Critical Educational Questions for Big Data, Part 2

I started a list of critical questions for big data in education earlier this week. This is a big topic, raising lots of big questions and serious topics and problems for further debate and discussion. Here, I focus on questions about big data ownership, divides, algorithmic accountability, issues about voice and literacy, and, finally, ethical implications and challenges of big data in education.

Who “owns” educational big data?

The sociologist Evelyn Ruppert has asked, “who owns big data?” noting that numerous people, technologies, practices and actions are involved in how data is shaped, made and captured. The technical systems for conducting educational big data collection, analysis and knowledge production are expensive to build. Specialist technical staff are required to program and maintain them, to design their algorithms, to produce their interfaces. Commercial organizations see educational data as a potentially lucrative market, and ‘own’ the systems that are now being used to see, know and make sense of education and learning processes. Many of their systems are proprietorial, and are wrapped in intellectual property and patents which makes it impossible for other parties to understand how they are collecting data, what analyses they are conducting, or how robust their big data samples are. Despite claims to exhaustivity, big data can still only ever be a sample based on users of a platform or a system, not a true census of total populations, especially in education where access to the technologies required for big data collection purposes is highly uneven.

Specific commercial and political ambitions may also be animating the development of educational data analytics platforms, particularly those associated with Silicon Valley where ed-tech funding for data-driven applications is soaring and tech entrepreneurs are rapidly developing data-driven educational software and even new institutions. In this sense, we need to ask critical questions about how educational big data are made, analysed and circulated within specific social, disciplinary and institutional contexts that often involve powerful actors with significant economic capital and extensive social networks of support and influence.

Is a new “big data divide” emerging in education?

Not all schools, colleges or universities can necessarily afford to purchase a learning analytics or adaptive software platform — or to partner with platform providers. This risks certain wealthy institutions being able to benefit from real-time insights into learning practices and processes that such analytics afford, while other institutions will remain restricted to the more bureaucratic analysis of temporally discrete assessment events. In other words, a new educational data divide may be emerging where certain institutions will be able to gain a competitive advantage by having access to the insights available from educational data analytics services and platforms. This reflects the wider emergence of a “big data divide” that Mark Andrejevic has described as a separation between the “hands of the few who use it to sort, manage, and manipulate,” and those “without access to the database who are left with the ‘poor person’s’ strategies for cutting through the clutter: gut instinct, affective response, and ‘thin- slicing’ (making a snap decision based on a tiny fraction of the evidence).” To what extent might a new big data divide in education reinforce and reproduce existing forms of advantage and disadvantage, and exacerbate existing regimes of comparison, competition, and public ranking of institutions?

Can educational big data provide a real-time alternative to bureaucratic policymaking?

Policy makers in recent years have depended on large-scale assessment data to help inform decision-making and drive reform. Educational data mining and analytics can provide a real-time stream of data about learners’ progress, as well as automated real-time personalization of learning content appropriate to each individual learner. To some extent this changes the speed and scale of educational change by removing the need for cumbersome assessment and country comparison techniques that have tended to underpin policy intervention in recent years. But, it potentially places commercial organizations such as the global education business Pearson in a powerful new role in education, with the capacity to predict outcomes and shape educational practices at timescales that government intervention cannot match. Though standardized testing and country comparison has become widely critiqued as a mode of governance in education, the emerging alternative of real-time analytics raises questions about for-profit influence and the privatization of public education by tight networks of corporate education reformers.

Is there algorithmic accountability to educational analytics?

Learning analytics is focused on the optimization of learning and one of its main claims is the early identification of students at-risk of failure. What happens if, despite being enrolled on a learning analytics system that has personalized the learning experience for the individual, that individual still fails? Will the teacher and institution be accountable, or can the machine learning algorithms (and the platform organizations that designed them) be held accountable for their failure? Simon Buckingham Shum has written about the need to address algorithmic accountability in the learning analytics field, and noted that “making the algorithms underpinning analytics intelligible” is one way of at least making them more transparent and less opaque. Significant questions remain however about fairness and equal treatment in relation to big data-based education, and particularly about where accountability lies when algorithmic data-processing systems narrow an individuals’ opportunities in the name of “personalized” learning.

Is student data replacing student voice?

