Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Point of Protest

RUSA President among Arrested at Student Debt Protest is today's Targum headline.  The article describes a student protest outside Sallie Mae that is trying to focus media attention on the issue of student debt.  I often question how effective a protest can be in changing opinion, but when I consider how few people really have formed an opinion on issues like student debt, I have to consider that "raising awareness" is the first step.  

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

MITx Expands Access to Higher Ed

The "Do It Yourself" University (DIYU) movement, discussed here last month, has gained the support of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, whose MITx program began teaching students yesterday.  Very likely this was the sort of thing that Kevin Carey had in mind, as he commented on in MIT Mints a Valuable New Form of Academic Currency (The Chronicle of Higher Education, January 22, 2012).  From all accounts, and there are many, MITx is expected to be only the first of many schools to enter this new category of for-profit schools or extensions offering credentials (or "badges") to students, often in lieu of a traditional college degree.  Will this level the playing field for student "consumers" of higher education?  Or is it another method that the increasingly privatized higher education marketplace will use to capture student dollars?  Only time will tell, but I rather agree with Carey that this is going to be an increasingly important part of the market and real competition to for-profit institutions like those profiled in College, Inc.  

There are a number of articles online for those who want to learn more, including one in yesterday's New York Times:

Monday, March 5, 2012

Race-Conscious Admissions Goes to Court

U. Texas Austin, where affirmative action is under fire.
The Supreme Court has taken up a challenge to admission policies at University of Texas, Austin, where a white student denied admission is seeking redress for what she claims is racial discrimination.  The story is well covered in Supreme Court Takes Up Challenge to Race-Conscious Admissions at U. of Texas (Chronicle of Higher Ed) and Justices Take Up Race as a Factor in College Entry (NY Times), and the issue could easily rise to a national debate when the Supreme Court hears arguments.  Already there has been some discussion of how Asian students might be discriminated against by Ivy League schools trying to keep them from dominating the rolls.  And as admission to college grows increasingly competitive, there are bound to be more cases along these lines.

I have long argued that anyone who questions a school's desire for diversity (designed to benefit the school by providing a more democratic learning environment for students) should also question why schools have legacy admissions (designed to benefit the school through strengthening alumni bonds and donor support).  Yet you rarely hear legacy admissions criticized, even though there is a lot of evidence that they are even a bigger problem for society than diversity admissions -- see Richard D. Kahlenberg's Affirmative Action for the Rich: Legacy Preferences in College Admissions for an extended critique, which you can find summarized to some extent in his 10 Myths about Legacy Preferences in the Chronicle.  One reason why legacy admits go unquestioned is our increasingly privatized mindset, whereby Americans see anything that is good for a school's bottom line as beyond question, even if it is even more unfair than traditional affirmative action.