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Recent headlines have touted the move by several big employers to stop requiring new hires to hold college degrees. Meanwhile, a drumbeat of studies show increasing labor market returns for degrees, and employers say they value the critical thinking skills of liberal arts graduates.
These seemingly oppositional trends are both real and on display in a new report from Northeastern University’s Center for the Future of Higher Education and Talent Strategy. The report sheds light on a technology-enhanced shift in the way workers are being hired in the knowledge economy.
The traditional college degree remains by far the best ticket to a good-paying job, a well-established fact bolstered by a survey the center conducted. But the results also suggest that college leaders should pay close attention to the gradual, ongoing transformation of HR functions as well as to nascent changes in how employers view alternative credentials, particularly of the digital variety.
“The way employers relate to higher education is shifting,” said Sean R. Gallagher, the center’s executive director and the report’s author. “It’s employers getting savvier.”
The center surveyed 750 hiring leaders at U.S. employers in August and September. The results are nationally representative, spanning a wide range of industries and organizational sizes.
Most respondents reported an increase (48 percent) or no change (29 percent) in how they value educational credentials in hiring during the last five years. Just 23 percent reported a decline.
A majority (54 percent) of those surveyed agreed with the statement that college degrees are "fairly reliable representations of a candidate’s skills and knowledge." And 76 percent agreed that completing a degree program is a “valuable signal of perseverance and self-direction” in a job candidate.
Likewise, 44 percent of respondents said the level of educational attainment required or preferred for the same job roles had increased over the last five years. Most who responded that way (63 percent) indicated that additional education requirements were due to evolving skills needed for jobs, rather than the mere availability of candidates with better credentials, a finding that agues against conventional wisdom on credential inflation.
In addition, 64 percent of respondents said the need for "continuous lifelong learning" in the future will drive demand for higher levels of education and more credentials.
While the traditional degree’s currency is secure for now, the survey found that employers increasingly are moving toward hiring based on applicants’ skills or competencies. And while it remains small, the market for nondegree microcredentials is growing rapidly, according to the survey.
The report points to the increasing use of data and analytics in hiring, noting that another study found 30 percent of HR departments reporting some form of analytics usage this year, up from 10 percent a few years ago.
As a result of the increasing reliance on artificial intelligence and analytics in hiring, the report predicted that employers are likely to change their preferences for credentials.
One area where this is happening is the rise of skills-based hiring that often de-emphasizes degrees and pedigrees. These typically technology-enabled strategies involve employers defining specific skills that are necessary for the job and seeking them in candidates. As examples, the report points to IBM's New Collar Jobs project and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation's Talent Pipeline Management Initiative.
The survey found that 23 percent of respondents are moving in this direction, with another 39 percent reporting that they are exploring or considering such a move.
Going Online and Micro
Online credentials have become mainstream, according to the report.
“Both the education market and the HR function are less digitized than many other sectors,” Gallagher said, pointing to finance and health care as examples. “It’s coming to education.”
The survey found that 71 percent of HR officials have hired someone with a degree or credential that the employee earned completely online. However, 39 percent of respondents viewed online credentials as being second class, saying they are generally lower quality than those completed in person. Yet more than half (52 percent) said they believe that in the future, most advanced degrees will be earned online.
That hunch is backed by data the Urban Institute released earlier this week about master's degrees.
The rate of enrollment in online master's courses or programs has increased substantially since 2000, the analysis found, and is more common than in bachelor's degree programs. In 2016, the institute said 31 percent of students in master’s tracks reported that their program was entirely online, with 21 percent reporting that they took some online courses.
“You can’t ignore online,” Gallagher said.
The growth of digital learning options has spawned a variety of short, subdegree awards. These microcredentials include digital badges, MicroMasters from edX and Udacity’s Nanodegrees.
Awareness of these credentials in HR departments remains relatively low, according to the survey, yet still substantial. For example, 29 percent of respondents said they had encountered MicroMasters in the hiring process, and 10 percent said they had hired a candidate who had earned one. Another 36 percent said they had never heard of the credential from edX.
Microcredentials currently appear to be functioning as a supplement to degrees, the survey found. But that could change. A majority of respondents (55 percent) agreed with the statement that microcredentials are “likely to diminish the emphasis on degrees in hiring over the next 5-10 years.”
Test Before Hire
The biggest near-term challenge to the reliance on degrees in hiring, the survey found, is the use of prehire assessments such as online tests given to job candidates.
More than a third of respondents (39 percent) expect these assessments to have an impact on hiring within three years, and nearly 70 percent within five years.
Those findings build on a report Ithaka S+R released earlier this week in an attempt to map the “Wild West” of prehire assessment.
The report documented a “wave of rapid innovation” in this space. The interest is being driven in part by the perceived gap between job candidates’ competencies and employers’ needs, the group said, which in turn is contributing to a growing distrust by employers in “signaling credentials” such as college degrees, industry association endorsements and state licensures.
“We are at the early stages of a new market, a new industry,” said Martin Kurzweil, director of the group’s educational transformation program. Kurzweil co-wrote the report with Meagan Wilson, a senior analyst there, and Rayane Alamuddin, associate director for research and evaluation at Ithaka S+R.
As an essay published by Inside Higher Ed earlier this week noted, prehiring assessment faces regulatory and legal challenges in this country, including the risk of lawsuits alleging that such screening of hires is discriminatory. Yet plenty of experimentation with the practice is occurring, said Kurzweil.
The activity around prehiring assessment brings both promise and risks, he said. Kurzweil is excited about the prospect of “hiring people based on what they can do rather than their pedigree.” But the stakes are high, he said, particularly as profit-seeking companies move into the space.
The marketplace for prehiring assessments already is flooded, according to the report. Content and software across assessments and employers' human resources systems often are incompatible. And higher education administrators and industry association officials tend to be out of touch with new methodologies used by employers and assessment providers.
The time is ripe for college leaders to play a role in shaping the use of prehire assessments, Kurzweil said, such as contributing to norms around how the tools are used.
“We think higher education should be more engaged in what’s happening,” he said. “This is a historical force that’s sweeping through. It’s going to happen.”Editorial Tags: Digital LearningOnline learningImage Source: Istockphoto.com/bernardbodoIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending:
Two historically black institutions in North Carolina faced similar situations heading into this month’s Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges annual meeting.
Saint Augustine’s University in Raleigh and Bennett College in Greensboro had both been on probation for two years because of concerns about their finances. SACS does not allow for a third year of probation, so each institution was facing one of two outcomes: have its probation lifted or lose its accreditation.
The first possible outcome would mean the college or university would have its accreditation extended, continuing its access to all-important federal student aid. The second would jeopardize almost any institution’s ability to keep its doors open, as loss of accreditation means loss of access to those federal funds, along with the revenue they provide and the vast majority of students who depend on federal financial aid to help them pay for college.
On Tuesday, St. Augustine’s learned its probation was being lifted after it had assuaged the accreditor’s concerns. Bennett, on the other hand, was not able to satisfy SACS and is in line to have its accreditation revoked. Bennett’s president has pledged to appeal the decision at a February hearing, and the college is now widely soliciting donations to strengthen its standing. It will continue to be open and accredited during its appeal.
Even before the outcome of any appeal can be known, the cases of the two institutions demonstrate the long and difficult paths that struggling colleges and universities travel as they fight to shore up their finances -- and the way those paths diverge during the complex and sometimes opaque crucible of the accreditation process.
