Friday, April 1, 2011

Turning the Ship Around (Part 2): Is the Senior Year of High School a Waste?

Betsy Barefoot, EdD
Vice President and Senior Scholar

In Part 1 of this blog, I bemoaned the shortage of outstanding high school teachers and expressed my frustration with current education policies that will do nothing if not reduce further the number of the best and brightest college students who choose teaching as a profession.   But what about the high school itself – especially the senior year?

We hear that some students finish “required” courses for college admission in the junior year, and that the senior year is characterized by rampant “senioritis.”  The Urban Dictionary defines senioritis as
a crippling disease that strikes high school seniors. Symptoms include: laziness, an over-excessive wearing of track pants, old athletic shirts . . . . Also features a lack of studying, repeated absences, and a generally dismissive attitude.
Perhaps some high school students are guaranteed college admission at the beginning of the senior year before senioritis sets in. But when they enter a college or university, we find that many of them are woefully underprepared for college coursework.  Maybe they simply forgot what they learned over a year before!  We also know that some high school seniors attend classes for a few hours and then leave to work or return home.  For these students, the senior year is effectively 4 and ½ months!  How and why has this happened, and why aren’t higher education professionals, parents, and local school boards demanding change? 

Okay, I have to acknowledge that I’m relying on a lot of second-hand information.  It has been many years since I spent any appreciable time in a high school.  But if this mountain of second-hand information is correct, it is no surprise that the senior year is considered a waste of time by some students and some educators.  In fact, in 2010 one Utah state senator put forth a bill to make the 12th year of public education optional in Utah.  I don’t think the bill passed, but maybe the senator is on to something.  Perhaps the senior year, as it is currently designed, isn’t worth the money it costs state legislatures.  

No, I’m NOT advocating that the senior year go away. But in these days of looking for opportunities to reduce monies spent on education, I think the senior year, in its current form, could be vulnerable.  So I am advocating major change either within the senior year itself or between high school and college.

Can the senior year itself be reengineered so that it is a challenging and rewarding experience for all students?  Where are the models for such reengineering?  Or would we be better served by making the current senior year a “bridging year” that is organized and delivered in a collaborative fashion by high schools and colleges?  Some two- and four-year institutions are already offering college courses in high school.  Because they challenge the best students, it’s no wonder that these “dual enrollment” programs are increasing college enrollments, student academic success, and retention.     

There are creative thinkers on both sides of the high school/college divide, and our current level of dissatisfaction can serve as a catalyst for more collaboration to fix the problem of the senior year—a year of education that is falling short of its potential.  Our students deserve our best efforts!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Salute to Those Who Provide Tutoring

John N. Gardner

I have just given a talk to the annual meeting of the Association of Tutoring Professionals. These are professional higher educators who administer tutoring centers on our campuses. They recruit, supervise, train, mentor, encourage our student tutors who tutor other students and have such a huge positive influence on each other. I believe these tutoring professionals are unsung heroes. They are outstanding developmental educators. They know what I know: all students are development; students are so good at helping other students; and students love to help other students.

This is what I told these tutoring professionals as to why I think they matter:

  1. Because students need tutoring more than ever? Why?
  2. Because of rising levels of under preparation.
  3. Because of demographic changes leading to more students coming to college for whom college was not designed, which means most of you in this room, all but us few white guys.
  4. Because you provide the mentoring and training experiences for tutors.
  5. And because we know from research that tutoring has greater influence on the tutors than the tutees. So what you are really about is producing future scholars, leaders, successful people. People who will want to continue performing service in their adult life after college. And I think that producing leaders is the most important role of America’s colleges.
  6. And because America is heading pell mell for a race to the bottom educationally. Some politicians are on an unprecedented attack on all things provided by government (except national defense), including health benefits for 9/11 workers. How many of you are government employees? And how many of you serve disproportionately poor people? Well we are at war with poor people too. And with those who help poor people. Where am I going with this disaffected rant? Where I am going is that there are going to be greater and greater cuts in full-time professionals providing educational support. Where does that leave us?
  7. You matter because we will need to use more tutors and student mentors than ever. Because they are cheap labor. And in America today what we want to do is to reduce all labor costs. (Then why do we still have colleges to produce people to enter the middle class which used to be about increasing their standard of living?) We’ve gone crazy and reversed everything we used to stand for.
  8. And because you really do care.
  9. And because you really are on the front lines and you know better than most how the students are really experiencing the realities of academic lives.
  10. And because you have had the courage to proudly carry the banner of developmental education which used to be as American as apple pie but which is now so politicized that it has become demeaned and denigrated because the people it serves are devalued.
  11. And because you show every day that hi tec isn’t enough. That we still need hi touch for the students.
Do you know anyone who runs a tutoring center and/or who supervises tutors? If so, I hope you will thank them for the important work they do to help our students be more successful.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Musing About March Madness and Money A Three-Part Blog Series

