Chair Shapira, governors, chancellor, presidents and guests.
My name is Ken Mash, and I am president of APSCUF — the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties — the union that represents the coaches and faculty at our 14 State System campuses.
Thank you for inviting me and members of our APSCUF team to join you at yesterday’s workshop; it was a most generous gesture. The workshop was informative and thought-provoking.
I don’t want to get ahead of anyone or your agenda, but I did want to share some of my thoughts. I have been at this for a long time now. I’m sure — from the perspective of some here — too long. But experience does have some benefit, even when it comes from the likes of me.
The best case made by your guests yesterday was that industry-recognized credentials help students when they graduate. I was very impressed with the numbers presented. Of course, given my profession and its tendency toward skepticism, we want to know more about it.
We would like to know, for example, if those numbers can be disaggregated. In other words, is the benefit true for all credentials, or do some of those credentials have a disproportionate impact on the overall numbers?
Among other things, we would be interested in knowing time frames. Is the advantage that students get from credentials a benefit over the long term, or do the benefits wane over time?
That’s not to poo poo the idea of credentialing. As I said before, I thought it thought-provoking, and we, APSCUF, do want to do what is best for our students and our universities. And, as President Driscoll mentioned yesterday, we also want to ensure quality.
Like many things, however, the devil is in the details. What are the costs in terms of money, time, relationships, energy, etc.? If it is about attracting students for stand-alone credentials — that is, potential students not seeking a degree — what is the competition? As the chair pointed out yesterday, “credentials” has become a higher-education buzzword, like others we have heard in the past. It is EVERYWHERE. It recurs at every conference and in every trade publication. Is the market flooded? Or will it be by the time we could get it up and running?
Are all of our universities even prepared to take on new projects when they might still be dealing with curricula questions stemming from consolidation, staff shortages, and other issues? What sort of problems can occur if we get out of our lane? (Yes, I think it was a fair question to ask.) It is also true that sometimes you can’t get ahead without changing lanes, but it is equally true that if everyone is changing lanes at the same time, an accident can keep you from moving at all. It is important for us to get where we need to go — but to do so with due caution.
Now I’m sure some of you are thinking: “There goes APSCUF again, being negative about everything.” But pointing out legitimate questions is not being negative; it is being inquisitive. It’s the type of thing that academic institutions are supposed to do. And just to be clear: We are not negative about it. We think it’s interesting and potentially exciting, especially if appropriately targeted. There is a difference, for example, between credentialing and industry-recognized credentials.
We, APSCUF, just want more information. And I hope that you do, too. Too often in the past — and this is where the experience kicks in — groupthink has permeated our university and System administrations, councils, and trustees, and that has had some very serious consequences. So I would encourage this board to ask questions and get all the possible facts before we dive in completely.
Further, we would encourage this Board and all of our administrations to turn to our faculty and coaches with open ears if they would like to hear truly novel ideas. You have many bright people working at your universities.
I very much appreciate your attention.