Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Arts education in higher education

The pattern of declining arts education from Kindergarten through college in U.S.A. educational settings is easily documented and has had a clear outcome - indifference to the arts in many people's lives. The pattern in many other countries around the world is very different. Arts education, and particularly music, in many Asian countries is still a prominent part of family life and children's learning discipline, poise, and a variety of other things. The outcome in other countries is that concert halls and art galleries are publicly supported and attendance is still abundant and multi-generational.

Steve Mintz' essay on the decline of the arts in the U.S.A. raises the specter that perhaps we (meaning Americans) are becoming Philistines who "deprecate the arts, who favor kitsch over more demanding art forms and who fail, to a disturbing degree, to patronize the arts and artists." Mintz notes The Music Man subtext of people yearning for something beyond their mundane existence as evidence of the need to support the arts. This theme is threaded through much of art - visual, music, literature, architecture - all aspiring to something greater, whether it is social change or simply the lifting up of the human spirit. This view of the elevation of the human spirit through arts drove the Medici family of Florence during the Renaissance and, more recently, drove the Rockefeller family in the 20th century to collect and protect the greatest art treasures we have today.

An irony at a time when fear of world war has been sparked by Russia's invasion of Ukraine and when popular culture now crossed the line with a live telecast of an assault by Will Smith against Chris Rock, is that one piece of music is being used in many places to celebrate brotherhood and striving for a better world - Beethoven's Symphony No. 9. And it's prescient that this masterpiece was composed almost 200 years ago at this very time with its first performance on May 7, 1824, in Vienna. Beethoven was iconoclastic to say the least and that's why his music is often viewed as difficult for mere mortals to understand. However, the 9th, the first time a chorus would be introduced in symphonic form, is unarguable and easily understood - "Joy! Joy! Brothers, you should run your race. Like a hero going to victory."

We need aspiration and lifting up and there's no better way than through the arts. Enough sad from a lifetime avocational musician.

Monday, April 4, 2022

2022-23 Enrollment outlook

Colleges and universities are struggling to know what the new normal of enrollment will include. One thing that is clear is that the pandemic impacted current and prospective students in very different ways. Early evidence indicated that selective and elite institutions received more applications than ever before and moved toward being even more discriminating in their offers of admission while other institutions left admissions open beyond the May 1 deadline observed by most institutions. With a decline in college aspiration throughout the U.S.A., all states are at risk. Tennessee is an example of one state trying to reverse downward trends.

Effective recruitment and subsequent yield strategies are key to institutions' success in maintaining or growing enrollment. A central issue for current prospective students is that they expect immediate response to their on-line inquiries and 80% reported that they were likely to accept the first admission offer that came their way. Concourse is reversing the recruitment and admissions process by encouraging students to build a profile and then let participating institutions peruse prospects that may be a good fit. The pilot appealed to international and low-income students who are often at a disadvantage in knowing how to negotiate complex and competitive admissions hurdles. Concourse reflects the shift from institutional selectivity to prospect opportunity, which could be a game changer, but it's too early to tell how broad an impact it might have.

As the admission offer and response deadlines extend past May 1, competition increased with local alumni-hosted receptions, more campus visits, and phone calls designed to convince prospects to make a decision. Particularly for less selective institutions whose brand may not be widely known, creativity has led to offering uniquely niched programs such as Duquesne University's day of stuffing 75,744 meals to support U.S. Hunger work.

When prospective students were offered the option of choosing lower cost versus higher cost institutions, their preference leaned in the direction of accepting higher cost, assuming that services provided to them would be superior. The list of things for which students were willing to pay more included better residence halls and dining halls. Paying more seemed to relate to the perception that higher resourced institutions had more financial aid available to dispense to students, a fact that makes the issue of cost comparison and fit very confusing for prospects. The rising rate of tuition discounting among many institutions is evidence that increased price is being used to reflect higher value while awards and scholarships are handed out to lower the actual cost to students. Tuition discounting is seen as a vulnerability to institutions yet some administrators indicate that "net revenue" is a better indicator of financial health.

Some hope can be drawn from the increased state funding for education seen in 2021, although some of this increase was related to pandemic assistance funding. Prospective students seem to be willing to pay more for perceived higher quality, as evidenced by a decline in FAFSA completion rates and the fact that more students are funding their own expenses, instead of relying on parents. The Education Department is reforming its student loan servicing system, a move designed to simplify access and improve transparency. But the shortage of staff to process scholarship and loan applications may bog down students' ability to fund their education. Affordability will no doubt play an important role as numerous institutions announced tuition hikes for 2022-23.

Careful planning to reach prospective students is an important phase of enrollment planning for institutions. Focusing attention on prospective student influencers, such as parents, is key. Student Voice research looked at what students want and how they collect information on campuses of interest to them. Key issues involved improving both virtual and in-person touring, direct access to peers for advice, and addressing quality of academic programs and cost of attendance. Most of all, all students deserve to have a clear path toward acquiring a degree, with special attention to students who previously completed courses but did not graduate.