The two cases also stand as the latest examples of the stresses mounting on many different small tuition-dependent institutions, especially those with a mission of serving low-income students. St. Augustine’s and Bennett’s struggles resonate particularly strongly because of the unique place HBCUs hold in the American higher education landscape, and because Bennett counted itself as one of only two historically black colleges for women. But other types of institutions are cracking under pressure as well.
“I’m afraid we’re going to see more and more small private institutions either close or get dropped from membership or merge, which is what I would hope they would do so their legacy is not lost,” said Belle Wheelan, SACS president, in an interview Wednesday.
Can Bennett Be Saved?
The most immediate question is whether Bennett College can stave off the loss of its accreditation. The college has scrambled to raise additional money since learning of SACS’s decision Tuesday.
Bennett leaders aim to raise at least $4 million to $5 million over the next 45 days, they said during a Thursday press conference. They are appealing to donors, foundations, corporations and other organizations, both nationally and locally, to give.
College leaders said they had been improving this year in key metrics like enrollment, retention and student loan default rates. And the college had already been touting recent philanthropic successes, like steadily increasing fund-raising totals.
Bennett recently reported a surplus of $461,000 after annual deficits climbed over $1 million just a few years ago. College leaders told the News & Record they are currently projecting a surplus again, of about $300,000.
In light of those indicators, Bennett’s leaders were surprised when SACS decided to revoke the college’s accreditation. They still aren’t clear how much they would have to raise to keep the college accredited, although they hope to know more after receiving a final letter in January detailing the accreditor’s decision.
“The standard speaks to fiscal stability, and it’s judged in many different ways,” said Phyllis Worthy Dawkins, Bennett’s president, during Thursday’s press conference. “There’s no one way to demonstrate fiscal stability, which is why we thought we were demonstrating fiscal stability.”
Leaders have asked how much money they need to raise, said the chair of the college’s Board of Trustees, Gladys A. Robinson. The accreditor has not answered, she said.
“Now our challenge is bigger, and yet simply based on our need to lower the balance on our line of credit,” Robinson said. “We are disappointed that SACS does not seem to understand the issue of HBCUs, and especially an African American woman’s HBCU that continues to survive and strive and improve regardless of economic situations.”
Bennett and its students were severely affected by the Great Recession, Robinson said. The African American community lost much of its wealth, and the population Bennett serves, African American women, was hit particularly hard, she said.
The college will be able to submit new information about newly secured funding as part of its appeal, said Wheelan, the accreditor’s president.
“We never enjoy dropping an institution,” Wheelan said. “We worked with them for a number of years while they were on probation, and we provided guidance. They followed it. They just weren’t able to raise the money to demonstrate stability.”
The college has not discussed a shutdown, according to its president, Dawkins. It is appealing SACS’s decision, and she indicated it would initiate a lawsuit if it loses the appeal.
Bennett wouldn’t be the first institution to sue SACS over having its accreditation pulled. Paine College, a private HBCU in Augusta, Ga., was placed on probation in 2014. SACS eventually determined Paine hadn’t satisfied deficiencies in areas related to finances and the control of sponsored research or external funds. The college decided to appeal, and the dispute eventually ended up in federal court. A judge ruled earlier this year that SACS could withdraw the college’s accreditation.
Paine then indicated it would seek accreditation elsewhere, with the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools. It currently has candidate status with TRACS.
A college spokeswoman later said Bennett was confident its appeal would be successful. She also said that the college boosted its new student enrollment by 15 percent this fall to 243 students, and that many of the new students are strong academically.
Similar Cases With Different Outcomes
Bennett and St. Augustine’s are located about 80 miles apart in neighboring North Carolina cities. Their recent histories and some publicly available data show some striking similarities between the two.
Both colleges are affiliated with mainline Protestant churches, and both experienced presidential turnover within the last five years. Bennett is related to the United Methodist Church. St. Augustine’s is one of only two historically black institutions affiliated with the Episcopal Church.
Dawkins started at Bennett in 2015 as provost, then was promoted to interim president the next year. Her predecessor was at the college for three years. Everett B. Ward spent a year as interim president at St. Augustine’s after trustees ousted the university’s former president, then he took over the position on a permanent basis in 2015.
The two colleges each lost more than a third of their enrollment since 2010, federal data show. Bennett’s total enrollment dropped from 780 in 2010 to 493 in 2017. St. Augustine’s fell from 1,508 to 974.
Both institutions also posted losses on their latest available federal tax forms -- which do not cover their results for the most recent year. Bennett posted a deficit of $977,000 in the year ending in June 2017 after losing $1.1 million the previous year. St. Augustine’s lost $1.7 million after recording a deficit of $723,761.
The similarities even extend to financial relief recently granted by the federal government. Bennett and St. Augustine’s were both among eight private institutions receiving deferments on loans from the U.S. Department of Education.
The loan deferments, under the HBCU Capital Finance Program, were announced earlier this year. Bennett has quoted the benefits of that deferment at $9 million over six years. Ward has said St. Augustine’s deferment will save it $1 million per year over the same period.
Key differences exist between the two institutions, however. Although they are in nearby cities, Bennett faces a different local market in Greensboro than St. Augustine’s does in Raleigh. And Bennett has a history of financial trouble that includes a 2011 probation because of concerns over its financial stability.
“In Greensboro they have so many institutions around them that they’ve struggled for years,” Wheelan said. “This is not the first time they’ve been in trouble. It’s just the first time they have not been able to come out of it.”
Other key differences between the colleges include the fact that Bennett remains much smaller than St. Augustine’s at a time when many college leaders think small institutions need to grow larger in order to survive. Bennett has reported a significantly smaller net asset base on tax forms than has St. Augustine’s -- $14.2 million versus $30.4 million.
Bennett is not alone as a women’s college facing financial issues. Nonelite women’s colleges from Sweet Briar College in Virginia to Mills College in California have struggled financially to different degrees in recent years.
Nonetheless, outside observers could be forgiven for being surprised that Bennett is having its accreditation pulled while St. Augustine’s is not.
From the student perspective, Bennett costs less on average, has a higher graduation rate and sees its students go on to earn a slightly higher median salary 10 years after entering college, according to the College Scorecard. Bennett's average annual net price for financial aid recipients is listed at $22,730, its six-year graduation rate is 43 percent and the median salary of its students 10 years after enrolling is $30,600. St. Augustine’s average annual net price is listed at $26,415, its graduation rate is 28 percent and the median salary of its students 10 years after enrolling is $27,300.
On their own, those statistics aren't likely to seem attractive to many students -- regardless of which institution they favor. Both institutions trail many other colleges and universities by those metrics. They also posted debt levels for graduates that are significantly higher than the national average. The median federal loan debt for undergraduates who completed their degrees at Bennett was $38,243, excluding private loans and Parent PLUS loans. It was $36,500 at St. Augustine's.
In addition to concerns over St. Augustine’s financial issues, SACS had cited in its probation disclosure a standard about the institutional effectiveness of the university’s education programs.
St. Augustine’s also found itself the target of intense speculation over its future earlier this year after leaked documents called into question its trajectory. The leaks were summarized in an HBCU Digest report saying issues with enrollment, finances, personnel turnover and disagreements about leadership left those connected to the university increasingly worried about its accreditation.
