Higher Education Reform

Overview

Higher Education Reform

At a 1979 meeting of The University of Texas Arts and Sciences Foundation in San Antonio, Peter Flawn, then-president of UT-Austin, railed against what he dubbed the “widget theory” of education. The notion, he said, is “that a college or university is a manufacturing enterprise that produces products called academic degrees in basically the same way as a company such as Universal Widgets Inc.produces widgets.” He went on to forecast “that the struggle for excellence in higher education over the next decades will be a struggle against the widget theory in higher education and against those who knowingly or unknowingly espouse it.”

At a 1979 meeting of The University of Texas Arts and Sciences Foundation in San Antonio, Peter Flawn, then-president of UT-Austin, railed against what he dubbed the “widget theory” of education. The notion, he said, is “that a college or university is a manufacturing enterprise that produces products called academic degrees in basically the same way as a company such as Universal Widgets Inc.produces widgets.” He went on to forecast “that the struggle for excellence in higher education over the next decades will be a struggle against the widget theory in higher education and against those who knowingly or unknowingly espouse it.”

As Flawn’s remarks illustrate, some of the themes in today’s battles over reforming higher education echo decades-old debates. But a number of factors have recently brought the topic to the forefront both nationally and in statehouses around the country. This Topics section examines efforts to improve higher education’s success at guiding students to graduation while ensuring academic quality, as well as the tensions those efforts have created within a sector that tends to prize tradition.

From Gordon Gee at Ohio State University, who calls himself “perhaps the greatest advocate and fan of the American university that exists,” to Michael Crow at Arizona State University, who has reinvented that institution’s structure, prominent university presidents are lending their voices to calls for change to the traditional ways in which higher education operates.

Dollars and Data

Foremost among the pressures propelling efforts to reform higher education is the difficult economy. With state budgets shrinking, higher education is often viewed as ripe for cutting and retooling. But funding cuts have occurred at precisely the same moment that employers and policymakers – seeking to spur the nation’s competitiveness as the world becomes more technically sophisticated – are expecting postsecondary institutions to produce more degree-holders. Advocates say that in order to do more with less, colleges will need to alter how they educate and operate.

Another key component in the reform push has been the accumulating data on college students and their performance, as well as greater capacity to analyze that data. And much of the data gathered about universities paint a picture of a system that, at the very least, appears to be in need of significant change. Among the most notable – and controversial – recent examples of higher education data analysis has been Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses. In that 2011 book, authors Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa used student scores on the Collegiate Learning Assessment, which measures critical-thinking skills, to conclude that despite all the time and money being spent, very little learning was occurring on college campuses.

Data also reveal that time to degree has extended and graduation rates are lower than many would like to see, especially because the surest way to stave off an excessive debt burden is to graduate on time, if not early. Looking at the numbers, many institutions and outside groups are calling for fundamental reforms to the way higher education has traditionally operated. In doing so, they are also raising fundamental questions regarding the value and purpose of colleges and universities.

Ties to the Job Market

Subscribers to the school of thought that a college degree is primarily a means to employment have begun ratcheting up their calls for a system that is more responsive to workforce needs. Michael Bettersworth, an associate vice chancellor at the Texas State Technical College System, recently said, “Houston, we have a problem, and it’s not that too few people are going to college. It’s that too many people are getting degrees with limited value in the job market.”

As noted in a recent report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, majors that are linked to specific occupations have better employment prospects than those focused on general skills. Some institutions, with the help of organizations like Boston-based Jobs for the Future, thus have begun retooling their programs to make them more responsive to those labor market considerations.

New Students, New Models

Shifts in the demographic make-up of higher education’s customer base are also fueling reform efforts. The full-time student fresh out of high school who is still financially dependent on his or her parents – the profile around which traditional higher education models have been built – no longer dominates the population of people enrolling in higher education. Among the implications: Traditional, rigid lecture classes might not work as well for students who must work their way through college or adult learners, who comprise more than 40 percent of U.S. postsecondary students.

To accommodate the expanding variety of students, there have been increasing demands for new pathways to degrees. Many people begin their higher education career at the community college level, due to those schools’ relatively low costs and flexible scheduling. What’s often referred to as the “2+2” approach – two years at a junior college followed by two years at a university – is becoming increasingly common as the lines between the different levels of education begin to blur.

The need for more flexible learning options also has led to the proliferation of online courses, a model that represents a radical departure from the traditional lecture-style classroom. Some research has indicated that the most effective classroom is a blended classroom that incorporates technological innovations and face-to-face interaction.

Another long-held tradition that is being challenged is advancement and credit accumulation based on seat time. There are strong pushes toward advancing students based on competency, allowing them to move on once they have proved their proficiency in a given subject. Western Governors University, an online university entirely based around the notion of competency-based advancement, is one of the leaders in this field.

While these new models and organizations have opened interesting possibilities, universities have been notoriously change-averse institutions. And there are many experts who believe American postsecondary education, a system widely revered and emulated around the world, is functioning just fine as is. These critics argue that the problems in higher education are not due to shortcomings of the institutions but are the result of too many underprepared students attempting to earn degrees. Still, even as many proposals have been met with resistance from higher education leaders, there also has been a growing agreement that current structures — both on the institutional and classroom levels — could be more efficient at moving students through the postsecondary pipeline at an improved rate with satisfactory levels of learning. 

Latest News

Trump Moves Program On Historically Black Colleges Into The White House

President Trump signed an executive order Tuesday that moves a federal initiative supporting historically black colleges and universities directly into the White House, a move depicted as an effort to give the schools more clout within the government.

HBCU leaders said they were cautiously optimistic about the shift. They are eager for the government to raise its investment in their schools but wary of promises devoid of action.

