Blog Post

Future of Higher Ed at Duke, Class #2

Yesterday marked the second day of ISIS 640/691, “The Future of Higher Education,” at Duke and the first time that we participated in a Google hangout with our partners at UC Santa Barbara and Stanford universities. The conversation that took place focused on Dr. Christopher Newfield’s book, Unmaking the Public University:  The Forty Year Assault on the Middle Class (2008). After working out the technology, we faced our peers in California and began to ask Dr. Newfield questions that we had previously prepared.

I was nervous to speak in front of so many people on a public broadcast, but I wanted to talk about race, affirmative action, and internationalizing education. Of course these are all huge topics, but I was specifically interested in hearing Dr. Newfield address affirmative action. Admittedly, I had an agenda. In Unmaking, Dr. Newfield explains that since the 1970s and 1980s conservative forces have consistently attacked the growing middle class by targeting one key institution of social mobility: the university. Defunding universities and placing greater emphasis on seemingly more profitable areas of study over the humanities was a part of the “cultural wars,” which were sparked when elite conservatives felt that racial integration and the growing middle class threatened their traditional hold on economic and political power. Throughout the book, Dr. Newfield demonstrates that race and class go hand in hand. In the late 20th century, the growing middle class was not only more open to ideas such as integration, but it was also beginning to include more and more people of color. The cultural wars have worked to reverse this trend. The siege has been successful.

In 2012, I was sitting in a classroom in Rio de Janeiro with a few graduate students from other schools in the U.S. and five or six undergraduates from the University of Florida. For some reason, the professor brought up the quota system in Brazil. Unlike in the U.S., affirmative action in Brazil is based on numbers. A certain quantity of slots are reserved for Afro-Brazilians every year. Although quota-based affirmative action has drastically increased the numbers of black students in Brazilian universities, the system remains highly controversial because it disrupts typical notions of racial democracy in Brazil and it is difficult to define exactly who counts as “Afro Brazilian.” Still, in many ways, Brazil’s affirmative action programs are more robust than anything we ever experienced in the United States. Unfortunately, the other students in the class (all white except for one Cuban-American) did not know how affirmative action works in the States and therefore believed it was directly congruous with the Brazilian case.

“I would not be opposed to affirmative action,” explained one student, “if it wasn’t just used to recruit middle-class blacks, who get into schools because their parents can pay. It is the poorer people who really need it.” I couldn’t believe my ears! Today, I wish I could say that I was making up this comment. But it really happened, and in the moment that it did, I was ANGRY. I took the remark personally. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my high school transcript on hand to rub into the student’s face, but I did NOT believe that I had gotten into Yale because I was black and middle-class and I let him know just that. In broken Portuguese, I defended affirmative action. It was no use. As the only dark-skinned person in the room, my words fell on deft ears and I was argued down that day. I spent the rest of the class period fuming and trying not to squint menacing eyes at my classmates.

What does it mean to be middle-class and black in the U.S. today? Sometimes, as I experienced in Brazil, it means isolation—like having to stand up for liberal policies even when you’re the only person with those viewpoints in the room. Sometimes it means being the “black voice,” a role that most people in my position resent since we recognize that black people in the United States are diverse in myriad ways and that “blackness” is defined historically, externally, and individually, but is never intrinsic. And, sometimes it means pointing out racial issues as an important discussion point because those are the issues that most affect you.

As demographics have shifted in the U.S. over the last decades, as conservatives have attacked the institution of higher education, and as fewer people in power have rallied to defend affirmative action, one must ask herself whether or not racial issues dominate class issues. Are “cultural wars” a euphemism for “non-violent racial wars” and would racial tensions give way to a more demographic, inclusive educational process if the financial crisis in education were magically solved? If we were to build more schools and provide more resources, so that eligible students of all classes and ethnic backgrounds could benefit from the public educational system, what challenges would we still face?

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15 comments

Thanks, Tina.   This is wonderful.

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Years ago I worked at FAMU as the university's graphic artist - one floor down from the presidents office. I was the only white female employee. Two weeks into this position I was told by top administrator (not my boss) that I was hired because I was white and female. I had tears in my eyes, I thought I was hired because of my computer skills and artistic ability. My office was in an old closet, away from the rest of the staff. I never got to go to events. I stayed on a year thinking I could get people to accept me. It never happend and I left. 

