Category Archives: Colleges

Goldman Sachs report looks at higher education

The costs of higher ed have risen exponentially over the last few decades. That goes without saying. UC Berkeley in the 1980s cost $650 a semester. UT-Austin now costs about $5,000 a semester. No wonder the rate of return or the VFM (value for money) for students is decreasing. The causes of that rise aren’t questioned at all in the report.

What’s tragic (and self-serving in documents such as the Goldman Sachs higher ed report) is that states, prodded in no small part by the dilemmas of finance capitalists, have been funding public higher ed less and less for decades, forcing these institutions to re-shape themselves, not only as conductors of an ever-growing list of state and federal policies, but as foundation grant seekers, real estate development businesses (with a side mission of education), and deploying more and more adjunct and contingent faculty labor, leaving these institutions ever more focused on administrative priorities and employees rather than instructional priorities and employees.

Essentially, the neoliberal state has abandoned the idea of public (higher) education, forcing these institutions to turn themselves upside-down to mimic business efficiencies (i.e., corporatization in higher ed), and then to be found wanting for not purely running like very successful businesses; and forcing students and families to bear more and more of the costs while instructional quality declines through the over-use of professionally less supported part-time instructors, and then declaring that now might be the time for businesses proper to step in and do the job of training (educating?) workers (students?) properly.

We seem to have, at bottom, a metaphor problem, simultaneously talking about higher education through a lattice of mutually defeating terms: customer, worker, student, consumer, vocation, education, skills, training. The list goes on and branches out: teacher, educator, trainer, instructor, coach, faculty, mentor, facilitator, professor, guide, leader. Or on another branching semantic axis: discipline, practice, service, studying, product, support, offering, degree, certificate, grade, project, assignment. Some of these words line up with each other better than they do with others listed, and the ensuing cognitive dissonances mar policy and civic discourse.

We have almost completely lost the point of what higher education is and what it is for. If it is just job training, then I’m sure a good deal of higher education will be found wanting in terms of such vocational VFM, especially in liberal arts fields which will survive, surely enough, in only elite institutions. Now why is that? It’s not only that the privileged attendees can afford it, but that they value it for the larger things such a heady education permits them to survey. (original post)


Comment at the new rules of work. This is the future of college

“Experts say that within the next 10 to 15 years, the college experience will become rapidly unbundled. Lecture halls will disappear, the role of the professor will transform, and technology will help make a college education much more attainable than it is today, and much more valuable. Indeed, a number of institutions may shut down. But those that survive will be innovative and efficient. ”

So, as stated at the end of the article, why can’t “society afford to lose the university”? What great purpose does it serve, according to the account offered in this article, beyond job training? And why should the public pay for such job training? Isn’t the free public K-12 education enough tax-payer money? As the article notes with the sterling example of The College for America, employers who want a certain kind of training (critical thinking and communication skills without a liberal arts education), can send people to vocational schools that offer “communication development,” free-form, workshop, in the celebrated “Kindergarten” style. This is all the more so because so many of the key “competencies” that employers want are, as observed in the article, “not learned in school.” Won’t a student learn more critical thinking at a for-profit school, backed by employer money, than would ever be possible in a college or university? Why do we think colleges have anything to do with critical thinking anyway?


Comment on “Closing the Loop: Creating Tests and the Content Tested”

In composition and rhetoric, the scholarship and accompanying textbooks have developed and improved over the years, quite in advance of any putative tests in critical thinking (CLA), composition, design, or rhetoric. Compare Downs and Wardle’s Writing about Writing or Palmquist’s Joining the Conversation with traditional modes textbooks that are still with us. There have been advances in understanding of transfer learning, academic “mutt genres,” Genre Theory, Activity Theory, and the institutional place of comp-rhet outside the orbit of English Lit, which I think drives someone like Elizabeth Wardle to talk about re-orienting comp-rhet as an introduction to Writing Studies, rather than have it be a quixotic course on remediating all linguistic surface errors and creating disciplined critical readers with careful professional academic standards in sixteen weeks.

