Archive for the ‘Universities’ Category

Alex Tapscott
by Alex Tapscott
Thu Apr 9th 2009 at 3:49pm UTC

Wikipedia: The Virtual City

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia created and diligently monitored by scores of regular users mass collaborating over the internet, has been a source of immense controversy since it first appeared online seven years ago.

While most of us (I think) regard the online encyclopedia as a very useful resource for initial research into an unfamiliar topic (not to mention one of the world’s greatest time killers), and see its method of creation (mass collaboration) as both novel and strikingly accurate, there has been no shortage of bluster from both sides of the aisle to just how best to describe/exalt/deride the online phenomenon.

The staunchest self-described ‘Wikipedians’ see their community as the first real democracy, a new egalitarian mode of production and a nation online.

Critics argue that Wikipedia is, quite literally, the death of knowledge. Wikipedia embodies a generation (mine) of lazy cheaters – using half-baked, ‘user-generated’ (re: inaccurate) articles written by computer-nerds and other weirdos that skew the truth and focus only on the trivial. Wikipedia is lowering our standards for accuracy and simultaneously lowering our collective IQ.

Describing Wikipedia as either a Virtual Utopia or The Death of Knowledge is reductionism at its finest. While I am generally skeptical of these far-flung metaphors that try to pin down the online encyclopedia, I was intrigued by one recent attempt by Noam Cohen in the New York Times. He says Wikipedia most closely resembles a vast, diverse, online fact city- and quite a creative one at that.

Cohen adapts a Socratic tone in asking a number of thought provoking questions. He says:

“Wikipedia encourages contributors to mimic the basic civility, trust, cultural acceptance and self-organizing qualities familiar to any city dweller. Why don’t people attack each other on the way home? Why do they stay in line at the bank? Why don’t people guffaw at the person with blue hair?”

He could just as easily ask: why don’t people sabotage Wikipedia pages? Why don’t people post misinformation?

The reality, of course, is that they do. Just as sometimes in our real cities, people are attacked, lines are budded, and people with blue hair get ridiculed- occasionally. But the stronger the city and the sense of community, the stronger the social forces that combat devious behavior. The same is true for Wikipedia.

To support his claim, Cohen consults the writings of Urban Oracle Jane Jacobs. He quotes the prolific Wikipedian Andrew Lih (who paraphrases Jacobs) saying she “argued that sidewalks provided three important things: safety, contact, and the assimilation of children.” He continues, “She may as well have been talking about wikis. A wiki has all its activities happening in the open for inspection, as on Jacobs’s sidewalk. Trust is built by observing the actions of others in the community and discovering people with like or complementary interests.”

So is Wikipedia perfect? Or another question: will we (because it really is we) ever ‘finish’ Wikipedia? The same question could be posed for Chicago, Paris, or Toronto. Of course it isn’t perfect and it will probably never be finished – just as a city is constantly changing, evolving, and reinventing itself.

For the sake of all people who can access this vast, unprecedented body of knowledge, I hope Wikipedia grows – especially in the 100+ versions that exist now in other languages. Never before have we been given such a low barrier – the internet – to access this vast canon of human knowledge.

So forget the controversy, the metaphors, and the bluster and take a stroll down one of the long, wide information boulevards of the online city – you never know what side street you may end up on, or what secrets you might find.

On a lighter note: College Humor’s take on the Wiki-phenomenon.

Richard Florida
by Richard Florida
Sat Mar 28th 2009 at 10:14am UTC

College Towns Thrive in the Reset

Saturday, March 28th, 2009

(Graphic from the Wall Street Journal).

College town economies are among the most resilient according to the Wall Street Journal.

Of the six metropolitan areas with unemployment below 4% as of January, three of them are considered college towns. One is Morgantown. The other two are Logan, Utah, home of Utah State University, and Ames, Iowa, home of Iowa State University. Both have just 3.8% unemployment, based on Labor Department figures that are not seasonally adjusted. The pattern holds true for many other big college towns, such as Gainesville, Fla., Ann Arbor, Mich., Manhattan, Kan., and Boulder, Colo. In stark contrast, the unadjusted national unemployment rate is 8.5%

Michael Wells
by Michael Wells
Mon Jan 5th 2009 at 6:11pm UTC

The Value of College for Most Students

Monday, January 5th, 2009

Two conservative intellectuals have recently raised questions about the value of college for most students. While they come from different starting points, they make the same basic point. I find the sources mildly interesting but I think the basic concept is long overdue. Just as high school needs to be reinvented, so does the undergraduate college model.

Charles Murray from the American Enterprise Institute had a piece in the New York Times about a week ago, which is summarized in these first paragraphs.

Barack Obama has two attractive ideas for improving post-secondary education – expanding the use of community colleges and tuition tax credits – but he needs to hitch them to a broader platform. As president, Mr. Obama should use his bully pulpit to undermine the bachelor’s degree as a job qualification. Here’s a suggested battle cry, to be repeated in every speech on the subject: “It’s what you can do that should count when you apply for a job, not where you learned to do it.”

The residential college leading to a bachelor’s degree at the end of four years works fine for the children of parents who have plenty of money. It works fine for top students from all backgrounds who are drawn toward academics. But most 18-year-olds are not from families with plenty of money, not top students, and not drawn toward academics. They want to learn how to get a satisfying job that also pays well. That almost always means education beyond high school, but it need not mean four years on a campus, nor cost a small fortune. It need not mean getting a bachelor’s degree.

Then yesterday George F. Will had a rambling column in the Washington Post about civil rights court cases that included this nugget:

…many employers, fearing endless litigation about multiple uncertainties, threw up their hands and, to avoid legal liability, threw out intelligence and aptitude tests for potential employees. Instead, they began requiring college degrees as indices of applicants’ satisfactory intelligence and diligence.

This is, of course, just one reason college attendance increased from 5.8 million in 1970 to 17.5 million in 2005. But it probably had a, well, disparate impact by making employment more difficult for minorities. O’Keefe and Vedder write:

“Qualified minorities who performed well on an intelligence or aptitude test and would have been offered a job directly 30 or 40 years ago are now compelled to attend a college or university for four years and incur significant costs. For some young people from poorer families, those costs are out of reach.”

Indeed, by turning college degrees into indispensable credentials for many of society’s better jobs, this series of events increased demand for degrees and, O’Keefe and Vedder say, contributed to “an environment of aggressive tuition increases.” Furthermore they reasonably wonder whether this supposed civil rights victory, which erected barriers between high school graduates and high-paying jobs, has exacerbated the widening income disparities between high school and college graduates.

Maybe this rings true to me because it matches my own experience. I never liked school with its emphasis on memorization, and was bored to tears as a college freshman when I dropped out. By the time I went back years later and got a BA, I was able to test out of about two years worth of courses. By then I had started a couple of small businesses, edited and published two newspapers, been a broadcast engineer, managed a radio station, done a lot of political activism, and had many other jobs. None of these required me to have a college degree at the time.

However, I don’t accept Murray’s thesis that this is primarily Obama’s responsibility – everyone under the sun is trying to pile more work on his desk. Instead it should be the basis of a public conversation involving universities, think tanks, unions, and other interested parties.

What do others think?

Michael Wells
by Michael Wells
Wed Nov 19th 2008 at 3:18pm UTC

Greenest University Initiative

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

As U.S. cities compete for the title of “Greenest” and vie to attract green industry, Portland State University is launching an initiative to use the city as a laboratory for sustainability studies. Portland was recently named America’s most sustainable city for the second year by SustainLane. PSU hired noted Dutch urbanist Wim Wiewel as its president this year, and the city as laboratory may be the first fruit of his administration.

While I was looking this up online, I came across a link to Paul Hawkin’s great piece on cities as environmental assets. Here’s a key line:

Urban migration represents a kind of collective wisdom, and how we configure our cities will be critical to our survival. Regardless of the myths about living close to the land, cities are where human beings have the lowest ecological footprint. It takes less energy, wood, material, and food to provide a good life for a person in a city than in the country.

Kwende Kefentse
by Kwende Kefentse
Tue Nov 18th 2008 at 1:20pm UTC

From Toronto to Rome: The Education Situation…

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

While I know that Richard is the official ”Global Trends” guy around here, I hope that he won’t mind my pointing one out; if not a trend, a global synchronicity at least. In two of the world’s great cities – Toronto and Rome – disagreements in educational policy have led to strike situations.

