative to the university track:
...a new concept in education, which seeks to address the growing gap between the skills and knowledge that young people require to succeed, and those that the current education system provides. Studio Schools pioneer a bold new approach to learning which includes teaching through enterprise projects and real work. ...
Studio Schools are designed for 14-19 year olds of all abilities. ... small schools for 300 students; ... year-round ... and a 9-5 working day.... Working closely with local employers, ... offer a range of academic and vocational qualifications including GCSEs in English, Maths and Science, as well as paid work placements .... Students will gain a broad range of employability and life skills ... and will have the option to go on to university, further training, and into employment
Although pitched as a secondary education reform, the studio school model may contain some ideas that could be adapted to higher education in the small liberal arts college context.  This six minute video is a good starting point.  The website of the Studio School Trust is a good next stop. 

The Heavy Lifting in Higher Education

A great profile of community college instructor doing the hard work of making a difference in students' lives.

From the New York Times 21 December 2014.

Raising Ambitions: The Challenge in Teaching at Community Colleges
Three years ago, Eduardo Vianna, a professor at LaGuardia Community College in Queens, had a student who passed an entire semester without speaking in class. Like many others, the student, Mike Rifino, had come to LaGuardia requiring remedial instruction.

But the following semester Mr. Rifino turned up in Dr. Vianna’s developmental psychology course. This time he took a seat closer to the front of the room. Taking that as a positive sign, Dr. Vianna asked him to join a weekly discussion group for students who might want to talk about big ideas in economics, education and politics, subjects that might cultivate a sense of intellectual curiosity and self-understanding among students whose backgrounds typically left them lacking in either.

“The group met on Friday afternoons,” Dr. Vianna said, “and Mike’s friends were asking him why he was wasting his time; the students who came weren’t getting any credit.”
Professors at elite four-year colleges can trust that students share a bank of references, that they will understand principles of critical inquiry, that they will appreciate conceptualization for its own sake. None of this can be assumed at a community college, where “the idea of academic discourse is completely foreign,” Melinda Karp, assistant director of the Community College Research Center at Columbia University, said.
Dr. Vianna and his wife, Dusana Podlucka, who has a doctorate in psychology and also teaches, part time, at LaGuardia, live in a 506-square-foot rent-stabilized apartment with their 8-year old daughter, Paula, on Lexington Avenue downtown. Paula, an avid cellist, occupies the bedroom and her parents sleep in the living room, on a foldout sofa.

More in the "Is Elite Higher Education Worth It?" Conversation

from the Washington Post's Wonkblog

Private colleges are a waste of money for white, middle class kids

"Many parents whose kids have their eye on an exclusive, private college face a difficult question: Is it worth unloading your life's savings or having your child take on tens of thousands of dollars in student loans?
Fortunately, for many Americans -- white, middle-class kids -- there's an easy answer: Don't pay more to go to a private college.
And the answer to the question is much more complicated for kids from families in other racial socioeconomic groups. But for white kids with well educated parents, what matters is getting a college degree, not where it came from.
"The happiest people, in general, were the ones who developed a relationship with a mentor, par-ticipated in extracurricular activ-ities or took on a major academic project -- all things you can do at any school."
The answer is much more complicated for blacks, Hispanics and those whose parents are comparatively less educated.

In Dale and Krueger's research, these groups did seem to make more money after attending more selective schools.

...attending an elite school might provide ... access to a new social circle that provides them with more economic opportunities later in life. Children of well-educated whites might already have that access and so don't gain anything from attending an elite school....

...other explanations. ...students from different circumstances pick up from their peers a set of social cues or professional habits that allow them to fit in among America's economically secure stratum....

But even for these groups, there are important caveats. ... for some, borrowing to pay tuition at a private school could be a wise decision financially. Yet the more a student has to borrow, the less likely the investment is to pay off, and borrowing ... is risky.... Costs can explode if a student takes longer than four years to graduate ... and if the student drops out, debt can become impossible to manage. Alternative ideas -- such as starting at a community or state university, then transferring to a private one -- might also be attractive.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Will Traditional Higher Ed Be Disrupted by Pragmatic Tech Training?

I think the author overstates the prevalence and significance of the phenomenon he points to (the rise of ALPs - accelerated learning programs), but he's right that there's a trend and lots of folks in higher education don't see it.  The last two years or so have seen the emergence of lots and lots of (many for profit) organizations that promise to teach people actually employable skills and to do so in relatively short order.

