How America Pays for College: Sallie Mae Report!

Dear Commons Community,

Sallie Me issued its annual report “How America Pays for College” yesterday. While families may agree college is an investment, they vary in terms of preparing for the cost of tuition.  For the first time, this year’s report divides families into four “personas” based on an analysis of their responses to survey questions about the value of college, reasons for going, and college planning. Here is a summary as provided by The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Procrastinators (26 percent of the population): Only small fractions of this group reported having a contingency plan for paying for college or a plan to pay for all four years. Sixty-one percent of them said they considered skipping college because of its cost. Compared with the full group, a larger share of procrastinators go to community colleges. Parents in this group pay a smaller share of college costs than do those in the other ones.

American Dreamers (28 percent of the population): While large shares of survey respondents see college as part of the American Dream and say a degree is more important now than it used to be, those views are even more common among this group. Compared with the overall population, the makeup of this group is more heavily low-income, Hispanic, and African-American. A larger share of parents in the group did not attend college.

Reluctant Borrowers (18 percent of the population): Large shares of this group’s members have a contingency plan to pay for college and a plan to cover all four years of expenses. While a majority of reluctant borrowers reported that debt was preferable to forgoing college, a much larger share of the overall population felt that way. Similarly, a small proportion of this group said they would stretch financially to pay for college.

Determineds (28 percent of the population): Only 1 percent of these families considered not pursuing college because of the cost. Large portions have a contingency plan to pay for college and a plan to cover all four years. A larger share of the students attend four-year colleges, compared with the overall group. These families spend more on college, and nearly half of their costs are met with parents’ out-of-pocket contributions.

The report is based on a sample survey of 800 18- to 24-year-old undergraduates and 801 parents of such students conducted by Ipsos, a market-research company. It also uses the information respondents provided on how they pay for college to construct a portrait of what and how the “typical American family” pays.


Bobby Jindal’s Common Core Mess in Louisiana!

Dear Commons Community,

The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) took the highly unusual step yesterday of voting to join a lawsuit against Gov. Bobby Jindal — with two of the governor’s three appointees on the board voting in the 6-4 majority.

Jindal came out this spring as an opponent to the Common Core academic standards and to the new test that BESE has planned to use next year. The test was developed by a multi-state partnership. In the ensuing dispute, the Jindal administration froze the board’s testing contract for elementary and middle schools. The sides have been unable to agree on a way to move forward for tests next year.

The suit was filed last week by a New Orleans charter group and several parents. It says Jindal is overreaching into BESE’s turf. Because the suit addresses BESE’s constitutional role in determining education policy and standards, board President Chas Roemer said it was crucial that the board “be at the table.”

Jindal was previously champion of the Common Core, but turned against it earlier this year, declaring it an unwelcome intrusion on the part of the federal government.

Though the state’s legislature has upheld the Common Core, Jindal demanded that the state drop it, and suspended the state’s contracts with testing vendors who create Common Core tests.

As reported in The Huffington Post:

“Jindal compared the Common Core to centralized planning in Russia. In June, he wrote on Twitter that he would “not be bullied” by the feds, and that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s “comments & actions” prove that the Common Core is indeed a “fed takeover.” Duncan accused Jindal of playing politics with education.

Jindal’s filing includes a section that describes the Common Core as “good intentions co-opted by federal coercion,” characterizing the federal government’s Race to the Top competition as “effectively compel[ling] states to adopt a single, nationalized, state of standards.” (Technically, Race to the Top, which took place during the first term of President Barack Obama, rewarded points to states for adopting college- and career-oriented common academic standards, though it did name the Common Core.)”

I am not a states rights person. Historically, a number of elected officials have used the banner of “states rights” to inflict segregation laws on local social policies including education. However, there is a kernel of truth in Jindal’s position. The Common Core is indeed well-intentioned but its implementation in many states was rushed and poorly done subjecting parents, teachers, and students to horrific education experiences. The U.S. Department of Education bears a lot of the responsibility for the poor implementation and reactions from governors such as Jindal are not surprising.


