Category Archives: Higher Education

The Condition of Education

 

Protesting Against Education Budget Cuts
Protesting Against Education Budget Cuts (Photo credit: infomatique)

My previous post noted that tuition pays only a small portion of the cost of higher education in public colleges and universities.  According to this year’s Condition of Education report, in 2009 – 2010, tuition accounted for about 16 – 18 percent of the total revenue of  public postsecondary institutions (and 90% of private, for-profit post-secondary institutions).  The Condition of Education is a report mandated by the United States federal government and published each year by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).  The report is available for download at no charge and contains a wealth of information about educational institutions at all levels, including elementary and secondary, postsecondary, public, private non-profit and private, for-profit institutions.  This is a rich, detailed, well-organized and trustworthy analysis of massive amounts of data that can be very useful for academic research and writing projects.

Here are a few direct quotes that reflect current conditions and changing trends in higher education (from the 2012 Condition of Education Overview).  A useful and informative resource:

In 2009–10, more than half of the 1.7 million bachelor’s degrees awarded were in five fields: business, management, marketing, and personal and culinary services (22 percent); social sciences and history (10 percent); health professions and related programs (8 percent); education (6 percent); and psychology (6 percent) (indicator 38).

Approximately 56 percent of male and 61 percent of female first-time, full-time students who sought a bachelor’s degree at a 4-year institution in fall 2004 completed their degree at that institution within 6 years (indicator 45).

In 2011, some 32 percent of 25- to 29-year-olds had completed a bachelor’s degree or higher. From 1980 to 2011, the gap in the attainment of a bachelor’s degree or higher between Whites and Hispanics widened from 17 to 26 percentage points, and the gap between Whites and Blacks widened from 13 to 19 percentage points (indicator 48).

In 2010, young adults ages 25–34 with a bachelor’s degree earned 114 percent more than young adults without a high school diploma or its equivalent, 50 percent more than young adult high school completers, and 22 percent more than young adults with an associate’s degree (indicator 49).

Sources

The Condition of Education — Index  — http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/  [The 2012 report and related information can be downloaded from this site.  An ebook of the report is also available.]

The Condition of Education — Overview, Section 3 – Postsecondary Education and Outcomes — http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/overview.asp

The Condition of Education — Postsecondary Revenueshttp://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_prs.asp

Caring (Against the Odds)

Ponderosa pine treeAs the end of the semester drew near, I fretted about a student or two who had done quite well for most of the semester, then drifted off course, and finally disappeared without a trace.  As I tried to work this problem — figure out how to get my lost students to talk to me, two people asked me (with unveiled cynicism):  “Why should you care more about students’ grades than they do?”

That’s a good question, though it is based on somewhat faulty premises.  Most students do care about the grades that they get, and they also care about what they have learned in a course — or so it seems to me.  When otherwise capable students disappear, there is usually some explanation.  For some reason, though, given the strains of early adulthood and the fact that many first-generation students do not know how the system works, students just “log off” instead of asking their professors for help.  They assume that nothing can be done and there are no options, and no one cares anyway, so (as one of my students put it) “I thought I might as well just take the F and deal with it later.”

As a professor, one of my responsibilities is to evaluate student performance. Disappearing students, by academic convention, get an “F” (failing) grade for the course.  Alternatively, though, they could receive a “W, WP, WF” (withdrawal) or in some cases, or an “I” (incomplete, with the option of completing work within an agreed-upon time period).  From my vantage point as a college teacher, getting an “F” might have long range consequences that should only be borne if the grade is really warranted and there are no other alternatives.  So, in answer to the question above, here is another question: Why let talented students “give up” and “take their punishment” without at least trying to persuade them otherwise?  Will students be “wrecked for life” because someone inside the Machine cared about their long-term best interests?  And from a public resource perspective, courses retaken must be paid for again, and society always pays part of the bill.  As high as they are, tuition fees cover only part of the cost of higher education.  This means that re-taking courses always requires expenditure of public resources we cannot afford to waste.   –EdProf

Diary of an Ed Prof (2)

Well, the semester is drawing to a close.  Last week of classes with final exams next week.  Last chance for professors to highlight key principles and ideas, address omissions, demystify our teaching strategies (perhaps), and offer an apologia for the inevitable gaps between teaching aspirations and learning outcomes.  In my experience, professors really do care about students and they share the hope that their students will benefit from their labors.

It seems to me that the credit for university courses that go really well must be shared, as this is always a product of group effort.  A “good” course is one that students choose to create by investing energy, preparing well, taking risks, sharing thoughts and life experiences with one another, going beyond the surface level of understanding.  Professors can try to create conditions that foster these desirable pedagogical ends, but it is always the students who make it happen!

Diary of an Ed Prof

Academic BookshelfOne of the tasks of educating professionals involves inculcating the ability to concentrate intensely for long periods of time on whatever one’s job requires.  My job requires a good deal of writing, and reading, and learning — and I would not have it any other way.  But I may be happiest when I go into random mind mode (RAMM!) — which I do more often than perhaps I ought. One of the benefits of RAMM, however, involves happening on new ways of thinking about things.  Reading a few of 27 year old Mary’s posts — beginning with Fifteen Things White Girls Love to Do on Facebook — got me thinking again about how much the idea of “authenticity” in academic writing has changed in the past 2 or 3 decades, and how advanced information technologies (especially blogs and online journals and newsletters, but also spelling and grammar checkers) have changed our notions of what it means to write, and to read the work of others.

