Last month I wrote about the multi-year death spiral at Iowa Wesleyan University. My 2017 column for Inside Higher Ed discussed four broad signs that a small college or university is headed toward failure. But how can a faculty member employed by a tuition-dependent institution like Iowa Wesleyan get a firmer grip on his or her employer’s financial health?
One way to do this is to calculate the percentage change over time in a school’s annual total expenses per full-time equivalent (FTE) undergraduate. The larger the expansion in expenses per student, the worse the school’s financial condition and the lower the chances of its long-term survival.
I decided apply this rule of thumb to several colleges and universities that suffered declining enrollment, eliminated academic programs, or were otherwise reported as in financial difficulty. My analysis uses data from fiscal years 2011 through 2016. Why use this time span? Prior to FY 2011, colleges and universities were trying to cope with the immediate effects of the Great Recession, which, as I have previously argued, accelerated what are probably near-permanent changes in undergraduate enrollment. It seemed fair to give schools six years after the economy had begun to stabilize to adjust to the new normal. Finally, when I began my analysis, the most recent publicly-available federal tax filings were from FY 2016.
Below are my results, ordered from the smallest increase in expenses per FTE undergraduate to the largest. I bear none of these schools any ill will. Many have histories of serving marginalized populations. But I predict that at least half of them will close within the next five years.
During last September’s annual conference of the University Association for Contemporary European Studies (UACES) in Bath, Simon kicked off the teaching and learning afternoon gathering with a teaching and learning bingo.
I enjoyed this a lot. It was nice, active, fun. I got to meet new people and learned new thing about teaching and learning. Based on this (perhaps somewhat subjective) experience, I decided to hijack Simon’s idea and use it in two similar, but different settings. This is what happened.
Problem-Based Learning workshop Bolzano
Maastricht University is known for its application of Problem-BasedLearning (PBL). New staff have to attend a PBL introduction training session upon starting at our university. All teaching staff also need to complete the so-called University Teaching Qualification (UTQ) trajectory (this, in fact, applies to all higher education institutions in the Netherlands). One of my duties is to coordinate UTQ at my home faculty. And it was this – plus my teaching experience – that lead me to being invited to convene a workshop entitled ‘Tutors in problem-based learning from distant facilitator to approachable coach’ at the University of Bolzano early October.
Since I did not know any of the people there, I thought this would be a great opportunity to use the T&L bingo.
I adapted Simon’s bingo to my own needs. The instructions are relatively straightforward and the items of a diverse nature, including more light-hearted ones.
It worked surprisingly well. I got to know the participants, plus they got to know each other a bit better too. It also provided me with some input for the workshop (‘The one thing they’re hoping to learn more about today’). Considering it was a day-long workshop, this helped me to focus on specific points and also, towards the end, to check if everyone thought that we sufficiently covered their needs.
University Teaching Qualification workshop Maastricht
I already wrote that I coordinate UTQ at my home faculty. This year 13 colleagues have to complete the trajectory. The group of participants is very diverse in terms of disciplinary backgrounds and teaching experience, and included teaching assistants, PhD students and a professor. Not everyone knew each other, so once again the bingo seemed like a good idea. And once again, I thought I could use the input for the workshop.
This time too, I adapted the bingo to the setting,with specific questions about the topics that we were going to focus on during the day.
Even though there was some hilarity as to whether this was really a serious exercise (see this tweet),participants actively engaged in it. As they will be working together throughout this academic year, it was important that they got to know each other – the usual round of introduction is a bit boring, especially because it usually does not result in new information. Once more I included a question that gave me specific input as to the expectations for the day (‘Your colleague’s personal learning goal for today’).
What I learned
The good: after a bit of hesitation everyone got really involved. Some colleagues did their utmost best to talk to everyone; others decided for a longer talk when the issue at hand was interesting. Reason enough to do it again, though I’d probably want to explain the exercise better in order to avoid awkward moments at the start.
The bad: timing is an issue. In both cases, we took much more time than I had anticipated, as everyone really got into it and because I had encouraged them to try and talk to everyone. Next time I might consider using a timer or buzzer. Or perhaps offer a prize to the person who gets most boxes filled within a set time.
The ugly: I enjoyed it so much that I also got completely carried away. And subsequently lost track of time… As such, a timer is definitely needed! Someone needs to keep track of me too. I might ask one of the other participants to be in charge of time instead.