Center for Digital Education Article: A Critical Look at Blended Learning!

Dear Commons Community,

Tanya Roscorla, at the Center for Digital Education, has an article examining issues (definitions, models, evaluation) associated with blended learning. She bases much of the article on comments from my colleagues (Chuck Dziuban, Patsy Moskal, Charles Graham) and me that establish the need for critical evaluation of blended learning approaches.

Well worth the read!



Big Banks Make Big Money Advising American Corporations to Move Operations to Foreign Tax Shelters!

Inversion Banks

Dear Commons Community,

President Obama made waves last week when he called out American companies that practice inversions by setting up operations overseas in order to avoid paying taxes in the United States. President Obama criticized these types of transactions, calling the companies engaged in them “corporate deserters.” “My attitude,” he said, “is I don’t care if it’s legal. It’s wrong.” He has suggested legislation, and Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, has proposed to make it more difficult for an American company to renounce its citizenship — and tax bill — by merging with a smaller foreign competitor.  It turns out the enablers and advisers for these transactions are Wall Street bankers who just a few years ago received billion dollar bailouts from the American people to stabilize their operations.  The New York Times has an article based on information supplied by Thomson Reuters that demonstrates that American banks are reaping huge profits from the inversion transactions.

“So far, on deals completed or pending, Goldman Sachs is estimated to have made $203 million advising on inversion deals since 2011, according to data from the Deal Intelligence unit of Thomson Reuters. JPMorgan stands to collect $185 million, while Morgan Stanley will make $98 million and Citigroup $72 million.

None of the major Wall Street banks, which received help from American taxpayers in the form of hundreds of billions of dollars in loans, appear to have declined on principle to take an assignment from a client seeking to move its corporate citizenship abroad.

“This is an economic game. There are no virgins anywhere,” said Stephen E. Shay, a professor at Harvard Law School and a former deputy assistant Treasury secretary for international tax affairs in the Obama administration. “We can’t look to the banks to stop inversions. They will not look at this based on morality. They will look at it on the basis of fees”

The article concludes:

“While an overhaul of the corporate tax system may be the ultimate goal, the gridlock in Washington suggests it is unlikely to come anytime soon. Corporate tax reform is nice in theory, but tough in practice. It most likely requires lower tax rates and the closing of loopholes, which many companies are sure to fight. And whatever new, lower tax rate is determined, there will probably be another country willing to lower its rate further, creating a sad race to zero.

“The dirty secret is that unless the U.S. reduces corporate tax rates to less than 10 percent, a reduction in U.S. tax rates is not likely to have much impact on inversions,” said J. Richard Harvey Jr., a professor at Villanova University School of Law and its Graduate Tax Program. “The reason is that even if the U.S. corporate tax rate were somehow reduced to 15 percent, U.S. multinational companies would still invert if they thought it was to their benefit.”

To be clear, everything the companies and banks that participate in inversion activities is legal. Morally, however, the participants and enablers are corrupt grubbers who hide behind their corporate veneers extolling the bottom lines to their investors.


MOOCs: The hype, the backlash, and the future! (Reprint of article)

Picciano, A.G. (February 2014). MOOCs: The hype, the backlash, and the future!  University Outlook, 1(4).

This is a reprint of an article I wrote that was published in February 2014 by University Outlook.

MOOCs: The hype, the backlash, and the future!

MOOCs captured the imagination of higher education when they came on the scene five years ago but now have been the focus of a good deal of publicity questioning their viability. Sebastian Thrun, the founder of Udacity, opened up the flood gates for criticism in an interview with Fast Company, where he was quoted as saying that he was throwing in the towel and that “we [Udacity] have a lousy product.” (Chafkin, 2013)   While the popular media have followed Thrun’s proclamation with “I told you so” articles, it is too early to predict that the end is near for MOOCs (Kolowich, November 27, 2103). The purpose of this article is to review the rise and fall of MOOC technology and to speculate on its future.


