Home Current Events 2020 – The Year in Review (Part 1)
2020 – The Year in Review (Part 1)

2020 – The Year in Review (Part 1)

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Note: The following article is a summary of all of the blog articles that appeared on the Wally Boston blog during the first half of 2020. This article is part 1 of a three-part series.

January

My first article of the year discussed an announcement from Georgetown College in Kentucky that provided four-year, tuition-free scholarships to residents of four Kentucky counties who agreed to live on campus for all four years and pay for room and board (approximately $12,000 per year). I believed the offer was a creative attempt to counter declining enrollment as well as improve student retention. Ironically, it preceded the pandemic.

An article about my travels to Austin, Texas, foreshadowed my move to Austin. The vibrant activity outdoors and at restaurants, bars, and music venues has decreased since then, due to the pandemic.

The James G. Martin Center at UNC-Chapel Hill published an article about the job skills that students need that colleges don’t teach.

A Washington Post survey of 50 state flagship institutions stimulated an article in The National Review that recommended that these institutions consider a substantial revision of their business models in order to assure access and affordability for all. I discussed the recommended changes and wrote that if all of the changes were implemented, it would likely not change the public university business model.

Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce published a follow-up research paper on the return on investment (ROI) of liberal arts colleges. I applauded the Center for publishing the report and noted that only two groups of colleges from the previous ROI paper performed better than liberal arts colleges: selective colleges and liberal arts colleges with a higher percentage of STEM offerings.

In a follow-up article to the commentary on liberal arts colleges’ ROI, I wrote about my own experience as an undergraduate liberal arts major. I was concerned that many liberal arts graduates continued their post-secondary education and earned a graduate degree, and the ROI analysis did not include the cost of degree post undergrad for liberal arts graduates. The ROI analysis for graduate students also did not include the costs for the precedent undergraduate degree. I asked readers with a liberal arts degree to send me stories of their experience with the job market and/or post-graduate matriculation.

“Fixing Law Schools” was another January article that discussed University of Tennessee law professor Benjamin Barton’s article in the Chronicle of Higher Education Review. I analyzed the reasons for the slide in law school enrollments resulting in $1.5 billion in lost revenue over the previous decade, as well as the need for law schools to be more responsive to the market, something that I doubted would happen soon enough to prevent the closure of more law schools.

“Are Graduate Degrees Worth the Time and Expense?” was a follow-up to the Georgetown ROI analysis. I discussed the fact that many graduate degrees were shorter in length than undergraduate degrees but more expensive per course, and debated that the market would eventually decline without a substantial decrease in tuition.

The month of January concluded with an article about my experience earning a doctorate in higher education management at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. While the program was not inexpensive, its cohort-based experience provided a structure to make it possible for students to complete the program and dissertation in two years.

February

I reviewed Penn professor Bob Zemsky’s latest book, The College Stress Test, and the proposed system for identifying colleges and universities at risk of closing.

Another Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce research report was issued on the value of certificates and associate degrees. I reviewed and critiqued the report and noted that there were many excellent findings regarding education attainment of non-traditional students.

The passing of a friend and Penn GSE classmate prompted an article about Dr. Jeff Focht and the memorial service that he crafted to celebrate his life and to bring people together.

A proposed system to increase the number of low-income students enrolled at the Ivy Plus institutions triggered a response by me reflecting on my own experiences as a low-income student attending an elite institution.

The first of several guest blog posts from APUS’s faculty, Dr. Mark Riccardi’s reflections about his trip to Antarctica and the noticeable impact that man is having on the environment were insightful and in line with my own concerns about leaving the earth in a better condition for our descendants.

Be prepared for artificial intelligence was the theme of an article that I wrote to call attention to a trend of companies utilizing AI on an increasing basis.

The personal impact of healthcare choices was the topic of another article, based on my many years of experience as a CFO and CEO signing off on company healthcare plans as well as my pending retirement and decisions regarding Medicare and alternate insurance plans.

APUS humanities professor Dr. Jackie Fowler described her experiences living in the Arabian Gulf area. Her description of the her life in the area was beautifully written prose.

Drs. Jennifer Cramer and Danny Welsch wrote about their experiences in the “Skype a Scientist” program for another guest blog contribution. Connecting with younger students to share their experiences in lab work and STEM is a volunteer activity that they enjoy.

