Three stories about where education is going

Three different education stories have stuck in my mind this weekend.  They have nothing to do with each other directly – two are very different publications, and one is from me – yet combined they point to some ways higher education is developing.   Themes include class, finance, gender, and race.

1. Two young women strive to complete undergraduate degrees, in the face of poverty, homelessness, and exhaustion, in this California Sunday account.  It’s a deep dive into two lives, illustrating with examples a major segment of American higher education.  Note the role of the California State University system in teaching and supporting poor learners.

It’s classic Sara Goldrick-Rab (here’s our Forum discussion with her) material, too:

At Cal State Long Beach, Kersheral’s tuition and fees ran close to $6,500 a year, but they were covered. In fact, more than half of California college students don’t need to worry about tuition — various federal and state grants and waivers pick up the tab. The problem is the cost of everything else. Two-thirds of the expense of attending a public four-year college stems from costs like rent, food, and books.

"Kersheral leaving Food 4 Less with her groceries"

2. The Economist reminds us (Medium registration required) that higher education is a fine site for assortative mating.  That is, people tend to partner with people with whom they share certain characteristics – in this case, high levels of academic achievement.  This is also increasing: “the authors conclude that Americans born in 1972 do indeed have a stronger preference for better-educated partners than those born in 1943.”

They cite a recent paper by Pierre-André Chiappori, Bernard Salanié, and Yoram Weiss, “Partner Choice, Investment in Children, and the Marital College Premium” (paywalled), which finds that “preference for partners of the same education has significantly increased for white individuals, particularly for the highly educated”.  Once more we see education and privilege acting as a feedback loop to reinforce if not expand inequality.

There’s an interesting racial aspect to this paper: “We find no evidence of such an increase for black individuals. ”

There’s also an interesting gender aspect: “we find that the “marital college-plus premium” has increased for women but not for men.

3. Earlier this year I spoke to a group of American academics.  Never mind where or whom.  Readers know that I speak with a lot of educators.  At one point I explained the size of the combined student loan debt, linking it to state governments reducing their support of public colleges and universities. I do this wherever I go.  Often I ask academic audiences to raise their hands if they are still paying off loans.  As the inevitable forest of hands goes up, I notice the faces of those not paying off debt.  Always a number are shocked and amazed, especially people from older generations.

This time I noticed one older (way beyond 65) professor quietly fume at this part of my presentation.  At last he spoke up.  “Students only take out loans because they want to use the money for a better lifestyle!  They don’t have to do this!”  I wasn’t quite sure what this meant, and he rapidly continued: “They spend the money on lavish furniture! and vacations!”  Reactions from other academics were… interesting.

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20 years into the future of education, via Blackboard

Learning management system giant Blackboard recently published a series of interviews concerning the future of education (pdf).  It’s a useful look into some key ideas and trends.

I’m not sure how Blackboard assembled these people, or by what criteria, but it’s a good set: Mike Abbiatti, Susan Aldridge, Marie Cini, Myk Garn, Robert Hansen, Chris Jennings, Amy Laitinen, Justin Louder, Darrell Luzzo, Felice Nudelman, Pam Quinn, Pat Schmohl, and Erin Smith.  These includes researchers, a campus president, two vice presidents, a dean, a provost, a chancellor, a chief global officer, a director of experiential online learning, an association CEO, a Googler, and a foundation director.

The white paper (that’s what they call it) begins with a note from Blackboard’s chief strategy officer, Katie Blot.  She highlights several trends of importance to her, and presumably to the company: analytics; student success; mobile, AI.  Given Blot’s role, that’s a useful glimpse into where BB might be headed.  Some of that is unsurprising, given the firm’s existing services and strategy (analytics, mobile); the rest points to possible offerings and/or purchases to come.

Blackboard_Future Forward

The rest of the text features Abbiatti, Aldridge, et al answering a battery of questions.* Let me identify the trends and ideas that seem most popular among the team, and also most salient for the future of higher education.

