Thursday, July 05, 2012


Friday Fragments

BREAKING: Community colleges are useful, and The New York Times is ON IT!  It reduces them to vocational training centers, but it’s a start.


The Atlantic has a slightly more thoughtful take on the survival of traditional campuses in the age of broadband.  I’d amend as follows: the high end and the low end will be fine.  The middle -- undistinguished, tuition-driven private colleges -- will have some ‘splainin’ to do.


I've been referring to the California public higher ed death spiral for some time now.  Now comes word that the City College of San Francisco -- a community college of 90,000 students -- is on the brink of having its accreditation revoked, effectively killing it by rendering its students ineligible for financial aid.  A local report indicates that a couple of other California colleges -- Cuesta and the College of the Redwoods -- are also on the brink.  Remarkably, the major issue at CCSF seems to be an administration that's spread entirely too thin.  

if you click through to the actual report -- which calls itself confidential, so read very quietly -- you quickly notice a theme of administrative thinness and turnover combined with a culture of faculty largely ignoring the administration.  That's dysfunctional in the best of times, but potentially fatal in the worst of them.  I suspect some sort of last-minute deal will come through with an extension and double-secret probation, since 90,000 students is an astronomical number, but still.  As bankers like to say, when the tide goes out, you see who was swimming naked.


Flipboard, for the Kindle Fire, is incredibly useful.  Why was I not notified of this?  In a semi-related development, I’m putting Google on notice that I’ll consider an Android phone -- as opposed to an e-reader with goodies -- as soon as they actually make up their minds.  They keep coming out with new versions, but all the phones run old ones.  Now, with Jelly Bean, they’re finally acknowledging that apps stutter?  Really?


Dear EdD Students: The Next Great Project involves figuring out how to address the gender gap among students over age 25.  Among 18 year olds, the gender gap in community college enrollments is tiny, but it increases quickly with age.  By about 25, it’s overwhelming, and it just increases after that.  Anyone who can figure out how to reach men over 25 will be hailed as a national hero.  There’s a fantabulous dissertation waiting to be written.  I’m just sayin’.


Program Note: The gang will be doing the annual summer trip next week -- no meetings for me! -- so I’ll be on a blog break, too.  The blog will return on Monday, July 16.  

I have no clue about the administration at CCSF. But I can say from experience that they have a really nice gymnasium. I won a regional judo tournament there. It is much better than other gyms I've seen, particularly in allowing in natural light. (Usually you feel like a chump after spending yet another awesome day in a gym/arena, like I did today.)
The highlight regarding administration was the reference to the adequacy of the number of QUALIFIED classified staff and administrators (emphasis added).

I also perused that "confidential" report this afternoon, and found very interesting their difficulties implementing assessment of Student Learning Outcomes. It sounds like a significant fraction of the faculty have simply ignored the task set to them six years earlier.

If there is one thing that will get faculty to take that process seriously, it would have to be the probability that everyone will lose their jobs if a sufficient fraction of the faculty don't ignore that task.

What got my attention was that accreditation in that region (hence perhaps in mine or yours?) requires evaluating faculty on whether they are effective in "bringing about those outcomes", that is, teaching, and the continuous improvement of same.
In regards to CCSF, what struck me about the report was how removed from the students it all seemed to be. Is an overly tight budget and reliance on temporary grants plus poor department-level assessment of student learning in non-credit courses a good reason to (threaten to) shut down the institution? It also seems odd to shut down an institution because it might go broke in the future (although I don't know if the state or city might have to cover its debts).
I found the Atlantic article quite interesting. It is true that the disruptive technology that the Internet offers probably won't completely eliminate higher ed as we know it, but I think that it will completely transform colleges and universities in ways that are difficult to forsee.

I suspect that the advent of online education will reduce the number of teachers and educators that are needed in the years ahead. In the future, face-to-face teaching in a bricks-and-mortar classroom will be a luxury that is limited to the very highest-end educational institutions--the Harvards and Princetons of the world, as well as the super-snooty liberal arts colleges that can attract students with wealthy parents. In pursuit of lower costs, the rest of the higner-ed world will rush headlong into online education, relying heavily on poorly-paid part-time teachers and on graduate student tutors.

Another interesting part of the Atlantic article was the criticism of for-profit schools. The article says that for-profit graduates tend to earn less than graduates from nonprofit schools, and that some for-profit diplomas are actually worth very little in the job market. Maybe the first sign of the bursting educational bubble will be a whole bunch of for-profit schools going belly-up.
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There's one way, IMHO, to reach men over 25: make it feasible for them to quit the day job. That does NOT mean saddling them with enough debt to last a lifetime.

My son, who has a $130,000 degree from a very fine private liberal-arts college, is stuck in a job he hates. He struggles to take community-college math and science courses (which are not required in elite private liberal-arts schools...) so that he can get into a graduate program that might earn him a decent living in a job that doesn't make him dread getting out of bed every morning.

It's excruciatingly slow going and, after four years in a good school, deeply frustrating to encounter the level of instruction delivered by legions of marginally competent adjuncts. The logical thing to do, on the surface, would be to quit his job and go over to the state university to make up those lower-division courses, which he probably could do in two semesters max. But he's terrified to quit his job, especially in the present economic climate.

In my opinion, his caution is reasonable. We've seen the (non)employability that a college degree brings -- my son has seen it first-hand, and he's seen his friends end up as admin assistants and baristas. He doesn't want to take on tens of thousands of dollars of debt with no guarantee that he can get a job that is any less miserable and pays any more than what he makes as an insurance claims adjustor.

He feels trapped and can't see any way out.

Create a way out -- a way that actually leads to something better -- and you'll have plenty of men in your classrooms.
Regarding Android - The new phones have old versions because the phone manufacturers want to put their own tweaks on it rather than release it as is. It's only Google's fault insofar as they made the OS open source rather than restricting companies to use the "vanilla" version
It's pretty clear from the report that CCSF is bankrupt and one short step from the receivers but the visitors didn't want to say so for fear of spooking the suppliers.
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