Latest News

Devos Criticized for Calling Black Colleges ‘Pioneers of School Choice’

Monday evening, the Education Department issued a statement from Education Secretary Betsy DeVos that has infuriated many advocates for historically black colleges. The statement comes when many leaders of black colleges are in Washington for meetings at the White House and with Republican Congressional leaders, who have been wooing black colleges and pledging to help them.

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

Would Free College Lead to Too Many Graduates?

The presidential election pushed grassroots proposals to make public college free into the mainstream. But should these plans stay there? And if so, in what form, now that the most prominent supporters of those proposals lost the race for the White House?

Report

As Cuomo Proposal Rekindles Free College Movement, New Research Provides Ammunition for Skeptics
Brookings Institution

In early January, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York announced his intention to make a public college education tuition-free for most students in the state. The proposal has breathed life back into the free college movement, which supporters feared would lose momentum under the incoming presidential administration. Instead, momentum has simply relocated (back) to the state level. Tennessee and Oregon already have their own “free college” initiatives, and just this week, Governor Gina Raimondo proposed a version for Rhode Island.

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

Who Benefits from New York’s Free College Plan?

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to make tuition free year at New York’s public colleges and universities for students from families earning less than $125,000 is being touted as a shot across the progressive bow. As the new Congress and White House tout a conservative agenda, the governor is offering a playbook that states could use to capitalize on the liberal currents that crisscrossed the Democratic presidential primaries.

EWA Radio

2017: Big Education Stories to Watch
EWA Radio: Episode 104

Kate Zernike, The New York Times’ national education reporter, discusses what’s ahead on the beat in 2017. How will President-elect Donald Trump translate his slim set of campaign promises on education into a larger and more detailed agenda? What do we know about the direction Trump’s nominee for U.S. secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, will seek to take federal policy if she’s confirmed? Zernike also offers story ideas and suggestions for local and regional education reporters to consider in the new year. 

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Georgia Judge: DACA Students Can Pay In-State Tuition Rate

Undocumented immigrants in Georgia who came to the U.S. as children and have received temporary protection from deportation under the Obama administration will now be able to pay in-state tuition at the state’s colleges and universities, a judge ruled in the years-long court case Tuesday.

EWA Radio

Students Can’t Recognize Fake News. That’s a Problem.
EWA Radio: Episode 103

Benjamin Herold of Education Week discusses why media literacy is in the spotlight in the wake of the presidential election, and the troubling findings of a new Stanford University study that showed the vast majority of students from middle school through college can’t identify “fake news.” Why are so many digital natives flunking when it comes to evaluating the reliability of material they encounter online? How are policymakers, researchers, and educators proposing that schools address this deficit in critical-thinking skills?

EWA Radio

The Chronicle of Higher Education Turns 50
EWA Radio: Episode 101

Liz McMillen, the editor of the Chronicle of Higher Education, looks back at a half-century of milestone stories, memorable headlines, and key moments on the national higher education beat, many of which continue to echo today. Among them: equity and diversity, classroom technology, and free speech on campus. She discusses the Chronicle’s commitment to narrative journalism, lessons to be learned by looking back, and what’s ahead for the nation’s colleges and universities.

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

Colleges Face a New Reality, as The Number of High School Graduates Will Decline
An increase in low-income and minority-group students will challenge colleges to serve them better

The nation’s colleges and universities will soon face a demographic reckoning: A new report projects that the total number of high school graduates will decline in the next two decades, while the percentage of lower-income and nonwhite students will increase.

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

Public Universities Have ‘Really Lost Our Focus’
Q&A with Christopher Newfield

Since the 1970s, a “doom loop” has pervaded higher education, writes Christopher Newfield in his new book The Great Mistake: How We Wrecked Public Universities and How We Can Fix Them. Newfield, a professor of American Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, calls this loop “privatization” – the hidden and overt ways that “business practices restructure teaching and research.”

EWA Radio

Why A Trump Presidency Has Higher Ed on Edge
EWA Radio: Episode 98

Benjamin Wermund of Politico discusses the uncertainties ahead for the nation’s colleges and universities following the presidential election. While Donald Trump has offered few specifics on education policy, his surrogates suggest he will reverse course on many initiatives put in place under President Obama. That could have a significant impact on areas like Title IX enforcement, federal funding for research, and more. Higher education leaders are also facing a surge in reports of hate crimes and harassment on campuses that were already struggling with issues of free speech and diversity.

EWA Radio

Trump Is Elected: What’s Next for Education Policy?
EWA Radio: Episode 97

Donald Trump spent little time on education issues during his campaign, but his victory is sure to have big implications. Journalists Alyson Klein of Education Week and Andrew Kreighbaum of Inside Higher Ed discuss the likely impact on P-12 and higher education. What will be President-elect Trump’s education priorities, and how will the GOP-controlled Congress respond? Will Trump follow through on his campaign pledge to provide $20 billion for school choice? What will be the fate of existing federal policy like the new Every Student Succeeds Act? And how will Trump approach the hot-button higher education issues like student loan debt and accountability?  

Seminar

Doing More With Higher Ed Data: From Policy to Newsrooms
Philadelphia • February 2–3, 2017

With colleges and universities under increased pressure to ensure that more students earn degrees without amassing mountains of debt, journalists are at the forefront in examining how these institutions  measure up. But there’s one major obstacle that both colleges and reporters share when it comes to making sense of how well these schools are meeting their goals: insufficient data.

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

A Push for More Latino College Graduates in Texas, but Not by ‘Business as Usual’

Latino children will “pretty much determine the fate of Texas” during the 21st century, the state’s Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes said in his annual address this week.