In Toronto, from the Globe and Mail:

The campus was a ghost town yesterday, the first day of the strike by contract faculty, teaching assistants and graduate students, with classes for more than 50,000 students cancelled and pickets letting cars onto university grounds only every few minutes.

There are no plans to resume negotiations.

Christina Rousseau, chair of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3903, said the striking workers are waiting for a signal from university administrators that they are ready to return to talks.

“Right now the ball is in their court,” she said. “We feel it is their turn to make a move.”

The university has offered a 9.25-per-cent wage increase over three years. A university spokesman said the administration is willing to go to binding arbitration.

The workers have asked for a two-year contract with a wage increase of 11 per cent over that period. The demand for a two-year deal is part of a broader strategy by CUPE Ontario to co-ordinate bargaining on all Ontario campuses in order to gain leverage at the negotiating table.

And in Rome from the BBC:

Sleeping bags in lecture theatres, lessons in parks, people wearing plasters on their faces. They are just some of the ingredients in Italy’s hugely divisive row over education.  The sleeping bags are being used by students, who have taken over a number of buildings. Lessons in some places are being held in parks, as classrooms are occupied, and the plasters are the symbolic sign of the “cuts” the students and staff are protesting against.

But these are not just isolated protests by a few disgruntled hardliners.  A number of recent marches in Rome have attracted up to half a million demonstrators.  Seasoned Italian commentators say they are the biggest in 15 years.

The protests are not just for university students. Secondary school teachers and pupils are also on the streets, as their slice of the education budget comes under threat as well.  The government is pushing its reforms because it believes universities and schools are inefficient and producing lacklustre results.

I also did a little bit of Facebook reconnaissance and found popular groups for and against the strike in Toronto, while Italy Education Minister Mariastella Gelmini’s page has been flooded with comments from young people on the situation.

While both are complex and ultimately different situations, one of the few comparables is popular support: In Rome it is overwhelming, while in Toronto it’s very divided. With starkly different political climates, I can’t speak on how well this bodes for either side, but it will be interesting to see how both situations are resolved. They each represent what the prospective futures of significant numbers of young people within their respective regions will be like. In turn, this will ultimately affect the overall prosperity of the regions.

And now, as always, some music.

David Miller
by David Miller
Wed Nov 12th 2008 at 9:53am UTC

Higher Ed: Next Bloated Industry to Go?

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

We are witnessing major industries in the U.S. undergo massive transformations; financial services will be refashioned and refocus, while the auto industry will radically scale down and transmogrify in an attempt to survive.

I recently came across a post at Newmark’s Door referring to the forthcoming hollowing out of higher education in America – the bursting of a bubble a la real estate and oil. Craig Newmark offers up some interesting articles on the state of higher ed in America.

One piece, the Coming College Bubble, at, sees consolidation on the horizon with many independent colleges choosing between shutting down, merging, or being acquired. The article looks at the decision of 157-year-old Antioch College to shut down its flagship campus.

Another article, Planning for Contraction, comes from the Inside Higher Ed and is a sobering commentary for the post-secondary education industry. It’s been a great run and it is over was the basic tone of the article.

I don’t know the history of the higher ed boom directly, but most of the campuses I have visited over the last 20 years have been great places; from Tallahassee Community College & UW-Tacoma to UT-Austin & DePaul University. Campuses today are fresh, technically advanced, and filled with intelligent, diverse communities. Universities and colleges are concentrated havens of talent, knowledge, liberty, and opportunity.

They’re so inviting that I have been engaged in higher ed – at least part-time – for 14 of the last 18 years. Hopefully higher ed leaders can conserve all of the improvements and manage the lean years to come. If you are an administrator, find yourself a Joseph to manage what’s to come.

The challenge, of course, is that the needs and composition of students, industry, and state are constantly changing. Federal, State, and Local funding will all be decreasing in the years ahead. So doing the same thing (like GM or Ford) won’t get the weaker colleges and universities through what is ahead.

The articles painted a pretty bleak future for higher ed in America and, given the central role that higher education plays in American socio-economic life, the rough road ahead could have a devastating multiplier effect on the U.S. economy. (Same argument used by Wall Street for a bailout, same argument Detroit is now wielding, right?)