What keeps the old textbook approaches in circulation? 1) There are certainly some instructors whose professional opinion is that these approaches serve their purpose (there is nothing if not a diversity of approaches to writing pedagogy). 2) Textbook publishers keep producing what textbook committees want. 3) A majority contingent labor force doesn’t get involved in textbook selection, isn’t paid to develop opinions on the matter, and receives little or no professional development to pursue an investigation of the scholarship wherein they might have time in between shuttling from campus A parking lot to campus B parking lot to develop a variety of interesting and substantial opinions about writing studies, its research areas and pedagogy. 4) That leaves a department of full-time faculty, reduced in number, but still with full-time academic and institutional obligations, to keep up with the scholarship and available approaches, and to do that independent of the tender mercies of the textbook publishers who are eager to offer their opinions about the right textbooks for that college or university’s local conditions. 5) In some, probably suspect institutions, administrators, or even faculty outside the discipline, who may have little actual familiarity with the scholarship, but with full power to decide what gets taught and how, might take upon themselves some sort of say in the matter. These factors all give weight to people’s received initial graduate training and perceptions about writing that may be decades old in terms of ever having any familiarity with issues in writing studies.

The miracle is that any innovative pedagogy and textbooks informed by current research get out in front of the institutional and economic inertia.

Comment at The Academic Blog.


One Course to Rule Them All

When Harvard’s Business School has trouble figuring out how to branch off into online learning, you know the game’s still afoot.  What bothers me, and what seems the underlying problem assumption that’s causing all the mavens of distance education profit to be all in a dither, is the quest for One Course to Rule Them All, especially in divergent fields where critical inquiry and scholarly interest provide many pathways within the same discipline to excellence and great results in achieving learning outcomes. And this doesn’t even account for the plurality of academic backgrounds and visions faculty members bring to the table of course development and classroom deployment.

For decades the field of rhetoric and composition (“Writing Studies”) has focused on pedagogical issues as inherent to its basic research agenda, and there is still a heady divergence of approaches, pedagogical methods and ongoing refinements, with no lack of disagreements; nonetheless there has been development and strands of consensus in the field, especially, as I understand it, on teaching the rhetoricity of writing and communication. In fact, reading Elizabeth Wardle’s recent review essay in this June’s issue of College Composition and Communication, one sees her worry about ongoing, mostly at this point technological and digital disruptions within the scholarly field of rhetoric and composition: “’Will we keep our teaching rhetorical?’ The answer will deeply impact the future of our field—and whether we remain a field that has at its core a coherent, recognizable subject of study” (CCC 65:4/June 2014. 664).

So one has to ask, if whole academic fields themselves rightly and properly struggle with internal disruption and innovation, how “excellent” and smart is it to put all of a discipline’s eggs in one basket of a (cannibalizing) course, no matter who is teaching it or how many threads–as Breau points out in his Academe report on Harvard Business School’s online education dilemma–of “engagement, community and student support, robust outcomes and assessment of student learning, etc.,” such a dream online course contains? I think we and our “customers”–a deflationary term if there ever was one in the field of education–will be better off acknowledging the real, legitimate differences in how to teach and what to teach within given academic fields. Foreshortening those differences in the name of some juicy money-making monolith of a course wouldn’t have as much to do with learning and academic quality as it would pretend to do.


A slightly modified version of this comment is posted at the Academe Blog.

The ideals of learning versus authoritarian corporatism in higher ed

Coming out of a California JC in the 80s, paying only $640 a semester at UC Berkeley, and having valued what I learned at both places before going to IU-Bloomington, I don’t recognize all the complaining about terrible professors. Not all professors in my experience were incredible, but I never had a truly terrible professor. As far as I could tell, they all cared a lot about their work and wanted their students to appreciate their fields. Now, if we are talking about students not always being committed to the ideals of learning, and what effects that can have on the morale and justification for what happens on a campus, e.g., the oft-repeated circumstance of faculty being pressured to lower standards, make classes easier and less demanding, etc., then we are more on the right track. Resentment against professors and academics isn’t going to fix things. Figuring out ways to help students see the value of education, to do other things with their lives until they are ready to study seriously–that’s more constructive.

The Neoliberal corporatization of colleges & universities is a national, global tragedy. The money flowing disproportionately to management and away from the actual missions of instruction, learning, and sustained critical inquiry via a huge and growing reliance on adjunct faculty, paid poverty wages, and denied many of the dignities, like phones and offices, of the worthy work they do, is unethical & immoral. We’re already beginning to pay the price of less democracy and more authoritarianism in our lives.