Thursday, December 1, 2022

FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 raises academic questions

The FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 is raising academic freedom concerns related to Qatar's Education City American branch programs. Geoff Harkness, who formerly served in a postdoctoral teaching role for Carnegie Mellon University and Northwestern University in Qatar, commented "The World Cup is a branding opportunity of a lifetime for a country like Qatar... Education, and Education City in particular, is a big part of the image that Qatar is trying to project to the world, using the World Cup as a platform to do so." Harkness claimed he left his teaching roles in 2013 partially due to concerns over academic freedom.

Craig LaMay, who taught and served for a time as the Dean of Northwestern's program, said that he was once ordered to cancel a student event that included a gay performer. As a result, he "remained unconvinced and uncertain about the country's prospects as a higher education destination, noting that a lot of institutions were rethinking the value of international campuses more widely, not just in Qatar."

Another Carnegie Mellon University faculty member, David Busch, reflected on his two years at the Qatar campus. His essay referenced F. Scott Fitzgerald's assertion in "The Crack-Up" that "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function." He went on to describe asking students in his class to debate the historical record of race in the U.S.A. and a current pressing public policy issue. The students explored the same issues related to Qatar on a second day. The example was used to demonstrate Fitzgerald's thesis that first-rate intelligence could see both the negative and positive aspects of the two governments. Busch assessed the debate about the U.S.A. as effective but he was disappointed in the defensiveness he observed when it came to Qatar, supporting the Fitzgerald thesis in one case but not in the other. When exploring whether or not teaching in Qatar was effective or defensible, Busch cited Fitzgerald again - "I must hold in balance the sense of the futility of effort... and the sense of the necessity to struggle."

Having worked for Qatar Foundation and interacted with faculty and students of branch programs on a regular basis from 2007-14, I recognize the tensions that Harkness and LaMay expressed. I saw the tensions somewhat differently as a result of my working directly with QF and Qatari colleagues where faculty working for the branches have much less contact with the real people and leaders of the country. My view is that significant change has been, and continues to be, underway. A deep encounter of cultural perspectives like that of U.S.A. academic institutions in an Islamic monarchy is destined to have points of conflict on everything from recognition of LGBTQ+ rights to free speech and more. The point for me was and continues to be that the change process is underway and that it requires adaptive responses among everyone and every institution involved.

Monday, November 28, 2022

Social media for academics

The controversy over Elon Musk's purchase of Twitter has caused many academics and others to withdraw from, or cancel, their subscriptions. I've struggled with what to do, recognizing that I get a lot of my early notifications on world issues through my Twitter feed. Even though I have few followers and most of my posts are ignored, I remain a Twitter subscriber for now. Interestingly enough, the only example where I get likes or reposts is if I post on Pete Buttigieg. He must have an amazingly attentive social media team!

Insider Higher Education's Ray Shroeder offered perspective on social media presence that helped me look at which platforms are worth retaining and others to consider. Some of the dispersion of academic Twitter usage is going to Mastodon but other platforms may emerge. Considering Twitter's instability, LinkedIn is apparently expanding beyond job future networking. I only sporadically use LinkedIn and, as with any social media, consistent promotion and amplification is required in order to be anything close to an influencer. The other platform he noted was Blogger, which I began using in 2005 and through which I maintain two blogs - Pursuing Leadership by Denny and this Global Student Affairs blog. My followers are few in number and it is questionable how useful my involvement is but I stick with it in order to stay contemporary.

A major question related to social media is whether my participation is about gathering information or offering my views and influencing thinking. I would love to know what you're thinking. Please let me know where you are headed in your social media. Also, let me know if you see value in any of my posts on Blogger, Twitter, or LinkedIn. My blogs were unfortunately dominated by foreign intrusion several years ago so I closed down comments. The other two platforms are still readily available for likes and comments.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Anti-corruption major and COVID protests in Chinese universities

Sixteen universities in China are rolling out a new major in anti-corruption. The new undergraduate focus is a response to "China's need for more skilled graduates to root out administrative misconduct." However, some "raised concerns about the future employability of students majoring in the topic and their retention in the public sector."

The question that immediately comes to mind is how corruption is defined and the potential that it might even include views or actions that challenge communist ideology. Reducing corruption in private and public behavior is important in all countries but how that is defined is critical.

As the focus on corruption gains traction, Chinese higher education is facing protests that mirror the national push-back on COVID restrictions. Blank sheets of paper have become the symbol of protest, due to Chinese citizens fear of reprisal for voicing their views. The implications for U.S.A. study abroad and branch programs or campuses in China are significant.