“I am formally informing you and the Board of Trustees that in my expert opinion, I do not feel that St. Augustine’s University is ready or prepared for the upcoming accreditation site visit, and unless drastic measures are taken immediately, the institution will lose its accreditation and be closed,” a consultant wrote in a July 2018 letter to Ward, HBCU Digest reported.
That worst-case scenario did not come to pass. St. Augustine’s followed a plan of action that involved fund-raising, management improvements and cost cutting in order to keep its accreditation, said its president, Ward, in an interview Wednesday.
St. Augustine’s worked to streamline and automate accounting functions with new software, he said. It cut costs in areas including travel and administration.
“I think the university administration, along with our external partners, alumni and students, made a concerted effort,” he said. “Our alumni became extremely engaged and have continued to be very involved in recruitment and fund-raising. They have helped us in those areas extensively, as well as coming on campus and mentoring students and just being very engaged through our national and local alumni organizations.”
Nonetheless, St. Augustine’s enrollment is down significantly this fall. It was about 800, according to Ward. That would be a drop of nearly 20 percent from numbers reported last fall.
“We attributed that decrease to the perception that was reported in some media outlets that the university was on the verge of closing because of accreditation issues,” Ward said. “When we realized targeted enrollment would not be met, we moved into a budget modification, which was approved by the board, and began to look at how we would reduce costs and live within our budgetary means.”
Ultimately, St. Augustine’s showed its accreditor that it had improved its finances to a degree that demonstrated financial stability now and beyond this year, Wheelan said. The same could not be said for Bennett.
“They were not able to demonstrate that they were financially stable,” Wheelan said. “They hadn’t gotten there yet, according to the board and the board’s opinion.”
Small Colleges Continue to Struggle
Bennett’s and St. Augustine’s recent accreditation struggles fit into a larger landscape where private liberal arts colleges in North Carolina face intense pressure. Many of those pressures echo those felt in other states around the country.
North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities is a 36-member group of private colleges accredited by SACS. Half of the students attending its member colleges are eligible for federal Pell Grants, said the group’s president, A. Hope Williams. Pell Grant eligibility is widely considered a proxy for low-income status.
At the same time, competition for students across state lines can be fierce. For example, Oglethorpe University in Atlanta recently unveiled a pricing strategy under which it will match in-state public flagship tuition rates for students from all states who meet certain requirements -- meaning some of the students who are most attractive to colleges will pay no more in tuition to attend Oglethorpe than the listed sticker price of the flagship in their home states.
In that environment, nonwealthy, tuition-driven institutions face significant difficulty balancing their own need for revenue with students’ ability and willingness to pay.
“So many students need assistance in terms of being able to make it possible for them to attend college,” Williams said. “One of the challenges that private colleges and universities have is the amount of institutional aid that they need to provide to make college affordable.”
The challenge is all the greater for a women’s college like Bennett, which starts with a smaller number of prospective students it can recruit.
“It is such an incredible institution for young women of color,” Williams said. “At the same time, that is a challenge in terms of its applicant pool. One of its most wonderful attributes can also be a challenge in the outreach for applicants.”
Bennett will likely have to make substantial changes to attract students and differentiate itself from other small liberal arts colleges and even other HBCUs, according to Marybeth Gasman, director of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions.
Even if it does not win a SACS appeal, Bennett could follow Paine College’s path and apply with another accreditor, like TRACS. Paul Quinn College, a historically black college in Texas, also took that course after SACS pulled its accreditation almost a decade ago.
Today, Paul Quinn bills itself as the country’s only urban work college, and its name surfaces alongside some of the most in-vogue, forward-looking ideas like credential programs and online courses. Its president was even rumored last year to be targeted by Texas Democrats who wanted him to run for governor.
Gasman cautioned against viewing the struggles of Bennett and St. Augustine’s solely through the lens of their identity as HBCUs. Most HBCUs in North Carolina are public, she said in an email. North Carolina A&T State University, for example, is one of the strongest HBCUs in the nation, she said.
“I do think that the experiences of St. Aug and Bennett are indicative of the struggles of some small, under-resourced, church-related HBCUs and small” predominantly white institutions, she said. “One of the most difficult issues for these two colleges is demonstrating what is unique about them and why students should attend them given the lack of resources that they suffer from. Many small colleges across the nation -- HBCU or not -- are faced with this issue.”
Indeed, SACS placed several other institutions on probation at this month’s meeting. Prairie View A&M, a public historically black institution in Texas, was placed on probation for failure to comply with an accrediting standard on federal and state responsibilities. The action was related to state audit issues, Wheelan said.
The accreditor placed other institutions that are not HBCUs on probation. Johnson University in Knoxville, Tenn., was placed on probation for a standard related to federal and state responsibilities. The university provided inadequate evidence to SACS that it had addressed an issue with reporting dating back to its 2016 financial aid audit, said Johnson’s provost, Jon Weatherly. The university has taken steps to resolve the issue.
Loyola University of New Orleans was placed on probation over its finances. Loyola issued a statement saying it has already boosted enrollment, improved retention, raised money and put in place spending reductions to address the accreditor’s concern.
SACS also removed several institutions from probation, including Johnson C. Smith University, an HBCU in Charlotte, N.C., that had been under scrutiny over concerns about its financial stability. Johnson C. Smith had been placed on probation a year ago.DiversityAdministration and FinanceEditorial Tags: AccreditationBusiness issuesHistorically black collegesImage Caption: Bennett CollegeIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending:
Catholic University announced Thursday that it has fired Stephen McKenna, a tenured associate professor of media and communication studies, for having a sexual relationship with a graduate student whom he hired as an assistant.
A university statement said he hired the assistant when he was serving as a department chair. The assistant was a graduate student in another department, and they became sexually involved shortly after she was hired. The university received an anonymous tip about the allegation last year but was unable to get detailed information. But then the employee contacted the university about the relationship.
Catholic referred the matter to a faculty committee, which determined that McKenna had violated university rules with the relationship and that dismissal would be an "appropriate" response. The university's board this week acted on the faculty committee's report and fired McKenna.
University policy explicitly bars any romantic relationships between faculty members or administrators and those they supervise. The relevant policy states, “A consensual dating or sexual relationship between a staff employee, a member of the faculty (including adjunct faculty) and a student, or an employee that the staff/faculty directly supervises, is prohibited when the staff/faculty has any current or foreseeable professional responsibility for the student or the employee … Voluntary consent by the student/employee in such a relationship is suspect, given the fundamental nature of such a relationship.” The policy also states that “violation of this prohibition may result in disciplinary action including dismissal for unprofessional conduct.”
McKenna could not be reached for comment via phone or social media.
The university statement on his dismissal said that McKenna admitted to the relationship "but argued that dismissal was inappropriate."
Many colleges and universities that dismiss faculty members in these circumstances do not draw attention to the decisions. But the statement from Catholic said that the faculty committee that reviewed McKenna's case "encouraged the university to publicize the matter widely, in the interests of accountability and deterrence."Editorial Tags: FacultyImage Caption: Stephen McKennaIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: College: Catholic University of America
The proportion of British students being accepted to university courses with lower school-leaving grades is at one of its highest rates ever, according to a report from the country’s admissions body.
