Thursday, July 13, 2017

Pew Poll: Majority of Republicans Think Colleges Have Negative Impact on U.S

A Pew Research Study released on July 10 reveals that an increasing majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents now say that they believe universities and colleges have a negative effect on our country.

The survey, which looked at the partisan differences over the impact of major institutions on the country (from June 8-18), found that Republican attitudes on the effect of colleges and universities have dramatically changed over a relatively short period of time.

In 2017, 58% of Republicans looked at universities in a negative light, up from 2016’s 45% and 2015’s 37%, showing an 18-point decline in positive opinion.

In contrast, the study found that 72% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say they believe college and universities have a positive effect on the United States.

In addition to higher education, the study also looked at the public opinion of the impact of the news media.

Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents almost spilt even on their opinion of the media with 44% saying they believe the news media has a positive effect on the way things are going in the country, while 46% believe it has a negative effect.

Republicans and Republican-leaning independents have a very different view of the media. In fact, with an 8-to-1 difference between positive and negative opinion of the news media, 85% of Republicans say the media have a negative effect and only 10% say there is a positive impact.

The study also found that, partisan divide aside, the public’s overall evaluations of many categories have seen little change.

When combined, the majority of Americans (59%) say churches and religious organizations have had a positive impact on our country.

Almost half of Americans, 47%, believe labor unions have a positive impact, while 32% view the impact of unions negatively. Additionally, American views of the impact of banks and other financial institutions leaned toward negative with 46%, compared to only 39% positive.


The tuition fee debate in Britain

Over the past 12 months, barely concealed panic about the unpredictability of the political landscape has become commonplace. There can certainly have been few in higher education who would have guessed that, almost two decades on from the introduction of university tuition fees, their end is now reportedly ‘on the horizon’.

Both environment secretary Michael Gove and universities minister Jo Johnson have tried to squash rumours that fees are on their way out. Johnson took to Twitter to declare that ‘abolishing tuition fees & funding unis out of general taxation would be regressive, benefiting richest graduates’. Nonetheless, a conversation about tuition fees – which, until a matter of weeks ago, was completely absent – is now being had. Unfortunately, the question of who pays for higher education is being talked about in the absence of any broader discussion about what university is for, who should be a student, and to what end.

Students were first expected to make a contribution to the cost of their higher education in 1998. Fees then rose to £3,000 a year in 2006, £9,000 a year in 2012, and currently stand at an eye-watering £9,250 a year. Critics bemoan the ‘marketisation’ of universities, but this misses the point. Universities do not set their fees in a free market, but rather in a state-sanctioned and highly regulated cartel. Likewise, it’s not fees that create the student consumer - the idea of higher education as a personal investment with a guaranteed return in future earnings was set in place before tuition fees were introduced.

Today, thanks to the recently introduced Teaching Excellence Framework, higher education is more preoccupied with employability, social mobility and satisfaction than ever before. Students are presented with charters and key information sets detailing what they can expect from the university and, in return, are solicited for their customer feedback at every turn. Rarely is learning discussed as an end in itself. Instead of debate over which bodies of knowledge students should be encouraged to master there is consensus around the values students should be expected to demonstrate. There is little to suggest any of this would change if tuition fees were scrapped tomorrow.

So when it comes to funding higher education, then, there is clearly much to discuss. But the current conversation, which kicked off with Labour’s surprise manifesto commitment to end tuition fees, avoids these issues. Funding universities is being considered not in the broader context of education, but in a narrow party-political attempt at appealing to the self-interest of young voters.

The Labour Party itself did little to challenge this view, and argued the ‘policy should give 18-year-olds another reason to register to vote’. Eli Aldridge, the 18-year-old Labour candidate who tried to unseat Tim Farron, exclaimed: ‘I could not be more proud to represent a party that is promising 400,000 undergraduates starting their courses this September that they could do so safe in the knowledge that their education will not saddle them with decades of debt.’

But it was in the aftermath of the General Election result that accusations of bribery really took off. Many searching for an explanation for Labour’s better-than-expected performance pointed to a higher turnout among younger voters, who were far more likely to back Labour than people in older age groups. In other words, the tuition-fees pledge was thought to be an ‘£11billion tuition fee bribe’ that made 18- to 24-year-olds rush to vote for Labour. Since then, the idea that young people essentially sold their votes for just shy of £30,000 has gained ground.

But to see Labour’s tuition-fee pledge as a bribe underestimates young voters. Yes, some no doubt voted out of self-interest. But others were undoubtedly attracted to Corbyn as a seemingly more authentic politician who encapsulated a broader message of hope and change. More importantly, the view that young voters were simply bribed curtails further analysis of why the Conservative Party holds so little attraction for young people today.

In the absence of this vital discussion, Tories have instead decided they need to join Labour in appealing to young voters with tailored inducements. On the Conservative Home website it is argued that ‘the Labour leader had policies, such as free tuition fees, that helped to inspire and engage many young voters while we offered nothing’. As a result, we see Damian Green, the first secretary of state, arguing that the debate on tuition fees needs to be reopened in a ‘national conversation’. But this isn’t a national conversation about universities so much as a national conversation about how to convince people to vote Conservative.