Our society has evolved so that media is used to influence our activity like never before. Marshall McLuhan’s “the medium is the message” is well understood and in play. Mass media technologies such as television, the Internet, and social networks have added significantly to this trend.   History tells us that technology solutions and products have frequently been hyped by companies and their investors. At its extreme, the term “vaporware” coined in the 1980s was applied to technology products that were all hype and really did not exist or at least did not exist in the form advertised. Products like the Apple Liza, Windows Vista Operating System, Microsoft Zune, and Linden Labs Second Life, are examples of technologies that never lived up to their promotion. Unfortunately, MOOCs have been overhyped by the media as the new “thing” that was going to transform education. The hype may have reached its zenith when New York Times columnist, Tom Friedman, wrote about MOOCs as the “revolution” that has hit American higher education. (Friedman, 2013) It would have been impossible for MOOC providers to live up to the hype and they are now taking a serious fall and coming down to reality.

MOOCs Are Part of an Evolution- Not a Revolution!

MOOCs are a part of the online learning evolution that has been going on for decades. The concept of digital learningpredates the Internet and the World Wide Web. Instructional software packages designed to be used on large mainframe computers and distributed via digital communications technology have been in existence since the 1960s. Computer-assisted instructional programs (CAI) using software such as PLATO developed at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, were developed and delivered over closed or private networks.   In the 1980s, Roxanne Hiltz and Murray Turoff at the New Jersey Institute of Technology started experimenting with virtual learning that went beyond programmed instruction and allowed for interactivity among students and faculty. These virtual systems planted the seeds for one of the most significant developments in delivering instruction in the 20th century into what many referred to initially as the asynchronous learning network (ALN) and later as online learning. Ralph Gomory, President of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, promoted the ALN concept in the early 1990s by establishing the Learning Outside the Classroom and latertheAnytime, Anyplace Learning Program from which the first grants were awarded in 1992.   His vision was that students could learn in their homes, places of business, or just about anywhere they could connect to a digital network. The arrival of the ubiquitous Internet greatly accelerated interest in online learning and allowed it to proliferate throughout education. By the time MOOCs came on the scene, online learning was being offered by a majority of American colleges and universities with millions of students enrolling in courses every year. (Allen & Seaman, 2013) A significant amount of research has been published on the pedagogical practice we call online learning and its progeny, blended learning. (U.S. DOE, 2010) Dozens of journals, professional organizations, and conferences attracting tens of thousands of participants emerged well before the MOOC phenomenon. A legitimate question is why did MOOCs attract so much attention.

Scale, Funding and New Players

The major interest in MOOC technology was not its pedagogical benefits but its scale. Without a doubt, courses that were enrolling hundreds of thousands of students attracted deserved attention. In addition, some big name institutions such as Stanford University, Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology became associated with the MOOC phenomenon.

MOOCs were glamorized by their founders at Udacity, Coursera, and edX as the technological revolutions that would indeed change higher education. As a result, the media bought into their hype and went on a frenzy. Significant investments of capital were made mostly by private investors and venture philanthropies into MOOC companies. These investors likewise fueled the hype of MOOC technology. Lastly, education policymakers and university trustees took notice and thought they found a solution to their education funding woes and pushed for major new MOOC initiatives in places such as San Jose State University and the University of Virginia. And then came the backlash!

Faculty, Public Higher Education, and Experts Weighed In!

As the MOOC phenomenon took off, a closer examination at the pedagogy of this technology was made by faculty and instructional technologists many of whom were experienced online learning developers in public institutions in Maryland, New York, Illinois and Massachusetts. The high student dropout rates of 90 percent in MOOC courses could not be easily explained away. The CAI style of many early MOOCs based on glorified “read, watch, listen and repeat” course materials were questioned by experienced online learning developers who relied more on socially constructed pedagogical approaches that emphasized extensive interaction among students and faculty. The high-profile MOOC initiative at California’s San Jose State University and a preliminary evaluation showing relatively poor results of its materials also gave much pause to the MOOC movement (Collins, 2013). Lastly, but perhaps most significant, was a rejection by educational leaders and faculty of the notion that colleges would jump at the chance to use course materials developed by the faculty at Ivy-League and other highly selective universities. To the contrary, faculty and administrators saw this as elitism and arrogance on the part of the MOOC providers. At a meeting of MOOC developers sponsored by M.I.T. and Harvard University, Bill Bowen, former president of Princeton University, reminded the audience that they occupied a privileged position:

