Posts published in August, 2014

College Mentoring Programs May Not Help Student Retention

Buffy Smith, an associate professor of sociology and criminal justice at the University of St. Thomas, in Minnesota, says many institutions see mentoring programs as cheap, quick ways to boost recruitment and retention of at-risk students. But for mentoring programs to succeed, they need money and clear objectives, she warns. The article is in Inside Higher Ed via Carnegie Foundation

Presidencies Derailed: Why University Leaders Fail And How To Prevent It

reviewed by D. Bruce Johnstone — July 31, 2014 in Teachers College Record (this is an excerpt)

coverTitle: Presidencies Derailed: Why University Leaders Fail and How to Prevent It
Author(s): Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, Gerald B. Kauvar, & E. Grady Bogue
Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore
ISBN: 1421410249, Pages: 184, Year: 2

Presidencies Derailed is a compact, provocative, mostly beautifully written accounting of causes for, and lessons to be learned from, presidencies that fail before the end of their initial contracts (or expected terms). The authors focus on first term derailments because, while there are always causes, and while most (although not all) causes reflect some kind of lapse (or worse) on the part of the presidents who resigned prematurely or were abruptly fired, these unfortunate and costly experiences also generally represent failures in the governing board’s processes to search, select, launch, and nurture their new campus leaders. Derailments are enormously costly, whether measured in the lost time and morale of the governing board members and other stakeholders involved in the failed search, a fracturing of what traditions of shared governance may have existed, a similar fracturing of governing board cohesiveness (although such pre-existing fractures may have had a major hand in the derailment), in the monetary cost of a new search, in the loss of important constituencies and donors, and in disrupted campus plans.

Presidential derailments are not uncommon: the authors cite some 50 college, university, and system heads who resigned, retired prematurely, or were overtly fired in 2009 and 2010. While drawing on personal experiences, the extensive literature on college and university governance, and on the literature of leadership styles and transitions in the corporate world, much of the meat of the analysis relies on 16 extensive case studies of presidential derailments: four studies each of failed presidencies in private liberal arts colleges, public masters-level institutions, public research universities, and public community colleges.

The causes for presidential derailments are usually multiple, complex, and contested. They are generally given great play in the media (both print and social) while shrouded in official secrecy and exacerbated by extensive rumors and diverse personal agendas. As the case studies were real and necessarily involved real or perceived ethical lapses, damaged careers, humiliation, and sometimes lawsuits, the authors have disguised the names of the persons and institutions studied. The cases and the generalizations drawn from them are recounted with great sensitivity and deference to the complexities and multiple perceptions involved with such experiences. At the same time, they do not shy away from identifying the widespread perceptions of moral and ethical lapses, political corruption, and dysfunctional behavior that so frequently derail campus heads.

The sixteen very diverse case studies are cleverly woven together with the six derailment themes, all of which were found in some of the cases, and most cases revealing several. Four of the themes were taken from the literature of failures in business leadership, all of which seem equally applicable to college and university presidential derailments. These were: (a) failure to meet institutional objectives and needs; (b) problems with interpersonal relationships (whether with board members, faculty, executive staff, or community leaders); (c) inability to lead key constituencies, including inability to build and develop a strong executive staff, delegate appropriately, and be generally accepted as a leader who has listened widely and acted with sensitivity and integrity for the good of the institution; and (d) difficulty adapting, including difficulty or unwillingness to comprehend the institutional history and culture when making the decisions for the long term good of the institution. To these four generic leadership failures, and drawn from the case studies as well as their own leadership experiences, the authors add two that they believe to be more peculiar to institutions of higher education (whether public or private, large or small, or elite research campuses or less selective teaching institutions): (e) ethical lapses and (f) board shortcomings.


Administrators Ate My Tuition ? And More

The headline is last entry in this update from the Delta Cost Project at AIR

College Subsidies Hit Decade Low as Students Pay at Least Half of Their Education Cost for

the First Time
Subsidies for public higher education institutions have hit a 10-year low, according to the latest Delta Cost Project report by the American Institutes for Research (AIR). This comes at a time when students now pay on average half or more of their education’s cost. The report also shows that community colleges are posting the lowest level of spending per student in a decade.

“Students are paying an ever-larger share of the costs colleges and universities incur to provide an education—particularly students at public institutions,” said Donna Desrochers, the report’s lead author and an AIR principal researcher. “Research universities are still feeling the recession’s aftermath, with academic spending per student declining for two years straight, while spending at other four-year institutions rose.”

The report used 2001–11 data compiled by the Delta Cost Project from information institutions reported to the U.S. Department of Education. Read the summary and key findings for Trends in College Spending: 2001–2011.

TCS Is New and Improved!
The Trends in College Spending (TCS) online database had a facelift! The redesigned site is not only better looking, but more user-friendly. TCS now includes data from 2011, the latest data available on college spending. The new site houses a redesigned “Institutional Snapshot” service, allowing users to access an in-depth spending report on a single college or university.

But the site has not changed in any important ways. As always, TCS Online is an interactive Web-based data system that provides education stakeholders easy access to information on finance, performance, and enrollments for individual institutions, groups of institutions, or the nation as a whole.

Visit our new and improved site.

“Think Again: Administrators Ate My Tuition! Really?”
In a recent commentary, Delta Cost Managing Researcher Rita Kirshstein refutes the idea that highly paid administrators are sucking down tuition dollars. Read the full story.

