If this goes on–

I am working tonight with Cabaret playing on one monitor with a variety of thoughts running through my head, inter-leaving the work I am trying to do with higher ed data. I had listened to Terry Gross interview Alan Cumming, who is now playing the role of the Emcee on stage for the third time in 20 years. He made some interesting comments about the implicit guilt of the “audience” in watching things unfold without criticism or reaction. Nothing new here, it was just the tie-in to the audience.

This then led me to thinking about Robert Heinlein’s If This Goes  On-, one of my favorite dystopic future histories. It is the implicit permissiveness of the audience that allows the charismatic and/or wealthy to take over. Especially with an overly simplistic message about a subject for which there are really no easy answers.

Some things aren’t easy to understand or explain accurately. Especially if one does not put in the effort.

There are so many things happening in education these days it is hard to keep track of them, let alone understand them all. For example, there is lot happening with the Common Core of State Standards (CCSS). I’ve typically only skimmed the articles and have a bare understanding of CCSS because Virginia is not a CCSS state. The State Board of Education refused to adopt common core, not wishing to adopt standards lower than what were already in place.

I worry though that not being better informed leads to the “implicit permissive of the audience” that allows the bad things to happen. I like to believe that most people have honorable intentions, especially those driving policy from positions of power (even if it is informal power derived from sitting on huge stacks of money). However, their words seem to make the honor of those intentions suspect. Or outright lies.

The Greenstein and Phillips piece in InsideHigherEd continues to bother me.

Specifically, the full and faithful implementation of the Common Core could all but eliminate the need for colleges to provide academic remediation to students enrolling in college immediately after graduating from high school. Also called “developmental education,” this remediation costs taxpayers $7 billion every year. It’s estimated that only 17 percent of students who take a developmental reading course go on to earn a four-year degree.

I suppose this possible. I can’t help thinking though, after looking at lot of data for a lot of years, if the same thing couldn’t be accomplished by improved funding to schools and eliminating poverty. Poverty seems to have huge impact on education success.

Maybe high standards and high stakes testing drive away the pangs of hunger.

Maybe test anxiety solves the issue of single-parenting since children are more worried about the next test than why Daddy is gone, or Mommy is gone.

As I raise my grandsons, I don’t see this being the case.

High standards are great. Consistent application of standards and opportunity is great, too. But they don’t solve all issues.

By engaging actively in the debate around the Common Core, higher education leaders can inform it with their expertise, participate in and ensure the full, faithful and effective implementation of the Common Core, and help supporters of improved education and educational pipelines stay the course.

I agree wholeheartedly that higher education leaders can inform the Common Core with their expertise by actively engaging in the debate. However, the last part of the statement seems to imply nothing is really going to change. Asking higher ed leaders (and I hope to God they are including faculty here) to engage in debate around the Common Core while planning to continue its “full, faithful and effective implementation” seems startlingly clueless. Especially to help supporters “stay the course.”

There is no meaningful debate or reason to attempt such, if nothing is going to change. The Common Core might be the right thing to do. It may be incredibly well-designed and will solve the remedial ed problem. Unfortunately, when I read things like this essay, I put it in the category of “too good to be true” and look for the Ronco logo.

Seriously? The PocketFisherman is still available? Apparently the half-life of crap is a lot longer than I thought. The fact that someone still thinks is a good idea is why I feel that I must engage more about the Common Core and other initiatives outside my normal domain.

There will always be someone selling snake-oil and piss.

 

 

Random Thoughts

In her continuing discussions on her F2CO (Free 2 year College Option) Sara Goldrick-Rab writes about the randomness of the 12th year v. the 14th year of public education. This is a pretty compelling set of points since it forces one to confront the current status quo of public education. There are lot of things we do in education, especially in higher education, because we have always done them that way. There is absolutely nothing magical about 12 years or 13 years (if you include kindergarten) being the right amount of elementary and secondary education. After all, it is not as if founding fathers had done a lot of research a hundred years ago or so on how many years were right, it all kind of evolved that way.

This is probably true for the legal status of 18 year-olds and other such boundaries. Young people are getting driver’s licenses later and later, in part because of changing laws requiring more practice and additional rules. I think most people, especially the insurance industry, think this is a good thing. It is likely time that we really begin to question why things are the way they are and whether or not they should remain that way.

