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The Learning MarketSpace, April 2013

A semi-annual electronic newsletter of the National Center for Academic Transformation examining issues related to the development and implementation of redesigned learning environments. 

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

THE CAT VIEWPOINT

WHAT'S NEW

SUBSCRIPTIONS, SUBMISSIONS, ARCHIVES, REPOSTING

THE CAT VIEWPOINT

Offering perspectives on issues and developments at the nexus of higher education and information
technology.

ACADEMIC PRODUCTIVITY: DECISIONS, DECISIONS, DECISIONS

In the October 2012 issue of The Learning MarketSpace, NCAT announced that in 2013 the newsletter would undergo a substantial change in its content and format to reflect NCAT’s new direction. NCAT is making a transition from a focus on conducting redesign programs and public events to concentrating on analysis and change strategies based on the data we have collected and the experiences we have had over the past 13 years. This is the first issue of the new Learning MarketSpace. We hope you enjoy it.

Introduction

"There is a feeling that American higher education costs too much and does not deliver."
                                                     A keynote speaker at a higher education conference

"Can nothing stop this relentless inflation in college costs?"
                                           A Forbes magazine article summing up the public's attitude

Sound familiar? Not a day passes without some kind of public statement decrying the state of American higher education and the consequences for the nation and its students. But these two statements were made more than 22 years ago: the first in 1990 and the second in 1991. I quoted both in my first published article on this subject, “Improving Productivity in Higher Education: The Need for a Paradigm Shift” in 1992.

What’s different today is that the voices saying that there is a problem have grown louder and more numerous. But the solutions have not. Higher education’s leadership has more or less decided that colleges and universities cannot cut their costs and become more productive. Higher tuitions and increases in financial aid to counteract budget cuts seem to be the preferred solutions just as they were in the early 1990’s. The only solution is more money.

We at NCAT know that productivity in higher education can be improved substantially with no diminution in quality—and we have proved it. Many say we are the only ones in higher education showing how it can be done. We say that’s because we are the only ones in higher education who want to do it and, unfortunately, the only ones who seem to know how to do it.

The purpose of this article is to share with the higher education community some of what we have learned over the past 13 years about reducing instructional costs and to de-bunk some popular misconceptions about the relationship between cost and quality.

A Word about Our Methodology

NCAT has developed what we call the Course Planning Tool (CPT), a spreadsheet-based decision-making tool that enables institutions to compare the “before” activities and operating costs (the traditional course) and the “after” activities and operating costs (the redesigned course when it is fully implemented). It does not include the up-front developmental costs of either the traditional or the redesigned course. The CPT consists of four worksheets which capture the following data: 1) all personnel costs (using average salaries by personnel type—e.g., tenured faculty, non-tenured instructors, adjuncts, graduate teaching assistants) associated with preparing and delivering the course expressed as an hourly rate; 2) the activities involved in and the costs of preparing and delivering the course in its traditional format; 3) the activities involved in preparing and delivering the course in its redesigned format when it is fully operational; and, 4) a comparison of the costs of the traditional course and the redesigned course. The outcome is the cost-per-student (total cost/number of students enrolled in the course) for both the traditional and the redesigned course. All of the data presented in this article have been captured by each institutional project using NCAT’s CPT. (More information about the CPT can be found at http://www.theNCAT.org/PlanRes/CPTdesc.htm.)

In both our national and statewide programs, we have not required institutions to achieve a minimum cost-reduction percentage for two reasons. First, our intention was to teach institutions how to reduce costs, so we believed that their gaining experience in doing so was more important than how large or small the reductions were. Second, if a course costs a lot to offer, a small percentage can produce a large amount of savings. Conversely, a large percentage of a relatively inexpensive course produces a relatively small amount of savings.

For example, when the University of Wisconsin Madison redesigned its introductory chemistry course in 1999, the cost of offering the course in its traditional format was $1,053,700. A 28% savings produced a dollar savings of $295,200. When the University of Central Florida redesigned its American government course in 1999, the cost of offering the course in its traditional format was $246,400. A 28% savings produced a dollar savings of $68,200. When the University of Southern Maine redesigned its introductory psychology course in 1999, the cost of offering the course in its traditional format was $98,875. A 49% savings produced a dollar savings of $48,125.

