Friday, June 05, 2020

After 40 Bad Years, the Department of Education Redeems Itself a Bit

This is a banner year for anniversaries: 400 years since the Mayflower landed at Plymouth, 100 years since women first voted in a presidential election, 75 years since World War II ended, and 20 years since the 9/11 attack on the United States. Less momentous but still very consequential, 40 years ago this month the U.S. Department of Education opened for business.

The nicest thing I can say about the Department of Education is it is not the worst federal intervention in higher education—only second worst (not as bad as the federal financial assistance programs, especially student loans). But if asked “is American higher education today better than 40 years ago when this department started?” I would answer “no!”

Are American college students today learning more than those living in the 1970’s? Colleges, in the knowledge business, know remarkably little about how much their students learn. The sparse intertemporal evidence, however, suggests that learning has probably declined somewhat—somewhat dated information suggests literacy among college students has fallen, fact-based student knowledge of American civic institutions is appallingly low, etc. Labor Department data shows students study embarrassingly little (and sharply less than in the era before the Education Department), and the rise in grade inflation has continued strongly on the Department’’s watch. How can learning increase with students spending less time studying but getting ever higher grades? Moreover, the Department does not even try very hard to measure learning for college students: the last major literacy assessment of college students that I know about occurred 17 years ago.

Before the creation of the Department, college tuition fees rose about one percent a year more than the overall inflation rate, but in the first 35 years of the Department’s existence, inflation-adjusted tuition inflation roughly tripled, causing the huge college student loan crisis and a declining proportion of students graduating from the bottom quartile of the income distribution.

Collegiate research is more the purview of agencies like the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, but even here America’s longtime global leadership seems to be declining somewhat. So based on the core teaching and research missions, I would say the notion that centralized direction of colleges and universities is better than decentralized control is clearly unsupported.

Interestingly, although Democrats overwhelmingly controlled Congress and Jimmy Carter was president, they were fiercely divided on whether to create the Education Department. It cleared the House Education Committee on a 20 to 19 vote with seven Democrats joining Republicans in opposing it. Opponents included such liberal icons as Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the New York Times, Washington Post and even the American Federation of Teachers. Carter had promised the larger teachers union, the National Education Association, he would get the department created and he delivered.

The worst fears of both conservatives and staunch civil libertarians came in 2011 with the “dear colleague” letter that had zero constitutional basis in law decreeing that colleges must adopt standards in sexual assault cases totally inconsistent with American traditions of criminal justice—the right to confront accusers, be represented by legal counsel, etc. It mandated a very low standard of proof completely unacceptable in criminal proceedings in America. This has spurred a mountain of litigation and contention.

In the past few years under Secretary Betsy DeVos (one of several secretaries, beginning with Bill Bennett, that I actually got to know and admire), the Department has done some positive things. It recently issued, after reviewing 124,000 (!!!) comments, new regulations reversing the worst of the damage created by the dear colleague letter.

Moreover, the Department has started doing the one task it really makes sense for it to do: providing Americans useful information about colleges and universities. The College Scorecard, started in the Obama years, now provides potential students with useful information about colleges, including earnings data by major. It is still highly imperfect, but an “F” job of providing consumer information now rises to a “C” grade from me—progress, but a good ways to go. Still, if I were a member of Congress and voting on a bill to eliminate the Department of Education, I would vote “yes” based on its generally abysmal contribution to higher education.


Are You Sure You Want to Go to Grad School?

Many college graduates think to themselves, “I don’t have any immediate job prospects that are attractive and I can easily get into grad school with the chance of eventually getting my PhD and then a tenured professorship; I guess that’s what I’ll do.”

If you know anyone in that situation, do him or her a big favor by suggesting a new book by Georgetown University philosophy professor Jason Brennan: Good Work If You Can Get It.

This year (at least before COVID-19 struck us), about 80,000 students were planning to begin doctoral programs, but, Brennan cautions, “most are destined for disappointment.” That is because only about 20 percent of those students will ever obtain any faculty position, much less the coveted tenured professorship at a good school. He wrote the book to guide the many would-be professors who are “clueless, naïve, and misinformed about what grad school and academia are really like.”

There has been a crying need for a book like this for many years.

Something needs to offset the perverse incentives that current professors have to encourage as many sharp students as possible to consider going for a PhD and the benefits it might bring. After all, grad students are themselves a valuable resource for senior faculty, who often give students an unrealistically optimistic view of the path ahead of them.

In the U.S., the PhD is poorly suited to students who thirst for self-discovery and personal enrichment.

It is a professional credential meant to train new college faculty. If you don’t relish the prospect of spending loads of time doing what faculty members are expected to do—teach, grade, counsel, and write, write, write—then you should try something else, Brennan advises.

Moreover, most programs are not well designed to prepare new professors. “There is little congruence,” Brennan writes, “between what most PhD programs train you to do and what most professors in fact do. The PhD primarily trains you to do research—to write original papers and conduct original experiments in your field. But most faculty do little research and instead spend most of their time teaching or performing ‘service’ work.”

Spending the five or more years it generally takes to earn a PhD no doubt filters out people who wouldn’t be good at doing true research, but it also filters out a lot of people who would be quite good at the teaching and service work. In earlier days, Brennan notes, individuals who didn’t have doctorates often landed faculty positions on the basis of their knowledge of the subject, but now that we have created such a glut of doctorate holders, schools (even community colleges) can afford to turn away all but those with terminal degrees to their names.

The efficiency of our PhD programs becomes even more questionable when you consider that, as Brennan notes, most professors actually produce little research after they have achieved tenure. Also, as scholars like Mark Bauerlein have observed, most of the research that faculty (those seeking tenure and those who have it) produce is ignored even by others in the same field. Therefore, the whole PhD production system is evidently quite wasteful.

Most of Brennan’s book is devoted to questions as to what doctoral students should expect and how to improve their chances of success.

First and foremost, what is the likelihood of eventually achieving the goal of becoming a tenured professor? Citing the statistics he knows best—from his own philosophy department at Georgetown—Brennan makes it clear that even if you earn your doctorate from a well-respected program, you face rather dim prospects.

Over the last decade, just one out of 32 Georgetown PhDs obtained a research-intensive faculty position where she devotes most of her time to philosophical research. All the rest are regular college teachers. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s like being a player in Class B minor league baseball when you thought you could be a star in the major leagues.

Brennan makes it clear that even if you earn your doctorate from a well-respected program, you face rather dim prospects.
Brennan’s crucial point is that there are so many other people getting their doctorates and vying for one of the very few top faculty slots that you must do all you can to make yourself stand out.  Much of the book is devoted to sage advice on how to do that.

It is essential to success that aspiring professors publish a lot of papers while in grad school and after they have gotten that initial faculty spot. Brennan suggests that they devote at least 20 hours per week to writing. That calls for discipline and a rigid time budget. Don’t waste time or you’ll fall behind those who manage it better. Among other do’s and don’ts, Brennan advises not to spend more time than is absolutely necessary on teaching and grading for undergrads. Being great at that won’t count at all when you’re being considered for faculty positions.

When it comes to all that essential publishing, Brennan recommends having at least three papers in the works at all times. But don’t try to make them perfect. What matters is getting things published. The academics up the ladder who will decide whether to hire or promote you aren’t going to read, much less evaluate, your work.

Don’t strive for perfection—just “take the shot.”

When the student is ready to enter the job market, they should apply for every position that they could possibly qualify for. Since academia is a buyer’s market, with hundreds of applicants for every opening, students cannot afford to be picky. When contacting the faculty veterans who will either give you a chance or toss out your application, you have to hook them immediately. Professors spend very little time evaluating applications (often less than one minute) and dull, jargony ones will be quickly thrown away.

Brennan’s point about clear, concise writing is one that all academics, not just grad students, should take to heart:

Anyone can hide a half-baked idea behind vague, opaque prose that creates the illusion of profundity. To be able to explain a profound and complicated idea—say, quantum mechanics—in simple English requires genuine talent. You can’t fake that around experts.

Last but not least, Brennan addresses a question that students who hold conservative or libertarian beliefs are probably wondering about: Is the purported bias against them real?

It is, he answers, pointing to evidence that many academics admit that they tend to look with less favor on applications from conservatives and libertarians. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try. What it does mean is that they need to choose their fields and advisors with great care, and then outperform the competition. Brennan compares the situation conservatives and libertarians face with that which blacks used to face—you can succeed, but you have to be your absolute best.

Don’t let anyone you know apply to grad school without first encouraging them to read Good Work If You Can Get It.


Covid-19 is changing education for the better

This pandemic could profoundly change education for the better. Throughout history, the sector has been conservative and resistant to change. For centuries it had the slate, then came a century of blackboard and chalk. Now students are just a finger-click away from the vast knowledge of Google — so much greater than that of any individual teacher.

Coronavirus has given schools Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Classroom. The technology turns a laptop screen into a classroom, where students and teachers see each other and can question each other in truly collaborative online learning. Just after the UK’s lockdown began, the Department for Education launched a new online school, the Oak National Academy, where 2m lessons were accessed by learners across the country in its first week. Necessity really is the mother of invention.

