Friday, April 17, 2020

450,00 students in U.S.A. higher education are undocumented

A new report has revealed that more than 450,000 students presently studying in U.S.A. institutions lack documentation. Some notable characteristics of this population include; almost half came to the U.S.A. before age 12, over 80% study at public institutions, and almost half are from Hispanic or Latino backgrounds.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Higher education - coping with COVID-19

I created a narrative equivalent to a "Wordle" over the last several weeks on the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic for higher education. Now that the longer term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are unfolding, this "after COVID-19" blog post captures the thinking and action of institutions as they now move on (I will revise/update the post for several weeks going forward).

It's important to review how we got here in order to see the opportunities that lie ahead. A good place to start is with a post I did titled "Bremmer - Geopolitical recession and COVID-19." More than anyone else I've seen, Bremmer captured why the global response to COVID-19 has been so ineffective - it's because we have experienced a geopolitical (not initially economic) recession that increased isolationism, competition, and blaming that allowed the virus to spread unchecked. One of the most destructive examples of the recession from cooperative effort can be seen in the Trump administration's response, including silencing the CDC, rewriting medical statements to fit the Trump narrative, and contradicting scientific evidence on a regular basis.

The dysfunction of our global community is devastating, is instructive of where we now need to go, and reinforces that learning is a precious and essential resource which must be protected through an ongoing process of shared problem solving and leadership. In fact, the type of candid communication and leadership that is required may look much like historic models of political leadership in history. The urgency of managing stressful times, which include some dire predictions, may result in institutions looking as if they are withdrawing from public engagement when the best approach is to engage even more, creating the connections and providing the public benefit that higher education brings to all. New and returning students for Fall 2020 are a ready source of optimism in these difficult times says Eboo Patel, but COVID-19 outbreaks from fraternity parties demonstrate that some students do not see themselves as part of the solution. Even with the slippage of fraternity parties and other mass gatherings, some advocated reinforcing students' better selves (although others cautioned against relying too much on shaming students into compliance) when faculty and staff urge compliance with COVID-19 containment strategies. Going even further than shaming, some institutions were driven to suspend students who violated campus policies designed to deter the spread of COVID-19. Ultimately, students have to be engaged through positive involvement opportunities and a sense of shared responsibility and resulting impact reinforced.

When looking at the question of when and how to reopen campuses, Claire Laporte of Fordham University recommended careful planning that would include 'herd immunity" and policies/practices to protect vulnerable groups (such as older faculty). William Tierney asserted that reopening in Fall 2020 must look very different than previous approaches while Scott Galloway called reopening in any face-to-face way "consensual hallucination" and John Warner predicted squandering resources on reopening that could have been dedicated to improving better on-line learning. As the summer of 2020 evolved, some institutions that previously announced in-person instruction reverted to on-line learning and there were predictions of impending disaster for those who stuck with in-person strategy. The options under consideration have to be studied with the assumption that any number of "deals" or "circuit breakers" may require continuing adaptation. Business officers expressed increasing concern about disruption of budgets resulting from extra expenses and faltering enrollments; furloughs for staff were announced as one strategy when institutions began to open and accelerated once the academic year began. The predictions of the economic impact on institutions and diverse students are sobering to say the least and the impact  showed up in 2021 forecasts as well.

Survey responses documented broad reservations among faculty about returning to in person instruction. Edward Maloney and Joshua Kim proposed fifteen alternative scenarios from which students and faculty might choose for Fall 2020. Inside Higher Education's compilation of 2020 planning provided greater detail on trends throughout the U.S.A. and their "Taking Colleges Online" (preview available but report must be purchased) took it further into how to create sustainable and scalable approaches to online learning. Simulations were also proposed to help planners see how various strategies might look in practice.

