For-Profit Learning Is Always Cheaper, and Other Myths

Submitted by: Renee Hirschberg


October 31, 2010

For-Profit Learning Is Always Cheaper, and Other Myths

By Jorge Klor de Alva

For-profit higher education, particularly when delivered online, has consistently drawn attention for being efficient, scalable, and innovative. Successful for-profits tend to run smoothly at relatively low costs, and they invest generously in the kind of research that helps improve both the quality and delivery of their education.

These practices, along with flexible scheduling, robust student services, relevant programs, and successful recruitment practices, have made it possible for online programs at for-profit institutions to expand as quickly as student interest has grown. But in doing so, and in serving student populations previously underserved by traditional institutions, the for-profit sector has recently come under the type of scrutiny previously associated with the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Behind the harsh scrutiny by the Education Department and Congress (one former Ed Department official called it a “witch hunt”) is the fact that online education—a medium that has only grudgingly been adopted by traditionalists—has become very attractive to nontraditional students, who make up the fastest-growing segment of higher education.

This situation has turned out to be a major problem for proprietary schools because such students, who tend to be disproportionately eligible for Pell Grants and subsidized loans, are the most likely to drop out, default on their loans, and start their careers at lower salary levels than their traditional, first-time, full-time peers. The latter tend to be both single and financially dependent, and to work fewer hours or not at all—characteristics of students who are most likely to complete their degree.

Ironically, online education, maligned because it has attracted such a large numbers of at-risk students who are failing to succeed, is being promoted by a growing number of governors and the Obama administration as a way to educate more students more cheaply. But as I argue below, online is not necessarily cheaper than face-to-face education.

To add some light to the debate on for-profits, I would like to dispel several myths concerning proprietary online education that appear to be sustained by a general lack of information.

The first myth is that online education has been aggressively marketed by for-profit colleges and universities because it makes possible huge classes of hundreds, if not thousands, of students, thereby sharply reducing instructional costs.

The widely held belief that online education can lower faculty costs (the single biggest expenditure at most colleges) and reduce the need to build more buildings explains why many state officials and the executive branch of the federal government support online education. When it comes to public institutions, where some online courses can have as many as 400 students, and 45 to 100 students per course is not uncommon, the belief appears to be grounded in truth.

However, while for-profit institutions such as Capella and Kaplan Universities and the University of Phoenix educate hundreds of thousands of students online, their officials report that the average enrollment per course ranges from only nine to 18.

Accordingly, at Phoenix, as reported for August of this year, 470,800 students were being served by over 33,000 faculty members, for a student-faculty ratio of just over 14 to 1. This suggests that at the more successful proprietary online programs, a substantial investment must be made to educate each online student.

A second myth, closely related to the first, is that for-profit online courses lack the rigor of their face-to-face counterparts.

In small classes, such as the ones previously mentioned, students have a level of interaction with their professors that is rare at large public institutions, particularly during the first two years, when large lecture classes are common. Small classes allow for frequent assignments and substantial faculty feedback. They also make it difficult to cheat, because instructors have greater knowledge of both the abilities and idiosyncrasies of their students.

Given that most proprietary online programs focus on what a student is expected to know, as determined by experts in the subject matter, the level of rigor could be easily measured by comparing the expected results in these courses to those found at selective institutions. However, until such research is done and made public, any assumption that these courses are easy must be based on mere speculation.


A third myth is that employers are hesitant to hire graduates with degrees earned online from for-profit colleges.


 This is another myth that can be answered empirically. Although much research needs to be done in this area, the research to date, such as that found in the Imagine America Foundation (formerly the Career College Foundation) report “Economic Impact of America’s Career Colleges,” shows that the degrees and certificates of career colleges, whether earned online or not, are widely recognized by employers. Needless to say, as more heads of human resources become familiar with graduates of online programs, their willingness to hire those graduates can be expected to increase. Furthermore, many of the nation’s largest employers, such as Wal-Mart, UPS, and AT&T, have agreements with the larger proprietary online colleges for discounted tuition rates, scholarships, or tuition-reimbursement programs.

A fourth myth is that for-profit online colleges have a responsibility to maximize shareholder value and therefore put profits ahead of educational quality whenever possible.


 One answer to this myth is obvious: Self-interest alone imposes a logic of continuous improvement and quality assurance for any for-profit company working to be or to remain successful. In online higher education, this means that survival and growth (i.e., profitability) depend upon investing not only in the upgrading of operations and the platform used to deliver instruction, but also particularly in the continuous improvement of student achievement. In effect, for-profits have powerful incentives to remain in compliance and produce positive educational results, because if they fail to do so, they will find themselves without students or financial backing.

Online enrollment grows at for-profits because students see them as the best choice, and growth and profitability follow when students succeed in classes and earn degrees. To the extent that they do not, enrollments and profitability will necessarily decline, along with investor interest.

Another way to dispel this myth is to show positive academic and employment results for students in for-profit institutions. Despite the many risk factors of most students attending proprietary institutions, recent research by the Parthenon Group shows that graduation rates in the sector are relatively high—especially in two-year programs, where they surpass those of public community colleges—as are students’ postgraduation employment and economic success.

For an example of positive comparative performance, Phoenix demonstrated in its 2008 “Academic Annual Report” that its student-learning results improved at rates equal to or better than those of comparable traditional institutions for similarly situated students. That is, first-year Phoenix students enroll with lower assessment scores than the national average on the Measure of Proficiency and Progress test, administered by the Educational Testing Service. But they reduce that gap significantly by their senior year, as measured by their improvement on the MAPP. Compared with students from comparable nonprofit and public institutions, Phoenix students demonstrated similar to better levels of improvement throughout the course of their education, especially in English and mathematics.

Disclosure: I am president of Nexus Research and Policy Center, an independent, nonprofit group whose primary donors are currently the Apollo Group, parent company of Phoenix, and the John G. Sperling Foundation. While we acknowledge that Nexus’s objectivity may be questioned as a consequence of the sources that finance it, the recognized importance of its independence has led both Apollo and the foundation to not interfere with its governance, editorial policy, or research agenda, which is based on government and sector data available to all scholars.

