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.