State-Mandated Online Degree Programs: The Threats to Real Learning, True Access, Employability, Citizenship, and National SecurityPosted: April 7, 2013
Guest blogger Boak Ferris, author of the e-textbook Think and Rethink, is a former test-coordinator, current 30-year faculty member, and writer at CSU Long Beach.
State-Mandated Online Degree Programs:
The Threats to Real Learning, True Access, Employability, Citizenship, and National Security
States, governors, universities, in their rush to provide ostensible “increased educational access”—but more likely to cut education costs—are speeding out of control downhill to mandate that universities generate online degree programs and online credit-satisfying courses. Downhill is the operant term, as advocates of these programs have not fully analyzed the risks and dangers, first, to the overall quality of American life and education, second, to the American spirit of innovation, independence, and creativity, and third, to American public safety. Also at risk are our national reputation as the world leader in quality secondary education, our historic democratic compassion in granting one-on-one access between any student and a specialist/experienced educator, our intentions to maintain a civilized public body, and indeed, our national security. Until certain urgent issues are addressed, and solved, educational policymakers must exercise restraint in establishing mandated online degree programs.
First, educators in a classroom play a much greater role than rambling about specialized stuff. Recent neuroscience research and breakthroughs have demonstrated that human learning is a motor process. Even learning abstract subjects is best anchored in pedagogies that require students to engage motor processes. The most lasting learning takes place when students can watch, in person, an expert model the skills and leverage disciplinary knowledge expected to be applied in a specific profession. Students also need to demonstrate, via writing or speaking, their evolving acquisition of these skills and knowledge. It’s more than spectating during an online presentation on how to do something. A live, present student can immediately ask a live, present expert about obstacles and roadblocks confronting the learning process. These golden opportunities to rapidly learn and spontaneously engage diminish when students do not share the same loci as their experts. Of equal value are the opportunities for students to observe the application of motor skills and analytical methods from outside their elected fields of study, via general education electives, so that they can learn to cross-associate the best that other disciplines offer to the standard sets of skills they will eventually need in their chosen professions. Thus, American education in a physical classroom involves a democratic—and professionally socializing—process, some or much of which must be lost, if students become more like agreeable sheep sitting at distant computer monitors.
High school students often arrive to college too passive. Critical thinking skills have all but disappeared, as college professors around the country have written about and can attest. Perhaps the passivity is a natural artifact of media-device addiction coupled with a state of permanent hypnosis produced by obsessing over national testing standards on so-called facts. Still, the freedom to speak with, and challenge, a physically present professional has drawn invested students from all over the world to matriculate in American universities. But imagine the possibility, if badly designed online courses, with untold numbers of enrolled students, end up mechanically providing inflexible course curricula. Consider the possibility that very little distance exists between a blanket standardization of curriculum across a variety of degree-granting institutions and institutionalized fascism of university content overseen by a few CEO/CFO administrators who may have little to no successful in-class teaching and improvisatory experience.
Also, once faculty become disinvested from curricular decisions, and once cross-applicable, broad-spectrum knowledge, academic and pre-professional experience, and artistic skills (i.e., outside-the-box innovation) are considered “irrelevant” or separable by the interests of private investors and “education vendors,” then American education becomes solely a capitalistic endeavor, where conflicts of interest must eventually play a sole role in driving curricular offerings and specific degree programs. Lobbyists for investors and vendors can approach university administrators with their particular “brands” and perhaps insist on brand placement being tied to funds, resources, and the sole teaching of specific courses and disciplines and the granting of degrees. Does an educated democratic citizen of the United States truly believe that engineers, scientists, and business students seeking degrees benefit by not having to take art or liberal arts or languages or ethics classes? The lifeblood of science advancement depends on publication, whereby professional documentation leverages linguistic skills to yield logical and theoretical rigor. Transferring these skills to students belongs to the purview of linguistic experts who understand how graduates must eventually learn to compensate for the limitations and irrationalities inherent in all human languages.
As an example illustrating the necessity to maintain arts and letters in a complete scientific education, consider that Galileo, a man of science, seemingly initiated the science revolution in Europe. Indeed, Galileo worked as an experimenter and observer, leveraging his motor skills, in a 3-D space, but he also was a man of letters, who wrote up his results in order to better understand and reflect on the foreseeable hidden prejudices lurking in his analyses. Now juxtapose Boccaccio, however, who single-handedly invented both European humanism and rationalism, thereby giving birth to and setting the ideological precedents for the Catholic-Galileo’s “scientific impulses,” by way of his literary masterpiece, The Decameron, published two hundred years before the appearance of Galileo. In that work, the narrator implicitly challenges God’s policy of non-interference in the recent Plague. Boccaccio’s literary, rhetorical, and comic techniques shook Europe loose from a primitive, anti-education Catholic church, by articulating an implicit call for a human-based response—requiring measured methods (rationalism) to confront the obstacle that threatened humanity’s survival. Literary artists have always questioned and re-envisioned the causal forces of the cosmos, leading to myriad advancements in science. Art inspires science which informs art and so-on, a mighty recursive engine of innovation. Do budget-conscious curricular designers really wish to remove arts, literature, philosophy, and languages from a potent higher-education experience? And to do so in a one-size-fits-all online setting? It’s like moving from a jet engine to a one-stroke lawnmower.
