Higher education: Are we making the grade?
This month, my institution (The College of St. Scholastica) celebrated our centennial. In the middle of this celebration, we also had our 10-year re-authorization visit from the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) of North Central. All of us worked hard to prepare for the HLC visit, and some of our faculty and staff worked exceptionally hard. With all the celebrations and the extra work happening around campus, it was hard to even notice an uneventful, but momentous event that also occurred in October 2012. What was this event?
It was the fact that after 100 years, our enrollment of non-traditional students surpassed the enrollment of our traditional students. I am very impressed with the foresight of our academic leaders and key faculty members to launch extended sites and online programs over the last decade to meet the growing needs of the non-traditional students.
In higher education, we often hear the terms traditional and non-traditional. Do we all have a common understanding of what this means? After all, if non-traditional students now represent the majority of students attending our college, we should know how they are defined. Right?
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES, 2002) defines the non-traditional student as anyone who satisfies at least one of the following characteristics:
1) Delays enrollment (does not enter post-secondary education in the same calendar year that he or she finished high school);
2) Attends part-time for at least part of the academic year;
3) Works full-time (35 hours or more per week) while enrolled;
4) Is considered financially independent for purposes of determining eligibility for financial aid;
5) Has dependents other than a spouse (usually children, but sometimes others);
6) Is a single parent (either not married or married but separated and has dependents); and
7) Does not have a high school diploma (completed high school with a GED or other high school completion certificate or did not finish high school).
The NCES study reveals that that 76% of all undergraduates in 1999–2000 could be considered non-traditional. The study also segments this large population based on the number of the characteristics present. Students are considered “minimally non-traditional” if they have only one non-traditional characteristic, “moderately non-traditional” if they have two or three, and “highly non-traditional” if they have four or more.
Isn't this interesting! We now have minimally, moderately, and highly non-traditional students. If I look across our traditional students, however, I would even suggest that we could segment the traditional students into “pure traditional” and “minimally traditional.”
Using the NCES study as a framework, I would define “pure traditional” as a student with the following characteristics:
1) Enters post-secondary education in the same calendar year that he or she finished high school.
2) Attends full-time for the entire academic year.
3) Does not work while enrolled.
4) Is not financially independent for purposes of determining eligibility for financial aid.
5) Does not have any dependents.
6) Is not married.
I would then define a new category “minimally traditional” as a student with the following characteristics:
1) Enters post-secondary education in the same calendar year that he or she finished high school, but may need to extend their academic journey by reducing the number of classes taken.
2) Registers for the minimum credit load to maintain full time status.
3) Works up to 34 hours per week while enrolled.
4) Is not financially independent for purposes of determining eligibility for financial aid
5) Does not have any dependents.
6) Is not married.
Many of the students that I work with on campus are self-driven, career-focused, and debt-aware. I would classify these students in the “minimally traditional” segment. They are working between 10-20 hours/week, so that they don’t leave college with a huge debt.
So, in summary, we likely have the following five segments in higher education:
1) Pure traditional
2) Minimally traditional
3) Minimally non-traditional
4) Moderately non-traditional
5) Highly non-traditional
Based on demographics, the economy, and educational costs, it is clear that the only segment that appears to not be growing is “pure traditional.” I would even suggest that the current and future growth in private not-for-profit 4-year institutions, like St. Scholastica, will be in the “moderately” and “highly non-traditional” student segment. This could be alarming for many institutions. Why? The NCES study reveals that in 1999-2000, over 38% of the population of students at for-profit schools were in the “moderately non-traditional” segment and 35% in “highly non-traditional” segment. These are the segments with the lowest retention trends, and likely the highest default rates in student loans. Is your institution preparing for the unique educational needs of non-traditional and minimally traditional students? Are your institutional strategies aligned to meet the needs of these students? If not, it is time for your institution (and our government representatives at the local, state, and national level) to re-imagine the higher education student as a non-traditional or at least minimally traditional student.