Aside from the myths surrounding the for-profit sector and its online programs, one thing is sure: Given the innovative nature of for-profit education, we can expect this sector to lead the way into the future of online education. Already Phoenix is building a sophisticated technology platform, based on current research in the learning sciences and populated with computer-based smart tutors. Its expected capacity to adapt to students’ needs will make this platform capable of improving the learning experience and performance of a broad range of learners, including those who are failing in today’s online courses.

Maybe when innovations such as this one go mainstream, most of the myths will be dispelled. I believe that, so I’ll hold my breath.


Jorge Klor de Alva is president of Nexus Research and Policy Center and a former president of the University of Phoenix. He was previously a professor of anthropology at Princeton University and the University of California at Berkeley.

Educational Difficulties of Men and Immigrants Hinder Efforts to Improve College Attainment

Submitted by: Michelle Pare


October 20, 2010

Educational Difficulties of Men and Immigrants Hinder Efforts to Improve College Attainment

By Peter Schmidt

The educational difficulties of men, as well as influxes of immigrants with weak educational backgrounds, have emerged as major challenges to the nation’s efforts to get a larger share of its population through college, according to a new report by the American Council on Education.

“The overarching finding of this report is that the United States is no longer gaining ground in the educational attainment of its population from one generation to the next,” Molly Corbett Broad, the council’s president, said at a recent news conference to discuss the report’s findings.

“In general, each generation of younger women in the United States is continuing to reach higher levels of attainment, while that of younger men is falling,” Ms. Broad said.

Nearly all of the gains among women are being driven by those who are white or Asian-American, says the report, the 24th edition of “Minorities in Higher Education” issued by the council. The gains being made by black and Hispanic women are not nearly as large, and, on the whole, members of those two minority groups in the 25-to-34 age bracket have lower college attainment rates than they did a generation ago, according to the report, which can be purchased on the council’s Web site.

Ms. Broad said the report’s findings show that the nation is not on track to reach President Obama’s goal of having the United States lead the world, by 2020, in the proportion of its residents with a college credential or degree.

Focus on Hispanic Immigrants

The report, based mainly on data from the U.S. Census and the National Center for Education Statistics, is not the first by the American Council on Education to find that generational progress in educational attainment has stalled. The council group reached similar conclusions in its last such overview of minority educational progress, issued in 2008.

The latest report covers new ground, however, with a special section focusing on the nation’s Hispanic population, which has the lowest rate of high-school completion and the lowest level of educational attainment of any minority group, and has made the least progress in recent decades in the growth of its share of young people going on to college.

“Our nation stands at the intersection of bold new goals for educational attainment on one hand and a pattern of low educational attainment for Hispanic students on the other,” Ms. Broad said in a news release. The nation needs to act to improve Hispanic access to postsecondary education, she said, because the “costs of leaving behind generations of the fastest-growing population in this country are too great.”

The report, which was released a day after President Obama signed an executive order renewing the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, points out that many of the educational problems of the nation’s Hispanic population stem from the challenges Hispanic immigrants face, and it cautions that failing to take the needs of such immigrants into account “might lead to unsustainable reforms or unrealistic expectations.”

It cites an analysis of 2000 Census data, which found that nearly half of young Hispanic adults without a high-school credential had never enrolled in a school in the United States.

“Unlike many other immigrants, most Hispanic immigrants, particularly those from Mexico, come from underachieving economic and educational backgrounds,” the report notes.

The chances that immigrants will get a college education are especially low if they had difficulty with school in their country of origin or immigrated to the United States much past early childhood, as most do, the report says.

Being an undocumented immigrant also is associated with low educational levels. Nearly two-thirds of undocumented Mexican immigrants in the 25-to-64 age range have not completed high school, compared with a fourth of those who came here legally.

Hispanic immigrants are more likely than others to be limited in their English proficiency, even when compared with immigrants who have comparable educational-attainment levels. And many have come here mainly to work in low-skill, low-wage jobs, leaving them unwilling to sacrifice potential work hours to go to school and unlikely to have employers who perceive any benefit in helping pay for their educations, the report says.

Groups that advocate stricter immigration policies have cited the low educational levels of many Hispanic immigrants as a reason for tighter border controls.

“One of the reasons we need to stop illegal immigration, and limit legal immigration, is because these people are trying to assimilate and compete in a society that requires high levels of education,” said Bob Dane, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

His organization has called for changes in immigration policy to give more priority to the highly skilled and less weight to family connections.

In discussing the council’s report last week, however, Ms. Broad said her organization had no intention of using it to wade into the debate over “issues related to immigration that have a life of their own.” She noted that her group has been a strong supporter of the Dream Act, a proposed change in federal law that would create a path to citizenship for undocumented students and make them eligible for some federal student aid.

The council’s report urges the creation of new education and training programs tailored to the Hispanic population now in the United States. In determining which educational services are appropriate, the report says, it is important to differentiate between Hispanic children, more than 90 percent of whom are U.S.-born, and Hispanic adults, less than half of whom were born here.

Diversity Gains

In its analysis of differences in educational attainment among men and women, the council’s report shows a changing picture over time. As of 2008, it says, 42 percent of women and 33 percent of men ages 25 to 34 had at least an associate degree. Among people in the 55-to-64 age bracket, however, men outpaced women among those with at least an associate degree, 40 percent to 34 percent.

Women also have made strides in their representation among college employees. From 1997 to 2007, the share of all college faculty members who are women rose from 36 percent to 42 percent, while the share of all college administrators who are women climbed from 45 percent to 53 percent. Although women still account for only about a fourth of college presidents, they are doing better in this area than they were in the mid-1980s, when they accounted for about a 10th of people at the helm of higher-education institutions.