Drew Koch
Vice President for New Strategy, Development, and Policy Initiatives

This is a three-part blog about the role of money in “big-time” college sports. In the first part, I describe the current status of what has come to be called “revenue generating” college athletics. In the second installment, I bring up issues of inequality and race, and in the third and final installment, I pose some questions about what might occur if the NCAA and the big-time sport universities acknowledged the commercial nature of college athletics and took steps to support student athletes in a way that could minimize their exploitation and incentivize degree completion. 

Part I: The Commercialized Context of Big-Time College Sports and its Impact on Education

March Madness is in full swing. I must admit that I enjoy watching the games. The action, bands, break-aways, buzzer-beaters, mascots, and roaring crowds – all draw me in.  At least on the few occasions when I allow myself to watch. 

But it is a guilty pleasure. As much as I enjoy the contests, I can’t help but wonder about the exploitation of the student athletes by a system seemingly more interested in headlines and bank accounts than completion rates and fairness. I am not alone.

On March 19, USA Today sports columnist Mike Lopresti shared the following in his then latest column – an entry titled NCAA Tournament Played for Cash Considerations – 

Welcome to the new NCAA Tournament, where nothing — absolutely, positively nothing — ranks above profit.

There is no way to diplomatically put this; the NCAA has become a cash flow addict, too far gone to exercise sound judgment, or common sense.

Here is some of the foolishness from the first few days.

Clemson was asked to play at Dayton in the First Four creation on Tuesday night. Then, the Tigers were told to fly to Tampa, where they did not get to the hotel until 5 a.m. Then, they were told they had to play the noon game the next day, even though any of the next three slots would have been fairer.

They lost. Maybe they would have anyway, but they didn't have a prayer. 

Boston Herald sports writers Steve Conroy and Dan Duggan also recently noted the exploitation of the Clemson athletes for the sake of television network (and NCAA) money. In their 17 March blog posting they wrote: “Here’s a question for the holier than thou NCAA: When exactly are the Clemson student-athletes supposed to go to class? They were at the ACC tournament all of last week and in the NCAA tournament this week."

What follows is not an attempt to chronicle the rise of the collegiate wing of what David Zinn calls the “athletic-industrial complex” – where student athletes from a host of institutions (not merely Clemson) are used to generate money under the guise of academic pursuit and get very little in return. Scholars and former academic and athletic administrators alike have written scores of books on this topic – such as Duderstadt’s Intercollegiate Athletics and the American University; Sperber’s Beer and Circus; Zimbalist’s Unpaid Professionals; Byers’ Unsportsmanlike Conduct; and Thelin’s Games Colleges Play.

Nor is this three-part blog a romantic yearning for the “purer days” of amateur sport. The “good old days” were not necessarily all that good and pure – especially when one takes into account the class and racial implications associated with the amateurism movement as documented by Benjamin Rader in American Sports: From the Age of Folk Games to the Age of Televised Sports and multiple works by the historian Elliot Gorn. In short, if you were not the white son of an elite, affluent white male, you basically did not get to play “amateur” sports. Reverting back to a system of that nature is utterly undesirable.

This blog is about admitting the truth – and suggesting some market-based alternatives in the midst of the commercial reality of big-time college sports.  I am not resorting to the market-based solutions because they are perfect; but rather, because they would be more genuine and at least would counter fire with fire. 

