It is probably a little self-serving for me to criticize for-profit colleges, but the report put out by the Senate’s Health, Labor, and Education committee is withering. Among the findings:
Well over 50% of the students who begin an associates or bachelor’s degree curriculum withdraw without receiving a degree.
For-profit colleges average a 19.2% profit on their revenue, spend 22.7% of their revenue on marketing, and only 17.2% on instruction. Notable, the figures for publicly-traded schools were worse than privately held for-profit colleges.
A big driver: Federal aid.
In 2009-2010 alone, fully a quarter of Department of Education funding (which only discriminated between colleges on the basis of accreditation) went to for-profit colleges. For-profit schools, unlike community colleges, have substantial financial aid offices that are adept at matching eligible students with federal student aid. The inquiry had been running for two years now, yielding testimony to extensive fraud and an industry that consistently places profit above education and student outcomes.
For me there are two key take-aways. First, for-profit colleges are profitable because they are serving a huge portion of the underrepresented, economically disadvantaged, and minority students who are eligible for various federal aid programs. It would be tremendously valuable public service if they did this while providing a solid education and finished degrees (and the committee singled out schools like Strayer, Walden, and National American University that are doing just that).
Second, the findings should amplify criticism of the trend to model higher-ed’s administrative structures on corporate governance. For-profit colleges should be seen as a test case for whether market forces and the profit motive can serve the public good more efficiently. The committee has found repeatedly that raises in tuition are considered with a view toward profit rather than the cost of instruction. Right now, the primary service of for-profit colleges is to siphon federal funding to shareholders while burying disadvantaged citizens under mountains of debt.
The New York Times and the Chronicle have mounted a one-two this week to publicize the problem of student debt (something I’ve posted on previously here and here and here). In an extensive front-page story from Sunday, the Times lays out the problem from the perspective of undergraduates, and the Chronicle followed up today with an analysis of graduate recipients, particularly Ph.D.s working as adjunct faculty, that need welfare and other public-service benefits to make ends meet. Both provide extensive analysis; the Times piece in particular leverages an extraordinary amount of statistical support.
The implications of the problem are broad, now that more than half of graduating seniors are going to college. If college is fast becoming a prerequisite of stable middle-class employment, it seems clear we need policies that provide education without burying the students under a lifetime of debt. I was fortunate enough to attend a state school on scholarship; many of my colleagues won’t finish paying off their educational loans for a decade or two.
One place where the Times piece suffers is in its analysis of the sources of the problem. Continue reading →
Yesterday the seminar I’ve been teaching at Penn finished their digital project: an online edition of John Leyden’s “Tales of the Peries,” a handwritten manuscript in the archives of the National Library of Scotland. Leyden was a romantic poet as well as close collaborator of Walter Scott’s, before traveling to Southeast Asia as a functionary of the East India Company. Once there, Leyden established himself as an Orientalist and specialist in Asian languages, and the Tales of the Peries is an example from this fruitful period before his early death in 1811.
As part of a larger class on historical fiction, fantasy, and the influence of empire, my students built an Omeka site that includes digital facsimiles of the manuscript, transcriptions using Scripto, a plugin for Omeka, and a “readerly edition” that incorporates their research into editorial practices and critical editions and links to supporting materials and entries in the Omeka collection and on the wiki. In addition, they built a host of supporting materials for the site, from critical evaluations of the Tales, its verse, and the influence of Urdu and Arabic literature, to information about Leyden, his involvement with the EIC, even an animated Flash map that walks the reader through the geography of the tale and details the main transformations of Melech Mahommed, the main character, over the course of the narrative.
