Tag Archive: higher education

Challenges for our higher education

The University of Wisconsin is well known for its sports teams and tonight plays against Duke University for the national NCAA basketball title. Wisconsin is also known for its academic excellence. Such did not stop Republican Governor Scott Walker (a presidential wannabe) from making national headlines in February when his proposed state budget included sharp reductions in funding and redefined the mission of the University of Wisconsin as “to develop human resources to meet the State’s workforce needs.” Following much protest he retracted the mission statement. How about a better mission such as “The arts and sciences prepare students for a lifetime of success by developing inventive employees and thoughtful citizens who are vital to a vibrant culture and democracy.”

In our governor’s proposed 2016 budget there is the claim, “Among Governor Christie’s highest priorities has been strengthening New Jersey’s higher education community.” Nonetheless his current budget reduces the operating expenses of our senior public colleges and universities. Such represents just one example of where his budget is lacking.  

The legislature has a proposed resolution (ACR220) which “encourages four-year public and 12 independent institutions of higher education to offer baccalaureate degree programs that cost no more than $10,000 in tuition and fees.” For such an aspiration to become a reality, the legislature would have to increase higher education operating expenses not reduce them, and the institutions would have to rethink their business plan.

The 2010 Report of the Governor’s Task Force on Higher Education chaired by Tom Kean Sr. said, “The State must provide the resources for students who have the intellectual ability to go to college but cannot afford to attend. Institutions must be accountable for successfully fulfilling their distinctive missions. New Jersey’s economic development depends on their success.” We have a long way to go to meet these challenges. The process includes more appreciation for the broader mission of higher education, the need for additional financial student aid, a higher investment on the part of the state, and a better business plan from individual institutions.  

.@pasi_sahlberg & David Hespe: A Tale of Two Education Leaders

Cross-posted with Marie CorfieldPromoted by Rosi.

il_fullxfull.263661385Lest anyone think I was a fat-cat, lazy teacher, raking in the chips at a high-rollers roulette table at the Borgata, last week I attended the NJEA Convention-the largest professional development convention for educators in the United States.

There are no coincidences

I don’t believe in coincidence. Too many things have happened in my life for that word to be relevant. Case in point: here’s what happened last week:

  • I read an article in the Star Ledger about why Dutch children are happier than ours

  • I listened to Pasi Sahlberg’s keynote address at the NJEA Convention in Atlantic City-a town whose economic fortunes seem to change like the tides that wash its shores every day, and right now, the tide is out

  • I attended the meeting with Acting NJ Education Commissioner, David Hespe, also at the Convention

  • I read this post on Wallet Hub ranking the best and worst school systems in the country.

    Please excuse me while I puff up my chest with pride… Lookie who’s #1:

  • Belgard on Higher Education

    Clearly, there are differences between the two candidates running for Congress in the Third District. If you’re a regular reader of Blue Jersey, you know about those differences in the areas of health care, support for the middle class, and paycheck fairness. Today, Aimee Belgard held a press conference outlining specific positions on higher education – an area that Tom MacArthur seems to have ignored. Here are her remarks.

    As the Assembly Grapples with College Costs, It Bears Asking: Why Go to College Anyway?

    Cross Posted from Dan Kurz’s Jersey Globe Blog: http://kurzglobe.blogspot.com/…

    This week the Assembly’s Committee on Higher Ed is hearing from a wide assortment of voices – college presidents, faculty, students, graduates – in an effort to get to the bottom of why a university education has become so expensive in New Jersey, and what can be done about it. And from press reports, it’s obvious to see that the committee, in the end, needs to grapple with the central questions concerning the complex relationship between students, expectations and a university education. Why should anyone go to college anyway? What is the value of a university education?

    I often tell my high school students this: while it is true that college graduates make more money overall during their lifetimes than others, in the end, that’s not the purpose of a university education. A college education is not the same, in any respect, as technical training. Most professors will not care, at least not at the outset, of what your career plans are. In the end, and I believe this is not an oversimplification, a university (and the education it provides) is about the conversation. Or rather, it is a conversation. It’s about people learning and exchanging ideas, generating new ones, publicizing concepts, accepting some while changing or disregarding others. We see this information exchange primarily in the form of the classroom and lecture hall, as well as in publishing in text and on the Internet. But, I remind them, don’t let the lush lawns or the stately stone buildings or the basketball games fool you; those are beside the point. If you want to succeed in college and get the most out of it, you’ve got to accept the university for the idea factory that it is.