A law doesn't change peoples ideas. I was felt very alone. And as a side note - that man later became and acting president of FAMU. 

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I respectfully disagree. There is no REVERSE. There is just plain affirmative action and discrimination. If we truly see ourselves and others as the same then should be no REVERSE. I only wish everyone would realize that we all bleed red.

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First, there are increasing examples of affirmative action being reversed, politely sometimes, rudely other times, in areas as diverse as education, health, politics, religion, and finance. As the rich begin to feel under seige that's both inevitable and logical and...evil.

Second, woulda-coulda-shoulda reflects the long term success of the Reagan coalition, where concentrated power concentrates authority and strangles bureaucracy in its own affirmations. When postsecondary education becomes "consumer oriented" and colleges begin to compete on the menus of their dining halls, they "affirm" action quite different from those of my youth. When they "compete" because their tuition expenses have exploded and their inability or unwillingness to control costs is undermined by a financial system much to eager to lend and much less responsible because of students' exclusion from bankruptcy, it's over. And, boy is it over.

No matter how it is reorganized, it must be faster, cheaper, more focused on career, and, ideally, sensitive to culture, the arts, and the humanities since such knowledge makes "marketing" as well as politics, community and dialog better, more productive and more positive. But that sensitivity has no real "market" other than tradition, and the political dissociation of most young people today make it less probable that the world will grow into universal respect, and more probably that 1984 was just forty or fifty years early.

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First, there are increasing examples of affirmative action being reversed, politely sometimes, rudely other times, in areas as diverse as education, health, politics, religion, and finance. As the rich begin to feel under seige that's both inevitable and logical and...evil.

Second, woulda-coulda-shoulda reflects the long term success of the Reagan coalition, where concentrated power concentrates authority and strangles bureaucracy in its own affirmations. When postsecondary education becomes "consumer oriented" and colleges begin to compete on the menus of their dining halls, they "affirm" action quite different from those of my youth. When they "compete" because their tuition expenses have exploded and their inability or unwillingness to control costs is undermined by a financial system much to eager to lend and much less responsible because of students' exclusion from bankruptcy, it's over. And, boy is it over.

No matter how it is reorganized, it must be faster, cheaper, more focused on career, and, ideally, sensitive to culture, the arts, and the humanities since such knowledge makes "marketing" as well as politics, community and dialog better, more productive and more positive. But that sensitivity has no real "market" other than tradition, and the political dissociation of most young people today make it less probable that the world will grow into universal respect, and more probably that 1984 was just forty or fifty years early.

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I think you raise some excellent points. I would, however, say that as the world becomes more globalized there is an increased market for "sensitivity".  The "tradition"--particularly the American one--has been insensitivity to issues of race, culture, language, and the big one--the political sovereignty of other nations. The humanities train students to think critically about history. Personally, I think that all U.S. students should learn about how the legacy of slavery, racism, and American imperialism and American chauvinism impact today's society. As you say, "such knowledge makes "marketing" as well as politics, community and dialog better, more productive and more positive."  So, I'd like to remain optimistic that the world--or at least the United States-- will increasingly value cultural sensitivity.

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Thank you for your leadership, Christina.

We are all implicated in a system fueled by inequalities, and nothing can ever make up for the history of violence and oppression in the U.S., but every time someone speaks out, new opportunities for transformation are born. The personal is so very political… I really respect the way that you are using your influence. In addition to reflecting on what it means to Black and middle-class in the U.S., you are also engaging with the significance of being outstanding and exceptional. Awesome!

What you’ve shared about your experience studying in Brazil is very thought-provoking to me. Although your classmates were insensitive to what you were going through as a consequence of that conversation, there is at least some insight to be gained (at least indirectly) from the comment you quoted. I’m not certain how large the Brazilian middle class is right now, and I’m sure that even defining the middle class there is as difficult as it is here in the U.S. I have, however, heard that, while theirs is growing, ours is shrinking even though its composition is changing. The poor (bearing in mind that poverty is also difficult to define precisely) are growing in number in the U.S. at an alarming rate, and this affects people of color twice as much as it does white people. For children, the situation is even more dire: the poverty rate for African-American and Hispanic children in the U.S. is about three times as great as it is for white children. What I’m seeing here is that, on the one hand, the idea that a country should choose between equal access to education and combating poverty is ridiculous. On the other hand, it could be argued that poverty, though closely related, is the more critical of the two problems, and in the U.S. and globally it is spreading.