During lockdown, many of the 48 university technical colleges that I helped establish and work with have provided teaching programmes from 9am to 5pm. Pupil attendance varies from 50 per cent to 95 per cent. Most students have access to the latest laptops. But some disadvantaged students do not — or only via a shared family laptop. The UK government now sees the advantage of online teaching because it is making laptops available to those students.

Our students like these virtual lessons. They eliminate long journeys to school — some of the students travel three hours a day. They allow an outstanding physics teacher — something of a rarity — to reach not only his or her own students, but those in schools that do not have a physics teacher at all. In future, virtual classes could allow students to attend school in person for, say, four days, with online lessons on the fifth.

The computer has become so important that I believe computing science should be taken at GCSE level by every student. When it comes to the jobs of the future, it will be a greater advantage to have a computer language than a foreign language. Three years ago, Dartford’s Leigh UTC opened for 11-year-olds, and taught all of them computing science. When those students, now aged 14, chose their technical specialism this year, 76 per cent opted for computing. They know where the jobs will be.

GCSE exams have been replaced this year by stringent teacher assessments. Why can’t this continue? These exams burden each summer term with so much student, parent and teacher anxiety that little is learnt: only the student’s memory is tested. Now that education stretches from the age of four to 18, there is no purpose in an exam at 16. Back in 1950, the tests made sense because 93 per cent of students left for a job. Today, 93 per cent of students stay in education and training. What students need now is an assessment at 14 to decide if they want an academic or a more practical technical education.

Universities will also have to change. Students complain about the lack of time with tutors. Today, tutors using Zoom can meet 10 or 12 students for a discussion much more frequently.

Normal degree exams will also not happen this year. At Cambridge university, students reading human, social and political science will not sit in a large hall for three-hour exams on three separate occasions. Instead, they will be assessed for a third of their degree on their work over the previous three years, and for two-thirds on essays written at home in two, three-hour “open book” examinations. This is welcome because writing on a computer is quicker and more readable. Allowing students to refer to reference materials and books recognises that immediate recall is less important than the deeper understanding they have accumulated from wider reading.

When the pandemic ebbs Britain cannot go back to a low-skilled economy, because it will not be there. Unemployment will be high for both school-leavers and graduates. Schools should tell students that technical courses, possibly with paid apprenticeships, are a pathway to career success. Those going on to university should choose a course which British manufacturing and services need. Three-quarters of UTC students take science, technology, engineering and maths courses in university — twice the national average.

This is a small step along the road to a high-skill economy. Many more will need to make that journey.


Thursday, June 04, 2020

The Future Of Higher Education Will Be The Same, But Worse

The uncertainty that American colleges now face has sparked bombastic proclamations from reformers. A coming disruption will be led by elite cyborg universities, we’re told. The pandemic is a golden opportunity to clean out the diversity bureaucracy. Funding formulas should be changed too, while we’re at it.

Unfortunately, the desire for change has blinded experts to the reality of the situation. The French novelist Michel Houellebecq is closer to the mark: The future of higher ed will be the same, but worse. Colleges will make the changes they must as budgets shrink, and then they’ll demand more taxpayer money to restore higher ed to the way things were.

The lack of alternatives to a college education, and vested interests who want to preserve the status quo, are big barriers to fundamental reforms—and the coronavirus won’t make them disappear.

Higher ed will still survive and be popular because there are very, very few other ways for the average 18-year-old to succeed in life. The self-motivated ones might try starting a business, or take an internship if they’re lucky enough to have family connections to a business that still exists.

Most students, however, are average. They are not budding non-conformists yearning for a Thiel Fellowship. Aside from a college credential, they do not have a constructive option to avoid a Zoom classroom in the fall. To the extent that many freshmen defer college in the fall, it could put some pressure on institutions. Absent of that, however, students will suffer through Zoom and boredom to get a degree. (And it will, in all likelihood, be an online fall semester.)

To see what might actually happen among American higher education, follow what public four-year colleges and community colleges have done so far (and where almost 75 percent of all students study). Decisions at elite colleges such as Harvard, Williams, and the University of Michigan will differ markedly from decisions at Wake Tech Community College in North Carolina or the City University of New York and its 26 campuses.

For the colleges that educate the most students, the outlook is bleak.

CUNY has laid off hundreds of adjunct faculty. Ohio University is cutting hundreds of administrators and scores of faculty. The University of Akron cut three sports, East Carolina University will cut at least one sport, and Western Michigan University wants to cut spending by 20 percent across all university divisions.

The average college will see cuts made across-the-board. The lucky ones might only lose 5 percent, the stragglers 30 percent. Marginal athletic programs, such as cross country, golf, tennis, and sometimes baseball, will disappear. Adjuncts will disappear in droves, and even some tenure-track professors, too. Administrators will also be cut, but not as drastically as professors.

Those cuts won’t be as dramatic as reformers would like, mostly thanks to federal intervention. Though Colorado slashed its higher education budget by 58 percent, for example, federal aid will mean its colleges only face a 5 percent cut. That the academy sees a 5 percent cut as a sign of economic and moral destruction is a sign of the budget battles to come on the state level.

More cuts could happen, however, if students stay away. A big drop in fall enrollment would threaten all sorts of colleges. Until student deposits start to roll in, however, it’s too soon to speak in certainties. Low-income students are more likely to skip a year; FAFSA renewals have fallen almost 5 percent compared to a year ago. Part-time students, too, are less likely to return to classes, as are Latinos, a growing presence on many campuses. If a slice of Gen Z realizes it’s a fool’s game to take on debt for a college degree without the on-campus experience, perhaps the reformers will be right. Until the fall, it’s too early to say.

For some schools, like community colleges, they might even thrive. They’re much cheaper than a four-year school, public or private. Students might be more willing to tolerate online classes if they can do it closer to home and their credits will transfer. Some anecdotal and survey data show a portion of students are leaning that way. If students follow through, places like California, Texas, Illinois, and the Northeast could gain, as their high school grads often go out of state for college. Hubs for out-of-state students, like the University of Alabama, could suffer, as well as schools with a lot of international students.

Truly major changes are more likely to occur at small private colleges, for-profit colleges, and marginal schools that were struggling before the coronavirus. Pine Manor College in Massachusetts, for example, will be absorbed by Boston College. Other small private colleges will follow suit, especially in the Northeast and Midwest, as many have done in recent years. If a private college was mostly unknown outside its state and was taking on debt without getting more students, it may not be around in 2021.

Don’t expect as many closures of public schools, though. When Jeb Spaulding, the chancellor of the Vermont State Colleges System, tried to close three campuses, the response to his “politically radioactive” proposal forced him to withdraw it and resign. If Vermont, which has seen five private colleges close since 2016 and whose public system was struggling before the coronavirus, can’t close a few schools, it will be an extremely hard sell in other states. Local politicians and towns dependent on the jobs provided by the college will fight tooth and nail against closures.

More likely, some public colleges will go the route of Missouri Western State University. After financial mismanagement for years flew under the radar until the student newspaper brought it to light, MWSU cut its budget by 30 percent, reduced its full-time faculty by about a quarter, and ended dozens of majors, minors, and concentrations. It will limp on, with its 33 percent graduation rate. Public colleges can be stripped down and hollowed out, but they can’t be closed.

More federal funds also portend against public college closures. The higher ed lobby has demanded at least $47 billion more from Congress in coronavirus aid. The status quo, from that point of view, needs to be maintained. In protecting the status quo, even the basket cases are bailed out: According to Real Clear Investigations, 87 percent of the 447 colleges under “heightened cash monitoring” by the Department of Education received funding in the first round of coronavirus aid. Given how uncritically state and federal governments fund higher education, it’s unlikely that a coronavirus renewal will cleanse what plagues American colleges and universities.

Yet, perhaps some colleges deserve to die. Many of the schools now shutting down, merging, or getting hollowed out have a poor track record for graduate outcomes. They have abysmal graduation rates and high debt loads. They also struggle to maintain enrollment numbers as students have noticed the poor results and vote with their feet. Declining to save those struggling institutions could leave would-be students better off. Jettison the dead weight, and decent colleges might remain.

Higher education does not exist in a vacuum. The ongoing changes are made based on local economic and political conditions. That makes it harder to implement good ideas, unless it’s sold as an expansion that requires more funding, not fewer administrators on campus.

The decisions are also made, increasingly, by people who all have a college degree. They see college as the only route to success; they rarely have an appetite for expanding non-college career paths. They are the ones that college was designed for. Why reform college, in their view, when the problem is not enough state funding for colleges?

Many of the proposed reforms are good ideas. My colleagues at the James G. Martin Center have offered an outline of reforms for the University of North Carolina system that many state systems could follow. The National Association of Scholars has offered an even broader, national plan for change. And the Drake Group’s ideas for athletics could lay the groundwork for restoring the primacy of academic success above some sports-obsessed schools.

Those ideas are sound, and it’s worth challenging college leaders and politicians to endorse them. However, reformers need to think about reform in terms of what to expect from decision makers and existing conditions. Reformers won’t suddenly be embraced while higher ed leaders and lobbyists cajole state and federal officials for emergency funding.

