Thursday, January 27, 2011

Higher Ed discussions on Midmorning

Two interesting discussions this week on MPR's Midmorning show:

Richard Arum and Mark Taylor, "Is Higher Ed Losing Its Meaning?"

Philip Babcock and Andrew Perrin, "A's for Everyone: The Problem of Grade Inflation on College Campuses"

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Prez’s Budget Update

The budget outlook is gloomy. The state’s projected budget shortfall is $6 billion. The U’s forecast base for 2011-12 is $642.2 million, which is $51.1 million per year higher than this year’s state allocation. The U has asked that this forecast base be maintained, but there’s a snowball’s chance in hell that will happen given the political map and the state’s budgetary constraints. So brace yourself for another round of cuts, which the prez anticipates will hit hardest in 2011-12 academic year. Bruininks announced that there will be no raises in 2011-12 and all units will be asked to model 5 per cent cuts, and as in the past two years, the actual cuts will vary among units. Two-thirds of the budget gap will be closed with cuts and the remaining third with additional revenue. (Translation: tuition will increase, but the higher tuition will be taxed by central via cost pools, then reallocated away from instruction to feed the administration’s other priorities, and students will get screwed again…i.e. they will pay more but get less…) Read the entire message here.

Higher ed committees

Useful profiles of the members of the state legislative committees...

Poverty wages for adjuncts

A new study confirms what we already knew…adjuncts get screwed when it comes to pay and benefits. My guess is that the data would show even sharper differences if the measure used was the number of students taught rather than just number of classes taught. (This might be in the full report, which you can link to from the article…)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Academically Adrift

Richard Arum, professor of sociology and education at New York University, and Josipa Roksa, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, have generated a lot of buzz with their new book, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses (University of Chicago Press).

The argument: students are not learning very much in college

The evidence: the authors track 2,300 students enrolled at a range of four-year colleges and universities, assessing their progress with the Collegiate Learning Assessment. The test assesses gains in critical thinking, analytic reasoning, and other “high level” skills—it is NOT a subject matter test. Almost half of students demonstrated no significant improvement in learning in the first two years of college, and after four years of college over one-third (36 per cent) still had not learned much. Even students who did improve showed only modest gains.

The explanation: lack of rigor – student surveys show that about a third of students avoid classes with more than 40 pages of reading and more than 20 pages of writing, and students only spend about 12-14 hours/week studying, often studying with other students rather than on their own. (So about 2-3 hours per course/week.) They found that students who took demanding courses and studied more actually learned more than students who took less demanding courses and studied less. (Shocker!) Notably, students majoring in the liberal arts demonstrated "significantly higher gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing skills over time than students in other fields of study," although the authors were uncertain whether this is caused by greater rigor or the subject matter in the liberal arts. Another interesting finding is that students who received grant-based financial aid learned more than those who had student loans. There are also some disturbing findings about ethnic and racial disparities in learning.

Implications: There are a bunch, some that the authors stress, others that they don’t, but here are some obvious ones

- Courses need to be more rigorous (esp. more reading and writing)

- Reduce class size – grading writing is more time consuming than grading multiple choice tests

- Reduce teaching load/pay adjuncts more! – at schools where faculty have crushing teaching loads, and for most adjuncts, there are not enough hours in the day to do the grading for writing-intensive courses. Adjuncts are paid so little that they must teach many courses to make ends meet—if they were better compensated they could teach fewer courses.

- Grade harder – are 40-60% of the students in your course really doing A-level work? When students receive As for mediocre (or worse) work, they leave the classroom thinking, “I totally rocked on that assignment!” So why strive to do the reading or put more time into your essay when you’re getting As without doing the reading and half-assing the written work? Of course, the elephant in the room is student evals, which are the main tool for evaluating teaching effectiveness. It’s well known that the anticipated grade affects how students evaluate a course/instructor. Are assistant profs and adjuncts going to turn the screws on students if the outcome could be losing their jobs? Another issue is that some faculty, jealous of protecting their research time, may prefer to assign less work.

- The obsession with 4-year graduation rates must end – we should be more worried about the quality of the education that students receive and less concerned that they don’t finish in four years. Many of my students work 20-30 hours/week—few of them can manage a full course load of rigorous courses. They would get a better education if they took more time to complete their degree.