Why Do Cost Savings among Projects Vary So Widely?

The discussion that follows is based on data from about 150 completed redesign projects, a significant minority of which involved more than one course. Overall, the reduction in the cost-per-student ranged from 4% to 81%, with an average of 36%. Why did some projects save more than others?

Is It the Discipline?

Some may think that discipline would affect the amount of savings.

  • Humanities: the range is 15% (Brigham Young University: English Composition) to 81% (Missouri Southern State University: Oral Communications); the average cost reduction in humanities is 41%.
  • Math (four-year institutions):  the range is13% (University of Central Missouri) to 77% (Virginia Tech); the average cost reduction in math at four-year institutions is 33%.  
                 
  • Math (two-year institutions): the range is 4% (West Kentucky Community and Technical College) to 54% (Lurleen B. Wallace Community College); the average cost reduction in math at two-year institutions is 22%.                   
  • Natural Science: the range is 12% (University of Maryland University College: Biology) to 70% (University of Maryland Eastern Shore: Chemistry); the average cost reduction in natural science is 37%.           
  • Non-Math Quantitative: the range is 15% (Calhoun Community College: Business Statistics) to 64% (Coppin State University: Computer Literacy); the average cost reduction in non-math quantitative subjects is 37%.
  • Professional:  the range is 16% (Mississippi State University: Statics) to 74% (Arizona State University: Education); the average cost reduction in professional studies is 47%.    
  • Social Science: the range is 9% (Missouri State University: Psychology) to 66% (Frostburg State University: Psychology); the average cost reduction in social science is 38%.            

What can we learn from these data? There is no relationship between the discipline of the traditional course and the percentages of savings that are produced. First, the large range among cost savings within the disciplinary categories is similar to the overall range. Second, the average cost reduction among projects within the disciplines is similar, with the sole exception of two-year college developmental math redesigns.

Is it the Low vs. High Cost of the Original Course?

Some may think that the low vs. high cost of the traditional course offering would affect the amount of savings. The argument goes that if a course is already low cost, the savings cannot be great; if the course is high cost, the potential for substantial savings is higher. We have been told repeatedly that “our course is so cheap, so bare bones, that we cannot possibly produce costs savings.”

  • Among the institutions that have produced the “highest” percentage of cost savings are Frostburg State University: Psychology with a traditional cost-per-student of $89 (the lowest cost-per-student in this category) and Arizona State University: Education with a traditional cost-per-student of $556 (the highest cost-per-student in this category.) Frostburg produced a 71% cost reduction, and ASU produced a 74% cost reduction with radically different cost structures for the traditional version of the course.
  • Among the institutions that have produced the “lowest” percentage of cost savings are Missouri State University: Psychology with a traditional cost-per-student of $73 (the lowest cost-per-student in this category) and Brigham Young University: English Composition with a traditional cost-per-student of $205. Missouri State produced a 9% cost reduction, and BYU produced a 15% cost reduction with radically different cost structures for the traditional version of the course.
  • Among the institutions that have produced an “average” percentage of cost savings are Arizona State University: Computing and Information Literacy with a traditional cost-per-student of $50 (the lowest cost-per-student in this category) and Mountwest Community and Technical: Developmental Math with a traditional cost-per-student of $431 (the highest cost-per-student in this category.) ASU produced a 44% cost reduction, and Mountwest produced a 19% cost reduction with radically different cost structures for the traditional version of the course.

What can we learn from these data? There is no relationship between the cost of the traditional course and the percentages of savings that are produced. Low-cost courses produced high savings; high-cost courses produced low savings; and vice versa.

Why do the costs of teaching the same courses vary so dramatically? Why did it cost the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill $416 per student to teach introductory Spanish in the traditional format versus $79 at the University of North Carolina Charlotte, $127 at Portland State University, $152 at the University of Southern Mississippi, $256 at SUNY Fredonia and $326 at Texas Tech? Why did it cost Mid-State Technical College $467 per student to teach developmental math in the traditional format versus $118 at Iowa Western Community College, $148 at Guilford Technical Community College, $199 at Volunteer State Community College, $246 at Robeson Community College and $323 at Northern Virginia Community College? It’s not because faculty salaries are higher in the high cost courses. As we shall see, it’s because each institution made different decisions about how to structure the course.

