Tag Archives: Charlotte Allen

Coping with ‘Professional Students’ in Community Colleges

The party’s over for community college students in California, notorious for large numbers of young and not-so-young people using the low-cost system to drift in and out of classes, fill up their time while looking for something better, or simply find themselves. The Board of Governors of the state’s cash-strapped two-year system has decided to get rid of “professional students,” some of whom have amassed hundreds of  college credits without going anywhere academically.

Starting in 2014 the system will give enrollment priority to students who have set up formal plans to complete enough credits either to transfer to a four-year institution or to qualify for a vocational certificate—or to acquire certain basic skills such as learning English. Since California’s 112-college community system, which has lost $809 million in state funding over the past four years, has already had to pare down its total enrollment by nearly 500,000 students (from 2.9 million in 2008), “enrollment priority” means that the drifters and “lifelong learning” types probably won’t find places.

Many would say that it’s about time. A 1960 law requires California community colleges to accept all comers residing in the state, no matter how poorly they performed in high school or what their motives might be for taking up classroom space. California’s economy was flourishing fifty years ago, and brand-new community colleges were steadily opening their doors to accommodate a burgeoning state population. Tuition was free back then, and even now it’s a bargain-basement $46 per credit hour for state residents, or less than $150 per typical course. Graduation rates have been dismal, but that hasn’t mattered: Large numbers of students aren’t enrolled with any intention of graduating. Meanwhile, California’s community colleges this year had to turn away about 470,000 enrollees from taking classes for lack of funds.

The new rationing plan is still generous: Returning students will qualify for enrollment priority even if they have accumulated up to 100 credits—40 more than the 60 needed to qualify for a two-year community-college degree. Still, there have been complaints from the system’s most avid (if degree-less) users. One was William Walker, who has attended five different community colleges over the years and amassed 102 credits—but is still in the system, having re-enrolled this fall in the nearly bankrupt San Francisco City College with so much student cred that he is now the college’s student trustee. Fortunately, Walker told San Francisco Chronicle reporter Nanette Asimov, “there’s no centralized database for all colleges,” so no one might ever find out about some of the perpetual seat-warmers.

Meanwhile, a four-profit operation, UniversityNow, has, in the name of charity but also good public relations for itself, opened up some of its online classes to the 470,000 students enrolled in California’s community colleges who could not find seats—all at the same $46 per credit hour plus $40 for books. The classes, offered by the regionally accredited Patten University, which UniversityNow recently acquired, are in such solid academic subjects as biology, history, and college algebra. It appears that Californians who are seriously motivated to use community college to achieve a goal will still have the opportunity to do so.

National Dream University—a Scam that Fell Through

The University of California (UC) has put the kibosh on plans to set up National Dream University, a low-cost, low-admissions-standards college where illegal immigrants were to be trained in activism on behalf of…illegal immigrants. National Dream U. was supposed to be a collaboration between UCLA’s Center for Labor Research and Education and the union-subsidized National Labor College in Maryland. A combination of embarrassing publicity and scrutiny by Republican state assemblyman Tim Donnelly, a member of the state appropriations committee that approves funding for the UC system, preceded UC President Mark Yudof’s announcement on Sept. 13 that National Dream U. would be shutting its doors even before they opened.

Yudof’s statement declared that the agreement between its labor research center and the National Labor College "was negotiated without the necessary approvals from UCLA’s academic and administrative leadership." Yudof  did not rule out future attempts by the center to collaborate with the National Labor College, but its statement did say that "any agreements would require a comprehensive academic and financial plan that has approval from appropriate parties.

National Dream U. had plans to offer an 18-credit-hour certificate program, mostly online, in immigrant rights and advocacy, with most of the courses to be taught by UCLA professors. Tuition would total nearly $5,000 less than the $7,218 that California residents pay for 18 credit hours, and the 2.5 grade-point-average for admissions would be well below the 3.7-plus average that 70 percent of entering freshman at the highly competitive UCLA possess. Furthermore, National Dream U., unlike UCLA, had an ideological litmus test for admission: "a commitment to immigrant/labor rights and social justice."

The Huffington Post reported (incorrectly, it turned out) that credits earned at National Dream U. could be automatically transferred to UCLA proper—although UCLA would still have been free to accept the credits if it wished. Then Donnelly leapt into the controversy, pointing out that "this is not the way to expend the precious limited resources, which should be available to California citizens rather than illegal aliens, no matter how deserving they may seem," as he told Fox News. Still, National Dream U. may not be dead yet. According to Fox News, Kent Wong, director of UCLA’s labor research center, recently told an audience of young activists, "[Y]ou will go onto become lawyers and teachers and doctors and members of the U.S. Senate to replace those old white men."

