Board of Regents discuss diversity plan, budget at committee …

The Board of Regents discussed the new diversity, equity and inclusion plan and the budget committee during its Sept. 22 committee meeting.

The diversity, equity and inclusion plan was presented by Lynne Holland, chief diversity officer.

Holland said diversity, equity and inclusion are not just values of the institution, but the entire Bowling Green community. She said the purpose of the plan is to create an environment where every student can be successful, which will lead to greater persistence and graduation.

“This institution can be a place where students can come and be successful,” Holland said. “I really want to be a place that is student-centered and embraces students and staff.”

Student Government Association President and Student Regent Andi Dahmer asked Holland how the plan will create accountability for all minority and underrepresented group. Holland said there have already been conversations with groups such as HOLAS, the Hilltopper Organization of Latin American Students.

With the plan, Holland said she hopes to create a “global village.” She said the plan will move away from specific “boutique” safe spaces on campus, and move toward making the entire campus a safe space.

Board of Regents Chair Phillip Bale said Holland’s vision for the campus is one the board can and will embrace. The plan will be voted on by the entire Board of Regents at the next meeting, on Oct. 27.

Changes to the budget council were discussed during the finance and budget committee meeting. President Timothy Caboni said he has redefined the purpose of the budget council and hopes for a set of recommendations in February and to begin implementing ideas soon after.

Caboni said the new set of goals involve discussing budget models from other universities to be implemented at WKU, the performance based funding model, handling past and potential revenue shortfall that weans off the use of carry forward funds and realigning expenditure investments in a way to reward performance.

The carry forward policy previously allowed programs to determine how to use their unspent money in an upcoming fiscal term. Now, the budget is estimated to use $28,819,000 from carry forward funds to make up for any budget shortfalls.

“It is advisory to the president,” Caboni said of the budget committee. “But I’m pushing them for more advice than they may have delivered previously.”

Members of the academic affairs committee discussed new graduate certificates in biology and health education. Speaking on the new Health Education certificate, Caboni said it will provide flexibility in pursuing a Master’s degree.

Regent John Ridley, during a discussion on the certificates and colonnade courses, said these courses make students a good citizen of the commonwealth, which was discussed at Gov. Matt Bevin’s Conference on Post Secondary Education, which board members attended. Ridley said the job of the university is to not only get students job ready but also make them a well rounded citizen.

Provost David Lee said general education courses in multiple areas of study makes the American higher education system unique.

“This is what makes American college education so special,” Lee said.

During the meeting, the board went into closed session to discuss the “future acquisition or sale of real property by the University.” They discussed the transfer of ownership of several areas of land to the university.

If approved by the full board at the October meeting, the university will accept ownership of properties on Normal Drive and Nashville Road, as well as the Clinical Education Complex on Alumni Avenue.

Reporter Rebekah Alvey can be reached at 270-745-6011 and rebekah.alvey660@topper.wku.

Board of Regents discuss diversity plan, budget at committee meeting

The Board of Regents discussed the new diversity, equity and inclusion plan and the budget committee during its Sept. 22 committee meeting.

The diversity, equity and inclusion plan was presented by Lynne Holland, chief diversity officer.

Holland said diversity, equity and inclusion are not just values of the institution, but the entire Bowling Green community. She said the purpose of the plan is to create an environment where every student can be successful, which will lead to greater persistence and graduation.

“This institution can be a place where students can come and be successful,” Holland said. “I really want to be a place that is student-centered and embraces students and staff.”

Student Government Association President and Student Regent Andi Dahmer asked Holland how the plan will create accountability for all minority and underrepresented group. Holland said there have already been conversations with groups such as HOLAS, the Hilltopper Organization of Latin American Students.

With the plan, Holland said she hopes to create a “global village.” She said the plan will move away from specific “boutique” safe spaces on campus, and move toward making the entire campus a safe space.

Board of Regents Chair Phillip Bale said Holland’s vision for the campus is one the board can and will embrace. The plan will be voted on by the entire Board of Regents at the next meeting, on Oct. 27.

Changes to the budget council were discussed during the finance and budget committee meeting. President Timothy Caboni said he has redefined the purpose of the budget council and hopes for a set of recommendations in February and to begin implementing ideas soon after.

Caboni said the new set of goals involve discussing budget models from other universities to be implemented at WKU, the performance based funding model, handling past and potential revenue shortfall that weans off the use of carry forward funds and realigning expenditure investments in a way to reward performance.