Arguably, then, a true democratic top-notch education must never be tied (down) to cost-effective shortcuts-to-degrees in a country that wishes to maintain a competitive global edge. Evolving young professionals most need a supervised domain of space and time where they can develop and practice—and cross-associate—a wide range of skills sets.
However, once policy makers blend into one pot education, curriculum, brands, testing, degrees, and money, then a Democratic American education becomes prostituted. Money for degrees, quick and dirty, in and out the door. These are not alarmist concerns, as some CSU’s already have corporate sponsors for different divisions and departments and colleges, whereby implicit external pressure rationalizes reducing so-called irrelevant courses, the kinds of courses that delay students toward acquiring useful rapid degrees: humanities, art, ethics courses, music, and foreign languages curricular offerings, among others. My own home CSU, over the last few years, has implemented similar such curricular changes and policies, with more pending, to my shame and sadness. Such deletions may serve private institutions, but they are certainly not satisfactory for public and state universities, where students need to develop humanistic, cross-cultural, linguistic, and compassionate “citizenship” skills. (California’s Governor Brown has not let on that he sees these dangers.) Frankly speaking, news stories of lame-duck online programs failing have increased over the past year and a half, largely because the programs’ constituencies and clientele have not graduated nor found success, notwithstanding the rapacious and usurious financial practices associated with these programs. To put it briefly, national employers know whom they wish to hire, and where from, and their hiring practices will serve as the ultimate certification of successful secondary institutional online degree-granting programs. Late-breaking news, as of April of 2013, shows that indeed, national employers are reluctant to hire, perhaps because they suspect that the omnipresence of online courses betokens a lack of citizenship skills in candidates. Graduate schools will similarly screen successful candidates by undergraduate institution reputation. If the CSU-system wishes to truly serve its students and guarantee employability, why would it want to follow these online failures? Why would legislators admire these failures?
Note how a very strong secondary public effect intensifies and speeds student-learning, when learners “compete” and educators are present in the same physical space. Competition to learn is also felt more keenly by candidates when they can see and hear their “classmates.” Similarly, watching an immortal drama or a comedy or political speech in a public space shared by other thinkers responding audibly increases a spectator’s awareness and sensitivity to the nuances of art and performance and ideology. Premature babies grow faster and respond more positively when a live musician plays music in the nursery, as opposed to those infants who heard the same music piped in over loudspeakers. Human charisma produces more impact in person, than over a television or monitor. When tied to learning, the tangible aura of a present gifted instructor inspires students to learn faster and more enjoyably, whereas the square shape of a monitor arguably squeezes a viewer’s brain forward into an unreal and distant 2D cartoon. Neural-mapping research shows that learning among students proceeds faster and embeds longer when experienced in a shared three-dimensional visual and acoustical space. Also, in an era where public policymakers encourage diversity, how much can diversity be respected when a threatened state-mandated curricular uniformity underlies online degree programs and courses? Currently, localized public universities construct specialized curricula to serve students belonging to nearby populations or sub-populations, students who end up working for local industries and employers—a necessary service that may end if a “one-size-fits-all” education package is “legislated” for the sake of “consistency.”
Furthermore, “classrooms,” plural, imply the existence of neighboring classrooms, adding to the public perception of knowledge and other intangibles gained transparently. Faculty, students, and observers walking by can witness what transpires in a public university classroom, sans any “secrecy.” The implicit transparency of democratic and public educational practices contributes to a shared sense of evolving professional responsibility among instructors, students, and visitors alike. Public classrooms provide an arena for a “live” screening process whereby experienced instructors can directly observe students, participating, working quietly, or in teams. The public nature of American higher education discourages and inhibits psychopaths and, to a lesser degree, sociopaths (who are more adept at hiding in plain sight), from advancing to positions of responsibility. People of aberrant psychopathology require institutionalized practices that allow them to hide, work, and advance in secrecy to further their aims. How can it not be mentioned or considered that criminals will benefit from a “knee-jerk” proliferation of online degree-granting programs? Evil requires four little helpers to engender chaos: fear (No money!, Students will challenge the status quo!), ignorance (Is there evil? What is it? Let’s not learn about that.), complicity (look the other way. Stand aside. Institute practices to help it proliferate.), and a dark space where it multiplies unnoticed. It also requires people in positions of authority who know better to “pretend” that evil doesn’t exist, that evil is a supernatural concern, not one of confronting everyday anti-social human behaviors. To understand evil and its etiology means to “see it,” recognize it, interrupt and eliminate its causal factors, and thereby, leave it to a culture of the human past.