On the flip-side, Sherman Dorn takes on Arne Duncan’s comments on the contents of teacher preparation. I’m not going to say much of anything other than that is well worth reading. Being married to a special ed teacher for 25 years combined with being involved in state-level teacher prep program discussions causes a great deal of what he writes to resonate with me.

And over at Curmudgucation, Peter Greene takes apart the essay Dan Greenstein and Vicki Phillips had published in InsideHigherEd that attempts to encourage higher ed faculty to cheer-lead for the Common Core of State Standards. This is also a really nice piece.

Of course, none of this was really what I was planning to write about.

I spent the last five days on a whirlwind drive from Richmond, Va to Joplin, Mo. I wrote some about this on my work blog, focusing on the fact there are a lot of colleges and universities between those two points. I drove home to Joplin for a visit with my parents the weekend before my father’s 82nd birthday. It also happened to be the weekend that Missouri Southern State University was finally able to get around to acknowledging the 25 year service of a former president, Julio Leon. During the reign of the most recent president, Julio was essentially He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. The current interim president, a seemingly very capable Alan Marble, felt the pain of the campus community and has been working on healing and care-taking.

A few things stand out about the experience.

  • During the course of a celebrating the career of a visionary leader, it is seemingly easy to leave out the times that people grumbled. I would have enjoyed hearing stories along those lines as well. Especially since I recall some of the grumbling.
  • It is gratifying to hear a tenured professor remind us that it is not really about the individual nearly so much as it is about the institution. And still receive a warm hug from the honoree.
  • I enjoy seeing my old professors (and apparently my high school counselor), but it seems difficult, if not impossible, to over-emphasize the word “old.” I felt really young.
  • The last time I was on campus was in December 2012 when I was the Commencement speaker under the old regime. There is a different, more positive, atmosphere.
  • Some places will always be a second home. Dad spent a lot of years there. I grew up a bit there and finally finished an art degree. My sister graduated from MSSU. It is a good place with as a bright a future as the campus community can envision. Should it wish to do so.
  • Some people just don’t know how to set up a room.
  • People without hearing impairments should learn to be aware that they are surrounded by the hearing impaired at such events. And structure the set-up accordingly.

The damage to the international mission of the university, and the attempts to end it completely, were shameful. The belief that a global perspective was necessary, and possible, in Southwest Missouri was, and is, an audacious vision that Dad and Julio made reality for years. Tied to core beliefs in the liberal arts and human communication, it is a shining example of what public higher education can be.

MSSU is not perfect. There are needs to continue to come to grips with the university’s recent history. MSSU needs to develop better ties to the Joplin and surrounding communities.

Despite these issues, it sure was a good place to grow up.

 

 

 

More things to consider when thinking about student loans

I noticed that David Bergeron tweeted this blog post at USED about student loans. It is good advice with five points, but can probably be expanded.

1. Research starting salaries in your field.  Uh, yeah. The federal sources cited in the blog are useful, but the summary below looks like an art graduate would have no problem repaying student loans.

Quick Facts: Art Directors
2012 Median Pay $80,880 per year
$38.88 per hour
Entry-Level Education Bachelor’s degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation 5 years or more
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2012 74,800
Job Outlook, 2012-22 3% (Slower than average)
Employment Change, 2012-22 2,200

I’m not sure that’s true. Students would be well-advised to look at the resources put together by Virginia, Texas, Tennessee, and a handful of other states that have reported wage outcomes for very specific majors/degrees/institutions. For example, the median wage for general art graduates in Virginia at five years out was only about $37,585 in our 2012 reports.

It would also be a good idea to think about the cost of living where one plans to work.

2. Keep track of how much you’re borrowing.

And don’t EVER take out private loans! It is bad enough that there are no bankruptcy protections on student loans, but private loans are not eligible for any of the income-based repayment and public service loan forgiveness options.

Don’t ask or make your parents take out PLUS loans. Accept the fact they cannot pay out of pocket and find another option. PLUS loans have zero repayment options…unless your parents have student loans of their own that they can consolidate together. If that’s the case, they definitely should not be taking out PLUS loans. Accept that life is not fair and you simply may not be able to afford the school you want.

Don’t borrow more than needed.