The carry forward policy previously allowed programs to determine how to use their unspent money in an upcoming fiscal term. Now, the budget is estimated to use $28,819,000 from carry forward funds to make up for any budget shortfalls.

“It is advisory to the president,” Caboni said of the budget committee. “But I’m pushing them for more advice than they may have delivered previously.”

Members of the academic affairs committee discussed new graduate certificates in biology and health education. Speaking on the new Health Education certificate, Caboni said it will provide flexibility in pursuing a Master’s degree.

Regent John Ridley, during a discussion on the certificates and colonnade courses, said these courses make students a good citizen of the commonwealth, which was discussed at Gov. Matt Bevin’s Conference on Post Secondary Education, which board members attended. Ridley said the job of the university is to not only get students job ready but also make them a well rounded citizen.

Provost David Lee said general education courses in multiple areas of study makes the American higher education system unique.

“This is what makes American college education so special,” Lee said.

During the meeting, the board went into closed session to discuss the “future acquisition or sale of real property by the University.” They discussed the transfer of ownership of several areas of land to the university.

If approved by the full board at the October meeting, the university will accept ownership of properties on Normal Drive and Nashville Road, as well as the Clinical Education Complex on Alumni Avenue.

Reporter Rebekah Alvey can be reached at 270-745-6011 and rebekah.alvey660@topper.wku.

Feds offer compliments to Western Governors University in response to report urging school to repay $712M

bwood@sltrib.com

New building, renovations bring ‘leading edge’ to Newman

When classes began in late August, Newman University President Noreen Carrocci walked into the brand-new Bishop Gerber Science Center.

A student held the door open for her.

“Welcome to paradise,” the student said.

The Bishop Gerber Science Center – a 52,400-square-foot facility housing chemistry, biology and physics – was dedicated Thursday evening. The dedication included a blessing from the Most Rev. Eugene Gerber, bishop emeritus of Wichita.

University officials say the building and the newly renovated health care education areas in Eck Hall will benefit the Wichita area as students graduate with medical degrees or use their undergraduate degrees to pursue studies in and then enter fields like chemistry and nuclear physics.

“People don’t realize how we affect the medical community, but also the number of students we put into the business community,” said J.V. Johnston, vice president for university advancement. “The medical community will grow a little bit, I think it will, but the real growth is going to come in supporting companies in our city, the Kochs, the Cargills, the Cessnas, Learjets, those type companies. Those are who are going to benefit the most in my opinion.”

The new building and renovations cost about $24.5 million, money raised from individuals, foundations and corporations.

The Bishop Gerber Science Center includes five faculty and student research laboratories. There were no such laboratories in the Heimerman Science Center.

Johnston said that will allow the university to receive grants and do more research, opportunities that were previously limited.

About 600 to 700 students major in the sciences, health sciences or nursing, Johnston said. The university expects that number to grow because of the new space.

Vivian Hoang, president of the Student Government Association, said the previous science building was home for many science majors, even if it was old and worn down.

“Our science program has always been top notch, and now we have a building that has caught up to it,” said Hoang, who is majoring in biology and pre-medicine. “I think of it as if we moved on from our little cabin and upgraded to a mansion. The Bishop Gerber Science Center is everything we expected and 10 times more, maybe 100 times. … It’s a marvel what this building has done for us and will do for us.”

David Schubert, dean of arts and sciences and a chemistry professor, said students will have access to nearly “the entire arsenal of scientific instrumentation,” including a DNA resequencer.

This will have a lasting impact on people outside the university, he said.

“Our students go out and they become physicians, they become nurses, they become teachers and they really are thoroughly prepared and well committed to going out and serving society,” Schubert said.

Upgrades to Eck Hall include a nursing lab with two intensive care simulation suites, a nurse anesthesia task training room with two operating room simulation suites and a respiratory care classroom and lab, according to an article in Newman University Magazine.

The Bishop Gerber Science Center includes several socialization spaces where students can study, complete with whiteboards and large screens to plug in computers and iPads.

All undergraduates take one general education laboratory science course, meaning “every undergraduate will get to use the Bishop Gerber Science Center,” Carrocci said.

Carrocci said she wants people to visit the new building.

“See what leading edge looks like,” she said.

New building, renovations bring ‘leading edge’ to Newman

When classes began in late August, Newman University President Noreen Carrocci walked into the brand-new Bishop Gerber Science Center.

A student held the door open for her.

“Welcome to paradise,” the student said.

The Bishop Gerber Science Center – a 52,400-square-foot facility housing chemistry, biology and physics – was dedicated Thursday evening. The dedication included a blessing from the Most Rev. Eugene Gerber, bishop emeritus of Wichita.

