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Syllabus: Week of February 17

Published:  February 22, 2013
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Stanford raised over $1 billion last year ensuring the campus remains as idyllic as this photo. Image licensed CC by cytech.

Welcome to the Syllabus, a weekly guide that provides insight into what’s happening in higher education.


Obama, Rubio Put Higher Education on Notice, David Wessel
The Wall Street Journal

Senator Marco Rubio and President Barack Obama may not agree on much these days, but they do agree that the way the federal government spends money on student aid needs to change. In this year’s State of the Union, President Obama called for incorporating measures of value and affordability into higher education’s accreditation system or establishing a path to alternative accreditation for nontraditional providers. Senator Rubio, in his response to the State of the Union, said, “We need student aid that does not discriminate against programs that nontraditional students rely on—like online courses or degree programs that give you credit for work experience.” While it is unclear how and when accreditation could be changed, something needs to update the archaic 19th century practice and bring it to the 21st century. “The focus by Mr. Obama and Mr. Rubio on accreditation suggests a worry that the old system could stifle innovation,” writes Wessel, “And prevent competition from new, perhaps more efficient forms of teaching.”

It Takes a B.A. to Find a Job as a File Clerk, Catherine Rampell
The New York Times

A mid-sized law firm in Atlanta hires only people with a bachelor’s degree for administrative roles, even for jobs that don’t require college-level skills. This means that receptionists, document runners, and file clerks all went to, and graduated from, four-year schools. According to Rampell, “This up-credentialing is pushing the less educated even further down the food chain, and it helps explain why the unemployment rate for workers with no more than a high school diploma is more than twice that for workers with a bachelor’s degree: 8.1 percent versus 3.7 percent.”

Online Courses Could Widen Achievement Gap Among Students, Jake New
The Chronicle of Higher Education

A new working paper by Columbia University’s Community College Research Center suggests that online courses could widen achievement gaps among students in various demographic groups. By examining 500,000 courses taken by more than 40,000 community-college students in Washington, researchers found that students who typical struggle in traditional classrooms find it even more difficult to succeed in online courses. Some groups, like black students, male students, and younger students, fare worse than others. Though if students are supported in the online environment and the courses are high quality, then outcomes should improve. According to Kathy Enger, director of the Northern Lights Library Network and an online educator, “We have to figure out how to help other students succeed in these classes. We need a lot more teacher training, showing them tactics to use to try and reach out. I think it’s difficult for faculty to know how to do online. Not that they don’t want to. It’s just hard.”


Stanford Tops College Fundraising
NPR News: All Things Considered

Stanford has become the first university to raise more than $1 billion in a single year. “We’ve remained in awe and are humbled by this level of support,” said Stanford’s Vice President of Development Martin Shell, “Most people view education as a transformative opportunity to make the world a better place and make lives better. We feel very fortunate that our donors want to be a part of that at Stanford.” How will they spend the money? Some will go to financial aid to ensure a Stanford education remains affordable.


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