At our university, recently, we all signed mandatory intent-to-inform acts in cases where faculty suspect child abuse occurring to any of our students. The expectation placed on our experienced judgment reflected an appropriate professional concern. Our duties include custodianship of a free and democratic society. But faculty and university officials will be less able to meet such duties and obligations to protect society or even to recommend candidates for professional service when all we see are “avatars”—or perhaps a single camera lens. And note that at least one CSU intends to use students! as faculty (called Instructional Student Assistants) in its online program(s). As an undergraduate I would have been a good candidate to serve as an ISA running an online course for my home university—except. Except—I had not the maturity, experience, or insight to recognize abusive personalities, to avoid their manipulations, or to deflect them back toward their assignments and academic and citizenship responsibilities.
All of the above lead to another immediate and urgent concern, which should engage Homeland Security, often overlooked in online education incentives, and which involves confirming the identities of enrolled students. How does the instructor of record, or indeed a university administration, know if a student enrolled in online curricula is the person doing the work and achieving the degree? Yes, high-school seniors must verify their identities and complete college-level testing to apply to and enroll in a university, but identities can be stolen or “piggy-backed” or duplicated. Outright criminals, who need entry to professional work or graduate school, could easily “buy” an identity, and then a degree simply by hiring desperate scholars to do online work for them. At some private universities, it’s already possible to buy a degree, i.e., without attending class—and that may be bad enough. But the concern here centers on public universities, where policymakers should consider a graver threat. Imagine a terror cell, wishing to infiltrate positions in government and industry, but needing advanced degrees, stealing or duplicating identities, and then hiring substitutes to attain those degrees on their behalf, so as to gain access to our citizenry—and/or to our infrastructure. Their cause could be aided by finding at least one willing faculty member, advisor, or administrator at the university of record. By the time employers or graduate schools found out the frauds, it might be too late. As a former testing coordinator, I had the responsibility to address identity frauds, and I can vouch for this scenario above not being some kind of movie-fantasy. Adequate identity and security checks for online enrolled students do not exist at this stage of our technology, especially in an era when cash-strapped state and public universities already struggle with the easily-hackable student-population management software they have available so far. By contrast, in a physical classroom, the student of record must be present with approved student identification, which an instructor can spot-check.
These concerns, and others not listed here for lack of space, all urge taking deep responsibility, conducting thorough analysis, and engaging in cautious planning prior to enacting premature policies and legislation prior to rolling the big snowball of state-mandated online degree programs.
“It’s not what it seems: Online in a social world”
Having taught a mixture of partial and completely online Sociology courses at CSU San Marcos since 2000, my experiences have been similar to those described by Prof. Jeff Kolnick (see Restructuring Public Hi Ed of 3/15/2013). Like Kolnick, I found online education to be very effective in general, and to have special advantages in two areas: 1) at providing strong interaction with a wider range of students than one gets in the classroom and, 2) at allowing students the flexibility to work their studying around the increased work and family demands they are encountering. Also like he noted, experience of many faculty at CSUSM was that effective online education usually took more time than a typical classroom taught course, and did not work well with large classes.
Though I found online education to be effective and to generate good interactions with students, I have strong concerns about the push for online education as a solution to budget problems. Why? Because administrators and policy makers are confusing online with automated, and because a key socialization characteristic of education is being overlooked in the push for efficiency.
Online is not automated: The cost arguments used to promote online are far too often based on an assumption of reducing personnel costs by setting up courses that either run themselves or run with most of the work done by lower-paid technicians. MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) seem to be particularly setup along these lines. From conversations with colleagues who teach online, the main efficiency in teaching online is that students can schedule classes to fit in with their schedules and thus be more productive in the class, there is no efficiency for the faculty who teach them.
Though many colleagues and I don’t find online to be that efficient, we are likely to be biased. In fact, two clear situations come up where a more automated online might work, though the value of such online remains questionable. One situation where online would work is where the course focuses on a relatively closed set of skills and doesn’t contain the critical reflection that one normally expects as part of a college education. The second situation where limited faculty engagement might also be successful is for work with that limited set of students who already have strong knowledge of the subject and in fact could have tested out of the course rather than taking it. Neither of those situations seem to provide strong arguments for online college-level education.
Socialization: The just-noted focus on automating content highlights a key problem that is not being addressed in the push for online education (regardless of the level of automation.) In the push for online, we seem to be forgetting about the role of a college education in building interaction skills and in encouraging the sorts of cross-pollination that happens when people from different backgrounds and perspectives casually interact. While colleges are focusing on more and more efficiency, leaders in the post-industrial economy are realizing the high value in the seemingly wasted time chit-chatting while waiting in line for a double-latte. As indicated in the discussions around Marissa Mayer’s decision to end employees ability to work from home at Yahoo, actual face-time is a key component of the creativity needed in the contemporary workplace. For young adults not yet in the workplace, a physical college with classrooms, snack bars, sidewalks, and faculty offices is an ideal location to hone their abilities to interact with, and benefit from, the perspectives of others from different backgrounds and life experiences.