University officials say the building and the newly renovated health care education areas in Eck Hall will benefit the Wichita area as students graduate with medical degrees or use their undergraduate degrees to pursue studies in and then enter fields like chemistry and nuclear physics.

“People don’t realize how we affect the medical community, but also the number of students we put into the business community,” said J.V. Johnston, vice president for university advancement. “The medical community will grow a little bit, I think it will, but the real growth is going to come in supporting companies in our city, the Kochs, the Cargills, the Cessnas, Learjets, those type companies. Those are who are going to benefit the most in my opinion.”

The new building and renovations cost about $24.5 million, money raised from individuals, foundations and corporations.

The Bishop Gerber Science Center includes five faculty and student research laboratories. There were no such laboratories in the Heimerman Science Center.

Johnston said that will allow the university to receive grants and do more research, opportunities that were previously limited.

About 600 to 700 students major in the sciences, health sciences or nursing, Johnston said. The university expects that number to grow because of the new space.

Vivian Hoang, president of the Student Government Association, said the previous science building was home for many science majors, even if it was old and worn down.

“Our science program has always been top notch, and now we have a building that has caught up to it,” said Hoang, who is majoring in biology and pre-medicine. “I think of it as if we moved on from our little cabin and upgraded to a mansion. The Bishop Gerber Science Center is everything we expected and 10 times more, maybe 100 times. … It’s a marvel what this building has done for us and will do for us.”

David Schubert, dean of arts and sciences and a chemistry professor, said students will have access to nearly “the entire arsenal of scientific instrumentation,” including a DNA resequencer.

This will have a lasting impact on people outside the university, he said.

“Our students go out and they become physicians, they become nurses, they become teachers and they really are thoroughly prepared and well committed to going out and serving society,” Schubert said.

Upgrades to Eck Hall include a nursing lab with two intensive care simulation suites, a nurse anesthesia task training room with two operating room simulation suites and a respiratory care classroom and lab, according to an article in Newman University Magazine.

The Bishop Gerber Science Center includes several socialization spaces where students can study, complete with whiteboards and large screens to plug in computers and iPads.

All undergraduates take one general education laboratory science course, meaning “every undergraduate will get to use the Bishop Gerber Science Center,” Carrocci said.

Carrocci said she wants people to visit the new building.

“See what leading edge looks like,” she said.

Education inspector general wants to pull student aid from a popular online university


 (iStock)

The Education Department’s Office of Inspector General wants the agency to claw back $713 million in loans and grants from Western Governors University, claiming that the limited role of faculty in courses makes the online university ineligible for federal student aid.

The recommendation in an audit released Thursday could threaten the future of competency-based education, a burgeoning field that believes students should learn at their own pace and move along as they have mastered the material. Western Governors has been at the forefront of the movement and widely praised by Democrats and Republicans for creating an innovative model. With 83,000 students, the nonprofit university has raised its profile with commercials featuring an owl touting it as a flexible solution for busy adults.

Investigators said that while Western Governors’ online, competency-based courses were accredited as distance education programs, they actually operate as correspondence courses that do not involve significant interaction between faculty and students. The distinction matters because a college cannot receive federal loans and grants if most of its students are enrolled in correspondence courses or if more than half of its classes are offered by correspondence.

According to the audit, 62 percent of the 61,180 students at Western Governors in 2014-2015 were enrolled in one or more courses that did not meet federal standards for distance education. Investigators concluded that at least 69 of the 102 courses the university offered at the time had inadequate involvement from instructors. As a result, the inspector general said the department should force the school to return the millions of dollars it has received in student aid.

“The course design materials for all 69 of these courses described courses that would be self-paced, interaction between the students and instructors that would primarily be initiated by students, and interaction between the students and instructors that would not be regular and substantive,” the inspector general report said.

Because the inspector general’s office lacks enforcement authority, the Education Department is under no requirement to act on its recommendation. Still, the audit has rattled Scott Pulsipher, the president of Western Governors.

He said the inspector general’s report has a “narrow application of the statute and regulatory guidance as well as a misinterpretation of . . . what faculty roles are” at the university. He said the school has disaggregated the traditional role of faculty by having some develop the curriculum, teach courses and evaluate student progress.

“Students at WGU cannot enroll for just a course, they enroll in a program that’s a collection of courses they need to complete a bachelor’s or master’s degree. And because of that design, they are required to work with course faculty, program faculty and evaluation during their entire tenure,” Pulsipher said.

But the inspector general found that model dubious and said only a few faculty could be considered instructors.

