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Can We Have Both Equity and Innovation in Higher Ed? A Response to CNN's IVORY TOWER

Can We Have Both Equity and Innovation in Higher Ed? A Response to CNN's IVORY TOWER

I.  Some Thoughts on Equity and Innovation in CNN's "Ivory Tower"

[Updated]  On Thursday, Nov 20, at 11 am EST, sociologist Richard Arum and I were interviewed on CNN’s @This Hour, with host Michaela Pereira, as an introduction to that night's showing of Ivory Tower a new documentary on higher education. Ivory Tower presents a pretty terrifying, even apocalyptic vision of higher education whether you are a student, a professor, a parent, or just a general citizen of the US concerned about your future.  The film will be available soon on CNN digital and here's where you can watch the film's trailer.

Ivory Tower focuses on both economics and on learning.  On the economic side the focus is on: the $1 trillion in student loan debt; the even greater debt that colleges and universities have taken on over the last decades, making them unstable and unsustainable; and the declining state funding of public universities, beginning with Governor Reagan’s program of defunding the University of California and vowing, as a presidential candidate, to dismantle the Department of Education.  According to the Project on Student Debt, the average student now leaves college over $28,000 in debt.   That is a big burden with which to begin one's productive, self-supporting adult life, in any field. On the other hand, that is not crushing if one is able to find a job; if one is not, then it is devastating. 

So the key is not just loan debt but the condition of society at large.  Many of my friends graduated decades ago with debt but they had jobs and slowly paid off their loans.  As I would say about everything in the Ivory Tower, the problem is not just higher education; it is a society that has abandoned its youth and its future in far too many instances.  If states are not supporting public higher education, they are conscripting their citizens to lower wages and constraining future innovation in the state:  that is how equity and innovation go together.  Every survey of wages, both current and projected, underscores that, the higher the education level, the greater the long-term, lifetime economic stability. If you starve public higher education, you starve your future. 

The filmic method of portraying the young woman with a tuition loan debt of $140,000 made dramatic sense--but that amount is several times the average debt and it does not point to the actual social, rather than simply educational, causes of escalating tuitions.   In fact, at the upper levels, those elite "top 10" private schools that teach only about .03% of the university population, you could probably charge two or three times the current exhorbitant tuitions and still have a great entering class.   It would not be diverse; it would not be equitable; but the competition for the top schools is so high that cost somehow makes those schools more, not less, competitive.  That perverse "global 1%" reality of our new world, in the neoLiberal economy, was not factored into Ivory Tower

This, again, is how equity and innovation exist side by side as dual considerations for us to attend to on a social level, not just an educational one.  The problem with the apocalyptic rhetoric and ominous music is that it sounds as if this problem is somehow isolated.  The defunding of social goods is a huge problem not for the college age students and their parents but for a vision of democracy, equity, and, yes, innovation too.  In a highly complex, interconnected, culturally diverse, and technological society, higher education is a necessity for more, not fewer, people.   Even to be able to understand the ramifications of monumental social and technological changes in order to respond to them wisely instead of fearfully and reactively requires real education--for the many, not for the few.  Again, a social issue, not simply an educational one.  Who is education for? What is it for?  These are profound social questions the movie should have asked.  

On the learning side, the focus in the documentary is on the antiquated state of the structure and curriculum of most higher education that undermines real, relevant learning. There are shocking facts about how little students study in college (five hours a week, according to one survey), how much they party, how little they learn, how inadequate traditional forms of education are for the world students live in today.  This isn't true for all students, of course.  I must admit the students I see work harder, are more engaged and more spirited than any I have seen in any generation in a long teaching career.  Are they typical? Probably not.  But there would be more of them, I believe firmly, if education were more relevant to the world in which they live.  Not narrowly vocational but existentially relevant.  The argument here in Ivory Tower (and I can't disagree with this one) is that, for many students, especially those stacked in huge lecture classes in required introductory courses with standardized exams, disaffection is commonplace.  Those courses are so impersonal and do not seem to connect to anything the student might actually want to learn.  Too often, for too many students, higher education becomes secondary to socializing or to extreme disaffection and dropping out.  That's tragic.