Keep in mind, especially with PLUS loans, part of those loans is going to the college to redistribute to other students in the form of grant aid. Sometimes these students come from wealthier families than yours.  Also consider that what you might save in not having student loans, might cost you more if your parents have to live with you because they can’t afford to save for retirement while they are paying off student loans they took out for you to attend your dream college.

All three of the Department’s final suggestions come down to basic good practices whenever one signs a contract.

3. Understand the terms of your loan and keep copies of your loan documents.

4. Keep in touch with your loan servicer. 

5. Stay ahead of your student loan payments.  

Don’t ever get behind. Don’t default. Whatever you do.

Become familiar with income-based repayment options (PAYE/IBR) and talk to a financial advisor and see if they make sense for you. Remember – these options do not apply to private loans!

Other suggestions

Research the history of student debt at the institutions you are considering. Virginia  makes it easy and Texas has a couple of web tools that blend debt and wage outcomes products together. This can be useful.

Think hard about what you are doing and why. Look at it as a business decision. By itself, debt is not necessarily bad. But too much debt compared to what you need to live and what you earn is pretty much evil. What is “too much debt” may vary a bit on a case-by-case basis, but not really very much.  USED recommends that student loan payments should be 8% or less. Try for 5% at most.

Borrow cautiously. Very cautiously.

 

 

If you think you are cool…

…you most assuredly are not.

I was standing in line at the grocery store last night. The young male clerk was chatting up (unsuccessfully) the slightly older young woman ahead of me. And that is when he said it. 

“I think I am cool.”

Throughout the rest of my wait and my transaction, I debated telling him the truth. One is either cool or not. Just saying you think you are cool is evidence to the contrary. It is something that is self-evident to others.

This applies to qualities of personality and existence beyond coolness. Spirituality. Bravery. Wisdom.

I left without saying anything about it. In part, it is not my place to disabuse him of his notion. Sooner or later he will more than likely learn the hard way. Also, having spent chunks of my life in Oklahoma, Missouri, Virginia, Oregon, and Alaska, I’ve learned not to argue with the weather. Or fence posts, crazy people, animals, and inanimate objects of all shapes and sizes. 

Arguing with any of the above is pointless and makes you look foolish. Certainly one of the problems I have had in life is recognizing when someone is actually a fence post.

`You got everything?’ said the chauffeur. `You don’t want to pick up your bag or anything?’

`If there’s one thing that life’s taught me,’ said Tricia, `it’s never go back for your bag.’

Just a little over an hour later, Tricia sat on one of the pair of beds in her hotel room. For a few minutes she didn’t move. She just stared at her bag, which was sitting innocently on top of the other bed.

In her hand was a note from Gail Andrews, saying, `Don’t be too disappointed. Do ring if you want to talk about it. If I were you I’d stay in at home tomorrow night. Get some rest. But don’t mind me, and don’t worry. It’s only astrology. It’s not the end of the world. Gail.’

The chauffeur had been dead right. In fact the chauffeur seemed to know more about what was going on inside NBS than any other single person she had encountered in the organisation. Martin had been keen, Zwingler had not. She had had her one shot at proving Martin right and she had blown it.

Oh well. Oh well, oh well, oh well.

Time to go home. Time to phone the airline and see if she could still get the red-eye back to Heathrow. tonight. She reached for the big phone directory.

Oh. First things first.

She put down the directory again, picked up her handbag, and took it through to the bathroom. She put it down and took out the small plastic case which held her contact lenses, without which she had been unable properly to read either the script or the autocue.

As she dabbed each tiny plastic cup into her eyes she reflected that if there was one thing life had taught her it was that there are times when you do not go back for your bag and other times when you do. It had yet to teach her to distinguish between the two types of occasion.

Douglas Adams, Mostly Harmless

Learning to distinguish between a real person and a person that is really a fence post (if only on some issues) is the real trick.

Free College?

No TV. No internet. No phone.

DSCN0500

It is kind of primitive. Except that I am using my phone to play stored music (for just such an occasion, the same reason I keep my feathers numbered) and I am writing this on Windows 8 tablet while drinking a tumbler of pinot grigio. Maybe it is not too primitive. My wife and are acknowledging/celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary in a CCC cabin at Douthat State Park in western Virginia. This small, one-room cabin is nearly identical to the one we stayed in five years ago at this time at Fairystone State Park. It is simple, relaxing, and as about as romantic as one might like.

