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Nov 14 2011

What’s going on at CUNY?

I hate to see a great university system get thumped upside the head by chowder-brained legislators, but that’s what’s going on in New York. The chancellor of CUNY is pushing for a major revamp of the curriculum, system-wide. This ignores the unique culture at each institution and tries to turn them into cookie-cutter degree factories, and ends up targeting the lowest common denominator.

City University of New York’s Chancellor Matthew Goldstein is about to turn the prestigious system of senior and community colleges into a glorified high school. And few people seem to even want to try to stop him. This is bizarre, as Goldstein is a CUNY graduate himself and has been credited with major accomplishments since he took the lead at CUNY in 1999 (e.g., he raised admission standards, created the William E. Macaulay Honors College, and the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism).

Goldstein has recently begun what is known as the “Pathways to Degree Completion” initiative, which is being quickly rammed down the throats of the faculty members at all CUNY Colleges, in blatant disregard of faculty governance, interfering with curricula and the structure of majors, and possibly resulting in the elimination or great reduction of entire departments, mostly in the humanities (beginning with foreign languages, arts, assorted studies programs, history, and philosophy). The science and math requirements also are being reduced to ridiculous minimum common denominator standards, all in the name of increasing the graduation rate and decreasing the time to graduation of CUNY students — apparently the only currencies understood by the inept (to say the least) State legislators up in Albany.

This is a familiar story. All administrators care about is a couple of simplified parameters for “success”: the average time to degree completion, which is supposed to be around four years, and the percentage of incoming students that graduate. It’s throughput, baby, how fast can we shovel ‘em through and get ‘em out the other side with a diploma.

There is a good solution to this problem. That is, you hire enough faculty to staff all your programs with good teachers, they teach the students well, they have time to advise and guide students efficiently to degree completion, and they’re there to catch any students who threaten to fall through the cracks, and give them personal assistance. In other words, you give the students the best possible education and help them over any hurdles so they emerge from your program knowing stuff and best of all, knowing how to learn more.

Any faculty reading this are laughing cynically right now, because that’s not the solution we generally get to follow.

The poor and realistic solution recognizes the fiscal reality that state legislatures want to cut, cut, cut higher ed’s budget, and so administrators are looking at cheap ways to get graduation rates up and years to graduate down, and there is an easy way: cut graduation requirements. Standardize the curriculum. The job of the college is no longer to deliver an education, but to issue diplomas, which are awarded for attendance in a defined series of classes. I’m sorry to see that CUNY wants to get into the business of mass-producing diplomas.

Hey, 99%, this is an issue for you, too. The higher education system in this country has been starved for decades — state contributions to university budgets have been steadily declining, and tuitions have been rapidly increasing to compensate, squeezing out many worthy prospective students. What’s driving it is the short-sightedness of legislatures that don’t realize what’s involved in teaching and learning, and want to low-ball education. You get what you pay for, and I don’t think we need university administrators who cater to economic catastrophe rather than advocating for good education.

(Also on Sb)

67 comments

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  1. 1
    Rey Fox

    As long as we have worker bees, right?

  2. 2
    pHred

    This is more or less what they are trying to do with the SUNY (statewide) system as well. Definitely a shovel them through, who cares if they actually have learned anything, mentality.

  3. 3
    Crissa

    I don’t see how the problem of ‘there are people taking language courses and not graduating’ has a solution of ‘remove language courses’.

    It really chaps me – mostly because I’ve spent most of my time not in degree programs, but taking courses to directly influence my skills – that apparently it’s more important to give out a degree than to teach skills.

    Certainly, we should worry about people in degree programs not getting degrees. Or students who drop out. Or students who never get or keep a job using their degree. Or students who don’t finish paying off their debt. The school failed these students.

    But cutting classes because they are taken by non-degree-attaining students? What?

  4. 4
    Gus Snarp

    This is all about the whole “run it like a business” attitude that comes from the right, and even some of the left in this country. What they don’t seem to realize is that running things like a business means your primary goal becomes profits, at the expense of quality product. And there are a lot of places where this mentality does not work well. Education is near the top. Look at private schools, which we should assume are run as businesses. You have two kinds: really expensive schools with large endowments that rely on alumnae donations and high tuition paid by those out for prestige to be able to produce a quality product (and some of those probably are cutting product quality to increase profitability too), or you get really crappy schools, take any of those online, for profit universities as an example. Bottom line, you can’t run a school like a business and get top quality education, especially if you are trying to provide it to large numbers of Americans.

    This mentality is investing high schools too, and I expect to see simply horrific results in terms of voter ignorance, poor economic performance, high unemployment, and functional illiteracy growing year after year.

  5. 5
    herp

    @Gus, I completely agree with you. To add to the point, now that it takes a bachelor degree to get any job, even those that used to not require a college education (certain service jobs come to mind), getting a college degree is becoming more a joke. It seems like the college degree is replacing the high school diploma. Sure you can say that more of the population is educated, but what is the education, and is it really as good as it used to be now that the standards are lower?

  6. 6
    Vene

    Shit like this is why I say, to a large extent today, having a college degree mostly means employers can trust that you know how to read.

  7. 7
    Anthony K

    City University of New York’s Chancellor Matthew Goldstein is about to turn the prestigious system of senior and community colleges into a glorified high school.

