Emory president introduces new provost and explains why it’s wiser to be in the online pack rather than leading it

Emory President Jim Wagner (Emory)
Emory President Jim Wagner (Emory)

Emory President James Wagner visited the AJC on Tuesday to introduce new provost Claire E. Sterk. Among the topics on the table: Emory’s ventures into the online world.

Emory is participating in Coursera, a consortium of universities offering free MOOCs or massive open online course.  But closer to home, it’s launching Semester Online, which Sterk and Wagner described as “the modern-day version of a semester abroad.”

Launching in a year, Semester Online will offer far smaller classes than MOOCs and likely be limited to students from Emory and other top-tier schools, such as Duke, Northwestern and Tufts. Undergrads will earn credits for their courses, which is not the case with the free MOOCs.  Semester Online will cover the same information and be taught by the same faculty at the brick-and-mortar colleges.

And students will pay the same tuition, which surprised me. Isn’t lower costs one of the chief selling points of online classes?

Sterk and Wagner said the start-up costs of these new online courses is high. Wagner said students in Semester Online will be in sections of around 20 students. Classes will include recorded lectures, online readings and real-time interaction with the professor and other students.

He said the online classes broaden the opportunities for study abroad since students sometimes have to bypass locales such as Ghana or Vietnam because they can’t take the requisite courses they need. But now students will be able to travel to  remote locales for study abroad and use online courses to fill any gaps. If they need an advanced math course that is not offered at the foreign campus, they can still be in Ghana and take the course online from a Duke or Emory professor.

The Emory folks were quick to say that they are still discussing how Semester Online will work in detail.  They described their position on online learning as being “in the pack” rather than leading it since this is such new and unproven territory for universities.

Wagner said universities are learning from the MOOC experiment, including the need to verify. He described how people were enrolling in MOOCs under two different names, taking the course test under one name and, after they got their answer sheets back, retaking the exam under their second name so they could earn a better score. So, now there is a call to verify IP addresses.

Emory Provost Claire Sterk (Emory)

Emory Provost Claire Sterk (Emory)

“Fair to say, this is one of those things where we are being careful and reflective about what is taking place,” said Sterk. “We are all struggling with the questions.  Students are young. They all love technology. They all love social media. They may use it for recreational reasons but it may not translate, so we have to see how it works in the classroom.”

Speaking of students, I asked Wagner about the student protests on his campus last month over elimination of journalism, physical education, educational studies and visual arts programs.

He began his answer with brief soliloquy on the loss of the art and value of compromise. “Compromise becomes synonymous with losing.  If I comprised, I lost. You are supposed to find common ground, but comprise is about finding the next highest aspiration. Brilliant compromiser  — you don’t hear that right now.”

“Back to this other thing,” he said, “there are groups of students who are very concerned about the fact that anything has to be taken away in order to make something else grow. ”

While some students are upset to lose these four programs, “We feel we have greater opportunity for excellence and distinction elsewhere,” he said.

My AJC colleague Laura Diamond asked Wagner about the U.S. News & World Report ranking controversy in which Emory discovered that admissions staff had misrepresented test data to improve rankings.

Emory intentionally reported inflated information about students’ scores on the SAT and ACT for more than a decade. The college turned this information over to the databases used by publications that rank colleges. Two former admission deans and leadership in the Office of Institutional Research were aware of the misreporting, the investigation found. None of the responsible employees still works at Emory.

The deception began before Wagner arrived at Emory and was revealed when a new admissions took over and realized what had happened. Wagner stressed that Emory discovered the misinformation, immediately reported it last summer and launched an investigation.

He defended Emory’s decision not to publicly name those responsible, saying, “We did lay all the results out there. We refused and continue to refuse to name names. What is the benefit in releasing the names?”

The university has a new data committee in place and is about to announce a new institutional research office to ensure its data are accurate.

The misrepresentation of test data did not change Emory’s rankings in the U.S. News annual listing.

Wagner and Sterk questioned how influential rankings are in which colleges students choose. However, Wagner noted that while American students often look beyond rankings in finding their best college match, the rankings exert a stronger influence over international students.

Wagner said colleges have a love/hate relationship with rankings.”You hate them except when you rank highly.”

We then moved to the issue of financial aid and whether schools like Emory could continue to offer as much need-based aid  as they have been now that many more families are seeking aid.

What did Wagner think about merit aid, which often results in giving money to students who don’t need it, asked Diamond.

He said both merit aid and need-based aid are intended “to help us shape a class. The purpose is to get what we think is the right community,  a cross section of cultures, religions, races, socioeconomic backgrounds.”

