A class of seniors: a new opportunity for higher education

Are American universities and colleges on the cusp of enrolling a new student population?

For many people “college” means an educational experience populated by at students aged 18-22.  This traditional-age demographic is a popular one for our imagination of higher education, despite the fact that the majority of students are now older than that.  We can see this age assumption in news media, or in Andrew Delbanco’s flawed mediation, College (my review).

What if we turn the age assumption on its head, and imagine higher education focused on the over-65 population?  This is the argument made by Barbara Vacarr, a former president of Vermont’s Goddard College.

First, a bit of demographic background.  The traditional-age focus rests on a classic assumption about what a society looks like by age.  That model is usually pyramidal, like this visualization of America 50 years ago:

demographics_Pew_2014_1965

Lots of kids, a few old folks, and intermediate numbers in between.

Fast forward five decades, and we have a new society shaped by different child-rearing habits, birth control, improved medical care, and more.  It looks like this: Continue reading

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Notes on Ivory Tower

Ivory Tower posterI finally caught up with the CNN-supported documentary Ivory Tower (2014).  In it Andrew Rossi offers an overview of the current status of American higher education.  I’d like to share some thoughts here.

We need to realize this moment in the country, with a trillion dollars in student debt,  with all the models of higher education as a business, it’s failing.

-Cooper Union student

The movie begins with American studies professor Andrew Delbanco walking to his campus, Columbia University.  He gets the movie’s first lines, and uses them to talk about sadness and melancholy, of all things, neatly establishing tone and a theme (see below).  After following him through campus, the movie briskly moves on to Peter Thiel, Anya Kamenetz, Clayton Christensen, and Anthony Carnevale.  And then many more.*  This is primarily a movie based on people talking to us.  Director Rossi doesn’t appear directly.

Those speaking people cover an awful lot of ground in just over one hour.  They provide a sketch of American higher education history, from John Harvard to the Morrill Act to federal student aid and Pell Grants.  They present data and topics, which include debt, rising tuition, the decline in state support, and the amenities arms race (climbing walls, pools, plasma tvs, student centers, football stadiums mentioned).  Also covered are institutional debt, students as consumers, administrative growth and costs, the decline of academic rigor, student delaying or failing to graduate, the decline of tenure, and the rise of adjuncts.

Ivory Tower goes on to hit the shift from seeing higher education as a public good to a private good.  We see intergenerational tensions (Boomers criticizing Millenials), dropping out versus the college premium, the rise of the MOOCs bubble and its popping, class differences in education, and even the flipped classroom and blended learning.

How are these titular ivory towers responding to such threats? Continue reading

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Some university presidents on the future of education

Scripps College libraryWhat do college and university presidents think of the future of higher education?  eCampus News has an interesting summary of a recent think-tank-y project, wherein

14 chief executive officers from a diverse group of institutions participated in two separate sessions last year (2013)—institutions such as Northeastern University, MIT, Western Governors University, etc.—with the goal of engaging in a “robust and wide-ranging conversation about the various drivers of change and potential reactions to those drivers.”

The results (pdf) fall into two categories, trends and models.

The trends these presidents picked are unusually tech-centric.  I can’t think of many presidents who would write a sentence including “(e.g., Mac Forums, Fluther, Instructables, and wikiHow)”.  Indeed, they assume that “[t]echnology-enhanced education will be available in abundant supply and be treated as part of the standard academic environment”.

The trends include open education (a/k/a “the content commons”), learning analytics/big data, and new forms of assessment/certification. There’s also an interesting take on social media and resulting behaviors:

‘Socialstructing’ is a form of value creation that involves aggregating micro-contributions from large networks of people using social tools and technologies…

MOOCs fall into the content commons.  Socialstructing they get from IFTF.

There isn’t much there about finance, demographics, policy, state support, etc.  The presidents were thinking of those, though, as we’ll see in the models that come next.

Given those trends as drivers, what possible campuses do the presidents see? Continue reading

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Considering a year of bloggery

start blogging! by Robert SanzaloneLooking back on 2014, I was curious about this blog’s most popular posts.  WordPress generated helpful stats, which shed some light on what readers look for in this bloghouse.

So what were you most curious about in 2014, my blogospheric audience?

  1. Technology.  The story of my wheeling around a conference in a doppelbot was the most popular post of 2014.
  2. The queen sacrifice.  One post about this sign of campus financial crisis was widely clicked on.
  3. Adjuncts.  My screed against an especially awful opinion piece was the third most popular post.
  4. Economics of inequality in education.  Notes on Thomas Piketty’s implications for higher education received significant clickery.
  5. Libraries.  Reflections on a new survey about academic libraries rounded out the top five.

