edX, the non-profit online venture of Harvard and MIT, now serves more than 800,000 students across dozens of countries. That’s more people than the combined alumni of the two universities have had through their history.
More than 30,000 new students enroll to take free courses with edX every week, three times the entire enrollment of MIT.
Anant Agarwal, the President of edX, says the world of massive open online courses is expanding educational opportunity to every area of the globe. But the real revolution, he told the AIM Executive Forum this morning, is the data-driven improvements that online college courses are making to the quality of teaching.
“Our mission is to improve access to learning and improve the quality of learning,” said Agarwal, an MIT engineering professor who has run edX since Havard and MIT launched the company with a $60 million investment a year ago.
“We record every click, when people watch the videos, how long they watch them, how they do on the tests … It’s a kind of particle accelerator for education. We get data in hours that used to take 100 years to gather.”
edX is part of an exploding marketplace of online course platforms that are rapidly remaking the traditional model of a college education. Agarwal told more than 150 business executives at this morning’s forum that there have been few innovations in the delivery of education since the advent of the blackboard in the 19th century.
“We have not been eating our own dog food,” he quipped.
edX students are able to register for online courses offered by faculty members at institutions such as Harvard, MIT, the University of California at Berkeley, Georgetown, Wellesley, the University of Texas and McGill University in Toronto. Students follow learning sequences that employ a combination of videos, text, discussion groups, virtual labs, instantly corrected tests, and links to free textbooks.
The platform even uses artificial intelligence to allow computers to grade essays.
Initial results indicate that approximately 5 percent of students who sign up for an edX course complete the session and earn a certificate. edX data shows that students who spent the largest amount of time doing exercises and problem sets were most likely to pass the courses.
Agarwal said edX eventually hopes to become financially self sustaining by licensing private versions of its courses to universities and school systems worldwide. He does not believe that edX will replace the experience of attending college, but acknowledges that institutions are struggling to determine how the proliferation of online courses fits into their own degree programs.
He said edX really boils down to placing the Socratic teaching method online.
“For the first time in decades,” he said, “people are paying attention to education.”
Where will your company turn in 20 years for new college-educated hires, and courses for incumbent employees? Your local campus?
Many experts put the odds below 50-50 that you will come anywhere near an ivy-covered hall for your educational needs. Higher education is facing the same kind of technology-driven disruptive change that has overtaken other information-based industries such as newspapers, bookstores and video rental. The talk in the field revolves around alternative business models and innovative delivery systems, from new competitors, individual institutions, and consortia such as Cambridge-based edX.
Employers, in fact, are at the center of this change. The established higher education model has been unable to keep pace with employers’ programmatic needs, or to provide sufficient flexibility in terms of timing and location. It also tends to be pretty expensive. Today's career-oriented undergraduates, and especially older "nontraditional" students, are attuned to these issues. It's hard to imagine a more "traditional" college student than Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel – yet "Johnny Football" is reportedly taking all his Texas A&M courses online this semester.
The headlines focus on elite private research universities going online, but they may actually be among the least affect by the disruption. The larger impact, one expert notes, will be on less prestigious institutions that "face disintermediation in their existing relationships among employers and students." With the number of high school graduates dropping in Massachusetts and the northeast, these comprehensive campuses will be hard-pressed to fill their classrooms by attracting more "nontraditional" and graduate students.
That's what is so important about edX, which began with MIT and Harvard, now includes major state universities (UC-Berkeley, Texas), and is bringing in community colleges (Bunker Hill, Mass Bay).
And that's why AIM's March 15 Executive Forum with Anand Agarwal, President of edX, should be of interest to all employers. It's not just about the future of one of our state's key economic sectors and resources, or about a tradition-bound industry moving towards a new business model – it's about new opportunities for employers and employees in an increasingly competitive knowledge-based economy.
The Commonwealth’s public colleges and universities are “a neglected resource” with an economic role that is “far greater and far more important than has been true historically,” Richard Freeland, Commissioner of Higher Education, told the AIM Public Affairs Council last week.
Freeland pointed out that most Massachusetts high school graduates who go on to college enter the public system, as do large majorities of older students, minority students and veterans.
Without discounting independent institutions (he is a graduate of Amherst and former president of Northeastern) Freeland noted that the students at private schools are increasingly recruited nationally and internationally, and are less likely to pursue careers here after graduation. In a state where 70 percent of jobs will soon require some college education, the primary responsibility for maintaining the quality of the workforce falls to the public campuses.
This realization, he said, is the basis of the Board of Higher Education’s ongoing Vision Project:
“The ‘vision’ in the Vision Project is that Massachusetts needs, and should aspire to have, the best-educated workforce in the nation.” But while the project’s newly-released initial report, “Time to Lead: The Need for Excellence in Public Higher Education,” identified various ways in which the system is providing excellent service to the Commonwealth – for example, the rise in research activity at the University of Massachusetts – the bottom line is that “we’re nowhere near leadership”; there are “too many areas where Massachusetts is just pretty average.”