Data released by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) show that 84 percent of applicants who achieved grades equivalent to CCC at A level, or lower, gained a higher education place this year, up five percentage points since 2013. For those with A-level points equivalent to DDD, the acceptance rate tipped past 80 percent.
There is a similar trend for applicants taking other qualifications such as Business and Technology Education Council (BTEC) schools: acceptance rates for students who received three BTEC passes have risen from below 50 percent in 2013 to 70 percent this year.
The figures follow controversy over the ballooning use of unconditional offers -- where students are guaranteed a place regardless of what grades they achieve in exams -- which a separate UCAS analysis released last month showed was now at a record level.
That analysis also suggested that unconditional offers were being made at increasing rates to those with lower predicted grades, while there was also further evidence that those holding such an offer were more likely to miss their forecast grade profile.
According to the latest UCAS report, the share of applicants over all who missed their predicted A levels by three or more grades has gone up 3.3 percentage points since 2017, and 11.5 percentage points since 2013.
And placed applicants with lower grade profiles have, on average, a larger difference between their achieved and predicted grades, the figures show.
All the data are likely to be seized on by critics of the current system, with some believing that universities that are under pressure to fill places and maintain tuition income are accepting too many students with lower grades.
Clare Marchant, UCAS chief executive, said that while many applicants were accepted on the strength of factors such as interviews or personal statements, universities “must be mindful of accepting applicants with lower grades” and such students “must be appropriately supported during their studies, so they can flourish on their chosen course.”
She added that UCAS was also “working with schools and universities to improve the accuracy of predicted grades, exploring the different ways teachers make predictions, and how they are used by admissions teams when making offers,” with a “good practice guide” due to be published in the new year.
Elsewhere, a separate chapter of the report reveals that although the proportion of British 18-year-olds entering higher education continues to rise over all, there has been a fall in the entry rate for some regions for the first time since tuition fees rose.
In the east of England, the northeast, and Yorkshire and the Humber, there was a drop in the share of 18-year-olds entering higher education of between 0.1 and 0.7 percentage points compared with last year. “These decreases come after five years of consistent entry rate increases for every region of England from 2012 to 2017,” the report says.GlobalEditorial Tags: BritainTimes Higher EdIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending:
- Hamilton College is starting a campaign to raise $400 million by 2023. Top goals include financial aid and living/learning communities. To date, $191 million has been raised.
- Lawrence University is starting a campaign to raise $220 million by 2020. Top goals include financial aid, with a push to meeting the full need of all admitted students. To date, $165.5 million has been raised.
- Saint Louis University is starting a campaign to raise $500 million by 2021. So far, $303 million has been raised with student aid and academic programs among the priorities.
- University of Alabama at Birmingham has raised just over $1 billion in a five-year campaign for which $1 billion was the goal. Top priorities included the business school, student aid and athletics.
Track college fund-raising campaigns at Inside Higher Ed's database.Editorial Tags: Fund-RaisingIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending:
Lots of universities grumble about the price and restrictions of their subscription contracts with publishers, but few have the negotiating power of the University of California System -- which single-handedly accounts for almost 10 percent of the research output of the United States.
The UC system, which paid over $10 million this year to the publishing giant Elsevier in journal subscription fees, is unhappy with the status quo. So unhappy that when the UC system’s current five-year contract with Elsevier ends on Dec. 31, officials say, they are willing to put access to Elsevier journals on hold until the university gets what it wants. An Elsevier representative said that the publisher is working hard to reach an agreement with the UC system before its contract expires.
Millions of dollars in potential fees are not the only leverage the UC system is using against the publisher. A recent email from the University of California, Los Angeles's provost to the campus urged the faculty to consider declining offers to review articles for Elsevier and not publishing in Elsevier journals "until negotiations are clearly moving in a productive direction."
Unlike some other universities that have canceled, or at least threatened not to renew, their bundled journal subscription agreements with publishers, the UC system is not primarily protesting rising prices, though it would still like to see its fees reduced. The California system wants to fundamentally alter how it pays for journal content from publishers like Elsevier and to accelerate open-access publishing in the process.
The UC system, which is made up of 10 campuses and 100 libraries, wants to do more to make publicly funded research freely accessible to the public, said Ivy Anderson, associate executive director of the California Digital Library, who is involved in the negotiations with Elsevier.
Currently, final versions of research papers are often made available to the public some time after they have been published, said Anderson. The UC system wants journals to make this research immediately available to all.
To facilitate this, the UC system is pursuing a new kind of arrangement with Elsevier and several other publishers, Anderson said. Rather than paying separately to access subscription journals and make articles immediately available in OA, the UC system wants to roll both costs into one annual fee, which could potentially be higher than what the UC system currently pays for subscriptions only.
This arrangement, called a "read-and-publish" deal, would mean that the public would have immediate, free access to final versions of UC research papers, with no additional article-processing fees to the UC system.
In pursuing such an arrangement with Elsevier, the UC system is “trying to fundamentally change the ecosystem of scholarly communication,” said Rick Anderson, associate dean for colleges and scholarly communications in the Marriott Library at the University of Utah.
While other libraries might be interested in pursuing such deals, “few have enough negotiating leverage to really push it in the way that UC can,” Rick Anderson said. “The UC system is actually somewhat like a European country in that it’s a single system that encompasses a relatively large number of institutions.”
But whether the university system will actually pull it off is unknown. The UC system and Elsevier have been locked in negotiations since the summer and seem to still be at odds about how to move forward.
A ‘No Deal’ Scenario
The clock is ticking for the California system and Elsevier to reach a systemwide subscription deal before the year's end.
The UC system wants to reach an agreement with Elsevier as quickly as possible but is prepared for the “possibility that we may be without a contract for some period of time," said Jeffrey MacKie-Mason, university librarian at UC Berkeley, who is also involved in the negotiations with Elsevier.
The system is prepared for that eventuality. Numerous town hall meetings and discussions between professors, faculty senates, librarians and lead negotiators have taken place over the past few months, and each of the system’s 10 campuses is prepared for the possibility of a "no deal" scenario, said MacKie-Mason.
Faculty members have been largely supportive of the UC system’s negotiation strategy, MacKie-Mason said, though he acknowledges some academics are concerned about losing access to key new research.
If an agreement is not reached before the deadline, then as soon as Jan. 1, 2019, the 190,000 faculty members and 238,000 students in the UC system may no longer have access to new articles published in over a thousand Elsevier journals, including Lancet and biology journals published through Cell Press. Access to older articles through Elsevier’s Science Direct platform will continue uninterrupted.
Stephen Floor, an assistant biology professor at the university's San Francisco campus, confirmed that the faculty largely supports what the system is trying to do.
“Obviously we would prefer no disruption, but we have a network of colleagues and systems in place from which we can request articles,” said Floor. “It’ll be an inconvenience, sure. But I think we understand the importance of what they’re trying to achieve.”
Floor said that communication with faculty about the negotiations has been good, but it’s now up to faculty members to “take that message and broadcast it to everyone else who might be affected.”
Jonathan Eisen, a biology professor at UC Davis, agreed that "not being able to read some papers will be awkward," but, he said, "there's a lot to read out there that isn't in Elsevier journals."
The push by the UC system for immediate open-access publication is an important one, said Eisen. "Prepublication versions of articles are frequently different from final versions, and there are many things that are supposed to be in archives that are in fact, not," he said.
