Why Do Senior Citizens Get University Discounts?

Recently a friend on social media has commented repeatedly and negatively about the Baby Boomer generation, and as part of this asked for my comment about the University of Minnesota’s Senior Citizen Education Program, which allows state residents 62 and older to take courses and even earn degrees for a negligible cost. It’s similar to programs nationwide, both at public and private institutions, that offer very low cost university education to senior citizens.

My friend was outraged by this: “People desperately taking classes to try to find a decent job pay upwards of $2,500 a credit, whereas entitled fucks living a life of luxury and taking classes on a whim pay $10?”

(First of all, no matter how old you are, if you’re paying upwards of $2,500 a credit for university courses, you’re making a horrible mistake. There are ways to earn a Bachelor’s degree from an accredited U.S. university for less than ten thousand dollars total. But that’s a post for another day.)

Still, it’s not like he doesn’t have a point. It’s fair to ask, if higher education for credit can be provided to senior citizens at such a low cost, why can’t it be provided to younger people at that cost, especially since they’re the ones who will benefit the most from it?

The arguments that I recall seeing for low cost university programs for seniors include:

  • Those programs generally only allow seniors to sit in a class only after all the full price students have all been accommodated. They’re basically “flying standby”, so they’re not in anyone’s way.
  • On the opposite end, at most schools courses will be cancelled if enrollment isn’t high enough. By counting those seniors, sometimes a course will run that wouldn’t have otherwise, which improves access for full price younger students, particularly in the liberal arts.
  • Schools may make up for it in the long run, as seniors who feel a connection to a college or university may bequeath more to it on their deaths than they would have paid in tuition. (This would explain why some non-public institutions offer similar programs to seniors.)

But even if all of those reasons hold water and these programs can be shown not to cost taxpayers anything, I can’t help but agree with my friend in one respect: in an era when total student loan debt in the U.S. is now over $1.5 trillion, the optics of making that same service free to those who need it the least are absolutely terrible.

So that’s my response to this specific issue. But this is just a small part of a much more broad division within society, and for more on that, click/tap here.

Is A Degree Necessary?

My friend Michael Strong recently posted this video of T.K. Coleman on the topic of whether one can be taken seriously without holding a degree.

I found this interesting because degree-skepticism is pretty common among the more cutting edge educators I follow on social media. So, Coleman says that one shouldn’t make a hasty generalization from regulated professions like medicine and law to assume a degree is required in life, which is fair, but then makes a hasty generalization from programming and start up culture to assume that a degree isn’t required in life.
 
Coleman is right that the argument “no one will take you seriously without a degree” is false. But that hardly means that many people won’t—wrongly and foolishly, in my opinion, but that’s life. And I get it that he works for Praxis, an educational startup based on the idea that higher education isn’t necessary, encouraging young people instead to take apprenticeships with startups.
 
I understand that there are companies, a few of which are prominent, who are saying that they’re willing to consider undegreed applicants. But what are the real numbers of people in this category who have gone on to careers as successful as those of their degreed peers? That’s the needed comparison, not just whether one can become employed at an entry level.
 
Ultimately, it should be considered an individual decision. People often don’t think of it this way, but a degree isn’t a goal, it’s merely a tool that helps you reach a goal. Depending on what one’s goals are, a degree program might be vitally important, or it might simply be an expensive distraction. To insist that it’s always either one or the other is indefensible. Coleman makes a worthwhile argument, I just think he’s overplaying it.
 
It’s also worth noting higher education’s ability to absorb initiatives meant to circumvent it, a recent example of which is this partnership between a coding camp and a university. The first two sentences on the Praxis web site declare “The Degree is Dead. You Need Experience.” I’m guessing that identification of false dichotomies isn’t part of their curriculum.

