Dot Physics

We (Southeastern Louisiana University College of Science and Technology – but it should be called Science, Technology and Math) just had our fall convocation. Normally, we would share departmental news (which we did) and introduce new faculty. There are no new faculty and haven’t been any new hires for quite some time now. Anyway, there are some things to report.

First, no one (not even the Dean) knows what is going to happen. No news is good gnus?

The LA Grad Act: This is a Louisiana state thingy that basically says we need to increase graduation rates. Here is the official site for the GRAD Act. Let me just quote one part from that page.

Through this legislation, we want to increase graduation rates for students, so they have the skills they need to compete in the 21st century workforce.

I think the politicians have it wrong here. They believe that college is about job training. It is not. They believe the correlation between college degrees and jobs is a causation – I don’t think it is. I have said this many times and in many ways – a college education is about becoming more human. If an education was about job training, would we need art? Would we need even math? (some say yes, but I say that very few people actually use math in their jobs – not saying that is a good thing, just saying..)

So what does the GRAD Act say? It essentially says that universities can increase tuition ONLY IF they first show that they can meet certain performance measures. What do the universities actually have to show? No one really knows for sure. One thing that is likely is an increased graduation rate. You know, because if you are graduating more students you must be doing a good job. You must be supplying more workers to the work force – right?

I think this is a terrible idea. If we are “graded” on our graduation rate, well we can easily graduate more students. It’s simple really. I don’t think this is what is best for the students, nor best for the state. Surely you can see the parallels between the GRAD Act and standardized testing in K-12, right?

What else is there? Well, there is some good news. It looks like current trends are towards science and technology fields. Every state wants to be more technical. The logical idea is to have more students in science and technology majors. If you DO think college is about job training (to be clear – I don’t think this) then it seems physics is a better major than history. NOTE: I am not trying to put down history. I want there to be history majors, I think it is a fine degree when done right. I am just saying that how many jobs out there depend on history?

One final thing. Where is our institution going? I think we are at a fork in the road. We can go left and try to graduate more students and focus on quantity. Or, we can go to the right and move more towards a research institution. I think we should be a research institution that uses research as a means of teaching. We should not be an institution that abandons teaching in order to chase after funding dollars.

So, what will happen? Where will be in 5 years? Will we even be here? Who knows. I certainly don’t.

Comments

  1. #1 Lyle
    August 13, 2010

    The real question is though how many research institutions does a state need? In the Case of La it clearly has one major one LSU, and I suspect only one more is really needed? If one looks at geography that would likely be in Shreveport. Given that Se La state started out as a junior college which was a teaching institution the people of the state may well say that 2 research institutions is enough, in particular given that Hammond is not that far from Baton Rouge. (Just like in Tx beyond UT and A&M likley only Texas Tech needs to be a public research institution. It seems ever school that was once a normal college or a junior college aspires to be a major research university. This is all part of the academic bubble that is upon us.
    If you ask the folks that are paying for the schools I think the answer is teaching as the primary goal of most schools.

  2. #2 dean
    August 13, 2010

    ” think this is a terrible idea. If we are “graded” on our graduation rate, well we can easily graduate more students.”

    True – just look at diploma mills like Phoenix, or Liberty, or ….

  3. #3 Rhett Allain
    August 13, 2010

    @Lyle,

    I don’t think that Southeastern will every be like LSU. However, I think science and research are an integral part of the learning process. If students are going to really learn, they need to really do research. This means there must be an active research program.

    The closeness of two institutions shouldn’t really matter. There are enough humans for both schools. Remember, science is just what humans do.

  4. #4 ali0482
    August 14, 2010

    What else is there? Well, there is some good news. It looks like current trends are towards science and technology fields. Every state wants to be more technical. The logical idea is to have more students in science and technology majors. If you DO think college is about job training (to be clear – I don’t think this) then it seems physics is a better major than history. NOTE: I am not trying to put down history. I want there to be history majors, I think it is a fine degree when done right. I am just saying that how many jobs out there depend on history?