Open to Some Experimentation
Speaking to the Los Angeles Times, Ivy Anderson hinted that Elsevier may be willing to try out a new open-access fee arrangement with the UC system, but that this would not look like the read-and-publish deal the system is seeking.
Gemma Hersh, vice president for global policy for Elsevier, said in an interview Wednesday that the company is one of the leading open-access publishers and continues to be receptive to working with universities to explore different open-access options.
"There's a lot of experimentation in the market, and we've been engaged in pilots for a number of years," said Hersh. "We're always open to testing and trialing something new, and we have a very broad menu of options."
However, the publisher does not want to shift from individual article-processing fees to a fixed annual rate for the immediate open-access publication of an unknown number of articles. "Our principle is that we would like to be paid for the articles that would be published," said Hersh.
Hersh said the popularity of open-access publishing is growing, but she noted that the subscription model is also growing and remains popular.
A letter from Philippe Terheggen, managing director of scientific, technical and medical journals at the company, to Elsevier journal editors who work within the UC system, sheds some light on the publisher’s concerns about the UC system’s proposal.
“We understand what [the California Digital Library] wants to accomplish and are working hard to construct an agreement that enables CDL to retain access to the highest quality subscribed content at a fair price and promotes OA in a realistic context,” wrote Terheggen.
He continued, “CDL wants to pay towards its authors publishing OA for the world to read freely but only pay a nominal amount to access the world’s subscribed content. This model could work if this were an all-OA world. But the reality is that the world’s subscribed content comprises 85 percent of scholarly output and continues to grow. Therefore, while [CDL] wants to fund OA, which we fully support, it still needs to pay to access subscribed content.”
A Model for Read-and-Publish Agreements
The UC system wants its read-and-publish contract with Elsevier to be a model that can be adopted by other institutions, and many university librarians have expressed interest in negotiating similar deals, Ivy Anderson said. She thinks about the contract as more than just a new type of agreement that supports both reading and publishing.
“It’s really a way to try and move the journal ecosystem from a subscription basis toward an open-access basis in an orderly but accelerated fashion,” she said.
The idea of read-and-publish agreements is “fairly new,” said MacKie-Mason. In the U.S. there is only one university that has so far secured a read-and-publish deal with a publisher -- the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which announced such an arrangement with the Royal Society of Chemistry in June.
“It’s certainly the case that major publishers have not embraced these types of agreements,” said MacKie-Mason. “Springer Nature has been more agreeable to contracts of this sort, but many are moving slowly, or actively opposing.”
Greg Eow, associate director for collections at MIT Libraries, is supportive of UC’s attempt to get a read-and-publish deal in place with Elsevier.
“The global movement towards open access has dramatically gained momentum in recent months,” said Eow. The launch of Plan S in Europe -- an initiative to support open-access publishing -- has helped to align funders, researchers, publishers and libraries in their commitment to an open-access future. But there continues to be debate about the best path forward.
Eow believes that read-and-publish agreements should be just one of a number of different open-access models being explored so that institutions can “learn from what works and iterate forward.”
Curtis Brundy, associate university librarian for scholarly communication and collections at Iowa State University, said there is growing awareness in the U.S. of the potential of read-and-publish agreements to rapidly increase open-access publishing. Iowa State is set to announce its first read-and-publish agreement with a publisher by the end of the year and has several more in the works for 2019.
“Read-and-publish agreements eliminate publisher double-dipping, where the library continues to pay full-price subscriptions while the publisher collects article-processing charges from authors,” said Brundy. “A read-and-publish agreement brings those payments together and even allows the library to negotiate a reduced price for article-processing charges.” The deals also “give libraries a fairly straightforward way to convert their subscription spend, which currently supports paywalls, to support for open access.”
If the UC system successfully negotiated such a deal with Elsevier, it would be a “landmark agreement, not just in the U.S., but globally,” said Brundy. “China is interested in read-and-publish-style agreements. Germany and Sweden have refused to sign a deal with Elsevier until they get such an agreement. So the pressure is mounting on Elsevier.”
The Impact of a New Type of Arrangement
It remains to be seen whether the UC system and Elsevier will be able to find any common ground, said Greg Tananbaum, a consultant at SPARC -- an organization that promotes open access and tracks "big deal" cancellations. While reaching an agreement with Elsevier may be tricky, Tananbaum suspects the UC system may have much better luck with nonprofit and learned society publishers.
Tananbaum said that what the UC system is trying to do is unusual. "Historically, libraries have been vocal in their dissatisfaction with the lock-in and spend associated with many forms of the big deal," he said.
“In this instance, UC is not simply bemoaning the status quo; they are working proactively to change it,” said Tananbaum. “This effort is not limited to simply trying to hold the line on pricing. It also seeks to reset the university’s relationship with publishers, promoting a partnership approach to create a glide path to OA.”
Lisa Hinchliffe, professor and coordinator of information literacy services at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said that many institutions would be interested in read-and-publish deals if the terms were favorable to them.
“The concern is that any read-and-publish deal is likely to have a higher price than an institution’s current read deal,” said Hinchliffe. “Given that [article-processing charges] are usually not paid from a central fund, adding this expense to the library’s budget could be a challenge even if the overall cost to the institution declined as expenses were bundled.”
Some libraries, wary of entering into big deals with publishers, may feel that read-and-publish agreements are just a “new version of the big deal,” said Hinchliffe.
She said she would not be surprised to see Elsevier offer some kind of read-and-publish deal “if Elsevier can negotiate favorable terms for Elsevier.”
However, she said it is “unlikely that what is favorable for Elsevier will also be considered favorable to an institution, or consortium of institutions.”Books and PublishingLibraries and PublishingEditorial Tags: PublishingIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending:
Three years ago, Kevin Kruger, head of the country’s association for student affairs professionals, wrote to The Washington Post over his concerns with new state laws around campus sexual assaults.
At the time, states such as California and New York were responding to the same pressures that led to the Obama administration’s efforts to crack down on sexual violence at colleges and universities. The states passed legislation that both cemented the rules from Obama’s Education Department into state law and went further, adding new definitions of consent and more. Many of the laws applied to both public and private institutions.
This “patchwork” approach to complex sexual assault adjudication, Kruger, president of NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, then wrote in the Post, could create bureaucratic nightmares for institutions.
Kruger’s warning appears to have proven prescient, though likely in ways he didn’t imagine.
Last month, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos released draft regulations around the federal gender antidiscrimination law, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, in a drastic shift from the approach that Obama championed.
States with their own sex assault laws on the books now have to figure out whether they conflict with the proposed federal regulations, which, once approved, would carry the force of law. In part, because the regulations were just published to the Federal Register for the required 60-day comment collection period, institutions in such states are in a holding pattern while the state systems vet the regulations. They’ve been instructed to do nothing, change nothing.
But the laws will almost certainly clash with the Education Department’s proposal if it remains as is.
For instance, the regulations indicate that administrators should no longer investigate episodes of sexual violence that happen off campus grounds, or if the misconduct doesn’t fall within the scope of an “education program or activity.” Under the Obama rules, which came in the form of a Dear Colleague letter, colleges still needed to investigate incidents that happened off their property. Recently, a Harvard University student sued the institution for investigating a rape he allegedly committed in a city outside Cambridge -- a case that all but assuredly would not meet the proposed federal guidelines.
New York’s Enough Is Enough law, backed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, specifies that a university can still investigate a Title IX complaint even if a victim decides to back out of the process.
The federal regulations, however, state that information from the parties can’t be used at all unless they submit to cross-examination during a hearing.
It’s these sometimes subtle inconsistencies that have not been studied at length. But Brett Sokolow, president of the Association of Title IX Administrators, said he believes in addition to Illinois, California and New York, laws in Connecticut, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota and Virginia may have conflicting provisions.
“Nobody is making moves yet, but all are moving to study the issues and formulate recommendations,” Sokolow said.
Liz Hill, Education Department spokeswoman, said that department acknowledges certain state laws might dictate institutions do more than what Title IX requires, “but that does not inherently create a conflict between state and federal law.”
Hill did not address the specific examples that were provided to her by email of possible contradictions between state law and the regulations.
“The department is focused on enforcing Title IX to ensure equal access to education free from sex discrimination,” Hill said.
State Laws Explained
Of the state laws, Enough Is Enough attracted headlines partially because of Cuomo’s promotion of it (and several celebrity endorsements -- Lady Gaga publicly supported the law) but also because New York was one of the first states, along with California, to make the controversial affirmative “yes means yes” the standard for consent.
The administration’s regulations, despite being against the “spirit” of the New York law, as several lawyers described it, don’t actually interfere with the consent piece of Enough Is Enough. Joseph Storch, associate counsel with the State University of New York, said the new regulations do not define consent, though the department did narrow the definition of sexual harassment. The new federal definition of harassment is “unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to the recipient’s education program or activity” from simply “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature.”
Storch said since the department had never defined consent under Obama, states such as California and New York did. So while DeVos's proposal does not cover many of the cases that the states' laws do, the regulations do not interfere with the state approach.
The proposed regulations also force colleges and universities to turn over all available evidence to both parties if it’s submitted to institutions during an investigation. But the New York law had given institutions a bit more latitude. If someone provided an email, for instance, that wasn’t necessarily relevant to the case, then officials could exclude it from the case file, said Andrea Stagg, deputy general counsel for Barnard College in New York.
Stagg said the provision in the regulations could deter parties from handing over information that they wouldn’t want the other side to see in a case. It would also create much more work for the colleges, which would likely be forced to redact many more documents than they had previously, as required by federal privacy laws.
New York State and City both also have sexual harassment laws regarding workplaces that could complicate Title IX proceedings. The definitions of harassment in these laws exceed the new federal definition. Stagg pointed out that this could create confusion if, for example, a student was employed by the university and was harassed. And under the regulations, only certain officials must report instances of sexual harassment -- but many more are obligated to do so under the New York employment laws.
“It’s problematic,” Stagg said.
California’s definition of sexual assault, as included in the Donahoe Higher Education Act, is also much broader than the federal definition. It is as follows:
“Sexual harassment” means unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal, visual, or physical conduct of a sexual nature, made by someone from or in the work or educational setting, under any of the following conditions:
(a) Submission to the conduct is explicitly or implicitly made a term or a condition of an individual’s employment, academic status, or progress.
(b) Submission to, or rejection of, the conduct by the individual is used as the basis of employment or academic decisions affecting the individual.
(c) The conduct has the purpose or effect of having a negative impact upon the individual’s work or academic performance, or of creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work or educational environment.
(d) Submission to, or rejection of, the conduct by the individual is used as the basis for any decision affecting the individual regarding benefits and services, honors, programs, or activities available at or through the educational institution.
The University of California System was perhaps the most vocal in criticizing DeVos’s plan right away, issuing a statement last month denouncing several of the projected changes, including that institutions must now hold live hearings to adjudicate sexual violence cases and the adjustment to the sexual harassment definition. California's governor, Democrat Jerry Brown, in 2017 vetoed a bill that would have put the Obama-era rules into state law. At the time, Brown said that state and federal actions may have unintentionally led to due process being violated, and that he would instead convene a "group of knowledgeable persons" that would help develop a sexual harassment policy for the state.
Suzanne Taylor, the interim systemwide Title IX coordinator, said in an interview that UC is preparing to provide comment to the department and that it is studying how the regulations may diverge from the state’s laws.
A University of Illinois System workgroup is also evaluating the same issues, according to spokesman Thomas Hardy. The system, in a statement earlier this month, said officials will “carefully review” the proposal and promised “safe and welcoming” institutions for students and staff members.
Multiple state officials said in interviews they were also confused by a part of the regulations that allowed for institutions to punish students for sexually related misconduct that the department might not deem sexual harassment under the new definition.
The regulations mandate that colleges and universities completely dismiss Title IX claims that do not rise to the level of sexual harassment. But institutions could pursue separate proceedings, though their codes of conduct, though these look entirely different from a Title IX process -- they’re often much more informal.
“If the whole point of this is due process for respondents [students who are accused of misconduct], proceeding with other conduct code processes rather than Title IX doesn’t seem consistent with that objective,” Taylor said.
University Response and More
As one lawyer who specializes in Title IX phrased it: colleges and universities are “in panic mode.”
Many small institutions -- with generally small budgets -- have historically never needed to hold hearings to manage the few Title IX complaints they receive. But now they will potentially need to find officials willing and versed enough to be on a panel, a costly and time-consuming endeavor.
Students will also be represented by an adviser in such hearings, which critics of DeVos have likened to imposing courtroom trials into a college setting.
“Due process is historically a flexible construct,” Storch said. “The Supreme Court has told us to balance the gains in truth-seeking that more process would bring to a determination against the costs and inefficiencies that additional due process would bring.”
“The proposed regulations do not contain any analysis of the due process balance and simply seem to add additional processes, which, in total, are well beyond what any court decision or statute has ever required, without any consideration of cost, inefficiencies and the additional challenges of addressing violence through the formal process.”
Some colleges and universities, again, particularly the small ones, rely on a “single-investigator” model that the new regulations forbid, in which one official handles the entire Title IX inquiry and, in many cases, makes a recommendation whether an assault occurred.
Natasha Baker, a San Francisco-based lawyer and partner at Hirschfeld Kraemer LLP, who advises colleges in Title IX matters, said she would tell her clients (she hasn’t received many direct questions yet) to wait until the regulations are officially approved.
While some of the proposals make her nervous -- Baker pointed to the possibility of needing to chase conduct code violations and not Title IX -- she said that the department will need to respond to the comments submitted to the Register, which could take a while.
One group, Safety Advisors for Educational Campuses LLC, which counsels colleges on Title IX, has already requested that DeVos extend the comment period from 60 to 120 days in light of the busy schedules most institutions have around winter finals and the end of the semester.
“The department is going to have to sort it out,” Baker said of possible conflicts. “Even if you don’t have a state law definition, this concept of a separate conduct code proceeding is going to cause a lot of confusion.”
Some commentators and Title IX practitioners predict that congressional Democrats, who recently got more leverage by winning majority control of the U.S. House of Representatives, will try to pressure the Education Department to back down on some of its proposals, said Sokolow of the Association of Title IX Administrators.
On Nov. 29, more than 75 House Democrats urged DeVos to withdraw the regulations.
“This rule is a blatant attempt to silence survivors of sexual harassment and violence and force them back into the shadows. A year after the Me Too movement went viral, we will not tolerate a system that shames and blames victims,” the representatives wrote in a letter to DeVos.
