Saturday, February 20, 2010

Higher Ed: When UI Loses Its Monopoly

February 20, 2010, 7:30 a.m.

From SUI to ACT
(brought to you by*)

Note: Today marks the first of a three-day series of news reports and opinion about the University of Iowa and its future. B.A. Morelli, "Is This The New UI? Teetering on the Brink; UI Officials Trying to Figure Out Where to go From Here; Finances," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 20, 2010, p. A1. (The related news items and opinion pieces are linked below, along with my commentary about them.)

The second, Sunday, February 21, deals with faculty: B.A. Morelli, "Pressure and scrutiny on faculty increase; UI officials trying to figure out where to go from here," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 21, 2010.

The final stories in the series (Monday, February 22) are: B.A. Morelli, "Return on investment; What will the UI student of the future look like?" Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 22, 2010, and B.A. Morelli, "Career mindset damaging to a complete education? Author cautions against trend," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 22, 2010.

And a big "hat's off" to Morelli for this quality bit of journalism and real tour-de-force three days of lengthy stories!

An op ed column of mine is included in today's (Feb. 20) paper: "What Happens if UI Were to Lose its Monopoly on Certification?" Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 20, 2010, p. A15. It deals with a subject I earlier addressed in this blog as, "From SUI to ACT: Higher Ed's Crumbling Monopoly," January 31, 2010.

Thus, perhaps a word about "SUI" and "ACT" is in order. What is today called "the University of Iowa" was created in 1847 as "the State University of Iowa," and was soon referred to as "SUI" -- giving rise to the call letters of the University's first radio station, WSUI.

So what is "ACT"? ACT's Web site says the organization's mission is "helping people achieve education and workplace success," and describes the organization as follows:

ACT is an independent, not-for-profit organization that provides a broad array of assessment, research, information, and program management solutions in the areas of education and workforce development.

In 2005, ACT began offering multimedia services appropriate for the classroom, homeschool students, business and industry, and on-the-job instruction at the Office for Distance Learning Resources.

Each year, ACT serves millions of people in high schools, colleges, professional associations, businesses, and government agencies—nationally and internationally. ACT has offices across the United States and throughout the world.
So now here is today's Press-Citizen op ed column in which I try to explain the possible transition I envision, "From SUI to ACT."

What Happens if UI Were to Lose its Monopoly on Certification?
Nicholas Johnson
Iowa City Press-Citizen
February 20, 2010, p. A15

Of all the reports about the challenges confronting higher education's missions, few address the worst-case scenario: the disappearance of universities as we know them. Unfortunately, the scenario has powerful analogies.

• Try 40, not 5-year plans. Over 40 years ago, when libraries had card catalogs, newspapers were printed, and TV only three networks, I predicted "Communications in the Year 2000" (ultimately a chapter in How to Talk Back to Your Television Set) would include "instantaneous, ubiquitous, no-cost access to all information." Today that's the Internet.

• The 99.99 percent-off sale. We're used to 10 percent to 50 percent-off sales. But 99.9 percent? Yet the $1 million computer 40 years ago is today $1,000 or less; 99.9 percent off. So what?

• Broadside blows. So unpredicted competition has caused companies and entire industries to disappear. That's "so what."

Ten years ago Facebook (300 million members), YouTube (20 hours of video uploaded each minute), Wikipedia (3 million articles; 161 language editions) and iPhone (3 billion downloaded applications) didn't exist.

The 4.5 billion smart phones in 200 countries have Internet capabilities. Cell phone networks may become the owners' preferred platform for the Internet.

Musicians no longer need record companies, filmmakers don't need studios, journalists newspapers, or authors publishers. Craig's List is the new classifieds. Amazon the new Sears. Downloaded movies closed video rental stores.

Why do we think our near-$300 billion higher education industry is immune to telecommunications tsunamis?

Forget for-profit Phoenix University. The online content of a Harvard, Yale or MIT undergraduate education is as free as the content of the New York Times. And 250 million Web sites provide the rest of what students need.

If students can learn for free, why pay? Because it's not about learning. It's about degrees. Degrees increase income, and universities control the degrees monopoly.

What if they didn't? Monopolies are fragile and short lived in today's "flat world."

• In 1971, 73 percent of college students wanted a "meaningful philosophy of life." Today, 78 percent identify "wealth" as their goal.

• Parents wonder if there will be enough of that wealth to make the $50,000-to-$200,000 cost of a B.A. plus professional degree a wise investment.

• Employers know a diploma doesn't guarantee basic math and language skills -- and that those skills don't require a diploma.

Southwest Airlines says, "we hire for attitude and train for skills." But as a local Fortune 500 executive told me, "We can't even train employees for skills if they haven't mastered the basics."

