The New U.

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Continuing our series on higher ed, we’re hacking our way to a better model; call it New U. There won’t be a football team or a building and grounds department and maybe no president and no tenure. We might think of more adjuncts with more power. We could surely MOOC up in order to spend way down and eliminate the frats, kegs, mixers and majors. Where would you start in reimagining the American university?

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When you look at the national statistics on college graduation rates, there are two big trends that stand out right away. The first is that there are a whole lot of students who make it to college — who show up on campus and enroll in classes — but never get their degrees. More than 40 percent of American students who start at four-year colleges haven’t earned a degree after six years. If you include community-college students in the tabulation, the dropout rate is more than half, worse than any other country except Hungary.

The second trend is that whether a student graduates or not seems to depend today almost entirely on just one factor — how much money his or her parents make. To put it in blunt terms: Rich kids graduate; poor and working-class kids don’t. Or to put it more statistically: About a quarter of college freshmen born into the bottom half of the income distribution will manage to collect a bachelor’s degree by age 24, while almost 90 percent of freshmen born into families in the top income quartile will go on to finish their degree.

Realistically, it will only take a drop in the bucket in relation to the billions floating within the higher education industry. To exemplify how insignificant the support needed to reach individuals currently priced out of education is, take the recently launched $6 billion fundraising campaign at the University of Southern California and divide by 1000; the average $300 million university endowment in the U.S. and divide by 50; or the interest Harvard earned every 10 hours last year. Either way, the solution is $6 million: a tiny price in the world of higher education but a number that has the capacity to educate the world over.


  • https://www.flickr.com/photos/22549175@N02/ Robert W Peabody III

    TC Study Finds MOOC Reality Not Yet Meeting High Expectations
    http://www.tc.columbia.edu/news.htm?articleID=9481

    I’ve tried a coursera at Wesleyan and it was boring and not very insightful. I might be off the learning curve, but I wasn’t the only one complaining.

    The first step is a mission statement, i.e. why do we as a university exist?

    That would mean considering all stakeholders.
    What do people get if there is no social status to be gained from a degree? (No keggers? We eliminated the socializing experience as well. By eliminating bricks and mortar we eliminated one of the most important things about college: getting away from home and thereby growing up.)

    Who are the content providers and how do they get
    compensated?

    Which LMS are we going to use? Moodle seems to be popular, mostly because it is free.

    Free doesn’t mean good and per Tom Frank, our education needs to be excellent and free.

    As the Walmart model starts to come into play, there is starting to be consolidation in the LMS industry. What providers are trending towards is volume – If a billion people are using your system you can pay a Noam Chomsky a nickel each and make it worth his while. /s
    That model means everything has to be dumbed down to the lowest common denominator to make a buck.

    Also, the hive-mind starts to come into play: everything gravitates to the one-popular-thing. Paris Hilton will be the instructor of choice. Learning will become closer to entertainment, just like the merging of news and entertainment.

    My grandpa said to me once: that which you give away has no value.

    • http://depravda.blogspot.com Paul Zink

      You make many good points; however, your grandfather gave you poor advice about that which is given away [for no cost] having no value. Love comes to mind as a rebuttal, as do large financial gifts to university endowments.

      • https://www.flickr.com/photos/22549175@N02/ Robert W Peabody III

        Perhaps he was not as good with aphorisms as Polonius, but of what value is a love given away that does not return?

        What are the expectations (of a free tuition)?

        • http://depravda.blogspot.com Paul Zink

          Well, St. John would disagree about unconditional love having no ROI if not returned in equal measure, but so far as a free tuition is concerned, it should have a value equal to one paid for in cash, ideally. And remember, the fact that your grandfather didn’t charge you a quarter every time he passed on his wisdom to you didn’t make it less valuable. (Or did he? I shouldn’t presume!)

    • https://www.flickr.com/photos/22549175@N02/ Robert W Peabody III

      I was happy to find U of P is accredited (equally happy that
      it wasn’t named People University.)

      Online, U of P satisfies many temporal considerations.
      Although I would want history and 20th century philosophy taught, apparently, we must stick with CS and business.

      Our target audience is a poor person. The curriculum and its delivery needs to be built around external and internal temporality.

      External:
      family financial support; peer independence i.e. can find free time.

      Internal:
      delay gratification; larger than average vocabulary for their social group.

      At this point we have a utilitarian program, which is basically
      a trade school.

      I need to reinforce the bit about vocabulary. The biggest determinate of a person’s future success is the ability to manipulate symbols in the context of the totality of time. Most important is to have the symbols (vocabulary) readily available to manipulate. If apprehensions cannot be put into words, you can NOT think. If one has not accumulated a greater than 5,000 word vocabulary by age 18, you are doomed forever to flipping burgers.

      What does all that mean?

      U of P will be skimming off the elite of the poor
      communities. What does that do to the community?

      Another thing my grandpa told me: the road to hell is paved
      with good intentions.

      We might want to re-think the curriculum in terms of local
      community.

  • Cambridge Forecast

    This ROS panel show “Hacking Higher Ed” was masterful. Had it been able to “go into extra innings” like a baseball game, I would have loved to hear a discussion of Britain’s “Open University”:

    1. “Open University” system in Britain.
    Wikipedia says:
    “The Open University (OU) from 1069, is a distance learning and research[5] university founded by Royal Charter in the United Kingdom. The university is funded by a combination of student fees, contract income, and allocations for teaching and research by the higher education funding bodies throughout the UK.
    It is notable for having an open entry policy, i.e. students’ previous academic achievements are not taken into account for entry to most undergraduate courses. The majority of the
    OU’s undergraduate students are based in the United Kingdom and principally study off-campus, but many of its courses (both undergraduate and postgraduate) can be studied off-campus
    anywhere in the world…”
    See:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_University

    If you agree with the observation that understanding comes from the ability to be near and far at the same time, perhaps the following literary works will help you fuse near and far in the world of educational systems:
    These are all instances of educational fiascoes and debacles, at university and otherwise:

    I.
    “The Education of Henry Adams” (1918) by Henry Adams
    with its failed search for cohesion and the overwhelming sense of educational inadequacy.