These issues besetting higher education are urgent and pressing, some more convincing than others.  These two categories of issues—equity and innovation—are to my mind the most important in higher education.  How do we ensure that we are not creating a system of higher education that serves only the most affluent students in our society?  And once they are there, how do we ensure that the education they receive is urgent, relevant, engaged, and meaningful? 

I'm glad this film addresses these issues, even if in a sometimes impartial way.  Not many films or even people have shown the relationship between the two.  The usual rhetoric makes it seem as if innovation is part of elite institutions; equity is about less elite.  No.  This film shows they are radically intertwined and even credits some community colleges for being among the most innovative pioneers of blended and hybrid online and onsite learning. 

In many countries around the world, higher education is free; it is thought to be infrastructure for the society and society is grateful that students are willing to voluntarily spend their time learning (perhaps not the most fun past time given, for example, the data on how much the non-student adult population reads in a given year).  Students make a sacrifice for a future goal and a greater good just by being students.  It is crushing to have to deal with other life issues at the same time, and it is no surprise that full-time jobs lead to higher drop out rates. On the professorial level, the decline in support has led directly to the "adjunctification" of the profession—the lack of full-time jobs with benefits, status, security (another aspect Ivory Tower gestures towards but does not go into). 

For students, one wonders about the relationship between relevance (including but definitely not exclusive to jobs) and success in school (including "homework").  The famous "climbing walls" on campuses may be there to help students stay in school, despite the fact that too many of their classes seem boring and out of touch with the realities of life today.

And we have to curb costs. But it has to happen in a way that won't further hurt the declining faculty ranks. It would be a tragedy for everyone if "minimizing student debt" was seen as equivalent to "hiring fewer full-time faculty."  We need to think through together, systemically and structurally, better ways of saving money and reinvesting in higher education.  Ivory Tower does a good job of noting that the number of administrators has increased much faster rate than the number of teaching positions, despite the fact that the number of students has increased.  How do we cut costs without cutting faculty?  Ivory Tower points to the very high salaries of college presidents (but not to the fact that the presidential salaries began to move out of line in the 1980s and 1990s when the common wisdom was that higher education needed to bring in CEOs to modernize it and cut costs: neither happened, but compensation soared to CEO levels).  The general escalation in amenities is another area where cuts are possible, but that won't  stop until we cease using the top ten elite private research universities (who teach roughly .3% of the nation's college students) as the scale of what counts as value.  Does it?  In some circumstances, not in others.  But as long as Harvard and Yale and other very expensive Ivies with large endowments drive what counts as "quality," then we will not be able to avoid the madness of overbuilding, overpromising, and overspending that plagues most private and much public education today. 

My most significant critique of this film—and I hope to talk about this on CNN on Thursday—is that the movie is strong and powerful on the problem, weaker on how and why this problem has arisen, and weaker still on solutions or on models of universities that are doing it right.  Many are!   It is hard not to agree with its polemic that higher education costs too much--but part of that is because state funding has all but dried up for public higher education or even in research funds that help private colleges.  And the film is hesitant, anecdotal, even confusing on which institutions represent the best solutions or even viable possible directions to head in to solve this crushing problem of higher education both costing too much and being irrelevant to real learning.  Perhaps that is intentional.  A good documentary is a provocation.  In this Ivory Tower succeeds.  Its solutions may be scanty and a bit odd (Harvard is a solution to what problem, caused by whom and for whom?), but the solutions are also open-ended and diverse enough to present the audience with a chance to come up with other possibilities, perhaps ones we can adapt to our local situation, rally behind, and actually, ideally, implement. In the end, that is what an important documentary should do.  It is just odd that the film does not feature the hundreds of truly innovative programs springing up all over higher education today.  It looks at some wrong turns but the right turns it highlights are not fully developed but simply presented as anecdotal. 

It's a missed opportunity.  We all learn from the details of models, and change happens partly by seeing what others are doing, making alliances, building upon one another's work.  The models here are so specific that they don't really give us insight into what kind of change is viable and right for this moment.

For making the problem vivid and urgent: Thumbs up!   But I'm less enthusiastic about the almost tacked on "happy ending," and the extremely anecdotal profiling of a few institutions and really only one particular Harvard student (and hardly a representative one).  But, perhaps that's our job:  to think through and implement better models in the future, to move beyond apocalyptic thinking to some workable alternatives. 