Given the value of college as a socialization agent, how does online education fit in? In the balance of the demands on modern students, I would argue that online education can play a role, but that there also needs to be very conscientious planning to make sure students have a significant proportion of actual face-time with diverse sets of other students and faculty. To insure a good mix of experiences with other students, care needs to be taken to make sure that completely online courses are not clustered into specific fields of study or at specific levels (e.g., all prep courses), and to require that an identifiable and not insignificant (e.g., 50%?) portion of a student’s involve face-to-face interaction. Doing this would require a high level of planning, and support from administration for that planning, regarding the place of online education in degree requirements.
Going back to the beginning, from my own experience, online education can work and be quite effective. But, if we move from a narrow focus of education within a course and instead look at the broader implications of being in an educational environment, then we see that very careful consideration should be given regarding the role of online coursework within the totality of the student experience.
To back up this need for comprehensive planning, one final observation. Circumstantial evidence from my own online teaching is that many of the students who did well in the courses talked about informal face-time that they had with other students through other shared classroom courses. If this observation is common in online courses, then it turns out that online education works best when it is not as solo as one usually assumes. When it is, in fact, not really 100% online but instead involving informally created study groups.
The post below is republished with the permission of Jeff Kolnick (Minnesota 2020 Blog). An experienced instructor of online education, his comments on MOOCs echo our concerns in California with State Senator Steinberg’s introduction of Senate Bill 520 to establish The California Virtual Campus. Undoubtedly this bill arises from Steinberg’s frustration at the slow pace of change in the public higher ed sector and his own disinterest or inability to create the kind of progressive tax reform necessary to re-fund public education in the State. But imposing a superstructure of online courses on unaligned layers of organizational complexity —110 community colleges, 23 CSU campuses, and 10 UCs serving over 3.5 million students —may create more havoc. Beyond this, dumping WASC and using ACE as the accrediting agency for these new courses is troubling. Moreover the demand that at least two courses are developed “that support basic skills education courses in English, English as a second language, or mathematics” and the use of MOOCs for this purpose verges on the deeply problematic. We are entering a cynical age of “good-enough education” for the hundreds of thousands of children in California who cannot afford to attend a quality liberal arts college. They will be offered the “good enough” cheap option, which actually may not be good enough for the higher-skill jobs anticipated in the State. We need thoughtful, not quick-fix, leadership. Teri Yamada
A Teacher’s Take on Online Education
By Jeff Kolnick, Hindsight Community Fellow, March 13, 2013 at 7:30 am
As a history teacher at Southwest Minnesota State University, let me weigh in on the debate about online learning. I’ve taught online within the MnSCU system every year since 2004. I am not opposed to online education nor am I afraid of it.
At a recent online panel discussion focused on best practices, there was a general consensus that with proper class size control and good pedagogy, students write more in online classes. This can help improve written communication skills, especially when faculty are vigilant about making developmental comments and providing opportunities for revision. The online approach can widen opportunities for shy students to get involved in class discussion more easily than in face to face classes. It also cuts geographic barriers, which is better than no access at all.
Simply put, the upside depends on well designed and rigorous course with regular faculty involvement. This means frequent appearances in discussion forums and daily postings of one kind or another on top of careful evaluation of written work and time for one-on-one communication via e-mail when requested.
The downsides of online are many. Super high attrition rates are almost universal. Faculty have a hard time getting to know students, which limits mentorship opportunities and makes writing letter of recomendation difficult. Pressure to increase class size leads to limited rigor and less writing, thus weakening the best part of online education. Online is particularly ill suited to entry level classes and remedial level work. Sadly that is where it is being pushed the hardest by its advocates in government and in the business world.
Recently on these pages, Alex Christensen posted an excellent essay on MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), after the University of Minnesota announced plans to offer them. Generally, these classes are free (except for a nominal fee), open to anyone, regardless of status at the school, and don’t actually count toward graduation. However, the eventual aim is to use MOOCs at schools nationally to bring low-cost higher education to the masses while generating a profit for the businesses that deliver the courses. Some Minnesota policymakers want to lead this charge.
So here’s one concern: How would this impact those at community colleges and less selective universities when online teachers suggest that small online classes and frequent faculty contact is essential for student success? Duke University released a thorough study examining one of its MOOCs. Among the finds are the following:
COSTS—huge investment of time (600 total hours, 420 by the faculty member).
SUCCESS—over 11,000 enrolled and only 313 successfully completed the course.
WHO—two thirds of the students who enrolled had a BA or advanced degree.
Here are some questions Minnesota should ask before fully embarking on this major investment of time and money:
Will MOOCs create a two tiered system of education, with wealthy people still sending their children to elite colleges and MOOCs for everyone else?
What is higher education’s ultimate goal?
What is the difference between transferring information and getting an education?
What is the success rate of students by different demographic groups for MOOCs?
What are the demonstrated student learning outcomes for MOOCs?
What is the return on investment for Minnesota or a given university on a “business model” with limited revenue flow?
