At OER conference, speakers push for academic libraries to promote adoption

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Adoption of open educational resources has to be about more than replacing textbooks, advocates say -- and academic libraries can help.

Professors of the Year named

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This year's winners hail from Pennsylvania State University Berks, University of North Carolina at Wilmington, Stanford University and Monroe Community College.

Study says research output for overwhelming majority of economics Ph.D.s is low

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Study says research productivity among recent Ph.D.s drops off precipitously for all but the top-performing graduates, especially of the high-ranked departments. Why? 

Growth of the Public Health Major

A new report from the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health finds that the undergraduate major in the field has seen considerable growth. Nearly 50,000 undergraduates graduated with public health majors from 1992 to 2012, the report says. But half of those degrees were awarded from 2008 to 2012. During the period of 1992 to 2012, the share of undergraduate degrees in public health awarded to women increased as well, from 61 percent to 78 percent.


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Essay on labor market returns for bachelor's degrees from community colleges

With college costs soaring and the job market for new grads sputtering, one trend is worth watching: more and more states are authorizing community colleges to grant bachelor’s degrees. Already, more than 20 states — now including California, which enrolls one out of every four of the nation's community college students — have authorized community colleges to grant these degrees.

Turf will be an issue as this trend continues, but there is a division of labor between community colleges and universities that makes sense. Community colleges can and should be encouraged to develop bachelor’s-degree programs in career and technical areas and to avoid the liberal arts degrees that are integral to the mission and education delivered by universities. In any case, turf isn't the bottom line in this coming shift. The bottom line is the bottom line: Do the technical and career-oriented degrees in which community colleges specialize pay off in the labor market?

Most community colleges have a good fix on the local labor market and can create relatively low-cost programs to fill local needs. When they follow this course with career-oriented training, there is plenty of empirical evidence that community colleges can produce graduates who earn enough to put them in the middle class and who indeed often earn more than bachelor’s graduates.

This evidence can be found in studies by College Measures, which have repeatedly demonstrated that graduates with technical associate degrees, on average, outearn graduates with bachelor’s degrees (see here or the most recent report on Tennessee). In some specialties, the gap can exceed $10,000.

Most current data on the experience of community college graduates in the labor market covers the wages of students earning associate degrees, not bachelor’s degrees. But data from Florida suggest that students earning bachelor’s degrees from community colleges also fare well.

Using data from 2012, the median wage of bachelor’s graduates from Florida’s universities one year after graduation was $33,400, far lower than the median wage ($41,000) of associate graduates of the state's community colleges.

One of the most common complaints about comparing early-career earnings is that even if graduates with associate degrees earn more than bachelor’s graduates early on, the rate at which bachelor’s graduates’ earnings increase is higher -- so that the advantage quickly disappears. There is truth to this, but five years after graduation, associate-degree holders have median earnings that are still higher than bachelor’s graduates ($47,000 versus $44,000). What’s more, the median household income in Florida is $47,309 and the median per capita income is $26,451. In short, the wages of associate-degree holders put them squarely in the middle class.

The lower wages of bachelor’s graduates result in part from the fact that universities offer a full gamut of bachelor’s degrees, including many liberal arts programs whose graduates don't earn much, especially immediately after graduation. The narrowing gap over time most likely reflects the earnings increases of the many university graduates with degrees in these low-wage fields, as they finally get to launch adult lives.

While data from Florida -- where community colleges have been granting bachelor’s degrees for years -- show associate graduates holding their own against bachelor’s graduates, the data also show that community college bachelor’s degrees are well received in the labor market.

Because Florida’s community colleges only offer degrees in a limited number of fields, it’s hard to directly compare the wages earned by graduates with bachelor’s degrees from community colleges to those of university graduates in a large number of fields. Where we can make these comparisons, the data reflect well on bachelor’s degrees earned at community colleges.

Looking at three large programs of study where comparisons are possible, data show that community college bachelor’s graduates with degrees in business administration one year after graduation had median earnings of $39,000. That’s $3,000 more than the median earnings of university graduates in the same field. Community college graduates with bachelor’s degrees in registered nursing earned $61,000, which outpaced that of university nursing graduates by $10,000. And community college bachelor’s graduates with elementary education and teaching degrees out earned university graduates by several hundred dollars: $37,500 to $37,000.

Few programs available at both community colleges and universities enroll enough students to make reporting long-term wage data possible, but elementary education and teaching is an exception. Five years after completion, community college graduates in these disciplines earned $40,200, compared to university graduates at $39,400. All these data are available here.

In short, bachelor’s graduates from community colleges are doing as well as their peers with university degrees, at least in Florida. And community college graduates usually paid far less for their education.

The United States has had a long and mostly unhappy history with career and technical education. Yet, the best programs in community colleges build on the best aspects of this training: figuring out what local labor markets need and training students at relatively low cost for those jobs. As long as they focus on this part of their mission, we should applaud the expansion of these institutions’ authority from granting certificates and associate degrees to include bachelor’s degrees.

Meanwhile, community colleges should leave philosophy, history and dance to universities committed to the liberal arts. Instead, community colleges should focus on training people for opportunities to enter the labor market with good skills that put them in the middle class. With their higher wages, these community college graduates can order their Starbucks coffees from baristas with fancy philosophy degrees.

Mark Schneider is vice president for the American Institutes for Research and a former commissioner of education statistics at the U.S. Department of Education.

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Faculty job searches at most colleges should focus on teaching ability (essay)

Most job advertisements in the humanities and social sciences make the bad mistake of positioning tenure-track search committees to learn much more about applicants’ research than their teaching. In order to make the hiring process better-reflect their needs, many departments should consider taking a teaching-centered approach to their next job search.

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Bridging the Middle-Skills Gap

Business leaders must lead efforts to close the skills gap, according to a new report from Accenture, Burning Glass Technologies and Harvard Business School. The report focuses on the demand for "middle-skills" jobs, which require more education and training than a high-school diploma but less than a four-year degree. It argues that businesses "must champion an employer-led skills-development system, in which they bring the type of rigor and discipline to sourcing middle-skills talent that they historically applied to their materials supply chains." Educators and policy makers also have roles to play in fixing the problem, which the report said is urgent.

Essay critiques the role of theory in the humanities

Over the years, as literary studies veered into a dozen political and identitarian versions of theory, traditionalists complained accordingly, but nothing they said altered the trend. Conservatives, libertarians, and, in some cases, liberals produced government reports (William Bennett’s National Endowment for the Humanities study "To Reclaim a Legacy"), wrote best-selling books (Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind), and spoke at legislative hearings (David Horowitz and the Academic Bill of Rights campaign), but the momentum toward political and identity themes proceeded without pause. Sexuality studies are stronger today than they were 20 years ago.

One reason, I think, is that defenders of the new managed to characterize objectors in just the right way to discredit them. Voices opposing deconstruction, postcolonialism, and the rest were cast as ignorant, retrograde, threatened, resentful, out of touch, and hidebound, traits nicely keyed to decertify them for academic recognition.

Paul Jay’s essay here is a fair example. It chides the speakers at a St. John’s College gathering for “recycl[ing] an old and faulty argument that should have been set aside years ago.” Indeed, Jay says, the whole spectacle was unworthy of academic discussion: “it’s depressing to see such a thoroughly discredited argument being made in late 2014.”

The argument he deplores is that the rise of theory has brought about the downfall of English and the humanities. Race-class-gender studies, political criticism, feminism, deconstruction, and other schools of theory have turned students away, it claims, the professors abandoning the experience of beauty and greatness, and thereby killing their own field.

Jay counters with statistics showing that English enrollments have held steady for decades after a precipitous fall in the 70s.  The “plight” of the humanities is real, he acknowledges, but it stems from broader shifts on campus, particularly the adoption of corporate and vocational values.  Traditionalists misconstrue the evidence because they want to “eschew critique” and “return to ‘tradition’” (note the sneerquotes).

Once again, traditionalists are backward and uninformed. We have the same set-up, one that denies them any affirming values and frames the position in terms of intellectual deficiency. It’s unfair, but it has worked.

Rather than protest this bilious characterization, then, let’s go with it and flesh it out, and emphasize a different attribute in the profile. It isn’t wrong to highlight personal factors in the traditionalist response, and in this case they certainly fueled the outcry and enmity against theory and politicization. But if we’re going to do so, let’s include a fuller range of them, not just insularity and defensiveness. 

I have in mind another condition. It applies to critics of the theory/politics/identity turn who were, in fact, quite knowledgeable of the intricacies of theory, its philosophical and historical backgrounds. Their response even derived, at times, from admiration of Discipline and Punish, A Map of Misreading, “Turning the Screw of Interpretation,” and other canonical 70s and 80s texts.

I mean the feeling of embarrassment. Not embarrassment for themselves, but for their discipline. It sounds ego-based and irrelevant, but it derived from a scholarly posture, not a personal state, and it happened again and again.  As they went about their professional work, teaching and speaking, reviewing manuscripts and candidates, reading new books and essays, they witnessed persistent lapses in learning, research, and evaluation, a series of poor performances that nonetheless passed muster. Enough of them piled up for traditionalists to count it a generalized condition — and they mourned. Decades of immersion in the field presented one breakdown after another, and they cared so much for the integrity of the discipline that it affected them as a humiliation.

We were embarrassed ...

  • When we attended lectures by professors who cited Jacques Derrida but in the follow-up Q&A couldn’t handle basic questions about Derrida’s sources.
  • By the cliques that formed around Derrida, Paul de Man, Foucault, and other masters, complete with sibling rivalries, fawning acknowledgements, and sectarian hostilities.
  • By graduate students skipping seminars in order to deliver theory-saturated conference papers, even though they needed three years of silent reading in a library carrel before stepping forward.
  • When departments dropped bibliography, foreign language, and philology requirements, but added a theory survey.
  • When Jesse Jackson & Co. pulled the “Western civ has got to go!” stunt at Stanford and English colleagues reacted with a pathetic “O.K.”
  • When Hilton Kramer and Roger Kimball penned their annual report on the Modern Language Association in The New Criterion, and the world guffawed.
  • By the Sokal Hoax, which made us a laughingstock among our science colleagues.
  • By the Bad Writing Award and cutesy titles stocked with parentheses, scare quotes, and diacritical marks.
  • When we came across reader’s reports and found them nothing more than puff pieces by cronies.
  • By Academically Adrift, which demonstrated how little reading and writing undergraduates do.

Yes, we stumbled from one chagrin to another. When Jay effuses about “the innovative role that theory has had in deepening, enriching, and challenging our understanding of the human,” we can only reply, “That’s not what we saw and heard with our own eyes and ears.” Jay treats it as transformative progress, but it impressed us as hack philosophizing, amateur social science, superficial learning, or just plain gamesmanship. Our first response wasn’t hostility or insecurity. It was dismay. 

This is why we blamed theory, and still do. We didn’t deny the genius of eminent theorists, but we found the practices they inspired dispiriting. Not Derrida’s “Differance,” a serious ontological statement, Elaine Scarry’s The Body in Pain, an eccentric but hefty study, and other achievements, but their thousands of phony imitations and platitudinous implementations, and theory had to accept responsibility for those results. 

First of all, theory called into question epistemological standards. “Objectivity,” “method,” the distinction of “primary” and “secondary” texts, and other disciplinary concepts fell prey to its critique.

Second, theory was unfamiliar, and so you could get by with half-baked expressions of it. If you referred in a gathering to a passage in Jacques Lacan’s “Rome Discourse,” chances are that few others in the room had the knowledge to assess your usage.

Third, theory (starting in the '80s) was aligned with political trends bearing a moral authority, encouraging people to think more about “doing good” than “doing well.” We didn’t criticize that young professor for his disorganized teaching, because he enacted a social good: introducing undergraduates to marginalized authors of color and outlining theories of their marginalization.

Finally, theory had a smaller corpus and broader application than existing historical fields. It saved younger people months and years of reading time.

It didn’t have to happen that way (who loved the archive more than Foucault?), but it did. Every profession has greater and lesser talents, of course, but it seemed to us that inferior knowledge, skills, and standards had become routine practice, and theory stood as an alibi for them.

So, when traditionalists speak up and the Establishment knocks them down, keep in mind the other attribute, not the stupidity that marks their failure to meet scholarly ideals. Consider, instead, their embarrassment over the decades, which originates precisely in their enduring devotion to those ideals.


Mark Bauerlein is professor of English at Emory University.

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Jacques Derrida

Closing the Law School Gender Gap

Reducing class size and shaking up grading systems could help close the gender gap in professional schools, suggests new research in the Journal of Legal Studies. Authors Daniel Ho and Mark Kelman, both professors of law at Stanford University, say that common professional school pedagogies, such as the Socratic and adversarial methods, may put women at a disadvantage when class sizes are big. In their study, Ho and Kelman analyzed 15,689 grades assigned by 91 instructors to 1,897 students from 2001-12.

During the first part of that time period, from 2001-08, women earned grades that were 0.05 grade-point-average points lower than those for men. But in the data from 2008-12, when Stanford adopted a lower-pressure “honors and pass” grading system, the gender gap disappeared across all classes. That change didn't just reflect "masked" grade differences under the new system, the authors determined through a kind of "shadow" grade analysis of pre-2008 data -- women were really doing better. And in a mandatory class whose size was shrunk and instruction was made more “simulation-intensive,” involving more student interaction and participation, the gender gap was reversed.

Although the original gender gap was relatively small, the authors say, it’s statistically significant when students hit the law job market. For example, they say, a GPA increase from 3.6 to 3.65 is associated with a 7 percent higher chance of landing a federal appellate clerkship. Kelman said that the study refutes a common assumption that performance is predetermined by "fixed" student traits. "To me, the most important finding is the most general one: gender inequality is sensitive to pedagogy," he said via email. "I think this fact is more significant than the particular pedagogical mechanisms that were in play here at Stanford."

Colleges start new academic programs

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  • College of Saint Rose has created four new majors in its business program: management, entrepreneurship, marketing and human resource management.
  • Daemen College is starting a master of social work program.


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