The Education Budget Crisis: Is It Necessary?

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

According to the latest headline, the University of Hawai`i system is facing a $76 million budget crisis that threatens “massive cuts to programs, departments and schools”[1]. Yet, the state recently announced that $203 million has been released to the UH for capital improvements.[2]

The same holds true for the public schools. At a time when budget cuts are forcing layoffs, pay cuts, furloughs, and program reductions, the state is releasing $75 million for — you guessed it — capital improvements.[3]

I’m aware that UH is not alone and that countless colleges and universities around the country are facing similar hard times and budgeting practices. Thus, when I refer to UH specifically, I’m also referring to all the other higher ed institutions that are suffering similar fates.

Link to the TalkETC discussion on this article

For me, the fundamental question is, Are physical structures such as classrooms and offices so essential to education that they must take priority over programs and staff? Or put another way, When push comes to shove and we’re forced to choose between the two, do the buildings win?

Perhaps 20 or even 10 years ago, the answer would have been yes. Without campuses and buildings, education would be impossible.


But today, with online programs flourishing, the answer has to be a resounding no. Education is already being delivered online via strategies that don’t require expensive classrooms and offices. In fact, nearly all the physical structures that make up a traditional campus are superfluous for totally online classes. Students and professors can work from anywhere: home, dorm, coffee shop — wherever they have an internet connection.

To its credit, the UH isn’t completely oblivious to the potential of online learning. To address the severe budget cuts, the chancellor has begun a system-wide planning process to prioritize efforts, and under “D. Maximizing resources,” we find “Explore greater use of technology–enhanced learning (distance learning) to increase access to learning opportunities and achieve savings”[4]. The fact that this is last among the six priorities in this category is telling, I think.

The problem, I’ve been told, is the state’s funding process, which treats capital improvements as a separate budget item. Colleges and schools aren’t allowed to reallocate CI funds to other uses. Thus, we face the very real prospect of offering students well-maintained as well as new buildings but severely truncated programs.

But what if . . .

What if the funding process were made more flexible and colleges were given the power to use all or most of the CI funds in innovative ways to save or restore the programs that are now in danger of being cut or curtailed?

If this actually happens, how would we ensure that the funds would be used wisely?

My bias is toward pouring the funds into electronic infrastructure, staff reorganization, and resources that would mazimize a college’s completely online strategies and offerings. In my mind, the money’s there for colleges to thrive, but only if they’re willing to take the leap from physical to primarily virtual structures.

Given the freedom to decide, are colleges ready for this leap? Or would they still opt for capital improvements?

Needless to say, gravity is probably strongest in the middle, where the pull is toward a collegial splitting of the funds between CI and online, But the real danger in this kind of non-decision is that we may simply perpetuate the status quo, watering down the real power of the funds and going through the motions of changing without actually changing and ensuring that the we’ll travel all the way back to where we are now.


1. Dan Nakaso, “University of Hawaii in Crisis Over Deficit,” Honoulu Advertiser, 9 Nov. 2009.

2.$203M Going to Physical Improvements at UH,” Honoulu Advertiser, 7 Nov. 2009.

3.Public Schools to Spend $75 Million on Improvements,” KPUA, 5 Nov. 2009.

4. Virginia S. Hinshaw, “Preliminary Recommendations on Prioritization,” University of Hawaii: Communications, 8 Sep. 2009.

Interview with Bert Kimura: TCC 2009 April 14-16

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

The following ETC interview with Bert Kimura, coordinator of the annual TCC (Technology, Colleges and Community) Worldwide Online Conference, the longest running virtual conference, was conducted via email on April 7-8, 2009. Dr. Kimura, a professor at Osaka Gakuin University, orchestrates the completely online event from Japan. The theme of the 14th annual conference is “The New Internet: Collaborative Learning, Social Networking, Technology Tools, and Best Practices.” It will be held on April 14-16, 2009. TCC is a conference designed for university and college practitioners including faculty, academic support staff, counselors, student services personnel, students, and administrators.

Question: What’s the theme of this year’s conference and, more specifically, why did you choose it?

The Internet world is abuzz with social networking and Web 2.0 technologies and, recently, its impact on teaching and learning. We thought that this focus would be appropriate for faculty along with what their colleagues have been doing with these technologies in their (i.e., the early adopters’) classrooms.

TCC coordinators pay attention to the Horizon Report published annually by the New Media Consortium and EduCause. Two years ago, the report cited social media as a technology to have short term impact on teaching and learning.

bert_kimura2Question: What are the primary advantages of online vs. F2F conferences?

1. Ability to “attend” all conference sessions, including the ability to review sessions and content material.
2. No travel expenses or time lost from the workplace.
3. No need to obtain travel approval and submit complex documents to meet administration and/or business office requirements.

Question: What are some innovative or new features that you’ve added to TCC?

1. Live sessions have made the conference alive, i.e., people seem to like knowing that others are doing the same thing at the same time. Through these sessions they can interact with each other through the “back door,” a background chat that is going on simultaneously; this is the same as speaking to your neighbor when sitting in a large plenary session at a conference. Additionally all sessions are recorded and made exclusively available for review to registered participants for six months.
2. Collaboration with LearningTimes. The LearningTimes CEO and president are very savvy technically and hands-on, and they understand how educators work, how tech support should be provided, and they provide an excellent online help desk to conference participants, especially presenters. Their staff support responds quickly and accurately to participant queries. They also respond graciously and encouragingly to those with much less technical savvy.
3. Paper proceedings (peer reviewed papers). We believe that this is one way to raise the credibility of this event and make it accessible to a broader higher education audience. Research institutions still require traditional (and peer reviewed) publications for tenure and promotion. However, by publishing entirely online, we also promote a newer genre. Proceedings can be found at:
4. Inclusion of graduate student presentations. We feel that we need to invest in the future and that TCC can also become a learning laboratory for graduate students. Grad students, especially if they are at the University of Hawai`i, may have much greater difficulty in getting to F2F conferences than faculty.

