In Opposition To Academic Boycotts

Posted by on December 19, 2013

Our guest author today is Rita Freedman, Acting Executive Director of the Jewish Labor Committee, and a recent retiree from the American Federation of Teachers.

There is a growing, worldwide effort to ostracize Israel and to make it into a pariah state. (This despite the fact that Israel is still the only democratic country in the Middle East.)  A key ingredient of this campaign is the call to boycott, divest from and impose sanctions on Israel (known as BDS for boycott, divest, sanction).  Within the world of higher education, this takes the form of calls to boycott all Israeli academic institutions, sometimes including boycotting all Israeli scholars and researchers. The rationale is that this will somehow pressure Israel into an agreement with the Palestinians, one which will improve their lot and lead to an independent Palestinian state that exists adjacent to the State of Israel (although it is worth noting that some in the BDS movement envision a future without the existence of Israel).  

Certainly, the goals of improving life for the Palestinian people, building their economy and supporting their democratic institutions – not to mention supporting the creation of an independent Palestine that is thriving and getting along peacefully with its Israeli neighbor – are entirely worthy.  Read More »


The Wrong Way To Publish Teacher Prep Value-Added Scores

Posted by on November 14, 2013

As discussed in a prior post, the research on applying value-added to teacher prep programs is pretty much still in its infancy. Even just a couple of years of would go a long way toward at least partially addressing the many open questions in this area (including, by the way, the evidence suggesting that differences between programs may not be meaningfully large).

Nevertheless, a few states have decided to plow ahead and begin publishing value-added estimates for their teacher preparation programs. Tennessee, which seems to enjoy being first — their Race to the Top program is, a little ridiculously, called “First to the Top” — was ahead of the pack. They have once again published ratings for the few dozen teacher preparation programs that operate within the state. As mentioned in my post, if states are going to do this (and, as I said, my personal opinion is that it would be best to wait), it is absolutely essential that the data be presented along with thorough explanations of how to interpret and use them.

Tennessee fails to meet this standard.  Read More »


How Important Is Undergraduate Teaching In Public R1 Universities? How Important Should It Be?

Posted by on April 29, 2013

Our guest author today is Ian Robinson, Lecturer in the Department of Sociology and in the Residential College’s interdisciplinary Social Theory and Practice program at the University of Michigan.

I ended my previous post by arguing that (1) if teaching is at least as valuable as research, and (2) nontenure-track (NTT) faculty teach at least as well as tenure-track (TT) faculty, then the very large pay disparities between the two classes of faculty that characterize American universities today violate a basic principle of workplace fairness: equal pay for equal work. When conditions (1) and (2) are met, then, all an institution can do to defend current practice is plead poverty: we can’t afford to do what we ourselves must acknowledge to be “the right thing.”

But what about places like the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, where I work? Is condition (1) met in what are sometimes called “R1” universities like mine? If not, maybe big pay disparities are warranted by the fact that, in such universities, research is a much higher institutional priority than undergraduate teaching. If teaching is a low enough priority, current pay inequalities could be justified by the fact that NTT faculty are not paid to do research and publishing – even though many of them do it – and, conversely, that most TT faculty pay is for their research and publishing, rather than their teaching. Read More »


Are Nontenure-Track Faculty Worse Teachers? The Short Answer Is No.

Posted by on April 15, 2013

Our guest author today is Ian Robinson, Lecturer in the Department of Sociology and in the Residential College’s interdisciplinary Social Theory and Practice program at the University of Michigan.

Critics of higher education’s growing reliance on nontenure-track (NTT) faculty for undergraduate teaching routinely assert that NTT faculty are inferior teachers, and, therefore, that the quality of undergraduate education is deteriorating. This is true even of critics such as Marc Bousquet, the author of How the University Works (2008), who see themselves as friends of exploited NTT faculty and supporters of efforts to organize them into unions.

