When College Was A Public Good!

Dear Commons Community,

Scott Carlson, a senior writer for The Chronicle of Higher Education, had an essay in yesterday’s edition positing that the defunding of public higher education can be tied in part to the rise in the diversity of students attending our state colleges and universities.  Here is an excerpt:

“In looking for connections between diversity and the defunding of higher education, many see only hazy correlations. But emerging studies suggest some bias. Last year Nicholas Hillman, an associate professor of educational leadership and policy analysis at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, analyzed the balance between state appropriations and tuition revenue at more than 450 public colleges. Those that served primarily white students got more of their money from the state, while the colleges that served minority students relied more on tuition. He points to a striking, if lopsided, comparison between the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and Tennessee State University, a historically black institution. State funding per undergraduate at Knoxville, where 7 percent of students are black, is $19,500; at Tennessee State, where 71 percent of students are black, that figure is $5,600.

In another study released last year, two economists — Eric J. Brunner of the University of Connecticut and Erik B. Johnson of the University of Richmond — looked at voting patterns in community-college bond referenda in California. Older white voters were less supportive of college funding than were younger voters, the study showed, and if they lived in areas with a high Hispanic population, they were significantly less supportive.  

In many ways, we live in Reagan’s world, with attitudes he shaped about the role of government. What might formerly have been considered a leg up often gets called an entitlement or a handout. Public higher education has undergone a financial and conceptual shift: Once an investment covered mostly by the state to produce a work force and an informed citizenry, today it is more commonly shouldered by individuals and families, and described as a private benefit, a means to a credential and a job.   

It’s not a conspiracy, but a neoliberal ideology, says Michael Fabricant, a professor of social work at the City University of New York Graduate Center and author, with Stephen Brier, of a new book about the disinvestment in public education, Austerity Blues: Fighting for the Soul of Public Higher Education (Johns Hopkins University Press).

 “Austerity is being imposed not just on higher education, but across public services,” he says. To what extent that randomly or deliberately coincides with rising national diversity is a tricky question. What’s clearer is the effect of stagnating social mobility. “In the absence of the necessary resources for these universities to either provide an affordable education on the one hand or a quality education on the other,” he says, “a certain population is now being defined as disposable.”

Not only activists have noticed. In 1982, Elizabeth Dole, serving as chair of a task force on equal rights for women, wrote a memo to the White House staff secretary, warning that cuts in student aid would lead to “a significant outcry of racism.” She explained that the African-American community “looks to Pell Grants as one of their primary vehicles for upward mobility.”

“People in the administration were aware of what the potential fallout would be from shifting from grants to loans,” says Mr. Fergus, of Ohio State. What they didn’t count on was the stagnation of wages for most Americans and the escalating cost of college, which have ensnared whites, too. “I just don’t think they imagined that middle-class whites would ever need aid.”

This is an interesting take on this issue and one that makes some sense.  However, whether it is a conspiracy or ideology is difficult to say. It is likely a bit of both.


Three Illinois Universities to Receive Emergency Funding!

Dear Commons Community,

Fiscal emergencies have been plaguing Illinois public universities and none of the state’s nine higher-education institutions have received a full year of state operating funds since the 2015 budget year.  State law required the schools to demonstrate their fiscal status was a “financial emergency” to receive the money. Each school submitted detailed financial reports, including cash flow statements showing evidence of depleting resources, cash management strategies, pending debt payments and analysis of possible use of restricted funds. The schools also had to demonstrate efforts to cut expenses, including reducing or reallocating staff and reducing programming. Last week, three of the state’s most financially vulnerable public universities were set to receive a combined $17 million in emergency funding to support operations through the end of the year.  As reported by the Chicago Tribune:

“Members of the Illinois Board of Higher Education voted unanimously to approve the last-minute cash for Western Illinois, Eastern Illinois and Chicago State universities. Under the agreement, Western would receive about $8.4 million, Eastern about $5.6 million and Chicago State just more than $3 million.

The money was provided through a second stopgap plan to keep schools open, which Gov. Bruce Rauner signed June 30. The Illinois Board of Higher Education received $20 million from the state’s general revenue fund and is able to distribute it to schools that showed they were in fiscal crisis.

The board earmarked the remaining $3 million to the Illinois Community College Board, which will report in December on which community colleges qualify for the funding and how it should be divided.”

These are troubled times for public higher education with all indications that things will get worse before they get better.


