And this appears to be helping the state, especially in stemming brain drain (smart students having few ties to the state leaving and not coming back) and nurturing excellence. As to the latter point, it kind of makes sense. You get what you pay for, right? If what you buy is mediocre performance, then it should not be a surprise to you that in the end you advance mediocrity for your state. [Sorry for the pay-wall around that link.]
That brings us to College Park, where leadership is hell bent for leather to eliminate merit based awards, so needy, even if mediocre (or worse) students get a bigger piece of our state workforce and top students have less of a reason than ever to stick around for education – or later participation in the workforce.
This has taken a very long time to advance but a federal lawsuit over Maryland treatment of HBU’s is finally before a judge. At issue is whether state policy for approving duplication of programs between campuses ends up disadvantaging campuses like Morgan or UMES who must compete with other campuses, thus losing market share. Of course, also at issue is money, and the plaintiffs in this case want more. This one has the potential to heat up in austere times, in a system where cash and competitiveness are much on people’s minds.
Here’s another national ranking that we doubt you will see advertised on the flagship campus website. A sign of the higher education bubble getting bigger (and more likely to burst) is that more groups are looking objectively at what will students actually learn on that campus.
While the alarming backdrop is painted at the link above, we can see the flagship rates a C on that scale … and, based on our experience, that is a gentleman’s C at that.
Now, there are important responses to the ‘content’ argument above, which have to do with other experiential and cognitive skills which might not be reflected in a simple inventory of course topics. Unfortunately, while the anything-goes-in-Gen-Ed groupies over in Undergraduate Studies might make such arguments to excuse our poor grade (if they deign engage in discussion about a bigger picture, as they do not), the campus undercuts any sense of intellectual integrity in such views by not substantively articulating or tracking such experiences or skills in our outcomes.
In other words, any whacky course which obviously exists to serve some professor’s pet niche area, hobby or social advocacy, instead of tracing content to some foundational goal of the campus, gets a pass because it serves some ‘big thinker’ mission or a ‘greater good’ for which no further assessment is appropriate, and certainly any discussion about its content validity is just too philistine to be indulged by cultured academics.
That’s a view that won’t sell well at the unemployment office once the higher education bubble bursts.
Coursera announces its 17 newest providers of free on-line course offerings, among them College Park. This is not really news – UM’s rush to join the on-line craze was known last summer, soon after locals discovered how much press U.Va. was getting for it – but the latest report puts us in the company of Berklee College of Music and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, which is to say, back in the pack following yet another stunning display of campus followership.
Main Admin would be fast to point out that this puts us still well ahead of so many hundreds of other schools still warily eying MOOCs, and that is true. After a frenetic internal fire drill, we have the first four offerings set to appear next year, seemingly chosen for balance of areas (one from the social side of campus, one from hard science, one from business, one from technology.)
But so far unannounced is any statement of intention for how success in these offerings might be measured. Well … okay, that’s a silly thing to wonder, of course, since we know success is foreordained. Main Admin will spin the enterprise as a victory no matter what happens.
Nevertheless, questions will only grow. How much are taxpayers spending for free content to be offered to the world? Will our present stakeholders – e.g. current students – see less available seat capacity? How much does campus anticipate serving part of its traditional base via one of these courses?
It’s one thing for the campus to offer something “free” but we bet the faculty involved aren’t doing this out of the goodness of their hearts, and even if so, students who are paying top dollar for limited seats in College Park may seriously wonder if they are getting best-effort from faculty, who may make them wait in line behind the MOOC users for attention.
The new list of best schools for free speech is out, as compiled by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. Neighbors like University of Virginia and College of William and Mary get prominent kudos for their handling of speech issues on campus.
UMCP, unsurprisingly, is back in the pack with a “yellow light” (caution) rating for its restrictions and recent history (though one might reasonably point out that some of the articles compiled about UMCP in the FIRE database are not particularly recent.)
Hard on the heels of the college-for-all message is another opportunity for folks in Central to give high fives all around: UM is described as among the leaders in the nation for getting kids graduated in four years, which they describe as “on time.”
At what cost? And for that matter, what really does “on time” mean?
Unquestionably we have a strong interest in helping students make informed decisions on what pathways best help them reach goals. We should even help them figure out what those goals are which of course ought to be their goals. Unfortunately, one of the costs of high marks in this rating just mentioned is, we project our artificial goals on them along the way. “You can do anything you want and be what you want to be, as long as you do it in four years so we can look good in national ratings.” Our kids all too often end up getting squeezed out of what might have been enriching experiences, new minors or career-enhancing opportunities.
What a shame that an arriving freshman intent on studying, say, dance would take a Gen Ed course in her second year and through it discover a talent and interest in computer science. Okay, that won’t happen because nothing in our Gen Ed involves teaching about computers, but maybe it would be physics or economics. So sorry – we toss road blocks in front of students trying to do this. You’re a dance major, and we don’t want you risking the four year goal.
We ask you to come to College Park to learn, just don’t learn that you like something different than when you arrived!
Not only does the ability to change suffer under these artificial goals, so doesn’t quality. The pressure to “rawhide ‘em” (get ‘em up and move ‘em out) is intense, and most reliable way to do that, given that we have no control over what Admissions gives us, is to dilute content. Bad grades will make for bottlenecks, so don’t risk it. Move ‘em on.