A survey of presidents of colleges and universities in April 2020 (and updated in June 2020) summarized the many issues to consider as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, especially as many began to realize that previous existing problems were exacerbated in its aftermath and that learning for students was not what they hoped. Among the myriad concerns was determining when to return to in-person instruction. By the end of May, 53% of surveyed presidents indicated that their campuses were "very likely" and another 31% "somewhat likely" to return to in-person instruction for Fall 2020. Striving to maintain enrollment, some campuses have held steady or reduced tuition, which appeared to increase applications for admission. By June, enrollment news became increasingly uncertain, with public research universities holding steady but regional publicsprivate institutions, and community colleges more mixed. Advice to private universities included following the example of the non-profit sector by focusing on shared understanding, empowered leadership, mission alignment and other variables. The disparity in enrollment projections is driving new thinking about recruitment for future enrollment as well as recovery of lost students who stopped out. As more institutions weighed the risks and benefits of reopening campuses, presidents expressed concern related to liability should it not go well as lawyers provided advice on the types of issues to address in order to stay out of trouble. On top of the intricacy and urgency of decision making among administrators, faculty involvement in decision making has been neglected in some cases, leading to AAUP investigating if shared academic governance had been undermined in the process.

Niche survey of 100,000+ students concluded that the three top preferences were 1) returning to in-person classes, 2) block scheduling, and a 3) mix of in person and virtual instruction. University of Michigan faculty launched a MOOC "that offers inspiration and practical guidance on cultivating resilient pedagogical approaches and builds a new community of practitioners and scholars." Some educators urged a continued focus on mission-aligned instruction and preservation of core campus culture. Others saw the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to take another look at fundamental restructuring of the ways higher education functions and address persistent problems that have been ignored.

The American College Health Association guidelines, the Center for Disease Control guidelines of late May 2020 and amended in October 2020, and the Johns Hopkins University planning guide provide important guidance to assist institutions in their decision making. Nearing the traditional fall break, American College Health Association issued advice on how to manage students' Thanksgiving travel and how it could spread COVID-19. Institutions may find modeling what campus would look like as a way to prevent uncontrolled spread of COVID-19. They increasingly need to look at least 3-5 years into the future, perhaps considering Deloitte Consulting's scenarios. Beyond a core focus on physical health, some believe that the complex and deep needs of students may be neglectedAccess to mental health services has not adequately addressed the emotional insecurity that many students report and evidence indicated that students did not take advantage of the resources that could help them. As a result, some educators urged that attention be given to the critical need to cultivate community among students with one of the best ways being to reach out to student organizations. Instead of despondency, educators must imagine a different and new future where disruption and dislocation are the common denominator, where resilience is fostered (among faculty and students alike), and where transformation is the ultimate goal. Perhaps the COVID-19 crisis could even improve education by breaking the current static confines of education, helping students move beyond easy answers and thereby growing in their agency to work and live in a complicated world. A specific example of engaging students in real problems could be to mobilize them to help the U.S.A. reopen by serving in a core of contact tracers.

Resilience in relation to career is particularly important for adult learners who have lost jobs and now require retraining but younger students as well have great interest in preparing for career entry.  Rethinking career planning will also be required of faculty just entering their careersAcademic administrators need to look at policies and practices that will support faculty at all points of their careers. By embracing the disruption and focusing on the role higher education plays in preparing the future workforce, a new role for education can be found and we can begin to work together to correct the things that were not working before COVID-19. In addition to embracing the disruption, active communication with stakeholders about the outcomes of higher learning will be essential to reinvigorating colleges and universities throughout the world. With virtual interaction having led to "Zoom fatigue," other platforms for communicating and planning will hopefully emerge. 

A survey by Eduventures indicated that students place highest value on three dimensions of their experience - academics, extracurricular, and social life. In many ways, the lack of clarity about what the future holds is one of the most difficult challenges they face. Students' expectations can be addressed by a number of fundamental shifts including; redefinition of the role of the professoriate, refocus on the wholistic experience of students, new instructional innovations, and a more responsive curriculum. As institutions consider what changes are required in the shift from primarily face-to-face experiences to virtual or a mix, it is critical to foster an institutional ethos of optimism, a real commitment to enhancing student engagement, and include students in the planning. Maintaining some semblance of the collegiate experience is critical and there are ways to adapt this experience to an era of physical distancing that still includes active learning. By November 2020 faculty were able to refine approaches to on-line and hybrid instruction demonstrating that active engagement makes a very real difference. Preserving a residential experience, which has unique challenges, coupled with various forms of on-line learning has been proposed by some institutions. Corvias, a private developer of student housing, was rumored to have pressured campuses to keep residence halls open, which drew legislative concern. Health authorities also struggled with whether to send students who test COVID-19 positive home or quarantine them in campus residence halls. As universities disclosed their approaches to residence halls, some students expressed concern that these dense living situations would contribute to increased spread of COVID-19, which may be the cause of a predicted 40% no show rate among first-year students at 4-year residential colleges. Students who lived in residence halls reported more positive outcomes than those who did not in a late-fall 2020 survey. The number of students who choose to study abroad is likely to decline due to travel and host institution challenges. The good new is that expanded models for international exposure are emerging. These are examples of higher education institutions' commitment to holistic learning and there are many more.

