Behaviorism in the Spotlight: From High School to Free College with STEM

This educational case study will explore two main initiatives and their impact on America’s educational technologies and direction. These issues are introduced and examined within the realms of educational theory, technological implementations and overall impact on the American educational direction. The initiatives were prompted by America’s need for more educated workers to meet the demands of the global economy. Additionally, how this can be obtained without having these individuals accrue immense debt to so do will also be explored. Furthermore, these workers need to be educated in the skills in highest demand, namely Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) and how these initiatives portray behavioristic driven positive reinforcement based on free education and job marketability

The Fact Sheet: America’s College Promise

(U.S. Department of Education, 2015)

In the Fact Sheet issued by the Office of the White House’s Press Secretary it states, “Nearly a century ago, a movement that made high school widely available helped lead to rapid growth in the education and skills training of Americans, driving decades of economic growth and prosperity. America thrived in the 20th century in large part because we had the most educated workforce in the world.  But other nations have matched or exceeded the secret to our success. Today, more than ever, Americans need more knowledge and skills to meet the demands of a growing global economy without having to take on decades of debt before they even embark on their career.

Today the President is unveiling the America’s College Promise proposal to make two years of community college free for responsible students, letting students earn the first half of a bachelor’s degree and earn skills needed in the workforce at no cost. This proposal will require everyone to do their part: community colleges must strengthen their programs and increase the number of students who graduate, states must invest more in higher education and training, and students must take responsibility for their education, earn good grades, and stay on track to graduate. The program would be undertaken in partnership with states and is inspired by new programs in Tennessee and Chicago. If all states participate, an estimated 9 million students could benefit. A full-time community college student could save an average of $3,800 in tuition per year. “(Office of the Press Secretary, 2015)

The Fact Sheet continues to define the America’s College Promise and with it  “…would create a new partnership with states to help them waive tuition in high-quality programs for responsible students, while promoting key reforms to help more students complete at least two years of college. Restructuring the community college experience, coupled with free tuition, can lead to gains in student enrollment, persistence, and completion transfer, and employment. Among the specifications are “Enhancing Student Responsibility and Cutting the Cost of College for All Americans: Students who attend at least half-time, maintain a 2.5 GPA while in college, and make steady progress toward completing their program will have their tuition eliminated. These students will be able to earn half of the academic credit they need for a four-year degree or earn a certificate or two-year degree to prepare them for a good job.” (Office of the Press Secretary, 2015)


The Fact Sheet: Educate to Innovate

(The White House, 2013)

In addition to America’s College Promise there is the nationwide “Educate to Innovate” initiative which employs the Science, Technology, Engineering Mathematics (STEM) initiative. Other nations have matched or exceeded the number of educated STEM workers in the workforce.  This initiative focuses on the major needs and direction for the type of education workers need so as to meet the educational and STEM skills and levels demanded by the global economy.

“America must provide students with a strong education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) to prepare them to succeed in the global economy. Scientists and engineers create many of the innovations that drive our Nation’s competitiveness, yet many American students are unprepared in math and science, particularly students from underrepresented groups, and the nation’s STEM workforce needs are not being met. (U.S. Office of Education, 2015)

President Obama Launches “Educate to Innovate” Campaign for Excellence in Science, Technology, and Engineering & Math (Stem) Education.

“President Obama has identified three overarching priorities for STEM education: increasing STEM literacy so all students can think critically in science, math, engineering and technology; improving the quality of math and science teaching so American students are no longer outperformed by those in other nations; and expanding STEM education and career opportunities for underrepresented groups, including women and minorities.But while federal leadership is necessary, a real change in STEM education requires the participation of many elements of society, including governors, philanthropists, scientists, engineers, educators, and the private sector. That is why the President’s speech at the National Academy of Sciences challenged all Americans to join the cause of elevating STEM education as a national priority.” (Office of the Press Secretary, 2013)

2015 President Obama Announces Over $240 Million in New STEM Commitments 

“$150 million philanthropic effort  to empower a diverse cadre of promising early-career scientists to stay on track to become scientific leaders of tomorrow;

$90 million “Let Everyone Dream” campaign to expand STEM opportunities to under-represented youth;

$25 million Department of Education competition to create science and literacy themed media that inspires students to explore;

120 universities and colleges committing to train 20,000 engineers to tackle the “Grand Challenges” of 21st century; and,

CEO coalition Change the Equation committing expand effective STEM programs to an additional 1.5 million students this year.” (Office of the Press Secretary, 2015)

Furthermore, Obama has the intention in “Preparing 100,000 Effective STEM teachers Over the Next Decade. President Obama believes that great teaching is a key part of any child’s success, and in the STEM fields, it is critical to creating educational experiences that project-based, hands-on and build a love of lifelong learning.

