Tag Archives: Education

Stay Informed: Why College Tuition Has Increased So Much

Frustrated Student

A topic which has garnered significant attention in recent years – and especially during the presidential campaigns – is the significant increases in college tuition and the consequent backbreaking increases in student debt.

Doug Webber (Temple University) has written an interesting analysis of the cause(s) of this situation for FiveThirtyEight (aka, Nate Silvers & co.).

The overarching message is that there is no single cause of the tuition boom. The reason for rising costs differs based on the type of institution and the state it’s in, and even varies over time. But, at least among public institutions, the dominant factor has been a steady decrease in support for higher education on the part of state legislatures.”

Prior to reading this article my uninformed pseudo-opinion was that the bulk of cost increases came from unnecessary spending. This analysis, however, forces me to rethink that viewpoint.

That said in my (humble? I hope!) opinion, there may still be room for some navel-gazing within higher ed. There are three areas that come to mind:

  1. Reducing expenditures on buildings, especially in instances where existing buildings are sufficient, or where the architecture is unnecessarily elaborate.[1]
  2. Reducing expenditures on unnecessary services, especially in cases where the educational value is questionable and/or the value in recruiting students is minimal.[2]
  3. Utilizing and contributing to open source systems, such as those available from the Kuali Foundation. The prices of higher ed software is often high while the quality of the software is low.

This said, I realize that the potential cost savings I have mentioned above will not make a huge dent in student tuitions…and I would even go so far as to say that I’m not entirely sure the money should go to tuition decreases.

In many cases the faculty and staff of an educational institution are poorly compensated. This can be a social justice issue, which by its very nature should be corrected. It also has indirect negative effects on both the institution and the students. If faculty/staff need to work second jobs to survive, this reduces their availability to the institution and to the students. Tired faculty/staff result in decreased classroom lecture quality, decreased opportunities for personal interactions with students, and increase the more base aspects of our natures (e.g., temper, apathy, etc.).

I’d love to know what you think!

  1. [1]I tend toward pragmatism, as opposed to the aesthetic – so judge the validity of this comment as you may. I’m simply saying that I think most students would prefer lower tuition over highly vaulted ceilings (which result in a significant uptick in heating/cooling costs on an indefinite basis; in addition to the extra cost in construction).
  2. [2]e.g., While I consider it important to maintain functional, clean, and quality gym equipment – the latest and greatest gadgets may not be necessary. Another example might be televisions. I’m not saying not to have them in the residence halls or in the gyms, but I do think that generally they are an unnecessary expense that causes detriment to students. e.g., Many guys I know (including myself) will be drawn to focus on a TV no matter what is on (even if it is extremely uninteresting) and this causes a deterioration in the quality of conversation that can occur and the ability to study/think. As such, I’d suggest they be in recreational areas but avoided in most other areas.

StudyDroid Flashcards – Eliminate Outdated Paper Flashcards.

For those students who are fond of flash cards, and have an android phone. Check out the app StudyDroid. I downloaded it the other day, and have been very pleased with it. It eliminates the need for carrying around the paper version of flash cards, and you will have it at your finger tips online or on your phone.

Thanks to OpenClipart.org and johnny_automatic for the image.
Thanks to OpenClipart.org and johnny_automatic for the image.

You can create the flash cards either on your computer or straight on your phone. By syncing it to an account on studydroid.com you can make the cards right on the computer, including adding pictures to the cards, and it will sync to your phone.

Once the cards are on your phone, simply click on that pack in the main menu and begin going through, the navigation is simple. Tap the card in order to flip it over, swipe left or right to move through the cards. Once you learn a card, place it at the back of the pile permanently. The main menu displays the % of the cards that you have marked as “learned” so that you know how close you are to mastering that deck of cards.

Positives: Simple easy to use format, ability to use pictures, syncing capabilities with your phone, ability to share your flash cards with friends via facebook. Function to mark cards as “learned” so they are put to the end of the deck.

Cons: The online entry form can sometimes be a little finicky, no fancy animations (which doesn’t bother me, but might bother others), occasionally the swiping motion is not registered and you must swipe a few times.

MyEdu: Relieving the Stresses as Class Selection & Registration.

College Students, next time you are registering for classes check out www.myedu.com This is an absolutely amazing site,

MyEdu (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

especially if you are a SUNY Cobleskill student who finds the course registration process a pain in the butt.

The first step is to build your profile with you major, how much you have completed, and what courses you are already completed. Then click on the start building your schedule button to start browsing for classes. It allows you to add to your worksheet all the classes you are interested in and then you can start more officially adding them to a schedule. If classes overlap, it shows you that on your color coded schedule.

Thanks to OpenClipart.org and mazeo for the image.
Thanks to OpenClipart.org and mazeo for the image.

