Uncensored 05/02/2011 Issue

OBAMA WANTS HIGHER GRAD RATES – BUT DO COLLEGES? – Cal State universities are typical. When students are accepted as freshmen, they get a letter advising that it will probably take five or more years to get a four-year degree because of scheduling limitations. In their junior year, three or four years later, students often decide they want to tweak their major – from creative writing, say, to grant writing, or from civil engineering to computer (note: these are real examples!) – but it will take an extra year. Need one more class to graduate? The course isn’t offered till next year, and you’d better take a full load to qualify for grants and loans. Result: most college grads take five to six years to graduate, often with dozens of more credits than are needed and thousands of more dollars in costs and debt. The Obama administration is stressing the goal to double the graduation rate of American college students. But are colleges motivated to do that? “It’s a big problem at many (so-called) four-year degree colleges,” Eduardo Ochoa, new U.S. assistant secretary for postsecondary education, admitted to me in February. “It’s something we struggled with at Cal State when I was VP there.” Can he do something about it now that he is working on the national level to promote graduation rates? “We’re open to new ideas for initiatives that would reward institutions who commit to students’ completing quality degrees in four years,” he said. But no punishment is planned if they don’t. Of course, it’s all about money, and for now, it’s clear – more money is made by keeping students on campus.

PHILOSOPHY PROFS MIGHT WINCE AT DUNCAN’S PHILOSOPHY – “Every high school graduate must know about how postsecondary courses they are pursuing can help them get a job! They need to choose courses that tend towards a career and are not dead end,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told a packed audience of college administrators in Washington, D.C., last February at the launch of a Harvard School of Education report, Preparing for Prosperity. No one in the audience visibly fainted. But it was probable there were no philosophy professors in attendance. Not all is lost however. Some departments will have to revise their course marketing to the new “job utility” philosophy: “Aristotle in the Market Place?” anyone?

BILL GATES IRKS TEACHERS’ UNIONS – Bill Gates is not just the founder of Apple computer company and one of the wealthiest people in the world. He is also America’s greatest philanthropist in education reform and therefore has major influence on education policy. When he appears at a congressional hearing, he is the single witness. When congressmen address him, they all sound like they are making proposal pitches (oh wait, actually, they are!). When he speaks, education administrators and policymakers listen. And unions shudder. In March, Gates proposed that public school budget reform should include ending traditional teachers’ bonus pay for seniority and earned advanced degrees, and granting it mainly on merit and performance. He also favors increasing class size after grade three. He’d prefer that such changes be done incrementally, but the state and local budget crisis facing American schools now makes that almost impossible, he says. Now the changes are urgent.

TOUT CA CHANGE, TOUT C’EST LA MEME CHOSE – A new Rutgers University report (including findings of an undercover investigator) confronts the current jobless recession dilemma by recommending tying together postsecondary education institutions, business employers, labor reps and private and for-profit organizations to develop training programs that will fit available jobs. Big idea: combine Labor Department work force development money with Education Department programs. Thirty years ago, I was the Southern CA Director of a nationally funded program of consortium of health manpower trainers and employers. Our big idea: combine HEW manpower development money with Labor Department programs. The consortia were de-funded in the 1980s; the term manpower” killed by PC. Now in 2011, report presenters at the Center for American Progress in March are extremely enthusiastic about their creative new approach. I guess good ideas never die.

WOMEN AMBASSADORS REDEFINE “OLD BOYS CLUB” – At an informal discussion at the National Press Club in March with women ambassadors from Colombia, Holland and India, they agreed on one thing despite their widely diverse backgrounds: women foreign ministers (Colombia has had five recently) and ambassadors have redefined what used to be considered the ultimate “Old Boys Club.” “In fact, our last female foreign minister from Colombia is now serving on the United Nations Security Council,” said the Honorable Carolina Barco. Her Excellency Meera Shankar laughed when she said, “We’ve had so many women foreign ministers in India that my young daughter asked me, ‘Mother, is it possible for a man to be prime minister?”