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The New Business Model for Universities: Crowd-funding?

$2,700 is the dollar amount one of my close friends has collected towards her $4,300 goal to participate in a program that will take speech language pathologist way across to the world to Africa this summer for a clinic.  Over a 3 month period, she reached out via email to friends, family, ex’s, community leaders, sororities, etc. to ask for donations towards her cause. She used a donation website similar to Kickstarter and the site to collect funds from various people for a cause. I think the most interesting thing about it is that it was all done virtually with no face-to-face contact with anyone and just anyone has donated to send her, a perfect stranger in some cases, to Africa for a cause. More and more ‘crowd-sourcing’ sites also referred to as ‘crowd-funding’ are being used to support an individual’s and/or organization’s cause. Wikipedia lists describes crown-funding accordingly:

Crowd funding describes the collective cooperation, attention and trust by people who network and pool their money and other resources together, usually via the Internet to support efforts initiated by other people or organizations

Crowd funding as a method of funding has been around for awhile and has been readily used in several industries such as film. Therefore it’s not just this new phenomenon but with the emergence of the internet and social media networking tools like these that allow people to collective support a cause have become revolutionized. Even with regard to higher education, crowd-funding is being used to help support funding for students as well as free online courses. In an article written by Jeffrey Young in the The Chronicle of Higher Education, there’s a discussion about how new start-up companies and organizations are asking for contributions via Kickstarter to finance free online courses for the masses. It would be interesting to see how successful this particular professor’s campaign willl be. However, based on my friend’s site, she is more than half way to her goal. Crowd-funding is becoming a viable option to not only support a great cause but also to support the advancement of education for those who it wouldn’t otherwise be accessible to. Based on the article, it seems that higher education institutions may need to adapt their current business model to incorporate such virtual collective contribution options such as Kickstart.

The Professorial Punching Bag

Traditionally, Americans have always viewed institutions of higher education in a positive light, if not with reverence. Learning experiences are said to occur both in and out of the classroom, benefiting all involved. At least that’s the ideal outcome. For if there’s any group that has constantly been exploited by institutions of higher learning since the colonial era, it is America’s educators themselves.

Professors and instructors at the collegiate level have made more sacrifices for the so-called benefit of higher education than any other group. For the earliest American colleges, funds were generally scarce, and everyone involved made sacrifices. Students’ families made substantial financial commitments – if they didn’t, the student committed his time and efforts in a precursor to work study programs. The nation perceived a great need to educate its young citizens; consequently, rarely was a student turned away, regardless of economic standing. Unfortunately, such idealistic tendencies came at a price: instructor salaries. Paychecks were highly contingent on the receipt of tuition and fees, causing salary deferment until colleges could afford to pay them (a time which more often than not never came). A professor’s friends might be the true source of their income through donations to the institution of employment. And if a professor in the 1800s had an outside source of income, they were expected to serve the college for free, simply for the privilege of being associated with such an honorable institution – an amusing sentiment, considering that some students could attend free of charge, lest the college be branded a “rich man’s institution.”

The trends of the past have simply continued to the present day. Prior to the Civil War, salaries were comparable to those of a 19th century mechanic, offering an arguably misleading picture of the young nation’s priorities. In fact, faculty salaries were not considered “livable” until 1950, and even then continued to by supplemented with other sources of income. And today, even with increases in pay and the need for an educated citizenry at an all-time high, government funding for universities has been on a steady decline, and budgetary cuts often results in out of work educators. Ranks of unemployed scholars typically remain constant, as few matriculate into different industries when they lose their jobs.

Why do such educated men and women buy into this no-win situation, sacrificing their time and potential earnings for often not so much as a footnote in a student’s life?  I know that, although not an educator, I can sympathize. I was once told by an ex-manager that the video industry we work in could be described in three words: underpaid, overworked, underappreciated. Nearly everything I can think of in my work experience points to this claim being true. Yet I still truly enjoy what I do, and thankfully get paid to do it. I imagine the same could be said of most professors. The notion of a calling, a passion for teaching, even a subtly narcissistic appeal in molding future generations with one’s own opinions have all been cited, and all may bear some credence. Regardless of any individual educator’s reasons, they all juxtapose well with the need for an educated society and the need to compensate those who educate, no matter how paltry. In my mind, such reasons far outweigh any prestige or notoriety garnered from working for a renowned, albeit exploitative, employer. Love what you do, and you’ll never work a day in your life. So – to turn the old adage on its head – education, not ignorance, is bliss.