Marco Rubio Is A Fool And A Hypocrite

“He knows nothing; and he thinks he knows everything. That points clearly to a political career.” — George Bernard Shaw

Marco Rubio with mouth wide open
I’m not planning to comment much on the U.S. presidential election process that unfortunately has already started to be foisted upon us all. In fact, I really do plan to ignore it as much as humanly possible. But sometimes a politician says something that’s so asinine and hypocritical that it simply cannot pass unchallenged.

Given who has the longest and most inglorious track record of making such statements you may think I’m talking about The Donald, but surprisingly it’s one of the other ones who’s stumbled across the tripwire of absurdity, one about whom I really didn’t know very much before today. This fool is named Marco Rubio.

I refer specifically to Rubio’s recent comments about higher education. As Bloomberg reports:

Rubio, 44, said he’d “bust this cartel” by establishing a new accreditation process more welcoming to low-cost, innovative providers. “This would expose higher education to the market forces of choice and competition, which would prompt a revolution driven by the needs of students — just as the needs of consumers drive the progress of every other industry in our economy,” he said.

This is asinine because it shows that Mr. Rubio is not afraid to get up in front of large groups of people and show that he knows nothing about how innovation in higher education works. It’s true that the regional accreditors are a somewhat exclusive club, but considering that they let in any school that meets their stated criteria, including such controversial institutions as the University of Phoenix, one can hardly rightfully call them a cartel.

Moreover, there are alternative paths where organizations that don’t fit the normal pattern can be part of the higher education system. Alternative accreditors like the Distance Education Accrediting Commission exist for this very purpose, and while better known schools vary in their acceptance of schools accredited by DEAC and the like, that’s an individual decision on the part of each school, it’s not systematic exclusion. Moreover, there are not one but two organizations where even non-academic providers of education and training can have their non-academic credentials be evaluated as the equivalent to college credit and accepted in transfer: the American Council on Education and the National College Credit Recommendation Service. In other words, what Mr. Rubio is calling for so loudly has already existed for decades.

But his merely being poorly informed is hardly unique. Perhaps as a back bencher he simply cannot afford competent advisors. What is truly inexcusable is the hypocrisy and how it drives home how ill suited for leadership this man truly is. How so? He refers to market forces as part of his call for public interference in an accreditation system that is conducted voluntarily by private agencies! It may be unclear whether he has no idea what market forces are, or whether he’s just using the term as a buzzword to try to sound good to those who advocate for free markets, but either way all he succeeds in doing is demonstrating that he shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the reins of true power.

I realize that he’s far from the only Republican who praises free markets with one face while calling for big government with the other. But with this example coming so early and so brazenly, if no one calls him on it then it’s not a very good sign for things to come in the next fifteen interminable months.

Asking The Right Questions About For Profit Higher Education

“A man must be big enough to admit his mistakes, smart enough to profit from them, and strong enough to correct them.” — John C. Maxwell

Over at Quartz, commentator Matt Phillips has written a piece called Face it: America’s experiment with for-profit colleges has failed. As someone who has worked in American higher education for a number of years, including for-profit and non-profit institutions, I generally agree with Mr. Phillips that many of the marketing-driven for profit schools that participate in the federal system of guaranteed financial aid are overpriced and unremarkable.

However, as with most articles about higher education written by those who don’t come from our industry, it’s an article painted with too broad a brush. Sure, there are schools like Corinthian’s, but there are also schools like Sullivan University and American Military University that are for profit and participate in the federal financial aid system, yet have earned a good reputation for delivering a decent education at a price that compares with non-profit competitors.

Ultimately I believe that universities should be evaluated the same as people — as individuals rather than as members of a group. That said, if we are going to compare universities by category, I’ve come to wonder whether it might be worthwhile for journalists and commentators to take a look at the relative behavior of schools not based on whether they are for profit or not, but to compare those that are publicly traded with those that are privately held. My guess is that we would see the lion’s share of anti-social behavior at the schools that answer to Wall Street rather than those that answer to an owning family or partnership.

