Notes on Higher-Ed Well-Being

Why Go to College?

Our question is one that seems to be popping up with greater frequency these days. The cost of college is surely one factor, and the job market may be another. Peter Thiel, identified as an investor and entrepreneur, tackled the issue in a recent Washington Post article (23 November 2014). Here are a few of his comments:

  • Nothing forces us to funnel students into a tournament that bankrupts the losers and turns the winners into conformists. But that’s what will happen until we start questioning whether college is our only option.
  • Is college mostly about consumption? One look at a college brochure suggests that college students consume much more avidly than they invest. That’s why schools compete to attract student-consumers by furnishing a lively singles scene with plenty of time and space to party in glamorous surroundings. Or is college really insurance? Parents who despair of all the partying reassure themselves that college doesn’t have to guarantee a bright future so long as it wards off career disaster — sort of how nobody expects to make money buying car insurance.


Inside Higher Ed commissioned a survey of faculty members’ attitudes on technology. Here are a few highlights. For more, go to

  • Virtually all faculty members and technology administrators say meaningful student-teacher interaction is a hallmark of a quality online education, and that it is missing from most online courses.
  • A majority of faculty members with online teaching experience still say those courses produce results inferior to in-person courses.
  • Faculty members are overwhelmingly opposed to their institutions hiring outside “enablers” to manage any part of online course operation, even for marketing purposes.
  • Humanities instructors are most likely to say they have benefited from the digital humanities — but also that those digital techniques have been oversold.


Speaking to the University of Michigan faculty senate last week, Mark Schlissel, the university’s president, was candid in his assessment of the admissions process for athletes. “We admit students who aren’t as qualified,” he said. “And it’s probably the kids [whom] we admit [who] can’t honestly, even with lots of help, do the amount of work and the quality of work it takes to make progression from year to year.” His comments—made as the University of North Carolina is still in deep trouble from a high-profile academic scandal where athlete preparedness was a central issue—were perhaps too candid for some. And from another observer, Gerald Gurney, president of the Drake Group and the former president of the National Association of Academic Advisors for Athletics: “The original sin of college sports is willfully admitting deficient or unprepared students into an institution. … Admissions, specifically special admissions, is the single most problematic issue in college sports. It’s particularly troublesome with highly selective institutions.” Is it possible in one’s wildest imagination that admissions at a public institution of higher education in Maryland has been distorted to favor an athlete or other non-academic purpose?

Source of quotes: Inside Higher Ed, 19 November 2014

Let us not forget UNC, the institution that gave away thousands of good grades without requiring any work – any work! – just to keep athletes eligible. “A ‘woeful lack of oversight’ and a culture that confused academic freedom with a lack of accountability helped more than 3,100 students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill—many of them athletes—enroll and pass classes they never attended and which were not taught by a single faculty member.” (Jake New in Inside Higher Ed, 23 October 2014) Brian C. Rosenberg, the President of Macalester, thinks that UNC should lose accreditation: “Anything less would be dismissive of the many institutions whose transcripts actually have meaning.” Such prostitution by the academy surely deserves a severe sanction – which can be a warning to other campuses. The report on the UNC pollution is at Don’t read it if you avoid horror stories.

Time Teaching or…

The National Survey of Student Engagement has released its results for 2014. Here are two of many results reported in the study:

  • The more time faculty members spent trying to improve their teaching, the less time they spent lecturing in their courses and the more time they spent engaging students in discussion, small-group activities, student presentations or performances, and experiential activities.
  • Faculty members who spent more time working to improve their teaching interacted more with students and attached greater value to a supportive campus environment. They also had significantly higher learning expectations for their students and more often used effective teaching practices.

The full report is at

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