The coronavirus will not spark The Great Higher Ed Reform. Federal laws would have to change. Guardians of the status quo, like Saul on the Road to Damascus, would need the scales to fall from their eyes. And the average student would need a viable alternative that pressures colleges to change their ways. Until then, reformers will continue to fight in the trenches to change a bloated system that leaves many students worse off than before they entered.


UK: Home schooling boosts parents' interest in teaching as a career

School closures have turned the UK into a nation of temporary teachers since the coronavirus lockdown – and that may have inspired some people to seek new careers in the classroom, according to a new survey.

Now Teach, the charity co-founded by the former journalist Lucy Kellaway, encourages older workers to change careers, and has found that the lockdown has increased the status of school teachers among the population at large, as parents have come to appreciate the joys of designing scientific experiments that impart knowledge rather than just make a mess in the kitchen.

The survey of 2,000 UK adults found that 3% said they had “been thinking about becoming a teacher and I wasn’t before the coronavirus lockdown”, while a further 5% agreed that they had been “already thinking about becoming a teacher before the coronavirus lockdown but I’m thinking about it more seriously now”.

“The leap in interest in teaching is exactly what I’d hoped would happen during this wretched time,” said Kellaway, who left her post as a columnist at the Financial Times in 2016 and is now an economics teacher at Mossbourne Victoria Park academy in east London.

While 3% might not sound significant, Kellaway points out that across the UK population as a whole that would amount to more than enough recruits to solve any teaching shortages in Britain’s schools for a generation.

Now Teach said it has seen a 70% rise in applications for its training programme between March and May this year, at the height of the lockdown.

One of those, Aisha Singleton, who worked in publishing in Norwich, said: “My previous industry had so many opportunities and I have many great memories of it, but the bottom line is, I don’t feel I’ve really helped anyone.

“When coronavirus broke out, I thought, ‘I want to inspire young people, I want to be giving back.’ This pandemic has given me the final push in that direction.

“When children go back to school in September, they’re going to need support, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.”

The survey found that despite some high-profile complaints, 64% of parents have enjoyed the experience of home schooling and only 9% reported a negative experience – which Kellaway thought might help explain the new attraction of a career in teaching.

The desire to change careers was strongest among workers who are still in full-time employment, according to the survey, rather than those who had been furloughed or were unemployed during the lockdown.

“I co-founded Now Teach four years ago because I hoped there were other professionals out there who, like me, wanted to do something more useful with their lives. The pandemic has made this point more powerfully than I ever could. It has shone a light on the emptiness of some jobs and made people want to do something that really matters,” Kellaway said.

The survey also found that respondents with school-age children – who have spent the past two months home schooling – “overwhelmingly reported increased gratitude to teachers and respect for what they do”, compared with just 4.5% who said their respect had lessened.

This came despite high-profile attacks on teaching unions by some in the media and government, over their concerns about the safe return of pupils into schools.


Race to shore up big Australian University as cash crisis bites

La Trobe University has over 30,000 students

La Trobe University is at risk of going broke in a matter of weeks unless it secures a financial lifeline from the banks and an agreement from staff to cut wages.

La Trobe's cash reserves have been reduced to the minimum required to meet a single month's operating expenses as it grapples with the loss of overseas students because of the coronavirus crisis, which has wiped $16 billion from Australia's university sector.

Vice-chancellor John Dewar, in a briefing to staff on Tuesday, said the university had “no money tucked down the back of the sofa’’ and that unless they agreed to a 10 per cent salary reduction, La Trobe would resort to forced redundancies.

La Trobe sources told The Age that ANZ bank had declined to extend by $100 million an unsecured credit facility it holds with the university and that the university had already sold $29 million in shares to find more cash.

Professor Dewar denied the university had been unsuccessful in securing credit and said negotiations were continuing with the banks. As part of these negotiations, “the banks are interested to see actions around balancing our books over time'', he said.

Asked whether the university was at risk of insolvency, Professor Dewar said: “The actions we are taking are about setting up the ongoing financial sustainability of the university.’’

The university’s chief financial officer, Mike Smith, told staff in a 90-minute webinar that La Trobe was facing a revenue slump of $400 million to $520 million between now and the end of 2021. To date, only $207 million in savings had been found to fill the anticipated funding hole, he said.

Mr Smith said that in the absence of the proposed wage reduction, 450 positions would be made redundant.

La Trobe’s 2019 calendar accounts tabled in Parliament on Tuesday showed that before the pandemic interrupted the international student market, the university’s finances were already deteriorating.

Last year’s trading surplus of $19.4 million was down from $30 million recorded the previous year, and $75 million in borrowings for new student accommodation had trebled the debt-to-equity ratio.

A quarter of the university’s 2019 revenue came from overseas students.

Hannah Robert, a law lecturer who helped organise a Monday-night meeting of staff to discuss the university’s financial predicament, said the situation was difficult.

“The picture the CFO paints is dire. "I have been on boards before and if there is uncertainty over whether you will have cash reserves for a month's operational expenditure that is really scary.

“But I don't think it is fair to ask ordinary staff to carry so much of the losses through pay cuts.

"The fact that the federal government is hanging universities out to dry like this when we are the biggest service export industry in the country, it is just unbelievable. You have got a serious prospect of universities going under.”

Ms Robert said there was anger in Tuesday’s meeting at the refusal of university management to entertain larger salary cuts for executives. Professor Dewar has accepted a 20 per cent cut. He was last year paid between $970,000 and $980,000.

La Trobe staff have already rejected one offer under the Australian University Jobs Protection Framework, a variation to the university’s enterprise bargaining agreement negotiated with the National Tertiary Education Union.

Under a revised offer, staff would receive a sliding pay cut, depending on their classification, reduce annual leave to 10 days and receive no pay increases until 2022. There would be involuntary redundancies in “very limited circumstances.’’

NTEU members will vote on the proposal this week and non-union members next week, with the result to be known on June 17, subject to Fair Work approval.

Universities have received no federal government financial assistance to weather the COVID-19 fallout and cannot access the JobKeeper scheme. The umbrella group Universities Australia said new four-year modelling showed that universities were facing a combined revenue loss of up to $4.8 billion in 2020 and, at worst, a $16 billion hit by 2023.

In his address to staff, Professor Dewar quoted from a Melbourne University research paper showing that of all Australian universities, La Trobe and the University of Canberra were at greatest risk from the drop-off in international students.

“La Trobe is one of the two most financially vulnerable universities in this group,’’ said Centre for the Study of Higher Education honorary fellows Ian Marshman and Frank Larkins. “Its available reserves are not sufficient to cover any of the predicted loss situations.’’

Higher education expert Andrew Norton, of the Australian National University, said La Trobe was in a “wobbly situation’’ before the pandemic because it was struggling to attract domestic students and had lost prospective students to free TAFE courses.

Professor Norton raised the possibility of a federal government bailout, saying there was provision in the Higher Education Funding Act for the Commonwealth to advance money to universities against future years' grants. He also suggested the Victorian government could become a guarantor on the university’s loans, to ease the concerns of banks.

Professor Dewar said the university’s problems would not be fixed by the banks alone. “The banks are willing to lend to us and we are pursuing additional debt. However, this would be a short-term loan; borrowing in the longer term is not the solution to the financial situation we face.”


Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Univ. of Alabama Prof Coaches Rioters on How to Destroy Birmingham Monument  

University of Alabama professor Sarah Parcak took to Twitter on Sunday night with a “professional hot take” on exactly how a mob could pull down an Egyptian-style obelisk that “might be masquerading as a racist monument,” such as the Confederate war dead memorial in Birmingham, Alabama.

Parcak, the author of Archeology from Space, a Guggenheim Fellow, and a public speaker, explained to her fifty-three thousand followers and the rest of Twitter how a semi-organized crew, armed with little more than rope, chain, and bad intentions, should let “gravity work 4 you” when toppling obelisks “just like this in downtown Birmingham!”

Whatever the case, Parcak clearly knows what she’s talking about, which makes me think she might be talking herself into some legal trouble. A quick look at her 15-post Twitter thread gives explicit instructions on exactly how to destroy an obelisk and makes clear her intent that the George Floyd-inspired rioters should succeed where they had previously failed.

Earlier on Sunday, rioters took to Birmingham’s Linn Park, determined to tear down the Confederate war dead memorial, which just happens (cough, cough) to be an obelisk.

Kyle Whitmire was a witness and describes what happened in an otherwise unreadable editorial:

"When I got there, a couple hundred protesters had gathered and a handful were already chipping with sledgehammers at the base of the century-old statue.

As the sun set, more people trickled into the park. A few folks wrapped bungee lines around the monument and rope line pulled in vain against the 50 ft. tower of solid granite. Johnson and other leaders of the group admonished the crowd against damaging any other property.

The amount of thought that went into this enterprise could be measured in feet — roughly 30 ft of rope to pull down a 50 ft. monument. The protesters looped one end of the rope about a third of the way up the obelisk and hitched the other end to the back of a red GMC pickup truck. Had they been successful, the monument would have crushed the truck and likely killed or injured bystanders. Instead, their two attempts ended with two broken ropes.

Never fear, destructive rioters — Professor Parcak is here to teach your young minds the proper way to destroy public property.

