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Posted at 5:52 PM ET, 02/24/2011

Fixing higher ed: Lumina's Jamie Merisotis

By Daniel de Vise

In a story that published Sunday in The Washington Post Magazine, I offer eight suggestions to "fix" higher education. After reading the story, you can rank the ideas in a poll, which you will find farther down on this blog.

For the story, I sought help from several great leaders and thinkers. Some submitted their own thoughts on how to improve higher education. I'm posting them this week. Here is the eighth, from Jamie Merisotis, CEO of the Lumina Foundation.

merisotis.jpg

"This is certainly not an exhaustive or even necessarily balanced list, nor are they presented in any order of importance," he wrote. "Of course, all of this is based on Lumina's efforts to increase the proportion of Americans with high-quality college degrees and credentials to 60% by 2025."

Problem: There are far too few programs available to help displaced workers and working adults to get the new skills they need to advance in the workforce, and the programs that exist take far too long to complete.

Solution: Create accelerated associate degree programs that allow working adults and displaced workers to complete a degree in one year or less, and then expand to all students.

Problem: While use is growing, online education is still not perceived as part of the mainstream of US higher education.

Solution: Create alternative delivery of credits and degrees by establishing virtual colleges in every state and encouraging their use by all students, i.e. WGU-Indiana.

Problem: Far too few students who begin college finish within a reasonable timeframe, representing a huge cost both to students and taxpayers.

Solution: Allocate at least 10% of all public funding for colleges and universities on the basis of completion, particularly the completion of low-income, adult, minority and first-generation students.

Problem: Only 19% of Latino adults hold a college degree.

Solution: Increasing Latino student success should be a deliberate element of national and local strategies; assuring there is a degree in every Latino household should be a priority for policymakers at all levels.

Problem: Employers are not investing enough in developing the skills and talents of their workers through higher education.

Solution: Create tax incentives to spur employer investment in the higher education of their employees as well as in their communities.

Problem: 36 million American adults have attended college and gained some college credit but have not completed a degree or credential.

Solution: Develop a wide range of programs, including a returning student tax credit, to encourage completion of degrees by adults who previously have attended college.

Problem: K-12 education is blamed for higher education's inability to increase degree completion.

Solution: Create state and regional partnerships where higher education defines clear college readiness standards and works with middle/high schools and their own teacher education programs to increase K-12's capacity to graduate all students ready for college.

Problem: Scarce financial aid dollars are used to promote institutional marketing and prestige rather than to primarily serve low-income students.

Solution: Re-focus state and institutional aid programs on need-based aid.

Problem: Students and parents do not have the information they need to make good decisions about higher education.

Solution: Report publicly on outcomes for graduates including information on learning outcomes, employment and wages so that consumers can make more informed decisions about where to invest for college.

Problem: Higher education is poorly linked to local and regional economic and workforce development efforts.

Solution: Create "credentialed labor pools" (CLPs) as an economic development strategy to attract growth sectors. A CLP would be a public-private partnership among HE institutions, government, community and employer associations to create accelerated programs in high-growth sectors that would be used as an asset to attract new investments. CLPs would offer tax credits to businesses that invest in the region and hire from the pool, incentives to institutions that design and offer accelerated programs for the pool, commit students to certain "rules of engagement," and help economic development authorities market their region to investors.

Problem: College degrees are poorly understood in terms of the learning they represent.

Solution: Develop a degree qualifications profile (DQP) to define the specific learning outcomes of every degree issued by accredited colleges and universities.

Problem: Higher education programs and degrees are defined by seat time rather than learning outcomes.

Solution: Develop a new system of learning credits that are based on outcomes, not time. Such a system would encourage the rapid expansion of competency-based programs, assessment of prior learning, and more effective methods of teaching and learning.

Problem: The funds that would be needed to expand the current higher education system to the size needed by the nation do not exist, and are not likely to exist in the future.

Solution: Make the higher education system far more productive by reducing costs throughout higher education, expanding low-cost/high-quality delivery, shortening time to degree, and increasing college completion rates.

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By Daniel de Vise  | February 24, 2011; 5:52 PM ET
Categories:  Access, Administration, Admissions, Aid, Attainment, Finance, Online, Pedagogy, Public policy, Students, Technology  | Tags:  fixing higher education, higher education reform, wapo fixing higher education, washington post fixing higher ed  
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Next: Fixing higher ed: Catholic University's Brennan

Comments

The panacea always seems to be the magic of online education inevitably seen as superior to having an experienced, knowledgeable teacher physically present. And since the solution is online, the necessary training time is automatically shortened and becomes much less expensive.

