Tag 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).


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!

An Exercise in Gratitude

Adult urgent care entranceGratitude is one of the pillars of happiness — “the parent of all virtues” (Wood, Joseph and Linley, 2007). Here is a way to begin the New Year on a positive note.  I created this task for professionals-in-training and their teachers, but others might want to try it as well.

Take some time to think about how professionals have contributed to your own well being during the course of your life. Imagining who belongs within the abstract category of workers we call “professionals” raises many issues, and you might want to think about this at a later time. For now, just go with your own sense of the matter.  In general, professionals are people who have high levels of technical expertise, practices grounded in a shared, empirically grounded knowledge-base, control over their own certification process, a comparatively high level of autonomy, a code of ethics. There are many points of view on the matter, so just see where your thoughts take you. With no pretense or hope of comprehensiveness, here are a few of my own reflections:

There were the nurses and physicians who helped my mother “deliver” me into the world, and who saw to my health in childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Dr. Wright, the general practitioner, came to the house when someone was sick, examining us, and perhaps writing a prescription for the pharmacist (another professional) to fill.  There were the teachers who taught me to read, write, develop new skills, solve problems and adapt (more or less) to the demands of life in post-industrial society. Mrs. Gephart, the school nurse at Edina Elementary School, took me under her wing.  She let me help in the nurse’s office after lunch, when all the other kids went out for recess.  I much preferred the company of a caring adult to braving the frigid Minnesota cold on the playground after lunch every day! Mr. Jambeck, my 11th grade English teacher, taught me to appreciate how, in order to really understand the literature and the visual arts of each era, one needed to consider the contexts in which they were produced. In many respects, this insight made me who I am: inspired my interests and my life’s work. Architects and contractors designed and built the dwellings that gave my family and me shelter from the elements. When I was 9 or 10 years old, my Dad showed me the blueprint of our suburban home.  What a wonder!  Decades later, a wise and competent lawyer helped set me free of an unfortunate relationship that no amount of time, effort, love or forgiveness could repair…

If all this suggests an embrace of an old-style functionalist and “celebrationist” mindset — well, so be it! The experience and expression of gratitude can have personal and societal benefits (Seligman, Steen, Park and Peterson, 2005). We tend to take professionals and their contributions for granted. So every once in awhile, we ought to drop our critical lances (yes, lances, not lenses) on the ground and recalibrate, taking into consideration the benefits we derive from the professionals whose work contributes in so many ways to our health and well-being. The system as a whole is flawed, but essential to our diverse ways of life and amenable to improvement.  — Ed Prof

Further Reading

Encyclopedia of Gratitude (A free source of things for which to be grateful compiled by Erich Origen.  Print version available in February, 2012)

Gratitude (Wikipedia.Org entry provides a useful overview as well as citations of empirical studies on the nature and consequences of gratitude.)

Leo Babauta (2007). Why Living a Life of Gratitude Can Make You Happy .  Posted on Zenhabits.net .


Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N.,& Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60, 410-421

Wood, A., Joseph, S. and Linley, A. (2007).  Gratitude — Parent of all virtuesThe Psychologist, 20, 1:  18 – 20.

 All rights reserved, 2012

Fallibility: Why It’s So Easy To Be Dumb

One of the important lessons professionals need to learn is how to reconcile the need for confidence in one’s expertise with the need to be mindful about human fallibility.  This is a life skill we cultivate throughout our careers.  In my view, learning to think “contextually” about professional life, calls upon learners to accept the inevitability of both human wisdom, and human fallibility, while avoiding the twin hazards of cynicism and hopelessness.

A decade or so ago, I talked by phone with a man who had served in many university leadership roles, including being the dean of three distinguished schools of education.  At the time, I was recovering from the stress and strain of a big structural  reorganization in my own College.  It was all over — all but the pain and loss that some of our faculty members felt, including me. We had helped to achieve the administrators’ goals while losing a lot of time that should have gone to promoting our own careers.  As a relatively new professor of education, I was troubled by what had happened, and bewildered by some of the questionable decisions administrators had made.

My distinguished colleague listened patiently, and then said something that proved to be something of a gift.

He said, “Well, I don’t know Jan. All I can say is that it’s just so easy to be dumb.”  He went on to give a couple of examples of decisions he had made in his role as a college dean that turned out badly because he just hadn’t seen the whole picture, or made faulty assumptions.

Here was someone whom I greatly admired, one of the brightest people I knew summing things up in a way that helped me accept my professional calamity and move on to higher ground.  It’s so easy to be dumb — an insight from someone who drew on his own wisdom to help a novice see things from a different point of view.  Useful insights are gifts, and anthropologically speaking, gifts circulate — they are passed along from one person to another, perhaps also from one field to another.   –Edprof