Tag Archives: Administration

The Colleges Are Watching

Via The Atlantic: http://ift.tt/2fasrcd


A college degree may be the golden ticket to a better job, but that incentive alone isn’t enough to stop millions of students from dropping out of school. In fact, just over half of students complete their postsecondary degrees within six years. But a lack of academic preparation is not necessarily the saboteur of their success: More than 40 percent of dropouts left their studies with at least a B average, a recent analysis of 55 colleges showed.

Faced with bleak statistics such as these—in addition to scrutiny over their affordability—colleges are looking in the mirror to examine how they might do more for these students who have the talent to make it but ultimately don’t. At a growing number of schools in states like Maryland and Tennessee, the results of this soul-searching are starting to take shape as a series of digital columns and rows in spreadsheets. This reform practice even has a flashy name: predictive analytics.

Colleges have looked at student data before, but often “it’s data too late,” said Frederick Corey, the vice provost of undergraduate education at Arizona State University, who spoke at a meeting for education reporters last month.

Corey is one of the university’s main drivers of using data to improve the students’ academic experiences. While we may view lists of numbers as the arch expression of a campus’s impersonal attitude toward its students, predictive-analytics evangelists believe that data collected the right way ultimately can personalize a student’s time at a large school in ways that weren’t previously possible. The result is a system of timely suggestions that prompts students to perform the tasks that are shown to improve their chances of completing a course, and ultimately a degree. But while the potential is high, the risks are salient, too. When does a digital nudge turn into a dictum that prevents a student from chasing her dreams? And does that digital profile become a risk to the student’s privacy?

Institutions of higher learning have always gathered copious amounts of information about their students, from how many of them complete certain courses to how accurately a grade in one course predicts their success in harder classes down the line. But until recently, much of that information had been collected merely for accountability purposes—data that are shared, for example, with state and federal agencies that track how successful colleges are at graduating their students or giving them educations that allow them to earn living wages in the workplace. (It’s these data mandates that allow journalists to report on the previous year’s graduating class.)

But what about using these data to look ahead? “I just want to understand, why is the world of education obsessed with autopsy data?” Mark Milliron, the co-founder of education predictive analytics firm Civitas Learning, recalled his partner at work asking after a few months on the job. “It’s always studying data of students who are no longer [enrolled].” And often the data are sliced to show how the average student behaves, painting a picture of the typical student that actually applies to no one. “How many of us know people with 2.3 kids?” Milliron quipped.

And not all data are digital. Small colleges already have a type of predictive analytics built into its system, explained Milliron. Thanks to small faculty-to-student ratios, professors and administrators are able to make quick judgment calls about their students’ weaknesses or points of trouble—lack of participation in class, fear of making eye contact, the tremors in the voice hiding the embarrassment of being overwhelmed—and act on those observations. But “you’re probably not going to get that same personalized experience” at larger campuses where students are likelier to be the first in their families to vie for a bachelor’s degree and may not know how to navigate both the bureaucracies and expectations of a college education, Milliron said. With predictive analytics, “you’re connecting the dots so you’re not getting lost in the mix.”

Experts say a good predictive-analytics system avoids making recommendations based primarily on a student’s financial or cultural background. In Milliron’s experience, many colleges initially assume it’s enough just to observe that low-income students or those who belong to certain racial groups underperform; colleges would then make assumptions about students from similar backgrounds who enroll and then refer them to mentoring sessions or more time with advisers. “You’re insulting and-or stereotyping that student,” Milliron said. Worse, colleges may feel motivated to either exclude those students from their admissions or lower their standards for issuing degrees.

Rather than focusing exclusively on race or family income, a more precise predictor of success is whether or not a student’s financial aid is adequate to address her financial needs. Students stressing over holes in their finances are at greater risk of leaving college—as Temple University learned when it turned to data to boost its graduation rates. (In fact, hundreds of schools are offering emergency small loans and grants to students who may be at risk of dropping out due to diminished funds.) Another telltale sign that some students may be off track is whether they have enrolled in a key requisite to their major by a certain point early in their college tenure. Sending alerts to them or their advisors can preempt the cascading effects of taking the necessary classes too late.