That’s why President Obama challenged the nation to recruit and prepare 100,000 new effective teachers over the next decade.

Already, more than 150 foundations, companies, and others have come together to lead 100Kin10, a coalition that will work to help reach part of the President’s goal through private funds and challenge Congress to fund the rest.

100Kin10 partners take action by 1) increasing the supply of excellent STEM teachers; 2) hiring, developing, and retaining excellent STEM teachers; and 3) building the 100Kin10 movement. All partners bring content expertise and programmatic or funding capacity to advance the initiative and will participate in an R&D platform designed by the University of Chicago, which will enable continuous improvement for partners and measure a broad range of outcomes across the initiative.

With leadership from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the coalition has already raised over $30 million from a broad range of foundations and philanthropists under a unique “funding marketplace” model through which funders can choose from a registry of high-quality proposals.

Additionally, the Administration also recently announced the creation of a STEM Master Teacher Corps (2012) that seeks to elevate and engage a talented squad of existing STEM teachers from across the country in the proliferation of best practices and effective professional development. “

Behaviorism: The Underlying Learning Theory

(Mah, 2012)

Behaviorism is traditionally attributed to Watson, Thorndike and Skinner. (New Learning, 2015)

As Watson states, “Certain stimulae lead organisms to make … responses … [G]iven the responses, the stimulae can be predicted; given the stimulae, the responses can be predicted…He rejected the idea of introspection—that it was possible to think about consciousness in a scientific way, or to use the mind to think about the mind. The only reliable material for scientific analysis was the observable facts of behaviour. For this reason, there were no important differences between studying human and animal behaviour.” (New Learning, 2015)

As stated by Thorndike in respect to Pavlov who further made a distinction between responses, “Pavlov draws the distinction between an unconditioned (instinctive) and conditioned (environmental and learnt) reflex in response to a stimulus. “(New Learning, 2015) Pavlov measures the discharge from a dog’s salivary gland as its response, “Dogs are operated on and the opening of one salivary duct is transplanted from its natural place on the mucous membrane of the mouth to the outside skin so that the secretion from one salivary gland discharges into a tube where the amount and rate of the flow can be measured” (New Learning, 2015)

Skinner makes a different distinction between formal and informal learning, “Skinner explains the difference between informal learning, which occurs naturally, and formal education, which depends on the teacher creating optimal patterns of stimulus and response (reward and publishment), or ‘operant conditioning’:” (New Learning, 2015)

Offering positive incentives and reinforcements for conditioned behaviors and actions illustrates behaviorism as in Obama’s America College Promise, theTenessee Promise, Chicago Start Scholarship and Harper Promise Scholarship.

President’s Obama’s America College Promise offers “two years of community college free for responsible students, letting students earn the first half of a bachelor’s degree and earn skills needed in the workforce at no cost. This proposal will require everyone to do their part: community colleges must strengthen their programs and increase the number of students who graduate, states must invest more in higher education and training, and students must take responsibility for their education, earn good grades, and stay on track to graduate.” (Office of the Secretary of State, 2015)

“Tennessee Promise participants must complete eight hours of community service per term enrolled, as well as maintain satisfactory academic progress (2.0 GPA) at their institution.” (Tenessee Promise, 2015)

The City College of Chicago’s Chicago Star Scholarship offers “students who graduate from CPS in Spring 2015 or after with a 3.0 GPA who test completion-ready in math and English to be able to pursue an associate degree at City Colleges of Chicago at no cost – free tuition, fees, and books” (City Colleges of Chicago, 2015)

Harper College’s Promise Scholarship offers free tuition at Harper College if the students are “willing to learn”. (Harper College, 2015)

These offerings of free tuition illustrate the behavioristic approach and strategies for desired results and outcomes. It is good that they also offer additional services such as guidance and counseling to assist the students in reaching and maintaining the intended results based desired from these given incentives and positive reinforcement. 

Enforcing the STEM initiatives offers the actual skills that are required for America to increase their education workforce in the areas in demand by the global economy and competition.

