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May 15, 2013

Community colleges make a difference

Getting the U.S. back to the top of the international college attainment rankings requires a focus on our community colleges. This is because the U.S. ranks second in the world in four-year degree attainment but ranks 18th when looking at two-year degree attainment rates. So there is certainly significant room for improvement when it comes to two-year degrees.

Of course, we shouldn’t focus on two-year degrees simply to move up the international rankings. We need to focus on two-year degrees because they are fast becoming an essential minimum prerequisite for a good job. Which is why the results of a U.S. Department of Labor grant program aimed at encouraging community colleges to prepare students for high wage and high skilled jobs is so encouraging.

Because of the grant, 15 community colleges across Massachusetts worked together to put a greater focus on preparing students for technical and middle-income jobs instead of simply preparing students to transfer onto a four-year institution. These community colleges did so by creating new and exciting degree and certification programs that were aligned with the preparation needed for jobs in six targeted industries such as health care, advanced manufacturing, IT, biotechnology, green energy and financial services. They even hired ‘college and career navigators’ to assist students in connecting with employers, not just when students nearly completed their degree, but throughout their time on campus. This ensures that students are receiving the training that area employers are looking for in future employees.

While such a program, in and of itself, will not catapult the U.S. back to the top of the international college attainment rankings, providing additional resources and incentives to community colleges will lead to more students completing a college degree and being better prepared to compete in the 21st century labor market. – Jim Hull






February 13, 2013

As Boeing’s Dreamliner fails to take off, so, too does interest in STEM fields

I’ve been following the story of Boeing and the grounding of its 787 Dreamliner fleet for the last month, though it’s been pretty hard to ignore: major airline manufacturer unveils revolutionary new aircraft that relies heavily on ion lithium batteries, only to see those same batteries heat up and force two flights to be aborted, putting Boeing’s plan for a roll out on the backburner.

The FAA and NTSB are now investigating the situation, investors and Boeing customers are watching warily and Airbus, Boeing’s main rival, is considering dropping their plans to unleash a similar electric-powered jet as a U.N. agency mulls putting the kibosh on the whole design.

Oh, the headaches for Boeing, which are actually worse than we realize. A little-known footnote in this story (though it should be a headline) is the fact that the Washington state-based company, along with the entire aerospace industry, is about to hit a massive staffing shortage.

Part of it is demographics. According to the Aerospace Industries Association, nearly 40 percent of the aerospace workforce is over 50 years old. But part of it is a skills gap; there just aren’t a lot of graduates going into the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math for you neophytes) fields— only about a third of Bachelor degrees are in STEM fields in the U.S. compared to 53 percent in China and 63 percent in Japan.

And the dearth of STEM graduates is despite the fact that the federal government estimates a 20 percent increase in science and engineering careers over the next five years. Recognizing this disparity, the White House has tried to place an emphasis on STEM education, hosting an annual science fair and commissioning the 2010 report, Prepare and Inspire: K12 Education in Science, Technology and Math (STEM) for America’s Future.

At first blush, it looks like some of that focus may be paying off. According to a recent report by STEMconnector and My College Options, 1 in 4 seniors now express interest in STEM fields— that’s up 21 percent from the Class of 2004. But a closer look reveals it’s not that rosy. The spike actually returns the interest level to what it was before it precipitously dropped at the turn of the 21st century.

What’s more, initial interest doesn’t always lead to intent. Of the nearly 30 percent of freshmen who were intrigued by the idea of a STEM career, roughly 60 percent had abandoned that curiosity by the time they graduated.

This is clearly a vexing problem with major consequences for our economy, let alone the safety of our airplanes. What should we do?






January 16, 2013

CA Gov. pushes higher ed to reform model, offer more online courses

California’s economy has suffered a lot in the last five years, as its property values plummeted, unemployment rates soared, and chronic public debt threatened to take down venerable institutions and municipalities. More than any other system, public education has borne the brunt of these massive fiscal corrections. It’s not sustainable and returning Gov. Jerry Brown understands this, as his successful push for Proposition 30, a tax increase on the wealthiest that could pump as much as $6 billion annually into public education, shows.

But even as he worked to secure more funds for public education, Brown has been cognizant and vocal about the fact that schools, particularly at the university level, must gird themselves for the reality that they will have to do more with less and thus make some structural changes.