That’s why the state will need to get more creative in educating Latinos and ensuring they graduate from college. “Doing business as usual,” won’t work, he said, according to the Austin American-Statesman

Report

The Promise and Peril of Predictive Analytics in Higher Education
New America

Predictive analytics–using massive amounts of historical data to predict future events–is a practice that’s making it easier and faster for colleges to decide which students to enroll and how to get them to graduation. But predictive analytics can aid in discriminatory practices, make institutional practices less transparent, and make vulnerable individuals’ data privacy and security.

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

College Completion Failures Must Be Tackled in Tandem With Costs, Report Says

By Shenandoah University Office of Marketing and Communications (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Two numbers haunt the college landscape: $1.3 trillion and 40 percent.

The first is the ever-increasing debt Americans are shouldering to pay off the cost of a degree. But a growing chorus of experts believes that extraordinary sum obscures another crisis: For many, those debts wouldn’t be as devastating had they earned a degree. But only 40 percent of Americans complete a bachelor’s degree in four years.

The upshot is that millions of Americans earning meager wages are on the hook for thousands of dollars with almost nothing to show for it.

Report

Proposed Student Finance Regulations May Hamper Small Institutions
The Brookings Institution

In June, the U.S. Department of Education released a 530-page set of proposed regulations on the topic of ‘defense to repayment.’ Although this sounds like an obscure topic (and reading the document is no picnic!), these proposed rules, if adopted, could allow students to be able to have their student loan debt forgiven if colleges misrepresented themselves to students. The Department of Education is currently working through this process forformer Corinthian Colleges students, and tens of thousands more students could be eligible under the proposed rules.

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

The Republican Plan For Higher Education: Less Red Tape And Less Money

By Bjoertvedt (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Past is prologue.

That’s what Republicans promise in the higher education platform they’ll finalize at their national convention in Cleveland: an approach that follows the direction they’ve already taken in Congress.

Fewer regulations for colleges and universities. Less red tape for students.

Less money.

“Obviously what we do legislatively is a statement of our philosophy and our principles,” said Virginia Foxx, Republican chair of the House subcommittee that oversees higher education and co-chair of the GOP platform committee.

Seminar

Election 2016: New President, New Education Agenda
Washington, D.C. • November 14, 2016

The election of Republican Donald Trump is sure to reshape federal policy for education in significant ways, from prekindergarten to college, especially coupled with the GOP’s retaining control of Congress.

Although Trump spent relatively little time on education in his campaign, he did highlight the issue from time to time, from his sharp criticism of the Common Core and high student debt loads to proposing a plan to significantly expand school choice. And Congress has a long to-do list, including reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

Higher Ed: Hunger on Campus

Flickr/Salvation Army USA West (CC BY 2.0)

The stereotypes of the financially struggling college students are well-known. They live on ramen, share an apartment or house with several roommates, and work part-time for money to buy beer. They get summer jobs to cover college tuition and expenses. And they come from middle- and upper-class families, so if they do struggle sometimes to pay the bills, that scarcity is hip and cool.

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

Psychology, Mentoring and Dollars: Innovations in Graduating More Students from College

Flickr/Cat Branchman (CC BY 2.0)

College students enter their institutions excited about learning and eager to succeed. Yet many don’t.

Hurdles like the cost of attendance certainly exist, but researchers are also now starting to examine the effects psychological barriers such as social group dynamics, self-confidence and feelings of isolation have on college students’ success.

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

Former Chancellors of Research Universities Warn Their Future Is in Peril
New Report Urges Dramatic Changes to Save a System That’s “Breaking Down”

Flickr/Sharada Prasad CS (CC BY 2.0)

The system for funding American flagship public universities is “gradually breaking down,” said Robert J. Birgeneau, a former chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, and the co-chair of a two-year project to examine the role of public research universities and recommend changes to help them stay competitive.

Seminar

Higher Ed 2016
September 16–17 • Tempe, Arizona

What new techniques and practices should higher education embrace to ensure that more students graduate? Join the Education Writers Association September 16–17 at Arizona State University to explore cutting-edge innovations that aim to address financial, academic, and social barriers. More on the seminar theme.

This annual seminar is one of the largest gatherings of journalists covering postsecondary education. Network with others covering this beat and step up your coverage for the upcoming academic year.

Arizona State University
Tempe, Arizona
Multimedia

What College Affordability Means for the Election
Education & the 2016 White House Race

What College Affordability Means for the Election

College affordability has become a key topic in the 2016 presidential campaign, whether through Democratic candidates’ outlining varying approaches to a debt-free education at public universities or Republican contenders’ suggesting income-sharing arrangements and accreditation reform. A discussion of the nuances and potential of these ideas.

  • Jason Delisle, New America
  • Terry Hartle, American Council on Education
  • Neal McCluskey, Cato Institute
  • Colin Seeberger, Young Invincibles
  • Kimberly Hefling, Politico (moderator)
Webinar

Seven Challenges First-Generation College Students Face & How to Write About Them

(Bigstock/michaeljung)

While many first-generation students are excited and ambitious when they step on campus — eager to beat the odds and become the first in their families to earn a college degree — others struggle with guilt, fear and loneliness, sometimes even struggling to remember why they decided to attend college in the first place. And they grapple with these feelings while they also have to figure out how to apply for financial aid, register for classes, and manage the other necessities of undergraduate life knowing they can’t turn to their families for guidance based on experience.

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

Florida Colleges Face Life Without Remediation

Letting students decide whether they need remedial courses is shortsighted, Valencia College President Sandy Shugart said. Valencia College/Don Burlinson

Each year, hundreds of thousands of new college students arrive on campus unable to handle freshman level work and wind up in remedial classes. That’s a major frustration not only to the students but also to lawmakers who believe public dollars are being used twice for the same instruction – once at the K-12 level, then again in postsecondary financial aid.

