Thursday, August 24, 2017

Change is Gonna Come

It's been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will

It's so odd when a song gets stuck in your head. When for no reason, Sam Cooke's voice starts up and it just doesn't stop. Why is that? Even more perplexing, I now find myself asking Alexa to play a song, and as it starts, I wonder 'why that song?' When I'm thinking about 100 other things, making dinner, or checking my email, I ask for a song long in the past and not heard for years. And now, I have to wonder if Alexa hasn't become some kind of therapist, bringing forward thoughts hard to acknowledge in the forefront, but clicking away behind the noise. 

It's been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will

I write about change in higher education - what it would take, the post-traditional students, eLearning, analytics, finance, student debt, adjuncts...CHANGE! Whether we like it or not. Whether we're ready or not. I write about it with some urgency, given my role of researching, recommending, cajoling, forcing, and implementing change on my campus. But the fact that Sam Cooke is popping into my brain surprises me, as I usually don't write about it with the heavy heart imbued in his song. 

I think I'm getting tired. I do believe it's coming - that change, that oncoming train, that fierce wind - but as Sam says "a long, long time coming" and so many lives ruined  in the process. 

Student debt$1.4 trillion in student loan debt, spread out among about 44 million borrowers. The average 2016 graduate has $37,172 in student loan debt, up six percent from last year. Graduates today are putting off moving out of their parents' homes, having children, buying a house. They are trapped in a perpetual, grinding adolescence. 

Adjuncts: More than half of US faculty are part-time and even when full-time, ~70% of all faculty are not on the tenure track. We are educating scholars, in a grueling PhD process, for careers no longer attainable. 

Loss of public trust: Not unique to American institutions, where the public has lost faith, partly because of economics, of deep political divisions, and frankly, because large institutions (government officials, higher education, the medical community...) have squandered good will with a recklessness that takes our breath away. We could fix it voluntarily or we can be pushed to the wall. My fingers are crossed we go with the former, but the academy is faculty-governed and what's in their best interests is not beneficial to students, parents, communities, the Boards of Regents. It's a wait and see. 

But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will

Here's the thing that exhausts me: some of the best minds tackling this problem lay outside the academy, and we ignore them. The ones inside are being shut down, silenced, asked to step down, denied tenure, denied the ability to teach in new formats. On the administrative side, change agents don't stay. They burn out or get pushed out. 

Faculty voices that are rising, asking for an end to the hiring of bureaucrats, aren't complaining about good leaders being hired to do good work. They're pushing back against all the obstructionists settling in for life - still refusing to use calendaring, to return emails, to look at change. Some are pushing back at the endless stream of offices supporting division and identity politics. And thus the sorrowful, Sam Cooke sounds that accompany new research on the state of higher education. 

It's been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will

I believe that.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Online Students: What do we know about them?

Interesting report from the 2017 Online College Students survey. Things we should have guessed, but nice to see validated. What did students say? They want an engaging, quality education. They want to be a part of a community, and want their instructor to be accessible. Online students are students first, and want what students have always wanted. To make meaning of the world. And yes, as "non-traditional students" become the tradition, more than 1/4 of the 20 million students now in college are taking some number of online courses. They want flexible, technology-infused choices. 

At UW Tacoma, we're still behind the demand curve, with 15% of our students signing up for all our online courses within hours of opening for registration. They want more reduced seat time options, but not at the cost of quality. The want to love their courses, but they WANT online and hybrid courses. (This summer, a course with an enrollment cap of 30 had almost 80 students put their name on the waiting list, but no one dropped the course. Eight of the top 10 Wait List courses were online. The other two were pre-reqs that students desperately need. We're working on listening to the needs of our students, but change is hard.)

We hear you, students of UW Tacoma and the 5 million+ now taking online courses. We're working on it.