Elite Colleges, or Colleges for the Elite?

Dear Commons Community,

There is a very good op-ed piece in today’s NY Times that touches on a higher education admissions practice that rarely gets much attention.  The practice usually referred to as “legacy” admissions involves awarding extra admissions points for children of alumni.   Richard D. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, refers to this as affirmative action for white and wealthy Americans.  Among selective research universities, public and private, almost three-quarters employ legacy preferences, as do the vast majority of selective liberal arts colleges. At many selective schools, legacies make up 10 percent to 25 percent of the student population.   The issue is worth further consideration and study as the American higher education system continues to evolve into a system of haves and have nots.  The latter point was also made by Jonathon Cole, former provost at Columbia University and the author of The Great American University, who gave a talk last Friday at the CUNY Graduate Center.

The op-ed piece can be found at:



Tea Party or Tea Kettle Movement – Tom Friedman Column!

Dear Commons Community,

Tom Friedman has an excellent column in today’s NY Times on the Tea Party movement which he refers to as the Tea Kettle movement because it is letting off steam.   While I read his column regularly, I do not always agree with his positions.  However, this piece on the Tea Party and other issues plaguing our country and its institutions is most insightful.  I highly recommend it.  The column can be found at:



Battle of the Format Wars!

Dear Commons Community,

Over the decades, those of us who dabble in technology have seen a number of battles between company X and company Y compete for a market share by developing their own media formats.  Among the more famous were the VHS/Betamax, CD/MP3, and HD DVD/Blue-ray.  I stumbled upon this website which gives brief summaries of the ten more famous format battles.  It is an interesting and quick read.  See URL below.



New Initiative – High School College Collaboration

Dear Commons Community,

New York City’s Michael Bloomberg announced a new initiative that will combine high school and two-years of college into one academic program.  It is a joint venture of the NYC Department of Education, IBM and City Univeristy of New York.  Here is a brief blurb on the anouncement.

NEW YORK — The City University of New York and IBM will open a unique school that merges high school with two years of college, allowing students to earn an associate’s degree, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Monday in announcing a series of ambitious educational initiatives.  Those students will be “first in line for a job at IBM,” Bloomberg said in his announcement, made on MSNBC.


Outsourcing our Public Libraries!

Dear Commons Community,

In the past several decades, we have seen public operations (sanitation, schools, prisons) outsourced to private, for-profit companies.  Now we have public libraries outsourced to a private firm.  Library Systems and Services, Inc. (L.S.S.I.) has been contracted by the Santa Clarita City Council (California) to run its three public libraries for a fee of $4 million per year.  This story begs the question:

“Can a municipal service like a library hold so central a place that it should be entrusted to a profit-driven contractor only as a last resort — and maybe not even then?”

I have to confess that I had never heard of outsourcing library services before but L.S.S.I. is already operating fourteen public library systems and is ranked as the fifth largest operator of library branches in the country  after Los Angeles County, the New York Public Library, the Chicago Public Library, and the City of Los Angeles Public Library.

The NY Times article on this is available at:  http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/27/business/27libraries.html?th&emc=th


Wanted: 1,000 Professors for Hong Kong Universities!

Dear Commons Community,

Below is a recent article from the South China Post sent to me by Nick Michelli at the CUNY Graduate Center.  It describes how Hong Kong’s universities are planning to hire 1,000 new faculty members in the next two years as its universities move from a three-year system to a four-year system starting in 2011.  In 2006, two CUNY colleagues (George Otte and Manfred Phillip) and I were invited to Hong Kong’s universities while these plans were taking shape.   We met with a number of administrators and faculty who were gathering information about our general education requirements as well as our use of instructional technology. I would recommend Hong Kong as a place where young academics might want to consider a career.  It is very cosmopolitan with a diverse population and English is spoken everywhere.  And obviously the government values its higher education system.   It reminds me of New York State and New York City in the 1960s during the expansion of the SUNY and CUNY systems.



South China Morning Post

Wanted: 1,000 professors for HK universities
Elaine Yau
Sep 24, 2010
Hong Kong’s thirst for academic talent is stirring global interest.

The city’s universities need 1,000 more professors to cope with the launch of a new four-year degree system, and the intense competition is pushing up academic salaries, university administrators say.

