Advice on dealing with difficult administrators (essay)

Knowing ways to protect yourself against those who might undercut you can be crucial, writes Larry D. Lauer.

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Headlines About Gallup Survey on College Worth Are Misleading (essay)

It’s no secret that higher education in America is in a tight spot.

The cost and worth of college is a hot topic -- from dinner parties to political debates. The majority opinion is that college graduates are significantly dissatisfied with what they are receiving for the price of the “product” they receive.

Gallup released its most recent poll data of college and university alumni through its “Gallup-Purdue Index 2015 Report,” which is based on interviews with more than 30,000 graduates. This year, the survey included new questions concerning the “worth” of college. It’s time to step beyond anecdotal evidence and get our hands dirty with some data.

For those of us who fastidiously follow the headlines of Inside Higher Ed and The Chronicle of Higher Education, we initially found that all of our hand-wringing over how the public views higher education might be justified.

Inside Higher Ed led with: “Not Worth It?”

The Chronicle ran: “Just Half of Graduates Strongly Agree Their College Education Was Worth the Cost.” (Note: The article title was changed. The piece was originally entitled, “Just Half of Graduates Say Their College Education Was Worth the Cost.”)

And on Sept. 30, Jeffrey Selingo, former editor of The Chronicle, wrote a piece for The Washington Post entitled, “Is College Worth the Cost? Many Recent Graduates Don’t Think So.”

Yikes. The sky is falling, right?

Well, not really. Each of these headlines seems to insinuate that college grads are disgruntled by the cost of their education. However, if we read beyond the headlines, and take even a quick look at the numbers, we find that the sky isn’t falling.

In fact, maybe things are actually better than we imagined.

Gallup’s chart shows alumni responses to the statement: “My education from [university name] was worth the cost.” Respondents answered on a scale from one (strongly disagree) to five (strongly agree). While the headlines suggest that alumni are dissatisfied, I find myself reading these numbers differently.

Even if we assume that an answer of three (3) is indicative of “neutral,” we still find that 77 percent of recent alumni either agree or strongly agree with the statement that their college or university education was worth the cost.

I read the data this way: most grads believe that their education was worth the cost. That is good news. Even better news is that only 10 percent disagree or strongly disagree. Some additional good news is that, even though the recent graduates who participated in the survey were less likely to think their education was worth the cost, as they get farther and farther away from commencement -- as they are promoted out of entry-level positions -- their satisfaction regarding the cost of education will probably get better (as the Gallup report indicates).

The Gallup report includes significant data -- including factors that lead to student thriving.

But here is my real point: headlines matter.

In our current context bent on scrutinizing higher education, as we look ahead to report cards, and as we struggle to make a case for the import of this sector of society that has been educating citizens in America for nearly four centuries, let’s at least lead with more accurate headlines -- even if crisis sells.

Here’s what the headlines could have been:

“Is College Worth the Cost? Only 10 Percent of Grads Don’t Think So.”

Same numbers.

Entirely different story.

Keith R. Martel is director of the Master of Arts in Higher Education at Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Penn. He is the co-author of the newly released Storied Leadership, a faith-based, narrative approach to leadership.

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Colleges explain why they 'double-dipped' with MOOCs

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Colleges that jumped on the MOOC bandwagon early on are looking to expand their efforts. Why are many of the ones that started with Coursera turning to edX?

Federal agencies join forces to regulate for-profit colleges

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Some analysts see an interagency task force to oversee for-profit colleges as the force behind the latest federal investigations into the sector's practices.

The facts about guns and other social issues must be embraced (essay)

It’s 2 a.m. on Friday, and I awaken and slowly consider the topic that I will teach in my class on earth science later today: global warming.

It is irrational to think there is a high probability that a licensed handgun owner will attend my class, have different perspectives than what I teach, become vitriolic, and pull out a gun and shoot me -- or worse, my students. Intellectually, I know that is unlikely. Reason, unfortunately, is not the same thing as emotion. Emotionally, I feel vulnerable standing in front of 120 students. I will be the focal point of their attention, and deep inside I am terrified.

I am frightened because I see a correlation between those who have decided there should be guns on campuses and those who deny anthropogenic global warming is occurring, despite clear scientific evidence that it is. The correlation is that, in both cases, many people are refusing to accept the facts. The fear is real because lives are being taken.

This week, I watched a video of a televised hearing on Capitol Hill in which Senator Ted Cruz questioned Aaron Mair, the president of the Sierra Club, about the veracity of warming trends. In that video, not only does the senator avoid referring to actual data sources, he frequently uses the terms “satellite data,” “facts” and “debate” to gain authority over the situation. Watching it, I suddenly realized that he had no need to cite sources and was not interested in a burden of proof. Rather, he was interested in winning because (like significant percent of the members of Congress) he is a lawyer. In the courtroom there are rules, and prosecuting attorneys do all that they can to win. At 2:20 a.m. on the morning of my class, I wonder how I should deal with any students who watched the interchange.

By 2:30 a.m., I have found a Washington Post article providing many of the particulars of what Senator Cruz omitted: direct NASA meteorological and sea surface temperature data that clearly show global warming over the same period that Cruz dismissed using (unsourced) “satellite data.”

At 3 a.m., I am integrating this new information into my lecture later that morning, but I am even more worried because I feel passionate (and that is risky). I want to argue my case, but I am afraid because just last week an angry student shot 18 students at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, nine of whom died. I arrive at work at 7:30 a.m., check my facts on NASA data online, and find from Yahoo.com that there has been another campus shooting overnight at Northern Arizona University. And, a few hours later, I receive reports of yet another one in my own state, near Texas Southern University.

So, there it is. Today, I will be the focal point of an earth science class, talking about a controversial topic that correlates politically with the issue of guns in the classroom. Most of the students began the semester with little to no interest in becoming scientists. And being mainly from Texas, a high proportion of these students are likely to disagree with my perspectives on science, education, society, economics and politics. A panicked sleep-deprived concern is that any one of 120 could be angry, might disagree with me and might have a gun. Although this is an irrational fear, campus shootings are committed by irrational, disenfranchised individuals.

It may appear that I have only two choices as to how to handle my fear. One would be to deny it and to teach my perspective on global warming with frustration and passion. Yet this strategy is actually riskier than being shot; people might listen to it because of my passion rather than because of data, logic and reason. That is, I might “convince them” that I am right and climate deniers are wrong, but that would be a tragedy because I, too, would become like a prosecution attorney concerned solely with winning. Second, I could avoid presenting my perspective, which I hold to be scientifically valid. That, however, would shortchange the students who are taking an earth science class.

So instead, I settle on a third option. I will present them with data that provide evidence for anthropogenic global warming and review the greenhouse effect as an important mechanism driving the warming trend. That represents the 97 percent scientific consensus that climate deniers won’t acknowledge. Then, I will share with them the basic contents of this essay. That is, I will lay out the ways in which I am feeling compromised in the classroom as a scientist. I will become an untrained lawyer for the defense, and then I will let them decide for themselves.

I find that this is the only option because politics in the United States has become a series of prosecutions that never rest. The playing field is somewhat unfair for scientists because we do not believe that the environment represents a “special interest”; rather, we consider it a common good. In addition, the prosecution is not taking place in a courtroom with established procedures and rules. Climate deniers do not have to rest their case; there is no summation of their argument. Should their arguments be exposed as invalid, they are free to change course and attack from another angle. It’s relentless.

I cannot be overly passionate in classroom because that too is unfair to students. The only way through this is deliberate, careful logic and shared compassion for the world. Anything else is a compromise that empowers anthropogenic global warming denial. And, with that, I must rest my case.