Among other key findings, the report says:

  • High-school completion rates have remained relatively flat, at between 81 percent and 83 percent, over the past two decades, while college-persistence rates have declined slightly since the mid-1990s. Black students have the lowest college-persistence rate of any racial group.
  • The number of administrators at U.S. colleges rose by 47 percent from 1997 to 2007, a rate almost twice the 25-percent increase in the number of full-time faculty members at such institutions. During that period, the proportion of faculty positions held by minority members increased from 13 percent to 17 percent, while the proportion of administrative positions held by minority members rose from 14 percent to 18 percent.
  • Minority students’ share of overall college enrollment rose from 25 percent in 1997 to 30 percent in 2007. But they became increasingly concentrated at two-year colleges, where they accounted for 36 percent of enrollment in 2007, compared with 26 percent of the enrollment at four-year institutions.
  • In all major academic fields, the number of doctoral degrees awarded to minority students rose substantially from 1997 to 2007. White students experienced a decline during that period in the number of doctoral degrees earned in engineering, the humanities, law, and the social sciences.
  • Among Asian-Americans, both men and women have improved their educational attainment since the mid-1990s, and Asian-Americans had the highest persistence rates among students who entered college as freshmen in 2003.
  • The nation’s white population has experienced the fastest growth of any racial group in recent decades in its proportion of 18-to-24-year-olds enrolled in college. As of 2008, 45 percent of white students in this age bracket were enrolled in colleges, up from 31 percent in 1988. American Indians had the lowest college-going rates of any group, with just 24 percent of those of traditional college age being enrolled in 2008.

Maverick Colleges: Ten Notable Experiments in American Undergraduate Education

Submitted by: Barbara Zuckerman


This article is too long to post, please view the link directly.

The R.O.T.C. Myth

Submitted by: Jackie Boyle


Op-Ed Contributor

The R.O.T.C. Myth

Published: October 24, 2010

Gainesville, Fla.

EVERYONE knows that Ivy League universities banned the Reserve Officer Training Corps from their campuses during the Vietnam War. Forty years later, the bans continue, though the reason has shifted from war protest to the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gay men and women in the military.

That’s what everyone thinks. But it’s not true. Instead, the bans are a convenient fiction, one that lets the military (and to some extent, universities) off the hook when it comes to the growing distance between civil and military America.

In September, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates gave a speech imploring universities to end their bans and let the military back on campus. Senator Scott Brown, Republican of Massachusetts was more pointedly critical, asking how Harvard can support the Dream Act, which would open a path to legal status for undocumented students, yet close the door on “young people who want to serve their country.”

Some argue that there ought to be a law holding colleges accountable if they refuse to support the military.

It turns out there is such a law. The Solomon Amendment, passed in 1994, withdraws federal financing from any college with a “policy or practice” preventing the military from “maintaining, establishing or operating” R.O.T.C. on its campus. The law also takes financing away from colleges that bar military recruiting. The Defense Department hasn’t been shy about enforcing its right to recruit, going all the way to the Supreme Court and winning in Rumsfeld v. FAIR.

So if there are colleges that ban R.O.T.C., why aren’t they being punished?

The answer is that in all my research on the subject, I have found no universities that ban R.O.T.C., nor has the military initiated action against any institution for banning the program. We have grown accustomed to saying there are bans only because it fits with the assumption that certain colleges are unfriendly to the military.

It is true that many Ivy League colleges do not have R.O.T.C. detachments today. Forty years ago, the military started to close detachments in the Northeast and establish programs in the West and South.

This shift stems from a disagreement in the late 1960s between the Ivy League colleges and the military. Should R.O.T.C. have to comply with the host college’s rules for academic course content and professor qualifications? R.O.T.C. said no, colleges said yes, and the two had to agree to disagree. R.O.T.C. then walked away from Northeastern campuses.

While Harvard is often described as “expelling” R.O.T.C. in 1969, the story is more nuanced. After the military refused to meet Harvard’s standards on academic coursework, the faculty voted to relegate the program to an extracurricular activity, and the military decided to leave. But Harvard did not abolish the program, and it was only much later that people began to talk of a ban.

On occasion, some faculties have approved resolutions recommending that R.O.T.C. not be reinstated at their campuses. Those are not bans. On occasion, students have protested against R.O.T.C. Those also are not bans.

Secretary Gates is being disingenuous when he says he is disappointed that elite colleges no longer play an important role in attracting the best and the brightest to military service. Before he criticizes universities, he needs to ask why the military seemingly has no interest in being there.

The military may be more comfortable when it retreats to parts of the country with a disproportionate number of military installations — and where universities don’t ask a lot of questions. That sense of comfort, however, works against a military with a desperate need for a more diverse officer base and a wider variety of language and cultural skills.

For their part, colleges may also be more comfortable when they go along with the fiction of banning R.O.T.C., because then they don’t have to answer to people upset about “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Everyone buys into the myth, but at the expense of military readiness. The military needs to return to the colleges it walked away from, and everyone needs to stop pretending that R.O.T.C. programs ended because of a ban.


Diane H. Mazur, a professor of law at the University of Florida and a former Air Force officer, is the legal co-director of the Palm Center at the University of California at Santa Barbara and the author of “A More Perfect Military.”

The end of text books, or not?

We found 2 conflicting reports on whether e-books will be taking over from texts. Both articles are below.
Submitted by: Rich Fox & Renee Hirschberg
From: and

October 24, 2010

To Save Students Money, Colleges May Force a Switch to E-Textbooks

By Jeffrey R. Young

You’ve heard it before: Digital technologies blew up the music industry’s moneymaking model, and the textbook business is next.

For years observers have predicted a coming wave of e-textbooks. But so far it just hasn’t happened. One explanation for the delay is that while music fans were eager to try a new, more portable form of entertainment, students tend to be more conservative when choosing required materials for their studies. For a real disruption in the textbook market, students may have to be forced to change.

That’s exactly what some companies and college leaders are now proposing. They’re saying that e-textbooks should be required reading and that colleges should be the ones charging for them. It is the best way to control skyrocketing costs and may actually save the textbook industry from digital piracy, they claim. Major players like the McGraw-Hill Companies, Pearson, and John Wiley & Sons are getting involved.