Traditional colleges and universities that traffic in "education" with a capital E should at least be aware that this phenomenon makes their business look a little bit like the one that specifically does NOT teach you things that represent employability.

from the TechCrunch blog...
A Wave Crests: Silicon Valley, Postsecondary Education And A Half-Trillion Dollarsby Shawn Drost (@shawndrost)

It’s easy to forget that these are early days for the Internet. We still have different ideas on what it is or how it should work. The web is governed by an iterative improvement process that moves faster than any other invention in human history. Ed tech is no exception. 
I’d like to direct your attention to an interesting phenomenon: since 2012, most ed-tech companies have quietly rewritten their product promise from unbridled learning for learning’s sake to a path to a job or career goal — website copy now essentially says “jobs, jobs, careers, jobs.” 
That transition may be related to another 2012 development: the rise of accelerated learning programs (ALPs), including General Assembly and Dev Bootcamp. ALPs explicitly measure student employment outcomes, including placement rate and average salary, and they work. The ALP phenomenon has helped influence this product pivot in the ed-tech sector. When one of my students gets a job, I get a giant bear hug and the credit for getting them there, and other educational tools are sidelined. 
It’s not a coincidence that 2012 brought both the beginning of the end of the MOOC and the start of the ALP: the zeitgeist had latched on to the connection between jobs and education. Postsecondary education has been off-balance from decades of seismic change, and 2012 kicked off three back-to-back State of the Union addresses pushing universities to reduce student debt and take accountability for student employment outcomes. 
This chronology sets the stage for an interesting future. Postsecondary students have unambiguously stated their priorities: jobs, jobs, careers, jobs. But the incumbent university system is hesitant to adopt this new focus as paramount. Silicon Valley has cottoned on to this imbalance, and has its eye on the postsecondary education market — worth a half-trillion dollars every year. Read on for a sneak preview of the next few years, and an exploration of trends surrounding the 2012 transition. But first: a historical primer on college.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Journalism as 'Gateway Degree'

FROM the PBS MediaShift Blog

This essay is about journalism education but its conceptualization of journalism education as a gateway degree along with the how and the why of implementing that vision makes it a useful read for those of us in liberal arts regardless of our relationship to journalism.  

The author notes along the way that we already know that (1) journalism is known to be good prep for professional schools, and that (2) most journalism and communications majors do not become practicing journalists.  These should sound familiar to those of us who teach in SLACs, mutatis mutandis.

Schaffer's prescriptive response is for j-schools to think through what else they are good for: identify the constellations of skills that can be included in the j-school education and identify where they can take a graduate (hints of "you need to be a bit more concrete than just lauding 'critical thinking'").

She suggests incorporating into the curriculum the capacity to scan the environment for opportunity (what Christensen calls “jobs [that need] to be done,” to develop a business plan, to build prototypes, to test audiences, and to assess markets.  This is a good business proposition not just because students might get jobs but because there is an entire ecosystem of small businesses, startups, and non-profits that need people like the ones we are training but we need to outfit them with the skill sets that will get them hired and make them capable of turning their ideas into going concerns that can actually make a difference.

Today's students, she argues, want to do more than "speak truth to power" or offer a blistering critique of the status quo.  Like Marx, perhaps, they realize that the point is to be effective and actually change the world by solving problems.


Reimagining Journalism School as a ‘Gateway Degree’ to Anything

J-Lab director Jan Schaffer is wrapping up 20 years of raising money to give it away to fund news startups, innovations and pilot projects. She is pivoting J-Lab to do discrete projects and custom training and advising that build on her expertise. After two decades of work at the forefront of journalism innovations, interactive journalism and news startups, she weighs in with some observations and lessons learned. This post addresses journalism education and first appeared here.
If I were to lead a journalism school today, I’d want its mission to be: We make the media we need for the world we want.
Not: We are an assembly line for journalism wannabes.
The media we need could encompass investigative journalism, restorative narrativessoft-advocacy journalismknowledge-based journalismartisanal journalismsolutions journalism,civic journalism, entrepreneurial journalism, explanatory journalism, and maybe a little activist journalism to boot. That’s in addition to the what-happened-today and accountability journalism.
Journalism is changing all around us. It’s no longer the one-size-fits-all conventions and rules I grew up with. Not what I was taught at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. Not what I practiced for 20 years at The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Yet, as someone who consumes a lot of media, I find I like journalism that has some transparent civic impulses, some sensibilities about possible solutions, and some acknowledged aspirations toward the public good. Even though I realize that might make some traditional journalists squirm.
And I’d assert that — if the journalism industry really wants to engage its audiences and woo new ones, and if the academy wants its journalism schools to flourish — it’s time for journalism schools to embrace a larger mission and to construct a different narrative about the merits of a journalism education.
There is some urgency here. Colleges and universities are cascading toward the disruptive chaos that has upended legacy news outlets. Many, like newspapers, will likely shut their doors in the next decade or two, victims of skyrocketing tuitions, unimaginative responses and questionable usefulness.
Adding to this imperative are indications that some J-School enrollments have declined in the last few years, according to the University of Georgia’s latest enrollment survey released in July. Industry retrenchment is partly blamed for making prospective students and their parents nervous about future jobs.


