Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Magic of College?

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The article Asking the Tough Questions (AACC 21st Century Virtual CenterAACC 21st Century Virtual Center) includes a synopsis of the twelve questions posed by The SOURCE on Community College Issues, Trends, & Strategies in their document "12 Important Questions for 16 Community College Leaders." As all good questions do, these twelve questions raise more questions. Most of my questions percolate because I can't help but notice a dichotomy between some of the original questions. 


On the one hand, there are questions that pertain to preparation and remediation, for which the answers are simply that the way these services are deliver needs to change. I'm reminded of a great question brought up by Susan Scott in her book Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work & in Life, One Conversation at a Time: what are we pretending not to know? In other words, do we already know the answer, but are unwilling to commit to it? Do we not know how or specifically what changes need to be made because we won't investigate them? Or we won't read the literature? Or won't recognize the results (because that means that we would then be obligated to invest resources...etc., etc.)? 


On the other hand, there is discussion about the skills gap, workforce development, and partnerships with industry. If we know that students are entering college unprepared, but refuse to recognize it, should we be surprised that college grads aren't measuring up? And is it even realistic to expect colleges to get incoming students from zero to master in 2 years, given the current state of all those external factors colleges need to consider? Have the requirements to perform well in the workplace - especially in traditionally technical fields - increased so much so that a 2-year degree no longer gives enough time to get a student up to speed? 


What's more, the document discusses the needs of international students and how to best serve immigrant students. This means that there may be even more students on campus coming in at such a level that two years simply doesn't allow enough time for them to be ready for the workforce. Since we are blind to the issues surrounding developmental education, how do we answer this? How do we prepare college faculty for those unique challenges, on top of what we expect from them in terms of delivering content and instruction to 'traditional' students? 

Joann Soliday and Rick Mann have a great book called Surviving to Thriving: A Planning Framework for Leaders of Private Colleges & Universities, and they discuss institutional self-esteem as the "true driver of success" (p. 51). This is because successful colleges know their students, appreciate what they bring with them, and believe that they have potential...instead of constantly looking for better students to enroll (p. 52). But who our students are and what they bring with them is changing drastically, and we would do our students - and their future employers - well to recognize that and then consider how best to work with those changes. 

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