Maintaining a staff of data analysts who are able to monitor student behavior in real time across multiple variables can be expensive for colleges, but the payoffs can be huge. Corey of Arizona State University said since his school began using predictive-analytics programs nearly a decade ago, it’s seen its graduation rate climb by 20 percent. One tool ASU has relied on is College Scheduler, a product that several hundred postsecondary institutions have used. Before they sign up for classes, students enter personal information into a dashboard program that spits out possible course schedules and take into consideration their personal and academic obligations, like being a working parent pursuing biology who has to pick up a daughter from daycare. The tool can be valuable because many students may otherwise end up taking courses that don’t count toward their major, wasting their time and financial aid. At ASU, the College Scheduler auto-populates with the courses students have to take, Corey said.

“Students, unless they’re John Nash, Jr., can never do that matching,” said Milliron, who added that College Scheduler has been shown to boost college-completion rates by more than three percent.

Still, all that data requires a high degree of training and security, because universities have “data points on a student encompassing almost every single aspect of that student’s life in a way that no one else does,” said Brenda Leong, a senior counsel and director of operations at the Future of Privacy Forum. Beyond the abuses of power that are potential hazards with the use of predictive analytics, there’s also the difficulty of ensuring a student’s privacy. Leong noted that just by knowing someone’s birth date, gender, and zip code, there’s an 87 percent chance she could determine that person’s identity. Leong said she often hears boosters of big data referring to the growing amounts of student information as “fields of gold.” “That’s the kind of phrase that puts a lot of people off,” she said. “It’s not data, it’s students; it’s real people with real lives.”

How these predictive data are relayed to students matters as much as the data itself, experts contend. Haughty notes or clinical red flags in students’ inboxes that caution they’re at risk of jeopardizing their academic futures because they’re not attending classes or logging into online portals to turn in homework can chase them away permanently. “This phrase, ‘You’re at risk’ is highly problematic. We never say to a student, ‘you’re at risk,’” Corey said. In recent years some scholars have been developing motivational language for students that strikes the right tone between concern and a kind call to action. The idea is to have colleges adopt these terms so students feel emboldened to improve rather than distraught over their limited success.

Milliron said more encouraging language would say something like, “just so you know, the next milestone is this course. If you pass this course at this level, you’ll triple your likelihood of graduating.”

But even that approach might lead to miscues. Leong warned that if professors are the ones monitoring the student data and firing off such missives, their opinion of the students may be altered. The professor could become overly solicitous or judgmental, undoing the potential benefit of the initial concern. One workaround is to have mentoring officers who are trained to speak sympathetically to struggling students send those notes and track the data.

In other words, predictive analytics is a few Jurassic eggs along in its evolution. Getting it right will take time, Milliron said. “Anybody who says they have this all figured out doesn’t know what they’re talking about.”


This article appears courtesy of the Education Writers Association.

The Reason Behind Colleges’ Ballooning Bureaucracies

Via The Atlantic: http://ift.tt/2dxrpH4


BANGOR, Maine—Post-It Notes stick to the few remaining photos hanging on the walls of the University of Maine System offices in a grand brick building that was, at one time, a W.T. Grant department store, built in 1948.

The notes are instructions for the movers, since the pictures and everything else are in the midst of being packed up and divided among the system’s seven campuses.

Only 20 people work here now, down from a peak of 120, and the rest will soon be gone, too, following their colleagues and fanning out to the campuses. Disassembled cubicles and crates of documents are piled in the corners of the 36,000-square-foot space, and light shines from the doors of the few lonely offices still occupied. All of the agency’s three floors in the building—located in a quiet part of town near a statue of the Bangor native Hannibal Hamlin, the vice president under Abraham Lincoln—have been put up for sale.

It’s part of a little-noticed but surprising shift under way that suggests new resolve in some places to improve the efficiency and productivity of stubbornly labor-intensive higher education.

Surprising because statistics suggest the opposite is happening. The number of people employed by public-university and college central-system offices like this one has kept creeping up, even since the start of the economic downturn and in spite of steep budget cuts, flat enrollment, and heightened scrutiny of administrative bloat.

