$500K Retrofit Housing Prize Competition Now Open for Team Registration

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Competition will range from community groups, to corporate teams, to int’l teams

On Tuesday evening the Longmont City Council gave the green light to DaVinci Quest CEO Karl Dakin to proceed with the 2010 Smarter, Safer, Greener House Competition where teams from around the world will compete to retrofit existing homes to maximum efficiency. DaVinci Quest is now issuing an open invitation for teams to sign up to compete for the $500,000 prize.

Continue reading… “$500K Retrofit Housing Prize Competition Now Open for Team Registration”


10 Web Trends to Watch in 2010

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Trend watcher Pete Cashmore

As 2009 draws to a close, the Web’s attention turns to the year ahead. What can we expect of the online realm in 2010?
While Web innovation is unpredictable, some clear trends are becoming apparent. Expect the following 10 themes to define the Web next year:
Real-time ramps up
Sparked by Twitter, Facebook and FriendFeed, the real-time trend has been to the latter part of 2009 what “Web 2.0” was to 2007. The term represents the growing demand for immediacy in our interactions. Immediacy is compelling, engaging, highly addictive … it’s a sense of living in the now.
But real-time is more than just a horde of new Twitter-like services hitting the Web in 2010 (although that’s inevitable — cargo cults abound). It’s a combination of factors, from the always-connected nature of modern smartphones to the instant gratification provided by a Google search.
Why wait until you get home to post a restaurant review, asks consumer trends tracker Trendwatching, when scores of iPhone apps let you post feedback as soon as you finish dessert? Why wonder about the name of that song, when humming into your phone handset will garner an instant answer from Midomi?
Look out, too, for real-time collaboration: Google Wave launched earlier this year, resulting in both excitement and confusion. A crossover between instant messaging, e-mail and a wiki, Wave is a platform for getting things done together. Web users, however, remain baffled. In 2010, Wave’s utility will become more apparent.
Location, location, location
Fueled by the ubiquity of GPS in modern smartphones, location-sharing services like Foursquare, Gowalla, Brightkite and Google Latitude are suddenly in vogue.
As I ruminated in this column two weeks ago, Foursquare and its ilk may become the breakout services of the year … provided they’re not crushed by the addition of location-based features to Twitter and Facebook.
What’s clear is that location is not about any singular service; rather, it’s a new layer of the Web. Soon, our whereabouts may optionally be appended to every Tweet, blog comment, photo or video we post.
Augmented reality
It’s yet to become part of the consumer consciousness, but augmented reality has attracted early-adopter buzz in the latter part of 2009.
Enabled by GPS, mapping data from the likes of Google and the accelerometer technology in modern phones, AR involves overlaying data on your environment; imagine walking around a city and seeing it come to life with reviews of the restaurants you walk past and Wikipedia entries about the sights you see.
When using Layar, for instance, the picture from your phone’s video camera is overlaid with bubbles of information from Yelp, Wikipedia, Google Search and Twitter. The challenge for such services is to prove their utility: They have the “cool factor,” but can they be truly useful?
Content ‘curation’
The Web’s biggest challenge of recent years is that content creation is outpacing our ability to consume it: “Information overload” has become an increasingly common complaint.
In the attention economy, with its millions of daily status updates and billions of Web pages vying for our time, how do we best allocate that scarce resource? One solution has been algorithmic: Sites like Google News source the best stuff by technical means, but fall short when it comes to personalization.
In 2008, the answer revealed itself: Your friends are your filter. With the launch of its Facebook Connect program, Facebook allowed sites to offer content personalization based on the preferences of your network.
Meanwhile, Google’s Social Search experiment is investigating whether Web searching is improved by using information gleaned from your friends on Twitter, Facebook, Digg and the rest. Increasingly, your friends are becoming the curators of your consumption, from Web links to movies, books and TV shows.
Professional “curation” has its place, too: Who better to direct our scarce attention than experts in their fields? I explored this possibility in a CNN article last month titled “Twitter lists and real-time journalism” .
