More information on Berkeley’s strategy

Inside Higher Ed has done some solid work on the Berkeley story I blogged this morning (“Is Berkeley getting ready to consider a queen sacrifice?“).

Here’s what Colleen Flaherty added:

  • On cutting faculty: “Asked if the process would involve faculty cuts, Dirks reiterated that everything is up for discussion.”  Which is big.  There was also a caveat: “But he said the campus already suffers from a relatively high student-to-professor ratio and that it’s committed to maintaining the current size of the faculty.”  Is that code for “we’ll hire more adjuncts”?

  • On grad students: “In a follow-up conference call with reporters, Provost Claude Steele said the university is also considering reducing graduate student enrollment.”

  • Sports are secure, or maybe not: “While Dirks’s memo referenced athletics, [Provost Claude Steele] also clarified during the call that the university is unlikely to cut entire teams.”

Flaherty also offered this useful and sobering context:

Like many public research institutions, Berkeley’s been hit with declining state funding, flat tuition, and ballooning pension and health care costs — a mix that’s become especially challenging in the last few years. Whereas the institution once received half its funding from the state, that support now makes up just 13 percent ($333 million) of its budget. Undergraduate tuition, which makes up an additional 30 percent of the budget, hasn’t risen for five years and won’t budge again until at least 2017-18, according to a plan Governor Jerry Brown put in place after many years of tuition increases. Pension and health care costs have risen 100 percent, by some $200 million, over the last seven years.

A faculty senate president adds this dark view:

Benjamin Hermalin, Thomas and Alison Schneider Distinguished Professor of Finance and a professor of economics, and chair of Berkeley’s Academic Senate, said the “simple formula of cutting the fat” doesn’t apply, because the campus is already lean. So the university has to come up with creative ways to become sustainable and more self-reliant, he said, such as achieving new economies of scale and making wider use of available resources. It will be challenging, and the process inevitably will hurt, he added.

I’m still cautious, but this article nudges me a bit closer to the pessimistic side.

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Is Berkeley getting ready to consider a queen sacrifice?

Berkeley logoResearching what I’ve been calling the queen sacrifice has meant focusing on a certain group of colleges and universities.  These campuses are often small and/or regional and/or finding themselves down the US News ranking tables.

Yesterday, I found something that could be a little different.

The chancellor of the University of California Berkeley announced he was leading a massive strategic planning effort.  That isn’t newsworthy, as most colleges and universities do so these days.  What’s interesting for me is that it sounds like – maybe –  preparation for sacrifices to come.  The Chronicle of Higher Ed thinks so, in a stark headline:

Confronting a ‘New Normal,’ Berkeley Considers Cuts

Let’s look carefully at these passages from Nicholas Dirks‘ letter.  I’ll pull out some themes.

Financial pressures: the very first sentence describes, “a strategic planning process designed to ensure our excellence in the face of continuing financial challenges”.  And “[n]ow, for a variety of reasons, both internal and external, we face a substantial and growing structural deficit, one that we cannot long sustain.”

Dirks emphasizes declining state funding: “Whether in California, Wisconsin, Michigan, or elsewhere, public research universities have been challenged not only by dwindling state support”.  “[T]his deficit does not reflect a short-term dip in funding, but a “new normal” era of reduced state support”.  There’s no return to higher levels of support.

There’s a sense of serious threat in general: “What we are engaged in here is a fundamental defense of the concept of the public university, a concept that we must reinvent in order to preserve.”

The statement also includes warnings about pain to come: “[t]o be sure, ahead of us lie difficult decisions and hard work”.  “[W]e also know that some of the changes we will undergo will be painful.”  “Every aspect of Berkeley’s operations and organizational structure will be under consideration.”  “difficult decisions” doesn’t mean more fund-raising, or cutting the toner budget.

Dirks hints at pain for faculty:

Working with the Academic Senate leadership and the deans of the schools, colleges, and Letters & Sciences divisions on the redesign of some of our academic structures. Realignment will ensure that we are excellent in all we choose to do, in our research and in our educational mission.  In some instances, this means strengthening units as is; in others, it means narrowing the focus to specific areas of excellence; and in some instances it means combining and rearranging to capture intellectual synergies and to ensure sufficient scale academically, administratively, and financially.

“Realignment”?  “Narrowing”?  Does that suggest shrinking departments? Continue reading

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The Future Trends Forum starts this week, with Audrey Watters

This week the Future Trends Forum begins, and I can think of no person I’d be more delighted to converse with than Audrey Watters.

Audrey WattersAudrey is a vitally important writer, speaker, and analyst in the field of education and technology.  A self-proclaimed rabble-rouser, her work is essential to anyone thinking about teaching, learning, and their complex intersection with technology.

