Education Reform: The Individual at Risk (Except when Protected by Money)

Taylorism, the systematization of labor developed by Frederick Taylor, makes the worker immediately replaceable. Individual skill and knowledge becomes irrelevant–on the part of the worker. Only at the higher levels of management and ownership does creativity count for anything. It’s an elitist system positing that those at the lower echelons are merely cogs, not thinkers. It’s the elitism forwarded by Ayn Rand, whose The Fountainhead ends with Howard Roark atop a building he designed–with the implication that he created it completely. He didn’t, of course.  No one does–but those with money and power can create the illusion of their own freedom and competence, an illusion based on the unrecognized work of those who, for whatever reason, are below them.

I first experienced the Taylorization of education a little more than a decade ago, when I worked, for a time, for a for-profit online “college.” It was a writing class. Naive, I was a little perplexed by the nature of the course, built on a structure with little room for instructor input. As I see writing as a dynamic, an interaction between author and audience, I tried to add that in, giving the students a little sense of whom they were writing to. I tried to make a few other changes, as well. Soon, I came up against “my” administrator, someone who had never taught, had no advanced degree relevant to the subject, but who was responsible for oversight of the “facilitators” (as we putative “teachers” were called). Finally, I was threatened with immediate dismissal if I deviated from the proscribed path. I finished up the term but did not ask to teach there again. Continue reading

‘They’re Just Going to Punch the Clock’: The Faculty of the Future

The most disturbing consequence of the contemporary belief that any sort of ‘progress’ in education stems from individual initiative and can be proven by testing is the devaluation of the teacher. Problem is, we don’t learn on our own; learning always involves community. Language itself builds from–and builds–community, and learning is dependent on language. And testing is inherently regressive, for testing can only focus on what already is known and codified, so is of only limited utility and should only be used by teachers themselves for classroom purposes. It cannot embody exploration or experimentation–certainly not when made an end and not a tool. The irony of contemporary attitudes is that it is teachers who guide learners through to mastery of language as practiced within the wider culture and who are necessary for development of tests with significance beyond the tests’ own internal comparisons. Without them, nothing happens. In other words, it ain’t agonna work without teachers, no how, no way. But our leaders, today, don’t seem to believe that.

It ain’t agonna work, not even if you believe that teachers are simply as machines for refining the product (students). But that’s what is happening, what too many believe. Bit it ain’t agonna work. Continue reading

Tips for Navigating Corporatized Colleges and Universities

Guest blogger Jeanne Zaino is professor of political science and international studies at Iona College.

In his provocative and deeply depressing The Last Professors Frank Donoghue warns that corporate logic has taken over the academy.  His findings are confirmed by Andrew DeBlanco who, in his award winning College: What it Was, Is, and Should Be not only bemoans the demise of liberal arts education, but attributes it to several factors including the “commercialization of American higher education.”

Tellingly neither Donoghue nor DeBlanco call on humanists to rise up. Nor do they offer any real hope that the liberal arts generally, or the humanities in particular, can be resuscitated. Far from a call to arms, these books are elegies, laments, requiems. As Donoghue writes, “the conditions to which many seek a return – healthy humanities departments populated by tenure-track professors who discuss books with adoring students in a cloistered setting – have largely vanished.” Humanists, he goes on to predict, will in time “become an insignificant percentage of the country’s university instructional workforce.” In just a few generations they will have disappeared from all but the most affluent and vaunted of universities (where they will largely be seen more like relics and vestiges of a past life).

If we need any more proof that Donoghue and DeBlanco are right, just consider the news out of Elizabeth City State University. ECSU, a historically black college in North Carolina, recently announced that seven of its undergraduate majors may be abolished due to low enrollment. Among those designated as ‘low productive’ – history, physics, and political science. Three disciplines which have long been deemed essential to a well-rounded liberal arts education. Continue reading

The Difficulty in Speaking Plainly about Truly Abysmal Statistics

One of my posts this past week was on John Kasich’s appointment of Gordon Gee to explore ways of increasing affordability at Ohio’s public universities. Given Gee’s continuing status as the highest paid administrator at any public university in the United States, I expressed my skepticism about the appointment, a skepticism based in part on the following consideration:

“Second, absent those voices [i.e. the voices of students and faculty], the emphasis is likely to be on technological gimmicks such as MOOCs. It’s almost impossible to not notice that ‘innovation’ is juxtaposed with ‘online colleges.’ But several of the premises underlying that juxtaposition are completely faulty. The online for-profit institutions have suffered a major contraction, are considerably more expensive than most public colleges and universities, and have abysmal completion rates.”

