Loving the hustle and bustle of a new academic year!

Info_Channel-02I don’t know about you, but even though classes don’t officially start until next Tuesday, 9/8/15, at Mott, things are really hopping here on campus. It’s Kick-Off Week at the college, and faculty who have been away doing whatever it is faculty do (which – believe it or not – is a lot!) are converging on campus to celebrate the start of the new academic year. Although it has its moments of stress as things gear up, I love all the new energy bubbling around campus!

Our campus has been very busy with a number of initiatives over the summer, many of which have involved faculty in the development of Guided Pathways. If you’re not familiar with this topic, here’s the short version: Guided Pathways involves a multi-faceted approach to helping more students graduate, but beginning with the development of clear, semester-by-semester outlines of how to move through an occupational program or transfer discipline. To support this, other areas of student support are addressed including intake, orientation, advising, etc. It is an effort to use best practices supported by data to lay a strong foundation for success as students enter, progress, and complete their time at the community college, culminating in a degree or certificate. Some background reading can be found here and here, lead by Rob Johnstone and Davis Jenkins who are considered among the leaders in this movement.

Another big project was taken on by myself and a colleague, Jim Shurter, far outside of our regular duties, in the form of a marketing campaign for the college. “Mott. My Path to Excellence.” – The tagline and campaign aimed to reposition our college as a “first choice” in the Greater Flint area and surrounding counties, and not simply a more affordable one. We used the voice of millennials to speak for what they wanted from an education, and how they wanted to shape it for themselves. The inference here is that Mott can not only help make that happen, but by choosing Mott over, say, a “name” university, we have redefined the community college as a truly valuable option that is on par with their other choices. We are empowering these potential students to say that Mott really IS their path to excellence!

Now… for some of you, it may have occurred to you that these two initiatives are at odds with each other. Why would we create Guided Pathways that seem to “remove” choice, and then seemingly try to entice students to Mott as a way of shaping their own choices in education? Believe it or not, it makes sense when you look at how many of our students want those choices in the specific educational program they’re choosing to be determined. Today’s students, according to the research by Jenkins, et al, want a more defined path to get them to their destination. But these pathways are not rigid and inflexible. When it comes to non-CTE programs, they are simply a guide to help make the most of their brief time here before transferring to a university. The other part of the Guided Pathways Initiative depends heavily on advising and a case management system that would involve faculty and others in working with students to help guide them towards their goals. In this way, exploration is still possible for the student who wants to veer off the proscribed path.

As for the campaign itself, it seems to have touched the audience effectively. Rather than the 7% drop in Fall enrollment that was originally anticipated, we are currently hovering at around 3% above last year’s Fall numbers. I’ve run into many new students in the out-county areas where we were especially focused who – once they learned I worked at Mott – have proudly announced to me that they were starting there in the Fall. It was exciting to hear!

Now, as we launch the new academic year, I see our CTL as playing a vital role in helping our college employees help support that message that we are all here to help students make their future possible!

To our Mott employees, alumni, and students, be sure to share your story using our hashtag – #mott4me!

Here’s to a great semester for everyone!

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Good Reads on Community Colleges

Diversifying the student body is on the academic radar when examining the student population at colleges and universities across the nation. But diversity is not just about race. It involves the whole sector of students we see on the campuses of community colleges across the nation.

These students may include ones who are first generation college students, ones who dropped out or were not encouraged to continue their education beyond high school. It includes students who come from poverty, crime-ridden urban areas, or depressed rural spaces. It may include working adults returning to school to try and improve their income potential, a stay-at-home mother who needed to develop job skills to return to the workforce, or the factory worker whose job was outsourced to China. And it also includes students whose parents may be concerned about their child’s ability to stand up on their own far from the family support system. Whatever the reason that brings a student here, community colleges provide educational opportunities for some of the most diverse learners in higher education.

With that in mind, three recent articles are worthy of your attention and are shared with you here.

Why Elite Institutions Need to Welcome Students From Community Colleges

This is an opinion piece written by Laura Huober who made the auspicious transfer from Santa Monica (Community) College to Amherst College, an elite private liberal arts college. Her story demonstrates how, with the right supports, community college transfer students not only can thrive, they can make a valuable contribution to the learning environment.

The Challenge of the First-Generation Student

In this article, the First Generation student includes many who are also first generation Americans, as well as the first in their families to go to college. The article examines the tension regarding the stories of first-generation students who reach elite institutions, and the majority who are served by community colleges.