Are Credit Hours Necessary?

Untraditional students seek higher education because they hit a
wall. Once they’ve committed themselves to obtaining a degree, however, they
often hit another wall: the archaic “credit hour” rules enforced by
the U.S. Education Department that demand extended time in classrooms and
discourage self-study and flexible online offerings.

Amy Laitinen of the New America Foundation has written an
important new critique of the system. She calls credit hours “an old, maddeningly irrational system” that
condemns students to “spending large amounts of time and money in pursuit
of degrees that don’t always yield the value promised.” She proposes that
the Education Department consider alternative educational arrangements that
award degrees based on learning outcomes rather than classroom time.

She examines a number of those alternatives. One is New York‘s nationally and regionally accredited Regents College
(now Excelsior College), which awards bachelor’s
degrees on the basis of “exams designed by subject-matter experts from
across the country.” The State University of New York’s Empire State
College allows non-traditional students to earn degrees “through guided
independent study and other modes of learning, including assessing credit for
prior learning.” Especially innovative is the fully accredited Western Governors University,
an all-online institution operated by a nonpartisan consortium of governors of
nineteen western states. Western Governors offers highly individualized
learning plans, in which students are initially assessed for competencies, given
a learning plan that allows them to acquire the competencies they don’t
possess, and then allowed to master those competencies at their own speed.
“Graders unconnected to the students determine whether or not a student
has met WGU standards,” Laitinen writes. Western Governors has managed to
comply with the credit-hour rules by using faculty as mentors–with the result that
its students qualify for federal aid under current Education Department rules.

One might fault Laitinen’s report for yielding to the Education
Department. It might be more fruitful to question whether one really needs a
college degree to become a paralegal rather than make it easier to obtain an
expensive degree in paralegal studies. Wouldn’t working in a law office
suffice? Still, it is encouraging that there is a movement to bypass the
outmoded credit-hour system and to support the 86 percent of undergraduates who
lack access to the traditional college experience.

The Problem with Bonuses for Masters Degrees

Carol Howley, a nursing instructor at Chicago’s Richard J. Daley College, pocketed $307,000 in extra salary over the years by enrolling in doctoral classes at Chicago’s Rush University and receiving her doctorate. There’s only one problem, though: Rush has no record of Howley’s attendence. Cook County prosecutors recently indicted her for theft of government property.             

Howley’s story is symptomatic of a larger problem. As George Leef points out, institutions routinely hand out automatic pay boosts to their employees on the basis of the degrees the employees possess. College nursing instructors are relatively rare, but in America’s K-12 public-school system, where instruction costs total more than $308 billion annually, nearly half of teachers receive bonuses averaging about $3,000 a year just because they have an advanced degree. And these degrees are mostly worthless: only 10 percent of teachers’ master’s degrees are in substantive fields such as math, science, or English, where the teacher’s extra education might do the students some good. Ninety percent of teachers get their advanced degrees in education, a field notorious for its less than rigorous academic standards and its embrace of pedagogical fads. And academic and think-tank research, starting with a 1997 study by University of Washington research professor Dan Goldhaber has consistently revealed that students taught by teachers with advanced degrees make no more progress than students taught by teachers lacking such degrees.             

A master’s degree in education is such a lucrative deal for teachers that the blog Teacher Portal advises its readers simply to “[g]et one!” Sure, the tuition isn’t cheap. In 2009, an online master’s degree from the nonprofit Western Governors University and the for-profit Walden University cost an identical $12,000. Teacher Portal calculated that the compound-interest payoff of a master’s degree in education adds up to $221,000 over a thirty-year career. Teacher Portal concluded: “You may be a [slightly] better teacher but you’ll be setting yourself up much better to live comfortably in retirement…or at least to splurge on a fantastic vacation each summer :).”

A 2009 New York Times forum over the value of advanced education degrees confirmed Teacher Portal’s cheerful cynicism. Several participants who were seasoned teachers deemed their education classes “utterly useless,” “laughable,” and of “zero benefit.” One teacher, who had an undergraduate degree from Wellesley and a graduate degree from Columbia, said the college where she obtained her teaching certificate launched a “sales pitch” for its master’s and doctoral programs in education that emphasized “how little work we would have to do to get an advanced degree.”