Cloud computing
Cloud computing was very much a buzzword of 2009, but there’s no doubt this transition will continue. The trend, in which data and applications cease to reside on our desktops and instead exist on servers elsewhere (“the cloud”), makes our data accessible from anywhere and enables collaboration with distributed teams.
The cloud movement will see a major leap forward in the first half of 2010 with the launch of “Office Web Apps,” free online versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote released in tandem with Microsoft Office 2010.
Next year will also see the launch of Google’s Chrome OS, a free, Web-centric operating system that forces us to ask: How many desktop applications do we really need?
Internet TV and movies
Is 2010 the year the majority of our television starts coming to us via the Internet? There’s certainly more activity here than at any other time: Among the early-adopter set, Hulu, Boxee, Apple TV and Netflix’s Roku box lead the field.
Hulu in particular has sustained remarkable growth this year, while the movie studios are getting on board with the launch of Epix, a Hulu for films.
Convergence conundrum
The outlook for devices in 2010 appears somewhat contradictory: While the convergence trend continues apace and many of our gadgets are folded into the smartphones we carry around every day, we’re seeing a converse trend in which task-specific devices gain popularity.
GPS device maker TomTom recently introduced a $100 iPhone app that removes the need to buy a TomTom hardware device. Google then one-upped the company by releasing free turn-by-turn directions on devices running its Android operating system. Garmin and TomTom beware: Standalone GPS devices may meet their demise in 2010.
Also on the endangered gadgets list: Flip video cameras, which PC World declared dead upon the launch of the iPhone 3G S. Meanwhile, Apple executives say the iPhone is cannibalizing the iPod: Why carry two devices when you only need one?
Paradoxically, the e-book reader is seeing traction as a single-use device. With hard-to-read, power-hungry laptop screens proving impractical for reading, and smartphone screens proving too small, the Kindle and its competitors are gaining buzz.
However, I’d argue that the e-book reader is a fad: Carrying an extra device is never desirable, and the major factor preventing convergence is the lack of superior screen technology. Flexible, expanding low-power screens on cell phones might tip the balance.
The real power of Amazon’s Kindle is its ease of use: a virtual bookstore so simple that it does for books what Apple’s iTunes did for music. The devices will converge, but the “app store” model for books will persist across all devices. The technology won’t be with us in 2010, however.
Social gaming
There’s little risk of social gaming proving a bad bet in 2010 — Zynga’s FarmVille game on Facebook now counts more active users than Twitter, claims a Facebook executive. Meanwhile, rival Playfish was recently acquired by Electronic Arts in a deal valued at up to $400 million.
Of growing interest in 2010, however, will be the virtual currencies these games have spawned: In the allegedly unmonetizable world of social media, virtual buying and selling may be the route to riches for some social media sites — a concept I outlined in this column under the title “Is Facebook the future of micropayments?”
Mobile payments
I’d wager that 2010 will be the breakthrough year of the much-anticipated mobile payments market. While much of Asia has embraced the technology, the U.S., in particular, has lagged. There’s reason for optimism in 2010, however: From PayPalX to Amazon’s mobile payments platform for developers, the big players are seizing the mobile payments opportunity.
Meanwhile, newcomer Square, founded by the creator of Twitter, began its rollout this week to much early-adopter excitement: The company enables merchants to accept payments via Apple’s iPhone.
Fame abundance, privacy scarcity
Warhol was right: Fame is now abundant. Social media has birthed a galaxy of stars in thousands of niches: We’re all reality stars now, on Facebook, Twitter and all the myriad online outlets where we hone our personal brands.
We’re seeing the ongoing voluntary erosion of privacy through public sharing on Facebook and Twitter, the rise of location-based services and the inclusion of video cameras in a growing array of devices.
The incredible efficiency of Web-based communication and our Google-fueled appetite to know everything about everything (or everyone) right now are combining to make Tiger Woods the canary in the privacy coal mine. Expect personal privacy — or rather its continued erosion — to be a hot media topic of 2010.

As 2009 draws to a close, the Web’s attention turns to the year ahead. What can we expect of the online realm in 2010?