    Ah, would that they could all be as wonderful as the deservedly esteemed Stuyvesant High School, with teachers of the inestimable calibre of noted author Frank McCourt (to whom I admiringly used to refer as “Frankie Mac”). Why, just the other day I was discussing high quality camera lenses via email with Kenneth R. Miller, and the mendaciousness of certain intellectual pornographers came up…

  8. 8
    Patrick

    My girlfriend works at a large university and from what she has seen of some of the lower levl medical courses you have one teacher at the front of a 500 seat auditorium lecturing with a video feed of the lecture being sent to another auditorium full of students. If you are in the other room you have to press a button to stop the teacher so he can listen then answer.

    That doesn’t sound anything like an education. With a 900:1 student:teacher ratio I doubt anyone would want to feel like asking questions with 899 other students thinking they are an idiot.

    Also when taking quizzes they use a remote with buttons to answer multiple choice questions. This is quite smart as it would take a whole hour long class just to pass out the quiz.

  9. 9
    dochopper

    Money Money Money.

  10. 10
    PZ Myers

    I attended a large state university. I recall one introductory science class with well over a thousand students enrolled: it was taught in 3 auditoriums simultaneously. One lucky room had the professor at the front, the other two had video feeds.

  11. 11
    Zinc Avenger

    Perfect! Now the worker larvae will stay ignorant and have thousands of dollars worth of “education”-related debt, keeping them mired in servitude forever!

  12. 12
    mikeg

    …and they’re there to catch any students who threaten to fall through the cracks, and give them personal assistance. In other words, you give the students the best possible education and help them over any hurdles so they emerge from your program knowing stuff and best of all, knowing how to learn more.

    Which relates to…

    one teacher at the front of a 500 seat auditorium lecturing with a video feed of the lecture being sent to another auditorium full of students. If you are in the other room you have to press a button to stop the teacher so he can listen then answer.

    That doesn’t sound anything like an education. With a 900:1 student:teacher ratio I doubt anyone would want to feel like asking questions with 899 other students thinking they are an idiot.

    Also when taking quizzes they use a remote with buttons to answer multiple choice questions. This is quite smart as it would take a whole hour long class just to pass out the quiz.

    I’m a student and I am falling through the cracks. I hate making ‘excuses’ but, damn. I can’t be the only one that is seriously neglected in this environment. Yes I go to a state school, sure I could have worked harder to get scholarships to a private Uni, but I didn’t. Now I am faced with what Patrick at 8 said- only looping that feed online.

    I’m reasonably intelligent and capable. I’m driven- I work and go to school full time; the point I’m making is that people who are struggling are not getting what they pay for. Furthermore they are getting stiffed.

    I feel outrage that I am actually paying for this.This sucks. This sucks for my generation and the future of the US. Good education should be a human right.

  13. 13
    rablerowser

    There was a wonderful piece on 60 minutes last night about the need to increase graduates in STEM and how Freeman Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland Baltimore County, is working to address the low graduation rates in the sciences. (See http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-18560_162-57319098/hrabowski-an-educator-focused-on-math-and-science/?tag=contentMain;cbsCarousel for full story).

    I have taught introductory college biology courses for over 20 years. I can tell you from personal experience that the current system isn’t working. We don’t need larger classes, cookie cutter degree programs, and standardized learning outcomes to address the shortage of graduates in STEM. What is needed is engagement in science starting in the first semester of college in small group/team learning environments. Students need to have their curiosity groomed and challenged so they continue to graduation and further their training in professional and graduate schools.

    With every step to consolidate programs and shove students into large lecture halls this country is making the decision that future economic prowess isn’t important. The cuts in education today will be felt in one to two decades in the form of reduced technology and competitiveness on the world economic front.

    There’s a reason they call the educational system a pipeline to success. Restrict the flow and you’ll have pretty easily predictable effects; restriction of the U.S. economy.

    Now go out and vote for the slate of science deniers currently on the GOP ticket. Your grandchildren will thank you when they have few job prospects.

  14. 14
    Erik Jensen

    My community college is starting to emphasize degree completion and has always been concerned about articulation. There has never been any direct or indirect pressure to lower standards either in the classroom or in degree requirements. We were actually told by our dean to quit offering big classes. There is a right way to go about accomplishing these goals, and it’s not just about faculty. Staff in the tutoring center, counseling, etc. are also key.

  15. 15
    mikeg

    Ugh. Many people get through it, obviously. It just seems too hard and I may not have the resources. There are few tutoring hours that don’t conflict with my work schedule. Do I eat or do I study?

    And I’m not even THAT poor by poor-college-kid metrics. This is why we need change. I feel burdened but I am aware that there are many more that have it much worse than I do- taking loans and all. I’ve worked the past three years to keeps loans away but I never had mouths to feed or any serious financial obligations.

  16. 16
    Larry

    Patrick sez:

    Also when taking quizzes they use a remote with buttons to answer multiple choice questions.

    Sounds like one of those psychology experiments that used to be done using monkeys. Press the correct button, you get a monkey treat. Press the wrong one, you get a shock.

    Come to think of it, that is almost exactly like education, at all levels, these days.

  17. 17
    Pteryxx

    The remote controls for quizzes work okay, except that you have to answer the question that’s on the screen, while it’s on the screen, and can’t go back. Not so good for those of us who aren’t fast, or for subjects that require more thought than recall.