I asked him about The New York Times story on three poor Latino students from Texas whose shared college dreams were dashed, including a young woman who went to Emory but ran into problems with her financial aid, some of which reflected her lack of support in navigating the paperwork and deadlines.

As the Times summarized:

Four years later, their story seems less like a tribute to upward mobility than a study of obstacles in an age of soaring economic inequality. Not one of them has a four-year degree. Only one is still studying full time, and two have crushing debts. Angelica, who left Emory owing more than $60,000, is a clerk in a Galveston furniture store.

Each showed the ability to do college work, even excel at it. But the need to earn money brought one set of strains, campus alienation brought others, and ties to boyfriends not in school added complications. With little guidance from family or school officials, college became a leap that they braved without a safety net.

As elite colleges open their doors more widely, Wagner said they must make an effort to help low-income students thrive once they arrive on campuses where most of their peers are from upper middle-class households.

He cited Harvard’s program to identify at-risk students and help them persist, which is why, he said, Harvard boasts a completion rate of 98 percent. Emory’s rate is high also at 89 percent. The national college completion rate is 56 percent,

Sterk said the challenge was more than offering programs to help students, but finding ways to get struggling kids to access the help.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

37 comments Add your comment

bootney farnsworth

January 30th, 2013
7:26 am

this is a smart approach. far too many schools feel some psychotic need to “lead” the pack when the landscape chagnes by the hour. this causes so much lost man hours and countless aggrevation chasing vapor.

better to let others who have the time and money to spare break the trail, and learn from their mistakes.

its an old business axiom if you’re not the lead dog the view never changes. true. but the lead dog is usually the one which goes first down the hidden cravase.

bootney farnsworth

January 30th, 2013
7:29 am

also: give her credit for being honest about the costs of on line education. its not cheaper. often its more expensive, especially in the start up phase

bootney farnsworth

January 30th, 2013
7:40 am

re: the times story about the Latino students. part of the whole college process is picking wisely.

people in their situtations are a classic example of why God made the community college

Another View

January 30th, 2013
8:25 am

Virtual reality is not “study abroad”, not matter how they sell it. There is no immersion, no smells, no sounds, no people…I can see it now. “Yes I studied abroad in Hanoi. Really, what was it like? Great until the T-1 line made it so I could not talk to the professor in his office.” Sad.

Attentive Parent/Invisible Serfs Collar

January 30th, 2013
8:38 am

I see this as yet another aspect of putting the focus on Credentialling instead of Knowledge. The entire mindset of Qualifications Frameworks to essentially control who can get a job and create barriers to delving into how much degree holders actually know or can do.

Basically if you want a job you have to pay your fees to the higher ed cartel. If you want a better paying job, go for the degrees from more prestigious schools.

This is precisely how the Soviet Union used to work and why they had the highest percentage of their population with college degrees in the world. But it did not make them internationally competitive.

It just gave the higher ed sector of their economy tremendous power over the earnings trajectories of graduates within a state controlled economy.

In fact that’s what all Qualifications Frameworks assume a state controlled or directed economy. It’s why in the UK only the military and the BBC were willing to sign on to make QF the criteria for hiring. Australia and the rest of Europe and South Africa are all very unhappy with this QF approach to hiring.

bootney farnsworth

January 30th, 2013
9:10 am

@ another

VR is not study abroad. but…..

if you keep the costs low enough it becomes an alternative for students who can’t afford the options.
but the proof is in the educational pudding.

Guest

January 30th, 2013
9:38 am

“re: the times story about the Latino students. part of the whole college process is picking wisely. people in their situtations are a classic example of why God made the community college.”

If you read the article, you’ll find that had the girl submitted her financial aid paperwork on time and not ignored the dozens of emails the bursar’s office sent her, she would’ve essentially gone to Emory for free. Instead, she missed deadlines and neglected to clarify her household income, leaving her no choice but to take out a loan.

Maureen Downey

January 30th, 2013
9:50 am

@Guest, That is true, but we discussed — as does the article — how much of this paperwork is handled by parents in middle class households. Very few high school seniors handle their financial aid applications and submissions. The point is that these kids don’t have any backup. From my experience, financial aid forms frustrate adults. I know parents still filling it out for their seniors at UGA. One attorney I know just said the heck with it once he saw the paperwork required for his daughter to get an additional $1,500 through a special fund in her senior year.
Maureen

Guest

January 30th, 2013
10:54 am

@ Maureen

I agree that the paperwork is onerous, but a fully subsidized $200K+ education should’ve been sufficient motivation for the girl AND her mother to slog through the process.

bootney farnsworth

January 30th, 2013
11:31 am

@guest

doesn’t change my position.

she’s is/was obviously in over her head.
a two year school is better equip to walk a kid like her through the steps

bootney farnsworth

January 30th, 2013
11:39 am

@ maureen

not exactly true. support depends on the school. in getting my kids in school I’ve dealt with places
like Ga. College which didn’t seem to care one way or another and schools like UGA which will help IF you are persistent enough.

I do like the trend some schools are going, which is to establish a weekend where you come with your info and they’ll walk through the process.

but I do agree the paperwork and processes overall are insane.

bootney farnsworth

January 30th, 2013
11:51 am

one thing I do know. if a place like Emory wanted to give one of mine a full ride, I would be standing on their desks 24/7 until the paperwork has been done, submitted, and confirmed.

Prof

January 30th, 2013
12:03 pm

“[The Emory folks] described their position on online learning as being “in the pack” rather than leading it since this is such new and unproven territory for universities. Wagner said universities are learning from the MOOC experiment, including the need to verify….”

Take heed, GSU President Becker!

OSG

January 30th, 2013
12:22 pm

It is about money…and the potential loss of it. Students who cannot afford to attend full time college, including housing are opting to go to top schools, such as Drexel, Columbia and Harvard…online, stay at home and receive a pretty good education. Emory will loose money if it doesn’t change its model. Furthermore, receiving a degree from a U.S. college is in high demand overseas…for-profit universities have already figured that out, and are signing students up in droves.

As an online instructor, I can tell you the number of students that I have that are not U.S. citizens is always more than 30%…and they pay cash for their tuition..not student loans, etc. Like I said…follow the money…and Emory is no fool in that department. I just hope that they will make the online experience worthwhile. There are downsides to online courses. As a 12 year veteran of online instruction I can say that online is not for everyone. I will also be the first to say that I prefer face to face… and I am very good at deliverying my courses, but change is a part of learning…

Kimberley Hagen

January 30th, 2013
2:05 pm

@Another
Re-read the statements re: Semester Online. Emory is not suggesting that students replace an actual semester abroad (immersion, smells, sounds, people) with a virtual semester abroad — far from it. During any semester abroad students are expected to take classes and, historically, those classes have been limited to what is available in the country being visited. The Semester Online option will now allow students who are living abroad for a semester to continue their education without interruption by taking an Emory class online if no analogous version is available in the country being visited.

catlady

January 30th, 2013
3:27 pm

It is lower costs for the COLLEGES, Ms. Downey, NOT for the students!

Boris Badnoff

January 30th, 2013
5:07 pm

Dave Barry once made the comment that the greatest mystery on any college campus is “What Does The Provost Do”? Those of us familiar with the ways of academia know the answer to that question. He or She supervise the Vice Provosts, who supervise the Associate Vice Provosts, who supervise the Assistant Vice Provosts, who supervise the Executive Assistant to the Vice Provosts, etc. This is why college is so expensive. Those who can’t do research teach. Those who can’t do either are administrators.

RCB

January 30th, 2013
6:22 pm

Agree with catlady. Online should NOT be the same cost as a classroom. Big money-maker for Emory if this scheme succeeds.

Truth in Moderation

January 30th, 2013
6:52 pm

SALES ARE UP!

“Most indicators suggest that narcotic pain relievers are growing in popularity in metropolitan Atlanta. Unweighted DAWN Live! data show 212 ED oxy- codone/combinations reports and 268 hydro- codone/combinations reports in 2004 (exhibit 7). A greater percentage of oxycodone/combinations ED reports involved men and Whites than other groups (exhibit 3). African-Americans represented 16 per- cent of all opiate/opioid ED reports (exhibit 3).”

“According to NFLIS data, oxycodone and hydro- codone each accounted for about 1–2 percent of lab identifications of drugs seized by law enforcement from January through December 2004 (exhibit 6). OxyContin, the most widely recognized oxycodone product, is a growing drug threat in Georgia, accord- ing to the DEA. Twenty-milligram tablets sold in the illegal market for $20 in 2004. Hydrocodone (Vi- codin) and hydromorphone (Dilaudid) are also abused in Atlanta. These drugs are obtained by “doc- tor-shopping” or by purchasing from dealers. Some dealers steal prescription pads or rob pharmacies. Several such incidents were reported in Georgia in 2004.”

“EPIDEMIOLOGIC TRENDS IN DRUG ABUSE—Metropolitan Atlanta”
Dew, CLAIRE E. STERK, Elifson
http://archives.drugabuse.gov/pdf/cewg/Vol2_605.pdf

Truth in Moderation

January 30th, 2013
7:13 pm

“Tricking and Tripping”
Is this the same Claire E. Sterk?
http://windward.hawaii.edu/facstaff/dagrossa-p/articles/trickingtripping.pdf

Truth in Moderation

January 30th, 2013
7:19 pm

Parents, save yourselves lots of money. Just send the high school graduates to Amsterdam for the summer. It’s ALL legal there. No need for covert tactics and subversion. No pretense. YOUR CHILDREN WILL BE FAR WISER AND YOUR POCKETBOOK FATTER.