Proposals for reconsidering these bonuses remain anathema to the education establishment. Teachers’ unions have resisted any effort to peg teacher pay to any factors except seniority and advanced degrees, and school administrators, boards of education, and state legislators seem to regard across-the-board pay raises for teachers as a way of life. But there is another constituency that is likely to resist ferociously the elimination of master’s-degree salary bumps: the faculty and administrators of the advanced-degree programs in education that are cash cows for the colleges and universities that sponsor them. Kathleen Wilson, an associate professor at the University of Nebraska’s College of Education and Human Sciences, vigorously defended the programs. “I don’t see how they couldn’t make a difference,” she said. “These programs really allow teachers to gain a better perspective in their area of instruction.” Expect that kind of rhetoric on steroids from education professors should school districts try to get rid of the salary bump for advanced degrees.  

Harvard’s Cheating Scandal

Yesterday Harvard
University announced its investigation of about 125 undergraduates who are
believed to have improperly collaborated on a take-home final examination last
spring. It is tempting to use this case to generalize about an Ivy League sense
of entitlement, declining student morals in general, or perhaps the failure of
Harvard and other universities to teach character and a sense of honor to its
students along with their academic subjects. For now, though, we should focus on
the specifics of this cheating incident, or at least what we know of them,
since many of the precise details of the scandal have yet to emerge:

1. The class in question,
“Introduction to Congress,” enrolled more than 250 students. If
Harvard’s suspicions are correct, this means that half the class thought they
could get away with violating a specific instruction in the exam itself:
“[S]tudents may not discuss the exam with others–this includes resident
tutors, writing centers, etc.” Most college cheating rings are relatively
small groups of trusted friends. Not this one.

2. The cheating appeared
to be careless and blatant. A graduate-student teaching fellow grading the
exams uncovered the alleged collaboration on noticing that several of them
contained the exact same words or strings of ideas in answering some of the
exam questions. The students allegedly involved didn’t bother to disguise what
they were doing very artfully (surprising for clever Harvardians)–because they
thought they could get away with it.

3. Many students didn’t
like the class very much. According to Harvard Crimson reporter Rebecca D.
Robbins
, Harvard’s “Q Guide” of student course evaluations gave “Introduction
to Congress” a score of 2.54 out of a possible 5. Robbins noted that the
average score for social-science courses at Harvard was 3.91. Some of the
student evaluators took the course to task for lack of organization and
difficult exam questions. One student wrote that she and about 15 other
students, most of whom had stayed up all night working on the exam, gathered at
a teaching fellow’s office for clarifications a few hours before the deadline because
they didn’t understand one question worth 20 percent of the grade. “On top
of this, one of the questions asked us about a term that had never been defined
in any of our readings and had not been properly defined in class, so the TF
had to give us a definition to use for the question,” the student wrote.

None of this excuses in
the slightest what went on last spring. Students found to have collaborated on
that exam deserve not just to be suspended for a year–which is apparently
Harvard’s maximum punishment. However, there’s a lot here we just don’t know.

When Universities Raid Their Law Schools

St._Louis_University_Law_School_in_St._Louis_Missouri.jpg

Earlier this month Annette Clark,
dean of Saint Louis University’s law school, abruptly
resigned
from her job via e-mail after only a year. She left after accusing the Jesuit
university and its president, Rev. Lawrence Biondi, of looting the law school
in order to fund other, non-law-related programs on the Saint Louis campus. 

This
was not the first time that a law dean has quit in a dispute over the
“tax”– the premium that law schools and business schools, which
typically charge higher tuition than other campus programs, must hand over to
their host universities. In July 2011 Philip Closius, dean of the public
University of Baltimore School of Law, quit his job under administration
pressure after asserting that the university kept–and used for its own
purposes–some 45 percent of the revenue that the law school generated from
tuition, fees, and state subsidies. In 2009 De Paul University in Chicago fired
its then-dean, Paul Weissenberger, apparently because Weissenberger complained
to the American Bar Association that De Paul had siphoned off more than the 25
percent of its law school’s revenues that the law school had agreed to
contribute.

Continue reading When Universities Raid Their Law Schools

Can We or Can’t We ‘Target’ Women and Minorities?

virginia college.jpg

Why is it admirable to “target” women and minorities for some educational programs but a violation of federal civil right laws to “target” them in others?          

That’s the question that must be asked about a federal lawsuit filed by seven Mississippi women, five of them African-American, against for-profit Virginia College, a chain of 25 for-profit campuses in the Southeast.  All seven women used federal student loans at the college’s Jackson, Mississippi, campus to obtain degrees in such fields as medical assisting and phlebotomy. Their complaint against Virginia and its parent company, Educational Corp. of America, says those degrees are now worthless. It charges fraud and breach of contract along with other wrongdoing, and faults the college for pitching its advertising and recruitment to blacks and women.

