Monday, June 15, 2015

Articles for June 15, 2015

Lazy Rivers and Student Debt (insidehighered.com)
Although there are some political undertones--especially in the comments section--about the recent attention brought to this issue by Chris Christie and Elizabeth Warren, this article does offer some hard data about how much amenities like aquatic centers and climbing walls actually cost in relation to other causes for rising tuition costs. The argument is usually that large, expensive amenities like these attract students; the counter is that college affordability and repairs to academic facilities should be the priority. To me, though, this seems like the end of a long breadcrumb trail. 

Each of us calculates the value of something a bit differently. I'll spend quite a bit on a purse if I really love it and commit to using it for the next couple of years; I hesitate to pay the relatively low price of a paperback because I know I'll only read it once and then need to find a home for it thereafter. The fact that colleges need to resort to shiny objects and glossy instant gratification implies that potential students are having a tougher time seeing the value of going to college. Unfortunately, spending more on shiny objects is no silver bullet, and further cheapens the education part of going to college. 

Confessions of a Girl Who Was "Too Smart for Community College" (thefinancialdiet.com)
It seems that the author's primary purpose in this post was to emphasize the value of a community college in contrast to the negative connotation it still carries, but she also brings to light a few other points in the process. For one, part of the author's story is that she took a couple of years and worked in BigKidWorld before enrolling. She does not, however, go into what exactly drove her to enroll; this is pretty important to consider if we're going to address retention and graduation. We can build those relationships, work through advising sessions, and be proactive about completion if we can tap into a student's motivation. Adult students need reasons to do things, and an intrinsic motivation lines up nicely with the growth mindset needed to overcome the obstacles that may otherwise cause a student to drop out. 

A second great point is how difficult--and freeing--it was to accept "do" college in a way other than "how you are 'supposed' to..." She talks about the stigma that community college carries, and what being accepted and attending a four-year implies instead. There seems to be this clash between wanting to say that one is a ____, but not wanting to do the things that make one a _____ for identity reasons. Take a musician, for example. In my mind, that line of logic goes something like this: I'm a musician because I sing. I don't know how to read music or count beats or anything, but that's because I don't practice or study music. But I'm still a musician. Someone might say she is a college student because she is enrolled, but never be a student because she does not identify as a student who does homework, studies for exams, practices good work habits, participates in class, etc. Simply enrolling in a 4-year is an easy way to say you are a college student, but actually moving through the motions of a successful student could easily be hidden away. Which is a great segue to the third article for today--

Colleges are using big data to identify when students are likely to flame out (washingtonpost.com)
Finally, an article emerges that talks about using data other than test scores to identify more than simply if students will pass another test or not. Education Advisory Board (EAB) is a consulting firm that teamed up with Virginia Commonwealth University to dig deeper into the "murky middle" to address retention and graduation rates. It would seem that more attention is paid to what would apply to the highest number of students, but traditionally, we concentrate efforts on the highest and the lowest achievers. Ignoring that middle population means that there are plenty of students for whom we assume no-news-is-good-news. This research is suggesting otherwise. 


Researchers found that of the students who return for a second year with grade-point averages between 2.0 and 3.0, two out of five will drop out...
"The murky-middle students who don't graduate tend to have GPAs that stay flat and then fall off over time. That suggests they are trucking along, doing their best, maybe they're more susceptible to something going wrong or maybe they're treading water," Venit [of EAB] said. "You talk to advisers and there are a lot of reasons, but the most common is these students are losing motivation." [emphasis mine]
Researchers have a big job in making it clear issues that our own perceptions might not pick up. I've argued over and over that it's difficult for college administrators to give credence to much of the talk about student skills because many were not struggling students themselves (how could you not bring a pencil to class? why is it so difficult to get out of bed in the morning??) Unfortunately, higher education has a bad habit of only researching the issues for which we're not afraid to talk about answers. This leaves out a lot of perspectives, and if we're going to commit to graduating more and better students, we need as many perspectives as we can get. 

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