29.7.15

IS ANYBODY REALLY SURPRISED?

A few months ago, The Nation's Michelle Goldberg expressed her dismay with what she termed gentrification of higher education, in the course of which she contrasted Arizona's response to smaller state appropriations (fancier residence halls, recreational facilities, recruitment of upscale if not necessarily academically ambitious students from other states) with that of Arizona State.
Providing luxury accommodations to attract high-SES students is not the only answer to budget cuts. Schools can also simply try to educate more people, taking advantage of economies of scale. That’s what Arizona State University, one of the largest public universities in the country, is doing. Located in Phoenix, just over 100 miles from the University of Arizona, the school touts itself as a model of public/private fusion; the new book written by its president, Michael Crow, and ASU professor William Dabars is titled Designing the New American University.
Go for the volume, and substitute virtual facilitators for real professors.
In the face of this defunding, ASU increased revenues by bringing in many more students. Since 2002, when Crow joined ASU, undergraduate enrollment has risen by nearly 50 percent and graduate enrollment by 39 percent. The school has made headlines for the expansion of its online-education program, which enrolls 13,000. Last year, ASU announced a partnership with Starbucks, in which the company would reimburse employees for their tuition at ASU online; so far, 2,000 workers have signed up. In April, the university unveiled its new “Global Freshman Academy,” a group of 12 MOOCs, or massive open online courses. Students pay $45 to register and can wait until after final exams before deciding whether to pay tuition and receive course credits, ensuring they won’t be in debt if they’re not academically successful. Anyone who completes eight classes can enter ASU as a sophomore.
Ms Goldberg writes with her audience in mind, and her audience is willing to put up with Dilbert moments for the right reasons.
Yet if you strip away the grating corporate speak, Crow is serious when he talks about expanding access. He rails against the “elitism” of top-tier American colleges and universities, writing that their “exclusivity suggests nothing so much as the persistence in American higher education of the class prerogatives historically associated with the social patterns of Britain.” Crow is rightfully proud of the fact that under his leadership, his school’s student body has come to reflect the demographics of the state. Between 2002 and 2013, the number of African-American students at ASU grew by 107 percent, and the number of Hispanic students grew by more than 130 percent. Over the same time period, the number of students coming from families earning less than $20,000 increased from 219 to 919.

“One of the things that sounds like a sound bite, but I’ve actually witnessed it: We’re making all these inroads in populations that are not privileged,” says Mark Lussier, chair of ASU’s English department. Recently, he says, he was speaking to someone at the University of Michigan, who insisted: “‘You can’t have access and excellence. You just can’t. It’s impossible.’ But I think the evidence is there that this is the sort of model that can work. Whether it can work in all states, all stripes, I don’t know. I do think it’s a pretty good model for here. Most people think of scale as a problem, but actually I think it’s been beneficial to us.”
Really? (Via College Insurrection.)  (It's more dismaying to have the Secretary of Education simultaneously referring to the (private) value of a credential and to higher education as a public good.)  But there's nothing in either the Arizona numbers or the Nation article to suggest that U.S. News will stop selling those rankings.

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