Monday, May 5, 2014

Meeting Students at the Door

Meeting Students at the Door | Buckets & Fires Blog
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As I've written before, Dr. Daniel Chambliss has found that what makes college a positive experience comes down to the people students interact with. We've also covered how successful colleges know and appreciate the students who walk through their doors instead of constantly search for better students, as told in Joann Soliday and Rick Mann's great book. This means that it is even more important for colleges to recognize who is coming through the door, and to have the right people available to meet them. This is especially the case for students attending technical college. 

Meeting students from all international backgrounds can be challenging, considering the possibilities for what may be included in that background is open to global circumstance and standards. But, as Community College Spotlight | ‘New Americans’ start at community colleges points out, education is often a primary reason why refugees choose America. Have we truly considered the needs of these students, particularly with regard to the requirements of a technical program? General requirements like the dress code, classroom etiquette, and expectations about attendance are too often assumed or assumed to be implied. Of special importance with these students is the language barrier that often occurs. Technical programs are full of jargon and text structures that are complex and difficult for even a native speaker; even if the non-cognitive aspects of a program are covered and clear, difficulty with the language used will still block the communication line between instructor and student. Do we have the resources in place to make sure non-native speakers can be successful? 

What's more, can we meet students who may need layers of support? The Community College Spotlight article above refers to students who are new to country AND live in a rural area. The article points out that these students chose a community college because it was small and provided the support they needed. The Extended Campus-Dual Credit Program in Oregon, in which students can take up to 15 credits through a state university or community college while enrolled in a fifth year at the county's secondary school, looks to get rural students (who, research suggests, have a history of lower educational attainment) to enroll in college.  As the projected number of high school graduates drops, technical colleges will extend their reach likely to areas more traditionally associated with the trades. What will these students need to be successful? For example, research suggests that living in poverty and living in a non-metro area are correlated. In fact, high poverty is found alongside many possible obstacles, like English proficiency and lower test scores. How should these layers of support look and act?  

Speaking of money, Rachel Fishman at writes that "our higher education financing system does not meet the needs of today’s students" in her article, The Wrong Debate. Since students from low-SES backgrounds typically choose 2-year programs, is it effective to run a financial aid office in a technical college or community college the same way as a 4-year university? Fishman co-authored an article with Stephen Burd for the New America Foundation, Building an AOTC Movement, which talks a program to communicate the higher education tax credits that many financially-needy students don't claim, or even know about. 

Of course, academics are and should be the focus of where we meet students; however, as Howard Gardner reminds us in ‘Multiple intelligences’ are not ‘learning styles’, we cannot allow our students to make excuses. At this point in their education, our students are able to make certain decisions based on their own interests. Are we prepared to challenge them? Leonard Geddes talks about two approaches to learning: transfering knowledge and building knowledge. Are colleges set up to not just transfer knowledge, but BUILD it as well? Are we doing enough to get students to that "building" level?

Community and technical colleges have taken pride in their traditional "open door" policies. Now is the time to live up to what this means. 

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