Critics complain these offices often duplicate work already being done on the campuses they oversee and employ scores of bureaucrats who have no direct role in teaching or research. From just before the recession until 2014, the latest year for which figures are available, higher-education central-system office staffs grew by nearly 4 percent, according to federal data analyzed by the American Institutes for Research in collaboration with The Hechinger Report.

When private, for-profit university headquarters and the regional offices of California’s unusually structured community colleges are excluded, the increase in staffs was almost 9 percent.

While there’s no breakdown about how much central-system offices contribute to the cost of running universities, one survey in 2010-11 by the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems put the average at $484 per full-time student. The highest per-student cost rang in at $3,336, though which system spent what was cloaked from public view. This continued growth has happened at a time when states have collectively cut their higher-education spending by 18 percent, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, forcing hikes in tuition.

The University of Maine System central office is among those that grew the most. It ballooned by 26 percent, despite an enrollment decline and budget cuts resulting in the termination of at least five academic programs and 51 faculty members—among what a spokesman said were 902 jobs eliminated.

But while the persistent rise in the number of central-system bureaucrats seems to suggest insensitivity to how much colleges cost to run and who is forced to pay, it’s behind these figures that a change turns out to be under way.

After years of promising to save money by streamlining operations, cutting duplicate staffs, and maximizing purchasing power, some university systems have been forced by political pressure and economic realities to finally start doing it.

That helps account for much of the growth in central-system offices—employees in once-separate departments whose positions have been moved there from the campuses. This centralization could eventually help curb costs that contribute to rising tuition, some observers say.

“You’re moving functions from the campus to the central office, but you may save money ultimately,” said George Pernsteiner, the president of the State Higher Education Executive Offices Association and himself a former chancellor of the Oregon University System.

In Maine’s case, under what’s called the One University Initiative, the system has consolidated the budget, legal, personnel, information technology, insurance, purchasing, and other departments from its seven campuses. To save more money, the central-system office staff is being shifted from that now-nearly empty Bangor building to the campuses themselves, which had free space available.

Overall, system officials say, this reorganization has resulted in a 37 percent decline in the number of administrators at the universities and will save about $6.1 million a year.

Given its budget crisis, the chancellor, James Page—who was overseeing the transition— said, the system had little choice but “to become more efficient, to become more responsive … We had enormous redundancies that were inefficient, and we couldn’t take advantage of economies of scale.”

This is happening in other places, too. While each state is different, “There are many systems that have had to take advantage of those kind of efficiencies,” said Rebecca Martin, the executive director of the National Association of System Heads. “There are more people doing it and more people beginning to do it. Part of it is just the pressure to do better with the resources that we have.”

With its state-budget allocation cut by more than a third, the Louisiana State University System, for example, did away entirely with its separate system office and got rid of the position of system chancellor. Now all the campuses fall under the control of the president and top administrators of LSU’s flagship Baton Rouge campus. In a mirror image of what’s happening in Maine, some campus employees may soon move into newly vacant space in the building that once housed the system office at the edge of the campus.

Louisiana policymakers “saw [the budget problems] as an opportunity to take a look at something that had been on some people’s minds, which was, ‘Why do we have a system office and a major campus that both have CEOs located in the same footprint?’” said Dan Layzell, the LSU vice president for finance and administration. “Why do we have to have both a president and a chancellor? Why can’t one person do both jobs?”

Those are questions that have come up in Hawaii, too, for which the federal data show that the number of central-system office staff rose 33 percent between 2007 and 2014. One reason for the jump, officials there say, was a bookkeeping change that added the central administrators of the state’s community colleges to the total for the first time. There were also increases in the number of information-technology employees and managers to oversee the paperwork required by a growing amount of research.

A consultant hired by the Board of Regents to consider whether the system office and the job of system president should be eliminated recommended against it. However, the consultant found many redundancies, and a reorganization is underway to consolidate more services, said a spokesman, Dan Meisenzahl. “We’re just not getting a blank check any more and we have to show that every dollar given to us is spent wisely and efficiently.”

