The Education Department has again rescheduled its “technical symposium” on the Obama administration’s proposed college ratings system. The new date for the daylong, public meeting is February 6, according to an email sent Thursday to presenters.
Education Department officials, citing poor weather conditions in Washington, D.C., earlier this week postponed the event and set February 20 as the new date. But, according to emails to speakers, officials have since decided they want to hold the conference sooner.
The symposium will feature presentations from more than a dozen people with expertise in higher education data who will make presentations on various aspects of the department’s proposal to develop a ratings system.
A group of institutions that favor a competency-based approach to student learning have offered examples of the sorts of approaches they would try in a program the U.S. Education Department is contemplating to encourage such experimentation. The department in December issued an invitation to institutions to propose ways in which a waiver of certain federal financial aid rules, as part of an "experimental sites" program, might allow them to improve student outcomes, speed time to degree, and lower costs for students.
In their submission, the institutions -- which include a mix of traditional public and private institutions, online only institutions, and community college systems -- proposed "testing new or alternative federal definitions of attendance and satisfactory academic progress," "decoupling federal financial aid from time-based measures," and allowing federal aid to flow to a degree program that mixes competency- and credit-hour-based learning, among other approaches.
The institutions are: Alverno College, Antioch University, Brandman University, Broward Community College, Capella University, Cardinal Stritch University, Charter Oak State College, Council for Adult and Experiential Learning, Excelsior College, Kentucky Community and Technical College System, Lipscomb University, Northern Arizona University, Southern New Hampshire University, SUNY Empire State College, University of Maryland University College, the University of Wisconsin-Extension and Westminster College.
A survey of senior academic affairs officers in higher education has found that 84 percent of their institutions have common learning goals for students, up from 74 percent four years ago. This suggests that measuring student learning is now "the norm," says a report on the results from the National Institute for Learning Outcome Assessment. The study also found that the "prime driver" for assessment efforts is unchanged from the last survey: pressure from regional and specialized accreditation agencies.
It’s that time of decade again, when randomly selected departments at U of All People are faced with assessment. The administration brings in a posse of NAAAAAA experts with credentials bought from the people who sell fake IDs, and has the faculty entertain them for three days while they poke their noses into everything, including Professor Winkle’s Dryden seminar, which no one has disturbed in years. Here’s how the process works, at least in the English department:
Three months before the assessors arrive, the department is galvanized into action by the chair, acting on directives from the dean, obeying the orders of the provost, who bows to the president. “The assessors are coming, the assessors are coming!” shouts the chair from the comparative safety of the rostrum at the semester’s first departmental faculty meeting while everyone else dives for cover. After this warning shot comes the collective indignation of the faculty -- How dare they judge us? We’re in the humanities! -- as the professors go through the Kübler-Ross stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
When everyone has settled down (except for Professor Winkle, who’s settled in for a nap), the chair starts planning the arduous task of self-judgment. The task consists of recruiting three faculty members who blinked at the wrong time, including Professor Winkle, who opened his eyes after his nap. The disgruntled three are assigned to gauge how much the students aren’t learning from the department’s courses.
What are the standards, criteria, methods? The Renaissance contingent proposes noble goals, such as achieving wisdom and learning to appreciate a Shakespearean sonnet, but no one wants to set the bar too high, or the assessment will be that this department needs to pull up its socks.
The faculty debate setting the bar absurdly low: for instance, that students should learn to read, but there’s no guarantee of students passing that bar, either. After several more meetings and the formation of a committee to oversee the assessment committee, the proposal is that each student should be familiar with the terms literature and irony; must know how to put together an argumentative essay proving that Shakespeare was a great writer; and should have enough literary history to realize that 1800 came after 1564, and that both are before 1922. These arbitrary criteria, once insisted upon, achieve a solidity as satisfying as trompe l’oeil papier-mâché walls.