While Web innovation is unpredictable, some clear trends are becoming apparent. Expect the following 10 themes to define the Web next year:

Continue reading… “10 Web Trends to Watch in 2010”


The Magazine of the Future


Sports Illustrated – Tablet Demo 1.5

This collaboration between The Wonderfactory and Time, Inc. is an excellent example of how tablets will enable the creation of innovative, addictive experiences by publishers, media companies, and advertisers. Second video after the jump.

Continue reading… “The Magazine of the Future”


How New Advances In Technology Will Impact Our Lives Beyond 2009


Terrafugia plans to see its flying car, which runs on regular gas, in 2011.

Twenty-five years ago, making a call away from home meant finding a pay phone. The cell phone was virtually unknown. So was the Internet. Now life would be unthinkable without them.

And that’s what makes futurism so intriguing. What will spur the next big thing, the staggering new technology not yet within our grasp?


Continue reading… “How New Advances In Technology Will Impact Our Lives Beyond 2009”


A Revolution is Brewing for Colleges & Universities

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Dorm life has become a central part of the
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Students starting school this year may be part of the last generation for which “going to college” means packing up, getting a dorm room and listening to tenured professors. Undergraduate education is on the verge of a radical reordering. Colleges, like newspapers, will be torn apart by new ways of sharing information enabled by the Internet. The business model that sustained private U.S. colleges cannot survive.
The real force for change is the market: Online classes are just cheaper to produce. Community colleges and for-profit education entrepreneurs are already experimenting with dorm-free, commute-free options. Distance-learning technology will keep improving. Innovators have yet to tap the potential of the aggregator to change the way students earn a degree, making the education business today look like the news biz circa 1999. And as major universities offer some core courses online, we’ll see a cultural shift toward acceptance of what is still, in some circles, a “University of Phoenix” joke.
This doesn’t just mean a different way of learning: The funding of academic research, the culture of the academy and the institution of tenure are all threatened.
Both newspapers and universities have traditionally relied on selling hard-to-come-by information. Newspapers touted advertising space next to breaking news, but now that advertisers find their customers on Craigslist and Cars.com, the main source of reporters’ pay is vanishing. Colleges also sell information, with a slightly different promise — a degree, a better job and access to brilliant minds. As with newspapers, some of these features are now available elsewhere. A student can already access videotaped lectures, full courses and openly available syllabuses online. And in five or 10 years, the curious 18- (or 54-) year-old will be able to find dozens of quality online classes, complete with take-it-yourself tests, a bulletin board populated by other “students,” and links to free academic literature.
But the demand for college isn’t just about the yearning to learn — it’s also about the hope of getting a degree. Online qualifications cost a college less to provide. Schools don’t need to rent the space, and the glut of doctoral students means they can pay instructors a fraction of the salary for a tenured professor, and assume that they will rely on shared syllabuses. Those savings translate into cheaper tuition, and even before the recession, there was substantial evidence of unmet demand for cheaper college degrees. Online degrees are already relatively inexpensive. And the price will only dive in coming decades, as more universities compete.
You can already see significant innovation in online education at some community colleges and for-profit institutions. The community colleges are working with limited resources to maximize their offerings through Internet aggregation. For-profit institutions appear to be capitalizing on the high demand for low-cost degrees and the fact that few public schools do much traditional marketing.
These entrepreneurs are a little like the early online news sharers — bloggers, contributors to mailing lists and bulletin boards, profit seekers, tinkerers. Just as the new model of news separated “the article” from “the newspaper,” the new model of college will separate “the class” from “the college.” Classes are increasingly taken credit by credit, instead of in bulk — just as news is now read article by article.
Of course, a cultural shift will be required before employers greet online degrees without skepticism. But all the elements are in place for that shift. Major universities are teaching a few of their courses online. And the young students of tomorrow will be growing up in an on-demand, personalized world, in which the notion of a set-term, offline, prepackaged education will seem anachronistic.
Taking the newspaper analogy one step further, college aggregators will be the hub of the new school experience. In the world of news, the aggregators have taken over from the newspaper as the entry point for news consumption. Already, half of college graduates attend more than one school before graduation. Soon you’ll see more Web sites that make it easy to take classes from a blend of different universities.
Because the current college system, like the newspaper industry, has built-in redundancies, new Internet efficiencies will lead to fewer researchers and professors. Every major paper once had a bureau in, say, Sarajevo — now, a few foreign correspondents’ pieces are used in dozens of papers. Similarly, at noon on any given day, hundreds of university professors are teaching introductory Sociology 101. The Internet makes it harder to justify these redundancies. In the future, a handful of Soc. 101 lectures will be videotaped and taught across the United States.
When this happens — be it in 10 years or 20 — we will see a structural disintegration in the academy akin to that in newspapers now. The typical 2030 faculty will likely be a collection of adjuncts alone in their apartments, using recycled syllabuses and administering multiple-choice tests from afar.
Not all colleges will be similarly affected. Like the New York Times, the elite schools play a unique role in our society, and so they can probably persist with elements of their old revenue model longer than their lesser-known competitors. Schools with state funding will be as immune as their budgets. But within the next 40 years, the majority of brick-and-mortar universities will probably find partnerships with other kinds of services, or close their doors.
So how should we think about this? Students who would never have had access to great courses or minds are already able to find learning online that was unimaginable in the last century. But unless we make a strong commitment to even greater funding of higher education, the institutions that have allowed for academic freedom, communal learning, unpressured research and intellectual risk-taking are themselves at risk.
If the mainstream of “college teaching” becomes a set of atomistic, underpaid adjuncts, we’ll lose a precious academic tradition that is not easily replaced.

