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

If Picky Eating Is Now a Disorder, Here’s the Remedy–Eat a Plateful of Sausages and Call Me in the Morning if You Don’t Feel Cured

You wouldn’t know it from looking at me now, but as a child I was a very picky eater. I have an anecdote to illustrate just how picky an eater I was. And if you bear with me long enough, I’ll explain why I think that this discussion may be of broader interest.

I grew up in my grandfather’s house. There were nine of us—my grandfather, my aunt and my uncle, my parents, myself and my three siblings—and my great uncle who lived next door and was a widower, often ate with us as well. My aunt and uncle were siblings and single and worked full-time, she as an executive secretary and he as a diesel mechanic. The house was large, and when my grandmother died when I was about a year old, my grandfather asked my mother essentially to cook and to keep the house clean in exchange for our living there rent-free.

On my mother’s side, my ancestry was German and Polish, and on my father’s side, my ancestry was Austrian/Russian/Rusyn or Ruthenian (more on that in a still pending follow-up to a previous post). For a while when I thought that I had settled on the idea that I had Russian ancestry, I became fond of describing my German-Polish-Russian ancestry and then saying, “So if it sometimes seems that I am at war with myself, now you know why.”

But, despite this ethnic mix, there was one absolute point of almost universal agreement in our home—on food. Everything was fried. Even the mashed potatoes. The one exception was the vegetables, which were always boiled. And at every meal that didn’t feature some sort of beef or pork roast, or whole chickens or a whole turkey or ham, there was some sort of “-wurst.” Continue reading

Invasion of the MOOCs: The Promise and Perils of Massive Open Online Courses

About a year ago, Steven Krause (of Eastern Michigan University) and Charles Lowe (of Grand Valley State University) came up with the idea of a collaborative anthology of essays on MOOCs, twinning an experiment in scholarship with exploration of an experiment in education. The anthology appeared last week, showing the success of the approach to scholarship–but also providing a chronicle of the quick rise and fall of an educational fad. It is called Invasion of the MOOCs: The Promise and Perils of Massive Open Online Courses.

As Krause writes in the concluding essay, “After the Invasion: What’s Next for MOOCs?” in 2013:

The invasion of the MOOCs seemed inevitable: for better or worse, massive online open courses in one form or another were going to be a part of the future of higher education, and the question that most of the writers in this collection consider is what is that inevitable future likely to look like.

But as we go to press in 2014, that future is a little less certain.

lot less certain, I would say. The MOOC is not going to go away, but it will merely be (like television and all of the other electronic possibilities that were to “save” education) a tool and not a solution. Continue reading

Thomas Friedman Accidentally Kicks Over the Common Core Sandcastle

In his column “How to Get a Job at Google,” Thomas Friedman talks about the views of Lazlo Bock, Google’s head of hiring. Those views explode the assumptions about education behind the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) that are being imposed on American schools and that will continue to change (if fully implemented) what college professors can expect from incoming students. Instead of coming from a regressive test-centric, skills-centric education fostered by CCSS, Bock wants to see candidates for hire who look forward to new possibilities. He does not want to see ones who can only look back to the needs of an older era. Continue reading

Let’s All Go MOOC Ourselves: Some Suggestive Reflections on Technology and Education

I have found Walter Breau’s post, “Big Bang Disruption,” to be extremely thought-provoking. That said, neither I nor anyone else should hold him in any way responsible for anything that follows in this post (or, for that matter, anything that has preceded this paragraph in this post).

If one compares the life cycles of gadgets to the working lives of average Americans, it becomes clear that while we are increasingly dependent on technology, we are less and less dependent on any specific technology. This is a major but almost never addressed  reason why any attempt to create a technology-based alternative to conventional, on-site post-secondary education is doomed to be short-lived. It’s not just that conventional colleges and universities deliver something that technology can’t replicate. It’s that unless one keeps trying to compress the time that it takes to become educated, the technology itself cannot keep pace with the increasing rate of technological change. Moreover, at the front edge, that endless innovation is usually very expensive—or at least much more expensive than it is after each new iteration of the technology has been on the market long enough to start to seem dated (a window now measured typically not even by the year, but in weeks or months). So, for the online innovator, the up-front costs are inevitably recurring, if not constant, costs. On-campus buildings may not have the durability that they used to have, but compared to digital technology, they still have exponentially longer life cycles. Continue reading

As AAUP Prepares to Celebrate Its Centennial, Is It Time for It to Develop Some International Reach?

In a recent op-ed piece on the Chronicle of Higher Ed’s Worldwide blog, Dzulkifli Abdul Razak responded to an article written by Nigel Thrift, vice chancellor of the University of Warwick. Thrift had argued for the creation of an international association of colleges and universities, suggesting that it would not only facilitate efforts to meet the common  challenges confronting institutions, but it would also promote higher education as a global resource in meeting broader socio-economic challenges.