    In the huge classes I’ve been in recently, the students have to form their own study groups to get any individual attention. In anatomy class, I spent a lot of time helping a non-native English speaker clarify the language in the text (and many of the native English speakers, too, who had never heard of Greek/Latin roots before). We’re starting to organize online chatrooms and forums to reach students who can’t make on-campus meatspace meetings. There are free whiteboards online, document-sharing through Google Docs, webcam chats, and all the reference materials the Internet has to offer.

    While crowdsourcing education’s all for the good of students (as long as someone understands the material), that just makes it obvious how useless the actual institution really is.

  18. 18
    Mark

    “This ignores the unique culture at each institution and tries to turn them into cookie-cutter degree factories, and ends up targeting the lowest common denominator.”

    Isn’t this what we expect from the US Dept of Education as regards K-12? Why should universities be any different?

  19. 19
    ChasCPeterson

    I recall one introductory science class with well over a thousand students enrolled: it was taught in 3 auditoriums simultaneously. One lucky room had the professor at the front, the other two had video feeds.

    Yeah, I took 3 quarters of Intro Bio without ever seeing any of the 3 professors in the flesh. You could either watch the closed-circuit video feed in real time at an assigned classroom (where there was a TA to answer questions), or catch one of the innumerable replays at various places around campus. I’d often stumble down to the dorm basement at 11 pm to catch a lecture I had blown off earlier, or even the day before.
    I liked it.
    I liked it a lot better than the Physics Dept.’s solution, which was to teach Intro Physics as a ‘self-paced’ course of readings and quizzes only; no teacher at all.
    (btw this was back in the 1970s)

    Pterryx: Even with ‘better instruction’, whatever that might mean, every individual student is still responsible for their own education and learning. You could have the greatest teacher in the world and a tutorial-sized class and still what you call ‘crowd-sourcing’ would be the best way to learn the material.

    Small class sizes are not a panacaea. If the material is being presented in lecture style (which, I maintain, is the only way to do it for many necessarily content-rich courses like introductory sciences) then it’s far better to have one section of 150 and an effective teacher than to have three parallel sections of 50 each and 3 different teachers of varying quality. IMO. Especially since most large science courses also have a lab component that (of course) meets in much smaller groups.

    On another subject, the elimination of foreign-language and ‘studies’ departments would not be part of the attempt to increase graduation rates, but more likely cost-cutting pure and simple. This is something curriculum-streamlining also permits.

  20. 20
    nygdan

    Goldstein is actually one of the better administrators out there. No one’s perfect, but he doesn’t seem to deserve some of the criticism that’s being leveled against him.

    The problem at CUNY is that students can barely even transfer /within/ the CUNY system, let alone to other schools outside of it. The Pathways program is an attempt at addressing that. And honestly, this is a problem that the faculty ignored for an extremely long time, they had ample opportunity to correct these problems but never bothered too; it’s not just administrators that ‘don’t care’.

    Also, these ideas about entire departments getting closed down sound more like scare tactics. The University system is more than capable of /utterly screwing up/ its academic programs on its own, without needing Pathways to interfere. SUNY Albany, for example, used to have a great Geology graduate program. Its gone now, doesn’t exist. The same school eliminated things like “French” and “German” as programs too. So Pathways, which isn’t even shutting down any departments or programs, pales in comparison.

    Are standards getting lowered because of Pathways, maybe, and /thats/ what the faculty should be worried about, but its actually the last thing we hear in terms of Pathways criticism.

  21. 21
    B

    We need curriculum standards that both boost the graduation rate AND bring money in for the University. No time for that “e-litist” or “sciency” sort of stuff.

    Good plan: all curricula will be adopted via focus group. Students will get inside their iron lung, and use the following symbols to respond:

    Angry-looking Pokemon: that’s hard and makes me want to go poopie.
    Smiley face: that could be useful to my career.
    Green Slime: that’s not a happy thought!!!

    * note that the Texas board of education has used this on a limited basis. It seems to have cut costs for them.

    Better plan: as part of our “greener campus” initiative, all dead bodies found on campus will first be searched for wallets, gold fillings, etc. Proceeds will go towards funding the University administration’s “golden parachute” system.

    Even better plan: base whole curriculum on attending a series of management seminars hosted by Deepak Chopra, Zig Zieglar, and Rhonda Byrne. Brought to you by Brawndo, the thirst mutilator. Put your check in the box on the left, your sheepskin is in the box on the right, and please come again.

  22. 22
    jimnorth

    Try teaching general chemistry at a glorified sports camp — I mean, a small liberal arts college.

    It is good to hear from other educators that our situation is not unique, that is, we (the faculty) are trying to maintain small class sizes, place students in appropriate remedial coursework, struggle with finances, etc.

    The new york review of books had an interesting article recently concerning the influence of bean counters on education.

    http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2011/jan/13/grim-threat-british-universities/?page=1

  23. 23
    Patrick

    Addition to #8

    I forgot to add that she also works with some engineering grad students and they say that employers now give up to four interviews for basic jobs because just having a degree in engineering isn’t enough to prove you know anything. So you are racking up a ton of debt busting your ass to learn and then have to make it through four interrogations instead of the schools just failing unqualified students out.

    Last thing before I go. You can now drop courses with no penalty up until after your midterms so if you are definitely failing some class you can just pretend you never took it so your GPA doesn’t drop.