You can find her on Twitter, this blog, and the Hack Education blog,

I plan on asking Audrey about educational technology finance, social media and gender-based harassment, what we can learn about the future from the history of educational technology, and the automation revolution.

Please join us this Thursday, February 11th, at 2 pm eastern time (here’s one time zone tool).  Click here to reserve a free spot.

If you have suggestions or questions for Audrey and I, please add them as comments to this post.  You can also fire them off via Twitter, using the hashtag #FTTE or pointing them @ryanalexander.

This event, like the rest of the Forum, is generously hosted by Shindig.

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Illinois considers just plain sacrifices for its public universities

he state of Illinois has been stuck in budgetary trench warfare for months, and this has prompted talk of serious cuts in its public colleges and universities.  This week it’s the accrediting agency who’s raising the sacrifice specter.

Blues Brothers movie posterWhat’s in the realm of possibility: “the state budget crisis forces [some such institutions] to close.”  It’s a kind of disaster preparation, but with the emergency being made by legislators, not Gaia.  See, “[c]olleges and universities have been running without operating dollars from the state since July 1”.

In a letter sent Thursday to the state’s 57 public schools, the Higher Learning Commission said that any institution that believes it may close in the next several months must explain how it will ensure that students can continue their education elsewhere, receive transcripts and advising and get timely information about closure decisions.


All schools were asked to provide, by Feb. 18, basic financial and enrollment information, including the current cash situation, cuts in faculty and staff, and expectations for fall enrollment “in light of concerns prospective students may have about the stability of higher education in the state.”

The agency will use that information to help gauge whether the schools can remain accredited.

For those of you not familiar with American higher education, that last charge  – about removing accreditation – is like a neutron bomb.

The strongest example of Illinois higher ed facing the ax I’ve found is this:

Chicago State University, a mostly minority-serving institution on the city’s South Side, declared financial exigency Thursday, opening the door to fire employees — including tenured faculty — and take other extreme action to stay open. About 30 percent of the school budget comes from the state.

Please note that “financial exigency” term.  If you don’t recognize it, it’s a huge red (or black) flag.  As Inside Higher Ed explains,

A state of financial exigency, under guidelines of the American Association of University Professors, means that a college’s financial condition is so dire as to justify speedier elimination of faculty jobs, including tenured faculty jobs…

One report claims CSU will run out of money next month.  There is a Save CSU Facebook group.  Keep in mind that the Illinois governor doesn’t seem to mind if the university suffers.  And don’t forget CSU is a majority black institution.

Related, if not so severe, challenges are hitting other campuses. “Thirty teachers at Western Illinois University were laid off. Hiring is on hold at Kishwaukee Community College and faculty were asked not to travel.”

Speaking of Western Illinois (which I did in December), that campus is now

funding an added expense this year as a result of the budget stalemate. Without a budget, grants awarded to low-income students were never paid and the schools are covering the cost until the money comes in. That amounts to $11 million at Western Illinois.

Overall, enrollment across the Illinois publics dropped just this semester, about 1000 students down.  According to one local observer, “thousands of Illinois college students [are] consider[ing] dropping out because their financial aid is gone, some of them never to return.”. CNN actually offers a useful bit of contextual information:

The spigot [state funding] has been turned off at a time when state colleges were already tightening their belts. Many have received less and less state funding each year, and seen a decline in enrollment.

Illinois isn’t offering a queen sacrifice, but a more general form of cutting.  While enrollment shortfalls are involved, they aren’t driving the slashing.  It’s state politics that’s the main engine.

For a little historical context, I first posted about governor Rauner’s budget pressure on higher ed last February.

(link via George Station on Google+, which keeps refusing to be a graveyard, somehow; movie poster from Wikipedia)

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Announcing the Future Trends Forum

I’d like to announce a new project I’ve been developing for a while, and that’s about to launch.  

The Future Trends Forum is a series of video-based conversations about future trends in technology and education.  It’s based on my FTTE report, as you’ve probably guessed. Every week I’ll discuss topics with interesting people: practitioners, critics, administrators, librarians, faculty members, thought leaders, and inventors.

Shindig logoWe’re using the Shindig videoconference platform.  That means audience members can actively participate, contributing questions, comments, their smiling faces, and their – your – voices.  For each one-hour session participants will have plenty of opportunities to enter the conversation. 

These discussions are free and open to anyone with an internet connection.

Before each session I’ll fire off a blog post here introducing the person and topic, and where you can post questions and requests.  After each session, a recording will be available on one of my YouTube channels, and linked from

Things will kick off in a couple of weeks, if not sooner!

