State Budgets for Higher Education – Washington’s Shell Game

July 16, 2013

State Budgets for Higher Education – Washington’s Shell Game

In the Chronicle of Higher Education:

States Strike Budget Bargains With Higher Education

Although the Chronicle touts “In the state of Washington, public colleges will get 12 percent more in state support than they received last year”, the “State of Working Washington” interactive budget website shows higher education spending by the State of Washington increasing only 0.9% from 2012-2013 (inflation-adjusted).

In fact, the State of Working Washington website shows clearly that every Washington public institution of higher education is receiving less state support in 2013 than in 2012.  What has increased is funding for the “Student Achievement Council” (formerly the Higher Education Coordinating Board), which is primarily funded to provide and administer student aid. The SAC is up 15% over the HECB levels for 2012.   In other words, the Legislature has frozen tuition, slacked state support, and boosted student aid — which results in greater access, but is not “re-investment” in higher education.

Sorry, Chronicle, you missed the real story, at least for Washington.

— Joshua


Has Higher Education Lost Control Over Quality? – WorldWise – The Chronicle of Higher Education

May 28, 2013

Has Higher Education Lost Control Over Quality? – WorldWise – The Chronicle of Higher Education.


Contrary to the title, this piece is not about “losing control over quality”, but about “losing control of the definition and measurement of quality”.  Of course, the term “quality” itself is overloaded, with apparent (but misleading) synonyms “worthwhile”, “appropriate competencies, assessments, and curricula”, “comparability of qualifications”, “college performance”, “learning outcomes”.

It should be no surprise that “quality” is used as a valorizing wrapper around whatever the speaker values, whether “bang for the buck” (Obama College Scorecard), or “to succeed in the contemporary workplace” (Lumina Degree Qualifications Profile).  Nor is it surprising that the University is reluctant to engage in the discussion of what “quality” means, for fear of revealing that others’ values are only second-order goals for it.  As an institution, its first-order goal is to enable its continuance by reproducing its (fallible) components — that is, by producing people who can occupy the needed roles in the institution.  The education of others who are not destined for academe just pays the bills.

In a society in which the preservation of institutions is taken for granted, that first-order goal can also go unexamined.  But in the hyper-utilitarian culture we now inhabit, in which every institution is under constant “bang for buck” scrutiny, those fallible components need to come up with something better — in a hurry.

Your Massively Open Offline College Is Broken | The Awl

February 12, 2013

Your Massively Open Offline College Is Broken | The Awl.

MOOCs are a lightning strike on a rotten tree. Most stories have focused on the lightning, on MOOCs as the flashy new thing. I want to talk about the tree.

Clay Shirky

Clay Shirky (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Clay Shirky, a futurist and college professor, peels back the trendiness of MOOC‘s and finds underneath an academy already in decline and ripe for disruption.

Shirky sees a system in which the core mission (“making people smarter”) can no longer be monopolized;  existing institutions are being challenged by newcomers at an astonishingly lower price-point.

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Into the Future With MOOC’s – Commentary – The Chronicle of Higher Education

September 10, 2012

Into the Future With MOOC’s – Commentary – The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Kevin Carey envisions the future as a place where students in Massively Open Online Courses (MOOC’s) are granted academic credit that is generally recognized by higher education institutions.  He notes several problems with this model, which he assumes will be addressed through market forces.  The comments on the article add a lot of perspective, both on the opportunities and on the challenges.

What’s Wrong With the Credit Hour? A New Report Offers Answers – The Ticker – The Chronicle of Higher Education

September 6, 2012

What’s Wrong With the Credit Hour? A New Report Offers Answers – The Ticker – The Chronicle of Higher Education.
I haven’t read the report yet, but the comments are illuminating.  There are very different notions of “time” out there.

Some folks are quite ready to accept “effort” (theirs) as what should be creditable, which is pretty close to the underlying philosophy of the credit hour (though actual credit-hour allocations often don’t represent the relative effort students may put in or be required to put in).  Of course, to respond to this report with remarks about effort misses the point.


Corrie Whitmore on Framing an Evaluation Conversation for Programs with Fuzzy Goals · AEA365

May 22, 2012

Corrie Whitmore on Framing an Evaluation Conversation for Programs with Fuzzy Goals · AEA365.

From the American Evaluation Association’s daily blog, AEA 365, a nice concise summary with Hot Tips and numbered points.  I especially like “our small department focuses on helping people in operations understand why evaluation matters and how it fits into what they do every day.”

Research report: Public university tuition is up because state support is down

January 27, 2012

President Obama has announced initiatives to try to make higher education “affordable” by reducing federal financial aid for students at colleges that raise tuition rates.  However, what colleges can do about rising tuition isn’t clear.

A 2002 research report by Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of FinAid,  gives a discussion of economic models of college tuition that includes such drivers as increased grants of financial aid.  Some key findings:

  • Volatility in tuition rates depends on the percentage of total revenues derived from tuition and fees. For each 1% decline in non-tuition revenue, gross tuition revenue must increase by 1.3% at private colleges and 4.3% at public colleges. Public college tuition changes are much more volatile because it depends on non-tuition sources of revenue to a greater extent than private colleges.
  • Increases in public college tuition are strongly correlated with the declines in state support of higher education.