As we move forward with online education, it would be wise for policy makers to take advantage of the hundreds of Minnesota faculty who have been doing it successfully for many years: What have they learned? What are the attrition rates, the success of existing online courses at achieving learning outcomes, and the success of online education among different demographic groups?
Like any pedagogical tool, online education can be used effectively or ineffectively. Before we jump into the brave new world of MOOCs, we should study and understand them. In the meantime, let’s reinvest in what we know works, affordable public higher education.
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised : Deconstructing the CFHE News Briefing (February 12, 2013) on Funding Hi Ed.Posted: February 19, 2013
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised : Deconstructing the CFHE News Briefing (February 12, 2013) on Funding Hi Ed.
“Contemporary society, observed the late Cornelius Castoriadis, has stopped questioning itself. Lack of genuine questioning —at once a questioning of self and society—is fundamental to the political deadlocks of contemporary social life”
At the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education (CFHE) news briefing, three scholars representing faculty across the U.S. strongly advocated for a change in state and federal funding of public higher ed. Their request— stop capitulating to a dysfunctional NEW NORMAL — was directed at politicians and administrative leaders with the power to change a funding system that longer works for most Americans.
Three scholars—Professors Samuels, Fichtenbaum and Glantz—presented different common-sense solutions for funding public higher education based on tax reforms or spending state and federal dollars more wisely. All proposals attempt to reverse the privatization trend in public higher education that shifts the expense from the state and federal government onto the most vulnerable families and individuals. These scholars share the concern that a failure to fund quality public higher education equally for every American gradually leads to a diminished democracy with a two-tiered class system. It is past time to rethink this problem and take action to correct it.
- Bob Samuels in “Making All Public Higher Education Free” argues for reallocating monies used for state and government education subsidies. According to his research, the cost for free undergraduate public education in 2009-10 was $127 bil. The total amount of state and government dollars currently allocated to college-saving programs, grants, subsidies and student loan expenses would cover this cost AND stop the horrendous problem of student debt.
- Rudy Fichtenbaum in “How to Invest in Higher Education: A Financial Speculation Tax” proposes a responsibly administered, modest tax of no more than .5% on speculative financial transactions. The U.S. had a small financial transactions tax from 1914 to 1966. Its diminished relative now supports the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Many other nations— Great Britain, Singapore, France and Finland, for example— have a financial speculation tax with the subsidiary benefit of reducing speculation while providing funding for public projects.
- Stanton Glantz in “Financial Options for Restoring Quality and Access to Public Higher Education in California: 2012/13” suggests we reset student fees to the 2001 level. Glantz provides an analysis to show that a $48 tax per median California taxpayer would restore the state to that 2001 level. Otherwise, the offloading of public higher education costs to private individuals will continue to make education less affordable to the public. A tax like this in each state would return public education to the status of a public good.
The facts in these three proposals were reported on a number of online education venues. I was disappointed, however, in reportage that failed to emphasize the despair faculty feel over the current damage to public higher education. It is authentic concern and frustration that compel faculty to develop such proposals. If this trend of defunding continues what is positive about our current public higher ed system will be tossed out in the madness of “efficiency” reform. We will end up with a one-size-fits-all commodity education for children who cannot afford private colleges: a second-class education for second-class citizens.
The Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE) and Inside Higher Ed (IHE) reporters papered over the political message of failed leadership, although the IHE reporter did quote Glantz’s comment on urgency: ”We’ve got to get policy makers and individuals who represent institutions to stop wringing their hands and address the problem.” Samuels, Fichtenbaum and Glantz were unified in criticizing the failure of college presidents and political leaders to question and mitigate the negative influence of neo-liberal economic policy on public higher education. It is unconscionable to passively accept the New Normal as an excuse for maintaining a dysfunctional status quo. Inaction is not an option. In contrast, NEA reporter Mary Ellen Flannery more accurately emphasized the urgency of the faculty message, the reason for this news briefing.
It is also interesting that no reporter took advantage of Glantz’s suggestion to contact a college president. Since the “failure of leadership to question and create change” was the seminal subtext of the three faculty proposals, it is ironic that most reporters would adhere to status quo coverage of facts not message. Glantz’s suggestion would involve more effort, perhaps impossible in the face of time constraints imposed by short deadlines. The Chronicle of Higher Ed blogger had his post up within hours of the event. Calling a few campus presidents may not be an option with a two-three hour deadline. This is not the moment, however, to reflect on the decontextualization and flattening of news that occurs in the immediacy of the tweets and blogs of “networked time”. Glantz’s suggestion would necessitate finding a campus president “engaged enough” to have read the three proposals and “brave enough” to respond to reporter’s questions with the possibility of an “unpopular” quote ending up in print for all to read. Easier and safer for a campus president just to ignore it all. Perhaps for the next set of research proposals, CFHE organizers will send notification in advance to an array of campus presidents mentioning that reporters might call. And if no president is willing, interested, or able to respond, that type of dismissal and disengagement from faculty concerns is itself newsworthy.