How do you quell that nervousness? One way is to articulate a new value proposition for journalism education; next, of course, is to implement it.
It’s time to think about trumpeting a journalism degree as the ultimate Gateway Degree, one that can get you a job just about anywhere, except perhaps the International Space Station.
Sure, you might land at your local news outlet. But, armed with a journalism degree, infused with liberal arts courses and overlaid with digital media skills, you are also attractive to information startups, non-profits, the diplomatic corps, commercial enterprises, the political arena and tech giants seeking to build out journalism portfolios, among others.
We already know that a journalism education — leavened with liberal arts courses and sharpened with interviewing, research, writing, digital production and social media competencies — is an excellent gateway to law school or an MBA. And we already know that journalism education has moved away from primarily teaching students how to be journalists. Indeed, seven out of 10 journalism and mass communication students are studying advertising and public relations, according to the UGA study.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Why are fewer people going to college?

BY SIMONE PATHE  September 29, 2014 at 11:41 AM EDT
"The drop-off in college attendance between 2012 and 2013 was across all income levels, although it was sharpest among the Census Bureau’s middle-income range — families making between $20,000 and $75,000. 
"That fewer of those families are sending kids to college is bad news for colleges, Carnevale said, because it strikes at the heart of their business model, although it’s less of a threat to selective institutions, which already have long lines to entry and intentionally keep their enrollments small."
In today’s economy, earning a college degree is still a winning choice. The  unemployment rate for Americans with bachelor’s degrees or higher is just 3.2 percent, compared to a national average of 6.1 percent. So why, then, did college enrollment last year fall by nearly half a million?

Between 2012 and 2013, the Census Bureau reported last week, 463,000 fewer people were enrolled in college. In fact, this is the second year enrollment has fallen by that much, bringing the two-year total to 930,000 fewer college students, bigger than any drop before the recession. The Census Bureau has been collecting this data through the Current Population Survey since 1966.

The decline was to be expected, said Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce, repeating the old economics adage that the more things go up, the more they’ll eventually fall. And go up it certainly had. The recent decline comes on the heels of a record 3.2 million boom in college enrollment between 2006 and 2011.

So where is the current decline happening, and what can that tell us about why it’s happening? Not all colleges are the same, and not all students have equal access to higher education. Enrollment in two-year colleges decreased by 10 percent, while enrollment in four-year schools actually increased, albeit by only 1 percent.

Hispanic college enrollment had been increasing dramatically in the five years up to 2012, adding a million students, far more than blacks or Asians added to the collegiate ranks. But that growth ground to a halt between 2012 and 2013. Hispanics, the Census Bureau points out, are more likely than blacks, whites or Asians to attend two-year schools, reflecting the drop seen in this latest data.

College enrollment always follows the economic cycle, said Carnevale. When the economy is underperforming, the college campus is a “safe harbor.” As he put it, going to school beats living in the basement and dealing with your parents when you cannot find a job. But when the economy improves, and jobs are more available, fewer people flock to the ivory tower. That pattern tells a cyclical story about college enrollment.

There’s a structural story here, too, though. It’s hard to ignore, over the long-term, how much more widespread college-going has become. The 1960s and 1970s forever changed college enrollment in America, Carnevale said; the Vietnam War and the draft gave new meaning to the college campus as “safe harbor.” Many more jobs now require a college education, and despite the increasing supply of college grads, the college wage premium (the earnings advantage to having a college degree) remains extraordinarily high, according to Carnevale.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A Salary Plan for All that Addresses Income Inequality

Colleges Could Narrow the Income Gap on Campuses

Growing inequality threatens our society.
A few years ago, such a provocative claim might have had limited support beyond a public park in lower Manhattan. Today a rising tide of voices warns of the ill effects of the increasing concentration of wealth and income. The warnings come from academics like Thomas Piketty, politicians like Sen. Elizabeth A. Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, and, at times, President Obama. Now even the self-described "zillionaire" Nick Hanauer, in a recent Politico article, implores us to avoid what he characterizes as an impending rush of pitchforks.
At St. Mary’s College of Maryland, a public honors college, a group of faculty and staff members, students, and alumni have put together a proposal that would permanently cap the growing ratio between the top and bottom earners on the campus. The St. Mary’s Wages plan would establish a benchmark minimum salary for the lowest-paid full-time employees that would rise with inflation. Tenure-track faculty members would make at least twice that benchmark. Different groups of workers (for example, associate professors, professional-staff members) would be guaranteed wages above specified fixed multiples of the lowest salary.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Stop Me If You've Heard This One

From Inside Higher Ed

What's Expendable?

