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Author and colleague Jeff Selingo is Visiting Scholar at Georgia Tech’s Center for 21st Century Universities.  Jeff and I recently sat down with Rick Clark to answer the question “Is College worth it?” As you might have expected, there is no pat answer.  The question itself is surprisingly complicated, as these interviews show.

The videos will be available in early December.




A deeply affecting article about the irrationality of admissions to top-tier universities. Students and parents alike are convinced that rankings matter and that being admitted to #10 is better than settling for #11. Millions of dollars are spent on this proposition.

In fact, everyone is so convinced of this (despite the apparent randomness of the process) that armies of 18-year-old high school students are willing to alter their aspirations to make it through a selection scheme that doesn’t much care about them.

Originally posted on Math with Bad Drawings:

Last year, I conducted alumni interviews for Yale applicants. It’s an easy gig. You take a smart, ambitious 17-year-old out for hot chocolate, ask them about their life, and then report back to the university, “Yup, this is another great kid.”

I recently got an email asking me to re-enlist. Was I ready for another admissions season?

I checked “No,” mostly because “Aw, hell no” wasn’t an option.

Why my reluctance? No grudge, no beef, no axe to grind. It’s just that the whole admissions process is so spectacularly crazy that participating in it— even in the peripheral role of “alumni interviewer”—feels like having spiders crawling out of my eyeballs.

In the last 15 to 20 years, Yale’s applicant pool has gone from “hypercompetitive” to “a Darwinian dystopia so cutthroat you’d feel guilty even simulating it on a computer, just in case the simulations had emotions.”

I don’t fault the admissions office. For every…

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Welcome back!  “Revolution in Higher Education” was released by Amazon and other booksellers a few weeks ago.  There is also an audio version in CD and online formats.  I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Fans of “Abelard to Apple” will recognize this as a continuation of the story of how higher education got to its current state and where it is going.  However, Revolution is edgier and I think it will promote more spirited debate. There are already reviews that call it depressing and others that call it inspiring.  The one thing that everyone notices is my emphasis on the social contract with universities.  It is the unifying thread.

I want to give special thanks to Ambassador Andrew Young for a wonderful Foreword that focuses on the role of American universities in providing access to quality education.  Ambassador Young and I will be taking this message to audiences over the next several months.

I’ll be blogging about the three themes of this book: affordability, access, and achievement.  A lot has happened since the manuscript was completed earlier in the year and I want to update you on where the revolution stands.


Mark Guzdial comments on a recent Slate article reporting results of a metastudy that (1) claims to show that deliberate practice does not account for acquisition of expertise, and (2) that the only other source must be innate factors like genetics. It would be an important finding if true, but Guzdial points out some critical flaws:

The bottom-line is that the [Slate] study did not test [the 10,000 Rule] question. They tested a weak form of the “10,000 hour rule” (that it’s just “practice,” not “deliberate practice”) and found it wanting. But their explanation, that it’s genetics, is not supported by their evidence.

Originally posted on Computing Education Blog:

A recent article in Slate (see here) suggests that practice may not lead to expertise, that the “10,000 hour rule” is wrong. The “10,000 hour rule” was popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers (see excerpt here), but really comes from an important paper by K. Anders Ericsson and colleagues, “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance.” Ericsson claimed that 10,000 hours of deliberate practice results in expert-level performance.

The Slate article is based mostly on a new meta-analysis (see here) by Macnamara, Hambrick (also a co-author on the Slate article), and Oswald which reviewed and combined studies on expertise. They found that practice always was positively correlated with better performance, but did not explain all of (or even most of) the difference in expertise between study participants. The Slate article authors suggest, then, that deliberate practice is not…

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student demonstrations dc1960

The mobs I talked about in “When Mobs Roam the Halls of Ivy” are real, and they–among other scary things–are a threat to academic freedom. Whether it is political pressure on boards or self-appointed bands of vigilantes policing the boundaries of politically correct speech, the forces that  stifle open and unfettered inquiry on  college campuses undermine everyone. It is not the exclusive province of one political stripe to protect the rest of us from the assault of the other side whose ideas are–axiomatically–unacceptable.  The campus civil rights movements of the 1960’s would probably not have withstood the determined attacks that would be mounted today.

The real point of the Henry Drummond (the Clarence Darrow  character in the 1955 Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee play Inherit the Winddefense of  academic freedom (“the right to be wrong“) is revealed when with Matthew Brady (William Jennings Bryan) takes the witness stand and Drummond goes on the attack: “I’m trying to stop you bigots and ignoramuses from controlling the education of the United States.” Lawrence and Lee wrote ITW at the height of Senator Joe McCarthy’s crazed hunt for Communists, a purge that viciously pursued academics and intellectuals whose ideas and writings placed them outside the Senator’s narrowly defined strip of acceptable thought.  It was a parable for its time, but the 1925 trial of Tennessee teacher John Scopes for violating the Butler Act was one of literature’s most inspired dramatic backdrops.

Henry Drummond was on the side of progressives for whom bigotry meant barring the teaching of evolution, but he would have been just as comfortable defending campus  civil rights protests or anti-war demonstrations in the 1960’s. Or Columbia President Lee Bollinger’s decision to host Iranian President Ahmadinejad. Bollinger introduced Ahmadinejad with a blistering attack on the very fabric of regressive Iranian theocracy.  Bolliinger, it could be argued, was not a very gracious host, but he at least enabled the kind of politically unpalatable speech that academic freedom is designed to protect. But what about the other side? Would Drummond have been equally passionate about the pressure brought by progressive Rutgers faculty members to rescind the invitation to Condoleeza Rice’s  to deliver the 2014 commencement address, “because of her role in the Iraq War.” If not, it would have been a missed opportunity to point out that academic freedom is  a two way street, and the door that leads to it is either open or closed. There is nothing in between.

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We have talked many times about the demise of colleges, comparing higher education to other industries that believed they could resist the advance of technology.  Borders book stores, Blockbuster Video, and a whole raft of local newspapers are just the easiest examples of revered enterprises that simply went out of business. From this discussion comes an interesting essay by C21U visiting scholar Michael Haggans, who argues that campuses close all the time. Sometimes it is temporary:

Whether by snow and ice, wind, fire, flood, civil disorder or bankruptcy, you may be certain that your campus will be closed. It is just a matter of when and how long the closure will last. Even a brief closing provides a glimpse of higher education without the comfortable assumption of shared space and time – the familiar functionality of a campus.

Sometimes, institutions–like the dozens of colleges and universities near Japan’s Fukushima nuclear reactor–not only survive catastrophe against all odds but are the only place where communities can gather and rebuild. Sometimes they close forever:

‘Forever’ is an unstated part of every institution’s mission statement. Over the last century, hundreds have winked in and out of existence. [Westminster’s Ray Brown maintains the most comprehensive list.] A few such as Antioch College have been well known, their demise widely reported. Most are long forgotten. They close and disappear through merger, acquisition by for-profit consortiums, and from simple bankruptcy.

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cheap data collection


The World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on the future of universities was absorbed earlier this year into several other councils–a mistake, in my view, since none of the other councils have institutional focus–but several of the white papers live on. This one on the privacy issues inherent in learning analytics generated some interest in 2012, but the big data aspects of higher education seemed like an abstraction to many council members. Over the past year it has started to loom large (see here and here, for example).  I happen to be a big fan of analytics.  Data from the 700,000 students enrolled in Georgia Tech’s Coursera MOOCs have already had an impact on the quality of residential instruction. However, one of my day jobs is cybersecurity, which has made me sensitive to new technologies that have not paid sufficient attention to security and privacy. This white paper is a note of caution.

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