One traditional undergraduate university to close

Benedictine University SpringfieldBenedictine University of Springfield will close its undergraduate program next year.  To start off that sad process, it’s laying off 75 of its 100 full-time staff.

Why is that BU ending?  Because of money, of course, but in an unusual way.  They can’t afford to keep up with the non-academic, student life demands of today’s undergraduate marketplace:

“We would need to have an athletic facility, a student center, and we would need to grow out residence hall population,” [Michael Bromberg, president] said. “We would need to spend a minimum of $40 million, and we have no reason to believe that would make us more competitive than we are today.”

That’s the traditional undergraduate market, for learners aged 18-22.  Adult learners are whom BUS will continue to serve, presumably because they don’t need sports, a student center, and forms.

To return to some of this blog’s usual themes, today’s story brings together quite a few of them: demographics (shrinking number of teens), finance, and hard choices for American higher education.

(via Robert Maguire)

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How to adjunctivize your university

University of Texas president PowersThe embattled president of the University of Texas (Austin) recently gave a speech reflecting on that institution’s status.  In William Powers’ “State of the University Address 2014″ we can find many useful ideas.  For now, I’d like to focus on how that president openly advocates for increasing the proportion of adjuncts in Austin’s faculty.

Powers is very clear about his goal:

American higher education has been de-tenuring itself, that is, unleveraging itself, for the last 20 years. My point here is that we need to do this in a purposeful way that is aligned with our large-scale teaching and research goals in ever more detailed ways… [emphasis added]

De-tenuring (adjunctification) is already part of the landscape.  So let’s keep doing it, but more effectively, more strategically. The campus won’t break from the adjunctifying herd. That’s clear enough.

So how do we set about furthering the transformation of the professoriate? Continue reading

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After such broadband, what applications?

How will we use digital technologies differently if we boost broadband speeds and access?  Will faster connections change the way we live?

The Pew Research Internet Project canvassed a bunch of us for our thoughts.  Respondents generally noted similar themes, including increased telepresence, expanded socialization and collaboration, the possibility of new art forms, vast piles of data.  Some see virtual reality actually in use, while others shade that into augmented reality.  Most saw mobile devices as deeply involved in everyday life.

Education and medicine received more attention than other social sectors.  People emphasized personalization, big data, lifelong learning, and always-on learning for the former.

My own compressed, almost frantic response:

“Gaming has become a planetary culture industry, and it often relies on Internet connections for downloads, socialization, P2P gaming, security, etc. Game designers constantly push the resolution and display envelope; more bandwidth encourages this. We should expect new forms of gaming to emerge, such as ones integrating daily life with games (think Kinect or Alternate Reality Games) or more-immersive forms (play with that video wall).”

How will life change? Continue reading

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Another digital story

I published another short digital story using the Cowbird platform.  It’s a reflection on October in Vermont, or, more dryly, it uses a combination of photos and paragraphs to express an emotional state during an environmental moment.

It’s called “Darkness, fall, clarity“.

autumnal trees

I’m fond of Cowbird. It’s a very friendly platform for creation, and does wonder with the display of images.

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University of Southern Maine declares a serious queen sacrifice

queen sacrificeThe University of Southern Maine announced plans for serious faculty and program cuts, with all the hallmarks of a queen sacrifice.

The gist is that USM will cut 50 instructors, 100 staff, increase class load for the remainders, end several programs, and merge others.

We can see classic queen sacrifice elements:

  • Financial pressures: “a string of multimillion-dollar deficits”
  • Enrollment pressures: “enrollment drop almost 30 percent in the past five years.”
  • Programs cut tend to be have low numbers (“The programs targeted for elimination have had few graduates, [Provost Joseph] McDonnell said”) and to be the humanities:

The administration is proposing cutting the master’s program in applied medical sciences and its five faculty, and the undergraduate French program, with three faculty members. The University of Maine System board of trustees voted last month to eliminate three other USM programs, the American and New England studies graduate program, the geosciences major, and the arts and humanities major at Lewiston-Auburn College, which is part of USM.

  • A strong sense of urgency:

“It’s a triage budget,” said President David Flanagan, who notified faculty of the cuts Monday by conference call and email. “I believe there are many faculty that understand we must change or die.”

However, I can’t find any sign of declaring financial exigency, as the AAUP says must occur before faculty firing.

These cuts are more severe than others we’ve discussed here, representing a true sacrifice.  Consider the faculty numbers: Continue reading

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Higher education enrollment declined again: US Census

The total number of people enrolled in American higher education declined by 2013, according to data from the United States Census Bureau.  That marks two years in a row when fewer students attended US colleges and universities, a decline of nearly one million people.

Let’s break this down into details and implications.

  1. Enrollment declined even as the American population increased.  So the decline as a proportion of the United States is actually a bit steeper than it sounds.
  2. The traditional four-year undergraduate numbers are actually positive, just barely (1%).  It’s grad schools and especially community colleges that are shrinking:higher education enrollment, 2006-2013
  3. This decline is historically significant, being “larger than any college enrollment drop before the recent recession”.
  4. Demographics: the decline hits all ages.  “Enrollment of students 21 and younger fell by 261,000; the enrollment of students older than 25 fell by 247,000, not statistically different”.
  5. Demographics: whites still constitute a majority of college students, although not by much: “At the college level, 58.2 percent of students were non-Hispanic white. Hispanics comprised 16.5 percent, blacks 14.7 percent and Asians 8.1 percent.”
  6. The decline also comes after a pretty sharp increase:

“The drop-off in total college enrollment the last two years follows a period of expansion: between 2006 and 2011, college enrollment grew by 3.2 million,” said Kurt Bauman, chief of the Census Bureau’s Education and Social Stratification Branch. “This level of growth exceeded the total enrollment increase of the previous 10 years combined (2.0 million from 1996 to 2006).”

Questions: Continue reading

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Education dystopia #4: the bubble bursts

What are some bad futures for teaching, learning, and campuses? With this post I’m continuing my series of educational dystopias.

4. The Bubble Bursts

This dystopia is more focused on higher education than the previous ones.  It’s about a perfect storm striking colleges and universities, one which forces these institutions into a downhill slide.  Call it “peak higher education”.

To begin with, the demographic problem of declining K-12 population saps enrollment in traditional-age undergraduate populations, hitting hard at tuition-dependent institutions.  Most campuses continue to raise their published tuition in response, driving away debt-panicked learners.  Said campuses also lack the flexibility to respond to this challenge, since so many expenses are in the form of sunk costs: tenured faculty, extant buildings and grounds, staff mandated by regulations.  On top of these problems, American state governments continue their practice of reducing funding for public colleges and universities.

Meanwhile, educational alternatives are on the rise, especially as education’s reputation declines.  Homeschooling experiences a boom.  Many consider informal learning to be on par with classwork.  Much research has migrated to the corporate and governmental sectors.


Campuses experience many changes in this environment.  There are fewer of them, and those that survive are less crowded than they once were.  Their student body is much more international than it once was, as schools seek students from abroad to make up for domestic shortfalls.  (But campus leaders worry that this strategy might peter out, as other nations continue developing their own academic capacities)

Some colleges and universities offer low-cost programs, such as the famous or notorious $10,000 BA.  Tenure is quite rare, since money is scarce for new or replacement tenure lines. Scholars publish less research as a result of this, plus the decline in professional development funding.  Information services (IT, library) are largely outsourced as cost-saving measures.

Continue reading

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