Parse the Educational Technology

The National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) was established by Executive Order on November 23, 1993. Chaired by the President, the membership of the NSTC is made up of the Vice President, the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, Cabinet Secretaries and Agency Heads with significant science and technology responsibilities, and other White House officials. The NTSC Council on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Education (CoSTEM) was established in 2011 to coordinate Federal programs and activities in support of STEM education.

According to the NSTC CoSTEM, “The health and longevity of our Nation’s, citizenry, economy and environmental resources depend in large part on the acceleration of scientific and technological innovations, such as those that improve health care, inspire new industries, protect the environment, and safeguard us from harm. Maintaining America’s historical preeminence in the STEM fields will require a concerted and inclusive effort to ensure that the STEM workforce is equipped with the skills and training needed to excel in these fields. President Obama believes that now is a time of opportunity – that we can build a true “all hands on deck” effort to move America forward and address this challenge. “(NTSC, 2013)

A STEM educationak strategic plan titled, Federal Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (Stem) Education 5-Year Strategic Plan: A Report from the Committee on STEM Education National Science and Technology Council, was created in May, 2013.

In the Strategic Plan there are multiple strategies which also incorporate flagship programs in the Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, and the Smithsonian Institution.

  • Making STEM a priority in more of the Administration’s education efforts.
  • Setting ambitious but achievable goals and challenging the private sector.
  • Capitalizing on the President’s deep interest and leadership.

Interrelated goals for the plan are as follows:

  • “Reach more students and more teachers more effectively by reorienting Federal policy to meet the needs of those who are delivering STEM education: school districts, States, and colleges, and universities.
  • Reorganizing efforts and redirecting resources around more clearly defined priorities, with accountable lead agencies.
  • Enable rigorous evaluation and evidence-building strategies for Federal STEM-education programs; · It will increase the impact of Federal investments in important areas such as graduate education by expanding resources for a more limited number of programs, while recognizing shortages in key disciplines and professions.
  • Provide additional resources to meet specific national goals, such as preparing and recruiting 100,000 high-quality K-12 STEM teachers, recognizing and rewarding excellence in STEM instruction, strengthening the infrastructure for supporting STEM instruction and engagement, increasing the number of undergraduates with a STEM degree by one million over the next decade, and broadening participation in STEM fields by underrepresented groups.” (NTSC, 2013)

By offering the STEM initiative, programs, increasing the quality of the teachers and STEM curriculums coupled with free education offers good direction and solutions for the political, economic and educational challenges.

Technology in Practice: America’s College Promise – Case Studies – Illinois and Tennessee


(Tennessee Promise, 2015)

“Tennessee Promise offers two years of tuition-free community or technical college to Tennessee high school graduates beginning with the Class of 2015. Tennessee Promise is a last-dollar scholarship, meaning it will cover college costs not met from Pell, HOPE, or TSAA.” (Tennessee Promise, 2015)

(Medill Report, 2015)


The City Colleges of Chicago’s started a program called the “Chicago Star Scholarship” (2015) . As stated by the City College of Chicago (2015), “Starting with City Colleges’ Fall 2015 semester, students who graduate from CPS in Spring 2015 or after with a 3.0 GPA who test completion-ready in math and English will be able to pursue an associate degree at City Colleges of Chicago at no cost – free tuition, fees, and books.”

(Harper College, 2015)


Harper College in Palatine, IL also offers a “Promise Scholarship” (2015). In a Press Release from Harper College, titled the “Harper launches Promise Scholarship program”, An ambitious new initiative will provide public high school students in the Northwest suburbs with two years of free tuition at Harper College – if they’re willing to earn it.”

So in it of themselves to offer these initiatives and free tuition illustrates the behavioristic approach for desired results and outcomes. It is helpful that they also offer additional services such as guidance and counseling to assist the students in reaching and maintaining the intended results desired from these given incentives and positive reinforcement.

Technology in Practice: Educate to Innovate – STEM Programs

STEM education and initiatives are sweeping the country. There are many national organizations, coalitions and councils for STEM. I am a member of the STEM Higher Education Council (HEC), a national forum for college and university leaders to address America’s need for STEM talent through innovative education, training and strategic partnerships with business and industry. I also belong to the Million Woman’s Mentor (MWM), a nationwide organization advancing women and girls in STEM careers through mentoring.

The STEM facts on Women and Girls as compiled by the MWM are as follows:

(Million Women Mentors, 2015)


Grants are being offered for many innovative programs and implementations.