And never mind how our majors are defined in the first place. Isn’t it an amazing coincidence that it takes exactly the same number of credits of content to become prepared as an African American Studies major as a Cellular Biologist or Fire Protection Engineer?
If a well-advised student makes an informed decision to take a longer path, and is otherwise a good student not consuming a disproportionate amount of resources compared with any other consumer, then it is on the student if it takes longer than four years – not us. (If that ends up costing more, then that’s a conversation your dance major might have with whomever is paying the bills. But really – what is more expensive in the long run, an on-time completion of a major you learn isn’t for you or a longer stay with better prospects of a satisfying career? We can’t make those decisions for students and should not try.)
But that consumer very much has a cause of action with our campus if, with good intentions and normal progress, we don’t make it possible for that student to make it out according to a four-year plan which we require each arriving student to prepare and have approved.
And that latter is the key: we require plans. Unfortunately, we don’t take them seriously. It is advising theater. They provide no input to enrollment management decisions (that would require an investment in technical capability that Central is unwilling to make) and have no bearing on reality since they presume success in courses that students only hope will be available. We have changed our Gen Ed so as to require (for example) I-series offerings which by definition are unique opportunities. Not only don’t we use these to plan, we can’t use these to plan.
The chief value in comparisons such as highlighted in today’s Post is in exposing serious flaws in how we define our majors and support young scholars who pursue them.
More about the Aldridge transition at UMUC is coming out. The Post reports on the practice of paying “hush money” to employees who sign non-disclosure agreements at termination, presumably so they won’t spill any beans about the apparent decline in academics in those programs. This (again, according to the story) may have cost the state millions of tax dollars.
Brit Kirwan nevertheless declares the Aldridge tenure a “success”. In the present state economy, it isn’t clear that we can afford that much more success.
Critics are emerging to complain that UMUC focused “enrollment and revenue over learning”. Maybe Brit should have a look-see at practices at the other College Park campus, hmmm?
In a puff piece written for (and possibly by) the campus administration, the Diamondback today laid out UM’s case for continuing race-based admissions practices, in light of the Supreme Court’s upcoming consideration of ‘equal opportunity’ in other states.
Under a smokescreen of lofty goals about diversity in the workforce, Director of Undergraduate Admissions Shannon Gundy fails to give any specifics of how race is factored into her office’s decisions about admission, and therein is the rub. The campus cites “26 factors” which contribute to any decision, but in fact, we track almost none of them, and the first shred of evidence has yet to appear to describe how admissions counselors (who review applicants) are directed to use these criteria. Gundy may give lip service to criteria other than race, but in the end, she and her crew all know what to admit when they see it. As a result, objectively unprepared students – who cost this campus dearly before minority students are sent packing without degrees after years of contributing to our diversity reports to Annapolis – displace objectively prepared students who were inconveniently Asian or White.
Asking the race-conscious Admissions office whether an African American applicant is prepared for College Park is like asking your barber if you need a haircut.
If there’s a reason our normally tight-lipped administration is trying to push out on race-based admissions practices, then it could be because the rest of the country may be moving past it. The Supreme Court case coming up is only one sign that maybe America is finally able to join the post-racial age, and even Time Magazine has carried research reports about the unintended, negative consequences of favoring one race over another in decisions. A pity that UM may once again – like with its race restrictions on law school admissions decades ago, and race restrictions on scholarships two decades ago – fight to stay on the wrong side of history.
One piece of legislation currently under consideration in Annapolis would tear yet another hole into Maryland’s tattered Public Information Act by adding another exemption (meaning, another way the state would not have to respond to requests by its people who seek access to documents owned in their name.) The bill would exempt university researchers from having to share their scholarly materials and raw data.
You know. Like scholars who believe in intellectual objectivity and scientific reproducibility do.
The Sun describes the proponents’ spin about why this limitation on distribution of information is needed, at least in their minds. Largely it has to do with public reaction to tremendously controversial academics in other states, where campuses gave a platform for distribution of notions that many others thought were as unsupportable as they were well-sought by extreme advocacy groups. People wanted to examine how those views came to be and test the strength of those conclusions, the advocacy groups didn’t want to have to ‘splain themselves, and hence the controversy over information access erupted.
Maryland’s extreme edge – we suspect the bill sponsor would wear that as a badge of honor – wants to erect defenses so our campuses can similarly serve as platform for advocacy positions that, by law, cannot be tested by other scholars.
Unfortunately, University of Maryland VP for Research, Patrick O’Shea, testified on behalf of our campus in support of this return to the dark ages. Quoting O’Shea from the Sun, “It would allow us to compete and win the trust of cutting-edge staff,” he said. You know. The kind of staff who want to speak controversial things to the public without danger of having to show their work.
The ultimate newspeak is again from the bill’s sponsor:
Rosenberg said that by passing his bill, the legislature could set Maryland apart from such states. “It would send very strong signals that Maryland is a place where we value scientific research and academic inquiry,” he said.
Indeed. We value academic inquiry so much that we want to pass a law to stop people from being able to inquire.
Splendid! When do the chemistry, psychology, economics, art history, zoology, journalism and one hundred other department chairmen roll out word of their recruiting picks?
Oh wait. Nobody makes recruiting resources available to those stakeholders. And for that matter, no prospective chemists, psychologists, … have yet heard whether they are even accepted for fall 2012, unless of course they play football.
How about it, Randy? What majors are your hand-picked 24 recruits? Do you even know?