It also shows you the average GPA as well as Grade distribution of the teachers teaching each class, so you can choose which professor best suits you. When you are done, just write down the CRN numbers which it provides and take those over to either the registrar, or to your schools registration website.

Other features on the site, include resources for finding jobs and internships, as well as the option to share your schedule on facebook with your other college friends, to ask questions about the college you are attending, or other colleges you are interested in.

Overall, I would say this program saved me at least an hour in the class hunting process for my major, which with the SUNY Cobleskill site is a pain in the butt.

Larry Powell: Setting an Inspiring Example

downtown fresno
Image via Wikipedia

Tracie Cone has a great article over on Yahoo! News about Larry Powell, a school superintendent in Fresno California responsible for overseeing 325 schools with a total of 190,000 students. Larry has made the decision to give back the vast majority of his salary to the school district for the upcoming three years – totaling around $800,000.

Free Neuroscience e-Textbook.

An animated gif of MRI images of a human head
Image via Wikipedia

I recently decided I wanted to embark on studies of neuroscience. As someone who suffers from childhood onset Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Major Depressive episodes I know that much about me is tied up in my neurological makeup. Recently I was reading some journal articles about the latest developments in OCD and depression treatments and wanted to understand more about the underlying processes…thus my desire to learn neuroscience.

I spent some time surfing around the web looking for resources. I found a number of resources but many seemed outdated, unmaintained, or only partial. I looked for various textbooks on the subject but their prices were fairly high ($60 on eBay, etc.). I know, I know, that isn’t much at all…but it was more than I wanted to spend at the moment.

I eventually stumbled upon Neuroscience Online: An Electronic Textbook for the Neurosciences. It is a free and online project from The University of Texas Medical School. It is written by a number of faculty members and overseen/edited by Dr. John H. Bryne, Department Chair for Neurobiology and Anatomy.

The work consists of four major sections which are further divided into subsections (chapters): Cellular and Molecular Biology, Sensory Systems, Motor Systems, and Homeostasis and Higher Brain Functions.

I’m just plowing through Cellular and Molecular Biology at this juncture, but the scope and quality of the work is quite impressive. There are numerous images and animations of high-quality throughout the work that help illustrate the various concepts being discussed. So far it has been fairly understandable to my lay perspective (I have no background in medicine and minimal in chemistry, biology, and so on). Numerous terms are clearly defined, though there are also numerous terms which a lay individual (such as myself) are unlikely to be familiar with – but which one can use a search engine/dictionary to define.

Kudos to Dr. Byrne and all his collaborators for an excellent resource!

Free Educational Courses (Online)

High Dopamine Transporter Levels
Image via Wikipedia

NetCE is an online continuing education provider for various professionals who are required to earn a specific number of continuing education credits per year to remain accredited with the state. They offer courses for medical professionals (e.g. nurses, physicians, dentists), counselors, psychologists, and social workers.

Each course by NetCE is available online for free. NetCE makes their money by providing credit for the courses. If an individual takes a course and proceeds through the testing they then pay a fee for the course (still nominal – e.g. $20-$50 usually) and receive credit for the course. NetCE seems like a great way to complete required CEU’s, but it is also a high quality source of information for anyone.

I’m particularly interested in counseling/psychology and I found a number of excellent courses on their site and have been reading through them. They are professional and extensively documented. No need to register or pay to read them! Here are a few of the courses I thought looked interesting:

Pondering the Future of Higher Education.

Bill Gates at Sorbonne
Image via Wikipedia

Bill Gates at the Techonomy conference discussed the future of education based on technological innovation and suggested that the prevalence of place-based education will significantly decrease within the next five years, with a shift towards online / distance learning. You can read MG Siegler’s TechCrunch post here or jump to Techonomy’s blog post for a YouTube video of Gates speaking.

Overall, I agree with Gates’ hypothesis and wanted to spend just a few minutes fleshing out some thoughts on how this will effect higher education institutions and how higher education institutions can and should take advantage of this trend. I have a vested interest in this arena as a low-level peon at Philadelphia Biblical University where I work as a Systems Administrator / Senior Systems Support Specialist. That said, my opinions expressed herein are entirely my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.

Effects of an Online Learning Transition

  • Refocusing of Faculty – I don’t see an entire transition to online education overwhelming us in the next several years, but the use of online education to acquire inexpensively general education credits is likely to increase. Whereas, previously, one oftentimes had to compromise quality in gen. ed. courses, now one will be able to ensure the highest quality at a lower price. This will result in shrinking classroom sizes for gen. ed. courses and the eventual untenability of maintaining some, if not many, general education courses / departments.
  • Lower Costs – For both the student and the institution costs will decrease. Institutions will experience reduced costs due to reductions in personnel (custodial, maintenance, security, administrative) and facilities (classrooms, libraries, gyms, cafeterias).
  • Increased Competition – In the past institutions could rely to some extent on their geographical location to provide students, this ability will decrease with time as students have the option to remain geographically local while educationally global.
  • Consolidation – This is not a necessary corollary, but I expect a significant number of institutions will fail to make the necessary changes to remain relevant in the future educational landscape as such such will close or consolidate with other schools due to lack of finances, students, etc.

Recommendations for the Transition:

  • Refocus on Core Areas – Institutions need to begin considering what areas of the educational curriculum to continue to expand in-house and which portions to “out-source” – the distinctive aspects of an institution will become key as time progresses. An institution focused on medicine, electronics, or biblical studies will need to seriously consider whether it can offer a similar quality of education through out-sourced courses.I do not mean to discount the importance of the liberal arts. I love the liberal arts, but I am attempting to reflect an economic reality. Furthermore, institutions will need to invest additional resources into those core emphases. Finances regained by not expanding one department must be reinvested in expanding those departments which will serve as the heart of the future institution.
  • Refocus Holistically – Academic institutions have been good at educating but not always at growing students. Knowledge about a specialty, even including liberal arts, does not result in a well-balanced individual. Especially for religious institutions, a focus on the holistic health of the individual student should be an increased emphasis. In our post-modern society the importance of furthering one’s career has taken a backseat and we are more concerned about living a holistic life (of being happy). This might occur in an institution by more closely pairing students with faculty mentors, by increasing holistic emphases within the institution (e.g. how do we eat?, how do we communicate?, how do we exercise?, how do we worship?) – not primarily through courses either – but through less formal/rigorous methods.
  • Focus on Community – As Gates’ humorously points out, one aspect of higher education that online education will not be able to replicate (at least in the near future) are the parties. I would go a step beyond this and suggest that it is not simply the parties but the community that online education cannot replicate. Thus, the importance of providing a stable and welcoming community will increase. This will include the necessity of intentionally fostering relationships between students, providing ample opportunities and outlets for student energies, and increasing connections between faculty/staff and students.
  • Focus on Service – Institutions must consider the peripheral services they offer to students and seek ways to simplify their lives while also keeping costs low. Institutions will need to pay more attention to providing quality service to students. Student / Institution relationships are symbiotic in nature. An institution must always remember that the institution wields power only as long as the students allow it do so. Peripheral services might include aggressive intern / post-graduation placement, deeper relationships with faculty/staff, on-site medical (physical / psychological) health facilities, and unique opportunities[1].
  • Focus on Technology – You probably saw this one coming, right? Being an Information Technologies worker, I have to say this, right? However true that may be – it doesn’t belie the underlying truth – technology is integrally connected to the future of higher education. Since this is my area of expertise I’m going to take a little extra time to discuss this arena and break it out into its own discussion, so see below.

Focus on Technology (Expanded)

Any institution which hopes to survive in our technological future must understand and embrace technology. Let me explain a few practical ways in which this must occur:

  • Listening – Administrators and Faculty need to listen to their IT workers. I don’t meant take every suggestion they make as gospel – I mean take the time to understand what they are saying. Doesn’t matter who I’m talking to, when I start to talk technology (unless it is another geek) their eyes almost immediately glaze over. This leaves IT folks in a bind. When someone asks us, “How does this work?” or “Why didn’t this work?” We can reply with a technical explanation which results in glossy eyes and the waste of both of our time or we can reply with a unsatisfactory summary answer which saves us both time but which leaves those we spoke with no better equipped to interact with the technology or us in the future.[2]
  • Learning – There is a reasonable fear of listening to IT folks too heavily. We quasi-believe we can fix everything with the right line of code or technological solution. We see things through a certain filter – and this isn’t always the filter that is needed in a situation. That said, a lack of understanding by faculty / administrators of technological concepts / processes is a sure way to sink an institution. Thus, I suggest that faculty / administrators make a significant and ongoing commitment to familiarizing / learning technology.[3] What is a competent level to expect of administrators / faculty? Try this little quiz on for size. If you can’t say, “hey, I can do this really well” – you need to put on your learning cap:
    • Search the web using a search engine for information – and not just simple queries like, “honda accord” or “john wayne”.
    • Write a document, format it, print it, email it, save it, convert it (to another file format) without contacting an IT person.
    • Import pictures from your digital camera, a scanner, or a cell phone to your computer and upload them to web via services such as Facebook, Flickr, or PicasaWeb.
    • Install / remove applications without the necessity of IT assistance[4]
    • Avoid getting a virus or being phished in any given year.
    • Understand the basics of antivirus / malware / spyware spotting and removal.
    • Understand how to utilize and perform basic troubleshooting in a smart classroom (equipped with a laptop, projector, etc.).
    • Understand open source / free software philosophy (the difference between the two, and why these matter).
    • Have and understand how to utilize social media accounts such as Facebook and MySpace.
    • Have and understand how to utilize a non-school email address – such as Gmail or Hotmail.
    • Familiar with the touchstone applications and websites that are availability within your educational / administrative arena.
  • Discussing – Looking for individuals in the IT sector who are willing to discuss topics with you.[5]I would suggest this is applicable across sectors and is simply good business practice. Take time to understand why its taking so long for custodial to accomplish x…or why financial aid always seems to run out of money at x…, etc.[6] Spend time helping them understand what you do, what you care about, what worldview and philosophy drives you, and spend time listening to them discuss the same. For example, if you are reading Neil Postman and worshiping at his feet, you better be spending some serious time discussing Postman’s observations and philosophies with a techie.