Students starting school this year may be part of the last generation for which “going to college” means packing up, getting a dorm room and listening to tenured professors. Undergraduate education is on the verge of a radical reordering. Colleges, like newspapers, will be torn apart by new ways of sharing information enabled by the Internet. The business model that sustained private U.S. colleges cannot survive.

Continue reading… “A Revolution is Brewing for Colleges & Universities”


Major Changes Reshaping the Fashion Industry

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The $300-billion fashion business is in the midst of an epic shake-up that is changing the way clothes are designed, marketed and purchased. The Internet — the same force that has splintered the media and music industries — is challenging the taste-making role of the fashion elite, a shift that is being accelerated by the rise of cheap chic and a recession that has blunted more-is-more spending.
In turn, many retail businesses, confronted by changing spending patterns, are becoming less brand-centric and more consumer-centric. And the logic of the runway shows — now underway in New York and scheduled next month in Milan and Paris — is being questioned by some of the top names in the business, who understand that shoppers don’t want to wait six months between seeing designer clothes on the runway and being able to buy them in stores.
“It’s the first time I can remember this kind of shift in the fashion paradigm,” said David Wolfe, creative director of the Doneger Group, a New York trend forecasting firm. “The flashy addictive fashion [is] becoming less and less relevant to people’s lives.”
What’s more relevant, it seems, are shopkeepers who keep the customer in mind and instant access to style and fashion advice provided by the Internet.
Not only does the Internet allow the convenience of shopping any time, anywhere, it’s also a platform for a new generation of style arbiters who can dictate trends from their living rooms.
Aggregator websites let shoppers sift through styles and compare prices from dozens of online stores at once. Shopstyle, for example, offers cross-shopping by brand or search term at www.shopstyle.com and sends personalized e-mails with sale alerts. Covet ( www.covet.com) edits styles shown to individuals based on a questionnaire about preferences for color and silhouette. MyShape lets users input their measurements (www.myshape.com) and shop only for the items that fit their size and style profile.
And for those who can’t be bothered to sit in front of a computer, mobile technology is making it possible to shop from the palm of your hand, which is why fashion designers are rushing to launch their own iPhone applications.
The result of all this interactivity is that there is more information than ever about fashion.
Runway looks, traditionally shown to buyers and the media six to eight months before they land in stores, can be seen online minutes after a designer shows them, worn by celebrities days later, and knocked off soon after that. Which means that sharp-shoulder silhouette that came down the Balmain runway in Paris in March was available at the mall long before the designer original arrived, and at a fraction of the price.
As trends seem to travel at warp speed, fashion magazines such as Vogue and Elle, which have traditionally been looked to for guidance on style, are struggling. The September issues, typically the biggest of the year, are nearly a third slimmer than last year’s. Ad pages in Vogue decreased 36%, to 429.
Some of that money is moving to the Internet. Louis Vuitton North America more than doubled its digital ad spending in 2008, to $286,000, from $107,000 in 2007, according to TNS Media, a New York-based firm that monitors advertising spending in media.
And why not? The Internet makes it possible not only to read about fashion but to participate in it. The use of sites that enable users to create their own fashion spreads, share photos of themselves in different outfits and elicit wardrobe advice from their peers is skyrocketing.
“Between new technology and the economy, the fashion industry will never be the same,” New York designer Norma Kamali said. “It makes you stand back and say, ‘If I continue doing what I’m doing, I may not stay in business.’ It’s time to rethink and look at what’s working and what’s not.”
One tradition that’s being rethought is the semiannual New York runway show, which typically costs a designer $200,000 to $300,000 to mount. In July, the Council of Fashion Designers of America held a meeting in New York City where the relevance of fashion shows was discussed, along with their exclusivity (they are not open to the public).