Is It the Type of Institution?

Some may think that the type of institution would affect the amount of savings.

  • Two-Year Institutions: the range is 4% (West Kentucky Community and Technical College: Developmental Math) to 68% (Chattanooga State Technical Community College: General Psychology); the average cost reduction for 45 two-year college projects is 25%.
  • Four-Year Institutions: the range is 9% (Missouri State University: Psychology) to 81% (Missouri Southern State University: Oral Communications); the average cost reduction for 105 four-year college projects is 37%.

What can we learn from these data? First, the large range among cost savings within the institutional categories is similar to the overall range. Some community colleges produced high savings; some four-year institutions produced low savings; and vice versa. Second, the average cost reduction for two-year institutions is significantly less than for four-year institutions.

But what is fascinating is the difference between the cost-per-student for the traditional offerings of the courses. For community colleges, the average is $224 with a range of $49 (Rio Salado College: Developmental Math) to $467 (Mid-State Technical College: Developmental Math). For four-year institutions, the average is $200 with a range of $32 (Truman State University: Health and Fitness) to $509 (Indiana University of Pennsylvania: Introductory Biology) It’s surprising that, at least at the introductory level, instruction at community colleges is more expensive than at four-year colleges and universities.

The primary reason why the average community college cost-per-student is high is because their classes are small. In some cases, classes are kept small for ideological reasons; in others, the classrooms themselves are predominantly small. A major factor leading to high costs not often mentioned is that community colleges often do not “fill” the classes (e.g., the enrollment “cap” and the classroom size are for 25 students, but the actual enrollment is 17 students). These unfilled sections are a result of offering too many sections for the overall course enrollment due to either the desire to offer students flexible scheduling or general ineptitude on the part of administration or a combination of both. And as we shall see below, the notion that smaller class size leads to better learning outcomes is simply incorrect.

Cost Savings Are A Result of Decisions Made by Redesign Teams

Let’s look at a few examples from three different disciplines.

Introductory Psychology: 9% vs. 66% Cost Reduction

Introductory psychology courses are typically low-cost courses. The average cost-per-student is $89, with a range of $60 to $113. Yet one of our introductory psychology redesigns saved 66% (Frostburg State University) whereas another saved 9% (Missouri State University).

Frostburg’s traditional cost-per-student was $89 for 900 students; Missouri State’s was $73 for 2,700 students. Frostburg used nine full-time faculty members @ $7,006 each (total = $63,035) and nine adjuncts @ $1,941 each (total = $17,472) to teach 18 sections (~50 students) of the course in the traditional format. Missouri State used 12 full-time tenured faculty @ $161,599; one non-tenured full-time faculty @ $8,121 and five adjuncts @ $13,500 to teach 18 sections (~150 students) of the course. Frostburg kept costs down by using a higher percentage of adjuncts; Missouri State kept costs down by using a large section size.

How were their redesigns similar and how did they differ?

Both institutions reduced the number of in-class meetings by half, replacing them with online activities, and increased section size. Frostburg tripled section size from 50 to 150 and reduced the number of sections from 18 to six. Missouri State doubled section size from 153 to 300 students and reduced the number of sections from 18 to nine. Both changed the nature of the in-class meeting to promote active learning. Both created a variety of online activities that included quizzing and small discussion groups. Both created a standard course with standard learning activities and assessments.

Both projects produced significant improvements in student learning outcomes. At Frostburg, the team compared performance on 43 common questions on a final examination. Students from the fully redesigned course performed significantly better (mean = 77%) than students from traditional sections (mean = 65%). An optional extra-credit essay that asked students to write about prejudice was also administered. A grading rubric provided points for each correctly used psychological concept in order to separate "general public" answers from answers by knowledgeable psychology students. Results indicated students in the redesign sections (mean = 2.85) performed significantly better than students in the traditional sections (mean = 1.09).

At Missouri State, the team compared performance on two pre/post comprehensive exams: a 30-item exam that has been used historically and a 50-item exam created specifically for this project by the course redesign team. Results indicated that, on the 30-item exam, students in the redesigned sections performed significantly better from pre to post (8.91 point gain) compared with the traditional comparison group (6.32 point gain). Similarly, students in the redesigned course demonstrated significantly more improvement from pre to post on the 50-item exam (12.63 point gain) compared with the traditional sections (7.73 point gain).

So what made the cost savings so different?

  • First, who were the instructors of record in the redesigns? At Frostburg, two sections of the course were taught by one full-time faculty member @ $14,012 and four sections were taught by adjuncts @ $7,764.  At Missouri State, full-time tenured faculty taught six sections @ $80,799, non-tenured full-time faculty taught one section @ $8,121 and adjuncts taught two sections @ $10,800. At Frostburg, the ratio of full-time faculty to adjuncts was 1:3; at Missouri State, the ratio of full-time faculty to instructors and adjuncts was 7:2. Missouri State decided to retain a large percentage of full-time faculty members to teach the course; Frostburg decided to move full-time faculty to other responsibilities within the department and keep a higher percentage of adjuncts.
  • Second, who provided support for the online activities? Frostburg used 12 undergraduate learning assistants (ULAs), half of whom (who worked in the lab) were paid $6,000 total per year; half of whom (who were responsible for other activities like monitoring discussions, grading using a standard rubric) were part of the certification process and were not paid. Missouri State added a student learning assistant to each section: six graduate students @ $43,500 and three adjuncts @ $8,100. In addition, nine unpaid ULAs were added, one for each section.

What happened here? Frostburg’s cost-per-student dropped to $31; Missouri State’s was $66, yet both achieved similar learning improvements. Missouri State retained full-time tenured faculty members and, in essence, reinvested the savings accrued from larger section size by adding expensive support in the form of adjuncts and graduate students. Hence, their cost reduction was only 9%. Frostburg, on the other hand, designed a much more cost-effective personnel structure and produced savings of 66% which could be used for a variety of purposes by the university. The design decisions made by each team were the cause of the significant differences in cost reduction.

Developmental Math: 4% vs. 54% Cost Reduction

Unlike introductory psychology, the cost of developmental mathematics instruction varies widely. Among NCAT’s Changing the Equation projects, for example, the cost-per-student in the traditional format of the course varied from $105 to $467.  In their redesigns of their developmental math sequences (all sections of all developmental courses offered), each institution was required to use the Emporium Model. Interactive computer software combined with personalized, on-demand assistance and mandatory student participation are the model’s key elements. Each participating institution modularized its curriculum, allowing students to progress through the developmental course sequence at a faster pace if possible or at a slower pace if necessary. All projects were required to reduce costs, using similar proven strategies, yet the reduction in the cost-per-student varied from 4% to 54%.

  • West Kentucky Community and Technical College (WKY): 4% cost reduction

In the traditional format, WKY taught slightly more than 1,000 developmental math students annually at a cost-per-student of $145.  Annually, 46 sections were offered with an average enrollment per section of 23 students. With an average full-time faculty salary and benefits cost of $47,500, it cost WKY $4,750 for each full-time faculty-taught section.  Each adjunct-taught section cost $1,500. Twenty of the sections (43%) were taught by full-time faculty; 26 sections (57%) were taught by adjunct faculty. In addition, WKY spent $16,111 for other personnel (e.g., course coordination, tutors, lab professionals) for a total cost of $150,111.

In the redesign, 40 sections were offered annually. The average enrollment per section was 26 students. Since WKY increased full-time faculty load from 10 to 15 sections per year, it cost WKY $3,065 for each full-time faculty-taught section in the redesign.  The cost of the each adjunct-taught section stayed the same at $1,500. Thirty-one of the sections (78%) were taught by full-time faculty; nine sections (22%) were taught by adjunct faculty. In addition, WKY spent $32,942 for other personnel (e.g., course coordination, tutors, lab professionals) for a total cost of $141,457. This translated to a cost-per-student of $140, a 4% reduction.

Even though WKY lowered the cost of a full-time section by increasing faculty load, they decided to increase the ratio of full-time/adjuncts from 43%/54% to 78%/22%. Since the cost of a full-time section is twice as high as an adjunct section, that decision practically nullified the savings that resulted from the faculty load increase.

  • Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA): 8% cost reduction

In the traditional format, NOVA taught about 8,190 developmental math students annually at a cost-per-student of $323.  Annually, 329 sections were offered with an average enrollment of 25 students per section. With an average full-time faculty salary and benefits cost of $73,700, it cost NOVA $9,827 for each full-time faculty-taught section.  Each adjunct-taught section cost $3,748. Fifty percent of the sections were taught by full-time faculty, and fifty percent were taught by adjunct faculty. In addition, NOVA spent $412,468 for other personnel (e.g., course coordination, tutors, lab professionals) for a total cost of $2,642,461.

In the redesigned format, 336 sections were offered with an average enrollment of 25 students per section. Since NOVA increased full-time faculty load from 7.5 to 10 sections per year, it cost NOVA $7,370 for each full-time faculty-taught section.  Because each adjunct faculty member was paid for three credits rather than four in the redesign, each adjunct-taught section cost $2,811. Forty-five percent of the sections were taught by full-time faculty; fifty-five percent were taught by adjunct faculty. In addition, NOVA spent $861,985 for other personnel (e.g., course coordination, tutors, lab professionals) for a total cost of $2,494,890. This translated to a cost-per-student of $297, an 8% reduction.

Even though NOVA lowered the cost of both full-time and adjunct sections by increasing faculty load, producing $597,088 in savings, they decided to re-invest $449,517 of the savings back into the course in the form of course coordination, tutors and lab professionals.

  • Manchester Community College (MCC): 35% cost reduction

In the traditional format, MCC taught about 1,500 developmental math students annually at a cost-per-student of $255.  Annually, 61 sections were offered with an average enrollment of 26 students per section. With an average full-time faculty salary and benefits cost of $70,000, it cost MCC $8,750 for each full-time faculty-taught section.  Each adjunct-taught section cost $4,311. Nineteen of the sections (31%) were taught by full-time faculty; 42 sections (69%) were taught by adjunct faculty. In addition, MCC spent $33,972 for other personnel (e.g., course coordination, tutors, lab professionals) for a total cost of $381,284.

In the redesigned format, 30 sections were offered annually with an average enrollment of 50 students per section. Six of the sections (20%) were taught by full-time faculty; 24 sections (80%) were taught by adjunct faculty. In addition, MCC spent $90,330 for other personnel (e.g., course coordination, tutors, lab professionals) for a total cost of $246,294. This translated to a cost-per-student of $165, a 35% reduction.

MCC decided to double faculty workload because there was significant reduction in faculty time required to grade homework and prepare assessment materials. In addition, MCC decided to assign two or three tutors to each redesigned section to assist instructors. There was ample time to provide the assistance needed for all students, who almost never had to wait for help. Most instructors felt an improved engagement with their students.

  • Lurleen B. Wallace Community College (LBWCC): 54% cost reduction

In the traditional format, LBWCC taught about 876 developmental math students annually at a cost-per-student of $114.  Annually, 37 sections were offered with an average enrollment of 24 students per section. With an average full-time faculty salary and benefits cost of $33,802, it cost LBWCC $3,380 for each full-time faculty-taught section.  Each adjunct-taught section cost $1,382. Twenty of the sections (54%) were taught by full-time faculty; 17 sections (46%) were taught by adjunct faculty. In addition, LBWCC spent $8,400 for other personnel (e.g., course coordination, tutors, lab professionals) for a total cost of $99,498.

In the redesigned format, 40 sections were offered with an average enrollment of 29 students per section. Each faculty member (full-time and adjunct) taught two redesigned sections of 29 students for one workload credit rather than one section of 24 students as they did in the traditional format. Thus, it cost LBWCC $1,690 for each full-time faculty-taught section and $691 for each adjunct-taught section. Eighteen of the sections (45%) were taught by full-time faculty; 22 sections (55%) were taught by adjunct faculty. In addition, LBWCC spent $15,000 for other personnel (e.g., tutors, lab professionals) for a total cost of $ $60,624. This translated to a cost-per-student of $53, a 54% reduction.

LBWCC decided to double faculty workload for the same reasons as MCC. The availability of tutors and instructors in each class made it possible to increase section size and still provide individualized attention and assistance to all students. In addition, the number of faculty hours spent on developmental math was reduced by eliminating duplication of faculty responsibilities.

How did the learning results compare among these four institutions?