Yes, groan. But I spent this morning looking through the beautiful online collection produced by the David Livingstone Spectral Imaging Project. Livingstone’s 1871 field diary, from the months leading up to his ‘discovery’ by Morton Stanley, was written in a berry-based natural ink across the pages of newsprint, and has faded to near invisibility. Using spectral imaging (which images at distinct spectra and then recombines them), the team has managed to reveal the journal entries and strip out the original newsprint. The results are simply amazing — it reminds me of looking at Hubble images of distant nebula. Gorgeous, strange, new. In addition the the extensive documentation and supporting bibliographic and historical materials, the snazzy interface, which allows you to coordinate scrolling across the color and spectral facsimiles (as in the above image), is just stunning.
On the one hand, it’s a case of an extraordinary archival find (Adrian Wisnicki and Anne Martin’s recovery and reassembly of the often uncatalogued portions of the journal across several distinct accessions at the David Livingstone Center) combined with an ideal technology (the Archimedes Palimsest team brought their expertise to bear). But when you look at the extensive documentation provided, it’s also a window into the extraordinary challenge of producing collaborative, trans-Atlantic research in the digital humanities. Continue reading →
I spent Wednesday on campus at Penn’s inaugural ThatCamp. It was set up by the Penn Library and the Penn Humanities Forum, and showed the promise and possibility of the “unconference” format, particularly when applied to something as tentative and collaborative as the digital humanities.
Amanda French, who came up from house THATCamp at George Mason and the Center for History and New Media. She set precisely the right open, collaborative, free-wheeling tone at the opening session, and it carried through. The thing that struck me most forcefully is that the open formatting creates environments that are extraordinarily friendly to non-specialists. Continue reading →
It’s been a few months since I’ve updated the site. I spent part of this morning beefing up the security (again), and updating. And I’ve been busy over the last months trying to find a permanent position, sharing some work at MLA, working to wrap up the first year of Integrated Studies at Penn, attending Penn’s inaugural THATCamp, and helping my historical fiction and fantasy seminar produce an Omeka collection. More on all of these heads shortly.
But I wanted to announce that I’ll be heading to Los Angeles to take up a AP position in the English department at USC. I can’t figure out the trumpeting voice I need to communicate how excited/relieved/sapped I feel in joining the faculty there (and rejoining some old friends). It feels like the culmination of decades of work. Sure, it marks another stage, but reaching this place has often seemed not only elusive but impossible.
I have too many people to thank for the care that helped me get here. I’ve been thinking about all of the big and little things people have done for me, taught to me, fixed for me. The workshops, seminars, hours of critique and late night commiserations given by friends and colleagues at Rutgers. The years my committee spent with my work. The chance to come to Penn and soak up a new intellectual climate and make a whole new set of friends and colleagues. These things change the course of your professional life. And now I get to head west to join a campus that’s crackling with energy and innovation. The future is filled with possibility. And in the path-dependent way of all living systems, those possibilities are firmly grounded in the chances and opportunities I’ve been given by others. Happy to be in a place where I can start to do the same for others.
Now that I’m back in Philly, I’ve spent a part of this morning luxuriously catching up on my RSS feed over a cup of Stump Town coffee (thanks Kristen and Chad!). I see Stanley Fish has a second column up about DH (neither aggravating nor extraordinarily illuminating), and there was some kind of primary in New Hampshire.
But what caught my eye was a Chronicle op-ed by Michael Mendillo, astronomy prof. at BU, on why we should kill the AP testing program:
Offering credit beyond the accomplishment itself (simply because it was not easy to do) is a terrible lesson to give to students. I believe this notion of value-added has led to another version of getting more bang for the buck: the fantastic pressure put on students to get more than “just a bachelor’s degree” for their four years of tuition. Double-majors, multiple minors, and combined bachelor’s/master’s degree programs are becoming so mandatory for the best students that enrichment courses are simply not an option. Is that really the optimal way to achieve an educated citizenry?
Short answer: yes. After all, why should we offer separate degrees? Shouldn’t the quality of the effort be what matters? You could extend this line of thinking to get rid of the distinction between the B.A. & B.S., combine “magna” “suma” and plain-old “cum” laude honors, fold the M.D. into the D.O. — you can see where I’m going. The Ph.D. I was conferred for all that additional work beyond the M.A. didn’t feel like a terrible lesson. Continue reading →
Right now I’m flying back from the Seattle MLA, where I gave two talks, including the one that I’ve been writing about below. I’ll share some of those materials shortly. But I noticed this morning that the server had crashed and it took me some time to sort it out. And I realized that, even though I back up the blog, I’d never backed up the server itself using Amazon’s image-making service. Pretty dumb. That’s fixed now, but I’m also going to figure out a way to set up a test for the website so that I get an email if it goes down again. Probably a good thing to work out as I head into this semester, when I’ll be hosting and supporting an OMEKA server for my Historical Fiction and Fantasy class. More soon.
(As a side note, it’s pretty remarkable that I can now get into my server and get it up and running at twenty thousand feet. Age of wonder, indeed.)
Recently I’ve been enjoying an online discussion of the decline in fashion innovation. As Kurt Anderson observes, the visual innovation of mainstream American dress is far less pronounced when comparing someone from 1991 to someone in 2011, that 1971:1991, or 1951:1971. This violates our expectations for the forms of accelerating cultural development we sometimes ascribe to the twenty-first century. Anderson:
Now try to spot the big, obvious, defining differences between 2012 and 1992. Movies and literature and music have never changed less over a 20-year period. Lady Gaga has replaced Madonna, Adele has replaced Mariah Careyâ€”both distinctions without a real differenceâ€”and Jay-Z and Wilco are still Jay-Z and Wilco. Except for certain details (no Google searches, no e-mail, no cell phones), ambitious fiction from 20 years ago (Doug Couplandâ€™s Generation X, Neal Stephensonâ€™s Snow Crash, Martin Amisâ€™s Timeâ€™s Arrow) is in no way dated, and the sensibility and style of Joan Didionâ€™s books from even 20 years before that seem plausibly circa-2012.
But as Tyler Cowen and Alan Jacobs respond, there’s a big caveat to Anderson’s argument, since it explicitly excludes technology. Cowen notes that we still see innovation in information-dependent technologies:
Today the areas of major breakthrough innovation are writing, computer games, television, photography (less restricted to the last decade exclusively) and the personal stream. Letâ€™s hope TV can keep it up, and architecture counts partially.
I think it’s fair to say that innovation in each of these areas has been driven by the proliferation of new and powerful technologies, from the impact of social media, the internet, and attendent cultural forms on the novel, to the power of new scripting and rendering technologies in architecture.
Yet I think this discussion just misses the more basic insight, which is that fashion, as a channel for communication, is an information technology. Continue reading →
I’m still working on slides for my talk at the MLA on Stevenson and Oliphant, and Victorian reflections on the ’45 (force-directed network and Google map visualizations here and here). I’m also starting to experiment with Gephi, a powerful open source graph editor. I was blown away by Matthew Jocker’s “Nineteenth-Century Literary Genome” animation, and wanted to know how it was made. Apparently, they produced it one frame at a time as separate png files and then assembled them using Quicktime.
I’m still trying to figure out how to produce animations, but I like working in Gephi. It has a feature-rich interface and allows you to edit and remove nodes, perform clustering and various forms of network analysis easily and produces sharp images. Here is the location entity network from Humphry Clinker (1771), arranged into eight clusters, with nodes and edges colored by group:
Gephi makes beautiful static images, and as can be seen in genome video, beautiful animations. On the other hand, unlike the Protovis graphs, finished visualizations are not dynamic or interactive. You can’t output a script-based visualization that the user can play with, or that could be embedded in a presentation. Not a problem for a presentation, really, but I like the activity that a Protovis graph can bring to web publishing.
I’m also evaluating these various visualization approaches in order to prepare for my historical fiction and fantasy seminar next semester, which will ask the students to help produce an online textual exhibit using Omeka. I’m going to ask them to look at what’s possible and then pitch paratextual visualizations & tools to package with the exhibit.