“The rising cost of higher education not only threatens affordability, it also threatens the quality of California’s system of higher education as it relies on a model that is not sustainable,” Brown during a news conference last Thursday, where he released his annual budget plan.

The University of California system alone has raised tuition and fees by about $5600 since 2007, bringing its annual cost to just over $12,000 for 2013-2014. Brown has offered a number of ways that the state’s higher education system can move into the 21st century, including by beefing up its online course offerings.

While online college courses have gotten a lot of media attention lately— even garnering this ranking list by U.S. News & World Reportnot everyone is happy with this move en masse.

Online education is not a cure-all, to be sure, as the Center for Public Education discovered in its report, “Searching for the Reality of Virtual Schools,” although that study focused on the expansion of online education at the K-12 level. But the bottomline is while there are many caveats regarding online courses, it’s clear they are here to stay. As a current graduate student, who has taken many such classes, I have two things to say about the success or failure of online education: it depends largely on what the instructor and student are bringing to the table. Gee, where have we heard that before?






July 17, 2012

Anyone Can Take Courses From the Best Professors in the World…For Free

There are several exciting new ways that anyone can take courses from some of the best universities and professors in the United States.  Best of all, they are free!  An article in today’s New York Times reports that Tuesday, a dozen major research universities are joining Coursera, a one year old company founded by two Stanford University computer scientists.  They will offer over 100 free, open online courses that are expected to draw millions of users. 

Even before the announcement of this expansion, Coursera had registered 680,000 students in over 63 courses.  One University of Michigan professor reported that 40,000 students downloaded his video, saying, “By my calculations, I had about 200 years worth of students in my class.”  This is just the beginning in the new wave of open-source courses.  Stanford University has offered free courses on artificial intelligence and computer sciences that has attracted over 190,000 users.  Massachusetts institute of Technology (MIT) has its own online learning initiative called MITx, and they have teamed up with Harvard University to offer an initiative called EDx.  Another notable addition to these new, free open-courses is the Open Learning Initiative (OLI) by Carnegie Melon University who offer up their online courses to students or teachers who would like to use them.  They also do research  to test the effectiveness of their courses.

This is an indication of a promising future for public education.  Right now institutions are not concerned with making revenue, but in the future these courses could be linked together and used to gain a traditional degree.  The value of these initiatives is that they offer high quality college courses to high school students, college-bound students, mid-career students, and foreign students at no charge.  I think it is one of the most exciting things in education today. – Kasey Klepfer






May 22, 2012

Why virtual schools receive less funding

Our recent report on virtual schools has created a lot of buzz. By and large, the report has been well-received from the likes of respected media outlets such as EdWeek. Yet some advocates of virtual schools are not as keen on our findings. While they found little to dispute in terms of our findings on achievement, or (often) lack of achievement , there has been the consistent line from advocates that most virtual schools receive less money per student than traditional brick and mortar schools — as if that were unfair.

But I ask, isn’t that to be expected? Virtual schools typically don’t have the same costs as traditional brick and mortar schools. For example, virtual schools don’t have to pay for a building and all the utilities that go along with running it.

And it’s not just about the capital costs. Virtual schools typically don’t provide the same services as brick and mortar schools. This is why Pennsylvania provides less funding to virtual schools. As a matter of fact, virtual schools in PA receive the same funding as brick and mortar schools minus the funding for services virtual schools don’t provide, such as:

  • Adult education programs
  • Transportation
  • Junior/community college programs

Not only that, but brick and mortar schools provide a number of extracurricular activities that virtual schools typically do not such as athletics, theater, band, and community service clubs, all of which add significant costs to brick and mortar schools’ budgets.

So when advocates of virtual schools point out that they receive less funding than brick and mortar schools, you now know this is not because of unfair funding practices but because they are not providing the same services as brick and mortar schools.

This is why there needs to be better accounting for how much it actually costs virtual schools to educate students. Virtual schools deserve the funds needed to adequately educate their students just as brick and mortar schools do. Not knowing what that amount is hampers everyone’s efforts. How much does not having a building, extracurricular activities, or other functions affect the bottom line? Are we over- or under-paying these schools? Let’s find out. —Jim Hull

Filed under: funding,online learning,technology — Jim Hull @ 3:34 pm





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