    I attended Rutgers University during most of the 1990’s where I earned my B.A. in history and my M.A. in political science. While I knew that I wanted to become a high school teacher, I also accepted the fact that I probably wouldn’t learn the ins-and-outs of the educational business until I was in it. That’s not why I went to college. Though I earned several scholarships and fellowships during my time at Rutgers, I managed to graduate with some debt. It was worth it, because going to Rutgers transformed me –  or rather – set me on a path to become a better critical thinker, and a better communicator in both reading and writing. It boosted and directed my lifelong quest to learn. My experience at Rutgers introduced me, truly, to the complexities of this world and transformed a teen that believed in absolute truths into a young adult that was highly suspicious of all forms of authority in a world of gray.

    I attended Rutgers because I knew that there I would be exposed to all sorts of voices, both living and dead, emanating from the arts and sciences. I went because, to really understand well, at least for myself, I needed to learn and debate the great ideas with great minds in the classroom environment. This debate took many forms; sometimes oral, sometimes written, but always, always centering on ideas.

    If you don’t like ideas, if you disdain reading, if every second behind a desk grappling with abstract notions is viewed as a form of punishment, then by all means, don’t go to college. It’s not for everyone; and just because you don’t want to go to college, it’s not indicative of an inexorable slide into poverty. There are ways people can add ample value to their labor through technical training and other experience. I know many car mechanics, truck salesmen and restaurant managers who make a fine living and I know many college grads who are dead broke.

    College is not a gateway to riches – or at least riches in monetary form. It is an important credential, no doubt, but as a credential, I do not know of a single bachelor’s program that leads directly and immediately to a secure, lifelong job. No way. And any program that claims to guarantee a lifelong a job is being dishonest.  

    Students need to understand that college – at least the undergraduate experience – goes on for a long time; really for half a decade. It’s not something that you can ‘wing’ per se, especially in the great universities like Rutgers, NYU, Princeton or UCLA. Getting through college requires a real shift in priorities, especially the priorities of the mind. This is why I have so much respect for those who have to work their way through college or come to the university in mid to late adulthood. They know that the average adult has zillions of priorities to cope with, but to be intellectually healthy and to grow, regardless of whatever situation you find yourself in, your curiosity and willingness to learn must be a prized value. It’s true what so many grandparents tell their children: no one, ever, can take away what you’ve learned and earned, at least not what is intellectually earned. And perhaps in the end it may be all you ever have.

    Okay, perhaps I’m waxing too poetically here. I apologize for droning on. But we need to be honest with our young people about what a university education is, and what it is not, and what it can be expected to do.

    The Path Toward Reducing Inequality in NJ – Part IV

    Part IV of this series of articles provides recommendations on what we can do to reduce income inequality in our state. The goal is to create a more even playing field so that others can share the wealth of our state.

    A Guardian article summarizes what economist Thomas Piketty has made apparent in his extraordinary work Capitalism in the 21st Century. “The American dream does not, and maybe cannot, deliver on its promises because economic growth will always be smaller than the profits from any money that is invested. Economic growth is what we all benefit from, but profits from invested money accrue to the rich.” The consequences of this are clear: those who have family fortunes or get super-sized compensation packages will foster inequality while the other 90% struggle to accumulate much smaller wealth.

    Paul Krugman comments on Piketty’s work:“Even if the underlying economic conditions point toward extreme inequality, what Piketty calls ‘a drift toward oligarchy’ can be halted and even reversed if the body politic so chooses. So progressive taxation can be a powerful force limiting inequality.

    Spoiler Alert: The steps proposed below the fold are incredibly difficult to enact. They will be fought “tooth and nail” by entrenched interests – the wealthy individuals who have the monies to lobby and donate against such proposals. The changes nonetheless should seem detrimental only to the wealthiest 1 to 10%, while benefiting the rest of us. Ultimately the question comes down to: Shouldn’t the 90% have a strong say in the matter? If we don’t insist on balancing the scale there is no hope for reducing inequality.

    What’s Happening today Wed. 01/15/2014

    Today people are digesting the comments in Christie’s State of the State Address. For many the meal did not go down so well.

    With Bridgegate on the minds of many and swirling suspicions in the air one might have thought that Christie would be more responsive. The State of the State Address might be designed to be lofty and to convey a sweep of past achievements and a broad vision for the future. However, there is something rotten in the state of our State (or more particularly in the Executive Office and the Port Authority.) He said little on the matter, and what he did say was not reassuring. He vaguely reiterated, “mistakes were clearly made,” but he did not  elaborate further. He failed to fess up about anything he might know or have done, and he placed the onus on others to find out the truth.

    Furthermore, he put his future cooperation with investigative bodies in doubt. He said, “We will cooperate with all appropriate inquiries.” Apparently he will only respond to inquiries which he deems appropriate. Given the number of investigations that are likely to take place, more will be revealed. He had said on Thursday, “I’m not completed with those interviews yet, but when I am, if there is additional information that needs to be disclosed, I will do so.” He could have let people know what he knows and maybe have put the matter closer to rest. Instead, he has made his bed and will have to lie in it – uncomfortable, with little rest and a rotten smell in the air.      

