Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Unionizing of Graduate Students

The Atlantic
By Matt Vasilogambros
August 23, 2016


Graduate students at private universities can now unionize.

The National Labor Relations Board ruled 3-1 Tuesday that graduate students working as teaching or research assistants are entitled to collective-bargaining rights. The case, brought forth by Columbia University graduate students and the United Automobile Workers (which already backs the university’s clerical workers, in addition to graduate students at New York University and the University of Connecticut), is a reversal of a 12-year-old ruling by the federal board.


Monday, August 8, 2016

What's Missing in the Student Debt Debate

Inside Higher ED
By Mark Huelsman
August 8, 2016

Since student debt, free tuition and debt-free higher education have emerged as presidential campaign-level issues, a narrative has begun to emerge among elite news media that the rising price of college and ever-increasing student debt are phantom problems given the overall lifetime benefits of a college degree. Unfortunately that narrative, which has been highlighted over the past few weeks to varying degrees by major media outlets, including NPR and Vox, rests on a pretty narrow set of assumptions about college and its benefits. And, in fact, it misunderstands the entire point behind the push for debt-free public college.

For instance, a recent editorial in The Washington Post titled “Democrats’ Loose Talk on Student Loans” makes the case that we have more of a nuisance than a crisis on our hands. It argues that bold reforms to address student debt -- including the plan offered up by Hillary Clinton’s campaign -- are overkill and that we should presumably make large investments in other areas (like paying down the national debt). Unfortunately, however, like other news media these days, the Post editorial board appears to have overlooked some crucial facts, many of which have been reported by its own newspaper.

It is absolutely true that some form of postsecondary education and training has become more important, and nearly essential, in today’s workforce. Unemployment rates for college graduates are consistently low, and the average lifetime earnings boost remains high relative to a high school degree. Anyone who argues that college “isn’t worth it” is doing so with anecdotal examples or bad data.

But the reason college is so important is not because earnings for college graduates keep rising. In fact, bachelor’s degree holders earn about the same amount as they did 30 years ago. Earnings for everyone else -- including those with only some college experience -- have gone down rapidly. In effect, a degree has become more a necessary insurance policy than an investment.
This matters because students are now on the hook for financing more and more of their own education than ever before. As a result, graduates are taking on rising levels of debt while contending with stagnant incomes and the rising cost of health care and child care, all while attempting to save for retirement or for their own child’s education.

And they are some of the best-off of the bunch -- they’re able to stretch and make their minimum monthly payments. The true crisis in student loans is among those who take on student debt but do not graduate, many of whom attend high-cost for-profit institutions. Those students are more likely to default or become delinquent on student loans, potentially setting themselves up for a lifetime of economic hardship. But while some argue that what we really have is a “completion crisis,” college completion is no better or worse than it’s been in decades.


Friday, August 5, 2016

How Black Lives Matter Activists Plan to Fix Schools

The Chronicle of Higher Education
By Emily Deruy
August 5, 2016


Black Lives Matter activists have already successfully pushed some colleges to address racism on campus and make curriculum more inclusive. But the movement as a whole has been less visible in the K-12 space. That’s changing.

As my colleague Vann Newkirk has noted, the Movement for Black Lives Matter coalition recently published a platform outlining a range of specific policies it would like to see take shape at the local, state, and federal levels. The education proposals are rooted in the K-12 space, activists who helped draft them told me, because the U.S. public-school system is so broken that college is never an option for many young people of color. And while many universities are privately controlled, the group sees an opportunity to return control of K-12 public schools to the students, parents, and communities they serve.

Public schools, even in the nation’s most affluent cities, remain highly segregated, with black children disproportionately likely to attend schools with fewer resources and concentrated poverty. There are more school security officers than counselors in four of the 10 biggest school districts in the country. And whereas spending on corrections increased by 324 percent between 1979 and 2013, that on education rose just 107 percent during the same time.

The coalition’s proposals are wide-ranging and, depending on who is talking, either aspirational or entirely unrealistic. They range from calling for a constitutional amendment for “fully funded” education (activists say federal funding is inadequate and not distributed equally) and a moratorium on charter schools to the removal of police from schools and the closure of all juvenile detention centers.

Mostly, said Jonathan Stith, the national coordinator for the Washington-based Alliance for Educational Justice and one of the lead authors, the propositions are an attempt to crystallize what the movement supports and to provide activists with a platform from which to move forward. “It’s always been clear what we’re against, but [articulating] what we’re for, what we want to see, was a real labor,” Stith, 41, said. The document is also an effort to connect education priorities to health care, the economy, criminal justice, and a range of other public-policy areas, and to, as Stith put it, force progress “in concert.”.