Barmak Nassirian, director of federal relations and policy analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, said the inspector general has good reason to be skeptical of competency-based education.

“By its nature, it’s highly susceptible to waste, fraud and abuse because you’re dispensing with the one rock-solid guarantor of integrity that there is, and that is qualified faculty,” he said.

For years, the inspector general’s office has questioned whether competency-based courses should be eligible for federal financial aid. Thursday’s long-awaited report, some four years in the making, is being perceived as the independent body drawing a line in the sand on the issue. The critical report throws into question the viability of such instruction and could create a chilling effect throughout the industry, said Van Davis, the head of policy at Blackboard, an education technology company.

“Even if the department doesn’t accept the IG’s recommendation, it is something that is going to give a lot of institutions pause because they don’t have the political muscle that Western Governors has,” he said. “It could make a lot of companies skittish.”

Education Dept.’s inspector general calls for Western Governors to repay $713 million in federal aid

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General has released the results of a much anticipated high-stakes audit of Western Governors University, with negative findings that could threaten the large online university and, more broadly, the growing field of competency-based education.

Citing concerns about an inadequate faculty role — which the competency-based university contests — the inspector general called for the department to make WGU pay back at least $713 million in federal financial aid.

The final audit report, issued today, also said the nonprofit university, which enrolls 83,000 students, should be ineligible to receive any more federal aid payments.

Experts said the Trump administration is unlikely to follow through on the inspector general’s recommendations, which the department can reject. The department has signaled that it will be a less aggressive regulator than it was under the Obama administration.

WGU enjoys a good track record with its accreditor and broad bipartisan support in Washington, with the Obama administration having often praised the university as an innovator.

The findings of the audit, which began more than four years ago, were not a surprise to most observers.

That’s because the inspector general relied on a 1992 federal law that defines aid eligibility for distance education programs, which many have said poses a problem for WGU, some other competency-based programs, and possibly online education writ large.

The audit report said most courses at WGU do not meet the distance education requirement because they were not designed for regular and substantive interaction between students and faculty members. Those courses instead should have been labeled as correspondence courses, according to the inspector general.

Under the law, a college is not eligible to receive federal financial aid if more than half of its courses are offered via correspondence or if most of its students are enrolled in correspondence courses. The inspector general’s audit report said 62 percent (37,899) of the 61,180 students who were enrolled at WGU in 2014 took at least one of 69 courses (among 102 courses in the university’s three largest academic programs) that failed to meet the distance education requirements.

“None of these 69 courses could reasonably be considered as providing regular and substantive interaction between students and instructors, the key requirement to be considered a course offered through distance education,” according to the report. “Therefore, Western Governors University became ineligible to participate in the Title IV programs as of June 30, 2014.”

As a result, the inspector general said the department should require WGU to return $713 million in federal aid it received during the two years before July of last year, as well as any federal aid it received since then.

The university rebutted the report, both in responses to the inspector general that were included in the final report and on its website.

“Western Governors University respectfully, but strongly, disagrees with the findings in the Office of Inspector General’s draft audit report. WGU is, and has always been, fully compliant with Department of Education regulations since our founding 20 years ago by 19 U.S. governors,” the university said in a May letter to the inspector general. “Our innovative learning model, which has the support of the law, the department, our accreditor and policy makers, is validated by the outcomes WGU is delivering for our 82,000 students and 81,000 graduates.”

Unbundled Faculty Model

In previously released audits, the inspector general has questioned whether some competency-based programs should be classified as being of the correspondence variety. Others have criticized the department and accreditors for their scrutiny of competency-based programs, particularly those that do not rely on the credit-hour standard.

WGU uses the credit-hour standard, even though the U.S. Congress passed a law exempting it from certain requirements relating to the standard.

However, the inspector general found that the university’s unbundled (or disaggregated) faculty model, which is considered one of its primary innovations, runs afoul of federal distance education requirements.

Students at WGU are assigned a faculty member, called a student mentor, when they first enroll. Faculty mentors have at least a master’s degree in their field and are well versed in students’ program requirements, the university said. Mentors work with students regularly until they graduate.

The university also employs a Ph.D.-holding subject matter expert for each course, dubbed the course mentor. These faculty members interact with students as well. In addition, subject matter experts oversee each program of study at WGU. (Students must enroll in a program at the university, not just in individual courses.) And the university employs faculty evaluators, who review competency assessments.

The inspector general, however, found that “only course mentors and evaluators, not student mentors, product managers or council members, could reasonably be considered instructors.”

