Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Truth about Higher Education

It is rare that people in power actually say what they think, but the current President of San Jose State, Mohammad H. Qayoumi, recently exposed what many university leaders really believe. In response to a question concerning the questionable educational value of some of his institution’s new online classes, Qayoumi said the following: “It could not be worse than what we do face to face.” This shocking statement implies that the current modes of education at his own university are so bad that nothing could be worse.

It is no wonder that many education leaders are willing to experiment with unproven instructional models when they themselves do not believe in the value of their own teachers or the learning of their own students. It is also not surprising that many academic institutions are now willing to give course credit for work and learning done outside of their schools. Since no one can seem to define or defend quality higher education, there is no stopping a race to the bottom where students are given credits and credentials for unproven and untested learning.

In an act of pure institutional suicide, universities are simply selling their credits to outside entities, are in a way, they are surrendering to their own logic of self-destruction. By saying that nothing could be worse than the current form of education at his university, Qayoumi opens the door for a large-scale privatization of public higher education. This move fits in well with legislators who want to make up for years of public educational defunding by turning to MOOCs and credit by exams. For example, Assembly member Scott Wilk’s bill for a New University of California reduces the idea of a university to simply testing students for previous work and learning. This bill exposes one of the hidden desires of so many political officials and university administrators, and that is a university or college without faculty. In the race to decrease the compensation and power of teachers, here we find a way for a “final” solution: eliminate all of the people.

Unless universities and colleges begin to support, improve, and defend their own educational methods, there is nothing stopping this bi-partisan move to destroy our institutions of higher learning.
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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The UC Cost Wars

Last year, the legislature moved UC budget transparency language through the budget conference committee's "supplemental report" process. The language that was adopted by the legislature and became part of the supplemental report is the following: “Item 6440-001-0001—University of California (UC). It is the intent of the Legislature, and in follow-up to State Audit Report 2010-105, that by July 31, 2012, UC provide to the appropriate legislative budget subcommittees and LAO the recommendations of the systemwide working group established to examine variation in funding across the system. Further, it is the intent of the Legislature that UC identify the amount of revenues from the general funds and tuition budget that each campus received in 2012 13 for specific types of students (such as undergraduate, graduate, and health sciences) and explain any differences in the amount provided per student among the campuses to the appropriate legislative budget subcommittees and LAO by January 1, 2014.”

In response to this legislative request for accountability, the UC has told the legislature that it cannot calculate how much it costs to educate specific types of students: “The University is unable to provide information on funding provided for specific levels of students. Funding from the State is neither received nor allocated to the campuses by level of student. Funding for enrollment has been received from the State for more than 15 years on the basis of a marginal cost calculation that does not distinguish among levels of students. Nor have allocations to the campuses been made on that basis. The University has consistently stated that information on cost of education by level of student – or expenditures by level of student – are impossible to determine, given the myriad way in which funds provided from the State and other core funds are used.”

What is strange about this response is that in the same document, the UC states that it has moved to a new model of distributing state funds based on the following logic: “Per-student funding is to be distributed on a weighted basis in which undergraduate, postbaccalaureate, graduate professional, and graduate academic master’s students are weighted at 1, doctoral students at 2.5, and health sciences students at 5 (except health sciences undergraduate students are at 1 and health sciences academic doctoral students are at 2.5).” So while the UC claims it cannot calculate the different costs of educating different levels of students, it is basing state funding distributions on a differentiated cost basis.

All of this may be moot because in the January state budget proposal, the Governor's administration proposed stronger, trailer bill language on UC budget transparency: “Article 7.5 Expenditures for Undergraduate and Graduate Instruction and Research Activities 92670. (a) The University of California shall report biennially to the Legislature and the Department of Finance, on or before October 1, 2014, and on or before October 1 of each even-numbered year thereafter on the total general campus costs of education, on a systemwide and a campus-by-campus basis, segregated by undergraduate instruction, graduate instruction, and research activities. The costs shall also be reported by fund source, including all of the following sources: (1) State General Fund. (2) Systemwide tuition and fees and professional fees. (3) Nonresident supplemental tuition and other student fees. (4) All other sources of income. (b) For purposes of the report required by this section, undergraduate and graduate research for which a student earns credit toward their degree program shall be included under instructional costs. (c) A report to be submitted pursuant to this section shall be submitted in compliance with Section 9795 of the Government Code. (d) The requirement for submitting a report under this section shall become inoperative on January 1, 2021, pursuant to Section 10231.5 of the Government Code.” In other words, the UC is now required to do exactly what we have been asking them to do for ten years, and that is to calculate how much it costs to educate students and how these activities are being funded.

