Dispatches From a Higher Ed Insider

 

shutterstock_120855589During the editors’ podcast last week, we wandered off onto the topic of online education, with a special emphasis on the idea that it has the potential to be an antidote to much of what’s wrong with modern American college campuses. That wasn’t a topic any of us had planned to discuss — it grew naturally out of our ad spot for The Great Courses — so the resulting conversation may have been a bit desultory.

Luckily, this being Ricochet —where you can find an expert on anything if you just look hard enough — I subsequently received this bit of correspondence from an academic working in a leadership position in a public regional comprehensive university. His point (and it’s a good one): our conversation entirely elided the complications posed by accreditation. That individual has generously allowed me to reproduce it here:

I probably spend about 4-6 hours each week thinking about online education or at least have lately.  I have both created coursework online and administered programs that offer online education and online degrees. Our leadership urges us to create more and more of it.

I find some of what was said on the podcast true. The Obama Administration has been aggressive in regulating for-profits that are leaders in online education, killing off Corinthian Colleges in the process.  (I doubt they think that a mistake.)  And they can dictate the terms of education by controlling what kind of higher education qualifies for federal loan programs. The takeover of the student loan market by the feds after ACA has only been the latest acceleration.

One item that has long stood as an impediment for the for-profit institutions has been accreditation. There are three types:  first are the regional accreditation programs that accredit entire colleges and universities, all public and private non-profits. They will not do for-profit or technical/vocational schools — these have their own second set of national accreditors. But often the former group of schools will not take credits from the latter. Both are recognized and controlled by the Higher Education Act and thus the federal Department of Education. The fight over online education is somewhat similar to the longstanding battle to get credits from the nationally accredited schools to be accepted in transfer at the regional accredited schools. Public universities spend millions lobbying the federal government on student loan programs.

So one impediment is an attempt to stifle competition. Meanwhile, we try to create our own online courses using existing faculty, many of whom do not have the skill or desire for online work. Pinched public university budgets make it hard to offer the kinds of student support services the big online players offer. In short, while I can point to some faculty who do online really well, others go into it for either personal benefit or convenience.  (The last thing you want to do as an administrator is make someone teach online.)

It is not, contrary to the belief of many (including some of my bosses), necessarily cheaper or necessarily better. It’s simply a different way to serve a group of students you might not have been able to otherwise. And for regional comprehensives who think they are ready to enter a national market, they usually aren’t unless they’ve got the right degree, at the right price, and an ability to find those students. Most universities don’t have that, but will be damned if they’re going to let the competition beat them to it. Not when they can get the government to prevent it.

The public should take note of two pieces of legislation. One is a deregulatory bill that it turns out both the for-profits and non-profits like. It would get the feds to roll back some of the recent advances the Department of Education has made in squeezing the for-profits because the rules now affect the traditional universities too. The other is the renewal of the Higher Education Act itself, which has needed an overhaul since the end of 2013.  Those would be the best places to address the need for individuals to be able to get online instruction wherever and whenever, and to assure its portability to different universities.

 

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  1. Sabrdance Member
    Sabrdance
    @Sabrdance

    I’m behind in my podcast listening, but this conforms to the situation at my school, too.

    • #1
  2. Guruforhire Inactive
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    http://onlinemba.unc.edu/

    http://2u.com/about/partners/

    There are good public universities doing big things in the online space.

    • #2
  3. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Once again, it boils down to:

    Everything I want to do is Illegal

    • #3
  4. user_138833 Inactive
    user_138833
    @starnescl

    This is crazy.

    And, it’s crazy that this is a statement that now makes sense: What does learning something have to do – AT ALL – with universities anymore?

    The regulatory boundaries identified above are completely artificial.  They relate to the institutions – not the thing to be learned.  At one time those two things were closely coupled, but now they are entirely uncoupled.

    To those that care, take heart – it may seem impossible because of how big and how dug in they are, but they are going to become irrelevant in just the same way as the record, the newspaper, and the taxi commission.  Just as quickly too.

    And, as with education, so with health care.

    • #4
  5. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    He kind of lost me when I read the part about “pinched public university budgets”.

    • #5
  6. Fricosis Guy Listener
    Fricosis Guy
    @FricosisGuy

    This post is exhibit #22 in “Why I’m Still for Scott Walker.” He’s the candidate with the most success in dismantling parts of the deep state in the face of concerted opposition.

    Others have good instincts and some success in Red areas, but Walker’s done it in the home of Progressivism.