July 21, 2014
By Charlie Tyson

In March 2013, when the Faculty Senate at Mary Baldwin College met with the college’s president, tensions were running high. Professors at the private women’s college in Staunton, Va. had not received raises in six years. And a mandate from the Board of Trustees instructing faculty to examine low-enrollment majors had ignited rumors. Professors worried the college would cut certain liberal arts programs: French, Spanish, chemistry and other majors that attracted few students. Surrounded by her colleagues, Ivy ArbulĂș, an associate professor of Spanish, spoke.
“There are no ‘expendable’ majors, and most certainly not if what is expendable and what is not is decided by the popularity of majors amongst our students,” she said. “All majors are part of the education we offer.”
The Spanish professor, known at Mary Baldwin for her rigorous standards and dedication to students, died of leukemia six weeks later. She left behind a Spanish department with just one faculty member. In September, an interdisciplinary major in Latin American Literatures and Cultures will replace the traditional Spanish major ArbulĂș championed. The French major, too, has been cut, and a number of upper-level course offerings in liberal arts are being phased out.

Interviews with top college officials and a number of professors (most of whom requested anonymity for fear of reprisal), as well as a review of more than a hundred pages of internal documents obtained by Inside Higher Ed, reveal an institution in transition -- and in conflict. At Mary Baldwin, the administration’s focus on enrollment growth through new programs has left some faculty members convinced that the liberal arts college no longer has liberal arts at its center.

College officials maintain the institution has not strayed from its liberal arts mission. What’s occurring at Mary Baldwin, they say, is a philosophical dispute. A handful of professors are clinging to a conception of the liberal arts grounded in discrete disciplines -- an idea college officials say is outdated.

“We’re at a time in education when we’re moving beyond the disciplines that were created 100 years ago,” said Sarah Flanagan, chair of the academic affairs committee on Mary Baldwin’s Board of Trustees and vice president for government relations and policy at the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.

In recent years, many higher education experts have deemed many liberal arts colleges and women’s colleges -- at least those without billion-dollar endowments -- financially challenged, if not endangered.

Read the rest at Inside Higher Ed

Monday, July 21, 2014

From the Stanford Report, July 21, 2014

Inspiring Stanford humanities majors to consider business careers

This summer was the first time that Stanford provided funding – with support from the Office of the President – to help Stanford students majoring in the humanities and the arts take part in the Summer Institute for General Management at the Graduate School of Business.


On a recent summer morning, a lecture hall at Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB) was filled with students from around the world who were ready to analyze the fall – and subsequent resurrection – of an American kidney dialysis company.

To prepare for the lecture, titled "A Deep Dive into Company Culture," the students had read a GSB case study that described a company, Total Renal Care, which was once plagued by financial, operational, regulatory and morale problems.

Sarah Soule, the Morgridge Professor of Organizational Behavior at the GSB, stood facing the class of dozens of students majoring in the humanities, engineering sciences, economics and finance, law, social sciences, and natural and life sciences.

It was the third week of the Summer Institute for General Management (SIGM), a month-long program designed for exceptional college students – rising juniors and seniors –majoring in non-business fields and recent graduates with non-business degrees. The program is now in its 11th year.

"Let's begin in 1999, when Total Renal Care was a very troubled kidney dialysis company," said Soule, one of a dozen MBA faculty members who taught the SIGM students.

"What were the problems with the company?" she asked.

Sitting in the third row, Stanford junior Natasha Mmonatau, a history major concentrating in 20th-century African history, offered the first observation.

"They had acquired a lot of companies, similar dialysis centers, and they had trouble integrating them into their existing model," said Mmonatau, one of eight undergraduate humanities and arts majors at Stanford who received university funding to take part in this summer's program.

Read more at Stanford News

Friday, July 18, 2014

Pipeline? Teaching Style? Course Content? Career Climate?


Some Universities Crack Code in Drawing Women to Computer Science
JULY 17, 2014
Claire Cain Miller

One of the reasons so few women work in tech is that few choose to study computer science or engineering. Only 18 percent of computer science graduates in the United States are women, down from 37 percent in 1985.

At a few top college programs, though, that appears to be changing.

At Carnegie Mellon University, 40 percent of incoming freshmen to the School of Computer Science are women, the largest group ever. At the University of Washington, another technology powerhouse, women earned 30 percent of computer science degrees this year. At Harvey Mudd College, 40 percent of computer science majors are women, and this year, women represented more than half of the engineering graduates for the first time.

These examples provide a road map for how colleges can help produce a more diverse group of computer science graduates. They also help answer a controversial question: Does the substance of computer science instruction need to be adjusted to attract women, or does recruitment and mentorship? It’s an important question because tech companies have so many jobs to fill, and because computer science skills have become necessary in almost every other industry, too.

Monday, July 14, 2014

What if the Marketplace of Ideas Really is a Marketplace?

