Thursday, October 03, 2013


Friday Fragments

This piece by Jeff Selingo offers an upbeat, if largely accurate, profile of students who take long and winding college pathways through multiple institutions.  It implies that we’re on the cusp of a brave new world in which students will “swirl” from here to there, compiling a customized educational experience.

One person’s “swirl” is another person’s “churn.”  It’s hard not to notice that the glorification of “swirl” is coming at the exact same moment that institutions are being judged by graduation rates.  A student who “swirls” through four institutions on the way to a degree counts as a dropout at three of them.  

It’s easy to move rhetorically from “institutions bad” to “individuals good,” without noticing that those individuals need healthy and effective institutions from which to cherry-pick.

Perhaps “churn” isn’t quite the right measure anymore...


Speaking of healthy and effective institutions, this piece suggests that many small New England liberal arts colleges may not be much longer for this world.  

I was struck, first, by the NIMBY effect shown in the poll of presidents.  Apparently, private college presidents largely believe that other private colleges are facing existential threats, but that their own college will be fine.  The same dynamic applies to members of Congress.  Perhaps I’ll just leave it at that.

More broadly, though, I can’t help but wonder about the fate of expensive but undistinguished colleges in regions with flat or declining populations of young people.  Admittedly, “undistinguished” is in the eye of the beholder to some degree, and a college that may not be considered strong across the board may have a program or two in which it’s recognized as a national leader.  And presidents aren’t known for admitting that their own colleges are undistinguished.

But still.  I understand how the elite institutions justify their cost.  I understand the value proposition of affordable, high-quality public education (hi!).  I understand the recruiting methods of for-profits, and I understand the role of colleges with distinctive niches, whether by religion, program, or gender.  I understand, and think that many others are about to understand, the appeal of affordable and flexible competency-based education, such as at College for America at SNHU.  But I really don’t understand private tuition at a nothing-special school in a program that everybody else also offers.  And I can’t be the only one.


I’m in Slate!  Check it out.  And thanks, again, to Rebecca Schuman (@pankisseskafka) for the initial discussion.


The Boy’s schedule, this weekend:

Friday night: baseball practice

Saturday morning: 5k Lego run, followed by a trip to the Lego store

Sunday afternoon: baseball game

Sunday night: Weird Al Yankovic concert

Baseball, running, Legos, and Weird Al.  That’s how we roll.

Congrats on that Slate reprint!

I was surprised when I saw where the link on small liberal arts colleges took me. I was expecting it to point to this story in IHE. The demographic impact of a significant regional decline in HS grads mentioned in the IHE article seems neglected in the focus on online ed in the one you cited, but demographics probably underlies the broad expectation among Presidents that many of their peers will close.

Certainly the comment about the importance of a niche shows others realize that "nothing special" institutions face a real threat.

Can you blog your views about online education? I can see where a large CC or regional U might use online ed to keep from losing nearby students to more famous places, but how does that work for a tiny liberal arts college?
Congrats on another great week of blogging. I don't know how you keep it up.
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