As a retired community-college teacher (36+ years)who taught an online academic course for 5 years, I can attest that quite a few students do not have the ability to deal with the computer as is necessary. Nor do they have the motivation to do this alone at home, stumbling through it all--if they have at home a computer and online connection. Often middle class people forget that poorer people don't always have these.

The dropout rate for my online course was about 50% vs. about 25% or less for a regular classroom class.

As for students taking so long to complete: they work a couple of low-paying jobs, have family responsibilities, often have health problems. Taking anything more than a single course is difficult, if not impossible. And a short-range intensive course? I think not.

All the training suggested must lead to a definite specific job that the potential student can see--not to tell him or her that there might be a job in the computer field but a job doing X with Y Company. And, until the economy gets considerably stronger, it's not clear where such jobs may be.

For Hispanic students, their English is not always up to par and frequently needs work. But as soon as prerequisites are established, this scares off or discourages some of those who might otherwise enroll.

I don't think the suggestions made are wrong, but over simplistic. The problems are all more complicated than the recommended solutions. A survey of local employers would seem to be a basic place to start.

To make things even more interesting, there will be NO money to implement programs of this kind. Congress is cutting back and neither states nor local school districts have any spare cash, are preparing pink slips for existing teachers and staff.

One thing that always troubles me about the panaceas for educational improvement: these always come from above, from administrators, foundations, think tanks. I can't remember the last time that I saw any front-line teachers involved in fixing problems. Nor do I see any real consideration of what students bring or don't bring with them from home. It's as if students are perfectly blank slates; bad teachers are entirely to blame for what students don't have coming away from education.

Posted by: Latania1 | February 24, 2011 10:15 PM | Report abuse

I'm all for improving the education level of our population! But in reading this piece, why do I get the same impression I got when the emphasis was on making sure everyone in the country was a homeowner? We all know how that turned out.

In terms of higher education, I question the premise that a college degree is good, per se. Do we need a million more majors in basket weaving? Don't we need a mix of college educated and non-college technician level people concentrated in our labor shortage AND global growth industries? Sure, the Ivy League schools can continue to churn out people who mostly learn to "think," and that's fine. But of what use is a really well trained thinker who has no visible ties to the job world? Not everyone can work for Obama.

The writer needed some cojones when talking about the lack of college in the Hispanic community. It's pretty well established that the peasant class --- unfortunately the source of much of our illegal invasion --- does not place much value on higher education, particularly for women. That cultural trait is what needs to be turned around.

Finally, I tend to think that people --- for the most part --- who have but one year of college or a little more are the smart ones: they found college was not their forte, and left before spending a ton of money.

Speaking of money, the writer again punts with a short vague sentence or two about costs. When costs in the health care sector were rising annually at rates LESS than those for college, the President told us we had a national "crisis." But not a peep about college costs.

Posted by: Curmudgeon10 | February 25, 2011 5:32 AM | Report abuse

I'm all for improving the education level of our population! But in reading this piece, why do I get the same impression I got when the emphasis was on making sure everyone in the country was a homeowner? We all know how that turned out.

In terms of higher education, I question the premise that a college degree is good, per se. Do we need a million more majors in basket weaving? Don't we need a mix of college educated and non-college technician level people concentrated in our labor shortage AND global growth industries? Sure, the Ivy League schools can continue to churn out people who mostly learn to "think," and that's fine. But of what use is a really well trained thinker who has no visible ties to the job world? Not everyone can work for Obama.

The writer needed some cojones when talking about the lack of college in the Hispanic community. It's pretty well established that the peasant class --- unfortunately the source of much of our illegal invasion --- does not place much value on higher education, particularly for women. That cultural trait is what needs to be turned around.

Finally, I tend to think that people --- for the most part --- who have but one year of college or a little more are the smart ones: they found college was not their forte, and left before spending a ton of money.

Speaking of money, the writer again punts with a short vague sentence or two about costs. When costs in the health care sector were rising annually at rates LESS than those for college, the President told us we had a national "crisis." But not a peep about college costs.

Posted by: Curmudgeon10 | February 25, 2011 5:33 AM | Report abuse

Problem: We need more college degrees, one in every household.

Solution: Print more diplomas for $50 each!