Continue reading Can We or Can’t We ‘Target’ Women and Minorities?

UCLA Offers Low-Cost College for Leftist Illegals

How to attend UCLA on the cheap? Be an illegal immigrant. Actually, be a leftist illegal immigrant. 
UCLA’s Center for Labor Research and Education and the union-subsidized National Labor College in Maryland have teamed up to establish “National Dream University” for the undocumented. The tuition is low: just $65 per credit hour, in contrast to $396 per credit hour that California residents pay for regular classes at the UCLA. The admissions standards are easygoing: a 2.7 grade-point average in high school or elsewhere. Contrast that to the highly competitive UCLA, where 70 percent of entering freshmen this fall have grade-point averages of 3.7 and higher, and 50 percent of entering freshman have at least 4.0 averages.
There is one proviso: Unless your political views are sufficiently progressive, you won’t be admitted to NDU. According to NDU’s website, all applicants must “demonstrate a commitment to immigrant/labor rights and social justice.” Yes, unlike regular UCLA, National Dream has an ideological litmus test for admission. No College Republicans at National Dream!
            
NDU now offers a limited program of six courses that add up to a one-year, 18-credit-hour certificate and hopes to offer associate and bachelor’s degrees in the future. About 35 students in total are expected to enroll in the program starting in January 2013. All six courses will be taught online, with mandatory visits to both the National Labor College and UCLA. UCLA professors will teach five of the courses and National Labor Center’s campus in Silver Spring, Maryland will teach the sixth at $270 per credit hour. The course titles are what one might expect from an unabashedly leftist institution: “Immigrant Rights, Labor and Higher Education,” “Race, Gender, Sexuality, Class and U.S. Labor,” and so forth. The National Dream website promises to offer the undocumented “the opportunity to learn from influential Civil Rights leaders like Reverend James Lawson and Tom Hayden, Immigrant Youth Movement leaders, and academics and scholars from across the country.” 
           
An Aug. 1 article in the Huffington Post headlined “Dream Act College” stated–incorrectly, as it turns out–that credits earned at National Dream could be automatically transferred to UCLA proper — UCLA administrators have been trying to back off from any implication that illegal immigrants can obtain University of California degrees at a lower total cost and via easier admissions standards than citizens and legal residents. The Breitbart Report calculated that students who transfer all 18 National Dream credits to UCLA can wind up paying $4,728 less than the $7,128 California residents will pay for 18 credit hours earned on campus this academic year. A recent statement from UCLA declares that transfers of credits are not automatic, and that the credits must come from a regionally accredited institution. But since the National Labor College is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, the UCLA administration didn’t exactly rule out such transfers.
You might be asking to what extent California taxpayers might be picking up the tab for the UCLA Center for Labor Research’s public-service adventures in discounted college for  the undocumented, especially given the UC system’s chronic budget woes and budget cutbacks these days. The answer is: substantially. In 2007 California put an end to several decades of direct funding for the Center for Labor Research and its parent academic department, the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment. Now, the UC system itself (which translates at least in part to taxpayers) pays some of the $2.6 million or so annual budget for the Institute (and the Center), according to Breitbart, aided by hefty contributions from unions, such left-leaning philanthropies as the Ford Foundation and George Soros’s Open Society Institute, and the city of Los Angeles, which donated $50,000 to the Institute in 2010. UCLA might be trying to distance itself from NDU. But as a public institution supported by hefty public subsidies, it can’t escape responsibility for the fact that one of its own centers staffed by its own professors is offering advocacy courses to illegal immigrants chosen on the basis of political ideology, not academic merit. 

That Response to My Article Was Strange

Scott Rose’s 1,085-word letter to the editors of Minding the
Campus does not contest–or find any factual error in–my Aug. 1 article titled
“Regnerus and the ‘Liberal War on Science
.‘” My subject
was
the academic hysteria over University of Texas sociologist Mark
Regnerus’s article in the journal Social Science Research concluding that the
adult children of parents involved in gay relationships do not fare as well as
their peers raised in stable heterosexual households. Rose does, however, raise
several points to which I shall respond:

1. His name: When I mentioned that “Scott Rose” was the
pen name of “Scott Rosenweig,” as I spelled it, or “Scott
Rosensweig,” as he spells it (obviously correctly), I wasn’t trying to be
either anti-gay or anti-Semitic (by calling attention to Rose’s German-Jewish
origins). I was merely following the lead of other media outlets, including the
Associated Press, which used the spelling “Rosenweig.” It is a
stretch to regard AP as either anti-Semitic or anti-gay. Indeed, at least two
gay media outlets, San Diego Gay and Lesbian News and South Florida Gay News,
picked up and ran an AP story describing “Scott Rose” as the pen name
of “Scott Rosenweig” or “Scott Rosensweig.” How anti-gay
can you be if you’re a gay media outlet?