Further improvement is not all about money, he argued, but money is important. The Massachusetts public system ranks about 30th nationally in per-student funding, and state support has been eroding.
“Is excellence in public higher education important? Is this an area in which we should be national leaders – as in k-12 education?” he asked.
“This issue needs to be higher on the state’s radar screen.” It should be an issue, particularly, for employers, he said, because they understand the stakes, and can influence the Legislature.
Asked if public higher education could be more efficient, Freeland replied that while individual campuses are generally lean, the system consists of “a relatively large number of relatively small institutions,” with “a culture built around autonomy and decentralization.” The greatest opportunity for savings, he said, is on the administrative side, although some programmatic sharing has been undertaken on the instructional side.
The University of Massachusetts remains the most cost-effective producer of the educated work force needed to sustain the Bay State economy, UMass President Robert Caret said this morning.
Caret told a crowd of business leaders at the AIM Executive Forum that the UMass system educates students at an annual cost of $23,000, versus $40,000 at private institutions within the commonwealth. He said that 83 percent of the 15,000 or so students who graduate from UMass each year remain in the commonwealth to form a critical piece of the economy.
“You can’t become a whole lot more efficient than that,” said Caret, who took the top job at UMass in January 2011 after serving as president of Towson University in Maryland.
The president affirmed the university’s commitment to working with employers to promote research, development and commercialization of technologies that create jobs. He said the university has already created successful nanotechnology centers, is a partner in the new High Performance Green Technology Center in Holyoke, and expects to create additional initiatives in biotechnology and advanced manufacturing.
AIM and other business organizations this year supported a federal grant application made by UMass and several other states to be designated as one of 15 national Institutes of Advance Manufacturing. The initial application was unsuccessful, but Caret said UMass and its partners are confident of winning a grant in subsequent reviews.
Caret asked business leaders to support increased state funding for UMass, which he said has plummeted from 80 percent to 43 percent of the university budget. He pledged to freeze tuition levels for two years of the state were to raise its share of the budget to 50 percent.
“Only you can help us do that. Try to get your voice out there if you believe in public education,” he said.
Public institutions that once educated 25 percent of people who attended college now teach 70 percent of those students, Caret said, meaning that UMass has an important role to play that compliments the work of the many world-renowned private schools in the region.
In 2010 Massachusetts Higher Education Commissioner Richard Freeland proposed, and the Board of Higher Education embraced, the Vision Project, a strategic plan to move our state’s public higher education system to a position of national leadership.
To achieve this goal – an ambitious one for a system long in the shadow of independent institutions locally and of public peers nationally – the plan calls for addressing seven key outcomes: college participation (percentage of high school graduates attending college), degree completion, student learning (measured by assessments), workforce alignment (meeting employers’ needs), preparing citizens, closing achievement gaps (among students of various backgrounds), and research (that drives economic development).
“Time to Lead: The Need for Excellence in Public Higher Education,” the first substantial report on the Vision Project, establishes a baseline comparison of the Massachusetts system with the rest of the nation, and lays out goals and strategies to move towards national leadership. This is a remarkable document in two respects. First, it is honest. For 12 key metrics assessing current status on the seven outcomes, it asks, “Is Massachusetts a national leader? - and answers with three “yeses” and nine “nos.” (The leading states are identified.)
Second, it is realistic about the breadth of change that will be required to attain leadership, and about the complexity of the various steps, some of which involve coordination not only within the system but also beyond it, with the public schools, employers, and others.
The effectiveness of our public system of higher education, measured by the number and quality of degrees conferred as well as by research activity, is a critical issue for Massachusetts employers. They need educated people: by 2018, 70 percent of jobs in Massachusetts will require some college, compared to 63 percent nationally. In fact, the future of our key industries depends upon having the world’s best-educated workforce. At a time when the enormous expansion of postsecondary education worldwide has flooded the global labor market with mediocre degrees, high-quality education is increasingly at a premium.
Those well-educated graduates must come, largely, from our public colleges and universities. In sharp contrast to a generation ago, two-thirds of Massachusetts high school graduates who go to college in-state are now in the public system. (That system educates most African-American and Latino students in the state, and the great majority of older undergraduates.) Nine out f ten graduates of the public system remain in Massachusetts after graduation.
This month, AIM offers its members two opportunities to learn about the progress of public higher education, its aspirations and the challenges it faces. On November 16, Robert Caret, President of the University of Massachusetts, will speak on “UMass and its Impact on the Innovation Economy” at an AIM Executive Forum in Waltham. On November 27,
Commissioner Richard Freeland will meet with AIM’s Public Affairs Council at our Boston offices to discuss the Vision Project and the “Time to Lead” report (call Julie Fazio or Brian Gilmore at 617-262-1180).