Passing the GED exam is high school equivalency. Passing the GRE, not the B.A., is the gateway to graduate school.

What if anyone could take a GRE-type exam, and if they pass have "college equivalency"? A local businessman told me he'd hire them for "college graduate" positions in a New York minute.

Educators are slow to change. Professors started lecturing 1,000 years ago because there were no books. Now, notwithstanding books, we're still lecturing to warm (if inattentive) bodies in lecture halls.

UI had a radio station 100 years ago (9YA); later the first voice AM west of the Mississippi; educational TV in the 1930s. Today those multi-million-dollar assets called WSUI and KSUI might as well be silent for all they're doing to advance the university's mission of engagement with the state's citizens.

Our university is among the nation's best. But we don't have 1,000 years this time. If UI ever loses its monopoly on certification, Marc Moen will be replacing four Pentacrest buildings with high-rise condos.

The certification process may remain in Iowa City, but be based on results of exams from ACT and Pearson, institutions with neither faculty nor students. Self study and certificates, rather than commencement ceremonies and diplomas, could become the passport to good pay for knowledge workers in a global economy.

It couldn't happen? I remember when no one else imagined a $1 million computer could ever sell for $1,000 and become part of a global network.
Nicholas Johnson teaches at the University of Iowa College of Law and maintains the blog, (where this discussion continues).


Note: Since writing that column I have learned of the "Kahn Academy." It turns out that not only can self-motivated students learn on their own, self-motivated professors can teach on their own -- via YouTube; see, e.g., the Kahn Academy's offerings on mathematics. And see video and transcript of this evening's (Feb. 22), "Math Wiz Adds New Tools to Take Education to New Limits," PBS Newshour, February 22, 2010, regarding the popularity of Kahn's approach.

And although this column/blog entry is focused on free, self-study college equivalency certification, consider "The [for-profit] University of Phoenix, with 455,600 students, is now the second-largest higher-education system in the country, larger than the California system and behind only the State University of New York. More than 90 percent of all the for-profit students are enrolled in degree-granting programs. 'They are clearly a threat for both public and private schools,' a consultant told The Chronicle of Higher Education this week." From a column very much worth reading in its entirety, written by an Iowa Board of Regents member and former President: Michael Gartner, "The Tuition Increase: Wrong on Every Front," CityView, February 11, 2010.

And for a confirmation of the beginning of the trend my op ed column projects, see, Diane Heldt, "College Growth: Online classes post huge growth in nation, Iowa," The Gazette, March 8, 2010, p. A1 (19 million students enroll in college each fall; nearly 5 million took at least one online course in the fall of 2008, a 17 percent increase over 2007 (while the total college enrollment increased only 1.2 percent); the online Phoenix University has gone from 25,000 students in 1995 to 456,000 as of last month -- more than the undergraduate enrollment of all the Big Ten Conference schools combined; for-profit online schools now educate 7 percent of all college students). Of course, the op ed column I wrote, above, projects a future in which both conventional, and for-profit, colleges have lost their monopoly on the granting of "college-equivalency certification," making "free" college education possible. That future is far from certain at this point. But a major element of that forecast requires acceptance of online instruction by students -- an acceptance which these statistics seem to indicate has been growing.

One of the earliest and most prominent of online universities is the United Kingdom's Open University. It's "History of the OU" page accords with my vague memory of having encouraged and supported its development; as it got started during the time I was traveling to London with some regularity, met with Prime Minister Harold Wilson and others, and was also encouraging the creation of the Fourth Channel -- though I would be the first to concede that my involvement with both would have been extremely peripheral compared to that of those directly involved, and may have been no more than mention in an occasional speech. The history page also reports,
More than 20,000 people are currently studying at a postgraduate level - a number higher than the entire student population of many other UK universities. . . .

In times of fast-changing technology, e-learning methods were incorporated into most of the university's courses, where such methods best met students' needs. As part of its commitment to educating all, the university began to commission peak-time series for broadcast on BBC TV.

The 1990s were a time for celebration too: 1998 saw the 25th anniversary of the university's first graduation ceremony and the conferment of the university's 200,000th graduate.

Is the Open University a 'real' university?

The Open University was the first institution to break the insidious link between exclusivity and excellence. It is a University founded on an ideal and, like all revolutionary ideas, attracted hostility and criticism. . . .

More than three decades on, The Open University has managed to convince sceptics that academic excellence need not be compromised by openness: . . .

* More than 50,000 employers have endorsed the value of the OU by sponsoring their staff to enrol on courses.
* The OU is the largest provider of management education in Europe, and one in five MBA students in the UK is studying with the OU.