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

Debt-Free College: Why It’s News Now

As Democratic presidential hopefuls assemble in Las Vegas today for their first formal debate, one topic that has received little airtime during the Republican face-offs is likely to garner far more attention: the high cost of attaining a college degree.

Seminar

69th EWA National Seminar

The Education Writers Association, the national professional organization for journalists who cover education, is thrilled to announce that its annual conference will take place from Sunday, May 1, through Tuesday, May 3, 2016, in the historic city of Boston.

Co-hosted by Boston University’s College of Communication and School of Education, EWA’s 69th National Seminar will examine a wide array of timely topics in education — from early childhood through career — while expanding and sharpening participants’ skills in reporting and storytelling.

Boston, Massachusetts
Blog: The Educated Reporter

Student Debt Forgiveness Program Adding Up

Flickr/COD Newsroom (CC BY 2.0)

A government program that allows student loan borrowers to reduce their monthly payments significantly is growing in popularity — and increasingly eating into U.S. federal coffers.

The U.S. Department of Education is sticking to the rosier news in a brief report released this week that shows the number of U.S. student loan holders enrolled in income-based repayment plans has jumped by more than 50 percent since last year. According to the government, 3.9 million borrowers have signed up for income-based repayment plans as of June of this year.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Money Magazine’s College Rankings Examine How Much ‘Value’ Students Get

The folks at Money magazine are largely doing the work the White House sought to do but hasn’t: rate colleges and universities by the extra boost they give students in landing financially rewarding careers.

Released this week, Money’s rating system ranks more than 700 schools according to an in-house rubric for measuring how much value a college offers students given its price of attendance. 

Multimedia

New Insights on State Funding for Higher Education
2015 EWA National Seminar

New Insights on State Funding for Higher Education

The Great Recession saw most states drastically cut their spending on public colleges, leading most of those colleges to increase their tuition. As the national economy continues to recover, how has state funding for postsecondary education fared and what does it mean for students and their families?

  • Danielle Douglas-Gabriel, The Washington Post (Moderator)
  • Daniel Hurley, American Association of State Colleges and Universities
  • Laura Perna, University of Pennsylvania
  • Ray Scheppach, University of Virginia
Multimedia

Can FAFSA Be Fixed?
2015 EWA National Seminar

Can FAFSA Be Fixed?

How many questions does the crucial federal financial aid form really need? Proposals to simplify have ranged from trimming the form’s dozens of questions to replacing the form with just few queries on a postcard. This session illuminates how key questions can affect how much aid a student receives.

Multimedia

Can Innovation Improve Higher Education?
2015 EWA National Seminar

Can Innovation Improve Higher Education?

Higher education faces a major challenge: How to educate more students better as resources and funding at most colleges mostly stay flat. This discussion will examine whether new technology and new approaches such as competency-based education or MOOCs can make college more affordable and effective.

  • Paul Fain, Inside Higher Ed (Moderator)
  • Goldie Blumenstyk, The Chronicle of Higher Education
  • Kevin Carey, New America
  • Ryan Craig, University Ventures
EWA Radio

After Pushback, White House Yields on College Ratings
EWA Radio: Episode 28

After nearly two years of public debate, and vociferous pushback from the higher education community, the White House announced it is pulling back on plans to rate the nation’s colleges based on a complex matrix of performance measures and student outcomes. Paul Fain, news editor for Inside Higher Ed has been following this story closely since the beginning, and he helped break the news that the Obama administration was scrapping the most controversial parts of its original proposal.

He spoke with EWA public editor Emily Richmond about who’s surprised by the decision (hint: not a lot of people), and the role played by aggressive lobbying against the rating plan by much of the higher education community. Fain and Richmond also discussed college ratings and consumer tools already available, and how to answer parents and students who ask for advice on choosing a school.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Can Innovation Improve Higher Education?

Biology students participate in person and virtually in a Massive Open Online Class (MOOC) offered by the MIT's edX initiative. (Flickr/brewbooks)

The challenges facing higher education today are widely known, but no one really knows the future as technology reshapes how college courses are delivered, how effectively they teach, and who takes them at what cost.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Keeping Track of For-Profit Colleges

Flickr/Velkr0

With a top advocate for for-profit colleges at her right, and a man leading the legal campaign against wayward for-profits at her left, Chronicle of Higher Education financial reporter Goldie Blumenstyk jokingly reassured her audience: “Despite what this looks like, it’s not going to be a debate.”

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Students, Teachers Don’t Study The Way Science Says They Should

Henry Roediger listens as Bror Saxberg answers a reporter's question at EWA's 68th National Seminar in Chicago. (Photo credit: Mikhail Zinshteyn/EWA)

Most students don’t study using methods backed by scientific research, panelists at the Education Writers Association’s deep dive on the science of learning told reporters in Chicago at the association’s 68th National Seminar.

“Why do people find learning so hard?” asked Henry Roediger, a psychology professor at Washington University in St. Louis, who participated in the April event.

Report

The Carnegie Unit: A Century-Old Standard in a Changing Education Landscape – Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching
The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching

The study finds that the Carnegie Unit remains the central organizing feature of the vast American education system, from elementary school to graduate school, and provides students with an important opportunity-to-learn standard. But at best, the Carnegie Unit is a crude proxy for student learning. The U.S. education system needs more informative measures of student performance. 

Report

A Great Recession, a Great Retreat
David A. Bergeron, Elizabeth Baylor, Antoinette Flores, Center for American Progress

Public investment in higher education is vital to the performance of our economy. First and foremost, America’s public colleges and universities offer citizens a steadfast path toward personal economic growth and opportunity. An educated workforce also delivers a substantial return on public investment in the form of economic expansion through sustained employment, higher earnings, new and continued business development, and ultimately, higher tax revenues.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Experts: Community College Results Weighed Down by Remediation

Jeffrey Beall/Flickr ( CC BY-SA 2.0)

From politicians to policymakers, the argument goes that sustaining America’s competitive edge will rely largely on more students graduating college.