Parcak reminded the, ah, peaceful protestors that the “chances are good the obelisk extends into the ground a bit,” so they should use chains instead of a rope. The chains should be “extended tightly around the top (below pointy bit) and 1/3 down forming circles.”

“For every 10 ft of monument, you’ll need 40+ people. So, say, a 20 ft tall monument, probably 60 people,” Parcak helpfully suggested. With “safety first” in mind, she said that rioters will “want strong rope attached to the chain—rope easier to hold onto versus chain.”

You probably want 150+ ft of rope x 2…you’ll want to be standing 30 feet away from obelisk so it won’t topple on you (your safety! first!). This gives enough slack for everyone to hold on to rope, alternating left right left right. Here’s the hard part…pulling in unison

You have two groups, one on one side, one opposite, for the rope beneath the pointy bit and the rope 1/3 down. You will need to PULL TOGETHER BACK AND FORTH. You want to create a rocking motion back and forth to ease the obelisk from its back.

I recommend a rhythmic song. YOU WILL NEED SOMEONE WITH A LOUDSPEAKER DIRECTING. There can be only one person yelling. Everyone will be alternating on rope left right left right not everyone on the same side. No one else near the obelisk! Safety first!

Start by a few practice pulls to get into it. Think of it like a paused tug of war, pull, wait 2, 3, 4, 5 PULL wait 2, 3 4,5. PULL AS ONE, PAUSE 5 SECONDS, you’ll notice some loosening, keep up the pattern…you may need more people, get everyone to pull!

Just keep pulling till there’s good rocking, there will be more and more and more tilting, you have to wait more for the obelisk to rock back and time it to pull when it’s coming to you. Don’t worry you’re close!

In her final message in this thread, Parcak also asked rioters, “Please do not pull down Washington Monument,” but at this point, that sounds more like thinly-disguised irony than an actual plea not to do anything destructive.

Besides, one monument to “racism and white nationalism” looks just like another, AMIRITE?

While I don’t think anyone would be stupid enough to try to topple the 555-foot Washington Monument, the 52-foot tall obelisk in Birmingham seems a likely target for rioters — encouraged and instructed by a member of the academy.

Parcak ought to face charges


Trump, HBCUs, and Progress

As both of us can attest, historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) provide a vital path for young African Americans to reach the true heights of their potential.

Mr. Cain grew up poor in segregated Atlanta, Georgia, the son of a chauffeur and a domestic worker. In 1963, he had the opportunity to attend Atlanta’s Morehouse College, an HBCU that imparted not only an education but a religious and cultural foundation that would later lead to a Master’s degree and a successful business career serving as the CEO of both a major restaurant chain and the National Restaurant Association.

Mr. Blackwell has seen the importance of HBCUs from a slightly different perspective. After serving as mayor of Cincinnati and Ohio’s treasurer of state, he had the opportunity to join the board of trustees of Ohio’s Wilberforce University, which in the 1860s became America’s very first black-owned institution of higher learning. That role gave him firsthand insights into the impact that HBCUs such as Wilberforce continue to make in the lives of young black Americans.

We can both further state that there has never been a president in the White House who has been more supportive of HBCUs and their mission than President Trump. Through both legislation he has championed and executive action he has taken independently, the president has shown time and again that his administration is committed to promoting the survival and relevance of distinctively African American institutions of higher education in this country.

Just after taking office, one of Donald Trump’s very first executive orders established both a White House initiative and a board of advisors on HBCUs, placing them at the very center of this administration’s education policy. He subsequently relaunched the HBCU Capital Finance Board, which has distributed over $500 million in student loans.

Cabinet-level federal agencies have also gotten in the game. Attorney General Bill Barr’s Justice Department, for example, issued an opinion that will allow faith-based HBCUs, such as Morehouse and Wilberforce, to enjoy the same access to federal support for capital improvement projects as secular institutions.

President Trump is also providing more funding for HBCUs than any other president in history. The Fostering Undergraduate Talent by Unlocking Resources for Education Act (FUTURE Act) that he signed into law last year included $255 million in permanent, mandatory funding for HBCUs, and the 2019 Farm Bill included an additional $100 million for HBCU scholarships, research, and centers of excellence.

The scale and duration of President Trump’s commitment to HBCUs is a story often ignored in the popular press, but it fits neatly within the framework of his governing philosophy. This administration has the interests of all citizens at heart and is always trying to fund and support solutions that truly empower black Americans. It is no coincidence that African American unemployment and poverty rates both reached all-time lows under President Trump before the coronavirus pandemic struck.

As the country prepares to restart and rebuild from the pandemic, the Trump administration’s commitment to HBCUs takes on added importance. President Trump knows that HBCUs will have a role to play in the coming challenge, which is why he included $1 billion in relief to HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions as part of federal pandemic relief efforts.

As the entire country strives to return to a new normal over the coming months, HBCUs and the wider African American community can take comfort in the knowledge that they have an unwavering ally in the White House.


Parents Who Home-School Are a Danger to Their Kids? That’s What These Academics Think

The greatest threat to the well-being of children isn’t a virus: It’s their parents, according to some academics.

Harvard University law professor Elizabeth Bartholet has ignited a firestorm of controversy by arguing for a presumptive government ban on home schooling in a recent law journal article. Her claims are largely relics of a bygone era dominated by progressive education theorists who believed that government bureaucrats know better about educating children than parents.

Bartholet explains in the current issue of Harvard Magazine that because home schooling is not regulated enough by government, children could be at the mercy of parents who are “essentially” illiterate, or worse, neglectful or abusive. Absent government intervention, parents control their children’s education and upbringing—something Bartholet deems “authoritarian” and “dangerous.” Her solution is compulsory government schooling to ensure “that children grow up exposed to community values, social values, democratic values, ideas about nondiscrimination and tolerance of other people’s viewpoints.”

Adding fuel to the fire, Bartholet has convened a “private and by invitation-only” Harvard summit in June to focus on “problems of educational deprivation and child maltreatment that too often occur under the guise of homeschooling.”

No doubt participants will be channeling the likes of Horace Mann, considered the father of American public education, and John Dewey, who wanted a Prussian-style system of uniform, compulsory schooling for the United States. According to these and other leading 19th- and 20th-century education theorists, such a system would improve our “democratic” institutions through the distinctly undemocratic means of forcing parents—especially poor and immigrant parents—to send their children to government-run schools that would instill the proper “social and political consciousness.”

Proponents believed this democratic end justified such undemocratic means because ultimately, as the Wisconsin Teachers Association put it in 1865, “children are property of the state.”

Of course, that view is wholly at odds with the Constitution, which neither mentions the word “education,” nor gives the federal government any enumerated power over it. That’s a real problem for “progressives,” including Dewey, who dismissed the notion of individual rights as “idolatry to the Constitution,” as well as Bartholet, who says the Constitution is “outdated and inadequate.”

The data, however, show that home-schooling parents are getting results that make government schools seem inadequate.

The scholarly research shows more than a 100-fold increase in the numbers of home-schooled students since the early 1970s, from 13,000 to more than 2.4 million. The latest EdChoice Schooling in America Survey also finds that the proportion of parents whose top educational option would be home schooling reached an all-time high of 15% in 2019, a threefold increase since 2012.

These trends correspond with the federal government’s dramatically increased involvement in K-12 education, starting with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 1965 and the establishment of the Department of Education in 1979. If parents, many of whom probably attended public schools themselves, were satisfied with “public” education, homeschooling would have died off – not exploded.

Given such growth, it stretches credulity to suggest, as Bartholet does, that homeschooling parents are some kind of nefarious lunatic fringe. It also ignores scholarly evidence.

For example, research for the Department of Education finds that home-schooling parents come from all walks of life and are socioeconomically diverse. It also shows that by a margin of more than two to one, parents say their most important reason for home-schooling their children is concern about school environments, such as safety, drugs or negative peer pressure, not religious instruction.

The majority of peer-reviewed studies also shows that compared to their conventionally educated peers, home-schooled students have higher K-12 academic achievement, more positive social development, better college performance and more positive longer-term life outcomes, including greater life satisfaction, political toleration and civic engagement.

Ultimately, most home-schooling parents are successfully educating their children. Rather than learn from their success, “progressive” academics like Bartholet apparently want to eliminate the competition—an impulse that hardly seems democratic or tolerant.


Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Six Ways to Keep American Universities Alive

Virtually every college in the U.S. is facing large revenue declines this year and next from the impact of COVID-19: lower tuition revenues, smaller subsidies from state governments and private donors, less investment income. Ted Mitchell of the American Council of Education guesses enrollment declines will average 15%; declines will probably range from zero at some elite selective admissions schools to 25% or more at others. I think 500-1000 institutions will be pushed into bankruptcy or face-saving mergers; many were already in trouble—college enrollments have been falling since 2011.

Here are six low-tech things schools can do to survive the pandemic. At most schools, a huge portion of budgets are for workers, and four of my suggestions reduce labor costs; the other two involve physical assets. The goal is to conserve funds through more efficient deployment of generally underutilized resources.