Data are sometimes said to “speak for themselves,” but education has a long history of encouraging learners to speak for themselves too. Is the history of student voice initiatives being overwritten by the potential of student data, which proposes a more reliable, accurate, objective and impartial view of the individual’s learning process unencumbered by personal bias? Or can student data become the basis for a data-dialogic form of student voice, one in which teachers and their students are able to develop meaningful and caring relationships through mutual understanding and discussion of student data?

Do teachers need “data literacy”?

Many teachers and school leaders possess little detailed understanding of the data systems that they are using, or required to use. As glossy educational technologies like ClassDojo are taken up enthusiastically by millions of teachers worldwide, might it be useful to ensure that teachers can ask important questions about data ethics, data privacy, data protection, and be able to engage with educational data in an informed way? Despite calls in the US to ensure that data literacy become the focus for teachers’ pre-service training, there appears little sign that the provision of data literacy education for educational practitioners is being developed in the UK.

What ethical frameworks are required for educational big data analysis and data science studies?

The Council for Big Data, Ethics and Society recently published a white paper detailing many of the ethical implications of big data. It raised important issues and recommendations about the need for informed consent when collecting data from users of platforms, and called in particular for new “social, structural, and technical mechanisms to assess the ethical implications of a system throughout the entire development and analysis lifecycle.” The UK government recently published an ethical framework for policymakers for use when planning data science projects. Similar ethical frameworks to guide the design of educational big data platforms and education data science projects are necessary. New kinds of privacy frameworks and considerations of rights in relation to educational big data also need to be considered and developed, drawing not least on existing considerations of the potential privacy harms associated with data collection, processing, and dissemination.

This list of questions is of course not exhaustive, but helps I think to identify some of the key issues emerging as big data, analytics, algorithms and machine learning processes integrate into educational institutions and practices.

Banner image credit: Torkild Retvedt

The post Critical Educational Questions for Big Data, Part 2 appeared first on DML Central.

via DML Central

Historical Periodization and the Long Civil War

Periodization is both the most useful and most obfuscatory tool in the historian’s toolbox. In Western historical writing (and because of the West’s culturally-imperialist tendencies, in many other historiographies as well), we reckon time largely according to the conventions of the Gregorian Calendar: days, months, years on a cycle that mostly matches the Earth’s perambulation around the Sun. Conversely, “Big,” or “Deep” History challenges us to move beyond Puny Human Time and think in terms of (at minimum) geologic time. It’s enough of a struggle to finish our survey courses anywhere near where we’re “supposed” to; the very thought of beginning our studies with, say, the Pleistocene Era is enough to give an instructor palpitations. Within the generally-accepted chronology, then, we’ve carved out our scholarly spaces within a framework so well-established as to be internalized. I’m a nineteenth-century US historian. I do the Cold War. I’m a medievalist. We often interrogate these divisions—when does “modern” begin?—but when it comes to our scholarly autobiographies, we default to the divisions we once criticized. Undergirding this hegemony of the Established Historical Era is the way in which we teach our field. Chronological markers of varying specificity define our courses: Early Modern Europe; US History to 1877; The Vietnam War, 1954-1975. And, as these examples suggest, chronological boundaries are often accompanied by geographic designators. Thus, largely without meaning to, we enclose History into digestible packages. And that’s how we and our audiences—students, readers, each other—tend to consume it.

In doing so, however, we undersell the contingency, the possibility of differing interpretations, the sheer messiness of history. When students ask “is this on the test,” or are history-phobic because “it’s hard to memorize all those names and dates,” they’re speaking to this habit of consumption. Of course, we tell ourselves, history is more than that—it’s understanding things like contingency, difference, and messiness are at the root of historical processes rather than outside them. But I don’t think we connect these understandings—shaped in our deep and meaningful research and engagement with history—with our presentation nearly enough. As historians, we know that World War II didn’t start in 1941, but when we teach the US survey, or write the textbooks for that course, don’t we throw 1941-1945 out there as the most common chronological window? Maybe we use 1939, but doesn’t that center Europe over Asia? This might seem like pedantic quibbling, but I think our periodization says quite a bit about our perspective—and isn’t it our perspective through which historical research is filtered on its way to being consumed by a larger audience? So students who encounter World War II only through a US history course might think that conflict only lasted four years because the only significant part of the war is when the US was involved. Or they might see it as a primarily Western event, losing the essential global dimensions of the conflict, if they think it “began” in 1939. And if one wanted to open up a whole new can of worms, what about the wars of national liberation we associate with decolonization? Could they be interpreted as part of the “World War?” We know the “Cold War” became hot on occasion; why not see events like Korea as parts of the global conflict that didn’t end in 1945 so much as mutate into a more dispersed insurgency? Pinning 1945 as the “end” of World War II implicitly states that the war was over when the Western Great Powers—via nuclear weapons—said that it was. Is that true? Maybe. In any case, it’s certainly worth asking.