With those two articles on my mind, I came upon an op-ed by Arthur Levine, Higher Education in the Age of Obama. I assumed there would be some hope for me in this article. Didn’t happen.

Levine was sobering for a purely political reason; the piece argues that higher education is likely to be a very low priority for the incoming administration. The reality of demographics have pushed higher ed down the list of national priorities. From Levine’s piece:

A number of pressures will now require the new president to rethink this array of important proposals because he won’t have the resources to carry out this agenda. First, discretionary dollars will be eaten up by the $800 billion bailout, additional federal funding for economic relief, the continuing cost of the Iraq war, and declines in tax revenues.

Second, support for education has diminished as a priority for the American people. During the 2000 presidential election, Americans ranked education either first or second among the nation’s priorities. In 2004, it fell to fifth. In 2008, it dropped off the priority list.

Third, the primary citizen advocates for increased education funding have shifted their focus to health care. Baby Boomers, who constituted more than half of the electorate until this election, single-handedly made education a priority because they wanted good schools for their children. Today, with most of their kids graduated or largely through school, Boomers are now focused on aging and frail parents, who are absorbing an increasing share of their time and resources.

The sheer size of the Baby Boom generation ensures that every politician running for any office, from dogcatcher to president of the United States, quickly develops a platform that emphasizes Boomers’ interests. As a result, elder care, health insurance and Social Security have become the new priority — and will likely continue to overshadow education in the years ahead., since the first Boomers reached retirement age this year.

Clearly not all institutions will be affected in the same way by all of the above, but it does sound like an industry facing some huge shakeups or, should I say, opportunities. The whole baby boomer thing means smart universities/colleges will figure out a way to win advocates (and customers) among baby boomers in their communities (both physical and virtual – there are far more boomers on Facebook than you think). There also might be “retire/live/learn” options for boomers that colleges and universities can offer in order to “fill space” in the future?

There are also opportunities in those dying brands of independent colleges like Antioch College. We recently heard that the Christian Science Monitor and U.S. New & World Report are going virtual. Universities are in many ways content providers (higher value maybe) just like media outlets and therefore can retain value in new forms. Clearly there are opportunities to transfer portions of their brands/content/experience/value to the online space. I mean, if someone is going to attend University of Phoenix online they would be likely to attend Antioch College online, wouldn’t they?

Like so many of our great industries and social sectors, higher education has grown huge, bureaucratic, and in many cases bloated (think 24-hour coffee shops in dorms). The ongoing trends of globalization, technology, and innovation continue to pressure societies and economies and America’s world leading system of higher education is going to have to respond just like other great institutions. There will not be enough ‘bailout’ money for everyone getting in line.

The campus as a vibrant market has always been one of the reasons that campus entrepreneurs exist. As our system of higher education undergoes these massive transformations, entrepreneurs of all sorts will push the change with new models, services, and firms. The best will reap incredible rewards.

Richard Florida
by Richard Florida
Mon Sep 29th 2008 at 10:14am UTC

Arts, Culture, and Economic Growth

Monday, September 29th, 2008

While Obama and McCain debate the war in Iraq and the financial meltdown, the role of arts and culture funding has taken center stage in the current Canadian contest spurred by recent federal cuts in arts and culture spending. Others have covered what’s at stake in this debate, but let me simply weigh in with what our ongoing research at the Prosperity Institute tells about the role of arts and culture in the economy.

Our most recent research on both Canada and the United States breaks down the economy into its core occupational sectors – finance, management, technology, arts and culture, health. and education – and attempts to guage the effects of each on regional income. In both the U.S. and Canada, finance, management, and technology have a considerable direct effect on income. And both education and health – which are essential for a high-functioning society – have little if any effect on regional income. They’re necessities or public goods, but they don’t drive regional economic well-being. Arts and culture, however, are very important. In the U.S., arts and culture occupations have a significant effect on regional income, about as strong as finance and management and stronger than science technology. In Canada, arts and culture have a less direct impact on income, but a potent impact on high-technology firms, stronger in fact than the impact of science and technology occupations on those firms.

Bert Sperling
by Bert Sperling
Fri Sep 19th 2008 at 2:25pm UTC

“Learning” is not “Smart”?

