Aberdeen’s Harvey Jewett, who’s coming up on his twentieth year of Regenting, spoke to the local paper this week about the upcoming Legislative Session and higher education issues.
Jewett says he wishes the Governor had included higher education in the portfolio of the Blue Ribbon K-12 Task Force. Yet Jewett appears to acknowledge that such inclusion was not necessary: he notes that the Blue Ribboneers “maybe… thought they had enough problems to cover” and tells reporter Katherine Grandstrand that (in her words), “While none of the six campuses are rich, they’re all doing OK.” I don’t think a majority of K-12 school board members would make that same OK assessment of the state of their finances or their ability to recruit and retain top-notch teachers.
Even with their focus supposedly limited to the issue of South Dakota’s abysmal teacher pay and the resulting teacher shortage, the Blue Ribboneers took all summer and half of fall to issue a final report. Lackadaisical Governor Dennis Daugaard has needed two additional months to study the plan and work out his plan for enacting the Blue Ribbon K-12 goals, which he has said he will announce on Tuesday in Pierre. Had we piled Regental issues onto the Blue Ribboneers’ shoulders, we’d have had to expand the task force from 26 to 52, and they’d still be sorting their sticky notes (which maybe would have been fine with the powers that be: Governor Daugaard could have kicked the teacher-pay can down the road another year, and legislators could have kept the issue out of the 2016 election).
The Blue Ribboneers include distance education as a major plank in their package of 29 consensus policy recommendations that could help schools share teachers and save money. While not addressing online education at the K-12 level, Jewett says distance learning isn’t saving the Regents or students that much money:
“You still have to pay a professor to teach those,” Jewett said. “They really can’t teach many more people — if any more — than they could manage in a classroom.”
The online experience doesn’t save much money for the students, either, he said.
“There’s just nothing about computers which make it, in the education world, less expensive, except living in the dorm, maybe,” Jewett said. “But you’ve got to live someplace” [Katherine Grandstrand, “Tuition Freeze, More Will Be Focused on by South Dakota Board of Regents,” Aberdeen American News, 2016.01.06].
Jewett also appears to consider all those online classes inferior to traditional learning:
“I find it hard imagining myself actually hiring somebody who took their college career in their jammies on a computer,” Jewett said. “I think college offers more than just the book you read” [Grandstrand, 2016.01.06].
Jewett may just be an aging holdout against shifting perceptions in the marketplace of the value of online education, but he’ll find strong support for his perception among university faculty… which leads me to wonder whether high school students taking distance classes could see their diplomas devalued in the eyes of college admissions offices and professors.
Jewett must be crabby about jammies: in the funniest piece of South Dakota journalism this week, Jewett says online classes are enabling a tendency for students to sleep in:
You can’t give an 8 o’clock class away. People will not take them,” Jewett said. “They’ll take that course on the Internet. They’re not coming to an 8 o’clock class. And they’re not too sure they’re coming to a 9 o’clock class. … It used to be after 3, you’d have to go out and tackle people, now it’s before 10, you have to tackle people” [Grandstrand, 2016.01.06].
I want to take a moment to picture Jewett and profs tackling undergrads to drag them off to 8 a.m. classes. Maybe that’s how the Blue Ribbon panel could get more teachers, too.