Many well-respected voices have argued that affirmative action is not the most salient issue for people of color in the U.S. today…but they are not arguing that it should be discontinued. Michelle Alexander, for instance, explains in The New Jim Crow that the hidden racial agenda in drug-related law enforcement is the greatest threat to African Americans, particularly men in poor neighborhoods. I’m rereading the introduction and looking at p. 7, and the numbers are absolutely shocking (just to provide an imperfect glimpse of the information Alexander shares: although people of all ancestries use and sell illegal drugs at approximately the same rate, 80% of young black men had criminal records at the time of the book’s writing--it was published in 2010). Meanwhile, if we want to think about the scale of the educated middle class by comparison, we could look at this data: the percentage of the U.S. population over the age of 25 with baccalaureate degrees (by no means an indication of how many people use or have used the higher education system) is the highest ever, which is only between 30 and 31%. Furthermore, affirmative action seems to be working, though not quickly or widely enough. College attendance is not the only way to gauge this, of course, but according to the National Center for Education Statistics, the percentage of people of color of various ancestries who go to college in the U.S. has been rising steadily since the 1970s, and the percentage of white people has fallen by more than 20%.

Though the percentages are still unequal, this progress should inspire us all to struggle even harder, together, for equality and for expansion of the education system. The “culture wars” were very complex and ideological, and definitely racialized, but from what I’ve heard the situation was worsened by factionalism within the humanities that often made bridging differences very difficult.

 

 

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HI Carolyn,

Thank you for your excellent insights. I'm hoping that other people will jump in here. You've raised an excellent dilemna to think about: "The idea that a country should choose between equal access to education and combating poverty is ridiculous. On the other hand, it could be argued that poverty, though closely related, is the more critical of the two problems, and in the U.S. and globally it is spreading."

While affirmative action remains controversial, so too does increasing economic inequality in the United States. It seems that people do not want to talk about one or the other, or both. For example, the "middle class" in the United States is often coded as white, even though there are a percentage of minorities who are part of the middle class. The poor, as you say, are growing in the U.S. and people of color are affected to greater numbers. The implied question to the dilemna you pose above is whether education is the answer. Can education--or the future of education--provide solutions to historical, structural inequalities in the United States? If we think the answer is yes, then the related questions implied in your response is "when?" and "how soon?"  There is so much to change in education, but there is also so much to change about the world around us. Where does combating poverty and increasing equal access to education intersect? And, who (or what communities) get priorities in discussions on the future of higher ed?

At this point in my life, I don't think I'm ready to make an argument either way regarding your point above, but I do think it is important to think about these things. I recognize that my experiences  are not typical of the African American experience in the United States. My personal background is one reason why I think it is important for people to really think about what the future of education means for those who are/aren't like me, or who aren't like "us"--whoever "us" are.

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Please remember that the early scholar needed pupils or patrons to exist. It was not until the founding of the universities in the first century that the academic found a home. One must also remember that these were funded by secular and religions entities that did so with an "agenda". In fact, one might say that the scholarls took the "kings" shilling. Ever since, those residing within the institution did so, basically, with external funds, though the "hand" was loosely applied, in most cases.

Today, it is imperative that these institutions and their inhabitants convince both these external funding sources and the "students" that they provide the path beyond secondary school to future opportunities and benefits. Yet, in a digital age one can start to see that there are other options to meet both the funders and the students to achieve their various ends. This should put the inhabitants from admins to faculty to understand why their sinecure is being challenged and why they may find that the students and those funding have common grounds and common cause.

Perhaps "poverty" is the challenge and that the ideas being promulgated from within the Ivory Tower may be self-serving

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There should be much, much more discussion about costs regarding all postsecondary ed, and that discussion should reflect both the history and the traditions of the unique features of American colleges, from the colonials to the Land Grants to the entrepreneurs. When students are asked to absorb hundreds of thousands - now one trillion - in debt as a means of "mobility out of poverty" the absurdity of their charge is far too apparent.

