Monthly Archives: January 2015

Can Community College Really Be Free?

Black graduation cap on white background with price tag attached to tassel.I am writing this just before the annual State of the Union address so I am admittedly lacking in details, but I want to start a conversation on the proposal to provide free community college education for everyone. This proposal was announced two weeks ago and has drawn a mixed reaction. The proposal is this: community college tuition shall be free to all who “make steady progress toward completing their program”( Students would be required to attend at least half time and maintain a 2.5 GPA. The federal government would fund this program with $60 billion over the next ten years and states that opt in would bear 25 percent of the cost.


This proposal would benefit low-income students who are already taking advantage of Pell grants, as well as all who want to complete the first two years of a college education. In essence, this would be an extension of government funded K-12 education and would remove the cost barrier that prevents many students from continuing their education. The benefit would apply to vocational and certificate programs as well as those programs that prepare students to transfer to a four-year college or university. The national government proposal is modeled after a program launching this fall in Tennessee.


This proposal would cost an estimated $60 billion with the federal government supplying 75 percent of the money and states covering the remainder. While details are light at this point, the money is expected to come from higher taxes and eliminating some tax breaks, including the tax-free status of 529 college savings plans. Without the tax-free growth benefit such college savings plans would likely disappear as parents would seek other investment vehicles.


This proposal has set off bells and sirens in my head. Let me be clear, I am a huge proponent of higher education at any level and would love to have it be accessible to all, but there are a lot of unanswered questions. Here are my top questions, and I invite you to add your own (or answer mine):

  1. If tuition is covered, how is a student going to pay for room and board, or will that be covered as well?
  2. If every high school graduate enrolls in community college, who funds the expansion of the community college infrastructure, such as buildings? It will put a burden on the state to keep up with the new incoming students.
  3. Following on the question above, if everyone enrolls in community college because it is free, who is left to complete their first two years at public and private universities? Will these now also become two-year universities for juniors and seniors? If not, will they restructure their curriculum to favor those students that completed their first two years as a resident as opposed to being a transfer student?
  4. What will be the opportunities for those newly minted community college graduates who want to complete a higher degree? Will they be limited because of cost or other factors?
  5. Will cash-strapped states want to participate in this program? If so, will that take money from the already shrinking pool available to four-year state institutions?
  6. Will we create pockets of states that offer free community college tuition versus those that don’t? Residency requirements suddenly become a moot point.


I have a lot more questions, but I am hoping that at least some of them will be answered in the days to come. From the initial proposal, it does not seem well thought out in terms of economics. But the overarching question that I don’t think we are asking is: what do we value about a community college education? Do we value it as a vocational education program or as a gateway to a full university education? Do we value it as a means to teach functional, applied skills, or for teaching higher thinking and reasoning skills in preparation for a university education? How do we value our community colleges?

These are some of my questions and I would love to hear from you. What questions or answers do you have? Perhaps together we can figure this out.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Cutting-edge Technologies for an Aging Population

Photo of a woman pushing the button on an emergency call system.I recently read an interesting article highlighting technology solutions for an aging population. I have never thought specifically about technology that can compensate for the inevitable aging process, but was fascinated by the products that are being introduced. I will most likely be using some of these technologies in the future, so I am thankful that someone is thinking ahead. I want to dedicate this post to highlighting several of these assistive technologies and products, and I’d like to hear from you about those I may have missed.


Care Innovations is a joint venture between Intel and General Electric that focuses on solutions dedicated to aging in place. Telehealth is a big part of the push to enable seniors to stay in their homes instead of being moved to a care facility or a hospital. Technologists from GE, Intel, and others are developing technologies for allowing people to monitor their own health and to work with a remote care provider. Among these technologies are heart rate and blood pressure monitors that transmit information in real time. In the works are systems that automatically notify emergency personnel of a dangerous fall. An overriding goal in all of this research is to develop technologies that are unobtrusive. Simple interactions result in successful and sustained use of the devices or applications.

Cool Gadgets

One of my favorite devices is Liftware. This is a handheld device that can be fitted with a spoon or fork and dampens shaking from essential tremors or other diseases. As the person shakes, the spoon counters by vibrating in the opposite direction. It is shown to remove up to 70 percent of vibrations caused by tremors. I recently had dinner with a wonderful gentleman who had tremors, and I began to wonder how he would ever be able to eat soup. I saw a review on this product two days later and I had my answer. What a wonderful innovation for those suffering from this affliction.

Assistive Devices

A recent CNN article highlighted assistive devices that aid Alzheimer’s patients and allow them to stay in their homes longer. These include sensors by SmartThings that monitor whether they took their medications, whether they left their home during certain hours, and whether there is smoke in the kitchen or flooding in the laundry room. Such devices are not new, but in these cases they are connected to a wireless hub and alert family members or caregivers about the activity of the resident. As the article points out, one of the unique problems that arise from this technology is whether you alert the resident to the fact that they are being monitored. Well-meaning family members who do not reveal the monitoring are simply trying to keep the resident safe. Granted, this is not spying by the NSA, but there are some delicate privacy issues involved, even on a family level.


Personally, I am excited about the use of assistive technologies, particularly when it allows people to remain independent longer and out of invasive care. Would I trust my son to monitor me when I get to the stage where I can no longer be trusted to make all of my own decisions? Absolutely. I am hoping that by that point he will be able to supplement my Bitcoins with some from his own stash when I accidentally go on a fine chocolate buying spree.

Do you have any experience with assistive technologies? Do you rely on apps or devices to remind you about daily tasks or are you helping a loved one to remain independent through technology? I would love to hear from you. I think this will be a growing area of interest.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Hacktivism: Is it a Forgivable Crime?

A hacktivist is defined as one who breaks into a computer or network for political or social motives. The more I read about hacktivists, the more I wonder if they are hackers cloaked in the ideals of activism, or activists borrowing a page from the hacker playbook to further their cause? In this post, I will highlight a few recent incidences of hacktivism and let you decide.

Sony Hack

The Sony hack tops the list, both for its recency and its impact. A group of hackers called The Guardians of Peace broke into Sony’s internal computers and released sensitive documents and e-mail exchanges, some of which involved Sony partners. Five movies were released to download sites, four of which had not yet been released in theaters. They blocked the release of the movie The Interview by threatening to bomb theaters that showed the film. The Interview is a comedy about a plot to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. Ironically, or maybe not, as of this writing the FBI is claiming the hack originated from North Korea. Was this an attempt to expose Sony’s inadequate defenses, a case of defending a country’s honor from a fictitious film, or was it plain and simple malice? Whatever the motives, The Guardians of Peace crossed the line from hacktivism to terrorism when they threatened to bomb theaters.


The hacktivist group Anonymous Africa attacked and closed down fifty websites during the 2013 Zimbabwean election, including those associated with the ruling Zanu PF party and those of the newspaper The Herald. The group claimed President Robert Mugabe’s regime dominated the Internet and airwaves and did not allow access to the opposing party. Was their attack successful? Ninety-year-old Mugabe is still in power, but the oppression in Zimbabwe was exposed, if only briefly.

Arab Spring

The Arab Spring was sparked in January 2011 by an uprising against the ruling party in Tunisia. The hacktivist group Anonymous stole Tunisian government documents and funneled them to the website Wikileaks, which published them. The documents showed a pattern of abuse by the government against the citizens. In Egypt, when citizens tried to expose government oppression and the government responded by trying to shut down the Internet, various hacktivists provided alternative methods for citizens to expose the actions taking place in their country. In these instances hacktivism was a weapon, just like bombs or guns, and hacktivists tried to win the hearts of the people and expose activities deemed to be unfair and oppressive. The same method is being used in Syria today.


So is hacktivism good or bad? That depends. There are definitely economic losses in politically motivated hacks, so it is not a zero-sum activity. There can be embarrassment and expense for those who are hacked. I think that these hacks may have started out with reasonable and objective motives, but more often than not they cross the line into cyber-terrorism. I believe that there are better ways to further a cause than breaking into electronic files and exposing them, preventing them from being seen, or outright stealing them.

Hacktivism is criminal, but is it justified? Let me know what you think.
Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

The Impact of Technology in Football

I recently wrote a blog post about technology in sports, but I want to focus this post on technology in football and how it benefits the game and, more specifically, the players. With the college football playoff coming up, followed by the Super Bowl, this is a great opportunity to shine a spotlight on technology contributions.

Making College Football Safer

In a recent USA Today article, the author highlights the use of a product by Axon Sports that helps train elite college athletes by converting a team’s playbook into a visual simulation, complete with potential responses from opposing teams. This cognitive training is available for any position except place kicker and punt return. The application uses a tablet-like board to train the player to quickly assess an unfolding situation and react faster and smarter. The benefit of this technology is that a player can repetitively practice several plays without ever having to suit up. This helps a player play smarter while also reducing the risk of injury or concussion. It may be no surprise that the University of Oregon and quarterback Marcus Mariota were among the earliest adopters of this training.

How Fast are They Running?

A recent Boston Globe article spotlights sensor technology worn by almost all NFL players. The sensors emit a signal (at twenty-five times per second) to track and record a player’s speed and distance over time. The sensors use RFID technology to transmit the data points to in-stadium receivers so they can be viewed by announcers and broadcasters almost in real time. This technology is still fairly experimental, but the idea is that the additional data will improve the football viewing experience by allowing fans to do their own analysis and comparisons. When I am watching football data analysis is the furthest thing from my mind, but maybe I am unique that way. I do see how this technology could help players maximize their speed or change their training to increase performance.

What is the Impact?

Helmet impact sensors are, in my opinion, one of the best developments in football. These sensors are still in their infancy but are commercially available for professional and college teams as well as high school and younger players. The sensors record the impact of a collision and assess whether the impact is enough to sideline a player for monitoring, which will hopefully prevent a concussion or future brain injuries. Equipment maker Riddell markets its Speedflex system, which senses and broadcasts impact forces to coaches and trainers who can then make an assessment based on statistics AND qualitative observations. If this can help prevent head injuries in players, I think it is better than any application to enhance viewing that we can develop. This is an excellent use of technology for performance and safety.


You now know about some of the cool technology that can enhance our viewing experience or protect players from injuries. Do you have any ideas for new technologies that would make the game better for you, your favorite player, or the future player sitting next to you? Let me know your thoughts.
Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.