A story in the Chronicle of Higher Education (“Colleges Draw Criticism for Their Role in Fostering Unpaid Internships“) questions universities putting students into unpaid internships.
On one hand, we keep hearing more from employers about the value of some kind of internship or experiential learning. Employers like applicants with some kind of workplace experience that may develop and demonstrate valuable skills and the ability to function in a workplace.
On the other hand, businesses have conveniently created a large pool of unpaid labor. Part of the problem is that all students may not have access to these internships since they may lack the resources to go off and work without pay for months. Those of us in schools in small towns may not have very many internships nearby and asking students to find and afford housing in another city creates a major burden.
Faculty members have more reasons that ever to feel that higher ed anxiety. Getting students to read is harder than ever. Respect for faculty and education is dropping. Online course offer both new opportunities to reach students and new problems about who is on the other end and exactly what they’re learning. More of the university is being transformed in a bureaucracy serving rituals of assessments driven by political credit claiming.
The political dynamics surrounding higher education in Texas is making its own contribution. Frank Bruni, in a Op-Ed piece in the New York Times (“Questioning the Mission of College‘). Sums it up pretty well:
“I’d sound yet another alarm. Scratch the surface of some of the efforts to reform state universities and you find more than just legitimate qualms about efficiency and demands for accountability. You find the kind of indiscriminate anti-intellectualism and anti-elitism popular among more than a few right-wing conservatives…
In other words there’s some crude, petty politics in all of this. And as we tackle the very real, very important challenge of giving young Americans the best and most useful education possible in an era of dwindling resources, that’s the last thing we need.”
My biggest worry today is not that another generation of students will come along and present new challenges. My fear is that the state will strip us of the resources we need to meet those challenges and that the politicians of the state will be working against us. Getting students to read and explore new ideas will be even harder when their lack of respect for education finds comfort in the political rhetoric of the state’s leaders. Our state leaders ask only for superficial measures of success (lower tuition bills, higher diploma counts) without asking whether or not graduate or employers are better served. The irony is that while these politicians want to invest only in diplomas and job-related skills, they have no idea what jobs or skills will actually be needed in the future.
Young Texans get the wrong messages from the state: “Don’t learn the subjects in K-12, just passed the standardized tests. Don’t embrace the broad-based education offered by your college, just get the diploma as cheaply as possible. If you fail, the responsibility rests with the school.”
Some employers are already suffering through the consequences and pushing back. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait for the private sector to unite and lead the rebellion against the decline in learning. The anti-intellectualism and anti-elitism built into the current political regime guarantees that teachers and professors will be the last people to be given a voice in education policy.
It turns out that faculty workloads are not responsible for rising tuition (“Report That Blamed Shrinking Faculty Workloads for Rising College Costs Is Retracted“). It appears that the geniuses behind the original report didn’t bother to see what the variables meant before using them.
The exoneration of faculty will not come as a surprise to anyone in Texas who watched tuition skyrocket after tuition deregulation even as faculty workloads changed very little.
Don’t expect the finger-pointing at faculty to end. Politicians blaming faculty for rising tuition reminds me of watching O.J. Simpson look for the real killer. Somehow they keep on overlooking the most obvious suspect.
The Wall Street Journal has a story outlining the cuts to higher education and the impact it may be having on competitiveness (” Funding Cuts Lead to University Battles, Warning From Panel“).
It’s good to see the Wall Street Journal and other major publications taking note of the declining support we’re getting from states. Now we need to get people to understand you can’t get something for nothing.
After bravely standing up against tuition increases UT Regents approved an athletic fee increase at UTSA to ensure that student can see their athletic program wade into Conference USA. UTSA students will now pay $20 per semester hour (up from $17) to ensure that their teams can afford to go to Marshall, East Carolina, and Central Florida.
The Dallas Morning News has noticed that some of the state’s politicians are more interested in finding scapegoats than providing meaningful leadership on higher education (Editorial: Tuition critics want it both ways | Dallas Morning News Editorials“)
How to get a $10,000 degree at Texas A&M-San Antonio:
- Show up with half the course work already done while in high school.
- Go take another two semesters of coursework somewhere else for about $2,000.
- Take your last 36 hours in actual Texas A&M-San Antonio courses. Hope that your professors share the same standards that your high school and community college instructors.
You can find more on this at the Texas Tribune: (“Texplainer: How Can I Get a $10,000 Degree?“).
Inside Higher Ed has a report (“At the White House Roundtable“) from the President’s meeting with College presidents about college affordability. The article suggests that the White House is about to focus on college costs and the meeting may provide some hints about their priorities.
A new study sponsored by the The Student PIRGs’ Make Textbooks Affordable Campaign found that 70% of students reported not buying textbooks because they were “too expensive” even though 78% of respondents reported that they thought students did worse if they didn’t have the textbooks. [Full results in pdf format]
Why we shouldn’t take this study too seriously
- The question in the survey was: “Have you ever decided against buying a textbook because it is too expensive?” The use of the word “ever” means that if at any point in college a respondent did not buy a textbook they could answer yes.
- The question said “a textbook” when it probably should have said “a required textbook.” A lot of faculty suggest supplemental texts/readings.
- The phrase “too expensive” is too vague. We know that some of our students spend a lot of money on beer, entertainment, and cellphones that are fancier than the ones faculty purchase. Some students may be making those items a higher priority than their textbooks.
- Students make excuses. Students also tell me that they do not have enough time to do all the reading.
Why we need to take this issue seriously.
- Whether it is true or not, politicians have decided to make textbook costs an issue.
- Many of our students can not afford all their textbooks and need help.
The ridiculous political blame game going on around higher education politics should not distract us from doing every thing we can to help students.
The San Antonio Express delivered a nice one-two punch today on behalf of higher education.
In one story, reporter Melissa Ludwig explored the question: “Is there a cheap road to Tier One?” The story includes a pretty extensive discussion of why simple cost/benefits don’t add up.
Business is a popular major; math or physics is less so. Intro courses in psychology can be taught in enormous lecture halls, biology laboratories can’t. Some courses are part of the core curriculum and have huge enrollments, others are more specialized.
Despite the lack of demand by students, the state needs mathematicians and high school physics teachers, and students need some specialized courses to graduate with certain degrees. Universities must cover all these bases, even if it’s not always cheap, administrators say.
The paper followed up with an editorial (“Don’t undercut Texas higher ed“) that urges the state to steer clear of a one-size fits all mentality.
The bottom-line approach also disregards the importance of crucial subjects — such as the top-rungs of math and science — that are not broadly popular with students but develop the crucial professions that push discoveries and job-creating advances in knowledge. Cutting-edge, hard-to-master disciplines attract a small but important cadre of students and professors.
These stories are probably the most realistic discussion of higher education reform we have seen from a newspaper. They attempted to take the reader beyond a knee-jerk reaction to the reality that many of the aspects of education we need the most are costly.