I want to continue my discussion of ideas related to changing higher education. Last week I addressed the issue of faculty appointments. This week, I want to pick up on two more of the essays included in The Chronicle of Higher Education series that are related to the quality of the educational experience … picking the right college and learning the right things. I think these essays point us in important directions, but don’t go far enough.
In an essay entitled, “High-Tech College Counseling,” the proposal is made to increase the use of technology in college guidance. According to recent data, the average student to high school counselor ratio in public schools in the United States is 459:1. Obviously, few students receive the kind of personal guidance necessary to navigate the complex process of applying to college. This problem is likely exacerbated for first generation and minority students, who may not have the family structure or experience to assist in this process.
The article suggests that more and better use be made by technology. There are already emerging software systems and programs that engage students in the process from beginning to end. These sites remind students about deadlines and requirements; they provide basic information about types of colleges and financial aid; and, they are beginning to become more interactive allowing prospective students to connect online with counselors.
Certainly there are many college-bound students who need this type of basic help. Despite what often appears to be endless communications about admissions requirements and the multiple opportunities for assistance in preparing applications, preparing for exams, etc., navigating the process is only part of the college search process. In fact, I think there is something even more important.
Students and families need more than basic help in determining how to apply for college. They need much more help in deciding why to apply to a specific college. There are hundreds of great colleges that provide extraordinary opportunities for a quality education. But the key to success for students is more often based on fit rather than admission. This is not a case of better or worse, it is about finding the college that meets a student’s educational and personal needs… a place where s/he will thrive educationally and personally.
Data indicate that the student’s first visit to campus is the key determinant in the college decision. Some studies suggest that the decision about fit is made in the first ten minutes on campus. The best decisions … the right decisions … are not typically made on first impressions. Students need to work through a much more reflective process to better understand the type of learning environment, the campus culture and the geographic location that will best serve their needs … especially after the “10 minute impression” wears off.
Once a student arrives at the right college, the next important question relates to curriculum. In an essay entitled, “An Old School Notion: Writing Required,” the suggestion is made to return to an approach popular a decade ago called writing across the curriculum.
This idea was embraced by many colleges that embedded writing requirements (and therefore writing instruction) in every course and in every discipline, rather than only in writing specific courses. These writing assignments took many forms including papers, short essays, journals, etc.
I remain amazed at why these programs seem to be less popular today despite the persistent concern raised by all faculty that incoming students do not write well. But I think we need to do more than writing across the curriculum. We need to consider thinking across the curriculum, research across the curriculum, analysis across the curriculum, etc.
We speak eloquently about the value of liberal education and the need to prepare our students to be lifelong learners equipped with the skills for both professional challenges and citizenship. And yet we often relegate these important skills to specific courses, continuing to focus on discipline-based content that we all know will be less important and likely outdated in a short time after graduation.
High schools and colleges need to work together to better assist college-bound students to make the right choice. And colleges need to rethink their curriculum to make sure these students are well educated and fully prepared for the challenges that will face them. These ideas are worthy of further discussion. These ideas are necessary for the future of higher education.
What do you think?
Last week I shared an overview of a recent series of essays that appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education intended to engage people in discussion about reinventing college. I shared the titles of the essays and the fact that readers have been invited to provide their own creative ideas in a contest entitled, “Invent Your Own College!”
Some of the suggested solutions in the essays by reporters and contributors address specific challenges within higher ed, but not necessarily the central issues of access and affordability. One issue that draws a good deal of attention is the state of the professoriate.
One of the essays in the reinventing college series is entitled, “2 Tracks for Faculty.” Sadly, this idea provides nothing new and suggests a strategy that is both unrealistic and unaffordable for most institutions.
The idea proposed is to establish “two types of faculty members.” One type would be those earning doctorates, who are hired on tenure track appointments with significant responsibilities for research and graduate education. This is the common profile of today’s full-time faculty member. The second track would be those hired as full-time instructors, who are required to earn only a master’s degree and primarily teach and advise undergraduate students. At most institutions, these are part-time faculty members.
At face value, this suggestion regarding “tracks” or “types” of appointments, an idea that has been discussed for decades, makes good sense. Training instructors to be better teachers and appointing them to focus on teaching would likely improve the quality of education at most institutions. Further, the idea is that these faculty might be prepared through master’s level programs that focus on pedagogy and instructional methods within their disciplines. But this notion is connected in “2 Tracks for Faculty” with a proposal to turn current adjunct faculty (part-time) instructors into future full-time instructors.
Part-time faculty are typically under-paid with few benefits and little security. They are most often paid by the course with limitations on the number of courses they are allowed to teach. While some adjunct faculty are hired to bring a specific expertise necessary for certain courses in professional programs, most are qualified to teach a range of courses within a discipline. Many are both qualified and willing to teach full time, but are hired by the course and by the semester or year. And they deserve to be better paid and more secure in their positions.
