Archive for category Education
Last week, when the President and the Chancellor of the University of Missouri resigned we witnessed the death of higher education in this country as we know it.
Historically, higher education has been about challenging the mind by being exposed to contradictory viewpoints. This resulted in stronger more educated citizens. People who could look at both sides of an argument and weigh the pros and cons and decide for themselves. The rationale for tenured faculty has always been so that they would have academic freedom to speak and teach about unpopular topics without fear of losing their livelihood.
This is not the 1960’s. Then students protested about the Vietnam War. In addition to an ideological concern, they were concerned that some of their classmates might be forced to participate in what they viewed as an unjust war. When you scratch the surface you find that the protests at Mizzou were about rumored acts of racism (with little in the way of evidence) and loss of the graduate students health insurance due to ObamaCare. But the protests are spreading around the country in places like Yale, Dartmouth, Amherst, Ithaca College and Claremont McKenna College. These protests have been about creating “Safe Spaces” free from offensive Halloween costumes or name calling or even having to hear someone disagree with you.
The idealic vision of intellectual students sitting around the coffee shop debating the issues of the day has shifted to protesters shouting each other down on the common green. Is this progress?
This change is occurring at the same time that parents and students are questioning the return on the cost of an education. When it costs over $100,000 to get a degree from a public university and upwards of $250,000 at a private one what type of return should the students be expecting? There has been a subtle shift from expanding the mind to getting a good paying job. Discerning parents want to know how these protests are helping to do either.
But as administrations begin watering down the collegiate experience through Safe Spaces, Trigger Warnings and discussion of Micro Aggressions and privilege employers are going to start questioning where and who they recruit. How will the little flowers that take offense to seeing Halloween costumes with sombreros going to transition into a working world where you might hear or see much more offensive material from a customer? Will they be able to sit through a dinner with rich white males without commenting on their privilege?
Unless there are administrators who have the courage to stand up to the bullies and remind the students that just like everyone else they need to follow the rules of law and the common rules of civility then parents and smart students will begin to look at many of the alternate forms of education that are becoming available like online learning.
Sometimes I think for weeks about the topic for this column and other times I panic because nothing seems “big” enough. This month I got STEAMed up and just sat down to rant a little.
In the 1990’s the National Science Foundation brought to the surface a critical problem that was just under the surface of the public consciousness. As our lives were becoming more and more technologically sophisticated and more and more of our citizens were graduating college there was a tremendous skill gap developing. The need for graduates with analytic skills was skyrocketing while the number of graduates with these skills was shrinking. Students were not interested in the hard majors like math, chemistry, physics or engineering. In fact, coming out of high school they weren’t even prepared with the skills necessary to take these courses of instruction.
In response the NSF and others generated new science and math standards (no not common core) and began to build an awareness of the criticality of developing these skills in our students to get them ready for 21st century jobs. They coined term “STEM” which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. By the year 2000 every educator was discussing how to improve educational outcomes in STEM fields and how to make all students better prepared with STEM skills. In fact, in 2009 President Barack Obama even discussed the importance of improving these skills in his state of the union address. He said…
“We will not just meet, but we will exceed the level achieved at the height of the Space Race, through policies that invest in basic and applied research, create new incentives for private innovation, promote breakthroughs in energy and medicine, and improve education in math and science.”
He further drives us to action stating,
“Through this commitment, American students will move… from the middle to the top of the pack in science and math over the next decade – for we know that the nation that out-educates us today will out-compete us tomorrow.”
But a funny thing happened on the way to that goal. The folks in the arts got there noses bent out of shape. “Why is everyone focused on STEM?” they would say, “the arts are important too!”
And while I won’t deny that the arts are important, there doesn’t seem to be a crisis in art education. Do we really need more unemployed art graduates? It isn’t a national security issue. Employers aren’t fighting over art graduates the way that they are over engineering and hard science graduates. But as is typical when a group gets whiny everyone tries to appease them. So you are starting to see a subtle shift from “STEM” to “STEAM”. A very clear message of trying to get students to do something hard that will reward them and their country in the long run is made muddy so that everyone can feel good.
I am “STEAMed” up.
Many have said that there is a crisis in higher education. In fact, if you Google that phrase you get over 65,000,000 results. I tend to agree, but what is the crisis and how should we as a nation respond to it?
The tuition cost (adjusted for inflation) for a 4 year private college has gone up from $15,306 in 1982 to $33,716 in 2012. For a public college the percentage increase is even worse from $6,942 to $16,789. Remember this is adjusted for inflation.
What is going on here? Has the education gotten that much better? I tend to doubt it. College is a very labor intensive endeavor with the biggest cost being professors salaries. During this time the average student to faculty ratio (often a proxy for quality of education) has stayed steady at about 15 students per faculty member. While the number of faculty didn’t increase, the cost of instruction (faculty salaries) went up by 22%. This is in spite of the rise of lower cost alternatives to tenure tract professors like adjuncts and teachers assistants. Additionally the administrative costs at colleges and universities went up by 36%.
