An opinion piece by Jeff Selingo last week in the Washington Post criticized colleges giving preference to alumni children. Let’s start with the irony of that criticism*. If a non-elite, non-selective college gave preferential admission to a child of an alumnus, no one would object. After all, non-selective schools admit nearly everyone. While the Post didn’t reference “elite” in the headline, the colleges cited include UVA, Harvard, Yale, Stanford and Princeton, most of which accept 10% or fewer of their applicants.
Last week, serial entrepreneur Mark Cuban created a stir with his statement at the SXSW (South by Southwest) conference that the world’s first trillionaire will be someone who masters artificial intelligence (AI). In the past, Cuban has been an avowed proponent of the value of a liberal arts degree for its ability to teach critical thinking. However, at SXSW, he advocated the study of computer science, stating, “Whatever you are studying right now, if you are not getting up to speed on deep learning, neural networks, etc., you lose."
The January 14-20, 2017 issue of The Economist includes a special report on the topic of lifelong learning. The writers note that lifelong learning today mainly benefits high achievers and likely leads to increased inequality. The classic model of education that provides many years of learning during youth, supplemented by training at work, is breaking down. In fact, on-the-job training in the U.S. is shrinking, and more and more people doubt that a four-year degree is worth the cost. During the 19th and 20th centuries, countries worldwide saw major improvements in education. The Economist argues that we should seek similar breakthroughs today.
It’s common knowledge among those of us researching student retention in online higher education that swirling (attendance by a student at multiple institutions) is much more prevalent with online, than on-ground, programs. Some of the explanations offered include that it’s easier to switch from one online program to another and there’s less social integration among online students so less social stigma in leaving. Others posit that online students are much more savvy about reviewing courses at multiple institutions to enable them to build a richer collection of courses. Lastly, some note that the more frequent semester starts offered by online institutions makes it more conducive for students switching schools to accommodate their personal and work schedules, and to finish their program sooner.
Last week marked the passing of Dr. William G. Bowen, former provost and president at Princeton University, president of the Mellon Foundation, and author of several noteworthy books on higher education. During his tenure at the Mellon Foundation, he created an internal research division, the non-profit reference sources JSTOR and ARTstor, and the iThaka research foundation dedicated to examining the interface between technology and education.
Reuters wrote about how a Chinese company, Dipont, bought access to admissions officers at elite U.S. colleges and universities including Vanderbilt, Tulane, the University of Virginia, and Wellesley College. Eight former Dipont employees were interviewed about the company’s practices with U.S. admissions officers. One of those practices, hosting a summer program in China and inviting U.S.
A recent Inside Higher Education article, Oberlin Expands Its Reach, noted that Oberlin College is willing to open its library to online students in a Pioneer Academics program, and grant them credit for completing college level courses requiring a 15-30 page research paper. Oberlin is remunerated for the use of its library and for the credit granting.
On September 12, 2015, the White House released its long-awaited College Scorecard and, much like other ranking and comparison tools available for use by students, the Scorecard came up short in representing all institutions fairly. While it may have been created with the latest mobile technology to allow for easier access, its data do not accurately portray many institutions, including those serving non-traditional students or where most students do not use federal student aid (FSA) to cover the cost of tuition.
In Revolution, Dr. DeMillo continues where he left off with Abelard, noting that “most American colleges and universities are locked in a system that is anything but excellent.” The “Middle” represents the 4,000 colleges and universities just below the elite level, the ones that are “in trouble.” The Middle schools enroll 80 percent of all students, are in financial disrepair and their historical inability to control costs has reduced public confidence in the value of a college degree. Without innovation, cost increases at institutions will continue to repel prospective students.