First, furlough faculty and staff. Although typically paid to work year-round (administrators) or nine months (faculty), many in fact are idle on some days when they are paid to work. Faculty, for example, may teach Monday, Wednesday and Friday, but not show up on campus on Tuesday and Thursday. Do what the University of Arizona is doing, furlough them for maybe one day a week for the academic year, implying perhaps a 15% pay reduction. Tell faculty: we have lowered research expectations from you—one less annual article in the Journal of Last Resort is acceptable. But you may have more classes on teaching days.

Second, dismiss staff. There has been a huge increase in administrative bloat on campuses—individuals neither teaching nor doing research. Get rid of a lot of them—permanently. The same applies to a much lesser extent to faculty; the anticipated enrollment dip is probably not permanent, and many faculty have tenured appointments.

Third, cut pay. A lot of employees are collecting what economists call “economic rents—payments beyond those necessary to secure their employment. Tell them, “we can’t afford to pay you X; you can either be dismissed or agree to work for a lesser amount, 80% of X.” Unlike with furloughs, this is a permanent cost reduction.

Fourth, sell assets. Universities own vast physical assets having nothing to do with Job One, creating and disseminating knowledge: dormitories, dining halls, conference centers, athletic facilities, even aircraft. Sell them to private investors, or sell the revenue stream from them. Universities have no expertise or need to be in the food and lodging businesses. For universities with medical schools: should you sell your hospitals and largely get out of administering health care facilities, still allowing students to learn in clinical settings?

Fifth, downsize college athletics. Most schools lose sizable sums supporting ball throwing and other contests—more than $20 million annually ($1,000 per student) at my university. Downsize—go to less expensive forms of competition, like dropping to a lower NCAA division in football. Smaller teams, fewer and less expensive coaches, fewer games, no post-season contests. Kids can still have fun, competition can still be fierce between rivals, alumni can still enjoy themselves.

Sixth, cure the Edifice Complex—stop constructing new buildings. Although colleges typically spend too little on deferred maintenance, they lavish funds on new buildings. Enrollments have been falling while square footage colleges maintain has been rising. At most schools, a building moratorium for multiple years is highly desirable.

There are many other things schools can do, specifics varying between institutions. Those with overseas study programs and facilities: should you outsource them more to others? Schools with branch campus facilities: can you eliminate some of them, relying on online instruction more and consolidating residential experiences to fewer campuses? With ultra-low interest rates, can you refinance campus indebtedness? Should you move to year round teaching to better utilize facilities? Can modestly paid student employees instead of expensive adults mow the grass, serve food, and paint buildings?

Many schools should close—they are losing their appeal and often offer mediocre quality. Creative destruction can be a good thing, as Joseph Schumpeter once told us. But for most schools, this crisis is an opportunity to do the previously politically impossible: reform educational delivery to make it more efficient, cheaper, and hopefully even better.


Still Believe That a College Degree Is a Great Investment?

Recently, presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden announced that he was in favor of a plan to make college education free–for most students at public institutions anyway. Why? Because too many students are supposedly being kept out of college due to its cost. Even though much of the expense of public higher education is already borne by taxpayers, Biden (and many other politicians) want to make sure that almost every student can afford to attend.

The assumption behind Biden’s plan is that college degrees are a great investment that gives the student a huge boost in earnings. Many people believe that, and recruiters bombard youth with promises that college pays. For example, Peter Osborn of Cornerstone University writes: “Ultimately, not going to college is a decision that sabotages you for the rest of your life. Your income and earnings will always be lower, and you will always have to fight harder for a job. If you want to set yourself up to succeed, a college degree is clearly the way to go.”

That has been the conventional wisdom in America for several decades: Unless you get a college degree, you will never do well in the labor market.

The conventional wisdom, however, is being tested by the pay of actual jobs.

I couldn’t help noticing the starting wages offered by Hobby Lobby at their new store in my city, Bozeman, Montana. Store officials said they would be paying full-time employees $15.70 an hour. Many graduates of our land-grant university, Montana State University-Bozeman, with degrees in liberal arts and film/video and photographic arts could find higher pay there than where they’re working.

According to the College Scorecard, our liberal arts graduates’ median earnings were $26,400 the first year after graduation, while film graduates made $21,700. Liberal arts graduates at the state’s other flagship school, the University of Montana in Missoula, might wonder what they did wrong compared to their Bozeman counterparts; they made only $20,600. Comparatively, Hobby Lobby’s $31,400 offer rocks. (College Scorecard presents the median annual earnings of former students one year after graduation. Only data from students who received federal financial aid is included in the calculation.)

And the city of Bozeman outbids Hobby Lobby. Its ad on Craigslist described a grounds-and-maintenance position paying $33,000-$37,000, with full benefits, including pension. Duties included mowing lawns and cleaning buildings, with no college credential required.

So some heavily touted college degrees bear a closer look. For that, let’s focus on the University of Montana. The school is struggling with a sharp enrollment decline—35 percent since 2011—and one likely factor is that its offerings’ attractiveness in the job market is in doubt.

Among the university’s 203 fields of study, College Scorecard has relevant data on 91. Earnings for those in all the largest undergraduate fields of study pale next to starting wages for Bozeman’s city lawnmower:

liberal arts, $20,600;
wildlife management, $23,200;
English, $23,700;
teacher education and professional development, $24,200;
psychology, $24,500;
natural-resources conservation, $24,500;
communications and media, $25,200;
sociology, $27,100; and
general education, $31,200.

MSU-Bozeman grads in certain fields do better financially. Engineering, nursing, computer science, and business degrees rate wages higher than the lawnmower or the Hobby Lobby clerk. For example, mechanical engineers’ median earnings were $58,000; those with general business degrees earned $37,900.

But ag business, animal science, plant science, environmental design, biology, cellular biology, microbiology, teacher education, English, family and consumer sciences, linguistics and languages, history, liberal arts, geological earth science, psychology, economics, political science, sociology, film/video and photographic arts, fine and studio arts, and music all came up short of lawn mowing. (Sufficient data are lacking for some majors, including sustainability studies, philosophy, religious studies, chemistry, physics, and anthropology.)

Students are told that STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers are among the highest in initial compensation for recent graduates. But, looking at the above list, we can see it’s not safe to assume that applies to all science majors.

Colleges obviously should offer history, which I studied and loved, but how do historians fare in the market? History majors aged 25-64 have median earnings of $60,000. Not bad. But with promotions and raises, the person who signs on with the City of Bozeman could also see their wages reach that level. For example, the parks and recreation director in Billings, Montana has a base salary of $128,000.

It’s not just the potential students who are exposed to the hustle about the economic benefits of college; taxpayers are told that their investment in higher education is good for the economy. Promises to both students and voters are painted with a broad brush, ignoring the financial difference between degrees in, for example, engineering versus photography.

For students, the incentives are obvious: They can enjoy the social aspects of college life for five or six years, work a few hours a week, have ample time off, pay a small portion of the cost, and incur a little debt, instead of getting a job with all the rigor that entails.

That seems like a rational decision, but only because many students overestimate the benefits of college. Making it “free” would mean that the taxpayers would shell out even more money to educate or train young people who won’t even earn as much as Hobby Lobby employees.

There’s more to life than money, and more to college than boosting one’s earning potential. I’m glad I attended college and am grateful to the taxpayers and private donors that aided me, though my degree was not applicable to the career that ended up supporting my family.

Maybe some college administrators will begin adding to their financial-benefits pitch the inducement in Cardinal Newman’s The Idea of a University, that college is a place for teaching universal knowledge. That may be prudent in a labor market where graduates often make far less in their first year than retail clerks and lawnmowers.


The decline of Australian universities, where students are customers and academics itinerant workers

Donna Tartt’s much-loved novel A Secret History paints a classic university life. All white clapboard and ivied brickwork, it’s a world of eccentric talents, intense relationships, lunatic japes, glorious freedoms and scholarship of unparalleled autonomy.

These kids, drawn from Tartt’s own college experience in 1980s America, are the wealthy elite. Here in the antipodes, though, through the mid-century, university was a similarly immersive and life-changing few years. For some it became a lifetime, which was possible because it was free. These were teaching institutions, dedicated to cultivation of the mind. There were hurdles to be leapt, but money wasn’t one of them.

Now, bloated by a 20-year addiction to immense cash flow, glamorous buildings, corporate values, industry partnerships and a teaching model that is threadbare at best, our universities flap about like overstuffed geese on a deflating life raft. No one knows the future. Can these gross creatures even swim? Perhaps now is the moment for revolution.

Last year, UNSW responded to falling enrolments with a proposal to lower entry requirements. With an estimated 80 per cent of teaching now casualised, academics have become itinerant workers. Students have become customers. Teachers report widespread pressure to pass low-grade students but cannot speak of it, fearing reprisal. This too is indicative, since the whole point of tenure was to guarantee free speech.

Now, a leaked email shows that Cambridge University, wholly online since March, proposes to keep all lectures strictly digital for a year. That’s Cambridge, mind, the ultimate in physical branding, whose ancient colleges create their own language and mythology – the stone stairs, the double oak, the cloisters, the sacred lawns. Some “small groups” may be allowed. But imagine this place, this dreaming-spires town, all but empty of undergraduate life, of student pranks, punting on the Cam and of cycling, black-clad dons.