To understand what a radical shift that would be, think about the current textbook model. Every professor expects students to have ready access to required texts, but technically, purchasing them is optional. So over the years students have improvised a range of ways to dodge buying a new copy—picking up a used textbook, borrowing a copy from the library, sharing with a roommate, renting one, downloading an illegal version, or simply going without. Publishers collect a fee only when students buy new books, giving the companies a financial impetus to crank out updated editions whether the content needs refreshing or not.

Here’s the new plan: Colleges require students to pay a course-materials fee, which would be used to buy e-books for all of them (whatever text the professor recommends, just as in the old model).

Why electronic copies? Well, they’re far cheaper to produce than printed texts, making a bulk purchase more feasible. By ordering books by the hundreds or thousands, colleges can negotiate a much better rate than students were able to get on their own, even for used books. And publishers could eliminate the used-book market and reduce incentives for students to illegally download copies as well.

Of course those who wanted to read the textbook on paper could print out the electronic version or pay an additional fee to buy an old-fashioned copy—a book.

Some for-profit colleges, including the University of Phoenix, already do something like this, but the practice has been rare on traditional campuses.

An Indiana company called Courseload hopes to make the model more widespread, by serving as a broker for colleges willing to impose the requirement on students. And it is not alone. The upstart publisher Flat World Knowledge recently made a bulk deal with Virginia State University’s business school, and last month the company hired a new salesperson devoted entirely to “institutional sales” of its e-textbooks. And Daytona State College, in Florida, is negotiating with publishers to test a similar arrangement.

The real champions of the change are the college officials signing the deals. They say they felt compelled to act after seeing students drop out because they could not afford textbooks, whose average prices rose 186 percent between 1986 and 2005, and continue to shoot up each year far faster than inflation.

“When students pay more for new textbooks than tuition in a year, then something’s wrong,” says Rand S. Spiwak, executive vice president at Daytona State, who is leading the experiment there. “Our game plan is to bring the cost of textbooks down by 75 to 80 percent.”

Apple reset the sales model for music, with its iPod players and market-leading online store, and the company is likely to try to enter the e-textbook market as well. But watch out, publishers, the change agents for textbooks may just be traditional colleges.

Moving the Tollbooth

Courseload, the e-book broker, started in 2000, when a co-founder, Mickey Levitan, a former Apple employee inspired by the company’s transformative role in the music industry, devised the idea and teamed up with a professor at Indiana University at Bloomington to try it. But the company failed to find enough takers, and it all but shut down after a brief run.

Then last year an official at Indiana, Bradley C. Wheeler, called Mr. Levitan and talked him into trying again.

Mr. Wheeler is part of an effort at the university to bring down textbook costs, and he remembered a conversation he had had with Mr. Levitan about the idea 10 years ago. Back then, Mr. Wheeler was just a professor of business, but now he is also vice president for information technology and able to help try the approach, which he calls “moving the tollbooth” for textbooks.

“Universities are going to have to engage in saying, This is how we want e-textbook models to evolve that are advantageous to our students and our interests,” he told me this month.

For three semesters Indiana has tested Courseload’s system, which brings in content from various publishers and allows annotation and other features. So far the company has persuaded McGraw-Hill, Pearson, and John Wiley to participate. During those first experiments, students were not charged, and the university and Courseload paid for the e-textbooks. But Mr. Wheeler said that in the spring the university would try at least one pilot where students would pay a mandatory fee for the e-textbooks, which he expected to be about $35 per course in most cases.

Company and university officials gingerly approached two key groups early on: students and state legislators. Mr. Wheeler said student-government officials he talked to were supportive. Mr. Levitan said that the legislators generally opposed new fees, but sympathized with the project’s goal of reducing overall costs to students and said they would not oppose it.

Mr. Levitan said the company was running tests at a handful of colleges, though he declined to name them.

The Virginia Pilot

Mirta Martin, dean of Virginia State’s business school, speaks passionately about her reasons for taking part in the experiment with Flat World, which makes e-textbooks standard in eight courses this fall.

“For our accounting books senior year, there’s nothing under $250,” she told me this summer. “What the students were saying is, We don’t have the money to purchase these books.”

Last year Ms. Martin became so frustrated over hearing stories about students who were performing poorly because they could not afford textbooks that she pledged that no needy student would go without a book. At first she asked community leaders and others to donate to a fund to pay for the books of students who sought financial help. Last year that project bought $4,000 worth of books for students.

But Ms. Martin felt that the philanthropic model was not sustainable, so she began reaching out to publishers to see if the institution could get some sort of bulk rate that would allow it to pay for textbooks for all students.

In its standard model, Flat World offers free access to its textbooks while students are online. If students want to download a copy to their own computers, they must pay $24.95 for a PDF (a print edition costs about $30). But the publisher offered the Virginia State business school a bulk rate of $20 per student per course, and it will allow students at the school to download not only the digital copies but also the study guide, an audio version, or an iPad edition (a bundle that would typically cost about $100).

Tricky issues remain, though. What if a professor wrote the textbook assigned for his or her class? Is it ethical to force students to buy it, even at a reduced rate? And what if students feel they are better off on their own, where they have the option of sharing or borrowing a book at no cost?

Proponents of the new model argue that in time policies can be developed and prices can be driven low enough to win widespread support.

If so, more changes are bound to follow. In music, the Internet reduced album sales as more people bought only the individual songs they wanted. For textbooks, that may mean letting students (or brokers at colleges) buy only the chapters they want. Or only supplementary materials like instructional videos and interactive homework problems, all delivered online.

And that really would be the end of the textbook as we know it.

College 2.0 covers how new technologies are changing colleges. Please send ideas to or @jryoung on Twitter.

Students Remain Reluctant to Try E-Textbooks, Survey Finds

October 26, 2010, 3:41 pm

By Jeff Young

The vast majority of students say they prefer print textbooks over electronic ones, and attitudes have not shifted markedly in the past year, according to the results of a survey by the National Association of College Stores.