Similarly, there are movements in various states and localities that would sharply reduce or eliminate those costs. The Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts (PHENOM) is one such "movement" based on the recognition that, were the state to stop subsidizing private and for-profit players in the field, there'd be enough money to guarantee free tuition to every college age resident. In the state where Harvard is the fourth branch of state government, and where Harvard's constitutional Board of Trustees is the state Senate, such aspirations may not get realized (after all, three hundred years of "tradition" are hard to challenge on the basis of mobility). Yet other innovations - like College for America at SNHU - offer substantial savings to students and faculty, based on what students know rather than on external and theoretically "objective" criteria like "seat time."

It surprises me that these discussions about the history and future of higher education seem so immune to these economics - in both time as well as money.

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hi joe

 

First, SNHU's competency based program is but one of many emerging public and private venues that offer low cost options towards post secondary and post-baccalaureate programs. Straighterline has offered another lower cost path and there are others. Part of these efforts is the willingness of students to become self-directed learners much as that being promoted by badges and other vehicles. The other factor is the willingness of the student to pursue their education and forgo the increasing number of "fringe" benefits or externalities offered in brick-space. The latter is being passed over by many of these individuals in any case with the disappearance of the traditional 4-year campus experience.

This there are increasing paths that can be traveled if one wants the basic degree. The problem is that current universities can't survive on these basic models and seek to "upsell" much like the auto industry adding features. but instead of electronics, they add sports and housing amenities. This is the standard tactic when old industry is confronted by innovative challengers.

Second, if you skip over to Vermont you will find that many students and faculty have awaken to the fact that their institutions have contracted with providers who not only hire food service workers at low wages but now with the passage of the national health care act are stripping their employees of health insurance and other benefits.

This essentially creates workers whose pay can only afford a basic life with littel hope to provide for tuition for their children going to college. The question here is whether the universities have joined with Wal Mart and others that turn to government in order to reduce their overhead or protect their margins.

There is a lot of selective information on universities. Perhaps we could start with the institutional partners in HASTAC and other institutions starting with salary spread from groundskeepers to presidents, adjuncts to chaired faculty and a breakdown of administrative overhead. For example, one selective admissions public university found that they had a half dozen or so of administrators making well over 6 figures and has promised to reduce that number on their staff.

Maybe asking for more money from government is the standard path to avoid serious confrontation on campuses of their own costs. Maybe asking for more money is joining universities with the ranks of exploitive businesses who transfer their costs to the public sector and push many families to seek that money for both living and the future education of their children.

We are riding the curve of innovation and change. There are those institutions that will not be able to respond and others that will survive but changed.

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Hi Joe:

 

One follow-on:

We need a change in attitude in order to change the system. individuals seeking knowledge are NOT students and they are NOT customers. These still presume the standard academic model of going to the font for wisdom or information. These individuals are learners and will go where and when they need to get the skills and knowledge needed to get certification or recognition for their capabilities. Competencies is the watch word here and that changes the responsibilities of individual seekers and definitely changes the economics of the HEI's from the use of both brick and click space, the function of the faculty and the ability to strip significant overhead from the spaces used as well as the administrative burden

It is interesting that in the presented materials the insightful videos of Mike Wesch were featured. The abiity to multitask in classes shows the inefficiences of the present model in space use, faculty and student time and definitely costs to all parties.

What makes this extremely poignent is that this same problem exists, on steroids, for MOOC's as now constructed. This,of course, makes wonder whether those funding this "MOOC" and those who expended and are expending their time creating and delivering really understand the impact of ICT's or if they do why would they perpetuate a model which basically maintains the persistance of a costly academic model.

Bottom line? Whether or not more public funds can and should be allocated to a model that is struggling to bury the changing world driven by ICT4E rather than creatively, as with MIT's approach, embracing innovation. Strip away the persiflage surrounding the emergent paths for knowledge acquisition and the cost structure will radically alter. Of course not all insitutions and their inhabitants can be guaranteed survival. But then change happens.

 

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The last time we had even a flurry of change was pre-WW2, when a lot of places discovered - in the non-coincidental period of the Depression - mail and created postal colleges. Even Harvard and Chicago and Columbia got into the flurry.

