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Higher Education for Free - Part II

By Watson Scott Swail, President & CEO, Educational Policy Institute/EPI International

Before the Christmas break, I wrote a piece called “Higher Education for Free” (December 23, 2011). This week I am providing a “Part Deux” due to emerging news and conversations on the topic.

This week, Apple announced two important announcements. First, an expansion of their iTunes U, which provides not only courses from higher education institutions around the world, but full courses. Second, the expansion of iBooks for textbooks.

These two innovations build upon our prior news of MIT opening its course content to the masses, giving people who complete MIT online courses an option of getting full course credit for their effort.

In the past few days, critics have crawled out of the woodwork to complain how Apple will be bad for higher education. As one critic noted, this is not Apple’s humanitarian interest in expanding education to the masses, but rather, to sell more iPads. Others suggest that this will only weaken the “higher education brand” for institutions and we will continue to water down the pristine ivory towers of postsecondary education.

This past week, EPI hosted its Executive Institute on Student Success in Scottsdale, Arizona. Former Congressman and CSU-Monterey Bay Founding President Peter Smith (now of Kaplan Higher Education) discussed the potential of “badging” in higher education. This is the practice where students will essentially receive a statement of competency acquired in a particular course. This is not necessarily the same as gaining course “credit,” but it begins to eat away at the necessity of certain course work and may pave the way for redefining the structure of the higher education “degree.”

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STATISTIC OF THE WEEK

In higher education, the number of bachelor's degrees awarded in the United States has increased by more than half in the past two decades, with STEM degrees accounting for a third of the total. The report also says, among other findings on the STEM fields in higher education, that:    Almost one in five Americans who received a doctorate from 2005 to 2009 had earned college credit from a community or other two-year college.    In 2009, 45 percent of graduates who received a science or engineering doctorate had student-loan debt.  Women have earned half of all science and engineering bachelor's degrees, and have earned 57 percent of all bachelor's degrees, since the late 1990s. On average, men earn more bachelor's degrees in the computer sciences, engineering, and physics, while women earn more degrees in biology, chemistry, psychology, and the social sciences.

Source: State Budget Cuts for Research Universities Imperil Competitiveness

 

THE NEWS

ACADEMIC PREPARATION
City Says It Will Focus on College Readiness
By Anna M. Phillips, The New York Times
The latest statistic bedeviling Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s efforts to show progress in the city’s public schools during his tenure is a startling, but well-known one: one out of every four students who entered high school in 2007, and graduated four years later, was not ready for college-level work. Concern about the validity of the city’s increasing graduation rate, which the mayor often points to as one of his greatest accomplishments, grew last year after state education officials revealed that most students were graduating unprepared for college. City officials followed with their own data, which was just as grim: 75 percent of graduates had Regents and SAT scores low enough to suggest they would need to take remedial classes in college. On Thursday, the City Council seemed to awaken to these figures.

Apple Unveils E-Textbook Strategy for K-12  
By Jason Tomassini, Education Week
Apple Inc. announced aggressive new efforts yesterday to move into the K-12 electronic-textbook market, though educational publishers said the biggest news from the move is how the normally disruptive company is likely to help the publishing industry rather than challenge it. Through a partnership with three major K-12 textbook publishers—McGraw-Hill, Pearson, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt—Apple is offering interactive textbooks through its iBooks store at $14.99 or less. The textbooks feature multimedia elements, including video, three-dimensional graphics, and photo galleries. They also allow students to highlight text to create flashcards and search within a glossary. The publishers will give Apple a cut of the revenue; 30 percent in the case of individual consumers, and an undetermined amount when selling on a state or district level.

Teacher Quality, Status Entwined Among Top-Performing Nations
By Stephen Sawchuk, Education Week
One of the most troubling things that the 2010 National Teacher of the Year, Sarah Brown Wessling, hears about her profession can be summed up in a single observation: the idea that she and other top-performing colleagues are "just" teachers. The word "just" serves as a reminder of a subtle mindset among some in the United States that a career in K-12 teaching, while considered noble, is nevertheless somehow seen as beneath the capacity of talented young men and women. "People go into teaching because they are committed to young people, because they are incredible communicators or experts in their field," says Wessling, a high school English teacher in Johnston, Iowa. "But many people in our country see teaching as though it's a second-choice profession."

 

POSTSECONDARY ACCESS SUCCESS
The Critical Connection Between Higher Education and the American Dream
By Jamie Merisotis, Huffington Post
The American Dream is built on the promise that individuals from all walks of life can find success and prosperity here. That dream has taken some hits recently and the rising cost of college tuition is part of the problem. As we dive into the new year, it's time to put the issue of college productivity and affordability under the microscope. As the head of the nation's largest private foundation focused on increasing the number of college graduates, I can tell you that America's economic future hinges on getting tuition under control and significantly increasing the number of citizens with postsecondary degrees. That's the message that we've shared recently with President Obama and in testimony before members of Congress. But, the solution involves all of us. Here's why.