If we want students to learn in a deep and meaningful way, we need to problematize the material. Students should be asked to confront what they thought was familiar in unfamiliar and problematic ways. In this creative dissonance, learning and critical understanding flourish. So even if we don’t want to adjust the end date of World War II, it’s an exercise that can pay significant dividends by challenging our students’ notions of the “historical fact.”


I’ve been thinking about periodization a lot lately, because I think we’re doing it wrong with what we typically call the Civil War and Reconstruction. In the typical survey course, textbook, or scholarly treatment of the conflict, we encounter the war from 1861 to 1865, and then Reconstruction from 1865 (unless it’s 1863) to 1877 (unless it’s 1871 or 1886 or 1890 or ongoing). As the ambiguity surrounding “when Reconstruction happened” suggests, perhaps it’s worth reconceptualizing how we define the “Civil War” as a process in historical time. I think it’s instructive to look at how we view wars in other historical eras—to put it simply, why do wars get shorter in the 20th century? World War I? 1914-1918. World War II? 1939(ish)-1945. The Gulf War? 1991. Modern technology has brought us shorter wars! Hooray!

I’m (sort of) joking here, but it’s interesting, isn’t it, that we put a narrower and narrower boundary around more recent conflicts? I think there’s a great case for looking at the “Gulf War” as beginning with the 1991 US invasion of Iraq and continuing through the present; the reality on the ground doesn’t lend itself to an argument that the war ever stopped, does it? Yet, look at earlier epochs: they knew how to have a long war! The Barbarian Invasions of Rome. The Hundred Years’ War. Hell, the Thirty Years’ War was a model of brevity compared to its forebears. Facetiousness aside, the periodization we use for those conflicts gets at the long-term nature of both their causes and consequences. Arguing for a conception of the French Revolution lasting from 1789-1815 speaks to this longer view, as does a more expansive consideration of the global conflict of which the American Revolution was a part. And some of the more innovative scholarship on recent conflicts takes a similar approach-studies that place the Vietnam War into the larger anticolonial struggle, for example, or sees the American Revolution as a longer-term struggle that was continental in scope.

In that spirit, I’d argue for looking at the mid- to late-nineteenth century in North America (primarily, but not exclusively, the United States) as the “Long Civil War” (I’m definitely open to suggestions on this one). If the Civil War was a contest over slavery and freedom as competing visions of an expanded American state, why not look at the US invasion of Mexico in 1846 as the first chapter of that struggle? It’s not like violence—nay, warfare—didn’t occur between then and 1861. Ask the Californios or indigenous peoples of the Pacific coast. Ask the Kansans and “Border Ruffians.” Hell, ask Charles Sumner and John Brown and the proto-army that took shape in the South after Brown’s raid. Seen in this light, the secession crisis of 1860-61 intensified warfare that was diffuse and regional into a truly continental affair by consolidating and expanding the political-military coalitions involved.

Moreover, there’s a compelling argument to ditching the notion that the Civil War ended in 1865. Gregory Downs, for example, argues precisely that in his masterful study of the Union’s military occupation of the erstwhile Confederate states from 1865-1871. Downs characterizes this period as an “insurgent phase” of the war, where each side used violent force to shape the outcome of the conflict. This interpretation has the singular advantage of allowing us to see clearly the scope and scale of violence in the South after 1865. You don’t need generals and armies to lay waste to populations and civil order. I’d take this even further, however, and look at the so-called “Indian Wars” of the 1870s and 1880s not as a separate conflict, but another chapter in this Long Civil War. The Civil War was a struggle for the shape of the American state to come. Would the expanded continental empire be organized and administered as a Free Labor society? Or would it be a slaveholder’s empire, pursuing the aims of a master class and the crucial chattel foundation of its wealth and herrenvolk identity? Even though the Union victory “ended” chattel slavery (terms and conditions apply), the profoundly racialized nature of free labor ideology meant that white supremacy would, in the main, steer the ship of state after Appomattox. “Reunion” in the 1870s was made possible not only because northern politicians and their public were willing to “forget about the Negro” (in the words on one northern editor), but because the remaking of the trans-Mississippi West united northern and southern whites in a free-labor, privatization crusade against the region’s Indian peoples. What we’ve traditionally seen as the entire Civil War, 1861-1865, might be more accurately conceived as a chapter within the larger war (hitherto analyzed as separate conflicts) that reshaped the North American continent from 1846 to 1886. The invasion of Mexico and the Dawes Severalty Act were the bookends of a settler colonial revolution, the result of which was contested in various turns by Mexicans, self-styled Confederate whites, and Native peoples.