“that they occupied “really rarefied air” in deciding how they might want to use online education. But professors who are serious about reaching the masses online, he said, will have to think about innovation and design with a broader, more diverse audience in mind…”I would humbly suggest that the kinds of assessment and standards and all the rest that I’m sure are appropriate at MIT and Harvard and so forth,” Mr. Bowen said, “have very little relevance for the large parts of American higher education, particularly in the state systems, that are under genuine siege.” (Kolowich, March 4, 2013)

Faculty at San Jose State University who were asked to pilot an edX MOOC entitled, JusticeX, in an open-letter to Professor Michael Sandel, the professor at Harvard University who had developed the course,stated that itundermines their university and that:

“Professors who care about public education should not produce products that will replace professors, dismantle departments, and provide a diminished education for students in public universities.” (Open Letter from the Philosophy Department at San Jose State University, April 29, 2013)

The “elitism” label resounded among many educators and has been used by critics to depict MOOCs as the technology for the masses while the colleges of the privileged will continue to be taught in modest-sized classes led by faculty.

The Future

Speculating about the future is always a risk, however, it is desirable for trying to understand what MOOCs can contribute for the betterment of education. Without a doubt, MOOCs have presented possibilities of scale that need to be evaluated and considered by faculty, administrators, and policymakers. MOOC providers also have capital and resources that can be put to good use if invested wisely. Some thoughts.

First, the founders of MOOC companies and their investors need to tone down their own hype and stop trying to sell their products as if they will resolve all of education’s problems. For example, should the MOOC approach really be designed for students who have remediation and other learning needs and who lack the basic skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Daphne Kollner, founder of Coursera, recently commented at the Sloan Consortium Annual Conference that such students would probably better be served by face-to-face instruction. (Kollner, November 2013)

Second, with the substantial financial resources at their disposal, MOOC companies should develop more pedagogically sound course materials that can be used in blended online formats rather than fully online formats. In fact the future of MOOCs, might indeed lie with blended learning that allows for the meaningful involvement of faculty.   To do so, they may have to even jettison the MOOC brand because their final products may not be massive in terms of hundreds of thousands of student enrollments and may not be open or free. Rather than course providers and developers, they might rebrand themselves more as providers of high-quality content giving faculty the option as to how to best use their materials.

Third, as private enterprises, MOOC developers need to figure out a way to return their investments and make a profit. The past fifty years of instructional software providers are littered with hundreds of companies that have went bankrupt.   As some point, the initial capital will run out and these companies need to generate revenue. It is likely that some will succeed but some will not. This is a major conundrum for MOOC developers that distinguishes them from faculty and instructional design competitors at colleges who develop their own online courses and materials on modest budgets primarily for pedagogical reasons and not with the intent to turn a profit. It might be that MOOC providers can concentrate on developing and providing courseware targeted for certain disciplines and subject matter that can benefit from enriched content. It might be that they can concentrate on specific student populations such as the adult and continuing education market. It might be that MOOCs can be used as recruitment tools for students in colleges or for employees in private industry especially those interested in serving and working with global populations.

There are a number of possibilities but the MOOC developers know best their resources and should study their markets carefully to determine where they can provide a valuable service or product. If they nurture these markets and deliver the best products they can, they will secure their future.


Allen, I. E. and Seaman, J.  (2013). Changing course: Ten years of tracking online education in the United States.   Babson Park, MA: Babson Survey Research Group.

