March18, 2013


A. Report from Dr. Steve Mintz, executive director of the Institute for Transformational Learning.

Chair Hilley said she had heard a presentation by Dr. Mintz at a SysFac meeting last fall, where she was impressed with both his message and his enthusiasm. She said she thought his message would be a good one for the Council to hear, so she introduced Dr. Mintz and welcomed him to the meeting. A transcription of Dr. Mintz’s report to the Council is included in Appendix A.

Following Dr. Mintz’s report, Professor Alberto Martinez (history) asked what services the institute specifically offers to individual educators. Dr. Mintz replied that he worked indirectly and believed in faculty governance; therefore he perceived that his success depended on faculty creativity and innovations. He noted that UT Austin had asked for proposals for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), which were reviewed locally on campus and then sent on to him. He, in turn, worked on getting the Board of Regents to financially support the ideas. In response to a call for gateway course proposals for large introductory lecture classes, UT Austin generated fifteen proposals; Dr. Mintz reported he was in the process of seeking funds to support those proposals. In addition, he had received some certificate and degree program proposals, which he was also trying to fund. Dr. Mintz emphasized that the ideas have to come, for the most part, from local faculty and then are reviewed externally by qualified experts. He added there occasionally might be some areas where he would be specifically encouraging new ideas, such as the creation of foreign language programs that could benefit students at institutions where those languages are not offered.

After referring to Dr. Mintz’s comment in his report about the funding per student at Columbia University, Professor Martinez asked how much UT Austin spends per student, and how the quality of education could be increased without increasing the cost for students. Dr. Mintz noted that the tuition at Columbia University was $60,000 compared to UT Austin’s $10,000 a year. He also mentioned that the socio-economic background of students at Columbia University differed from that of public institutions, with many students coming from families with annual incomes of $300,000 or more. He also noted that Latino and African-American graduate students at Columbia totaled to only 194 in all combined graduate programs, which he said was the highest number in Ivy League institutions. He said these differences were why he supported public institutions, such as UT Austin, as being so important in promoting overall student success. Dr. Mintz then acknowledged that his response had not really addressed Professor Martinez’s inquiry, so he asked Provost Steven Leslie if he could provide a more specific answer. Provost Leslie estimated that after Pell grants, Texas grants, and scholarship funds, tuition makes up for about 45 percent of the overall cost per student here at UT Austin. He also mentioned that UT Austin often covers all, or even more than all, tuition costs for students from for low-income families. While upper-income families can afford to pay tuition costs for their children, he said middle-income families are often most adversely impacted in their efforts to pay tuition costs.

Chair Elect Hillary Hart cited Fred Heldenfels, who spoke at the recent joint meeting with faculty from Texas A&M University, as saying that the average cost for an undergraduate degree within the UT System is $67,000.

Dr. Mintz added that the Ivy League went to full funding of graduate students, but at the same time dramatically reduced the number of graduate students. This meant that the financial aid budget did not increase, but the funds were merely distributed among fewer students. For example, Columbia University now admits only four graduate students a year to their US History program, thus being extremely selective and pre-empting diversity. Dr. Mintz emphasized that the answer to financial issues is to educate students efficiently as well as effectively.

Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Kevin Hegarty noted that the average cost per student, including everything, here at UT Austin is about $28,000 a year. Considering that the average student pays about $11,000, he said he thought that UT Austin students receive a good value for their outlays, especially compared to the cost of attending private institutions, such as Columbia University.

Professor Michael Domjan (psychology) expressed concern that the changes to improve student learning are not always data-driven. He noted that there is a placebo effect when students are merely told that they are now taught based on innovative teaching methods, when in fact they are not. Dr. Mintz agreed that there was a placebo effect and cited the Hawthorne experiment that GE conducted in the 1920s. He further mentioned that research indicates that students perform better when frequent low-stakes assessments are used as opposed to high-stakes tests. He noted that sophisticated data analyses would allow instructors and students to monitor performance and learning in real time, and therefore provide opportunities to tailor and redirect teaching. He added that students have a tendency to overvalue their knowledge and benefit from frequent reflection, which seems to be easier in an online or hybrid environment.

Professor Snehal Shingavi (English) asked if Dr. Mintz could reference a research study indicating that massive online courses are effective for teaching foreign languages. Dr. Mintz clarified that he was not advocating MOOCs for foreign languages, as Professor Shingavi had perceived. When he further pressed for some data showing the effectiveness of online foreign language instruction, Dr. Mintz promised to provide such evidence via email at a later time. Professor Shingavi expressed his concern that false choices are being offered and that money is being funneled away “from actual instructors teaching actual classes on campus.” Dr. Mintz again stated that there would be “a growing proliferation of modes of delivery” of instructional materials. He also reiterated that students have access to content they would otherwise not have. Professor Shingavi acknowledged the benefit to students “if the baseline is zero,” or when student access to subject matter is not otherwise available.

Chair Hilley thanked Dr. Mintz for his presentation and continued the meeting with her Report of the Chair (see above).

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