But while the nation has notched successes in sending more students to postsecondary institutions, the college dropout rate remains stubbornly high. One major reason for the attrition: Millions of high school graduates are academically unprepared for the rigors of higher ed.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Data Might Help Colleges Sort Out the ‘Murky Middle’

SMU 2014, Photo by Kim Leeson

Stephanie Dupaul of Southern Methodist University put the theme of EWA’s 2014 Higher Education seminar, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Covering the College Student Experience,” to effective use during a session exploring the use of data by colleges:

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Experts: The White House Plan to Rate Colleges Has Major Issues

Michelle Asha Cooper(L), director of the Institute for Higher Education Policy, speaks at the Higher Education Seminar put on by the Education Writers Association and hosted by Southern Methodist University (Credit: SMU 2014, Photo by Kim Leeson)

A new rating system backed by the White House aims to evaluate nearly all of the nation’s colleges and universities. Roughly 6,000 schools that educate around 22 million students are about to endure an unprecedented amount of federal scrutiny.

And though a version of the Postsecondary Institution Ratings System is scheduled to be unveiled in the fall, policy watchers are still unsure of what’s in store.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

How to Help the 21st Century College Student

Source: Flickr/College of DuPage Newsroom

When Mark Milliron met with an advertising team to promote a new type of college in Texas, he wasn’t expecting fireworks. Still, the pitch floored him.

“The Texas Two-Step: Sign Up. Succeed.”

It was the sentence that would appear on billboards and in radio advertisements, enticing thousands of working adults to enroll in an online college – Western Governors University Texas. And it totally missed the point.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

How Are Competency-Based Education and Student-Centered Learning Changing Schools?

Elena Silva of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Photo credit: Melissa Bailey

More students are earning high school diplomas – but the diplomas don’t mean those students are ready to succeed in college.

Nicholas Donohue, president and CEO of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, made that observation as he began to argue for a dramatic rethinking of the way schools measure learning, promote students and award diplomas. He made the argument during a “Deep Dive on Competency-Based Education and Student-Centered Learning” at EWA’s National Seminar in Nashville in May.

Seminar

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Covering the College Student Experience
2014 Higher Ed Seminar

For many college students — whether fresh out of high school or adults returning to school — their most serious obstacles to a degree won’t be homework or tests, but rather the challenges of navigating student life. Colleges are now being forced to face the longstanding problems that have often led to students’ flailing and failing on their own. 

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Top 10 Higher Education Stories You Should Be Covering

Scott Jaschik addresses reporters at EWA's 67th National Seminar at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.

For higher education reporters, Inside Higher Ed editor Scott Jaschik’s annual top-10 list of story ideas is a highlight of EWA’s National Seminar. This year at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Jaschik kicked off his roundup with  an issue that has affected many institutions around the country: sexual assault. The key to covering this story, he said, is not to imply that this is a new problem. Increased attention from the White House has challenged the ways that many colleges have addressed these incidents.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

As Education Debate Heats Up, Nicholas Lemann Holds the Line

Nicholas Lemann, of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and The New Yorker, speaks at the 67th National Seminar on May 18, 2014.

“I Walk the Line.” Nashville’s late, great Johnny Cash first sang that classic country anthem in 1956. This week in Tennessee’s Music City, journalists were urged to hold the line—as “the referee and truth teller in this fight we are having in education.”

The exhortation came from Nicholas Lemann, professor and dean emeritus at Columbia Journalism School, speaking at a May 18 banquet to honor winners of the 2013 National Awards for Education Reporting.

Report

U.S. GAO – Federal Student Loans: Better Oversight Could Improve Defaulted Loan Rehabilitation

The Department of Education (Education) relies on collection agencies to assist borrowers in rehabilitating defaulted student loans, which allows borrowers who make nine on-time monthly payments within 10 months to have the default removed from their credit reports. Education works with 22 collection agencies to locate borrowers and explain repayment options, including rehabilitation.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

‘How I Did the Story’: Award-Winning Higher Ed Reporters Share Their Skills

Here’s a little gift for the holidays: Advice from higher education reporters who won the top prizes in EWA’s National Awards for Education Writing.They shared their perspectives with attendees at our 66th National Seminar, held at Stanford University.We asked Samantha Hernandez of the Door County Advocate to contribute today’s guest post.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

States Balk as GED Gets More Expensive

Life for the nearly 40 million Americans without a high school diploma could be about to get harder as testing companies who create high school equivalency exams are rolling out tougher — and in some cases — more expensive

Blog: The Educated Reporter

EWA Webinar: A Look Inside the New GED

For millions of adults who never completed high school, the General Equivalency Diploma has been the gateway to careers and college degrees. In January, the process adults undergo to earn a GED will change radically.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Higher Ed Beat: What Are the Top 10 Stories on College Campuses?

Higher Ed Beat: What Are the Top 10 Stories on College Campuses?

I’ll admit it – I look forward every fall when Scott Jaschik shares his “cheat sheet”of story ideas at EWA’s annual Higher Education Seminar.This year we met at Northeastern University, and Scott didn’t disappoint.We asked journalists who attended the seminar to contribute posts, and today’s guest blogger is Michael Vasquez of the Miami Herald.For more on higher education issues, including community colleges,

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Obama’s College Proposal: The Shape of Ratings to Come

EWA held its annual Higher Education Seminar recently at Boston’s Northeastern University. We invited some of the education journalists in attendance to contribute posts from the sessions. Today’s guest blogger is Mary Beth Marklein of USA Today. For more content from the seminar, including stories, podcasts, video, check out EdMedia Commons.

