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Butler U takes corporate approach to leadership development

August 28th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Canada, Education

Administrators at Butler University are participating in a program called Leadership 20/20, designed to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the administrative team at the institution. The program draws heavily on corporate management approaches, and is being seen as a test of whether private sector talent development techniques can transfer to PSE. Administrators will participate in a “360 review” process, receiving feedback from coworkers, supervisors, and subordinates. The information gleaned from the reviews will inform subsequent sessions with coaches and consultants. Participants will also receive a report that scores their abilities against a 60-point scale. The feedback is not meant to be punitive, and Butler President James M Danko says that he does not expect to see everyone’s results, nor does he want to; he just wants his staff to reflect on how they can better carry out the insitution’s strategic plan. The program has its critics: some are skeptical that such a corporate approach will work in an academic setting where shared governance is the norm.

July 28, 2014
summarized from the Chronicle of Higher Education

10 Million Reasons to Care About CASL

August 27th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Canada, Email

I know what you’re saying to yourself. “I’m not a Canadian business.” “My email marketing is targeted to the U.S.” “I don’t send marketing emails, but use newsletters to get around legislation like this.” “I’m a B-to-B marketer.” “I’m a nonprofit.”

That all sounds reasonable until you actually look at Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL). CASL went into effect on July 1, 2014. It regulates commercial electronic messages (CEMs) that are sent from computer systems located in Canada or accessed (received) from computer systems located in Canada. Unlike the CAN-SPAM Act in the U.S. that requires opt-out, CASL is an opt-in law with limited “implied consent” exceptions. There are very specific requirements for content that must be included in your message. The cost of non-compliance is high, with fines of up to $1 million for an individual and up to $10 million for a business. CASL is now the most onerous anti-spam law in the world. For this reason alone, you should assess your digital messaging for compliance.
Some things to consider:

• CASL regulates CEMs, but what does this really mean? It’s definitely more than email, but how much more is unclear. The law defines an “electronic message” as a message sent by any means of telecommunication, including a text, sound, voice or image message. This is being interpreted to include emails, texts, instant messages, telemarketing, newsletters and messaging within social media. It is any electronic communication that is “pushed” rather than “pulled.”

• Then there is the question of “commercial” electronic messages. The term “commercial” is less vague in that we know it covers “for profit” and “not for profit” messaging. The commercial message does not have to be the primary intent of the communication, but can be as benign as a link to your website. An email sent to solicit someone to opt-in to future messaging is a commercial message, and is no longer allowed.

• The “implied consent” exception is very narrowly defined. Just because you meet the “implied consent” exception under CAN-SPAM does not mean you will meet it for CASL.

• There is no exception for B-to-B other than internal communications within a business or between businesses who have an existing relationship.

If you already have an opt-in model for your messaging, such as newsletters or special offer ads, do you know when the opt-in occurred? Do you know if the email address or phone is from Canada? These are things you’ll need to know in the future.

• If you are not a Canadian business, but recipients of your CEMs may reside in Canada, then the content of your messaging may need to be modified to meet CASL requirements regarding how you identify yourself and opt-out mechanisms.

• CASL removes typical corporate protections and can open up direct personal liability to directors, officers and agents who directed, assented to, acquiesced or participated in the commission of a violation.

• If you rent email lists, can your provider assure you, with a level of confidence commensurate to the penalties, that the rented addresses do not belong to Canadians?

Canada may be our neighbor to the north, but it is clear that they don’t want our spam. Don’t ignore CASL because you think it doesn’t apply to you.

August 2014
By Gwenn Freeman
Target Marketing


It’s Not Too Early to Think About Year-End

August 26th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising

November/December campaigns should top off properly cultivated relationships.

Summer, and all I can think about is November and December. Winter is, coincidentally, the hottest time of year for those of us in direct marketing.

Reviewing the year-end fundraising results referenced in the Blackbaud 2013 Charitable Giving Report of 4,129 participating nonprofit organizations representing $12.5 billion in total fundraising, the months of “October, November and December accounted for more than a third of the year’s overall charitable giving (33.6 percent),” with the highest percentage (17.5 percent) coming in the month of December in the U.S.

The report also revealed that “overall charitable giving grew 4.9 percent on a year-over-year basis,” the largest year-over-year increase since the recession. Notably, online giving also reached the year’s high in December, accounting for 18.8 percent of 2013’s online gifts with almost every sector raising more than 20 percent of its online giving during December.

The Network for Good Year-End Fundraising EssentialsOpens in a new window guide of online giving noted that “in 2012, 10 percent of all donation dollars came in on the last three days of the calendar year. The vast majority of those donation dollars were contributed directly on charity websites.”