The plan, which lambasts the “privatization” of education by foundations that wield fat wallets to shape policy and criticizes charter-school networks for decimating black communities and robbing traditional neighborhood schools of resources, drew immediate criticism from education reformers who see charters and groups like Teach for America (the plan calls for its demise) as providing badly needed services to students of color. Some of these reformers said it signaled that the movement was cozy with teachers’ unions and the status quo. Lily Eskelsen Garcia, the head of the National Education Association, one of the country’s two main teachers’ unions, wrote in an emailed comment, “The NEA is honored to stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and proud to be a partner with the organizations that support community-based solutions to support students and public schools.”


Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Pitfalls of Free Tuition

The Chronicle of Higher Education
By Emily Deruy
August 3, 2016

Bernie Sanders may be out as a presidential contender, but his proposal to make public college free has worked its way into Hillary Clinton’s education plan. While the plan is making some private colleges nervous, his campaign has succeeded in furthering a broader conversation among university admissions directors about how to make access to higher education more equitable.

The applicant pools at selective universities don’t typically reflect the broader population, acknowledged Jim Rawlins, the director of admissions and assistant vice president of enrollment management at the University of Oregon, during a recent roundtable discussion with a handful of other admissions leaders in Washington, D.C. The different schools in attendance—both public and private, small and large—agreed that needs to change.

But not all schools are convinced that making in-state public schools free for students from families earning less than $125,000 a year by 2021, the gist of Clinton’s plan, is the right approach. Monica Inzer, the vice president and dean of admission and financial aid at Hamilton College, a small private school in rural upstate New York, expressed concern that if such a proposal were to become a reality, some families might not look at private schools that could be a good fit and equally affordable.

As Jim Nondorf, the vice president for enrollment and student advancement and dean of admissions and financial aid at the University of Chicago, said, students often hear a sticker price and don’t realize the actual cost for low- and even middle-income kids may not be as steep. His school, for instance, offers need-blind admission and promises to meet 100 percent of a family’s demonstrated need. Hamilton eliminated merit aid in 2007, and went completely need blind several years later. The school also runs an emergency aid fund to help students who cannot afford to fly home to visit a sick parent, or clothes for a job interview. But many schools, including many historically black colleges, don’t have the funds (Hamilton’s financial aid budget alone is more than $38 million) to accommodate such students, and losing middle-class kids to free public schools could make supporting poor students even harder, or force schools to take only the very richest students who can pay full price.

“I think what would happen is, we would have to become more elitist, because anybody who is not really wealthy is going to go to take the free option,” Sheila Bair, the president of Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland, told Politico recently. “I don’t want us to be elitist. I want us to have a diverse student population.”


Monday, August 1, 2016

What Rankings Have Wrought

The Chronicle of Higher Education
By Steven Harper
August 1, 2016

Albert Einstein often gets credit for words he never spoke, including these: "Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."

In 1963, the line appeared in the sociologist William Bruce Cameron’s text Informal Sociology: A Casual Introduction to Sociological Thinking. Two contemporary sociologists have now brought Cameron’s intuitive wisdom to life. In their new book, Engines of Anxiety: Academic Rankings, Reputation, and Accountability, Wendy Nelson Espeland, of Northwestern University, and Michael Sauder, of the University of Iowa, have added welcome scholarly heft to widespread anecdotal evidence that U.S. News & World Report rankings undermine sound decision making and encourage destructive societal behavior.

Defenders of the rankings argue that they improve transparency and accountability. The authors suggest a more problematic impact: Reducing any institution to a single and supposedly objective numerical slot masks subjectivity inherent in the methodology. Even worse, rankings create incentives that raise profound ethical issues. Espeland and Sauder prove their argument with a case study focused on the leading edge of higher education’s problems: law schools. Deans, professors, and prospective law students should pay close attention. But if past is prologue, most of them won’t.

Who created this mess?

"When Mort Zuckerman acquired U.S. News & World Report in 1984 and became its editor," the authors write, "it was a lackluster news weekly overshadowed by its more successful rivals, Newsweek and Time." Zuckerman — a Canadian with a law degree from McGill and master’s of law from Harvard — pursued a business career more consistent with his M.B.A. from Wharton. He decided to "expand the rankings and issue them annually as a way to solidify USN’s reputation as the magazine providing ‘news you can use.’"


