Crises Connected like Spokes of a Wheel—or the Pockets on a Roulette Wheel

Last Sunday, the New York Times published an editorial, signed by the editorial board, titled “The College Faculty Crisis” [http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/14/opinion/the-college-faculty-crisis.html].

In many ways, the editorial does not say much that should be new to anyone in higher education, but it is certainly significant that the most highly regarded newspaper in the country is highlighting the issues related to the declining state support for public colleges and universities and the effects of the increasing contingency among faculty.

Citing a new study by the Center for Community College Student Engagement, a research center at the University of Texas at Austin, a study that is based on the responses of some 71,000 faculty about their working conditions, the editorial writer emphasizes four major points, which I not only will summarize but will also elaborate on to some degree. Continue reading

The NLRB Decision on the Unionization of College Athletes at One Institution Signals, but Will Not Determine, the Changes That Are Coming

The Tacoma News Tribune very recently published a very thoughtful editorial by Bill Virgin titled “It’s Not So Far-Fetched to See the Future of Collegiate Sports as a Business Entity” [http://www.thenewstribune.com/2014/04/13/3147199/its-not-so-far-fetched-to-see.html?sp=/99/261/].

Virgin considers the following contrasts: the erosion of the concept of the amateur athlete and the rise of professional sports as a major entertainment industry, the rise in the profits generated by intercollegiate athletics and the low graduation rates among college athletes; and the tension between increased allocations to intercollegiate athletics ostensibly to market academic institutions and the rise in student debt and cuts to instructional budgets.

Virgin concludes that the end of amateur collegiate athletics is on the horizon—not because of the recent NLRB decision to allow the student athletes at Northwestern University to unionize but because that decision reflects a broader societal awareness of the hypocrisy of pretending that, at its top levels, this “big business” should be able to generate huge profits for everyone involved except for those most fundamentally involved, the athletes themselves.

Like Virgin, I don’t think that there is much point in mulling over the specifics of the NLRB decision on Northwestern. It seems more significant as a pivotal event than as a critical event: that is, it has created an awareness and a certain momentum that will extend beyond even its being overturned in the courts. Continue reading

USM President Rescinds Proposed Faculty Layoffs

Those regular readers of this blog will know that we have published several posts on the proposed elimination of faculty positions at the University of Southern Maine ostensibly to close a continuing budget gap but also to allow the administration more “flexibility” in funding programs.

This afternoon, the Lewiston Morning Sentinel is reporting that the president of the university of Southern Maine, Theodora Kalikow, has reversed herself on those faculty cuts: Continue reading

The Top Issues Facing Higher Education in 2014 and Beyond

Writing for Forbes, John Ebersole, the president of Excelsior College, has identifeid the following ten issues as the most significant issues facing higher education this year:

1. Cost.

2. Renewal of the Higher Education Act.

3. Workforce development.

4. Competency-based education.

5. Accreditation.

6. Assessment.

7. Quality assurance in non-institutional learning.

8. Recognition of the new majority in student bodies.

9. Crisis in leadership.

10. The economy.

Ebersole notes that many readers may wonder about his exclusion of MOOCs as an issue, but he feels that the questions about their efficacy for most students and their over-exposure in the media have greatly decreased the consideration of MOOCs as an major innovation in higher education.

I agree largely with that assessment, but I would take issue with a fairly large number of his choices for the list. Continue reading

Missouri Program Allows Students to Apply University Credits Retroactively toward an Associates Degree

In a recent post, I discussed a dubious proposal put forward in Ohio to award associates degrees to all university students who have simply completed a specified number of credit hours, regardless of the distribution of those credit hours [http://academeblog.org/2014/04/04/kent-state-university-announces-plans-to-increase-dramatically-the-number-of-associates-degrees-that-it-grants/].

A much more reasonable program has been initiated in Missouri, though to date the results have not been anything close to what the proponents of the program hoped to achieve with it.

In 2012, the Missouri legislature approved what it called a “reverse-transfer program.” Recognizing the need for the state to produce more degrees at all levels and looking for inexpensive ways to achieve that goal, the legislature considered the number of students who had earned well over the number of credit hours needed for an associates degree without receiving any degree. Continue reading

Kent State University Announces Plans to Increase Dramatically the Number of Associates Degrees That It Grants

The Columbus Dispatch recently reported that Kent State University is planning to grant an associates degree to any student who completes 60 credit hours, or about half of the credit hours needed for most baccalaureate degrees.

Apparently the university will create a generic associates degree for this purpose.

In addition to its main campus in Kent, Ohio, the university has the most extensive system of regional campuses of any university in the state. There are seven regional campuses in the Kent system, stretching from the northeast corner of the state and the shores of Lake Erie to the Amish region just north of I-70, which runs west to east across the entire state, passing through Dayton at the western end of the state and Columbus in the center. Kent State’s seven regional campuses are the Ashtabula, East Liverpool, Geauga, Salem, Stark, Trumbull, and Tuscarawas campuses.

At those regional campuses, the university has always awarded associates degrees. Ohio’s two dozen regional campuses are treated as colleges within nine of the state universities. Established during the 1960s and early 1970s, the regional university campuses initially offered selected technical programs, comparable to those typically offered at technical and community colleges, as well pre-baccalaureate coursework for students transferring in their third year to the main campuses of the universities. Over the past two decades, the university regional campuses have phased out many of the more “blue-collar” technical programs and have increased the number of baccalaureate degrees that can be completed entirely on the regional campuses.

So, the Kent campus’s announcement that it plans to start awarding associates degrees runs counter to the gradual and ongoing shift at the regional campuses away from an emphasis on associates degrees and toward a greater emphasis on baccalaureate degrees. And it is therefore hardly surprising that many questions would be raised about the rationale for such a plan. Continue reading

Bobby Jindal Calls a Large Tuition Increase an Increase in His State’s Support for Higher Education

In its December 2013 report on state support for higher education in the previous fiscal year, the American Association of Colleges and Universities highlighted the singular decline of state support in Bobby Jindal’s Louisiana, where the 17.6% decline in state funding was very close to double the second highest decline among the states, an 8.9% decline in West Virginia.

To put those numbers in further perspective, in the 2012-2013 fiscal year, only seven of the 50 states failed to increase their spending on higher education. This general pattern of increased allocations reflected the states’ attempts to restore some of the funding lost in the unprecedented cuts that occurred during and immediately following the Great Recession. The increases in funding were, however, fairly modest in comparison to the cuts, averaging about 2.9%.

Over the last seven years, the Jindal administration has cut almost $700 million in funding for higher education in Louisiana. At the same time, the state has permitted tuition increases covering only about two-thirds of that lost funding.

In his new budget, Jindal is calling for a $142 million increase in state spending on higher education, but $88 million of that total is simply permitted tuition increases that, unlike in previous years, will not be offset by even larger cuts in state support. Continue reading

Cops and Robbers at the University of Southern Maine

This guest post was written by Michael DeCesare, Chair of the Department of Sociology at Merrimack College and President of the AAUP Chapter there.

At a special meeting of the University of Southern Maine (USM) faculty senate on March 14th, USM President Theodora Kalikow announced her plan to eliminate four academic programs and lay off 20 to 30 faculty—including tenured and tenure-track professors—along with 10 to 20 staff. What was the ostensible purposes of these unilateral decisions? To “re-brand” USM from a liberal arts institution into a “metropolitan university” and to make up $7M of a $14M shortfall. Martin Kich reported on these austerity cuts on this blog a week ago.

To this point, neither USM nor the University of Maine (UM) System has declared financial exigency. The supposed severity of the budget shortfall was quickly shown by Susan Feiner, a professor of economics and women’s and gender studies at USM, to be a flimsy justification for firing faculty and closing programs. As Paul Krugman put it in his New York Times blog last week, USM’s administration “seems eager to downsize liberal arts and social sciences for reasons that go beyond money.” Continue reading

On the Issues: What’s College For?

An “On the Issues” Post from the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education [http://futureofhighered.org]

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In the media and in the halls of our legislatures, the talk these days about the purpose of a college education seems to focus almost exclusively on its value in expanding a person’s employment opportunities.  It’s a perspective that shapes many aspects of higher education policy—priorities for funding, standards for institutions, curriculum, and many other critical issues.

And it’s a perspective so dominant that it crowds out discussion of other values associated with higher education.

But is “workforce preparation” the sole value of a college education?  Is that all people are looking for when they enroll in college or send their children there? Continue reading

Challenging the Necessity of Eliminating Faculty as an Austerity Measure: A Letter from a University of Southern Maine Alumna to University President Theo Kalikow

What follows is a letter sent by a University of Southern Maine alumna to Theo Kalikow, the university president, in response to his announcement that full-time faculty positions need to be eliminated in response to a projected deficit in the institution’s budget. It is, in some respects, a follow-up to a previous post that I have made very recently on this topic: http://academeblog.org/2014/03/23/students-and-faculty-demonstrate-against-austerity-cuts-in-maine/.

The letter is re-printed here with the permission of its author.

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Dear Theo Kalikow,

I would like to explain to you, using the critical thinking skills I cultivated under the guidance of extraordinary faculty at the University of Southern Maine—skills that got me into a highly competitive doctoral program in Sociology at an R1 University—why as an alum, I strongly suggest you resign immediately.

Having majored in Sociology and Women & Gender Studies (with a minor in English), my analysis of your current predicament is a sociological one. The institution of higher education in the U.S. is facing a crisis. Not a financial one, but a crisis that arose from a larger political and economic shift toward privatization of formerly state-controlled institutions. Continue reading