2. “Corrupt peer review.” That is Rose’s description of
the process by which Social Science Research accepted and published Regnerus’s
article, largely because the journal accepted his article for publication
just five and one-half weeks after he submitted it–a little over two weeks
short of the usual eight weeks. Rose seems to think that gay parenting is an
“esoteric topic” that should have obliged Social Science Research to
have waited many months before accepting it. Really? Maybe the editors at
Social Science Research thought otherwise and were so impressed by the quality
of Regnerus’s research that they very slightly expedited the review process. At
any rate, I can’t judge whether the peer-review process at Social Science
Research was “corrupt” or not–nor did I try in my article. I merely
noted that Rose attempted to taint the review process at Social Science
Research as corrupt and to intimidate its editor at least implicitly.

It’s interesting that Rose now finds fault with Darren Sherkat,
the University of Southern Illinois sociology professor whom Social Science
appointed to conduct a review of its peer-review process respecting Regnerus’s
article. I guess that Sherkat, despite characterizing some of the peer
reviewers as “right-wing” and “Christianists” in e-mails to
Rose, wasn’t as harsh on Regnerus and Social Science Research as Rose would
have liked.

3. The National Organization for Marriage (NOM). This is the
strangest part of Rose’s letter to MTC. Leaving aside the fact that NOM, which
opposes same-sex marriage, had no connection whatsoever with Regnerus’s
research, Rose devotes much ink to a completely irrelevant issue: NOM’s alleged
support for the failed campaign of Maryland State Sen. Anthony Muse to
challenge incumbent U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin in the Democratic primary this year.
What does that have to do with Mark Regnerus? Rose also faults NOM president
Maggie Gallagher for referring to the U.S. president by his full name, Barack
Hussein Obama. That’s supposed to be anti-Muslim–or something. Again, what on
earth does this have to do with either Regnerus’s research or my
article? 

In short, Scott Rose seems to be obsessed with finding various
forms of anti-religious/anti-gay hatred hiding under the bed of my article. I
think that’s because he can’t find factual fault with anything the article
actually said.

Regnerus and the ‘Liberal War on Science’

regnerus.jpg

The
ongoing controversy over University of Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus is a
textbook example of how a legitimate scholarly dispute can turn into a
political witch-hunt. Regnerus, an associate professor of sociology at Texas’s
flagship campus in Austin, published a peer-reviewed paper in June in the
journal Social Science Research concluding that the adult children of
parents in same-sex relationships fare worse in a number of ways–alcoholism,
depression, drug use, and so forth–than the adult children of parents in
stable heterosexual marriages. Other sociologists have contested both
Regnerus’s findings and his methodology. But instead of challenging the results
of Regnerus’s research via normal scholarly channels–reviews, other scholarly
papers, or conference panels–Regnerus’s opponents have sought to delegitimize
him both personally and as a professional academic. They have attacked his
editors at Social Science Research, and they have goaded the UT-Austin
administration into investigating him for scientific misconduct. They have
fought their battle not in the journals but in the pages and web-pages of Mother
Jones
and the Huffington Post. Regnerus, a Catholic convert, has
even been aligned with the Catholic traditionalist group Opus Dei that is every
progressive’s favorite faith-based werewolf. Shades of The Da Vinci Code!

Continue reading Regnerus and the ‘Liberal War on Science’

Gender Quotas on Philosophy Panels?

First it was gender quotas for the sciences–and
now it’s gender quotas for philosophy. Two philosophy professors are calling on
their colleagues to boycott academic conferences that don’t feature at least
one woman as a keynote speaker.

Continue reading Gender Quotas on Philosophy Panels?

Should We Pay Students to Graduate?

College is supposed to last four years, right? However, only 31 percent of entering freshmen at U.S. colleges and universities manage to graduate in four years, and only 53 percent obtain their bachelor’s degrees within six years. Indeed, the six-year figure–which typically entails a 50 percent increase in overall tuition–has become so common that it’s basically standard. The numbers are so embarrassing that some universities have resorted to paying their students to graduate on time, typically via forgiven loans, tuition discounts, and scholarships for those maintaining a full load of courses.