It was a spirited debate that drew big names, including designers Diane von Furstenberg (who also serves as the council’s president), Donna Karan, Betsey Johnson, Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough of Proenza Schouler, and Vogue editor Anna Wintour.
“We spend so much money on shows, but what is it getting us?” Karan said at the meeting.
“Maybe there can be a fashion week that says ‘trade’ and another one that says ‘shop.’ ” Von Furstenberg suggested.
Some designers are testing alternatives.
For the first time, on Thursday, Kamali will be showing clothes during New York Fashion Week that are available to purchase not six months from now, but on the spot.
“The fashion shows used to be such an elite situation, only for editors and very special buyers,” Kamali said.
“Then it opened up and became more of a celebrity-type event. Now there is no elite anymore. You don’t have to be in the same country to see a runway show. Everybody can see it as soon as it’s over on the Internet.” Kamali also plans to launch an iPhone application that will allow customers to buy from her signature line, a second line for EBay priced under $200 and her mass market Wal-Mart line.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles’ Jared Gold is bypassing the fashion week format altogether and taking his runway collection directly to the consumer with a whistle-stop tour sponsored by Amtrak, among others. The clothes will be available for sale at his events, which begin in November.
By combining the runway and retail, Gold is creating a unique shopping experience, something that is all too rare today, experts say. Retail sales at stores have declined 7% in the last year, and industry observers say that they must reinvent the shopping experience, and enhance it with entertainment and technology, or risk going under.
The global strategy of branding and merchandising that has dominated the luxury sector for the last decade is falling away in favor of more authentic, localized experiences. Luxury brands are borrowing ideas from the fast-fashion world — opening pop-up shops, launching limited-edition collections, even mixing it up with the mass market.
Shoppers are “accustomed to having new styles in the stores all the time, and this is forcing luxury brands to be more similar to Zara and H&M in the way they emphasize newness, entertainment and the in-store experience,” said Claudia D’Arpizio, a business consultant for market research firm Bain & Co.
“The retail industry has gotten lackadaisical,” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for Port Washington, N.Y.-based market research firm NPD Group. “It went through eight years of uninterrupted growth, where you could just stick it on the floor and it would sell because the customer wasn’t thinking about what they were spending money on. But the rules have changed, and you have to earn your stripes again. And price isn’t the only answer.
“Now retail is going through experiential growth mode,” Cohen continued. “You are going to hear about wine and cheese parties, football Sundays, women’s Tupperware parties for panties. It will be about creating a social atmosphere and an educational experience” in stores, he said.
Which is why menswear designer John Varvatos, who turned the famous punk rock club CBGB into a retail store in New York City’s Bowery neighborhood last year, is duplicating the experience in Las Vegas. He recently opened a version of the Bowery boutique in the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, complete with a stage for rock performances, vintage vinyl records and audio equipment for sale alongside $2,000 suits.
Shoppers are looking to TV and movies for style guidance as well, and Hollywood is trying to cash in. Fashion has gone from being esoteric high art (couture) to pop culture, the subject of TV shows, movies and websites. It’s no wonder the Bravo TV channel is getting into the handbag business, with styles created exclusively for its “NYC Prep” series that viewers can purchase online. Talent agency William Morris Endeavor Entertainment recently signed designing duo Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte, with an eye toward developing publishing projects and product collaborations for them.
Even “American Idol” creator Simon Fuller is getting in on the action, by investing in designers such as Roland Mouret and launching Fashionair, a hybrid fashion entertainment and e-commerce website (www.fashionair.com) featuring video programming taped around the world and edited at Fuller’s 19 Entertainment Ltd. studios in London. Like “American Idol,” and unlike most fashion magazines, the site aims to be inclusive, giving users a voice.
“In any jungle it’s survival of the fittest,” says Wolfe, the trend analyst.
“Some people will be left behind. But in the long run this will be healthy for the fashion business.”
Via LA Times