So of course I am thinking about higher education. (To be fair, wife is curled up trying to cope with her constant pain in her knees.)

While some folks might consider this cabin to be somethingless than Spartan, it is probably more comfortable and better appointed thanmost traditional dorm rooms. Especially our son’s. It is certainly cleaner.

And this is why I am thinking about higher education.

The Tennessee legislature has approved free community college.

Except it hasn’t. Not really. Not even close.

Bryce McKibbentweeted about this.

This last tweet is most damning. Leaving the poorest students with 67% of the cost of attendance unaddressed is not free community college, it is just a gimmick. Not covering part-time students is perhaps understandable, but undercuts the message.

Sara Goldrick-Rab is out with a proposal for a free two-year college option. It recognizes that the cost of attendance includes living. It is simply not enough to cover the tuition and mandatory college fees and call that free college and leave out the cost of textbooks, supplies, food, and a place to live. Certainly policymakers don’t want to pay for something that is perhaps already being covered by someone else, but we can’t seriously demand that all students work hard academically and simultaneously work to support themselves. I credit their proposal with recognizing that reality. Unfortunately, as part of the funding mechanism it calls for the elimination of public support of students attending private colleges.

That goes too far, in my opinion. I respect her intent, but I disagree.

The brilliance of American higher education is its mix of colleges and universities.

I sometimes wonder if folks that should know better think that visionary public leaders looked around the states and said, “Look, there are no colleges, no universities, we must build them,” in much the same way that the Europeans saw America as an uninhabited wilderness. “Look, there are no people here, no civilizations, we must conquer the wilderness and people a civilization.”

Private colleges were often the first to make room for women, for non-whites. Public colleges have fought to deny access to women, and one became private to win that fight.

The private colleges I have attended and worked for have had their strengths and weaknesses. So too have the public colleges I have attended. If the criticism of private colleges is their costs, well, must I point out that is easier to cost less when one receives a subsidy from the taxpayers. At the end of the day, after adjusting for size and program mix, the cost of education between a public and private college education are very similar.

We are beginning to reach a point where the only discernible differences between a public institution and a private institution in Virginia will be two questions:

  1. Who appoints the board?
  2. Who owns the land?

The passage of TJ21 in 2011 sets the goal of making the Tuition Assistance Grant approximately equal to the state subsidy for in-state undergraduates. We have a ways to go to get there, a matter of $3000 or so per student, but there is a pathway in the law. Virginia law-makers recognize there is value in having a vibrant public and private sectors of higher education. If that goal is ever achieved, we will like face a new discussion about the differences between the two sectors. This is doubly true if the private sector ever achieves its goal of having some kind of state support for capital projects.

At that point, we may be looking at inadequate state support for both public and nonprofit higher education.

This is where I agree with Sara in principle – we should be fully funding public higher education. I suspect we might differ on what that means, but at least it is a place to start a conversation.

It is fully appropriate to question how we fund students in higher education. I think we should always continue to debate that…after we we come to conclusion as to why we are supporting higher education. Let’s have clear goals and agree on them, relative the value of everything else we are doing.

For the record, I think everyone should have the opportunity to benefit from education beyond high school. I just think there are many ways to do that and most of those are worthy of some level of support.

The Nature of Change

“Protect me from knowing what I don’t need to know. Protect me from even knowing that there are things to know that I don’t know. Protect me from knowing that I decided not to know about the things that I decided not to know about. Amen.

Lord, lord, lord. Protect me from the consequences of the above prayer.”
― Douglas Adams, Mostly Harmless

It is sometimes hard dealing with change. It is harder to help others deal with change. On my last brew day, a neighbor came by to ask advice. He had replaced me as chair of the boy scout troop committee I “retired” from after 10 years of involvement (three years after my son aged out).  The advice sought was regarding the future of the troop given that is now down to six youth, very soon to be only five. This is the minimum size allowed to continue.

Since the cub pack has shown no interest in recent years to join the troop, and recruitment from outside the pack  has also failed, it is now time to face the end of the troop. There are also personnel issues involved among the other adults, so none of this is simple. The options available are: to keep the troop together until the remaining boys Eagle and/or age out; or merge with another troop. The latter option is not particularly desirable as the other area troops are quite different in organizational culture and behavior.  Given that all the remaining boys are near Eagle, the former option seems the likely course of action.