Access  We have had some successes in expanding access to higher ed, according to some respondents.  Jennings reflects: “We are, essentially, democratizing education and enabling those who are sufficiently motivated to educate themselves with a virtual community of collaborators for support.”  Luzzo agrees: “digital learning opportunities have increased access to educational opportunities for many individuals who, heretofore, may not have been able to access higher education opportunities”.  The consensus idea is for more access to come.

Adaptive learning  As Louder puts it, “the ability for the course to work with the student to make sure that they’re successful” is an important service for campuses to offer. Hansen is very similar:

almost guarantees successful learning. If you have a well-designed adaptive learning program, it is going to be hard to fail as long as the student sticks with it. And adaptive learning guarantees competency-based learning because it’s going to be based on demonstrated competencies, and more and more employers will demand this.

Schmohl approves of a related development, “real-time assessment” which triggers human assistance.

Artificial intelligence  Some excitement bubbles up among some respondents.   Abbiatti: “AI-driven bots are going to take a lot of that tutoring piece off of the table for the professional faculty” .  Luzzo is really interested in this for the for-profit education sector.  He also makes an interesting call for AI to “mak[e] asynchronous learning synchronous” by providing on-demand student help.

Blended learning This seems to be implicit in the general discussion.  For example, Abbiatti thinks that over the next twenty years “[a]ll brick-and-mortar campuses will have… electronically delivered content”.

Campuses in trouble Many saw post-secondary education facing serious problems.  Laitinen foresees “a recognition that higher education, as it is structured, just isn’t cutting it for huge numbers of people.”  Schmohl sees institutional consequences: “I think colleges and universities are going to be around, but some are probably going to go away.”  Laitinen is also concerned about some schools in particular:

I definitely see closures. Whether it’s 20 percent of existing institutions, I’m not sure. But it certainly seems clear to me that the private, not-forprofit schools that aren’t the elites, the midtier schools, are going to struggle, and we’re going to see some of those institutions start to close.

Hansen’s on the same page:

when you get into the directional schools at the public level, the Eastern Illinois or the Northern Illinois, they’re already struggling so mightily to maintain their business model. Regional comprehensives are in deep trouble. If you are tuition dependent and you haven’t figured out how to serve the adult market yet, you’re in trouble.

Resource differentials are key here for him:

I think that’s going to be increasingly difficult as the more resourced institutions develop successful and competitive online programs, precisely because they will be well resourced and quality online programs are expensive to develop. How do the small private institutions compete? It’s going to be extremely difficult for them, so I do think some of them will go out of business…

Louder, too: “in 10 to 20 years, we’re going to see some schools that are no longer relevant and no longer able to keep their doors open. You’re going to see some smaller regionals that may not be able to keep their doors open because state and federal support has dropped so much.”

Nudelman draws attention to the queen sacrifice as an option, seeing campuses as learning “how to best revitalize programs or let go of programs that are beyond their relevance” [emphases added].

On the other hand, Quinn thinks overall demand for higher education is just fine.  “Our society as a whole needs to be educated or retrained. It’s no longer the world where some are going to need an education and others won’t. Everybody needs some higher education.”

Competency-based education Garn and Smith see this rising.

Data.  Quinn observes that “Business intelligence and predictive analytics are giving us a lot more information about our students than we’ve had.”

Garn: “People are doing a lot with predictive data but that’s static; we don’t have good learning-level, real-time data to work with. It’s going to take another five to ten years before we really get into systems that are sophisticated, enable us to do interesting things, and know that what the systems are telling us to do is correct. ”

Respondents also see problems.  Garn and Jennings mention privacy.  Schmohl fears that “one of the risks is that you can make numbers show anything you want.”  Abbiatti: “The real landmine here is the mound of data that we collect every day, all day long, and we don’t have the technology nor do we have the intellectual capital on our campuses to actually turn that data into knowledge and that knowledge into decisions.”

Smith adds this extra data issue: “all of the members of our ecosystem need to be data stewards. How well our peers and fellow members of the university are equipped with data literacy is really, really important.”

Digital divide This represents one social problem in the report.  “[W]e’re likely headed to a period where we have digital haves and have-nots and another period following that where the digital have-nots just can’t compete” (Garn).   Louder: “You have a lot of students who don’t have access to the internet at home but they have an internet-enabled cellphone or mobile device”.

In response Luzzo calls for “ountries and governments and non-profit entities [to] help address that issue because it’s an important element.”

Distance learning Many saw this (a/k/a online learning) as a huge development.  As Louder puts it, “the biggest development [from the past 20 years] is the ability for students to go to school whenever and wherever they are. ” And it is not done yet:

It’s not just enough to put something online for autodidacts who already have the time, energy, and prior skills to be able to learn on their own. You really need to figure out how to embed all the supports that a student will need to be successful, and I don’t know if we’ve cracked that yet. (Laitinen)

Nudelman goes further:

In many cases, we confuse access with quality and success. We err on the side of using technology to build the most cost effective model for the largest number of enrollments, without understanding how to best meet student needs. Those who often get hurt the most by this approach are the most underprepared students.

And listen to how she deepens the critique:

It’s almost like we have developed a class system that provides access to affordable education but it often is isolating, does not have the necessary support systems, and is not student-centered.

Faculty development Several interviewees called for serious faculty re-training.   Louder and others recommend more pedagogical training in grad school.  Cini thinks refocusing of talent is in order: “The real value of our faculty and our advisors can be for that true value add—the mentoring, the coaching, helping students improve rather than helping them to relearn fractions.”

Gaming Aldridge and Luzzo are both hopeful for game-based learning.

LMS->Next-generation digital learning environments Three interviewees deemed the learning management system to be out of date, and called for a technological revolution to better respond to other trends.

Student-centered education Personalization came up here.   Jennings is close to this theme, emphasizing “user-centered design”.  Smith goes further: “shared data becomes useful when we think about improving efficiencies in our business process around personalized service, but it becomes transformative when we are able to personalize learning for students.”

Virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality Several saw these technologies as potentially powerful for learning. Nudelman  sees some good possibilities for VR and the arts.

Some themes received attention from only one respondent:

  • Internet of things.  Quinn: “linking our physical and digital work through the Internet of Things will really change us.”
  • Equity: Laitinen mentions “some stark differences between a completion rate for white students and African American students or Latino students” and draws attention to women of color not getting the best results from higher ed.
  • “Academic genome”: Garn mentions this unusual idea that a Georgia collaborative is developing:

Right now we’re working with Georgia State University to begin mapping what we’re calling the academic genome which is the competencies, assignments, content, and assessments in our general education core. Because of the nature of our system where we have transferability, we think mapping that core has the opportunity of really opening up what other people do.

  • Demographics: Hansen mentions the rise of the adult learner.
  • Economic pressures: fairly understated here.  Quinn reminds us of “a new normal in less state funding”.
  • Mobile: Louder argues that education isn’t taking enough advantage of mobile devices.
  • Eportfolios: Aldridge wants campuses to take better advantage of these.
  • Online abuse: Nudelman notes problems of “cyberbullying and intimidation”.
  • Libraries – Nudelman cites collaboration and technology as ways to improve library services.

Overall, this is a useful document.  It hits a series of major trends, and respondents address them differently depending on their individual perspectives and institutional situations.

Some key pieces are missing.  Political and policy pressures are thin on the ground.  Demographic factors barely appear.  Social changes – income inequality, gender bias, ethnic or religious discrimination, the Trump administration – are largely off stage.  And it’s all very US-centric.

Still, there’s plenty there to provoke discussion and further explorations.

*What have been the most important developments in higher education in the last 20 years? What are you most excited about? What are the risks and challenges that institutions should be paying attention to? How can institutions manage the huge cultural shift that technology brings? How do you think AI is going to impact higher education?   What will a college or university look like in 20 years?  Are there adjacent industries that higher education should really be looking at?  Any closing thoughts?

(via Stephen Downes)

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Station identification: Bryan Alexander

Time for a little station identification.

My name is Bryan Alexander, and I’m a futurist specializing in education.