Jerry Falwell Jr:  Trump’s First Choice for Secretary of Education!

Dear Commons Community,

Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. says President elect-Donald Trump offered him the position of secretary of education, but that he turned it down for personal reasons.  As reported by The Associated Press:

“Falwell said Trump offered him the job last week during a meeting in New York. He says Trump wanted a four- to six-year commitment, but that he couldn’t leave Liberty for more than two years.

Falwell says he couldn’t afford to work at a Cabinet-level job for longer than that and didn’t want to move his family, especially his 16-year-old daughter.

Trump announced Wednesday he had selected charter school advocate Betsy DeVos for the job. Falwell says he thinks DeVos is an “excellent choice.”

Trump spoke at the Christian university in Lynchburg, Virginia, in January and Falwell later endorsed him.”


Kevin Carey Examines Whether  Betsy DeVos Will Be Able to Privatize Public Education!

Dear Commons Community,

Kevin Carey in an op-ed piece for the New York Times earlier this week, questions whether Betsy DeVos, our next education secretary, will be able to privatize public education, something she has been promoting most of her adult life.  Carey considers economic, geographical, and state/local education governance structures as impeding any attempt to do so.  Here is an excerpt:

“Betsy DeVos, a wealthy Republican philanthropist, whom Donald J. Trump selected  as the next secretary of education, has spent her career promoting a market-based, privatized vision of public education. If she pursues that agenda in her new role, she is quite likely to face disappointment and frustration.

Market-based school reforms generally come in two flavors: vouchers and charter schools. They differ in both structure and political orientation. Charter schools are public schools, open to all, accountable in varying degrees to public authorities, and usually run by nonprofit organizations. Vouchers, by contrast, allow students to attend any school, public or private, including those run by religious organizations and for-profit companies.

While charters enjoy support from most Republicans and some Democrats, vouchers have a narrower political base, those who tend to favor free markets to replace many government responsibilities.

Working primarily in Michigan, Ms. DeVos has been a strong advocate of vouchers, and her charter work has often focused on making charter schools as private as possible. The large majority of Michigan charters are run by for-profit companies, in contrast with most states. The DeVos family donated more than $1 million to Republican lawmakers earlier this year during a successful effort to oppose new oversight of charters.

That support made Ms. Devos a natural choice for Mr. Trump, who proposed a $20 billion federal voucher program on the campaign trail, and has likened the public school system to a monopoly business that needs to be broken up.

But any effort to promote vouchers from Washington will run up against the basic structures of American education.

The United States spends over $600 billion a year on public K-12 schools. Less than 9 percent of that money comes from the federal government, and it is almost exclusively dedicated to specific populations of children, most notably students with disabilities and students in low-income communities. There are no existing federal funds that can easily be turned into vouchers large enough to pay for school tuition on the open market.

Mr. Trump’s $20 billion proposal would be, by itself, very expensive. It may be hard to fit into a budget passed by a Republican Congress that has pledged to enact large tax cuts for corporations and citizens, expand the military and eliminate the budget deficit, all at the same time. Yet $20 billion isn’t nearly enough to finance vouchers nationwide, which is why Mr. Trump’s proposal assumes that states will kick in another $110 billion.

States don’t have that kind of money lying around. The only plausible source is existing school funding. But even if Ms. DeVos were to find a willing governor and state legislature, it’s not that easy. Roughly half of all nonfederal education funding comes from local property taxes raised by over 13,000 local school districts. They and their elected representatives will have a say, too.

This is where the intersection of geography and politics makes any national voucher plan much more difficult to enact. The practicality of school choice is highly related to population density. Children need to be able to get from home to school and back again every day. In a large metropolis with public transportation, there could be dozens of schools within reasonable travel distance of most families. In a small city, town or rural area, there will be few or none.

And population density, as Americans saw in the last election, is increasingly the dividing line of the nation’s politics. A significant number of Mr. Trump’s most ardent supporters live in sparsely populated areas where school choice is logistically unlikely. At the same time, many of the municipalities where market reforms are theoretically much easier to put in voted overwhelmingly against the president-elect.”

I agree with Carey’s analysis.  I would add that it is very possible that DeVos might use her position as Secretary of Education as a “bully pit” much like Bill Bennett did during  the Ronald Reagan administration in the 1980s.  Bennett continually bashed public education and teachers but never funded any major initiatives. However, I am concerned that DeVos might seek to cut entitlement programs that target funding to certain populations such as special education and low-income families.