There’s no talk of dropping fees. Anyone who’s been alive these past four months knows that their gut-wisdom is correct: online teaching is no substitute for the real thing. Student attention wanders. Interrogation is difficult. Box-ticking becomes routine. Lectures, live-streamed but also recorded, can be watched by a student in the bath, in the pub, high. The exam is open-book, or open friend, or open adjacent expert. Key learning outcomes? Tick. Content? Pah.

As soon as the stuff goes online, meanwhile, the academics sign their content over to university ownership. Then, because the lectures can be rerun endlessly, for nothing, the creative mind itself becomes dispensable – casualised or dumped.

Casualisation means your law tutor or biomed lecturer, who’s spent perhaps 10 years earning a doctorate, is appointed for 10 or 13 weeks at a time, usually with just a few days’ notice. They get maybe $120 to deliver a lecture that could take three or four days to prepare. They receive half the super payments of proper staff, no holiday or sick pay. And if, for any reason, enrolment falls the course is summarily axed. No new shoes this semester, kiddies.

Yet the vice-chancellor must be paid. True, some of Australia’s vice-chancellors have taken special COVID pay cuts bigger than my total five-year income. Still, last year, the average Australian vice-chancellor salary hit $982,000. Sydney University vice-chancellor Michael Spence, declining the COVID cut, raked in $1.53 million last year (including non-monetary benefits worth $613,000).

Plus there are all those deputy and pro-vice chancellors to pay. And the billions to spend on campus development. No wonder universities can’t afford actual teachers. No wonder they must exert take-one-for-the-team-type pressure on the few academics who remain to accept pay cuts or job losses.

The fees, though, stand. Why might students be prepared to keep paying tens or even hundreds of thousands for an education that, like candy floss, disappears before you swallow it?

Because of the ticket. Because, explains Silicon Valley guru and New York University marketing academic Scott Galloway, content is irrelevant. It’s “not education. It’s credentialing”.

“I’ll have 170 kids in my brand-strategy class in the fall,” says Galloway. “We charge $7000 per student. That’s $1.2 million for 12 nights of me in a classroom – $100,000 a night. The gross margins on that offering are between 92 and 96 [percentage] points. There’s no other product in the world that’s been able to sustain 90-plus points of margin for this long at this high of a price point. Ferrari can’t do it. Hermes can’t do it. Apple can’t do it.”

This is possible because we’ve allowed our conception of higher education to morph from mind cultivation to a tool in the great global race to … what, exactly? I mean, what now?

The world has changed. Futurists such as Umair Haque (The Long Collapse) and Nassim Nicholas Taleb argue that the pandemic is not a blip but a portent of the new fragile. Fragile economies, fragile ecosystems, frequent “fat-tail” ruin events; it’s a world where the apparently unassailable – America, universities, airports – suddenly totter. Why? Too much globalism, too much connectivity. Too much attitude. We’ve been partying too long, too hard. And universities have been partying harder than most.

Yet never have we needed universities more. As Trump’s America shows, a system that restricts genuine education to the wealthy elite must eventually drown in its own ignorance. To think, as our governments clearly do, that education is about individual career trajectories is reductivist nonsense. Educating the educable, especially in the history of ideas, is about the culture we make. It is our best defence against world collapse. Education is survival.

Which is why hard-head countries such as Germany still offer free university education. It’s not altruism. It’s political recognition of the huge economic, cultural and wellbeing benefits from nurturing otherwise undiscovered young minds. Germany’s free universities regularly figure in the world’s top 100, so there’s no sacrifice of standards; entry is competitive, but on intellect not wealth. Still almost a third of Germans attend college, their rektors (or vice-chancellors) are paid about a quarter of our average and their institutions will survive COVID relatively unscarred.

But there’s also this. What’s wrong with a little modesty? Does anyone really need the huge status, the expensive toys, the win-at-all-costs mentality? Maybe a smaller, gentler life and smaller, more real institutions could bring back a world that’s nice to inhabit. Calling to the revolution: will you be long?


Monday, June 01, 2020

Young Americans Don’t Need College During a Crisis

The American economy is deteriorating “with alarming speed,” Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell said recently, signaling that the government’s response to COVID-19 put people in a difficult financial situation. Though Powell predicts this problem is temporary, a closer look at growing unemployment numbers shows that America might not bounce back quickly once the lockdowns end.

To young people in school or who have recently graduated, the current situation might seem like a minor obstacle. But to older siblings who suffered during the 2008 recession, a broken economy doesn’t sound like a minor problem at all. As a matter of fact, they might already be despairing over what they should do next.

As college students and recent grads watch unemployment numbers grow, they might wonder if the skills they learned in college will be enough to get a job.

Economic anxiety that would lead them into a master’s program to sharpen their skills, however, would be a mistake. Returning to school to avoid a bad economy might be tempting, but the lessons of the previous generation should turn them against another degree. Betting on a more prosperous future by getting deeper in the red doesn’t always pay off. And, in North Carolina like many other states, whether students can even return to campus isn’t clear yet. A year of online classes might not be worth the tuition payments.

Instead of signing up for another student loan, what should a student or recent graduate do?

Learn New Skills Without Breaking the Bank

If you take a critical look at what you’ve learned in college and feel that your set of skills won’t make you competitive enough to get a job, consider how you can get new skills online and avoid debt. 

LinkedIn, Google, and Hubspot, for example, have a mix of paid and free courses you can take that will make you more employable. From software development to basic digital tool training, those online classes offer students and recent grads a golden opportunity to stay relevant.

By earning valuable marketing certificates and a variety of important skills such as video and social media marketing, SEO, public relations, branding, Google and Facebook advertising, proficiency in Google Analytics, and content drafting, you will be much more competitive when the labor market warms up again.

Earn Money Online by Teaching English

Scammers will try to lure people with “make money from home” schemes that sound too good to be true. However, there are still plenty of legit ways young people can make money without leaving their homes.

Using programs like VIP Kid, DaDa, GoGoKid, and EnglishHunt, which allow college graduates to teach English online to foreign students, young Americans can teach homebound students in China, South Korea, and Brazil who want to improve their English. Doing so can also show future bosses that you’re a self-starter and can handle unfamiliar situations.

For young people without a degree, companies like Cambly, QKids, and Palfish give English speakers the chance to use their fluency to help others to develop their English speaking skills. While compensation might be less than what’s paid to college graduates, it might be an interesting way to put yourself to work.

Find Side Hustles That Don’t Require Special Skills

As more Americans rely on grocery delivery services, those who are not known to be particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus can take on delivery gigs by working for Instacart or Shipt.

While precautions should always be taken to avoid infection and the spread of viruses, the opportunity is there for those willing to help people in need. If you’re homebound because you’re done with school or taking classes online, this is the ideal side gig.

Other ways of making some cash while waiting for things to go back to normal include teaching tech-related skills to seniors.

While there aren’t many opportunities online to find students, you can join groups such as Nextdoor and market your classes to neighborhood seniors who might be willing to pay to learn new technologies such as Zoom.

You can also offer other skills on similar sites such as Handy or TaskRabbit, especially if you have experience in mowing the lawn, painting, or even house cleaning.

Take the Time to Re-evaluate Your Career Goals

In addition to taking on gigs and online courses that can help you improve your resume and keep you afloat during the pandemic, you could also use some of your extra free time to reconsider your career goals.

Oftentimes, we take steps toward a goal that might seem good at the beginning but doesn’t always take us where we thought we were headed.

When re-evaluating your past professional decisions, ask yourself whether you’re confident you would be able to make money or get a job in your desired field by simply relying on the skills you’ve built up to this moment. If the answer is “no,” it might be time to look into ditching passion-driven career goals for hard work, as Cal Newport explains in his book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You.

Explaining that passion only comes after you put in the hard work to become good at something, he debunks the idea that following our passion is what makes us stand out. “No one owes you a great career,” Newport wrote. Instead, “you need to earn it—and the process won’t be so easy.”

To get there, Newport argued, mindful professionals should “adopt the craftsman mindset” and ask themselves “what can I offer the world?” Answering that question might be the key to identifying exactly what it will take for you to become a valuable professional.


Whatever you do, remember that spending money in a crisis is a recipe for disaster.

Even if you have access to easy credit to continue with your education, nobody can guarantee you’ll get a job in a bloated and extremely competitive labor market. Instead of entering a new economic recovery phase without real-world working skills and less money, why not save some while forced to stay put?

At the end of the day, employers will feel much more compelled to hire people who have put their time to good use during the lockdown by working instead of simply waiting or getting deeper in the red for a degree that might not make a huge difference.


Remember the MOOCs? After Near-Death, They’re Booming

Children and college students aren’t the only ones turning to online education during the coronavirus pandemic. Millions of adults have signed up for online classes in the last two months, too — a jolt that could signal a renaissance for big online learning networks that had struggled for years.

Coursera, in which Mr. Gupta and Dr. Davidson enrolled, added 10 million new users from mid-March to mid-May, seven times the pace of new sign-ups in the previous year. Enrollments at edX and Udacity, two smaller education sites, have jumped by similar multiples.