It’s during year-end when organizations strategically put their best appeals forward — or some variations thereof. Dare we project improved results for the 2014 year-end campaigns over last year? Yes!

And there’s no reason to leave it to chance when a treasure trove of 2012-2013 stats, best-performing formats and strategies for improving year-end results is available for reference.

Broadly recapping the advice of industry experts on how to cultivate and retain donors, it’s about creating a positive experience through multichannel touches that are relevant, integrated, coordinated and easy to interpret (as in “take this action”). The overall experience, if nurtured, invites increased engagement. You’ll have the attention of your donors at year-end if you do a good job of acknowledging what they’ve shared with you during the months and years preceding. Consider these tips:

1. Invest in building stronger donor relationships throughout the year — not so much telling your story but rather telling their stories (donors, volunteers, stories from the field) with an emphasis on listening, responsiveness and respecting donor preferences. If you ask and they tell you, aggregate the data to learn more about the differences between a donor who gives just once versus a donor who commits to monthly giving, upgrades to a higher level of giving or inquires about planned giving.

2. Consider more personal communication styles — hand-addressed fonts, ink-jet, auto pen, laser or real handwriting are a great start. At a recent Direct Marketing Association of WashingtonOpens in a new window DM201 eventOpens in a new window, John Graves and Dennis Lonergan of Eidolon CommunicationsOpens in a new window presented “Creative Testing to Sharpen Message and Shred Costs,” in which the chart at
top right quickly summarized the comparative value of “handwritten” personalization techniques.

3. Thank donors promptly, and ask them to give again. Universally, results indicate that including a soft ask in a prompt and personalized thank-you/gift acknowledgment is a solid strategy for getting a second gift. The probability of getting the second gift decreases after three months. And the likelihood of getting a second gift is directly proportional to the amount of the initial gift — the greater the initial gift, the more likely the donor has made an emotional connection to the organization.

4. Consider a welcome package as a follow-up to the acknowledgment within a few months of the initial gift. It can be as simple as a letter with an evergreen brochure. Allow the focus to be engagement — the additional ways the donor can take action (e.g., an overview of the monthly giving program).

  • Test timing — Revisit your schedule to see if earlier/later mail and send dates might improve results.
  • Dec. 31 — The most productive date. Consider sending twice (in the same day).
  • Giving Tuesday (Dec. 2 in 2014) — Give it a try: Create a test campaign strategy around this date to kick off your year-end online giving.
  • Test formats — Just because you’ve always mailed a certain package at year-end doesn’t mean an alternate can’t work better. Do you always mail a card in November and a letter in December? Then test flipping the order.
  • Renewals — And be sure to include year-end donors in your first renewal in January. They typically perform well!

July 2014
Fundraising Success

The 8 Most Annoying Phrases in the English Language

August 25th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Fun Stuff

With all due respect: strike these insincere aphorisms from your lexicon, or you’ll be sorry at the end of the day. Thanks in advance!


“Thanks in advance”

This demeaning management phrase, often accompanying some unwanted assignment, is the polite corporate way of saying, “You’d better do this terrible thing or I’ll eat your paycheck.”
Instead: Cut to the chase with, “I know you don’t want to do this… in advance.”


“It is what it is”

This desperate filler phrase is a longer version of “whatever,” and a shorter version of “I have nothing helpful to contribute, but don’t want to stop talking yet.” Weakest. Advice. Ever.
Instead: Memorize this clever-sounding T.S. Eliot line: “If you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?”


“At the end of the day”

This perspective-seeking cliché sounds even worse than cousins “all in all” and “when push comes to shove,” particularly because it’s used at all hours of the day.
Instead: Say “ultimately” and you’ll sound more like a classy Bond villain instead of a 19th century factory worker.


“With all due respect”

Almost always coupled with an insult or unsolicited advice, this phrase is a smarmier way to say, “Prepare to be disrespected.” Examples include: “With all due respect, you’re fired.”
Instead: Eliminate the preamble. If you’re going to say something that others might find offensive, just say it or keep quiet.


“At this moment in time”

“I deserve a raise,” you say. “Not at this moment in time,” the boss replies. What an oddly philosophical way to murder someone’s dreams. It reminds us of that old business koan: “What is the sound of one redundant employee crying?”
Instead: Be honest. Rip off that bandage in one swift motion: “I’m sorry, but that is never going to happen.”


“Just sayin’”

How illuminating. Thank you for clarifying that the thing you just said is a thing you are saying.
Instead: Show an ounce of empathy and ask, “Do you understand what I’m trying to say?”


“I, personally”

As opposed to “I, collectively?” Your redundant adverb just stole an extra second of life from everyone in the room. How do you, personally, feel about that?
Instead: Just say “I,” or, wear a T-shirt that reads “DISCLAIMER: The views expressed by this doofus do not reflect the views of society at large.”



“You Only Live Once” is mostly an excuse for doing something selfish, irresponsible, or dumb, but the act itself should be transgression enough. Don’t punish your friends with this insufferable abbreviation on top of it.
Instead: Before you speak or act a fool, remember: YODO, too.

By Brandon Specktor
Readers Digest

Do You Ask on the First Date?

August 24th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising

It’s OK. Expected even. Don’t frustrate donors who are expecting to be asked.

Asking “on the first date” can feel awkward. We hear so much about needing to be “donor-centered” that coming right out and making an ask does feel pushy. Especially when you’re a new CEO. Here are two different ways to answer your question:

Is it the prospect’s first date?
In my experience, not “asking on the first date” is really more about the CEO or solicitor than about the donor. It’s usually a mask to hide his or her own fear of asking. If you were truly putting the donor in the center, you’d see your “first” meeting in a whole new perspective.

For the donor, this may indeed be the first meeting with you as CEO. But it might not be his or her first “date” with your nonprofit. For a prospect to merit your time, your team has probably been working with the prospect or donor for a while. And it’s likely that the donor has given gifts over time.

So in reality, these “new” prospects or donors feel they already have a relationship with your nonprofit. You are a new face, but they see your meeting as one more meeting with the organization.

Here’s another thing to consider: Many major donors know the value of the CEO’s time. So they come to the meeting expecting the CEO to ask them. I’ve heard more stories of prospects and donors who meet with the CEO getting annoyed when they’re not asked! We certainly don’t want to annoy donors!

Respectful asking even if it is the first date
Have you ever been at a meeting with a prospect for the very first time — first time for both the prospect and you — and you learn about something he or she is extremely passionate about? I have. And sometimes that passion intersects with an aspect of your program, something that your organization is doing really well.

What do you do? I’ve found honesty to be a great fundraising strategy! You could say something like,“Wow. I can see you’re passionate about [whatever the prospect is passionate about]. I didn’t come here to ask you to invest this time … but could I tell you about how we are addressing the specific area? Or would it be better for me to follow up in a couple weeks?”

Let me unpack that response for you.

1. You’re listening to the prospect. The only reason you’re even responding is that you’ve heard what the prospect said he or she cared about.

2. You’re being honest. You really didn’t come to ask for money this time. I love how the words “this time” honestly reminds the prospect that as nice as it is to get together, there is going to be a solicitation at some point. I actually smile when I say “this time.”

3. You’re testing the prospect’s openness to an ask. Asking permission can be powerful. If the prospect allows it, you can go right into an ask and have the confidence of knowing that he or she has agreed to it. If the prospect tells you now isn’t a good time, you’ve just set the agenda for the next interaction. And you’ve created an agreed upon reason to follow up. When setting up that appointment, you can say, “When we last talked, you asked me to tell you about what we’re doing in [the area the prospect is passionate about].”

CEOs and fundraisers need to fundraise

Your nonprofit needs you to have the courage to fundraise. I’m surprised how often I need to remind fundraisers that their job is to raise funds. That is true for CEOs and executive directors too. Here’s hoping these two approaches will help you ask without fear and see your mission fully funded!

Fundraising Success
July 2014

Multicultural engagement found to be predictor of career success

August 23rd, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Education

How travel can help your career

A growing body of evidence suggests that travel abroad can have myriad benefits, including enhanced career prospects. One study, led by French researcher William W Maddux, found that spending time in multicultural environments can help improve creativity as individuals are forced to adapt to a culturally diverse environment. It is believed that spending time abroad can help improve “cultural intelligence,” which is an increasingly valuable skill in a globalized setting. Another longitudinal study that Maddux performed with MBA students enrolled in a 10-month international program found that “multicultural engagement” was a predictor of subsequent career success. The research found that it was not simply enough to be exposed to a multicultural environment; those individuals who were psychologically engaged with these environments were more likely to reap the tangible professional benefits of traveling abroad.

Mark Twain once elegantly wrote that “nothing so liberalizes” and deepens one’s insights “as travel and contact with many kinds of people.”

