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  • Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.

Friday Fragments
February 14, 2013 - 9:14pm

From the “other duties as assigned” file: yesterday I had to go in for a medical procedure.  In the course of making small talk with the tech, she mentioned that her daughter is looking at colleges, but they’re both worried about student loans.  I mentioned where I work, and for the next half hour, the conversation was all about transfer, comparative tuition levels, student loans, and the difficulty for new grads who can’t find jobs but have huge loans to pay off.  All of this during the procedure.  

If nothing else, it brought home to me that the issues we’re dealing with are not abstract in any way.

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The Girl: “The future may take a while.”

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I’ve mentioned before my complete bafflement at the ubiquity of flat roofs in snowy climes.  As those of us who’ve lived through snowy winters can attest, snow has a way of melting.  And when the roof is flat, the water has a way of just sitting there.  All that water is up to no good.

Now I’ve got some scholarly backup.  Apparently, the flat roof fetish was an outgrowth of a really unfortunate flirtation with modernism in the mid-twentieth century.  By a cruel accident of timing, the worst of the modernist fad hit at the exact same time as a building boom in public schools and colleges.  

Gravity, people.  Gravity.  Pitched roofs are your friends.

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The government’s “college scorecard” is out.  

It’s a bit mystifying.  It doesn’t include any measure of academic quality, which you’d think would be a key component of “value.”  And its cost of attendance figures are simply mystifying.  It’s supposed to help prospective students determine how much bang for the buck they’ll get at one school as opposed to another, but there’s no measure of “bang,” and a severely flawed calculation of “bucks.”  Color me unimpressed.

If it wants to achieve something, take a page from Moneyball, and figure out the academic outcomes a college achieves as measured against the outcomes expected from the profile of its entering students.  If a college punches above its weight, then it’s doing something right; if it skews wealthy but still gets lousy results, it’s doing something wrong.  

I understand that any single scorecard will necessarily be reductionist; that’s the nature of a scorecard.  It will have to focus on just a few numbers.  All the more reason to choose the right numbers.

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Convinced that The Boy got taller in the three seconds I was looking in another direction, I measured him the other day.  At age eleven, he’s five foot eight.  

The future may take a while, but he seems to be in a hurry.  I don’t know what we’ve been feeding him...

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