I think that these critics are wrong, and that their error has two important negative consequences: first, it devalues the work that NTT faculty do; and second, it impedes our understanding of one of the major successes of the “neoliberal” model – that it has been able to introduce a two-tiered faculty system in which many newer faculty are paid half or less of what the top tier is paid per class, without dramatic decline in the quality of undergraduate education that would de-legitimize the two-track system.

To understand how this has been possible – and where the critics go wrong – we need to start by asking: What determines teaching quality? I would suggest that there are five major determinants: Read More »


College Attainment In The U.S. And Around The World

Posted by on October 16, 2012

A common talking point in circles in that college attainment in the U.S. used to be among the highest in the world, but is now ranked middling-to-low (the ranking cited is typically around 15th) among OECD nations. As is the case when people cite rankings on the PISA assessment, this is often meant to imply that the U.S. education system is failing and getting worse.*

The latter arguments are of course oversimplifications, given that college attendance and completion are complex phenomena that entail many factors, school and non-school. A full discussion of these issues is beyond the scope of this post – obviously, the causes and “value” of a postsecondary education vary within and between nations, and are subject to all the usual limitations inherent in international comparisons.

That said, let’s just take a very quick. surface-level look at the latest OECD figures for college attainment (“tertiary education,” meaning associate-level, bachelor’s or advanced degree), which have recently been released for 2010. Read More »


College For All; Good Jobs For A Few?

Posted by on August 21, 2012

A recent study by the Center for Policy Research (CEPR) asks the question that must be on the minds of college grads, now working as coffee shop baristas: “Where Have All the Good Jobs Gone?” The answer: swallowed by corporate profits and the personal portfolios of the ultrawealthy.

Despite the fact that the American economy has experienced “enormous” productivity gains since the late 1970’s, the study finds that the number of “good jobs” (defined as those paying at least $37,000 per year, with employer-provided health insurance and an employer-sponsored retirement plan) has declined from 27.4 percent in 1979 to 24.6 percent in 2010.  This discouraging trend was strong even before the onset of the country’s economic crisis: in 2007, the year before the onset of the recession, only 25 percent of college grads had “good jobs.”

CEPR notes that the prevailing explanations for the failure to share productivity gains are “technology” and lack of necessary skills among American workers. But, if this were true, the CEPR study argues, one would expect college grads to have a higher share of good jobs than they did 30 years ago. They don’t. Instead, at every age level, today’s college grads are less likely to have a “good job” than their 1970s counterparts. This is especially surprising, the researchers note, since twice as many Americans now have advanced degrees as compared to the 1970’s. Read More »


The Real “Trouble” With Technology, Online Education And Learning

Posted by on July 24, 2012

It’s probably too early to say whether Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are a “tsunami” or a “seismic shift,” but, continuing with the natural disaster theme, the last few months have seen a massive “avalanche” of press commentary about them, especially within the last few days.

Also getting lots of press attention (though not as much right now) is Adaptive/Personalized Learning. Both innovations seem to fascinate us, but probably for different reasons, since they are so fundamentally different at their cores. Personalized Learning, like more traditional concepts of education, places the individual at the center. With MOOCs, groups and social interaction take center stage and learning becomes a collective enterprise.

This post elaborates on this distinction, but also points to a recent blurring of the lines between the two – a development that could be troubling.

But, first things first: What is Personalized/Adaptive Learning, what are MOOCs, and why are they different? Read More »


Cheating In Online Courses

Posted by on July 11, 2012

Our guest author today is Dan Ariely, James B Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University, and author of the book The Honest Truth About Dishonesty (published by Harper Collins in June 2012).

A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education suggests that students cheat more in online than in face-to-face classes. The article tells the story of Bob Smith (not his real name, obviously), who was a student in an online science course.  Bob logged in once a week for half an hour in order to take a quiz. He didn’t read a word of his textbook, didn’t participate in discussions, and still he got an A. Bob pulled this off, he explained, with the help of a collaborative cheating effort. Interestingly, Bob is enrolled at a public university in the U.S., and claims to work diligently in all his other (classroom) courses. He doesn’t cheat in those courses, he explains, but with a busy work and school schedule, the easy A is too tempting to pass up.

