Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Midterm Exam. Election. I mean Election.

In a profoundly moving tribute to the American spirit of civic duty, the barely one-third of eligible Americans who bothered (or were allowed) to vote gave control of both houses of the US Congress and the majority of state legislatures to the Republican Party. The last polls closed less than 12 hours ago, but that hasn't deterred the higher education punditocracy from declaring last night either the end of the world or the end of history.

Nor, of course, will it stop your intrepid higher ed futurist. UVU put that in my job description, after all, and part of that job is to cut through the sensationalism of the higher ed punditocracy. There are usually some gems beneath the hype, and election analysis is no exception. There are some things that we can expect, and we do need to understand why many of the dire/triumphal predictions aren't likely to come through.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Last Week in Retweets November 3, 2014

Really, only two things happened last week, but they were big: Gainful Employment and City College of San Francisco. Settle into the details on this one, folks. They're important.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Last Week in Retweets October 27, 2014

LWRT took last week off while I was watching faculty struggle sessions learning about the state of the art in assessment at the IUPUI Assessment Institute, so this week's post may reach back a bit further than usual. This week we cover sexism in educational technology, City College of San Francisco's accreditation, and unprofitable for-profit universities. (You aren't hallucinating; nothing about rankings for once!) But we start with something huge: the University of North Carolina's accreditation may be in jeopardy.

Monday, October 13, 2014

LWRT October 13, 2014

This week in Last Week in Retweets, we consider what might be an actual good argument for MOOCs, a less impressive argument about the software that makes MOOCs possible, jobs, skills gaps (or lack thereof) among minorities, adjuncts, the Carnegie Classifications, rankings (as always), and uh, the loo.

Measuring the Unmeasurable, or, How Assessment Substantively Constrains Missions

Measurableness is next to godliness, or at least it seems in higher education. UVU's accreditor, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU), demands that we assess mission fulfillment based on "analysis of meaningful, assessable, and verifiable data" and conduct "evidence-based assessment of its accomplishments."

In principle, some measurement can be obtained for any goal. In this sense, accreditation and assessment in higher education are hyperpositivist. The logical positivist philosophers at the turn of the 20th Century argued that the only things that existed were those that could be observed, directly or indirectly; all else was metaphysics. That informed the logic of social scientific research especially after World War II and especially in education.

Accreditation and assessment as we currently practice them go beyond that claim; that which is real in the management of higher education institutions is—and is only—that which is measurable, whether quantitatively or qualitatively. With apologies to Mr. Justice Stewart, seeing it isn't enough. One must be able to assign some sort of value to it.

Pragmatically there may be no difference between the two. To say that something was or was not observed is a binary measurement. But the rhetoric is important: measurement is more rigorous than mere observation, and it is the rigor of the process, not its ontological foundation, that legitimizes this approach to managing educational institutions. To pose the proposition that some things may not be measurable is thus to challenge the fundamental legitimacy of educational management.

(You don't think I am going to pass up an opportunity for that, do you?)

Thursday, October 9, 2014

An Off Topic Rant about the Next Post

<rant> is an exceptionally painful web site. It looks like it hasn't been updated since the late 1990s. It's what I was aiming for when I designed my first web site. The kicker, though, comes when you view the source: that's done with javascript! It's not a holdover in need of a redesign. Someone deliberately designed it that way, and did so recently.

What in the name of all that is, was, or ever shall be holy were they thinking?</rant>

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

What if We Budgeted in FTE?

Loyal readers familiar with my views on the subject (Hi, Mom!) know that I am not very sympathetic to most of the arguments about the costs of higher education. They tend, for example, to confuse costs to students (i.e., tuition and fees) with cost per student (i.e., spending). At UVU, for example, the latter increased at an annual rate of 7.4% between 1990 and 2010. But real per FTE spending was flat. The additional tuition almost exactly offset cuts in state funding. That's the real story at many regional state institutions and community colleges, the workhorses of higher education in the US.

But that isn't to say that spending doesn't matter. There has also been a shift in where money is spent, with much more money spent on administrative costs and less on full-time faculty. To make up for that shift, more instruction is done by part-time employees, many of whom barely make minimum wage.

LWRT October 6, 2014

Fresh from a hiatus for the Rocky Mountain Association for Institutional Research Conference, this week's Last Week in Retweets covers for-profits, competency-based education, Academically Adrift, tuition, and (like you didn't see it coming) rankings.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

LWRT (Last Week in Retweets): September 22, 2014

Topics last week include high-stakes testing, predatory lending, retention alliances, City College of San Francisco's accreditation battle, student evaluations, and (I'll bet you thought I forgot about) college ratings.