The dissolution of Cartel?

Some people call education the last virgin forest that saws of digital technology have not yet touched. This allegation seems an opposite to the fact, that as early as in 2000 Stanford University had already made its  courses accessible to billions of students around the world. But recent survey conducted by Pew Research Center confirms the bias, that only 29% of the public says online courses offer an equal value compared with courses taken in a classroom, while 51% of college presidents gave endorsement to online ones.

Why more common people cling to the superiority of lecture than the professionals? Certainly, this can be explained by the tenacious power of norm and convention besides the current tech defects unsolved. But if considering other industries whose products has long been sold as streams of zeros and ones with no fuss, the validity of on-line courses is weirdly denied. Why?

The answer is simple, because the power of saying “yes” lies in the educational intuitions but not in the people. To the music industry, customers themselves can decide what are good or bad music, the producers or publishers can never guarantee the market reception. But to the higher education, most of the graduates need the diploma issued by colleges and universities to recommend their competences in the first place. In the hierarchy of power, educational institutions always occupy the top.

It’s no wonder someone call the Ivy League schools cartel. Not only do they attract the best students, but also they are the few that have a final say on who are the best. They get no monopoly on educational resources, but they indeed have more or less hegemony on defining elitism.

“Just before Christmas of 2012 the MIT declared an improvement  to its 2,100 free online courses: The free online service will now grant, for a modest affordable fee, credentials for those online students who gain mastery of the subject. Instead of calling it MIT 2.0, they named it MITx, and it is likely to challenge and change the higher education paradigm and the cartel that runs it.”— BOB ADELMANN

The author believes that the new move made by MIT will  bring the higher education paradigm of exclusivity purchased at a exorbitant price to extinction though the near throat-cutting price competition. His supporters supplement his argument, adding that  few schools can afford the public pressure once they decline to imitate MIT, people would either perceive them as anti-poor people or suspect their programs are third rate.

However, even the new round of  the competition were inducted by the Internet, I doubt  the effect on the university which are dubbed by radicals as “last bastion of liberalism”.  Can it be possible that with the fame been further  promulgated online,  the authorities of the elite schools been consolidated but not reduced? After all, most of us still want the credentials of MIT after our mastery of its courses.







Project Jabber

This was taken from our project proposal:

Our proposed project is to create a higher education learning system online, in the cloud, where students can attend classes in the EMAC program at UTD virtually, and with physical anonymity. We are creating a virtual extension of the UTD EMAC program, helping to lead the way in new technology ventures. Students from all over the world may be admitted to the EMAC Virtual program and utilize this extension of the school, thus promoting higher admission numbers and less commuting time for students and professors. This innovative way of teaching would also require less facility space and promote the preservation of energy resources. Using inspiration from the online game Second Life, EMAC will have its own version of Second Life, closer resembling a community of Sims, where students can create their own avatars and personalities. Students will even be able to attach their past accomplishments, resumes, and interests to their avatar and social network. Books will be available to purchase at the UTD Virtual bookstore online, bringing textbooks digitally to students. The EMAC program is still fairly new, but has definitely made its mark quickly, and can also lead the way innovatively in the cloud. The expected outcome is to reduce education costs, increase attendance, and increase worldwide diversity. When topics of media and culture arise, those admitted into the program and participating in EMAC Virtual will be able to offer varying views of different cultures and ways of living. With the cost of education rising, as well as living costs, a cheaper (in a tuition sense) and more innovative alternative to Skype should be considered for future higher education learning environments.

This is our project proposal in a nutshell, and  I wanted to share it with readers to further explain our project goals and intentions. Wouldn’t it be nice if students and professors could log on at home, create a sim, and attend classes through that sim? This project is especially useful for those overseas that are not able to attend quality educational institutions at a low cost. This project would expand the reach of quality education to people around the world. The details of security and admission are a work-in-progress, but here are some ideas we have brainstormed (feel free to comment with your input):

  • Anyone from around the world can attend, provided they are admitted into the UTD EMAC program.
  • No one has to show their face during class (sims will be used), but they will be required to have identification at UTD like every other student (meaning having a comet identification card electronically issued).
  • Enrollment stays the same, considering a higher enrollment limit due to worldwide attendance considerations.
  • Students can buy books from a virtual online store in the community.
  • The system will be strictly for EMAC, and students can design their own avatars/sims for class, however voices will be the original of the students.
  • Each avatar can have their own traits, characteristics, personality, interests, and business professional preferences. This allows students to network with each other and find common personal and professional interests.
  • Students will even be able to attach their past accomplishments, resumes, and social network links to avatars.