I also reviewed Dr. Peter Ubel’s book, Sick to Debt: How Smarter Markets Lead to Better Care. Dr. Ubel, a physician at Duke Medical Center, posits that neither of the political extreme approaches, “open market” or “Medicare for All,” are likely to improve the cost and outcomes of our existing healthcare system in the U.S. His ideas are well-researched and thoughtful.

March

Dr. Chris Reynolds is a long-time faculty member and dean at APUS. His guest blog post was about the health benefits of having a hobby.

Dan Weisberg published an article on the Thomas B. Fordham website about the misleading and inconsistent nature of grades in America’s high schools. In my commentary, I concurred with his recommendation that teachers and schools build a more standardized methodology starting with a course syllabus, learning objectives, and consistent grading based on achieving those objectives.

My first article about the coronavirus appeared on March 5 and was a guest post from Dr. Samer Koutoubi, APUS program director of public health. At that point in time, schools in the state of Washington had closed, and the CDC had issued guidelines on future school closures. A podcast from Dr. Koutoubi was linked in the post.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer, APUS program director for communication, wrote a guest blog post on improving the state of public trust in the media. Given the inflammatory topics by politicians about the media over the past four years, it should be no surprise that public mistrust of the media goes back to the 19th century.

On March 12, I published an article for APUS students about how we were preparing for the coronavirus and how that might impact them.

My next article explained the importance of social distancing, a concept that was getting more press in early March. I used a lesson that my nephew and Penn State professor (and former CDC officer) published on his social media the day before.

In his second guest blog post, Dr. Danny Welsch explained the science behind baking. I’m sure his baking expertise came in handy in the early days of the coronavirus when grocery stores were depleted of basic stocks such as milk and bread.

On St. Patrick’s Day, I published an article listing resources for best practices in teaching online courses and offering resources to any colleges or universities seeking to move in-person courses to online courses due to the coronavirus.

Dr. Kimberly Jacobs, head of APUS’s Center for Teaching and Learning, contributed a guest blog post about the challenges of teaching and learning online for the first time.

Pat James, APUS Manager of Academic Partnerships, contributed a guest article about the decision process of 114 California community colleges to convert to online in order to avoid closing for the rest of the semester.

Three APUS faculty members — Dr. Kimberlee Ratliff, Dr. Marie Isom, and Dr. Tonia Parker — wrote a guest blog article about finding your new normal and taking care of your mental health curing uncertain times such as the pandemic. Given the recent increases in infections and death, their advice is as relevant now as it was back in March.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer and I collaborated to create a podcast discussing the impact of the coronavirus on higher education.

I followed up the podcast with an article about the burgeoning financial disaster in higher education caused by the pandemic, the closure of campuses, and the conversion of spring terms to online classes.

My book review of The College Stress Test in January was a bit prescient, given the pandemic. I covered The Chronicle of Higher Education interview of Professor Bob Zemsky, author of The College Stress Test, with this blog post. Dr. Zemsky increased his assessment of the number of colleges at risk of closing if the fall semester of 2020 ended up online.

Dr. Novadean Watson-Stone is the APUS program director of the information technology management program and wrote a guest blog post about the importance of non-verbal communication for leaders.

Dr. Ron Johnson, a professor in the APUS School of Business, contributed a guest blog post on the importance of music during uncertain times such as the pandemic.

“Transformation and the Long Game in Higher Education” was the title of a guest blog post from Dr. Phil Ice, Chief Solutions Officer for Analytikus, an artificial intelligence solutions company. Dr. Ice summarized a number of articles about the impact of the pandemic on higher education and provided his own analysis as to why institutions were in trouble if they were not planning for the possibility of operating online for the fall of 2020.

April

Dr. Novadean Watson-Stone contributed another post about the importance of creating a personal brand using the Internet. Dr. Watson-Stone pointed out that not only are the majority of people using social media, but many companies have utilized social media to locate and screen candidates for job openings. Building an online brand has many benefits. Personal postings that are viewed as extreme may not be viewed so favorably.

APUS School of Business faculty member Dr. Karen Pentz contributed an article about helping rescue cats through her role as a foster care volunteer.

Anthropology professor and program director Dr. Jennifer Cramer wrote a guest blog article about her decision to postpone field trips for academic research projects, due to the coronavirus. With much of her research conducted in mostly rural villages, Dr. Cramer wrote that the thought of spreading the coronavirus to those villages that have few medical resources available to villagers was untenable.