For those concerned with education, Labour’s tuition-fees pledge was far more alarming than simple bribery. The party played into the idea that today’s young people have a uniquely rough deal, that they represent a victimised generation that has been deprived of its natural entitlement. Corbyn fed this view with statements like ‘the Conservatives have held students back for too long, saddling them with debt that blights the start of their working lives. Labour will lift this cloud of debt and make education free for all as part of our plan for a richer Britain, for the many, not the few.’

At the same time, what students are offered under Labour’s proposals is not education, but welfare. Labour’s plan is for a National Education Service, a deliberate echo of the National Health Service, where people go for wellness, guidance and nurturing rather than uncomfortable intellectual challenge. University is being separated off from education and promoted to students as a three-year experience: a Safe Space where they can have fun and pick up a certificate while prolonging their adolescence.

The current debate about tuition fees doesn’t just degrade higher education - it degrades politics, too. It reinforces the idea of politics as an appeal to petty generational interests rather being about competing visions of how to make society better for everyone. Young voters deserve better from both politicians and universities.


What if your high school transcript didn’t include grades?

For years, students have been stacking their high school transcripts with as many advanced courses and A’s as possible in an effort to get into the best colleges. But under a radical redesign of the document — being led by dozens of private schools nationwide — the practice of listing courses and grades could come to an end.

Instead, the new transcripts would detail a student’s mastery of specific skills, such as the ability to collaborate, think creatively and analytically, take initiative, assess risk, solve problems, or write coherently.

And what about that hard-earned A in calculus? Most schools would stop itemizing courses, credits, and grades on the transcripts. Not even grade point averages would appear.

The idea is to show colleges what students can do, rather than how good they are at memorizing information or taking tests. Supporters say the change should do a better job of predicting which students will thrive in higher education and ultimately in the workplace.

“I think we overvalue content knowledge,” said Scott Looney, head of the Hawken School in Ohio, who is the founder and chairman of the Mastery Transcript Consortium , a group of schools that was created to spearhead the revisions and that includes several Massachusetts schools. “If you really think about what makes kids successful in college, it is the ability to think deeply, reason, write well, lead a team.”

But a move away from a standardized measurement could create a nightmare for college admission offices, as they grapple with a surge in applications generated by the ease at which students can apply online to multiple colleges at once.

William Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions and financial aid at Harvard College, said high school transcripts and standardized test scores play an important role in the admissions process and “provide a common measure that allows some comparison among applicants from very different backgrounds and academic institutions.”

“Secondary school grading systems and transcripts give colleges an estimate of how much a student has achieved day-to-day in the classroom and a way to measure a student’s readiness for college-level academic work,” Fitzsimmons said in a statement. “We hope that the proposed proficiency-based transcripts will provide such information as well.”

The redesign could be the biggest change to the high school transcript since the documents came into vogue more than a century ago, when colleges began setting admission standards for the number of hours students needed to study certain subjects.

Behind the effort locally are some big-name private schools: Phillips Academy, Milton Academy, Noble and Greenough, Newton Country Day School, Brooks School, Gann Academy, and Northfield Mount Hermon. The dean of studies at Phillips is taking a leave of absence to lead the group.

Several experts say that if these schools pull off the change, then public schools — some of which have already been experimenting with alternative transcripts — will follow. Most notably, the New England Secondary School Consortium, which includes education commissioners and public school educators from all New England states except Massachusetts, has been pushing for proficiency-based transcripts for the last few years.

For many of the private schools, the move is about more than just changing the content of a transcript. They want to shift the mindset of students who have become so obsessed with grades that they are whizzing through their studies without realizing what they have actually learned, and they are unwilling to take the kinds of risks necessary to succeed in an innovation economy because they fear failure.

“Students can’t think beyond that transcript and see the entire life ahead of them,” said Sarah Pelmas, head of school at the Winsor School in Boston. “The pressure has become so intense.”

And the course grades on the transcripts reveal little about the kind of work students put into their class and what skills they learned, they say.

Under the redesigned high school transcript, however, college admission officers would be able to see specific examples of student work in just a couple of clicks.

Although the exact design is still being hashed out, supporters envision the transcript would be online and contain three layers of information.

The first layer would summarize a student’s mastery of specific skills. Then the admission officer could click on a skill to see how that student’s school defined mastery. With one more click, the admission officer could see the various examples of student work that a school used to judge mastery.

“We will run some pilots over the next couple of years,” said Patricia Russell of Phillips Academy and interim executive director of the Mastery Transcript Consortium. “Once we think the transcript is working well, we will make it available to any school.”

Eliminating courses and grades from the transcripts could create a host of problems, especially for applicants to colleges that require students to have passed certain classes, admission experts said.

For instance, the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education requires applicants to the University of Massachusetts and the state universities to have taken four years of English and math, three years of science, and two years of foreign languages, as well as other courses.

Beyond the requirements, judging an applicant’s performance in high school courses — especially those related to the major the applicant hopes to pursue — is useful in determining if the applicant can handle the rigor of a college-level program, said James Roche, associate provost for enrollment management at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

He questioned the need to drastically overhaul transcripts. Many of the skills the consortium hopes to detail in the transcripts are typically conveyed in letters of recommendation the colleges receive, Roche said.

“I’m not sure the world understands how thorough college applications are now,” Roche said. “I’m always impressed with the amount of work and energy that goes into the applications and the letters of recommendation.”


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