A giant basket of internet trends from Mary Meeker: what educators should know

Mary Meeker’s big presentations on internet trends are always useful, and her new one is no exception.  She addresses hardware, software, networks, along with changes to human behaviors in using new and mature technologies.

I strongly recommend reading through the whole thing.

Notes for education after the embed:

What does this mean for education?

Continue reading

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Mapping higher education cuts and tuition increases

How do changes in funding American higher education play out across the nation?  The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) has created two very useful maps.

The first identifies just how much individual states reduced funding to public colleges and universities:

changes to state spending 2008-2014

Gas money was good to North Dakota.  Otherwise, it looks like a giant financial meteor struck American higher ed.

Next, Michael Mitchell maps out tuition increases, state by state.  I highlighted Florida as one example:

changes in tuition by state, 2008-2014


Again, a giant financial meteor slammed into the US in 2008, and we’ve been suffering aftershocks for the past seven years.

I like this financial meteor metaphor.

The usual caveats apply: these tuition figures are for published, not net (actually billed) tuition.  They don’t cover private institutions, which are major players in American tertiary education.

What do we learn from this? Continue reading

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AltSchool: bespoke education innovation just for the 1%?

AltSchool logoAltSchool is a new educational project, with several instances in San Francisco, Palo Alto, and New York City.  Kevin Carey wrote about it for Pacific Standard, and in that account I find aspects that are interesting, even exciting, along details that speak volumes to the problem of increasing social inequality.

The good: AltSchool selects some fine pedagogical ideas.  They keep classes small, which allows teachers the time to commit to intense personalization.  On the latter, AltSchool builds Learner Portraits, which then feed into Personalized Learning Plans.  They support interdisciplinary learning through their T-shaped student model.  They combine lots of technology with offline, real-world learning.  Each school is small, a “micro-school”, which appeals to my Vermont K-12 experience: “[a]ll AltSchool campuses are small, with only six to eight classrooms and 60 to 100 students, who range in age from five to 13.”  Parental involvement is high.

None of this is new, except for one thing (see below).  Personalization is something many schools are striving for; that’s a goal for my very rural, non-creative-class-dominated state’s K-12 system.  The student-centered notion goes back a ways; as Anya Kamenetz observes, “It really does look like a Montessori classroom. They say Montessori 2.0.”

What’s not to like? Continue reading

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Queen sacrifices announced across fourteen North Carolina campuses

University of North Carolina system logoFourteen campuses in the University of North Carolina system will cut academic programs, according to the Daily Tarheel.  The system’s board of governors voted this past Friday to cut 46 programs in what looks like one of the biggest queen sacrifices I’ve tracked so far.

The board decided to cut individual programs based on their “program productivity”, in other words “the number of degrees granted in programs annually.”  The official assessment, which was published for a vote, seems to be here. As one member, Steven Long, put it: “We’re capitalists, and we have to look at what the demand is, and we have to respond to the demand.”

This rationale for cutting is a quantitative one, in other words.  Its implementation elicited qualitative defenses, like this one:

Warwick Arden, the provost of N.C. State University, which will see four programs eliminated, said some programs that don’t give out a large quantity of degrees are still valuable, including the women and gender studies and Africana studies programs at the school, both of which will be eliminated and consolidated into less specific programs.

Which programs?  Here’s a list*, which I’ve extracted from each affected campus according to the Tar Heel report: Continue reading

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Here’s an idea: let’s tax Wall Street to make college tuition free

Vermont senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has proposed to make all public undergraduate education free.  Which is a bold move on its own, but he added a second major step: paying for it by taxing financial transactions.  That would, as Dean Baker puts it, “effectively impose a sales tax on stocks and other financial assets.”

From Bernie’s senatorial site:

$70 billion a year in assistance – two-thirds from the federal government and one-third from states – would replace what public colleges and universities now charge in tuition and fees. The federal share of the cost would be offset by imposing a tax on Wall Street transactions by investment houses, hedge funds and other speculators…

Free tuition and fees, paid for by the financial sector.  This appeals for all kinds of reasons, starting with the growing anxiety about student debt and including Wall Street’s robust economic health.  Bonus points for getting money from the business that currently makes money off of loans.

Bernie Sanders addressing a town near my home.

Bernie Sanders addressing a town near my home.

So how can higher education respond to this idea?