  5. #5 Lyle
    August 14, 2010

    If you avoid the desire to move into the graduate school ranks then most of my issues are avoided. If the research is done by undergrads, then it does work. (I had one of these in 1970 in physics for a summer, and while I ended up in geophysics for grad school and eventually in computers by the time I retired it was good experience). My concern is that its easy for a school to want to get masters and then PHD programs once it starts down the research path. If a commitment is made that research will remain done by undergrads only ok.

  6. #6 Michael
    August 14, 2010

    Research by undergrads doesn’t bring as much money as research done by graduate students. In fact, in some cases, it costs the university money. This makes undergraduate-only research much less attractive to some influential people.

  7. #7 Lyle
    August 16, 2010

    Re #6 That was my concern the admin wants to go up the US news list so instead of concentrating on undergrad education it decides it wants to be a new CalTech or Harvard.

  8. #8 CCPhysicist
    August 22, 2010

    @1 makes a good point. Those interested in the “bubble” in higher ed would do well to make the UT – Some City schools an object of study. How much will tuition have to rise to pay for reduced teaching loads, competitive hires from around the globe, fancy labs (higher “overhead” charges), and more adjuncts to actually teach the undergrads?

    (That said, most of the “bubble” is due to the rapid expansion of for-profit enrollment based on insured student loans. The risk to state schools is from the splashback, like was seen in the housing market.)

  9. #9 CCPhysicist
    August 22, 2010

    On your main point:

    Perhaps you are out of touch with ancient history (when I graduated from high school), but it used to be true that a HS degree was the minimum requirement for jobs that now require “some college”. The change was a result of higher HS graduation rates, but not because of supply and demand. The change was needed because increased graduation rates were obtained by dropping standards.

    I learned to count change by middle school. Fast food chaines used an actual cash register. Today, they need pictures on the buttons of the cash register at McDonalds, and God help you if you give them an extra penny to “simplify” making change. Employers have learned that students with a few years of college can write a sentence, so that is who they hire.

    Impose higher graduation rates on colleges and you will get the same result. People will be looking for someone with a history MA to work as a secretary. Impose exit exams for college (something that is highly likely unless the new outcomes assessment movement short circuits it), and you will get the same result as well – teaching to the test to such a degree that learning declines and thinking vanishes.

  10. #10 abadidea
    August 26, 2010

    I just graduated from a private college and I think there’s a lot to be said for not having to bow to the caprices of the state. Yes, it cost more than going to the state uni, but here in VA being a white non-athlete makes you unenrollable even if you’re frigging 99th percentile like me. It’s all about athletics with our state schools. My private college had professors who left Ivy League schools to go someplace that was student-centered where professors could be flexible and unconventional. It’s not a research institution but it IS a great place to get an undergrad education even if you can’t throw a ball.

    In all seriousness, I cannot think of a way to “increase graduation rates” that does not literally, plainly mean “lower standards and devalue an LA degree.” Duhh.

  11. #11 NJ
    August 26, 2010

    here in VA being a white non-athlete makes you unenrollable even if you’re frigging 99th percentile like me

    I call BS. With a whiff of ‘scary brown people’ to boot.

  12. #12 ali0482
    September 6, 2010

    I learned to count change by middle school. Fast food chaines used an actual cash register. Today, they need pictures on the buttons of the cash register at McDonalds, and God help you if you give them an extra penny to “simplify” making change. Employers have learned that students with a few years of college can write a sentence, so that is who they hire.

  13. #13 ali0482
    September 6, 2010

    I just graduated from a private college and I think there’s a lot to be said for not having to bow to the caprices of the state. Yes, it cost more than going to the state uni, but here in VA being a white non-athlete makes you unenrollable even if you’re frigging 99th percentile like me. It’s all about athletics with our state schools. My private college had professors who left Ivy League schools to go someplace that was student-centered where professors could be flexible and unconventional. It’s not a research institution but it IS a great place to get an undergrad education even if you can’t throw a ball.

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