The survey, set to be released tomorrow, found that 76 percent of students would pick a printed book over an e-textbook if the choice was left entirely up to them. That’s the exact same proportion as in the previous year’s survey.

The association surveyed 627 students at campuses across the United States this month. About 13 percent of the students said they had purchased an e-book in the past three months, and most of those said they did so because a digital edition was required by their professor.

“We’re still seeing a low penetration,” said Elizabeth Riddle, consumer-research manager for the association. “Some students are still uncomfortable with the technology and fear that they might lose something,” she said.

The survey found that only 8 percent of college students surveyed own an e-reader device such as a Kindle or Sony Reader. The most popular device listed for electronic reading was the iPhone.

The association still expects e-textbooks to take off in the near future, once more professors and students grow comfortable with the format. “We definitely are expecting an increase—of probably 10 to 15 percent by 2012,” said Ms. Riddle.

A few colleges are now arguing that colleges should push a switch to e-textbooks to save students money and help change the business model for textbooks.

University Provost and Chief Academic Officer Named

Submitted by: Renee Hirschberg


University Provost and Chief Academic Officer Named

Jean Morrison comes from University of Southern California

By Art Jahnke. Video by Devin Hahn and Joseph Chan

Watch this video on YouTube

Jean Morrison, executive vice provost for academic affairs and graduate programs at the University of Southern California, has been named University provost and chief academic officer. Morrison, who is also a professor of earth sciences, has been director of the USC Women in Science and Engineering program for the past eight years. She has been a faculty member at USC since 1988.

President Robert A. Brown praises Morrison’s experience and skills. “I am very excited to bring Jean Morrison to Boston University in this key academic leadership role,” says Brown. “She has the academic experience, skills, and vision to help the University continue on the path of increasing quality and impact.”

Morrison, who starts her new job in January, succeeds Provost David Campbell, who will return to teaching and to the research projects he set aside more than five years ago when he assumed the position of BU’s chief academic officer.

“I’m incredibly excited about the opportunity at Boston University,” says Morrison. “Large research universities have a kind of energy that’s unique, and BU’s a big place. That makes for some unique and creative possibilities. It’s one of the nation’s upcoming research universities, and it has outstanding faculty, which is the heart of a research university.”

Morrison believes that the many similarities between the two institutions will serve her well. “Both USC and BU are large, urban research universities that serve large undergraduate populations, but also have a significant cohort of graduate students,” she says. “They’re both characterized by a college of arts and sciences and an array of professional schools. Having had experience with the full breadth of disciplines and size and shape and form should be very helpful.”

The job of a provost, she says, has two critical components. “The first is to support the president and work within the university to implement the president’s vision,” she says. “The other is to support the academic deans. They are the experts. A good provost allows the deans to be as successful as they can be. The provost provides processes and procedures that help the deans do what they need to do to run their schools.”

At USC, Morrison has guided the office of undergraduate programs, the USC Graduate School, and the office of continuing education and summer programs, and she has had important roles on several committees.

She believes that the undergraduate and graduate programs at BU are poised for excellence. “If you look at the metrics,” says Morrison, “the interest that undergraduates show in Boston University is really extraordinary. And when you look at the graduate programs, BU has PhD programs in critical disciplinary fields that are essential to having a strong university. I think with additional growth and support those programs should be able to be absolutely top tier.”

Morrison is a metamorphic petrologist, whose research explores the evolution of the Earth’s crust. As a doctoral candidate, she conducted research in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. “I’m actually a stable isotope geochemist,” she says. “What we do is measure the stable isotopic composition in rocks and minerals. That tells us a great deal about their origin.”

Morrison has served on several National Science Foundation panels, as an editor of the Journal of Metamorphic Geology, and as an associate editor of American Mineralogist and the Geological Society of America Bulletin. In 2000, she was named Sigma Chi Professor of the Year, and she received Sigma Gamma Epsilon’s Excellence in Teaching Award. She earned a BA from Colgate University in 1980, an MS from the University of Georgia in 1983, and a PhD from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1988.

Although she was born and raised in Pauling, N.Y., Morrison says her two children are “Californian through and through,” and may suffer climate shock in the move to Boston.

“My 15-year-old daughter is concerned that she may freeze to death,” she says. “But I think we can buy warm clothes.”

Art Jahnke can be reached at Devin Hahn can be reached at

Teach Creativity, Not Memorization

Submitted by: Jackie Boyle


October 10, 2010

Teach Creativity, Not Memorization

By Robert J. Sternberg

The greatest problem facing colleges today in admissions, instruction, and assessment is that administrators are locked into an archaic notion of what it means to be intelligent.

Some colleges and, increasingly, parents already recognize, for example, that our usual admissions procedures, with their reliance on standardized testing, select for a specific kind of cognitive and memorization-based intelligence. Pressure is mounting to consider instead a broad spectrum of attributes. In my new book, College Admissions for the 21st Century, I describe my experience as dean of arts and sciences at Tufts University, where, with Lee A. Coffin, dean of admissions, and the admissions staff, I introduced Project Kaleidoscope—a modified assessment tool for college admissions that succeeded in selecting candidates based on wisdom, creativity, and practicality, while doing a better job than the conventional admissions process of predicting the college GPA of those admitted.

But once we admit students with a wide range of abilities, we need to teach them in ways that reflect how they learn. If we are looking for qualities like creativity—which we hear so much about today—but teach students primarily in a way that rewards how well they memorize, then we are setting them and ourselves up for failure. Most people can agree that creative ideas are valuable to individuals and to our economy. But those ideas are often rejected because the creative innovator must stand up to vested interests and defy the crowd.

As educators, then, we need to do a better job teaching students to mobilize their creativity successfully. Let me suggest 12 ways to encourage creativity in the classroom.

