Chinese, Saudi students choose U.S. colleges

U.S. colleges and universities are drawing more students from China and Saudi Arabia.

How to ‘shake up’ higher ed

If President Obama really wants to “shake up” higher education, he should start by scaling back student loans, writes economist Richard Vedder. In addition, colleges should share the costs of high default rates, discouraging them from enrolling students with little chance of success, argues Vedder.

Is higher ed creating inequality?

Has higher education become an engine of inequality? 

More colleges are awarding credits for competence rather than class time.

Knowing when to stop

In a paper delivered at the 2010 conference of the European Association of Conservatoires (AEC) in Ghent, Samuel Hope, executive director of the National Association of Schools of Music, spoke about the complexities of assessment in higher music education. His speech emphasizes the “centrality of content” in educational policy, particularly assessment policy.

Assessment at the higher levels must involve the language of the field; musicians in an orchestra, for instance, assess themselves continually as they play but have no need to document such assessment. (Samuel Hope is not disparaging documented assessment; he’s saying that in this particular context, at this level, it would burden the work instead of lifting it.)

Which aspects of musical composition and performance require highly advanced knowledge and judgment? Which are particularly resistant to standardized assessment? Hope draws attention to one in particular: knowing when to stop.

This means knowledge of when to stop doing something and begin doing something else and how to work effectively with relationships among stasis and change, and speed and time. Knowing when to stop is an aspect of mastering many relationships and balances in music. Mozart, Beethoven, and other great composers are consummate masters of knowing when to stop, when a chord or key or musical figure has been continued long enough, and when there is time for a variation or a change altogether. The performer of such music has thousands of choices about how to make the structural decisions of the composer come alive in performance. Great performers are also masters in this area. In many artistic dimensions, knowing when to stop is an essential determiner of the line between fine works of art and kitsch.

Knowing when to stop is important in all fields, but it isn’t a transferable skill. You may have a general sense of what is excessive (in art, music, or poetry), but you cannot make  fine decisions about stopping, or asssess the decisions of others, unless you know art, music, or poetry itself.

Hope points out that knowing when to stop is also essential to institutional review. You can establish frameworks for music instruction at the higher levels, but how detailed should they become? When should the frameworks stop and leave the remaining decisions to the individual institutions? It is essential that review and accreditation organizations such as AEC and NASM take on these questions, according to Hope, because they have the requisite knowledge and understanding.

One of the problems I see in K–12 education reform is precisely the lack of a sense of when to stop. Let’s take group work as an example. It’s one thing to say that certain kinds of group work, used in the right contexts, can foster certain kinds of learning. It’s another to require group work in every lesson (or even in most lessons). Similarly, it’s one thing to regard test scores as limited measures of intellectual attainment of a particular kind. It’s another to treat them like numerical oracles.

To know when to stop, one must consider the subject matter itself. For instance, the Common Core State Standards have specified a ratio of informational and literary text for each grade span. But the proper ratio depends on what the students are learning. The ratio should not precede the content; if the content is well planned, then there’s no need to worry about the ratio. It could vary from year to year, for good reasons.

Formulas are important, useful, even beautiful things, but they only do what they say they’ll do. You can somehow calculate a curriculum of 70 percent informational text and 30 percent literature, and that’s all it will be. It will not be, by virtue of this ratio, a good curriculum. It might coincide with some good curricula and conflict with others.

Back to music: in Beethoven’s “Waldstein” sonata, there’s a syncopated passage near the end of the third movement. It is twelve measures long and has an evanescent, ethereal quality. When I was a teenager, I would listen to the sonata every day and wait eagerly for that passage. Once it came, I wanted it to go on longer but knew that it couldn’t.

But its beauty cannot be attributed to its length alone, or to its syncopation, or to its key changes, or to its place in the movement and in the sonata; it is all of these things and many more.

You can listen to this passage as performed by Jacob Lateiner. (It starts at 8:52, but I recommend listening to the full second and third movements, which are included in this clip). This recording and Vladimir Ashkenazy’s were my favorites for many years. Lateiner plays the first movement too fast, I’d say, but his rendition of the third movement has something like a third ear to it, a sense of something beyond the notes. I have started listening to more renditions of the sonata; Claudio Arrau’s has something remarkable as well.

Employers see higher ed as costly, stodgy

The nation’s higher education system is costly, unaccountable and unwilling to change, say business leaders interviewed for a Public Agenda report.

For-profit colleges whose students are eligible for federal aid charge 75 percent more than for-profits that don’t participate in aid programs, a new study finds. That confirms a theory that increasing student aid leads to increases in tuition.

Best college books of 2011

The best books on higher education of 2011, as chosen by a panel picked by Minding the Campus, are Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa; and Crazy U: One Dad’s Crash Course in Getting His Kid Into College by Andrew Ferguson.

Academically Adrift, which Richard Vedder called “devastating:” and “the most significant book on higher education written in recent years,” tracks the academic gains (or non-gains) of 2,300 students at a range of four-year colleges and universities. The students took the Collegiate Learning Assessment (which is designed to measure gains in critical thinking, analytic reasoning and other “higher level” skills taught at college).

Among the results: 45 percent of students “did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning” during the first two years of college. A total of 36 percent “did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning” over four years of college. And those students who do show improvements tend to show only modest ones.

Four books drew three votes from the 10-member panel: In the Basement of the Ivory Tower: Confessions of an Accidental Academic by Professor X; The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters by Benjamin Ginsberg; The Faculty Lounges and Other Reasons Why You Won’t Get the College Education You Pay For by Naomi Schaefer Riley; and The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out by Clayton M. Christensen and Henry J. Eyring.