Sometime I like to share articles that help you see inside the big picture of higher education – how it works and what they think. I just read the report from Insider Higher Education this morning (link follows)- they looked at the 2017 survey that asks college leaders (Chief Academic Officers/Provosts- the big bosses) about the state of higher education on their campus today. I realize you may not be interested in reading the entire thing, but there are 4 quotes I wanted to pull from the summary. If you only have 2 minutes, skip straight to number 4.
1. “Seventy-three percent also say that their institution relies ‘significantly’ on non-tenure-track professors…35% expect more reliance on adjunct faculty.”
WOW! Ok folks, this is huge. Let me break this down for you. Tenure (not without problems) really means having a teaching position for life. Coming from a community college where there are almost zero tenure faculty, even I was shocked by this number. Colleges and universities that have tenure faculty have typically stood out as being the creme de la creme. Thnk: flagship universities and Ivy League. These professors are integral to the college’s “brand” and for some fields, it’s the reason students choose a specific university. But wait, there’s more….
There are other categories besides tenure and non, so if they rely less on tenure, who is doing the teaching? Certainly they mean just regular -full time faculty? Uh, nope. Over 1/3 of them are going to use more adjunct faculty.
What is adjunct? That’s the academic term that means “temp hire.” Adjunct work 1 semester at a time, teaching classes the full timers can’t or don’t want to teach. As it stands, community colleges already have the highest number of adjunct faculty. I’m not going to slam adjunct work – I did it for 14 years in the community college system, but if you’re paying a premium dollar for tuition, you may be getting the same teacher who is also teaching 6 other sections at 3 other colleges in your town. (Adjunct earn on average only $1500 per semester per course taught). As a temp, there are extreme limitations to that teacher’s commitment to the student (that they will never see again) their ability to interject quality into the curriculum (they have no power) and their desperation to be hired back next term (be extra nice to the students – students like A’s).
2. “45 percent of provosts believe that liberal arts education (across institutional types) is in decline.”
I suspect that’s because students with a strictly liberal arts preparation are having a hard time repaying their enormous student loans while earning low paying jobs. There is a push (rightfully) that college graduates should be employable upon graduation.
My first degree (Associate of Occupational Studies) was to get a job – plain and simple. I went to culinary school to learn culinary arts so I could become a chef. Simple. Everything else is not so simple. Later, when I earned an AA in general studies and a BA in Social Science (liberal arts), I realized how starkly different a liberal arts education and vocational education were. My BA didn’t give me “work place skills” I studied social psychology, anthropology, history, and other social sciences. Interesting, but not job skills. If I wanted a job in social science, I’d have to earn a PhD so I be hired by a university that would then pay me to teach students studying social science who would then have the option of earning a PhD so they could teach social science to students…. [I’ll give you a minute to let that soak in….]
So, if a vocational education is job training, why do people earn BA degrees in liberal arts? Well to be “educated” of course. Everyone knows vocational education isn’t real college (heavy sarcasm). BUT, here’s the rub. The highly educated but underemployed segment is growing at a HUGE rate. This is the group that can’t repay their student loans, and the group that is getting expensive colleges in major hot water. (To be fair, vocational colleges whose students can’t get jobs are also in hot water).
3. “Eighty-five percent of provosts report that their institutions use student evaluations when judging faculty members for tenure, promotion or raises.”
Do students know that they hold this kind of power? Bad reviews on Rate My Professor can make or break a career. I remember in 1997, our college adopted a new philosophy called “Continued Quality Improvement” or CQI. In short, we could no longer call students students, we were now to think of them as a “customer” and our focus was to shift toward customer service. Having been a college student as a teen and as an adult, I can tell you there is a stark contrast between my experience as a youth and that of an adult. While I liked having more power (don’t laugh), we also know what student-driven success looks like. It looks like an “A” or else.
4. “This year, 91 percent of provosts at public colleges and universities said they favored awarded credit through CBE”
THIS! CBE is “competency based education” which is to say a college awards credit for competency rather than time spent in a classroom. This looks like CLEP, AP, DSST, prior learning assessments, and others. If you read nothing else in the article, pan down and read the section titled Competency Based Education. Frequently, at least a few times per month, someone asks me what I think of fewer colleges accepting CLEP or awarding credit for AP. Huh? Those number have soared over the past decade (I keep records of such things). As you read the article, you’ll see 2/3 of all public colleges report awarding credit for some type of CBE, while only around 1/3 for private. I think that’s reasonable. Private colleges have a brand development dilemma that gets in the way – but that’s not because of CLEP, those same private colleges also don’t accept much transfer credit either. It’s just the nature of their business model.
So, one more bit of good news, even with 2/3 currently participating in CBE, those that don’t were asked if they were exploring the idea. 49% said yes.