Ever since I posted that piece, it has been bothering me that, despite the very obvious bursting of the for-profit bubble, I still felt compelled to explain the major reasons why the for-profit online institutions have proven to be anything but a model of successful innovation in higher education.

What is very much needed, I think, is a much more definitive and a much more forceful way of suggesting just how dreadful the performance of those institutions has been—something that is far enough over-the-top to put to rest once and for all the notion that these institutions represent anything but the worst possibilities in the continuing, relentless corporatization of American higher education. Continue reading

Oxymoron or Farce: The Highest Paid Executive in Public Higher Education Leads a Statewide Study on Increasing Affordability in Ohio

On Monday, the Columbus Dispatch reported that Governor Kasich has appointed Gordon Gee, President Emeritus of Ohio State University, to “lead a study looking for ways to make college more affordable and relevant for Ohio students.”

More specifically, Gee will “spend the next year working with other college presidents, K-12 education leaders, and the business community to come up with ways to tie education to potential jobs and to find ways that students can save money while they work toward those goals . . . ‘Quality and cost are the biggest issues facing students who are struggling with increasing tuition and fees, rising student-loan debt, and stagnant graduation rates,’ Kasich said. ‘If the status quo remains in effect for higher education over time it will crumble, and I’ll tell you why: It costs too darn much to go to school,’ he said. ‘Mothers and fathers and students—young men and young women— they’re getting tired of this.’”

Indeed, Kasich “warned that if Ohio’s schools do nothing to prove their value, they will become like the churches in Europe: big buildings with few people as students increasingly turn to less affordable options such as online colleges. . . . Innovation will take a new way of thinking, Kasich said. Gee is the best person to lead the effort because of his experience leading five colleges.” Continue reading

A Forthcoming Series of Papers from CFHE: The ‘Promises’ of Online Higher Education: Overview

Promoters of MOOCs and online courses make big promises about the value of this latest trend in higher education.

MOOCs and online courses, we are told, will both expand access to higher education and reduce its costs for just about every “stakeholder”–for institutions lacking the resources to provide needed courses, for governments hard-pressed to provide adequate funding, and for students and their families, who have paid the price of inadequate public funding through skyrocketing tuition and mushrooming debt.

Behind these big promises, however, are some harsh realities.

Like the rhetorical strategies used to legitimate for-profit colleges and the subprime mortgage industry, promoters of MOOCs and online learning invariably wrap both in populist rhetoric. The strategy is so consistent and so powerful that even to raise questions about this latest trend, it is implied, is to question the value of expanding access to higher education itself and to position critics on the side of maintaining exclusivity and educational privilege.

That both for-profit colleges and sub-prime lenders ultimately used that rhetorical strategy to bankrupt those they promised to save should surely give us pause. Continue reading

“What Do We Know about Teaching Online?”

Online teaching remains one of the most talked-about topics of the day in higher education, and there are no shortage of studies on the topic. Do students learn more online? Do they learn less? Do they learn slightly less, but maybe it saves so much money that administrators will still find it appealing? But left relatively undiscussed is another question faculty might have: what is it like to teach online?

Helena Worthen reports on a new survey from COCAL (the Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor) that asked faculty members about their online courses. She discusses the data in the September-October issue of Academe, exploring questions like: Why do faculty teach online? Who develops the courses? Who owns the courses?

Worthen also helps break down the data by institution type, to see, for example, to see how teachers at for-profit schools get paid relative to those at community colleges, public state universities, and private schools. Take a look at the rest of the data and Worthen’s analysis in Academe

A Critique of Richard Vedder’s Recommendations for Higher Education, Made in Response to President Obama’s Recent Proposals

Part 3: Reduce the Cost of a Degree by 40% by Reducing Labor and Capital Costs.

[Explanatory lead to the first post in this series: Richard Vedder is distinguished professor of economics at Ohio University, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, and an adjunct scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. In an earlier post, I pointed out, as others have, that he is hardly an unbiased or objective commentator on the state of higher education because his connection to the conservative American Enterprise Institute has come with a $150,000 annual stipend.