In the meantime, we have questions for you, dear reader:

  • What day of the week is best for you, and what time?  We’re starting off with a Monday-Thursday window, aiming for 1-2 pm EST, but want to know what’s best for people.
  • Who should we invite?  So far I’m talking with Audrey Watters, Richard DeMillo (author of the book we’ve been discussing), Casey Green, Anya Kamenetz, Jim Groom, Will Richardson, and more.  Who else should we bring into the Forum?
  • What questions would you like me to pose?  I know it’ll depend on each person’s unique background, but wanted to put the question out there for now.

Shindig is the large scale video chat event platform. Its unique technology allows for not only traditional one to many video conferencing but also enables audience members to interact in new ways, either sharing the stage to ask questions or in private self initiated video chats with other audience members. Its the dynamics of physical events at internet scale with clients as diverse as Sheryl Sandberg, Jim Cramer, Yale, Harvard, General Assembly and other notable people and institutions. I thank Shindig for generously supporting the Forum.
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And I’m looking forward to seeing you in the Future Trends Forum!

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Charitable giving to higher education is now broken

There is new data about charitable giving to American colleges and universities, and it demonstrates that we’re doing it wrong.  This system is broken, in short.  The latest information illustrates major, challenging trends in higher education.

It all comes from the Voluntary Support for Education survey, conducted by the Council for Aid to Education (CAE), and only accessible by purchase, so I’m proceeding by summaries and extracts published elsewhere.
Sean Benham, basketball photoTo begin with, Americans are delighted to pour money upon… college sports.  At a time when campuses question their very sustainability, when queen sacrifices are on the rise and inequality taking off, some colleges and universities received $1.2 billion for athletics.

Donations to capital campaigns for new facilities and commitments to cover more aid for athletes helped major-college athletic departments raise more than $1 billion in 2015, according to a report released on Wednesday by the Council for Aid to Education. It was the fourth time in the past five years that gifts for athletics had crossed the billion-dollar mark.

Please note that while some of this goes to scholarships for students, a big chunk goes elsewhere, to buildings and compensation for the wealthiest in sports:

money for increased compensation for coaches…

In the past three years, Texas A&M donors have contributed more than $350 million in cash and pledges toward the renovation of the university’s football stadium and other athletics projects…

Clemson University… raised $60.1 million. Nearly half of that came from major gifts toward a $176-million renovation of facilities for football, basketball, and other programs…

That money has helped cover large capital expenses, such as new practice facilities and stadium suites…

The total picture of giving for sports skews massively by wealth.  Yes, educational inequality includes very unequal athletics.  “As in previous years, the wealthiest programs accounted for most of the contributions.”

The top 20 athletic departments reported collective donations of about $670 million in 2015 — more than half of the $1.2-billion raised.

[B]ig athletic departments have seen a marked increase in philanthropic support. Last year they brought in nearly twice as much as in 2005, according to figures the council provided to The Chronicle, with an increasing number reporting annual contributions of at least $20 million. In 2005 just five colleges raised that much money for sports. Last year 25 did.

But giving to sports programs doesn’t cover even 3% of all higher education donations.  The big picture is where the serious problem lies. Continue reading

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Concordia College attempts a queen sacrifice

Concordia College sealConcordia College, a midwestern liberal arts institution, is the latest American campus to announce a queen sacrifice.  The college is apparently going to cut a series of academic programs, and reduce some faculty numbers along the way.

What’s on the chopping block?  The humanities, mostly, typically:

classical studies, classics, Latin, Latin education, French, French education, German, health, humanities and the Scandinavian studies concentration. Health education, physical education and exercise science will still be offered.

Enrollment in those programs is the immediate reason for the cuts.  According to Concordia’s announcement they enroll 38 students (only 26 after some leave in May), which is a very, very small number out of the 2,531 undergraduate student body (according to Wikipedia).

What happens to the faculty teaching, researching, and conducting service in those fields?

The cuts could also mean a loss of jobs for instructors in those majors by the end of May though tenured professors will have a year’s notice, university President William Craft said earlier this week. The university was also offering an incentive for faculty members age 55 and older to retire early.

Beyond the problems embodied in the low numbers for these programs, Concordia is facing an ongoing, general enrollment decline. For a tuition-dependent institution this means financial pressures.  The school has already cut people in response: “[i]n April, it cut 5 percent of its workforce, the equivalent of 31 full-time employees.”  As the official announcement explains,

In the current budget formation process, the college has identified a $2.7 million target in cost savings and new revenue generation. Metrics such as student/faculty ratio and average class size indicate a need to adjust staffing to current enrollment levels.

To sum up, this looks like a classic queen sacrifice.  Enrollment problems lead to cuts to less well subscribed departments, meaning reductions of staff and faculty, with an emphasis on the humanities.

Interestingly, Concordia’s president was just reappointed by the board.

(thanks to Carrie Schroeder on Twitter and other friends on Facebook)

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