Sunday, April 14, 2013
The problem isn’t a reduced demand for education. I have yet to see a convincing argument that we’d be better off throwing everyone into the workforce after high school, or even that we’d be better off if we returned to the college-going rates of, say, 1940. That’s not the issue. The issue is that eventually, someone will drop the hot potato. Rather than digging in our heels to defend an idealized past, we’d be much better off shaping the future. The transition may not be pretty -- they rarely are -- but it’s necessary, and it may be great. Forty years of hot potato is enough. It’s time to let go of some pieties and start experimenting.
1) Shed capacity.
2) Serve weaker students, so that you admit a larger fraction of a smaller cohort of high school grads.
3) Serve non-traditional first-time students.
4) Provide post-graduate or continuing education, i.e. serve people who are not first-time because they have already gotten some sort of degree, certificate, credential, or whatever from the higher education system, but want/need additional training.
Budget crises are already taking care of option 1.
Community Colleges seem to have lots of experience with Options 2 and 3. To some extent they provide Option 4, especially on the vocational/professional side. They won't provide an MA/MS to a person who already has a degree, but they do provide classes to people who have a degree but need a class or two to polish a skill or develop a new skill to advance in their career or change careers.
So, to the extent that the problem is shrinkage of a traditional market (new high school grads who are "college-ready" by whatever selective standard and can pay some significant part of the sticker price), CC's don't need a NEW model, because they are already good at serving people outside that traditional market.
This is a pretty radical idea, even if it's a suggestion on a blog, and I think it's one that's true in many sectors of post-secondary education.
However, there are two major problems: A lot of people who work in higher ed probably don't think there's a problem at all ("This too shall pass" on a global level), and no one knows exactly what a new model might look like. When we see some solid examples of what comes next, things may get a little more interesting.
There have not been sufficient candidates for a single one of these certificates.
People who already have degrees likely do not have opportunities in their current jobs to make more money with a diploma, or would have to make less money in a new career with no experience.
There is also the flip side of the coin. The faculty in the evergreens continue to be over-worked and these technical courses require a new crew of adjuncts to teach classes to smaller groups of people. Certificates will not increase revenue.
It is sad but, in my institution, anyone who leaves, especially if the teach general ed, are replaced by adjuncts.
The students are not going to pay top dollar to be taught by adjuncts, they just leave.
A drop in HS grads (we also are seeing that) must put a lot more pressure on small colleges where each student provides a larger fraction of the funds needed to operate. I was going to propose using a review of history (a wonderful liberal art) to see how they dealt with the end of the baby boom in the late 70s, but that might not be helpful. The two responses I recall (growing the pool overall and enticing top students by the cost/benefit of a SLAC) have already been used up.
Our college is dealing with some of the other paradoxes seen in the 1980s: dropping enrollment overall but an increase in some areas coupled with larger declines in others. In the 80s it was business that grew; now it seems to be STEM.
Bingo. Something's wrong with the value proposition.
Excess capacity in higher ed won't be sustainable much longer. The job market is no longer asking for the kinds or quantities of college grads we are producing.
Institute differential funding for adjunct taught and tenure track taught courses. If you're not paying as much for the instructor, why should the state pay you the same amount per student? It's getting the same money for butts in seats no matter who stands in front of the class that in part drives the adjunct trend.
Give students one semester to get out of remedial courses in math or English. If they couldn’t meet that goal, they would be asked to leave and given the opportunity to transfer back under the transfer agreement system.
Limit required general education courses to 6 per student. Period. This would cut the CSU required GE from 51 semester units to only 18.
Move towards a unit cap of 90 for each major. It can't be done you say - but wait - I've just given you 33 GE units back. Use those and your major won't have to change at all. You could even add a class!
Create a transfer track which allows transfer students who follow a prescribed program at the community college with a 3.0 GPA or better to complete any degree on campus in 45 units. All majors would have to have this track, no exceptions. This would eliminate issues with transfer students losing time and units when they transfer.
I would start a gap year transfer program where students who completed a year of certain CC classes either during high school or during a "gap year" with a 3.0 or better could transfer in and finish their major with 68 units.
I would limit research required for tenure to one paper or scholarly work appropriate to the discipline for associate and one for full. Grants are nice but there's only a few CSU campuses where they pay for themselves and they help drive the adjunct trend by taking faculty out of the classroom. Start-up money to set up labs for new faculty is in the $100k range or more – most campuses never see that money returned through grants because the admin overhead on many is less than 15%. It’s one of the many ways that research does not pay for itself.
I think once the dust settled that our students and instructors would be better off. The focus would be on teaching, throughput, and doing more with what you have. The incentive to hire adjuncts would be muted by the decreased reimbursement. You would not save money when a tenure track faculty member was bought out by a grant and replaced by an adjunct making grants a less attractive thing. The requirement for scholarship would be reasonable, achievable and consistent in different departments.
None of this will ever happen but a girl can dream….