Cutting staff but not faculty: University of Akron hacks around a queen sacrifice

University of AkronA campus under financial stress can cut all kinds of people who aren’t faculty instead of making a queen sacrifice.  Case in point : the University of Akron, which announced the end of 213 staff positions.  That’s 161 people canned, not including currently unfilled jobs.

“The measures are intended to plug a $60-million budget shortfall over the next three years,” explains the Chronicle of Higher Education.  The reasons for this deficit are various, and might include a new sports stadium, expanding debt service, and outsourcing that turned out more costly than planned.

What kind of staff positions have been cut?  This solid Ohio.com article lays them out in detail.  They include jobs in custodial services, an arts center, maintenance, libraries, a scholarly press, a multicultural center, administrative support, technicians, student services, legal services, enrollment, academic advisors, career services (“The University of Akron’s Career Center, which is supposed to provide help to the newly unemployed, was itself a victim of cutbacks”), sports, and IT, plus several assistant deans.

Reminder: these are the folks usually classified as “administration.”

A demographic note: Ohio is graying, losing the under-20 population, like much of the American midwest and northeast.  Akron itself is seeing its average inhabitant’s age increase.  To the extent that UA draws its traditional-age undergraduates from Ohio and the midwest they will suffer increasing tuition challenges.

Are such cuts now what we think of as part of the new normal?

(thanks to the Remaking the University Facebook group and from discussion on this Chronicle of Higher Education article)

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American higher education politics just changed, maybe

It’s the middle of 2015 and in the United States presidential candidates are marking their territory for next year’s elections. Higher education policy has loomed surprisingly large so far, and the various postures and proposals sketch out something of a break in the way Republicans and Democrats have been handling education.

A quick refresher: ever since 1960 or so the two parties had reliably opposed higher ed positions.  Republics saw campuses as overstuffed with money and radicalism, while Democrats defended schools as cultural and economic fountainheads.

This changed during the first decade of the 21st century, as Democratic support helped George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind pass into law, lending political power to reforming school operations, often over teachers’ wishes.  A bipartisan tendency grew.

Signing into law No Child Left Behind.

Note the key presence of Ted Kennedy with George W. Bush.

Then the 2008 recession and the 2009 death of leading education defender senator Ted Kennedy drove many Democrats more deeply into the arms of education reform.   Slashed tax receipts led legislators of both parties to cut K-12 and postsecondary funding.  A new generation of Democratic leaders saw reforming all of education as a cause, especially when institutions resisted.  This is where president Obama and his education secretary come in, for example, with their drive to reform all of education, from Race to the Top to building a (still incomplete) college ratings system.

This period also saw Chicago mayor and Obama ally Rahm Emanuel battle with that city’s teachers unions.  The well-named Democrats for Education Reform appeared.  In 2010 Waiting for Superman was released, very critical of K-12 (that Democratic bastion), and created by the same man who directed Al Gore’s climate change film (in 2006) and a short about president Obama for the 2012 Democratic party national convention.  These Democrats fought for greater accountability, more testing, less teacher and school autonomy, lower union influence, and more technology than instructors requested.

And this Democrat-Republican educational rapprochement continues today, at least in terms of policies and the work of sitting politicians.  This week Arne Duncan called for more accountability for colleges and better guidance into jobs for students.  A major Department of Education committee asked for more power: specifically,

the 18-member panel said that it should be “the final decision-making authority on accrediting agency recognition.”

The panel, often referred to as NACIQI, also wants greater power to force accreditors to focus more on student learning and student outcomes.

As Elizabeth Sanders observed this year, “There is bipartisan support for the idea of more college accountability.” Call it political expediency or the triumph of neoliberalism; either way, many Democrats found themselves not too far from Republicans.

Cthulhu for PresidentAnd yet things seem to be changing, one decade into the consensus.  The bipartisan alignment might be breaking up.

Consider: every Democratic presidential candidate has called for massive public funding for higher education.  Bernie Sanders kicked this off in May, urging debt-free access to public colleges and universities.  In one recent interview Sanders was direct:

“You want to go to college? You have the ability to go to college? You have the desire to go to college? Public colleges and universities will be tuition-free,” because education must be a right of all people.

Hillary Clinton also thinks higher ed is too expensive, although she doesn’t go as far as Sanders.  And now Tommy Carcetti, er, Martin O’Malley also wants to make college less expensive.

Meanwhile, Continue reading

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Presenting and participating in the EDUCAUSE 2015 conference

EDUCAUSE 2015 conferenceThis October I’ll be presenting, participating, networking, schmoozing, reconnecting, and generally hob-nobbing with people at the EDUCAUSE 2015 conference in Indianapolis.