We continue to develop ideas and narrow our focus. Stay tuned!

“Free, quality education for all, anywhere.”

This segment on NPR is about how Stanford has taken a leap for the new way of learning in higher education by using an online instruction model to broadcast classes all over the world. These classes are open to anyone and are completely free. According to NPR, “tens of thousands signed up to participate” from 190 countries and comprised of high school students, women with disabilities, teachers, and retirees. There has been discussion amongst the faculty as to whether they should award certificates to the “students.” Developers on the project believe it will be a long time before that will be a possibility.

There are many benefits to this program. For one, the price of education goes way down. “Stanford does award degrees for online work, but only to students who get through the admissions process and pay sometimes $40,000 or $50,000 for a master’s degree.” Low-cost, high quality education does not exist today, but in 10 -20 or so years, it could.

Another benefit to online or e-learning is lowering the barriers that go along with physical classrooms. People with many types of learning disabilities simply don’t fit into the mold that traditional learning creates. Online learning allows for multiple methods, curricula, and technology to compensate for the gap between the disabled and the rest of the population.

After the success of the Stanford project, one of its developers and a professor of computer science at the school, Sebastian Thrun, began a new project called Udacity, “a new online institution of higher learning independent of Stanford.”  For Thrun, the basic concept is the same: “free, quality education for all, anywhere.”

What Doesn’t Work

Taking classes online isn’t a new thing. I remember it being an option all the way back to my Freshman year in college. I never opted to take any because 1) I felt like I wouldn’t be getting my money’s worth. After all, the classes weren’t cheaper by the credit hour but they were taught by nameless people in the department. 2) I had doubts that technology could actually teach me anything. What if it crashed and I lost my grades? How could I possibly dispute?

While some of my worries would be different now, some haven’t changed just like the systems haven’t changed.


Ask anyone in college right now how they feel about Blackboard and you’ll get the same reaction: it’s outdated, slow, and difficult to use, to say the least. Blackboard was one of the first names in online learning. In the world of technology, it’s a true dinosaur. Blackboardasaurus went extinct long ago for the same reason the movie giant Blockbuster did, they refused to keep up with the technology. If you’ve ever tried to participate in a live discussion on Blackboard, take an exam, or watch a video, you know what I’m referring to. It always takes multiple attempts to get the programming to work. And even when it works, it doesn’t.

University of Phoenix

There are several “universities” that go along with this idea of learning for everyone, no matter how retired you are. “Nontraditional students” is the most common term thrown around. I don’t blame these people for wanting to go back to school. I blame these institutions for flooding the market with His and Her Associate degrees that not only devalue the state-funded universities, but the process of learning also. A lot of it had to do with the economy crash. If University of Phoenix hadn’t been around before the big banking fumble, they wouldn’t be here today.

I’ve heard from many people that having a degree from one of these nontraditional institutions is as bad as not having a degree at all. In this struggling economy, it’s more important to have the experience when looking for a job. Unfortunately, the degree doesn’t matter and these programs are just making it harder a degree from a large university to matter.

Higher Strangulation: Institutional Fallacy

While attending UT Austin, I found out that after 9/11 one of my professors – the head of an Honors Program I was in – wrote an editorial that spoke candidly about America’s own foreign policy over the years. Unsurprisingly, it was predominantly met with criticism by the American public. More surprising to me, however, was the university president’s reaction; he labelled the professor “a fountain of undiluted foolishness on issues of public policy.” If anything, the president’s reaction illustrated what can be considered just one of many institutional fallacies in modern society.

Birth of the Museum describes both museums and national parks in regards to institutional fallacy:

“…For the simple act of extracting a site from a continuing history of use and development means that a frame is put around it, separating that site from what it was prior to the moment of its preservation” (129).

Essentially, taking existing structures or items from their current place in society and placing them in a museum may on the surface help explain or contextualize the item’s use or role. But removing the item in the first place calls to attention the item’s pastness, past social relations, and the fact that it “is inescapably a product of the present which organizes it” (129).

