The Power of Connections

First, welcome back. After a long, tumultuous journey, spanning several months, I feel as though I found a bit of the voice I’d lost and am thrilled to be posting again to this blog. And the seemingly simplest of things helped me find my way back. Last night, I made a requst of my facebook friends. 

I’m not being bragadacious when I point out that I have a large number of facebook friends– for those of you reading this who don’t know, or have forgotten, I used to actively friend all of my advisees back when academic advising was my primary role. For a while, I had close to 2000 friends and a tremendous majority of them were advisees, both current, but now all former. I don’t know if they all understood at the time that their acceptance of my friend request signified to me that I had so effectively forged a trust-based relationship with them that they invited me into their facebook world. I considered this a HUGE win. Some of my peers and colleagues wrote it (and my feelings of victoriousness) off as students simply having acquiessed to my request because of the power I held in the relationship as their academic advisor. A position that offended me to my core, as I always strived to meet students as equals, intentionally and purposefully eschewing the typically authoritative role of “teacher” in a teacher-centered reality. 

So, back to the request I made last night. My wife and I recently made the decision to cut cable and are relying solely on Roku and an indoor, “over-the-air,” antenna for our family’s television entertainment. And when she and I have tried to find a movie or series to watch, we’ve found many of the current offerings to be portraying a majority of the characters as deceitful, vile, people with dead souls and no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Many of them have been intriguing at first glance, but then deeper layers of violent or unscrupulous or tawdry behavior are revealed, leaving us feeling disturbed and distressed. And with all that is disturbed and distressing about the real world, we certainly don’t need those conditions of human life to be replicated and exxagerated in the fiction in which we choose to indulge. We have literally found only one or two things to watch that don’t leave us feeling as though there is no humanity left in the world. (Sherlock is balanced between intrigue and ‘reality’ and the English Baking Challenge as well as the Kids’ Baking Championship, which our ten-year old absolutely adores are refreshingly free of vindictive competitors speaking ill of their peers). So I posted about this on facebook, imploring our friends to make some suggestions, and one of my former advisee/friends (also one of the first advisees I ever friended) made a contribution to the post. 

This simple little act not only gave me anthoer series to delve into, but it also reinforced my belief in the power of connections–in life and in the advising/mentoring relationship. That he is still a participant in my social network, after nearly a decade, negates the nay-sayers insisting that all those connections were forced by my authority. It reaffirmed my belief that the mentoring relationship may end when there is nothing more through which to guide your mentee, but that the conclusion of the mentoring relationship can result in a lasting, friendly connection. It also helped me feel less distressed about reality and the road ahead in these uncertain times. 

Oh, the power of connections…

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Education vs. Job Training, Part XXVII

OK, so check out this interesting article about redefining “college” that was recently posted on The Hill:

Now, let’s see… where to begin?

“Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) is the latest in a string of high-profile policymakers and employers who have questioned whether a college education is vital to success in America.”

Yeah, I’ll bet.

“…our current system of postsecondary education is filled with a myriad of high-quality pathways to the American Dream – including technical-training certifications, apprenticeships, employer-based workforce readiness programs, web-developer “boot-camps,” and many more credentials that go far beyond the traditional two- and four-year degrees.”

This is only the second paragraph of the piece, and I’m already struck by the fact that they haven’t yet included anything having to do with “education” — they’re only talking about job training programs. While at first I thought that I would agree with what the title suggests the “debate” would be about, it turns out that they simply want the new definition of “college” to be “trade school.” And how can one really try to defend the statement that training certifications, apprenticeships, and “boot camps,” focused more on efficiently moving people into the work force, are designed and executed to “go far beyond” the educational potential of two to four years of in-depth study that “traditional two- and four-year insitutions” can offer?

College Pays 2014“a 2014 policy brief … found African American millennials must earn two educational levels higher than their white counterparts in order to have the same employment prospects. “

While this, at once alarming and not-surprising, bit of info is certainly depressing, it’s nothing compared to the solution (emphasis mine) the author follows with in the next paragraph. The jist of the paragrpah is that that there are plenty of nice certificate programs that can prepare low-income students for jobs that “pay livable, middle-class wages.” There is no qualification of what “livable, middle-class wages” really means, and no apology for the fact that this redefinition of college will doom the so-called “low-income students… who are born into the bottom of the income spectrum” to stay at the bottom of that income spectrum. I use the chart to the right in a lot of my posts, and I realize it leaves out the sort of job-training focused certificate programs I’m presently bashing, but I think that the data in it are relevant to this conversation nonetheless.

Missing from this analysis of what the word “college” means is the fact that, when you train yourself for one specific field by earning a highly specialized certificate in that one field, you make yourself beholden to the job market in that singular field upon graduation. The alternative is to understand higher education according to its true purpose–to provide a broad-based education, supporting the development of critical-thinking and decision-making, so that no matter what the job outlook is in a specific field, the graduate has the flexibility to find her/his way in an unpredictable world of work.