National Center for Education Statistics (2002). "Special Analysis 2002 Nontraditional Undergraduates", Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. NCES study on Non-traditional students.
If you are interested in reading more about the growing population of non-traditional students, see Dr. Michael Offerman's blog The Other 85%.
During our annual Dean’s retreat last week, my colleagues and I were contemplating the new ideas swirling around in higher education to broaden access, decrease costs, improve educational outcomes, and ultimately improve our economy. These ideas have been around for some time, but they currently seem to be taking on heightened priority in higher education. These ideas include:
- Streamlining curricula and reducing credit requirements for undergraduate degrees
- Eliminating undergraduate majors with very small enrollments
- And other Web 2.0 technologies applied to learning...
For an instant, I thought of the concept of Egoless Programming proposed by Gerald Weinberg in the 1970’s. Weinberg’s premise was that in order for a computer programmer to become more effective and efficient in developing software for their organization, he or she needed to remain “egoless” with respect to their software code. They needed to accept that they could make mistakes and could benefit from having someone else review their work. They also needed to improve their productivity by looking for reusable code that they could simply use or slightly adapt. Weinberg also identified the need to be a good team player by being respectful and positive to colleagues. What does this have to do with improving higher education teaching? Maybe a lot!
I’ve adapted the Ten Commandments of Egoless Programming and applied them to higher education teaching. This is a draft, so feel free to comment and help me adapt my thinking. Here goes:
The Ten Commandments of Egoless Teaching
This set of guidelines is proposed to to help teachers keep themselves (their egos, actually) separate from student learning.
Adapted from Lamont Adams “Commandments of Egoless Programming” at http://www.techrepublic.com/article/download-the-buildercom-ten-commandments-of-egoless-programming/1045782
What do you think about this concept? Will it improve higher education outcomes? I would like to hear your thoughts.
p.s. Jerry - if you come across this blog entry, I can see that you are still very active at age 78. We talked on the phone when I was doing my PhD research in the late 1990's. Thanks for spending some time chatting with me and helping me refine my dissertation topic. Also, I want to thank you for your thought leadership around software engineering, egoless programming, and systems thinking! - Kurt
We continue to expand access to international trips for our students at the undergraduate and graduate level in the School of Business and Technology. Three years ago, when I arrived at the College of St. Scholastica, we provided student trips to Petrozavodsk, Russian; Ireland, and also had our first trip to China. Now, I'm happy to see that we have broadened our access to other locations and more students. Some of our undergraduate students have now traveled to India, as well as, Morrocco. We have also taken MBA students to Russia, China, and now India. In fact, we have a current group in India this week. See their blog:
I have also suggested to faculty members that we provide our students some experience in Brazil or Argentina. I am delighted to see that we are sending a group of MBA students to Argentina this Fall.
All these trips provide a great learning experience for our students and they likely will remember their experience for a lifetime.
Thanks for letting me share an accomplishment.
As a student, I’ve completed educational programs offered from public, private, and proprietary (also called for-profit) universities. I have to tell you that as a student, it didn’t cross my mind to consider the legal business status of the university. When I was a traditional college student, I attended the University of Wisconsin-Stout. It was close to home so that I could commute and save money. The Applied Math program offered an excellent foundation for someone (like me) that really didn’t know what I wanted to do when I graduated. I also was impressed with the program’s 98% placement rate and among the highest paying starting salaries for their graduates across the UW System. Although my undergraduate experience happened many years ago, I most valued the faculty members that challenged me during the 4 year journey towards a bachelor’s degree. The experience helped me get my first job at McDonald Douglas Aircraft (now Boeing).
My next educational experience was at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. This is a private college that offered a unique graduate program in software engineering that was one of a few across the country. At this stage in my life, the goal was no longer to get a broad educational foundation. Rather, I needed to establish even more credibility with the technical people working with me in the Research and Development area at Medtronic. I also needed to work full time, so having classes in the evening worked well. As in my earlier education, I most valued the faculty members that challenged me during this journey. Looking back at the experience, I believe the Master of Science degree in Software Engineering allowed me to refine my technical skills, gain recognition within Medtronic, and ultimately helped me get promoted into a management role.