When elite institutions like Smith, Amherst College, or Harvard University enroll significant numbers of first-generation students, their stories are often splashed across the news. But regional state universities and community colleges have been identifying and supporting these students for decades, through federal TRIO programs, a collection of outreach and student-services efforts geared toward low-income students.”

Looking Beyond the Data to Help Students Succeed

In this article, Katherine Mangan addresses one of the hottest topics at the American Association of Community Colleges annual convention held this week – predictive analytics and retention strategies. What makes this article a good read is the recognition that numbers alone don’t tell us what to do and are only part of the equation on predicting success. Examining best practices, reinventing success strategies to work with our community college student demographics, and implementing them in a thoughtful way – these all help frame data as a reference tool to inform the choices made on how to support students. Those choices may include mentoring, i.e. creating a social connection to help support the student, addressing grit and other noncognitive traits that can make or break a student’s ability to succeed. Tools such as SuccessNavigator can help identify the characteristics that can undermine a student as they manage the intricate balance of academics and life.

The Quest for Critical Thinking – Essays on one of education’s greatest challenges

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It isn’t enough that we train students to put widget A into slot B so they can fulfill the old-fashioned notion of the manufacturing jobs of the past. Employers nowadays are asking for highly skilled graduates to fill their growing number of positions in the post-recession job market. And among the most commonly-stated job skills are really soft skills that revolve around critical thinking.

What IS critical thinking? It is the notion that we can make reasoned decisions, judgements that are based on analysis of a particular situation, that we can synthesize information, context, and experience and reflect upon it in order to guide our actions.

The authors of the essays in a recent publication – The Quest for Critical Thinking – released by Inside Higher Ed, are flexing the very same intellectual muscles in order to examine how to build that capacity into student learning in higher education. For community colleges, we generally have two-year programs that are designed with two outcomes in mind – occupational preparation for entry-level work in a field upon completion of an Associates degree program, or transfer into a four-year program at a university. Many vocational faculty may bristle at the idea that they must include “general education” – liberal arts courses – into their programs while trying to cram in all of the latest greatest training for in-demand skill-sets. Yet liberal arts faculty have difficulty articulating how their courses can help build those critical thinking skills that can expand the longterm employability of graduates.

Author Michael Roth, president of Wesleyan University and one of the compilation contributors, wrote in his essay “A World Without Liberal Learning,” about the history of American liberal education beginning with Thomas Jefferson and the University of Virginia. Describing Jefferson’s intentions for having students study a broad range of subjects, Roth said that this built a culture of “free inquiry” that would “help build a citizenry of independent thinkers who took responsibility for their actions in the context of their communities and the new Republic.” Roth argues that we must move beyond the concept of “utilitarian training” warning that if we did not, we would be creating graduates who would be unprepared for a fast-changing world and whose skill-sets would become obsolete before too long.

Asking what America would look like if we were to give up on liberal education in favor of purely vocational training, Roth claims  we would be disempowering students, removing stimulation of lifelong learning and inquiry.

We would become a cultural and economic backwater, competing with various regions for the privilege of operationalizing somebody else’s new ideas. (Michael Roth)

In another essay, Patricia Okker, professor of English and interim deputy provost at the University of Missouri at Columbia, argues that the faculty have an important role to play in making the liberal arts relevant. Titled “It’s the Faculty’s Job, too”, Okker describes how she created a course on career exploration that challenges students to start tying their studies together. Students from many disciplines are asked to do much self-reflection on the transferability of skills gained in their liberal arts courses. Elements of constructive criticism, for instance, provides a skill that builds the ability to provide valuable feedback to employees.

Students still need to identify skills specific to their individual experiences and affinities, and they need lots of practice articulating these strengths to potential employers. (Patricia Okker)

Okker argues that faculty in particular disciplines must become willing partners in the career counseling for students in order to help them recognize and understand the transferability of their skills to the workplace.

Other essays in the compilation address the issue of critical thinking from a wide range of perspectives. Gloria Cordes Larson, president of Bentley University, for instance, argues that that this is “A False Choice” in her essay. Her institution conducted a survey of stakeholders that found that employers were “sending mixed messages” that a blend of hard and soft skills were still the most highly desirable from business. The confusion lies in that business leaders would often put soft skills at the top of the list while their actions showed that industry-specific skills helped candidates get the job.