Those of us teaching in the public higher ed domain are watching our administrators dismantle the liberal arts mission of our institutions while denying such action or blaming the New Normal for it. They can’t help it; it’s not their fault; the state budgets made them do it; STEM matters. Administrative emotion has become coldly authoritarian. If capitulation to the New Normal continues, those disciplines hardest to monetize and located in small programs and departments—foreign languages, philosophy, ethnic studies—will be eliminated as tenure lines are not replaced. Following the SUNY model, general education requirements will be streamlined into pathways as public universities reduce “product lines.” Pressure to graduate everyone in four years mandates a factory-like system for state colleges. Does the public care? We think they should.
What will be lost in ten years is the cultural space that our institutions once provided for intellectual experimentation and development. They provided a safe haven for learning, which valorized choice over restriction, community engagement over individualism. If this efficiency trend continues, our students will be managed through a three-four year delivery pipeline with diminished chance to change a major or even add a minor. The spirit of discovery, which may take more than ten minutes, will be wrung out of the institution.
It is ironic that those in political office who do not teach demand “efficiency and quality”. They have no idea about the sorry state of the technological infrastructure in our classrooms. Their fantasy of a speedy pipeline education that utilizes “cheap” online instruction will not make the United States more competitive in the global economy. Nor will our streamlined “student product” satisfy the “worker needs” of 21st century corporations. Our administrators in their “detached engagement” tell us this new normal is a done deal. It is all about improving efficiency to provide a “good-enough” education for the 99%.
National leaders discuss organizing, funding ideas at 4th Campaign for the Future of Higher Ed meeting
The 4th national meeting of the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education last weekend took on some of the toughest challenges confronting the faculty across the country, including the hard-sell push toward online education and the harsh cuts to public funding of state colleges and universities.
Leaders of faculty, students, and higher education staff from 14 states and national organizations heard Jonathan Potter of the Chicago Teachers Union describe the revitalization of his union to take on attacks against teachers and public education.
His talk on “Lessons Learned from the Recent Chicago Teachers’ Strike,” which detailed how teachers built strongly unified faculty-community support for the schools, earned a standing ovation. Faculty participants lauded the connection between teachers and college faculty and noted the similarities in what all educators at all levels are up against.
Learn about the Chicago Teachers Union at http://www.ctunet.com/
The meeting also followed up on a previous decision to develop new ideas on how to fund public higher education and public support for students.
Three funding ideas were presented as papers that CFHE will release to stimulate discussion and to foster public hearings and other action at the state and national levels.
CFHE participating groups decided to take the three papers back to their respective states and campuses as examples of thinking that will actually rebuild, rather than tear down, public support for higher education. They will write opinion articles in their respective regional media on funding and take the papers as examples to policy makers.
One of these papers, by Bob Samuels, president of the AFT local that represents UC Lecturers, mapped the math that shows it is possible to “Make All Public Higher Education Free” to students by refocusing the money the states and federal government already spend.
Economist and AAUP national president Rudy Fichtenbaum’s paper shows how a very small “Financial Speculation Tax” would not only fund all public higher education in our nation but also help to stabilize the U.S. economy.
Stanton Glantz and Eric Hays, officers in the Council of UC Faculty Associations, provided the calculations on how much money per taxpayer it would take to “reset” higher education funding in California to a more reasonable, recent level. Alert: Not all that much. They are now working on similar calculations for other states.
Meeting attendees also heard about and debated a “Pay it Forward” funding model that would allow students to attend school without advance tuition and to pay a small percentage of their income in the future to fund the next generation of students.
Watch CFA Headlines for the public release of the CFHE funding ideas papers and for a link to a soon-to-be-launched web site to discuss and share ideas on “Funding Higher Education: The Search for New Possibilities.”
Finally, CFHE heard a panel discussion by four faculty members who teach online. They presented ideas on what does and does not work and on how to ensure students get the best possible education using online tools.
They cited some positives. Their students write a lot, since discussion is online. Every student can contribute a thought. It is helpful for non-traditional students with difficult schedules in locations far from a campus.
On the other hand, students indicate they sorely miss the face-to-face college experience. And the faculty cited high attrition rates; they said it works better for experienced students with strong foundations in learning and may be problematic for under-prepared students and for remedial classes.
The group decided to call for papers about online education similar to the papers developed on funding. Specific ideas and papers will be discussed at the 5th meeting of CFHE to take place in Ohio in May.
CFA officers, members and staff who attended the CFHE gathering thanked the meeting hosts, the Community College Association/California Teachers Association organized by Ron Reel, CCA president. He has been with CFHE since its founding news conference in Washington DC.
The next gathering will be jointly hosted by the Ohio Conference of the American Association of University Professors, the Ohio Federation of Teachers/AFT, and the Ohio Education Association/NEA.
Our hearts go out to our colleagues and everyone on the East Coast battered by Hurricane Sandy, the second October megastorm in two years. May an outcome of this devastation be the recognition of climate change and the beginning of a rational public policy and action to address it, including the construction of a more resilient electrical grid and public infrastructure.
