The "Big 3" could become the "Big 4"

General discussions concerning institutions and degree programs.

The "Big 3" could become the "Big 4"

Postby John Bear » Wed Apr 03, 2013 12:40 am

A bill introduced in the California Assembly this week would create the New University of California, which would award Associate's and Bachelor’s degrees totally based on exams. No faculty, no classes, no tuition, just an exam fee. Students would prepare for exams on their own, taking courses, MOOCs, or independent study. The Bill can be read here: http://tinyurl.com/d83kfj9 It says nothing about fields of study, or how exams would be developed, or how much credit would be given for them. The Assembly takes it up on April 23.
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Re: The "Big 3" could become the "Big 4"

Postby nosborne48 » Wed Apr 03, 2013 3:19 pm

I have serious misgivings about the gradual fading out of the Liberal Arts B.A. in part because it was in the classroom and hallways that I learned to think critically. I don't know whether an exam-only approach will give the student the opportunity to wrestle with the Big Questions. You might be able to distinguish Husserl from Heidegger in an objective way to pass an exam but you wouldn't have had the chance to "live with" and defend or attack those ideas.

But this approach may be the only practical way left.
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Re: The "Big 3" could become the "Big 4"

Postby Hungry Ghost » Wed Apr 03, 2013 3:41 pm

I think that this is extraordinary news and I support it enthusiastically. I don't think that the bill has much chance of getting through the state legislature though, unless...

John Bear wrote:A bill introduced in the California Assembly this week would create the New University of California


That's where the most obvious change would have to be made. The proposed new school wouldn't be part of the University of California system, so the thing almost certainly won't be allowed to used the name 'New University of California'. The UC system pretty much controls higher education policy in Sacramento, and their legislative allies will doubtless refuse to cooperate unless the name is changed. ('New University of California' might not even be legal, since the California Education Code assigns 'University of California' to UC and regulates use of the name.) So the name needs to be changed.

My suggestion is -- California Open University

The proposal seem to envision this thing as a stand-alone fourth component in the California public higher education system, alongside the University of California, the California State University and the Community Colleges. That isn't unprecedented, since the California Maritime Academy was a stand-alone outlier for many years, until it finally joined the CSU system.

Nevertheless, it seems to me that it might make sense to make this new school a part of the California State University system from the beginning, since the CSU's mission is basically to bring higher education to the people. (UC is focused more on research.) That way the new school could draw on CSU's abundent resources in drawing up the exams and the CSU name would give the thing's academic awards some credibility in employers' eyes. But on the other hand... there may be political and administrative advantages to leaving this thing independent from the CSU administration and from that system's faculty labor contracts.

which would award Associate's and Bachelor’s degrees totally based on exams.


Would that include lab and practical exams? How would that work?

No faculty


That's a potential problem, and much more serious this time. The public employee labor unions own the California state government (they bought it fair and square) and the faculty unions aren't going to like the idea that they are being reduced to expendible options in the higher education process. So the unions will oppose this, which means that the Democratic party will inevitably oppose it, which means that the bill will die in committee and never even come up for a vote.

no classes, no tuition, just an exam fee. Students would prepare for exams on their own, taking courses, MOOCs, or independent study.


I really like the no tuition part. (If the exam fees were affordible, I'd definitely be tempted to take some of these exams myself, and maybe even earn a second bachelors.) Perhaps they could give students suggestions about reading lists, recommended online resources and stuff.

The Bill can be read here: http://tinyurl.com/d83kfj9 It says nothing about fields of study, or how exams would be developed, or how much credit would be given for them. The Assembly takes it up on April 23.


I don't think that it has a chance of passing... unless Governor Brown publicly gets behind it. He's personally interested in these kind of things and has been forcefully pushing both the University of California and the California State University (he's an ex-officio Trustee on both of their boards) towards putting in more distance learning. Brown himself is congenitally trendy (Governor Moonbeam!) and he absolutely loves the "MOOC" idea. Which means that he's already tuned in to the idea of offering classes without live professors. He's always been something of an independent thinker and might be able to see his way free of Sacramento orthodoxy on this.

He's certainly fully aware of California's never-ending budget problems, of exploding costs in the higher education system (mostly employees' pay, benefits and retirement) and of the problem of rising tuition, declining affordability and shortage of class sections. He's been pushing hard for 'out-of-the-box' ideas to address all that. Well, here it is, Jerry. I hope you do the right thing and don't just let it die.
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Re: The "Big 3" could become the "Big 4"

Postby Hungry Ghost » Wed Apr 03, 2013 5:47 pm

nosborne48 wrote:I have serious misgivings about the gradual fading out of the Liberal Arts B.A. in part because it was in the classroom and hallways that I learned to think critically. I don't know whether an exam-only approach will give the student the opportunity to wrestle with the Big Questions. You might be able to distinguish Husserl from Heidegger in an objective way to pass an exam but you wouldn't have had the chance to "live with" and defend or attack those ideas.

But this approach may be the only practical way left.