I ask you, the blog’s readers, to accept that the market and “big-time” college sports – and by this I am chiefly writing about Division I men’s football and basketball – are now, and forevermore will be, intermeshed.  Whether you and I like it or not, undoing commercialism and big-time college athletics is no more feasible than taking the ingredients out of a baked cake. The die is cast.
By masking something so commercial as something so purely amateur, the big-time college sports community is, in essence, exploiting the very student athletes that it is supposed to be protecting and developing. Of greatest concern for me are student athletes from traditionally underrepresented groups – particularly (but not exclusively) African American student athletes. This concern is shared by commentators such as Frank DeFord and scholars such as John Thelin, who refer to the present big-time college sports system as “America’s Modern Peculiar Institution” – an appellation that draws direct parallels between the current postsecondary education revenue sport world and the euphemism used to label slavery in the antebellum South.  

But don’t just take the words of a few commentators (or my blog’s assertions) as irrefutable truths.  Look at the data. It supports what I claim about who wins and who loses when it comes to the current big-time sports system – particularly when you examine it using the lens of race. 

In my next installment of this blog series – Part II of Musing About March Madness and Money: The Inequality of Commercialism in Big-time College Sports – I will provide that data for you to consider.

In the meantime, please feel free to comment on what I have shared to date.  Your perspective is always welcomed.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Learning to Be A Little Less American: Collaboration vs Competition

John N. Gardner

Recently I gave a talk at a convention in which I urged my patient and polite audience to try to be a little less American by reducing their culturally taught inclination and preference for competition---and instead, to practice more collaboration. In tight economic times, and in the new normal of scarcer resources, of all kinds, we simply don’t have the luxury of competing in all the ways we have done so historically on our campuses. I went on to offer some suggestions for engaging in collaboration and I offer them here:

Let me share some strategies for collaboration:

  1. Has to emerge from your basic values. You have to have a philosophy.

  2. Ideally, you should have a written philosophy statement. And you should share it

  3. And your unit needs both a mission and philosophy statement, in which value of collaboration is made explicit in the latter

  4. You need an advisory group of stakeholders. But you must convene them, solicit their advice and take it, act on it. Just having this group and using it is a form of collaboration.

  5. Need to assess impact of your work and share it publicly, particularly explaining what you did from what you learned and how other stakeholders helped increase your effectiveness. In this context you are reporting what it is that you did collaboratively that led to positive outcomes.

  6. Ask who else, what other unit/program has similiar needs, student populations served? How do we currently work together or not? How do we make similar or different use of institutional resources?

  7. What could we conceivably share, integrate?

  8. What efficiencies could we accomplish? Better to self initiate these than to have them imposed upon you!

  9. What am I doing that I don’t really need to be doing?

  10. What do I know that some other unit is probably doing better than I am and if I gave something up I could better concentrate on my core mission and improve my effectiveness at that?

  11. Do I really need all the resources I have? Are there some I could give back?

  12. Ask how can I help individual X or unit Y be more effective in their mission? Serve yourself by serving others.

  13. My own experience has taught me that a focus on critical student transitions during the college years are an ideal focus for partnerships: the entering transition (of which there may be at least three or more—the developmental student transition, the ESL student, then the matriculated student transition); then another kind of entering student—the transfer student; and the sophomore student, and the senior student. And what about the beginning graduate students? Note, a well kept secret: graduate student attrition is far higher than undergraduate student attrition and far more costly.

  14. Recognize and act on awareness, understanding that student learning and success is result of complex interplay of many variables including the: academic, social, physical, emotional, spiritual. Point is that you don’t get number one, academic success, by focusing solely on academics. Get it by focusing on all of these “dimensions”. All of them support and facilitate academic success. This is why have to educate the whole student and only way to do that is with collaborative partnerships.

  15. Practice the philosophy of one of my mentors: always make decisions as if you could live with consequences for rest of your career at that institution and in terms of what might be best for the institution’s greater good not necessarily the good of my unit.

Just think what difference it might have made if bankers and investment brokers who brought us the Great Recession had had the big picture of what was best for our country instead of just their corporate bottom lines and their bonuses.