Diane Ravitch describes the well-orchestrated PR campaign that largely shapes the "policy debate" about common core in K12.  The same sort of thing goes on in connection with higher education, but all too often presidents and provosts and deans and trustees and journalists uncritically adopt the preachings of foundation execs, funders, and "thought leaders" who are a part of an organized opinion creation complex. It's taboo to question the motives - pecuniary or political - and resistance is likely futile: those who advocate even mundane levels of critical thinking get labeled obstructionist, luddite, self-interested, naive.

From Huffington Post Education...

The Excellent But False Messaging of the Common Core Standards

Diane Ravitch
Research Professor of Education, New York University; Author, Reign of Error

Have you ever wondered about the amazingly effective campaign to sell the Common Core standards to the media, the business community, and the public? How did it happen that advocates for the standards used the same language, the same talking points, the same claims, no matter where they were located?

The talking points sounded poll-tested because they were. The language was the same because it came from the same source. The campaign to have "rigorous," "high standards" that would make ALL students "college and career-ready" and "globally competitive" was well planned and coordinated. There was no evidence for these claims but repeated often enough in editorials and news stories and in ads by major corporations, they took on the ring of truth. Even the new stories that reported on controversies between advocates and opponents of the Common Core used the rhetoric of the advocates to describe the standards.

This was no accident.

Lyndsey Layton of the Washington Post reported that the Hunt Institute in North Carolina received more than $5 million from the Gates Foundation to organize support for the brand-new, unknown, untested Common Core standards. Organizing support meant creating the message as well as mobilizing messengers, many of whom were also funded by the Gates Foundation.

In Layton's blockbuster article about how the Gates Foundation underwrote the rapid adoption of "national standards" by spreading millions of dollars strategically, this remarkable story was included:
"The foundation, for instance, gave more than $5 million to the University of North Carolina-affiliated Hunt Institute, led by the state's former four-term Democratic governor, Jim Hunt, to advocate for the Common Core in statehouses around the country. 
"The grant was the institute's largest source of income in 2009, more than 10 times the size of its next largest donation. With the Gates money, the Hunt Institute coordinated more than a dozen organizations -- many of them also Gates grantees -- including the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, National Council of La Raza, the Council of Chief State School Officers, National Governors Association, Achieve and the two national teachers unions. 
"The Hunt Institute held weekly conference calls between the players that were directed by Stefanie Sanford, who was in charge of policy and advocacy at the Gates Foundation. They talked about which states needed shoring up, the best person to respond to questions or criticisms and who needed to travel to which state capital to testify, according to those familiar with the conversations.
"The Hunt Institute spent $437,000 to hire GMMB, a strategic communications firm owned by Jim Margolis, a top Democratic strategist and veteran of both of Obama's presidential campaigns. GMMB conducted polling around standards, developed fact sheets, identified language that would be effective in winning support and prepared talking points, among other efforts.
"The groups organized by Hunt developed a "messaging tool kit" that included sample letters to the editor, op-ed pieces that could be tailored to individuals depending on whether they were teachers, parents, business executives or civil rights leaders."
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why the advocates for the Common Core standards have the same rhetoric, the same claims, no matter where they are, because the campaign was well organized and well messaged.

What the campaign did not take into account was the possibility of push-back, the possibility that the very lack of public debate and discussion would sow suspicion and controversy. What the advocates forgot is that the democratic way of making change may be slow and may require compromise, but it builds consensus. The Common Core standards, thanks to Gates' largesse, skipped the democratic process, imposed new standards on almost every state, bypassing the democratic process, and is now paying the price of autocratic action in a democratic society.

Know the Bandwagon You are Jumping on

Its boosters are certain that competency-based education is the next "disruptive innovation" in higher education. This article in the Chronicle of Higher Education is a bit slanted in that direction, but it does drop a few hints at the other side of the debate, noting that when systems go whole hog down this path "it takes faculty out of their role as teachers, turning them into coaches, curators, and graders." 

More importantly, I think, is how the article reflects the failure of the non-boosters to provide a persuasive account of why conventional instruction in the liberal arts might be superior to "study on your own, take the exam when you're ready" approach. Or, rather, their failure to get the idea across to journalists well enough for it to come out as something other than a vague  praise of "the intellectual journey." One spokesman for conventional higher education was quoted as saying: 
the role that colleges play should serve the goal of a truly liberal education, which is often idiosyncratic, depends on the people involved, and resistant to standardization
in a manner that makes it sounds like this is the big problem.  As is the case with soooo much of the discourse about higher education, this conversation is seriously muddled by the fact that participants have a financial and cultural stake in the outcome that seems, pretty consistently, to bias analyses and opinions.

College, On Your Own
Competency-Based education can help motivated students.
But critics say it's no panacea.
By Dan Berrret
Nichelle Pollock felt like she was moving through college in slow motion. In seven years she had gotten about half way through her bachelor's degree. But recently, she's been racing forward, racking up 50 credits in just 8 months....