I agree with you Nosborne. (You should sit down. Is your heart ok?)

In my opinion, the best undergraduate education available is the intense personalized instruction that highly selected students find on-campus at the elite residential liberal arts colleges.

Distance learning definitely isn't as good as that. The difference need not be huge in the case of subjects (like philosophy) where on-campus classes consist of lectures and class discussions. Delivery media exist that enable remote students to interact with the professor and with each other. But the difference might be dramatic in subjects (like engineering, nursing or the natural sciences) that require lots of hand's-on laboratory and practical classes.

And I think that taught distance learning is definitely preferable to an independent-study/examination format. I realize that I'm irredeemably old-fashioned and conservative, but I think that interaction with live professors still contributes something that's very important in the higher education process. Education isn't just about memorizing factoids and then repeating them back on exams. It's about actually understanding the material, about perceiving connections and the ability to creatively improvise around it. And in a very important way, it's about socializing students into a professional community and its way of thinking.

But having said that...

While I definitely think that untaught examination-only programs are inevitably going to be low-end and sub-optimal, I also think that they work (provided that the exams are credible). The University of London's External Programme has been around since the 19'th century, when people posted to the remotest tropical corners of the British Empire studied for its exams. Schools like Thomas Edison, Excelsior and Charter Oak obviously have their place here in our US context.

Considering all the on-the-job training, all the continuing education and avocational study that's happening out there, and the amazing abundence of free resources long available in libraries and now on the internet, there really needs to be some kind of assessment process that awards university credit to individuals who have mastered material in unconventional ways.
Last edited by Hungry Ghost on Wed Apr 03, 2013 5:58 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: The "Big 3" could become the "Big 4"

Postby nosborne48 » Wed Apr 03, 2013 5:53 pm

We are talking here about undergrad education? I agree that there needs to be some kind of on-going personal interaction between the professor and the students and between the students.

At the Master's level, not so much. Even in residence, a Master's student is expected to be largely self-taught. But the well-prepared Master's student got that way through a good UG program.
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Re: The "Big 3" could become the "Big 4"

Postby Jonathan Whatley » Wed Apr 03, 2013 6:00 pm

Hungry Ghost wrote:My suggestion is -- California Open University

Bear State College.
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Re: The "Big 3" could become the "Big 4"

Postby John Bear » Thu Apr 04, 2013 3:45 pm

Bill's main point is one that has been debated in our household (and a great many others, for centuries).
Side 1: How can you award a Bachelor's degree to someone -- even an engineer or chemist -- who has never read Shakespeare, Plato, or a poem?
Side 2: Of what possible use can Shakespeare or poetry be to my career in the laboratory?

Cardinal Newman (now, I believe, Saint Newman), who helped design and create University College Dublin, is also the patron saint of the university educating the 'whole person' and leaving vocational training to other schools and institutes. Here's a nice article from the Times Higher Education Supplement on how Newman would fare in today's world: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/09/17/newman

For instance:
“If then a practical end must be assigned to a University course, I say it is that of training good members of society... It is the education which gives a man a clear, conscious view of their own opinions and judgements, a truth in developing them, an eloquence in expressing them, and a force in urging them. It teaches him to see things as they are, to go right to the point, to disentangle a skein of thought to detect what is sophistical and to discard what is irrelevant.”
― John Henry Newman, The Idea of a University
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Re: The "Big 3" could become the "Big 4"

Postby Rich Douglas » Sat Apr 06, 2013 9:21 pm

In Human Resource Development, we try to make distinctions between training and other forms of growth and development. There is a difference.

I live in the Washington DC area, where nearly half of working adults have at least a bachelor's degrees. As you can imagine, there are tons of schools offering programs to either finish your degree or to go get a master's. What I find disappointing is that so many of them are in such applied fields that they cannot possibly be part of an academic discipline. Thus, there is little to distinguish them from training programs, except their lengths and the credentials awarded.

If the U.S. had what is known as a "strong qualifications framework," then people could earn higher and higher credentials in their chosen professions and occupations without turning only to universities in order to earn more degrees. We see some of this with a few professions/occupations. For example, the Project Management Institute offers its widely recognized Project Management Professional (PMP) designation (and others), and the Society for Human Resource Management offers the Senior Professional in Human Resources (and others). These designations perform quite well in their respective occupational fields. My field, on the other hand, is still trying to get some traction with the Certified Professional in Learning and Performance offered by the American Society for Training and Development. But these examples are not part of a larger, coordinated effort that would make up a strong qualifications network. So in many cases, people go back to universities (and their very high costs) to get degrees instead of taking a chance on a training program and/or designation/certification that may or may not be valuable in the eyes of current and prospective employers.

And where do you go after you get your MBA, your Ph.D., your PMP? Where? :wink:
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Re: The "Big 3" could become the "Big 4"

Postby Eric » Sun Apr 07, 2013 1:26 am

So there will be limited number of degrees.

A lot of degree programs require lab work and other practical activity.
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