Training our analytical lens on the Long Civil War of 1846-1886 offers a number of interpretive advantages. It allows us to see the larger ways in which racial and racist ideologies shaped not only the pitched warfare of 1861-1865, but the violent struggle for mastery of much of North America in the surrounding decades. It prevents us from seeing “reconstruction” as a period where peace returned and the issues that divided the United States were magically resolved; instead, we see the ways in which continuing violence defined the reality of many groups of North Americans, even after representatives of the white elite signed a document at Appomattox Court House. And above all, we can take a more integrated approach to the ways in which white Americans expanded a specific form of racialized hegemony over much of the continent, a prelude of sorts to overseas imperialism at the end of the century. Conceiving of a Long Civil War prevents the myopia of overly-narrow periodization from placing analytical blinders upon us, and challenges us to make the type of connections that truly illuminate the larger historical processes at work. And that alone commends it to our historical imaginations.

Bibliographic note: On the post-Appomattox insurgency, see Gregory Downs, After Appomattox: Military Occupation and the Ends of War. For links between post-1865 efforts at reconstruction and the trans-Mississippi West, see Heather Cox Richardson’s excellent West from Appomattox: The Reconstruction of America after the Civil War. On settler colonialism and its analytical utility for this era, my thinking has been influenced by Lorenzo Veracini, Settler Colonialism: A Theoretical Overview and James Belich, Replenishing the Earth: The Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Angloworld.

via The Tattooed Professor

Do Your Students Take Good Notes?

Via ProfHackerProfHacker – Blogs – The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Whether — and how — students take notes in class is an evergreen topic in discussions of teaching and learning. Unfortunately, I often find myself frustrated and annoyed when I’m explaining something in class and look out at a room full of students who are, admittedly, paying attention to what I’m saying but writing down not a single thing in their notes. Frustration and annoyance do not make for good pedagogy, though, and my off-the-cuff comments in response to this particular student behavior are probably among the reasons students often write in course evaluations that I’m too sarcastic. So in my teaching I’m working on front-loading an explanation of the relationship between what happens during class time — no, we’re not just having an unstructured conversation about things — and the designated learning outcomes of the course, as well as the role played by memory and such learning strategies as taking notes.

It’s clearly not enough just to harangue students about their inadequate classroom behavior; instructors should think carefully about what and why they want students to engage in certain practices and make clear to students what the reasons are.

Here at ProfHacker, back in 2011, Nels published a discussion of why it’s important to explain to your students not just that they should take notes, but more importantly why they should take notes:

When I started teaching, I never gave a reason to take notes… If students came to me asking for help generating ideas for their writing, I would start by asking what was in their notes. Often, the answer was nothing. So, after that, I started telling students why they should take notes. I explained how notes should help them with future work. I pointed out how class discussions and other activities were meant to help complete their next formal assignment or something else happening later in the course.

And in the pre-ProfHacker days, Jason explained his “Wikified Class Notes” assignment:

Many students take almost no notes in English classes, especially upper-division English classes, and especially when class discussions turn to close reading. That leaves students: 1) unprepared for exams; 2) without a sense that there is a body of knowledge/practice emerging during the class; and 3) slightly cynical about the purposes of class time.

In 2013, at Faculty Focus, Maryellen Weimer offers a number “tips for developing students’ note-taking skills“:

Beyond being an essential basic skill, note-taking offers students the opportunity to make the material their own. That doesn’t involve making it mean whatever they want it to mean, but it does allow them to interact with it in ways that develop the learner’s understanding of it. Now, this doesn’t happen when students equate note-taking with stenography and copy down exactly what the teacher says, and it doesn’t happen when students recopy their notes and think that’s studying. But it does happen when students work on and with their notes—when they put definitions into their own works, when they list relevant pages in the text, when they re-order the material so that it better connects with their knowledge, and when they write summaries and relate details to main points.