The report also said interactions between students and instructors were inadequate under the federal law.

“The course design materials for all 69 of these courses described courses that would be self-paced, interaction between the students and instructors that would primarily be initiated by students, and interaction between the students and instructors that would not be regular and substantive,” according to the inspector general. “The course design materials described limited interaction with course mentors that was typically on an as-needed basis and typically initiated by the student. Therefore, we concluded that the school’s faculty composition model did not ensure that the school’s courses were designed to provide the regular and substantive interaction between students and instructors required by the Title IV definition of distance education.”

In an interview, Scott Pulsipher, WGU’s president, said the inspector general’s report was based on a “misinterpretation and misapplication” of statutory and regulatory guidance.

“We vehemently disagree with the inspector general’s opinion,” he said. “We’ve been compliant with the laws and regulations since our founding.”

Pulsipher noted that the university’s regional accreditor, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, backs the university’s faculty model. And he said the inspector general had applied a “very narrow and tight definition of faculty” at the university, compared to the approval by its accreditor and other regulators of WGU’s varied and broad faculty roles.

Congress could intervene by changing the 1992 federal law, as some backers of WGU and competency-based education have been advocating. The university will work with federal and state policy makers, Pulsipher said, to address ambiguity in the law.

“We’ll work together to make sure it gets clarified,” he said.

Student Senate: Members debate ‘Freedom of Expression’ policy …

Discussion of Ohio University’s new interim “Freedom of Expression” policy continued at Wednesday’s Student Senate meeting.

Student Senate members spent 45 minutes debating the policy, which reiterates students’ ability to reserve spaces indoors on campus but otherwise bans “demonstrations, rallies, public speech-making, picketing, sit-ins, marches, protests, and similar assemblies” in buildings.

Many senate members said the policy was broad. Others said it did not define “disruptive” behavior well enough. They also expressed concerns that it did not describe consequences for violations of the policy.

Sam Miller, an at-large senator, said that the university policy was in “retaliation” to a municipal court judge’s not-guilty verdict in the case of one of 70 protesters arrested for trespassing in Baker Center in February.

“This policy is a direct response to how silly the university looked after the Bobcat 70 ruling,” Miller said.

The 70 arrested students are Student Senate constituents, she said, and the senate needed to defend them.

Others defended the policy. They said the university did not intend to curtail free speech with the policy. 

Faculty Senate Chair Joe McLaughlin addressed the senate at the beginning of the meeting. He talked about collaboration between Faculty Senate and Student Senate, the process by which the university amends curriculums and the proposed addition of cultural competency classes.

Serious discussion about cultural competency courses began during Fall Semester 2016. Around that time, an image of a hanging figure was painted on the university’s graffiti wall by Bentley Hall.

McLaughlin said it would be difficult to add a course as a general education requirement because students already have so many requirements. Instead the conversation has shifted toward “bolstering and repurposing” a tier-two requirement such as cross cultural perspectives, he said.

The senate passed five resolutions. Two of them appointed senators to commissions: One appointed Perry Eldredge to the International Affairs Commission, and the other appointed Anna Dirda to the Off-Campus Commission.

Two resolutions altered the duties of executive positions in the senate. The clerk of court is now tasked with upholding the constitutional regulations of the senate in every proceeding instead of the chief judiciary, because the chief judiciary is not present at every general body meeting. The duty to document all proceedings, actions and media coverage was transferred from the judicial panel to the historian.

The senate also passed a resolution to create a regulatory attendance policy. Judicial panel members must now inform the clerk of court 24 hours in advance if they have to miss a mandatory meeting.

The senate entered executive session to discuss personnel matters. Next week it will continue to discuss the “Freedom of Expression” policy and will invite feedback from students at the meeting.

@baileygallion

bg272614@ohio.edu

Improving the Quality of Education

Increasing graduation rates and levels of educational attainment will accomplish little if students do not learn something of lasting value. Yet federal efforts over the last several years have focused much more on increasing the number of Americans who go to college than on improving the education they receive once they get there.

By concentrating so heavily on graduation rates and attainment levels, policy makers are ignoring danger signs that the amount that students learn in college may have declined over the past few decades and could well continue to do so in the years to come. The reasons for concern include:

  • College students today seem to be spending much less time on their course work than their predecessors did 50 years ago, and evidence of their abilities suggests that they are probably learning less than students once did and quite possibly less than their counterparts in many other advanced industrial countries.
  • Employers complain that many graduates they hire are deficient in basic skills such as writing, problem solving and critical thinking that college leaders and their faculties consistently rank among the most important goals of an undergraduate education.
  • Most of the millions of additional students needed to increase educational attainment levels will come to campus poorly prepared for college work, creating a danger that higher graduation rates will be achievable only by lowering academic standards.
  • More than two-thirds of college instructors today are not on the tenure track but are lecturers serving on year-to-year contracts. Many of them are hired without undergoing the vetting commonly used in appointing tenure-track professors. Studies indicate that extensive use of such instructors may contribute to higher dropout rates and to grade inflation.
  • States have made substantial cuts in support per student over the past 30 years for public colleges and community colleges. Research suggests that failing to increase appropriations to keep pace with enrollment growth tends to reduce learning and even lower graduation rates.

While some college leaders are making serious efforts to improve the quality of teaching, many others seem content with their existing programs. Although they recognize the existence of problems affecting higher education as a whole, such as grade inflation or a decline in the rigor of academic standards, few seem to believe that these difficulties exist on their own campus, or they tend to attribute most of the difficulty to the poor preparation of students before they enroll.

Some Immediate Improvements

Many colleges provide a formidable array of courses, majors and extracurricular opportunities, but firsthand accounts indicate that many undergraduates do not feel that the material conveyed in their readings and lectures has much relevance to their lives. Such sentiments suggest either that the courses do not in fact contribute much to the ultimate goals that colleges claim to value or that instructors are not taking sufficient care to explain the larger aims of their courses and why they should matter.

Other studies suggest that many instructors do not teach their courses in ways best calculated to achieve the ends that faculties themselves consider important. For example, one investigator studied samples of the examinations given at elite liberal arts colleges and research universities. Although 99 percent of professors consider critical thinking an “essential” or “very important” goal of a college education, fewer than 20 percent of the exam questions actually tested for this skill.

Now that most faculties have defined the learning objectives of their college and its various departments and programs, it should be possible to review recent examinations to determine whether individual professors, programs and departments are actually designing their courses to achieve those goals. College administrators could also modify their student evaluation forms to ask students whether they believe the stated goals were emphasized in the courses they took.

In addition, the average time students devote to studying varies widely among different colleges, and many campuses could require more of their students. Those lacking evidence about the study habits of their undergraduates could inform themselves through confidential surveys that faculties could review and consider steps to encourage greater student effort and improve learning.

The vast difference between how well seniors think they can perform and their actual proficiencies (according to tests of basic skills and employer evaluations) suggests that many colleges are failing to give students an adequate account of their progress. Grade inflation may also contribute to excessive confidence, suggesting a need to work to restore appropriate standards, although that alone is unlikely to solve the problem. Better feedback on student papers and exams will be even more important in order to give undergraduates a more accurate sense of how much progress they’ve made and what more they need to accomplish before they graduate.

More Substantial Reforms

More fundamental changes will take longer to achieve but could eventually yield even greater gains in the quality of undergraduate education. They include:

Improving graduate education. Colleges and universities need to reconfigure graduate programs to better prepare aspiring professors for teaching. As late as two or three generations ago, majorities of new Ph.D.s, at least in the better graduate programs, found positions where research was primary, either in major universities, industry or government. Today, however, many Ph.D.s find employment in colleges that are chiefly devoted to teaching or work as adjunct instructors and are not expected to do research.

Aspiring college instructors also need to know much more now in order to teach effectively. A large and increasing body of useful knowledge has accumulated about learning and pedagogy, as well as the design and effectiveness of alternative methods of instruction. Meanwhile, the advent of new technologies has given rise to methods of teaching that require special training. As evidence accumulates about promising ways of engaging students actively, identifying difficulties they are having in learning the material and adjusting teaching methods accordingly, the current gaps in the preparation most graduate students receive become more and more of a handicap.

Universities have already begun to prepare graduate students to teach by giving them opportunities to assist professors in large lecture courses and by creating centers where they can get help to become better instructors. More departments are starting to provide or even require a limited amount of instruction in how to teach. Nevertheless, simply allowing grad students to serve as largely unsupervised teaching assistants, or creating centers where they can receive a brief orientation or a few voluntary sessions on teaching, will not adequately equip them for a career in the classroom.

A more substantial preparation is required and will become ever more necessary as the body of relevant knowledge continues to grow. With all the talk in graduate school circles about preparing doctoral students for jobs outside academe, one has to wonder why departments spend time readying Ph.D. candidates for entirely different careers before they have developed adequate programs for the academic posts that graduate schools are supposed to serve, and that most of their students continue to occupy.

Many departments may fail to provide such instruction because they lack faculty with necessary knowledge, but provosts and deans could enlist competent teachers for such instruction from elsewhere in the university, although they may hesitate to do so, given than graduate education has always been the exclusive domain of the departments. Enterprising donors might consider giving grants to graduate schools or departments willing to make the necessary reforms. If even a few leading universities responded to such an invitation, others would probably follow suit.

Creating a teaching faculty. The seeds of such a change already exist through the proliferation of instructors who are not on the tenure track but are hired on a year-to- year basis or a somewhat longer term to teach basic undergraduate courses. Those adjunct instructors now constitute as much as 70 percent of all college instructors.

The multiplication of such instructors has largely been an ad hoc response to the need to cut costs in order to cope with severe financial pressures resulting from reductions in state support and larger student enrollments. But researchers are discovering that relying on casually hired, part-time teachers can have adverse effects on graduation rates and the quality of instruction. Sooner or later, the present practices seem bound to give way to more satisfactory arrangements.

One plausible outcome would be to create a carefully selected, full-time teaching faculty, the members of which would lack tenure but receive appointments for a significant term of years with enforceable guarantees of academic freedom and adequate notice if their contracts are not renewed. Such instructors would receive opportunities for professional development to become more knowledgeable and proficient as teachers, and they would teach more hours per week than the tenured faculty. In return, they would receive adequate salaries, benefits and facilities and would share in deliberations over educational policy, though not in matters involving research and the appointment and promotion of tenure-track professors.

These faculty members would be better trained in teaching and learning than the current research-oriented faculty, although tenured professors who wish to teach introductory or general education courses would, of course, be welcome to do so. Being chiefly engaged in teaching, they might also be more inclined to experiment with new and better methods of instruction if they were encouraged to do so.

A reform of this sort would undoubtedly cost more than most universities currently pay their non-tenure-track instructors (though less than having tenured faculty teach the lower-level courses). Even so, the shabby treatment of many part-time instructors is hard to justify, and higher costs seem inevitable once adjunct faculties become more organized and use their collective strength to bargain for better terms.

Progress may have to come gradually as finances permit. But instead of today’s legions of casually hired, underpaid and insecure adjunct instructors, a substantial segment of the college faculty would possess the time, training and job security to participate in a continuing effort to develop more effective methods of instruction to engage their students and help them derive more lasting value from their classes.

Rethinking the undergraduate curriculum. The familiar division into fields of concentration, electives and general education leaves too little room for students to pursue all of the objectives that professors themselves deem important for a well-rounded college education. This tripartite structure, with its emphasis on the major and its embrace of distribution requirements and extensive electives, was introduced by research universities and designed more to satisfy the interests of a tenured, research-oriented faculty than to achieve the various aims of a good undergraduate education. The existing structure is unlikely to change so long as decisions about the curriculum remain under the exclusive control of the tenure-track professors who benefit from the status quo.

By now, the standard curriculum has become so firmly rooted that during the periodic reviews conducted in most universities, the faculty rarely pause to examine the tripartite division and its effect upon the established goals of undergraduate education. Instead, the practice of reserving up to half of the required number of credits for the major is simply taken for granted along with maintaining a distribution requirement and preserving an ample segment of the curriculum for electives.

The obvious remedy is to include the non-tenure-track instructors who currently make up a majority of the teaching faculty in curricular reviews so that all those who play a substantial part in trying to achieve the goals of undergraduate education can participate in the process. It is anomalous to allow the tenure-track faculty to enjoy exclusive power over the curriculum when they provide such a limited share of the teaching. Such a reform might be difficult under current conditions in many colleges where most undergraduate instructors serve part-time, are often chosen haphazardly and frequently lack either the time or the interest to participate fully in a review of its undergraduate program. If adjunct instructors achieve the status previously described, however, their prominent role in teaching undergraduates should entitle them to a seat at the table to discuss the educational program, including its current structure. Such a move could at least increase the likelihood of a serious discussion of the existing curricular structure to determine whether it truly serves the multiple aims of undergraduate education.

Colleges should also consider allowing some meaningful participation by members of the administrative staff who are prominently involved in college life, such as deans of student affairs and directors of admission. The current division between formal instruction and the extracurriculum is arbitrary, since many goals of undergraduate education, such as moral development and preparation for citizenship, are influenced significantly by the policies for admitting students, the administration of rules for student behavior, the advising of undergraduates, the nature of residential life and the extracurricular activities in which many students participate. Representatives from all groups responsible for the policies and practices that affect these goals should have something to contribute to reviews of undergraduate education.

The Need for Research

Finally, there is an urgent need for more and better research both to improve the quality of undergraduate education and to increase the number of students who complete their studies. Among the many questions deserving further exploration, four lines of inquiry seem especially important.

  • How can remedial education be improved? At present, low rates of completion in remedial courses are a major impediment to raising levels of educational attainment. The use of computer-aided instruction in remedial math provides one promising example of the type of improvement that could yield substantial benefits, and there are doubtless other possibilities.
  • Far too little is known about the kinds of courses or other undergraduate experiences that contribute to such noneconomic benefits in later life as better health, greater civic participation and lower incidence of substance abuse and other forms of self-destructive behavior. Better understanding of those connections could help educators increase the lasting value of a college education while providing a stronger empirical basis for the sweeping claims frequently made about the lifelong benefits of a liberal education. Such understanding would also reduce the risk of inadvertently eliminating valuable aspects of a college education in the rush to find quicker, cheaper ways of preparing students to obtain good jobs of immediate value to economic growth.
  • Existing research suggests that better advising and other forms of student support may substantially enhance the effect of increased financial aid in boosting the numbers of students who complete their studies. With billions of dollars already being spent on student grants and loans, it would clearly be helpful to know more about how to maximize the effects of such subsidies on graduation rates.
  • More work is needed to develop better ways for colleges to measure student learning, not only for critical thinking and writing but also for other purposes of undergraduate education.

The importance of this last point can scarcely be overestimated. Without reliable measures of learning, competition for students can do little to improve the quality of instruction, since applicants have no way of knowing which college offers them the best teaching. Provosts, deans and departments will have difficulty identifying weaknesses in their academic programs in need of corrective action. Academic leaders will be handicapped in trying to persuade their professors to change the way they teach if they cannot offer convincing evidence that alternative methods will bring improved results. Faculty members will do less to improve their teaching if they continue to lack adequate ways to discover how much their students are learning.

All these reforms could do a lot to improve the quality of undergraduate education — as well as increase levels of attainment. With more research and experimentation, other useful ideas will doubtless continue to appear.

Melton unites general and special education students

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Posted: Wednesday, September 20, 2017 6:00 pm

Melton unites general and special education students

Katie Tiller

Oconee Enterprise

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In the past 11 years, Malcom Bridge Middle School’s Teacher of the Year Coach Crystal Melton has more than left her mark.

In 2009, after two years of coaching girls’ PE, Melton, who received both a bachelor’s and master’s from UGA, introduced the adaptive PE course at MBMS.

Adaptive physical education courses often intermingle general education and special education students.

Melton’s course allows eighth grade students who apply to work with their special education peers and create physical education curriculum for them. 

“I felt like something was missing,” said Melton, who drew from her experiences in high school and college to create the course.

Typically, about 30 eighth graders apply for the class each semester, writing essays about what they could bring to the class.

Much of Melton’s curriculum for the adaptive course focuses on interpersonal communication and overcoming differences.

“At the beginning of each semester, I train them on various disabilities we might be working with, person-first language—how to talk to these kids … I try to teach them how to talk to them and interact with them on a professional level,” said Melton. “I’m just a facilitator at this point; they’re picking their activities and running the show.”

Melton said the class has greatly improved the school’s culture as well.

“The adaptive PE class is definitely a highlight of each day. Especially on Tuesdays and Fridays, when the elementary kids come down. It’s precious to see our eighth grade star running back playing ring-around-the-rosy with an 8 year old or see the chorus girls singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to one of our students.”

Melton, who gave up one of her regular PE courses to create the adaptive course, credits her administration with giving her the freedom to do what she feels is best for the students.

“We have a super supportive administration,” said Melton, who has also been allowed to plan a faculty flash mob and glow-stick pep rally among other fun activities. “If we have an idea to better students or to make them laugh, they always seem on board with whatever is best for the kids. They’re very flexible and open to new ideas.”

Melton’s ultimate goal is to help her students find a sport or activity that they can enjoy for a lifetime. Most importantly though, she wants her students to leave middle school knowing that she cared for them.

“Middle school is such a tricky age,” she said. “Even though it’s been a while since I’ve been there, I remember being a kid. I hope that they always look at me as an understanding person in the building who they can come to for anything.”

For more on this story, see the Sept. 21 edition of The Oconee Enterprise, on sale now at convenience stores and grocery stores and newspaper boxes throughout Oconee County. To subscribe, go to oconeeenterprise.com or call (706) 769-5175.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2017 6:00 pm.