Multimedia

Obama’s Proposal: Will Performance Ratings Hurt Student Access?

Obama’s Proposal: Will Performance Ratings Hurt Student Access?

Last month, President Obama unveiled an ambitious proposal to reform higher education by tying a college’s access to federal financial aid for students to a new set of ratings the government would produce. Would universities, forced to focus more on student outcomes, be less inclined to enroll students from backgrounds that traditionally have been underserved by higher education?

EWA Radio

Obama’s Proposal: Will Performance Ratings Hurt Student Access?

Last month, President Obama unveiled an ambitious proposal to reform higher education by tying a college’s access to federal financial aid for students to a new set of ratings the government would produce. Would universities, forced to focus more on student outcomes, be less inclined to enroll students from backgrounds that traditionally have been underserved by higher education?

EWA Radio

The Changing Face of College

The next few years could be a turning point for higher education, as the traditional student population starts to shift dramatically. How long will the total number of new high school graduates continue to decline? Of that pool of students, what percentages will be black and Latino or from low-income backgrounds? What will these changes herald for postsecondary education?

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The Changing Face of College

The Changing Face of College

The next few years could be a turning point for higher education, as the traditional student population starts to shift dramatically. How long will the total number of new high school graduates continue to decline? Of that pool of students, what percentages will be black and Latino or from low-income backgrounds? What will these changes herald for postsecondary education?

EWA Radio

Elizabeth Warren on Student Debt and College Costs

Sen. Warren (D-Mass.) discusses rising college costs and student debt reform at EWA’s 2013 Higher Ed seminar Sept. 28, 2013. Please note: Due to a faulty microphone, the sound quality during the first part of the Q&A is shaky. Because the audio is not completely obscured, the event is presented here in its entirety. The audio for Sen. Warren’s speech and the second half of the Q&A is normal.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Success in College: Models that Improve the Odds

EWA’s 66th National Seminar was recently held at Stanford University, and we asked some of the education reporters attending to contribute blog posts from the sessions, including one examining President Obama’s universal preschool proposal.Today’s guest blogger is Nan Austin of the Sacramento BeeStream sessions from National Seminar in your browser, or subscribe via RSS or 

Blog: The Educated Reporter

For Many Students, College Means Back to Middle School

Today’s guest post comes from Kenneth Terrell, the higher education public editor for the Education Writers Association. Email him at kterrell@ewa.org. Follow him on Twitter: @KennethEWA.

“A large fraction of students are leaving the 12th grade with a high-school diploma, and they’re about to begin a course of studies at the 8th grade level,” said Marc Tucker, president of a Washington, D.C. think-tank, of its recently released a report on college readiness.

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How I Did the Story: Title IX and Sexual Assault on Campus

How I Did the Story: Title IX and Sexual Assault on Campus

Justin Pope of the Associated Press talks about how he approached the timely and difficult topic of how universities are applying the Title IX gender discrimination law to sexual assault cases. Pope’s coverage won a special citation in Single-Topic News, Series or Feature in a Large Newsroom in EWA’s 2012 National Awards for Education Reporting.

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Innovation Showcase: Investing in Education

Innovation Showcase: Investing in Education

These interactive sessions feature reporters, analysts and educators spotlighting efforts under way to harness the power of innovation to spark new approaches to K-12 and higher education. In this session, Trace Urdan, Wells Fargo Securities, is interviewed by Kim Clark, Money Magazine, about burgeoning investments in innovative education enterprises Recorded May 4, 2013 at EWA’s 66th National Seminar at Stanford University.

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Innovation Showcase: Fostering Entrepreneurship in Higher Ed

Innovation Showcase: Fostering Entrepreneurship in Higher Ed

These interactive sessions feature reporters, analysts and educators spotlighting efforts under way to harness the power of innovation to spark new approaches to K-12 and higher education.

In this session, Kayvon Beykpour, Mobile Technologies Entrepreneur, is interviewed by Katherine Long, The Seattle Times, about how universities can encourage students to start companies.

Recorded May 4, 2013 at EWA’s 66th National Seminar at Stanford University.

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What to Make of MOOCs

What to Make of MOOCs

In less than two years, massive open online courses (MOOCs) have altered discussions about higher education reform and access. Following the announcement that a handful of the courses merit traditional college credit, MOOCs may be poised to alter students’ pathways to a diploma. Or they might be the latest example of Internet overreach. A discussion of the possibilities.

Speakers: Scott Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed; Daphne Koller, Coursera; Bob Samuels, University Council-AFT; Cathy Sandeen, American Council on Education; Gabi Zolla, Council for Adult and Experiential Learning

EWA Radio

New Prescriptions for Remedial Education

The biggest obstacles that many undergraduates face en route to a college degree are the remedial or developmental courses in which they will be placed for their first year. These courses, which students must pass before they can take classes that carry college credit, add to the expense and time it takes to earn a degree. Are such classes really needed? Or can schools replace them with other forms of academic support?

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Top 10 Stories on Innovation in Higher Education

Top 10 Stories on Innovation in Higher Education

What are the higher education stories on innovation that reporters should be following this year? Scott Jaschik, editor and co-founder of Inside Higher Ed, offers his insights on what stories are worth covering in the coming months.

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What Online Education Means for College Classrooms

What Online Education Means for College Classrooms

The rise of online education arguably represents the first real change in centuries to how courses are taught in postsecondary education, both on and off campus. This discussion examines the potential online teaching technologies have to change how students learn—both in lecture halls and cyberspace—and how universities function.