Weimar describes 7 different specific things that instructors can do in the classroom to get students taking better notes. What I like about this approach, as well as those offered by Nels and Jason, is that it goes beyond an inadequate “these kids today” gripe about what students aren’t doing and instead provides concrete practices designed to teach students the value of a basic skill that they might not already have in their intellectual toolbox. (And it also takes us beyond the dead-before-its-feet-hit-the-ground conversation about whether or not to allow laptops in class, a debate that allows too many of us to think that banning laptops somehow guarantees a better learning experience for students without any deeper thought being given to the relationship between what happens in the classroom, what students should be learning, and how to actively engage in pedagogical practices that improve learning.)

What do you do in your teaching to facilitate effective note-taking by your students? Do you have specific assignments that involve students’ notes? Do you lecture or facilitate discussions in ways that make note-taking easier? Please share your strategies in the comments!

[CC-licensed Flickr photo by Yusuf C]

Hillary Clinton’s Plan For America’s Students

Via NPR Ed : NPR:

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s detailed education policies are rooted in investments in education and economic growth.

LA Johnson/NPR

For nearly as long as she’s been in the public eye, Hillary Clinton has counted the well-being of children among her defining causes — from the bestselling 1996 book (and enduring cliche) It Takes A Village to her advocacy for the State Child Health Insurance Program. This presidential campaign has been no exception, except if anything, she’s been working even harder to draw connections between investments in education and economic growth. Here’s a rundown of her positions from cradle to college.

Her opponent Donald Trump has released no such details, but you can read what he may be thinking here.

Early Childhood

Clinton has made childcare and early childhood education a key plank of her campaign, including:

She also has proposals to lower the cost of childcare for families, and particularly for parents who are also college students.

She hasn’t talked a lot about how she would pay for these proposals, which the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates could cost up to half a trillion dollars.

Higher Education

"Free college" was a major rallying cry for Clinton’s primary opponent, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. At the Democratic Convention, Sanders gave a speech endorsing Clinton, in which he said:

" … We have come together on a proposal that will revolutionize higher education in America. It will guarantee that the children of any family [in] this country with an annual income of $125,000 a year or less — 83 percent of our population — will be able to go to a public college or university tuition-free. That proposal also substantially reduces student debt."

Clinton has also proposed a three-month moratorium on all student debt payments. If you’re an entrepreneur, the freeze could be extended up to three years. And she’s backed universal free community college.

Taken together, the CRFB estimates these proposals could cost another half- trillion dollars if phased in over four years.

K-12 Schools

Clinton talks less about the details of her K-12 education proposals than she does about either higher ed or early childhood — maybe because there’s a wider range of opinions among Democrats about the best ways to improve public education.

On her website, she calls for "a campaign to elevate and modernize the teaching profession." On the stump, she’s said, "I respect teachers and educators – and I want to give them the support they need to do the job we ask."

Clinton’s platform calls for:

It’s also worth noting that, at the Democratic National Convention where Clinton was nominated, the party adopted significant changes to its education platform:

  • Support for the right of parents to opt their children out of standardized tests.
  • Opposition to "high stakes standardized tests" used to close schools, withhold funding, or to evaluate teachers.
  • Moderated support for charter schools, insisting that they be "democratically governed" and that they not displace neighborhood schools.

All of these changes were perceived as union-friendly and cut somewhat against the grain of President Obama’s education policy. In particular, his Race to the Top initiative explicitly encouraged states to use test scores in teacher evaluations, an approach that’s been extremely unpopular with teachers’ unions and has also drawn the ire of measurement experts at the American Statistical Association.

It’s unclear how these party positions might translate into policy under a Clinton administration.

What we do know is that she was endorsed relatively early, last July, by the American Federation of Teachers. Both Randi Weingarten, head of the AFT, and Lily Eskelsen-Garcia, the head of the other large education union, the National Education Association, have been full-throated Clinton surrogates.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit NPR.