MOOC's are just an update of that technology, and not particularly deep in their innovations. Unless and until they allow and encourage students to create portfolios of demonstrable learning, they'll come and go, as will their college sponsors.

Nobody here seems to notice the Theil Foundation's creative solution: just drop out and make money and be original. Everybody cites Jobs and Gates as precedents, but then dismisses them as exemplars since they dropped out of really fancy places. Well, now a new generation faces a reality that those fancy places are neither so fancy, nor are the ones that are anxiously raising tuition to compete with them really chasing anything but rainbows.

I do not encourage bright kids I know to register for college. That doesn't mean they don't go, it just means they don't pay, until payment produces something worthwhile. Nor does that mean they don't hangout with peers who go, and that usually pays off a lot more. The social network is, after all, the first and most critical resource of a graduate. And re-creating that network with or without tuition depends more on where you live than who you pay. I live equidistant from MIT, Harvard, Lesley and Tufts Universities, so there are students in every bar, barfing in every bathroom, and hanging on most corners on most late night weekends. City kids can learn plenty. They can exploit the MOOC's, the libraries, and the faculty and students (in dozens of community meetings on anything from health to housing to education itself). And they can negotiate cheap degrees easily enough to avoid the worst of the Pell Pitfalls. It takes a little planning, but for $100 to $150,000 saved from payments in your '20's, a little planning has a lot of payoff.

As you say, SNHU's model is not unique, and it's quite feasible for somebody in their early 20's to negotiate a BA, then MA and even PhD for remarkably affordable prices, and over about the same number of years as their more traditional peer. But it does take creativity going in to produce even more creativity coming out.

It also takes a community of my peers to support that growth. We have monthly or weekly dinners, "salons" of discussions, as well as those infernal meetings, to offer the young what we had in the '60's in colleges that were undergoing almost as radical a transformation through Civil Rights, anti-war, and other student organizing. The irony is that this reorganization may be more painful for the non-reflective, entrepreneurial, and greedy corporate (or pseudo corporate) college who views students as "consumers," and their "product" more valuable because of better cafeteria menus.

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hi Joe

 

there is an interesting conference on the future of higher education being held in Paris, April 9-11. http://tinyurl.com/ox9uztu

 

The list of presenters is gold plated. Unfortunately when you read the program several things pop out:

a) Looking at this from an innovation and change perspective, such as Clayton Christensen's work, this is more like the meeting of GM, Ford and Chrysler being challenged by the Japanese imports. There is an old saying that a person who wants to represent himself in court has a fool for client. It is much the same with this MOOC.

b) There is none of the parties leading the change such as Pearson, Univ of Phoenix that now has a secondary program- hmm, K>gray, everyone can be a Phoenix. Laurent that has a global campus network, etc (all doing well)

c) Reflecting on "a" there are no foresight experts who help corporations, large and small, and non-profits to understand the future.

I happen to be in the area and will attend this event. Let me know if others are considering

 

tom

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Hi Joe

There is a move on this site to work on "badging" before the students have addressed the future models of education.

There is an interesting article in a recent issue of "Inside Higher Education" which points to an interesting movement to work with students in college to make them more ready to participate in society and work before they graduate. This is being done by the private sector with and without university collaboration.

http://tinyurl.com/o8m4mxs

This reminded me of an ancient advertisement which went something like this "Don't envy the banker you can own the house next to him. It was an advertisement for heavy equipment schools.

While most of the scenarios are worthy of merit, it is unfortunate that what most are proposing are and have been in motion for a long time. The problem here is that the student assignment was designed to address a specific problem, the inability of the fiscally and socially disenfranchised to successfully enter the workforce. It has the inherent bias that by changing the university that more individuals would graduate and that would lead to gainful and meaningful employment. The premise is flawed and none of the student projects challenged that assumption. At least they did not address that possibility but framed their responses within that boundary

There was another student project several years ago that had students design a future university under 3 scenarios, a world collapsed, a world of techno "wonder" and normal progressions. Again the students were caught in a cultural box that bounded their thinking.

One of the first sessions at the Paris conference addresses the question as to whether universities are relevant which is the right question to ask. In addition, in a global context, the cultural blinders are very apparent.

 

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