Steve Wolverton is an associate professor in the Department of Geography at the University of North Texas. He is the co-editor, with David Taylor, of Sushi in Cortez: Interdisciplinary Essays on Mesa Verde, published this year by the University of Utah Press.

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Colleges need to install security systems to prevent mass shootings (essay)

In this country in 2015, we have had 294 mass shootings in fewer than 300 days. Some of the worst and more dramatic incidents have been at our institutions of higher learning. Two more just occurred last Friday -- one at Northern Arizona University and another near Texas Southern University. In fact, such mass shootings have been such a common occurrence that perhaps we’re becoming desensitized to the horrors of them. The initial shock seems to be followed, in a week or so, by a relatively quick return to normal life -- as if we’ve become resigned and unsure whether anything can actually be done.

What are the solutions? People who work and study at colleges and universities have offered various recommendations, some more reasonable than others.

I am a criminologist and teach at an urban university. Although I want every college and university to be a bulwark of freedom, I know we have to make some important changes to stay safe and improve our chances of surviving when an armed person comes onto a campus with the intention of doing harm. For starters, we can minimize the opportunity that these individuals can do harm. So here’s an idea.

Modern life is crowded, fast-paced, busy. When we go to public places or attend entertainment venues -- an airport, a football game, a concert -- or we even enter into many office buildings in large metropolitan centers, we are OK with passing through a metal detector or undergoing a security search, despite the annoyance and hassle.

We have accepted these forms of access control as part of our daily routine: show your ID, place your backpack on the conveyor belt, submit to a stranger looking through your things. Why do we do it? Because we believe that it works. As much as we may not like it, we accept it and usually feel safer. It is the price we pay for living in a society where we have the right to bear arms.

But something is not syncing up here. People are still losing their lives to individuals who have amassed an arsenal of weapons with seemingly few barriers. We have yet to come up with a solution, political or otherwise, to stop these murderers from doing us harm. In the wake of another shooting, some observers are quick to point to flaws in the mental-health system, while others say we need a dialogue about a culture that embraces violence. A number of stalwart citizens continue to advocate for better gun control. And others, reminiscent of the Wild West, talk about arming everyone to the teeth: if everyone is armed, then no bad person will dare to start shooting. Or so they say.

Meanwhile, we willingly, if not happily, endure security checkpoints in certain situations, while, at other times, we are totally on our own -- in a movie theater or college classroom or at a street party. Why have security in one public place and not in another? Is it just the cost?

This approach can be overcome. But first we need to analyze our commitment to access control to include virtually all public spaces -- malls, college campuses, festivals, theaters, public meetings -- not just some.

The new threshold has to be this: wherever people gather, in any number, for any reason, any duration and in any place, their security is paramount. Elementary and secondary schools are obvious sites. But we must include libraries, houses of worship, retail spaces and more. We have to take our willingness to pass through those gates -- and let that acceptance go forward as far as possible. Otherwise, the idea of feeling safe, of getting through a school day or a church service alive and well is, sadly, not realistic.

Obviously, this is going to cost a lot. But it is an investment: the payoff is in the lives saved and the families left intact, not destroyed by the trauma of another mass murder. And it would demonstrate to policy makers, in particular gun advocates, that there is a significant price to pay to better prepare public spaces and existing institutions for these times when all kinds of weapons are easily available.

Are the added security measures a slippery slope or a tragedy for our democracy? Some people would argue that embracing additional security will establish a true police state and that our freedom will be lost.

It is not wrong to worry about that. All of us should. But the more immediate problem is that innocent people are dying violently every day.

How will additional security measures change life on a college campus? Will freedom of speech and freedom of movement and association be compromised -- or even lost? I doubt it. It’s hard to imagine that a security check -- just like you would go through at a concert or a sports venue -- will destroy our ideals.

In many K-12 schools nowadays, students and adults walk through metal detectors, and bags and backpacks are passed through scanners. Some colleges and universities have instituted these systems as well. But this effort is far from comprehensive.