Friday, July 29, 2016

The Slow-Motion Downfall of Linda Katehi

The Chronicle of Higher Education
By Jack Stripling and Fernanda Zamudio-Suar├ęz
July 29, 2016

Picture two locomotives barreling down a single track, heading for a collision as predictable as it is unstoppable. Such is the path of Janet A. Napolitano and Linda P.B. Katehi, the president of the University of California and the chancellor of its Davis campus, respectively.
By August 1 the university is expected to receive the findings of a months-long investigation into whether Ms. Katehi violated system policies related to her family members’ employment at the university, her service on corporate boards, and the hiring of companies to suppress embarrassing internet mentions of the chancellor and the campus.

Ms. Napolitano’s decision to broadcast a litany of specific charges against the chancellor, wounding her publicly from the start, is in keeping with what those who have worked with the president describe as her take-no-prisoners approach. The chancellor’s response, which has included fiery press releases from a hired crisis manager and the filing of a formal grievance, surprises few of her colleagues, who describe her as resentful of criticism.

The face-off between Ms. Napolitano, a former Arizona governor and U.S. Homeland Security secretary, and Ms. Katehi, who has been placed on administrative leave, poses a profound leadership test for a politician-turned-president who is still relatively unschooled in the culture of academe. And, at its heart, the crisis portends an ugly denouement for Ms. Katehi, a chancellor who seems forever scarred by a years-old scandal that destabilized her administration and hardened her instincts toward self-preservation.

The Chronicle interviewed more than 20 administrators, professors, regents, and lawmakers for this article. Several former Davis administrators, who have worked directly with Ms. Katehi, would speak only on condition of anonymity, citing concerns about divulging information from private meetings or professional retribution for speaking critically of their former boss.

Both Ms. Katehi and Ms. Napolitano declined interview requests.


Thursday, July 28, 2016

Hillary's Free Tuition Promise: What Would It Cost? How Would It Work?

NPR - All Things Considered
Anya Kamenetz
July 27, 2016


At the Democratic National Convention this week, Bernie Sanders announced that his successful rival, Hillary Clinton, had adopted one of his most popular proposals: Free tuition at public colleges.

"During the primary campaign, Secretary Clinton and I both focused on this issue but with different approaches," the Vermont Senator noted. "Recently, however, we have come together on a proposal that will revolutionize higher education in America. It will guarantee that the children of any family [in] this country with an annual income of $125,000 a year or less – 83 percent of our population – will be able to go to a public college or university tuition free. That proposal also substantially reduces student debt."

This proposal is novel. It's dramatic. It's a broadly scaled entitlement program for the middle class directed not at older Americans, like Social Security and Medicare, but for once, at younger Americans.

So let's unpack this idea a little bit.

First of all, what would it cost?

In fiscal year 2014, the most recent year available, four-year public institutions collected $58 billion in tuition. Since 2011, they've collected more in tuition and fees than from all state sources combined.

Currently, the federal government spends $31 billion on federal grants and work-study to all institutions, not just four-year public schools. So the cost of eliminating tuition would be around double that (maybe less, since some of that grant money already goes to tuition).


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Paradox of New Buildings on Campus

The Atlantic
Jon Marcus
July 25, 2016

Akerman Hall is a gateway to the complex that houses the University of Minnesota’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. But wandering through it is more like an experience in archeology.

First, there’s the former airplane hangar, built in 1948 and renovated five years ago with alumni contributions into a state-of-the-art student lounge, faculty office, and lab. Then come drab cinderblock corridors and classrooms that also date from the 1940s and don’t look anywhere near as glamorous. Behind them, however, are more than $5 million of unseen upgrades the university was forced to make to elevators, sprinklers, fire alarms, and ventilation systems so old the school was buying replacement parts on eBay.

These hallways lead to another handsomely appointed wing for which a dean scraped up some wealthy donors to make the kinds of improvements that are essential to compete for students in a hot field such as engineering.

But just upstairs from that are offices for English faculty with cracked and peeling window frames, sputtering air conditioners poking through walls, and plywood over some of the glass. This floor is still waiting for a badly needed overhaul—but there isn’t any money in the budget.

“You’re looking at the ‘before,’” said Brian Swanson, the assistant vice president for university services, finance, and strategy.

Monday, July 25, 2016

How Much Can Unions Lift Adjuncts? CUNY Contract Fight Hinges on What’s Good Enough

The Chronicle of Higher Education
By Peter Schmidt
July 25, 2016

The City University of New York’s faculty members are divided over a tentative contract and a longstanding question: Just how much can adjunct instructors expect to gain by belonging to unions?

