Ten Best of Uncensored

THREE-YEAR B.A. DEGREE – American colleges are the most diverse in the world, and so is the time it takes to get a degree. Two-year degree completion often takes four years; four-year degree graduation takes normally six years. Now Dickinson College (Carlisle,  Pa.) President William Durden is suggesting a three-year (period) degree “to save money.” The idea might have value if those three years are taken up solely by true college-level courses. But nearly half of college students today spend much of their first year in remedial courses. To get a real three-year college program, perhaps high school degrees should include a college-prep 13th year, as do European schools. (February 2010)

B.A. DEGREE IN THREE YEARS? FEW HAVE THE TIME – It may sound counterintuitive, but an idea that has been pushed by two George Washington University (GWU) professors for a bachelor’s degree in three full years would be impossible for most students because – they don’t have the time. Not even for studying. A recent AEI (American Enterprise Institute) report found that full-time students at four-year colleges spend only 14 hours a week studying on average (versus 24 hours in 1971). Is it because of having to work? In 2009, 79.3 percent of part-time college students worked and 39 percent of full-time students, according to the Labor Department. “Working is an obstacle for a degree in three,” admitted the GWU profs, and AEI found that working students spent even less time studying than nonworking ones. But that wasn’t the main reason for the general reduction in studying time. “Students at every level appear to be studying less in order to have more leisure time,” the AEI report concludes. (November 2010)

BIDEN HAMMERED DAILY ABOUT VALUE OF C.C. EDUCATION – Apparently, Education Secretary Arne Duncan has strong support for his community college initiatives from Vice President Joseph Biden. In fact, Biden is “being hammered every day about the importance of community college for the future of America,” according to his wife and community college professor, Dr. Jill Biden. “I come home from school and talk about what we need. He’s immersed in it. He can’t get away from it. He knows the stories of my students,” the second lady revealed in a recent interview. “I think the administration has begun to respond ... helping with financial aid, increasing Pell Grants and making the tuition tax credit available to students.” But there’s more. Professor Biden said that what community colleges need most “is not just money; it’s awareness. People need to realize that community colleges really give you a good education.” Apparently, the vice president, the president and certainly the secretary of education are “getting it” – daily. (March 2010)

STUDENT PROTESTERS WIN BUT FEEL IT’S UNFAIR SOMEHOW – Student protesters at the University of California (UC) are in a conundrum. After organizing all-night sit-ins of university libraries in November to protest budget cuts limiting services, they were taken aback when UC administrators told them “Come on in!” Seems many of the administrators these days were student activists themselves in the good ol’ ’60s era of student protests and are sympathetic, even supportive, of student demonstrations to protest budget cuts by the state that they themselves abhor. “As long as the protestors don’t harm public property, they’re welcome,” said UCBerkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau. “It’s the best of our tradition of effective civic action.” But the protesters were flummoxed. It somehow didn’t seem like a real protest when administrators were on their side. And then the chancellor went on to raise $80,000 from UC alums to extend department libraries’ hours. “What does victory for the left look like ... when you get what you want but someone else gets credit for it? It feels like defeat,” complained Michael Cohen, the Solidarity Alliance co-chair. Protesting sure ain’t what it used to be! (March 2010)

DEVELOPMENT OFFICES AND COLLEGE ACCOUNTABILITY – The accountability idea that created the most buzz at a recent college accountability conference in Washington, D.C., was the suggestion by many to track the work force success of the institution’s student graduates, not only just after graduation but also five to 10 years and more afterwards. The idea of tracking an institution’s graduates’ job success was considered the most politically important but also the most difficult to do. Maybe it’s a task that should be given to the institution’s development and alumni offices! They have techniques to find anyone! (April 2010)

SENATOR REGRETS LACK OF COLLEGE OVERSIGHT – Sen. Lamar Alexander told Politico recently that he would “like to see Republicans step up oversight on higher education. We did a poor job on oversight when we had the majority before,” he said. By oversight, however, he means fewer regulations and more investment in research. “That’s as important to job growth as lower taxes,” said the former Tennessee University president. (December 2010)

FEISTY CHANCELLOR FOLLOWS HIS OWN DRUMMER – University Chancellor Charles Reed is personable and outgoing. He speaks openly and frankly. He also is in charge of one of the biggest university systems in the country: the California State University (CSU) System with 23 campuses and almost half-a-million students. His opinions and actions carry weight. So his outspoken responses to some tough questions in politically cautious Washington, D.C., last February were refreshing if not a bit startling. For instance, Question: Has the ending of affirmative action in 1998 in California hurt the admission numbers of minorities at the CSUs as it has the University of California system? Answer: “Not at all. I reviewed the law carefully and realized there were no sanctions for ignoring it. We now have a higher proportion of Blacks and Latinos at our universities than their percentage in the state population.” Question: So you still pursue affirmative action? Answer: “We do it in many ways.” Question: Does CSU demand proof of the immigration status of their students as it does proof of California residency? Immediate answer: “No. If an applicant has attended high school for three consecutive years before graduating, that is all we need for acceptance.” But, he added: “We are very careful about not having more than 10 percent out-of-state and foreign students.” (May 2010)

THE ELDERLY, THEY ARE OUR FUTURE – The newest power bloc in America has now been identified. It’s not Gen X, Latinos or angry soccer moms and barbecue ’burb dads. It’s the after-retired or nearly retired or never-will-be-entirely retired active ageing Americans. The over-55-year-olds are the largest segment in the population and potentially the most happy and creative. A series of 50-year follow-up longitudinal studies out of the University of California (UC)-Berkeley found that “old age” actually is a period of development. The older brain is more flexible and often more creative. As left-brain/right-brain divisions erode, oldsters can integrate memories and knowledge between the two hemispheres in more nuanced ways. Gender roles begin to merge. Oldsters become happier as they pay less attention to negative emotional stimuli. “They become more vivid as people, more what they already are,” said UC scholar Norma Haan in typical Berkeleyspeak. But columnist David Brooks writes that the new elderly are also “takers.” They take federal money – $7 for every $1 given to youth. They take opportunities from younger people in jobs and increasingly in graduate and retraining programs as well as internships. Even political action groups will be dominated by seniors, who are more reliable than young people as voters – the majority of the Tea Party movement is over 50, after all. But older people also are givers – especially to their grandchildren, alumni groups and charities. “Old people now have the time, energy and, with the Internet, the tools to organize. The elderly: they are our future,” Brooks writes. (April 2010)

ZERO SUM GAME? – After Arizona, the big debate in immigration reform might be about who gets one of the million-plus new green cards given out each year. At present, more than 65 percent are given to extended family members of permanent immigrants; and 15 percent, to needed workers. In a new book, Brain Gain, Brookings Institute Director Darrell West suggests that this might be reversed as it is in Canada. The idea to give green cards to all foreign students graduating from U.S. colleges with advanced degrees in the STEM fields is very popular. The idea of increasing the number of temporary visas for needed workers or the total number of permanent visas is not. “It could be a zero sum game,” says West. (September 2010)

TALK ABOUT DROPOUTS – LOOK AT INTERNET CLASSES! – Here’s the mantra: “We work online; we shop online; let’s learn online!” Educational technology consultants (like J. Edgar Garr) love to write about “Johnny” who is bored, bored, bored by his textbook but loves to read his class assignments online, devour interesting tidbits that are linked, compose his report online and attach images and quotes he’s researched on the Web (OK, so he plagiarizes, but never mind) and send it on to his teacher, who might even suggest corrections that the now supposedly highly motivated Johnny might even do – and all by high-speed (lord forbid it should not be high-speed!) Internet access! Of course, some experts admit that there will need to be a new type of thinking to truly take advantage of this approach. And some teachers who have embraced the idea of teaching students personally, unseen, while still in their pajamas (does anyone wear those anymore?) are finding that most of their time is spent telling a student which button to push on the new technology (yes, even the young ones!). What analysts need to start looking at, however, are the online course-completion rates. At one community college last year (name, class, teacher – available on a need-to-know basis only), the new online class started with 35 students, and the excited teacher got full pay for not having to appear in a classroom. The completion rate 10 weeks later: zero! (November 2010)