Fear and Trembling: Nov. 6 and Public Higher Ed.
A deep existential dread pervades many of my colleagues in education as Nov. 6 approaches. And it is not just because we are in California with its problematic Prop 30, which would be the coup de grâce to public education if it fails. This election could signify the closing of opportunity for any significant pragmatic action to protect what remains of public higher education across the country. The outcomes on Nov. 6 could be a further blow to unions, who despite faults, have worked hard to protect workers rights in the face of a relentless onslaught of big money, and reactionary legislation to gut them.
And I can be counted as one educator in this election season disappointed by the lack of debate on the state of defunded public higher education across the nation and the instability for young educated adults in the new lackluster economy. I can see the impact of a dramatically changed economic reality on my students since the fiscal collapse of 2008: seniors about to graduate troubled by their chances on a job market that provides no career stability or upward mobility. One of my students, a talented software programmer in the gaming field, works from contract to contract asking for a permanent position at each job with no result. Or there is the mature student, a biology major in my capstone course, who has survived rising tuition costs in the CSU with a “good job” at Starbucks and may have to stay since jobs in her area of expertise are scare; or her partner also in the science business who does get highly paid contracts, but they are all short-term and he worries constantly about the next short-term job. This is an age of contingency for all workers, blue or white-collar, and my students wonder whether they will ever have the economic security to even start a family or own a house. The American Dream feels very fragile to my graduating students in California in an age of business opportunism eager to exploit contingent labor. This is a global trend , of course, pitting young educated adults against each other in the hunt for more stable jobs.
Is it the same across the states? Just last month many of us received the following message from the American Association of University Professors (AAAUP) explaining the seriousness of union busting in Michigan:
Dear AAUP Members:
In attacks on working families similar to those we saw in Wisconsin and Ohio, the Michigan legislature and governor have decimated collective bargaining rights in the state. In Michigan, this has been done not in one omnibus bill but with an onslaught of individual bills, railroaded through committees with the arrogant attitude, “your voice doesn’t matter.”
Fearing this pattern might continue though the next legislative session, and possibly lead to a so-called right-to-work state, the labor movement has initiated a ballot campaign to amend the Michigan constitution. The proposed amendment would protect the basic right to negotiate for fair wages and benefits with an employer.
Our friends and colleagues in Wisconsin and Ohio stood their ground and fought back with the power of collective action reminiscent of the 1930’s. It is now Michigan’s turn to carry the movement forward.
As we have seen over the past couple of years, corporate special interests have amassed staggering resources to use in their attempt to destroy collective bargaining rights. We therefore appeal to our AAUP colleagues from across the country to join us in preserving the labor/management relationship that has been so successful in creating the American middle class.
Rudy Fichtenbaum President, AAUP
In California, funded by super PACS (including Karl Rove and the Koch Brothers).we have Prop 32 on the Nov. 6 ballot that would make political action close to impossible for unions here. May we shake off the dread and act to make sure this doesn’t happen as we inspire our colleagues to become politically engaged by getting out the vote this week. This is all hands on deck!
In his recent blog .”…Same as the Old Boss” (below) Bill Lyne provides a case study of the ongoing privatization of public higher ed in Washington State:
In a move that would make Dick Cheney proud, Education Secretary Arne “Aren’t I cool because I play basketball with the president” Duncan recently convened a secret meeting of higher education bosses to help him figure out how to do to higher ed what he has done to K-12. According to a report in Inside Higher Ed, the meeting included top officials from prominent MOOCs, other players in online learning, veteran experts on course redesign, college administrators, people from powerful foundations, leaders of several of the major higher education associations, technology vendors, and for-profit college representatives.
“Few actual faculty members were invited to the meeting,” reported IHE. “And no high-profile faculty advocates attended.” In the doth protest too much portion of the program, “education Department officials repeatedly said during the meeting that they recognize the leadership role faculty must take in any teaching and learning developments.”
Yeah, well if you’re not at the table, you’re probably on the menu.
In related news here in Washington, Governor Gregoire has now made her appointments to the Student Achievement Council, a longtime state bureaucrat with zero education experience is now running our community college system, and Rob McKenna thinks college professors are blowhards who should be turned into temp workers.
For those who haven’t been reading the fine print, the Student Achievement Council almost exactly fills the footprint left by the recently deposed Higher Education Coordinating Board. Scott White is probably rolling over in his grave after the bill he introduced to scrap the bloated and ineffectual HEC Board has only produced a lot of wasted time and money to replicate the HEC with the SAC.
The governor’s appointments to the SAC all seem like fine people, but while the names have changed, the lineup overall is distressingly familiar. A bunch of lawyers and managers and a token student (who will, depending on her willingness to go along, either be co-opted or marginalized), none of whom bears much resemblance to an actual educator. As with every other task force, board, council, and committee appointed to ride herd on public higher education, there is no faculty member, no one who does the work of education, no one who knows from daily classroom experience what student achievement might actually mean.