One reason why it is important to have the UC report on educational costs is that many legislators are now pushing online education because they believe the cost of educating undergraduates is driving up tuition and blocking access. However, in reality, undergraduates are already subsidizing different parts of the university. Moreover, the new rebenching funding model pushes some campuses to increase their enrollments of doctoral students, but no one really knows if this will help or hurt the funding of the campuses since no one knows how much it costs to educate graduate students.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Devil is in the Details: Against SB 520

Watching Senator Steinberg’s press conference on the push to give credit for online courses, one can’t help but think that he is on the right path. After all, thousands of Californian students can’t get into classes, and MOOCs offer a new opportunity to deal with this problem in an efficient manner. Steinberg was also quick to stress that the faculty would have final say on which courses would be used, and so quality would be maintained. However, once one starts to look into the details of this deal, everything becomes much more complicated and problematic.

According to the outline of the new senate bill, three professors from each of the three segments would form a committee that would review classes and decide which needed classes would be put online for course credit. The first question to ask is who are these professors and what qualifies them to make curricular decisions for thousands of other faculty members. Also, how will they decide which courses to use and what defines a high-quality course? Moreover, is it possible to design classes that are appropriate for all three segments?

There is also the problem of who will get the revenue from the cross-system enrollments. Does the funding stay with the initial provider or does each campus get a cut of the action? A related concern is how do they decide when a class is over-enrolled, and will campuses be motivated to cut their lower-division classes so students will be forced to take less expensive online versions?

It is clear that this online move is being imposed from above, and it fails to take account the reality on the ground. As I have stressed with lawmakers, if you remove the bottleneck in lower-division courses, you will create a bottleneck in the upper-division. Moreover, these bottlenecks are in part caused by the fact that since too many students want to get into the same majors, lower-division courses are used to weed out lower-performing students. Also, many students come to college and university not fully prepared for higher education, and putting them into MOOCs will not help this situation.

Senator Steinberg has assured us that this new program will not be a substitute for public funding of higher education, but it is clear that the state is using online courses as a way to hide the chronic underfunding of all levels of education in California. Not only has the state reduction of funding for the UC system resulted in larger undergraduate classes and fewer course options for students, but the students now entering into the university system are the products of large classes and low per student K-12 funding. Online education will not fix years of educational neglect.

To voice your opposition to Steinberg’s Bill, please sign the UC Berkeley Faculty Association petition here.

Monday, March 18, 2013

UC’s Failure to Respect Shared Governance and Union Contracts Concerning Online Education

UC Santa Cruz is the only campus with union representation for its senate members, and since the faculty association (SCFA) has the right to bargain over local employment issues, it has determined that the university failed to meet its basic contractual obligations when it signed off on an online program without union approval. Meanwhile, UC-AFT is also in the process of filing grievances over a similar set of issues, and now we are moving to a confrontation that could have national implications.

In the SCFA Request for Information letter to the university, the Faculty Association points out that the recent deal with Coursera conflicts with several legal and contractual requirements. The first issue concerns who owns the intellectual property of a faculty lecture or class: “In 2000, CUCFA successfully lobbied for legislation establishing that individual professors, and not the University, own the intellectual property in their live performances and course materials. . . Viewed within this legal framework the contract template that faculty will be expected to sign before their courses can become available on Coursera appears to put the UCSC campus in the position of becoming the publisher of this material on Coursera and other platforms.” In other words, UC is asking faculty to sign away their intellectual property rights.

The faculty contract with Coursera states the following: "I hereby irrevocably grant the University the absolute right and permission to use, store, host, publicly broadcast, publicly display, public[sic] perform, distribute, reproduce and digitize any Content that I upload, share or otherwise provide in connection with the Course or my use of the Platform, including the full and absolute right to use my name, voice, image or likeness (whether still, photograph or video) in connection therewith, and to edit, modify, translate or adapt any such Content.” So UC is using Coursera to get faculty to sign over their courses, intellectual property, and their IDENTITIES. Forgive me for being paranoid, but does this mean that if a faculty member signs this deal, they no longer own their own name, face, or image?

As the SCFA argues in its letter to the university, the UC should have first bargained with the union before it signed a contract with Coursera that changed the terms and conditions of UCSC senate faculty. This same problem is currently facing lecturers, where the UC has also failed to bargain with UC-AFT before it started several online programs affecting the terms and conditions of lecturers’ employment.

SCFA has asked the university the following important questions: “Was there a confidentiality agreement between Coursera and the campus? If so, at whose initiative was such an agreement undertaken? Who were the parties to this agreement on UCSCs side? If any Senate faculty were parties to the agreement, does the administration consider them to have been acting on behalf of the Senate? Was there any other form, official or unofficial, in which the Senate was consulted prior to signing the contract with Coursera? Has any member of SCFA's bargaining unit, other than administrators, signed the agreement needed to post their classes on Coursera?” The implication of these questions is that the university administration circumvented both the academic senate and the faculty union by making a deal with Coursera, and this deal may include a confidentiality agreement that would force the university to hide the details from its own faculty.

In light of Senator Steinberg’s recent push to have UC students take courses with online providers, everyone should be concerned about the level of secrecy in the current deals with Coursera.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Outsourcing UC

Senator Steinberg is pushing a bill that will potentially outsource many of the University of California lower-division courses to outside course provides like Udacity and Coursera. Here we see one of the clearest examples of privatizing a public good. The state cuts the UC budget for years, and then the same people who cut the budget say we should now turn to online education to deal with the mess. Of course they add that faculty will have a say, but the question is which faculty, and can they stop a plan that is supported by the university president, the governor, and now the legislature?

