The Ex-Con Scholars of Berkeley

Larissa MacFarquhar, writing for The New Yorker:

Murillo and Czifra wanted U.S.I. to be a place where former inmates could talk and help one another, but, more than that, they wanted to figure out a way to recruit more people from prison. The idea of going to college had sounded ridiculous to them, but now they knew that, even if you had dropped out of elementary school, you could still make it. They modelled themselves on a San Francisco organization, Project Rebound, that had been started, in 1967, by a man named John Irwin, who, in his twenties, did time in Soledad for armed robbery. Irwin had gone on to become a professor at San Francisco State, and Project Rebound got former inmates into San Francisco State, where California residents were guaranteed entry if they had a G.P.A. of 2.0 in high school or community college.

But Murillo and Czifra knew that a lot of people in prison could aim higher and get into the U.C. system—you just had to know what to do. Tuition was free for any California resident whose household income was less than eighty thousand dollars a year, but you had to know about financial aid and when to apply for it. You had to know the right courses to take in community college—real academic ones, not the business-certificate classes that sounded practical but were actually useless. You had to do extra stuff that might seem pointless, like joining clubs and going to office hours. You had to write a scintillating personal statement. Yet all that became relevant only after you’d decided to go to college. Getting to that point in the first place—that was harder.

This is an amazing, multi-faceted story about redemption, education, the criminal justice system, and the realities and complexities of human interaction and decency. Send it to anyone who tells you that the world is a terrible place. But don’t think it’s all peaches and cream—the final two paragraphs will disabuse you of that notion real quick.


The College Rape Overcorrection

Emily Yoffe, Slate:

One campus rape is one too many. But the severe new policies championed by the White House, the Department of Education, and members of Congress are responding to the idea that colleges are in the grips of an epidemic—and the studies suggesting this epidemic don’t hold up to scrutiny. Bad policy is being made on the back of problematic research, and will continue to be unless we bring some healthy skepticism to the hard work of putting a number on the prevalence of campus rape.

It is exceedingly difficult to get a numerical handle on a crime that is usually committed in private and the victims of which—all the studies agree—frequently decline to report. A further complication is that because researchers are asking about intimate subjects, there is no consensus on the best way to phrase sensitive questions in order to get the most accurate answers. A 2008 National Institute of Justice paper on campus sexual assault explained some of the challenges: “Unfortunately, researchers have been unable to determine the precise incidence of sexual assault on American campuses because the incidence found depends on how the questions are worded and the context of the survey.” Take the National Crime Victimization Survey, the nationally representative sample conducted by the federal government to find rates of reported and unreported crime. For the years 1995 to 2011, as the University of Colorado Denver’s Rennison explained to me, it found that an estimated 0.8 percent of noncollege females age 18-24 revealed that they were victims of threatened, attempted, or completed rape/sexual assault. Of the college females that age during that same time period, approximately 0.6 percent reported they experienced such attempted or completed crime.  

I hope that every person engaged in some way in Higher Ed finds the time this weekend to read this blockbuster piece of reporting.


Why 'Nano-Degrees' Can Never Replace Liberal Arts Colleges

Michael Roth:

As the president of Wesleyan University, and somebody who has been teaching college students for 30 years, I’m very skeptical about the current re-fashioning of vocational education under the banner of Silicon Valley sophistication. We do need experiments integrating technology and pedagogy. That’s why I’ve been teaching online courses with my Wesleyan colleagues over the last two years. We’ve reached almost a million students in that time and continue to learn from working together. But we teach students online in the same way we do on campus: with the goal of broadening their thinking while sharpening their skills.

There are many, many problems currently plaguing higher education. But trying to change the definition to include the training of people in only one skill set is an obvious mistake.


The Eight Hour School Day

Liz Riggs:

Peter Smith directs a Philadelphia high school that extends its day—but only by a half an hour for students. Hours run from 8:00 a.m. to 3:17 p.m. After school, teachers are required to stay for office hours from 3:17 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. While teachers are in school for an hour and 15 minutes longer than other teachers in the district, they actually teach less than they would in a traditional public school.

“Teachers are totally on board,” Smith says. “Teachers love having that designated time [after school] to be with students, and it does free up their time during the other parts of the school day, and parents love it—especially at the high school level.”

Extended school days can also provide structured planning time for teachers. Without this built-in time, teachers end up working additional hours after school and on the weekends, clocking in as much time as they would if the day were extended—if not more.

It’s all cyclical, baby. To quote Ecclesiastes 1:9:

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.


Why I Teach Plato to Plumbers

Scott Samuleson:

The problem facing the humanities, in my view, isn’t just about the humanities. It’s about the liberal arts generally, including math, science, and economics. These form three-fourths of the so-called STEM (science, technology, economics, math) subjects, but if the goal of an education is simply economic advancement and technological power, those disciplines, just like the humanities, will be—and to some degree already are—subordinated to future employment and technological progress. Why shouldn’t educational institutions predominately offer classes like Business Calculus and Algebra for Nurses? Why should anyone but hobbyists and the occasional specialist take courses in astronomy, human evolution, or economic history? So, what good, if any, is the study of the liberal arts, particularly subjects like philosophy?  Why, in short, should plumbers study Plato?

I tell people all the time that there are just too many people in college who don’t belong there. But that’s because of the cost. Everyone deserves the opportunity to learn how to think. Not everyone needs it, or wants it, but you shouldn’t have to mortgage your future to try.