Monday, June 1, 2015

Articles for June 1, 2015

Adult Course Offers Learning for the Sake of Learning (npr.org)
Imagine that: intrinsic motivation increases success and value in higher education. This kind of motivation makes going to college more meaningful than just getting a degree for the end goal of making more money at a better job--and I say "just" because it should be one reason, not the only reason. 

The students at the program in this article are those students that we, in the learning center, see the most often. These are the students who traditionally need the most help, and are most likely to drop out before completion. Why? Just a handful of lines down the page, we find an answer: 
"'I was so freaking nervous,' Mitchell says, 'because I felt so dumb. You know, I felt like I was too old.'" 


Identity. For those students who do not identify with being smart or with being a student, going to college has to be about making more money instead of learning for the sake of learning because that's what will make more sense with the not-smart identity. 

I have seen many, many students travel this same road. They come to our institution to get a degree so they can qualify for a better-paying job, only to graduate just two years later completely changed into a competent, confident professional. One student started with us in developmental math and English, and got so frustrated just in learning how to use the technology to take the pre-test on the first day that he needed to leave the classroom to calm down. Two years later, he'd recognized his true ability, gained confidence in who he is, and developed the patience and restraint needed to work with people and machines he can't directly control. Going to college gave him the opportunity to practice those pieces, and learn some pretty valuable trade skills. 

We can measure success in dollars, but that only tells part of the story. The true value of going to college lies in that identity building. In my case, I get to watch students who have not identified as the traditional student--and been beaten down, discarded, and demeaned because of it--gain the pride, work ethic, and sense of accomplishment from the skills and knowledge that will allow them to take their place in society, provide for their family, and make their life meaningful. 

Engagement and Experiential Learning (insidehighered.com) [Blog]
Herman Berliner's blog post focuses on these two "of the most significant" changes in higher education of recent years. He focuses on internships as a way to provide experiential learning to students. The benefits of experiential learning that are listed are absolutely to be noted (a sharpened skill set, an enhanced chance of getting a job, a crucial bridge between college and career), and I would add more to the discussion with what such an experience can do for struggling students. 

Maybe it's because I teach general electives, but I've seen plenty of complete 180's in a student from before to after an internship. The reality that sets in once a student actually experiences a place of work in his/her prospective field can make all the classroom stuff more meaningful. I get significantly fewer "why do we have to learn THIS? I'm never going to need to use THIS when I'm a ___..." from students who have internship, or even entry-level, experience. I'd argue that internships, in perhaps a much lesser capacity than what they traditionally are, might be better suited for a student's first semester than his/her final semester. 

He also speaks about engagement in terms of civic engagement, specifically protests. There is plenty of literature on the Millenials and interest in politics, social movements, and civic involvement. This seems like it would be easier done in a liberal arts setting, but the landscape of technical education is calling for a bit of a revolution to meet the coming needs of the workforce. No longer can technical education be thought of as button-pushing or grunt work; the skills and requirements needed to fulfill these jobs are becoming exponentially complex and sophisticated, and the education must either match it or prepare students for some intense OJT. 

In higher education in general, I would also include the possible benefits to education policy and the potential to close the gaps between high school and college, and college and the workforce. We have a substantial student population yearning to make their voices heard, and we have a substantial need for communication. 

State Approaches to Funding Dual Enrollment (ECS.org) [PDF]
Serendipitous to the discussions above, I find this policy analysis from Education Commission of the States on dual enrollment. The report focuses on different approaches for addressing tuition and other costs for students participating in a dual enrollment program, such as Minnesota's PSEO or Iowa's Senior Year Plus. The bottom line is that states recognize how successful these types of programs are, but have not made sufficient efforts to figure out how to pay for it. 

The underlying purpose of a dual enrollment program is to get underserved populations of students into college, the same population focused on in the recent conversation around free tuition to community colleges. The analysis provides some insight to fine-tune this discussion. The report offers measurable benefits (higher likeliness to be college ready, higher first-year GPA, higher completion rate), but my belief is that these are indicative of the qualitative benefits, among which the report lists two: student see themselves as college material, and the opportunity to experience different CTE majors before committing to a certain college or program. More money might help students, but it can't be the only thing we can offer to support them. 

In combination with the above two articles, the implication I see is that dual enrollment works because it allows students who may not have been able to develop a student identity in high school do so before jumping into a college setting. That shift from high school to college can be like diving into a pool of cold water for a student in such a situation, and it's sometimes enough to either completely deter or cause some hesitation in grasping the 100 percent dedication needed to be successful in college. Without that identity, those quantifiable statistics don't happen. 

I wonder how many dual enrollees would not have attended college if they had not participated in such a program. 

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