The Atlantic has a brief piece that charts the default rates of student loans across the categories of public and private universities, for-profit schools, and community colleges. It is no surprise to anyone familiar with for-profit educational practices that while students at for-profit schools make up only 13% of undergrads they comprise 47% of all defaulters. I agree with the author that we need to invest more in community colleges and high school vocational training; the for-profit model is taking advantage of the most vulnerable part of the student population.

The price of college just keeps going up and up, right? Not exactly.

The sticker price has gone way up no surprise. But, because the value of grants and scholarships has also grown, average net price has grown much more slowly. In fact, in the past five years, average net price at private colleges has actually fallen.

via The Price Of College Tuition, In 1 Graphic : Planet Money : NPR.

In these days of financial austerity and cost-cutting many within higher education are turning to “non-traditional” mediums and pipelines for delivering instructional content. I’m not against this wholesale but I think we should be very cautious as we head down this path and also we must have the honesty to admit that students do not experience the same quality of an education through virtual delivery than if they learn within a physical community. I know this will probably be controversial to some but consider the words of one of the world’s most creative individuals AND the foremost advocate of technology within education:

There’s a temptation in our networked age to think that ideas can be developed by email and iChat. That’s crazy. Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions. You run into someone, you ask what they’re doing, you say ‘Wow,’ and soon your cooking up all sorts of ideas.

–Steve Jobs quoted in Walter Issacson’s Steve Jobs.

You just don’t get this kind of experience from staring at a screen or tweeting questions. You get it from uprooting your life and moving to a physical campus and getting connected to the learning community. I look back on my educational background and in many ways I learned just as much or more through these types of encounters outside of formal class times with both peers and professors than I did through instructional settings.

Also, Jobs hated slide presentations and wouldn’t stand it if people tried to use them in meetings. He said that only people who didn’t know what they were talking about used slides. Again, I don’t totally agree with this but it is still something to think deeply about…

Jo Ann Hackett and John Huehnergard wrote a very good op-ed piece in the Austin American-Statesman in which they outline the benefits of academic research in the humanities.  It is definitely worth a look in this age in which many trustees and regents increasingly view research in the humanities as superfluous and even expendable appendages within higher education.

The Faith & Leadership blog from Duke has an interview with Nicholas Wolterstorff on his perspectives regarding Christian education.  Here is a snippet; for the full interview click here.

As a young professor at Calvin, I was involved in curricular studies. About two years after I got there, I proposed that the entire curriculum should be revised. I’m astonished to this day that the senior people didn’t just silence this brash newcomer. Instead I became head of a curricular revision committee. It became important for me to figure out what holds a curriculum together. You’ve got sciences and arts and my own passion, justice. What holds it all together? It eventually became clear to me that there is a biblical category of flourishing, of shalom. [It is] “peace” in the New Testament, but eirene in Greek is a pretty weak translation of what the Old Testament means by shalom. It means flourishing.

That’s what a Christian college should be about. Not just planting thoughts in people’s heads and getting them into professional positions but flourishing, in all its dimensions.

Forbes has an article entitled “Bureaucrat U” which has a great opening paragraph (the remainder of the article disappoints a bit):

College tuition increased by 6.6% a year over the past decade, a rate that is approximately 2.4 times that of inflation. One big cause: the bloating of university bureaucracies. Between 1997 and 2007 the administrative and support staffs at colleges expanded by 4.7% a year, double the rate of enrollment growth. The burgeoning army of college bureaucrats defends this extraordinary growth as necessary to provide consumer-oriented students with an expanded breadth of noninstructional services. Yet this obfuscates the underlying mission of colleges to produce and disseminate knowledge. It is time for higher education to go on a diet.

The subtitle is “Pay the teachers, not the administrators” and that is something that I agree with.  I think that administrators should get fair compensation but people don’t need to get filthy rich while in academics and believe it or not this is actually happening for around 10% of college and university employees in administrative positions (see the article for details).  Furthermore, enough with the executive vice presidents for toe-nail clipping safety–the mission of higher education is EDUCATION.  Let’s use our resources to further the mission not the ancillary stuff.  In my mind there is one major exception to this–the fundraising department.  This administrative unit is actually worth the money that is put toward it.

There will be more competition for American universities [coming from Asian schools]. Europe, I think, has fallen by the wayside.

As quoted in the WSJ.   This is quite a comment.  Certainly this is not true for things like ancient Near Eastern studies which in my estimation Europe far surpasses American universities in terms of research focus and numbers of programs.

One of the hottest topics within higher education these days is virtual learning.  Almost every institution is exploring how to integrate electronic learning into their programs.  There are many reasons for this not the least of which is financial.  However, does physicality matter for the various aspects of education?

For instance, should students be forced to physically move for a number of years to a campus in order to study?  Should conferences be held via the web instead of renting out convention centers and vast numbers of hotel rooms?  

Personally, I think physicality is vitally important to almost every aspect of education and research.  I think there are certain courses that can migrate online but personal, physical interaction is a huge catalyst for creativity.  Students having the ability of interacting with professors in person during a class session–but more importantly, chatting over coffee or something outside of class hours–is a tremendously productive thing.  Meeting together for the various conferences is incredibly beneficial not necessarily because of the presentations, although there are a handful of presentations that I find valuable every year, but the conferences are the best way to make personal relationships and explore tentative ideas with other experts over lunch or dinner.  

As much as telecommunications and IT technology have helped and will help education, the most effective learning environments are physical learning communities.  

A blog on The Atlantic has a very fascinating post about creative clusters in the music industry.  Even though it would seem that the technology exists to create music from any location with a high-speed connection, LA, NY, and Nashville are still the places to be if you want to be in the music business because they posses the infrastructure and the community that facilitates creative expression.  Similarly, this is why physical campus education remains so important.

What do you think?

A while back I made up a list of North American PhD programs in Semitics and Ancient Near Eastern Studies and I said that I would eventually get around to making up a list of programs outside N. America. So, I want to compile a list of good quality European & Israeli PhD programs in Assyriology and I need your help.

I’ve jump-started the list by putting down some of the programs that popped into my mind but I know that there are many more.  So, let me know your suggested additions.  Remember, I’m only after PhD programs so even very fine institutions that offer BA and MA degrees don’t count.

Bar-Ilan University

College de France

Helsingin yliopisto (University of Helsinki)

Københavns Universitet

Ludwig-Maximilians Universitaet Muenchen

Philipps Universitaet Marburg

Ruprecht-Karls Universitaet  Heidelberg

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Universita di Roma-La Sapienza

Universitaet Leipzig

Universitaet Wien

Universiteit Ghent

University of Birmingham

University of Cambridge

University of London

University of Oxford

Westfaelische Wilhelms-Universitaet Muenster