Initially, students, faculty members and staff members are probably not going to be at all happy with increased access control. But few people liked these new protocols when they were first introduced at airports and other sites, and they got used to it. Already, many colleges and universities in the United States require students, professors and administrators to swipe their cards to gain access to a building, and some ask for bags to be placed on conveyor belts to be screened by magnetometer or X-ray machines. Inconvenient as this might be, it is a far better option than, as some people suggest, arming people on campuses. The latter would probably lead students, teachers, staff members and administrators to be more reluctant to voice their opinions for fear of sounding controversial -- or worse, inciting and incurring someone’s anger and motivating them to draw and use their weapons.

Also, it all depends on where and how security measures are implemented, and the quality of the staff members who are responsible for managing the security checkpoints.

I am not suggesting that all colleges and universities should be gated communities, nor am I advocating that we post campus police wearing camouflage fatigues everywhere. But many higher education institutions, particularly in big cities, have extra security precautions like the ones I have recommended. And they have operated quite well.

Some may argue that this strategy is more appropriate for urban institutions that may appear to be more compact. This is not necessarily true. Think of New York University -- which is spread out among different buildings in Greenwich Village, the Upper East Side and Wall Street, not to mention downtown Brooklyn -- versus Columbia University, which is pretty self-contained. That said, campuses that are located in smaller towns or in more remote locations and effectively spread out would have to selectively choose the buildings where they want to increase access control. They might also consider cordoning off the most vulnerable buildings, if they have not already, by building some sort of fencing in an aesthetically pleasing manner.

Do not get me wrong. Implementing better security systems and protocols is not a cure-all for the far deeper systemic and complicated challenges surrounding gun ownership and use in American society. Yet none of those issues are going to be solved in the immediate future.

In the meantime, an average of close to one mass shooting a day in our country demands strong action. Improving security may be the best start. Let’s work on realistic ways that we can prevent somebody from taking more lives.

Jeffrey Ian Ross is a professor in the School of Criminal Justice at the University of Baltimore. He is the editor of Encyclopedia of Street Crime in America (Sage, 2013).

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The Waning of the Carnegie Unit (essay)

For a century, the Carnegie Unit -- or credit hour -- served American education very well. Created by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching in 1906, it is now the nearly universal accounting unit for colleges and schools. It brought coherence and common standards to the chaotic 19th-century high school and college curriculum, established a measure for judging student academic progress, and set the requirements for high school graduation and college admission. But today it has grown outdated and less useful.

A time-based standard, one Carnegie Unit (or credit) is awarded for every 120 hours of class time. The foundation translated this into one hour of instruction five days a week for 24 weeks. Students have been expected to take four such courses a year for four years in high school, with a minimum of 14 Carnegie Units required for college admission. The Carnegie Unit perfectly mirrored its times and the design of the nation’s schools.

An industrialized America created schools modeled on the technology of the times: the assembly line. With the Carnegie Unit as a basis, schools nationwide adopted a common process for schooling groups of children, sorted by age for 13 years, 180 days a year in Carnegie unit-length courses. Students progressed according to seat time -- how long they were exposed to teaching.

At colleges and universities across the nation, the Carnegie Unit became more commonly referred to as the credit hour. The common semester-long class became three credit hours. The average four-year degree was earned after completing 120 credit hours. Time and process were fixed, and outcomes of schooling were variable. All students were expected to learn the same things in the same period of time. The Carnegie Unit provided the architecture to make this system work.

But in the United States’ transition from an industrial to an information economy, the Carnegie Unit is becoming obsolete. The information economy focuses on common, fixed outcomes, yet the process and the time necessary to achieve them are variable. The concern in colleges and schools is shifting from teaching to learning -- what students know and can do, not how long they are taught. Education at all levels is becoming more individualized, as students learn different subjects at different rates and learn best using different methods of instruction.