Here are some of my events:

A pre conference workshop, Building an Emerging Technology and Futures Capacity in Your Organization.  That’s on Tuesday, October 27th, from 8:00 AM to 11:30 AM Eastern time.

This seminar will describe how to build and grow a futuring capacity in a campus team. We will cover a variety of leading-edge methods, including trend analysis, scenarios, the Delphi process, and environmental scanning. Organizational leaders will learn how and why to get their staff using these tools.

Later that day I’ll presenting in a virtual session, Working with Emerging Technologies to Promote Engaging Learning.

This dynamic preconference seminar features 12 speakers who will each present their approach to effectively working with emerging technologies to support teaching and learning. The session begins with a brief overview of emerging technology trends and will continue with segments on how to support evidence-based emerging technology work, and with examples of effective emerging technologies being used or piloted today. The seminar also includes two discussion sessions with members of the 7 Things You Should Know About… publication advisory team and with those working with 3D Printers, Makerspaces, and BYOD initiatives.

My topic will be futures capacity for organizations.  Malcolm Brown and Veronica Diaz (ELI) will host.  The session runs from 3-6 pm.

On Thursday (October 29) I’m presenting on Looking Ahead to 2026: Trends in Technology and Education.  The skinny:

This session examines leading trend lines in education and technology, extrapolated forward over the next decade to explore campus transformation. Trends are based on a four-year continuous environmental scan, conducted via social media. Topic rubrics include educational contexts (economic, social, policy), selected technological developments, and academic computing.

That will run from 4:30 until 5:20 PM.

Conference hashtag is #EDU15.  If you’re going to Indianapolis, please say hi.  If you can’t make it, please consider the virtual sessions.

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Giving a great presentation: notes on using PowerPoint

For this post in my series about making better presentations, we’ll turn to PowerPoint.  PowerPoint! mocked, vilified, hated all over the place, yet still the leading presentation tool.  How can we make the thing work to strengthen our speeches, rather than narcotizing our audiences?

There are many books, slideshows (naturally), and videos about using PowerPoint effectively.  Here I want to share what I’ve seen from my experiences as speaker and audience member.  First I’ll touch on making slides, then on using them. After that is Presentation Zen, not using PZ, and some miscellaneous thoughts.

Caveats: I’m not going to address other presentation technologies in this post.  I’m also not going to explore the best ways of starting to prepare for a talk; here I assume readers are already in the midst of getting materials and thoughts together.  Apple users, when I say PowerPoint you can infer I’m also talking about Keynote.  I’m not going to give technical details about using the PowerPoint editor.  No time for pechakucha here.

If I could give you only one piece of advice, it’s to remember that your slidestack serves your argument, not the other way around.  People come to a presentation to hear you speak, not to watch a slideshow.  What they experience is a synthesis of speech and image, a fast dance between spoken word and projected light.  You must have that organizing synthesis or dance routine in your mind throughout, so that people experience and remember something greater than 47 PowerPoint images and 46 clicks.  If you don’t, people will fall asleep.  At best.

Your argument – your narrative, your story, your pitch, your ideas, content, brooding, whatever – is the essential thing.  The slides enhance your essential argument.  They amplify it and render it easier to understand. Make and use slides accordingly.

What kills PowerPoints, by Alan Levine

Onward to tips and practices: Continue reading

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A tale of two academias: campus chief financial officers peer into the future

What do the people in charge of campus finances think about academic sustainability?  Inside Higher Ed and Gallup surveyed CFOs again, and the results are both fascinating and sobering.

Overall, CFO opinion is split between optimism and pessimism.  Setting aside individual temperaments, this division illustrated the growing resource gap among academic institutions.  That separation seems to be widening, and now having an impact on campus planning and expectations.

Consider existential threats.  More than 1/4th of private institutions fear for their existence in coming decades, while the rest do not.  More publics are cheerful.

CFOs consider the fate of their institutions

On a broader note, just over half of these specialists (56%) agree that “media reports suggesting that higher education is in the midst of a financial crisis accurately reflect the general financial landscape of higher education in this country”, while nearly half disagree.

Similarly, almost one half think their campus hasn’t changed its business model lately, while almost another half… “Forty-five percent of business officers say their institution has significantly changed its budget model in the past four years. Another 16 percent plan to significantly change their model in the near future.”

Another split shows up in views of how much fat remains to be cut after a near-decade of recession.  “Half of business officers do not believe their institution can make additional and significant spending cuts without hurting quality.”  The other half apparently see a juicy fat layer remaining alongside muscle and bone.