  • WKY achieved significantly higher learning outcomes with a relatively small sub-set of students, but completion rates declined from the mid-forties to the low twenties. WKY reduced costs by a mere 4%.
  • NOVA achieved significantly higher learning outcomes but reduced costs by only 8%. There was no basis to calculate comparative completion rates due to the combining of multiple courses into one. 
  • MCC achieved significantly higher learning outcomes and similar completion rates while reducing costs by 35%.
  • LBWCC achieved significantly higher learning outcomes and somewhat higher completion rates while reducing costs by 54%.

Introductory Biology: 22% vs. 41% Cost Reduction

Like developmental math, the cost of offering introductory biology varies widely. The average cost-per-student is $271, with a range of $127 to $509. Yet one of our introductory biology redesigns saved 41% (Salisbury University) whereas another saved 22% (Mississippi State University).

Salisbury’s traditional cost-per-student was $327 for 840 students; Mississippi State’s was $128 for 377 students. Salisbury used four full-time faculty members @ $22,208 each and eight lecturers @ $23,477 each to teach 12 lecture sections (~72 students) and 40 lab sections (~24 students) of the course in the traditional format for a total annual course cost of $274,584. Mississippi State used one instructor (half-time) @ $21,316 and two graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) @ $26,832 total to teach four lecture sections (~94 students) and 16 lab sections (~24 students) each year for a total annual course cost of $48,148. Salisbury’s costs were relatively high due to the percentage of full-time tenure track faculty teaching the course versus Mississippi State’s use of instructors and GTAs as well as somewhat larger section sizes.

How were their redesigns similar and how did they differ?

Both institutions reduced the number of in-class meetings per week. Mississippi State went from two to one; Salisbury went from three to one, replacing them with online learning activities. Both changed the nature of the in-class meetings to promote active learning. Both created a variety of online activities that included quizzing and small discussion groups. Both created a standard course with standard learning activities and assessments.

Both increased course enrollment: Salisbury increased course enrollment from 840 to 960; Mississippi State doubled enrollment from 377 to 754. Salisbury increased section size from 72 to 120 and reduced the number of sections from 12 to eight. At Mississippi State, section size stayed the same, but the instructor taught two sections rather than one for the same workload credit.

Salisbury showed significant improvement in student learning, whereas Mississippi State showed no significant difference.  At Salisbury, the team compared performance on common questions on a final examination. The average percentage correct for the traditional students was 74% whereas for the redesigned students, the average was 82%. At Mississippi State, pre- and post-tests were used to assess learning gains. Students in the traditional course showed a gain of 2.7 points; redesign students showed a gain of 2.6 points.

So what made the cost savings so different?

Since Mississippi State doubled instructor workload, one would think that their costs would have been reduced by 50%, yet they were only reduced by 22%. The reason is that Mississippi increased the number of GTAs from two to four to staff virtual labs at an additional cost of $26,832. Thus, they reinvested a large part of the savings back into the course.

Salisbury kept a two-hour lab each week, which included time devoted to discussion in addition to lab activity. In the redesigned format, one full-time faculty member and three lecturers each taught one lecture section and five lab sections per term vs. two full-time faculty members and four lecturers in the traditional format.

What happened here? The cost-per-student at Salisbury dropped from $327 to $192, a 41% decrease, and at Mississippi State from $128 to $99, a 22% decrease, yet Salisbury increased student learning whereas Mississippi State remained the same.  Mississippi State decided to reinvest part of the savings back into the course; Salisbury decided to invest the savings in other departmental needs. The design decisions made by each team were the cause of the significant differences in cost reduction.

The point is not to beat up on Mississippi State–the team achieved costs savings and produced equivalent learning outcomes. They also achieved their goal of eliminating an enrollment bottleneck to meet the demand for the course: twice the number of students can be enrolled in each redesigned course each semester. But Salisbury achieved greater cost savings with significantly better learning outcomes.

Conclusion

While we have featured a handful of redesigns to help you understand what lies behind the conclusions that we have drawn, these conclusions are based on the results of about 300 course redesigns conducted over the past 13 years. We have proved that:

  • It is possible to improve quality while reducing costs in any discipline and at any kind of institution.
  • It is possible to achieve a high percentage of cost savings while improving quality in any discipline and at any kind of institution.
  • The cost of offering a particular course—whether low or high--is a result of the decisions made by the course designers rather than some inherent characteristic of the discipline or the institution.
  • Small classes do not lead to higher quality nor do large classes lead to lower quality.
  • Spending more on instructional personnel does not lead to higher quality nor does spending less lead to lower quality.