Chafkin, M. (December 2013). Udacity’s Sebastian Thrun, godfather of free online education, changes course. Fast Company. Accessed December 7, 2013 at:

Faculty in the Philosophy Department at Sand Jose State University (April 29, 2013).   Open Letter to Professor Michel Sandel.   Accessed December 8, 2013:

Freedman, J. (November 25, 2013). MOOCs Usefully Middlebrow. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Accessed December 7, 2013:

Friedman, T. (January 26, 2013).   Revolution hits the universities. New York Times. Accessed December 3, 2013.

Collins, E. D. (2013). Preliminary summary: SJSU+ augmented online learning Environment pilot project. Research and Planning Group for California Community Colleges (RP Group) in collaboration with the Office of Institutional Effectiveness and Analytics at San José State University (SJSU). Accessed December 7, 2103 at:

Kollner, D. (November, 2103. Online learning: Learning without limits. Keynote presentation at the 19th Annual Sloan Consortium Conference on Online Learning. Orlando, FL.

Kolowich, S. (November 27, 2013).   Academics to Udacity founder: Told ya! The Chronicle of Higher Education. Accessed December 9, 2013:

Kolowich, S. (March 4, 2013). Online Education May Make Top Colleges More Elite, Speakers Say! The Chronicle of Higher Education. Accessed December 9, 2013:

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development, Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies, Washington, D.C., 2010.


Fox News Panel Trashes GOP on Immigration!

Dear Commons Community,

Someone must have lost the script for a Fox News panel on Sunday morning when it strongly criticized Republicans for resisting immigration reform and calling to quickly deport thousands of children who are currently in U.S. custody. As reported in The Huffington Post:

“During a segment on “Fox News Sunday,” host Chris Wallace pressed the panel, made up of USA Today columnist Kirsten Powers, Conservative Washington Post columnist George Will and Fox News’ Brit Hume and Juan Williams, about who should take the blame for the current border crisis and what could be done to resolve it. Powers said that Obama had changed his position on whether a 2008 law offering immigration hearings to undocumented children should be altered, but she had scathing words for the GOP.

“The Republicans don’t really seem to want to work on immigration until it comes to deporting children,” Powers said. “This is the only thing they really have been willing to do at this point, is just to say, ‘We’ll pass the bill to deport children, but we won’t talk about any sort of broader comprehensive immigration issue.'”

Will agreed.

“I think Kirsten is largely right. My view is that we have to say to the children, ‘Welcome to America. You’re going to go to school and get a job and become Americans.’ We have 3,141 counties in this country. That would be 20 per county. The idea that we can’t assimilate these 8-year-old criminals with their teddy bears is preposterous. “

“These young people are a social group of people who are being threatened by the gangs and whose lives are at stake,” Fox contributor Juan Williams added. “Even young evangelicals this week, in writing to Congress, said, ‘You must consider these children as children and give them due process.”

There will probably be hell to pay for Chris Wallace for allowing this trashing of the Republicans to be aired.


New Report: United States Lags in Compensating Experienced Teachers!

Teacher Salaries States

Dear Commons Community,

The Center for American Progress just released a report that finds many areas of the country barely pay teachers more as they gain experience. This problem might be contributing to high teacher turnover rates costing school districts billions of dollars each year. As reported in The Huffington Post;

“While the report recognizes that low teacher pay is not news -– especially when it comes to low entry-level salaries –- researchers were interested in seeing if the salaries of mid- and late-career teachers “were high enough to attract and keep the nation’s most talented individuals.” However, in a profession where teacher turnover costs up to $2 billion annually, the results they found are quite depressing.

According to the report, there are several areas of the country where teachers with up to 10 years of experience qualify for federally funded programs that help families in need. In places like Arizona and North Dakota, teachers who act as the breadwinner for a family of four or more qualify for federal programs that could make their children eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches.”

The chart above demonstrates how little teacher salaries grow in some parts of the country.

On an international scale, the United States ranks 19th in salaries for experienced elementary school teachers. See chart below.


Teacher Salaries International II

Billionaire Mark Cuban: Boycott Companies that Send Money Overseas to Avoid Paying Taxes!