To that end I write books and articles, publish a monthly trends analysis report, conduct a weekly open videoconference discussion, host an online book club, and write this very blog.  People support me on Patreon.

I also consult with colleges, universities, libraries, nonprofits, associations, and governments worldwide.

Bryan Alexander dot org

(inspired by well-known monster Warren Ellis; photo by the European Space Agency)

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What happens after American higher education contracts?

What will American higher education look like after it shrinks?

Let’s follow up on this week’s peak higher education reflection.  For the sake of argument, let’s assume peak higher ed happened, and the post-secondary sector contracts.  Call it a market correction if you like, or a trough between two higher demographic waves.  Whichever description we choose, the number of students attending American colleges and universities is significantly smaller than it was in the pre-2012 era.  What changes as a result?

It’s probably reasonable to expect fewer campuses, as some close programs (for example), others shut down entirely, while others merge (for example), especially smaller ones and those in demographic danger zones (the northeast, the midwest).  Remember this is a major change after two generations of growth.

What else?

Class size and student care If the total number of faculty and staff remain the same, and the student population decreases, we could see a shrinkage of class sizes and advisor loads.  This might be good news for students, who’d get a touch more attention.

Conversely, this might not occur, at least not in the public sector.  State legislators and perhaps private donors could well conclude that peak higher ed represents a demand shortfall, and that the logical response is to reduce support.  This makes some business sense, which appeals to a great many policymakers in our neoliberal era.

Greater role for wealthy families A recent Inside Higher Ed survey of admissions officers notes two things: that most institutions saw enrollment shortfalls this year, and “[m]any colleges, especially private institutions, appear to be focusing recruiting strategies on students with the capacity to pay.”  As the supermajority of colleges and universities are massively tuition dependent, enrollment declines hit them very hard.  A reasonable solution is to cultivate more wealthy, full pay students and families.  Conversely, reaching out to poorer students will be less attractive as an economic strategy.

Related to this: even more attention paid to legacy admissions, where those occur.  Such long-term family relationships will be golden.

Increased exploration of automation The old promise of automation is both labor and cost savings, which may well appeal to institutions running into limits on either.  Everything from business operations (think billing) to student support (advising, targeted help) to teaching (automated assistants and tutors) to research (Meta, IBM Watson, etc) can become fields for trialing automation.  Naturally there will be criticism and resistance, a whole emergent politics.

Meanwhile, campuses are likely to expand ed tech deployment in order to attract presumably tech-focused students.  That can take the form of hardware (for example), new learning spaces infused with digital options, new majors and career paths (game design, digital storytelling), extracurricular options, and more.

Wider gap between elite institutions and the rest Some slice of American universities can get by on the powers of enormous endowments.  Let’s call them the academic 1% for now.  Declining enrollment won’t hit them at all.  Meanwhile, the academic 99% run into problems.  The resource and reputational gap between them, already significant, will widen.  If that 1% tends to be liberal politically, the gap could become even more intense on the national state.

…unless there’s a change.  On the one hand, social pressure could induce the 1% to help other campuses through various mechanisms, such as contributing to collaborative organizations or endowing scholarships which students can take elsewhere.  On the other, governmental pressure might do something else with that money.

More austerity Business 101: if income declines, cut expenses.  We might protest that higher education has been in austerity more for a decade, more or less, off and on.  Transforming the professoriate from majority- to minority-tenure track has already occurred.  Many schools have seen service staff cut in certain areas.  However, financial pressure is a powerful motivator, and there are plenty of austerity measures on tap:

  • salary freezes
  • benefit reductions
  • buyouts for older staff and faculty
  • professional development cuts
  • outsourcing various services
  • increasing work loads
  • further adjunctification

Research universities continue to pump out more PhDs than the market can handle, openly and knowingly furthering the adjunct crisis.

In addition, we can see resources redirected from less popular and/or politically powerful units to more popular and/or politically powerful ones.  Curricular overhaul plays a key role here.

