Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Biden proposal for higher education

The long-awaited Biden plan for higher education funding was announced during his Presidential Address on April 28, 2021. The plan included free community college and targeted funding to support marginalized groups attend and succeed in higher education. However, Biden resisted calls to forgive college loan debt, which some believe is essential if wealth inequality is to be addressed. The focus on increasing success rates is a particularly important aspect of the funding plan, although some students may benefit from extended time and may not even complete their degrees. To accompany this long-term strategy, the Education Department issued a "Reopening Resource Site" to help institutions mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and get back to full operation.

The House Appropriations Committee moved ahead with a funding proposal that builds on Biden's original ideas and adds more funding. Seven appropriations bills totaling $272 million provided earmark funding that will benefit 228 institutions. The proposal will inevitably be modified as it moves forward but higher education officials are hopeful that increased funding will be the result.

The move to support community colleges, many expanding from 2-year to 4-year degrees, and expand opportunity for marginalized populations makes sense in the context of declining enrollments in community colleges across the U.S.A. Community college leadership welcomed the Biden focus on community colleges in the American Families Plan. Martha Parham, Senior Vice President of Public Relations for the American Association of Community Colleges, said that Biden's American Families Plan is "removing barriers to completion, and access and completion is what drives enrollment. So eliminating and eradicating those barriers to attendance and completion, I think, are going to be vital supports for regaining enrollment."

With Biden pushing for broad higher education funding, and the Department of Education having determined how $36 billion of pandemic support will be spent, congressional leaders pushed for greater transparency about the costs of attendance. Access and retention are both impacted by the perception of cost so transparency is an important part of the puzzle of expanding higher education opportunity.

U.S.A. federal agencies also began to craft policies to encourage international students to return for study. Measures include relaxed travel restrictions as well as expedited visa approval processing. The Trump era proposal to limit the duration of international student visas was also withdrawn by the Biden administration, confirming the broad condemnation of the Trump proposal.

The U.S.A. higher education system has to function at all levels in order to meet basic workforce demands as well as feed the research and innovation that has helped it prosper. And the higher education system has to be financially and logistically available to all citizens, regardless of age, socio-economic status, culture, or other distinction.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

COVID - higher education and faith communities

Sorting through the impact of COVID and devising a forward strategy for higher education has largely taken place within individual campuses or state systems, with some professional organizations offering recommendations. Faith communities have also suffered greatly and are looking for ways to pull out of the current tailspin they are experiencing. Two sources of information may help both higher education and faith community leaders - Brookings Institution and the Interfaith Youth Cord.

The Brookings Institution, which conducts research and publishes paper on a variety of topics, has recently focused on the implications of COVID in three brief, and important, articles:

These articles offer compelling complications and opportunities for higher education in particular. The fact that the rule of law and democracy in general has weakened is a matter of grave concern for all. Without multi-lateral initiative and willingness of governments to do what is in the best interest of all nations, the big challenges of climate change, wealth inequality, and the rise of authoritarian governments cannot be addressed. At the local U.S.A. level (and perhaps elsewhere), the different priorities of liberal-leaning urban areas and sprawling conservative rural areas is standing in the way of determining mutually beneficial solutions. These challenges require sophisticated and updated models to use in public policy negotiation and they require new approaches to political engagement among citizens that empowers citizens to act in mutual rather than competitive interest.

That the employment market has been disrupted is quite the understatement. As mature career workers saw their jobs disappear and new graduates could find no work over the last year, the disruption has become deeply painful. The opportunity for higher education is to see the trends, recenter programs and curricula to respond, and move quickly to serving as an engine of talent and economic prosperity for U.S.A. citizens and the immigrants surging at its borders.

In addition to the Brookings Institution, the Inter-Faith Youth Core has fostered many discussions about how faith groups can help their communities. They recently released research in partnership with PRRI on the faith-based implications of COVID vaccination. The video-conference discussion of the findings explores the implications of the research, concluding that herd immunity in the U.S.A. will be close to impossible to achieve unless faith communities get involved. The problem is most pronounced among protestant evangelic, minoritized Catholic, and other groups that have been influenced by conspiracy theories. These groups have historical and cultural reasons for their hesitation about vaccines that have to be taken seriously. Science-based responses will then have to be offered by the leaders and clergy of faith-based groups in order to persuade members of the positive personal as well as community benefits of full vaccination.

Higher education can play a role by accurately assessing where we are in addressing COVID and in devising ways to move ahead with the likelihood of it being with us for quite some time. Faith groups can build bridges, forge common ground, and advance ideas that embrace both science and faith. Organizations such as Brookings and the Interfaith Youth Core are important sources of external information to guide leaders in their deliberations and action.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Taiwan universities shifting to more English

After increasingly stretching its authority in Hong Kong, China has begun to target Taiwan. That places Taiwan in a position of needing to cultivate allies as well as needing to find a different major source of students for its universities.