    II. PINK FLOYD LYRICS

    “Another Brick In The
    Wall (Part II)” (1979? Song lyrics)

    We don’t need no education

    We don’t need no thought control

    No dark sarcasm in the classroom

    Teachers leave them kids alone

    Hey teacher leave them kids alone

    All in all it’s just another brick in the wall

    All in all you’re just another brick in the wall

    [chorus at end by pupils from the Fourth Form Music Class Islington Green School, London]

    We don’t need no education

    We don’t need no thought control

    No dark sarcasm in the classroom

    Teachers leave them kids alone

    Hey teacher leave us kids alone

    All in all you’re just another brick in the wall

    All in all you’re just another brick in the wall
    See:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Another_Brick_in_the_Wall
    III.
    The Ordeal of Richard Feverel: A History of Father and Son (1859) is the earliest full-length novel by George Meredith; its subject is the inability of systems of education to control human passions.
    Sir Austin Feverel’s wife deserts him to run away with a poet, leaving her husband to bring up their boy Richard. Believing schools to be corrupt, Sir Austin, a scientific humanist, educates the boy at home with a plan of his own devising known as “the System”. Richard Feverel’s educational and emotional ordeal destroys him.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ordeal_of_Richard_Feverel
    IV. Also from 1859, is
    “Oblomov” by Ivan Goncharov a Russian classic.
    Ivan Oblomov is a Russia landowner living in Petersburg whose life is paralyzed by a kind of neurasthenia and sloth which has among its roots, a bungled education. Oblomov keeps explaining that he studied subjects like history in schools and can remember dates and routs and rallies and battles but can’t discern any kind of shape to it all and this shapelessness paraluzes his mind and will.
    V. There’s a made for TV British miniseries masterpiece from a few decades ago called “Glittering Prizes’ about a Jewish student at Oxford in the fifties whose education doesn’t prepare him for a tortured collision with Zionism.
    The series is based on the writings of Frederick Raphael, the leading screenwriter of for British movies over the last few decades.
    VI. Goethe’s “Faust” starts with a description of a failed educational effort where endless study and pseudo-mastery of various academic fields leads to no improved overall understanding.

    Richard Melson

    • https://www.flickr.com/photos/22549175@N02/ Robert W Peabody III

      “If you agree with the observation that understanding comes from the ability to be near and far at the same time… failed search for cohesion and the overwhelming sense of educational inadequacy…”

      Yes,
      and contrast that to what Sebastian Thrun espouses.

      ‘your wise men don’t know how it feels to be thick as a brick’ – Jethro Tull

  • Michael Swanson

    What fun this sounds like. As I think about retiring, what a way to continue to give back for all I’ve loved in higher education.

  • Michael Swanson

    I suppose I shouldn’t have expected more thinking outside the box, but I did. Knowing full well what modern technology can do, and knowing that knowledge necessary for success can’t really be defined in terms of “disciplines” defined in the nineteenth century, I would have hope that the course offerings would have been broader, and degrees available which were more multidisciplinary or transdisciplinary. The world of business and the world of computer science aren’t the only two worlds out there, though they might like to think they were. But the promise here seems to be “you can have a fulfilling, rewarding, and profitable life if you just take these X courses”. My grads to things none of us conceived of when they were in school. They went into fields our career planning and placement office had never heard of. So widen your dreams, please. You will not have trouble finding volunteers to teach history, American Studies, literature, political science, philosophy, and who knows what else.

    • Kunal

      I think the goal is to just give kids the best shot at escaping poverty. CS and Business are the best bets for impoverished students who are looking for a way out

      • Michael Swanson

        But what if they are not? What if the best way it to teach strategies for becoming politically active and modernize and reform corrupt governments? What if the best way is through the tourism industry? What if the best way is journalism? What if the best way is through forming neighborhood cooperatives. What if the best way is to get involved with an organization like Kiva? http://www.kiva.org. Why is ancient history more important that history of the contemporary world? Who thinks so? Who made that decision and how? Is Ancient history “safe” and history of colonial exploitation “unsafe”? What about teaching how to teach? What about linking up with Habitat for Humanity, The Carter Center, and the like? I’m saying that the vision is too narrow. http://www.openculture.com/# Take a look. But my principal point is that I suspect there are people like myself, with wide experience in many disciplines, who would be interesting in volunteering. Why not give students the opportunity to follow their dreams? What is there to lose? Post a course, and if nobody elects to sign up, the course gets cancelled. Most of us are used to that happening from time.

        • Kunal

          “What if the best way it to teach strategies for becoming politically active and modernize and reform corrupt governments? What if the best way is through the tourism industry? What if the best way is journalism? What if the best way is through forming neighborhood cooperatives. What if the best way is to get involved with an organization like Kiva?”

          Really good points, and you’ve nearly convinced me..

          What is there to lose? I think Shai would say the low price of the U… I hope you’re right, and that they’ll expand in the future

          • Michael Swanson

            Thanks for the kind words. This is what I meant by “thinking outside the box”. No doubt all of these are not possible, and certainly not all at the same time. But to give an example. Suppose a student could create a major combining business and marketing, history, and either natural history or Cultural Geography. (All this focusing on his/her country and region). That person would be a natural to hire for countries organizing tours based on visits to natural habitats, scenic wonders, or historic places. The person would have skills to help him/her advertise tours, conduct tours, and teach visitors important information.