Shaken By Economic Change, ‘Non-Traditional’ Students Are Becoming The New Normal

Via NPR Ed : NPR:

September 25, 20168:35 AM ET

Asia Duncan, 32, is formerly a seller for a jewelry maker. Now, she’s attending Pasadena City College and is working to be a doctor.

Maya Sugarman for NPR

New community college student Asia Duncan makes her way to class up an outdoor stairwell on the sun-filled campus of Pasadena City College in southern California.

"I’m actually headed to an ‘Intro to College’ class," she says. "They’re teaching you about college and what’s a unit."

It’s a class about taking classes?

"Exactly," she says, "It’s telling me where on campus I can find different resources. So some of it is helpful."

The resources Duncan needs most now may not be things the school can help much with: childcare and income.

Duncan is a 30-year-old single mom with two boys: Leo, 8, and 18-month-old Ray. The father of her children, she says, is not yet paying child support.

"Now everything is kind of falling on my lap: two kids, I’ve got to kind of get my priorities in line and go back to school and do what I need to do."

Duncan studies for a modern genetics class in the backyard of her Pasadena home. Once in medical school, she’s hoping to go into dermatology.

Maya Sugarman for NPR

Fresh out of high school, Duncan went into the retail jewelry business.

She earned a gemology certificate and worked in retail and corporate jewelry sales in Washington State and Louisiana for more than a decade. "I assumed I was going to live and die in the jewelry industry and work there forever, really."

These days, free babysitting from her grandmother who lives nearby helps a lot. And federal Pell Grants make a big difference with tuition.

But it’s a struggle. She’s now looking to take out student loans -– soon.

She’s happy, though: She’s getting good grades at Pasadena City College, which she says has been welcoming and supportive.

"I didn’t really realize that I was going to like it so much. I think it’s just the excitement of where this education is taking me."

She hopes it takes her on to a four-year school and, eventually, medical school — maybe dermatology: "I think I just want a job, a position, a career where I don’t have to worry about money. I don’t have to think about that. And I also want to be able to help someone."

While colleges and universities have seen enrollment growth follow every recession since 1980, the boost in enrollment following the Great Recession was far greater than previous.

And a growing number of those students enrolling are older, working, have a family -– or all three.

Nearly half of those enrolled in higher ed today are so-called "non-traditional" students. One quarter of all students are over the age of 30.

The increase is driven mostly by tough financial realities and a changing economy.

Duncan says she felt some angst about going to college later than most. How will I relate to 19- or 20-year-olds, she thought?

Yet they’ve been supportive and helpful, she says, even though she sometimes feels a little "hungrier" for school than some of her classmates.

"When I say hungrier, I mean I have to get this done. It’s not an option for me. I can’t take another two years off from school. I can’t afford it. These younger students, they do have an opportunity to maybe postpone school and go and figure themselves out. A lot of younger students, they don’t know — and that’s OK," she says, adding "I’m coming in a little bit older and a little bit wiser and know what I want."

Chuck Sewell is another adult student taking that journey.

He grew up in a large, poor and — by his own account — dysfunctional family. He left school after the fifth grade to help care for his siblings. He eventually got a GED.

By his late teens he had found a career path — residential real estate -– and ran with it. Over the next three decades he built a successful business flipping homes, renting homes, staging properties and serving as an agent.

But when the Great Recession hit, that all came crashing down. He lost everything. For a time he was living out of his truck. "Ended up homeless. Didn’t have very much money left," he says. "It was a tough time to go through. Emotionally, psychologically – it was very difficult."

After a few years adrift — "I think I was in shock," he says — Sewell found the strength to make a change. "I knew I needed to support myself for the rest of my life. I decided to go back to school. I’d always wanted an education. I felt cheated out of my education because of my childhood and was very eager to go back. That was exciting to me," Sewell says.

Now, at 58, Sewell is getting straight A’s at Pasadena City College.

Inspired by his own financial and emotional challenges after wiping out during the recession, he wants to eventually get a master’s degree in social work. "I want to give back," he says, "I want to help people."

Duncan and Sewell are hardly alone: Almost half of all undergraduate students in higher education today can be categorized as "non-traditional." At America’s community colleges, those students are the vast majority.

Those realities underscore how outdated the term "non-traditional student" really is, says Yancey Gulley, an assistant professor at Western Carolina University. Gulley says that label sends older students a damaging message "that this place ‘is not made for me.’ We just keep ‘othering’ them and reminding them that this is a chance we’re giving them, we actually don’t think we belong here."