As a member of a socio-economic demographic that wasn’t intended to go to college in the first palce, I’m both a byproduct of, and a dedicated beleiver in, the life-changing power of higher eductation. One of my favorite books about education is a book titled Mentor by Laurent Daloz (I’ve quoted it often, and likely more than once in this blog). One of the points Daloz makes about the best possible outcomes of an education is that trasnformations occur “when students start asking broader and deeper questions of the relationship between oneself and the world.” This is not to say that such transformation is impossible in certificate programs and educational experiences focused on workforce development. However, balancing the blog author’s point about “low income students” and a “livable middle-class wage” against the idea of those same “low income students” daring to imagine that they might be capable of transforming their lives into a reality in which they can strive for more than “livible wages” seems, to me at any rate, to belie rather shallow thinking that doesn’t belong in a debate about the meaning of the word “college.”

 

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Proactive Advising and Common Readings make a difference. Blog posting for Throw Back Thursday.

So this post provided me a nice little lift towards the end of my day. It embraced a healthy level of irrevernce by tossing a little #TBT (Throw Back Thursday) reference in there, it links to an article on a type of advising I’ve embraced for the entire decade I’ve spent doing this work, it talks about a “common reading” program like the one I want to start at my new institution, and it ties in nicely with what, I think, higher education now needs to embrace.

Rightly so, institutions are focusing on access, enrollment management, and getting students in the door and on their way to embracing the life-changing power of a college degree. I think that will get Enrollment-Management-Minded insitutions half-way to their ultimate goal. The other 50% of a 100% Enrollment Management Solution needs to focus on retention. Now that you have them on campus, you have to look at what happens to students once they get started. What does their engagement with learning look like? Are they making a healthy academic transition to a new learning style or are they struglling? If they are struggling, are we finding out why or are we building programs we think will help but are, sadly, missing the mark? Have we taken the time to look at data to identify how many of our attritted students were also experiencing academic struggles?

OK, enough questions. with all of that having been said, I’ll let you enjoy the linked blog post, the article it shares, and the observations made within it. If anyone from my own institution feels appropriately inspired to come chat with me, or with a group of people on campus, let me know–I’ll organize a space for us to get together and start discussions.

NACADA

Lately proactive advising (formerly known as Intrusive Advising) has been featured in media articles, Completion Agenda press releases, and campus discussions. The concept isn’t new. Coined by Robert Glennen in 1975, the idea of proactively reaching out to students was integral to discussions in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s concerning how advisors could help increase student retention and persistence. Today’s completion discussions build upon these previous efforts.

For TBT I draw your attention to an article by Walter R. Earl in a 1988 NACADA Journal issue http://nacadajournal.org/doi/pdf/10.12930/0271-9517-8.2.27. The NACADA Journal issue was delivered to my mailbox shortly after I was named chair of the faculty committee charged with restructuring academic support services (including academic advising) at our institution. Our committee’s charge was simple: improve student retention so more students would achieve their educational goals. Sound familiar?

Earl (1988) elaborated on four distinct actions institutions should take to increase student…

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Human Interaction Will Revolutionize Education

So this, at 5:59

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#Preach

So, A.):

Read This

Now, let’s talk about a few things. Two of my favorite quotes:

“…conventional wisdom is wrong. In reality these (humanities) degrees all produce expected lifetime earning increments far in excess of the cost of college tuition, even at expensive private colleges.”

“Humanities majors have taken their lumps on many fronts recently. Their defenders often respond with appeals to the ways in which the humanities add to the richness of life in nonmonetary ways. That is certainly true, but the humanities have been selling themselves short. In addition to adding invaluably to our culture, humanities majors are a wise financial investment as well.”

Taking these excerpts into consideration, and looking at the data within the article and linked pages, then considering this table from the Buereau of Labor Statistics, one should come up with a decidely different preception of the “worth of a college degre.”

Chart. Earnings and unemployment rates by educational attainment

I didn’t watch the CNN special on the value of college last week, but I imagine that topics like these were left off of the script

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Post #NACADA14 Conference Follow-up… With Yourself

Another NACADA conference is in the books, and it was another fantastic opportunity to re-connect, network, and grow professionally. Charlie Nutt’s and Darrell Strayhorn’s speeches were terrifically inspiring, and the selection of concurrent sessions was actually a little overwhelming. Personally, I had a bitter-sweet conference, bidding adieu to my dear friends in Region 2–the region in which I “grew up” as an advisor, in which I was inspired on a consistent basis to write and present, and the region in which I learned what it meant to be a leader. On the sweet side, I got to reporting for duty in Region 1, attend sessions with my wife, and realize that the advisors in the Northeast are every bit as inspiring as those in the mid-Atlantic… and all the other regions, for that matter 😉 I actually got a little choked up at the Region 2 meeting, so much so that I had to cut my comments short in order to hold it together. And I had such a gracious welcome at the Region 1 meeting–NACADA folks are good people!