Corporations Offshore Profits

Click to enlarge.

Dear Commons Community,

Coming on the day after President Obama voiced his own opposition to a tax-avoidance scheme called an inversion, in which a U.S. company establishes or merges with a foreign company and moves its headquarters overseas to avoid paying U.S. taxes, Mark Cuban, the billionaire investor and owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, took to Twitter yesterday to shame companies for making these moves.   His message:

“If I own stock in your company and you move offshore for tax reasons I’m selling your stock. There are enough investment choices here!”

Cuban’s call comes as President Obama is putting pressure on Congress to close this tax loophole. By some estimates, as much as $2 trillion in corporate cash is sitting outside the U.S.—money that could otherwise be reinvested at home to expand domestic operations and create more jobs. GE, Apple, Microsoft and others top the list of companies with the most money offshore.

Can we hear from Bill Gates!



President Obama: American Companies Gaming the System to Avoid Paying Taxes!

Dear Commons Community,

In a CNBC interview on Wednesday, President Barack Obama took aim at corporate inversions — deals where a U.S. company keeps its operations at home, but moves its formal address overseas to avoid paying taxes.

“Companies thrive in the United States in part because they benefit from the best university system in the world, the best infrastructure,” Obama said. “There are a whole range of benefits that have helped to build companies, create value, create profits. For you to continue to benefit from that entire architecture that helps you thrive, but move your technical address simply to avoid paying taxes, is neither fair, nor is it something that’s going to be good for the country over the long term.”

Corporate inversions are legal, and companies say they engage in them because the U.S. tax rate is higher than in other countries. But inversions open up a host of ways to permanently limit, or even eliminate, any American taxes paid by companies that operate in the United States.

“You’re just gaming the system,” Obama said Wednesday. “You are an American company.”

In 2012, it was reported on this blog the top companies that engaged in gaming the tax system as compiled by Alternet and MSNBC.  The list of the top eleven companies were as follows: 

General Electric gets special mention because it paid no federal taxes in 2011.  The other top ten are:

  1. Google
  2. Boeing
  3. News Corp. (Fox News, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Rupert Murdoch and Company)
  4. Pfizer
  5. Oracle
  6. Altria (Philip Morris)
  7. IBM
  8. TimeWarner
  9. Morgan Stanley
  10. Microsoft (Bill and Melinda Gates)



Paul Krugman on California Rising!

Dear Commons Community,

Paul Krugman, analyzes the economic recovery of California in his New York Times column today.

“California has long suffered from political paralysis, with budget rules that allowed an increasingly extreme Republican minority to hamstring a Democratic majority; when the state’s housing bubble burst, it plunged into fiscal crisis. In 2012, however, Democratic dominance finally became strong enough to overcome the paralysis, and Gov. Jerry Brown was able to push through a modestly liberal agenda of higher taxes, spending increases and a rise in the minimum wage. California also moved enthusiastically to implement Obamacare.

Needless to say, conservatives predicted doom. A representative reaction: Daniel J. Mitchell of the Cato Institute declared that by voting for Proposition 30, which authorized those tax increases, “the looters and moochers of the Golden State” (yes, they really do think they’re living in an Ayn Rand novel) were committing “economic suicide.” Meanwhile, Avik Roy of the Manhattan Institute and Forbes claimed that California residents were about to face a “rate shock” that would more than double health insurance premiums.

What has actually happened? There is, I’m sorry to say, no sign of the promised catastrophe.”

Krugman goes on describe that employment is up 3.6 %; California has cut the percentage of its residents without health insurance in half; and, the state budget is back in surplus.”

Krugman’s conclusion:

“What do we learn from the California comeback? Mainly, that you should take anti-government propaganda with large helpings of salt. Tax increases aren’t economic suicide; sometimes they’re a useful way to pay for things we need. Government programs, like Obamacare, can work if the people running them want them to work, and if they aren’t sabotaged from the right. In other words, California’s success is a demonstration that the extremist ideology still dominating much of American politics is nonsense.”

All of this is good news for a great state.