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Syllabus: Week of January 14-18

Published:  January 18, 2013
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The grass may not be greener in Harvard's yard according to Moody's. Photo licensed CC by Wesley Fryer.

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


The Next Affirmative Action, Kevin Carey
Washington Monthly

In the January/February issue, Carey, Director of the Education Policy Program here at New America, argues that minority students need a much broader reform agenda. Since most students don’t attend colleges with admissions rates below 50 percent, affirmative action only affects the small percentage of students who are qualified to attend elite schools. Instead, we need to re-balance public resources toward those less-selective institutions that enroll the lion’s share of minority students in higher education. Then we should hold them accountable for student outcomes like graduation rates. “Those who set the national education agenda need to look past the handful of universities that graduate the ruling class,” writes Carey, “And focus on improving the neglected institutions that educate the future minority school teachers, scientists, doctors, and engineers.”

Nowhere to Turn, Kevin Kiley
Inside Higher Ed

Moody’s Investors Service released a report on the outlook for higher education, and the news isn’t good. “The grass isn’t greener on anybody else’s quad,” writes Kiley, “Not even Harvard University’s.” As it turns out, every traditional revenue stream for colleges and universities—from tuition to state appropriation to endowments—will be under stress over the coming years. And no institution, not even Harvard, will be insulated.

California to Give Web Courses a Big Trial, Tamar Lewin and John Markoff
New York Times

Udacity, a for-profit provider of Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) is partnering with San Jose State University to offer a remedial algebra course, a college-level algebra course, and introductory statistics. For now, these classes will be limited to 300 students, but eventually the courses could be offered to hundreds of thousands of students. The cost of each course will be $150, saving students a significant amount of money. Is this the pathway to a business model for MOOCs?


The Associated Press reported yesterday that Dartmouth College is ending Advanced Placement (AP) credit. Dartmouth has concluded that the tests aren’t as rigorous as its own classes. How do they know? The psychology department gave high AP Psychology scorers a condensed version of Dartmouth’s “Psych 101” exam. Approximately 90 percent of those students failed. Therefore, they concluded, AP courses and credits are not of the same quality.

I’m inclined to believe that this is a huge step backwards for students. First of all, I’m not sure how many students would pass a low-stakes exam, months or years after learning course content.  Most important, how are institutions defining defining quality? Michael Mendillo, a professor at Boston University, made the same AP quality argument last year in the Chronicle of Higher Education. My rebuttal on The Quick and the Ed was that the quality of courses in high school and college vary widely across institutions. The difference is that a poor-quality AP class would presumably be reflected by students’ scores on the standardized, transparent, nationally-normed AP exams. The same cannot be said for college courses.  Further, AP exams give many students a leg-up to a college degree. We already have a college-completion problem. Doing away with AP because of obscure “quality” concerns does not seem to add value to the conversation.

Higher Ed Watch readers, what are your thoughts? Feel free to comment below.


Admission Trailer

Set to be released March 8, Tina Fey plays an admissions officer at Princeton and Paul Rudd plays her former classmate. Most improbable part:

Prospective student: I’m worth a billion dollars.
Fey: [checks a box that says deny]



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