Taiwan has depended on large numbers of Chinese students enrolling in its universities but now, with a decline in its own Taiwanese student demographics and tensions growing between China and Taiwan, Taiwan expects to see continued decline in prospects. Taiwan education leaders are now shifting more of the curriculum to English in order to be more attractive to international students. Instruction in English isn't only attractive to first language English speakers, but also a draw for students who speak other first languages but want to master English and see it as a ticket to opportunity and prosperity. The goal of a $35.5 million investment is for 50% of students to be bilingual within 10 years.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Political maneuvering

How politicians and policy makers choose to express liberal and conservative ideologies often confuses me. I am most often befuddled by conservative or libertarian views that assert states' rights and anti-big government perspectives yet devise governmental control mechanisms to support their political agenda. Such is the case with state initiatives seeking to influence public universities - two in Florida, one allowing students to video professors' lectures and discussions and another controlling international initiatives, and the other is Idaho where "social justice" initiatives are being targeted.

The Florida case has met with less acrimony thus far but could result in a chilling effect in classrooms as professors monitor their comments to keep from being recorded and then reported out of context for their liberal positions. Not only would professors be impacted but other students in classrooms would feel less free to ask questions or make comments if they knew they could be recorded by classmates.

In the other example, the University of Idaho's President spoke out publicly against state funding being held up because Republican lawmakers' objected to Boise State's "social justice" agenda. The targeting of Boise State resulted from the claim of a white male student that he was "degraded" for being white.

These two cases are clearly micromanaging higher education's purpose and programs in ways that look a lot like ideological control by a state entity.

While these interventions are underway, private institutions in South Carolina are suing the state for having denied funding to them. South Carolina has previously sought to protect religious freedom by disallowing state funding of religious colleges and universities, a provision that "protects religious freedom and protects taxpayers from being forced to fund instruction in religious beliefs to which they do not subscribe." The law suit seeks to reverse the prohibition on state funding to private institutions but what will these same institutions do if accepting state funding also resulted in strings attached to that funding? Strings attached such as allowing students to video classroom lectures/discussions or prohibitions of certain topics or views?

Friday, April 9, 2021

Diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI) and radical empathy

The myriad dynamics of campus inclusion have been a common theme in my posts for months. One post that has pulled numerous articles together charts the ramifications of the Black Lives Matter movement and its impact on higher education. Another post summarizes the emerging saga of the University of Richmond, beginning with commentary on its President's (Dr. Ron Crutcher) views on how to engage in discourse across difference. The story of the University remains deeply contentious for students and faculty.

At the core of Black Lives Matter and the University of Richmond controversy is the question of purpose. What is higher education attempting to achieve? A growing number of programs are titled and publications use the language of "diversity, equity, and inclusion," abbreviating this to DEI. The author of "Antinomies in the concepts of equity, diversity, and inclusion" differentiate the terms in ways to allow educators to be more clear about their goal. Agreeing to definitions isn't easy and the author goes on to say that, "we need to go beyond slogans and head nodding that suggests agreement when people are actually holding very different, and sometimes conflicting, ideas in their heads. Opening up those conversations, as many places have started to do, will surface some of these conflicting values. The resulting conversations will be difficult but necessary." The most critical part of moving ahead with DEI is purposeful action rather than rhetoric, which involves "disrupting and dismantling inequities."

In addition to more clearly defining the purpose of DEI programs, some assert needing to distinguish the difference between training and education. The authors write, "Given the urgency and the newfound will to reckon with past and present racial discrimination, it is unfortunate that colleges and universities have resorted to trainings. Often proven to be superficial and ineffective, diversity training should not be the default response for institutions. Instead, colleges and universities should invest in the most powerful tool of all to combat racial injustice: education," by taking  approaches such as "implicit bias" training to deeper levels by examining systemic issues and even broader diverse perspectives. Some scholars are driving deeper into the rhetoric of racism, focusing on the power of southern universities, and others advocate going to alumni to foster an understanding of racism and how to eliminate it in higher education settings. Pointers on teaching reimagined history provide guidance to correct the narrative of history that ignored or minimized injustice.

Diversity training gone wrong resulted in an EEOC complaint at Stanford by mental health professionals who were Jewish. The complainants assert that their identity was ignored in diversity training, placing them in a "white majority" category that denied their unique experience.