Why don’t most students graduate when they’re supposed to? Some must work and can’t take a full load every semester. Some switch majors at the last minute or decide to major in two fields–which is fine if they or their parents can afford it. Sometimes it’s the school’s fault: Overcrowded public universities are notorious for failing to offer required courses (or enough sections of them) in workable sequences so that students can complete their majors efficiently. As the Fiscal Times reports, a single missing prerequisite can cost a student an entire year. The simple expedient of operating colleges (or at least offering key basic courses) on a year-around basis, recommended by the nonprofit Complete College America, would help eliminate those obstacles to timely graduation.

It would be even more helpful to offer students some academic structure, now sorely lacking at nearly every college in America. Complete College America found that four-year students, who normally need 120 credits (15 per semester) to graduate, are actually amassing an average 136.5 credits apiece, more than a full semester’s worth. As the Fiscal Times pointed out, they’re encouraged by course catalogues to fritter their time away on goofball courses such as “Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame” (the University of South Carolina, Columbia) or “Harry Potter: Finding Your Patronus” (Oregon State University). 

How about reintroducing the tightly structured core curricula that were a hallmark of U.S. universities until the 1970s? Instead of indulging at today’s smorgasbord of piecemeal “area” requirements, students would spend their first two years with a limited menu of humanities, science, and math courses designed to give them the broad-based learning that every college graduate should possess, and the next two years following equally structured pathways through a major and minor. Not every student would graduate on time–but the idea of college as consisting of four years and no more would likely become a reality for many more of them. 

 

Online Education–Almost as Good as Face-to-Face?

Writing
in the New York Times, University of Virginia English professor Mark Edmundson
argues that online education is never going to be as good as live education
with a real professor in a real classroom. In a sense, he’s right. There’s
nothing like a top teacher: someone who can not only present complex material
lucidly and even entertainingly, but who can also coax out a lively dialogue
with his or her students, even in a huge lecture class. Even the best online
offerings lack that “collaboration between teacher and students” that
is characteristic of a “memorable college class,” Edmunson writes.

 

But in
another sense, Edmundson is wrong. Why? He’s comparing apples and oranges. The
appropriate comparison isn’t between the master teacher (and Edmundson himself
has that reputation) teaching in-person and delivering the same material
online. Of course the online version is going to be a “monologue and not a
real dialogue,” as Edmunson phrases it, that pales in comparison to the
live presentation. But the point of comparison isn’t between the
“memorable college class” and its online version. It’s between the
online version of the memorable class and the typical far-from-memorable
college class, especially at the elementary level and especially at  large
public institutions where there can be little live interaction between
professors and students, especially during the first two years.

 

Remember
that French 101 or Calculus 101 class that scarred you for life during your
freshman year? Chances are it was taught by an inexperienced graduate student
untrained in public speaking who filled the blackboard with illegibly scrawled
declensions or equations that left you more puzzled after you left the
classroom than before you entered it. That’s where a high-quality online course
can offer a superior educational experience. While excellent teachers abound
everywhere, from the Ivy League to community colleges, even at the most elite
universities “memorable” classes–in contrast to classes that are
merely very good–are few and far in between. That’s why they’re called
“memorable.” They stand out from the run-of-the-mill.

 

Edmunson critiques a pre-filmed online course from
Yale about the New Testament. Despite the fact that the instructor was
“hyper-intelligent, learned and splendidly articulate,” the course
“wasn’t great,” Edmundson concludes. Yale has one of the best
religion programs in America.
Maybe the college you attend also has an excellent religion program and some
top teachers–but maybe it doesn’t. Which would you rather do–stick with what
you’ve got or try the online course from Yale? The point of the new Coursera
online venture–which Edmundson’s University of Virginia just joined–is to offer
the best of Virginia’s and other top universities’ courses to people who can’t
get to Charlottesville or Princeton. The experiences might not be quite so
memorable as the experiences of the lucky few in Charlottesville and Princeton,
but chances are that the online students will still learn something they won’t
forget.

The Meaningful March of the MOOCS

On July 16 Coursera–one of the new ventures by prestigious universities or their professors that offer free-of charge MOOCs (massive open online courses) to the general public–announced that twelve more institutions have joined the Coursera consortium that initially consisted of Stanford, Princeton, the University of Michigan, and the University of Pennsylvania. One of the new partners is the University of Virginia, whose president, Teresa Sullivan, was briefly fired (although later reinstated) by the university’s trustees because she had appeared reluctant to take the online plunge. Others  include Caltech, Rice, Duke, and the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health among others, and some 150 courses–online versions of their on-campus courses–are now on the Coursera roster.
Yet it seems that, although elite universities love MOOCs, they’re reluctant to give course credit even to the MOOCs that originate on their own campuses. According to Inside Higher Education, there were rumors that one of the new Coursera partners, the University of Washington, which is supposed to provide 19 Coursera courses, was going to break ranks–but it turns out that won’t be the case. If you want to receive credit–or even a certificate of completion–from Washington, you’ve got to enroll as either a regular or a continuing-education student for an “enhanced” version (more instructions and assessments) of the Coursera offering. That means you’ll be paying for the course at nearly the same rate as for a brick-and-mortar course.
On the one hand, it could be argued that Washington and its Coursera partners are simply trying to protect their academic reputations, and their exclusivity, by not handing out credits to all and sundry. On the other hand, it appears that Washington has figured out how to turn online education, which is far cheaper to deliver than the conventional kind, into a nice revenue center by charging close to bricks-and-mortar-level tuition for it.    