As I told people in the governor’s office and various legislative staff, there is no evidence that this will save money or move people through the system in a more efficient manner. There is also ample evidence that the students who need the most individual attention will end up having their courses online. I have urged the Academic Council to fight this move, but it looks like the senate is either being co-opted or pushed aside.

This move is a recipe for administrative bloat and the further undermining of shared governance in the University of California. Already people are questioning the value of a UC degree, and so we must ask, who will fight this change?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Report from Little Hoover: Standing in Front of the Online Train

The dominant take away from the Little Hoover Commission Hearing on Higher Education Funding and Online Education is that many stakeholders believe that most problems in California higher ed can be solved through distance education. Presenters argued that online courses will lower the cost of instruction and make it possible to enroll more students and graduate them at a much higher rate. Daphne Koller even argued that large online classes are better than small classes because when you have the students do the grading and the feedback, the quality of the responses goes up and the time for responding goes down. This is the “wisdom of the crowds” argument that is fundamental to the ideology of crowdsourcing.

During the UC online presentation, we learned that the university wants to move quickly to place many new courses online starting next Fall. The goal is to rapidly increase the ability of students on one campus to take a course on another campus. There is also the idea that students can take outside MOOC courses and get credit for them by taking an exam or asking for transfer credit. Once again, the stress was on taking care of the gateway course bottleneck.

As I mentioned in my testimony, if you reduce the course congestion in lower-division courses, then you will run into congestion in the upper-division major courses. In fact, one reason why many students cannot graduate on time is that they are weeded out of popular majors. I also pointed out that a recent study has shown that the students who do the poorest in online classes are new students and under-represented minority students, and these are exactly the students UC, CSU, and community colleges are targeting.

I added in my testimony that the state has reduced the UC budget by $1 billion, and we raised tuition to cover that loss, and we also increased the size of classes and the faculty-to-student ratio. Now the state is saying that our expanded courses are not as good as online courses, and so we have to do more with less by shifting to a questionable mode of instruction. Meanwhile, the first presenter of the day argued that the new normal is that higher education will be squeezed out of state budgets, so we have to ask students to take on more of a burden, while we exploit various federal aid programs and tax breaks.

In response to this new normal, we need to push for free public higher ed and a rededication to instruction as a core mission of higher education. This does not mean that we should move away from research; rather, we have to find a more transparent and robust way to support this needed social and economic function. Unfortunately, the fascination with online education only blinds people from seeing the realities and solutions facing public higher education.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Little Hoover Hearing on Higher Ed

I will be testifying on Tuesday, February 26 at the Little Hoover Commission’s public hearing on issues facing California’s higher education system. The hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. on the campus of Long Beach City College, 4901 East Carson Street, Building T, Room 1100, Long Beach, California. According to the hearing agenda, “the Commission is interested in exploring how institutions such as the University of California and California State University can control costs and increase college affordability; the role faculty can play in increasing time-to- degree completion while maintaining quality and high standards; and the development of online education and the impact that massive open online courses, or MOOCs, might have on costs and degree attainment.”

I have been asked to testify on the following issues: “The principal drivers of increased costs at the university, including sponsored research, graduate and professional education, the increase in the number of administrators, and athletics and campus amenities; The impact, if any, on faculty and potential faculty hiring from UC’s intended promotion of UC Online Education; Whether online educational initiatives such as UC Online can help increase student access to classes, cut the time to degree and ultimately increase the number of graduates; Online education’s overall ability to contain costs and increase affordability for students attending a UC campus; How online education should be incorporated into UC; Other issues concerning the current support for increasing the use of online learning in higher education.”

Here is the schedule for the hearing:

9:00 – 10:-00 a.m. Panel One: Student Aid and Postsecondary Financing
David Longanecker, President, Western Commission for Higher Education

10:00 – 11:-00 a.m. Panel Two: Going Online: MOOCs and Beyond
Daphne Koller, Co-founder, Coursera and Professor, Stanford University Sebastian

Thrun, Co-founder, Udacity and Former Professor, Stanford University

Dean Florez, President and Chief Executive Officer, Twenty Million Minds Foundation

11:00 – 12:-00 p.m. Panel Three: Going Online: UC and CSU
Keith R. Williams, Interim Director, UC Online Education and Senior Lecturer, University of California, Davis

Ruth Claire Black, Executive Director, Cal State Online

Robert Samuels, President, University Council-American Federation of Teachers
and Lecturer, University of California, Los Angeles

12:00 – 1:-00 p.m. Panel Four: The Role of the Faculty
Robert Powell, Chair, University of California Academic Senate and Professor, University of California, Davis

Diana Guerin, Chair, California State University Academic Senate and Professor, California State University, Fullerton.

The hearing is open to the public.