As we said in the beginning of this article, not much has changed in higher education in the last two decades with regard to increasing academic productivity. The reason to us is clear: higher education’s leadership seems unable or unwilling to make the kinds of decisions that are needed. Despite the wide recognition that NCAT’s work has received and the indisputable facts that back up the conclusions listed above, college and university presidents appear to be willfully ignorant of the possibilities that redesign offers and continue to trot out the same old clichés.

A 2008 study, The Iron Triangle: College Presidents Talk about Costs, Access, and Quality, conducted by Public Agenda and the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, documents widening gaps between the perceptions of civic, governmental and business leaders, higher education leaders, and the general public about the most fundamental issues confronting American higher education.  The study is based on a series of interviews with more than two dozen college and university presidents. Three concepts dominated their concerns: the increasing cost of higher education; the challenge of providing access to new generations of students; and the need to maintain and improve educational quality (along with the need to be accountable for that quality).

As the authors note, “Any of these goals would be challenging enough, but most of the presidents see these three missions as being in tension—a change in one impacts the others. For example, while many of the presidents believe that greater efficiencies are possible, most also believe that, for the most part, efforts to enhance access or improve quality will ultimately drive up costs. By contrast, they believe reduced financial support from the states—something being talked about nationwide—will eventually either harm quality and or force tuition increases that will reduce access.”  Here are some sample quotes from the interviewees:

  • “The quality of our institutions remains high. If we were better funded, we could do better, but I don’t believe we have sacrificed quality yet. That is ultimately my worry as we deal with these budget crises.”
  • “At the end of the day, we hear from our legislature, ‘Why don’t you just take more students and have bigger classes?’ That does add capacity, but it erodes the quality of the education.”
  • “The first challenge, of course, is obviously to balance access with high quality. . . . We don’t settle for mediocrity. If excellence is your goal, that costs money.  . . . Now, there are other models that focus on cost saving, and I think these are going to emerge. They, perhaps, could completely bankrupt the distinctiveness of an American education.”

It seems clear that most higher education leaders hold a very different definition of the problem than what typically exists among the general public or other leadership groups.

Over the years, Public Agenda has found one factor that is essential for resolving large-scale public issues: the various stakeholders must agree on the definition of the problem. Once this is established, there is a much greater likelihood of productive debate and resolution. Without it, the parties simply talk past each other. Solutions are unlikely when the public, leadership groups, and higher education leaders each accept only the solutions that match their particular definition of the problem. Until these groups can coalesce around a shared understanding, they are destined to talk past each other, with the two sides drawing farther apart through rising frustration, rather than coming together for a consensus or compromise.

It is our hope that NCAT’s work can contribute to achieving that shared understanding.

--Carol A. Twigg

WHAT'S NEW

Featuring updates and announcements from the Center.

Changing the Equation Produces Strong Results

The community colleges participating in Changing the Equation have fully implemented the redesigns of their developmental math sequences, using the Emporium Model and a modularized curriculum. A full report including summary data charts, individual case studies and a discussion of lessons learned from the program are posted on the NCAT website at http://www.theNCAT.org/Mathematics/CTE/CTE.htm.

NCAT has also selected eight Redesign Scholars from the program: Susan Barbitta (Guilford Technical Community College); Eric Matsuoka (Leeward Community College); Marcia Jehnings and Myrta Groeneveld (Manchester Community College); Teresa Overton (Northern Virginia Community College); Crystal Ingle (Northwest-Shoals Community College); LaRonda Lowery (Robeson Community College); and, Rita Sowell (Volunteer State Community College).These new CTE Scholars will be particularly helpful to those higher education institutions seeking to improve student learning and reduce instructional costs in developmental mathematics. To see biographies and descriptions of their redesign projects, visit http://www.thencat.org/RedesignAlliance/ScholarsList.htm.

The July/August 2013 issue of Change Magazine will include an extensive article, “Improving Learning and Reducing Costs: Outcomes from Changing the Equation,” by Carol Twigg.