  24. 24
    donald

    P.Z., Jane Jacobs would be giving you a standing ovation for that piece if she was still with us. Not sure how well known she is in the U.S. even though she was born an American.

    Good to see someone talking about schools as a place to learn and not just a diploma factory.

    Well done, sir!

    Donald

  25. 25
    Pteryxx

    You could have the greatest teacher in the world and a tutorial-sized class and still what you call ‘crowd-sourcing’ would be the best way to learn the material.

    Except that for many or most students, it’s not. For anatomy (the most recent ginormous class I took) many students learn perfectly well from the texts alone, with the lectures as a guide and focus. I spoke with a few students who prefer to study alone because the social aspect of crowdsourcing is too distracting (these ones would borrow my study guides, but never ask me questions). Large class sizes disproportionately penalize both students who prefer social learning, and weaker students who may need even just brief individual attention. It’s even worse for classes with a lot of problem-solving, such as chemistry, or statistics (which I’ve also taken recently, and which we also informally crowd-sourced because the TA was useless by fiat). But the weaker students are paying the same tuition as the strong ones.

    I should also point out that crowdsourcing’s really useful for challenging stereotype threat. I had a LOT of female students ask me for help because they could do so quietly, and in the statistics class I was actually supportive while the prof and TA denigrated any student who didn’t grasp the material right away.

  26. 26
    dave1845

    rabelrowser,
    I strongly disagree about the need for increasing the number of STEM graduates. Josh Bloom wrote about this very strongly, and what he said about the bleak employment prospects for chemists goes for those of us in the life sciences as well. Pharma has imploded. Biotech looks to be following suit. University and government hiring is grossly inadequate, as it has been for the last 30 years or so. Friends and family in different engineering disciplines gripe about their career prospects too. Whenever I hear about the shortage of STEM workers, I want to know where.

  27. 27
    calliopejane

    I teach at an urban university that is part of a state university system. The big flagship state school has primarily traditional students straight out of high school going to school full time, many with financial support from parents. My school has a large proportion of nontraditional students, many transfer students, the average age of undergrads is 25, and the vast majority of them are working full-time jobs at the same time they are trying to get a degree.

    Both schools get evaluated with the same metric: six-year graduation rate. Lo and behold, we are found wanting in that comparison. That metric only counts students who started as freshman at this school (anyone who transferred in with any credits is not counted), and only those who graduate within six years of that first semester (which many students who are working full time & raising children may find difficult to manage).

    I’m teaching an elective class this semester with nearly all seniors who are going to graduate this semester or in the spring. I asked them one day how many would “count” toward our graduation rate, that is, how many had begun as freshmen at this school less than 6 years ago. The answer: about 30% of them.

    So, even though we are graduating students, most of them don’t get counted. And those students I asked, who’ve been hearing about our supposedly abysmal graduation rate as the state justifies more budget cuts and the university system gives us less than our share, were outraged that most of them would not be counted at all. They had no idea that’s how that number they kept hearing on the news (28%) was calculated.

    So frustrating.

  28. 28
    Zeno

    Recently the California community colleges beat off an attempt to peg funding to completion rates. If the colleges with the highest completion rates get the most funding, you can be sure of a dramatic “race to the bottom” as students get pushed out the door with meaningless degrees, having been “graduated.”

  29. 29
    Esteleth, [an error occurred while processing this directive]

    Part of the problem as well is the reliance on TAs.

    TAs are rarely given the guidance they need to be good educators. Many TAs (especially in the sciences) are international students who may have inadequate English. TA training is a joke.
    And yet – at many universities, a TA is expected to be responsible for the education of several hundred undergraduates, on top of attending their own classes and doing work in pursuit of a thesis.

    My first semester of graduate school, I was expected to TA a class that I had taken the first semester of my senior year of undergrad. I had done well in the class as an undergrad, so at least I knew the material. Luckily, the textbook was the same and I still had my lecture notes and exams. Still – when I stood for the first time in front of that lecture hall (the students on average only 12 months my junior) it was hard not to feel overwhelmed.

    I remember speaking with another graduate student who was a few years ahead of me in the program who advised me to mentally check out. Because that way, I wouldn’t take my failure to teach well personally. If I didn’t see the students (my students) as people that I had a responsibility for, it was easier to endure when I failed a challenge I wasn’t ready for. “People who care are people who burn out,” I was told. Get through it, and focus on my own work.

    And to address the fact that the average grade on the exams were below 50% and graduation rates were in the toilet, well, the university dumbed down the curriculum. It’s easier (and cheaper) to do that then train the TAs properly and support them, hire dedicated teaching adjuncts, or poke the professors to shift their lab/teaching balance. Can’t have that of course.

  30. 30
    Sour Tomato Sand

    Man, my fellow students at CUNY John Jay already act like they’re in high school…

  31. 31
    Bronze Dog

    Gus Snarp:

    This is all about the whole “run it like a business” attitude that comes from the right, and even some of the left in this country. What they don’t seem to realize is that running things like a business means your primary goal becomes profits, at the expense of quality product. And there are a lot of places where this mentality does not work well.

    Like the commentators before me, I agree. From reading Respectful Insolence over the years, I’m also pretty sure this mentality accounts for an enormous hunk of “alternative medicine” quackery infiltrating into medical schools. You can’t get much lower than degree programs for fraudulent practices.