Speakers: Claudia Dreifus, The New York Times; Sir Michael Barber, Pearson; John Mitchell, Stanford University; Mark Smith, National Education Association

Recorded May 2, 2013 at EWA’s 66th National Seminar at Stanford University.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

How I borrowed a lot and paid back a little: A writer’s take on Income Based Repayment

In May of my senior year at Union College (See photo), the only thing I was thinking about was passing finals and completing papers with pretentious titles.  Postgraduation plans, like a job, were nothing more than vapors momentarily wafting in the way of those footnotes buried in my textbooks.  I had no idea what kind of job I’d get, but I did know one thing for certain: I’d wrap up my college education with roughly $17,000 in federally subsidized debt.

EWA Radio

Making Sense of Higher Education Engagement, Outcomes & Assessment

The latest on what we know about how students learn best, what institutions should be looking for, and how they determine if it’s happening. Panelists: Kenneth Terrell, Education Writers Association (moderator); George Kuh (NILOA) and Robert Gonyea (NSSE); Trudy Banta and Gary Pike, IUPUI. Recorded at EWA’s Seminar for Higher Education Reporters at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, Nov. 2-3, 2012.

EWA Radio

Different Ways to a Degree

In recent years, various options have emerged to trim the costs of earning a degree. In this session, we will examine whether options such as three-year degree programs and online education can make higher education more affordable. Panelists: Scott Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed (moderator); Kris Clerkin, Southern New Hampshire University; David Daniels, Pearson; Tom Harnisch, American Association of State Colleges & Universities; Burck Smith, StraighterLine; Tom Snyder, Ivy Tech Community College.

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Can Technology Fix Higher Education?

Can Technology Fix Higher Education?

From EWA’s Nov 4-5 Higher Education Seminar at UCLA: As more students crowd classrooms, many colleges and professors are looking for new ways to use technology to make the learning experience more effective. From large-scale course redesigns to using Twitter to pass “notes” in class, what’s the impact when college courses get plugged in?

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EWA Interview: UCLA’s John Pryor on the CIRP Freshman Survey

EWA Interview: UCLA’s John Pryor on the CIRP Freshman Survey

How can higher education reporters use CIRP survey data in their stories? How are educational institutions using the information? John Pryor, director of CIRP at UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute, gives guidance in this interview conducted at EWA’s Higher Education Seminar on Nov. 4-5 at UCLA.

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Student Debt and the Class of 2011

We estimate that two-thirds (66%) of college seniors who graduated in 2011 had student loan debt, with an average of $26,600 for those with loans. The five percent increase in average debt at the national level is similar to the average annual increase over the past few years. Also similar to previous years, about one-fifth of graduates’ debt is comprised of private loans. 

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The John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy

The John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy is “a nonprofit institute dedicated to improving higher education in North Carolina and the nation.” Their research efforts tend to emphasize various degrees of accountability, i.e. ensuring that investment in higher education at all levels, are producing efficient and desirable results.

Organization

Jobs for the Future

Jobs for the Future is a Boston-headquartered nonprofit that “develops policy solutions and new pathways leading from college readiness to career advancement for struggling and low-income populations in America.” Their reform efforts tend to focus on the community college level of higher education.

Organization

Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce

The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce is the leading resource for information on how various postsecondary degrees are valued in the workforce. Their research can be central to the financial aspects of the “Is college worth it?” question, and it also shapes how reformers evaluate which disciplines deserve the most emphasis.

Organization

American Association of Community Colleges

The American Association of Community Colleges is the leading organization for the nation’s nearly 1,200 two-year colleges. The AACC provides guidance and advocates and lobbies on behalf of community colleges. Most recently, the AACC has worked to revise the reporting standards for graduation rate data and has initiated a 21st Century commission to address the changing roles of community colleges.

Organization

Lumina Foundation

The Lumina Foundation for Education is a philanthropic organization dedicated to improving college graduation rates in the United States. The foundation—headquartered in Indianapolis—was established in 2000, and in 2009, Lumina announced its Goal 2025 initiative, which seeks to “increase the percentage of Americans with high-quality degrees and credentials from the longstanding rate of 39 percent to 60 percent by the year 2025.” The Lumina Foundation has sponsored the Education Writers Association’s work regarding the coverage of higher education.

Organization

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in December 2008 announced a $69 million multiyear grants initiative to “double the number of low-income students who earn a postsecondary degree or credential with genuine value in the workplace by age 26.” While the foundation has done extensive, non-education-related work in developing nations, “In the United States, it seeks to ensure that all people—especially those with the fewest resources—have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life.” The Gates Foundation has sponsored the Education Writers Association’s work regardin

Key Coverage

The Great Aid Gap

As certificates grow in number and importance, many educators are calling attention to what they see as an overlooked problem in the nation’s efforts to upgrade workers’ skills and deal with soaring higher-education costs: Federal financial aid goes overwhelmingly to students in traditional degree programs, while little goes to the many students in noncredit certificate programs who may need it more. 

Key Coverage

Davos Forum Considers Learning’s Next Wave

Education has long played a part in the annual deliberations at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. But this time, many participants may have detected what Drew Gilpin Faust, Harvard’s president, described as “a lot of attention.”

Key Coverage

Competency-Based Education Has Fans, Detractors

But few traditional schools in Indiana have plans to adopt competency-based education in a way that allows students to progress toward degrees on their own time lines. Such schools as Indiana University, Indiana State University and even for-profit educators like Harrison College say they plan to stick closely to their models that require specific amounts of time in class to graduate.

Key Coverage

Pricing Out the Humanities

History professors at the University of Florida think their courses are plenty valuable, but they don’t want them to be among the most expensive. And they are organizing to protest a gubernatorial task force’s recommendation to charge more for majors without an immediate job payoff — a recommendation that the historians fear could discourage enrollments.

