Friday Links

In a national survey conducted this spring, one in six high-school seniors who before the pandemic expected to attend a four-year college full time said that they will choose a different path this fall. A majority expected either to take a gap year or enroll part time in a bachelor’s program (35 percent each), while smaller percentages planned to work or attend a community college.

Long before Donald Trump or Covid 19, the eerie resemblance of American higher education to the old Habsburg Empire was hard to miss. At the top a handful of vintage institutions continued to glitter. They exercised a magnetic attraction on the rest of the world that even intellectual disasters on the scale of the economics discipline before the 2008 financial crisis hardly dented. But most every institution below the royals was at least fraying around the edges. Long before the pandemic hit, many showed clear signs of distress.

In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, the Obama administration was reluctant to help states out of their budget shortfalls, while national Republicans were openly opposed. State support for higher ed plunged to new lows. In most states, it never really came back. In 2017, for example, the largest governmental source of revenues for public higher education, state general appropriations, amounted to $87 billion – $2.2 billion below the level of 2007.

Brave talk about innovating through various testing regimes is common. Some institutions promise tests to assure safety via robots or other devices that have never been tried on a large scale. Or they talk grandly about how students will agree not to congregate in groups in or out of class. The comparison to US states in the south and west which reopened too early is uncomfortable.

The notion that affirmative action in a handful of brand name institutions could substitute for serious efforts to broaden higher education for citizens in the twenty-first century is absurd. For minority students and poor whites alike, state universities and colleges, including community colleges, are indispensable as pathway to the middle class in a globalized context. If hundreds of colleges close or scale back over the next few years, then higher education in our New Gilded Age will go right back to where it was in the original Gilded Age.

In 2013, Bishin and his colleagues went looking for backlash in public opinion about LGBTQ rights in light of political decisions permitting same-sex marriage. They looked at what happened when study participants heard about the political advance of same-sex marriage rights. They also used the natural experiment created by pro-same-sex marriage Supreme Court rulings in the summer of 2013. They found no significant differences in participants’ opinions about same-sex marriage, or the intensity of those opinions, in the face of victories for LGBTQ rights. Looking at national public opinion polling, they found the same thing—major victories for same-sex marriage had no apparent impact on attitudes toward gay rights.

In April, the most recent month available, almost 6 million people were added to the food stamp rolls, reversing the long decline after the 2008–2009 recession. In percentage terms, that’s the biggest monthly increase since 1970, when the program was young and participation was just taking off. This surge is a thing unto itself.

The average monthly benefit per person was $181.60 in April, which works out to a rather tight $1.98 per meal. (All the SNAP stats are here.) That benefit level is about two-thirds of what the Agriculture Department calls a “thrifty” food budget for a non-elderly adult—a diet that, by the Department’s own accounting, doesn’t provide the recommended daily allowances of vitamin E or potassium; sadly, as they declare in cool bureaucratic prose, “a solution could not be obtained.” 

Back in February — phew, remember February? — Jeffrey Moro, a PhD candidate in English at the University of Maryland, wrote a very astute blog post "Against Cop Shit" in the classroom.

"For the purposes of this post," Moro wrote, "I define 'cop shit' as 'any pedagogical technique or technology that presumes an adversarial relationship between students and teachers.' Here are some examples:

  • ed-tech that tracks our students' every move
  • plagiarism detection software
  • militant tardy or absence policies, particularly ones that involve embarrassing our students, e.g. locking them out of the classroom after class has begun
  • assignments that require copying out honor code statements
  • 'rigor,' 'grit,' and 'discipline'
  • any interface with actual cops, such as reporting students' immigration status to ICE and calling cops on students sitting in classrooms.

About Me

Developer at Brown University Library specializing in instructional design and technology, Python-based data science, and XML-driven web development.