The $300-billion fashion business is in the midst of an epic shake-up that is changing the way clothes are designed, marketed and purchased. The Internet — the same force that has splintered the media and music industries — is challenging the taste-making role of the fashion elite, a shift that is being accelerated by the rise of cheap chic and a recession that has blunted more-is-more spending.  (Pics)

Continue reading… “Major Changes Reshaping the Fashion Industry”


Google’s New Tool for Forecasting the Future

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Talk to the hand

Now Google is throwing the element of predictability into the mix. Looking at a particular trend’s historical search popularity, Google forecasts the trend’s future performance. For example, Twitter. Google looks at Twitter’s search trend from a point in time (normally one year ago), and forecasts its future searches based on historical data available leading up to that point. It then compares that forecast with the actual data from the past year. If the error between the predicted trends and actual trends are small enough, Google calls the trend predictable.
Google has found, not surprisingly, seasonal activities such as skiing and surfing, to be much more predictable than, say, entertainment searches. This means that Google can produce a forecast for about half of its popular searches. The other half? Out of luck.
Search for skiing, and you can see the following, complete with 2010’s forecast:
Search for something less stable, like the Jonas Brothers, and you see this:
No forecast included. Sorry boys. You might be too of-the-moment to have a future.
As Google Trends and Insights for Search are helpful concepts for advertisers and marketers, the forecast feature adds an extra punch of useful to the package, but 50% of searches deemed unpredictable leaves a lot to be desired. I think it’s safe to say that almost anyone could predict when in the calendar year the search term “skiing” would see a spike.
Via FastCompany

Last year, Google updated Google Trends and launched Google Insights for Search, allowing advertisers and marketers to track search behavior based on frequency of searches, time frame, or geographic location. Now Google is throwing the element of predictability into the mix.

Continue reading… “Google’s New Tool for Forecasting the Future”


Why College Costs Rise, Even in a Recession

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Operating in an artificial economy