“There is no more important time than now for the business community to keep the pressure on” for education reform, Massachusetts Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Mitchell Chester told business executives at an informal briefing this morning.
The discussion was hosted by AIM and co-sponsored by the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education and the Massachusetts Business Roundtable.
Chester said he is focused on four principal initiatives:
- providing students with a course of study (curriculum and instruction, in educational terminology) that prepares them for college and careers;
- personnel policy built around impact, not credentials;
- attention to the lowest-performing schools and districts; and
- better use of data and technology.
A key initiative is the statewide educator evaluation system now being implemented, which Chester characterized as “mostly about professional growth and development.” Some persistently low-performing teachers will be removed, he said, but “we can’t fire our way to excellence.” Changes in compensation policy are likely to follow, he added.
With regard to technology, he noted, “we are probably the only sector that has yet to leverage technology to deliver greater effectiveness and efficiency,” explaining that while K12 education is moving forward on data management and analysis, there has been less progress on incorporating technology into the instructional program. The instructional potential of technology is “huge,” he said, but many of the touted initiatives nationally are “strictly developmental.”
The Lawrence public schools, which have been taken over by the state, are in effect a demonstration site for new policies, the Commissioner said, and opposition there has been building, especially from the teachers union (AFT). “We are undertaking some reforms here that are going to be very uncomfortable for the status quo,” said Chester, leading to pressure to slow down and back off.
“I need counterweights to those voices,” the Commissioner said, noting that both support and “prodding” from the business community were helpful. “We need support at the local level, district level, but certainly globally as well,” added Deputy Commissioner Alan Ingram, who faced fierce opposition to his reform efforts as Superintendent in Springfield.
“Continue to be bold,” AIM’s Chairman, Gary Magnuson of Citizens Bank, who serves on his town’s school committee, urged the Commissioner. “We can be complacent in Duxbury, we can be complacent in Massachusetts, but I don’t think the entire system is sustainable” in a competitive global economy.
Chester said that Bay State students actually score with the highest-achieving countries on standardized tests overall, but that results are uneven across communities and demographic groups. Another aspect of sustainability also concerns him, he added: the ability of an education system used to annual increases in funding to adjust to an era of perennial resource constraints.
What happens when an international student graduates from a top American university with an advanced degree in science, technology, engineering or math, and receives a job offer from a U.S. company?
Should the prospective employer have to wait, sometimes for years, while the graduate creeps through the immigrant visa bottleneck – and perhaps decides to take his or her skills elsewhere? Or could we streamline the system to allow these immensely valuable products of our higher education system stay here and go right to work?
AIM has joined with dozens of national, state and local employer associations, and employers who hire scientific and technical workers, to urge Congress to pass a bipartisan Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM) visa bill this year. The proposed legislation, one version of which has been crafted by the House Judiciary Committee, would prioritize legal immigration status for those earning STEM degrees from American graduate schools – individuals who are already in the country on student visas, and who are already eligible for immigrant visas, but are currently caught in the visa backlog. (The employer’s obligation to verify that qualified American workers are not available would remain in place.)
This simple change could make a big difference for Massachusetts, where our universities attract the smartest, most ambitious graduate students from around the world, and our industries offer them exciting opportunities to put their skills to work.
(Editor's note: The following article was written by Richard C. Lord, President & CEO of Associated Industries of Massachusetts, and Linda Noonan, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education.)
Education reform in Massachusetts, carried forward with great success over two decades with strong employer support, is now at risk over a matter of timing. An initiative petition headed for this November’s ballot mandating that public schools make performance, not seniority, the first consideration in assessing, retaining and assigning teachers represents a worthy purpose being advanced by potentially disastrous means.
We agree with the question’s proponents that effective leaders and teachers in every school and classroom are the key to closing unacceptable achievement gaps, and that new state regulations don’t go far enough in connecting evaluation ratings to opportunities and consequences. Yet, we are concerned that Massachusetts faces a lose-lose situation: if the ballot question is voted down, necessary reform will be set back while a successful campaign could so poison the atmosphere that fixing the system becomes impossible.
Proponents of the initiative insist that they would prefer to achieve their ends through the legislative process. The teachers’ unions have accepted the principle of student performance as a factor in evaluation, a big step, and are feeling their way forward. It appears that no one really wants this costly and destructive battle – yet both sides are girding for a fight.
The initiative process should be a last resort. A legislated solution – one approach would be to amend the current statute to make student achievement central to teacher evaluation, reduce the weighting of seniority, and require principals’ consent to teacher placements – would surely be more amenable to successful implementation and effect. We urge the contending forces to constructive engagement in order to reach, or at least approach, a negotiated agreement that offers the Legislature a basis for action in the few remaining months of its session.