Bob’s online cheating methods deserve some attention. He is representative of a population of students that have striven to keep up with their instructor’s efforts to prevent cheating online. The tests were designed in a way that made cheating more difficult, including limited time to take the test, and randomized questions from a large test bank (so that no two students took the exact same test). Read More »


Higher Education: Soaring Rhetoric, Skyrocketing Costs

Posted by on May 4, 2012

Over the past several years, the mantra of “college for all” has become ubiquitous, with Americans told that a college education is no longer a luxury, but a necessity, for any individual who aspires to a middle-class life in the 21st century economy.  And indeed, many studies tend to confirm that persons with a post-secondary education enjoy  lower unemployment rates and higher wages over time

Simultaneously – sometimes in the same articles – we learn that soaring tuition rates have put college out of the reach of many, if not most, families.  In fact, for the past few decades, college costs have been rising faster than health care costs.  In the last year or so, the news is that students who tried to borrow their way around this seemingly intractable problem only dug themselves a deeper hole. Outstanding student college loans have reached – or soon will reach – the $1 trillion mark.

The average student graduates college with a debt burden of nearly $25,000; others, especially those with professional degrees, are buckling under a debt load in the six figures. Since bankruptcy forgiveness does not apply to student debt, even unemployed and underemployed graduates can expect to carry this debt with them for years, perhaps decades, to come. With a slow economy exacerbating the problem, it’s no surprise to find that the national student loan default rate for 2009 (the last year for which data are available) was 8.8 percent and rising. At for-profit schools, the rate was 15 percent. Read More »


Pay Equity In Higher Education

Posted by on March 30, 2012

Blatant forms of discrimination against women in academia have diminished since the Equal Pay Act and Title IX became law in 1964 and 1972, respectively. Yet gender differences in salary, tenure status, and leadership roles still persist among men and women in higher education. In particular, wage differences among male and female professors have not been fully explained, even when productivity, teaching experience, institutional size and prestige, disciplinary fields, type of appointment, and family-related responsibilities are controlled for statistically (see here).

Scholars have argued that the “unexplained” gender wage gap is a function of less easily quantifiable (supply-type) factors, such as preferences and career aspirations, professional networks, etc. In fact, there is extensive evidence that both supply-side (e.g., career choices) and demand-side factors (e.g., employer discrimination) are shaped by broadly shared (often implicit) schemas about what men and women can and should do (a.k.a. descriptive and prescriptive gender stereotypes – see here)

Regardless of the causes, which are clearly complex and multi-faceted, the fact remains that the salary advantage held by male faculty over female faculty exists across institutions and has changed very little over the past twenty-five years (see here). How big is this gap, exactly? Read More »


The ‘Snob’ Debate: Making High School Matter For Non-College-Bound Students

Posted by on March 7, 2012

Our guest author today is James R. Stone, professor and director of the National Research Center for Career & Technical Education at the University of Louisville.

The current debate about “college for all” centers on a recent speech made by President Obama in Troy, MI, in which he argued that all young people should get at least some post-high school education or training. Republican presidential primary candidate Rick Santorum, in a misreading of Obama’s remarks, responded with a focus on four-year degrees alone—suggesting, among other things, that four-year college degrees are overrated and that the president’s emphasis on college devalued working people without such degrees. The political chatter around this particular back-and-forth continues, but the issue of “college for all” has rightly raised some serious issues about the content and direction of U.S. education policy both at the high school and post-secondary levels.

Statistics seem to show that the college-educated  graduates of four-year institutions earn more money and experience less unemployment than their non-college-educated peers. This has fueled the argument is that college is the surest path—perhaps the only path—into the middle class. But the argument confuses correlation with causality. What if every U.S. citizen obtained a community college or university degree? Would that really do anything to alter wage rates at Starbucks, or increase salaries for home healthcare aides (an occupation projected to enjoy the highest demand over the next decade)? Of course not. Read More »


Deprofessionalizing Higher Education

Posted by on October 6, 2011

Books criticizing higher education are gaining in popularity,  judging from the number written and published in the last year or so (see here, here, here, and here for just a few examples).  Naomi Riley’s The Faculty Lounges And Other Reasons That You Won’t Get the College Education You Paid For, which I was asked to review by the publisher, has just joined these ranks.

