The Business of Edcuation

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My general disdain for the money made from higher education has been pretty evident, if it hasn’t, just browse through the education category over on the left. Typically my focus is on student loans, the impact that students are left to deal with in the pursuit of a decent education, but today I’m taking a slightly different route.

Thanks to the Western Carolinian, the student newspaper at Western Carolina University, today I’m focused on how the money is being spent by the institution. Before I get started though, I will clarify: the issue I’m addressing in this post is not that money is being spent, but how it is being spent.

Having established that, the inspiration for this post comes from a recent article published by the Western Carolinian in regard to the 2020 Vision Plan for WCU, and the impact that a potential parking garage would have on students, staff and faculty.

Parking garages are expensive, they must be managed and maintained, just like any other facility. I get that. Considering the growth that WCU has experienced over the last few years, I’m not one to disagree with the notion that a parking garage is probably a smart idea for the preservation of the campus and the community. In this case, I’d personally much rather see one structure a short distance from campus that could provide solid parking options for students without paving over the whole landscape.

There is one thing however that sticks out to me though, and an issue that I believe should be a more intricate part of the planning well beyond 2020, and should be considered as we head into 2014.

The faculty and staff of WCU have not received a raise in their salary since 2008, and some of them are upset that their parking fees will go up in order to compensate for the garage. Renee Corbin, director of assessment, even talked about parking further away from campus or making a deal with local business, for a fee. If the faculty and staff are to pay more per year for parking or other fees in order to accomplish the 2020 Vision plan, without a pay raise, they have every right to be frustrated.

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I can’t imagine that Western is the only school with this problem, not necessarily directly related to a parking garage, but the idea that faculty aren’t seeing pay raises for the work and dedication given to the institutions they serve, as money continues to be spent on expansion projects and useless campus “beautification”.

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Where my problem with the situation goes deeper, is the fact that all of this money is spent, but programs continue to be cut, class sizes increase as classes are cut from programs, and the blame is placed on money and budgeting despite expansion and beautification projects.

Yes, growth is good. I’m not saying that it isn’t, but should the quality of education, and the quality of programs offered be driven into the ground just so the students can have a new fountain or new campus directional signs?

The simple answer is no. At institutions of higher education, something inside me says that we should be focusing on maintaining a competitive level of education, not making things pretty. There are programs at WCU that have scaled back so much, that they hardly resemble the programs that students initially came to the school for.

On a larger scale, the problem with education across the country, high schools and colleges alike, is coming from how money is being spent. At some point, the focus needs to be on advancing what is best for students, or these institutions need to quit pretending to be focused on education.

Yes, I included high schools because North Carolina can’t seem to get anything right in terms of budgeting for education, which may or may not come from the fact that all the people making real decision have no idea what it’s like to work in the actual education system.

Teachers, professors, faculty and staff, they all deserve respect from the students they serve, but they deserve even more from the systems that they are working for.

If education were actually the focus of higher education, I’d be willing to bet money that many of the problems we’re facing would seemingly fix themselves. But when you’re more concerned with the way something looks than how it operates, then no, none of these problems are ever going to be solved.

Education is a business. It’s time the employees were shown that they are appreciated, not just being used to bring in more money under the facade of helping develop the future.

As always, that’s just my two cents and I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, but where I do think we can come together is in the idea that a change needs to be made to the system as a whole; something is broke, it’s time we fixed it.

Pell Grant Reform?

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I’ll probably make some people mad with my opinion about Pell Grants, but as the program is looking at a well that is quickly running dry, I believe that there is some level of accuracy in my concern.

First, let’s start with the problem I’ve stated before. The government is a business, they make money, they spend money, they do it from behind a veil of concern for you. As education is concerned the government does not deviate, hence the $41.3 billion profit posted for the 2013 fiscal year. According to the Detroit Free Press, that’s the third highest profit level in the world, behind Exxon Mobil and Apple.

Second, Pell Grants, though useful to good students that deserve the opportunity to pursue a higher education, do not need to be given to anyone over 30.

That probably sounds harsh, but when there are 18 year olds that want to pursue an education but can’t because of affordability, then no, I don’t think that a person who chose to work instead should be receiving grant money. Again, I empathize with those people that have personal or family issues that prohibit them from going to school, but having three family members that are well over the age of 30, just now pursuing their education, it upsets me to hear how much grant money they receive for an online education.