In all likelihood, after over 20 years, the troop will soon fade away.

This is the nature of things. Organizations evolve, self-perpetuate, or they don’t. In some cases, this is good thing. In others, it is not. It can also be very painful for those directly affected, and mournful for those watching from a distance.

When a business closes down, I rarely blink. I have kind of a hard-line conservative streak in me that acknowledges that no business has a right to existence without success.

When a troop shuts down, or a service organization, or a college, the feelings are different. There is real sadness for the loss of the community and an empathy with the loss felt by its members. It’s sad, quite sad.

But the work goes on. We have to make sure those individuals served the troop continue to be served. We need to ensure  their records are maintained appropriately and they get credit for what they’ve done.

We also need to ensure that the service of troop is acknowledged and remembered.

 

 

 

The Beast that Shouted “Notice Me!” at the Heart of the Web

With apologies to Harlan Ellison. While the story “The Beast that Shouted Love at the Heart of the World” itself has not stuck with me over the years, the title certainly has, certainly not the same way that I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream has done so.  Regardless, the question is this. Is “”Notice Me!” all that much different from Love?

In the 90s, I played with a lot of different technologies on the web. I wrote a fair amount that I never put online nor tried to publish. I actually had more time then than I do now. I don’t  know that I have all that much more to say, but I seem to have a greater desire now to say it or to get document my thoughts.

When we rolled out our revised/renewed website in the fall of 2012, we built social community structure into it with a blog, wiki, and user forum. The forum has not taken off at all, but this did not surprise me. The institutional research community has never been much on such things, and that has been our primary target audience.  I started the blog over there with one thing in mind, but it has morphed into something else as I have blogged there about weekly for most of the year.

At the same time, I created the @SCHEVResearch Twitter account and used it very little for several months. I figured initially we would just push notices that out that way to supplement other avenues. As I spent more time on Twitter, I found out just how useful it is to connect with some really smart people doing good work and stay current on what is going on. Then I began to see the need for a more personal interaction on Twitter that was less appropriate for the account representing a department in a state agency, so I dusted off the unused personal account and announced that I would be moving some activity there.

So, as I eagerly scan for page view accounts and new followers, I wonder two things.

Am I shouting “Notice Me!” loudly enough?

Why, oh why, am I shouting “Notice Me!”?

I think the answer to my first question is probably that I am not. I need to tweet more, follow more people, use more hashtags, all that stuff. Part of the problem is that I still have to be mindful of the limits of free speech for a public official. I censor myself a lotto provide the illusion that I am a serious, thoughtful person.

As to why shout “Notice Me!” that is easy. I am little tired of the lack of awareness of some of things we are doing, that I am doing. For example, I get kind of annoyed when faculty bloggers from Virginia institutions or presidents of Virginia institutions who write op-ed pieces attacking PayScale or USED’s ratings proposal to include earnings measures fail to mention what we are doing in Virginia. While I am glad they are not attacking our work (although some of the presidents seem to like to do that face-to-face) they could at least demonstrate an awareness of what we have done and why it is different. Ignoring it is not going to make it go away – it is the law.

As is the new requirement that all colleges and universities receiving general fund dollars (with direct appropriation or student aid) from the state shall post a link on their websites to our reports (the italics represent new language):

“for each degree awarded by each institution and shall, at a minimum, include the percentage of graduates known to be employed in the Commonwealth, the average salary, and the average higher education-related debt for the graduates on which the data is based; rates of enrollment in remedial coursework for each institution; individual student credit accumulation for each institution; rates of postsecondary degree completion; and any other information that the Council determines is necessary to address adequate preparation for success in postsecondary education and alignment between secondary and postsecondary education.

School divisions and high schools must also provide a link to the reports. Clearly the patron of this bill is paying attention to my work, and more importantly, likes it.

In many ways, the highered world is becoming more socially directed and those that are not paying attention are going to find themselves to be lost. Those that fail to try to be found, will be equally lost. Scott Adams once suggested in either The Dilbert Principle or The Dilbert Future that the need for a personal webpage may become so pervasive that there would be government subsidies for the homepageless.

I’ve taken a hiatus from membership and involvement with Association for Institutional Research. For many years, that was a large part of my professional life. I’m returning to the Forum this year, and we will see how that goes.

Notice Me!

 

Please?