Graduation Rates – Recent NCES Data!

Dear Commons Community,

In a couple of weeks, I will be on a panel at the annual meeting/conference of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities.   The focus of the panel is the role of for-profit and not-for profit colleges and universities in meeting the educational aspirations of minority, low-income and underserved student populations.  As part of my planning/research on the topic, I reviewed a  recent USDOE National Center for Education Statistics report.  Much of the data in the report was fairly straight-forward.  However, one series of charts on graduation rates particularly at the community college level was surprising.   While quite low by some standards, the USDOE NCES uses graduation rates based on completion within six years for a baccalaureate and three years for an associate degree.  As some research has shown (see especially the study by our colleagues here at the Graduate Center – Paul Attewell and David Lavin, Passing the Torch), many students take much longer than the six and three-year time limits.   Below are two charts highlighting these data for a cohort of 2002 (4 year students) and 2005 (2-year students).  The data are from NCES Report 2010-152 and can be found at:



The Warmth of Other Suns

Dear Commons Community,

I have just finished reading The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wickerson.  It is a beefy book at 500 plus pages that tells the story of three African Americans from the South who move to New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles during the “Great Migration”.  Ms. Wickerson does a wonderful job of peaking the reader’s curiosity so you want to know what happens to Ida Mae, Robert and George.  In addition to their stories, you also learn a great deal about the “immigration” of African Americans to the North  during the 20th century, an important movement not generally covered well in American history courses.  The book is filled with rich insights such as:

“Had a study, like the 1968 Kerner Report on the state of race in America, been conducted in Ida Mae’s adopted neighborhood [South Shore, Chicago], it might have concluded that there were two neighborhoods-one, hardworking, and striving to be middle class, the other transient, jobless, and underclass;  one owners of property, the other tenants an d squatters; one churchgoing and law-abiding, the other drug-dealing and criminal-both coexisting on the same streets and one at odds with the other.”

Toward the end of the book, Ms. Wickerson attempts to answer the question whether the people who left the South –and their families-were better off for having done so.  I will leave the answer  for your reading enjoyment.

In sum, I highly recommend this book if you are interested in this chapter of American history.  It rates with Nicholas Lemann’s The Promised Land.


The Path Forward: Bifurcated Economy!

Dear Commons Colleagues,

Earlier this year I directed readers of this blog to a reportThe Path Forward: The Future of Graduate Education in the United States (released in April 2010) which calls on the federal government, universities and industry to work together to ensure that U.S. graduate schools remain preeminent (see my blog entry at:

I recently reread this report in preparation for one of my classes and I was particularly struck by a paragraph referring to the coming “bifurcated” economy.  Here is brief quote from the report:

“The manufacturing economy was built on the shoulders of citizens who had a high school education and whocould rest assured that their livelihoods would be secure until they retired. But times have changed, and the knowledge economy, which is based on creating, evaluating, and trading knowledge and information, has arrived.   Predictions are that the U.S. economy will become bifurcated, with one sector of the workforce performing services that cannot easily be exported, such as hospitality services, construction, car repair, and healthcare, while the other sector will perform work in the knowledge industries…”

I would ask the following:  Do we agree with this prediction that the American economy will go through this human capital reorganization/replacement in its workforce?  Do we agree that we will end with highly educated knowledge workers and others (educated or not) doing the jobs that cannot be exported? Will manufacturing completely disappear in the country?


How Billionaire Donors Harm Public Education

Dear Commons Community,

In the online version of the Washington Post, Valerie Strauss, education editor for the Post, has a piece making the case that financial gifts by philanthropists may be harming rather than helping public education.  She argues that the gifts are driving the path of education reform by targeting specific projects that may not be backed by sound  research.   A number of projects funded by  the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, Walton Foundation, and the Carnegie Mellon Foundation are mentioned specifically.   Her major point is that these foundations do not simply make donations but try to socially engineer what is going on in the schools without having carefully studied the impact of their involvement .  To quote:

“And they [foundations]  never try to explain why it is acceptable for them to donate to other causes — the arts, medicine, etc. — without telling doctors and artists what to do with the money. Only educators do they tell what to do.”


The piece above  is available at:

College Students Prefer Paper Textbooks!

Dear Commons Community,

I have made several postings on  the evolution  and growing popularity of e-books.  See:

In todays’ NY Times there is an article based on observations/interviews with students from Hamilton College in upstate New York that tilts student preferences to paperbound books.


The article makes the point that:  “Though the world of print is receding before a tide of digital books, blogs and other Web sites, a generation of college students weaned on technology appears to be holding fast to traditional textbooks.”  It also quotes figures from the National Association of College Stores, that digital books make up just under 3 percent of textbook sales, although the association expects that share to grow to 10 percent to 15 percent by 2012 as more titles are made available as e-books.

In favoring paperbound textbooks, students commented that they cannot get a virus, the screen will not go blank, and they are not tempted to go to Facebook.  The big drawback for many students, however, is the cost which can easily run to close to $1,000 per semester for paper.  Ouch!