The fact is that most colleges hire part-time faculty as one way to manage costs. This is the primary problem with this proposal. Most college presidents I know would gladly hire more full-time faculty and would see full-time instructors as both a more equitable employment option for adjuncts and a benefit to the educational experience for students. But the simple fact is that if colleges were to reduce the number of adjunct faculty and hire more full-time instructors, the overall cost would be prohibitive. And if affordability is already an issue for too many students, this would only exacerbate the situation.
The solution to the instructional challenge lies more directly in the redesign of the curriculum and the delivery of instruction (course schedule and course offerings). Whatever the optimum class size, colleges would be more efficient (and effective) if classes were all full and the curriculum was more streamlined with fewer electives.
If this was accomplished, resources would be more available to raise faculty salaries, hire more full-time faculty (tenure track and instructors) and manage costs for students. Until the cost issue is addressed, the number of tracks is unimportant.
What do you think?
(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)
I rarely use my blog for political reasons outside of higher education issues. I also try to take a national perspective since this blog is read by alumni/ae and friends from across the country. But today I want to share some thoughts on an issue that the citizens of Massachusetts will decide in a few weeks. And this issue raises significant moral and ethical questions about which we should all be concerned.
On November 6, the citizens of Massachusetts will vote on Ballot Question 2. A yes vote would legalize physician-assisted suicide in Massachusetts. In my opinion, and the opinion of many others, this ballot question not only threatens the dignity of life, but contains flaws, which would have unintended consequences to terminally ill patients and their families.
If passed, a patient who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness and given a prognosis of six months or less to live would have the ability to request a doctor’s prescription for medication to end his or her life. Jewish and Christian moral traditions have long rejected the idea of assisting in another’s suicide. Religious organizations are joined by secular groups including the Massachusetts Medical Society, Massachusetts Hospice and Palliative Care Federation, American Medical Directors Association, American Nurses Association, American College of Physicians, American Medical Association, and the Massachusetts Osteopathic Society in opposition to the practice of physician-assisted suicide.
Some of the key flaws in the Massachusetts ballot initiative which have been identified include:
- Doctors agree that terminal diagnoses of six months or less are often wrong. Many with terminal diagnoses live years longer.
- Patients requesting suicide do not need to be examined by a psychiatrist before receiving a prescription to commit suicide. Many terminally ill patients suffer from depression.
- Question 2 does not require a consultation with a palliative care or hospice expert.
- No doctor is present when the patient takes the lethal prescription. This is not a dignified way to die.
- There is no requirement that the patient notify family members. Compassionate care at the end of life should involve the loving support of family members.
- We should be supporting improved hospice and palliative care statewide, not legalized suicide.
In an open letter calling Question 2 “poorly written, confusing, and flawed,” five past presidents of the Massachusetts Medical Society- Leonard J. Morse, MD; Barbara A. Rockett, MD; Philip E. McCarthy, MD; Francis X. Rockett, MD; and Lynda M. Young, MD have cautioned that if the ballot question is passed, “the doctor/patient relationship will suffer and the way doctors deliver health care will be gravely changed.” Last month, the Massachusetts Medical Society posted,
“We are opposed to Question 2 for these reasons:
- The proposed safeguards against abuse are insufficient. Enforcement provisions, investigation authority, oversight, or data verification are not included in the act. A witness to the patient’s signed request could also be an heir.
- Assisted suicide is not necessary to improve the quality of life at the end of life. Current law gives every patient the right to refuse lifesaving treatment, and to have adequate pain relief, including hospice and palliative sedation.
- Predicting the end of life within six months is difficult; sometimes the prediction is not accurate. From time to time, patients expected to be within months of their death have gone on to live many more months — or years. In one study, 17 percent of patients outlived their prognosis. ”
Lynda M. Young, MD, MMS past president, testified about the MMS policy at a hearing of the Massachusetts House Judiciary Committee on March 6, 2012: “Allowing physicians to participate in assisted suicide would cause more harm than good. Physician assisted suicide is fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer. “Instead of participating in assisted suicide, physicians must aggressively respond to the needs of patients at the end of life. ... Patients must continue to receive emotional support, comfort care, adequate pain control, respect for patient autonomy, and good communication.”
Dr. Joseph Gravel, president of the Massachusetts Academy of Family Physicians has been quoted as saying the ballot initiative does not include adequate safeguards to protect poor people suffering from a terminal disease who may want to end their lives rather than become a financial burden to their families. (Eagle-Tribune). In a statement he issued on behalf of the more than 1,000 family doctors who are part of the academy, he announced the group’s opposition to Question 2. “The role of family physicians is to provide compassionate, high quality health care to all the patients, in each stage of life.”