More debt Colleges and universities can try to take out more bonds and loans to finance physical needs, as budgets tighten.  This can be a short-term solution, based on hopes for such investment to pay off in increased student interest and/or bets that a cyclical economy will turn around and float all boats.

More online learning If costs go up or higher ed looks endangered, then some proportion of would-be student might well fine online learning a viable alternative.  Inequalities of various types could also drive away politically progressive students.  This is where there’s room for new institutions and organizational forms, as well.

Informal online learning seems likely to grow no matter what.  If a segment of the populations decides against higher ed for political and cultural reasons, they will probably still turn to YouTube and instructional videos, Pinterest for interior decorating ideas, Facebook and Twitter to look for help, and, of course, Google for curiosity.

Taken together, we might expect a smaller academy, more digitally engaged, more unequal, more STEM-focused and less humanities-, holding more debt and fewer tenure-track faculty, perhaps in a better relationship with students.

What do you make of this future?

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Peak higher education, 4 years later

Four years ago  yes, way back in 2013 – I first wrote about the peak higher education concept.  Let’s see how it holds up.

peakTo refresh your memory: this idea began as a blog post where I laid out the possibility that enrollment in American higher ed might trend downwards in the wake of the already damaging 2008 financial crisis, with enormous implications for the supermajority of campuses.  This represented a major change after decades of growth.  I focused on student populations (starting to decline), admissions and recruitment challenges, financial pressures on both families and institutions,  adjunctification, and the general sense of academia in crisis.

Comments followed swiftly, with more than a dozen people weighing in on.  Some wondered about the interaction between a growing jobs market and higher ed enrollment, and questioned the accuracy of data. Several saw the digital world as offering a new world of learning, which could either speed higher ed’s decline or transform it.  People compared higher ed to the 2008 housing bubble.  Rolin Moe brought in more politics and neoliberalism.  Mark Vickers fired off a ton of ideas, including the likelihood of American students taking online classes from international providers.

On other blogs, Mike Caulfield responded with a post looking on the bright side of things, arguing against a peak model and in favor of a transition state.  Andrew Gibson went darker, calling for “an Oswald Spengler of higher ed.”  Other comments flowed in via email, Facebook, and other platforms.  A publisher expressed interest.  I followed up with a second post, summarizing and responding to those reactions.

Next, Inside Higher Ed kindly offered me a column to further develop the peak higher education idea.  I identified some issues, like growing difficulty in supporting new student populations (“Like peak oil or peak water, it’s becoming more expensive and problematic to meet demand”), families spending less on higher ed (“downshifting”), and demographics.  Some strategies appeared, like the queen sacrifice and campus mergers, greater attention paid to STEM and international students.

So, looking back at the launch of peak higher education, how did it fare?  Overall, it has proven to be useful, sadly.

Total student enrollment has, in fact, continued to decline, right through the most recent data.

enrollments by sector

Financial pressures remain fierce for the majority of campuses.  Mergers, closures, and queen sacrifices have been in the air for years, as my readers know.  Competition for students has certainly heated up.

Financial pressures grip families even harder than they did in 2013-2014, as debt continues to boom.

The peak metaphor remains popular.  Peak oil didn’t pan out (yet), but peak car is widely discussed, and even peak sand now seems to be becoming a thing.  So the abstract concept is viable.

Clay Shirky offered a version of peak higher ed, arguing that American academia enjoyed a Golden Age, and we’ve since fallen away from that fine era.  “[W]e live in institutions perfectly adapted to an environment that no longer exists.”

It was a nice time, but it wasn’t stable, and it didn’t last, and it’s not coming back. It’s been gone ten years more than it lasted, in fact, and in the time since it ended, we’ve done more damage to our institutions, and our students, and our junior colleagues, by trying to preserve it than we would have by trying to adapt.

What did I miss in those early writings?

I didn’t pay enough attention to the quiet yet rising argument in favor of certain jobs as alternatives to undergraduate education.  From Mike Rowe on, people have called for some young folks to turn to skilled trades and apprenticeships instead of a BA.  I didn’t write about coding academies, either, which might not turn out to be a problem.