One of the fundamental questions that some have raised is, how is selectivity among elite institutions working for anyone? Ways elitism doesn't work is reflected in considerable evidence that learning is enhanced more by how students engage while in college than where they attend. In addition, those students who achieve admission to elite institutions are potentially impaired by the cocoon of privilege they enter during their enrollment. Perhaps most negatively, the broad message higher education sends in celebrating selectivity is that certain students are more gifted and important than those who are not admitted to elite institutions. This "better than" perspective is damaging to everyone, especially when legacy admissions tip the scale of admission toward the most privileged and networked applicants.

The perceived value of pursuing a higher education among young Americans varies considerably. With 85% of students indicating that "getting a job" is one of their major priorities in pursuing a higher education, offering more direct pathways and embedded messaging about work is a growing priority at some institutions. Attending an expensive school serves many privileged students but lower-income students can benefit as well. Research on lower-income students proved that Hispanic serving institutions often have a significant impact on economic mobility. The President of Lehman College, a Hispanic-serving institutions in the Bronx linked touting economic mobility as an enticement for students who have to endure many sacrifices in order to pursue a higher education. Federal Reserve Bank assessment, "Economic Well-being of U.S. Households in 2021," included questions about what is spent in order to attend colleges and universities and the perceived return on investment. Higher levels of debt incurred and non-completion of degrees are negatively associated with ROI. Those who have college degrees generally perceive they are "doing okay" financially. Promoting the financial benefits of college attendance should not only include the promise of a better life but also high expectation of completion and low debt when degrees are granted.

Many colleges and universities are pivoting to prospective students from minority backgrounds in order to fill enrollment gaps, a compensatory move that may reverse the declining proportion of minority students intending to study beyond high school. Often characterized as the model minority, Asian American students represent high potential but others have lower college attendance numbers. The college preparation gap, the biggest obstacle to recruiting and then retaining minority students through graduation, is real but can be corrected. Another essential move is making the ranks of college faculty more reflective of the students colleges and universities seek to enroll. To correct the imbalance Hispanic-serving research universities launched an alliance to attract and retain higher numbers of graduate students and faculty and the Native Forward Scholarship Fund supports Native American students achieve graduate degrees. Supporting a strong research community and nurturing future faculty is central to a positive learning environment for minority students.

The pivot to minority students is sometimes justified as enriching the learning experience, sometimes to address the ethical obligation of providing access, and for others it's unclear. The targeted recruitment of minority students is often done by over-representing the number of students from diverse backgrounds or by inviting minority prospects to events targeted specifically to them. The problem - prospects see through these strategies and don't resonate. Some institutions connect recipients of scholarships with wealthy donors in order to reinforce the donor relationships, but the strategy may offend low-income and minority honorees.

Stop-outs and transfers are two groups that could bolster enrollment. The proportion of stop-outs varies by institution type and demographics, with students in associate degree programs the most vulnerable. The number of students who do not complete their degrees has increased for two years in a row and the number of students who continue their education by transferring from 2 to 4 year institutions dropped by 11.6% from 2020 to 202. Setting an expectation of continuing study and offering approaches to make it possible might include characterizing students as "exploratory" rather than undecided. Other strategies such as Ask-Connect-Inspire-Plan model can help. Technology tools are also available to streamline the transfer process so that retention and advancement to higher levels of education can be addressed. Attracting stop-outs back may result in multi-generational attendance at some institutions, which would in crease numbers as well as the quality of learning for all.

But what will happen for other institutions and how will this change the face of higher education around the world? Domestic enrollments as a proportion of total enrollment is somewhat more stable than international enrollment, which is highly influenced by economics and public policy decisions. A particular example is that of higher education in the United Kingdom. With the two largest sources of current international students being China, which is declining slightly, and India, which is growing, the Brexit decision appears to be sending more students to Canada - particularly Indian but also European. Enrollment of international students in the U.S.A. is the largest in the world, largely the result of the variety of options and many high quality STEM programs. The extension of COVID guidelines into 2022-23 for international students enrollment in on-line courses may help retain those already engaged in U.S.A. institutions.

This post will be successively updated as more information comes available so please come back as we are able to piece the enrollment picture for 2022-23 together.

Zooming and compartmentalization

Zoom is one of those pandemic phenomena that is likely to not go away, even as campuses return to in-person instruction and other experiences. Whether Zoom is used for business or personal communication, it is now pervasive in most people's lives, allowing for greater ease in scheduling meetings and allowing us to include friends/colleagues who would in past worlds not be able to participate.

Joshua Kim offers advice on how Zoom has changed campus meetings. Reading the list will surely result in plenty of nodding heads and resigned shrugs. Zoom has been helpful in many ways but the fatigue of back-to-back Zoom meetings and the loss of "hallway" and incidental conversation present significant challenges. The additional issue not addressed in Kim's advice is that Zoom meetings do not allow for a personal touch or the reading of non-verbals, both of which engender trust.

As Zoom increased access, staff were reduced, and demands increased, some educators have withdrawn or sought greater compartmentalization of their lives. Privileged faculty have always had the luxury of flexible work schedules and discretion in how they contributed their time. This privilege is now sought by other staff who increasingly see themselves as burnt out. In order to respect others' needs, Joshua Kim recommends, "be sure that you value other people's time... don't request time and energy unless completely necessary,.. and stop assuming that others share your priorities."