Friday, November 11, 2022

Russian education - moving toward indoctrination?

Is the new required course design for Russian higher education, "Fundamentals of Russian Statehood," just another course or an example of increasing attempts to indoctrinate? The creators of the course are stalwart Putin and state supporters. The ideological bent of the course has caused some academics to fear encroachment into academic freedom but others simply view the course as a hurdle that students will be able to circumvent through cheating and apathy. Previous attempts at state brainwashing improved "students' skill at cheating and thwarting attendance monitors," commented an alumna of Saint Petersburg State University who subsequently completed the master's program in international education at the University of Oxford.

Russia and China have both attempted to move up in the world rankings of academic institutions, primarily by supporting research and placement of academic articles in prestigious journals. The problem is that academic substance and positive student outcomes are related to a broader array of opportunity - student engagement, dialogue across difference, and critical thinking as examples. Will Russian and Chinese educators eventually recognize that the path to academic excellence isn't just in the research rankings but also the experience of students?

Thursday, October 20, 2022

2022-23 enrollment and signs of 2023-24

I previously offered a cumulative post of the 2022-23 enrollment outlook. Now the figures are coming in and, while not devastating, the figures paint a picture of continued decline of enrollment at U.S.A. institutions of 1.1%. National Student Clearinghouse research captures the essence of this year's outcomes, "Our biggest concern is that we aren't seeing a huge upsurge back in freshman enrollment at four-year institutions. So those two lost years of high school graduates who didn't enroll in fall 2020 or fall 2021, there's not a lot of evidence of them coming back."

On the more optimistic side, the early admissions projections for 2023-24 are showing promise. Of particular note are increases in both minority and international student applications.

During good economic times, enrollments generally decline and then rebound under poor conditions. With the U.S.A. presently in an in between time, this trend may not be relevant. However, the decline in trust of higher education, especially among more conservative families, is a new factor that may be impacting enrollment trends. Especially when cost is an issue for everyone, finding ways to revive a commitment to higher education is essential. Overt commitment of institutions to learner and learning-centered endeavors is important to maintaining favor with those who aspire to attend college as well as to cultivate the skeptics. The skeptics are found most often among more conservative groups, a dynamic that will likely continue to impact higher education pricing and ultimate enrollment.

Rising tuition is an outcome of a trend that started in the years of Ronald Reagan's governorship in California. Prior to his years, California boasted one of the best and least expensive systems in the U.S.A. With his persistence, the trend reversed in California and perhaps the entire nation. And now we are in a period where the public benefit of going to college is no longer recognized. As Nicole Barbaro indicates, "The cost of college today is economically too high, but there is another - though less tangible - cost of today's high tuition prices: the loss of intellectual curiosity. By approaching higher education primarily as a means to pursue job training at scale, for which students should be responsible for paying the bulk of the costs, we have successfully stifled the notion of learning for learning's sake - and made doing so unaffordable to most."

Innovations such as direct admissions are boosting application numbers at many institutions but the degree of "melt" in admission to enrollment is very unstable. One thing that may help is that most institutions have not raised tuition, although the impact of inflation for all institutions has not yet been taken into account in pricing. Other colleges are cutting tuition - dramatically - as a "reset" of tuition pricing, and accompanying discounting, that got out of hand.

As the demographics of the U.S.A. continue to diversify, students of color are increasingly sought to bolster enrollment. However, long-term systemic racism among students of color requires greater financial assistance in order to attend and complete college degrees. The Biden administration initiative to cancel previous student loan debt is an important step to rectify historic disadvantage. Going forward, institutions will have to determine pricing structures that offer more opportunity to diverse populations if they are to hold enrollment proportions even close to former decades. The Disney World strategy rewarding those who pay higher prices with line-jumping privileges should not be a model emulated in higher education.

Increased international student enrollment bolstered the budgets of many institutions prior to the pandemic. However, the number of internationals dropped dramatically when the pandemic took hold; the numbers rebounded but have not returned to previous levels. William Brustein, who stepped down from his position because he saw a decline in WVU's commitment to internationalization, proposed, "elite institutions like those in the Ivy League won't have trouble recruiting wealthy international students or forging partnerships around the world... but other institutions may not fare so well, due to the high cost of U.S. undergraduate education, coupled with shifting views of its value abroad and a decline in support from college administrators." The latest figures indicate that new international student enrollment has rebounded to almost pre-pandemic levels, with graduate students driving much of the surge.