Academic writing in the professions is put through so many layers of critique and often endures so much editorial meddling that it loses whatever creative energy it might once have possessed.  There is an odd gauntlet through which a writing project must pass if it is, indeed, to “count” for much in the academy.  At least in my fields (education, anthropology and psychology), the goal is not simply to share ideas and research findings, but to do so with the benediction of peer-reviewers who presumably provide an “objective” and informed evaluation of quality of the work. [I have written about this in the “Political Economy of Academic Writing (PDF)” in the Journal of Thought.] Those who write  journal articles on their own must compete with those who work in teams and with others who receive varying amounts of help from amateur (student) or professional editors and ghost writers.  By the time it makes its way through the gauntlet of critique, academic writing  may no longer reflect either the intellect or the communication skills of the author(s).  As a result, it can be difficult to gauge the authenticity of the persona manifested in academic writing projects. Blogs might be another story, or so it seems to me.

Mary lived in New Orleans a few months ago and was working on a nursing degree in a community college.  Her “Fifteen Things” entry garnered a lot of attention when it was spotlighted on the Word Press “Freshly Pressed” page — a great site for anyone looking for RAMM opportunities!  In prior posts, she had bemoaned her inability to study for an important “A and P” (anatomy and physiology) exam. Instead of studying, she  blogged.  Blogging is seductive because it provides a readily available venue for self-expression and exploring alternative possible futures.

I thought Mary’s subsequent post on “The Pros and Cons of Being 27 and Living with your Parents”  provided an imaginative, humorous and insightful glimpse into what developmental scientists call emerging or early adulthood – the period in the lifespan from about 18 years of age to the late twenties  (Arnett, 2000).  Mary has better reason than many to still be relying on parental support, but the truth is that “growing up is harder to do” today than in the past (Furstenberg, et al, 2008; Marantz Henig, 2010).  The situation is a product of the social and economic context rather than individual deficiency (of either young adult children or their parents).  On January 4, Mary wrote a thoughtful commentary about sibling relationships (“Brothers and Sisters“). And early in February, she announced her decision to (re)turn her attention to writing, setting aside her aspiration to become a nurse, at least for now (“Community College Drop Out“).  Given how her readers have responded to her work as a blog author, she wonders whether she might have become a kind of “internet nurse” — helping to relieve human suffering or at least, making some of her readers feel less alone.

As a teacher, I am reminded of how hard we sometimes work to help students overcome barriers in order to stay in school and finish their degree programs.  It sounds as though Mary’s community college professors did what they could to help, but there is only so much one can do.  Things don’t always work out as planned. In any case, I am struck by the way that Mary seems to embody her prose.  Here is how she describes the role writing plays in her life:

I think more than any physical place, my notebooks have been my home. Writing often reveals to me what is true and real before my own mind can recognize it in the world. I know that writing is a way for me to find truth and tell the truth. It might be why I get anxiety just before I sit down to write, but after I finish, I feel better. Lighter. And if I’ve written correctly, I always walk away with more clarity, more light in the room than before. So I won’t concern myself too much with what house I call mine for now. Maybe home is more an internal thing than anything else. For the time being, home is on paper, and deep within. (2/28/12)

 Blogging affords opportunities for writing as an “authentic” form of self-expression to real and imaginary audiences.  Through writing, we create, recreate and comfort ourselves. This is a new and noteworthy phenomenon and I suspect it is worthy of more scholarly attention than it has received.    Ed Prof

References and Further Reading

Arnett, J. J. (2000). Emerging adulthood: A theory of development from the late teens through the twenties. American Psychologist, 55 (5):469-480.   doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.55.5.469

Furstenberg, jr., F., et. Al. (2004). Growing up is harder to do. Contexts, 3, 33-41.

Marantz Henig, Robin (August 18, 2010). “What Is It About 20-Somethings?”. The New York Times.

Munsey, C. (2006). Emerging adults: The in-between age. APA Monitor, 37 (6):68.  http://www.apa.org/monitor/jun06/emerging.aspx

Web Pages

Emerging Adulthood (Wikipedia Entry).

Jeffrey Jensen Arnett’s Home Page:  http://www.jeffreyarnett.com/index.htm

Degree Program Search Sites: A Cautionary Note

clouds on a southwestern horizon

Clouds on the Horizon

Not long ago, Gwen Jensen (pseudonym) contacted me about a website intended to help those interested in earning a masters degree in Elementary Education.  She wanted me to add a link for her site to a web page I manage that provides links to Professional Education Associations. The idea was to encourage education students to join one or more professional associations — to expand their professional lifenets.  Although Gwen offered sound advice on her (dot-org) page, something didn’t seem quite right.  First, she didn’t provide any trace of herself — her identity — on her website.  There was no date on the page, nor any sense of authorship or institutional affiliation — yet the page was supposed to serve prospective students.  (She was not forthcoming via email, either, when I pointed this out to her.)