Now, an active university isn’t exactly a national park or museum in that rather than calling attention to the past, it acts for both the present and future. Still, there is a similar disconnect that arises when a professor at an academic institution who is given reasonably loose reins to teach in his or her own manners is chastised by the most visible academic representative of that institution. Perhaps this is too stereotypical and idealistic a view, but as I understand it, students attend to college to acquire new skills and knowledge that will help them in future endeavors. A professor’s role is to do his/her best to help students acquire that knowledge. So land is bought, buildings are constructed, faculty hired, and prospective students reached out to to create what one might call the college experience. But if academic discussion by both professors and students is limited to politically correct statements and arguments, then surely the college has in a way failed in maximizing its potential as an institution. By lashing out against his professor, UT’s president, the main representative of an institution of higher learning (aside from star athletes and coaches), was in a way standing against what such institutions stand for. Just as national parks, the so-called last legacy of the untamed frontier and wilderness are somewhat hypocritically fenced in within civilization and “irretrievably marked by the signs of culture” proclaiming it as such (130), so too are educators and the educated capped intellectually if they are only allowed to carry conversations so far.

Then again, perhaps the administrative backlash towards my professor, like countless museum pieces, was just a product of the present sentiment. Following a civilian attack on American soil, society would no doubt be more receptive to a wholly united stand than any critical words and perceived dissension. Maybe that’s why a presidential candidate such as Ron Paul is so loathed by the GOP status quo, for turning the mirror on the Republican party as much as the president. In any case, hopefully in the future college and university figures will never be pressured into sacrificing what their institution is supposed to stand for, to the point where a professor is viewed as an outdated relic and living status symbol rather than a guide on the path to educational enlightenment. If that ever happens, then they’ve suffered the same fate as the exhibits and redwoods before them.

The Role of Lecture in Higher Education

According to Cohen and Kisker, authors of the text The Shaping of American Higher Education, methods of instruction are central to studies of curriculum (40). For the purpose of this post, I would like to examine the methods of instruction from the colonial period and how instruction has evolved in modern times. In recent years, with the advent of technology, not only has technological advancements enhanced students’ capabilities in learning and gaining self-knowledge but technology has definitely played a large part in shaping and changing the instructional landscape in higher education. 

Traveling back in time in a time capsule, I remember the old TV show that was one of the greatest of its time, Little House on the Prairie. It was  western show that was based on a family during the late 1800s. This is the closest reference that provides an example of instruction in the days of the colonial era.  There were several episodes that illustrated the colonial environment ‘s method of instruction. I recall how the two sisters, Mary and Laura would sometimes have to go before the class to recite arithmetic or deliver recitations of passages. Teachers, at the time referred to as tutors, lectured while the students gave recitations and readings from whatever books that were available to them at the time (40).Cohen and Kisker stated that  education during the colonial period was characterized by rhetoric reading and memorization with composition and performance (42) .

You can look as far back as the colonial period to see how lecture has long since been apart of the framework of education. Even though lecture has always been apart of the ways in which teaching and learning occurred, modern times have definitely brought about a change to where lecture as a style of instructing has been called into question on it’s effectiveness.  Is lecture as a style of instruction an archaic method to become extinct?

Recently I read a letter to the Editor of The Chronicle, in which the writer, Likwan Cheng, strongly upholds that traditional lecture is irreplaceable. In an excerpt from the letter, Cheng wrote:

“The lecture is indeed a process “in which students passively receive information,” but passive transfer of knowledge is an essential and foundational step in the student’s overall learning experiences. In subsequent steps, the complementary processes of active and interactive inquiries will have their chances, typically in settings such as small-group discussions, lab exercises, case studies, field trips, research participation, expository writing, and so on. We ought to recognize the limited role and purpose of the lecture in the overall scheme and goal of learning as a whole (Cheng 1).

I agree with the Cheng in that traditional lecture is irreplaceable. Traditional lecture worked effectively during the times of the colonial period. However, I don’t believe that it should be the sole method of instruction.  In this day and age, technology is readily available and information and resources are at our fingertips. We should definitely explore ways in which the traditional lecture style is augmented by technology to bring about more interactive experience for students. 

Social Mobility and Education

For long time people  agree that to increase social mobility  the expansion of  higher education plays a vital role. The conception is so prevail that in a study conducted by Sallie Mae, 84 percent of students hold the belief  that higher education was a worthy investment for their future. When asked if they would attend college  merely for the experience  — only 32 percent agreed that they would.

To be not educated is something to be lamented, for that would deny people  the good about life-less the  enjoyment of  study than financial stability.  Rather than feel empowered by higher education, most people feel compelled to learn something for employment.  The consciousness  of  danger may inadvertently points to the truth—higher education attributes less to social mobility than many of us believed.