Inside Higher Education's compilation of enrollment management strategies is a resource for those seeking to maximize success in a shifting and competitive environment. Benchmarking and outlier innovation reveals that improving enrollment management is pretty straight-forward. Facing inflation and rising salary pressure, college leaders favor revenue recovery through retention of current students or finding ways to bring students who stopped-out back. Commitment to improving retention and graduation is key, especially since degree completion has stalled. Soliciting donor support is another strategy but success in raising enough money to make a difference is challenging.

U.S.A. higher education is at a critical juncture. The enrollment trends are not devastating but they are persistent in their decline. Confidence in higher education as a public good is no longer the common view of the goal of going to college. And, the costs are too high. I will add to this post going forward to mine for ideas that might help.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Increasing mental health needs

We learned many things from the COVID pandemic including what didn't work in various systems and supply changes on which we depended. Health and wellness is an area that was exacerbated by the isolation of months of shut-downs where personal interaction was replaced by a mass movement to virtual communication and meetings. The heightened awareness of both physical and mental health needs has reinforced the importance of providing a broader array of wellness interventions in higher education and community settings.

The soaring numbers related to anxiety disorder is one of the more prominent examples of unmet need. A close friend when I was a graduate student at CSU was a hilarious and talented student in veterinary medicine. He worked summer orientation with me and was selected as a resident assistant in my building. While serving as a resident assistant, he started coming to my apartment during the middle of the night, just wanting to be with me. All I knew to do was leave my door open to respond to his needs. When my company ceased to help, he went to the health center where he was prescribed medication. Unfortunately, medication ultimately seemed to exaggerate his symptoms. He withdrew from CSU to return home, broken by his inability to pursue his dream of becoming a vet.

Years later I began struggling with being able to sleep at night and I started having fearful thoughts that were almost obsessive. Immersed in frustration, I remembered my former friend and colleague and recognized the similarity between what I was experiencing and what caused him to leave his studies. I tracked him down to ask for his help. He immediately recognized my symptoms as similar to his own, symptoms that in the meantime had drawn him to pursue a doctorate in psychology with a research focus on anxiety disorder. To this day, I credit my friend and colleague with throwing me a life-line, one which prevented a deeper crash and offered hope (and success) in managing anxiety disorder throughout the rest of my adult life.

Anxiety disorder has now emerged as the most common of mental health needs. Estimates are that 34% of undergraduate students have some degree of anxiety disorder, a condition that appears to have been exacerbated by the COVID pandemic and perhaps the advance of technology that drives many young people deeply into isolation. The isolation and reduced interaction with others has been hypothesized as increasing the prevalence of anxiety disorder. Researchers have found that 64% of those who have dropped out of college had mental health-related reasons, 45% of which had no accommodation and 50% had limited access to mental health services. The impact of this in disrupted educational and personal life is unmeasurable. And, the cost of college drop-outs to institutions justifies the researchers' call that colleges must do more to address mental health needs.

But, addressing the increased prevalence of mental health complications requires more than just adding counselors. Some institutions resorted to out-sourcing counseling due to budget restrictions in the face of rising demand. However, relying on external providers neglects the role of community, which is the quality of addressing students' needs through connective, supportive, and positive environments for all. Encouraging resilience is an important part of a positive climate but it must not minimize the suffering experienced by those struggling with mental health. Officials at the University of New England say, "Messages of strength, resilience and the expectation of positive outcomes must extend beyond college counseling services to all aspects of the student experience" and well-coordinated networks of support should be a dependable dimension of the student experience.

My previous blog post on Health and Well-being in Higher Education addresses the variety of challenges related to the mental health needs of students, a phenomenon that is complicated and requires a comprehensive response. I'm thankful that educators are now understanding the need for greater mental health services and a more wholistic approach to it, a commitment that is reinforced by my personal experience and the professional role I played as a university administrator for over 40 years.

Friday, September 23, 2022

Open access to scholarship

The evolution of scientific understanding and stretching for innovation is one of the outcomes that higher education strives to achieve throughout the world. And, one of the primary ways that research and knowledge advances is through open access to outcomes.

After the Biden administration committed U.S.A. higher education to open access in publishing the findings of federally-funded research, other regions and countries are repositioning to remain part of the international scholarly discourse. It is unclear who will be involved and on what timeline but Asia is likely to follow the U.S.A. lead.

One of the factors that impacts open access is the fees charged by journals for open access publishing. Smaller countries may struggle to find the resources to fund these publications. However, in order to make sure that their scholars are part of the international conversations, even smaller countries will need to find a way.