This idea was echoed in Nicholas Kristof’s recent column for the New York Times when he argued that young people should travel and study abroad to “engage with the world” and “broaden horizons.” While the intellectual benefits of going abroad are well known, the financial returns that make studying abroad worthwhile are less acknowledged. There is growing scientific evidence suggesting that studying abroad sharpens the creativity, cultural intelligence and problem solving skills necessary to compete in today’s culturally diverse global economy.

Interestingly, a study led by William W. Maddux concluded that when one experiences multicultural environments, creativity is substantially enhanced. Maddux attributes improved creativity to the frequent usage of adaptive behaviour when one is immersed in a culturally diverse environment. Although studying abroad will expand one’s worldview, it is not often discussed how such a reorientation of perspective will benefit one’s career prospects. Luckily, there exists abundant research in this area.

As Angela Leung’s fieldwork elaborates, mere travel abroad does not guarantee creativity development. Instead, Leung argues that one must be open-minded to new cultural practices, as well as live in a different cultural environment to elevate creative and problem solving capacities.

Leung goes further to argue that “deeply immersing” oneself “in foreign countries” is the best way to attain creativity growth because it allows one to “see multiple underlying functions behind the same form.”

Having just returned from a two-month study abroad stint in China, I can wholeheartedly agree with Leung here. For me, some of the most striking instances of cultural difference I observed in China was seeing how our Chinese peers in the classroom and library behaved. For example, there was a strict dedication to the professor’s comforts, such as an unflinching willingness to fetch the professor water if he/she was parched. One can scarcely imagine similar acts of obedience to a professor in a Canadian university. It is with this comparison between the way Canadian and Chinese students interact with their superiors that highlighted a cultural difference in each respective approach to education. Interestingly Leung’s study, like Maddux’s, suggests navigating multicultural environments builds the cultural awareness, creativity and problem solving abilities necessary to compete in a culturally diverse global economy.

Further, Christopher Earley and Elaine Mosakowski explain that cultural intelligence is demonstrated when a person can effectively “tease out of a person’s or group’s behaviour those features that would be true of all people and all groups, those peculiar to this person or this group, and those that are neither universal nor idiosyncratic.” As the research indicates, building cultural intelligence can be done through living in multicultural environments. In this way, studying abroad is a great way to improve one’s cultural intelligence, which Earley and Mosakowski contend is essential for an effective 21st-century manager.

The benefits of studying abroad are not limited to intellectual pursuits. Studying abroad allows one to reap financial rewards in the form of heightened creative, problem solving and cultural intelligence – all of which are necessary to navigate a multicultural 21st-century workplace.

More on the subject of financial reward, Maddux performed a study of post-degree job placement success of MBA graduates. To no surprise, Maddux found that those with greater multicultural experience were offered more jobs than those without. The study concluded that multicultural exposure is a good predictor of job market success. In this way, the returns on studying abroad are much higher than commonly assumed. In an increasingly multicultural global business environment, it is crucial that new graduates learn to succeed in culturally diverse workplaces – a skill that studying abroad develops.

A major disincentive to studying abroad for many students is the assumed financial burden. However, many schools mitigate a great deal of cost through the provision of financial assistance in the form of stipends, grants, bursaries and scholarships. So, do your research, make a budget and find a way to study abroad – the more culturally diverse the destination, the better. What must be included in the decision of whether to go abroad is the return on investment it has on one’s future earnings and opportunities – which, the research indicates, is substantial.

Michael Smolander is a graduate student at Queen’s University.


Disability experts urge “prudence” when providing accommodations

August 22nd, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Education

Deciding how to accommodate a student’s disability isn’t easy.

The mother of a student at Queen’s University in Kingston wanted her daughter labelled disabled and given special accommodations because she had to study “real hard” to get A’s. In two other cases, parents asked Queen’s to be allowed to live in residence for one year with their newly enrolled children, fearing the new students were unable to cope without mom or dad beside them.

Allyson Harrison did not accommodate those parents’ requests. Dr. Harrison is a disabilities expert serving as clinical director of the Regional Assessment and Resource Centre at Queen’s. She has a long list of anecdotes about students being labelled disabled, beginning in public school, and given accommodations that at times are unnecessary, such as double time to write exams. These students then come to university feeling “entitled” to similar treatment and eventually graduate without all the skills needed to compete in the workplace.

“The definition of disability is a moving target,” Dr. Harrison told the International Summit on Accessibility held July 12-15 in Ottawa. “Boundaries on definitions seem to be widening.”