Fidel Castro Dead!


Dear Commons Community,

Fidel Castro, the revolutionary leader and former head of state of Cuba, has died at the age of 90, Cuban state television announced.

Hailed by supporters as a hero who fought for socialist ideals by standing up to the U.S. and the world’s other political giants, Castro was seen by critics as a dictator guilty of subjecting his people to countless human rights abuses, devastating Cuba’s economy and forcing more than a million Cubans to flee the island.   As reported by Reuters:  

“The bearded Fidel Castro took power in a 1959 revolution and ruled Cuba for 49 years with a mix of charisma and iron will, creating a one-party state and becoming a central figure in the Cold War.

He was demonized by the United States and its allies but admired by many leftists around the world, especially socialist revolutionaries in Latin America and Africa.

“I lament the death of Fidel Castro Ruz, leader of the Cuban revolution and emblematic reference of the 20th Century,” Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said on Twitter.

Transforming Cuba from a playground for rich Americans into a symbol of resistance to Washington, Castro outlasted nine U.S. presidents in power.

He fended off a CIA-backed invasion at the Bay of Pigs in 1961 as well as countless assassination attempts.

His alliance with Moscow helped trigger the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, a 13-day showdown with the United States that brought the world the closest it has been to nuclear war.

Wearing green military fatigues and chomping on cigars for many of his years in power, Castro was famous for long, fist-pounding speeches filled with blistering rhetoric, often aimed at the United States.

At home, he swept away capitalism and won support for bringing schools and hospitals to the poor. But he also created legions of enemies and critics, concentrated among Cuban exiles in Miami who fled his rule and saw him as a ruthless tyrant.

In the end it was not the efforts of Washington and Cuban exiles nor the collapse of Soviet communism that ended his rule. Instead, illness forced him to cede power to his younger brother Raul Castro, provisionally in 2006 and definitively in 2008.

Although Raul Castro always glorified his older brother, he has changed Cuba since taking over by introducing market-style economic reforms and agreeing with the United States in December 2014 to re-establish diplomatic ties and end decades of hostility.”

In 2003, author Anthony Daniels wrote of him: “Nearly half a century after he first took power, he fascinates in a way that the younger gray functionaries who now control the world do not, and he still provokes the strongest passions. No one is neutral about him.”


Cuomo to Go after CUNY and SUNY Management Practices!

Dear Commons Community,

Last week Catherine Leahy Scott, the New York State inspector general, issued a preliminary report that criticized the financial and management practices at the City University of New York.  She commented that CUNY was a system “ripe for abuse” and she urged that “significant steps are immediately taken.”  Governor Cuomo responded on Wednesday by announcing that he vowed to appoint inspectors general for both CUNY and the State University of New York, which has been reeling from a scandal of its own. Saying it was “time for new leadership,” he also directed the CUNY board to review the university’s “entire senior management” and the inspector general’s recommendations within 30 days.  As reported by the New York Times:

“The governor penned that statement himself,” Alphonso David, Mr. Cuomo’s counsel, said in an interview. “He was extremely alarmed and disappointed that there was this amount of abuse and mismanagement.”

Mr. Cuomo’s directive seemed like a resumption of the battle he waged during the budget process this year, when he proposed shifting some $485 million in CUNY’s costs to New York City from the state, which has paid the largest part of the university’s costs since the city’s fiscal crisis in the 1970s. That created a backlash amid a continuing tug-of-war with Mayor Bill de Blasio. While Mr. Cuomo eventually backed off, he insisted on bringing in a management consultant to help reduce what state officials called CUNY’s high administrative costs.

Since then, an unfolding scandal at the City College of New York, and a new bloc of politically prominent trustees that Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, recently appointed, have given him new leverage.

And as he prepares to unveil a new budget early next year, the governor may be further emboldened by yet another development: a letter, obtained this week by The New York Times, in which a lawyer for Lisa S. Coico, the former City College president who resigned amid investigations of her use of university funds to pay personal expenses, blames top CUNY administrators for her woes. The letter was addressed to James B. Milliken, the CUNY chancellor who, along with Frederick P. Schaffer, CUNY’s general counsel and senior vice chancellor for legal affairs, was criticized in the inspector general’s report.