If I can draw conclusions from these results, one might be that a majority of them (adjuncts, inequality, queen sacrifice) concern the bad economic situation of higher education.  This wasn’t something that loomed large in my mind in 2012 or 2013, but it seems to have grown in an emergent way.  That’s partly because, in order to think about the future of education, I need to grapple with the present.  Much of the discussion around technology in education avoids economics, or only touches on it lightly.  Most of the general conversation around higher ed makes related mistakes: reporting on a handful of schools, or downplaying stories of institutional crisis.  So I’ll keep on with this.

You readers still look for technology posts, and I’ve not been a good provider on this score.  So I’ll ramp up the digital.  Ditto libraries.

Beyond the stats… 2014 felt like a productive year in this bloghouse.  I managed a decent rhythm, only knocked into silence by epic travel or killer deadlines.  I like the emergent topics.  And I especially appreciate you commentators and linkers, who make this kneaded dough rise.

On to 2015!

(cartoon by Robert Sanzalone)

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Two years without caffeine

In December 2012 I abruptly stopped consuming caffeine.  I used to drink more caffeine than any of you, almost certainly, so going cold turkey and remaining decaffeinated was a major step.  (Why did I do this?  You can find the story in two blog posts (part 1, part 2)).

So what’s it like to go without caffeine for two years?  Let me follow up on this odd health story.

caffeine needlepointNowadays I wake up very differently.  Mornings used to be dramatic moments, starting off with nightmarish, cloudy fatigue, followed by triumphant redemption by coffee cup.  Making and drinking coffee was the ritual for starting a day.  No matter where I was, the morning coffee had to occur.  The quaffed cup opened the day for business.

Now I wake much more easily. Not having caffeine in my system at night improves my sleep, as does the reduced stomach acid problem. I don’t have to struggle up through clotted confusion.  Instead I rise pretty well, with a clear head.  Immediately I can do household tasks, my first internet routine of the day, and take care of the animals. It can take me a few minutes to be ready to talk cogently to people other than my wife and children, but after a little while I’m good.

There is still a morning ritual.  I make coffee… for my wife.  It’s actually more elaborate, since her needs are more complicated (a certain cream, the precise amount of sugar, a cooling delay) than mine were (black and go).  I enjoy bringing her that first cup. And the second. For the first month after going cold turkey the smells of ground beans and steamy coffee confused my brain, but that’s dropped away.  I don’t feel the desire.

That lack of desire is something which surprised me. Continue reading

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Darker, unequal, more controlled, yet hopeful: looking ahead to the Web of 2015

PewResearch_logoThe Pew Research Internet Project published a new report this week, looking at privacy online.  They surveyed a group of experts, thought leaders, innovators, and me for our thoughts.  Overall it’s a sobering document, finding privacy on the wane, driven by governments, businesses, and user behavior.

Here’s their lead question:

Will policy makers and technology innovators create a secure, popularly accepted, and trusted privacy-rights infrastructure by 2025 that allows for business innovation and monetization while also offering individuals choices for protecting their personal information in easy-to-use formats?

And here’s my response:

“Too many state and business interests prevent this. Governments, from local to national, want to improve their dataveillance for all kinds of purposes: war fighting, crime detection, taxes, and basic intelligence about economics and the environment. Companies badly want data about customers, and some base their business models on that. I do not see this changing much.”

Could anything challenge this situation?  Me:

“Citizen action is probably the best option, much as it was for crypto in the 1990s. But, I do not see that winning over governments and big business… In the United States, both political parties and the clear majority of citizens cheerfully cede privacy.”

Some folks expressed hopes for Millenials.  I hope they’re right, but think they have an enormously uphill battle ahead, if they actually choose to fight it.

Web Index logoThis Pew report appeared in my Twitter feed while I was reading another report.  The Web Index 2014-2015 assessment finds much to be concerned about.

Such as: Continue reading

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Sacrificing the queen or the whole campus? The case of UNO

University of New Orleans logoThe University of New Orleans is gearing up for more cuts, apparently. Its president has proposed so many cuts that one observer thinks UNO is over.

An individual round of cuts to academic programs could well make for what I’ve been calling a queen sacrifice, but the UNO case might go beyond that.

So what are these cuts about?  Jarvis DeBerry lays out the list of 7 programs (out of 80):

The Department of Geography would be eliminated. So would the following programs: B.S. in early childhood education and M.Ed. in special education, Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction, Ph.D. in special education, M.A. and Ph.D. in political science and M.A. in romance languages.

More: “Four positions would be cut from the library, and department chairs would have to teach at least two courses in the spring and the fall.”

Personnel being riffed amount to 26 faculty and stuff, plus some indeterminate number of adjuncts.

The causes are familiar to the queen sacrifice: reduced enrollments and funding.  UNO did experience the unusual horror of Hurricane Katrina, which knocked student numbers down, although they’re apparently returning to pre-storm levels.  Funding reductions are partly due to the state of Louisiana cutting back on public higher education.  Fos: “There’s no new money from the state and probably won’t be for many years, so I have to find money to reinvest in programs that this university should be doing,”

But wait, as the commercial used to say, there’s more. Continue reading

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