Larson encourages the development of courses that “fuse liberal arts and professional skills” combined with experiential learning opportunities that help reinforce the value of these skills. By way of example, she describes a course called “Ethics of Entrepreneurship” which combines critical thinking, writing, and a semester-long project. Another example of fusion is a management course on Interpersonal relations that she says is combined with an English course on women in film that explores how “women are perceived in film and how this can affect management styles.” She indicates that all of this must be combined with an experiential learning opportunity in order to effectively connect the esoteric to hard-skills and that business and industry should be encouraged to play a part in this active-learning.

In yet another essay by Lee Burdette Williams, vice president for student affairs and dean of students at Wheaton College in Massachusetts, the argument is made that personal maturity plays an important role in education. He breaks this down into four overall equations that exemplify his thinking:

1) A marketable (STEM or other professional focused) major + good interpersonal skills = very likely professional success

2) A liberal arts major +  good interpersonal skills = possible professional success

3) A marketable major without interpersonal skills = possible professional success (some skills, he says, are valuable enough to overlook the lack of interpersonal skills)

4) A liberal arts major without interpersonal skills = not much chance of professional success

His advice to many undecided students:

Major in something you enjoy and do it well. (Lee Burdette Williams)

In everything one does as a student, one should do it well. The campus can be “real world” complete with hassles, disappointments, deadlines, consequences, etc. Williams argues that the discussion needs to shift from an “obsession with the obvious value of a liberal arts education and instead focus on the values of personal maturity, accountability, a sense of proportion and perspective.”

There are many more essays in this publication, all of which are worth the read and tackle the topic of critical thinking from a variety of perspectives. Be sure to download and read the entire compilation here.

Two Simultaneous Conversations in Education – Part II – Liberal (and General) Education

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In Part I of Simultaneous Conversations in Education, we offered a brief review of a conversation about what the completion agenda means, the concerns it raises, and how we can make it work for the students we serve. It brought up many questions, none of them easy to answer.

In Part II, we examine a second article, titled Defending Liberal Education: The Essential Questions. Terry O’Banion, President Emeritus for the League for Innovation in The Community College, asks some provocative questions about how we frame the value of liberal arts education. Reminding us that General Education requirements are designed to ensure at least a minimum liberal arts learning experience, he suggests that the issue of “remapping” educational pathways uses language that can often obscure our well-meaning intentions of what Liberal Education can offer. This is especially true if we are to communicate the value of the liberal arts to other stakeholders such as leaders from business and industry, or parents, legislators, students, or even vocational faculty.

O’Banion challenges us to reimagine liberal education in what he called “a series of Essential Questions” which help guide human beings through life experiences. He recognizes that this can be controversial but that it reflects “that which matters the most to us and is stated in a powerful form that makes us begin thinking immediately about our own personal answers.”


 

“The final product of training…’must be neither a psychologist nor a brick mason, but a man.'”

– W.E.B. DuBois


 

The questions he addresses come under five major categories and are not meant to offer answers, but provoke further discussion on the meaning of liberal education. The categories, along with a sampling of the questions are shared below.

  • Personal Development

Who am I? Where am I going? What difference does it make?

  • Economic Development

What are the basic talents and skills I have that can translate into a good career?

What are the rewards for working that are important to me?

What is my dream job? …what kind of educational experiences will it take to get me there?

When I die what do I want my family and friends and coworkers to say about the work I have done?

  • Civic Development

How much do I understand and appreciate being a citizen of a major democracy?

Through what means can I make a difference so that I leave my country better than I found it?

  • Cultural Development

What are my most creative urges and talents that could produce something worth sharing with others? To what extent have I been exercising those urges and talents?

How do I, or can I use art, music, dance, theatre, poetry, etc. to enrich my life? Which of these do I like most and why?

What do human beings around the world old most in common?

  • Social Development

What is my responsibility for my fellow human beings?

What contributions am I making or planning to make to improve my family, friends, school, workplace, etc.?

O’Banion acknowledges that these and other questions posed in the article may not be met with open arms by business and government leaders and that some may question whether these are the responsibility of education at all. That is the challenge he poses to educators, to find ways to reframe the discussion on liberal and general education, making the case for its relevance and importance to educating the next generation of students. He suggests that questions like these might serve as “milestones and indicators of progress along the Student Success Pathway.”

In starting the conversation with these “essential questions,” O’Banion also invites your participation by asking you to send your suggestions for improvement to the categories and questions he shares in the article to: obanion@league.org.

Read the full article here.