The summit of more than 400 disability experts, mainly from Canada and the United States, was organized by Carleton University, a widely recognized leader in helping students with disabilities, with assistance from the province of Ontario and the city of Ottawa. Among the topics discussed were technological breakthroughs and design innovations for buildings to help the disabled, employment strategies for the disabled, and the unique challenges of helping those with psychiatric disabilities. The summit drew some high-profile advocates for the disabled, including David Onley, Ontario’s outgoing lieutenant-governor, and Canada’s “man in motion” Rick Hansen.

Two decades ago, participants from the university community might have spent considerable time at such a summit pushing for broader definitions of the disabled and for more accommodations for them. But at the Ottawa summit, “the conversation has changed,” some panelists said, citing a need for more prudence in bestowing accommodations.

That was certainly the message of Manju Banerjee, vice-president and director of the Landmark College Institute for Research and Training in Putney, Vermont. The institute has a particular focus on students with learning disabilities.

Dr. Banerjee believes some students labelled disabled do not always need to be assigned classroom note-takers or given extra time to complete assignments; they simply have not been taught properly how to take notes or to how to develop good study habits. The students say they need the accommodations yet, upon questioning, admit that more study and more sleep before an exam are more crucial for a good mark than are accommodations.

“Often, what students ask for in accommodations is a safety net,” said Dr. Banerjee.

Carleton’s Paul Menton Centre for Students with Disabilities deals with 2,000 students with disabilities. Larry McCloskey, the centre’s director, said that represents eight percent of the 25,000 students campus but, as he pointed out, that is still a smaller share than the 12 to 15 percent of the general population who have a disability.

Dr. McCloskey and his colleagues have put into practice some of the strategies recommended by Dr. Banerjee. Some students, said Dr. McCloskey, begin university feeling they need or are “entitled” to accommodations. In fact, some just need to be taught “time management and learning strategies.”

Disabled students accustomed to accommodations at educational institutions may be in for a shock when they join the workforce, said some presenters. Mark Wafer owns some Tim Hortons restaurants in the Toronto area and makes an effort to hire employees with disabilities, largely because he finds them more reliable than other workers. But, he told the summit, sometimes a new worker feels he or she does not have to arrive on time for work because teachers, making allowances for a disability, did not enforce strict hours for that student in the classroom. Once Mr. Wafer lays down the law on punctuality, the problem tends to disappear.

In an interview, Dr. Harrison from Queen’s raised a similar example regarding law students given extra time to complete assignments or exams because of a disability. What happens when that lawyer enters the bill-by-the hour work environment? Will that lawyer feel entitled to bill clients more because it takes him or her longer to process information?

“I think we need to move away from trying to just make sure everyone succeeds [in university] and that everyone feels happy,” she said. Instead, universities should be telling students, “Let’s give you some sustainable skills that will allow you to get a job and be happy, rather than unrealistically telling you things you can’t do,” said Dr. Harrison.

“It’s like my nephew who thought he could swim because he had water wings on and then he jumped into the pool without them and, as he’s going down to the bottom, he has no idea what happened.”

July 23, 2014
by Paul Gessell

Bill Gates offers perspectives on PSE

August 21st, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Education

In his keynote address to the National Association of College and University Business Officers, Microsoft founder Bill Gates offered his perspective on a number of PSE-related issues. Gates said that it is “oversimplistic” to focus on PSE as being just about getting a job; “citizenship, developing deeper understanding, other things, are all important” he said. He also warned his audience of the pitfalls of approaches that focus solely on completion rates, which could lead some colleges to steer clear of challenging students. Metrics based on graduates’ salaries are also problematic, he said. Gates noted that public PSE institutions typically do a poor job at justifying money spent on unprofitable sports programs or luxury dorms. Gates was lukewarm to some education technologies; he said massive open online courses (MOOCs) were typically “mediocre” but added that he expects competition will improve quality over the next 5 or 6 years. In this time, he predicted, a handful of “clearly excellent” courses will emerge in each field. But, he said, “I still believe in physical places of learning for a fairly significant part of what goes on.”

It is ironic, says Bill Gates, that academic institutions are so good at studying the world around them but not themselves.

Gates, the Microsoft founder whose Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has spent roughly a half billion dollars on higher education, made his case to college business officers Monday that colleges must hold themselves more accountable — or someone else will bring them to account.

“The sooner you drive this the better it is than having it brought down from on high in a way that is not appropriate,” Gates told members of the National Association of College and University Business Officers during the group’s annual conference here, which is also home to “the foundation,” as those here call it.

It will surprise few that Gates said more than a few things that would rile many a faculty member. He painted a future in which a small number of top-quality online courses in key disciplines replace home-grown lectures on many campuses (as leading textbooks have historically done), fretted about what faculty unions could do to interfere with changes in higher education, and said nonprofit colleges could learn something from for-profit colleges about providing support to students.