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Administrative Expansion and Faculty Contraction: Not a New Story

This article on the inordinate growth of higher ed administration was getting a lot of Twitter action yesterday though it's from February. We wrote about it back then ("Who's a Cost Center?"), but since it's circulating again as a part of the conversation about the Starbucks tuition program, here it is again, in case you missed it. The report that spawned the article was done by the Delta Cost Project.

Personally, I'm REAL skeptical of buying into any claim Richard Vedder makes, but the interesting thing about this article is the broad array of strange bedfellows it draws on as sources.

The reported trend, assuming it holds up in the face of scrutiny, is unsurprising for several reasons. The regulatory environment for higher education has changed and the constellation of external organizations colleges and universities have to interface with has increased. 

The article notes with irony that that administrative growth has happened even while there's been a shift from full time tenure track faculty to save money. What the author misses is the fact that part-time faculty require more supervision; the net effect is to save money from instructional budget but spend non-instructional money to supervise - that's a predictable shift in resources.

But an even bigger part of the story, I think, is that administrators create the need for more administrators. One might imagine that many hands make for light work, but it's the opposite. Anytime you hire a high level administrator you create new reporting relationships and the incentives are for the new person to grow her staff and budget. Administrators are not usually rewarded for thinning their part of the organization (except when it's faculty).

By comparison, in the American system, hiring a new professor rarely has any long term effect on staff size. In exceptional circumstances, it means the hiring of an administrative assistant; more often it means brining in grants. But in any case instructional lines are generally part of a pool - a provost or dean can potentially take back a line when an incumbent leaves. Administrative lines are not usually treated that way. In fact, because administrative positions acquire reports and have clerical staff and are plugged into all manner of bureaucratic processes, when an incumbent leaves, replacement is almost certain.

Finally, no administrator ever succeeds by solving the problem she was hired to solve. If we hire a new dean of, say, sophomore retention, that administrator will survive long term not by solving sophomore problems but by discovering more of them. That pattern can be found across the institution. No one makes them self redundant. 

from HuffPost College

New Analysis Shows Problematic Boom In Higher Ed Administrators

New England Center for Investigative Reporting
By Jon Marcus
The number of non-academic administrative and professional employees at U.S. colleges and universities has more than doubled in the last 25 years, vastly outpacing the growth in the number of students or faculty, according to an analysis of federal figures.

The disproportionate increase in the number of university staffers who neither teach nor conduct research has continued unabated in more recent years, and slowed only slightly since the start of the economic downturn, during which time colleges and universities have contended that a dearth of resources forced them to sharply raise tuition.

In all, from 1987 until 2011-12—the most recent academic year for which comparable figures are available—universities and colleges collectively added 517,636 administrators and professional employees, or an average of 87 every working day, according to the analysis of federal figures, by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting in collaboration with the nonprofit, nonpartisan social-science research group the American Institutes for Research.

“There’s just a mind-boggling amount of money per student that’s being spent on administration,” said Andrew Gillen, a senior researcher at the institutes. “It raises a question of priorities.”

Universities have added these administrators and professional employees even as they’ve substantially shifted classroom teaching duties from full-time faculty to less-expensive part-time adjunct faculty and teaching assistants, the figures show.

“They’ve increased their hiring of part-time faculty to try and cut costs,” said Donna Desrochers, a principal researcher at the Delta Cost Project, which studies higher-education spending. “Yet other factors that are going on, including the hiring of these other types of non-academic employees, have undercut those savings.”

Part-time faculty and teaching assistants now account for half of instructional staffs at colleges and universities, up from one-third in 1987, the figures show.

During the same period, the number of administrators and professional staff has more than doubled. That’s a rate of increase more than twice as fast as the growth in the number of students.

It’s not possible to tell exactly how much the rise in administrators and professional employees has contributed to the increase in the cost of tuition and fees, which has also almost doubled in inflation-adjusted dollars since 1987 at four-year private, nonprofit universities and colleges, according to the College Board. Those costs have also nearly tripled at public four-year universities—a higher price rise than for any other sector of the economy in that period, including healthcare.

But critics say the unrelenting addition of administrators and professional staffs can’t help but to have driven this steep increase.

At the very least, they say, the continued hiring of nonacademic employees belies university presidents’ insistence that they are doing everything they can to improve efficiency and hold down costs.

“It’s a lie. It’s a lie. It’s a lie,” said Richard Vedder, an economist and director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity.

“I wouldn’t buy a used car from a university president,” said Vedder. “They’ll say, ‘We’re making moves to cut costs,’ and mention something about energy-efficient lightbulbs, and ignore the new assistant to the assistant to the associate vice provost they just hired.”

The figures are particularly dramatic at private, nonprofit universities, whose numbers of administrators alone have doubled, while their numbers of professional employees have more than doubled.