A Sharper Mind, Middle Age and Beyond
By Patricia Cohen, The New York Times
IN 1905, at age 55, Sir William Osler, the most influential physician of his era, decided to retire from the medical faculty of Johns Hopkins. In a farewell speech, Osler talked about the link between age and accomplishment: The “effective, moving, vitalizing work of the world is done between the ages of 25 and 40 — these 15 golden years of plenty.” In comparison, he noted, “men above 40 years of age” are useless. As for those over 60, there would be an “incalculable benefit” in “commercial, political and professional life, if, as a matter of course, men stopped work at this age.” Although such views did not prevent the doctor from going on to accept a post at Oxford University, one he retained until his death at age 70, his contention that brainpower, creativity and innovation have an early expiration date was, unfortunately, widely accepted by others.

Not all college majors are created equal
By Michelle Singletary, The Washington Post
I have this game I play when I meet college students. “What’s your major?” I ask. The student might say, “English,” “psychology,” “political science” or “engineering.” And then, in my mind, after factoring in some other information, I say to myself “job” or “no job,” depending on the major. An English major with no internships or any plan of what she might do with the major to earn a living? No job. A political science major with no internships that could lead to a specific job opportunity? No job, I think. Engineering major with three relevant internships in the engineering field? Ding. Ding. We have a winner. Job. Certainly a college degree is the ticket to many jobs. The unemployment rate for people with only a recent high school diploma is 22.9 percent, and it’s an astonishing 31.5 percent among recent high school dropouts.

 

INTERNATIONAL NEWS
Matching Up States, Countries Offers Fresh Perspective
By Sarah D. Sparks, Education Week
Comparing Finland and Minnesota may be more apt than looking nation to nation, testing experts say, but the analysis needs to go beyond just scores. As concern over America's competitiveness abroad intensifies, education officials in the U.S. are beginning to consider using individual states and districts—not just the nation as a whole—as the units against which to measure their international peers. In everything from population demographics to curriculum adoption, a country like Finland may be more comparable to an individual state like Minnesota than it is to the heterogeneous expanse of the United States—leading some policymakers and researchers to reason that such state-to-country comparisons can better highlight educational practices. Yet education and testing experts warn that if such comparisons are to be useful, educators must go beyond basic test rankings to understand how countries' specific policies and practices can make U.S. students more competitive.

Top 10 local authorities for schools include nine London boroughs
By Jeevan Vasagar, the guardian
Nine London boroughs have been ranked among the 10 best local authorities in England for the quality of their state schools. Kensington and Chelsea was the highest performing local authority in a study by the thinktank CentreForum. The study sought to highlight school quality by adjusting for factors including poverty, ethnicity, a child's first language and gender, which tend to skew exam performance. The report says: "Once these important differences are taken into account, pupils in London appear to perform significantly better than one might expect. Indeed, pupils of all types – including the poorest pupils and those from typically underperforming ethnic groups – perform better in London than in all other regions." The research looked at GCSE results for more than 600,000 pupils who sat exams in summer 2010, combining this with data about the children's achievement in earlier years.

The Global Search for Education: More from Norway
By C.M Rubin, Global Education News
In July of 2011, Dr. Kristin Sivesind, distinguished professor in the University of Oslo Faculty of Education, shared her education perspectives with us in The Global Search for Education: A View from Norway.  Today, with the help of Kristin Sivesind, and Principal Bjorn Bolstad, the faculty and students of the Ringstabekk Skole in Barum, a suburb of Oslo (http://www.ringstabekk.net), we are able to share with you some additional education insights into how a model Norwegian public school is addressing skills needed in the 21st century. Principal Bolstad, what are the backgrounds of the pupils in your public school?  What is the diversity (racial and socio-economic) within the student body? Our school draws pupils from our local community.  They are teenagers living near the school. Our community is not very diversified as it is in a suburb that has a high socio-economic level with few inhabitants of other nationalities.  A lot of the parents have advanced education and a lot of them have leading jobs.

 

REPORTS WORTH READING
We Save, Go to College
“Creating a Financial Stake in College” is a four-part series of reports that focuses on the relationship between children’s savings and improving college success. This series examines: (1) why policymakers should care about savings, (2) the relationship between inequality and bank account ownership, (3) the connections between savings and college attendance, and (4) recommendations to refine children’s savings account proposals. This series of reports presents evidence from a set of empirical studies conducted by Elliott and colleagues on children’s savings research, with an emphasis on low-income children, relevant to large-scale policy proposals. One such proposal, The ASPIRE Act, would encourage savings by opening an account for every newborn child, seeding the account with an initial deposit and progressively matching contributions, and designating accumulated resources to support post-secondary education or other targeted uses such as homeownership or retirement.

Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education: Policy Landscape and Potential Impact of Undocumented Students on Higher Education in the West
Viewers tuning into the Republican presidential debate on September 22, 2011, witnessed Texas Governor Rick Perry repeatedly defend his state’s policy of offering in-state tuition to some undocumented students against a wave of criticism from the other candidates.1 The sight of a staunchly conservative governor, a champion of small government, defending a controversial public benefit might have left many people confused, but Perry’s stance is really more indicative of the complicated nuances surrounding this politically charged topic. As the debate showed, the issue of whether undocumented students have a right to broad access to higher education cuts across party lines and political ideologies, sometimes in unpredictable, rhetorically charged ways.

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