Thursday, June 21, 2012


Having gotten completely spoiled as a fan by the Yankees recent winning streak, I must say I'm distressed by them losing their last two games, though Baltimore has lost its last three so the Yankees lead in their division has not yet dissipated.  That isn't the real reason for being irritable.  The true cause is lack of sleep.  One child is anxious about something, which keeps him (and me) up to all hours.  My spouse sleeps through her alarm (but I don't).  I lead with this preface because I will be blunt below.  Normally I attempt an artful presentation of my points.  Not today.
  • Boards of Major Universities - Seeing the same mistake being made over and over again with high profile business types (and their big egos) constituting the board, it should occur to somebody that there needs to be experts from within higher education on these boards; past or existing presidents and chancellors of other universities are the obvious candidates.  In other words, the interests of higher education need to be directly represented.  The quite public argument that is happening at U VA right now should have happened within the board first and it should have been resolved there. How many times do we need to repeat the cycle of big hopes based on pie in the sky ideas leading to badly thought through (or not thought through at all) initiatives that end up crashing and burning?  
  • Does anyone remember and - In case you don't, look here.  That was more than 10 years ago.  Those ventures failed, but they had the same sort of hype as the ventures now.  Where is the skepticism, simply as business proposition?  The market nowadays seems to relish option value on a possibility for success rather than asset value based on a likelihood of success.  Bully for the market.  For the rest of us, let's work through the analysis of how free course offerings to students is long run sustainable after the initial startup funds have dissipated and even if the revenue side works does the demand continue to grow or stagnate?
  • MOOCs are not for eighteen year olds with helicopter parents - With a lot of self-direction in learning and learning-to-learn skills perhaps a MOOC can be a valuable experience for the student.  Maybe working professionals have such skills.  Without these skills such a course will end up being the blind following the blind and then dropping out because they are not getting anything out of the experience.  The typical entering freshman does not have these skills.  Many graduating seniors don't as well.
  • If you really want to control costs in higher ed - Look directly at personnel expenditure and hold the line on that.  This includes administrative bloat, start up packages for faculty in engineering and the sciences, and high price tags for star faculty across the board.  Each of that must be contained.  Higher Ed needs to do this as a system.  It can't be done by a single university, because it will lose its better people in the process of cost containment.  Some leaders in higher ed need to start talking this up soon.  Otherwise Congress will eventually get into the picture and there will be an Affordable Higher Education Act that almost surely will have worse consequences than self-regulation. 
  • If instead you want to piddle around on the cost issue - Keep hyping online learning as the answer.  Ignore the experience with online learning over the last fifteen years.  (It has been great for access.  It hasn't done much if anything about cost.)
Still crabby, but at least I got that off my chest.

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