Question: What’s the secret to TCC’s success?

1. Great collaboration among faculty, worldwide, to bring this event together. We have over 50 individuals that assist in one way or another — advisory panel, proposal reviews (general presentations, e.g., poster sessions), paper proceedings editorial board, editors (writing faculty that review and edit descriptions), session facilitators, and a few others.
2. Quality of presentations — they are interesting, timely, and presented by peers, for and about peers.
3. Continuity and satisfaction among participants. Our surveys (see Additional Sources below) consistently show very high rates of satisfaction. We have managed to persist, and TCC is recognized as the longest running online (virtual) conference.
4. Group rates for participation — i.e., a single charge for an entire campus or system.
5. TCC provides a viable professional development venue for those that encounter difficulty with travel funding.

Question: What are the highlight keynotes, presentations, workshops, etc. for this year’s conference?

See for the current conference program, presentation descriptions, etc. For keynote sessions, see

“Sakura in early morning. Taking out the trash was pleasant this morning.”
iPhone2 photo (8 April 2009) and caption by Bert Kimura. A view of cherry
blossoms from his apartment in Tsurukabuto, Nada-ku, Kobe, Japan.
See his Kimubert photo gallery.

Question: What’s the outlook for online conferences in general? Are they growing in popularity? Will they eventually surpass F2F conferences? If they’re not growing or are developing slowly, what are some of the obstacles?

At the moment, I’m not sure about the outlook — there are more virtual individual events or hybrid conferences, but not many more, if any, that are entirely online. One thing that is clear is many established F2F conferences are adding or considering streaming live sessions. Some openly indicate that a virtual presentation is an option.

The biggest challenge is the view that online events should be “free,” i.e., they should use funding models that do not charge participants directly. For an event that is associated with a public institution such as the University of Hawai`i (Kapi`olani Community College), it is impossible to use “micro revenue” funding models because institutional business procedures do not accommodate them easily.

Likewise, there is no rush among potential vendors to sponsor single online events. I have been talking with LearningTimes, our partners, to see if a sponsor “package” might be possible, where, for a single fee, a vendor might be able to sponsor multiple online conferences.

Even with 50+ volunteers, a revenue stream is vital to assure continuity. We operate on a budget that is one-twentieth or less of that for a traditional three-day F2F conference. Without volunteers, we could not do this.

Question: What are the prospects for presentations in different languages in future TCC conferences? If this is already a feature, has it been successful? Do you see it growing?

At the moment and with our current audience, there has not been an expressed need for this. However, if we were to target an event for a particular audience (e.g., Japan or China), then we would need to provide a support infrastructure, i.e., captioning and/or simultaneous interpretation.

On the other hand, the Elluminate Live interface that we use for live sessions does allow the user to view the interface and menus in his native language. Elluminate is gradually widening its support of other languages. Having experienced the use of another language interface, Japanese, I find that it makes a big difference to see menu items and dialogue boxes in your native language.

Question: Tell us about your international participants. Has language been a barrier for their participation?

– So far language has not been a challenge. It might be that those who suspect that it will be don’t register. Some, I think, see this as an opportunity to practice their English skills.
– International participants are much fewer in number (less than 10 percent). We’ve had presenters from Saudi Arabia, UK, Scandinavia, Brasil (this year’s keynoter), Australia, Japan, Sri Lanka, Canada, Israel, Abu Dabi,  Greece, India, as well as other countries.
– In some regions such as Asia (Japan is the example that I’m most knowledgeable about) personal relationships make the difference in terms of participation. On the other hand, it is difficulty for a foreigner, even if s/he lives in the target country, to establish personal networks. I have been able to do this gradually over the past seven years — but it is still, by far, not enough to draw a significant number (even with complimentary passes) to the event. In Japan, it also coincides with the start of the first semester (second week of classes) and, consequently, faculty are busy with regular duties. If we were to hold this event in the first week of September, the effect would be the same for the US. We would have difficulty attracting good quality presentations and papers that, in turn, will draw audiences to the event.

Question: What’s in the works in terms of new features for future conferences?

– Greater involvement with graduate students as presenters and conference staff. It provides TCC with manpower and, at the same time, TCC serves as a valuable learning laboratory for students.
– Events, either regional or global, on occasion, to keep the community interacting with one another throughout the year.
– Some sort of ongoing social communications medium to keep the community informed or to share expertise among members on a regular basis (e.g., a blog, twitter, etc.)

[End of interview.]
The official registration period for TCC 2009 is closed, but you can still register online at
The homepage for the event can be found at

Additional Sources: For additional information about the annual TCC conference, see the following papers presented at the 2006 and 2008 Association of Pacific Rim Universities (APRU) Distance Learning and the Internet (DLI) conferences at Toudai and Waseda: Online Conferences and Workshops: Affordable & Ubiquitous Learning Opportunities for Faculty Development, by Bert Y. Kimura and Curtis P. Ho; Evolution of a Virtual Worldwide Conference on Online Teaching, by Curtis P. Ho, Bert Kimura, and Shigeru Narita.