Jack ®

January 30th, 2013
7:20 pm

Job interviewers will still want to know if your degree was earned online.

bootney farnsworth

January 30th, 2013
10:06 pm

@ Boris

a very nice summation of the GPC management structure

Mountain Man

January 31st, 2013
7:28 am

Maureen, you drive me crazy sometimes by posting some blogs for only hours and then leaving some blogs up for days. And the blogs that stay up the longest are usually not that interesting. How many comments have there been on this blog, for example. Who cares about Emory’s online classes?

Truth in Moderation

January 31st, 2013
7:36 am

LOL! Thanks for tipping your hand Mountain Man. The truth is uncomfortable, yes?

John Powell

January 31st, 2013
8:56 am

An editorial note, re “a consortia.” “Consortium” is the singular form of that word.
Coursera is indeed a consortium, no argument there.
JP

Prof

January 31st, 2013
10:34 am

@ Mountain Man. This topic could interest more than those planning to attend Emory: those interested in the very recent decision by GSU to allow MOOCs for transfer credit, and the possibility that UGA will follow suit soon; those interested in the place of online learning in K-12 education; and those interested in the future of online courses generally.

This blog-topic also seems to used as an opportunity for Emory to clear the air around some other PR issues it’s faced recently.

@ Truth in Moderation. Why are you posting all of this irrelevant information about local abuse of prescription drugs?? What does it have to do with Emory’s online learning ventures?

Maureen Downey

January 31st, 2013
11:38 am

@Mountain, Often, that is controlled by my work demands for my other job here at the AJC — the print op-ed page for which I write a column and choose and edit the op-ed and the letters. Been tied up with that and with in-house training and meetings, but will post new topic shortly.
Maureen

bootney farnsworth

January 31st, 2013
11:51 am

bah. down with in house training. you already knew that stuff going in.

we need good stuff like finding out DCSS has a contract with Gordon Ramsey to motivate cafeteria staff, or have been importing food from southeast asian fruit sweatshops.

ya know, the good stuff

Prof

January 31st, 2013
12:19 pm

Also, let’s be frank here… Get Schooled is a free source of entertainment for retirees, the unemployed, and home-schoolers who have computers, as well as those who look in from time to time. Seems a tad ungrateful to demand frequent changes of the blog topics.

But I do like Bootney’s proposed blog-topics.

Maureen Downey

January 31st, 2013
1:00 pm

@Prof, Having seen the unique page views climb from 29,000 per month to several hundred thousand over the last four years on this blog, I can tell you that the Get Schooled readership is broader and deeper than your list. (We have had a big surge in readers from other states.) We monitor readership literally minute to minute and frequent postings do boost readers, which is why, when possible, I try to do multiple entries each day.
But the key with blogs is not to confuse posters with readers. Every blog here has far more readers than posters, and it’s those growing readership numbers that keep the AJC willing to host blogs.
Highest blog readership times are AM and PM, so I think most posters are actually working stiffs.
Maureen

Prof

January 31st, 2013
1:21 pm

@ Maureen. My point was that this blog is free. Seems unfair to complain because other aspects of your paying job might prevent you from changing topics more often.

Maureen Downey

January 31st, 2013
1:25 pm

#Prof, That is true — the blog is free. (Bringing up the thorny issue yet to be resolved by newspapers about how much free content they can give away. But that complex issue is beyond my pay grade, and I am unsure about how it will play out.)
Maureen

Truth in Moderation

January 31st, 2013
3:03 pm

“Emory president introduces new provost”
Gee Prof, it’s at the beginning of Maureen’s headline, and you missed it?

My posts obviously help readers to get to know the new provost. Should she be ashamed of her own academic research? Why do you have a problem when I post excerpts?

Prof

January 31st, 2013
3:36 pm

@ Truth in Moderation. Sorry I missed that you were quoting from the Provost’s published research at 6:52 pm…..although the blog topic is not about the Provost, but the President and Emory’s new online program. Perhaps it would have been a good idea to mention that you’re still referring to the Provost in your 7:13 pm and 7:19 pm posts. Just one snarky sentence would have done the trick.

Truth in Moderation

January 31st, 2013
4:23 pm

I put her name in all caps, Prof. Time for new trifocals!

Truth in Moderation

January 31st, 2013
8:32 pm

BTW PROF,
Home schoolers have been utilizing all types of “online” courses FOR THE LAST 20 YEARS! LOL.
Please, tell us something new.