Redefine the problem. We can promote creative performance by encouraging students to define and redefine their own problems, projects, presentations, and topics for papers, subject to approval; to choose their own ways of solving problems; and sometimes to choose again if they discover that their approach was a mistake.

We cannot always offer choices in the classroom, but having choices is the only way students learn how to choose. Giving them latitude helps them develop taste and good judgment, both of which are essential elements of creativity.

Question and analyze assumptions. Everyone has assumptions, although they are not often widely shared. Questioning assumptions is part of the analytical thinking involved in creativity. We can help students develop this talent by making questioning a part of the daily exchange. It is more important for students to learn what questions to ask—and how to ask them—than to learn the answers. We need to avoid perpetuating the belief that our role is to teach students the facts, and instead help them understand that what matters is their ability to use facts.

Teach students to sell their creative ideas. Everyone would like to assume that his or her wonderful, creative ideas will sell themselves. But they do not. When I was a first-year assistant professor, the second colloquium I was invited to give was at a large testing organization. I was delighted that the company was apparently interested in adopting my ideas about intelligence, even though I was only 25 years old. My career seemed to be off to a spectacular start. I took the train to Princeton, N.J., and gave the talk. It was an abject failure. I went from fantasizing about a dazzling career to wondering whether I would have a career at all.

Students need to learn how to persuade other people of the value of their ideas. That selling is part of the practical aspect of creative thinking.

Encourage idea generation. Creative people demonstrate a “legislative” style of thinking: They like to generate ideas. The environment for generating ideas can be constructively critical, but it must not be harshly or destructively so. When suggested ideas don’t seem to have much merit, don’t just criticize. Instead, suggest new approaches, preferably ones that incorporate at least some aspects of the ideas that seemed overall not to have much value.

Recognize that knowledge is a double-edged sword. Some years ago, I was visiting a famous psychologist who lives abroad. As part of the tour he had planned for me, he invited me to visit the local zoo. We went past the cages of the primates, who were, at the time, engaged in what euphemistically could be called strange and unnatural sexual behavior. I, of course, averted my eyes. My host, however, did not. He began, to my astonishment, analyzing the sexual behavior of the primates in terms of his theory of intelligence. I realized how knowledge and expertise can be a double-edged sword.

On the one hand, people cannot be creative without knowledge. Quite simply, they cannot go beyond the existing state of knowledge if they do not know what that state is. On the other hand, those who have an expert level of knowledge can experience tunnel vision, narrow thinking, and entrenchment. It happens to everyone.

Many students have ideas that are creative with respect to themselves but not to a field. I tell my own students that the teaching-learning process goes two ways. I have knowledge they do not have, but they have a flexibility I do not have—precisely because they do not know as much as I do. By learning from—as well as teaching—our students, we can open channels for creativity.

Challenge students to identify and surmount obstacles. The question is not whether one will encounter obstacles. The question is whether the creative thinker has the fortitude to persevere. I have often wondered why so many people start off their careers doing creative work and then vanish from the radar screen. I think I know at least one reason: Sooner or later, they decide that being creative is not worth the resistance.

We can prepare students for disappointment by describing obstacles that they, their friends, and well-known figures in society have faced while trying to be creative; otherwise, students may think that they are the only ones confronted by obstacles.

Encourage sensible risk-taking. When creative people defy the crowd, they take risks. But there are levels of sensibility. Creative people take sensible risks and produce ideas that others ultimately admire and respect as trend-setting.

To help students learn to take sensible risks, we can encourage them to take some intellectual risks with courses, activities, and what they say to adults—to develop a sense of how to assess risks.

Nurture a tolerance of ambiguity. There are a lot of grays in creative work. Artists and writers working on new projects often report feeling scattered and unsure.

A creative idea tends to come in bits and pieces and develops over time. But the period when the idea is developing is often uncomfortable. When a student has almost the right topic, it’s tempting to accept the near miss. Instead, we should encourage students to accept and extend the period in which their ideas do not quite converge.

Foster self-efficacy. Many people often reach a point where they feel as if no one believes in them. Because creative work often doesn’t get a warm reception, it is extremely important that creative people believe in the value of what they are doing.

There is no way to know for sure that an idea is good. There are, however, some questions to ask:

  • Is there any empirical evidence to support the idea?
  • Does the idea follow from any broader theory whose elements may have support?
  • Is there some way of testing the idea?
  • Have similar ideas been supported?
  • Will you pursue an unpopular idea?

Help students find what they love to do. Ask them to demonstrate a special talent or ability for the class, and explain that it doesn’t matter what they do (within reason), only that they love the activity.

Teach students the importance of delaying gratification. Part of being creative means being able to work on a project or task for a long time without immediate rewards. The fact of the matter is that, in the short term, people are often ignored or punished when they do creative work.

Provide an environment that fosters creativity. There are many ways to do that. The most powerful is to be a role model for creative thinking. Students develop creativity not when they are told to but when they are shown how.

Robert J. Sternberg is provost and senior vice president at Oklahoma State University and a former dean of arts and sciences at Tufts University. This essay is adapted from his book College Admissions for the 21st Century, published this month by Harvard University Press.

Preparing Professors to Teach

Submited by: Erica Manczuk


Preparing Professors to Teach

October 15, 2010

Graduate education’s supporters and critics alike have long called for doctoral students who are better trained to teach, as tenure-track positions become increasingly scarce and the competition for those jobs intensifies. Efforts by universities to focus on the teaching skills of the would-be professors they turn out have developed in fits and starts over the last 15 years.

But in recent years a flurry of new programs at leading universities — in some cases overflowing with grad students — suggests that institutions and doctoral candidates are recognizing a need for future faculty who can not only conduct research at top-tier universities, but also be effective in the classroom at a liberal arts or community college.

Teaching certificate programs are filling that need at dozens of public and private institutions across the country, and the programs continue to expand. Administrators say the certificates not only give students an edge in the job market, but also teach the skills Ph.D. candidates need to be effective teachers – and faculty need to be lifelong learners.

