Monday, January 26, 2009

Go Western, Young Man

By KATHLEEN KINGSBURY, Reprinted from TIME Partners with CNN

Let's not waste anyone's time or money. You won't find that phrase emblazoned on a T shirt, but it's essentially the motto of Western Governors University (WGU), a private online school that has worked hard to prove it is anything but a diploma mill.

Established 11 years ago by the governors of 19 states, the virtual university--which is administered from Salt Lake City--has experienced a surge in admissions as more college students look for low-cost alternatives. Enrollment topped 10,000 last spring, growing at a rate of 40% in both 2006 and 2007.

Some 4 million Americans sign up for a distance-learning course each year, whether at an extension of a bricks-and-mortar institution or at an online-only school. Although the latter category is populated mostly by for-profit companies, WGU stands out as a nonprofit funded mainly by tuition and the $20 million in seed money supplied by those 19 governors. To help bolster its reputation, the school obtained accreditation from both regional standard bearers and the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), the professional body recognized by the U.S. Department of Education for certifying teacher-preparation programs. (WGU remains the only online institution that has NCATE's seal of approval.) Such moves were designed to "lend WGU more legitimacy as an educational institution," says Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, who helped found the school when he was governor of Utah. Today WGU is the nation's largest supplier of math and science teachers in urban school districts. And its alumni are hired by such FORTUNE 500 companies as Microsoft and AT&T. "[WGU] has earned a reputation for producing high-quality graduates, particularly in education," says Kevin Kinser, a professor at New York's University of Albany who studies online learning and is not affiliated with WGU.

The school's success is owed in large part to its competency-based approach. Instead of requiring that students take specific courses or amass a certain number of credit hours--as most colleges do--WGU asks only that students demonstrate mastery of the subject matter via online exams or papers that could take a day or a decade, depending on the student.
WGU has no full-time instructors, at least not in the conventional sense. Course work for its four majors--education, IT, business and health care--is developed by and licensed from outside vendors. But WGU does have about 250 full-time faculty members who work as mentors, checking in with students by phone every couple of weeks to ensure they are making progress in their courses and to recommend additional resources. "I get to know each of my students much better than I did when I lectured to them once a week in class," says Alisa Izumi, a business professor at WGU who lives in Granby, Mass., and used to teach at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

At $3,000 per six-month semester, WGU charges a sixth of the average annual tab at private four-year colleges and half as much as an online for-profit like the University of Phoenix, a mega virtual school that has some 200,000 students. And WGU lets you take as many courses as you can fit in a semester, which means some students are able to finish an undergraduate degree in as little as two years. "Before WGU, I would have had to drive almost two hours to Richmond," says Sandy Newsome, a teacher in rural Virginia who is getting her master's in math education. "Learning this all from home seems so much smarter." Sure does.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Obama style change in Trenton?

Recently I had the opportunity to meet Tim Razzaq, who marches to his own cadence and has the ability to attract other marchers in his quest to make change happen. His unusual education and career path seems to be relevant to the focus of this blog. An excerpt from the U.S. 1 Newspaper interview:

Despite being frustrated and bored by high school and one semester of college, Razzaq was eager to learn. In 1997, based on his publishing contacts (he had sold books door-to-door and worked for Africa World press), he began to organize book signings and conferences, eventually forming a grassroots education group, the Communiversity of Trenton. It ran from 1997 to 2002 and focused on Afro-centric history and health. “We wanted to take university knowledge into the community,” says Razzaq, “so people could have easy, affordable access to education. We created our own syllabus and our own library, pooled our money, and flew university leaders to Trenton.”

Razzaq went on to be a community organizer and to found a grass roots organization, We Are Building Open Opportunity Structures Together (We Are BOOST). Its current mission: "to facilitate personal, organizational, and social empowerment through our consortium of academic and industry leaders by offering everyday citizens innovative, yet practical ways to use green technology and sustainable design in everyday living."

The full interview about We Are BOOST is available at U.S. 1 Newspaper, and additional observations are blogged at Princeton Comment.

As the United States prepares to welcome another African American community organizer -- one with a stellar traditional education -- as its president for the next four years, it is intriguing to observe what Tim Razzaq may be able to accomplish in that time. He is starting in Trenton, New Jersey, but sets no geographical limits.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The CNMI Trades Institute needs your help!

From Saipan Tribune, January 12, 2009
by Anthony Pellegrino

The Northern Marianas Trades Institute needs your help. In addition to all the wonderful support it is receiving from the community, it needs the help from people with skills and time to help the students fulfill their goals. Though it has fine instructors and willing students, NMTI needs more instructors and people's special aid in several areas. Let me explain.

The NMTI is now six months old. It is housed in a large 25,000 square foot warehouse with another 10,000 square feet of yard area located on Lower Base Drive. About 96 students are currently enrolled studying one of the following courses: carpentry, plumbing, painting, electrical and sewing. As the institute continues to grow, it will offer more courses to accommodate the needs of our community. In a few weeks, it intends to begin a welding class, an automobile repair course, a small engines repair course, and a culinary class.

However as it struggles to grow and fulfill the aspirations of its students, it is discovering that many of the students have not completed their high school studies. It is the intent of NMTI to encourage these students to resume their studies toward obtaining a high school diploma while they learn their trade. But because many of the students dropped out of school or have never studied on their own, it is extremely difficult for them to study without a tutor.

Taking a GED course and trying to study by oneself is very difficult. First, many the textbooks require a high level of reading ability. Another problem is that the concepts in these textbooks are difficult to comprehend alone. Also studying alone requires a high level of determination and self-discipline. As a result many students enroll in the GED courses, but fall by the wayside in a short period.

As NMTI motivates these students to resume their academic studies, it is asking the community for volunteers once or twice a week to act as tutors to these students. The hours and days can be arranged to suit each group and tutors' needs.

What a thrill to share your experience and motivation with these students so eager to improve their lives and serve our community. You will also enrich your own life as you give to them. Please help! Remember as you give so will you receive. Make a difference by tutoring our young students!

Another appeal for help is for instructors in various trade skills. As NMTI grows, it requires more instructors to teach the many courses it is planning. It is difficult to find qualified instructors. Share your skills and knowledge with the youth of our community. Since most of the courses are taught at night, it will not interfere with any daytime job. Regardless of your trade or skill if are willing to teach, NMTI needs you and the students need you.

The NMTI is very proud to announce that it has been certified by the National Center for Construction, Education and Research, which is affiliated with the University of Florida. The NMTI is also closely affiliated with the Guam Contractors Association Trades Academy. As a result, all the textbooks we use are approved nationwide. Graduating students will be able to work anywhere in Guam, Hawaii, and the United States because of this standardization. The students can even move to another state and continue their trade education.

The benefits of using NCCER curricula includes providing a proven training program designed around national industry standards and developed by leading subject matter experts from all sectors of the construction industry. This means that the training offered is equal to the training programs in any of the 50 states.

One of the most exciting activities planned for our students is that shortly they will be soliciting maintenance work to do in our houses. NMTI has formed small groups of the more qualified students. They will solicit maintenance work in various neighborhoods. The purpose is to have the students do actual repair work on actual job sites. All the work done will be controlled by a professional supervisor. The finished work will be guaranteed as to quality and professionalism.

In this method, the students will learn quickly to do actual hands on work. The plan is to enable the student to work in the daytime and to study the theory of his trade in the evening. Also he will earn money to pay for his tuition and have pocket money. This will also create confidence in his ability so that he will learn better and faster.

Anybody is welcome to enroll in NMTI regardless of age and gender. Because our courses are designed in a special manner, a student can enter anytime and also stop for a while if needed. This allows the student to juggle his personal life and study. NMTI does not focus on attendance but rather on attaining competence.

Encourage your sons or daughters or anyone you feel desires to learn a trade or skill. Even you! This is your institute with one goal-to improve the work skills and work ethics of our local people.

The Northern Marianas Trades Institute is proud to be an integral part of Saipan's training community, using local talent to train more local talent and strengthening our skilled work force, both in quantity and quality.

Please stop by and offer any assistance you can or become a student yourself or recommend someone to become a student. Let us begin our journey to economic independence and pride in the workplace.

Pellegrino is a longtime businessman in the CNMI and is the former President of the Saipan Chamber of Commerce.