Recognition for teaching quality

In 2004 The Sunday Times Universities Guide said "Just four institutions — Cambridge, Loughborough, York and the LSE — have a better teaching record than the OU".
For an example of a free (for now) online university, the "University of the People," see Tamar Lewin, "On the Internet, a university without a campus," New York Times, February 5, 2009 ("An Israeli entrepreneur with decades of experience in international education plans to start the first global, tuition-free Internet university, a nonprofit venture he has named the University of the People").

Students aren't the only ones to use online education. Professors can write, modify, and revise their textbooks online, too. Motoko Rich, "Textbooks That Professors Can Rewrite Digitally," New York Times, February 24, 2010, p. B4.

For an example of some Iowans creation of a very successful self-education iPhone app for learning Spanish vocabulary, see David DeWitte, "Success of iPhone App Boggles Coralville Software Firm," GazetteOnline, March 10, 2010.


The earlier discussion along these lines appeared as a blog entry here, "From SUI to ACT: Higher Ed's Crumbling Monopoly," January 31, 2010.

Of the 750 entries in this blog since 2006, many relate to the University of Iowa in one way or another. Some of the more recent include:

"Porn and Censorship in the Academy," February 14, 2010

"Welcome Dean Agrawal!"
January 4, 2010

"Is the University of Iowa 'World Class'?" January 2, 2010

"University of Iowa's Good News,"
December 30, 2009

"UI's Alcohol Abuse: Look to Nebraska," December 28, 2009

"UI's Alcohol Problem: Many Solutions, Little Will,"
December 16, 2009

"UI's Basketball Fees Self Defeating,"
November 23, 2009

"UI Has A Drinking Problem," November 18, 2009

"Corporatizing the University of Iowa; If We're Going to Do It, Let's Do It Right," November 17, 2009

"Strategic Communications a Failed Strategy; Actions Speak Louder," November 13, 2009

"Mickey Mouse Patient Satisfaction; UIHC's Troubles: Is Orlando the Answer?" November 8, 2009

"UIHC: 'Sick Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?'; A Check-In and a Check," October 31, 2009

"Cutting Slack, Cutting Budgets; Regents, University Presidents, Deserve Some Thanks and Credit," October 30, 2009

"UI Spence Break-In: Gazette Scoop Illustrates Issues," October 27, 2009

Here Are Links to the Press-Citizen's University of Iowa Series


B.A. Morelli, "Is This The New UI? Teetering on the Brink; UI Officials Trying to Figure Out Where to go From Here; Finances," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 20, 2010, p. A1

B.A. Morelli, "Where other universities are heading; Michigan maintains quality, but it all comes at a cost," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 20, 2010, p. A. 13

"University of Iowa's Budget Timeline," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 20, 2010, pp. A12-13

B.A. Morelli, "Pressure and scrutiny on faculty increase; UI officials trying to figure out where to go from here," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 21, 2010.

B.A. Morelli, "Return on investment; What will the UI student of the future look like?" Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 22, 2010

B.A. Morelli, "Career mindset damaging to a complete education? Author cautions against trend," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 22, 2010


Editorial, "Watching the Evolution of a Public University," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 20, 2010, p. A14

Op Ed Columns (alphabetically by authors' last name)

Nicholas Johnson, "What Happens if UI Were to Lose its Monopoly on Certification?" Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 20, 2010, p. A15

[UI President] Sally Mason, "Continuing to provide accessible, affordable education for Iowa," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 20, 2010, p. A15

Christopher Squier, "UI rhetoric versus reality," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 20, 2010, p. A14

Tom Walz, "Generating Profits or Prophits," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 20, 2010, p. A14

Bruce Wheaton, "University of Iowa must redefine the dream of its own maturity," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 20, 2010, p. A15


Harold L. Hammond, "Is It Education or Entertainment?" Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 20, 2010, p. A14

Katherine Tachau, "Education Seen as Private Good," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 20, 2010, p. A14

Commentary (references are to pieces linked immediately above)

The Press-Citizen's editorial addresses Provost Wallace Loh's Task Forces and the future of their recommendations. President Mason's column is something of a short-form annual report, reviewing the UI's accomplishments and strengths (which for what is attempted is a good job of it, and is probably about all a university president can do, even in this context).

Squire, Walz and Wheaton each take a critical and new directions look at the University and its future.

Chris Squire hopes "this new approach can set a direction for reviewing the entire regent system with an eye toward fostering the distinctive strengths of each institution. In such a model, UNI would be a premier undergraduate college, ISU would refocus on its strengths in agriculture and veterinary medicine and essential outreach activities and UI would reinforce its premier graduate and professional programs and build on its strengths in research and biomedicine."

