Higher Ed vs. K-12

Over the last year, I’ve been quietly observing some of the differences and similarities between life in the K-12 world and life in higher ed.  I wasn’t a faculty member in higher ed, so my view may be skewed by that a little.  I do know what being a faculty member is like, of course.  Here, then, are my observations:

1. The kids are younger, but in some ways not that different.  I don’t see a huge difference between a high school senior and a college freshman.  The younger you go, the more differences there are, but I’ve found that treating them all with respect (and expecting respect in return) works regardless of the age.

2. You know the parents.  I met one or two parents in my days of college teaching.  Once, it was an angry parent.  Most of the time, it’s a brief encounter during graduation or visiting day.  Here, there are many opportunities to see them in a variety of contexts.  I find this really interesting.  It’s often a great insight into a kid to meet their parents.

3. The community is more cohesive and more consistent.  I see most of these kids every single day.  I will see them next year.  I will see many of them for the next 5 or 6 years.  There’s no having a kid in a class and never seeing them again.  Even if they don’t have class with you, you see them in a bunch of other contexts.

4. Summers “really” off.  Granted, I signed up for extra work this year, but I can see that summer can really be down time.

5. Your day is completely filled.  I worked from 9-5, but that time was spent in a variety of ways, often without my needing to be anywhere at any particular time.  In K-12, you’re in class most of the day, with very little time in-between.  Planning time gets filled quickly, either with actual planning or meetings.   College classes, by contrast, may only meet twice a week.  And many faculty routinely only show up for their classes, choosing to do other work at home or elsewhere.  That’s not really possible in K-12.

6. Your day does sometimes end at the end of the school day.  Which is a lovely thing.  Getting home before everyone else is fab.  But it happens less often than you might think.  Many, many days go on until 4 or 5 or even longer.

7.  Even if you go home at 3:30, you might have to come back at 7 for an event of some kind.  That happens in higher ed, too, but often it’s by choice.  For K-12, it’s sometimes an obligation.  I actually like going to these events.  It gives me a different perspective on the students and the school.

8. Everyone cares about teaching.  Nuff said.

Feel free to add your own, whether you’ve made the switch or not.

Ever so glad I’m not in Higher Ed

As someone who didn’t win the brass ring, I very glad I’m not a part of a system that seems to me to be in such a mess.  Dean Dad, again, has some clear-eyed analysis of some of the problems in higher ed.  Earlier this week, I read an article about someone who turns away grad students because she thinks they have no shot at a job and it’s not fair to lead them astray.  I sympathize with adjuncts.  I do.  I was one.  But I’m on the side of a lot of people who say, just walk away.  If you don’t get the financial terms you need to make it worthwhile, walk away.  The more adjuncts that walk away, the more likely it is that colleges might actually have to figure out an alternative, whether that be to make the tenured and t-t faculty teach more classes or to come up with a way to employ more permanent teachers who have a decent salary and benefits.  There are other things to do with your degree.

I have no actual hopes that that will happen, but I think you have a better shot of staging a kind of protest by walking away than by demanding a pay increase.  If you’re not willing to leave–collectively–you have nothing to bargain with.

Enhanced by Zemanta

On the job front

I spent several hours yesterday touching up my resume, writing a cover letter, digging through job listings and school web sites.  There were no actual jobs posted in areas that I was qualified/interested in, but two places just suggested sending resumes directly.  So, that’s where I’ll start.  As I turned to the higher education listings, I saw a couple of jobs in my field nearby.  Both were interesting on the surface.  One was at a school that catered to adults returning to school, and that seemed interesting to me.  But then I looked at the course load.  Five courses a semester.  And the other job, four courses a semester.  Plus research. Plus service.  And I sighed.  I just can’t do that.  I know how much work I’d put into class prep and grading, and I’d want to do some research, at least attend/present at conferences if nothing else.  And so, I know I’d feel overwhelmed pretty quickly.  And so I wrote full-time college teaching off my list of possibilities.  Maybe if I’d started back before kids or when the kids were young (and *I* was young), I’d feel more like I could do it.  But being as familiar as I am with the way higher ed works and my own work habits and commitment to students and institutions, I know that I’d be putting in 60 hours a week easily.  That’s not doable for me personally or for my family.

Part-time college teaching still appeals as do administrative jobs in higher ed.  And high school teaching, while nearly as demanding as college teaching, has enough of a balance for me to make it worth it.  No research requirement.  Plenty of time off.  Small classes (looking at independent schools), and the likelihood of being home most afternoons to meet my own kids.  Not to mention no working in the summer.  The thing is, there are things I can outsource if my income increases–housework, house repair–but there are lots of things I can’t.  Spending time with the kids, making sure they get their homework done, being at soccer games, taking them to friends’ houses, going on field trips.  There were times when I worked full time when I couldn’t do those things.  I skipped soccer games to work on my dissertation, for example.  Often, neither Mr. Geeky nor I could make it home to be with Geeky Boy after school and he frittered away his time and fell behind in school.  I don’t want to go back to that.  So I’m being careful.  I think I’ll find the right thing eventually.  And though it’s not an employee’s market, I’m lucky that I can afford to be a little choosy (for now).

Survive the Recession: Become an adjunct

I had to laugh at this article in the New York Times, suggesting part-time college teaching as an option for un- or underemployed people.  Really?  Honestly, for the amount of time one puts in, you’d be better off waiting tables.  But I understand, you’ve got your Ph.D., why waste it as a waitress.  I do like my part-time gig, but if I were looking to make an actual income, I don’t think part-time teaching is what I’d be pursuing.  I agree with the article that there are a lot of intangible benefits to teaching part time.  But it also glosses over the generally poor treatment of adjuncts and all the complex reasons for the fact that there’s such a demand for adjuncts in the first place.

Tenure, or Tilting at Windmills

This post by Dean Dad, response to this post by Michael Berube, created quite a stir in our household this morning. The tenured faculty member tried to defend himself to a Ph.D. who’s never landed a full-time t-t job, and in fact, doesn’t want one, but wishes there were more options for employment in academia. What kind of choice is t-t vs. migrant labor. Once in a blue moon, I see a continuing non-tenure-track position in my field. I have never seen permanent part-time work.

I don’t have a dog in this fight as one commenter at Dean Dad’s said, so I don’t keep up with the literature though I do read blogs about “the fight for tenure and academic freedom.” I think tenure at many places is misguided at best, detrimental at worst. At a few places, tenure works as it should. I think those who draw a hard line around tenure and claim there is no other way to protect academic freedom and employee rights have actually contributed to the current situation where more and more adjuncts are needed to teach the classes that some tenured faculty don’t.

Tenure certainly isn’t a way to recognize how hard faculty work at places where they’re teaching 3-4 classes a semester, doing service, and have a research requirement. In fact, I would argue that as tenure requirements have gone up, the work load for faculty has increased dramatically. Is academic freedom so important that you would sacrifice any semblance of an actual life for it? That is, to gain academic freedom, you would work 60, 70, 80 hours a week? I know that not all places ask for that kind of work, but I know from reading enough academic blogs that many do. And that many academics have given up quite a lot for their work, sometimes intentionally, and sometimes not.

I just think that one could imagine another way, where work loads are limited, where requirements are clearly spelled out, where one would have recourse during disputes, and where there would be some transparency. And, yes, you could have academic freedom.

Mr. Geeky reminds me that in such a complex system, any one element, any small change, might have unintended consequences. And that there’s no one plan that would fix it. True enough, and in fact, I think the whole system is what it is because of those small choices. One place decides to replace a retiree with two part-timers instead of hiring a t-t person. Other places follow suit. The original decision seems to work well, so the next retiree is replaced with part-timers. Enrollments increase. Now it’s about adding positions–part-time or full-time? In tough economic times, you know what the answer is.

I have no idea which “side” is right. All I know is that the economics are not usually on the side of tenure and that when costs need to be cut, positions are looked at with greater scrutiny. But it seems to me that there are a lot of losers in this fight and it’s not among the people who are doing the fighting. The losers are the students, the Ph.D.’s who can’t find good work in higher education, and the public whom we owe an educated populace.

Lob your tomatoes now. 🙂

The future of education

I’ve just returned from a lovely trip to Monterey, CA to attend the New Media Consortium‘s summer conference. It was, all told, a good experience, about which I will write more later. At most education conferences, especially those that have a technology component, talk often centers around what the future holds for education and what role technology will play in that future. As I am reading The Black Swan at the moment, the best thing we can say is that we don’t know. On the other hand not knowing does not mean not being prepared. It means being prepared for even the weirdest outcome. Laura pointed to several articles and blogs addressing what she calls a potential higher ed bubble. I’m leary of arguments that suggest that technology can save education entirely, but I’m equally skeptical of positions that suggest that technology will kill education (at least of the traditional kind).

As I wrote last week, and as Tim Burke wrote, cost pressures are going to cause many colleges to make some difficult decisions. Students who might have once considered an elite liberal arts college may not be able to even get in as need-blind admissions go away. Or they won’t consider it at all. Colleges will have to find ways to make their brand affordable to a larger population by cutting significantly–programs, staff, etc. Those are tough decisions to make, and they often have significant effects on the future of the college. There’s no way of knowing what those effects are.

I have this strange feeling that education is changing right before our eyes, but like a blurry picture, we can’t see what it’s changing into yet. As students make their desires and needs known through selection, we will see how the industry responds.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

College Rankings

Inside Higher Ed, among other sources, has been reporting on several incidents of institutions gaming the US News and World Report ranking system. No one should be surprised, today’s report says, especially when the stakes are so high. These incidents dovetail nicely with my own recent thoughts about college expectations for my kids. My brother-in-law is visiting this week and we took a stroll around campus while Mr. Geeky was in a meeting. He asked how much it cost to go to fancy pants liberal arts college. The total price tag, with room and board, is about $50k. He wanted to know why the hell it cost so much and what makes going to a place that costs that much so much better than a state school. For the record, he has 4 kids to get through school (10 years from now), with a huge amount of overlap, so cost is going to be a huge factor, as it is for many parents.

One key reason people want to go to expensive schools, of course, are all the intangible benefits: the connections you make, the name recognition, etc. I agree that the cost seems way out of sync, but it also gets you some tangible benefits as well. At an exclusive SLAC, you won’t have a class larger than 40 or 50 people (and those are the lecture classes). Most classes will have 15 or so people. That means your opportunities for engaging in class discussion, for the teacher knowing you and keeping an eye on your progress are vastly increased. Your faculty will be from “better” schools (they cost more as a result, though their pay is still less than other professionals). The faculty will also be more available for one-on-one consultation and in theory, will also be more focused on teaching and learning rather than research (though this is debatable). Even at schools like Harvard and Yale, one could argue that having the opportunity to work with the great minds of our time is a privilege worth paying for.*

So here’s the thing, yes, state schools can be just fine for many people. Mr. Geeky attended state school and went on to get a Ph.D. from said state school and ended up teaching at a presitigous liberal arts college. There are thousands of success stories like that. But it’s also true that some students would be lost in a large state school population and would not only not thrive, but might even fail. I knew that of myself after visiting a large state school I was considering. Not only did I not check out any of the classes (because my hosts were skipping classes), but I spent the entire time there really drunk. I figured I would spend 4 years drunk if I went there.

Rankings don’t tell you that. They might help you begin to make a list, but there are many other factors to consider. Location, demographics, class size, curriculum, general philosophy. Going to a school ranked below the top 25 isn’t going to ruin your life. It might not catapult you into that fabulous political career, but it will probably allow you a pretty good life.

*Of course, with many of those great minds’ lectures and course materials being made freely available, one can forgo the expense of Harvard and simply take advantage of the free offerings while attending state school.