Visit us at or follow us on Twitter @deltacostproject.

The College Core Curriculum: Enlightenment Or Gate Keeper?

By Watson Scott Swail, Ed.D. President and CEO, Educational Policy Institute

According to the Community College Research Center[1] at Teachers College, approximately 60 percent of incoming community college students are referred to at least one developmental course, and less than a quarter of students who enroll in those courses complete a degree within eight years.

Many of the students who take developmental courses do so because of a requirement for a select set of “core” courses, sometimes referred to as general education, to earn their diploma, certificate, or degree. The purpose of core courses is generally to ensure that students have a broad experiential education and gain critical thinking skills to aid them in their other course

Typical core courses include mathematics, science, history, English, literature, and choices of certain social sciences courses (e.g., philosophy; psychology). The challenge for many students is that some or many of these courses end up being gatekeepers to their ability to progress to degree, especially those courses and requirements unrelated to their major course of study.

For instance, at Columbia College within Columbia University in New York, the core includes contemporary civilization course with readings such as The Republic (Plato), The Hebrew Bible, The Discourses (Machiavelli), and the Second Treatise of Government by John Locke. In addition, Columbia requires three science courses, and a foreign language component. Columbia perhaps is not a typical institution, but this gives you a quick idea of requirements for students at that institution. At Tidewater Community College in Norfolk/Virginia Beach, course requirements in diagnostic medical sonography include anatomy and physiology, mathematics, physics, English Composition, a social science elective, a humanities elective, and basic computer literacy. At Columbia, you get the core being literature; at TCC, you understand the focus on anatomy and related technical courses. But the question remains why is it necessary to require non-related courses for graduation that, for many students, may become gatekeepers to completion?

Institutions, and Departments, to be fair, vary greatly in how they deal with core courses, but most typically require courses from outside their academic program. The challenge becomes when certain courses become gatekeepers to further progress for students. Certainly, if a student requires remedial course work related to their field of study, that makes sense. However, if the remedial course is non-related, then I think we have to challenge the basis of that requirement.

Mathematics is often the best example because of the nature of mathematics, itself, but I’m not sure why it is important for a student to take more mathematics after a decade-plus of mathematics when their major study is unrelated to mathematics. The same can be said for foreign language requirements, which are nice to have but completely unnecessary for programs outside of language study. It can be argued that some English study is useful, but those two required English courses, for those who are not English majors, should be more related to technical writing or something relative to their major study.

We often advise institutions with graduation rate issues to look at their courses with the highest DFW levels (D, F, or Withdrawal). There needs to be significant review of why students are failing or leaving these courses, and also an internal review of whether these courses are necessary for those students. A simple change of requirements can reduce attrition greatly for many students.

In the end, this is part of the philosophical tug-of-war between vocational pragmatism and the theoretical canon of higher education. We have a general education core in our curriculum because our instructors and educational leaders believe in the importance of having all of their students share in a unique and important lesson that they will use in their studies and life. They are not incorrect in this belief. The challenge is that just because we’ve done things the same way for so long doesn’t offer an excuse for not changing with the times.

I’m not suggesting we don’t have a general core. I am suggesting we think very carefully about what the core is and what the benefit is to the student as well as the institution. It must make sense, especially for the more vocationally-minded studies. In the end, we’re talking about opportunity cost for all stakeholders.

[1] Bailey, Thomas, and Cho, Sung-Woo (2010, October). Developmental Education in Community Colleges. An issue brief of the Community College Research Center. New York, NY: CCRC.

The Power of Data To Enhance College Completion

More than one-third of students who start college never finish. A new service offered by The Predictive Analytics Reporting Framework is hoping to help more students succeed by harnessing the power of data. A recent VOX article details how colleges, like the Unversity of Texas-Austin and Southern Illinois University, use the framework to identify which students are most likely to drop out and then help them succeed.

Source: Carnegie Foundation

California Rising Through New Education Policies

California Rising: An interview with Mike Kirst

By Marc Tucker

Mike Kirst has had a distinguished career as a leading education policy analyst.  But, he’s not just an observer.  Kirst has long been in the thick of the action, starting with key leadership positions on the U.S. Senate Staff, in the Executive Office of the President of the United States and at the U.S. Department of Education.  Kirst was Jerry Brown’s education advisor during both of his successful runs for Governor of California.  In both cases, the new Governor asked Kirst to stay on as the President of the California State Board of Education, the post in which Kirst now serves.
Marc Tucker: For a long time, many of us viewed California as a national basket case, with a hopelessly snarled decision structure for education.  That is clearly not true anymore.  What happened?

Michael Kirst: We had a strong policy window—a big confluence of strong political leadership, a unified Democratic Party, an economic recovery and good ideas—the timing was really good.

MT: But this a case of more than just good luck.  What’s the rest of the story?

Education Week

Brown administration looks to diminish influence of API

by Kimberly Beltran

(Calif.) Move over API. You’re not the top dog for determining school success anymore, the president of the state’s Board of Education said this week.

Instead, if Mike Kirst gets his way, the Academic Performance Index – long the state’s go-to tool for measuring how well schools are performing – will become in the eyes of the public just one component of a much larger, more robust reporting tool already required under the new Local Control Funding Formula.

“In the past the API was the be-all, end-all and now it’s just part of a much bigger system. People need to move beyond the API,” Kirst said in an interview Wednesday.

Cabinet Report