All posts by Jeff Selingo


Breaking the Tyranny of the Academic Calendar

Higher education in the United States is measured in units of time: three-credit courses, 15-week semesters, and academic years with fall and spring semesters.

The decision by the Education Department on Tuesday to clarify its rules and outline a process for providing federal aid to students enrolled in “competency-based” programs has potentially far-reaching consequences beyond just rethinking how colleges award credits based on what students actually know instead of time spent in a seat. I…


Let’s Kill the Prestige Race Before It Kills Higher Ed

One knock on publicly traded companies is that their leaders’ judgment is sometimes clouded by the intense drive for profits to please the short-term demands of Wall Street.

In the nonprofit sector of higher ed, profit is often measured by prestige. The drive for prestige often clouds the judgment of trustees and presidents, leading them to veer from their mission and, for the last decade or so, to go on a spending spree to keep up with the Joneses in terms of campus amenities or try to climb in…


Are Career-Oriented Majors a Waste of a 4-Year Higher Education?

Even as President Obama, a handful of governors, and several private foundations continue to push American higher education to graduate more students so that the United States has the world’s highest portion of people with college credentials, a sobering report in this week’s New York Times detailed the real-world impact of producing more degrees simply to reach a goal. The article looked at degree inflation in Atlanta and the proliferation in that city of college-educated workers who hold low-p…


Value Evolution, Not Just Revolution, in Higher Ed

Ever since the country’s top universities teamed up last year in loose federations to offer free online classes to the masses, MOOCs have become a household word in higher-education circles. They remain a sensation and a curiosity on the higher-ed conference circuit this winter, where nearly every meeting seems to feature the leaders of the various MOOC providers: Coursera, edX, and Udacity. The New York Times declared 2012 “the year of the MOOC.” The Chronicle dedicated its Online Learning supp…


Higher Ed’s Biggest Problem: What’s It For?

The release this week of a bill of rights for learning in the digital age was criticized by some who said the document had been put together by a group that didn’t include the very people it is meant to protect: students.

The problem is, there is no traditional learner anymore. What’s more, we no longer even have a common definition of “higher education.” The lack of consensus about what the higher-education system in the United States should be producing is largely to blame for the pressu…


Finally, a Path Toward Solutions to the Crisis in Higher Ed

Gavin Newsom at UCLA. (Todd Cheney)

You won’t often find the lieutenant governor of a state at a higher-ed conference, but there was Gavin Newsom of California sitting next to me on Tuesday at UCLA for a discussion about how online learning might help the state’s cash-starved public colleges increase access. He wasn’t there just for a photo-op. He stayed basically the entire day and took notes. A lot of them, and on the subject (I looked). He rarely glanced down at his phone.

The meeting was ano…


The Education Revolution Opens Up the Path Less Taken

The Chronicle this week published a news analysis questioning whether the current nonstop talk over innovation in higher ed is creating a system for those who can least afford a traditional education but need it the most. The piece generated plenty of reaction in the comments, which I’d group into two opposing camps:

  • Face-to-face education is the established and verified mode of instruction, and any other way depersonalizes education, is uncontrolled, and most of all, is ineffective.
  • Using tech…

How to Build Beneficial Detours to Smooth the Road to College

Last month, as part of The Chronicle’s series on reinventing college, I suggested that the United States needs more structured, maturing experiences for high-school graduates to ease their path to college. The column generated dozens of comments, mostly in support of the idea.

Now it’s time for the hard part: How would we build such detours on the way to college? Which entities would take the lead in building them? And what are the hurdles to making the concept viable?

Plenty of models for alter…


Flipping the Curriculum: Introductory Courses Should Be Just as Good as the Capstone Experience

One of the many criticisms about the current fascination with massive open online courses, or MOOC’s, is that they fail to improve on a basic pedagogical problem that many universities face: the large size of lecture classes. Indeed, MOOC’s exacerbate the problem by enrolling tens of thousands of students rather than just hundreds.

Much of that line of criticism about MOOC’s, of course, comes from professors at traditional institutions who continue to teach large lecture classes themselves. They…


The Uneven Value of Academic Credit

The tight hold American colleges and universities have on academic credit—what it is worth and who awards it—is about to undergo a well overdue stress test.

Two announcements in as many months have the potential to perhaps finally better define the value of credits in higher education.

The first is the announcement by the American Council on Education that it will review a handful of free online courses offered by elite universities through Coursera and may recommend that other colleges accept c…