The trend is visible across the country: Year-to-year, more graduate students are opting to seek the voluntary teaching certificates, says Linda von Hoene, director of the Graduate Student Instructor Teaching and Resource Center at the University of California at Berkeley. As Berkeley plans its own program, von Hoene is in the midst of conducting a survey of the 70 or so institutions that already offer one. She also plans to present her research in November at the annual conference of the Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education.

Von Hoene says a preliminary analysis of the 30 programs that had responded to her survey as of last week indicated that, at those colleges alone, the number of students poised to obtain teaching certificates will increase by about 10 percent this year, from 946 to 1,044.

At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the most recent institutions to move in this direction, the Teaching and Learning Laboratory offers graduate students teaching certificates. The lab’s director, Lori Breslow, says she was “totally floored” to see 90 doctoral students register for the program when it began in 2008, and enrollment jumped to 140 this year.

“We were getting vibes that the graduate students did want some sort of training, at least an introduction to higher education,” Breslow says. “We did it just to give it a try and see what would happen. We had no idea whether we would have two people or 200 people. We thought it would be a good way to provide information to potential teachers.”

Some certificate programs began in the late 1980s and 1990s, von Hoene says, but the majority were created over the past decade. “These programs are not static in the sense that they continually are assessed and also revised and then informed by a lot of the research on teaching and learning,” she says.

“While I think, in general, the emergence of these certificate programs shows an increased commitment to preparing graduate students for teaching, that commitment actually predates in most cases the formal adoption of a certificate program,” von Hoene says. Training processes may have been in place in the 1980s, but in the 1990s, the focus shifted from preparing graduate students exclusively to their work as TAs to the responsibilities they would bear as future faculty members. “We need to keep in mind that some of the schools that have very rigorous programs and long traditions in this area may not necessarily have a formal certificate program, e.g., Ohio State, Indiana, Berkeley. The bottom line is that a tremendous amount of progress has been made in graduate student professional development over the past three decades, something which is not always as visible to the public as it should be.”

But certificates are particularly beneficial because they are often formally recognized or denoted on a student’s transcript, providing a better documentation of the steps a student has gone through to become a better instructor.

MIT students who have obtained the certificate say it was enormously helpful. Mark Zachary Taylor, an assistant professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology international affairs school who earned a political science Ph.D. from MIT in 2006, was less concerned with securing a job than he was with being able to teach effectively once he got one.

“We don’t learn how to teach…. Our stereotype is that a teacher gets up there and hands you a lot of knowledge. You’re the empty glass, they’re the pitcher of water and they pour their knowledge into you. But that’s not how it works,” Taylor says. He strives to engage students in classes, pose interesting questions and draw them in, maybe by connecting the issue at hand to politics or their personal lives. “All those techniques I learned through the teaching certificate,” he says. “I really believe in this form of education, these programs.”

MIT is a relative late-comer to the teaching certificate movement, and as such its program continues to evolve. Depending on the institution, training requirements for the certificate vary. At MIT, students participate in eight workshops that include readings and assignments. They formulate teaching philosophy statements (a staple among such programs), learn how to design courses, plan lectures and create syllabuses, among other things. Students have two years to complete the program.

Meanwhile, institutions such as Brown University, which began its program in 1989, have far more elaborate tracks. At Brown, students can earn four certificates. Each program takes a year to complete, and comprises four to seven workshops. The programs are modeled around different themes that build the components of a “reflective teaching practice”: an understanding that effective teaching requires careful planning; knowledge of one’s audience and the ability to engage different learning styles; a recognition of the importance of establishing learning goals (and means to determine if such goals have been achieved); and a willingness to be innovative.

Brown requires some of the same tasks as MIT, such as the philosophy statement and syllabus construction, but it also stresses heavily the importance of student-faculty collaboration, and creating a community that emphasizes reflection on and scholarship of teaching. This year, the program expects to award 196 certificates, about 50 more than last year. “We’ve actually seen a significant increase in participation, particularly this year,” says Kathy M. Takayama, director of Brown’s Harriet W. Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning.

Takayama points to the job market and the program’s recent revisions and improvement as reasons for the consistently higher enrollment from year to year. She also noted that about 13 of the participants this year are faculty and postdocs looking to continue their professional development; they, along with the graduate students, seem to recognize that the program has long-term impact, she says.

Takayama says the program unites participants into a community of peers, regardless of discipline or stature. It trains them to think about learning contextually, beyond the course materials. What exactly is learning? How do you assess students? How do you make teaching accessible and effective? Certificate programs “really are important not just for students, but also for faculty members and postdocs,” Takayama says. “The faculty are looking for thinking about their teaching in a scholarly way. They became faculty because they got degrees in their discipline, but they never thought about their process of teaching in a formal way.” And, of course, the programs teach graduate students these skills before they have the chance to realize they never learned them.

Although she doesn’t necessarily see a faculty appointment in her future, Nicole DiLello got her teaching certificate from MIT and is in her sixth year of working on her Ph.D. in electrical engineering. She says the program helped her develop presentation skills and target her work, be it a lecture or a lesson, toward a specific audience. “I’m still not sure if I actually want to go into teaching, but I thought it would be good background if I did,” she said. “I just think that people often don’t think about the sorts of things the program teaches.”

For the most part, students who obtained certificates from the University of Michigan – whose program is also on the younger end of the spectrum – reported satisfaction with their training. They generally said they feel more prepared to teach and, to a lesser extent, demonstrate that when looking for a job.

“It is a difficult job market for Ph.D.s right now, and candidates with evidence of good preparation for teaching and interest in teaching are more attractive to search committees,” Constance E. Cook, executive director for Michigan’s Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, wrote in an e-mail. She said Michigan started its teacher certificate program because “we thought it would not only improve grad student teaching, but also help them on the job market.”

Since Michigan’s program began in October 2007, 386 students have enrolled and 98 have received certificates. In a survey of recipients (with a 98 percent response rate), 93 percent of students said they gained the skills and knowledge to enhance their teaching practice, 94 percent said they felt more confident to teach at the college level, and 85 percent reported an increased confidence in their ability to discuss teaching and learning during job interviews.