For the past thirty years, U.S. public education has been going to way of U.S. health care. Like health care, education is something that should be a right that has been inexorably turned into a commodity as a public good has been made more and more available for private profit. The funding model has shifted from taxation to debt (much to the delight of the financial industry), eroding both the accessibility and quality of college. Real educators generally object to this shift, which is why the new appointees to the SAC were chosen precisely because they are managers and not educators. Kind of the same way that the people chosen to run health care are always managers and not doctors.
As public higher ed was eviscerated over the past four years, the HEC board stood by and didn’t raise a fuss, choosing instead to do endless tuition studies and produce lots of charts with pretty blue arrows. It’s a pretty safe bet that the new SAC can be counted on to be just as acquiescent.
Meanwhile, just down the street at the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, Olympia perennial Marty Brown has been named Executive Director. When last we saw Mr. Brown, he was throwing a fit to any reporter who would listen about the faculty contract at Western Washington University. Despite the fact that Western professors’ salaries, adjusted for cost of living, ranked in the bottom fifteen percent in the country, Mr. Brown felt it was “a mistake” for the Western trustees to negotiate a contract with the faculty that included small raises.
This disdain for faculty, along with his complete lack of experience as an educator, should help Mr. Brown fit right in at the SBCTC, where hundreds of well-paid managerial employees with benefits oversee a system that is well on its way to becoming a sweatshop. At some of Washington’s community colleges, up to 80% of the faculty are badly paid part-time itinerant workers with no benefits. As SBCTC Director, Mr. Brown will have access to study after study that shows what a difference well-qualified permanent faculty can make. He will also have the expertise of thousands of professors readily available. The smart money is on his taking advantage of neither, instead continuing to rely on the squads of non-classroom consultants and “experts” who will continue to peddle the notion that doing more with less has no effect on a student’s education.
Alas, these also seem to be Rob McKenna’s confidantes. Mr. McKenna has made education the centerpiece of his gubernatorial campaign and he certainly gets it right when he talks about how he wants to increase funding for higher education. And he consistently recognizes the damage done by years of cuts to higher ed.
But when he gets down to specifics, it becomes clear that the Attorney General has drunk the managerial Kool-Aid. In a higher ed speech at WWU’s Munro Institute this summer, Mr. McKenna cogently made the case about higher ed funding, but then moved into the trickier areas of instruction and teaching. After a few banal remarks about online learning and “blended courses,” he launched into this observation about the nature of teaching:
“We’ve got to move from a model where you always have a teacher or a professor who is, as someone put it, the ‘Sage on the Stage’ to where you’ve got a professor or a teacher who’s the ‘guide by your side.’ This is a phrase that I learned from Sam Smith at Western Governor’s University (WGU), I thought it was pretty striking.”
What seems novel and striking to Attorney General McKenna is actually pretty old and tired. “Sage on the stage” and “guide by your side” have been around since at least the early 1990s and have been co-opted by the for-profit education movement as a way to demonize professors as pompous windbags and convince prospective student customers that a badly paid unqualified pal on the other end of a digital connection is better than a genuinely qualified instructor. (The irony worth noting here is that almost every time some self-styled education expert trots out the sage-on-the-stage insult, he or she is usually speaking from a stage to a passive audience, just as Rob McKenna was at the Munro Institute.) It’s no surprise that McKenna picked this up from Sam Smith, the lobbyist for WGU, where they have no faculty, just “course mentors.”
McKenna’s lack of connection to real educators becomes even clearer when we take a look at his higher education position paper. Buried near the end is a proposal to eliminate tenure, a move that would guarantee Washington’s universities would never again be able to recruit high quality faculty.
Chris Gregoire, Marty Brown, and Rob McKenna are doing nothing to improve the quality of higher education, but they can take solace in the fact that they are right in step with Arne Duncan. Though they all come from different points on the ideological compass, they all firmly agree that major policy and funding decisions about higher education are best made without any actual educators in the room.
When the Duncan cabal got down to their business of identifying the obstacles to their brave new world of McEd, the things they pointed to were financial aid rules, pesky accreditors demanding some sort of accountability, and the “faculty culture” created by those nasty professors who stayed in school into their thirties and took jobs paying much less than they could have made as business people or lawyers, just because they don’t really care about students.
Given their mania for efficiency, it’s probably a good thing that Arne’s army kept the professors out of the room. They would have just muddled things with questions about massive disinvestment, the difference between real education for responsible citizens and job training for docile employees, and why everybody in the room was sending their kids to real colleges while claiming that the MOOCs were good enough for everyone not in their tax bracket.
The NFL Referee lockout demonstrated once again that nobody protects quality, integrity, and safety like organized, professional practitioners and that bosses, no matter what manner of pious bullshit they may publicly spew, are mostly interested in squeezing workers as hard as they can. The bosses who have now focused on higher education are determined to make sure that today’s children get tomorrow’s education equivalent of replacement refs.
(permission to repost granted by the author)