July 11, 2008

The Writing Exam

A while back I wrote about The Writing Exam that was part of my application to the Ph.D. program to which I applied. I'm finally getting around to posting the questions! I still have never gone back and read them because I'm nervous that they are awful, even though I've been told otherwise. Out of seven questions, I had to pick two.

1. Recent studies show that the number of part-time instructors utilized in higher education is growing rapidly. Most for-profit and some privately owned but officially non-profit institutions are organized on the notion that a substantially full-time professoriate is unnecessary. They argue that building a faculty of part-time instructors has several advantages for students (in addition to the lower costs of running the institution).

a. Part timers are people who carry out every day the very tasks they are teaching about. Their knowledge is "state of the art."
b. Having a predominantly part-time staff allows the school to drop programs as soon as they begin to become superfluous and then add new areas of tudy. There is not a large staff of tenured faculty to worry about.
c. Part timers are less expensive and therefore tuition rates can be kept low.

A recent book about the future of higher education (Marc Bousquet's How the University Works) suggests that a generation from now, more than 80% of a faculty will be adjuncts.

You have been invited to a radio program to discuss whether the notion of building a faculty around full-time tenured professors is obsolete in a time of rapid change. The moderator of the program tells you that you will be part of a discussion, not a debate. Therefore, you are free to acknowledge the advantages of using a part-time faculty, but you will also be counted on to express some of the key arguments for a majority of full-time faculty.

Write an essay describing the arguments you will make.

Marc Bousquet’s (2008) assertion that 80% of higher education faculty members will be adjuncts in the next generation is met with mixed reactions of cheers from recent college graduates and grumblings from hard core academics. Recent college graduates are finding that the opportunities they thought were available are simply not there and the opportunity to teach what they carry out is expanding. Tenured faculty appears to be a dying breed according to the predictions of Bousquet (2008), as certain areas of humanities become less relevant in today’s job market. Lending support to both sides of the argument is a declining economy where there is a focus on decreasing expenses while increasing income.
The idea of creating an entire department of part time faculty is appealing for those that value a working knowledge of the subject at hand. A team of faculty members that teach what they do for a living lends itself to being able to provide up to date knowledge of recent trends and practical knowledge of the basic requirements of the job function. In theory, this team of adjuncts are the high level executives that know the ins and outs of each level of employment, politicians who have worked their way up from entry level council positions to ones of leadership and influence, and perhaps even a human services professional that can provide some thoughtful experiences on how to prepare the next generation of employees. In today’s academic foundation, general education requirements are becoming less valued by students interested in learning the limited information required to obtain and carry out their post graduation job. This is, of course, creating a downward spiral in which these students graduate with a limited scope of knowledge into a world that is not providing an abundance of entry level positions, which leads these recent graduates to one of two fates. These students will either have to return to school to learn a new trade, or will in fact obtain the position they seek, find that it does not offer nearly enough pay for the lifestyle they desire, and fatefully return to higher education to teach what they do for a living. This cycle continues as students become less interested in learning to impact the world and more focused on the bare essentials of impacting their own world.
It only stands to reason, then, that there are certain areas of humanities that are becoming less relevant in today’s job market. Society is straining to see beyond the end of their collective noses and therefore the idea of studying philosophy and liberal arts topics seems trivial in comparison to becoming a leading business person or technology guru. The team of adjuncts in this arena is the perfect solution to the ever rotating demand for popular majors that are relevant in the eyes of society because there is no promise of tenured job security. The adjunct school of thought, however, fails to take into consideration the value of tenured faculty members having the opportunity to explore the depth of their expertise to increase the ways in which their area can influence change beyond the national scope. Under the strain of two jobs, there is little time for the adjunct faculty member to push forward in research or consider the long range effects of their immediate impact.
As always, the driving force behind many decisions at a university is cost. Economic hardships experienced by today’s citizen has increased significantly over the past few years and will only get worse, according to most forecasters. The vicious cycle of the economy will only drive the cost of education upward and administrators are desperately trying to keep costs down, making the adjunct team an attractive prospect. Part time faculty members do not require the full time benefits of health care, paid sabbaticals, or competitive salaries. However, according to several articles in the Chronicle of Higher Education (2008) the percentage of tuition spent on faculty salaries or benefits is minimal and is mostly spent on increasing the technological capabilities of campus’ to facilitate a more relevant learning experience for students.
In the end, the question is not how can we better align our educational values with the needs of the American society, it is instead, how can educational leaders expand the teaching and experience of students today for global relevance. University administrators must search the depths of the mission and values of their institutions to determine if a team of part time faculty is best for their students. In a recent article of The Chronicle of Higher Education (2008), David Glenn discussed research presented by Audrey J. Jaeger, an assistant professor at North Carolina University. Jaeger states that her research indicated that first year students that are “significantly more likely to drop out if their high-stakes "gatekeeper courses" are taught by part-time instructors.” If a university seeks to teach students a trade in order to quickly turn them out into the world as productive employees and potential adjunct faculty members, then perhaps a team of adjuncts is the best foundation. However, if a university seeks to globally educate a student to be versatile in an ever changing world, perhaps strongly rooted full time faculty is the key to fully develop the student experience.