The department will almost inevitably be sued once the regulations are final, said Peter F. Lake, a law professor and director of the Center for Excellence in Higher Education Law and Policy at Stetson University.
If that happened and the actual implementation of the regulations was delayed, it could push the timeline into the next general election into 2020, Lake said -- he and others think there’s a possibility the new rules never take effect.
“No one has ever attempted to force a federally mandated court system on colleges,” Lake said. “It’s absolutely unprecedented.”Editorial Tags: Federal policySexual assaultTitle IXIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending:
The cover of Going to College in the Sixties (Johns Hopkins University Press) features a photograph of a protest at the University of California, Berkeley. Among the photographs in the book that might have been more emblematic of the book’s contents was the one at right promoting a film, Tall Story, that starred a (pre-radical days) Jane Fonda and Anthony Perkins and was a farce about campus romance, reflecting what Hollywood believed Americans thought about when and if they thought about higher education.
The book argues for a broader view of higher education during that decade than one focused on protests and social movements. "Business as usual" was also going on, argues John R. Thelin, a professor at the University of Kentucky who is one of the leading historians of American higher education. Thelin, who was himself a student during the ’60s, responded via email to questions about his new book.
Q: Many will assume from the title of your book that they are going to read only about protests and chaos, but that's not your focus. Why did you decide to focus much of the book on the "business as usual" part of higher education during the ’60s?
A: The tumultuous events of the ’60s made a big impact on students -- but often in causing reconsideration of values and ideas, not necessarily as activists or radicals. For most undergraduates, the consequential factors in going to college in the ’60s were crowding and competition, not political activism. I devote attention to the highly visible and volatile events about campus protests and chaos and then place them in context with other groups, events and activities taking place within a campus -- and across the American higher education landscape. There was, after all, a very strong and pervasive “higher education establishment” during the 1960s, along with the prevalence of traditional campus groups ranging from Greek life to ROTC and big-time sports. It is the interaction of the protests with customary campus life that created the distinctive atmosphere of conflict and contradictions, which each college student had to acknowledge and resolve.
The change in the mood of American higher education from 1960 to 1969 was incredible and surprising -- from optimism and confidence to exhaustion and uncertainty. If I were asked for a eulogy or epitaph for the decade, I would note that much of the ’60s happened in the ’70s. The countercultural innovations that took root in the late 1960s continued and grew into the mid-1970s. I also think the cultural legacies surpassed the political changes.
Q: How did the college curriculum most notably change during the decade?
A: This varied. There were a small number of exciting, new experimental colleges such as University of California, Santa Cruz; Hampshire College; Stockton State and Ramapo College of New Jersey. But nationwide most innovation by undergraduates and faculty took place on the margins, creating new courses and new majors within the existing curriculum. Central to this was interest in various popular culture forms including movies, fiction, design and expanded interpretations of social and political history. Meanwhile, there was relatively little innovation in professional schools, business schools, health sciences, engineering, law and medicine.
Q: Many institutions first experienced meaningful desegregation during this era (and Northern institutions that were not de jure segregated saw their first serious numbers of black students). How did higher education respond to these changing demographics?
A: My interpretation is that many college students of the decade showed great interest in and commitment to racial desegregation, civil rights and social justice. This included participation and activism. However, going beyond nominal racial desegregation and some curricular innovation, I do not think there was much progress in genuine racial integration on most campuses. To the contrary, groups such as a Black Student Union often expressed frustration and discontent with the character of the major colleges and universities. I was surprised in looking at national enrollment data for the decade at how overwhelming the percentages of white students were whether in 1960 or in 1969.
In terms of equity and social change, I think the most overlooked initiatives and innovations were those made by and for women as students and as members of the academic community. Most campus political figures dismissed or underappreciated women, relegating them to secondary roles. Women faced formal and informal exclusion in academics and activities, including varsity sports and a range of other groups. The unexpected consequence of this exclusion was that women as undergraduates learned their lessons well in matters of campus politics and rights. Their early efforts would pay off dramatically and substantially in the 1970s and on.
Q: How did the development of federal aid for college (most notably the Higher Education Act in 1965) change higher education?
A: The Higher Education Act of 1965 had minimal effect on college affordability. It did put in place a political and legislative groundwork that would blossom in 1972 with the massive federal programs of the Higher Education Act Reauthorization, including the BEOG (Pell Grants) and expanded loan programs. Student financial aid, especially grants, remained uncertain and limited in the 1960s. Some colleges took the lead in extending need-based financial aid. And California and Massachusetts and New York, among others, led the way in creating tuition assistance grant programs that were portable to colleges within the state. These various initiatives were ahead of the federal role during the 1960s.
Q: Why do you think public understanding of the decade in higher education is frequently only about the protest movements?
A: First, the enhanced technology of media coverage such as genuine nationwide network broadcast coverage was available. Second, news media understandably gravitate to those campuses whose events and participants were graphic, different and controversial. Third, the accumulated momentum of campus demonstrations and activism accelerated around 1967 and was captivating for audiences cutting across numerous regions and categories.
Q: You were an undergraduate at a politically engaged institution (Brown University) in the 1960s. How did that experience -- both protests and the business as usual -- affect your life?
A: Brown University was hardly chaotic or volatile when contrasted to the University of California, Berkeley (where I started graduate school in 1969). I do think at Brown students were informed and concerned. But serious activism probably gravitated to an important significant minority. Brown was distinctive in 1968-69 for comprehensive and highly organized initiatives for curricular reform that students prompted the faculty and administration to take seriously -- and formally approve. At Brown and many campuses, most undergraduates were concerned about their future prospects, ranging from graduate and professional school, whether or not to serve in the military, or possible job interviews. These had to be reconciled with changes in values and ideals, but not necessarily discarded.New Books About Higher EducationEditorial Tags: BooksTimes Higher EdIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending:
There was not a single woman who climbed poles and repaired electric lines in Missouri until Susan Blaser became a journeyman line worker with Kansas City Power and Light in 1992.
Nearly 30 years later, there still are few women line workers in Missouri and across the country, but Blaser, the lead instructor of Metropolitan Community College’s electric utility line technician program, is trying to change this by encouraging more women to consider entering the profession.
Students can earn an associate degree or certificate through the program, which prepares them for careers as meter readers, utility workers, linemen and wind technicians. The certificate program can be completed in three semesters and the associate degree in four semesters.
“I realized that this was a career opportunity that females could do,” Blaser said.
Although electrical line work continues to be viewed as a “man’s field,” Blaser developed the line tech program at Metropolitan with an eye toward recruiting more women. She started her career as a meter reader for the Kansas City utility company and became an apprentice in line work in 1989. Blaser spent 10 years working in the field and eventually also started training apprentices.
Blaser said the death of her father caused her to re-evaluate her career goals -- she decided she wanted to educate and train future line workers. She began coordinating the line technician program at MCC in 2008 -- one year after the two-year degree program started at the college. Blaser, who had developed the apprenticeship program at Kansas City Power and Light, modeled the curriculum for MCC's program on a first-year apprenticeship.
“My goal was to target females and minorities and bring them over to the program so they could have the same opportunity I got,” she said, noting that women are currently only 9 percent of the industry.
