A Higher Ed Revolution

Onlinecollege1At a recent conference, college administrators seem to agree that major changes need to happen in college education and they need to happen quickly. Convincing tenured faculty that they have to go along with these changes may be tough. 

They better hurry up, but alternatives are popping up. 

Read Kevin Carey's great article in The New Republic about the some of the alternatives to a traditional college diploma. 

THE FIRST SIGN came in mid-December, when the trade publication InsideHigherEd wrote about a group of adjunct professors at Stanford University who were offering their courses in Artificial Intelligence and other computer science topics to anyone in the world, online, at no charge. Tens of thousands of students had signed up. The availability of free Internet courses itself wasn’t all that innovative—MIT’s Open Courseware initiative is a decade old and elite schools like Yale and Carnegie Mellon have followed suit. The news was that the Stanford professors were letting students in their global classroom sit for the midterm, at proctored sites around the world. Those who did well on the A.I. test and a later final exam got a letter saying so, signed by the professors, a pair of well-known roboticists from Silicon Valley.

12 thoughts on “A Higher Ed Revolution

  1. Education is extremely labour intensive, and the labour is hard to monitor and to organise — and on top of that we have this bizarre version of worker control within the institution (in which a small portion of the workforce has a lot of control, and, like all power holders, takes that for granted). I see very little sign in my institution that tenured faculty see the urgency of the need for change, or even have much of a sense that there is a crisis (other than that we don’t get raises, etc). If anything the administrators (and I think we have some excellent ones, who have really good sense about what is going on) shield faculty from the harsh realities that, I suspect, we are going to have to face. It is a big problem, and university administrators have a next-to-impossible job. Just to add that this is one explanation for high administrator salaries — it takes a lot of skill to shift these institutions at all, and if you think you can get someone with that skill you are willing to pay quite a bit for it.

  2. What a vapid article from Inside Higher Ed! I read paragraph after paragraph of “change is necessary” without getting any sense of what needs to be changed (increase salaries? decrease costs?) or how that change should happen (1. increased faculty participation; 2. ???; 3. Change!)

  3. “If anything the administrators (and I think we have some excellent ones, who have really good sense about what is going on) shield faculty from the harsh realities that, I suspect, we are going to have to face.”
    But, I don’t think that *you* (i.e. the generic you corresponding to tenured faculty at fairly stable institutions) are going to have to face the change.
    There is no incentive for a tenured professor to work towards a new model, personally (except the good of the institution, and it’s hard to believe that you should be the first sacrifice anyway, say, instead of those high administration salaries or someone else’s department).
    The changes will come at the level of new hires and other institutions, in largely unplanned an insidious ways. Adjunctification is one, as is the primarily grant supported faculty in the medical complexes, online education, and the subverting of longer degree programs by abbreviated ones (i.e. UW’s entry into the Teach for America rapid certification market v its Masters in Teaching program). The collapse of some programs (like the institutions Texas is closing) will be another.

  4. I’m reading Tender is the Night right now, and realized what an old institution the concept of university in the US as “finishing school” where youngsters go off to be introduced to the right crowd, learn social skills among their elite peer group, and be launched into society (rather than to learn, say math, engineering, or anything else) is.

  5. The article seems vapid from the point of view of someone who wants to talk about what change are necessary because that’s not what it’s about. The article is about how administrators implement the changes they want (or actually, how it’s important that they be allowed to implement the changes they want, with a strong side of whine in it).

  6. Agree. Because there is absolutely no incentive for individual faculty members to change higher ed. Even if they did want to change things, the decentralized form of governance make actions impossible. Most times you can’t get a group of faculty to agree on a the price of a ham sandwich. So, instead of making shifts that make college education more affordable, reduce the steps to get empty degrees, and less stratified, new institutions are going to crop up to fill that gap.

  7. I’m three years away from sending a kid to college. Or not. I think yes, and for the ‘finishing school’ and certification aspects. College was spectacular for me, though the things they were proudest of (Koshland for biochemistry! Calvin for organic chem! Casida for pesticides! Diamond for physiology!) didn’t do as much for me as some good connections with TAs and involvement with dormitory government. There are certainly cheaper ways to learn those things, and I expect that going to a good community college and some online courses will serve for the knowledge itself. Once we find better ways to handle the certification business, a lot of the oligopoly power of the colleges will vanish, and with it most of parents’ willingness to pay for Roscoe to go to the second and third tier. So, Laura, as far as individual faculty members’ incentives, you are absolutely right. I think everything is fine until it isn’t, and one person’s actions won’t get the school ready for the change.

  8. I’m probably just as pessimistic as bj and laura about the actual likely behaviour of faculty, but it’s not quite true that there are no individual incentives at all. We can’t be fired, but our pay can be cut and our working environment can be improved/worsened. Our college just announced a plan that gives departments full control over 2/3rds of new revenues or cost savings from approved “innovations”; eg, if we can raise revenues we might get salary increases some day. (I know that for my department the priority is to raise the pay of our highly valued and extremely badly paid classified staff, just to be clear). Incentives can be created by administrators. The issue is whether faculty want to and know how to take advantage of them.

  9. Incentives can be created by administrators.
    As near as I can tell, my incentives are to ignore the department qua department as much as possible and to regard the university as a slightly abusive pimp that for some reason offers nice health insurance.

  10. My incentives for dealing with animals that taste good are also problematic but that’s a problem I’m not going to care about if my lipids are in the “No Lipitor yet” range.

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