Rather than improving productivity as measured by the ratio of employees to students, private universities have seen their productivity decline, adding 12 employees per 1,000 full-time students since 1987, the federal figures show.

“While the rest of the economy was shrinking overhead, higher education was investing heavily in more overhead,” said Robert Martin, an economist at Centre College in Kentucky who studies university finance who said staffing per students is a valid way to judge efficiency improvements or declines.

The ratio of nonacademic employees to faculty has also doubled. There are now two nonacademic employees at public and two and a half at private universities and colleges for every one full-time, tenure-track member of the faculty.

“In no other industry would overhead costs be allowed to grow at this rate—executives would lose their jobs,” analysts at the financial management firm Bain & Company wrote in a 2012 white paper for its clients and others about administrative spending in higher education.

Universities and university associations blame the increased hiring on such things as government regulations and demands from students and their families—including students who arrive unprepared for college-level work—for such services as remedial education, advising, and mental-health counseling.

“All of those things pile up, and contribute to this increase,” said Dan King, president of the American Association of University Administrators.

“I think there’s legitimate criticism” of the growth in hiring of administrators and other nonacademic employees, said King. “At the same time, you can’t lay all of the responsibility for that on the universities.”

There are “thousands” of regulations governing the distribution of financial aid alone, he said. “And probably every college or university that’s accredited, they’ve got at least one person with a major portion of their time dedicated to that, and in some cases whole office staffs. These aren’t bad things to do, but somebody’s got to do them.”

Since 1987, universities have also started or expanded departments devoted to marketing, diversity, disability, sustainability, security, environmental health, recruiting, technology, and fundraising, and added new majors and graduate and athletics programs, satellite campuses, and conference centers.

Some of these, they say—such as beefed-up fundraising and marketing offices—pay for themselves, and sustainability efforts save money through energy efficiency.

Others “often show up in student referenda, to build or add services,” said George Pernsteiner, president of the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association. “The students vote for them. Students and their families have asked for more, and are paying more to get it.”

Pressure to help students graduate more quickly—or at all—has also driven the increase in professional employees “to try to more effectively serve the students who are coming in today,” Pernsteiner said.

But naysayers point out that the doubling of administrative and professional staffs doesn’t seem to have improved universities’ performance. Since 2002, the proportion of four-year bachelor’s degree-seeking students who graduate within even six years, for instance, has barely inched up, from 55 percent to 58 percent, U.S. Department of Education figures show.

“If we have these huge spikes in student services spending or in other professional categories, we should see improvements in what they do, and I personally haven’t seen that,” Gillen said.

Martin said it’s true that adding services beyond teaching and research is fueling the growth of campus payrolls. But he said universities don’t have to provide those services themselves. “They can outsource them, the way that corporations do.”

To provide such things as security and counseling, said Martin, “You can hire outside firms, on a contract basis with competitive bidding. All these activities are a distraction from what the institution is supposed to be doing.”

Universities and colleges continued adding employees even after the beginning of the economic downturn, though at a slightly slower rate, the federal figures show.

“Institutions have said that they were hurting, so I would have thought that staffing overall would go down,” Desrochers said. “But it didn’t.”

There’s also been a massive hiring boom in central offices of public university systems and universities with more than one campus, according to the figures. The number of employees in central system offices has increased six-fold since 1987, and the number of administrators in them by a factor of more than 34.

One example, the central office of the California State University System, now has a budget bigger than those of three of the system’s 23 campuses.

“None of them have reduced campus administrative burdens at all,” said King, who said he is particularly frustrated by this trend. “They’ve added a layer of bureaucracy, and in 95 percent of the cases it’s an unnecessary bureaucracy and a counterproductive one.”

Centralization has been promoted as a way to reduce costs, but Vedder points out that it has not appeared to reduce the rate of hiring of administrators and professional staffs on campus—or of incessant spikes in tuition.

“It’s almost Orwellian,” said Vedder. “They’ll say, ‘We’ll save money if we centralize.’ Then they hire a provost or associate provost or an assistant business manager in charge of shared services, and then that person hires an assistant, and you end up with more people than you started with.”

In higher education, “Everyone now is a chief,” he said. “And there are a lot fewer Indians.”

This story was prepared by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit news center based at Boston University and WGBH Radio/TV.

See Also

Scott Carlson. "Administrator Hiring Drove 28% Boom in Higher-Ed Work Force, Report Says," Chronicle of Higher Education, February 5, 2014

The Conversation about Free College Continues

This NPR piece does a pretty good job of getting on the table the tangle of issues that surrounds the cost of education question.