There are significant gender gaps in earnings for careers that require certificates, industry certifications and occupational licenses. Male-dominated occupations such as construction, repair services, engineering and computing, a category which line work falls under, have higher earning levels than female-dominated fields such as health care, education and administrative support.
A New America report released earlier this year showed that 25 percent of workers with a certificate in construction, installation and repair fields made between $50,000 and $75,000 a year, and 13 percent made more than $75,000 a year. Meanwhile, only 7 percent of workers with a certificate in a health-care field made between $50,000 and $75,000 a year, and just 5 percent made more than $75,000 a year. Women comprise 84 percent of health-care workers, while 96 percent of workers in construction and repair occupations are men.
When women are employed in these male-dominated professions, the pay gaps are smaller and are similar to gender pay gaps across all occupations, Mary Alice McCarthy, director of the Center on Education and Skills in the education policy program at New America, said in an email.
“That’s likely due to the effect of union contracts, which provide some wage equality and protection for women,” McCarthy said.
Line workers who start their careers in a union apprenticeship can make between $28 and $32 an hour and receive a wage raise about every six months, Blaser said. Apprenticeships last about three to five years.
A journeyman line worker can make about $45 an hour, she said.
Blaser said her daughter, Randi, who went through the program at Metropolitan, is employed as a line worker by Ameren, an Illinois electric company, and is on track to earn $100,000 in her first year on the job.
There’s also a growing demand for more skilled workers to become line technicians.
In the next three years, about 15 percent of the lineman industry, which is about 15,000 employees nationally, will be eligible for retirement, Blaser said.
“My program can only make 40 students a year,” she said. “That’s hard to keep up when you got several thousand a year retiring.”
There are a few federal initiatives that focus on increasing women's access to male-dominated fields. One initiative that does this is the Women in Apprenticeship and Nontraditional Occupations grant program from the U.S. Department of Labor. Grants have been awarded to nonprofit organizations that work in specific industries such as the Chicago Women in Trades and Oregon Tradeswomen Incorporated, Katie Spiker, senior federal policy analyst with the National Skills Coalition, said in an email.
But Spiker said more could be done to encourage women to pursue these fields.
"Federal policy should also make childcare more affordable, improve access to transportation for workers to get from their home to work to school or help them afford steel-toe boots or a set of tools for the first day of work," she said.
Blaser also tries to encourage women to consider line work by not only promoting the wages but pointing out that after line workers put in a hard day of work, they can go home and enjoy spending time with their families.
"It's not like I can take my work home at 4 p.m.," she said.
Blaser’s own family is full of line workers. In addition to her daughter, her husband is in the profession, as is her son, who also went through Metropolitan’s program. Blaser’s daughter is now the second female line worker employed at Ameren. The first female line worker was Jodie Reinhart, who was also trained by Blaser at MCC.
“Susan wasn’t easy, and I had to earn her respect,” Reinhart said. “She told me, if you want to do this you have to be tough, and I understand why she was tough on me now.”
Reinhart was 38 when she enrolled in Blaser’s class and had her own challenges as an adult student who was also working for a Walmart distribution center at the same time she attended the college. But after Kansas City Power and Light turned down her initial application, Reinhart said, she was determined to become a lineman.
“People are always pretty amazed that this is what I do,” Reinhart said. “People ask me, ‘Are you a linewoman?’ I say, no, I work hard to be a lineman.”
Still, encouraging women to pursue a career as a line worker isn’t easy.
“Getting females is difficult,” Blaser said. “One good year, I had three. I typically get one to two women a year.”
Blaser said she’s also been able to encourage more men of color to join the program. It's the women, though, who tend to have more concerns about what they perceive they can do as a line worker. Some women assume they can’t do the work because they’re a certain height or weight, she said.
“Even with men, I’m going to teach them how to rig and work smart and work hard,” Blaser said. “That was taught to me when I went through my apprenticeship. I didn’t have the man strength, but I had the woman’s wisdom to learn how to do it right.”
Jacqueline Gill, president of the MCC Blue River and MCC Business and Technology campuses, said Blaser’s presence is the institution's best recruiting tool.
“Encouraging young women and people of color is a possibility,” Gill said. “We know they must see themselves in that position. When they see someone like Susan, she’s our best marketing tool.”
Blaser said few women even consider line work a career possibility, because they aren’t encouraged by their parents or high school counselors. When she visits high schools, she finds that most teachers and counselors don’t promote skilled trades or utility work. Instead, Blaser reaches out to high school athletic coaches to help pass the word along. She also visits high schools to promote Metropolitan's program and encourages principals to guide qualified students to the program.
Blaser said word of mouth is the best way potential students learn about her program.
High school coaches know the women who want to do more “hands-on” or physical work and don’t plan to spend years earning multiple degrees at a university, she said. “They’re probably one of my biggest sponsors.”
It’s not always easy for a woman to enter a workspace that has been and continues to be dominated by men. When Blaser started her career, she adapted to working with men who felt she didn’t belong in the field -- and they learned to adapt to her presence, she said.
“I was the 13th female to attempt an apprenticeship at Kansas City Power and Light,” Blaser said. “All the others had failed, so there wasn’t a good track record. There were people there who didn’t want me there, and they were explicit … some of the old guys gave me grief.”
A male co-worker once even slipped a sexist letter in her personnel file. The letter read that she "should be home cooking brownies and taking care of my kids. Not doing line work," she said.
Blaser used humor to deal with the men who didn’t want her around. But she wasn't all smiles; she made a point of holding her ground by dyeing her work gloves and bags pink to signal that women could do the work. She proudly notes that she’s never had an accident in her entire time on the job.
Blaser said she tells the women in her class to have a good attitude, roll with the punches and not to take comments or jokes co-workers make about their gender personally. She said male line techs have become more accepting of women co-workers over the years.
“I had to prove to these guys I could do this,” Reinhart said. “I told them I didn’t want no special treatment. I’m a lineman just like the guys. I want to do what you’re doing.”
She said some male students enter her class convinced they’re better than any female student or student of color.
“I don’t get a lot of those, and to me, that’s how they were raised,” she said. “I'm not going to change that attitude.”
Most male students see Blaser leading the program and gain a respect for women in the industry, Gill said.
Blaser has also been invited to other lineman training programs to talk to male students about how to interact with women in the workplace.
Despite their small numbers, there is a community of women line workers online and on social media, such as the Women in Linework Facebook page, where they share information and support each other.
“There are more and more women doing it, and that’s kind of exciting,” Reinhart said. “I don’t think it’s for every woman, and it’s not for every man. You can’t get in it just for the money. You have to love what you’re doing, because there are days when it’s snowing, raining, ice coming at you, and you have to be out there in it and fixing the power.”Community CollegesEditorial Tags: Career/Tech EducationIllinoisMissouriImage Source: Metropolitan Community CollegeImage Caption: Former MCC student lineman Randi Blaser Is this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending:
- California State University Los Angeles is starting a doctor of audiology program.
- Daemen College is starting an online master of social work program.
- Mount St. Mary's University, in California, is starting a doctor of psychology program.
- Purdue University is starting a professional master's program in innovative technologies.
- University of Illinois at Chicago is starting a master's program in city design.
- University of Texas at Dallas is starting a bachelor's program in data science.
- University of West Florida is starting a Ph.D. in robotics.
- University of Wyoming is starting a bachelor's program in construction management.
- Valparaiso University is starting an online doctoral program in occupational therapy.