Note that this is a report from 2002 — long before the current round of severe state budget cuts and public university tuition hikes.  However, there’s little reason to believe that the dynamic is very different today;  other reports such as the 2009 Delta Cost Project report (covered here by US News and World Report) tend to confirm Kantrowitz’ model for public higher education.


Obama’s new “report card” for colleges — a Race to the Bottom?

January 27, 2012

President Obama followed up on his State of the Union with an address at the University of Michigan, in which he addressed rising college tuition.  It’s worth looking at his remarks in detail (from a transcript issued by the White House) to see what he is and is not proposing:

…it’s not just enough to increase student aid, and you can imagine why. Look, we can’t just keep on subsidizing skyrocketing tuition. If tuition is going up faster than inflation, faster than even health care is going up, no matter how much we subsidize it, sooner or later, we’re going to run out of money. And that means that others have to do their part. Colleges and universities need to do their part to keep costs down as well. (Applause.)

Recently, I spoke with a group of college presidents who’ve done just that. Here at Michigan, you’ve done a lot to find savings in your budget. We know this is possible. So from now on, I’m telling Congress we should steer federal campus-based aid to those colleges that keep tuition affordable, provide good value, serve their students well. (Applause.) We are putting colleges on notice — you can’t keep — you cant assume that you’ll just jack up tuition every single year. If you can’t stop tuition from going up, then the funding you get from taxpayers each year will go down. We should push colleges to do better. We should hold them accountable if they don’t. (Applause.)

Now, states also have to do their part. I was talking to your president — and this is true all across the country — states have to do their part by making higher education a higher priority in their budgets. Applause. Last year, over 40 states cut their higher education spending — 40 states cut their higher education budget. And we know that these state budget cuts have been the largest factor in tuition increases at public colleges over the past decade.

So we’re challenging states: Take responsibility as well on this issue. Applause. What we’re doing is, today we’re going to launch a Race to the Top for college affordability. We’re telling the states, if you can find new ways to bring down the cost of college and make it easier for more students to graduate, we’ll help you do it. We will give you additional federal support if you are doing a good job of making sure that all of you aren’t loaded up with debt when you graduate from college. (Applause.)

And, finally, today I’m also calling for a new report card for colleges. Parents like getting report cards. I know you guys may not always look forward to it. (Laughter.) But we parents, we like to know what you’re doing. From now on, parents and students deserve to know how a college is doing — how affordable is it, how well are its students doing? We want you to know how well a car stacks up before you buy it. You should know how well a college stacks up.

We call this — one of the things that we’re doing at the Consumer Finance Protection Board that I just set up with Richard Cordray — (applause) — is to make sure that young people understand the financing of colleges. He calls it, “Know Before You Owe.” (Laughter.) Know before you owe. So we want to push more information out so consumers can make good choices, so you as consumers of higher education understand what it is that you’re getting.

via Full transcript: Obamas speech today on education in Ann Arbor | Detroit Free Press |

I have heard the assertion that this is an endorsement of educational assessment.  But it is really?   It is not clear that the Consumer Financial Protection Board’s “report card” is going to include assessment of learning outcomes at all; the President referred to “holding them [colleges] accountable” for tuition hikes, not learning outcomes.  In the absence of learning assessment, the new “Race to the Top” could easily become a “Race to the Bottom” in educational terms.

The assumption underlying all this is that poor management is responsible for soaring tuition, and that a tough regime of incentives and disincentives is the way to improve management.  Improving the college value proposition by improving learning outcomes (as opposed to focusing on cost) is an idea not even broached.

A 2009 U.S. News summary of a report by the Delta Cost Project argues that “since 2002, spending at public universities has generally not exceeded inflation”, but that “the main reason tuition has been rising faster than college costs is that colleges had to make up for reductions in the per-student subsidy state taxpayers sent colleges.”  [Note that this is based on pre-recession data; this cost driver is probably even more important today.]  In other words, it is government management, not college management, that is responsible for tuition hikes, at least in public colleges.

What impact the CFPB’s “report card” can have on that dynamic is unclear to me.

Colleges’ Data on Student Learning Remain Largely Inaccessible, Report Says – Students – The Chronicle of Higher Education

November 28, 2011

Colleges’ Data on Student Learning Remain Largely Inaccessible, Report Says – Students – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Apparently some efforts at “transparency” are more “transparent” than others — UCAN schools are silent, but VSA achools are “out there” .

The whole discussion of “transparency” founders for me when its purpose is described as to help parents and students select colleges.  How aggregate statistics on student grades would contribute to college selection is beyond me.  Even student evaluations, which are at least direct reports of student experiences, would be difficult to understand in a school vs. school comparison.

Accreditors Examine Their Flaws as Criticisms Mount – The Chronicle of Higher Education

November 14, 2011

Accreditors Examine Their Flaws as Criticisms Mount – Government – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The Chronicle provides insight (some of it unintentional) into the problems facing accreditation.  The article starts by listing four competing goals for accreditation held by different parties to the process, then goes on to quote various authorities who, like the blind men describing the elephant, are hanging on to one aspect only.

Curiously, the objective of improving the practices or the outcomes of higher education institutions is not mentioned among the goals of accreditation.