The methods for data collection are decided by the assessment committee, eager to pass on responsibility to other, unwilling faculty. The methods involve snatching away student essays for disappointed analysis: counting how many times the words in my personal opinion and irregardless appear in the essays, seeing whether the arguments hold water (Professor Winkle performs that job over the sink in the fourth floor men’s restroom), and checking for spelling and grammar, assuming that the faculty are up to it.
As an extra concession, the department tracks alumni/ae to see whether anyone actually used the English major to wangle a job; and contemplates giving an exit exam to department seniors, though the offer of free pizza to anyone who’ll sit for the exam gets only three takers. The sample questions include references to periods, movements, literary terms, authors and works, and seven questions on Dryden. The sample size of all the data varies from a dozen to one faked reply by Professor Winkle.
Other creative assessment methods involve tossing the student essays downstairs to see which go farthest, and throwing the I Ching. To tabulate the results: charts with percentages look good, as do bulleted lists, though the superimposition of one over the other is probably (too late) a poor decision.
Tension mounts till the assessors arrive, at least one in a rumpled brown business suit, all looking as if they haven’t slept since the start of the fall semester. The assessors ask a lot of questions, visit classes, and interview people whom no one ever thought to talk to previously, including Clarice, the custodial supervisor for the liberal arts building. Eventually, they write up a report that recommends a 15 percent reduction in adjunct labor, greater funding for core courses, less departmental internecine warfare, and more attention paid to Dryden.
The report is circulated down the ranks until, months later, it reaches the English department faculty. Since the administration has ignored the implications of the report, the department restricts discussion to only 17 hours, spread out among four faculty meetings.
What rides on all this? Not much till next decade’s visit, when the department scrambles to recall what it did the last time.
David Galef directs the creative writing program at Montclair State University. His latest book is the short story collection My Date With Neanderthal Woman (Dzanc Books).
A federal study tracking a cohort of high school sophomores over 10 years shows that about half had a postsecondary credential, that those who went straight to college after high school were far likelier to earn a degree, and that the bachelor's degree holders among them were less likely to be unemployed or to have lost a job since 2006.
The report, published by the National Center for Education Statistics and drawn from the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002, examines a range of employment and other outcomes a decade later for students who were high school sophomores that year. Among the findings:
A third (33 percent) of the 2002 high school sophomores had earned a bachelor's degree or higher, another 9 percent had associate degrees, 10 percent had undergraduate-level certificates, and 32 percent had attended college but lacked a credential. Forty-two percent of fhose who went to college within three months of completing high school had earned a bachelor's degree, and 11 percent had earned a master's.
Of those who went to college, 40 percent had no student loan debt, 36 percent had borrowed less than $25,000, and 11 percent had more than $50,000 in student loans.
Those with some kind of postsecondary credential were less likely to be unemployed (11.8 percent, vs. 25.9 percent of those who did not complete high school and 15 percent who had only a high school diploma), and to have received public assistance (26.2 percent, vs. 47.2 and 32.4 percent, respectively).
The Obama administration has rescheduled a White House meeting with college leaders to discuss how to boost the success of low-income students in higher education.
The summit will now take place on Jan. 16, a White House official said Thursday. Leaders from higher education, philanthropy, business and city and state governments are expected to take part in the daylong event. As part of the event, the administration has been seeking voluntary commitments from colleges on how they plan to increase efforts to help low-income students.
The meeting was supposed to take place last month, but it was postponed at the last minute because of President Obama’s travel to South Africa for Nelson Mandela’s memorial service.
Submitted by Paul Fain on December 19, 2013 - 3:00am
A new report from the Center for American Progress proposes reforms to improve the connection between higher education and employers. Stackable credentials, competency-based education and more structured pathways for students are promising practices that can help bridge this gap, according to the report, which was written by David A. Bergeron, a former U.S. Department of Education official who is vice president for postsecondary education at the center. The report includes several recommendations for policy makers and accreditors that could encourage the faster adoption of those emerging approaches.