What’s Yale Doing in Singapore?

Yale’s brand-new college
in Singapore, a joint venture with the National University of Singapore (NUS),
is “the first new college to bear Yale’s name in 300 years–and the first
attempt to start a liberal-arts school in one of Asia’s leading financial
centers,” the Wall Street Journal reports. But here’s one key way in which
Yale Singapore won’t resemble Yale New Haven: Students won’t be allowed to
engage in political protests or form partisan political societies.

Other than that, insists
Pericles Lewis, president of the Yale-NUS joint venture that’s scheduled to
open for classes in August 2013, students “are going to be totally free to
express their views.” In other words, they’ll be free to express their
views as long as those views don’t have real-world consequences. There won’t be
any equivalent to College Republicans or College Democrats at Yale-NUS–much less,
say, an Occupy protest.

Continue reading What’s Yale Doing in Singapore?

A College with 90,000 Students May Go Under

The City College of San Francisco, the largest college in California with 90,000 students, appears to be on the brink of closing. California’s Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges put it on probation and gave it just eight months to demonstrate why it should stay in business. Without accreditation, City College will be ineligible for public funding, which provides the bulk of revenues for the college’s $190 million annual budget. 
One of City College’s problems, according to the accrediting commission, is that the sprawling institution  has too few administrators–just 39–supervising 1800 faculty members on 200 campuses, including nine main campuses plus dozens of neighborhood centers scattered throughout the city. But the real problem may be this: Why is San Francisco, a city with 805,000 residents, operating a 90,000-student college? The math means that nearly one out of every nine San Franciscans is taking at least one course at City College (though some City College students probably live outside San Francisco). 
While the commission did not find fault with the quality of instruction, its report noted that faculty was stretched thin trying to teach too many different things and couldn’t assess how much students were learning. The hugely varied student body includes young people looking for vocational training or hoping to transfer to a four-year institution, plus older people enjoying “lifelong learning” and immigrants simply trying to learn English. The report noted, for example, that a City College program in airplane repair at the San Francisco International Airport employs only one full-time instructor and one part-timer–something to think about for anyone flying in or out of San Francisco. A culinary-arts program has no way of tracking how many of its graduates got jobs at restaurants–and thus whether its instruction was actually useful. The course catalogue typically lists dozens of classes that never materialize either because the classes are under-enrolled or because City College can’t pay for them.     
Right now, city officials are hoping to save City College by imposing a city-wide $79-per-parcel property tax assessment. But the problem with City College isn’t a shortage of administrators or money. It’s too many students, too many programs, too many courses, too many locations. My suggestion: Shut down about 198 of those campuses and centers, pare down the student body, and then focus on a reformed curriculum.

Dissenting Scholarship Draws ‘Misconduct’ Inquiry

Mark Regnerus is a tenured associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas, Austin. He published a paper in the peer-reviewed sociological journal Social Science Research. The paper, detailing the results of a study of children growing up in households headed by same-sex couples, concluded that those children may be at disadvantage “when it comes to certain forms of success in adulthood,” Inside Higher Education reported. The study was funded by the Bradley Foundation and the Witherspoon Institute, two conservative organizations that have funded anti-same-sex-marriage advocacy.

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WASC Was Right to Deny Ashford Accreditation

Andrew, I understand that you were critiquing the accreditation system in general. I agree that it’s not perfect and could focus more directly on what students actually learn rather than on inputs and processes. I do think, though, that when a university doesn’t even have an adequate system in place for monitoring and assessing student learning on its own–and Ashford doesn’t, according to the WASC–or when its courses seem none too rigorous, there’s a strong chance students aren’t learning much.

Continue reading WASC Was Right to Deny Ashford Accreditation

You’re Wrong About Ashford, Andrew

I
agree with Andrew Gillen that a large segment of entrenched academia
reflexively opposes for-profit colleges and online education. These people
don’t even like the MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) started by MIT and
Harvard! That said, I don’t see any evidence that the WASC acted unfairly when
it refused accreditation to Ashford University’s massive, 90,000-student online
component. 