Monday, September 15, 2014

LWIRT (Last Week in Retweets): September 15, 2014

Introducing a new feature for this blog: Last Week in Retweets. I'll be consolidating the more interesting items on higher education that I've found via Twitter over the past week with some summary and commentary, and posting them every Monday. Subscribe to the blog for great source for keeping up on news about the future of higher ed beyond the hallowed walls (lawns? parking lots? ring road?) of Utah Valley University.

Topics last week include college rankings, credit hours, civility, rankings, competency-based assessment, nanodegrees, rankings, unbundling, and rankings. Oh, and ratings, because the proposed federal government system will only rate institutions, not rank them. They're very particular about that.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Could UVU Have a Park City Mountain Resort-Level Failure?

Sometimes a business does something so trivial, so careless—and so catastrophic—that the mind fails to understand how the people involved could have reached a position of responsibility in a modern corporation. Powdr, the operators of the Park City Mountain Resort ski area, had a sweetheart lease on its terrain, and the opportunity to renew it on the same terms. Having made massive capital investments in a base right in Park City to access the terrain, you would think they would be absolutely on top of renewing that lease.

You would be wrong.

Powdr missed the deadline by a few days, and spent the last few years litigating to try to win back the terrain that gave their base its value. They lost, and last week sold the base to Vail Resorts, who had leased the terrain while Powdr was litigating.

It’s the corporate equivalent of a crash skiers call a “yard sale.” Such a disaster raises the question of what UVU could do to “yard sale” the university. Let me thus suggest conditions that are (1) either within our control or for which we might adequately plan (2) that have a realistic possibility, however low, of occurring, and (3) pose fundamental threats to our ability to function as an institution of higher education?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Rating the Rankings: University Ranking Processes and Methodologies

With the release of the US News and World Report College Rankings this morning, the annual college rankings season comes to a close. There is a wide range of different rankings, with schools at the top of one ranking looking mediocre in another.
[cough]Yale University
[cough]Reed College
[cough]Babson College
What do we make of these? In the spirit of the forthcoming (and, perhaps, always will be) federal Postsecondary Institution Ratings System (PIRS), I rate (but not rank!) five of the more prominent systems, and consider where UVU fits into the rankings.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Lee's Proposal to Deregulate Accreditation Gaining Traction with GOP Presidential Hopefuls

Sen. Mike Lee’s accreditation bill has gained the support of two potential Republican presidential candidates, Senators Marco Rubio and Rand Paul. Earlier this year, Sen. Lee proposed allowing states to establish their own accrediting agencies as alternatives to the regional accreditation system. According to a piece on the proposal in Slate today, Senators Rubio and Paul have both incorporated similar ideas into their proposals and expressed support for Sen. Lee.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Having the (Aristotelian) Courage to Innovate in Higher Education

(This is an extended version of some remarks I'll be giving to UVU's University Planning Advisory Committee in its January 23 meeting. With a bit of luck I'll have some time to look at a few of the more prominent innovations being considered in higher ed from this perspective before the meeting and post on that as well.)
Too often, especially in such a technology-driven society, we think of the innovative as the opposite of the old-fashioned, the stodgy, the closed-minded. In this binary, innovation is inherently good, and the opponents of innovation are Luddites seeking to hold back progress and seeking stability for its own sake. Often the opponents of the “innovation” are seen as acting out of their own self interest (see the debates on MOOCs in which opponents were characterized as out to protect their own jobs at the expense of students) or out of fear of the new. Implicit in that is a sense of both technological determinism and technological solutionism: technology can do something, therefore it inevitably will do that thing, and that thing will inevitably solve all the problems.

Of course that’s not true often enough to be of any use. Those pursuing innovation have personal interests at stake at least as often as opponents; it is the height of hypocrisy for Coursera, a for-profit company, to accuse those opposed to MOOCs as protecting their own interests. Fear is as prominent on the side of supporters as on that of opponents, as anyone who has heard arguments that we “have to be out in front of change or we’ll be destroyed by it” should recognize. Technologies, as products of social processes that are put to use in other social processes, are no more deterministic than any other social process. And we know of many technologies that make problems worse rather than better. Any of these may be true in any one case, of course. But saying that they are true generally is like saying that flipped coins generally turn up heads.

It seems then, that there are at least three positions: too little innovation to address our problems or take advantage of new opportunities, effective innovation, and too much innovation that pulls us further away from challenges or presents new and more difficult challenges than the ones it solves. We can see effectiveness in innovation, then, as an Aristotelian virtue: a middle point between the extremes of rashness and timidity.