"Critical Race Theory" had become a central point of contention between those advocating DEI and those who oppose it. The Hannah-Jones 1619 Project and counter by the Trump administration in the 1776 Commission sets up the question - will history be taught recognizing the centrality of slavery and racial discrimination in the U.S.A. or will the reified notion of the U.S.A. being a noble state and defender of all citizens be the story that is perpetuated in classrooms at all levels of education? Legislation opposing the use of critical race theory has been proposed in 16 states, with Florida implementing not only a ban on DEI content but also allowing students to record and report professors. Debra Humphreys of the Lumina Foundation urged academics to stay the course. In the face of a resolution to be considered by the Board of Trustees of the University of Nebraska, the President issued a statement defending academic freedom.

Advancing whatever perspective one might have of DEI may require at least an element of what Terri Givens refers to as radical empathy, a commitment to "not only walking in someone else's shoes but also taking actions that will, in fact, help that person and improve society." Givens says that radical empathy includes; being willing to be vulnerable, becoming grounded in who you are, opening yourself to the experiences of others, practicing empathy, taking action, and creating change and building trust. I'm convinced that knowing oneself, being open to others, and being an agent for change are primary ways forward if we are to have inclusive communities in higher education and elsewhere. And I'm also convinced that embracing radical empathy has repercussions, especially related to disrupting the present by creating change; this should be understood from the beginning.

The espoused support for DEI has justifiably been increasing. Part of the DEI commitment is diversifying the demographics, expanding access and increasing retention, of faculty, staff, and students. Carson Byrd, author of Behind the Diversity Numbers, encourages carefully looking at how institutions interpret the data available to them. Cases such as IUPUI, which recognizes DEI contributions in promotion and tenure summaries, are rare in the face of many faculty from marginalized groups resigning after facing resistance or worse on their campuses. Budget constraints resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic have also resulted in some colleges and universities are making cuts to staffing that is likely to undermine the progress that is being made. The cuts are sometimes of faculty/staff from diverse backgrounds and sometimes directly in the organization units charged with advancing DEI outcomes.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

What employers want 2021

The latest American Association of Colleges and Universities research reinforces the importance of outcomes of a liberal education but identifies gaps in preparedness for the workplace. Accentuating the importance of the findings, Ashley Finley, AACU's VP for research and senior adviser, said "the bottom line is that at a time when colleges and universities might be tempted to retrench resources, specifically to limit breadth of learning and skill development, they should not."

Critical experiences that employers would like graduates to have include; workplace experience (ie. internships, work-study), engagement in the community, and global learning. At a time when the public trust in higher education has declined, employers have remained generally supportive of the focus and outcomes of higher education but gaps do exist. Specifically, the highest needs in employers' eyes are; working effectively in teams, critical thinking, analyzing and interpreting data, and application of learning to real world problems. With "working effectively in teams" rated the highest, special attention should be paid to improving students' experiences in groups. How faculty and student affairs educators prepare students for working in groups is key and should focus on the critical factors of understanding; the people (who's in the group), process, and feedback.

Friday, April 2, 2021

Anti-Asian racism

Public expressions and demonstrations to support Asian-Americans who have experienced discrimination, insults, and hostility have been growing. Due to the stereotypes of Asians as a model minority, coupled with dynamics and cultural expectations that result in Asian-American citizens remaining silent about their treatment, their concerns have often been unrecognized or ignored. 

The U.S.A. has a long history of government and private actions that marginalized Asian immigrant groups, and the diversity within these groups is significant. What we now see is young Asian Americans speaking up on behalf of their elders and themselves. In addition, academics have identified ways that faculty can begin to address Asian-American racism that is so common in higher education, including recognizing the power of language and stereotypes as well as pursuing scholarship that focuses more clearly on what can be done to combat it.

Initiatives to address Asian and Asian-American prejudice and discrimination are increasing across a variety of campuses. Grace Bautista, a senior at George Washington University commented, "Most of my friends and I have had an experience this year where we've been harassed on the street for being Asian or experienced some kind of anti-Asian sentiment." The result is greater pressure for campuses to revise curricula and address campus environment concerns. Asian-American faculty, staff, and students are likely to continue to push for greater awareness, with a level of urgency not seen before.

More women lead Irish higher education

Credited to the work of Mary Mitchell O'Connor, the previous higher education minister of Ireland who asserted that the lack of women in university leadership was "inexcusable," Ireland's universities are appointing an increasing number of female presidents, provosts, and heads of research. Mitch O'Connor expressed delight that, "Institutions 'embraced the spirit of the gender equality action plan,' which requires them to report progress on goals, actions and targets and potentially lose up to 10 percent of government funding if they fall short."