Claudia Goldin and Lawrence F. Katz claim  that the formative period of America’s higher education industry, namely the period during which its modern form took shape, is  1890-1940. They found that during that period great shifts happened  in industrial organization and political economy, which set in motions a chain of events, the formation of modern HE was one of which.

“In industry after industry, in the late 19th century, there emerged a growing importance of chemistry and physics, most notably in the manufacture of steel, rubber, chemicals, sugar, drugs, nonferrous metals, petroleum, and goods directly involved in the use or production of electricity (Kevles, 1979). Firms that had not previously hired trained chemists and physicists did so at an increasing rate, as did the federal and state governments. The number of chemists employed in the U.S. economy increased by more than six-fold between 1900 and 1940 and by more than three-fold as a share of the labor force; the number of engineers increased by more than seven-fold over the same period (Kaplan and Casey, 1958, table 6). ”

The meet the demand for supplying more scientists and professionals, the universities were seen to make  an enormous increase in enrollment. Meanwhile many new scientific disciplines were splintered from the classical ones, partially at the urge of the funding companies  that favored specialization. The sigh is the scores of learned societies been newly founded, which devoted to enhancement of  study in corresponding disciplines. “Economists formed their society in 1885 and the rest quickly followed: psychologists in 1892, anthropologists in 1902, political scientists in 1903, and sociologists in 1905. The biological and chemical fields also proliferated, when societies were formed for botanists, microbiologists, pathologists, electrochemists, and biological chemists. ”

The expansion of HE had continued.The G.I. Bill further stimulated its developments after World War II,  the later arrival of mass education further fueled this trend. Until 1960s the average  increase of education level was in parallel with the increase of income per capital.  And the  gap between rich and poor were always closing as well. But right after 60s, the  actual buying capability of average America halted to grow, the society began to see a ever widening social gap.

Util now the education level is till growing at not so obvious a speed as before 60s, but the golden age has long gone. Economists say it’s a too complicated problem to address. But anyhow, the notion of  the better educated the better paid is becoming  more close to an illusion.

Football and the Tradition of Collegiate School Spirit

In 1906, leaders from 62 academic institutions across the U.S. formed the Intercollegiate Athletic Association. This governing body procured the rules of play, conduct, and sponsored the championship program still in place today. In 1910 it became the National Collegiate Athletic Association(the NCAA.)

At the dawn of the first colleges in America, the game of football was just a hobby for most.  It was organized by the undergraduates and not many spectators came to watch them play. After a while, the sport caught on and students who weren’t athletes became interested in watching.

“By 1881 when Michigan played Harvard, football had become a regular weekend diversion for dozens of colleges around the country. Excitement surrounded the game, crowds became larger than anyone could believe, and alumni began returning to their alma mater to cheer on the home team.”

College administrators started to see a value beyond school spirit in football. Alumni would return year after year to see their school play, therefore driving their donations.

Universities in our country are currently being accused of using college sports like football to gain more than just support from their current investors. Some believe that big games that area aired on TV make “too much” money for the schools, so now it’s less about the game and more about getting the attention of the press and entertaining the audience. It does make you wonder how academic institutions have come to invest so much in non-academic activities. Most football coaches at high-achieving football schools are paid in six figures, sometimes in the millions in salary. That’s more than the teachers at those institutions!

In Texas, a good football team seems to be the Holy Grail for public schools. If you’re attending University of Texas or Texas A&M, you won’t have any trouble making friends after you graduate; there’s always a fellow Aggie or fellow Longhorn in the room or working at the company you want to work for. It’s a lasting legacy that follows those students around the same way Julliard or Harvard School of Law follows theirs. The difference is, it’s football. How many of these star athletes even graduated?

The university gets all the benefits of having a solid football program, but the students’ grades may suffer or they just don’t see the point of school anymore. Higher education in this country today has many issues, but the biggest is funding. Is it fair that the schools with the best football teams get more money? (Leaving out the Ivy Leagues for a moment. Their names alone can carry them, and most are private institutions.) That’s exactly what happens.

Gratto, F. (2010). So that’s where we came from: A short history of higher education. The Economist, 26(2), 38-43.

Ingham, R. (2012). Who are the 1%? ask ohio state’s coach. Chronicle of Higher Education, 58(18), A22.

(2011). Pivotal moments in college sports. Chronicle of Higher Education, 58(17), A6 – A7.