Mr. Cuomo “plays a long-term game, and what he does, in case after case, is use scandal to centralize power in the name of good government,” Kenneth Sherrill, a professor emeritus of political science at CUNY’s Hunter College, said. “So I could almost see his reaction to CUNY being, ‘Ah, this was what I was waiting for.’”

It does not hurt, Professor Sherrill added, that CUNY’s problems could help divert attention from the scandal at the SUNY Polytechnic Institute, part of what federal prosecutors say was a broader corruption scheme — one that hits Mr. Cuomo much closer to home.

In many ways, the crisis at CUNY, the largest public urban university in the country, dovetails with Mr. Cuomo’s larger goal of streamlining government, said Gerald Benjamin, a professor of political science at SUNY New Paltz. In 2012, for instance, the state established a Business Services Center to centralize human resources and finance operations for its agencies; in 2015, Mr. Cuomo sought to consolidate back-office operations at CUNY and SUNY, but got little support from the State Legislature.”

With the budget season approaching in the new year, it is going to be a rocky 2017 for public higher education in New York.


The Future of Online Education: Will Our Courses Foreshadow Our Ends?

Dear Colleagues,

Amrit Ahluwalia, the editor of The Evolllution, was good enough to invite me to write an article based on the last two chapters of my recently published book,  Online Education Policy and Practice: The Past, Present, and Future of the Digital University (Taylor & Francis/Routledge).  The article, entitled The Future of Online Education: Will Our Courses Foreshadow Our Ends?  speculates on the future of our colleges and universities as online technology progresses and moves forward. 

I am optimistic about the near future for higher education and online education. Faculty will continue to develop greater facility with instructional technology and will come to integrate it seamlessly into their academic programs. American higher education is moving to a model where almost every course offered will have an online component. This is desirable during a time when enrollments will rise. Because of state funding constraints, there will likely be fewer full-time, tenure-track faculty as a percentage of the total faculty and as contract faculty, adjuncts, and tutors take on more of the teaching load. Instructional approaches such as learning analytics, adaptive learning, competency-based instruction, interactive media, and mobile technology will mature in the 2020s.

In the 2030s and beyond, it is likely that major new technology breakthroughs in  artificial intelligence, super cloud computing, and brain-machine interfaces will emerge that will change many aspects of human endeavor including education. Nanotechnology will give way to quantum computing which will completely redefine the speed and capacities of present day computers.  We will look back twenty years from now and think how quaint our iphones were.

The article ends with a reference to Charles Dickens.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!


Betsy DeVos to be New Secretary of Education!

Dear Commons Community,

Reuters and other news media are  announcing that President-elect Donald Trump is set to nominate Betsy DeVos, a billionaire and school choice advocate, as his secretary of education.

“Betsy DeVos is a brilliant and passionate education advocate,” Trump said in a statement earlier today. “Under her leadership, we will reform the U.S. education system and break the bureaucracy that is holding our children back so that we can deliver world-class education and school choice to all families.”

DeVos is the former chair of the Michigan Republican Party.

She and her husband, Dick DeVos — who together were worth more than $5 billion in 2012, according to Reuters — have funded initiatives to push for school voucher programs. 

DeVos is Chair of the American Federation for Children, which describes itself as “a leading national advocacy organization promoting school choice, with a specific focus on advocating for school vouchers and scholarship tax credit programs.” It is affiliated with the Alliance for School Choice. Launched in 2010, it operates regional offices across the country. According to one source, it “has racked up a series of successes by spending almost no money nationally, concentrating instead on the states, where media campaigns are cheaper and more manageable, and disclosure requirements are often far less stringent….For example, the federation has provided grants to the School Choice Indiana Network, Boast Alliance Maryland, and Partners for Educational Freedom in North Carolina.” Among its successes are a Georgia law “reinstating a commission that authorized charter schools,” a Florida committee whose attacks on Democratic attorney general candidate Dan Gelber resulted in his election loss, legislation in Virginia “calling for scholarship tax credits, ” and legislation in Wisconsin that created “a voucher program for children with special needs.”

“The status quo in education is not acceptable,” DeVos said in a statement. “Together, we can work to make transformational change that ensures every student in America has the opportunity to fulfill his or her highest potential.”


Eye Surgery Yesterday!

Dear Commons Community,

I had eye surgery yesterday at the Surgical Specialty Center in White Plains.  Right now I am seeing with one eye and it is a bit difficult.  I will be visiting my doctor later today to see if my bandages can be removed.