    Personally, I’m fond of businesses who go through the extra effort and cost of making superior products, which is closer to what universities should be doing, rather than the race to Wal-Mart diploma mills everyone is rightfully worried about.

    My general suggestion: Build up as much cultural pressure we can to emphasize the importance of quality education. Whenever someone brings up the topic of low graduation rates, ask questions about the quality of those graduating, and make a big fuss if someone makes a suggestion that would lower the quality of education.

    In potential meme form: “Graduate inflation” as a term for graduation rate increases attributed to reduced standards, or as a way to describe political actions aimed at achieving such increases. Make sure you give the impression of “fakeness” with regard to any plan that would lower standards or cut curricula.

  32. 32
    NitricAcid

    I have to laugh whenever I hear a university, or even most colleges, talk about “small class sizes”. At the college campus where I currently teach, I have classes that often start with 18 students. Or 14. Or 12. Or 6.

    In my first year here, I actually taught a course where I had two students registered by the end of the first week (there was only one student present for the first class).

    We have several campuses in a relatively rural area, and we are expected to offer a full selection of first-year courses at at least three of them. We’re now delivering some of them by ITV, so that administration doesn’t have any more fits about a class of two students. But we still have smaller class sizes than most of the colleges that continue to brag about their small classes.

  33. 33
    Usernames are smart

    Reading the comments, it strikes me that the brave leaders need to go just a bit further to achieve the Final Solution!

    1. Video each course
    2. Eliminate teaching professor’s position (no longer needed!)
    3. Repeat until entire department is eliminated
    4. Eliminate all TA positions (no section/discussion/grading required)
    5. Grade students based upon # of videos watched
    6. Print and mail diplomas automatically every quarter!

    Since grad students and post docs are more-or-less indentured workers, you can use their free time (thanks to #3) to either write the grant applications* or double their advisors so they can slave away even more!

    * Automating or lowball-outsourcing are future sources of even more savings!

  34. 34
    joed

    this is sad.
    It is hard for me to imagine critical/philosophical/scientific thought without the refuge, the safe harbor of literature/art/the Rolling Stones, the poetry, the plays, indeed the beauty of Tennessee Williams.
    These changes to higher education are immoral and will not create a better world.
    Will the students allow a downgraded de-education to seduce them with easy.
    education without “the arts” is a shitty education.

  35. 35
    MadScientist

    That’s unbelievable. I say if CUNY do that, people shouldn’t waste their money. No good businesses will hire anyone with a CUNY diploma. I guess there’s still SUNY managing to hold on to its reputation.

  36. 36
    Carlie

    There are some good reasons for doing this. Right now CUNY and SUNY operate as, at best, loose confederations rather than actual systems. You would think that if you take, say, Calc 1 at one SUNY or CUNY school that you could then transfer it to another school in the same system and bring it in as Calc 1, but that is not the case. Often you’d have to retake Calc 1 at the new place because it has a slightly different emphasis and someone along the way decided they just didn’t want to take the other school’s version. I’m glad they’re trying to standardize it enough that transfers are easier and make more sense. The problem is that some schools teach crap intro courses, and one school might not want to take the bad level someone else teaches, hence needing to do some amount of standardization for those classes. A school could still teach their own quirky version called Calc For Poets or something like that, and it could still fit their math requirement, but it would be more clear to students that way that they shouldn’t expect to be able to transfer that class anywhere else.

  37. 37
    Friakel Wippans

    The higher education system in this country has been starved for decades — state contributions to university budgets have been steadily declining, and tuitions have been rapidly increasing to compensate, squeezing out many worthy prospective students.

    I’d like to know how much of CUNY’s budget is coming from Albany. At one point, it may make more sense to simply give up on this money and the strings attached to it. In a sense, it reminds me of the Planned Parenthood ugliness last year. PP receives a third of its budget from government grants and that third allows the psychopaths in Congress to beat on it like a piñata. Could PP do without that money? Same with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (PBS/NPR) which would be probably much better off without a dime of public money even it means trimming services.

    I know the proper way to fix this situation is to fix government, yank the bozos away and get it back to doing its job, serving the common good. But it seems so hopeless that the only realistic approach may well be to learn to do without.

    Bleh. Sigh.

  38. 38
    barfy

    My wife’s best friend has a degree in French.
    She is a secretary at her church.
    My son’s girlfriend has a degree in French.
    Her first job was at Zale’s.
    My daughter’s ex roommate has a degree in Media Studies.
    She sat idle, living with Mom and Dad, for six months, before she got a job with Liberty Mutual as an investigator.

    They got their degrees at the following diploma mills:
    UC Santa Barbara – cum laude
    University of Texas – summa cum laude
    Pomona College

    So, I posit that the following questions are fair to ask:
    How many French majors should the taxpayers subsidize?
    How many jobs should the private sector provide for Media Studies graduates?
    Do the universities/colleges bear any responsibility for turning out extremely well educated people with few marketable skils?
    Should the students take all the responsibility for choosing majors with few real opportunities?
    Is it fair to ask taxpayer subsidized schools (which is all considering virtually all, save the University of Phoenix, are tax exempt) to hold down their costs, or even reduce their costs when the whole economy is reeling?

    My personal favorite was getting the letter from Pomona College in the Fall of 2009 saying that, given the current economic climate, they had done everything they could to hold down the tuition increase to over 4%.

    Fuck the ivory tower. Occupy Wall Street AND the college campuses that produce the overprivileged assholes – and I mean the professors.