    He distracted attention away from Bridgegate (not suitable for a national or NJ audience) and spent much of his time talking about new initiatives. They included K-12 education, higher education, crime prevention, drug rehabilitation, job training. health care, and infrastructure investment. However,  they were just soundbite teases.  He said, “We have discussed many exciting opportunities for investment …. But here is the simple truth. We cannot afford to do it right now.”  He then put the blame on “soaring pension and debt costs.” Pension reform does call for increasingly hefty state contributions in the new and succeeding budgets. However, it was these reforms which he trumpeted for years after negotiating them with Democratic legislators. The reforms called for sacrifice from State employees and pensioners but the quid pro quo was that the State would resume required contributions. He left listeners unsure whether he was arguing for reduced contributions, more sacrifice or something else. He raised the subject but provided no solution.

    If this was a bad moment to capture the attention of a national audience, he was successful. His discussion of sometimes arcane Jersey-specific issues was not of interest elsewhere, and cable TV’s attention waned.

    Other than initially patting himself on the back with dubious successes (jobs, unemployment, holding the line against new taxes, Sandy recovery, and shrinking State employees), he said little of substance. His new initiatives vanished into thin air. Regarding Bridgegate he acknowledged nothing new and left us with uncertainty regarding his future cooperation. The final blow was raising the specter of another blood-letting battle over pensions.

    NJ’s New “Go Along To Get Along” Budget

    In the midst of an election cycle, this year’s budget process has been the Governor and Legislature making nice with each other. Both sides are averse to cutting programs popular with the general public, introducing new controversial issues, and engaging in protracted confrontations. We can remember past years when debate, anger and threats ruled. This year the budget was negotiated behind closed doors with the public and the press uninformed about the process. The budget bill (A4200) which is about to be passed in a few days is only now available in an abbreviated form on the Legislature’s main website page.

    Our budget system is somewhat perverse. The Governor starts out with what he wants in the budget and presents it to the Legislature. The Legislature then adds items it wants, and deletes items it does not want. Finally, the Governor can line-item veto anything he dislikes but he can not add back in expenses. Of course there are exceptions and subterfuges, but that is how it is supposed to work.

    The governor has the upper hand and routinely gets about 90% or more of what he or she wants, but the Legislature can negotiate to appropriate or not appropriate funds for specific items. Nonetheless, Mark Magyar points out today, “As expected, the final budget bill was little changed from the spending plan Christie laid out four months ago.” (Appropriations net changes of $56 million in a $32.9 billion budget.)

    The Legislature removed from the Governor’s budget $2 million for the Opportunity Scholarship Act program (school vouchers).

    Some of the Legislature’s additions to the budget include  $35 million for higher education reorganization; $7.4 million for school districts, rolling back an administration plan to make districts pay more for capital borrowing; and $13.2 million for community providers who care for the mentally disabled.

    An item not in the budget is additional funding for pre-school programs. Likewise there are no monies for Planned Parenthood, which will be addressed in separate legislation. There is no funding for Christie’s tax cut plan that he promoted so hard. Nor is there any consideration for a millionaire’s tax surcharge. (Also the $24 million needed for the Special Elections is not included.)

    So in the end harmony is preserved. There is nothing wrong per se with accommodation, but in a period of economic upheaval, environmental concerns, high unemployment, pen/ben indebtedness, unresolved social issues, high property taxes, fraying infrastructure, growing poverty, and Sandy recovery efforts, one might yearn for a more robust public discussion of how we set our priorities and spend our money.

    Open Letter to Chris Christie on Public Higher Education

    Chris Christie is in Somerset County today at a “Town Hall” at Raritan Valley Community College, which serves both Somerset and Hunterdon. It got started late, but when it did, according to the excellent coverage via Twitter from the Ledger’s @jennaportnoy, there were all the familiar production values (taxpayer-funded, to be clear), video intro to stir your blood in anticipation of Being Near Greatness, and with Christie right back up on his tax cut soapbox, apparently, again, failing to acknowledge that we can’t afford that.

    Before his arrival, some of the people who work at RVCC, the faculty represented by AFT Local #2375, wrote Christie an open letter. Honestly, I wasn’t necessarily going to run it today, but then Christie decided to haul out that old chestnut of his:

    AFT Local #2375’s open letter (below, on the jump page) is not only about how Christie devotes himself to driving a wedge between the public and public workers, but also about fulfilling the state’s funding obligations (a hot topic this week) to community colleges like RVCC. The letter, almost prim at its start, spits Christie’s own words back at him, and by the end requests that he stop making declarations of public support for higher ed. Unless he put NJ’s money where his mouth is.

    Well, they say it nicer: