Some stories for the future of education

Now that my wife and I have hauled ourselves 550 miles or so through storms and chaos, we are resuming our lives and work.  Finally I get resume blogging.

But where to pick up?  I thought one good way to get back blogging would be to share several stories which seem interesting for education’s future.

I’ll blog about the move soon, for those who are interested, as I claw free some time.

ITEM: citizen scholarship continues to be a thing.  The University of Pennsylvania’s Fisher Fine Arts Library has republished a collection of photographs in order to elicit public assistance in understanding them.  Taken by Ed Bacon, an important Philadelphia architect and urban planner, they lack metadata and contextual information.

Philadelphia_Ed Bacon

The effort already is seeing results. Bennett said in just the first several days the Flickr page for the Ed Bacon Photo Project had garnered thousands of followers, and several hundred email comments, “from Boston to Berkeley.”

Similarly, one group of astronomers is asking amateur stargazers to observe when an asteroid briefly blocks views of the star Sirius.  There’s potential value in multiplying such observations, which can be sent to the team (who also provides instructions).

This isn’t new.  People have been crowdsourcing photographic information and metadata since the Web 2.0 days.  Short version: citizen science, citizen research is still continuing.

ITEM: the governor of Alaska has proposed cutting that state’s public university system’s support by 41%.

This sounds scary, but might not be all of that.  This is a proposal, not a law itself, and seems likely to be reduced as the legislature chews on spending.  Moreover, Alaska is an unusual state in many ways, including its strong dependence on oil sales.  But this story is nonetheless significant.  We could start with the human, intellectual, and economic impacts:

University of Alaska president Jim Johnsen told the Anchorage Daily News that the proposed cut is the largest in the university system’s 100-year history and could force its campuses to fire about 1,300 faculty and staff members. Johnsen said several research efforts would also be in jeopardy.

There are other implications to the governor’s proposed slashing. First, it represents another case of a state slashing public university funding.  While states have recently increased support slightly, public support is far below where it was in the 1970s, nearly universally.  Second, note that governor Dunleavy is a Republican.  While some American education politics and policy is non- or bipartisan, there is a rising strand of sharp party differences.  This could be data for an increased GOP hostility to universities.

I said “universities.”  Note that Dunleavy, while cutting those campuses, wants to increase funding for another part of Alaskan higher ed: its community colleges.

Over all, [Dunleavy] wants to withdraw a $154 million state subsidy from the university system while carving out $20 million more for community campuses, which he said operate more efficiently, costing the state just $8,210 per student, compared to $25,336 per student at the state’s four-year campuses.

Is any other state attempting such a split within public post-secondary education?

ITEM: charitable giving to American higher education reached its highest level ever.  The total was $46.7 billion. “Giving increased by 7.2% in fiscal 2018, the ninth consecutive year of gains,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

That total, impressive as it is, is very far from evenly distributed:

charitable giving to top schools 2000-2018_WSJ

Harvard, Stanford and Columbia universities each raised more than $1 billion, as the divide continues to grow between a handful of fundraising giants and everyone else.

The top 10 schools by total donations represent less than 1% of all U.S. colleges and universities. But these schools raised 18% of all funds last year, according to the survey. Seven schools received gifts of at least $100 million in fiscal 2018.

Note the upward direction of the graph’s line.  That’s consistent with macroeconomic trends of escalating divides by income and wealth.

So: citizen science, one state’s cuts, and charitable gains.  Signals from possible futures for education.


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2 Responses to Some stories for the future of education

  1. Mark Nelson says:

    Regarding this question:

    “Is any other state attempting such a split [i.e. in favor of community college] within public post-secondary education?”

    Not with as breakneck speed, but California comes to mind. CA has been slowly cutting its overall funding of higher education, but while doing so, it’s also been shifting what money it does spend in the direction of community colleges, versus the 4-year state universities. Relatedly, CA also has one of the strongest commitments towards using community colleges as a lower-cost replacement for the first two years of a 4-year degree, with a number of curriculum-design requirements imposed on the Cal State and University of California systems intended to make sure that CC graduates can successfully transfer in with junior standing. The hope (from the governmental side) is that this might produce a “best of both worlds” outcome where many students end up with prestigious 4-year degrees degrees, but with only the last 2 years’ of credits requiring 4-year-university levels of funding. (Of course, there are other reasons for this too, such as equality-of-opportunity in providing a path for talented CC graduates to continue to a more prestigious degree. But in recent years, CA state govt representatives have gotten more open that cost savings by shifting more freshman/sophomore credits to CCs is an explicit goal .)

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