But his remarks, and his answers to a set of questions posed by Miami Dade College’s Rolando Montoya, displayed a level of nuance and sophistication about higher education that would probably surprise those who have read his well-publicized comments urging state governors to emphasize disciplines that create jobs and envisioning a wholesale embrace of massive open online courses by community colleges.

In a clear critique of the Obama administration’s proposed college rating system, he warned against simplistic efforts to judge colleges’ quality: he discouraged a singleminded focus on college “completion.” He described as “oversimplistic” the view that higher education is “just about getting a job with a certain salary” — “Citizenship, developing deeper understanding, other things, are all important,” he said.
He also emphasized the impact that state budget cuts were having on public higher education, and particularly on institutions’ ability to provide support services to students. And he acknowledged that most MOOCs are “mediocre.”

The Gates Agenda

Gates, whose multibillion-dollar foundation funds global health and education projects, is known as voracious reader who reads both grand treatises and bone-dry technical reports. He said he was willing to read any college’s report, however complicated, that explains how much it spends to subsidize unprofitable sports programs, on luxurious dorms, or why it is employing increasing numbers of administrators who play no role in directly helping students.

But colleges are not good at giving such explanations, Gates said, urging campus business officers to better-explain what happens inside the “black box” of higher ed.

“Being able to pull the numbers out and contrast yourself with other institutions, in for-profit companies is done all the time,” Gates said. But most colleges are opaque — except, he said, for for-profits.

Because for-profits take some of the toughest students to educate and pay a steep price from a regulatory standpoint if too many of them drop out, the institutions have built up student support systems that are top-notch, he said, citing Kaplan chairman Andy Rosen’s book

“For-profits know within 10 minutes when a student hasn’t gone to class so they can figure out why,” Gates said. Nonprofit institutions, by contrast, tend to have a sophisticated understanding of “how much their alumni give and whether they went to a basketball game.”

By contrast, Gates said, when public institutions lose state funding, they do whatever they can to protect the “academic core” but often don’t count services that support students outside the classroom in that core, so those services end up being cut. Can they explain why? He singled out a few nonprofit institutions for praise, including Arizona State University.

Gates laid out a difficult scenario ahead for the vast majority of colleges that are not Harvard and Stanford or closely linked with local employers, like some community colleges. Their revenue sources will be challenged and they will find strings attached to taxpayer dollars.

But he warned against too-simple efforts to hold colleges accountable.

As lawmakers fund public colleges based on how many students they graduate — an emphasis that many critics would lay at least partially at the feet of Gates’ own foundation and the organizations it supports — colleges may shun the hardest-to-educate students or start making it too easy to skate through.

“Amazingly,” Gates said, “someone will have a 100 percent graduation rate, and it won’t be too hard.”

Too much emphasis on graduates’ salary data will also create “huge problems,” Gates warned, because it could create unfair comparisons between salaries in New York and Utah. “All these really simple measures are really difficult,” Gates said.

The Role of Technology

Some of Gates’s critics have accused him of glorifying technology’s role as “the” answer if higher education is to fulfill its role as an engine of equal opportunity for all Americans. Some have gone so far as to suggest that he does so to help the technology company that provided his riches.

His comments on Monday were relatively moderate on that score. Massive open online courses will not, in and of themselves, change much, he said. He said some were good but most were “mediocre” and MOOCs in general are useful only “for the most motivated students.”

This will change, though, Gates predicted, because competition is “heating up dramatically.” MOOCs will become like a textbook rather than a replacement for college: a tool for the motivated student to learn from on their own, or as a supplement for professors.

In “five or six years,” he said, digital offerings that are now “pretty crummy” will greatly improve, with online forums, links to tutors or peers, and other tools that can help underprepared students in remedial courses at scale.

A few such courses in each field will emerge and “will be as clearly excellent as the standard textbook in those fields,” and at that point it will be very difficult for the average professor at a typical campus to make the case that he or she can teach that course as well as that cream-of-the-crop digital course.

It’s going to be, he said, “like one of us standing up and singing compared to Madonna giving one of her tour-type performances.”

That language — and the fact that Gates did not really address what would happen to those average instructors who now give those lectures on the many typical campuses — sounded like the vintage Bill Gates that has driven some faculty advocates to the edges of their sanity.

But then he said this: “But you still have to connect [that content], particularly to kids whose parents didn’t go to college, who are having a tough time with the [traditional college] schedule, who lack the whole motivational piece. You could lose some of that as you transition to online.

“If you tell a low-income student, you don’t get to sit with anybody like you, you just get to sit in front of a computer terminal, they will drop out. How you create those face-to-face opportunities is an unsolved piece that is absolutely critical.

“I still believe in physical places of learning for a fairly significant part of what goes on.”

 July 22, 2014
Inside Higher Ed

More US colleges questioning value of standardized tests for admissions

August 20th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Education

Students spend hours cramming for the SAT and ACT each year in the hopes of earning an acceptance letter to a competitive college. But is the tide turning away from standardized exams?

Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., in June became the only institution of higher education in the USA to enforce a “test blind” policy, which means it will reject any test scores it receives. Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., also recently added its name to the list of more than 800 “test optional” schools across the country.

Colleges with a test-optional policy span the country, including top-tier school such as Bowdoin College, Wesleyan University and American University.

These decisions to eliminate standardized testing alleviate the pressure on many high school seniors to tally high scores on the SAT or ACT exams, according to some students like Emily Shlapak, a rising senior at Indian Hills High School in Oakland, N.J.

“I don’t mind taking standardized tests. I just don’t like how they dictate your future,” Shlapak says. “There’s a lot of pressure for a single test, and it simply tests how students can do under a timed constraint.”

Olivia Falcigno, a rising senior at Amity High School in Woodbridge, Conn., agrees.

“In an ideal world, there should be no number that represents one person’s intelligence,” she says.

Some students, including Jessica Goldberg, a rising senior at Indian Hills High School, say that it might be difficult to base a person’s intelligence solely on a student’s GPA, which can fluctuate depending on the rigor of the school.

RELATED New SAT, same old standardized-testing problems? 

A school that rejects standardized tests

Hampshire College is confident that going test blind is a smart move that will help recruit the best possible applicants.

Meredith Twombly, Hampshire’s dean of admissions and financial aid, says that a college-wide study showed little, if any, correlation between high test scores academic achievement. The tests were eliminated, she says, because they were a “very poor predictor of success.”

“If we have a success story in a year or two, I fully expect at least a handful of schools to follow us,” Twombly says, noting that getting rid of test scores will help the admissions office place a higher premium on more meaningful areas of college applications, such as extracurricular activities, writing samples and high school GPAs.

Twombly says that it will take more time to sort through applications without clear-cut test scores to help divide applications into sections. But she added that members of the Hampshire administration and high school guidance counselors who were informed of the decision have applauded the move.

For years, standardized exams have not been essential to Hampshire’s culture, which was test-optional since its inception in 1970 before switching to a test–blind approach for the newest batch of applications they’ll receive this fall.

“I can’t tell you what my score was,” says Faith Campbell, a fourth-year student at Hampshire. “That number that came back to me had very little importance in my life.”

Standardized tests do not predict academic success and create a barrier for students from poorer backgrounds, according to Bob Schaeffer, public education director at FairTest, one of the leading supporters of the test-optional admissions approach.

“Low-income kids don’t have the same chances to sign up for expensive test prep courses that start at $1,000 and their families don’t have the resources to pay for them to take the SAT three or four or five times to boost their score,” Schaeffer says. “They know they are behind the eight ball at schools that rely heavily upon test scores.”

A test-optional approach, Schaeffer notes, is one way to break down those barriers.

But he also says that Hampshire’s decision to refuse to look at exam scores, even if they are submitted could have its pitfalls.

“The risk for Hampshire – of which they are well aware – is that the last time a school adopted a (test-blind) policy was Sarah Lawrence about a decade ago, and U.S. News dropped them from its list of rankings and put them in an unranked category, claiming it could not rank them without test score requirements.”

Twombly confirmed that U.S. News would remove Hampshire from its rankings system but says she wasn’t concerned since the rankings do not accurately highlight the school’s strengths anyway.

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The experiment at Sarah Lawrence

Though Hampshire is alone in its decision to move to a test-blind admissions process, it isn’t the only school to experiment.

Sarah Lawrence College, which is now test-optional, also refused test scores for a period of time.

“Sarah Lawrence became test-blind because we feel strongly that standardized tests are not reflective of every student’s ability to succeed,” Kevin McKenna, the dean of enrollment at Sarah Lawrence, said in an e-mail. “When we changed to become test-optional, it was because we know that many students are proud of their scores, and we want them to know that we value that success too – as long as they decide that they want to share that with us.”

The decision to back off standardized test scores likely would create more work for admissions offices, who would be responsible for scrutinizing every application instead of using test scores as an easy way to categorize applications before reading them.

Still, McKenna says knowing all applications intimately is part of a good admissions officer’s job description.