I didn’t anticipate the free tuition movement having such traction.  Starting with Bernie Sanders’ 2016 call for federally-supported public tuition, we’ve seen movements for and instances of this at the national, state, and city levels.

When I spoke of enrollment decline, I didn’t do enough to break it out by sector.  Critically, the biggest fall is in the for-profit world.

I also didn’t foresee the potential of a cultural struggle over higher ed, but that might be happening.

And I failed to write about the possibility that international student demand could slack off.  In conversation with scholars since then, but not blogged, I’ve raised the possibility that China might stop sending so many students our way, once that nation finishes rebuilding its university system (in the wake of the Cultural Revolution).  I’ve also discussed the likelihood of certain nations (mostly European) enticing American students away with offers of low tuition.  Few of us anticipated the onset of an anti-immigration federal administration, and how that would depress foreign student interest.

All in all, not too bad, I think.

So where will this idea go next?

In the IHE piece I suggested that what looks like a peak now might turn out to be a simple (if large) correction, as higher ed ratchets down to a lower size, then continues humming along.  For example, I offered the possibility that a larger youth population (in some regions) might eventually appear and make its way into the K-16+ pipeline.  Today I think that remains a possibility.  From the future we might dub this “the higher ed trough” period, a low point between two peaks.

However, that trough might last a long time, and end up as a peak after all.  Consider: state governments have massively defunded public higher education, and show no signs of returning to 20th-century levels.  That means costs will continue to be high for students.  Additionally, the American economy isn’t growing very well, which means both tax revenues and the general compensation landscape aren’t likely to expand.  Escalating economic inequality means the working class, the poor, and the shrinking middle class will find it harder to get students to college and through degrees; we might see higher ed become more the province of the wealthy, who don’t exist in numbers great enough to float 2012’s higher education ecosystem.

The demographics remain solid.  America is not spawning large numbers of children, especially in the midwest and campus-rich northeast.  We’re not exactly encouraging immigrants to bring children here, either.

There’s also the possibility of technology enforcing the peak.  The sheer amount of learning options digitally available continues to grow, holding out the possibility of learners using those choices instead of campuses.  The wild card of automation offers the idea of people learning from a mix of software and hardware, perhaps beyond institutional provisions (one aspirational example).

How does peak higher education strike you in 2017?

 

 

(thanks to Steven Kaye)

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Equifiasco: what will happen next, and what should we do?

Let’s step back from the future of education for a moment and consider one of the biggest technology stories of the week: the spectacular Equifax hack.   To do so let’s keep thinking about the future, and where this could go.

Simply put, what’s next?  And what can we do?

To recap: Equifax was hacked, and responded in ways that seem to make things worse.  In July Equifax discovered a breach so vast that it “potentially impact[ed] approximately 143 million U.S. consumers [as well as] some Canadians and up to 44 million British residents”.  The US FTC says the attack began back in May.  The exposed data included birthdates, Social Security numbers, driver license numbers, and more.  PIN numbers might be in there as well, but Equifax isn’t saying.  All of which is horrendous, making this one of the worst hacks of the digital age.

As Bill Black puts it,

The experts in cybersecurity say on a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is the worst, that this is a 10, and it’s almost comically bad. It’s another demonstration of our family rule that it’s impossible to compete with unintentional self-parody, and that’s certainly what the executives of Equifax have demonstrated in this scandal.

Equifax Don't let id theft catch you

From the Equifax main page just now.

Then it got worse.  Because Equifax made things worse.

Notice the July date.  Equifax didn’t decide to tell us about the hack until September 7th.

Here’s how they announced it:

“recently”, as in more than a month ago.  So the damage was done and available for exploitation for around four months. More than a business quarter.   Plenty of time for some executives to sell shares, of course.

Once they came clean, Equifax launched a website wherein customers could check their information exposure.  Said site returned unreliable information.  The site was also insecure, which is bitterly ironic (Wikipedia: “So extensive were the security flaws with the website that Open DNS blocked it on the assumption that it was a phishing site”).  equifaxsecurity2017.com also offered a coupon for free credit monitoring, which really sounds like a joke at this point.  (Bloomberg: “thieves could just sit on the information for 12 months and then start exploiting the data”)  To add injury to insult to injury, for several days the site required users to waive their rights to sue Equifax.