CUNY’s faculty union, the Professional Staff Congress, says part-time faculty members should celebrate the gains it has made on their behalf in a hard-fought labor agreement. But many part-time instructors and graduate assistants oppose ratification of the new contract, arguing that it represents more of a defeat than a victory.

The agreement, accepted by CUNY’s administration and board last month, would offer many of the university system’s part-time instructors both much more job security and access to health insurance that they previously lacked. It would not substantially increase their pay, however, and would do little to close gaps between their earnings and those of their full-time counterparts.

Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress, last week said her union had "secured an enormous defensive victory" by winning the new contract and the state’s pledge of funds to cover it, especially considering that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, at that point had proposed a steep cut in state support for the university system.

While acknowledging that her union’s leaders view the agreement as far from perfect, Ms. Bowen nonetheless argued that "it is strongly in members’ interest to ratify the contract," because otherwise the union risks losing whatever ground it has gained.


Thursday, July 14, 2016

Talking Over the Racial Divide

The Chronicle of Higher Education
By Dan Berrett
July 14, 2016

The students started trying to understand one another by explaining the origins of their names, then conveying their cultural identity in three objects.

Mike, a sophomore criminal-justice major, said his Brazilian parents hoped his name would make him sound more American, "whatever that means," he added, smiling. He sat with his hands in his coat pockets and the zipper pulled up to his mouth on the first day of a course about race here at the University of Maryland, where the goal was to re-examine a lifetime of assumptions in two-hour shifts.

On the second day, Mike brought his objects in a Timberland box, from the boots he started wearing in North Newark, N.J., where lots of black and Hispanic kids did. The objects included a collection of press clippings about homicides in his neighborhood and a photograph of his 5-year-old nephew, Matthew, to help him remember his obligations back home.

Across from him sat Lindi, who grew up in Chevy Chase, Md., a wealthy suburb of Washington. She held up the bow hair clip she’d earned as captain of her high-school cheerleading team; a small box in the shape of Africa, because she had lived in South Africa for the first month of her life; and a Hamsa, a symbol to ward off evil spirits she got on a free trip to Israel for young Jews.
"I didn’t realize how much of a minority I was until I was in the majority," she said of the trip. Back in the United States, she said, she tried to eat out on Easter but found restaurants closed.

On seven Tuesdays this spring, The Chronicle watched as 14 students met in a course dedicated to discussing race, a perennial, at times explosive issue on campuses and across the country. Maryland offers the course as part of an effort to make students more proficient with difference — to help them have thorny conversations on uncomfortable topics, see the value of other people’s experiences, and gain some perspective on their own. At least, that’s the hope. But how potent a tool can talk be?


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

As Free Textbooks Go Mainstream, Advocate Says Colleges Should Do More to Support Them

The Chronicle of Higher Education
By Goldie Blumenstyk
July 12, 2016

It’s been a big few weeks for the movement to replace commercial textbooks with free online materials, thanks to the sudden rise of something called the Zero Textbook Cost degree.

In June, 38 community colleges announced plans to make free online materials standard in every course in some degree programs as part of a new effort coordinated by Achieving the Dream. Just a few weeks later, Gov. Jerry Brown of California, a Democrat, signed a 2016-17 budget that includes $5 million for community colleges in the state to create their own ZTC degrees.

Hal Plotkin, a longtime advocate of open education resources, or OER, says the moves could eventually save students billions of dollars. As he argued in a recent commentary, California’s new ZTC program is "easily the most ambitious state-level effort to promote the use of OER in public higher education to date."

Yet while cheering both the California and Achieving the Dream initiatives, Mr. Plotkin, a senior open-policy fellow at Creative Commons USA, argues that college leaders could and should be doing far more to promote the use of free, openly licensed materials, to prevent publishers from treating students "like walking cash registers."


Monday, July 11, 2016

When College Students Need Food Pantries More Than Textbooks

The Atlantic
Emily Deruy
July 9, 2016

As a more racially and socioeconomically diverse body of students pursues college in the United States, schools find themselves responding to more requests to stock food pantries and hand out vouchers for supplies at campus bookstores.

Universities have different reasons for offering students emergency help when things go wrong unexpectedly. Some of them are humanitarian. But, as a new report from NASPA: Student Affairs Professionals in Higher Education points out, many colleges are creating emergency-aid programs in part to increase graduation rates, particularly among first-generation, low-income students, and students of color, who make up a growing number of college goers but often drop out at higher rates than their white and affluent peers.