Not everyone is persuaded that public universities have fully embraced centralization.

“The people who run these universities have as their primary motivation their own self-interest,” said Howard Bunsis, a professor at the Eastern Michigan University College of Business. “It’s been a constant process to get administrations to think differently.”

Even if some system offices are finally taking over functions once left to the campuses, any widespread savings—as measured by collective reductions in positions and spending—have yet to show up.

The number of executive, administrative, and managerial employees on university campuses nationwide continued its relentless rise right through the recession, up by a collective 15 percent between 2007 and 2014, the federal data show. From 1987 to 2012, it doubled, far outpacing the growth in the numbers of students and faculty. At many four-year institutions, spending on administration has increased faster than spending on instruction, according to the Delta Cost Project, which tracks this.

National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education / The Hechinger Report

Now among the reasons some of these system offices continue to grow, many administrators insist, is that employees from the campuses are being transferred to them as a way of centralizing services or cutting other costs.

The University of Colorado System, for example, added staff to manage a new self-insurance program, which a spokesman said has saved $27 million since 2011. The number of employees at the district office for Chicago’s City Colleges grew 64 percent, but a spokeswoman said that was the result of centralizing functions previously handled by its seven separate colleges, which is saving $19 million a year.

When the University of North Texas System added a fourth four-year campus, “It made even greater sense to consolidate,” said the spokesman, Paul Corliss. Otherwise, he said, “We were going to have to build another staff.”

That realization triggered the system-wide centralization of information technology, human resources, purchasing, and payroll—more than doubling the size of the central office in the process, according to the federal figures. The change also saved  $5.6 million by prompting the renegotiation of IT contracts and the replacement or elimination of redundant technology; $1 million through collective buying; and $1.5 million by automating payroll and other services, Corliss said.

This hasn’t happened everywhere. The University of Alaska System Board of Regents, for example, commissioned a study into whether its three principal campuses should be melded into one accredited institution with a single administration; compiled by the interim chancellor of one of the schools, it recommended against the idea.

But the Delaware Technical and Community College did combine its three campuses into a single accredited institution with a central administration under which there is now one office instead of three.

“I don’t think it’s a huge leap” to conclude that steps like these are being forced by budget pressures, said Judi Sciple, the vice president for institutional effectiveness and college relations at Delaware Technical and Community College.

They’re still not easy, she said.

“I will be very honest: It took a while for the campuses to catch up that we weren’t having separate governance,” Sciple said. “It does take a few years to change a culture.”


This post appears courtesy of The Hechinger Report.

The Partnership Between Colleges and Helicopter Parents

A few days after dropping off her youngest child at college, Andrea got a phone call. The wounds in her daughter’s mouth from a recent wisdom-tooth surgery had gone septic. Andrea drove there immediately, located an oral surgeon in town, booked a room at the university hotel, and put her daughter to bed to recover. The next morning, Andrea went to her daughter’s classes, taking notes on her behalf. It was important to Andrea, a professor, and her husband, an MBA, that their daughter head into the first semester of college without missing a beat: A future dental career required four years of a stellar undergraduate academic record.

At the same time, another parent faced a different type of problem. Alexis had handpicked her daughter’s new university specifically for its Greek life, big-time sports, and array of not particularly challenging majors. She and her husband, a CFO of a major Fortune 500 company, were intent on giving their daughter the ideal social experience in college. But when she got there, she seemed not to hit her stride. Alexis blamed it on a working-class roommate who “didn’t ever want to go out [and] meet people”—and told her daughter, in no uncertain terms, to change roommates. Alexis also shipped bags of designer clothes to help her child fit in with affluent sorority members.

Both Andrea and Alexis are examples of “helicopter parents,” defined by their hovering and readiness with supplies, assistance, and guidance. Their interventions were costly—requiring time, financial reserves, social savvy, comfort with authority figures, and knowledge of higher education—though they had different purposes. While Andrea was a focused on her daughter’s human capital—the skills, credentials, and knowledge that often lead to career success and economic security—Alexis was invested in her daughter’s social and extracurricular activities, consumption, and sorority status. Her husband explicitly told their daughter to “marry rich” in the years after college.