When I graduated from Western, I had never been eligible for a grant. Even in the year that my father was out of a job, a year with zero income, which FAFSA is supposed to take into account, my student loan amounts were reduced so that I was forced into taking out parent loans too if I wanted to continue my education.

Yes that was right, parent loans was the government’s answer to my family having zero income.

So if you want Pell Grant Reform, the government needs to do the same thing they should do with Social Security. Allocate money to the people that deserve it, stop handing out pity money, and at some point hold people accountable for the life choices that they make.

The older you are, the more opportunity you’ve had to pursue a career, which could be paying for the education that you suddenly realized you needed. A high school grad shouldn’t be penalized for your decision to work.

As far as money for education is concerned, this isn’t about reform, it’s about common sense.

Bullying: Everybody Cares Until it Happens

The word that has jarred people the past few years, the one that creates a stir in any conversation about the way people are treated, is bullying.

But what does anyone actually do when it comes to handling the issue?

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I would encourage you to take a look at stopbullying.gov to find the laws and statutes that exist in your state, but note what the repercussions of bullying are.

Because the examples that I have both come from North Carolina, that is the state I looked at.

According to Stop Bullying, in North Carolina bullying has both laws and policies to protect victims of bullying, but when you look for the consequences of bullying, everything falls to the responsibility of the institution where the bullying occurs.

Essentially, the whole process is muddled with words so that you can feel “safer” about going to school, or sending your child to school, but there is no legitimate process for handling the issue.

Since I told you I had two examples, I’ll start with a personal one.

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Interestingly enough, North Carolina believes that cyberbullying doesn’t occur between adults, because nobody has ever been stalked or harassed online after they turned 18, and so the law only applies to minors.

The exchange above happened between a person that would go on to represent our school on a national level, despite a number of issues with other students. Since she carried that kind of report, when we found ourselves in her path, we reported it to student affairs and the national organization that the student belonged to.

The response from the university…

That we should leave her alone and avoid any campus activity that she would likely attend.

Again, she virtually ran the university’s student government, so basically we were being told not to participate in anything. Because we were the problem.

Demoralized that the university would slap us in the face, it’s hard to believe that anyone actually takes bullying seriously unless it’s happening to them. But what should a victim do when the powers-at-be choose to do nothing?

That brings me to my second example.

Paige and I were in North Carolina after our honeymoon and I was told a story about an employee whose son was being bullied, and she has had to miss work because of it.

Essentially, her son was being harassed in class by some other punk that wouldn’t leave him alone. The student complained to the teacher, who did nothing, until his mom had to complain to the school. The teacher separated the two boys for a few weeks, and because the issue had calmed down, move the two students so that the bully was sitting directly behind the victim.

After a few days of being harassed again, the victim took justice into his own hands and hauled off and punched the kid.

Of course, the victim was reprimanded for getting violent, but what was he supposed to do?

Now, after hitting the guy that was bullying him, his mom has had to go back into school to discuss her son’s behavior. Oh, and the teacher put the bully in the seat behind the victim so that he can go right back to harassing the kid because he knows if the victim hits him again the victim will be suspended.

Tell me how any of that makes sense.

What type of society are we trying to build where we fake emotion, thanks Facebook, and tell someone they are protected until they’re an actual victim?

What is it that we’re going for when the victim is always wrong?

I don’t have answers to either of those questions, but as a kid that got beat up in sixth and seventh grade, I’m curious to know what your suggestions are.

My bullies stopped after I hit them back, but what do you do when that doesn’t end it?

College: Is It Worth It?

It’s been a well established factor of every American’s life since the late 90s that a college degree is required for a halfway decent future.

But is that really the case?

tumblr_muumxk9HyX1spokgpo1_250Gif via Chekovy.tumblr.com

As startups and 20-somethings launch their ways through the fog of the saturated job market, it’s left some people wondering if traditional colleges are actually providing an ROI that balances rising tuition costs.

Thanks to The Daily Beast, a list of the 20 colleges with the worst return on investment has been put into pictures. Feel free to peruse the list, and with a list of only 20 it will be easy to think that you’re in the clear.