I’d love to try this exercise with students. I think it would make a great course opening. I mostly teach in a programme with +300 students, so they do not always know each other despite changing tutor groups every 8 weeks and every course. Plus it would be a great way to have them discuss a course topic in a more informal setting and get to know more about the course’s intended learning outcomes. Obviously, I would have to adapt the bingo to the course itself. I would include a debriefing so that we all get to know more about students’ pre-knowledge about the topic and our expectations of the course, the group and the tutor (i.e. me).
Nearly five years ago I wrote about the dim prospects for Iowa Wesleyan University (formerly College). The school had just announced that it would eliminate half of its academic majors and terminate more than forty percent of its faculty members.
Earlier this month, Iowa Wesleyan’s president announced that it was in danger of shutting down. The university’s trustees decided on November 15 to keep the university operating until at least December 2019. My guess is that their decision just delays the inevitable. According to Iowa Wesleyan’s IRS filings, it suffered from negative net revenue — a deficit — for five of six fiscal years from 2011 to 2016. Operating expenses per full-time equivalent undergraduate increased by more than fifty percent during the same period. Supposedly the university needs $4.6 million in additional revenue to stay open until the end of 2019.
Iowa Wesleyan faces the same problem that many other similarly-sized private colleges and universities face: declining demand coupled with increased operating costs. For many small-enrollment, tuition-dependent higher education institutions, the future is financially unsustainable.
I’ll be writing more about how to interpret the relationship between a school’s enrollment and operating expenses in the coming months, both here and, possibly, at Inside Higher Ed.
This guest post is part of a series linked to the publication of G. Pleschova & A. Simon (eds.) Learning to teach in central Europe: Reflections from early career researchers. This post comes from Sarah Holz.
a teacher who aspires to student-centered learning, increasing student class participation
and involvement in seminars is a central concern for me. Reading Michal
Tkaczyk’s book chapter offered some insightful and thought provoking
ideas for me because the chapter addresses the question in how far enhanced
student participation, interest in the subject matter, and the acquisition of
key concepts are linked.
In his chapter, which is part of the newly released online book Early Career Academics’ Reflections on Learning to Teach in Central Europe edited by Gabriela Pleschová and Agnes Simon, Michal Tkaczyk offers insights into the findings from a teaching innovation introduced in a seminar on semiotic analysis of media contents. The innovation aimed at (1) improving student knowledge-acquisition, (2) enhancing their skills to apply key concepts of semiotic analysis and (3) promoting student participation.
After last week’s class discussion about participation, I decided to run an exercise that made it really easy to show the marginal benefit of preparation.
I told students to prepare for a meeting about putting together an agenda for another negotiation, and gave them all specific roles, plus some rules of procedure.
(For those who are looking for Brexit sims, this was a Council working group, putting together an agenda for the Commission to take to the UK to discuss the Political Declaration).
Because it was about formulating an agenda, I hoped that students would see they didn’t need to get too deeply into substantive positions, as long as they could frame the general areas to be covered.
Plus, but giving clear roles and rules, I incentivised everyone to push out their own draft agendas prior to the meeting. In so doing, I hoped they’d see that even a small amount of preparation could have big effects.
Badges are not exactly a new concept, but like many ideas that come from games, they are still not widely known in the world of higher education and learning. As many of us know from playing sports or participating in Scouts-style programs as children, badges are physical marks of achievement given to those that show competency at a particular skill or for doing well in a competition. In video games like World of Warcraft, meeting a particular goal is called an ‘achievement’. Each achievement you earn flashes across the public chat, allowing for recognition, and some of them come with special items or titles in the game. Defeat the Lich King, and you not only get to bask in the glory of victory, but you earn the title ‘Kingslayer’. While typically meant as a form of visible recognition for an achievement, earning achievements or badges can motivate behavior and can be seen as credentials in their own right.
Motivation, recognition, and credentialing skills–sounds like what we want to do in the classroom, right?
Oddly, it took being interviewed for a research project to really crystallise my thoughts on this subject, after some months of it niggling away.
Earlier in the year, my institution launched a consultation on a captured content policy.
This was intended – in its words – to ensure improved access to learning materials and to allow for more flexible delivery, and was sold with a large dose of student demand (via our Students Union).
For those of you who’ve not had this conversation at your place of work, captured content covers lecture capture (semi-automatic filming of lectures to be uploaded to the VLE); flipped content and; anything else that’s a recording of teaching.
As an aside, there’s mixed evidence in the literature of its benefit for students: Owston et al suggest it’s particularly of use for low-achieving students, and Shaw et al see most benefits for non-native speakers; but Stroup et al find no evidence of impact on GPAs; while Danielson et al suggest that the kind of lecture has an impact.
However, as presented, the university wanted to have a whole lot more of this kind of thing, across the board, including talk of a largely-compulsory system of lecture capture.
