The state of higher education in 2017

Good evening!

I can’t believe I’ve let almost a year go by since updating this blog. I love writing, and I never intended to wait this long to post, but I figured it was time to get started again. Since the election, my mind has been refocused on the importance of education, facts and teaching our students that yes, there are proper places to find good, reliable information so they can be informed, thoughtful citizens.

While I’ve been incredibly sad and discouraged by the election results, I’m also more fired up than I’ve ever been. I’m incredibly worried about the state of education as a whole, not just as the university level. There are so many important, current topics that I don’t know where to begin — the possible (and I think probable) confirmation of Besty DeVos as Secretary of Education, the whole “alternative facts” saga and Trump’s general disregard and disrespect for the scientific community. As I begin to post more over the coming weeks, I would like to talk about these in more depth.

The news is not necessarily good from a General Education perspective. It has not taken long for the attack on information literacy to begin, as I hear more and more arguments about how any news source is valid these days. The High Plains Daily Leader and Times published a strange op-ed on how there is apparently no way to actually teach a student what sources are valid. It is no wonder, then, that the concept of alternative facts don’t bother a certain segment of the population.

As academics, we must be willing to face these issues and acknowledge them, even if we don’t enjoy the topic. We are doing out students a great disservice otherwise.

Two + two = awesome!

Two plus two and four plus one agreements are great ways get students into programs; the cost is much cheaper for the student, and the institutions should hopefully gain more enrollments as part of the agreement.

But there still exists this frustrating and unfortunate bias against liberal arts courses. These courses truly do provide an important foundation for any program, be it business, STEM, etc. The ability to communicate thoughtfully should never be taken for granted, and many of my Gen Ed courses provide just this kind of information.

As a Gen Ed chair, I would love all of the students at my institution to take these courses with us. But I also very much appreciate and value a good two + two program; students can “get these classes out of the way,” often at a lower cost. It also gives them some time to think about their future majors while they are in community college.

Reading some of comments in this great Inside Higher Ed article, you’d think that Liberal Arts courses are the great shame of American education. I should know better, of course –I never find myself in a good mood after a few minutes in the comments section. But it just surprises me that some people find it this hard to see the value in these courses. I suppose I’m lucky in that I have so many of my students tell me how important these classes were to them, so I can take that as a very happy sign that students are having a great experience!

Recent news about General Education

So I’ve become one of those bloggers! I was doing really well, making sure I posted thoughtful content regularly, and then I disappeared. My apologies! Like just gets in the way sometimes, but I’m more committed than ever to write about and share any news I find interesting about the world of General Education.

On that note, I read two great items this week. First, a student at the University of North Carolina – Wilmington wrote a very encouraging letter to her school paper about the importance of General Education. I was fairly surprised to see that. Each term I look at these letters that are published online, and like clockwork, I see the ones that come in about how Gen Ed requirements are a waste of time and money. This letter made for a very refreshing change. This student understands that, when done thoughtfully, Gen Ed courses can open your mind to new ideas and give you important new experiences. She even went as far as to proclaim that we may be pleasantly surprised by what we find. Huzzah! I’m very grateful to her for her honest and thoughtful appraisal.

A few days later, I came across the proposed Gen Ed changes at both Harvard and Duke Universities. These sound like very intriguing ideas, and ones that should be explored. As much as I support a “traditional” approach to Gen Ed, any way that we can get students to embrace these courses helps a great deal. Ideas like pass-fail and mentorship may not work for each institution, but they are worth looking into.

I’d love to know if anyone from any other institution has tried these ideas, and if so, what have the results been. Thank you all!



Assessment and general education requirements

Good afternoon readers,

A recent article on Inside Higher Ed discusses the “watering down of general education requirements” for engineers.  This insightful read brings up a number of interesting points, with the most important, at least in my mind, of what assessment can do to a General Education program.

At first glance, this article seems to simply address the concern of requiring less courses for Engineering majors. But what the author is really getting at is how assessment can sometimes harm students in the long-run.

I believe in the need for a well-designed and thoughtful assessment program in higher education to try and measure how and what our students are learning. But if we make these tools so specific and directed, it feels impossible to measure skills like critical thinking, lifelong learning and other “soft skills.” As Gen Ed Chair, I see these skills as invaluable to my institution’s business students, and I’m sure the same can be said for the majority of other programs and disciplines out there.

I’d be curious to read other thoughts on this idea. I hope everyone has a fun and safe Fourth of July weekend!

Here is the article from Inside Higher Ed:

LGBT Students and Financial Aid

Though this blog generally focuses on academic issues related to online learning or general education, I thought I would veer off topic for a bit and discuss an issue that does not get much coverage — the lack of information available for homeless or at risk LGBT youth regarding financial aid.

For any student, applying for any type of financial aid can be a daunting and frustrating process, and it’s not always easy to find the necessary help and information. This is particularly difficult for homeless LGBT students. Disowned from their parents and often confused and afraid, these students need as much help as they can get to complete this often overwhelming task.

My friend Joe Gentile wrote a phenomenal piece a few years back for the Huffington Post, and you can find the link below. In the article, he describes in more detail how a homeless student can start finding resources; there are many good avenues available to these students — we need to make sure this information is public and easily accessible.

That is the point, of course. These students have enough on their minds without needing to hunt down people to explain the process to them. It’s up to us in higher education to make this population not only aware of the resources, but make them feel comfortable and safe enough to reach out of help.