II. Workable Models:  HASTAC and the Futures Initiative, The Graduate Center, CUNY

The good news is that so many of us have been exploring new, viable models.  If you are looking for them, this blog is on the HASTAC site.  HASTAC is an open, free, nonprofit network dedicated to "Changing the Way We Teach and Learn."  People contribute ideas here and comment on one another's ideas.  HASTAC has been addressing the connection between equity and innovation since its founding in 2002.  We now have 14,000 network members and, every day, someone contributes a great idea on this blog that others can learn from.  It's an entirely community-generated innovation and ideas network committed to diversity and equity--and an active, vibrant one. 

Similarly, the entire  Digital Media and Learning Initiative has been championing and supporting equity and innovation.  The conference topic this year is "Equity By Design."  If you haven't been to a DML event, propose a paper (the deadline is soon) and go to the conference. At both the HASTAC and the DML conferences, you will find very few pundits wringing their hands.  You will find active, determined educators and students making new programs, new plans, new ideas together.  (HASTAC is an open, participatory, user-created network so, if this is your first time reading a HASTAC post, feel free to join us--it's free, a non-profit, anyone can become a leader.)

Both of these are ad hoc, not institution-specific.  To give a model of how institutional innovation might work in a way that also support equity and diversity, let me talk a bit about the program on which I'm writing this blog; this is a public post in Futures Initiative Group on HASTAC.  Since many members of this group haven't been to the various open workshops about our evolving ideas, I'm using this blog both to inform an interest group about our evolving plans and to also use this as a model that answers Ivory Tower's complaint that there isn't enough innovation in higher education.  If you are not a member, you can join the Futures Initiative Group and can learn more about wht we are doing and participate in the open sessions we’ve already started offering. It is  a good way to keep up with  the who, what, why, where, when, and how of all our public events.  And you (and your students) can contribute and participate too, of course.  It's open.

Equity and innovation are at the heart of the new Futures Initiative at The Graduate Center and CUNY.  So far, we have put on events that showcase the multiple ways of knowing, that cut across disciplines, and that offer alternatives to traditional ways of communicating scholarly knowledge.   We began with a magical event about storytelling and data by the great Curtis Wong, inventor of the crowdsourced World Wide Telescope and many cultural projects too, including a current crowdsourced mapping tool that can map changing history and demographies.  Curtis made the point that you should never fool yourself into thinking that "data" is the ansewr.  It does not and cannot tells its own story.  You need to understand who, what, where, why, and how as you gather, interpret, and present data, always with an ethical component and a sense of purpose and, of course, beauty.  It was an inspiring way to set the tone for a new program based on equity and innovation.

We did another event featuring five recent or current PhD students, called  "What Is a Dissertation?: New Models, Methods, Media," that was viewed online by over 300 viewers, as far away as Uruguay and New Zealand.  What was great about making public through livestreaming and live-blogging the work of these five pioneering, courageous, creative, and bold young scholars from five disciplines and four institutions was the invitation it gave to others to be brave too.  It also may lead to some real change.  Several times comments were made about the "university" being willing to change the structure of dissertations but ProQuest wouldn't allow it.  By the time I went back to my office, I had an email from the Director of Communication and Dissertations at ProQuest saying they were often scapegoated and rarely the actual obstacle.  I asked if he'd be willing to say that publicly.  He is.  We'll be hosting a ProQuest webinar  Austin McLean December 1 at 1 pm EST.  You cannot change the content and the methods if you don't change the institutional norms and forms.  And I believe the fastest way to make change is by making alliances with other change makers and building on other models.

We have upcoming programing on multimedia publishing, using Scalar and even more recent, innovative multimedia platforms.  Again, tools and content must be thought in tandem.   And we have a final program on new forms of assessment in education.  We must value what we count.  We must count what we value.  If the assessment tools are not capturing what you are doing, they will hamper and limit what you do in the future.  So this is an extremely important conversation for us to have if we really want to address change in higher education.  All these events are free, public, and livestreamed.

We have also just made a preliminary announcement about  the Future's Initiatives main research project, "Research Ecosystems and Postgraduate Pathways." The project will be led by Futures Initiative Deputy Director Katina Rogers, who has a distinguished history working on the issues of professorial and other academic career paths and labor in higher education. The project will pay special  attention to adjunct and contingent and insecure labor of all kinds and across disciplines, from the humanities to STEM fields.  Equity must be an issue not only for students but for faculty as well.  As Duke graduate student Matthew Clark has astutely observed, universities control both the "supply and demand" for and of new faculty.  How do changes in the one alter the entire ecosystem of the university and, beyond, of society?

The Futures Initiative is also dedicated to advocacy on behalf of reinvestment in public higher education.  The reason it is called "Futures" not "Future" Initiative is a play on the investment idea of a collective investment now in the hopes of rewards later.  This concept goes back at least as far as Aristotle who used it as a metaphor for the state and civil society.  What was not driven home as forcefully as it could be in the documentary is that America has changed its relationship to public education as an investment.  We need to rethink that. And one reaosn why we are located at the Graduate Center, CUNY, is New York (state and city) have continued to invest in CUNY.  Of course the funding is not at a level it should be.  But whereas some major state institutions now receive under 10% of their support from public state funds, over 50% of CUNY's operating costs are support by the state and the city.  That alone makes for a more equitable system.  Part of the Futures Initiative is dedicated to data analysis and visualization (looping back to Curtis Wong here) that will make evident to the public that this is not a gift--it's a social and actually lucrative and important investment in New York.

It is bad for a society not to collectively invest in the next generation. It is costly not to invest in public education.  Public education currently serves over 80% of the 21 million students in college today.  The decline in support for higher education is a disaster for everyone's future, not just the students burdened with debt. It's bad for democracy.


The CUNY Investment

(NB: You can skip this part if you don't want to hear yet another thing about how great New York is . . . but, as someone new to the city, I have to say it is impressive.)

Why CUNY is model for a public urban university is that over 50% of its operating budget comes from the state and the city; at many public universities, state support is below 10%.  The result is that, in a city with soaring costs, a diverse and extremely talented new generation is not only being educated but encouraged to stay in the city.   That is crucial not only to New York's future but to its present.  Not only is NY a financial capital; it is a cultural and tourism capital.   Very few people go on vacations to see financial districts.  They come to New York for its youth, creativity, vibrancy, diversity, its art, its food, its music, its liveliness:  without CUNY, New York would be unrecognizable as, well, "New York."

What do you get when you support public education?  Something great.  I've only been here a few months so I feel it is okay for me to still be a booster.  I'm frankly in awe.  The excellence is astonishing.  At the cross-campus Macaulay Honors College, the stats and achievement rival that of an Ivy League university--at a fraction of the cost. That is also true at the Graduate Center ("The Life of the Mind in the Heart of the City").   Every year for the last decade, enrollments have risen, and, at the five most competitive CUNY campuses, rigor and excellence rival, again, the great institutions, public and private, all over America.  No one calls CUNY a "party school."  From what I've seen since arriving in July, there is a seriousness, a rigor, an inventiveness, and a dedication to learning at CUNY that is truly inspiring. My mother-in-law studied at Hunter as an art student in the 1950s virtually tuition-free and one of her teachers was the great Robert Motherwell, one of the great modernist artists.  I constantly have to tell people who graduated from CUNY then:  "CUNY is great again!"  

We have it so ingrained that only an Ivy League school delivers quality education that many New Yorkers themselves don't recognize this jewel (and enormous one) that is at the heart of the city. 


How Can You Deliver Quality Education at a Massive Scale?

As a lifelong activist-educator, my job is partly to critique (I do plenty of that), but mostly to build.  I did that at Duke University for more than two decades, and now I am working with colleagues at CUNY to galvanize energies towards equity and innovation, energies that are already so abundant throughout the twenty-four CUNY campuses. Involvement in the Futures Initiative is voluntary, so unless there is a good match with existing faculty and programs, it quickly will become marginal and fade away.  That is not the problem.  In fact, there is so much interest it's a bit overwhelming.  Example: eight departments in STEM, humanities, arts, and social science fields have  asked to crosslist the first course we’ll be offering.  The course is "Mapping the Futures of Higher Education."   Anthropology, art history, comparative literature, psychology, earth and environmental science, English, music, and urban education all see themselves, structurally, as part of the work we're doing through the Futures Initiative to support higher education's futures.  That kind of voluntary, cross-disciplinary engagement almost never happens in academe. 