The President’s Fiscal Year 2015 Budget Proposal

“Included in the fiscal year 2015 budget are several investments designed to improve teaching and learning in STEM subjects for teachers and students in our nation’s schools. Key elements of the President’s proposal include:

  • STEM Innovation Proposal: This proposal includes $170 million in new funding that will help to train the next generation of innovators. Key activities include:
  • STEM Innovation Networks ($110 million): This program will award grants to school districts in partnership with colleges, and other regional partners to transform STEM teaching and learning by accelerating the adoption of practices in P-12 education that help to increase the number students who seek out and are well-prepared for postsecondary education and careers in STEM fields.
  • STEM Teacher Pathways ($40 million): To support President Obama’s goal of preparing 100,000 effective STEM teachers, this program will provide competitive awards to high-quality programs that recruit and train talented STEM educators for high-need schools.
  • National STEM Master Teacher Corps ($20 million): This program will identify, refine and share models to help America’s best and brightest math and science teachers to make the transition from excellent teachers to school and community leaders and advocates for STEM education. The program will enlist, recognize and reward a national corps of outstanding STEM educators to help improve STEM teaching and learning in their schools and communities.”

Stem Programs (U.S. Department of Education, 2015)

“Programs with Primary STEM Emphasis:

Research Programs with Primary STEM Emphasis:

Programs with STEM Grantee Selection Priority:

General Programs that Support STEM Education:

“Together, these programs will identify and implement effective approaches for improving STEM teaching and learning; facilitate the dissemination and adoption of effective STEM instructional practices nationwide; and promote STEM education experiences that prioritize hands-on learning to increase student engagement, interest, and achievement in the STEM fields.” (Office of Education, 2015)

Critical Reflections: America’s College Promise

The American Association of Community Colleges published a Completion Report in 2015. Their initiative is to increase community college students’ completion of awarded degrees. In it, there are statistics by age on actual completion rates.

(American Association of Community Colleges, 2015)


These statistics verify what Waiwaiole stated in Sheehy’s article “The average age at a community college is 28. It is not 18 or 19,” says Waiwaiole. “To say we’re going to go in and just serve high school students would be a disservice to many, if not most, of the students.” (Sheehy, 2015). This would then be a direct criticism to the initiatives by Chicago and Tennessee.

As with any new initiative there is always criticism. As stated by Megan Foley in the article (2015), “Should College Be Free in America”, “Reforming the entire American education system in one move is a logistical nightmare, and politically, it is a pipe dream. Given how complicated a complete overhaul of the entire system would be, most politicians suggest piecemeal reforms. When the government looks to improving primary and secondary schooling, it usually looks to improving standards. George W. Bush implemented No Child Left Behind; Barack Obama’s administration supported the Common Core State Standards Initiative. Increasingly, higher education has seen more radical solution to lower the cost, not for the government, but for American families.”

(Bernie Sanders, 2015)


politifact-photos-sanders_meme_2“Both Obama and Bernie Sanders, Democratic presidential nominee and Independent Senator from Vermont, have proposed to make college free…The idea that America should have the best-educated citizens in the world may not be radical, and Germany made its universities tuition free this year, but arguments against such a proposal are compelling. Not only is free college extremely expensive, but we can highlight five more subtle problems with the concept of free tuition”  (Foley, 2015)

(Pell Institute, 2013)


Postive reinforcement with the incentive for free college for High School graduates with good grades is a behavioristic strategy. These students already have proven track records and would be good candidates for continued success especially since they must keep a 2.5 (America College Promise and Chicago) to 2.5-2.2 (Harper) to 2.0 (Tennessee) grade point averages. But as to who will actually benefit is questionable. Many low income students already get great discounts for education. Also, this discount covers costs after all other scholarships and grants are issued. Furthermore there is a variance amongst the various suggested and actual implementations. the gradepoint averages vary. Also, the America’s College Promise does not stipulate only high school graduates as in Illinois and Tennessee. Another point is that how many students that qualify and succeed would have done so anyway without the free education questioning even the need for the incentive. So, once the actual target market and requirements are established as a nationwide standard with data from the implementation with actual students in the program, then a new comprehensive analysis can be done.

Critical Reflections: Educate to Innovate

In regards to STEM, so far, the initiatives are all good ones and their practices are making a major impact on the American educational system. They are heavily made possible through grants. As with grants and schools, there are always possibilities for political restructuring, misappropriation or discriminatory distinction, though research has not been done to support any if this at this time. Best left to the administrators, politicians and watch dog committees.