In her book, Riley tackles an important question facing the U.S. higher education system – that is, whether the increasing number of contingent faculty, including adjunct professors and part-time instructors, has eroded the value and quality of a university education.

According to recent estimates, more than half of all instructional staff now consists of part-time and contingent faculty. Although some have argued that this can help to lower costs and increase flexibility, most research indicates that tenured faculty members are more effective and produce better results (e.g. greater student retention and engagement) than adjunct faculty (see here and here), leading to campaigns for more tenure-track positions. In other words, permanent tenure-track positions are seen as the “gold standard.”

Riley looks at these same trends and turns this argument on its head. Instead of advocating for an expansion of tenure-track positions, she argues that tenure itself should be abolished. Read More »


Can I Have Some Faculty With My College?

Posted by on October 3, 2011

The growth of contingent faculty reflects the increasing tendency of higher education institutions to operate like businesses. It’s no secret that this is a major feature of for-profit colleges, most of which have effectively eliminated tenure on the grounds that this will help flexibility and innovation.

But what is the actual staff breakdown in traditional and for-profit colleges?

I examined data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) maintained by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) combined with data from the Delta Project on Postsecondary Education Costs, Productivity, and Accountability.

There were several surprises. Read More »


College Isn’t Quite The (Self-Perceived) Middle Class Ticket It Used To Be

Posted by on June 27, 2011

In a previous post, I presented some simple data on “subjective class identification,” which is the practice of asking people to place themselves within a class structure. The data show that, despite constant political rhetoric appealing the U.S. “middle class,” more people actually consider themselves to be working class than middle class, and that this hasn’t changed much over the past thirty years.

I also noted that there is even a fairly significant “working class presence” – about 25 percent – among the highly educated (those with a bachelor’s or higher). This struck me as interesting, given the fact that having a college degree is sometimes called “the ticket to the middle class,” and also given that the income advantage for college graduates – the “college wage premium” – is substantial (and it’s actually increased over the long term). I found myself wondering whether the relationship between having a college degree and “gaining entrance” to the middle class (at least by one’s own judgment of his or her class position) had changed over time. In other words, when it comes to subjective class identification, is college less of a middle class “ticket” than it used to be?

I couldn’t resist taking a quick look. Read More »


College For All, Profit For Some

Posted by on March 30, 2011

The ideal of “College for All”—usually interpreted as meaning the acquisition of a four-year degree—is every bit as noble as it is unattainable, at least judging from actual graduation rates. It is within this tension that for-profit colleges wish to live—a kind of pseudo knight in shining armor riding gallantly into the battle for equal opportunity. But too many for-profit colleges (a.k.a., career colleges) are not solving educational issues. Rather, they are perpetuating inequalities and obscuring the fact that what is preached (e.g., “College for All”) has nothing to do with what gets achieved.

Many have pointed out that, by enshrining a path so few end up traveling (to say nothing of completing), we may be doing a great disservice to our youth. This argument is loud and clear; what may not be totally obvious is the variegated ways in which this constitutes a disservice. By idealizing the B.A./B.S. path, not only are we discouraging young people from exploring equally valid post high-school options, but we inadvertently may have also made them more vulnerable to the allure of disreputable for-profit colleges and/or encouraged for-profits to exploit this vulnerability.

As a matter of fact, one consequence (unintended, I am sure) of the “College for All” ideal may have been to widen the niche for for-profit career colleges. I am hardly the first to point out that the worst career colleges sell fake dreams by arm-twisting and sweet-talking potential students into taking out unsustainable—often federally-subsidized—loans for products of uncertain value. For-profit colleges did not create this dream. We did. They have only done what we would expect a for-profit entity to do: Exploit it. Read More »


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