- High student debt impairs learning – students taking out huge loans work more and have less time to study. Ever-rising tuition means more debt. Tuition hikes need to be kept under control if we expect our students to be able to concentrate on their studies.

- Back to basics – stop flushing millions of dollars down the toilet on fancy facilities, sports, and administrative overhead. Shift the money to instruction.

Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle have nice summaries and discussion of the book, and an excerpt from the book.

Regent candidates

The Daily just published a nice piece with profiles of the regent finalists.

Some highlights:

Steve Sviggum, candidate for the 2nd Congressional District “stressed the importance of reform and diversity.”

Laura Brod, the only female candidate, is also up for the 2nd Congressional District. She gushed about the positive impact of a good education. Maybe she’ll advocate for shifting money from administration to instruction? Oppose disproportionate cuts to units that teach undergrads?

Tom Devine, also for the 2nd District, is an insurance executive who likes to hang out with frat boys. He was praised for his knowledge of student life.

My money is on Brod…

Norm Rickeman, a candidate for the 3rd Congressional District, focused on diversity and equity. “Equity doesn’t mean treating everyone the same. You’ve got to recognize everyone needs an equal opportunity to succeed.”

Dr. Roby Thompson Jr, also for the 3rd District, used to be on the faculty of the Medical School. Unclear what substantive views he has—from the article it seems that he decided to run on a whim.

David Larson, up for reappointment as a Regent from the 3rd District, stated that he didn’t do enough during his first term and considers himself to be a “change agent.” As a former Cargill exec, he wants the University to be run more like a private business, for example, by adopting a new “policy ensuring every employee receives ‘candid, written, annual reviews,’ and the coaching they need to be fully engaged at the University.” He also wants to keep tuition affordable (Failed big time on that one last time around, buddy…)

Prediction: Larson will be reappointed…

Robert Ostlund is a candidate in the 8th Congressional District. He boasted about his “calming influence” on others. He’s served as a superintendent at schools across the metro area.

William Burns, also up for the 8th District regent post, seemed to be unsure whether he had enough time to be a Regent. Not much in the way of specifics about his stances on higher ed, other than his desire to make the U LESS reliant on state funding while remaining affordable to students. (Um, how will you do that?)

Robert Kennedy, the outgoing prez of the University of Maine, is also a candidate for the 8th District spot. The Committee focused on his budget cutting savvy, efforts to increase research, and experience commercializing the products of university research. (He also admitted that he was an applicant for the U’s presidency.)

The final candidate for the post, David McMillan, used to chair the MN Chamber of Commerce. He thinks the U should endeavor to commercialize more of its research by partnering with the private sector. Wait…Do I hear the motor for the state’s economy cliché coming? Vroooom!

If Kennedy meets the residency requirement, I think he’ll be the pick…

For the At-Large seat, there’s Allen Anderson (ag background, volunteers at the MN Agri-Growth Council, unclear what his stance is on higher ed issues), Steven Hunter (reappointment, AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer, he stressed the pain the U will endure with the budget cuts and emphasized the need to “rightsize”—i.e. cutting programs, reducing admin costs via staff reductions, and focusing on areas of strength—and of keeping tuition affordable). Given the anti-union sentiment of the Republican majority, my bet is that Anderson will be selected.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Weapon of the weak?

A clever University of Colorado undergrad recently paid his tuition in one dollar bills. Guess how much $14,309 in dollar bills weighed? It took three people nearly an hour to count the money. Imagine if UofM students collectively protested tuition hikes by paying their tuition in $1 bills!?!

Friday, January 14, 2011

For shame!

Thirty-six highly paid executives in the UC system have heralded the new year with a threat to sue UC unless it increases their retirement benefits. The cost of the added benefits would be about $5.5 million/year plus another $50 million or so to make the changes retroactive to 2007. With the UC ship sinking, and the pension system underfunded to the tune of over $20 billion, these overpaid execs decide to add more water to the boat...which just goes to show that highly paid execs care more about the almighty buck than the public institutions where they work. Tuition increases, layoffs, increased class size - no matter, they want their pound of flesh and then some! The public reaction has been...well...pretty darn angry. See the cloudminder blog for more coverage.