Redesign Projects in Missouri Come to a Close

From November 2010 to May 2013, NCAT conducted a program in course redesign in partnership with the Missouri Four-Year Public Institutions (MFYPI) called the Missouri Course Redesign Initiative (MCRI). The goals of this partnership were to 1) build on the successful models and lessons learned from NCAT’s national and statewide programs to create a course redesign program within MFYPI; 2) adopt new ways to improve student learning outcomes and demonstrate these improvements through rigorous assessment; 3) reduce instructional costs and free up instructional resources for other purposes; 4) produce a number of successful MFYPI course redesigns that could be spread to institutions throughout the system; and, 5) develop the internal capacity of MFYPI faculty and staff to continue the course redesign process. All of those goals were achieved.

Each campus participating in the MCRI made funds available to support the selected redesign projects. Of the 26 teams that began the redesign process, 11 completed the process and fully implemented their redesigns in fall 2012. These are: Lincoln University: Basic English; Missouri Southern State University: Oral Communication; Missouri State University: Psychology; Missouri University of Science and Technology: Chemistry I; Missouri Western State University: Introduction to Business; Northwest Missouri State University: Principles of Management; Truman State University: Health and Fitness; University of Central Missouri: Human Anatomy and Intermediate Algebra; University of Missouri-Kansas City: College Algebra; and University of Missouri-St. Louis: Information Systems.

The results achieved by the MCRI were generally impressive. The redesigns impacted approximately 8,892 students. Six of the 11 projects demonstrated improved student learning as measured by direct comparisons of content mastery. Three produced learning equivalent to the traditional format. In two projects, student learning outcomes decreased slightly. Course completion rates (as measured by a final grade of C or better) increased in two courses, showed no difference in seven courses and declined in two courses. All but one project reduced their instructional costs—on average by 30%. The annual savings for the 11 projects was $403,278. Seven of the redesigns will definitely be sustained after the grant period is over; the future of the other four is unclear. To learn more about this program and read the final program report, see http://www.theNCAT.org/States/MO.html. NCAT is in the process of adding Redesign Scholars from the teams in this program.

Getting Started Seminar Scheduled for October 18, 2013 in Annandale, Virginia

Due to popular demand, NCAT is offering another Getting Started on Course Redesign seminar for those who are thinking about beginning a redesign project. On October 18, 2013, NCAT and Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) will co-sponsor a seminar to be held at The Forum on the Annandale Campus of NOVA. The seminar will provide participants the opportunity to learn about how redesign efforts have begun at both two- and four-year institutions and how these initial redesigns have spread to other departments on campus and/or throughout a university system. The program will include an overview of course redesign by NCAT’s vice president, Carolyn Jarmon, as well as case studies of completed course redesigns that have been sustained over time. Participants will interact with those who have successfully launched a redesign and learn about the issues they faced and how they resolved problems that arose. This event is open to the higher education community, but registration is limited to 80 participants. To view the agenda, see http://www.thencat.org/Seminars/NOVA_GS_101813.html. Registration will open on August 1, 2013.

Save the Dates:  NCAT Fall 2013 Webinar Series

Following three highly successful webinars in spring 2013, NCAT has now scheduled four new webinars for fall 2013. Each webinar will feature an NCAT Redesign Scholar, the project leader of a highly successful course redesign, who will describe the redesign project with a particular focus on its distinguishing characteristics. The webinars scheduled for fall 2013 are:

  • September 10, 2013 at 1 pm Eastern time: Redesign of the developmental math sequence at Northwest-Shoals Community College in Alabama presented by Crystal Ingle.
  • October 8, 2013 at 1 pm Eastern time: Redesign of American History and European History at the State University of New York at Potsdam presented by Jim German featuring the effective use of undergraduate learning assistants.
  • November 19, 2013 at 1 pm Eastern time: Redesign of Principles of Chemistry at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore presented by Jennifer Hearne.
  • December 10, 2013 at 1 pm Eastern time: Redesign of Statistics at Niagara County Community College presented by Dan Miller.

Registration is required but there is no registration fee. Registration opens for the webinars on August 1, 2013, at http://www.theNCAT.org/Webinars/2013Webinars.html.

Recordings of three hour-long webinars on redesign in developmental math, computer literacy and psychology held in spring 2013 are available at http://www.theNCAT.org/Webinars/2013Webinars.html.

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