Posted by: kschur1 | February 25, 2011 7:55 AM | Report abuse

Look out, professors! The "reformers" and Big Business are coming after you, too! I bet you weren't even aware you needed to be "fixed." Sigh. Signed, a weary and jaded middle-school teacher....

Posted by: TeacherTalk | February 25, 2011 12:15 PM | Report abuse

It is difficult to equate time of study (especially when one talks about reduced time) with quality of learning. It is even more difficult when there is no certain way of measuring the quality of learning that has taken place.

Perhaps the goal should be one individual with a College degree in every home, and not just in Latino homes. However, how one member of a household with a college degree would advance learning for the entire family members who might have different interests and capabilities, is beyond my understanding.

I recall some years ago, after listening to a presentation about a young boy, who was able to accomplish much with the use of a computer, I left the session believing that I must integrate the computer into my teaching. However, at the next session given by someone who worked with gifted students, we were cautioned to be wary of the computer, because the counter-intuitive experience, so necessary for learning was not present. Sometime afterwards, after a student of mine who studied a math course which was presented by the open book test method (in which students were never asked to solve problems similar to the ones solved before, but to solve problems based on the same principles and with the same approach) in the following course that was taught with the use of computers, she got a grade of "A", just as she attained in my course. I asked her how she liked the course, which she had completed in about half the time assigned to the course. She told me she liked my way of teaching better. I asked her why, and she replied: "It was like taking a trip on a fast train. I knew where I got on, and where I got off; however, I missed all the scenery in between." I believe she was referring to the counter-intuitive experience that was absent.

Education is for life, for future activity. We make a mistake with education when we try to evaluate its success immediately after completion of a course, or courses in a programme. The benefits are long term in nature, therefore student and teacher success cannot be effectively and efficiently evaluated at the instant of completion of a course, or a program of study.

What we need to do in education today is to teach individuals how to learn, not what to learn. The rate of turnover of knowledge is accelerating exponentially, and subjects cannot all be taught in schools in the brief period allowed to teach and train individuals.

Posted by: CalP | February 25, 2011 1:15 PM | Report abuse

It is difficult to equate time of study (especially when one talks about reduced time) with quality of learning. It is even more difficult when there is no certain way of measuring the quality of learning that has taken place.

Perhaps the goal should be one individual with a College degree in every home, and not just in Latino homes. However, how one member of a household with a college degree would advance learning for the entire family members who might have different interests and capabilities, is beyond my understanding.

I recall some years ago, after listening to a presentation about a young boy, who was able to accomplish much with the use of a computer, I left the session believing that I must integrate the computer into my teaching. However, at the next session given by someone who worked with gifted students, we were cautioned to be wary of the computer, because the counter-intuitive experience, so necessary for learning was not present. Sometime afterwards, after a student of mine who studied a math course which was presented by the open book test method (in which students were never asked to solve problems similar to the ones solved before, but to solve problems based on the same principles and with the same approach) in the following course that was taught with the use of computers, she got a grade of "A", just as she attained in my course. I asked her how she liked the course, which she had completed in about half the time assigned to the course. She told me she liked my way of teaching better. I asked her why, and she replied: "It was like taking a trip on a fast train. I knew where I got on, and where I got off; however, I missed all the scenery in between." I believe she was referring to the counter-intuitive experience that was absent.

Education is for life, for future activity. We make a mistake with education when we try to evaluate its success immediately after completion of a course, or courses in a programme. The benefits are long term in nature, therefore student and teacher success cannot be effectively and efficiently evaluated at the instant of completion of a course, or a program of study.

What we need to do in education today is to teach individuals how to learn, not what to learn. The rate of turnover of knowledge is accelerating exponentially, and subjects cannot all be taught in schools in the brief period allowed to teach and train individuals.

Posted by: CalP | February 25, 2011 1:16 PM | Report abuse

The Lumina proposals are not about higher education. They describe low to mid level employee training. "Learning outcomes" are a perfect way to train dental hygienists, engineering technicians and others who are expected to follow instructions and simple protocols.
Almost 50 years ago I learned touch typing with learning outcomes. It's a very useful skill.

But higher education can be almost defined by the difficulty of articulating outcomes. As Skinner is often quoted "education is what is left after everything you learned in school has been forgotten"

The countries that excel at high quality higher education are those that leave rote learning behind and focus on creativity, research and analysis.

Posted by: Vince5 | February 25, 2011 1:50 PM | Report abuse

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