As a result, educational institutions need a new accounting to replace the Carnegie Unit. A 2015 report by the Carnegie Foundation made this clear, stating the Carnegie Unit “sought to standardize students’ exposure to subject material by ensuring they received consistent amounts of instructional time. It was never intended to function as a measure of what students learned.” States have responded by adopting outcome- or learning-based standards for schools. They are now detailing the skills and knowledge students must attain to graduate and implementing testing regimens, such as fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math exams, to assess whether students have met those standards, testing regimens to assess student progress and attainment of outcomes.

This evolution is causing two problems. First, both the industrial and information economy models of education are being imposed on our educational institutions at the same time. At the moment, the effect is more apparent in our schools than colleges, but higher education can expect to face the same challenges. Today, schools and colleges are being required to use the fixed-process, fixed-calendar and Carnegie Unit accounting system of the industrial era. They are also being required to achieve the information economy’s fixed outcomes and follow its testing procedures. The former is true of higher education, and government is increasingly asking colleges and universities for the latter.

Doing both is not possible, by definition. Instead, states need to move consciously and systematically to the information economy’s emerging and increasingly dominant model of education, which will prevail in the future. The Carnegie Unit will pass into history.

The second problem is that the steps states have taken to implement standards, outcomes and associated testing are often incomplete and unfinished. They are at best betas quickly planned and hurriedly implemented, which like all new initiatives demand significant rethinking, redesign and refinement. In the decades to come, today's tests will appear primitive by comparison to the assessment tools that replace them. Think of the earliest cell phones -- they needed development and refinement.

Unfortunately, however, states’ mandates go beyond the capacity and capabilities of their standards, tests, data systems and existing curricula. For example, despite growing state and federal pressure to evaluate faculty and institutions based on student performance, most states do not have the data or data systems to make this possible.

If Information Age accounting systems for education are to work as well as the Carnegie Unit did, the tasks ahead are these:

  • Define the outcomes or standards students need to achieve to graduate from school and college. While the specific outcomes or standards adopted are likely to vary from state to state, the meaning of each standard or outcome should be common to all states. A current example is coding. Today states, cities and institutions differ profoundly in their requirements in this area, however, it is essential that the meaning of competence in this area be common.
  • Create curricula that mirror each standard and that permit students to advance according to mastery.
  • Develop assessments that measure student progress and attainment of standards or outcomes. Over time, build upon current initiatives in analytics and adaptive learning, to embed assessment into curricula to function like a GPS, discovering students’ misunderstandings in real time and providing guidance to get them back on track.

These three key steps will lay the groundwork for the education demanded by the Information Age. They will provide the clarity, specificity, standardization, reliability and adoptability that made the Carnegie Unit successful. It will create an educational accounting system for the information economy that is as strong as the Carnegie Unit was for industrial America.

I do not pretend doing this will be easy or quick. It is nothing less than the reinvention of the American education system. It will require bold institutions to lead, as universities like Carnegie Mellon University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Southern New Hampshire University and Western Governors University are doing, to create and test the new models of education for the Information Age. It will take a coalition of state government, educational institutions and professional associations like accreditors to turn the innovations into policy.

We don't have the luxury of turning away from this challenge. Our education system is not working. In contrast to the industrial era, in which national success rested on physical labor and natural resources, information economies require brains and knowledge. The future demands excellent schools and colleges.

Arthur Levine is the president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation in Princeton, N.J. He served as the president of Teachers College, Columbia University, from 1994 to 2006.

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Scrutiny for theological school over Native American artifacts

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Theology school denies allegations it tried to sell Native American artifacts covered by repatriation requirements.

Clifton Wharton discusses his new autobiography

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Cliff Wharton -- who led Michigan State, SUNY and TIAA-CREF -- discusses his new autobiography.

Essay providing advice on being promoted into an administrative position

When people take an administrative position for the first time, they and their colleagues may respond in unexpected ways, observes Larry D. Lauer.

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