“Our admissions process depends on our staff knowing high schools and curriculums across the country so that we can be sure that an applicant will be prepared for the curriculum here,” he says. “It is labor intensive on our end, but the only way to really get to know each applicant as well as we can.”

Melissa Connolly, vice president of university relations at Hofstra, agrees that a test-optional policy is the smartest way to go.

“You have to look more holistically and more comprehensively at each individual application, so it makes it more work. But it gets you a class that’s very well-suited to be successful here that’s all good in the end.”

July 7, 2014

PSE institutions must take care around CASL

August 19th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Canada, Education

Canada’s strict anti-spam law went into effect last Tuesday, forcing organizations — including colleges and universities — to obtain express consent to electronically contact people for commercial purposes or face millions of dollars in fines.

The law’s far-reaching scope caused the American Bar Association to name it the “toughest anti-spam law in the world” earlier this year, and opponents have blasted it as a costly and draconian measure to deal with an online annoyance. It applies to spam both sent from and accessed in Canada, and covers more than just email: Text messages, instant messages and posts on social media all fall under the definition of “commercial electronic messages.”

In the days leading up to July 1, Canadian citizens’ inboxes were flooded with promotions asking them to confirm that they did in fact wish to keep receiving emails. Along with making the sender easily identifiable and allowing recipients to opt out, the law requires senders to prove that they have obtained consent from each and every person on their contact lists. Sending unsolicited commercial messages could lead to a fine of up to 10 million Canadian dollars (or about $9.3 million).

For the largest organizations, those requirements mean asking millions of users to state “Yes, please contact me.”

Except for registered charities and fund-raising political parties, the law applies to virtually any sender, from penis enlargement pill peddlers and faux Nigerian princes to colleges and universities. Without any official guidelines on how the law applies to higher education, institutions will likely have to figure out how to comply with it themselves.

“The Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) can apply to a U.S. institution that sends a ‘commercial electronic message’ to a Canadian recipient,” a spokeswoman for the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada confirmed in an email. “Each U.S. institution will need to determine whether the messages it sends to Canadian recipients constitute ‘commercial electronic messages’ under the law.”

Many colleges and universities are only now starting that process. Ryan P. Deuel, director of media relations at St. Lawrence University in the Adirondack region close to Canada, said it was too early to say how the law would affect the institution’s electronic communications.

“What I can say at the moment is that early feedback indicates that, due to St. Lawrence University’s historic Canadian student population and thus significant alumni base, this is something we need to think about if we are soliciting via email people who reside in Canada,” Deuel said in an email. “And, we are learning as quickly as we can so we can advise admissions or advancement of the potential impact.”

Based on how Canadian institutions have interpreted the law, some — but not all — of the electronic communications on their campuses fall under the exemption for charities. The University of Toronto, which like most Canadian universities is a public institution, has determined that “electronic communications relating to its core educational activities, broadly defined, are not ‘of a commercial character,’ ” which means it is free to contact prospective students, solicit donations from alumni and advertise university events.

But Hubert Lai, university counsel at the University of British Columbia, said private and for-profit institutions in the U.S. may need to take a close look at the law. “There’s an interesting question as to whether a private university that was engaged in solicitations to support their recruitment activities would be considered a commercial practice,” he said.

UBC late last month published a six-page document to answer common questions about the law, and has for months been “triaging” different campus units to help bring them into compliance.

“For example, if we are soliciting donations for the university, there is a specific provision to allow that to occur,” Lai said. “A counterexample would be our bookstore…. If they wanted to send out 10,000 emails to people in the local area saying we’ve got a sale, that clearly is a commercial electronic message.”

There are also borderline cases. According to the FAQ, including even a “small advertisement for a commercial sponsor” in a university newsletter would make the entire newsletter a commercial message, and would therefore be covered by the law.

For now, colleges and universities are free to contact people with whom they have an existing relationship. Examples include “Customers, clients, associates, donors, supporters, volunteers or members from the past two years,” according to an informational website created by the Canadian government. By 2017, senders will be required to obtain express consent from those recipients as well.

The Canadian Chamber of Congress’ breakdown of the law adds a few more twists. Scanning badges during a trade show — or a higher education conference, for example — may violate the law unless attendees are explicitly informed they would be added to an email list.

If the Canadian anti-spam initiative succeeds, Lai said, other countries could end up following their lead.

“Clogging the Internet with spam is not a uniquely Canadian phenomenon,” Lai said. “It’s a global issue. I would expect that governments around the world are going to be looking harder and harder at this problem.”

July 9, 2014
By Carl Straumsheim
Inside Higher Ed