“Our company is in Massachusetts because of the high-quality workforce.”
It’s a phrase we hear often from AIM member employers. Just as frequently, however, we hear:
“The unemployment rate may be high, but we can’t fill our open positions.”
“Job applicants don’t have the skills we’re looking for.”
“Young people just out of school aren’t ready for the world of work.”
Massachusetts employers, competing in a global knowledge-based economy, have a huge stake in the capabilities of the high school and college graduates they hire. It’s no accident that the strongest and most consistent impetus for education reform, nationally and at the state level, has come from the business community. The standards-based public school reform undertaken in Massachusetts and other states has produced improved scores on high school tests such as MCAS. But these results show little correlation with students’ subsequent success in postsecondary education and employment.
So how do we measure the ability of schools to prepare students for college or the workplace? The task is challenging, in part because employers disagree on what “career ready” actually means. In making a hire, “career ready” (possessing content and learning skills for long-term success) is often less critical than “work ready” (prepared for reliability, responsibility and cooperation in the day-to-day workplace), or than “job trained” (with the specific skills required for the position to be filled). Meanwhile, many a young graduate ready for a career is finding that an excellent liberal arts education may not be enough to get that first job in this economy.
AIM will tackle these issues at the 2012 Annual Meeting & Luncheon on May 11 with a panel discussion on “College and Career Readiness Efforts in Massachusetts Public Schools” featuring representatives of the elementary and secondary schools, colleges and universities, and employers, in conversation with Annual Meeting attendees.
Representing the schools is Maura O. Banta of IBM, who chairs the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. From higher education we have Aundrea E. Kelley, Deputy Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education. Angelo F. Sabatalo, Corporate Director, Organizational Development & Training, Nypro Inc. represents the employer perspective. The panel’s moderator is Linda M. Noonan, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education (MBAE), which has published several reports on workforce readiness.
The objective will be to address key questions: Is our education system strong enough to drive the Massachusetts economy for another century? Can we give young people the reading, math and other skills they need to work in advanced manufacturing, biotech and finance? How do we close achievement gaps to enable everyone to participate in and contribute to a modern economy?
Brockton High School’s dramatic transformation from one of the lowest-performing schools in Massachusetts to a nationally recognized example of academic excellence has earned it the 2012 John Gould Education & Workforce Development Award from Associated Industries of Massachusetts.
Brockton High will accept the award at AIM’s 97th Annual Meeting and Luncheon on May 11 in Waltham. It marks the first time that the association has presented the Gould Award to a public school.
The state’s largest high school is being honored for its sustained success in meeting the challenges of urban education. Brockton High has continuously raised MCAS scores, reduced dropout rates and narrowed achievement gaps. Today more than 90 percent of its graduates plan to attend college, and one-third score high enough on MCAS to qualify for the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship for eight semesters of free tuition at Massachusetts public colleges or universities.
It has made the US News & World Report list of America’s best high schools, and has been the subject of glowing reports by The New York Times, CBS Evening News, PBS, CNN and other media.
The remarkable turnaround was accomplished within the constraints of the traditional school day and existing collective bargaining agreements, without any radical restructuring. Administrators and teaching staff shared the belief that every adult is responsible for every student and that every student can and must learn, with an emphasis on literacy in its broadest definition.
Close analysis of data to target specific student needs, and creative approaches to link student performance to feedback and development for teachers, followed.
“It’s about hard work,” says Dr. Susan Szachowicz, an alumna, who spearheaded the change as a teacher and now as principal. “What we’re doing is achieving at high levels despite all of the obstacles that many of our kids have in front of them, and we don’t use them as excuses.”
“Over the past 14 years the Gould Award has gone to individuals, employers, higher education institutions, a foundation and a training provider – this is the first time we have recognized a school,” says Richard C. Lord, AIM’s President and CEO. “We honor Brockton High School for what it has accomplished through hard work and high expectations – and for its example of what that kind of commitment can achieve in our public schools.”
The annual Gould Award was created by AIM in 1998 to recognize the contributions of individuals, employers, and institutions for their efforts to improve public education and advancement, employability, and productivity of the residents of the commonwealth. Named for John Gould in 2000 upon his retirement as president and CEO of AIM, the award recognizes his many contributions to improve the quality of public education and workforce activities in Massachusetts.
As the 2012 winner of the Gould Award, Brockton High School joins past recipients John Rennie, founder of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education; Middlesex Community College; NYPRO Inc.; William Edgerly, Chairman Emeritus, State Street Corporation; Northeastern University; The Davis Family Foundation; Intel Massachusetts; EMC Corporation; IBM Corporation; David Driscoll, former commissioner of the State Department of Education; Raytheon Corporation’s MathMovesU program; State Street Corporation and Year Up Boston; Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center; and the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Program’s M.O.S.T. program.
Watch the PBS Report on Brockton High School