Higher ed could survive, just like the big banks did

Twitter too big to failHere’s one possible way for colleges and universities to survive the current crisis.  We could deem higher education too big to fail.

Background: the linked article refers to the recent brush with institutional death experienced by the City College of San Francisco (CCSF).  Its accreditor had repeatedly found CCSF to be deeply flawed on financial and administrative levels, and ultimately recommended the college be stripped of accredited status.   The evaluating body still thinks CCSF should lose it, but granted the large school a two-year grace period.

Kevin Carey thinks this outcome is like the one enjoyed by the largest American financial institutions after the 2008 crisis*.  The banking sector was too well connected and simply too deeply embedded in the global economy, and its destruction would have been too damaging to the world and to well-represented sectors.  Applying this analogy to that college,

The political backlash was fierce. The faculty union lodged a formal complaint with the Department of Education against the accreditor… Politicians including the House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, whose district includes part of City College, issued public condemnations…

Because the consequences of closing these institutions are so severe, they have become, in effect, “too big to fail.”

Perhaps this is one near- and medium-term future for much of American higher education.  Not every institution faces this level of accreditation challenge, of course; some face equally serious threats from other sources.  No matter how many queen sacrifices campuses perform, or how many bad financial ratings schools receive, or how furious families are at the specter of debt, we won’t allow colleges and universities to shut down. Continue reading

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Making MOOCs work on campus

Ithaka S+R logoWhat can we do with MOOCs in 2014, after that bubble has popped?

In “Interactive Online Learning on Campus: Testing MOOCs and Other Platforms in Hybrid Formats in the University System of Maryland” (pdf) Rebecca Griffiths, Matthew Chingos, Christine, and Mulhern Richard Spies describe studying hybrid learning experiments at the University of Maryland. Building on two previous Ithaka MOOC studies, they conclude that MOOCs can support hybrid learning on campus.

Let me dig into some of the findings.

Overall, my major takeaway is this: “online technology can be used to deliver hybrid courses with reduced class time without compromising student outcomes”. Put another way, “MOOCs can offer benefits to instructors and students when embedded in campus-based courses”.

faculty can take advantage of existing online content—sometimes created by professors at other institutions—to redesign their courses and benefit their students [emphasis added

Students in the hybrids did as well or statistically better on a variety of scores: “pass rates, scores on common assessments (a final exam or post-test administered as part of the study), and grades”.

And these are seriously hybrid classes, shifting a major amount of time from the physical classroom to online: “hybrid sections had on average 72 minutes of class time per week, compared to 126 for traditional sections”.

This has major implications.  First, it strengthens arguments for blended/hybrid learning.  Second, the decrease in f2f time will surely appeal to financially stressed campuses (and not a few instructors).  Third, it’s a vindication for remix pedagogy, although not necessarily for open; to their credit, the Ithaka team are careful with this.

We can imagine a progression in which faculty gain familiarity with what MOOCs can offer (perhaps without the MOOC label) and grow more open to using these materials in different ways to solve problems for their students. Continue reading

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On the hope and hype of MOOCs

OCLC NextSpace logoLast fall I participated in an OCLC panel on MOOCs. This week OCLC published an article on that panel in the new issue of their NextSpace journal. The article is called “The hope and hype of MOOCs”, and offers a fine view of the many issues and ideas that flew between us.

“Us” meant a swarm of very smart people, including Audrey Watters, Anya Kamenetz, Ray Schroeder, and Cathy De Rosa.  Kudos to them for presenting insights brilliantly, and to OCLC for sponsoring then distilling the session.

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How can we reform the adjunct system?

How can American academia’s adjunct situation be improved?  What’s the best way to address this humanitarian crisis?  Can we fix this labor disaster?

This question surfaced during a Twitter discussion today.  Several of us were criticizing the increased casualization of academic labor, and saw few ways forward.   Then VCVaile wondered,

hard to change attitude but is it impossible? what would it take?

asking the question

This is a great question. Indeed, it should be one of the leading questions for academia to answer today.