He continued, “This certainly includes end-of-life care. It is clear that we need to continue to work to provide those suffering from serious illnesses, depression, and other conditions that can lead to hopelessness highly effective palliative and hospice treatments that are now available. To really address this patient need, we also need to work to assure that everyone has access to a pre-existing, trusting, personal relationship with a primary care physician that can be enormously important during these very difficult situations.” (State House News Service)
The question of legislation by referendum has also been called into question given the complexity of the legal, ethical and moral issues involved. If the ballot question passes in November, there will be no other steps or requirements to be fulfilled and the flaws and unintended consequences will be part of a new law. If passed by the voters, physician-assisted suicide will be legal in Massachusetts on January 1, 2013.
As you can see, this is more than a religious issue … it is a legal issue … it is a medical issue … and it is a fundamental moral issue related to all people of all faiths and traditions. For those in Massachusetts, I would hope that much thought and reflection would precede a decision on how to vote on November 6. For those outside of Massachusetts, issues like these need our attention and concern.
(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)
This past week, the media has covered stories related to student debt and the challenges for recent college graduates. The student debt level in this country has risen to almost $1 trillion. Of equal concern, the delinquency rate on student loans has increased to 8.9%. Having written these past weeks about the issues of access and affordability, especially for first generation college students, I thought it might be helpful to clarify some of the data related to student debt.
I debated all last week whether or not to write about Penn State in this week’s blog. This story has received so much attention from the media and has been analyzed through multiple prisms. A day has not gone by that I don’t find myself engaged in conversation with someone about this issue. Everyone has a strong opinion.
No one disagrees about the horrific realities of child abuse. But one can find differing opinions about the role of the big-time athletic culture, the legacy of the football coach, the response from the NCAA, and on and on. I too have opinions about these aspects of the story, but wanted to share a different perspective … one that concerns me even more deeply.
The unanswered question for me is ... has the University’s accrediting body been involved? Every college and university in America is accredited by a regional accrediting body. For Anna Maria, the accrediting body is called NEASC (New England Association of Schools and Colleges). Penn State’s accrediting body is called Middle States (Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools).
While each of the accrediting associations differs slightly, they all serve the same purpose. They exist to insure that educational quality and integrity are maintained on every campus. In the Middle States statement of purpose, for example, we read that the association is “committed to excellence in all levels across the continuum of education, whose purposes are to encourage, advance, assist and sustain the quality and integrity of education.” (NOTE: The misspelling is really on their website!).
Middle States publishes a handbook which delineates the criteria for accreditation. It is called Characteristics for Excellence in Higher Education. There are 14 standards. Standard #6 is “Integrity.” The broad definition is, “In the conduct of its programs and activities involving the public and the constituencies it serves, the institution demonstrates adherence to ethical standards and its own stated policies, providing support for academic and intellectual freedom.” This section further describes integrity as being reflected and represented by values of honesty, truthfulness, equity and fairness, respect for all people, civility, etc.
Middle States may already be deeply involved in a review or an investigation of Penn State. If this is the case, it should be reported by the media, if only the higher education media. This past week’s activities by the NCAA continues to make this issue primarily a football story … an issue of the problems with a dominant athletic culture … and this is troublesome. For me, the questions are deeper and more pervasive and make me wonder about the fundamental integrity of a great academic institution.
Perhaps the alleged unethical behavior related to failures to report, cover ups, etc. are only related to the culture of big time football as the media reports. But could these behaviors and actions be a reflection of a more systematic problem and organizational culture? Should this situation cause us to wonder if there is a more pervasive integrity problem?
There are almost 80, 000 students enrolled at Penn State. There are almost 10,000 employees. There are untold numbers of community members who attend events, camps, activities and, of course, football games. If the University is committed to protecting all of their rights … and I hope they are … how does it act when students allege harassment or unfair treatment beyond athletics? How do they act if employees allege inappropriate behavior by supervisors, etc? Do their policies and procedures demonstrate the integrity of the institution?
I am neither judging Penn State University nor drawing any conclusions. I am simply expressing my concern that in the larger picture, the actions of the NCAA and the focus on the football program are less significant. And while we criticize the culpability of such a football culture, our focus on this as the primary or sole reason for these problems serves to perpetuate the problem.
For me, the heart of the question is the fundamental integrity of the University. I hope that this is being investigated by the accrediting body. Because it is this core value that links all colleges and universities together. And it is central to our commitment to all who study, work and visit our campuses.
For me, football does not define Penn State University. Academic integrity and excellence define Penn State and all colleges and universities. And the potential failure to uphold these values throughout the institution is the real issue. And the question needs to be answered!
(Your comments and ideas are always welcome.)