I had the chance to observe these parents—and many others—from 2004 to 2009, when I followed 41 families as their children moved through a public flagship university. (As is typical practice in sociology research, the name of the university will remain anonymous—but it is representative of a typical experience for many public-university students across the U.S.) Parents of college students are rarely studied. However, many U.S. universities, particularly those lacking the deep pockets and extensive resources of elite privates, have come to rely on parents to fill numerous financial, advisory, and support functions.

My focus on parents of daughters was not incidental, as today the majority of college students are women; they enroll in and complete college at higher rates than men. The university these women attended has increasingly catered to out-of-state families who are willing to pay full tuition and board in exchange for a degree from a “name” school. And while the number of families I studied is small, I made up for it with depth of knowledge: All the students started college in same residence hall, where I observed them during their first year, after which I interviewed them every year for five years. As the women approached graduation, I also interviewed both their mothers and fathers.

Most—but not all—of the parents in my sample fell neatly into several categories. About two-fifths were “helicopter” parents like Andrea and Alexis, regarded in the media as among the most reviled figures of 21st-century parenting—pesky interlopers who test the patience of school officials, meddle with university affairs, and raise a generation of “coddled,” “entitled,” and “under-constructed” youth.

Yet intensive parenting is, in many ways, a logical response to the harsh risks facing young people during college and early adulthood. Increasing income inequality, high rates of young-adult unemployment, and a decline in stable and well-paying entry-level jobs loom threateningly in the foreground. Declines in state and federal support for higher education, coupled with rising administrative costs in a complex regulatory environment, have led to skyrocketing tuition. Additionally, the sheer diversity of academic and social options, particularly at large public universities, makes it easy for college students to make costly mistakes. Involved parents provide insurance against risk.

Professional-oriented helicopter parents like Andrea left nothing to chance—she began reviewing the dental graduate-school application process before college even began, and ensured that her daughter acquired the right experiences to secure a spot in a top institution. When a wealthy boyfriend nearly caused her daughter to fail organic chemistry, Andrea gently nudged him out of the picture by encouraging her daughter to focus on academics and friends instead. Dental school became a parental project—as her husband noted, “I’m happy because the way we did it worked out in terms of her being admitted to the graduate programs she wanted. I think the decisions we made were the right decisions.” Like Andrea’s daughter, all of the daughters in what I call the “professional-helicopter parent” group graduated from the flagship and all but one moved into professional careers or graduate school.

Social-life-oriented helicopter parents like Alexis—what I call “pink helicopters”—took a less academically intensive tact: They invested resources to enable their children to have the “best years of their lives.” Alexis’s daughter had a better GPA than most pink helicopters’ daughters, who hovered at a 3.0 or below. But, like many of them, she was gearing for a media career in sports marketing or communications—jobs that focused more on prior job experience and social connections than grades. Thankfully, her parents had this covered. During college they secured her several internships with a major media studio. After college, her father tapped his networks again, landing her a position paying $60,000 annually, in a company that was otherwise laying off workers. They put her up in a spacious two-bedroom apartment in New York City, which she shared with a sorority friend, and covered her portion of the $2,400 monthly rent. For the students parented by pink helicopters, graduation was universal—but only the most wealthy and well-connected parents could help their daughters secure post-college employment.

Another group of parents, whom I refer to as “paramedics,” played an active, but more hands-off role in their child’s college life. Knowledgeable about how college works, yet valuing their child’s autonomy, they allowed small mistakes as learning experiences, only swooping in to offer emergency care when little missteps blossomed into big crises. Paramedics were either affluent parents with humble roots or low-income parents with exposure to higher education. They were able to accurately assess and remedy serious threats, such a failure to make friends, a pattern of low grades, or growing antipathy. Often this required knowledge of how college works, willingness to intervene, and the ability to provide targeted cash infusions that allowed women to clear hurdles. Paramedics’ daughters tended to step off campus into near-immediate and emotional self-sufficiency. But sometimes these parents arrived on scene too late to offer a “fix”—consequently, a few women failed to graduate.