Does tuition go up because costs are rising or do colleges spend more because they have more revenue? I don’t know which causes the other but according to everyone it has led to a crisis.
7 out of 10 students graduate with an average of $29,400 in debt, with the total amount of outstanding student loans being $1.2 trillion. To put the $29,400 into perspective, someone repaying that amount over a 10 year period would have a monthly payment of about $345. Thinking about my daughter who graduated last month, I am thankful that she doesn’t have any loans because I don’t know where that payment would fit into her budget.
So, there is a crisis in Higher Education. But what is the response? Are fewer people going because it’s too expensive? Applications and enrollments are at or near historical highs. So the crisis has not affected demand. And if there is a crisis, what should we do about it? Whose responsibility is it? The student? The parents? The college? The government?
As expected, there has been a response from our leaders.
Many on the left have said that the crisis is not in the cost of college but in how we pay for it. And naturally that requires the federal government to play a bigger role.
Elizabeth Warren, the Senior Senator from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (I am so sorry about that) has called for the refinancing of all student loan holders. Basically a give away to twenty somethings. They have already selected their major, consumed their education, and are now trying to pay it back without the ability to get a well paying job. Frankly, they made bad choices and are unhappy with the outcome. They should be saying “Why didn’t someone tell us!” and they should be warning today’s high school graduate. But instead, we can’t influence their choices in the past, so we just throw money at them to get them to shut up.
On the other hand, even though college is so expensive, Obama thinks that more people should go to 4 year residential colleges and be able to study whatever they want. It doesn’t matter that they can’t get a job. They have the right to smoke a little weed and skip classes just like he did. So he is out across the country promoting the traditional 4 year education.
And to make matters worse he is also trying to tear down those institutions that are trying to find new and better ways to deliver an education… the for profit institutions. For him it seems like a knee jerk reaction. He hears “For Profit” and knows in his heart that it has to be bad.
So what should our leaders do.
As an Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship at Bentley University and a member of Union College’s President’s Council, I have a vested interest in the state of higher education. I have studied it and I have participated in it for many years.
The best thing that our leaders could do is to unleash the free enterprise system. Support and encourage those with ideas about how to deliver a valuable education. Let them test their ideas in the marketplace and see which work.
If President Obama spoke at Grand Canyon University or if Secretary Duncan showed up at the University of Phoenix’s graduation it would send a powerful message.
They also need to change their messaging to the students. College is not appropriate for everyone (and it is not racist to say that). It also isn’t always appropriate for an 18 year old. And a full time residential experience is not always the answer. There are many paths to getting the education a person needs.
Additionally, you can’t just study whatever you want without consequences. Studying 18th Century Asian Art might be interesting to you, and it might be following your passion but spending $120,000 on it is probably not the best investment. And if you are doing it via loans you might think about doing something else. Responsible adults, from the President to Parents to college administrators should be delivering that message.
The other part of that message is that education should be a lifelong pursuit. In fact you can follow your passion for 18th Century Asian Art online through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) all for free. And you should do that if that is your passion. Education is fundamentally not just about the diploma it’s about the journey and increasing your understanding and gaining new insights.
Additionally, the free market should be injected back into the marketplace. Only in the college loan market can you borrow money without a plan on how you are going to use it or how you are going to pay it back. A disciplined underwriter would gladly loan money to an engineering student at MIT while leaving the Philosophy Major at Florida State scrambling to pay tuition. That actually is a good thing. It will force us to make “Education Investments” in the right places. And force high school graduates to take a more realistic approach to planning their future.
The last thing for the government to do is to encourage things like what Starbucks just announced. They are going to provide tuition reimbursement for online courses at Arizona State University. Online education is not appropriate for every student and every class but as someone who has both taken and taught online courses, it is a great solution for many situations.
Yes there may be a crisis in Higher Education just like the crisis in Health Care. But the answer isn’t more government action it is less. The answer is more personal responsibility and freedom. Personal responsibility to allow individuals to decide what education investments are right for them to build their lives and the personal freedom to make those decisions.
Fantastic presentation by Sal Kahn about how they are changing education.
This morning I was at the local Midas listening to the manager talk to a frequent customer. He mentioned that sales go up by 30% over the summer. This happens because people open up their windows while they drive and they hear lots of new noises.
Why is this important? I don’t know… now. But somewhere down the road it might be an important little tidbit that leads to a new business idea. Good entrepreneurs are always talking little facts like this, combining them together and coming up with new business opportunities. You never know where these facts will come from so you have to always be listening.
The other value that little non obvious facts like this have is that when you weave them into your assumptions and drop them on your investors they can give you tremendous credibility.
What are the little facts for your business?