Extensive recruitment drives have been launched by local universities over the past few years and most have yet to meet all their needs. But with two years to go before the launch of the new four-year system, the pressure is mounting to fill positions.

A three-year senior secondary system was launched last year and the first batch of graduates from this system will enter university for four-year degrees in 2012 – the same year as the last graduates under the old four-year senior secondary system arrive for their three-year degrees.

Professor Tony Chan Fan-cheong, president of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and convenor of the Heads of Universities Committee, says the institution is short of 100 professors, and the sector needs up to 1,000 academics. “We need to get the extra faculty so that we can maintain the current student-professor ratio [at 12 to one],” he said.

“The demand for such a large pool of academic talent in such a small place as Hong Kong has stirred up quite a lot of attention in the academic world. As every university is fighting for talent now, some overseas professors are getting several offers. They have more bargaining power to demand better salary packages.”

Chan said the recruitment of top overseas talent was a big challenge for the university. “We plan to raise HK$1 billion for the establishment of 10 endowed chairs. Half [of the funding] at renowned North American private universities like Harvard and Stanford relies on such endowment funds. The recurrent interest generated from the funds can pay for the professors’ salaries.

“As we are a young institution that doesn’t have the long history enjoyed by Harvard, it’s challenging for us to raise money to set up the funds. Currently, we have only a few endowed chairs and we plan to increase the number to 10. They will be involved in both teaching and research.”

A Chinese University spokeswoman said it was still short of about 200 teaching staff for the launch of the four-year system.

“We need around 400 extra people for 2012. Over the past three years, we have recruited around 200 academics from Hong Kong and around the world to join our faculty. Over 90 per cent of them have overseas qualifications. We will continue our recruitment drive to get quality teaching staff in the next two years.”

A University of Hong Kong spokeswoman said it needed 200 more professors by 2012. “We will try our best to offer the best employment terms and work environment to get talent,” she said.

In Hong Kong, average monthly salaries for professors top HK$100,000 while associate professors can make at least HK$70,000 and assistant professors can expect about HK$40,000 or more.

In the United States, based on 2007 figures, the average monthly salary for a professor was HK$64,000. Associate professors got about HK$45,200 and assistant professors just under HK$38,000. But it depends on the university. An assistant professor might have got between HK$40,100 and HK$48,500 at the University of Utah but HK$47,600 to HK$68,700 at Cornell University.

Chan said preparing new courses was another key part of the preparation for the new four-year structure.

“Our 400-strong faculty has come up with more than 200 new courses spanning various fields of general knowledge like humanities, language, history and artistic education. All four-year students will be required to take 34 credits for general education.”

Professor Lee Chi-kin, vice president (academic) of the Hong Kong Institute of Education, said teaching degrees would be extended from four to five years from 2012. “We plan to offer new programmes on psychology and special education,” he said.

“We will also roll out a new programme incorporating primary and secondary education. Students will be required to do placement at both primary and secondary schools. Graduates can opt for either secondary or primary work.”

American High Schools Increasingly Embrace Online Education!

Dear Commons Community,

My colleague, Jeff Seaman (Babson College  Survey Research Group) and I have just finished a study of online learning entitled,    Class Connections: High School Reform and the Role of Online Learning.  Below is a blurb from the press release that provides key findings.  The full copy of the report is available at: http://www3.babson.edu/ESHIP/research-publications/survey-research-group.cfm



Babson College Survey Research Group

Press Release – September 22, 2010

Online education is increasingly being embraced by American high schools according to a new study by the Babson Survey Research Group, Using data collected from a national sample of over 400 high school principals, the study found that these administrators see online learning as meeting the diverse needs of their students whether through advanced placement, elective college courses, or credit recovery.  The major reason cited for online and blended offerings is to provide courses that otherwise would not be available.

Study coauthor Anthony G. Picciano of The Graduate Center and Hunter College at the City University of New York noted the critical importance for online education among the smaller and rural schools.  “High schools in all locales are facing serious challenges, but rural schools probably have the most difficulty.  Online and blended learning are a critical part of the strategy they are employing to deal with limited tax bases, low enrollments, and difficulty in attracting and keeping certified teachers,” he said.