He also notes that "we must be more effective at informing taxpayers and elected officials about the importance of Iowa's institutions of higher education and the unique role that UI plays. Communication efforts in the past have clearly failed when a Des Moines Register poll in November shows that fewer than one third of Iowans would oppose cutting state support to the universities."

In my op ed I strike a similar note with, "Today those multi-million-dollar assets called WSUI and KSUI might as well be silent for all they're doing to advance the university's mission of engagement with the state's citizens." I earlier urged that we "take the criticism head on; to accept the challenge to explain to the critics of the intellectual, academic, research life what the value of a university is, to its critics as well as its friends and graduates. Why is it our role to 'disturb all settled ideas'? Why are there more benefits than risks from a population engaged in critical thinking?" See, Nicholas Johnson, "Porn and Censorship in the Academy," February 14, 2010.

Tom Walz addresses, and is critical of, the University's corporatization: "UI has continued its journey toward full adoption of the for-profit corporate mode of operation. Central administration serves as the corporate management group. Deans and directors of academic units are addressed as department executive officers. Faculty and staff make up the non-management labor groups.

"Students remain consumers of education, but compete for attention and resources from the other products the university sells to corporations, governments and recreation and med care consumers. Scholarship tends to be measured in terms of big dollar research grants and contracts."

This is similar to a theme I wrote about last November in Nicholas Johnson, "Corporatizing the University of Iowa; If We're Going to Do It, Let's Do It Right," November 17, 2009.

Bruce Wheaton offers a creative approach different from, though consistent with, the rest of us. He questions the value of "growth" as a mission for a university, and says, "Despite the various standard three-part formulations of its mission, the university has one central obligation -- to fuel the imaginations of the individuals who inhabit it. Teaching, research and service are really only means to this unitary end -- not ends in themselves.

"A university so defined could be distinguished readily from any other large corporate entity. It would not be simply a large organization with rhetorically highly prized assets in its students and employees. Instead, the organization would become an asset of the scholars and students who justify its existence."

Thus, he not only touches on the corporatization of education, but ironically an element of successful institutional approaches, including those of corporations: the distinction between "ends" and "means," or governance. See, e.g., John Carver's "ends policies" discussed in Nicholas Johnson, "Board Governance: Theory and Practice," (2000-2001), and Nicholas Johnson, "An Open Letter to Regents on Governance," April 17, 2007.

Katherine Tachau's letter raises a fundamental issue underpinning the funding of higher education: to what extent should it be conceptualized as a "public good" (as K-12 education is conceptualized and paid for; that is, everyone benefits from mechanics who can read manuals and cashiers who can make change) or a "private good" (something that can increase the lifetime income of a college graduate -- as well as, one would hope, increase the graduate's "quality of life" in an intellectual and cultural sense)? It's an issue that simply must be addressed and resolved -- or at least develop a plurality of public and legislative opinion -- if the public funding of higher education is to be rationally addressed. Here again, this is an issue that I have often addressed in the past, e.g., Nicholas Johnson, "'Free' College Education," September 9, 2006.

Harold Hammond, in his letter, is largely just having fun with Interim Vice-President for Student Services Tom Rocklin's decision regarding the student Bijou Theater showing a 40-year-old porn film, seemingly suggesting that the basis for his concern rested on the fact that it was mere entertainment, rather than being addressed in an educational context. What then are we to make of the football program and Hancher's offerings, Hammond asks. My comments on that one are in "Porn and Censorship in the Academy," February 14, 2010.

In short, it seems to me that these op ed columns and letters demonstrate that there is a lot of fundamental questioning about higher education that independent minds can come up with, and a kind of basic consistency (although obviously not identity) in where their inquiry leads.

* Why do I put this blog ID at the top of the entry, when you know full well what blog you're reading? Because there are a number of Internet sites that, for whatever reason, simply take the blog entries of others and reproduce them as their own without crediting the source. I don't mind the flattering attention, but would appreciate acknowledgment as the source -- even if I have to embed it myself.
-- Nicholas Johnson
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1 comment:

Jeffrey Horne said...

This is an interesting topic. Here in Clinton, we have Ashford University, a for profit college. What started as an Internet University bought old Mount Saint Claire College and is now expanding. They recently bought the Clinton Country Club to expand into a much larger campus. There really is no precedent for this. We have had for profit trade schools like Devry, but not a four year college offering bachelor degrees. We see this as a great opportunity for Clinton.

I believe that people who see their education only as work training miss the point. College gives one the ability to think critically. While I did get an MBA later, I am very pleased now that I got a BA in the Liberal Arts.