Razak, the president of the International Association of Universities, pointed out that his organization already exists and is committed to the core aims delineated by Thrift. I am not sure whether Thrift’s apparent lack of awareness of Razak’s organization demonstrates his own limited perspective or the limited reach of the organization, or both. But, since I was also completely unaware of the International Association of Universities, I sense that the that organization either has considerably more work to do in becoming more truly representative and effective, or that it somehow is not meeting the need that both Thrift and Razak articulate very convincingly.

Coincidentally, as I have been collecting materials for this blog, I have become much more acutely aware that the challenges that we are facing as faculty at American institutions are not unique to our country—that those challenges are not only being confronted by faculty in nations around the globe but they are often complicated by socio-economic, political, and cultural factors that make them much more difficult and even hazardous to confront. Continue reading

MOOC Skeptic’s Toolkit: Sample Letter #4, to a Taxpayer

The purpose of the letters in this toolkit is to provide material that can be edited to be sent to listserves, to be posted on blogs or to be shared on social media sites, and to be submitted as op-eds to campus or community newspapers.

Some of the letters may be too lengthy to be very practical or engaging. But they can be edited however a writer wishes: for instance, the detail can be reduced to emphasize the key points, or the writer can focus on one part to the exclusion of the rest.


Dear Taxpayer:

Everyone would like to pay lower taxes, but sometimes, even with regards to taxes, there is a good deal of truth in the old axiom “penny wise and pound foolish.”

Our public institutions are like our infrastructure—our roads, bridges, airports, river levees, and reservoirs. If we don’t invest sufficiently in our public institutions, they eventually deteriorate to a point where it becomes almost prohibitively expensive to fix them.

When our taxes are spent on public institutions, including our K-12 schools and our public colleges and universities, there should be sufficient oversight to insure that there is as little waste as possible. But not investing in our public institutions, including public education, is tantamount to wanting to eliminate those things that most define our communities, that give our children and young people a sense of shared values and a sense of the importance of public service, and that insure some continuing sense of a shared national identity that supersedes any of the differences in ancestry, class, and religious or political affiliation that also define us individually. Continue reading

Kate Fawver’s Testimony at the U.S. Department of Education’s Hearing on President Obama’s Plan for Higher Education

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

California State University, Dominguez Hills

Good Morning: Thank you for holding this public forum. We are honored to have you on our campus.  My name is Kate Fawver and I am Professor and Chair of the Department of History here at CSU Dominguez Hills.  I come before you today speaking as faculty member and as a former student, who in 2003, graduated from the University of California Riverside with a PhD in History and $100,000 in student loans.  More than most, I recognize the enormous and immediate crisis in higher education – because I live there.

“Between 2008 and 2013, state funding for higher education as a percentage of state personal income declined by 22.6%.  States have cut their annual investment in higher education by nearly half since 1980 (February 2013 report from Postsecondary Education Opportunity).  As a consequence, institutions have both increased tuition and diverted funding from instruction, so that 75% of the faculty now work on temporary, low-wage contracts without benefits, which undermines their ability to serve students properly, especially economically disadvantaged first generation students, most of whom enter college underprepared.”1 Continue reading

Executive Summary of the Third Paper in the CFHE Series on Online Education and MOOCs

CFHE Logo • #futureofHE •


The “Promises” of Online Higher Education: Access

 The “promise” that online learning will dramatically expand access to higher education is at the center of the recent push in the MOOC/Online movement.  This paper examines research that can help us answer a crucial question: do online courses provide meaningful access to quality higher education for underserved students, who are those most in need of expanded educational opportunities?

Realities of the digital divide (inequities between those who have regular, reliable access to the internet and digital technologies and those who do not) make basic access to online courses much more problematic for some groups.  In fact, substantial evidence shows that the digital divide remains a reality for the very students that online promoters claim they want to reach— low-income students, students of color, and academically underprepared students. Continue reading

Almost No One Is Actually a Luddite Anymore

I have written a number of posts expressing great skepticism about MOOCs, the for-profit online universities, and, more broadly, the view that technology can be used to make education more affordable by simply replacing educators.

In several responses to my posts and more often in references to my posts on other sites, I have been accused of being a Luddite. The premise of those accusations seems to be that one either enthusiastically embraces all technological “innovations” or one is inherently against technology and, by extension, against innovation.

I would like to suggest that a focus on binary applications may be behind such either-or fallacious reasoning, and if that seems an unnecessary personalization of the debate, it is a lot milder than the remarks that have been made about the limits of my reasoning.

The following paragraphs are taken from a terrific article by Richard Byrne, “A Nod to Ned Ludd,” which appears in the No. 23, 2013 issue of The Baffler []: Continue reading