The wholistic view of education in the U.S.A. is based on John Dewey's ideas at the dawn of the 20th century and resulted in the "American" style of education that includes critical thinking, affirms independence of thought, discovery learning, and activism. Keeping current students engaged through such things as traditions, arts, recreation/wellness, and clubs and organizations is central to maintaining this commitment. As the big athletic conferences moved to cancel Fall 2020 sports seasons, others followed and then some reversed course, the social bonding of cheering at intercollegiate athletics by students waned or disappeared; some view the down-scaling or loss of these extravagant sports events as a good thing. An example of working to compensate for these lost "collegiate experience" opportunities, New York Institute of Technology's Dean of Students initiated five student-focused strategies. Other institutions have launched lower-risk socializing opportunities (often outdoors) and required students to sign behavioral contracts in order to return to in-person learning.

Institutions announced intent to reopen and then some switched course as COVID-19 surged in the south, tipping more toward greater online learning.  August revealed hundreds of institutions reversing their decisions to offer in-person instruction, frequently as a result of faculty anxiety in "hot spot" areas. The anxiety among faculty became chronic as the pandemic continued and switches in strategy proliferated. As plans were announced and changed, it became clear that decisions about COVID-19 correlated to "red" and "blue" states, an unfortunate indication that science and health wasn't always the driving force behind decisions. Faculty parents felt even more pressure as a result of their institutions' lack of support in simultaneously managing teaching and parenting.

Strategies for reopening in-person instruction for Fall 2020 and beyond had to be nimble and flexible including; new calendars, blended in-person and on-line learning, reduced personal contact, extra semesters at no cost for students when progress is slowed, and technology strategies to push beyond the borders of geographic sites. William Tierney proposed a number of principles to secure the longer term future of higher education. Jose Antonio Bowen proposed five learning strategies that respond to the pandemic and innovate at the same time; quarantined residential communities, big problem interdisciplinary seminars, structured gap years, virtual and global partnerships, and relations-first hybrids. Posting other faculty and staff skeptical comments about a Fall 2020 semester, Eric Stoller provided advice on what actions can be taken even as institutions opened. Pleas for kindness as a rough and tumble academic year unfolds may or may not be embraced.

The possibilities for reopening higher education must be considered with the assumption that institutions as well as a broad spectrum of students, especially those of lower socio-economic status and students of color (i.e. those at HBCUs) will be impacted in different ways. As the outcomes of reopening in-person learning emerged, students at HBCUs were more compliant with campus strategies to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Some call for higher education to be one of the primary ways that the economic disparities revealed and exacerbated by COVID-19 will be resolved for the longer term. While international students have embraced online learning more than domestic peers, there are other challenges they face. The hope is that, after a quick shift to online instruction in the Spring of 2020, improved models will be available in the fall.

The growing evidence in mid-Summer 2020 was that students were ready to return to their studies, with only 7% indicating they would take time off for Fall 2020. By late October 2020, first-year student enrollment has already dropped by more than 16%. As institutions such as Georgia Tech sought to model the impact of in-person instruction, surveys found that many students didn't really trust their college's attempts to control the spread of COVID-19. Iowa graduate students and faculty staged a 'sickout' to protest the Universities reopening strategy. Multiple moments of truth came as COVID-19 cases among young adults rose, resulting in a variety of institutional strategies with the University of Tennessee, University of North Carolina, Oklahoma State University, Notre Dame, Michigan State (with large institutions experiencing large case counts) serving as select examples. There were so many changes at other institutions that a database is now available to track changes. Closing down in some case came as a result of pressure from local jurisdictions and county health officials as evidence mounted that counties with colleges and universities were accelerating in the number of COVID-19 cases. County health records reviewed later in the fall confirmed that deaths in those counties had doubled versus non-college counties increasing by 58% during the same period. Pressure from various sources resulted in changes when it should have been driven by clearly understood and communicated trigger conditions on campus. The University of Wisconsin's outbreak resulted in serious town-gown tensions and the University of Colorado's President moved instruction on-line and prohibited student gatherings on and off campus. Although closing was essential in these cases, it confirmed students' lack of trust in their schools' initial decision. Pressure increased for colleges and universities to move to online instruction as the failed openings mounted and cases spiked throughout the U.S.A. By November, many institutions that began fall instruction in person, reversed to on-line and sent students home for the remainder of the term. Some Asian universities have now moved to online as well. The first known student death from COVID-19 at Appalachian State University reinforced the reality of worst-case possibilities in managing the pandemic on campus.