  39. 39
    Carlie

    I’d like to know how much of CUNY’s budget is coming from Albany.

    CUNY budget from 2009-10:
    50% state
    39% tuition
    11% City of New York

    SUNY – total state support is around 30% and falling. State funding has been cut 35% in the last four years (almost 770 million dollars), and last year the legislature tried to eliminate all support for the three hospitals that are attached to state universities. They only backed down from that when the hospitals told them they would go bankrupt otherwise, and thereby lose services for over one million people.

  40. 40
    Carlie

    Is it fair to ask taxpayer subsidized schools (which is all considering virtually all, save the University of Phoenix, are tax exempt) to hold down their costs, or even reduce their costs when the whole economy is reeling?

    The main reason that public schools raise their tuition is that the state has cut their funding again and they have no other way to make up for it. Faculty lines have been cut to the bare bones, travel and research expenses have been throttled back and in many cases stopped altogether, staff has been cut to the point that you’re more likely than not to not get an answer at an office on the phone because the only person left there is also manning the other office next door, programs get cut, hell, SUNY is now having campuses share presidents to save on overhead. What’s left to hold down or cut?

  41. 41
    Doug Little

    education and help them over any hurdles so they emerge from your program knowing stuff and best of all, knowing how to learn more.

    I would say that the knowing (learning) how to learn more is really the whole point, the stuff you do learn on the way is just a means to an end.

  42. 42
    fester60613

    I work at Borough of Manhattan Community College – a member of the CUNY system.
    We in our department are particularly concerned with the tyranny of CUNY’s senior four year colleges, all of which treat the community colleges with contempt. It is as if the students taking courses in the two-year schools are not strong enough to be transferred into the four-year schools.
    As we understand it currently, the four-year schools will have the power to define the “buckets” of core classes, thus enabling them to effectively eliminate entire programs at the two-year college level!
    It would seem the goal might be to reduce the two-year colleges to nothing more than purveyors of liberal arts associates degrees, feeding students into the four-year schools to choose their majors for the last two years of their BA or BS degrees.
    There is real fear at the two-year schools that the entire system will turn into a paper mill – and that would be a real tragedy.

  43. 43
    Carlie

    fester – and the four-years are worried that the two-years will take over all of gen ed and they won’t be able to say anything about it! Everybody’s pissed off about it, it seems.

  44. 44
    Okasen

    Ugh, the “Degree factory” thing is way too prevalent nowadays. It’s making having any kind of education almost trivial, because we’re at the point where we’re more worried about pass rates than education quality.

    I will never understand why we glorify “Everyone passes!” so much when it’s obvious that we’re just making things easier. You aren’t helping the students who were falling behind, you’re telling them that it’s okay that they’re falling behind. We should be trying to bring them up to the standards, not bringing the standards down to them. If getting a degree is something anyone can do, where the hell is the sense of accomplishment in getting one?

    Make educators better at helping students, improve education quality so that people can meet high standards, but don’t just hand degrees out like candy!

  45. 45
    Lord Autumnbottom

    That’s pretty much what’s happening out here in Singapore, lots of staff and support from the state! Of course you can’t spit on the ground but they have forced breeding programs for those with Masters Degrees and higher, so they got that going for them. Which is nice.

  46. 46
    Friakel Wippans

    @39

    Carlie says:

    CUNY budget from 2009-10:
    50% state
    39% tuition
    11% City of New York

    Urgh. Well above 30%. So telling Albany to eff off is nowhere close to an option…

  47. 47
    Ichthyic

    Your questions are really quite ignorant, but I’ll do my best:

    How many French majors should the taxpayers subsidize?

    As many as want to learn French, since THEY ARE TAXPAYERS TOO.

    How many jobs should the private sector provide for Media Studies graduates?

    The job market varies.

    Do the universities/colleges bear any responsibility for turning out extremely well educated people with few marketable skils?

    The job market varies; and not everyone goes to a university to learn a trade; sometimes people go just to you know, LEARN STUFF.

    Should the students take all the responsibility for choosing majors with few real opportunities?

    The job market varies. IT was a great job to shoot for in the 90s. Not so much now.

    Is it fair to ask taxpayer subsidized schools (which is all considering virtually all, save the University of Phoenix, are tax exempt) to hold down their costs, or even reduce their costs when the whole economy is reeling?

    They have been. That you somehow think they haven’t shows you’re entirely ignorant of ALL university systems.

    My personal favorite was getting the letter from Pomona College in the Fall of 2009 saying that, given the current economic climate, they had done everything they could to hold down the tuition increase to over 4%.

    ??

    yeah, so? That’s LESS than inflation, which means they are LOSING MONEY.

    what were you saying about cutting costs again, fuckwit?

    Fuck the ivory tower.

    no, fuck YOU.

    obviously if you ever DID go to college, you got what YOU paid for.

  48. 48
    Hurin

    Barfy

    Do the universities/colleges bear any responsibility for turning out extremely well educated people with few marketable skils[sic]?

    Being able to think clearly and teach yourself are marketable skills. Being able to communicate well in your own language and or foreign languages is also marketable.

    I get tired of this trope in part because I hear the same complaints are about every degree granted that isn’t an M.D., J.D. or business degree of some sort. You might think that a Ph.D. in chemistry would give you “marketable skills”, but I’ve encountered people who think that such a degree should be less about research and include more business classes. After all, not every chemist ends up in the ivory tower, and pharma is hiring fewer people these days.

    The point of getting educated isn’t to learn exactly what you are going to do once you get a stable job. We actually do need people in our society who know things that aren’t directly relevant to corporate policy or customer service.

  49. 49
    Aquaria

    My wife’s best friend has a degree in French.
    She is a secretary at her church.
    My son’s girlfriend has a degree in French.
    Her first job was at Zale’s.

    My stepsister has a degree in Spanish. After working for non-profits here and there, and roaming all over Latin America for the hell of it, she finally settled down and started working for a multinational law firm translating their legal documents between the US and Latin America. She has a co-workers with a French degree who has the same type of background, and of course translates their documents to/from French speaking nations or cultures.

    The non-profits gave them experience, yes, but the shuffling from country to country as the mood struck turned out to be the deciding factor in getting hired. Why? Because they not only had the discipline to get a degree in the language, but their travels enabled them to learn dialects and local customs–stuff you can’t learn in college, ever. That made them invaluable to employers.

    They’re both making more money than anybody here. But they had to take the long way to get those jobs, and endured a lot of lean years and help from parents.

    My daughter’s ex roommate has a degree in Media Studies.
    She sat idle, living with Mom and Dad, for six months, before she got a job with Liberty Mutual as an investigator.

    My stepbrother was a double-major in Media Studies and Political Science. He was looking for a job for quite a while, and finally ended up going to Korea and teaching ESL there for a while, to build up his job experience. Now he’s working for the Defense Department. So he had to do some crap jobs for a while–so what?

    So, in most cases, the degrees aren’t useless in the long run. Sometimes you have to do something you didn’t expect, like my step-siblings did. So what? They’re happy with their jobs, and they’re putting their “worthless” degrees to use.

    My anecdotes beat yours.

    Fuck off.

  50. 50
    Carlie

    barfy – it’s attitudes like yours that have turned colleges into degree mills to the extent that it’s happened already. What the fuck does learning count, I just need a degree to get a job. If there isn’t a fantastic job waiting for me at the end of it that I don’t even have to do any work to get, then the whole college experience was for nothing!

    Fucking idiot.

  51. 51
    Jadehawk

    If the material is being presented in lecture style (which, I maintain, is the only way to do it for many necessarily content-rich courses like introductory sciences)

    it’s certainly not the only way. the intro courses i took online were fucking awesome. the ones that i have to take in meatspace lecture? not so much (and they “only” have 400 students and a fairly approachable prof).

    And really, crowdsourcing is for social learners. not everyone is a social learner. fuck if i want to spend that much time interacting with my class-mates. most of them are incompetent idiots; or 17 year old kids. it’s hard to tell

  52. 52
    barfy

    Ichthyic, Aquaria, Carlie

    Admittedly, my first post was an emotional response to several problems with higher academia that I see as pervasive in America.

    I’m sorry.

    I shouldn’t cast all professors or institutions in the same light.

    And, no, I don’t think French majors are useless.

    However, there is much that I think you are not considering.

    When I see gas prices rising, and home equity destroyed and unemployment near 10%, I also have a hard time listening to a professor whine about the evil legislators cutting money to a VERY HIGHLY TAXPAYER SUBSIDIZED institution.

    The way I see it, those legislators are not just representing the corporate fatcats, they are also representing the plumbers, garbage collectors, McDonald’s employees, etc – who also deserve the right to ask the question, “Is this REALLY needed?”

    We, so often, prattle on about the intangible benefits of higher education, but, as empiricists, isn’t it also our obligation to try to measure these benefits and the efficiency of production? I believe that the blue collar construction laborer paying his/her taxes has a very real right to demand this of higher education.

    I also believe that higher education adopts a haughty brahmin-like demeanor when faced with any criticism or even hard questions. We all have a right to demand answers and accountability.

    So, no, I don’t think that we should spend truly precious resources and time graduating people in whatever field they choose. Competition and productivity has a place in higher education, if just to show respect to the person who lays asphalt for a living.

  53. 53
    Jadehawk

    When I see gas prices rising, and home equity destroyed and unemployment near 10%, I also have a hard time listening to a professor whine about the evil legislators cutting money to a VERY HIGHLY TAXPAYER SUBSIDIZED institution.

    externalities, you’re clueless about them.

    also, i love the interesting implied assumption that the US can somehow reduce its 10% unemployment by giving even fewer people access to secondary education. that’s right up there with Bachmann’s suggestions that the US should make its workers price-competitive with chinese workers.

    McDonald’s employees

    yeah, i’m sure America’s holders of McJobs have chosen those over higher education and a middle-class income voluntarily. And I’m sure their tax-burden is just MASSIVE, which is why they’re worrying about where their tax-dollars are disappearing to.

    seriously, do you even know any people who work in fast-food who aren’t either students or franchize-owners? because that statement suggests that you do not.

    I believe that the blue collar construction laborer paying his/her taxes has a very real right to demand this of higher education.

    which blue collar laborer/construction worker? the one working at bailed-out car factories, or the one working on state-projects meant to pave over entire states?

    if just to show respect to the person who lays asphalt for a living.

    of all the imagery you could have picked, you pick that one? you have got to be the dumbest fucker on the internets today.

  54. 54
    Ichthyic

    ? you have got to be the dumbest fucker on the internets today.

    or at least the most ignorant.