And even though students contacted by Inside Higher Ed said the job market was either a small factor or did not play at all into their decision to pursue a certificate, Robert Sowell, vice president for programs and operations at the Council of Graduate Schools, says the programs are indeed helpful. “I think it is definitely making them more competitive,” Sowell said. “They can go in with a teaching portfolio, with a formal certification or a notation on their transcript that they have participated in this sort of training.” It’s a “win-win-win situation” for the student, the institution where the student is a TA, and the institution where the student will go on to work, he said.

Von Hoene says certificate programs are bringing the discussion of teaching and learning to “a whole new level.”

“Most important,” she says, “it’s to show there’s a false dichotomy between teaching and research.”

“A lot of research universities care most about the quality and quantity of your research, but I do think there’s a growing trend in some places that teaching matters,” Taylor, the 2006 MIT graduate, says. “I’m really happy at Georgia Tech because teaching matters. A lot of universities say that, but when it comes to promotion and tenure, it’s not always the case.”

Allie Grasgreen

In Higher Education, a Focus on Technology

Submitted by: Illiana Valladarez


In Higher Education, a Focus on Technology

Published: October 10, 2010

The education gap facing the nation’s work force is evident in the numbers. Most new jobs will require more than a high school education, yet fewer than half of Americans under 30 have a postsecondary degree of any kind. Recent state budget cuts, education experts agree, promise to make closing that gap even more difficult.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and four nonprofit education organizations are beginning an ambitious initiative to address that challenge by accelerating the development and use of online learning tools.

An initial $20 million round of money, from the Gates Foundation, will be for postsecondary online courses, particularly ones tailored for community colleges and low-income young people. Another round of grants, for high school programs, is scheduled for next year.

Just how effective technology can be in improving education — by making students more effective, more engaged learners — is a subject of debate. To date, education research shows that good teachers matter a lot, class size may be less important than once thought and nothing improves student performance as much as one-on-one human tutoring.

If technology is well designed, experts say, it can help tailor the learning experience to individual students, facilitate student-teacher collaboration, and assist teachers in monitoring student performance each day and in quickly fine-tuning lessons.

The potential benefits of technology are greater as students become older, more independent learners. Making that point, Mr. Gates said in an interview that for children from kindergarten to about fifth grade “the idea that you stick them in front of a computer is ludicrous.”

But in higher education, there are several promising projects that have used online technology effectively.

And so the new initiative, Next Generation Learning Challenges, focuses on the college years. It is looking for innovative tools that can be developed and shared across networks of colleges. The grants, for $250,000 to $750,000 each, are intended to scale up such efforts, so they become self-sustaining.

The money is for online courses and tools, and any software developed with it must be freely licensed.

The program’s members say the timing seems right for such an effort, partly because the technology of online learning is advancing rapidly. And, they add, budget-constrained colleges have a greater economic incentive to try online tools, if they are going to make headway in preparing a greater number of students for an economy that increasingly requires workers with higher levels of skills.

“Innovation is your only hope,” Bill Gates said. “And the only new game in town is technology.”

Among the projects that have successfully used online technology is the Open Learning Initiative at Carnegie Mellon University, which has adopted hybrid models of digital and classroom teaching to accelerate learning. In one project, a college statistics course was taught in two different ways using comparable groups of students: a traditional class lasted 15 weeks, with four class meetings a week, whereas a hybrid one of online course material held two classroom sessions a week.

The hybrid class lasted half as long — seven-and-a-half weeks — as the traditional setting. Yet the students’ test scores and retained learning, measured later in the year, were as high as or higher than those of the conventional lecture class, said Candace M. Thille, director of the initiative.

In short, the hybrid approach doubled the productivity of education in that program. The course materials, which have been modified for community colleges, have been introduced at 25 two-year colleges this fall.

The members of the Next Generation Learning Challenges point to such examples, as well as free online video lectures and coursework at projects like Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s OpenCourseWare and, as vehicles to “leverage teachers,” not replace them.

The online tools, they say, can help open up educational pathways to skills, especially for low-income young adults. “Access is becoming more and more of an issue,” said Victor V. Vuchic, an education expert at the Hewlett Foundation. “This goes right to the heart of that problem.”

The Gates and Hewlett foundations worked closely with four other education nonprofits in creating the initiative: Educause, the Council of Chief State School Officers, League for Innovation in the Community College and International Association for K-12 Online Learning.

“They want these innovative online programs to reside in the educational community, as they have to if they are going to scale up and spread,” said Diana G. Oblinger, president of Educause, which focuses on the use of technology in higher education.

A version of this article appeared in print on October 11, 2010, on page B3 of the New York edition.

For-Profit College Stocks, Including Bridgepoint, Walloped

Submitted by: Renee Hirschberg


For-Profit College Stocks, Including Bridgepoint, Walloped

By Don Bauder | Posted October 14, 2010, 10:30 a.m.

Stock of San Diego’s Bridgepoint Education, San Diego’s highly controversial for-profit, online university, is down 13.24% this morning (Oct. 14) as a negative forecast from the industry’s Mr. Big, Apollo Group, reverberated around the whole sector. Apollo, which runs the University of Phoenix, withdrew its outlook for fiscal 2011 and said it expects a “significant” enrollment decline in the current quarter. Apollo cited the “uncertain regulatory environment” in its statement. The Senate recently held hearings, looking into charges that the for-profit colleges rake in federal money while providing an inadequate education, use deceptive sales tactics and fraudulent loan applications, and have high dropout rates and higher tuitions. The Department of Education has proposed a “gainful employment” rule that would slice financing to colleges that turn out students who can’t get the jobs necessary to pay off their federal debt. Implementation has been delayed, but the Department of Education expects to have new rules in place in July.

Bridgepoint has been under the Department of Education investigative microscope for some time. The stock is trading at $14.87 this morning; it has been as high as $27.50 in the last 52 weeks and as low as $12.75.