A slightly more uneven split occurs when CFOs think about where new spending dollars will come from.  A majority, “61 percent agree that new spending at their institution in the coming years will come from reallocated dollars rather than an increase in net revenue.”  The other 39% apparently expect fresh monies.

Things look fairly bright for inter-campus collaboration.  62% of CFOs are “exploring collaboration opportunities for academic programs with other institutions”.  Interest in shared services is on the rise, especially among state institutions: “Those working at public institutions report using a shared services model more frequently (54 percent) than do those employed by private nonprofit”. Almost half of CFOs are increasingly interested in shared services with other institutions, but again, almost half (44%) aren’t even considering it.

A Tale of Two Towers, photo by cogdog (I’m tempted to generalize about these divisions, although the report’s presentation doesn’t really support it.  I do, nonetheless, imagine two campuses.  One is confident that they will grow their student body and receive new revenue to do so.  If they need to cut they can, but don’t think they’ll have to. They aren’t interested in collaboration.  Down the road from that happy place is a different campus, brooding about the possibility of going out of business a few presidencies from now.  They have no fat to cut, and don’t see new dollars coming in.  This school is eager to collaborate with others. )

In some areas the CFOs are more harmonious.  For example, the leading way for campuses to raise revenue today is “employing strategies of increasing overall enrollment”, according to 82% of respondents.   Next most popular is “launching new revenue-generating academic programs”, as per 70%.

In contrast, what aren’t  campuses doing?

outsourcing more academic programs (4 percent), revising tenure policies (14 percent), cutting spending for intercollegiate athletic programs (15 percent) or shifting more undergraduate teaching to senior faculty members (19 percent).

Tenured and especially senior faculty and sports are safe, in other words.

Sustainability is something CFOs get darker about the further they look ahead.  “More business officers are confident of the sustainability of their institution’s financial model over the next five years(64percent) than over the next 10 years (42 percent).”

Continue reading

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How students choose majors during recessions

Students pick different majors when the economy is lousy than in good times.  That seems intuitively obvious, and can be confirmed by anecdotes.  It’s useful to have research exploring just how it works.  A recent discussion paper by Erica Blom, Brian C. Cadena, and Benjamin J. Keys (pdf) breaks down which majors students shift to and away from, noting key gender differences.

Here are two visualizations, nicely reformatted from the original article by Josh Zumbrun:

Majors Women Choose During a Recession

Majors Men Choose During a Recession

Looking at data from 1960 to 2011, Blom et al find that, generally and unsurprisingly, “graduates pursue more technical, more career-oriented, and more remunerative fields of study in response to temporary periods of weak labor demand.”  And “majors associated with higher salaries tend to gain share while majors associated with lower salaries tend to lose share in response to a one percentage point increase in the unemployment rate.”  Note that one percentage point.  This suggests students are more sensitive to the economy than simpler measures of recession versus good times.

Some takeaways: Continue reading

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The campus merger option rises

As pressures continue to squeeze American higher education, some campuses are looking to alternatives beyond closing or conducting a queen sacrifice.  One option is merging institutions.  Inside Higher Ed points to recent cases of merged campuses, suggesting that number might be on the rise.

The drivers for mergers are the same ones leading to queen sacrifices, and my readers know well the litany:

Financial difficulties, declining enrollments and a shrinking number of high school graduates in multiple U.S. regions — such as the Midwest and Northeast…

Michael Coghlan, photo of merging railroad linesHow would a merger help, while avoiding deep cuts to curriculum?  Mostly by combining support mechanisms.  Smaller institutions, for example, can realize better economies of scale if they share HR, IT, office support, security, and other functions.  Sharing campus space can make more sense in an age of shrinking populations.  And non-overlapping faculty proficiencies can expand the new entity’s curriculum and research agenda.

A physical merger is online learning’s doppelganger.  Inter-institutional digital collaboration can bring similar benefits, starting with sharing information services.  Shared online classes, like the ones so ably offered through the Council of Independent Colleges, can expand curricular offerings.

If I’m right about these twin strategies, merger and digital collaboration, it’ll be interesting to see which ones are more appealing to which campuses.  Put another way, what’s more scary: diluting your identity by fusing with another school, or seriously extending your campus online?

Back to the IHE article: Kellie Woodhouse does an excellent job of outlining the benefits, challenges, and complexities of mergers, from troubled alumni to office redundancy.  Read it through.  The comments, too, are interesting.

I noted mergers last year.  This might be a slow trend, only gradually rising.

(thanks to Malcolm Brown, Lisa Hinchliffe, and others for the pointer; photo by Michael Coghlan)

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