  55. 55
    Ichthyic

    And, no, I don’t think French majors are useless.

    liar.

    what’s more, what if you had used “Arabic majors” instead of French majors, and said the same stupid thing in 2000 instead of 2011?

    idiot.

  56. 56
    Ichthyic

    …and this whole fucking “taxpayer subsidized” argument is the goddamn stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.

    You know, I paid taxes for 25 years in the States, I think all that money should go for research into fish.

    I hate that “my tax dollars” subsidized the overproduction of corn.

    I hate that “my tax dollars” subsidized the formation of Homeland Security, and two wars I’m dubious we ever should have gotten involved with.

    Frankly, those two things ALONE far FAR FARRRRRR exceed the dollars “subsidizing” any kind of education you can fucking imagine.

    Yet, as stupid as this argument is, I see Americans using it all the time.

    there are simply too many stupid, ignorant, assholes there now.

  57. 57
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    IIRC, Barfy is a liberturd. Which means take anything it says with a grain of salt the size of Montana.

    Interesting statistic I learned years ago. Even engineers, who you would expect to be well focused on getting jobs in their area, only 25% are still doing “engineering” five years after hitting the labor market. Training gets you in the door. Ability to do other things is what gets advancement and/or job satisfaction.

  58. 58
    barbarienne

    I have a degree in history from CUNY Queens College, class of ’94.

    This is just sickening.

  59. 59
    Antiochus Epiphanes

    barfy: I’m not going to deal with all of the galling misapprehensions that are apparent in your commentary, but I would like to point out a few salient facts.

    First, university and college faculty do not choose majors for undergraduates. Students are allowed to do that for themselves. Even if you found some Assistant Professor of Useful Marketable Skills confused enough to agree with your sentiments, there is little that xe could do about all of the fucking French majors and their hoity-toity language skills and summers abroad.

    Second, professors don’t decide how much tuition costs, how big classes are allowed to be, or how a degree is valued by employers.

  60. 60
    alison

    If the material is being presented in lecture style (which, I maintain, is the only way to do it for many necessarily content-rich courses like introductory sciences)

    Like jadehawk, I have to disagree. There’s some very interesting stuff being published in Science (& elsewhere) showing that if you want students to really learn that content – & the associated process skills – then lecture-style classes to large (or small!) classes is not the way to go. I’ve blogged about some of this here: http://sci.waikato.ac.nz/bioblog/2011/06/the-carnegie-hall-hypothesis-p.shtml (sorry, my google-fu doesn’t extend as far as embedding links…)

  61. 61
    John Morales

    [OT]

    alison: <a href="http://sci.waikato.ac.nz/bioblog/2011/06/the-carnegie-hall-hypothesis-p.shtml">the carnegie hall hypothesis</a>

    Yields the carnegie hall hypothesis.

    The quotation marks are important, they enclose the URL.

  62. 62
    alison

    John – thank you!

  63. 63
    calliopejane

    And, hey, don’t knock the clicker-remotes, they can be useful! I started trying them this semester for one course. Most of my classes are already fairly active — skill-practice, projects, critical discussion. But the intro course… sigh… I really just have to get a lot of *information* into their heads at that point, and they seem so passive most of the time. So what I’ve done is incorporated multiple-choice questions into my lectures. We cover a theory or concept, and then I ask them a couple questions about it and they click in with their remotes. Ten percent of their grade comes from these daily clicker scores. To make time for this, I had to eliminate some things like videos, or get-into-small-groups-and-discuss-this-case exercises and such, which I initially worried about. But the raw test performance is WAY higher this semester! This is totally improving their learning & retention!

    I’ve talked to some students about why they think the clickers are helpful; there seem to be several factors:
    (1) it keeps them alert, because they have something to physically *do* every few minutes that makes them really engage the brain, it’s not just listen-and-write (from which attention may drift, and which doesn’t necessarily require much active mental processing).
    (2) it makes them take decent notes, because I give them powerpoint outlines for the lecture before class and I’m not going to ask in-class questions that are printed right there in front of them. I ask questions that you had to be paying attention to what I *said* to answer correctly.
    (3) they get practice with the sort of questions I like to ask; while the tests don’t have the same questions, I do ask similar kinds of questions (e.g., they learn immediately that there will be very little simplistic definitions and such; just because it’s multiple choice doesn’t mean I can’t make you think and apply).
    (4) thus, material is reinforced, because they have to go back and really think about it in different ways for the questions.
    (5) I can see distribution of answers, and I explain not only the right answer, but also why any distractors that drew several people are wrong. Thus misconceptions about the material get caught and corrected immediately.

    I was just hoping to hold their interest more when I decided to try the clickers for a semester, see how it went. The large performance gains I’m getting were totally unexpected, but I am a convert now! Definitely keeping the clickers, and feel like I can still make improvements to use them even more effectively in future semesters.

  64. 64
    alison

    calliopejane – what a great result, for you and your students! Can I ask what size your class is? We did look at the idea in my Faculty, but for large-ish classes it was going to be pretty expensive :-(

  65. 65
    Glaisne

    It’s the industrialization of education. We have a military industrial complex, a prison industrial complex, and now we are forming an education industrial complex where students are shuffled through the system and tested to make sure they meet minimum specs.

  66. 66
    Hank Liption

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  67. 67
    Teresia Lindow

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