I always come away form conferences with lots of ideas and a pretty good amount of pent-up energy–chomping at the bit, and sooooo impatient to create stuff. But I also come away from each one with the same problem–I just don’t know how to filter through all the materials from all the remarkable sessions, how to make time while also trying to answer the Eleven-ty-Billion emails that hit my inbox while I was gone, and how to manage all of this while still trying to handle the million pieces of my job.

So, riddle me this, my dear AcAdv colleagues. How do you follow-up on a conference experience as rich as the one we all just had? What have you decided to try to appropriate for your own campus? What was your favorite session? I need ideas, here, people! Help a fella out, would ya?

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On Getting #AcAdv Right

pinky_brainSo, my boss shared this article with me the other day, and, before I’d gotten too far into the article, I had added about 18 more things to my already-too-long “to do” list (the name of this file on my desk top is “Plot to Take Over the World”).
Despite the fact that they misspell the word advisor (*grinning), it is an important—and quick—read. Have a quick go at it and then promise me you’ll come back for a few observations…

http://chronicle.com/article/Uncluttering-the-Pathway-to/148849/

The Problem of Competing Interests

The first thing I started to trouble over was a seeming set of competing interests. We know there are courses we can offer and support that we can provide that will result in more positive developmental outcomes for our students. But how do we make certain that this support and these opportunities to provide transformative educational experiences are not accompanied by the addition of tons of extra (read “costly”) credits to a student’s pathway to completion?

As a result of reading this article and perusing the linked studies, I’ve become intensely interested in the idea of fast-track remediation. As we consider the academic development of students beginning their higher education at the community college level especially, I think it is important to think about transferability as well as the educational effort and the financial resources we’re asking students to commit to the process. While “fast track remediation” and Supplemental Instruction might offer excellent opportunities to lighten the burden of remedial coursework when considering the intellectual and financial cost to the student, I think we’ve still a way to go when it comes to the question of success courses and “first year experience” seminars. How do we balance the need for support with the addition of requirements and elongation of a student’s time to degree?

As an aside, this “we” refers to all of higher education, by the way, not just my own campus

Correlation and Causation

While I’m not one to disavow the sort of statistics this article cites, given that correlation is sometimes the best we can hope for when assessing the effectiveness of advising and academic support services, the same questions always crop up for me—even when the data are my own.

On highly structured courses—attendance required:

“Developmental-math students were nearly three times more likely to complete the course when all of their instructors clearly explained attendance policies.”

Was this the only thing the instructors did differently?

On FYE and Academic Success courses:

“Developmental students who participated in such courses, which cover topics such as study skills, test-taking strategies, and time management, were nearly four times more likely to pass an introductory, college-level English course.”

Did these students self-select? If so, were they not more likely to succeed anyway, given that they showed the initiative to voluntarily engage in a course that would help them succeed?

On early registration into courses:

“Students enrolled in college-level classes were more than four times more likely to persist from fall to spring, and more than 11 times more likely to continue from fall to fall, when they registered for all of their courses before the first class.”

I’d again point out that students who are self-motivated to engage are already pre-disposed to succeed (and that’s not just my opinion, it was Astin’s and Tinto’s and the list goes on).

Challenge and SupportSupport versus Challenge

Finally, when considering the suggested creation of “structured pathways that offer fewer choices,” for me, this brings to mind Sanford’s Challenge and Support theory—the one that suggests in order for growth to occur, you need to provide an equal and appropriate amount of support and challenge. Every time we select a course for a student, we rob them of the opportunity to learn how to understand their curriculum and make the selection for her- or him-self. In my opinion, this article, and the study it summarizes, do not go far enough to account for the inherent difficulty of taking on too much responsibility for students’ motivation and engagement.

I say this, again, not to disavow the approach all together. Especially when thinking about Community College and non-traditional students, who typically have a greater number of non-curricular responsibilities to balance along with their student responsibilities, it is critical to make certain we present a clear and understandable curriculum. We must also take specific care to provide individualized support while teaching them to understand their curriculum and make thoughtful decisions about their educational responsibilities.

My point in making these observation is not to disavow these data or the approaches espoused by the studies and the Chronicle piece. Rather, I’m merely expressing my opinion that creating these opportunities for students is only the first step. I think that the necessary second step is to engage the entire population of students—the self-starters and the disengaged—and provide the counsel and advice required to convince them how and why they will benefit from participation in these courses and from adherence to curricular structure.

I agree with the studies’ assertion that advisors are necessary for the success of any such programming. It supports a belief that I hold about advising—that when advising works, it is a bigger concept than any one educator, be they a staff member, a professional advisor, or a faculty member. That when we get itright, Academic Advising is part of the culture of the entire institution, and that every interaction with a student is approached as a teachable moment, with the student’s potential for development informing our actions.

 

 

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