Key Coverage

College Is Dead. Long Live College!

Now, several forces have aligned to revive the hope that the Internet (or rather, humans using the Internet from Lahore to Palo Alto, Calif.) may finally disrupt higher education — not by simply replacing the distribution method but by reinventing the actual product. New technology, from cloud computing to social media, has dramatically lowered the costs and increased the odds of creating a decent online education platform.

Key Coverage

A Disruption Grows Up?

Competency-based education could be a game-changer for adult students, probably more so than MOOCs. Yet despite the backing of powerful supporters, colleges have been reluctant to go all-in because they are unsure whether accreditors and the federal government will give the nod to degree programs that look nothing like the traditional college model.

Key Coverage

Too High a Price?

Grinnell’s discussions follow closely on the heels of an announcement this summer by Wesleyan University that it was moving away from need-blind admissions, saying that if the college could not generate enough money to cover financial aid, it would consider students’ financial need in some of its decisions (possibly 10 percent of the class). The move has generated backlash among students, alumni and others at the university. Grinnell administrators said a policy like Wesleyan’s is on the table.

Key Coverage

Romney and Higher Ed

Few people close to Romney’s campaign or with experience dealing with him on higher education issues in the past were willing to speak about him publicly. Several Romney education advisers, past and present, did not respond to repeated interview requests from Inside Higher Ed, or declined to comment on the candidate’s record and ideas on higher education. Nor did several people affiliated with private colleges in Massachusetts and the state’s university system during his time as governor. So the education policies and attitudes of a potential Romney administration remain a mystery.

Key Coverage

Don’t Lecture Me

EWA 2012 National Reporting Contest winner. College students spend a lot of time listening to lectures. But research shows there are better ways to learn. And experts say students need to learn better because the 21st century economy demands more well-educated workers.

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The Digital Revolution and Higher Education

As online college courses have become increasingly prevalent, the general public and college presidents offer different assessments of their educational value. Just three-in-ten American adults (29%) say a course taken online provides an equal educational value to one taken in a classroom. By contrast, fully half of college presidents (51%) say online courses provide the same value.

Key Coverage

Why University Presidents Refuse Reform

This column argues that “ the governance structure of colleges and universities makes it difficult, if not impossible, for presidents to lead. The most fundamental problem preventing significant reform in higher education is the structural conflict between the administration and the faculty.” 

Key Coverage

Mature Market for Online Education

The market for online higher education aimed at adults may be reaching maturity, according to a new report from Eduventures. And without a better-defined product, the report’s author said online learning faces a risk of petering out and being little more than a back-up alternative to on-campus education for students.

Key Coverage

Live and Learn: Why We Have College

This essay from a college professor examines the purpose and role of postsecondary education and decides that “College is, essentially, a four-year intelligence test.” The article offers and interesting perspective on both the financial value and educational quality aspect of higher education reform.

Key Coverage

Lost in Translation

EWA 2012 National Reporting Contest winner. Unscrupulous Chinese firms promise families and college- bound students from the mainland admission to prestigious American universities provided they pay large fees. What they get in return varies, with worst-case scenarios including living miles from the U.S. campus and thousands of dollars of unforeseen bills. Yet because of U.S. colleges’ appetite for the tuition foreign students pay, fixing the problem isn’t easy.

Key Coverage

The University Has No Clothes

This article examines the efforts of Peter Thiel and other venture capitalists to convince talented students that college might not be their best career path. Such questions about “Is college worth it?” have been central to college reform efforts.

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Disrupting College: How Disruptive Innovation Can Deliver Quality and Affordability to Postsecondary Education

The report from noted business author and consultant  Clayton Christensen examines how competition from newer alternatives such as online education might alter how traditional colleges and universities operate. It notes that “Using online learning in a new business model focused exclusively on teaching and learning, not research—and focused on highly structured programs targeted at preparation for careers—has meanwhile given several organizations a significant cost advantage and allowed them to grow rapidly.”

Key Coverage

Study Finds Large Numbers of College Students Don’t Learn Much

This article summarizes the findings of the influential book Academically Adrift, which analyzed the scores of students on the Collegiate Learning Assessment and concluded most of them were not gaining much knowledge in postsecondary education. The book has become a centerpiece for debates on the need reform the quality of higher education.

Key Coverage

Homeless Dropouts From High School Lured by For-Profit Colleges

EWA 2010 National Reporting Contest winner. Some recruiters from for-profit colleges promised cars, jobs, and new lives to individuals living in shelters and missions. One college campus even gave students a $350 biweekly stipend to show up to class and maintain a C average. Five percent of its student base is homeless.

Key Coverage

How Maryland Universities Were Able to Cut Costs and Keep Tuitions Down

Like most states, Maryland was looking at budget cuts for its public universities. But “Maryland was about to do something completely different. It was about to transform the culture of American public higher education, even if only at the margins. A savvy board of regents was embarking on the painstaking process of dragging the medieval model of a university, with its many vested interests, into the 21st century.”

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Adult Learners in Higher Education: Barriers to Success and Strategies to Improve Results

This reports notes that “traditional higher education programs and policies—created in an era when the 18- to 22-year-old, dependent, full-time student coming right out of high school was seen as the core market for higher education—are not well designed for the needs of adult learners, most of whom are ‘employees who study’ rather than ‘students who work.’”

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A Test of Leadership: Charting the Future of Higher Education

This report from the commission former U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings assembled is arguably the starting point for the current higher education reform movement. “What we have learned over the last year makes clear that American higher education has become what, in the business world, would be called a mature enterprise: increasingly risk averse, at times self-satisfied, and unduly expensive,” the commission concludes.