Nonetheless, as the author of Going Broke by Degree: Why College Costs Too Much, he was asked by CNN to comment on President Obama’s recent proposals on higher education [The article is available at: http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/23/opinion/vedder-college-costs]. Vedder took the opportunity to restate four of his own recommendations for making higher education more affordable.]

First of all, this is the second instance in this relatively brief article in which Richard Vedder is proposing to cut the cost of a baccalaureate degree by 40%. So, I am not sure whether he is arguing that his suggestions will together reduce the cost by 80%, or he is indicating that either of the proposed changes will produce such savings but simply not explaining that there is some level of revenue below which our institutions are economically unsustainable. If the latter is the case, then the two proposals should be more clearly presented as an either-or proposition since the changes are too radical to justify enacting them simply for the sake of enacting them.

Beyond this major ambiguity, this section of Vedder’s article is the least focused of the four.

He begins by emphasizing that over the past forty years, the number of non-instructional personnel at universities has doubled, and he proposes that the number of administrators and administrative staff be reduced to 1970 levels.

Although Vedder is absolutely right in asserting that administrative costs have been a major driver in the escalating cost of a degree, this sort of proposal is ridiculous simply because it has absolutely no chance of being adopted anywhere.

In fact, the only thing that the proposal really does is provide cover for further arguments that faculty workloads are unnecessarily light and need to be increased. And those arguments are much more likely to resonate with Far Right legislators, who generally see little downside to escalating executive compensation and widening income inequality, and with university administrators, who increasingly measure their reach by the bureaucracies that they are able to create, rather than by the number and achievements of the faculty whom their institutions employ and by the number and quality of the students whom they graduate. Continue reading

A Critique of Richard Vedder’s Recommendations for Higher Education, Made in Response to President Obama’s Recent Proposals

Part 1: Three-Year Baccalaureate Degrees

Richard Vedder is distinguished professor of economics at Ohio University, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, and an adjunct scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. In an earlier post, I pointed out, as others have, that he is hardly an unbiased or objective commentator on the state of higher education because his connection to the conservative American Enterprise Institute has come with a $150,000 annual stipend.

Nonetheless, as the author of Going Broke by Degree: Why College Costs Too Much, he was asked by CNN to comment on President Obama’s recent proposals on higher education. Vedder took the opportunity to restate four of his own recommendations for making higher education more affordable. [The article is available at: http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/23/opinion/vedder-college-costs]

His first suggestion is that we adopt the three-year baccalaureate degree that is the standard in much of Europe.

In an earlier post, a review of Saving Higher Edu­cation: The Integrated, Competency-Based Three-Year Bachelor’s Degree Pro­gram, I made the following points:

1. The accelerated model may save some students money, but, in compressing four years’ worth of work into three years, it risks very high attrition rates among participating students and it raises issues about the quality and depth of the students’ learning.

2. The prior-learning model, which awards credits for prior experience and training may be very appropriate for some technical degrees, but, in reducing higher education to skill sets, it completely ignores most of the things that give higher education real value—that distinguish it from vocational education. It promotes the competency-based model, most notably illustrated in Western Governors University, over the credit-based model, fundamentally altering the nature of higher education. For in that competency-based model, there are no faculty, only “contracted evaluators” paid by corporations that became “educational providers” by buying up large numbers of textbook publishers, starting in the late 1990s. Continue reading

Ohio House of Representatives Creates “Higher Education Reform Study Committee”

Earlier this month, the Ohio House of Representatives announced the creation of the “Higher Education Reform Study Committee,” chaired by Rep. Cliff Rosenberger (R-Carksville), who also served as chair of the House finance Higher Education Subcommittee during the budget process.

The committee has embarked on a “road show,” traveling all over the state to public and for-profit colleges to discuss a myriad of issues in higher education.

At this time, it is unknown what the committee ultimately hopes to accomplish. The committee’s mission statement doesn’t provide any real clues: “A high-quality education system is critical not only for individuals’ success but also the long-term viability of Ohio’s economy. The Higher Education Study Committee is an opportunity to follow up on outstanding issues raised during the budget process as well as identify additional policies designed to strengthen Ohio’s education system. It is my hope that information gathered through these hearings will form the basis for initiatives designed to support and expanded ongoing reform efforts.”

The word “Reform” in a committee title usually suggests that some problem has come to so much public attention, that it has caused such expressions of public concern, that it must now be addressed very vigorously and pointedly by the legislature.

But this committee is covering just about every issue related to higher education: Continue reading