APUS chaplain Dr. Cynthia Lindenmeyer wrote a letter to APUS students reminding them that it was okay to be anxious and that there were methods to relieve anxiety, like meditation. She also reminded them that she was available as a resource and provided information on how to contact her.

Dr. Jackie Fowler, APUS professor and faculty director, contributed an article about her experience as a COVID-19 patient, including her treatments in the hospital.

I interviewed Dr. Karan Powell (Vice President, Academic Affairs) and Father Malachi Van Tassell (President) of Saint Francis University about how they had converted all spring classes at Saint Francis to online classes in a blog series that was in two parts. While every institution’s story may be unique, the timing of certain initiatives related to online learning actually benefitted Saint Francis, a residential college in Loretto, Pennsylvania.

Dr. Jill Fuson, faculty director at APUS’s School of Business, contributed a guest blog article about her experience attending the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, an annual event in Scotland.

Illumine, part of a quote from British author John Milton, was the inspiration and title of another guest blog post from Dr. Jackie Fowler, APUS professor and faculty director. Her article outlined how teaching students online can be as effective for learning and as inspiring as a face-to-face class.

Exactly one month after all of our staff at APUS were asked to work from home due to the pandemic, I penned an article summarizing the changes and how smoothly it was accomplished.

I contributed an article discussing how social distancing worked to reduce the number of coronavirus infections. But I also questioned how easy reopening would be for some businesses — including colleges and universities, given the fact that the virus would be with us for a while.

Dr. Patrick Ford was the founding program director of APUS’s Space Studies program. I interviewed him for his perspectives about the evolution of academic programs like space studies given the substantial increase in commercial activities in space.

“My Hospital Stay During the Coronavirus Pandemic Time” was penned after I returned from a six-day stay in the hospital due to surgery and treatment for a ruptured appendix.

May

Daniel Susskind’s book, A World Without Work, was purchased by me on my last trip to a college bookstore. Susskind is an Oxford professor whose research is about the impact of technology on jobs. I reviewed it and recommended the book.

Dr. Cali Morrison, APUS Associate Dean of Alternative Learning, penned a guest blog post discussing the Michael Horn and Richard Price article published by the Christensen Institute about creating seamless credit transfer. The point made by Horn and Price and supported by Dr. Morrison is that institutions have no incentive to create interoperability of credit transfer because without it, many students are likely to remain at their current institution.

At the same time, Dr. Morrison disagreed with the recommendation by Drs. Horn and Price to hire independent third-party assessors. She believes that the underpinnings are available to create a transparent, detailed record of learning for each student, enabling them to control the distribution of it for whatever purposes they want including transferring to another institution. She also agrees with Drs. Horn and Price that the federal government should fund the creation of standards that can and should be used for recording and reporting the course material learned.

In another article about the coronavirus and its impact on higher education, I noted the number of institutions that were remaining online for summer school sessions and remarked that the signs were not good for the fall of 2020.

Inside Higher Ed’s Rick Seltzer wrote an article about a decision by NC-SARA, the body governing distance education recognition across state lines, to continue using the federal financial aid composite score as an indicator of financial solvency, even though its data is usually at least 18 months old and likely a poor predictor of solvency for really troubled institutions. I commented about the article and other means of predicting higher ed institutional solvency.

My favorite part of my role at APUS for nearly two decades was presiding over our in-person graduation ceremonies and meeting our students/alumni. I penned an article about our decision to cancel in-person ceremonies due to the pandemic and host a virtual ceremony.

“Remembering the Simpler Times and Other Life Stories” was a reflection piece by me written after a thunderstorm had passed through my community the night before.

“Life in the Office Will Change — Are You Ready to Return?” was written by me to discuss the changes likely to occur when offices reopen after the pandemic ends. Given that many offices are still operating remotely, this article is likely as relevant now as it was in May.

Drs. Josh Kim and Edward Maloney are directors of centers for teaching and learning at Dartmouth and Georgetown. Their book, Learning Innovation and the Future of Higher Education, came out in the midst of the pandemic but was written and published without the pandemic in mind.

I reviewed their book, which was intended to call attention to the notion of aligning practices of teaching with the science of learning in order to improve the college outcomes for all learners. The authors noted (pre-pandemic) that one of the most underreported stories in higher education was the relationship between improvements in residential learning and the growth of online education, with online education quickly becoming the “new normal” in higher education. Perhaps with the experiences of the past year, more college leaders will be inspired to read this book and implement some of the authors’ recommendations.

Dr. Gary Deel, APUS faculty director for the School of Business, contributed a guest blog post about the benefits of debates as learning tools. Dr. Deel pointed out that many arguments are one-sided because the other side does not allow discussion of the counterpoints. Having a formal process to debate issues with people deliberately chosen to debate both sides of the issue allows for counterbalancing discussions to take place.

June

I penned an article commenting about an opinion piece in USA Today where Dr. Rick Hess questioned the value of attending an elite institution. Part of his argument was that one to two years of tuition at a selective institution could cover four years of tuition at a less selective institution, and the data disclosed by the College Scorecard did not indicate a huge gap in post-graduation earnings between the selective institutions vs. non-selective institutions.

An article about my trip to South Africa in 2010 was triggered by the events surrounding the murder of George Floyd. It took years for South Africa to end apartheid. How long will it take to eliminate racism?

An announcement by Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) about their fall classes being held online triggered my article about the business model of higher education being broken.

P.W. Singer’s and August Cole’s book, Burn-In, may be classified as a science fiction novel, but the authors make multiple points about the social impact of job elimination due to technology and how that impacts politics in the U.S. I wrote a short piece reviewing and recommending the book.

The American Council on Education released its findings from a six-month study on the use of blockchain in education. I provided my assessment of the report and the future trends of blockchain as a support tool for lifelong learners.

“Protecting Athletes: Has Higher Education Lost Its Mind?” was an article that I wrote about the suspension of spring sports and the resumption of workouts in June for fall sports like football.

“Wallace Boston, Sr.: The Legacy of a Life Well-Lived” were remarks that my siblings and I wrote for my father’s funeral services. Wallace Boston, Sr., died in June, just a few weeks shy of his 90th birthday.

On the heels of the news regarding the resumption of college sports teams practicing on campus for the fall came the release of the NCAA and Gallup poll of former NCAA athletes comparing their lifelong outcomes with college graduates who did not participate in sports. I wrote an article discussing the report’s findings.

A guest post by Casen Combs, Senior Career and Educational Resource Specialist at APUS, provided advice on social media activism and whether or not that could affect a job search.

I reviewed Wes Moore’s and Erica Green’s latest book, Five Days, which was a narrative of the unrest in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray. The author’s note on 2020 in a chapter at the end written by Wes Moore (who also serves as the CEO of the Robin Hood Foundation) was especially worth reading in the context of the George Floyd murder.

I commented on the most recent findings of the Inside Higher Education and Hanover Research survey of college presidents. Of the many notable findings, perhaps the most telling was that 72 percent of presidents surveyed were either very or somewhat concerned about a perceived decrease in the value of higher education.

Comments

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Wally Boston Dr. Wallace E. Boston was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of American Public University System (APUS) and its parent company, American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) in July 2004. He joined APUS as its Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer in 2002. In July 2016, he retired as APUS president and continued as CEO of APEI. In September 2017, he was reappointed APUS president after the resignation of Dr. Karan Powell. In September 2019, Angela Selden was named CEO of APEI, succeeding Dr. Boston who will remain APUS president until his planned retirement in June 2020. Dr. Boston guided APUS through its successful initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 and ten-year reaccreditation in 2011. In November 2007, he led APEI to an initial public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange. During his tenure, APUS grew to over 100,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 90,000 alumni. In addition to his service as a board member of APUS and APEI, Dr. Boston is a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), a member of the Board of Overseers of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, a board member of the Presidents’ Forum, and a board member of Hondros College of Nursing and Fidelis, Inc. He has authored and co-authored papers on the topic of online post-secondary student retention, and is a frequent speaker on the impact of technology on higher education. Dr. Boston is a past Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the McDonogh School, a private K-12 school in Baltimore. In his career prior to APEI and APUS, Dr. Boston served as either CFO, COO, or CEO of Meridian Healthcare, Manor Healthcare, Neighborcare Pharmacies, and Sun Healthcare Group. Dr. Boston is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He earned an A.B. degree in History from Duke University, an MBA in Marketing and Accounting from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In 2008, the Board of Trustees of APUS awarded him a Doctorate in Business Administration, honoris causa, and, in April 2017, also bestowed him with the title President Emeritus.

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