    • #6
  7. Petty Boozswha Inactive
    Petty Boozswha
    @PettyBoozswha

    “And, it’s crazy that this is a statement that now makes sense: What does learning something have to do – AT ALL – with universities anymore?”

    Exactly. More and more we need to insist that the next few members of the Supreme Court explicitly state they will not be bound by stare decisis and will overturn some of the bone-headed Warren Court rules, starting with Griggs v Duke Power that started the credential mania that we have to suffer with now. If businesses were allowed to use their own aptitude tests, or, heaven forfend, promote people because of their proven ability and leadership potential rather than their transcripts, the educational industrial complex in this country would collapse.

    • #7
  8. user_352043 Moderator
    user_352043
    @AmySchley

    Sabrdance:I’m behind in my podcast listening, but this conforms to the situation at my school, too.

    Huh. I was guessing Anonymous here was you. :D

    • #8
  9. captainpower Inactive
    captainpower
    @captainpower

    Petty Boozswha:

    Exactly. More and more we need to insist that the next few members of the Supreme Court explicitly state they will not be bound by stare decisis and will overturn some of the bone-headed Warren Court rules, starting with Griggs v Duke Power that started the credential mania that we have to suffer with now. If businesses were allowed to use their own aptitude tests, or, heaven forfend, promote people because of their proven ability and leadership potential rather than their transcripts, the educational industrial complex in this country would collapse.

    I just saw a job advertisement in the USA at a university requiring a programming test:

    Must be able to pass the Science Research Associates Computer Programmer Aptitude Battery with 70% or better.

    What gives?

    See also:

    • #9
  10. Z in MT Member
    Z in MT
    @ZinMT

    How universities calculate the cost to educate a student: (Total Spending)/(Total Number of Students).

    This is the kind of thinking that continually drives Higher Education prices higher.

    • #10
  11. Sabrdance Member
    Sabrdance
    @Sabrdance

    So, now having listened to the podcast in question, I reiterate my support of anonymous prof and add the following comments:

    1.) online education is a cash cow, behind only foreign (largely Middle Eastern) students.  We charge more for it, stuff the class with students, and pay others to grade everything.  Once the professor has laid out the class and produced, recorded, or written the content, the professor is basically an administrator.  It’s actually a little soul-sucking.  We’re in it for the money -none of us actually believe it’s better.  When I want to sooth my soul, I tell myself that the people we are reaching are the people who cannot come to campus because they have families and jobs.  These are high tech correspondence courses.  Don’t kid yourself otherwise.

    2.) Students may learn the easy stuff and the interesting stuff very easily through online courses.  The hard stuff and the important stuff is a different story.  In producing the classes, most of the work goes into figuring out how to convert, say, a thirty minute class analysis of a case study into something that can be done asynchronously and individually, and without the teacher’s ability to drop breadcrumbs for the students to follow.

    I don’t think it’s an accident that “general survey” and “practical skills like conversation” are the popular courses.  “Research Design and Program Evaluation” is a right [CoC] to learn without the professor standing over your shoulder.

    • #11
  12. Sabrdance Member
    Sabrdance
    @Sabrdance

    On the finance issues (of which I know nothing about Corinthian Colleges), most state schools used to be 70% funded by the states.  The level of funding usually hasn’t been reduced, but the increased student bodies means that the same appropriation from 40 years ago is now only 30% of the budget, so we are increasing our reliance on tuition and fees.  Students pay more of the costs of their own education (or get loans, same difference).  As a result, we focus our attention on where the money is -STEM.  STEM, however, isn’t cheap to teach.  We spend gobs of money on the labs and technology, while American Government can be pretty well taught with an open space under an oak tree.  But classes cost the same.

    Thus, the trick of the university is to get STEM students to take cheap classes so that the cost of STEM classes can be kept down.  And now you know why the Liberal Arts are dying.  (I’m being excessively cynical, pardon me.)

    The other money maker is Business and Education.  Business is a “practical class” that has no proper subject (economics, org theory, and accounting are separate).  It is accordingly easy to pass (though the professors make bank enough to single-handedly explain every Red in academia).  And Education classes are similarly easy.  They attract gobs of students.  Who can’t find jobs.

    It isn’t the art history majors dragging down the average -there aren’t that many.

    • #12
  13. Pugshot Member
    Pugshot
    @Pugshot

    Petty Boozswha

    “And, it’s crazy that this is a statement that now makes sense: What does learning something have to do – AT ALL – with universities anymore?”