NASPA looked at 523 schools across various sectors of the higher-education landscape—public and private, two-year and four-year colleges—surveying vice presidents for student affairs and financial-aid directors. While nearly 75 percent of respondents said their school had some sort of emergency-aid program, most also said that need outpaces resources, and few actually use data to figure out which students are most at risk of quitting, in part because they’re already overwhelmed by requests.


Thursday, July 7, 2016

Student Activists Bring Demands to the Table. Not Everyone Leaves Satisfied.

The Chronicle of Higher Education
By Arielle Martinez
July 8, 2016

hen Patrick Elliott came to Claremont McKenna College last fall for his freshman year, tensions at the private liberal-arts institution were reaching a boiling point. In November protests over the college’s racial climate — including two hunger strikes — erupted on the campus, eventually leading to the resignation of the dean of students.
Those efforts "sparked a ton of conversation," said Mr. Elliott, a rising sophomore who is now chair of the diversity and inclusion board for the student government, the Associated Students of Claremont McKenna College. "It sparked a lot of dissent, but it provided CMC with the catalyst to have these conversations."

Mr. Elliott is a member of a steering committee for the college’s Personal and Social Responsibility Initiative. He and other students on the committee — which also has representatives from the faculty, staff, administration, and Board of Trustees — work with administrators to develop new diversity projects on the campus.

Now the administration is confronting the challenges of meeting student demands. While administrators stress the importance of compromise, patience, and careful planning, some students say there isn’t enough communication on what the college is doing to promote inclusivity.

Claremont McKenna is far from the only campus that is grappling with months-old student demands; dozens find themselves in similar situations. But the small Southern California campus was one of the first to begin responding to its students’ cries for better inclusivity. The slow negotiation that ensued illustrates just how difficult it will be for students and administrators across the country to satisfy everyone involved.


Friday, July 1, 2016

A New Argument for More Diverse Classrooms

The Chronicle of Higher Education
By Emily Deruy
July 1, 2016

Perhaps no U.S. education secretary has had more personal experience with the power America’s public-school system has to lift up students who have the odds stacked against them than John King. At least when it works as intended.

A Puerto Rican and African American whose parents had both passed away by the time he was 12, King has repeatedly credited New York public schools for saving his life and shaping its trajectory. King attended P.S. 276 in Canarsie and Mark Twain Junior High School in Coney Island, at the time both diverse schools that exposed him not only to high-quality curriculum, but to students and teachers from backgrounds and cultures wildly different from his own.

“As a kid, it gave me a sense of different cultural experiences that people had and different traditions that people had, and as a parent, that has been an important part of thinking about the schools for my daughters,” King said during an interview at his Washington, D.C., office.

On Friday, Secretary King will call on parents and teachers at the National PTA Convention in Orlando to create diverse schools where students of all racial and socioeconomic backgrounds have access to good teachers and learning opportunities like he did. “Like math and reading, like science, social studies, and the arts, diversity is no longer a luxury,” King will say. “It’s essential for helping our students get ready for the world they will encounter after high school and, increasingly, throughout their lives.”

Research has long suggested that all students benefit when they attend diverse schools. But many schools remain largely segregated and those that serve children of color tend to have less-experienced teachers, fewer advanced courses, and resources stretched thin. And while more than half of the nation’s students are now children of color, more than 80 percent of teachers are white, and the majority are female.



Wednesday, June 29, 2016

AAUP Rethinks How It Fights Governing Boards

The Chronicle of Higher Education
By Peter Schmidt
June 28, 2016

When the nation’s leading defender of faculty rights decides to rebuke a college, its precise language may leave close observers scratching their heads. Why, for instance, did it vote this month to sanction the University of Iowa over its controversial presidential search, instead of the board, which it explicitly identified as the bad actor?

The answer: It has long believed it has no other choice.

The American Association of University Professors imposes a penalty known as "sanction" against colleges for violations of shared governance, but its bylaws preclude it from directing sanctions at governing boards, no matter how responsible they might be. It imposes a separate category of penalty, "censure," for violations of tenure or academic freedom. With censures it has the option of directing the rebuke at the board, but it almost always opts to censure the college itself if administrators have any culpability.

Experience has taught the association that governing boards will shrug off its warnings and reprimands unless they’re convinced that their actions will cause a college to suffer from being on the AAUP’s lists of censured or sanctioned institutions.

Recent developments, however, have prompted the AAUP to begin reconsidering how it challenges boards.

The weaknesses of its current approach came into focus at its annual meeting here this month. Top officials of the association bemoaned how it is struggling to fight off increasingly common board overreach in colleges’ affairs, and heard faculty leaders at the University of Iowa protest the AAUP’s sanction of that institution for the actions of a statewide governing board.