I read two very interesting articles this morning that have caused me to think a bit about the enrollment challenges currently faced by academic institutions across the United States. In fact, there have been several articles written recently about the morphing of recruitment processes within elite and non-elite schools.
The University of Phoenix, which is a part of the Apollo Educational Group, still has an enrollment of 227,400 students, this is about one-half of what it once was. It is also down by 13.5% from last year at this time. In the financial section of to WSJ there were many reasons for this reduction, “glitches in online software,” problems with “recruiting and retention,” and greater (and deserved) regulation of processes. The University of Phoenix has had problems with recruitment processes that promise certain things, and with the support of struggling students. I would agree with today’s article that “Perhaps investors should take the hint: The once wildly profitable for profit-education sector is for the birds.”
As I think about this, and adult education in general, economic theory can help us understand what is occurring. Over the last 25 years adult education has thrived, and it was a market that had not reached a competitor equilibrium point. This meant that more competitors, and online opportunities, entered the market. The market for adult students now has a significant amount of competitors that are all competing for a fixed number of clients. Thus the law of survival of the fittest now applies. Only the strongest and best will survive.
The second article that has me thinking is the article “Why the SAT Isn’t a Student Affluence Test.” This article was written by Charles Murray who is a W.H. Brady Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. The article begins with acceptance letters being sent out by the elite schools, “with most going to the offspring of upper middle class.” This according to some “perpetuates privilege from generation to generation,” but, as the author argues, is not a result of income inequality but IQ. I do not agree with this.
Mr. Murray gives two examples Sebastian and Jane. Sebastian is the child of parents who make $400,000 per year, which makes them a part of the 1%. Jane’s family has an income of $40,000 per year. Sebastian goes to a private school, and Jane goes to a public school. Obviously, in each school setting there are many variables, but with $400,000 per year the ability of Sebastian’s family to place him in a very good private school will give him more opportunity than Jane who will probably be in a public setting with more variables, such as environment, teaching ability, etc. Murray argues that Jane’s mom has an IQ of 135, “putting her in the top 1% of the IQ distribution,” but he forgets about the nurture part of the equation. Sebastian’s mother may only have an average IQ, but Sebastian has a better nurturing environment. Murray ignores a huge part of the equation.
However, I think he redeems himself towards the end. “What we need is an educational system that brings children with all combinations of assets and deficits to adulthood having identified things they enjoy doing and having learned how to do them well. What we need is a society that has valued places for people with all combinations of assets and deficits. Both goals call for completely different agendas than the ones that dominate today’s rhetoric about educational and economic inequality.” I do think we need to look at the system differently.
Another reason I am thinking about this involves a comment I saw on Facebook yesterday. Someone posted the comment “What advice would you give your high school self?” One of my previous students stated, “go to a public college.” That stings a bit, and makes me wonder what was it in his experience in my classes that made him want to say this. Of course, it could be just a student loan issue though, I wouldn’t know unless I ask him.
However, I can adjust what I am doing in my classes and my program. There seems to be a nationwide complaint that students coming into college are woefully under-prepared. Ok, point well taken, but instead of whining about it, what do we need to do. If there is one thing that can level the playing field between the haves and the have nots it is education. Therefore, how do we ensure educational success?
First, we need to have excellent teachers that are engaging students in the classroom. To accomplish this we need to deal with the substandard teaching in many college classrooms today. This also means paying competitive wages and hiring fulltime faculty instead of relying on adjuncts. This is not to say that all adjuncts are bad teachers, but they don’t have as much skin in the game. The table needs to be turned from relying on adjuncts to hiring fulltime faculty.
Second, we need more realistic assignments. Students need to have assignments that are real life. They need to develop real life skills with real life consequences. This gives the students the ability to use (enact) their skills.
Third, students need to be able develop relationships with the organizations associated with their majors. If they are not, then the practitioner side of the education is lacking.
Fourth, we need stronger academic support systems; this means better writing, quantitative, and qualitative tutors. The students need to raise their abilities to meet the demands of their future career.
And lastly, programs should not dumb down their academic requirements to ensure retention. They need to keep standards high and raise performance, not make it easier so students graduate.
Education is not about the level of profit for an academic institution, it is about the development of students who are liberally trained and professionally ready to change the world. That will truly lead to educational and economic parity.
And that is my thought for the day!