  • If education makes people economically better off, shouldn't they pay for it? 
  • Does financial aid create an economic bubble? Are college costs un-disciplined by the market? 
  • Is there a public obligation or public interest in paying for higher education? To make a better democracy? To ensure a meritocratic society? 
  • Do elite universities merely reproduce privilege? 
  • If employers provide education benefits, is there a danger that the US makes the same mistake with education that it made with health care? 
  • Or is there a danger that industry will then define what education is? 
  • Does "free college" make sense? If it does, what happens to the private non-profit education sector? If MOOCs were/are not the answer, is there something else in the technology realm that is? 
  • Are answers possible when so many different powerful actors have so many different interests and ideologies? 

Free College For All: Dream, Promise Or Fantasy?

June 19, 2014

"Free" is a word with a powerful appeal. And right now it's being tossed around a lot, followed by another word: "college."

A new nonprofit, Redeeming America's Promise, announced this week that it will seek federal support to make public colleges tuition-free. That effort is inspired by "Hope" and "Promise" programs like the one in Kalamazoo, Mich., which pays up to 100 percent of college tuition at state colleges and universities for graduates of the city's public high schools.

Starbucks announced a tuition benefit for its employees that will cover classes taken online from Arizona State University.

And we wrote last week about a Tulsa, Okla., program that pays for two years of community college for county residents.

In reality there's no free college, just as there's no free lunch. The real policy discussion is about how to best distribute the burden of paying for it — between individual families and the public at large — and, secondly, how to hold down the cost of providing it. All while leveraging the power of "free" responsibly.

FAFSA Dreams

Mention "FAFSA" to people in certain circles and you'll get an earful coming back at you. FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid; it's the form that students and parents fill out to apply for financial aid. Both government and institutions use data from the form to determine financial aid awards. The circles of people who will have something to say include students and their families, admissions and financial aid officials, scholars and activists who work in the higher education realm, and politicians.

In today's Times Lamar Alexander, Republican senator from Tennessee who is a former secretary of education and Michael Bennet, a Democratic senator from Colorado and former superintendent of schools, argue for a super-simplified FAFSA and a whole other slew of federal financial aid reforms in a bill they are co-sponsoring.

  • Simpler form (2 questions)
  • Submit it earlier in process (so kids would know early in the college application process)
  • Pell grants could be used year round
  • Federal student loan repayment programs reduced to two: income based and 10 year option

Whether one agrees with proposal or not, an important piece of the policy debate is highlighted in their argument: the present system has billions of hidden costs in the amount of time students and families spend providing the information, schools and the government spend processing it, and what schools spend auditing the process.

The Opinion Pages | OP-ED CONTRIBUTORS

An Answer on a Postcard

Simplifying Fafsa Will Get More Kids Into College

WASHINGTON — THIS year, more than 20 million college students will complete the dreaded 108-question Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly known as the Fafsa. Most do it again every year they’re in school. Some pay someone to help them. Colleges hire thousands of staff members to assist. Too many students are so intimidated by the form that they don’t bother to apply.
The Fafsa has 10 pages of detailed questions, explained by 72 pages of instructions, to complete an application that could be just two questions.
To give millions of hours back to American families, to remove what stands in the way of some students’ going to college and to save dollars that could be better spent on instruction, we are proposing legislation to reduce the federal financial aid application to a form the size of a postcard.

Hampshire Dumps SAT for Real

I am not on the "standardized tests are worthless" bandwagon, but you'll get no argument from me if you claim they are a big part of the distortion of the higher education admissions market. This is probably more so in professional schools but bachelors programs are affected too. At least in part because of US News ratings, very few institutions are willing to abandon test scores. But now Hampshire College, one of a small number of institutions that can be counted on for ongoing innovation in undergraduate education, has chucked them out the window. It will be interesting to see whether any of their principled peers follow suit.

Now if we could only get a few colleges to become extra-curricular-activity-blind, kids might be saved from having the because-it-looks-good-on-my-application motivation burned into their souls.

Inside Higher Ed

'Test-Blind' Admissions
June 19, 2014
More than 800 four-year colleges and universities do not require applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores. But of these "test-optional" colleges, the competitive ones will look at scores that are submitted. And most selective, test-optional colleges report that a majority of applicants (typically a large majority) submit scores.
On Wednesday, Hampshire College announced that it would become the only such college that will be "test-blind," meaning that it will not look at SAT or ACT scores even if applicants submit them.

New York Times


College to No Longer Consider Test Scores in Its Decisions

Hampshire College, in Amherst, Mass., said on Wednesday that it would no longer consider SAT or ACT scores in admissions or financial aid decisions. Meredith Twombly, the dean of admissions, said Hampshire had been “test optional” since it opened in 1970 but would become “test blind,” both for greater fairness and because Hampshire favors assessment through written work, projects and discussions, not test scores. Robert Schaeffer, public education director of FairTest, said Hampshire would be the only test-blind college: Sarah Lawrence College was test-blind for several years, but it reverted to test-optional two years ago after U.S. News and World Report stopped ranking it because of the lack of test scores.