A third of the parents I observed were far less actively involved—and the outcome for these families could be bleak. Forced to the sidelines of their daughters’ lives at college, these parents were “bystanders” as they lacked the financial resources and educational experience necessary to help. As one such parent put it, “I didn’t know how things worked … never going to college myself.” Most worked long hours in manual labor or low-paid service positions, and hoped their kids would not be obliged to do the same. Another explained, “If we were attorneys, we’d maybe lead ’em down that path and know all the ins and outs about it, but we’re not. I’m a firefighter and I told [all of my kids], ‘You really don’t wanna be a firefighter.’”

Bystander-parents’ daughters faced two major problems. One was graduation. About half received no parental aid, and even sent money home; not one of these women graduated from the flagship in four years. Most found that leaving for a more affordable school was necessary. The other issue was employment. Their parents had assumed that a four-year degree guaranteed mobility; however, a year out of college, only one graduate had a job requiring a Bachelor’s degree, and some had as much as $50,000 in debt. As one father described, “It was a little deceptive in what [the university] said and then what they produced.”

Why does educational and professional success today—as my observations of these families suggest—seem to require moderate-to-extensive financial, emotional, and logistical parental support, through college and the transition to the labor force?

In large part, it reflects the shifting relationship between families and the university in the U.S. in the past century. Slowly after WWI and rapidly after WWII, many public universities were virtually free, as the government offered universities the resources to help families battle economic depression, poverty, and marginalization on the basis of race, class, gender, and religion. However, in the 1980s, the government shifted financial aid largely from grants to loans, making student debt the primary financier of higher education. Legislation beneficial to for-profit institutions siphoned funds from the public system, and state and local funding for public universities decreased significantly—causing them to function more like their private counterparts. Universities entered a period of heavy and expensive administrative growth as they faced new and intense accountability pressures. Without the supportive buffer of the state, families eventually came to absorb many of these costs.

Universities now rely, in part, on parents, particularly those with money, time, and connections, to meet their basic needs. Solvency is the most pressing one—net tuition now accounts for 47 percent of all public higher-education revenue, so schools necessarily prefer applicants who don’t require financial aid. Most public institutions, like the one I studied, are not need-blind, and take student funding into account. They particularly value out-of-state and international families who pay top dollar.

However, paying parents typically bring more than funds alone. They often help promote the university; conduct admissions interviews; interface with donating alumni; assist with their own students’ emotional, cognitive, and physical needs; and help place graduates (both related and not) in valuable internships and jobs. Competition to attract these parents is stiff—and administrators’ complaints about parental “meddling” are now tempered with interest in a “partnership relationship” with parents. As such, four-year schools structure their classes, activities, and living options around traditional students and expect parents to do the work of maintaining them, even as the financial, physical, and emotional costs of doing so continue to escalate.

But the new family-university partnership exacts a toll. Parents are pushed to extend major parenting responsibilities further into their own life course than they might ever have imagined, doing heavy financial lifting for their children at the same time they are supposed to be building their own financial security. And yet many parents in the middle-to-upper strata of the class structure readily accept these tasks, believing that a college experience is something that “good” parents offer. The emotional demands of intensive parenting put a strain on marriages and careers, especially for women who, as my study suggests, often do the lion’s share of this work. There is also some truth to the notion that the helicoptered children are slow to adapt to adulthood; daughters in the paramedic group, unlike their helicopter counterparts, were able to do things like balance their checkbooks, make decisions about their careers, and manage friendships without calling on their parents for help.

University outsourcing to parents only increases the salience of family background for post-college success, exacerbating existing class inequalities—and racial disparities. The promise of social mobility—once at the heart of the public university mission—is slipping away. Well-resourced parents, like Andrea and Alexis, are advantaged when parental labor is built into the very form and function of the university. They can simply out-fund, out-strategize, and out-network the competition. With each year that the parenting arms-race escalates, young people from modest means lose a little more ground.


This article has been adapted from Parenting to a Degree: How Family Matters for College Women’s Success.

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