They set up a phone line, which didn’t work too well.

Even worse, Equifax still hasn’t fixed the breach.  As a brilliant Ars Technica column observes,

The theft, by criminals who exploited a security flaw on the Equifax website, opens the troubling prospect the data is now in the hands of hostile governments, criminal gangs, or both and will remain so indefinitely.

Equifax’s PR Twitter account gently rephrases this as “challenges”.

Equifax: New To Identity Theft?

I just might be, thanks to you guys. (Actual graphic on Equifax.com)

There is some splendid irony in a company in charge of financial probity for hundreds of millions of people fouling its own nest so badly.  As Cory Doctorow put it,

Equifax is in the business of helping employers and financial institutions punish people for making oversights in their business and financial affairs. Being late with a single payment or missing a single bill can constitute a black mark on your Equifax records that lasts for years or decades, affecting your ability to rent or buy a home or get a job.

By contrast, Equifax expects its stakeholders — whole nations’ worth of people — to overlook its gross misconduct.

Others have observed that Equifax has suffered breaches previously, and not responded like a good actor.

So what can we do?  Over the past week we’ve learned one thing not to do, which is to trust Equifax.  As an Inc.com column asks, “Now that Equifax has potentially suffered what may be the worst ever data breach as far as impact on American consumers, please clarify what Equifax was doing to make it “a leader” in protecting data.”

That leaves us… in a kind of wilderness.  We might be on our own. Forbes – not exactly a Marxist outlet – offers useful DIY advice for individuals acting in isolation. Ditto the New York Times.  The US FTC proffers related advice, plus the laughable recommendation to keep trusting Equifax.  CNN naturally advises us to be scaredBloomberg notes the vague possibility of state and federal investigation (which is probably why Equifax backed away from the lawsuit waving thing) and law-making (including maybe this one), plus the likelihood of individual or class action lawsuits to come.  None of which helps us now, as Equifax continues to leave hundreds of millions of people’s data exposed, and treats customers like friable dirt.

So what happens next? Continue reading

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Are American attitudes towards higher education segmenting?

A new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll examines American attitudes towards higher education, and it’s very useful, even concerning stuff.

I’ll pull out the trends I find most interesting.

To begin with, overall faith in higher ed is declining.  This is really just two data points (2013 and 2017) (or datasets) and it’s only one poll (of 1200 people).  But it comes very close to this Pew study from July in finding growing divisions about post-secondary education within the United States.

attitudes towards academia_WSJ-NBC 2017

The important bit is the color bars shifting.

One detail: young people (Millennials, Zers) have become more skeptical over the past four years, while their elders (Xers, Boomers, etc) haven’t changed much.*

Another detail: the gender shift.  Men are more skeptical, while women haven’t altered their view.  “[F]our years ago, men by a 12-point margin saw college as worth the cost. Now, they say it is not worth it, by a 10-point margin.”

Perhaps the biggest point:

The shift was almost entirely due to growing skepticism among Americans without four-year degrees—those who never enrolled in college, who took only some classes or who earned a two-year degree. Four years ago, that group used to split almost evenly on the question of whether college was worth the cost. Now, skeptics outnumber believers by a double-digit margin.

Conversely, opinion among college graduates is almost identical to that of four years ago, with 63% saying college is worth the cost versus 31% who say it isn’t.

The linked article combines these, adds party affiliation, and geographical location, and finds this disturbing segmentation:

Democrats, urban residents and Americans who consider themselves middle- and upper-class generally believe college is worth it; Republicans, rural residents and people who identify themselves as poor or working-class Americans don’t.

That’s a pretty stark divide.  Is this a blip driven by recent politics and media foci, or the sign of an emerging separation within American culture and society?

*This is weirdly misread in the article’s text, as “almost a mirror image from four years earlier.”

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