To frame what we are doing at the Graduate Center (GC) and CUNY within the terms of Ivory Tower: at the Futures Initiative we are advocating the same principles of peer-learning, experiential learning, and student self-determination that are modeled at institutions selected as positive examples in the documentary. The essential difference is that we're doing this work as part of the nation’s largest public urban university, while the documentary highlights two unique, elite, private institutions: Deep Springs College (an all-male two-year college in California that focuses on student self-governance, academics, and labor: they operate a ranch as part of their education) and Spelman College (a Historically Black women’s university that also focuses on academics intertwined with leadership and service).  

Can you do that for more than 250,000 students who come from all backgrounds, academic preparation, income levels? (See the stats below for more details on the CUNY student body.) Well, not in one fell swoop. But even this year, we’re beginning to reach lots of people.

Next semester, as we teach the first course in the program, we’ll be modeling our “multiplier effect” of teaching those doctoral students who are each currently teaching a course on one of the CUNY campuses. This doctoral seminar is geared to the existing structure of graduate education at GC where doctoral students on fellowship teach one course per semester (it used to be two courses per semester) on the CUNY campuses on their way towards writing a dissertation. This course gives support to those doctoral students who are also teachers while also benefiting the undergraduates they teach. Our reach this year could be as many as 300-400 students, each in classes under 40 and yet part of an online co-learning community that extends across the system. This year’s students completing their courses will be offered an opportunity to be mentors for next year’s courses, and we’ll be working to raise small stipends for summer training for theses mentors. 

In future years, we hope to sponsor as many as six doctoral courses, team-taught by GC faculty and faculty based at the CUNY campuses, and again aimed at doctoral students who are teaching undergraduate CUNY courses. If there are ninety doctoral students in these classes, each teaching 15-40 undergraduates, that offers a potential of reaching and connecting 1,500-3,000 CUNY students in the most personal, experiential, project-based, hands-on, innovative, Dewey-esque, Freire-like, Jamesian constructivist teaching imaginable.  Check out the stats below on the demographics of our CUNY students! To be able to work with such a diverse community and to co-develop with the students motivating pedagogies, a connected community, and hands-on practice in digital literacies is truly special.  So is being able to do all that while offering GC doctoral students peer-led training in innovative pedagogical methods. As an extra (but not incidental) bonus, the two profs co-teaching the doctoral course will, no doubt, be learning more than anyone in this student-driven pedagogy.  That is our multiplier model:  teachers learning, learners teaching, learners making futures together.


"Mapping the Futures of Higher Education"

Syllabus and Course Description

The first course we will offer, in Spring 2015, is an awfully good one, if I saw so myself.  It will be taught by myself and former GC President and acting CUNY Chancellor, Bill Kelly.  “Mapping the Futures of Higher Education" is for doctoral students just beginning their undergraduate teaching at CUNY who will have courses they are teaching that semester.  We'll discuss theories and experiment with pedagogical innovations in our graduate course which they will implement with their students as co-learners that very semester.  Their students will have an open website on which they can comment, give feedback, and work together to improve the innovations that they are themselves benefiting from.  This is known as "metacognition," where you not only learn but learn about how you learn.  We have lots of research to show how important metacognition is in order to really absorb content—not for test scores, but for everything you do in the rest of your life.

Students will also learn how you make successful change within higher education as an institution.  No one knows more about this system than Bill, so the 15 graduate students in the course (plus their students) will have benefit of a form and body of knowledge that students almost never have available to them.  In and of itself, this will be an unparalleled life lesson in how you shape innovation within an institutional framework, how institutional change (as distinct from theoretical critique) always works in real-life situations and within constraints, and how you can make pedagogical and institutional innovations within economically viable terms that, although hardly ideal, allow for equity and access.  