In addition, the page was tightly linked to a commercial site that presumably provided a way to search for masters degree programs by location and area of specialization.  I used the commercial site’s search feature a number of times, entering my own area code and that of a public university located nearby.  Over half of the institutions that appeared were for-profit colleges, and all were private (rather than public) liberal arts schools. In order of appearance: University of Phoenix; Ashford; Kaplan; Keiser University Graduate School; Liberty Online; American Intercontinental; North Central; Walden; Full Sail; Grand Canyon; Lindenwood; Concordia, and Ashworth.   I guess that public colleges and universities don’t warrant inclusion in the databases of this marvelous Quin Street-hosted mechanism for garnering “views” and somehow making a profit by helping teachers locate degree programs that provide just the right “fit” with their needs!  Gwen’s motives (inferred from an email conversation with her) seemed genuine, and this makes me wonder what, exactly, is going on here?

I am even more wary about all this since receiving a second email request from another woman who said she had created a website to help people find programs that offer elementary education degrees.  And sure enough, her page contained some apparently authentic (and not carefully proofread or edited) prose combined with a link to the same commercial school-search site.  I am not sure if the same games are being played in other fields (healthcare, counseling, engineering).

There are probably many lessons to be learned from all this, but here is my cautionary note for bloggers:  be mindful about  the entities with whom you affiliate.  Think before you link.  As you work to attract attention to your blog or website or social media site, be thoughtful about where you direct your visitors’ attention.  Understand that the public sphere, and our public institutions, are being eroded in various ways by profiteers who advance their own interests with no concern for the common good.

—  Ed Prof

On the Meaning of Higher Education

A small tree in winter.

Winter Tree

One of the things professors tend to forget about their students is how new many of them are to higher education, and how many pressures bear down upon them as they fight to find, negotiate, and complete their degree programs.  Those who teach in schools that serve many first-generation college students need to learn that it is almost impossible to anticipate all of the things students don’t know or understand about going to college.  Figuring out what to do about all this is part of the joy of teaching for those who can quiet their egos enough to care and do what is needed to be helpful.  Although community colleges, liberal arts colleges and research universities serve many masters and embrace varied goals, we have one thing in common.  We influence lives. I wonder what would happen if we measured our “success” in higher education in terms of lives influenced instead of more traditional, hierarchical measures of prestige-among-peers and revenue generation?

EdProf

A Postmodern Pearl

South Dakota Classroom

South Dakota Classroom

The Pedagodfathers: Lords of Education is a remarkable text — complex, multilayered and imaginative.  It captures the wonderful world of educational discourse through the voice of an “old hand” sharing his thoughts and observations with a young educator at the beginning of his career.  The book presents many keen insights and “pearls of wisdom.”  In the words below, the old hand (mentor) offers his best and final advice:  to treasure each moment, choose fresh beginnings and share the wine of life with others.   In the passage below, we are told to expect no more of ourselves than this.

“Eliot understood hell better than Sartre. Not that Sartre was completely wrong. He wasn’t. He was even right as far as he went. Hell is, at times, others. The pedagodfathers certainly torture all of us…But hell, as Eliot so beautifully conveys the ugly truth, is also oneself — our drives and choices, their consequences; our fears, failures, pretensions, delusions; our extended, unending solitude; our loss of dignity and self; and our imprisonment as strangers. He offers an exit, however, unlike Sartre: fresh beginning, each moment of the day if necessary. Fresh beginnings, however, are almost over for some of us; but, there are plenty left for people like you and Sophia. I hope you’ll take advantage of them. We need educators and attorneys, even administrators, who choose to enjoy a good life as they seek to build, protect and extend a just, free, good and caring society. Our hope — individually, professionally, institutionally — rests in each person’s treasuring each moment, choosing fresh beginnings and sharing the wine of life with others. No one can ask more from us, and we dare not expect more of ourselves” (Simpson, 1994, p. 157).

It is interesting to juxtapose this advice with the notion expressed earlier in this book about the nature of success (See  “On Doing What One Ought to Do“).  Captives of our culture, we (educators, human service professionals) are advised to live principled lives as well as good lives, while dedicating ourselves to creating and preserving “a just, good, free, and caring society.”  Two moral imperatives — to do what one ought (thereby redefining our conceptions of success), and to enjoy oneself while doing so!  This reminds me of Martha Wolfenstein’s fun morality construct — the mid-20th century notion that parenting should be fun and enjoyable, and if we find it otherwise, there must be a problem!  — EdProf

References and Photo Credit

Simpson, D. (1994). The Pedagodfathers: The Lords of Education. Calgary, Alberta, Canada: Detselig.

Wolfenstein, Martha (1951).  The emergence of fun morality.  Journal of Social Issues 7 (4): 15-25. DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-4560.1951.tb02249.x

Photo Credit: Classroom, by Mike Kamrud of South Dakota.  Taken in 2010 and posted to Pics4Learning in 2011.  http://www.pics4learning.com/details.php?img=classroom.jpg