If you have paid a college tuition bill recently, perhaps the sticker shock has abated and your children have been good enough to friend you on Facebook so you can see what they are doing on your dime.
What probably still lingers, however, is the desire to ask some pointed questions of the people who are doing the educating. Where does all that money go? And why can’t the price tag fall for a change?
Earlier this year, the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities announced with some pride that the average increase in tuition and fees at private institutions this school year would be the smallest in 37 years — 4.3 percent, just a little higher than inflation.
Is this where we are supposed to stand up and cheer?
To get some perspective, I set out to find a college president with an M.B.A. and some experience outside the academy. I found one at Lafayette College in Easton, Pa. Its president, Daniel H. Weiss, is an expert in medieval art, but he also worked as a management consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton. So he knows his way around a corporate restructuring.
Lafayette does not have the strongest name recognition and tries to set itself apart through its location near both New York City and Philadelphia, its strong engineering program and liberal arts offerings, and by being one of the smallest colleges to compete in N.C.A.A. Division I athletics.
That it is not a top-tier college by most measures, however, makes Lafayette an excellent test case as it and other private colleges cross the $50,000 annual cost threshold in shaky economic times.
Public universities will always appeal on price, and Wellesley and Harvard are likely to remain oversubscribed forever. But Lafayette and colleges like it could have trouble justifying themselves and their cost soon, and the resistance may not simply pass once the economy improves.
Tuition costs have gone in only one direction — up — during Mr. Weiss’s career. “I genuinely believe that we are at a crossroads here in higher education,” he said. “I think we have reached a ceiling that we’re beginning to bump into.”
Mr. Weiss has not had to make any drastic budget cuts so far. He has frozen many salaries, cut some hours in the student dining halls and scaled back a few building projects.
This will seem rather tame to anyone who has lived through even a medium-grade corporate revamping. “We haven’t been good at cutting when we add,” said Robert Massa, Lafayette’s new vice president for communications, speaking of colleges in general. “We just add.”
Rising tuition and income from endowments have made this possible. But the unique structure of universities has also made it inconvenient to do otherwise. “In some ways, higher education is more like a political environment than the management of a private corporation,” Mr. Weiss said. Except that thanks to tenure, it is difficult to vote anyone out of office. Still, he added, “Alienating some of your faculty members, if you can avoid it, is something you shouldn’t be doing.”
This is just one of the reasons why it is so hard to make big cuts to a college’s budget and reduce tuition in turn. Here are some others:
CUTTING DEPARTMENTS The political challenges with faculty make something as seemingly simple and obvious as cutting expensive and undersubscribed academic departments pretty hard. In fact, Mr. Weiss could not remember the last time Lafayette had done such a thing.
But such cuts are practically inevitable for programs that have fewer students. “Fine arts has studio-based production, so capital and facility costs are high,” said Jane Wellman, executive director of the nonprofit group Delta Project on Postsecondary Education Costs, Productivity and Accountability, speaking of colleges in general. “Piano tutoring is pretty much one to one in a room with a piano. Pianos are expensive. Agriculture is expensive because of the lab costs, which means a barn.”
An English student, however, is generally a profit center. “They’re paying for the chemistry major and the music major and faculty research,” she said. “They don’t want to talk about it in institutions, because the English department gets mad. The little ugly facts about cross-subsidies are inflammatory, so they get papered over.”
About all Mr. Weiss will say about this is that he agrees that Lafayette needs to do a better job of discriminating between the things it can and cannot do well. He is too good on the politics to single out any department. But there is little doubt that he and administrators like him will need to give up on some foreign languages, minor sciences or parts of the arts pretty soon.
FACULTY PRODUCTIVITY Professors at Lafayette teach five classes a year over two semesters and work with students on their independent research projects. At some colleges and universities, the number of classes is lower and at others it is higher. Couldn’t Lafayette lower costs by demanding that the faculty perform less research and teach one additional class?
“The question is what is the quality of that interaction,” Mr. Weiss said. “Our faculty must have the opportunity to revitalize their teaching through research. If you’re teaching the same old course the same old way every year, you’re not keeping up with the discipline and not able to animate your own teaching with that experience.”
Not every academic agrees. “Am I, for example, as a tenured professor or any tenured faculty member necessarily, or even probably, a better undergraduate teacher because I am doing research?” asked Burton A. Weisbrod, co-author of “Mission and Money: Understanding the University” and an economics professor at Northwestern. “The answer to that is not clear at all.”
Nevertheless, Lafayette is so certain in its convictions that it grants faculty members a year off every six or seven years for a sabbatical. How does a college defend such a practice to parents who have had to work ever harder to pay the growing tuition bill?
“What parents should be looking for is the opportunity for their children to have their lives transformed by what happens inside the classroom and out of it,” Mr. Weiss said. And that cannot come, he continued, without access to faculty members who have had the opportunity to recharge their own intellectual reservoirs. “At the end of the day, parents should want their children to have that experience, and we believe that’s the cost of it.”
Still, parents are helping to subsidize those sabbaticals. So the optics around this are all wrong in the current economic environment, even if this is one of those things no one can change.
ADMINISTRATIVE OVERLOAD Lafayette, like many colleges, spends more on nonfaculty salaries than it does on pay for the teachers. How did that happen? Mr. Weiss uses the evolution of career counseling as an example. He does not recall whether there was a placement office when he was an undergraduate at George Washington University in the 1970s. “Now there is the expectation, and I don’t think it’s misplaced, that students can get help in entering the workplace,” he said. If Lafayette did not create a rigorous support system, he noted, its graduates would be competing with students from other colleges and universities that had done so. “And therefore, we’ve invested very significantly in new administrative staff.”
Security is another area where costs have gone up. Just a quick glance at a dormitory bulletin board gives a sense of the breadth of what security departments deal with these days. One posting offered detailed instructions on what to do when encountering a bat, and an eye-opening piece of literature called “Active Shooter Survival Tips.” (Yes, I have linked to it from the online version of this story.)
THREE YEARS Perhaps the biggest cost-saving measure for private colleges like Lafayette would be to allow students to pay the same price per year but graduate in three years instead of four. Hartwick College in New York is already trying this; 13 students have signed on this fall.
Mr. Weiss said this is worth considering, though he had not looked at how the numbers would work. “Although without sounding in any way defensive, we also do offer time for personal development,” he explained. “And that is part of what college is supposed to be. Not only to learn stuff but to have your life changed. For some students, three years is more than enough, while for others four years is not nearly enough.”
He’s right, of course. Or at least that is how college used to be. The question all of us have to ask now is whether the price of that transformative experience is simply too dear — and whether a basic education ought to be the highest (or maybe only) priority.

