The Unclear Future of Liberal Arts Colleges

A frightening idea was on the minds of those at a conference recently at Lafayette College. The conference was called “The Future of the Liberal Arts College in America and Its Leadership Role in Education Around the World.”

Attending were 200+ college administrators, including about 50 college presidents, from many top national liberal arts colleges. The idea that was worrying them was that elite liberal arts colleges might have to make significant changes in the next few years if they are to remain relevant (or present) in the current educational market.

Not a new idea to me or this blog and it's getting late for colleges to be just thinking about it now and not attempting to do something about it. Unfortunately, they seemed to believe the problems and solutions are economic.

But even among the fairly homogeneous group represented here, there was significant disagreement about how pressing the economic challenges are and the best ways to tackle them. And liberal arts college administrators still seem reluctant to adopt some major ways of cutting costs that other sectors of higher education have adopted.

And the solutions administrators did offer, many of which have high up-front capital costs, such as increased collaboration through technology, might not be options for the many less-wealthy liberal arts colleges (generally not represented here) that are facing some of the most immediate threats.
I would say that the cost of an education and its ratio to the quality of that education is what should be their main concern. Yes, technology is part of a solution. Colleges realize that's the case because they see that "less-elite" institutions are beginning to draw off their students whether or not they have a prestigious name or can even offer a degree.

Read more:

Grad Students Need More Career Guidance

A colleague who read my post yesterday on the changing perceptions of dissertations sent me a link to this article which she thought was "an interesting extension of your ideas about a University 2.0."

from "Prepping Grad Students for Jobs" April 19, 2012 by Mitch Smith
American graduate schools -- strong in developing specific skills in talented students -- must do more to inform students about career options and prepare graduates for non-academic workplaces, a new Council of Graduate Schools study suggests.

Among the study’s other findings:
- Some employers are wary of online graduate programs, suggesting the individual nature of those degrees makes students less prepared for collaborative work.
- Just about one-third of graduate students said they had adequate information about careers before enrolling.
- A majority of students cited personal enrichment, supplementing undergraduate work and fulfilling job requirements for a future career as reasons for pursuing graduate studies. (Students were allowed to choose more than one reason.)
- Seventy-three percent of students seek out career advice from graduate faculty.
- Though figures vary by field, around half of new doctoral degree recipients found initial employment outside the academy.

Diss That Dissertation


The average humanities doctoral student takes nine years to earn a Ph.D. At least that's what I read was said at the annual convention of the Modern Language Association. Richard E. Miller, an English professor at Rutgers pointed out that those students finishing dissertations now probably started them before Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Kindles, iPads and many other technologies existed.

That's what I was reading in the article "Dissing the Dissertation" by Scott Jaschik. I have had my own discussions with colleagues and students (I teach in a graduate program) about the value of dissertations (especially those in the humanities) which almost always sound like a book written a long time ago in an educational galaxy far away. Do these dissertations prepare students to work in this century in any place other than academia?

The discussion at MLA seems to have centered around not only the time required to complete a dissertation but also the topics and format. Is it possible that digital projects and publishing, and "public scholarship" may actually become alternatives? That stone wheel turns very slowly...

The MLA actually issued a report back in 2006 about promotion and tenure practices that had also questioned this monograph (or "proto-book") production process.

It's one thing to diss dissertations but it would be a whole other thing to actually see schools ditch dissertations. Still, the discussions in places like the MLA adds further fuel to the movement towards another kind of University 2.0 that I think institutions will be pushed towards harder by the workplace and students.

Now, Groups for Schools from Facebook - and down the road?

Facebook has unveiled Groups for Schools which hopes to further connect students and faculty at colleges and universities.

Groups for Schools allows online communities in Facebook where users can send messages to other members in groups and sub-groups. It also allows you to share files such as lectures, schedules and assignments (up to 25 MB), and create and post events.

They envision Groups being used for classes, dorms, campus clubs etc.  The members of groups do not need to be Facebook friends although it will probably drive some holdouts on campus to make the move.

Schools are already using Facebook in this way via fan and "follow" pages but this gives a more controlled platform with additional features. There are customizable privacy settings, including open, which makes the group available to anyone, closed, which allows anyone to see the group and its members, but requires membership to view or post material, and secret, which only allows members to see the group and who's in it.

As you can see in my screenshot from the NJIT group, it is aimed more at students than at faculty (which makes sense) although faculty could use it. (Beware the creepy treehouse...)

You can see from a menu your friends' groups, all groups, your groups, and suggested groups. To access Groups you must have an active .edu e-mail address. To find out if a group has already been created for a school, you can enter your school name on the Groups for Schools page and search. If your college isn't thee yet, you can be alerted when a group is set up.

Groups for Schools was tested at Brown and Vanderbilt universities in December 2011. The Vanderbilt and Brown groups that are the largest are all graduating class groups (Class of 2014 etc.).

Although this is not new ground for Facebook or for colleges, it does show that Facebook is thinking more about getting into education - particularly higher education, which was their original user base.

As Brandon Croke says on the Inigral blog: "While this may be Facebook’s attempt to tame the wild west of runaway university Pages and Groups, it doesn’t look like schools will have any control or authority of their branded communities." Inigral is a company that works with schools on using social networks to increase student engagement and use community building as a path to improved student success.

I think that at some point post-IPO, we will see Facebook move into creating a platform that is much like our current LMSs which will allow courses to be taught using Facebook software. The courses won't be in the Facebook that we know, but will have strong technology ties to that community. If something like that was offered as "free" (probably not as open source) to schools (with advertising, publishers and other ties as the business model) it would be very tempting for schools. I actually expected Google to move into this area a year ago, but it hasn't happened. Then again, Google has been running behind Facebook when it comes to social for awhile now, so...

The Mac Virus

Some people - probably Windows users - seem to be happy that there is finally an actual Mac virus out there.

It has been 28 years of essentially virus-free surfing for Apple Mac users. Windows users have surfed in fear for those years. Things have been better in Windows land lately. For years, the claim was that the reason the Mac was safer was because there were so few out there that virus builders didn't bother making them to attack Macs. Maybe this is yet another sign that Apple sales are healthy.

The recent Mac attack was from the  Flashback Trojan horse. It looks like an Adobe Flash installer, but it changes your Web search results and sends you to the sites that it wants you to go to. I have read that about 600,000 Macs were infected. A Java update and a free removal program makes all well in Mac land. No one is safe.