Concerns that online learning is not as effective as face-to-face instruction remain, yet high school administrators see benefits to online learning programs that overshadow concerns about pedagogical value — the vast majority of their schools are moving forward with their programs and looking to expand them in the future.

Other key findings include:

• Credit recovery (for students to make up courses that they did not complete) is the most popular type of online course being offered at the secondary level.

• Urban high schools, which historically have the lowest graduation rates, are embracing online credit recovery as a basic part of their academic offerings.

• High school administrators consider online elective college-level courses as an effective means for the more able students to begin their college careers.

• Survey respondents report that offering online and blended courses makes financial sense when trying to meet specific needs for small groups of students.

• Rural schools are in the vanguard in offering online and blended learning programs to their students— using online courses to overcome significant problems in funding, teacher certification, and small enrollments.

A Health Care Plan for Colleges!

Dear Commons Community,

Peter Orszag, the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget from 2009 to 2010 and a distinguished visiting fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, has an excellent op-ed piece in today’s NY Times on state funding of public universities.  He lays a large share of the decline in state support to rising Medicaid costs.  He posits that there is a direct correlation between the rise of Medicaid costs and the decline in funding for public higher education:

“Governments’ general support for higher education 25 years ago was nearly 50 percent greater than state spending on Medicaid. That relationship has now flipped: Medicaid spending is about 50 percent greater than support for higher education. If higher education’s share of state budgets had remained constant instead of being crowded out by rising Medicaid costs, it would be getting some $30 billion more than it receives today, or more than $2,000 per student.”

He points to examples in Illinois, Washington, Georgia and Texas where reductions have caused significant increases in tuition and declines in state support.   This piece should be of special interest to those of us in CUNY as we prepare for what likely will be 2-3 years of severe budget reductions (which we have been spared to a degree because of the gubernatorial election) but which will likely begin to be enacted right after November.


The full NY Times Op-Ed piece is available at:  http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/19/opinion/19orszag.html?th&emc=th

Faculty Use of Twitter!

Dear Common Colleagues,

Faculty Focus, a newsletter of Magna Publications, has just issued its second annual report of faculty use of twitter.  The 2010 Faculty Focus survey of nearly 1,400 higher education professionals found that more than a third (35.2 percent) of the 1,372 respondents who completed the survey in July-August 2010 use Twitter in some capacity. That’s up from 30.7 percent in 2009.  Meanwhile, the percentage of educators who never used Twitter decreased from 56.4 percent in 2009 to 47.9 percent in 2010. The remaining 16.9 percentage consists of those who tried Twitter, but stopped using it —an increase from 12.9 percent in 2009.

Of those who currently use Twitter, the most common activities include “to share information with peers” and “as a real-time news source.” Instructional uses, such as “to communicate with students” and “as a learning tool in the classroom” are less popular, although both activities saw increases over the previous year. Meanwhile, a number of non-users expressed concerns that Twitter creates poor writing skills and could be yet another classroom distraction. Many also noted that very few of their students use Twitter. Finally, a new trend that emerged this year centered on the belief that many feel they already have too many places to post messages or check for student questions/comments. As one professor put it, “I have no interest in adding yet another communication tool to my overloaded life.”

The full report is available at:  http://www.facultyfocus.com/wp-content/uploads/images/2010-twitter-survey-report.pdf


Adobe Connect v. Elluminate

Dear Commons Community,

Yesterday I was a speaker at an online forum sponsored by EDUCAUSE.  The two-day forum   (Blended Learning: The 21st Century Learning Environment) was using Adobe Connect as the synchronous medium for participant/speaker interaction.  I have done a number of online presentations in the past but have always used another software product, Elluminate.  The template/screen options for the two products are essentially the same (at least for delivering a Powerpoint presentation).   Both products allow for telephone connections.  Yesterday the organizers required that all speakers use a telephone connection.  I must say that I found the telephone connection much more stable and the voice clearer with the Adobe product than what I have ever experienced in the past with Elluminate.    In fact, I have been on a number of conferences in Elluminate where voice connections especially those from a telephone line were not particularly good (low sound, static, break-ups).  I just thought I would pass this on to those of you who are thinking about software options for online conferences or webinars.