Pahh. That took a lot longer to write than I would have liked – and is still only first draft quality, but take a look. I’ll respond to any questions / comments / criticisms as I can. Take care!

  1. [1]I can’t remember the institution, but I nearly went somewhere else instead of PBU. I received attractive financial support from a secular institution. I knew I wanted to be in ministry – but this institution offered a year of educational credit by backpacking throughout Europe with your classmates and professors. Wow. Having read Louis L’Amour’s Education of a Wandering Man this was almost too much to resist…but I did. =)
  2. [2]I understand that IT workers are not known as the most socially adept. We hang out with computers all day for a reason – many of us have problems relating to you scary humanoids. I also understand that we aren’t the best at speaking in plain English – but part of this is a trained response. We’ve become so used to people glazing over we don’t even try…
  3. [3]On the opposite side of the spectrum, it might be worthwhile to push IT individuals to better understand certain aspects of faculty / administrator jobs. We do our best work when we fully understand what you are trying to accomplish and then match technological solutions to optimize that purpose.
  4. [4]Though we may require you to speak to us.
  5. [5]
  6. [6]

Longer School Days? No Way.

education (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

Besides my beloved Newsweek for keeping up on the latest happenings in the world I generally keep an eye on the headlines on Yahoo‘s front-page. Today I saw an article detailing how Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan are considering implementing longer school days/years for K-12 education. I find this to be disturbing on several levels.

First, as someone who isn’t all that far removed from my primary education days (okay, nine years) I can still remember much of my educational experience – and while I learned a lot a large percentage of what I learned was and will never be actually utilized in my lifespan. I think any argument that we need more time to teach children what they need to know to operate successfully in this life is a load of garbage. Rather, we might consider focusing more on what our children will actually utilize while at the same time improving the quality of our teachers and peripheral programs…but I’ll talk more about solutions later.

Secondly, as a youth leader I find Duncan’s desire to see the school become the centerpiece of the community disturbing. The school already is a centerpiece of the community – consuming students days and nights not only with classes but with sports and artistic endeavors. All of these are grand in and of themselves but oftentimes result in over-scheduled, over-worked, and un-available children and teenagers. Family, local, and social relationships all suffer under the already extensive demands of the school system – which by the way, also oftentimes require hours of (unnecessary?) homework each day.

Finally, I find it disturbing that there is so much conviction that schooling will provide the skills or is the best way to provide the skills our children/teens need. Individuals find their callings in life through experimenting with various endeavors outside of a rigorous course of study and oftentimes receive the mentor based training in a vocation they require via hands-on interactions (automotive repair, computer programming, and store management all come to mind as examples).

It does very little good to criticize others ideas without offering your own – so here are my alternatives:

1. Improve the quality of our teachers. I know a lot of our teachers are great – but I’m sure almost everyone can think of at least one teacher they had classes with who just shouldn’t have taught. These teachers ramble about everything but the topic – or are so cranky and mean that they scare kids away from asking for the help they need.

2. Increase the quality of peripheral services. Offer more optional services. e.g. Bulk up the school library, the school’s computing systems, the school’s tutoring services. Work in conjunction with local volunteer agencies and organizations to spread tutoring across communities.

3. Encourage mentoring relationships between students and adults in vocations. Offer incentives to adults to take students under their wing and mentor them in a vocation.

4. Reduce the amount of homework and focus instead on fewer but more intensive projects. Cut the busy work.

5. Increase the utilization (and perhaps supply free) better educational software that kids/teens can use at home to supplement learning.

Okay. I’m outside the educational cycle. Maybe my ideas are way off base – if they are correct me. I just can’t see children/teens spending more time in school – or that being particularly good for them. Sure, for some segments it may be a better option – but there are (or would seem to be) better ways to deal with those who are out on the streets or abandoned by parents then attempting to apply a very wide policy to correct a narrower problem.