Also worthy of more reporting are those for profit universities accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission that do not particulate in the federal financial aid system, and who have much lower tuition rates as a result. In fact, some of these institutions are among the best values in all of American higher education. Their very existence suggests that guaranteed federal financial aid is a contributing factor in the high cost of going to college, that when that system makes tens of thousands of dollars available to anyone with a signature and a pulse, it introduces an ocean of money that tuition rates then rise to soak up.

But will journalists and commentators who write about American higher education ever go after these higher hanging fruit? One can only hope.

Take A Few Minutes To Help A Doctoral Student!

Editor’s note: A friend of mine needs a few more respondents for her doctoral research. If you meet the criteria and can spare a few minutes, please contact Aine Irbe at airbe@capellauniversity.edu.


My name is Aina G. Irbe and I am a doctoral student at Capella University in the School of Education. I am pursuing my degree in Instructional for Online Learning. Currently, I am working on my dissertation study, titled “Application of Universal Design for Learning in Corporate Technical Training Design : A Quantitative Study.” I would like to invite you to participate in my study. You will be able to participate in the study if you meet the following criteria:

  • You are a professional who currently works in a corporate or US Federal employment setting.
  • You are a professional who has worked in the corporate or Federal employment setting in the last 10 years.
  • You have worked in the corporate environment for at least one year.
  • You are between the ages of 18-65.

The purpose of this quantitative, experimental study is to examine the application of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles as an instructional design strategy to the design of a self-paced, online course focused on technical training in a corporate setting.

The study will use a randomized two-group design to compare and analyze adult posttest (Final Quiz) results for two self-paced online trainings on a technical topic (software training); one will include the checkpoints from the three principles of the UDL principles while the other training will apply traditional instructional design strategies based on the Department of Defense Interactive Media Instruction (IMI) Guidelines. The posttest (Final Quiz) will be the same for either training.

The second part of the study will explore to what extent the application of UDL as an instructional design strategy impacts participant achievement in the cognitive and psychomotor domains. The results of this study may identify specific instructional design strategies that instructional designers working in the field of online learning could use to guide their work, guide the future of instructional design practices and processes in organizations developing online self-paced courses, change the approach for delivering training on technical topics, and inform corporations on long-term strategic planning for training programs including online learning.

Please know that participation in this study is certainly voluntary. All data will be handled securely by the researcher. Privacy will be protected using anonymity throughout the data collection process. All the information about the participants, including name, job title and name of the organization will be kept confidential. Your Final Quiz results will be presented as part of a statistical analysis, and your name or any other demographic will not be identified or related to any score or information about Final Quiz results. In any written reports or publications, no one will be able to identify individual participants.

If you decide to be in this study, your participation will take about one hour by the end of April. The study will consist of completing a 30-45 minute online course and taking a Final Quiz. You are not required to come to any location for the study activities or own any specific software; a URL will be sent to you. All communications will be conducted via email unless you have other preference (for example, post mail).

I will first send you a demographic questionnaire, then a consent form, and finally the link and log in to the course site.

Your consideration for participating in this study will be greatly appreciated. If you have any question concerning the study, please feel free to contact me at airbe@capellauniversity.edu

Respectfully,
Aina G. Irbe
Doctoral Learner, Capella University

Racism in American Higher Education


Consider the following quote:

With white birth rates falling, a major demographic shift is coming. Are colleges ready for a more diverse pool of prospective college students? This special issue looks at efforts under way at several colleges to serve underrepresented and underprepared students, who are more likely to need additional support to graduate. Meeting their needs may help some colleges preserve enrollment levels even if it means the occasional “hand-holding” is necessary to achieve success.

Who do you think described an expected increase of students of color in this way? Was it some Secretary of Education from a state with a Republican administration? Was it some ultraconservative commentator on one of those rightwing web sites that pretends to be news? Was it an argument used by segregationists in decades past?