It continues to amaze me that the former President is team-teaching with me (and, not incidentally, he recruited me here). For anyone who doesn’t know, I’ve been frequently branded as one of the most radical advocates and practitioners of higher education reform in the country. And I practice what I preach in my classrooms, and we will be doing the same in this course.  I figure if you have tenure, then it is your duty to put yourself on the line, to go way out there on a limb, so others can adapt, typically in a less radical fashion, some of the ideas under the protection of all that respectability.  Isn’t that what tenure is supposed to be for?  Intellectual freedom?  If the most senior among us do not model what intellectual freedom really is and means, in the most responsible and creative forms, then what is tenure really worth?  That is another question we’ll be asking.

Here are some of the peer-led, student-led practices that we’ll be using in “Mapping the Futures of Higher Education” and that the doctoral students and the undergraduates in the CUNY courses will all be co-developing.   We will have students take responsibility for representing the content of their research and their discipline to the other students in some experience-based, hands' on, or non-text based way.  They will also be giving us readings in their field and in pedagogical theory.  They will create the syllabi, lead the classes, evaluate constructively one another’s performance in that role and give the best feedback they can to one another.  They will work collaboratively on a project across all the CUNY courses and students designed for the public and dedicated to the public good.  They will create a class constitution to  tgovern collective and individual contributions and behavior in the class.  At they end, they will contribute the long content paragraph about what they did and learned to a recommendation that we will review, to which we will add a qualitative and evaluative paragraph, and that they will be given as a .pdf to use however they wish.  Meta-cognition again.  They will be invited to do this with their students as well.


CUNY Map of New York

The final project that all of the students in the CUNY campus courses and in the doctoral class will contribute to is the CUNY Map of New York, an interactive series of maps we will design and populate to visualize the demographics of the city and the university and to map what the class, in particular, gives to the community and the community gives to the class.  I have no idea where this will go beyond that basic concept because student leadership will be key here—but I know the 300+ participants will come up with something astonishing.  And the public, too, I think, will be gratified to see how it has contribued to this innovative and equitable cartography of learning.

We will be doing most or even all of this in the Futures Initiative.  Here is the equity part:  we will be learning how and why to do this in what is surely one of the greatest educational enterprises in all America.  To repeat: Over 80% of students graduating from CUNY graduate without a penny of tuition debt.  Low tuition plus state, federal, and Pell grants make that possible.  Of course there are downsides—NY has notably high taxes that contribute substantively to making this sytem viable.  Additionally, tuition is low partly because the exceptionally dedicated and talented and high quality professors (including adjuncts) are overworked and underpaid.  These are real issues of equity, one of the two key foci of the Futures Initiative.  At the same time, CUNY offers the youth of this city an incalculable opportunity.  It allows the city to remain sustainable as a great and energetic cultural capital that more than repays its taxpayers' investment.

As a brand new New Yorker, I am amazed that every bridge and tunnel doesn’t come with flashing signs:

You are entering America’s most expensive city, with the most extreme income inequality—but in NYC your kid can graduate from college tuition debt free.”   As we see in Ivory Tower, that is almost a miracle in 21st century America.  Even better, it might serve as a model for how to begin to address the terrible national problem that Ivory Tower so provocatively defines.


*   *   * 

Facts and figures about CUNY:

  • Over 80% of CUNY graduates complete their degrees with no tuition debt
  • 65 percent of full-time CUNY undergraduates pay no tuition
  • 45% of CUNY undergraduates are the first generation in their family to attend college
  • 40% were born outside the US mainland
  • 42% have a native language other than English
  • CUNY students hail from 205 countries and speak over 190 languages
  • 54% are Pell grant recipients
  • 39% have household incomes less than $20,000
  • Three quarters of CUNY freshmen come from New York City high schools

Important aspects of the Graduate Center that make it the perfect site for the Futures Initiative:  

  • Almost 60% of the Graduate Center’s doctoral alumni remain and work in the New York City area, three-quarters of whom are employed in education
  • As many as 1,700 doctoral graduates from the past ten years alone work at the hundreds of educational institutions in the New York City area
  • After CUNY, the educational institutions in the New York area employing the most GC alumni are New York University, Columbia University, Adelphi University, Fordham University, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Marymount Manhattan College, Montclair State University, St. John’s University, William Patterson University, and Yeshiva University (Source: 2014 GC alumni search)
  • An estimated 7,000 of the Graduate Center’s doctoral graduates are employed in the New York City area, with 5000 employed by postsecondary institutions.