“Crises lead to accelerations, and this is best chance ever for online learning,” said Sebastian Thrun, a co-founder and chairman of Udacity.

Coursera, Udacity and edX sprang up nearly a decade ago as high-profile university experiments known as MOOCs, for massive open online courses. They were portrayed as tech-fueled insurgents destined to disrupt the antiquated ways of traditional higher education. But few people completed courses, grappling with the same challenges now facing students forced into distance learning because of the pandemic. Screen fatigue sets in, and attention strays.

But the online ventures adapted through trial and error, gathering lessons that could provide a road map for schools districts and universities pushed online. The instructional ingredients of success, the sites found, include short videos of six minutes or less, interspersed with interactive drills and tests; online forums where students share problems and suggestions; and online mentoring and tutoring.

“Active learning works, and social learning works,” said Anant Agarwal, founder and chief executive of edX. “And you have to understand that teaching online and learning online are skills of their own.”

The proclaimed mission of the MOOCs was to “democratize education.” The early courses attracted hundreds of thousands of students from around the world.

Udacity and Coursera were founded at Stanford University by high-profile professors in the hot field of artificial intelligence. EdX, created by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University in 2012, is a nonprofit.

Coursera and Udacity soon attracted money from Silicon Valley’s leading venture firms. The courses were all free. It was the classic internet formula: lure a big audience, and figure out a business model later.

Executives eventually discovered that earning credentials for completing courses and paying fees drove completion rates far higher. Typically, 10 percent or fewer students complete free courses, while the completion rates for paid courses that grant certificates or degrees range from 40 percent to 90 percent.

A few top-tier universities, such as the University of Michigan and the Georgia Institute of Technology, offer some full degree programs through the online platforms. Dr. Davidson is taking Michigan’s public health course.

While those academic programs are available, the online schools have tilted, either cautiously or wholeheartedly, toward skills-focused courses that match student demand and hiring trends. “Our main goal is to solve learning, not the skills problem,” Mr. Agarwal said. “Though frankly, that’s where the money is.”

Udacity has made the most drastic transformation toward a skills factory. It has developed dozens of courses on its own and with corporate collaborators including Google, Amazon and Mercedes. Its course offerings are largely in digital skills like programming, data science and artificial intelligence, fields where companies say they need workers.

“Companies are better positioned to see where the jobs of tomorrow will be and prepare people for them than universities,” Mr. Thrun said.

Just a couple of years ago, Udacity’s survival was in doubt. When Mr. Thrun returned to oversee operations in 2018, it was a few months from running out of cash. Over the next two years, Mr. Thrun laid off about half the work force. “The worst period of my life,” he recalled.

Today, with 320 employees and 1,300 part-time project reviewers and mentors, Udacity’s fortunes have improved. It is tightly focused on its training business, for both individual students and for corporations that pay Udacity to upgrade the skills of their employees and to advise them on redeploying workers in digital operations.

The Udacity courses, which it calls nanodegrees, take most students four to six months to complete, if they put in 10 hours a week. The average cost is $1,200. The learning is based on projects, rapid feedback — including project reviews in two hours — and online mentoring.

David Hundley has taken several Udacity courses in data science and machine learning in the last two years. A business analyst at State Farm, he wanted to develop tech skills for a better job and brighter career prospects.

Today, Mr. Hundley, 30, is proficient in modern software tools like Python and TensorFlow and has a portfolio of projects on GitHub, where software developers display their work. In January, he landed a new job at the insurance company as a machine-learning engineer.

State Farm paid for a couple of the Udacity courses, and he paid for the others. “It was a hundred-percent worth it,” Mr. Hundley said. “Two years ago, I didn’t know anything about coding. Now, I’m a machine-learning engineer.”


Australia: School closures are all pain and no gain

School closures have wiped valuable weeks from students’ learning, and disadvantaged students will be hardest hit.

This has happened because some state and territory governments — Victoria, Tasmania, the ACT, New South Wales, and Queensland — ignored the consistent expert medical advice to the National Cabinet that it was safe for schools to remain open, and decided instead to close schools for most students for almost a whole term.

Many children from disadvantaged backgrounds have been set even further back as a result. They tend to have less access to effective parental support, educational resources, and fast internet at home, so they were always going to be hurt disproportionately by government school closures.

According to our new research, the educational cost of school closures to disadvantaged students amounts to between 2 and 3 weeks of lost learning in numeracy, and between 1 and 2 weeks of lost learning in reading. This will exacerbate existing inequities.

It’s true parents were told students would not be turned away from school and children of essential workers could attend — albeit with mixed messages about safety. But this is still ultimately closing schools, because the small minority of children who still attend school learn in basically the same way as students learning from home, without normal face-to-face classes.

Most parents kept their children home — amid the naïve, unreasonable government expectation that parents could simultaneously work from home and supervise their children’s education — with serious economic consequences.

But is there evidence of a public health benefit, at least? A study of NSW schools by the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance found the Covid-19 transmission rate in schools was “extraordinarily low” and there were no cases of students infecting staff. So it appears there was little or no public health benefit of closing schools — all pain and no gain.

The South Australia, Western Australia, and Northern Territory governments should be commended for following the Commonwealth’s lead and only closing schools for one or two weeks, meaning their disadvantaged students would be just minimally affected.

But the other five governments should reflect on the unnecessary educational and economic damage inflicted. They made a decision based on politics — influenced by teacher unions — not evidence.


Sunday, May 31, 2020

The Future of College

COVID-19 has disrupted almost all aspects of life, including higher education.  Colleges moved classes online during the spring semester and some observers believe that this will permanently change higher education.  I think this will create new focus on how college creates value.

Online education has existed for years.  Arguably though, the willingness of the nation’s most prestigious universities to shift online affirms the quality of online instruction.  I would caution about reading too much into any response to this unprecedented pandemic.

Higher education’s predicament becomes much greater if the 2020-21 year ends up online.  I will not try to forecast the progression of COVID-19 here, but the California State University system recently announced online classes for fall.  An online year would produce an immediate financial crisis and a longer term viability challenge.

Universities take on considerable debt for classrooms, dorms, dining halls, and recreation centers.  Tuition may pay for classroom buildings, but room and board payments service the bonds for dorms and dining halls.  Similarly, many football schools have financed stadium improvements using revenue from long term television contracts.  Universities will almost certainly create a need for a government bailout.

The longer term issue would begin when campuses reopen.  Will students return in the new normal?  Focusing on college’s value proposition for students helps here.

Most traditional academics believe that online education is low quality, but this may simply reflect our biases.  I see student learning styles as more relevant; some students’ can learn readily online.  A parallel I think is the large state university versus a smaller college.  Some students can succeed with the anonymity of the giant lecture hall; others need a personal connection with professors and classmates.

Why employers value college degrees is also relevant and there are three competing sources here.  First and most prominent is human capital.  In this view, classes teach skills and knowledge used in jobs.  A second explanation is signaling, in which a college degree provides valuable information about a student’s talents even though course content is not used in jobs.  Finally we have legal restrictions; laws, primarily licensure, require a person hired for certain jobs to have a specified degree.

Online education can most readily supply legally required degrees.  When job seekers and employers view the degree as merely checking a legal box, both will want to meet the requirement with minimal cost.

The signaling function might be the most difficult to replicate online.  Education works as a signal when only students possessing certain traits (e.g., the ability to learn challenging material quickly) earn a degree or high grades.  Credible signaling requires a level of familiarity only face-to-face interactions have traditionally afforded.

The usefulness of online education for human capital depends on the skill or knowledge.  Consider learning to play a musical instrument (something I know only from reading about).  Such instruction is usually one-on-one or in very small groups; watching a how-to video by one of the world’s leading musicians does not work well.  Music teachers have offered lessons on Zoom during the pandemic; perhaps virtual instruction will prove effective.

Higher education involves valuable experiences outside of the classroom.  While this might sound like an apology for parties and football games, for many people, college is a valued part of growing up.  People make lifelong friends and often meet their spouses.  College is about more than just book learning.

A four year party might seem unnecessary, but life is about more than mere survival.  Fine food and elegant dining is not just about efficiently ingesting calories.  Clothes for many people are fashion statements.  This is normal in a prosperous society; the quality of the journey becomes paramount, not merely getting from A to B.

The economic slump, I think, threatens higher education’s long term viability more than COVID-19.  The pandemic may trigger a depression leaving the United States and the world substantially poorer than at the start of 2020.  If so, we will be able to afford fewer luxuries, including traditional college.


ACLU Sues — to Undermine Constitutional Rights

It once championed individual rights — to an attorney, a fair trial, and to cross-examine one's accuser.

On May 6, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos released her Title IX reforms regarding how colleges and K-12 schools should handle complaints of sexual assault and misconduct. In a great indication it is no longer the organization it has purported itself to be, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a federal lawsuit on May 14, asserting the changes would “inflict significant harm” on victims and “dramatically undermine” their civil rights.