Continue reading You’re Wrong About Ashford, Andrew

Science Quotas for Women–A White House Goal

When college women study science, they tend to
gravitate toward biologyabout 58 percent of all bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral
degrees in biology
 go
to women
.
 In contrast, women earn some 17
percent of bachelor’s degrees in engineering and computer science and just over
40
 percent
of bachelor’s degrees in physical sciences and mathematics.
The likely
reason for this, found in the study The Mathematics of Sex” (2009) by Cornell
psychologists Stephen J. Ceci and Wendy M. Williams, is that women tend to be
 drawn to
“organic” fields involving people and living things, whereas men are
 more interested in
the objects and abstractions that are the focus of STEM
 majors. Aversion to
math plays a role too: a University of Bristol study finds
 that biologists tend
not to pay attention to scholarly articles in their field
 that are packed with
mathematical
 equations.

Yet the Obama administration sticks
closely to the hard-line feminist argument that 
the problem is bias: women are somehow being
denied access to STEM courses. On June 20 the White House announced that it would issue guidelines expanding the scope of Title
IX
 to cover science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Continue reading Science Quotas for Women–A White House Goal

More Rumbles at UVa

The post-mortem
continues on the two weeks of turmoil that included the abrupt forced
resignation and the equally abrupt reinstatement of University of Virginia
president Teresa Sullivan. Everyone on all sides of the dispute over Sullivan’s
ousting seems to agree that the Board of Visitors, UVa’s trustees, behaved
secretively, discourteously, and ham-handedly when it handed Sullivan her
walking papers on June 10. Everyone seemed to be relieved when the board voted
unanimously on June 26 to invite her back, and that Sullivan and her chief
opponent on the board, UVa rector Helen Dragas, have pledged to work together
in unity (everyone, that is, except for some diehard radicals on the faculty
who were hoping to see Dragas and the rest of the board summarily canned).

Continue reading More Rumbles at UVa

Peace Breaks Out in Virginia

You’ve got to hand it to Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell. On June 22 he ordered the University of Virginia’s governing board to make it clear by June 26–yesterday–whether its fifteen voting members wanted to reinstate the university’s controversially ousted President Teresa Sullivan–or didn’t. If the board refused to “make a clear, detailed, and unified statement on the future leadership of the university” within that time period, McDonnell promised to ask for all of their resignations on June 27. The board duly met and voted in record time to keep Sullivan on. It was a win-win situation for all concerned. Although Sullivan got to keep her job, one of the biggest winners was actually the board itself. The board managed both to look gracious and to reaffirm its ultimate power over the governance of the University of Virginia, over the claims of an angry Sullivan-supporting faculty.

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What Commencement Speakers Might Have Said

Commencement speeches 2012.jpgNow that commencement speakers have finished their work, what messages did they dispense to the class of 2012, graduating into the worst economy since the Great Depression? Mostly generic words of anodyne idealism: “Live your dream,” “go change the world”–conventional bromides that graduating classes have heard since college life began. Few speakers gave the new graduates advice that they actually could use in the current dismal job market: don’t hold out for that ideal job–take the best one you can find and get to work; remember, paying work of any kind has much to teach you, about managing your time, getting along with difficult bosses and customers, and learning by observing management how to run a business. But most speakers fell back on clich

New Diversity Groups at CUNY: ‘White/Jewish’ and ‘Italian-American’

It’s “diversity” in higher education gone mad: An embarrassed City University of New York system (CUNY) yesterday hastily denied a report that it had set up a separate “minority” designation for its Jewish faculty. As CUNY professors joked about “yellow stars” for their Jewish colleagues and Jewish Press columnist Yori Yanover wrote that CUNY’s chancellor, Matthew Goldstein, had “stepped into a gigantic mound of odiferous matter,” a university spokesman declared (in an interview with a reporter for the Jewish Telegraph Agency news service) that no “new special category for Jewish faculty has been created.”

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Uh-Oh–The First Loophole in Student Loan Debt

Carol Todd of Nottingham, Maryland, persuaded a bankruptcy judge in Baltimore to “discharge”–that is, wipe the slate clean on–nearly $340,000 in student loan debt. The grounds were that she has Asperger’s Syndrome, a mild form of autism that apparently prevents her from getting or keeping a steady job. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Gordon ruled on May 17 that Todd, now in her mid-60s, had met the rigorous “undue burden” exemption from the usual rule that student loans can’t be discharged in bankruptcy.

Continue reading Uh-Oh–The First Loophole in Student Loan Debt