(Looking Back and Looking Forward takes a look at the articles and posts I found interesting from the previous week, along with reflections about how the trends they point to might shape my thinking about education and technology.)
You know the old adage. “Follow the money.” Or, in his carse, a lack thereof.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Friday report, “Real compensation, which is adjusted for inflation, fell 3.7% for all workers through the year that ended in March.” The drop represents the largest one-year decline in two decades. Not surprisingly, higher ed institutions are not insulated from the ravages of inflation. According to a new study by College and University Association for Professional Human Resources, the median salary increase for all higher ed professionals was less than half of the inflation rate in 2021-2022.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the only challenge facing higher education administrators these days. In fact, as Ray Schroeder writes in Inside Higher Ed, “this is a rather dark Dickensian time in higher education, caught in the storm of societal and economic sea change” Enrollments are on a steady downward trend. The decline of tenured faculty marches on. Many college graduates fail to earn middle-income salaries while the costs of attending college continue to rise. However, Schroeder points out, this is also a time of great opportunity for higher ed institutions willing to innovate, particularly with regard to alternative credentials that can provide non-degree pathways to the middle class.
Implicit in Schroeder’s essay is the fact that higher education continues to shift its education focus to align with our society’s emphasis on good jobs as the foundational pathway to both professional and personal success. Aligning college studies to tangible skills and employment is becoming increasingly important. Victims of that shift include graduate studies and programs in the humanities. This includes those few remaining public-supported liberal arts universities like Henderson State University in Arkansas.
Of course, innovation in higher education is not necessarily good news for students. Such is definitely the case with certificates and other alternative credentials. Certificate programs of value are aligned to job-ready skills, provide demonstrable evidence of mastery, allow students to enter the workforce more rapidly than they would in a traditional degree program, and provide concrete pathways to gainful employment and careers.
Unfortunately, some universities simply view these credentials as a way to establish new revenue streams and seem unconcerned that their certificate programs do not provide real value. Another short-term problem related to alternative credentials is that some employers are not yet ready to recognize alternative credentials in their hiring decisions.
On a much more positive note, I was happy to see news about Lumen Learning’s new Improve It Challenge grant program designed to promote and encourage the continuous improvement of open educational resources (OER).
And finally, what would a weekly recap be these days without something about Twitter? So yes, we now know that Elon Musk was really serious about acquiring the social media company and should soon take the reins as the new owner. One natural consequence of the new ownership is that some loyal users are now looking for a new platform. A good group of open educators are giving Mastodon a try.