“Together, these programs will identify and implement effective approaches for improving STEM teaching and learning; facilitate the dissemination and adoption of effective STEM instructional practices nationwide; and promote STEM education experiences that prioritize hands-on learning to increase student engagement, interest, and achievement in the STEM fields.”  (Office of Education, 2015)

The demand for educated and skilled workers in STEM is depicted in the graph posted by the Office Education. The projected increase from 2010 to 2020 is 48%.

(U.S. Department of Education, 2015)


However, according to, Fareed Zakaria (2015), in the Washington Post article, titled, Why America’s obsession with STEM education is dangerous.

Innovation is not simply a technical matter but rather one of understanding how people and societies work, what they need and want. America will not dominate the 21st century by making cheaper computer chips but instead by constantly reimagining how computers and other new technologies interact with human beings.This dismissal of broad-based learning, however, comes from a fundamental misreading of the facts — and puts America on a dangerously narrow path for the future. The United States has led the world in economic dynamism, innovation and entrepreneurship thanks to exactly the kind of teaching we are now told to defenestrate. A broad general education helps foster critical thinking and creativity. Exposure to a variety of fields produces synergy and cross fertilization. Yes, science and technology are crucial components of this education, but so are English and philosophy. When unveiling a new edition of the iPad, Steve Jobs explained that ‘it’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough — that it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing.’” (Zakaria, 2015)

While technological advances are desirable and intensifying the education to increase the workforce capable of pursuing these advances are desirable.  Liberal education and related fields are also important to a well-rounded person and society. So anything pursued should always be well-rounded and balanced. Different nations may have different perspectives. I think balance and moderation is key to a happy and successful life.


Conclusions and Recommendations

There are various stages of implementation for each initiative, America’s College Promise and Educate to Innovate.

America’s College Promise

In regards to Obama’s College promise, it is too early to tell even if it will be launched or implemented. As stated by Ramin Sedehi, director of the higher education consulting division at Berkeley Research Group and former vice dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania in Sheehy’s article (2015), “How the funding will be applied is currently vague,”

The actual implementations are already in the works in Chicago, Palatine (Harper College) and Tennessee. More will be popping up across the nation to keep themselves competitive and alive as institutions.

With the rise of free MOOCs and other popular venues supported by large corporations how long can publically funded institutions survive? However, I would assume there will be challenges for the funding to support these programs and must be monitored and assisted in order for them to be a competitive part of the market and maintain a long lasting effective change for our nation.

“Tennessee Promise is a last-dollar scholarship, meaning it will cover college costs not met from Pell, HOPE, or TSAA.” (Tennessee Promise, 2015)

Currently, “Chicago’s Star program, set to begin this fall, will fund its $2 million budget from savings generated by streamlining the City Colleges system. The City Colleges program doesn’t start from tuition dollar one: It fills the gap between the estimated $11,000 cost of a two-year degree and a student’s federal and state financial aid awards. Students will be required to apply for that aid.” (Chicago Tribune, 2015)

As for Harper, “Motorola Solutions Chairman and CEO Greg Brown and his wife, Anna, who are chairing the Promise Scholarship campaign to raise $10 million to fund the program today and into the future.” (Harper College, 2015)

In Obama’s America College Promise, “The president proposes that the federal government pony up three-quarters of the community college tuition cost, with states that choose to participate chipping in the rest. If all states participate, the White House says, some 9 million students could save an average of $3,800 in tuition.” (Chicago Tribune, 2015)

This would be something to visit again when more statistics and actual implementation learning analytics are conducted to see the actual reality of the promises.

Educate to Innovate

STEM initiatives are gaining great momentum and many contributions are being made from the public and private sectors making the proposal well-supported and in great motion.

By offering free college with STEM curriculum offers a sound direction to meeting the educational challenges and positive outcomes for job marketability integrating of behavioristic positive reinforcements. STEM is a program that can exist without the free college incentive because it is being seen not only in higher education but also seen in elementary and high schools. It is far reaching and making a greater impact on the overall direction for the initiatives at this time. Free community college may or may not exist for a long time, but MOOCs are already here too. On the other hand, STEM will be with us in my opinion as a standard that will soon become one of the foundations for every educational institution and curriculum now and in the future.


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