The New White House Proposals for Higher Education

This seems to be the day for infographics.

What follows has just been released by the White House:

Obama's Education Proposal

Although President Obama may be very well-intentioned in his continuing determination to forge some sort of bi-partisan agreements, this plan simply incorporates the major features of the proposals being put forward by those most interested in gutting public higher education by corporatizing the way it operates and by privatizing the most profitable elements of its operations. The President’s proposals aren’t bi-partisan; they are a capitulation.

They suggest that the President doesn’t really have a clue about what is going on in higher education–on the ground and in the states–any more than he was sufficiently responsive to the widespread attacks on organized labor and public employees following the 2010 elections.

Here are some things that someone should have told the President:

We don’t need any more institutional rankings. Our institutions need more funding.

We don’t need more standardized assessment. It has been an expensive boondoggle at the K-12 level, and especially in this period of increasing fiscal constraints, we simply can’t afford it at the post-secondary level. It will become just another excuse for further administrative bloat.

In fact, if you want to control the costs in higher education, you might start by mandating some cap on the percentage of an institution’s budget that can be spent on administration and some minimum that must be spent on instruction.

Currently, the salaries and benefits of faculty constitute about one quarter of the typical institution’s personnel costs. If you want to see dramatic improvements in educational outcomes, try reversing those percentages. In fact, even a fifty-fifty split would have a tremendous, almost incalculable impact.

If funding for student financial aid and for remediation continue to be cut, and if more and more emphasis is placed on methods of course delivery of very dubious pedagogical value, such as MOOCs, the efforts to increase completion rates will be successful only at the expense of academic standards.

If you want to improve completion rates and cost-effectiveness at the same time, cut funding to the largely online, non-profit institutions that, in proportion to their enrollments, take in twice as much student financial aid and have about one-fifth the graduation rates in comparison to the aggregate numbers for all other institutions.

Options such as MOOCs, credit for prior learning, and competency measures may make a degree somewhat more affordable, but they will reduce the quality of the education received and therefore reduce the value of the degrees being awarded.

And, lastly, we need you to recognize and to keep emphasizing the reality that although technology can be used to great effect to enhance instruction, it cannot be used effectively to replace instruction. If that were the case, if MOOCs were as effective as personalized, responsive instruction, then we would have no need for universities because we already have televisions, personal computers, and digital notepads. All of these devices can be used very effectively to deliver information, but information isn’t education.

It may be presumptuous and even self-serving of me to suggest this, but I think that you have been taking too much advice from people who have no more idea of what it means to teach a college course than I have of what it means to sit behind the desk in the Oval Office.

You are trying to lead us too much in the same direction as those who place a greater value on profits than on learning and who have more interest and faith in the development of technological contrivances than in the realization of human potential.

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