How, then, can we improve the situation of adjuncts?

Let’s brainstorm.  And let’s seed the storm with some ideas:

1. State governments could be the hero here.  One common suggestion (one I’ve made) is that we need to reverse the decline in state support for public higher education.  Simply put, if states stopped cutting their subsidies but, instead, increased their support for colleges and universities, we could expand the ranks of tenure-track faculty back to Baby Boomer levels.

Naturally this isn’t happening, except for rare exceptions, like oil-rich North Dakota.  State budgets are being squeezed by all kinds of forces, economic, ideological, and political.  Moreover, the politics simply aren’t there to reverse the course of defunding.  Additionally, private institutions wouldn’t be directly affected, although the overall market could pull them along.

But maybe, just maybe this adjunct reform could occur if the US economy started growing at a serious level and/or if we see a change of political climate. Continue reading

Posted in future of education, research topics, Uncategorized | 32 Comments

A law school sacrifices the queen

An American law school has joined colleges and universities in making harsh cuts to its core academic mission. Cooley Law has announced its own version of what I call the queen sacrifice.

Cooley LawThis case has many of the queen sacrifice’s now-established parameters.  According to their official statement, they face financial problems:

Cooley Law School’s enrollment and revenue have continued to decline while health care and legacy costs continue to rise. Despite ongoing cost control efforts, the school can no longer avoid the financial imbalance between the revenue and expenses it faces.

Again that combination of declining enrollment with growing costs.

The strategy requires cutting professors: “The plan includes: Faculty and staff reductions”.  No word yet on which legal specialties are in the dock.

There are also reports of one Cooley campus no longer accepting first-year law students.

Cooley’s move comes in the wake of a several-years-old law school crisis.  I’ve written about this regularly in the FTTE report: a drop in graduates’ job placement, a decline in applications and enrollment.  That crisis is sharper than that afflicting higher education in general, but it does make us wonder: are law schools canaries in the coal mine?

Here are all of my previous queen sacrifice posts.

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One scenario for scholarly research

Here’s me talking about one possible way we can do scholarly research online. (larger size here)

It’s only a couple of minutes, so let me add a few thoughts:

  • I’m talking about an individual faculty member or two.  It’s not a macro discussion.  So no time to get into publication economics, big tech trends, metadata standards, etc.
  • My final point might be lost, so: what I describe isn’t cutting-edge tech.  It’s established tech and settled practices in the online world.  I’m just seeing academics actually take them seriously.
  • The boundaries here are fluid, mostly due to social media.  Scholarly thinking sprawls across platforms and into different forms.  It’s what we do now, actually, but here rendered more visible, more of a driver for venue selection.
  • Yes, I have that much hair.
  • This is an optimistic scenario.  It sees more scholarship and more access.  So it’s opposed to my peak scholarship concept.
  • I left off institutional repositories.  Am still thinking about that.

Many thanks to Gerry Bayne for the editing and Educause for the setting.

Posted in future of education, interviews, research topics | 1 Comment

Hotel internet connectivity: how bad is it?

Frequent travelers know what hotel internet connectivity can often be frustrating.  But I hit upon a principle, many years ago, that lets us understand the connection between hotel and WiFi.

Bryan pointsI called it Alexander’s Iron Law of Hotel Connectivity, and it runs like so: the more expensive the hotel, the more costly and/or lower quality the internet.  The reverse is also true: the less expensive the lodging, the cheaper and/or better wireless.

(It’s an iron law because it’s nearly always right.  So far.)

Extensive experience has borne this out throughout the United States.  Wherever I go, I know that high-end chains and pricey conference venues will offer me a lame internet experience.  For connectivity I prefer the low-rent hotels.

Now some recent research confirms my Iron Law.  The Hotel WiFi Test site (of course there’s one) gathered data on a bunch of hotels.  Their conclusion?

Want cheaper and faster WiFi? Skip the Marriott – Get Connected at Quality Inn

More fully, Continue reading

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