Trump and his administration offered advice on how to handle sick students while simultaneously pushing institutions to open in-person instruction. Higher education leaders struggled to adopt approaches that don't exaggerate the uneven impact of the pandemic. Significant differences exist in the responses of colleges and universities, some of which is driven by the resources available at the institution. As proposals emerged to bolster the U.S.A. economy, Democrats included significant funding for higher education that was coupled with an expectation that states maintain their contributions rather than pulling back. Adding to the complexity of institutional decision making, Republicans and Democrats bickered back and forth about the viability and conditions under which institutions could reopen.

While certainly not the only representation of Dewey's philosophy, "student affairs" is one of the clearest examples of a commitment to engaged learning in U.S.A. higher education. As institutions moved to on-line instruction, student support services on many campuses were quickly outsourced just to provide the immediate support that students required. Looking toward the future, institutions are likely to incorporate a stronger team effort that relies on faculty and student affairs staff working together to provide wholistic learning and cultivation of graduates who see themselves as resilient, creative and capable of leadership in a changing world.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Are there limits to academic freedom for those committed to internationalization?

An issue I've often pondered is how the western higher education idea of academic freedom might need to be altered in the context of diverse political, economic, and social environments around the world. The University College of Dublin academic council is exploring what modifications may be necessary but the effort met with the predictable resistance. One of UCD's professors, Patrick Paul Walsh asserted that it was "'quite concerning' that the university 'would even consider trading off' academic freedom 'to profit from internationalization of education.'"

The academic council statement proposed that it was imperative for "a university with a large international footprint, to consider and appraise the risk of tension arising between the obligations regarding academic freedom and the strategic imperative to internationalize higher education." Continuing in the draft, "there is little firm ground (including case law) on which to rest an agreed definition of what academic freedom means" and "learning about and engaging with other traditions of academic freedom is a valuable component of such international partnerships."

In a review of MBS, Saudi Arabia, and Academic Freedom by Ben Hubbard, Joshua Kim reflects that there is a difference between freedom of the press, as protected by the First Amendment of the U.S.A. Constitution, and academic freedom. Freedom of the press allows for books such as Hubbard's to be published while academic freedom's intent is to "protect the ability of some academics... to pursue their scholarship" without fear of retribution or dismissal. Kim recognized that academic freedom is primarily available to senior and tenured faculty with adjuncts and staff not enjoying this privilege.

Kudos to University College of Dublin for taking on the question of how academic freedom may look in different political/cultural contexts. Other institutions are sure to follow, or should follow. Self-examination of those who have worked in a different culture or country will reveal that reconsideration of basic assumptions of inquiry and expression of dissenting ideas is a daily, if not minute by minute, consideration. The unexamined privilege of certain academics (e.g. senior faculty) versus others who serve higher education should also be considered.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Adapting to students

Reflect for a moment on how many conversations you've had with faculty and other colleagues where complaints about students was the central topic. Unfortunately, I've had far too many. My reaction to being part of these encounters has varied from ignoring it and hoping it will go away to defense of students, to adding my own complaints (just being honest).

The point is that those employed in higher education are often caught up in serving those for whom they have at least some modest disdain and these negative views often increase with the number of years educators have been in their career. Madeline St. Amour writes that helping faculty to adapt to changing demographics and attributes is a challenge. The disconnect is in some ways predictable for the nature of faculty (and some staff) is that they are at least one generation removed from current students' experiences or they come from a level of socio-economic privilege that resulted in a very different world view.

St. Amour provides examples of individuals and institutions striving to more effectively serve current students. The bottom line, especially with declining numbers of white and privileged students, is a commitment to student success for the more diverse students who now populate many campuses and programs.