Faculty Spotlight

May Faculty Spotlight with Clinical Professor and Director of the Higher Education Administration Program, Jeffrey Apfel

May 17 Faculty Spotlight

Global perspective and a spirited thirst for pedagogy are frequently what set Marxe professors and lecturers apart from others. Clinical Professor and Director of the Higher Education Administration program, Jeff Apfel talks with us about his teaching journey from China to New York City, new forward-thinking goals for Marxe’s Master of Science in Education in Higher Education Administration program, and more.

What was it like living and lecturing in China, then coming back to teach in New York City? What was the most striking change in your students’ interests and attitudes?
Traveling always should induce in a traveler some sense of modesty. You may think you know what is going on but what you know is always so much less than what you do not. I was in China for a course and did some traveling but only saw a small sliver of a small slice for a split second. And while I was there it was an immersion experience.

I spent almost all my time with my Chinese students and hosts. When you are in that mode new things come at you pretty fast and time seems to stretch out, like a kid’s experience of an endless summer by the Fourth of July. Put another way when you do an international program like this you are supposed to be there to teach but in the end you mostly learn.

I taught a class on American non-profits to around 50 undergraduates. I was unsure how it would go. For one, just as I was arriving the central government was sending out signals to universities to avoid topics like civil society. Thankfully, I got no pressure from the administration as to what I could and could not say. But I was also aware that the civil society tradition in China, while growing, still has fairly shallow roots. What would my students know about the topic and how would they come to grips with it?

I found the students enthusiastic and receptive. They were highly interested in the idea of nonprofits, and were familiar with the concept. Nonprofits are of growing importance in China. But many of them operate less in a neutral “civil society” space and more as partners of, or adjuncts to, government. So I think many of the students found the idea of an entity that is both committed to the public good and independent of government to be a new thing.

How is the Master of Science in Education program currently evolving? What developments do you imagine will be made in the next five years?
We made a number of changes a couple of years ago aimed at making the program more rigorous and relevant. We want the capstone to be less an occasion to just write a long paper and more of an opportunity to synthesize the learning that has taken place over the course of the program. We are now in the process of finalizing learning goals for the program, and will need to undertake assessment to see that the students in the program graduate with the competencies we desire them to have. The capstone can be an opportunity to do that.

We are also recommending changes this spring in graduation requirements. We will move some of our popular special topics courses like Student Development Theory, The Law of Higher Education and International Higher Education into the “regular rotation.” We will add an element of choice to required courses to increase flexibility, allowing students to fashion informal concentrations. And we will add a regular course on diversity.

Down the road we are considering additional formal concentrations, depending on how we see interest shaping up based on student demand. These could include concentrations dealing with online modes of delivery and other future-oriented topics.

What courses will you be teaching in the upcoming academic year?
I have taught the Introductory Course, the International Course and Capstone. And I supervise our internships. But for the most part I stick to The Finance of Higher Education because of my background in finance and administration at the colleges where I have worked.

What is it you find to be so compelling about this particular topic?
Well, as my students know because it is one of my mantras, colleges are interesting because they are part church and part used car dealer. On the one extreme private companies are motivated primarily by money. On the other pure mission-based organizations tend not to sell services and are rightly thought of as charities. But higher education sits right in the middle. That means there are big parts of it that think finance is either demeaning or a sideshow or irrelevant. But at the same time it still has to operate on a business model of sorts. The hybrid nature of higher education in this regard makes for a different kind of animal, that's for sure. And that's one reason I like it: the way finance happens in higher education is just unique, and interesting. To me anyway.

But then there is also the interest that comes in a pedagogical sense. Learning about finance in higher education can be useful, and not just to those who want to specialize in it. Most of our students are working already in higher education, most often not on the finance side. Partly due to the church/car dealer divide a lot of them have no idea about the role of finance in their institutions. I argue that because finance plays such a critical role the more you know about it the better you will be at playing the finance game. And that can be helpful in career success and advancement.