For anyone interested, please take a look at Joe’s article, it gives some very helpful information:

Changes at the Boston Public Library

Good evening,

Though the focus of this blog is on General Education and online learning, I had to make a few points about the current situation over at the Boston Public Library. One of my favorite places to visit, and a jewel of the city, the BPL is currently undergoing a bit of an administrative and public relations crisis. For those unfamiliar, a quick update: a number of historically important (and very expensive) art pieces have gone missing, including works by Rembrandt and Durer. There has also been charges of misplaced priorities and a loss of focus of keeping the central library a researched – centered library.

The people of Boston love their library, hence why this has made so much news the past week or so. I choose to address this here because, as a former librarian, I am very invested in what libraries can do for our communities. It goes without saying that a strong General Education program cannot survive without exceptional library services. My institution has an incredibly robust online library with a phenomenal librarian, and we are beyond lucky to have him. But the BPL is able to provide extra resources that we don’t have. In addition, with its focus on rare collections and research services, a student may find resources that he never knew existed. In short, it combines the need to have practical information but also allows students to dig deeper and study theory.

We have to make sure we are protecting this resource and that is being run properly. Without getting into politics, there is no way that now former BPL President Amy Ryan could have done all of this herself. While she bears responsibility for much of this, the city and Board of Trustees need to step up and make sure that the library is being financed properly and that proper oversight is provided. The city depends on the BPL; NECB depends on the BPL — it’s too important to be taken for granted.

Recognizing the benefits of for-profit institutions

One surefire way to get people talking (and potentially worked up) is to bring up the topic of for-profit education. Much-maligned, for-profit institutions are becoming more and more a part of the norm, and it’s time that we embrace these institutions for what they can offer, while still being vigilant about any unethical practices. For-profits can offer a lot to many people, and should not be summarily dismissed.

Carrie Sheffield has a great opinion piece in Forbes this week about all that for-profit institutions have to offer, and it’s worth a read. My institutions happens to be owned by a larger for-profit, so I understand very well the workings of this kind of organization; I also understand that for-profits are far from perfect. I have a background in traditional libraries at non-profit colleges and will always be a proponent of that system.

That being said, we shouldn’t just ignore for-profits and penalize this industry as a whole. To be certain, there are many for-profits who have gone beyond being unethical; in the last few weeks, we’ve seen what has happened to one particularly large organization that only cared about its own profits and ignored the fair treatment of its students. But that does not each for-profit operates in that manner. Using that logic, we could punish all traditional institutions based on the actions of the administration at Penn State.

My institutions serves many students who had difficulty finding a good education elsewhere; and so many of our graduates now have well-paying and satisfying careers. This does not mean that for-profits should replace non-profits. In fact, these two sectors could potentially help each other down the road, as long as there can be a mutual respect and understanding for one another.

Here is the Sheffield article:

Misconceptions about online students

Good afternoon,

Just like I did in my last post, I want to apologize for waiting so long to publish! It’s that time of year in higher education, of course — commencements and other busy activities. But I’ve found myself reading a few very interesting essays the last few days, and felt the need to make a few comments.

At least from my experience, there seem to be quite a few misconceptions about online students and how hard they work. My students have always been eager, hard working and excited to discover new ideas. While I don’t see them face to face, I see the connections they are making and understand the value of the work they are doing.

The article from references a study — this study challenges the notion that online students plagiarize more than tradiation, on ground students. While the study focused on doctoral students, I do very much agree with its findings. I don’t think anyone would deny that plagiarism is a big problem in higher education; but to pinpoint this problem on online students is just wrong; I have seen very little difference between the two populations. If anything, the use of tools like have made my students more aware and more careful about the work they are doing. Is this because I generally work with adult students? Perhaps — but I think main point of the study needs to be considered carefully. You can find the study here:…/online-learning-plagiarism-916/

The other story that caught my attention was a bit more general about the approach we take to higher education. The author argues (and makes a very good point) that we don’t need to have this be an all or nothing approach; while the traditional approach may need some improvements, the online method is not perfect either. The two worlds can certainly help each other, I agree. You can find this article here:

My issue is with the author’s point that online students don’t have “ah-ha” moments. I could not find this to be less true; just as an example, my institution has a very well-designed Art History survey course, fully online. Students are ask to find a work of art that speaks to them; but they must do so by going out to a museum or searching within the community. I could share numerous examples of students telling me “Ah! Now I understand why art is so important and why we are asked to study this!” or “This has changed my view of the world.” Isn’t that what education is all about? When well-designed, online courses can deliver these moments very well.

So continued dialog is needed, and it’s important that the right message is sent out; that being that thoughtful, challenging online programs produce thoughtful, productive students.

The end of the English major?

Hello all!

I’m sorry it’s been such a long time since my last post; I’ve been very busy over this last month or so, but I’ve been itching to get back on here and write, and after I saw this article today, I had to come and say something.

As an English major myself, this piece really hits close to home. I loved my college, and I enjoyed all of the courses from my English program. I never felt that I was just learning about great works of literature; I knew this degree was making me an overall stronger writer. In hindsight, I also see that my critical thinking skills grew stronger with each class I took.

I understand, especially after the difficult economic downturn, that students and parents look to college to provide a for a well-paying future. But as my friend and colleague Jennifer Cournoyer so rightly stated, college seems to no longer be a means to a better life — just a better job. Our lives become better when we learn about the world around us, and I will always strongly feel that our core general education courses provide help provide that kind of life.

Though I teach at a business school, we value the information that our students receive in their composition and literature courses. We must remember how important these courses are so we aren’t graduating students with no ability to think critically.

Here is the original article: