MS. REBECCA SHEIR
For many colleges and universities in the D.C. region, springtime, of course, means spring break. But even though school is out, a lot is happening in the world of higher education, from budget crunches to an upcoming Supreme Court decision on affirmative action and admissions policies. Kavitha Cardoza recently spoke with Scott Jaschik, editor of the website, Inside Higher Ed, about the big changes coming for colleges and how these changes may affect students, staffers and professors here in the D.C. region and around the country.
MS. KAVITHA CARDOZA
Everyone's expecting a decision soon on the affirmative action case in front of the Supreme Court.
MR. SCOTT JASCHIK
It's a huge issue. It's 10 years since the Supreme Court last took up the issue of affirmative action in higher education and there is a chance that they could bar colleges from considering race and ethnicity in admissions. Just about every college association has filed briefs asking the court not to do so. But many other groups and individuals want the court to ban affirmative action. The case comes out of the University of Texas, but it could affect all of higher education depending on what the judges do.
MR. SCOTT JASCHIK
The reality is that there are some colleges and universities, the elites, where they use affirmative action very heavily in admissions, so for them it would affect who gets in. Many other colleges and universities, that may not have competitive admissions, do use consideration of race and ethnicity in awarding financial aid, in special summer programs to recruit students, all kinds of outreach efforts. Even community colleges, for instance, many community college graduates, who are more likely than others to be minorities, benefit from affirmative action in transferring to four-year institutions.
Do we have any idea on how it might go?
If you look at the questions that were asked during oral arguments, it didn't look good for affirmative action. I could count only three justices whose questions suggested support of affirmative action.
A lot of universities have signed on to the massive online open courses or MOOCs. Anyone can take these courses. They're free, but they are usually not for credit classes. And I know many university officials are excited about being able to reach millions more students, but they're also keen to figure out how to make money off MOOCs.
Very quickly there's been a push to award credit for MOOCs because they've been very popular, as you said, hundreds of thousands of students per class. So the universities are looking at ways to award credit and to get paid in the process. Now, there are some concerns, though, because if you look at online education generally, not all students are as likely to be successful as others. Generally, very experienced students, highly disciplined students, well prepared students, they tend to do well online.
Students who are, say, first generation of college, who are at risk to dropping out, who haven't established good study patterns, they are less likely to do well online. So there is concern that by relying on MOOCs or large online courses generally, to provide too much of an education for not well-prepared students that it could end up hurting students. And maybe we're going to figure out interesting ways so that MOOCs can help a broad range of students. I'm not sure we're there yet.
At least once a day I get a press release about someone promoting STEM, that's science, technology, engineering and math education. And this has been a big emphasis of the Obama administration. What are universities trying to do to promote STEM education?
They're trying to do everything they can. One of the things colleges and universities are trying to do is to get the message down to the grade schools. Because if you don't take the pre-college track and stick with math, serious math and science in high school, you basically can't all of a sudden decide you want to be a biologist as a freshman in college. You basically are closing doors or certain options early.
Another thing they're trying to do is to improve science education. There's sort of a revolution going on right now in science education. Many people think the traditional lecture format is deadening and discourages people from science and takes away what's exciting about science. So there's a lot of effort right now to change those introductory courses, so there's group work right away, so that students are working on practical problems, not just memorizing formulas or equations, that that will engage students more and they'll see the excitement of science.
One of the other issues in science is that there are severe gaps in who goes into science. The numbers are so striking that one college can make a huge difference. For instance, we reported this year that Clemson University has six African American tenure track professors in computer science. Now, you might not think that's a huge deal, but that's 10 percent of all the African American computer science professors in the United States. And what that means is that you don't have minority students going into fields that pay very well, that are crucial to the future of our economy.
Many universities are relying on foreign talent for their math and science programs. And that can be a great thing. You build a global community, but because our immigration laws are such that, currently at least, a talented foreign graduate student who comes here is basically kicked out upon earning a PhD. They don't necessarily nurture the U.S. economy the way many people would like to see our talented STEM graduates do.
That was Scott Jaschik, of Inside Higher Ed, speaking with WAMU's Kavitha Cardoza.
Up next, expanding D.C.'s world of yoga.
MS. SARIANE LEIGH
The message that I'm sending out is not about, I'm just black, you're black, let's practice yoga. It's about, I understand being discriminated against. I understand someone judging your body. I know what that feels like.
That and more is coming your way on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.
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