Cue much concern from colleagues.
This ranged from how to deal with mixed lecture-seminar sessions to the impact on willingness to talk about sensitive subjects to administrators using recordings for management purposes to the principle worry that students just wouldn’t turn up to class if they could just watch it online later on.
In its defence, the final, approved policy didn’t go as far as the draft plans, so there’s a lot more scope for instructor discretion about using captured content; although we’re all required to have discussions about how best to proceed on this front. Some of our teaching rooms now have automatic recording of classes, but defaulting to not making these available to students or anyone else.
So that’s all fine, right? University over-reaches in its plans, colleagues feed into consultation, university responds and adapts. That’s what should happen. Right?
I’m not so sure.
To come back to the original sell, a key part of it all was that push from the Students Union to the effect that lecture capture would improve the quality and student-centredness of lectures.
Here we have to remember that lecture capture (since it was that, rather than captured content in general) is not about content, but about delivery. In a system that automatically records lectures, the expectation should be that lectures continue as they have, but now with the option of being available online.
No imagine you’re sitting in a lecture.
You don’t understand something, so you either raise your hand to ask the lecturer, or you ask the person sat next to you.
In both cases, you’ll get an almost instantaneous clarification for someone immediately and directly focused on the subject matter, with a pretty good change of resolving the issue.
But if you watch a captured lecture, then if you don’t understand the one explanation in that lecture, then you’ve got to email or visit the lecturer, who’s got to fit responding around whatever else it is they’re doing.
Much more time, much more effort, many more points of failure.
So no lecture capture then?
This is why I’ve never gone for lecture capture, but instead have travelled down the road of flipping. In the latter case, you’re using the contact time to give space for student questions and clarification, so it’s a much more engaged model than just recording the stuff that already happening in class.
Importantly, that’s what works for what I’m doing and what I’m trying to achieve.
And this is perhaps the central point.
In all the years of teaching that I’ve done, at all the institutions that I’ve encountered and worked for, I don’t ever recall a policy about optimising student learning.
I’ve seen policies about captured content or using VLEs; regulations about the volume and nature of assessment and size of modules; and more learning and teaching strategies than I care to remember.
But never a document about how to make informed pedagogic choices about designing the best possible learning experience for students.
If it’s appeared anywhere, then it’s in teaching training courses, and then generally indirectly.
I can understand why this is – those other things are much more fungible and measurable – but it does raise a question about the focus of our work.
Importantly, I feel that too often we find ourselves in situations where “student learning” is conflated with “student satisfaction”: if only we can make them happy, then they’ll get more out of it.
Even on its own terms, I don’t see the logic of this, even before we get to whether it’s something that’ll serve our students well in the wider world.
All of which is a very roundabout way of saying that if I change how I teach in my class, then it’s because I’ve made a considered decision about its pedagogic merits, rather than because of an institutional policy.
Today’s post is more about career development than teaching . . .
Academia is a bureaucratic work environment. Information is constantly documented and distributed. Often this happens to the same piece of information multiple times. Consequently I began recycling my writing as much as possible several years ago, in the belief that it is better to make minor changes, or none at all, to writing upon which I have already expended mental energy. An underlying principle here is writing with an ultimate rather than a proximal use in mind. What is the most valuable end to which this writing can be eventually directed? A simple example: the proposal for your conference presentation becomes the abstract for the conference paper, which in turn becomes the abstract for the manuscript submitted to a journal.
A second and, for some, more important example: the stream of email, editorial comments, draft committee proposals, and other written minutiae that one produces — it’s all work. Don’t let it disappear into the ether. Instead, use it for future contract renewal, tenure, or promotion.
I admit that I didn’t fully recognize the potential value of this writing until my wife — also an academic — compiled her application dossier for promotion to full professor. Watching her, I realized that, in the course of my day-to-day business as an associate professor and department chair, I had generated chains of emails and memos that constituted evidence of service and scholarship à la the Boyer model. I saw that this material, if organized coherently, could form much of my own application for promotion, in many cases verbatim. Continue reading →
We have been following the ALPS-blog discussion on students’ participation between Amanda and Simon with great interest. The situations they discuss are very familiar.
learning takes place according to the principles of problem-based learning (PBL); through active participation and discussions in tutorials.
In the programmes that
we teach in, we can grade students’ participation with a +0.5 on top of the
exam grade for exceptionally good participation or a -0.5 for insufficient
participation – a system introduced following discussions about the problem of
We too see students
who remain silent. We train students, encourage participation and discuss group
dynamics, but students may not feel comfortable or skilled to live up to our
expectations – certainly not in their first weeks at university.