The terminology debate gets to a much larger issue: Gulley argues that too few four-year institutions are adequately addressing the fact that they are run on the antiquated idea they mainly serve students in the 18-to-24 range.

One example — many adult learners take courses in the evenings when campus services are closed. "What if they need tutoring help?" Gulley asks. "What if they need to drop by the admissions office to change their program of study? What if they need to meet with financial aid?"

More and more schools "are having to adapt their policies and practices around these older learners," says Deborah Seymour with the American Council on Education’s Center for Education Attainment and Innovation. "They can’t isolate themselves from what is slowly becoming more than 50 percent of the student population," she says.

The hurdles for older students, she says, are often greater: many are juggling work and family with school. Many need to catch up on basic courses. "And the pressures are greater," Seymour says, "they may have fewer years left to work. It’s a very practical challenge for people."

More colleges and universities need to become better equipped to address the needs of older students, she says. And soon. The already large adult student population is projected to grown even larger in coming years.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit NPR.

Trump questions spending decisions of colleges with large endowments

Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for president, on Thursday outlined his first specific idea on how to make colleges more affordable. He said that he would work with Congress to pressure institutions with large endowments to spend more on students — or to face a loss of their tax-exempt status.

A detailed plan was not released, but Trump said in a speech in Pennsylvania that college debt is having a devastating impact on many students and graduates. And he criticized the spending decisions of colleges and universities with "multi-billion dollar endowments."

According to a Washington Post account of the speech, he said that endowment spending should focus on students. "Instead these universities use the money to pay their administrators, to put donors’ names on their buildings, or just store the money, keep it and invest it. In fact, many universities spend more on private-equity fund managers than on tuition programs…. But they should be using the money on students, for tuition, for student life and for student housing. That’s what it’s supposed to be for.”

On student loans, he said: “The students are choking on those loans. They can’t pay them back. Before they start, they’re in trouble. And it’s something I hear more and more and it’s one of the things I hear more than anything else,”

Trump has suggested for weeks that he would be making proposals on college affordability.

Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, has made college affordability a major part of her campaign and has been talking about it quite a bit on the campaign trail. Her proposal would make in-state public higher education free for students with family income of up to $125,000. She has also proposed a three-month moratorium for all federal student loan borrowers on repaying their debt, during which time borrowers would get help refinancing their loans or moving into income-driven repayment plans.

Trump’s proposal comes at a time that some Republicans in Congress and some experts who focus on low-income students have been suggesting that wealthy colleges should be spending more of their endowments on financial aid.

Regardless of what one thinks of those approaches, a key fact is that the overwhelming majority of college students enroll at institutions without large endowments. Further, some of the colleges and universities most generous with student aid — including those at which low-income students do not have to borrow at all — are among those with multi-billion endowments.

While endowment values fluctuate, about 50 colleges and universities are in the category of "multi-billion" cited by Trump. Close to another 50 may have endowments of $1 billion but less than $2 billion.

Large Endowments Reporting Losses

Trump’s proposal also comes as some of the largest endowments in higher education are reporting losses for the last fiscal year.

On Thursday, Harvard University’s endowment — the largest higher education endowment — reported that it lost 2 percent in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2016. A report released by the Harvard Management Company blamed a "low interest rate environment and market volatility," but also admitted that "execution was also a key factor in this year’s disappointing results."

The value of the endowment on June 30 was still enormous compared to the rest of higher education: $35.7 billion.

But an analysis by Bloomberg said that the most recent returns are part of "a decade of lackluster returns compared with the school’s elite rivals."

And Harvard is not the only university with a significant endowment reporting losses. Many large public universities — including the Universities of California, Colorado, North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Iowa, Washington and Virginia; and Ohio State University — are reporting losses in the last year.

Response From Pro-Clinton Group

Correct the Record, a pro-Clinton group, released a statement Thursday denouncing the Trump proposal:

“Trump introduced what appeared to be an attempt at a college affordability proposal, which is ironic coming from the man behind the student-swindling Trump University and Trump Institute. He has no credibility to speak about affordable and high-quality education when his own employees were told to target single parents desperate to feed their children and encourage students to drain their retirement accounts. Americans deserve better than Donald Trump.


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via Inside Higher Ed