No, it was the Chronicle of Higher Education, selling a special publication called Diversity in Academe Spring 2014. It might sound like it belongs more in 1964, or 1864 for that matter, but unfortunately this is supposed to be the state of the art of thinking in higher education administration.

I’ve worked in higher education for over ten years. In that time I’ve worked closely with many students who were the first in their families to attend university, many of whom needed somewhere to go for extra advice. But this lack of sophistication didn’t come from their skin color. I met many students of color who were perfectly comfortable in a higher education environment, and white students who didn’t really understand what was going on and needed a bit more support. In my observation, this was a function of the level of affluence from which these students came, not how much melanin was in their skin.

Now, I’m not unmindful that if grouped together that students of color are more likely than white students to have come from a working class background. But if you really want to help someone, you look at the whole person as an individual, you don’t just start with what color they are as a lazy and inaccurate substitute for finding out who they really are and what their strengths and weaknesses might be. Ethnicity might be part of the individual experience, and some people take it very seriously, but this is dwarfed by the variation that comes from being an individual and it shouldn’t define people. For the Chronicle of Higher Education to offer advice that uses race as a starting point isn’t just doing students a disservice, it’s nothing less than the soft bigotry of lower expectations writ large.

Do Distance Learners Cheat More?

“I would prefer even to fail with honor than win by cheating.” — Sophocles


Recently I got into a conversation on a LinkedIn group with someone who believes that cheating must be more widespread by distance learners than those learning in a classroom since only in the latter case can “trusted authorities confirm your performance and mastery because they personally witnessed it.”

Now, this argument is just about as old as distance learning itself, but there are some assumptions behind it that I think are pretty shaky, such as that assessments in both modes of instruction are only based on closed book, closed note exams; that it is not possible for classroom-based students to cheat on such exams; and that there are no processes or technologies available to verify the identity of distance learning students.

In a large lecture hall where there are hundreds of students, those administering tests don’t necessarily know the one sitting the exam is the one whose name it one it. Sure, there are best practices that minimize this risk, but not all schools use them. Harvard’s recent cheating scandal resulted from take home exams, for instance. So much for trusted authorities personally witnessing the performance of their students!

Similarly, when a student hands in a paper, regardless of whether it’s directly onto an instructor’s desk or through an online dropbox, there’s no way to know whether that student really wrote it. In fact, when papers are turned in digitally, it makes plagiarism detection easy, something that’s very challenging for assignments turned in on paper.

Either way, this is probably an area where research would be better than supposition, and interestingly, the study I’ve seen most often suggests that online students cheat less than than their classroom-based peers, not more:

The prevalence of academic misconduct among students enrolled in online classes was explored. Students (N = 225) were given the Student Academic Dishonesty Survey to determine the frequency and type of academic dishonest behaviors. Results indicated that students enrolled in online classes were less likely to cheat than those enrolled in traditional, on ground courses. Aiding and abetting was self-reported as the most frequently used method among students in both online and traditional classroom settings. Results suggest that the amount of academic misconduct among online students may not be as prevalent as believed.

To return to supposition, though, I can’t help but wonder whether a reason distance learners would cheat less often than those in a classroom would be that they are not actually necessarily peers. The classroom attracts more traditional age university students, who might not have various motivations for being there, whereas distance learning often attracts workign adults, who have gone back to school with the specific objective of learning more to advance in their careers, or to pursue various other interests. It would only make sense that such distance learners would realize that academic dishonesty would only be cheating themselves.

New World University

“The mission of New World University is to provide quality, affordable higher education to individuals in economically developing countries by building a vibrant international academic community through which researchers, educators, and students can interact.” — New World University Mission Statement

New World University
A few posts ago, I promised to explain more about New World University. Here’s an overview about it.

Some partners and associates and I have started a new institution called New World University. It’s based in the Commonwealth of Dominica in the Eastern Caribbean, and our goal is to reach students in low and middle income countries, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

It’s an institution that’s been a long time in development. It first started with a few conversations with friends at a conference in 1998, took life a bit when a core group of us became involved in the open educational resources movement in the early 2000’s, became an active project in 2010, and first accepted students late last year.

We’ve begun with one year certificates, two year diplomas, and three year BSc degrees in International Business Leadership, and plan to offer similar sets of programs in computing technology and development studies going forward. We keep costs low by using open educational resources for textbooks, and by offering instructional and student services à la carte so that students only pay for what they really need from us. Because of this, the most motivated and self-starting students can complete a Bachelor’s degree through us through independent study for less than one thousand U.S. dollars.

Of course, just setting up an institution like this isn’t very valuable unless its credentials are recognized. To that end, our accreditation application is in progress with the National Accreditation Board of Dominica, which has reciprocity agreements with similar agencies in other countries.

At this point, we’d like to establish relationships with education entreprenurs and NGOs around the world to discuss ways we can cooperate to serve students. Anyone who is interested in having that conversation, or who is just curious about what we’re doing, is welcome to email me: steve.foerster@newworld.ac

Liberty Through Entrepreneurship


Recently, the Institute for Humane Studies held a “Liberty Through Technology” contest for full and part time students to win a tablet. The selection process revolved around explaining why their giving the recipient a tablet would advance the cause of liberty by enabling academic research. Here were the questions they asked, and my responses. To be honest, if I had won a tablet I’d probably mainly use it for reading books on the john, but I didn’t think they would find that a particularly compelling reason, so instead I submitted the following, which conveniently, is also true. (While I didn’t win the tablet, they did call me a finalist and gave me a $25 credit for Amazon.com, which was very nice of them.)

What is your current research interest and what questions would you like to answer through your future research?

I am interested in the use of distance learning to deliver entrepreneurship education to students in low and middle income countries.

I would like to determine what mobile learning strategies are the best for attracting prospective students and for educating them once they’re enrolled. Relevant topics would include keeping students engaged in their learning despite not having a classroom environment, fostering cooperative relationships among students who may be spread across many countries, and on determining which mobile learning approaches are compatible with the uncertain Internet connectivity found in many lower income countries.

How does your research topic advance liberty?

I realize that it’s something of a rarity that someone keen on liberty is in a graduate school of education. Such schools have the reputation for being the “Whose Line Is It Anyway” of higher education: where everything’s made up and the points don’t matter. That’s doubly so in that schools of education are known for being safe harbors for leftist ideologies that would ignite and turn to dust were they ever exposed to the harsh daylight of the real world.

I’ve long thought, however, that higher education can be a strong force for liberty. Many people who will never stop at an information table or visit a libertarian web site, and who if asked would express no interest in such things, will listen with rapt attention to a liberty-friendly curriculum if it’s delivered in a university classroom where they are earning credit towards a degree.

I’ve chosen entrepreneurship education as a specific focus for several reasons. Firstly, I believe that starting a business is an excellent way to run headlong into a myriad of ways that the state hinders one’s prosperity. I recognize that not all entrepreneurs become libertarian, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.

Secondly, I believe that starting a business has been underrated as a way to advance the cause of liberty. Think tanks and political action are all very well, but there’s something to be said for changing the system by selling people an alternative. If, as the saying goes, libertarians see the state as damage and route around it, then someone has to bring those alternative routes into existence.

Finally, every once in a while, an entrepreneur will succeed in a way that makes considerable amounts of money. For those who may become friendly to liberty to become wealthy can only be helpful in the long run in a world where money talks. I expect that’s even more the case in economically developing countries where money goes much further than it does in North America, Europe, and the Pacific Rim.

How can a tablet help you achieve your research goals?

With such a device handy, I would be in a better position to evaluate various approaches to mobile learning that would answer the questions I’ve outlined above. I indicated an Android device because such devices are more affordable and thus more common in economically developing countries.