If you are, that’s great, but more than likely, your next job application is still going to say that you’re not qualified, regardless of whether or not your school was fortunate enough to not make the list.

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I’ll offer my experience as an example.

The image above would be the essence of why we have to question the ROI of college. As tuition costs rose at the university I went to, though not on the list, the school still managed to find the extra money in couch cushions to get signs made that were totally misspelled.

So, as I look for my next job, lucky to be in New York, I too am wondering just how far a four-year education from a school that couldn’t spell university right is going to get me.

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I can gladly say that I met my wife in college, and some of the closest friends I have today I met in college, so I can’t say don’t go.

But when it comes down to dollars and cents, with high school grads developing the next great app and fast-growing businesses, I must encourage everyone to at least consider their options. Weigh the consequences for yourself, and most definitely don’t go longer than you need to.

If you’ve already graduated, struggled finding a job, and you’re considering grad school; reconsider those student loans and figure out if it’s really worth your time, effort, and money.

School In, Education Out

IMG_1521North Carolina has been reamed by newscasters across the US for being awful in regard to its public education policies, but I live in NYC now. Today marking the first day of school for kids in the city, I thought it would be interesting to compare what was in the news, to how terrible people say North Carolina is.

We’ll start with the greater Carolina. Despite teacher cutbacks, Moral Mondays, and red for ed, the broad statistics seem to consistently put NC around the middle of the bunch. If you take a look at this Education Week grade map, NC sits right in the middle of a more concerning national acceptance of mediocrity. Considering folks are claiming the state is the worst in education, it seems that all of the brain power is getting lost in the facts.

I do support the move to pay teachers what they deserve, they control the quality of education that the future of this county is dependent on, but what I don’t support is educators blindly spouting “facts” as unrelated causes snowball together.

This understanding of the status of education in NC leads me to this: I’m appreciative of the standard of education that was set for me.

I posted last week about the Harlem Engagement Center, meant to help kids that missed a ridiculous 38 days of school. As you refresh that thought, note that today not only marks the first day of school for students across NYC, but it also marks the first time that Kindergarten is mandatory in the NYC school system.

Still think North Carolina is that bad?

Looking at the same reports referenced earlier, NY as a state seems to rank consistently in and around the top 5, but I think that grade was based on a curve. The republican candidates for NYC Mayor recently debated education, and candidate John Catsimatidis actually thinks that ushering kids to a high school diploma can get them a better job.

Yes, students need to graduate; no, you don’t have to make it easier. My stumbling point in his rhetoric though was how he believed that a high school diploma will prevent a graduate from working an $8 an hour job at a convenience store like the “typical” drop out. Unfortunately for Mr. Catsimatidis, the country is full of college grads working those $8 an hour jobs, so at what point is that drop out really any worse off?

Education across the country is in dire need of help, but I think the people that claim to have all the answers are actually the farthest from reality. I don’t have a solution, but I’d be awfully glad to help get us there.

Beyond Mobile: A Recap

Josh Clark may be the smartest person I know. That’s why I’m proud to have worked for him.

The real benefit is seeing the future of tech that I would have otherwise been oblivious to. This was my second time hearing Josh speak, but he’s great at it, and the audiences love him. Between the free pizza and lights of the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges in the background, XO Group provided one of the best spaces I’ve been to for any talk.

Despite a promise to look to the future, we have to all understand where we are now. This opened with sensors.

Why?

Because sensors can literally go anywhere. The key to exploring the use of sensors though, is their innate ability to interpret the environment around them. The best part about the expansion of technology now, is how real everything is becoming, hence “Augmented Reality” coming to life rather than just being a not-so-new tech term.

To wrap up this post, I’ll leave you with some of the fun things that the cameras on our phones and tablets are being used for.

SkinVaders is a fun app that uses the front facing sensor to “plant” alien eggs on your face, and your mission is to avoid becoming an alien.

Word Lens is one of the greatest apps I’ve ever seen. Forget Google Translate, this is going to be our God-send for surviving Japan.

Finally, the geniuses over there in Sweden are outdoing themselves again.

Are we really surprised by IKEA any more? How many times have you sat staring at your computer trying to determine if the furniture you like would look good in your living room? If nothing else, it’s brilliant.

Enjoy that hint of augmented reality on your Friday, and go have some weekend fun with the newest possibilities in mobile tech!