Tag Archives: University

Does Everyone Want to Attend University?

There was an op-ed in the New York Times the other week that detailed some of the economic inequality in the US. It used academic data to discuss how poorly Americans estimate the level of social mobility. It’s certainly worth reading, but I wanted to highlight one section (and study):

Studies by another author of this article, the University of Illinois psychologist Michael W. Kraus, and his colleague Jacinth J.X. Tan, to be published in next month’s issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, found a similar pattern: When asked to estimate how many college students came from families in the bottom 20 percent of income, respondents substantially misjudged, estimating that those from the lowest income bracket attended college at a rate five times greater than the actual one documented by the Current Population Survey.

Now, it’s certainly worth noting how poor Americans are when it comes to estimating social mobility, (they’re certainly just as poor when it comes to estimating wealth inequality), but I’m curious about the desires of those in the bottom quintile. That is, many people espouse the values of higher education (full disclosure: I’m a professor at a higher education institution and I have two master’s degrees!), but what if everyone isn’t meant to go to university? More importantly, what if everyone doesn’t want to go to university?

Higher education is often held up as a mechanism for those in lower income quintiles to move up into a higher quintile (social mobility), but maybe people who come from the bottom quintile don’t want to go to university. I’m not in the bottom quintile nor did I grow up in the bottom quintile, so I have little to no authority to speak about the desires of those who come from the bottom quintile, but I think it’s worth asking what it is that the bottom quintile desires, specifically as it relates to higher education.

In raising this kind of question, it would, of course, be important to raise the issue of culture and how that influences one’s desires. That is, people who come from higher quintiles usually have parents (and friends) who think it natural to make the progression from high school to university. For some, attending post-secondary institutions of learning isn’t a choice — they’re forced to go. For those in the bottom quintile, attending a post-secondary institution of learning isn’t thought about in the same way. For many, it’s not “the thing you do after high school,” but instead, it’s held up as an ideal. It’s held up as a mechanism for transformation from being poor to not being poor.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say that people in the bottom quintile shouldn’t attend university or shouldn’t want to attend university, but I think that alongside data discussing that estimates university attendance of different levels of income, there should also be data discussing the desires of those different levels of income.

ResearchBlogging.orgKraus, M., & Tan, J. (2015). Americans overestimate social class mobility Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 58, 101-111 DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2015.01.005

The Flipped Classroom: Homework in Class and Lecture at Home

A couple of weeks ago, there was an article in The Atlantic that not only discussed the idea of a “flipped” classroom (homework in class, lecture at home), but actually had data on this idea. Before we get into the data, I wanted to talk a little bit about this idea of the flipped classroom.

As you know, I’m a big proponent of perspective-taking, so the idea of flipping the classroom on its head is intriguing. That’s not to say that I like being the devil’s advocate just for the fun of it, I think there is great value to having someone intentionally take the opposite perspective. Currently, most folks believe that education happens through lecturing in the classroom and students doing homework at home. So, what if we flipped that around. What if the students had lecture at home and did homework in the classroom?

On its face, the idea might sound a bit strange (how can one have lecture at home without the teacher!), but there are, of course, ways around that. So let’s get back to the study from the article. Do you think that you’d like to have taken part in a flipped classroom? That is, if you think back to your days as a student (or if you still are one), do you think you’d want to learn this way?

Well, the students who took part in the study certainly didn’t think that they’d want to learn this way: 75% of the students in 2012 said that they preferred lectures in class. Do you want to guess how many liked this method after trying it? 90%. That’s a 165-point swing! From 75% who preferred lectures in class to then 90% who preferred the new method.

Alright, so the students like it, but what about their performance? Did it improve?

The study examined three years of a foundational pharmaceutics course, required for all doctor of pharmacy (Pharm.D.) students attending UNC. Overall, student performance improved between 2011 and 2013 by 5.1 percent.

Five percent is a substantial amount, especially when you consider that this method appears unorthodox. The second line of that paragraph causes me to raise an eyebrow: “…doctor of…” Meaning, the students who took part in this study were doctoral students.

Why is this significant?

Well, doctoral students are self-selected group of people who are highly motivated to pursue a graduate degree. This self-selected and highly motivated group is certainly not representative of all university students. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure that there are undergraduate students who are like this sect of graduate students, but there are probably more students not like them than there are students who are like them.

This is certainly a great window into how a flipped classroom might succeed, but before I’d consider it a viable option for undergraduate classes, I’d want to see some evidence that the effect holds in that kind of a setting.


Higher Education is More Like Telecommuting and Less Like Newspapers, Part 1

I came across an interesting article in The American Interest magazine a couple of days ago. It was by way of tweet (as it most often is). This tweet came from one of the professors at George Mason University, Prof. Auerswald. He’s done some really cool stuff, so be sure to check ’em out! The tweet which led me to the article:

Intriguing, yes? Well, it was to me, so I proceeded to read the article from the magazine. As for the argument that universities are going the way of the newspaper because of the internet — I don’t necessarily agree with it.

In fact, I think that higher education will go the way of telecommuting more than it will the way of newspapers. What do I mean? Well, telecommuting first became popular last century. It only existed as a possibility from about the 1970s on. By now, you’d expect that lots of people would telecommute, right? Depending on your definition of lots…

Total Number of US teleworkers

This graphic shows that there are only about 3 million total employees who telecommuted in 2011. If I were asked to guess in 1990s how many folks would be telecommuting in the 2010s, I would have guessed waay more than 3 million — as I’m sure most people would.

Higher education — learning — has, for the most part, been an in-person thing. People enroll in university and spend the next 4-5 years living on- (or off-) campus taking classes. In that time, they may also join student organizations, hold internships, and meet a whole bunch of new people. Some of those people become their friends for the rest of their lives.

MOOCs do not have the same qualities of in-person education. Learning online (or on your own) won’t necessarily reap the same benefits of attending university.

I understand the argument and the correlation between newspapers and higher education makes sense, but I just don’t buy it. I don’t believe that higher education will go the same way as Newsweek or other publications. Higher education is more than just the degree. That’s not to say that some consumers won’t choose to go the way of online learning, but I don’t think that it will pull enough folks away from wanting the in-person learning. This is why I think MOOCs and online education is more likely to go the way of telecommuting.

That being said, I do think that MOOCs present a major threat to the higher education market because consumers will perceive it as a shortcut to a degree.

And more than that, I think that advances in telecommuting could shift the way we telecommute — and by extension — higher education. In fact, I remember during the 2008 election, CNN had a “virtual presence” technology wherein one of their guests was somewhere else entirely, but there was a holographic representation of them in the studio (with which Wolf Blitzer was interacting). That was 4 years ago!

I don’t know what happened to that technology (if it’s being developed for commercial use, etc.), but I think that could seriously change the way we interact. I think if that technology were introduced on a larger scale, that would certainly increase the number of telecommuters. Similarly, I think that would have a chance at seriously changing the face of higher education. This technology, assuming it’s “just as good as being there,” would allow folks to be in the comfort of their basements (or virtual presence studio?), while still being at work or in a classroom.

Just as a closing: anything written about the future is inherently flawed. There’s no way to know (for sure) what will happen or won’t happen in the future. So, while these are some predictions or guesses I’m making about the future, they may turn out to be wildly wrong (or surprisingly right).

Note: After writing this, I realized that there were a few more things I wanted to touch on. Look for Part 2 tomorrow!