Doctoral students and alumni teaching within the CUNY system:

  • The Graduate Center's doctoral students teach approximately 7,700 courses (with enrollment of about 200,000 students) annually in the CUNY system
  • 75% of those courses are at the CUNY senior colleges
  • GC students spend 28,759 hours in the classroom each week with CUNY students across the five bouroughs
  • An estimated 1,600 GC alumni have been hired as faculty in the CUNY system

Data courtesty of the CUNY Office of Policy Research unless otherwise specified.


ABOUT the Cost of U.S. Higher Education

  • Public funding of higher education is one of the best investments governments can make:  In June 26, 2013 New York Times piece on the cost of higher education, Eduardo Porter noted: "According to the O.E.C.D., [federal, state, and municipal governments] make a profit of $231,000 on each American who graduates from college--mostly through higher income taxes and lower unemployment benefits."
  • "For all the cost of higher education, on any level, the investment by students is still worth the price:  In the same New York Times article Porter writes:  "According to the OECD's report, a college degree is worth $365,000 for the average American man after subtracting all its direct and indirect costs over a lifetime.  For women--who still tend to earn less than men--it's worth $185,000."
  • For a fuller discussion, see "Why Does College Cost So Much--And Why Do So Many Pundits Get It Wrong?"


ABOUT Ivory Tower

As tuition rates spiral beyond reach and student loan debt passes $1 trillion (more than credit card debt), IVORY TOWER asks: Is college worth the cost? From the halls of Harvard, to public colleges in financial crisis, to Silicon Valley, filmmaker Andrew Rossi (PAGE ONE: INSIDE THE NEW YORK TIMES) assembles an urgent portrait of a great American institution at the breaking point.

Through profiles at Arizona State, Cooper Union, and Sebastian Thrun’s Udacity—among several others—IVORY TOWER reveals how colleges in the United States, long regarded as leaders in higher education, came to embrace a business model that often promotes expansion over quality learning. But along the way we also find unique programs, from Stanford to the free desert school Deep Springs to the historically black all women’s college Spelman, where the potential for life-changing college experiences endure.  ltimately, IVORY TOWER asks, What price will society pay if higher education cannot revolutionize college as we know it and evolve a sustainable economic model?




Here is an infographic about a pedagogy with which HASTAC is much involved as part of HASTAC's administration of the Digital Media and Learning Competitions supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.   This illustrates the ecologies of learning in which "equity" and "innovation" and larger social purpose all come together.




Credit: Connected Learning Research Network and Digital Media & Learning Research Hub

Creative Commons License This Connected Learning Infographic is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.


ABOUT Cathy N. Davidson   [Note: This opinions expressed in this blog are personal to the author and do not   represent the official position of the City University of New York  or other institutions with which she is affiliated.]

Cathy N. Davidson joined the faculty of the Graduate Center, The City University of New York, in July 2014 as a Distinguished Professor and Director of the Futures Initiative, a new program dedicated to preparing the next generation of innovative leaders in innovative and socially engaged learning, teaching, and research. Davidson moved to the Graduate Center from Duke University where she held two chairs (John Hope Franklin Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies and the Ruth F. DeVarney Professor of English), and continues as a Distinguished Visiting Professor. She is a cofounder of HASTAC and co-PI of the Digital Media and Learning Competition supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and administered by HASTAC.

In 20011, Davidson was appointed by President Obama to the National Council of the Humanities and, with HASTAC cofounder David Theo Goldberg, won the 2012 Educator of the Year Award from the World Technology Network for “Visionary Contribution to Science and Technology in Education.” Davidson is a frequent speaker and consultant on institutional change at universities, corporations, non-profits and other organizations.  She has published more than twenty books mostly on the social, cultural, and historical impact of technology, and writes for the Harvard Business Review, Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Washington Post, Times Higher Ed, and other trade and academic publications in the U.S. and abroad.  She is currently working on a book on innovation, equity, and the future of higher education for Basic Books.





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