We could embrace this proposal.  After all, Bernie’s plan addresses several causes educators have been advocating.  It would take care of student loans and debt. It would replace dwindling state funding.  And it doesn’t come with federal oversight of higher education (so far).  The plan will also appeal to some institutions with social justice missions, like many Catholic universities and community colleges.  It should also attract left-liberal academics, some of whom are interested in class issues.

On the other hand, American higher education has some reasons to fear this proposal.  Why?

  1. The Wall Street financiers who would fund it (involuntarily) are sometimes major donors to private institutions.  For example, when I told this story to some M____ college people, a development person thanked me for not killing those bankers.  Because, you see, they could have become generous alumni.  Supporting Bernie’s plan today might cost a building or endowed chair tomorrow.
  2. Those same financiers are also major, major contributors to political campaigns on the federal level.  Perhaps American higher education does not want to antagonize the plutocrats.
  3. Bernie Sanders is an outside chance, a dark horse who wasn’t even in the Democratic party until this month because he’s a democratic socialist.  The most likely nominee for that party is, of course, Hillary Clinton.  Perhaps American academics do not want to risk supporting her rival, especially if she triumphs and is in a position to distribute rewards.
  4. Some institutions and some academics might not want to publicly identify with a left-wing Democrat for ideological reasons.

In February I observed that 2015 saw a new wave of Republican-led cuts to public higher education.  This gave Democrats an opening to oppose them and win the college vote, an opening Bernie has taken.  Will academics join him along the way?

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American higher education enrollment declines again

National Student Clearinghouse Research Center logoThe number of students enrolled in American colleges and universities declined this spring.  Recent data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC) depicts a gradually changing student body, with serious implications for post-secondary education.

In spring 2015 American campuses taught 18,592,605 people.  That’s a drop of 1.9% compared to spring 2014, which saw 18,948,521 students.  And a further from of 2.3% compared to 2013, which enrolled 19,105,651.

That decline is very unevenly distributed. Community colleges and for-profits saw the biggest hits, while private baccalaureates went down a slight amount and public four-years actually rose by a hair:

Estimated National Enrollment by Sector

Spring 2015 columns are the light green ones, on the right of each sector’s data cluster.


There are some other interesting details about this report:

  • Adult learners were much more likely to avoid college than traditional-age students.  For example, those “24 and Under” went down by 0.8% overall, while their seniors dropped by 3.6%.   The difference was especially stark in the two-year sector, where the under 25s declined by 1.9%, but their elders plummeted 7.0%.
  • Women continue to outnumber men in student numbers, by 10,611,385 to 7,981,219.
  • Bigger is better this year.  Smaller institutions (“under 3,000″, “3,000 to 9,999″) experienced declines of 2.4% and 1.9%, respectively, while larger ones (10,000 or more) actually grew by 2.1%.
  • New Hampshire enjoyed an almost off-the-charts growth, rising 19.0%!  That’s probably to to SNHU’s online success.

How can we interpret this data? Continue reading

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A powerful donor versus academic freedom

University of OklahomaThe CEO of a major energy company asked the University of Oklahoma to fire some faculty, because he didn’t like the way their research was heading.

“Mr. Hamm is very upset at some of the earthquake reporting to the point that he would like to see select OGS staff dismissed,” wrote Larry Grillot, the dean of the university’s Mewbourne College of Earth and Energy, in a July 16, 2014, e-mail to colleagues at the university.

There’s more:

And, the dean wrote, Hamm indicated that he would be “visiting with Governor [Mary] Fallin on the topic of moving the OGS out of the University of Oklahoma.”


Hamm also expressed an interest in joining a search committee charged with finding a new director for the geological survey, according to Grillot’s e-mail.

How is it that this oil company executive can intervene in the workings of a public university?

“Hamm, the billionaire founder and chief executive officer of Oklahoma City-based Continental Resources… has been a generous donor to the University of Oklahoma, including a 2011 gift of $20 million for a diabetes research center named after the oilman. University President David Boren, a former U.S. senator, sits on the board of directors of Hamm’s Continental Resources.”

But the tycoon didn’t get his way.  Kudos to dean Grillot:

Hamm’s meeting with Grillot resulted in no apparent changes at the university. Reached by telephone, Grillot confirmed his discussion with Hamm. He declines to name any individuals that the oil company CEO wanted to have fired but says nobody was dismissed from the Oklahoma Geological Survey and that he never discussed Hamm’s displeasure with OGS staffers.

“I didn’t want it to impact their day-to-day work,” he says. “Foremost for us is academic freedom.” Grillot adds that Hamm was not added to the search committee for the new OGS director.

Let’s tease apart some strands of this story: Continue reading

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