Friday, September 19th, 2008

Here’s something interesting…

So Maclean’s did a nice article about a recent study measuring “Learning,” from the Canadian Council of Learning. The name of the article is “Canada’s Smartest Cities.”

But I wondered about the difference or connection between Smarts and Learning, so I did a search of the meaty 45-page report – and found zero (nada, zilch, l’oeuf) instances of the word “Smart.” The authors were plainly sensitive to the issues surrounding labeling something as “smart.”

I’ve wondered about this frequently. Is it elitist to value higher education?  By celebrating smartness, are we in essence devaluing those who have not had the opportunities or chosen the path to higher learning?

I confess, I enjoy being around smart people. I find a strong connection between well-educated people and those who are open, tolerant, inquisitive, far seeing, and inclusive. But I’ve also found some of the most maddening people in well-educated professionals – rude, selfish, entitled, unsympathetic, and petty. (They make me want to hang out in a trailer park, or some other low-rent neighborhood where anything goes.)

I still think that the educational attainment of city or community is one of the best measures of a place’s quality of life.  Generally, better-educated citizenry make tougher and better decisions for the future, and see value in making a community better for all, not just their peers.

Bert Sperling
by Bert Sperling
Thu Sep 18th 2008 at 1:18am UTC

Learning Mega-Study: Needs Focus?

Thursday, September 18th, 2008

Maclean’s magazine contacted me last month to ask for my comments about a recently released mega-study of “lifelong learning.” The subject of the piece was the 2008 Composite Learning Index (CLI), from the Canadian Council on Learning.

Here’s a link to the Maclean’s article, which has some insightful quotes from CCG’s Kevin Stolarick, and some boring ones from me.

The Maclean’s article is a good overview of the ambitious CLI study, but it’s really worth a look in its raw form. Here is the home page for the Composite Learning Index, and the 2008 report itself.

Your time is valuable, so let me just give you my thoughts about the study, having done many similar ones over the last 25 years or so.

  • First, it’s huge in scope - too big, in my opinion, for any valuable insight. By covering so much, it dilutes its results by including sometimes conflicting measures.
  • The study attempts to quantify “learning” in large and small cities and towns across Canada, nearly communities in all. In an apparent effort to value everyone everywhere, all types of learning are included such as use of the Internet; recreation and sports participation; buying and reading printed matter; attending live performing arts; travel time to nearby museums, libraries, and business/civic associations; expenditures on social clubs; attending church; volunteering and socializing with other cultures; as well as the more common measures of high school and university graduation rates and student test scores. These are all valuable metrics, and all worthy of their own study. By mashing them all together into one index, some insights are undoubtedly lost.
  • Many of the metrics are based on estimates of household expenditures for various metrics. I did not find a list of specific sources, but in my experience household expenditure data is based on a national model, and adjusted for each geographic area, usually on the basis of income. It is unlikely that individual differences between communities are revealed, except as a function of income. Rich places spend more, poor places less.
  • Some measure of the quality of the resources should be attempted, not just the proximity to libraries,  schools and universities, museums and art galleries. It’s much different having access to a world-class museum with rotating exhibits, instead of a small-town one-room museum with the usual few bones, muskets, baskets, and pottery (charming though they are.) Use annual attendance figures or budgets to estimate the quality of the experience, or average entrance scores to rank universities.
  • There are four major segments of the study, based on the type of learning – Knowing, Work Experience, Community, and Personal Development. These would best remain segregated. It’s appealing to combine them all into one super-score but, like mixing many colors together, insights are lost.

All in all, the CLI is a wonderfully ambitious attempt to quantify “learning” and provide a road map for the future. But a Swiss Army knife is rarely the best tool for the job, or even any job. By dividing the components of the study into more meaningful sections, better insights may be gained.

Have a look and tell me what you think. Do their rankings fit with your experience?

Best, Bert

Richard Florida
by Richard Florida
Sun Sep 14th 2008 at 8:48am UTC

The Boulder Model

Sunday, September 14th, 2008

We’ve heard lots about the high-tech success stories of Silicon Valley, the Route 128 area around Boston, Austin, and Seattle. In this article, Ben Casnocha outlines how Boulder, Colorado transformed itself from a hippie enclave/college town into a center for innovation and high-tech entrepreneurship.