2. A close friend of yours has recently been selected as president of a regional university in Michigan. The board of trustees has requested her to grow the university in two directions: increase the student population and expand the reach of the university to students beyond the region, hopefully to create a student body that draws from beyond the state and hopefully, in the long run, one that includes a national audience.

Your friend states that she is unsure what path to take. The traditional approach would be to build more dormitories on campus and enlarge the georgraphy within which the university advertises. On the other hand, she is well aware that e-learning is becoming more and more popular. She worries that she may build dormitories and no one will come to fill them. On the other hand, she worries that simply building a more national presence through distance learning will not create the kind of loyal, and giving, alumni needed to assure a secure financial future for the institution.

Write an essay that summarizes your ideas about the place of distance learning of whatever kind in the future of the university.

The stay at home mother in Arizona, the professor of sociology in Minnesota, and the dental office manager from Michigan have a lot in common. They are all participating in some form of distance learning, a growing trend at American universities. The number and type of adult learners are increasing rapidly to include non-college educated learners, as well as returning learners who have previously earned degrees. Distance learning can have a positive and immediate impact on adult learners, traditional students, and the state of the university.
The number of adult learners is increasing rapidly at American universities due to the changing economy and convenience of the opportunity. As the economy declines and companies are closing, it is imperative that adult employees boost their educational background to make them competitive in a diminishing job market. The opportunity for a stay at home mother, a dental office manager, and a professor of sociology to earn a degree from a university hours away is invaluable. For the mother it allows a growth in opportunity, a chance to increase her knowledge and prepare for a future after the children are grown. For the manager it adds to her value as an employee, it allows the opportunity to have an impact on the company for which she works, and an impact on her local economy.
For the professor of sociology, distance learning has an even greater impact. Not only does it benefit the professor in that it provides a broader opportunity for idea sharing with other learners, it also provides the opportunity to bring that idea sharing into the classroom to impact traditional students. The students that typically attend in person class sessions are exposed to the benefits of distance learning through the continued education of their professor without ever having to participate in distance learning themselves. These students then graduate with the knowledge that they otherwise may not have been exposed to, and carry that impact into their careers when they graduate.
This leads to a positive impact on the university by increasing revenue for the institution offering the distance learning initiatives, which impacts nearly every facet of an institution. Additionally, if faculty members are participating in distance learning elsewhere, they are able to refine their knowledge, increase their research capacity, and potentially attract more students to the university at which they teach based on their expertise. Therefore, institutions that do not offer distance learning opportunities can still benefit from its existence.
Distance learning may be the tool to carry out the plan of Ohio’s Governor Strickland, who stated in a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education (2008) that one in three adults had earned an associates degree or higher. Governor Strickland plans to change that statistic in order to stimulate Ohio’s economy. For state universities dependent upon large financial support from the state government, a stimulus for state economy boosts the financial state of the university, which can utilize that money to make improvements in the education of its students.

I ran out of time on the second one, knowing what I wanted to say but it wouldn't quite come out right. The writing exam was the last step of the application process, and after having written the essays, I had to hand them in, leave the computer lab, and pray that I wouldn't become a big ball of nerves afterwards. And you know what? God met me right there. Surprising, right? It seems to be a lesson we always forget, that God meets us where we're at. But it's true, I prayed about it and the Lord gave me peace about not getting in or getting it. Amen for that!

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