“Victims” is a loaded word. In 2011, then-Vice President Joe Biden and Education Secretary Arne Duncan released a “Dear Colleague” letter to the nation’s 4,600 institutions of higher education, laying out new directives explaining how campuses should approach allegations of sexual assault. “It was the beginning of a concerted effort that radically remade how students could interact sexually, with severe penalties for those who violated increasingly expansive codes of conduct,” reveals columnist Emily Yoffe. “The accused were to be judged under the lowest standards of evidence, the definitions of misconduct were widely broadened, third-party reports could trigger an investigation even if the alleged victim did not think there had been a violation, and more.”

Thus a reasonable question arises: As per these directives, if due process, free speech, and other rights of the accused are denied, who is the genuine victim?

It didn’t matter to the Obama administration. Using the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) as its enforcement mechanism, Team Obama made it clear that any school failing to adhere to the administration’s new guidelines might lose federal funding.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) highlighted some of the absurdities enshrined by the changes. For example the OCR tossed aside the “reasonable person standard,” whereby conduct or speech in question must be objectively offensive, and replaced it with biased subjectivity: “Any sexually related or gender-based expression may constitute sexual harassment if it is subjectively deemed by the complaining student to be ‘unwelcome.’”

In short, self-perceived victimhood was enshrined. Unsurprisingly, many of these incidents involved intoxicated male and female students. And while Title IX ostensibly required male and female students to be treated identically before campus rape tribunals, adjudicators consistently failed to do so. In several ensuing lawsuits, judges held universities to account when their disciplinary actions were triggered by holding male students solely accountable.

Moreover, in the ensuing years, a number of other innocent students who were victimized by what amounted to kangaroo courts — with the attendant destruction of reputations, often followed by expulsion — filed additional lawsuits, and schools such as the University of Southern California, Penn State, Ohio State, Hofstra University, Boston College, and Claremont McKenna College have been on the losing end of decisions. Others, like Northwestern University, Dartmouth College, and Yale, have settled lawsuits.

KC Johnson, a professor at Brooklyn College and the coauthor of The Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America’s Universities, illuminated a big reason why many of the plaintiffs prevailed. “One commonality is the lack of cross-examination,” he said. “Courts are saying each side should have the opportunity to question each other.”

That opportunity is an integral part of DeVos’s reforms. “We can continue to combat sexual misconduct without abandoning our core values of fairness, presumption of innocence and due process,” she stated when releasing the new guidelines.

Furthermore, those guidelines are far more sensible regarding the scope of a college’s responsibilities. While colleges are still required to adjudicate incidents that occur on campus, and at recognized off-campus affiliated locations like fraternities, off-campus incidents will be handled by the police.

Reforms also eliminate the single-investigator model, whereby the same person both investigates and adjudicates a case, and give colleges the opportunity to replace the mandated preponderance-of-the-evidence standard, in which the accused is found guilty based on 51% certainty, with the clear-and-convincing standard, requiring more certainty. Moreover, despite accusations that the rules allow “accused sexual abusers to cross-examine and re-traumatize their victims,” such cross-examinations will be done by an intermediary.

The ACLU remains unimpressed. “DeVos has discarded decades of [the Department of Education’s] experience addressing sexual harassment and assault by promulgating regulatory provisions that sharply limit educational institutions’ obligations to respond to reports of sexual harassment and assault,” the lawsuit states. “If allowed to be implemented at educational institutions nationwide, these provisions will make the promise of equal educational opportunities irrespective of sex even more elusive. This is true for all students, including students of color, LGBTQ students, and students with and without disabilities, in grade school, high school, and higher education.”

Nonsense, but quite indicative of a sea change by the same ACLU that once championed individual rights, the right to an attorney, a fair trial, and the right to cross-examine one’s accuser — as opposed to group grievances and identity politics.

Now? “Students shouldn’t have to jump through hoops just to report abuse, and schools should not be allowed to ignore claims of discrimination on the basis of sex when they would have to respond to claims of discrimination on other protected grounds,” the ACLU asserts.

Jump through hoops? The reforms require students to report any claim to a Title IX official on campus, not just any instructor or administrator. That’s hardly jumping through hoops. Moreover, if any claims were ignored under the Obama administration’s mandates, those made by the accused professing their innocence — and being officially ignored — go to the top of the list.

The suit was filed on behalf of four advocacy groups for sexual-assault victims, including Know Your IX and Girls for Gender Equity, two groups that ensure young women are well aware of their status — as victims. The suit seeks to block the Education Department’s new provisions before they go into effect on August 14.

“Betsy DeVos has created a double standard that is devastating for survivors of sexual harassment and assault, who are overwhelmingly women and girls,” insists Ria Tabacco Mar, director of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project. “We are suing to make sure this double standard never takes effect.”

Wrong. Led by Joe Biden, the Obama administration championed a presumption of guilt, rather than innocence. That double standard would totally torpedo the Democrat Party’s semi-comatose standard-bearer were it applied to him regarding accusations made by his former Senate staffer, Tara Reade.

Fortunately for Biden, constitutional standards of justice still apply in his case — even as he and the ACLU remain determined to undermine them for other potential defendants.

It doesn’t get more ironic than that.


Australian student activist, 20, is suspended from the University of Queensland after criticising its ties to China and leading a pro-Hong Kong protest

A student who dared to criticise the Chinese government and lead a pro-Hong Kong protest has been suspended by the University of Queensland.

Drew Pavlou, 20, is a passionate student activist due to graduate in just six months, but has been suspended after criticising the university for its ties to Beijing.

He led a series of campus demonstrations last year, in support of Hong-Kong's pro-democracy movement.

The activist also posted messages to social media criticising China's authoritarian regime and denounced the university's close financial ties with the Communist Party. 

It has around 10,000 Chinese students, bringing in $150 million in student fees each year.

He accused the University of Queensland, where he is enrolled studying philosophy, of behaving like the country's communist government after it suspended him for two years.

Speaking after his suspension on Friday following a controversial disciplinary hearing, he said the university hadn't given any good reason for its decision.

'Refusing to provide exonerating evidence, calling no witnesses and providing no reasoning for my expulsion during a secret hearing no one was supposed to know about,' he said. 'What an amazing standard UQ has set in regards to transparency - at least by Beijing's standards.'

Mr Pavlou faced a disciplinary hearing on May 20 at the university over 11 allegations of misconduct, detailed in a confidential 186-page document.

It is reportedly linked to his on-campus activism supporting Hong Kong and criticising the Chinese Communist Party.

The University of Queensland has faced intense scrutiny for its relations with the Chinese government, which has co-funded four courses offered by the university.

It is also home to one of Australia's many Confucius Institutes - Beijing-funded education centres some critics warn promote propaganda.

The Chinese consul general in Brisbane, Xu Jie, even serves as an honorary professor at the university.

Mr Pavlou led a series of campus demonstrations last year, in support of Hong-Kong's pro-democracy movement.

He also posted messages to social media criticising China's authoritarian regime and denounced the university's close financial ties with the Communist Party.

 The university ordered Mr Pavlou's suspension on Friday after the 20-year-old student left the previous hearing after about one hour, citing procedural unfairness.

Mr Pavlou told reporters he views the suspension as 'an expulsion for all intents and purposes' as he was due to graduate in six months.

'I think they're using the term suspension to talk down just how harsh this punishment actually is,' Mr Pavlou said on Friday. 'They've been threatening me with suspensions ever since last year.'

Mr Pavlou says he found out about the suspension via email at 4pm on Friday. The email allegedly asked him to keep the outcome confidential.

'I absolutely p**s on their rule book when it comes to confidentiality,' the Brisbane student said. 'They're trying to do me over in the shadows. F**k that. No way.'

UQ Chancellor Peter Varghese said on Friday he was concerned with the outcome of the disciplinary action against Mr Pavlou.  'There are aspects of the findings and the severity of the penalty which personally concern me,' Mr Varghese said in a statement.

'In consultation with the vice chancellor, who has played no role in this disciplinary process, I have decided to convene an out-of-session meeting of UQ's Senate next week to discuss the matter.'

Mr Pavlou said he found it hard to believe the chancellor and vice chancellor had no part in his punishment and questioned the independence of the disciplinary board.

'They (the UQ chancellor and vice chancellor) directed this from the beginning. There is no way they wouldn't have known about it. It's a joke.'

A UQ spokeswoman said on Friday the institutions disciplinary matters are dealt with under the Student Integrity and Misconduct policy.

Mr Pavlou said he will now appeal the decision with the assistance of his lawyer, Tony Morris QC.  'We're going to immediately appeal this decision in an independent court of law outside UQ.'

Mr Pavlou recently took Mr Xu to court after being attacked at a rally by Chinese nationalists.

'In July 2019, I led a peaceful campus sit-in calling for UQ to completely cut ties with the Chinese state until Tibetans were freed, Uighur detention camps were closed, and Hong Kongers were afforded greater democracy,' he said.

'Masked pro-CCP heavies violently attacked our rally, assaulting me and choke-slamming other pro-Hong Kong students to the ground.'

Following the ugly incident, Mr Pavlou was named in a Chinese state media article by Mr Xu and accused of being 'anti-China'.

As a result, Mr Pavlou claims he then received death threats, unsettling phone calls and letters.

The University of Queensland said in a statement, it rejects the 'unsubstantiated' claims and is not attempting to prevent students from expressing their personal political views or trying to limit their right to freedom of speech.