As a manager of various software projects at Medtronic, I realized quickly that what I had learned as a technologist wasn’t helping me. In fact, the technology part of projects was often MUCH EASIER than the human and organizational aspects of the projects. I did the best job that I could, and my teams had many successful software releases, but I realized that there must be some knowledge that I needed to do a better job. I was fortunate to find a PhD in Applied Management program at Walden University (a proprietary school that is now owned by Laureate Education, Inc.). At this stage in my life, it was about developing a deep understanding of how to better manage technical people. I most valued the faculty members from around the country that challenged me to learn about human development, organizational theory, systems theory, etc. and apply this learning in my dissertation research. Looking back at this experience, I realized that it prepared me to enter higher education and help build the business and technology programs at Capella University in the early 2000’s.
As a student, did it matter to me if I attended a public, private, or proprietary college? I would say, no! It was really all about the quality of the faculty! However, things are more complicated today.
Public schools or state colleges are faced with funding challenges as states continue to reduce their financial contributions. It wasn’t too many year ago that state colleges would get 70% of their operating expenses covered by their states. Some state colleges are seeing this contribution go to 30% or less! What happens if this goes to zero? Today, students are likely seeing much larger class sizes. They are also seeing as much as 10% annual tuition increases. I was able to pay my tuition for my undergraduate education within the University of Wisconsin system by working at a gas station and being a statistics tutor (as I recall, both jobs paid $4/hour). Today, I would need to get a sizable student loan to complete my four year degree and it would likely take me more than four years!
Private schools are also faced with funding challenges, but to a lesser degree. Expenses, both faculty related and operational, continue to increase and it’s hard not passing these increases to the student. Endowments at the private schools are likely still down from poor financial performance in the market, as well as, reduction in the cash gifts because of the hard economic times. I’m seeing tuition increases in the 3-4% range for 2012. During my time at the University of St. Thomas, my employer paid for my entire graduate program. Today, I would likely need to pay out of pocket $10,000 to $20,000 because of the employer caps tied to IRS limits for tuition reimbursement. I still feel that this would be a good investment.
Proprietary or for-profit schools, have different challenges. Their enrollments are off because of economic, political, and regulatory issues. Expenses are up because many of the leading for-profits are pumping more funding into increasing the quality of their academic programs. Lower enrollments and increased expenses are tough on for-profits. On the positive side, many of the leading for-profits, like University of Phoenix, Capella, Strayer, DeVry, and even Walden (Laureate) are likely sitting on a large amount of cash to weather the storm. I’m seeing some tuition increases across the for-profits, but most in the 3-4% range. During my Walden experience, my employer paid for a portion of my doctorate program. I still ended up with a student loan of approximately $25,000. Today, I would likely have a much, MUCH larger loan. Would it be worth it? Yes, the doctorate opened up so many doors for me and ushered me into a new career in higher education.
New considerations for future students:
As a future student to a public, private, or proprietary college, I would suggest that you do some research to determine how financially sound these institutions are BEFORE jumping into your academic journey. I don’t think anyone wants to spend the time and money getting a diploma from a college that doesn’t exist a decade from now, right?
Public schools – I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these schools do not survive an ongoing tough economy with deep reduction in state funding. If you are interested in attending a state school, see if you can determine how financially secure they are for the future.
Private schools – What is the annual operation budget? What is annual revenue? How large is their endowment? Similar to our personal cash reserve, does the college have cash reserves to cover 6 months to a year of their annual operating budget?
Proprietary – An advantage of proprietary universities is that many are publically traded giving easy access to financial reports. Pull the latest quarterly report. Are enrollments meeting the forecasts? Are expenses being managed per expectations?
Looking at the financial health of a college is only one of many new criteria to evaluate. For more information on selecting a school, check out my slideshare presentation at: