The Death of For-Profits

EDMCA year ago, Corinthian Colleges, a for-profit educational provider, ceased operations. Recent actions at the U.S. Department of Education could spell the end of other for-profits like Educational Management Corporation (EDMC) and ITT Educational Services.

The for-profits almost universally rely on the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) for accreditation. As a reminder: any U.S. institution of higher education has to be accredited if it is to be eligible to receive federal financial aid doled out to college students. Recently the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, which advises the U.S. Secretary of Education, recommended that ACICS’s authority to accredit colleges and universities be rescinded. Last year, ACICS-accredited schools enrolled 800,000 students and were the recipients of $4.75 billion in federal aid.

The rationale given by the panel for its recommendation: ACICS has a long history of accrediting businesses that provide sub-standard educations at high prices, ripping off students and taxpayers in the process. Corinthian Colleges, for example, was an ACICS-accredited institution.

Should the Department of Education issue a final ruling that is in agreement with the panel’s recommendation, schools that currently have accreditation through ACICS will have eighteen months to find accreditation elsewhere. But this is highly unlikely — the regional accrediting bodies that serve non-profit institutions, like the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, are not going to put their own reputations at risk by mimicking ACICS.

A few weeks ago EDMC announced plans to shutter its approximately two dozen Brown Mackie campuses. Since 2013, eighteen of its fifty Art Institutes have closed. As you can see from the image above, it’s stock value is hovering just above zero and its credit rating is at junk bond status. The financial condition of ITT Educational Services is nearly as bad. Once the Department of Education kills ACICS, the spigot of taxpayer-provided cash will stop flowing to these companies and they will cease to exist.

ITT Education

Review of Creating Significant Learning Experiences

L. Dee Fink’s Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses * is a book that is just as useful for college instructors as Classroom Assessment Techniques by Angelo and Cross. While the latter focuses on measuring teaching effectiveness at a granular day-to-day scale, the former provides a framework for designing an entire course.

Fink’s taxonomy emphasizes what I would call human-centered rather than content-centered learning. Yes, the acquisition and application of foundational knowledge are present, but psycho-social outcomes rank higher on his list of characteristics that mark good teaching. He argues that students should gain an awareness of themselves and their relationships with others. Ultimately they should develop the cognitive and emotional machinery necessary for learning how to learn.

The may sound like vague, feel-good mumbo jumbo, but the book is in reality a very practical step-by-step guide. According to Fink, the course design process should begin with the instructor identifying situational factors that can affect how and what one teaches: Continue reading

Let’s be criminals! Guest post by Felia Allum

allumFelia Allum (University of Bath)

As a teacher, who researches organised crime in Italy and Europe, I wanted to re-invigorate my teaching approach and reach out more effectively to my students. In previous years, my undergraduate unit ‘Organised crime and democracy in Italy’ has always been very popular with students because of the nature of the topic, it always attracts and indeed, there is now a buoyant community of academics researching this topic.

When I taught this unit I sought to teach my students about the different cultural and economic conditions that surround Italian mafias and organised crime generally, to understand why individuals become mafiosi, what decisions do they make and why? What cultural values shape their world view? What economic activities do they undertake and why? Why do mafiosi seek out politicians and businessmen? But, this form of teaching was very teacher-led with me at the centre, giving out my wisdom. It worked but it was safe and only those highly motivated and enthusiastic students really understood the different debates that I was pressing.

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Start the way you mean to finish (and continue)

It’s the middle of the summer and I don’t teach again until late August. But, I am thinking about first days. It’s an important day of class, but it’s easy to treat it as a throwaway class (that’s certainly how most students seem to see it).syllabus

What do you do? Most of us probably do the usual: go over the syllabus (to some degree or another), answer questions, do an icebreaker, and some of us might start teaching (to our students’ chagrin)

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Grading on Spec III

The first-year seminar I mentioned in my last post will have twenty-two students; each will be (or should be) submitting at least thirty-five reading responses during the semester. While the reading responses make students read and write about what they’ve read, I have to grade them within twenty-four hours of submission if my feedback is going to have any effect. To make grading these writing assignments as easy as possible, I’ve used a form of specifications grading with a 2 X 2 rubric.

I’ve noticed that any long-form comments I make about what a student submits — besides compliments like “Good work” — almost always relate to mechanical errors in the student’s writing. I see spelling mistakes, disagreement between the singular and plural, incorrect verb tenses, and other problems that detract from the ideas students are trying to express. My rubric hasn’t included a criteria for writing mechanics, hence the perceived need for me to type something in the tiny comment box when grading.

I’ve decided to add that criteria to the rubric to further reduce the amount of time spent grading. The rubric now looks like this:

30 point rubric

Since each reading response will be worth 30 points rather than 20, I will probably also boost my grading scale for the course from 1,000 to 2,000 points.

Previous posts on specifications grading herehere, and here.

Embedding Digital Skills in a Syllabus Quiz

DEC MonitorOver a year ago I wrote about a list of basic digital skills that my students should possess but often don’t. In that post I talked about quizzing students on these skills at the beginning of the semester. I’m finally getting around to doing this, for a first-year seminar I’ll be teaching to entering college students. My objectives are for the students to read the syllabus, discover whether they have the skills needed to access readings and submit assignments, and to seek help where appropriate.

Here are some of the quiz questions:

  • Find the assigned article written by Thu-Huong Ha [which I’ve clipped to an Evernote folder I made for the course]. A photo shows the author and her parents in a U.S. city in 1975. What is the name of that city?
  • Locate the reading assignment written by Hazrat Inayat Khan [a book excerpt available as library e-reserve]. Complete the sentence found on page 38 — “The inner life is a journey, and  . . . “
  • Find the Reuters article by Jason Szep and Stuart Grudgings [a pdf in the Evernote folder]. Download the article and then submit it as a pdf for the assignment on Canvas named “Syllabus Quiz Upload.”

You get the idea. I’ll set a 30-minute time limit on the quiz and give each student three attempts, using only the highest score.

Teaching-Research balance

Yeah. Like this. Peaceful. Posed. Totally like that.

I’m running a bit ragged right now. It’s a bit more than a fortnight until an event that it easily the most important and consequential for my research that I’ve ever encountered (and possibly the most important and consequential that I will ever encounter), and I still have all the normal stuff I need to be doing: exam boards don’t wait for referendums.

At one level, it’s all great. I’m getting to talk with people I wouldn’t normally have access to, connect with new audiences and generate data for what I think will be strong research outputs. Having worked in a field that was exceedingly quiet for many years, I’m now reaping the rewards.

On another level, it’s ridiculous. Every day I’m way-laid by something that needs urgent attention. I’m in the office for the first time in a week, because I’ve got some many events to attend, interviews to give and the rest. The pot plants in the office aren’t looking too happy right now. Continue reading