    Exactly. More and more we need to insist that the next few members of the Supreme Court explicitly state they will not be bound by stare decisis and will overturn some of the bone-headed Warren Court rules, starting with Griggs v Duke Power that started the credential mania that we have to suffer with now. If businesses were allowed to use their own aptitude tests, or, heaven forfend, promote people because of their proven ability and leadership potential rather than their transcripts, the educational industrial complex in this country would collapse.

    Be careful what you wish for. Stare decisis is one of the few things that restraints courts from doing whatever they want – at least the lower courts. The USSC is the 800-pound gorilla that does pretty much whatever it wants. It invokes stare decisis when it doesn’t want to do something, but if it does want to do something, it doesn’t let stare decisis constrain it. If it did, the long-established (1896 – 7-1 decision) rule of separate but equal from Plessy v Ferguson would still be the law of the land; but the Warren Court in Brown v Bd of Education (1954) didn’t let a little doctrine like stare decisis stop them from unanimously overturning the well-settled rule of a prior decision. [If all lower level courts behaved like the USSC with respect to adherence to stare decisis, they’d all be like the 9th Circuit!]

    By the way, Griggs was not a Warren Court decision. It came courtesy of the Burger Court with Nixon appointee Chief Justice Burger himself writing the majority opinion.

    • #13
  14. Guruforhire Inactive
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    Sabradance,

    Would you be open to the idea that what you are saying may generally be true but may not be universally true?

    • #14
  15. Sabrdance Member
    Sabrdance
    @Sabrdance

    Guruforhire:Sabradance,

    Would you be open to the idea that what you are saying may generally be true but may not be universally true?

    I’m a social scientist -odd-ball exceptions are my stock and trade.  So, yes, there are likely places my observations don’t hold.

    They are true at 6 universities in 4 states.  If we add my colleague’s experiences, it’s something like a dozen universities in 10 states.  If we add conference conversations, it’s darn close to universal.

    I’m not saying online education is bad, and there may be a non-trivial amount of protection of the guild involved.  But no one who actually teaches the full curricula thinks online is a perfect substitute for in-class -and the primary reason faculties are adopting online programs -as opposed to specific online courses -is because we need the money.

    • #15
  16. Guruforhire Inactive
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    My undergrad program I finished 12 years ago was as you describe and it was a soul crushing experience as a student.  My most recent experience has been entirely different.  I will be more than happy to talk about it via PM as I don’t want my political opinions to bleed into my academic and professional life.

    • #16
  17. Petty Boozswha Inactive
    Petty Boozswha
    @PettyBoozswha

    Pugshot, I realized after I went on to other subjects that I called it a Warren Court decision – I consider it a Brennan Court decision in that it continued the social engineering emphasis of the Warren Court. Stare Decisis, in the real world, has been the domestic equivalent of what the Brezhnev Doctrine used to be to foreign policy – once a country has gone socialist it can never go back. Those of us in the libertarian camp would not lose anything by seeing it go away. The majority in  Brown v. Board of Education explicitly claimed they were not overturning Plessey with their decision, even though they were. I don’t think such contortions are necessary or proper in a democracy. I agree lower courts should follow the high court’s lead, but I think the Supreme’s should be allowed to look at issues de novo.

    • #17
  18. Petty Boozswha Inactive
    Petty Boozswha
    @PettyBoozswha

    captainpower:

    I just saw a job advertisement in the USA at a university requiring a programming test:

    Must be able to pass the Science Research Associates Computer Programmer Aptitude Battery with 70% or better.

    What gives?

    See also:

    My ex-wife worked very hard at North Carolina’s Southwestern Community College – ranked the #4 2 year institution in the USA – and graduated first in her class as a computer geek. She was unable to pass some MicroSoft credentialing tests to get work and had to retrain herself for the real world before getting a job in the field she was trained for.

    • #18
  19. Son of Spengler Contributor
    Son of Spengler
    @SonofSpengler

    Sabrdance
    So, now having listened to the podcast in question, I reiterate my support of anonymous prof and add the following comments:

    1.) online education is a cash cow, behind only foreign (largely Middle Eastern) students.

    *****
    I’m teaching this summer for the first time, as adjunct faculty in the business school of a state university. It is a specialized STEM-intensive degree program. Of my forty students, I’ve been led to believe 38 are foreign.

    I hope to share some thoughts on the experience when it’s done. In the meantime, I’ll say that catering to foreign students is a deliberate financial strategy. It also feels like I am creating a product for export. a couple of decades hence, these students will be teaching the subject in their native countries to the next generation.

    • #19
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