‘Culture of Poverty’ Makes a Comeback

Dear Commons Community,

Today’s NY Times has a provocative article on the role culture plays in keeping generations of  people in poverty.  The article mentions the controversial work of Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 1965 as one of the starting points of the debate on the issue .  What followed was the controversy of “blaming the victim” for his/her own poverty.  The article goes on to describe recent work in this area such as at the 2010 annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, where attendees discussed the resurgence of scholarship on culture. And in Washington last spring, social scientists participated in a Congressional briefing on culture and poverty linked to a special issue of The Annals, the journal of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.  The article is fairly balanced quoting liberals and conservatives as well as referring to well-known personalities including President Obama.  Major social scientists are quoted in the article with the issue coming down to policy makers viewing poverty through one of two competing lenses,  Michele Lamont, an editor of the special issue of The Annals, said: “Are the poor poor because they are lazy, or are the poor poor because they are a victim of the markets?”

This debate will go on!


The article is available at:

Browne Report – Phase II – Massive Cuts in Funding to Higher Education!

Dear Commons Community,

Following up on the Browne Report issued earlier this week, universities in the United Kingdom were getting ready for massive cuts in their budgets.  The NY Times quotes Prof. Steve Smith, president of Universities U.K., which represents Britain’s higher-learning institutions, that:

“the government was likely to cut about 80 percent of the current $6.2 billion it pays annually for university teaching, and about $1.6 billion from the $6.4 billion it provides for research.”

This policy is part of the newly adopted U.K. policy that essentially removes the state from the responsibility of funding higher education and puts the onus on the students and tuition revenue.

We in the U.S.A. may think this is unconscionable but many states have already significantly scaled back funding of public higher education and are moving away from  higher education as “pubic good” to one of  “individual [student] benefit”.   Here in New York State, public higher education has been spared but wait until after the gubernatorial election.  If you haven’t noticed, candidate and likely governor Andrew Cuomo in his ads is calling for a twenty percent across the board cut in all state funding of public authorities.

The NY Times article on the  funding cuts in the U.K. is available at:


Browne Report on Higher Education in the U.K.

Dear Commons Community,

Greg Johnson, a colleague of mine at Hunter College, posted a message today alerting the Hunter community to the release of the long-awaited ”Browne Report” which recommends major changes in higher education policy in the United Kingdom particularly with regards to  funding and tuition assistance.  Among the recommendations are the following:

  Only students meeting a “minimum entry standard” will qualify for government loans;

   There will be a 10 per cent rise in tuition, with popular universities free to expand as they wish and weaker universities contracting or closing;

   Universities will have to provide “student charters” that will include commitments on teaching and class sizes. Those charging higher fees will be expected to give stronger commitments;

   Universities will have to publish figures showing the average salary and employment prospects for graduates;

   Students will be able to study part-time and receive government funding, allowing those from poorer backgrounds to work and study.

In one particularly controversial section, the Report also comments that:

“It is expected that central government funding for universities will be almost entirely removed. In the future, taxpayer-funded central grants are likely to be heavily targeted and only available to courses in medicine, science, technology and other specialist areas..”

This leaves the humanities and social sciences  to fend for themselves and leave their programs open to the free market.

The full report is available at:


The Dishonesty of Standardized Testing in New York City Redux!

Dear Commons Community,

Earlier this year I posted an entry on this blog commenting on the dishonesty of standardized testing in New York.  See:

To me this was a travesty perpetrated upon school children and their parents who thought progress was being made only to find out that the New York State standardized tests had been “dumbed down” ove r the past eight or so years.  I was particularly critical of the NY Times for not showing more outrage at this hoax.  I am happy to say that in today’s NY Times there is a lengthy and well-done article on this whole sad episode of public education in the NY city school system.  See:

While still a bit too gentle on the complicity of Chancellor Joel Klein and Mayor Michael Bloomberg in this fraud, it does uncover many of the sad facts that led to it.  Credit is rightfully given to NYS Chancellor of the Board of Regents Merryl Tisch, Regent Betty Rosa, and NYS Commissioner David Steiner for setting the record straight and taking the politically unpopular stand of recalibrating the tests.   The last line of the article quoting Chancellor Tisch summarizes the situation best:

“We came in here saying we have to stop lying to our kids,” Ms. Tisch said in a recent interview. “We have to be able to know what they do and do not know.”



Variation of the Blended/Hybrid Learning Model!

Dear Commons Community,

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has a brief article on a blended/hybrid learning model that I have not seen before.  All of the students at Milwaukee Community Cyber High School report to school everyday, log onto their workstations and take all of their classes online.  Students have their own workstations and individual filing cabinets.  Six full-time teachers are available to help students if they need it.  The teachers and students also meet as groups to discuss projects and “to bounce ideas off one another”.

Surely this model is not for everyone (no sports, no marching bands, no glee clubs) but it obviously has appeal to students who prefer it to the traditional classroom.   It also provides a community place and allows for direct social interaction among students and teachers.

The article is available at: