Saturday, October 1, 2016

Paying the Price with Vulnerable Funds

Sara Goldrick-Rab's book, Paying the Price, underscores how the crisis in HE severely impacts the personal and academic lives of students. Her student-centered research provides perspective that helps shape her reform recommendations. This approach to HE reform is not a new tactic.

The data-driven personalization offered by such advocacy research is also popular with those that hope to reform HE through the faculty narrative, who, like students, both have a stake in HE and suffer the current crisis. In concert with faculty-centered researchers, Goldrick-Rab calls for more money to fund the reforms she believes will improve the current HE model.

In the introduction to, Paying the Price, she says, “The price of college must be lowered much further than the current system allows. Money must be brought to the table - there is no way around it.”

This current system is institution-centered, expensive, underfunded, without sufficient transparent information and complex in terms of its finance and student aid apparatus - among other serious deficits.

But whether the research is student or faculty oriented, if advocates aim to improve the lot of these individuals, they must be more creative in their solutions. They must do more than devise system tweaks and demand additional or reallocated funding. There is a serious problem with such an approach, it suffers from what might be called the Vulnerable Funding Problem.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Irony in the Alt-ac Movement

I am a post-ac, but not by choice. I have a PhD in philosophy and for a decade worked as an adjunct. Affairs of the heart seduced me from my university hometown where I was fortunate enough to enjoy seniority on a couple of part time hiring lists, affording me a modest living. But my romantic love meant the forfeiture of my academic love. And even if I was to return home I would no longer enjoy seniority, without which I could not make even a modest living. I was very good at my job and would love to be doing it still.

This, or some more or less tragic version of it, is a common story in the academe.

As such, I understand those who seek a PhD with the intention to pursue a career other than as a traditional academic.  If only a small fraction of those with the degree land full time faculty positions, while the remainder are left scrounging for part time work, then a reasonable response is to generate alternative career paths for the degree.  Less dramatically, some PhD candidates simply discover that the traditional work of an academic or the environment in which it is done does not suit their tastes.

In either case it makes sense that institutions develop programs that facilitate the pursuit of alternative, non-traditional career paths. In this way the degree is not retired and graduates enjoy productive, fulfilling work lives - and love lives.

There is, however, a problem with the alt-ac response. Ironically, the response utterly depends upon the traditional academic career it is meant to avoid and so ultimately reintroduces the very employment perils of the PhD it is meant to avoid.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Fantasy From Fact: All Higher Education Can Be Tuition-Free

I have read the submissions published by Evolllution on the two-year tuition-free initiatives that are the rage these days in higher education:

J Noah Brown, President and CEO, Association of Community College Trustees and a member of Obama's College Promise Advisory Board, considers them a mend for the American economy and a long overdue fulfillment of a promise made by the Truman Commission. Barmak Nassirian, Director of Federal Relations and Policy Analysis, American Association of State Colleges and Universities, considers them "frivolous escapist fantasies." Claude Pressnell, President, Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities, worries about "under-matching" and the undervaluing of education in favour of training. Others such as Shannon McCarty, Dean of Instruction and Academic Affairs, Rio Salado Community College, and Lenore Rodicio, Provost, Miami-Dade College, see opportunity to introduce more technology and more government funding to accommodate the intended increase in student demand.

But whether fantasy or fact no one is aiming for tuition-free higher education at all levels. No one is aiming to realize the right to free higher education, as ratified by America in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.  And though Nassirian calls for it, not even he is offering "discussion on a radical overhaul of the American higher education financing."

Well, no one it seems except me. And the discussion I offer is not predicated on the further introduction of technology, government funding or philanthropy.  In fact, it is predicated on their reduction.

Tuition-free, high-quality, universally accessible, face-to-face higher education can be achieved if we change the relationship between institutions and individuals. As a model, Professional Society of Academics (PSA) does just that.

Friday, May 23, 2014

A Post-ac, Para-ac and Alt-ac walk into an Alt-mod…

With social media craze and higher education crisis as parents, the hashtags #alt-ac, #post-ac, and #para-ac refer to people classified by their work, education, and attitude toward the academy, who opt or aim for careers across the public and private, employee and entrepreneur work spaces within and without higher education, and who by some lights are laying foundation for a new academy.

Until recently I was unaware that I might be classified as an “acer” – as in “hacker.”  Like many others I do not fit nicely under any one of the three hashtags, though best fit is a reluctant post-ac.  For a decade I worked as an adjunct until five years ago when romantic and labour market forces left me without even this tenuous access to faculty work.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

From Motor City to Mind City: Combining Union, Professional and Co-operative Association in Michigan Higher Education

Nation of Change published a piece this month by Matt Stannard, entitled, “Organized Labor, Public Banks and Grassroots: Keys to A Worker-Owned Economy,” that includes several observations I consider consistent with the aims of my alternative higher education model (a.k.a. PSA): a paradigm shift away from the current employer/employee capitalist labour arrangement in favour of labour arrangements more common to entrepreneurialism and the social economy.

First, from my perspective on higher education reform Stannard’s piece offers a constructive rather than complicit role for unions.  Second, his piece mitres nicely with one of the strategies I have been developing to put the PSA model into action.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Unions Are Complicit In Harm To Adjuncts and Higher Education

Unionization is not an effective response to the crisis in higher education. In fact it is a mistake that harms higher education and academic labour.  This is so for at least five reasons that are obvious from my perspective:

Saturday, April 19, 2014


In a recently released Lumina Foundation policy paper, Sara Goldrick-Rab and Nancy Kendall reveal their plan to give Americans a free 2 year college option (F2CO).  That is, the 13th and 14th years of (postsecondary) education at community college would be free, which under F2CO means:

“…students will not face any costs for tuition, fees, books or supplies, and will receive a stipend and guaranteed employment at a living wage to cover their living expenses. Unsubsidized, dischargeable loans of a small amount will also be available for those who need them.”

In a number of important ways, this plan is inferior to the professional model for higher education that I propose (referred to here as, PSA). Having made this claim in a tweet to Sara Goldrick-Rab, her reply was that PSA is:

…not adjusted for increases in enrollment and persistence rates; would result in declining per student $ over time.”

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Academics as Vendors for Universities and Colleges

The piece below was published on The and discusses the possibility of a new relationship between academics and HEIs.  This disruptive innovation presents academics as vendors for universities and colleges in much the same way that administrative and food services are increasingly outsourced by institutions as a cost-saving measure.

The interested parties of higher education have in common a complex goal of reducing costs while improving access to quality education provided in the absence of labour exploitation.

Even so tradition has prioritized the interests of universities and colleges over those of academics, students and society, placing an institutional slant on any attempt at improvement.

From this position HEIs have turned to casual labour, technology and vendor partnerships in order to fulfil their middleman functions with greater economy and scale.  I am developing an alternative higher education model that makes use of these institution-oriented strategies.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Universities and Colleges as Vendors for Professional Academic Practices

The topic of outsourcing or vendor partnerships is important if your interest is in maintaining the current institutional model for higher education – a triad consisting of university/college service providers, public funding and union labour representation.  I am not.

The editors of January's issue of Evolllution note that the cost of delivering higher education is skyrocketing as institutional operating budgets continue to decline.  I believe the institutional model is simply not sustainable, nor does it adequately serve the needs of life long learners and non-traditional students.

I think it is time for radical change - a completely different perspective.

From the perspective of the professional model for higher education I am developing, universities and colleges are the vendors and professionally licensed academics in private practice their customers.  Students directly hire academics for their services – as they would a physician, accountant, veterinarian or psychiatrist - while academics hire universities and colleges for services they determine are relevant in the operation of their practice.