If you have paid a college tuition bill recently, perhaps the sticker shock has abated and your children have been good enough to friend you on Facebook so you can see what they are doing on your dime.

What probably still lingers, however, is the desire to ask some pointed questions of the people who are doing the educating. Where does all that money go? And why can’t the price tag fall for a change?

Continue reading… “Why College Costs Rise, Even in a Recession”


Two Near Future Augmented Reality Technologies That Could Change The World

Two Near Future Augmented Reality Technologies

From Diesel’s “Liquid Space” fashion show

Augmented reality is a technology futurists and scifi authors like Vernor Vinge have been talking about for decades. Now the tech has matured and is entering the market. Two videos of new products show you the near future. (Videos after the jump)

Continue reading… “Two Near Future Augmented Reality Technologies That Could Change The World”


Will Video Games Come Alive In The Future?

Will Video Games Come Alive In The Future?

Avatars with emotions 

Anyone who’s played through a game like Microsoft’s Fable II (who can forget your virtual dog?), BioWare’s Mass Effect (with its robust roster of non-playable characters) or seen Sony’s upcoming Heavy Rain (whose developer, Quantic Dream, promises a new type of relationship between player and character) may have wondered to themselves whether gaming, which is still in its infancy as an art form, is heading towards its inevitable Citizen Kane threshold. More than the graphics or surround sound, the latest game consoles’ processing power are bringing to life AI-controlled characters unlike anything experienced before.

Continue reading… “Will Video Games Come Alive In The Future?”


Night with a Futurist on the Future of Politics with Host Tom Tancredo

Night with a Futurist on the Future of Politics with Host Tom Tancredo

Tom Tancredo at the Night with a Futurist on the Future of Politics

Tuesday’s Night with a Futurist offered perspectives on “The Future of Politics” provided by five-term Colorado Congressman and recent Presidential hopeful Tom Tancredo. Tancredo, who stood out during the Republican debates for his deeply held opinions on immigration and border security, prefaced his remarks by indicating he approaches the political system through “a partisan filter” and this vantage point would likely bleed into his remarks. He then went on to describe his start in politics in1975, which was prompted during his career as a 9th grade civics teacher in Arvada, Colorado. In an effort to motivate his students to become involved in public affairs, Tancredo pledged that if the whole class performed extra credit by getting involved with an issue or a campaign, he would run for public office. The class not only followed through on the challenge but also voted on which office Tancredo should pursue, and shortly thereafter he won his race for the Colorado State Senate.

Continue reading… “Night with a Futurist on the Future of Politics with Host Tom Tancredo”


Tweet On The Street

Tweet On The Street

Social networking has become the new frontier for public relations 

The sign of the times that was the late February shutdown of the Rocky Mountain News is the result of a long-brewing sea change in the public’s media-consumption habits. It follows that it also represents a sea change in public relations. Less newsprint and fewer newsrooms make for less opportunity for companies to get exposure in traditional media.
Continue reading… “Tweet On The Street”