teachinglearning

Essay on the realities of jobs for today's community college students

We hear it again and again: The jobs of the future are going to take hustle. Job-seekers will have to be creative, generate buzz, be extraordinary. Make their own luck.

So why, in my Dorothea Lange vision of present conditions, do I visualize a young person with a cardboard sign that reads, “Too Tired to Hustle”?

As a community college professor, I’m proud that our institutions are open-admission. With very rare exceptions, there’s no qualifying exam. We don’t, for reasons of experience or ability, turn people away. But what are we turning them toward? What jobs lie ahead for my students? That question is increasingly troubling.

At my first community college gig 15 years ago, my students -- for better or for worse -- often met the then-stereotype of community college: the place you end up only because it is your first chance, or your last. Some of my students had parole officers, some had just become citizens, some had meandered through high school, and few had parents who had themselves gone to college.

My students today -- at a much nicer campus in a less disadvantaged part of the country -- meet those negative stereotypes less and less. That recent community college students are increasingly of traditional college age and qualifications is evident to me in my classroom and in their written work. More often than not, now, mine are “university” students simply priced out of the market for four-year education, or prudently looking for the first two years at a bargain.

But for all their improved preparation, they are anxious -- terribly anxious -- and I am anxious for them.

I am anxious not only for the same reasons they are -- the onset of a debilitating student loan burden, the desperate competition for unpaid internships, the concern that there might simply be not enough jobs to go around.

I am anxious, also, for a reason that many of them have not caught onto yet: the mismatch between the supposedly “good” jobs that popular wisdom seems to suggest will definitely continue to exist -- entrepreneurial, experimental, start-up jobs, jobs of risk, hustle, and verve -- and the jobs my students claim to want. Flipping through a semester’s worth of self-introductions is like an obituary pamphlet for Old Economy employment. Again and again, they express a desire for mostly public or public-ish, long-term, safe and stable, even unionized, positions: firefighting, criminal justice, firefighting, nursing, nursing, teaching, teaching, teaching, radiology, firefighting, criminal justice.

Although a few students write, vaguely, business, and a few more, computer science, few are writing, “I want to start my own company,” “I want to freelance myself as a consultant,” “I’m going to sell myself, I have a vision, and I’m going to hustle until I get there, on my own.” There’s little excitement, to tell you the truth. There’s just the longing for a job where you do one thing, easily described, for a long term, and get predictably and sufficiently paid for what you do.

My students don’t want to be astronauts. They want jobs with reasonable, set hours, job security and pensions.

And I don’t know how to break it to them. I don’t know how to sell the alternative -- the more realistic future of work, that sort of chance, the chanciest chance I’ve ever sold.

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with the competitive capacity of my students; if anything, they seem more experienced in cutthroat competition than ever before. What is exhausted -- just worn and jaded, from constant use, and such challenging odds of reward -- is their inner reserves. Their belief that hustle can actually, well, work. And their trust that a hustle-world -- a world of contingent, not permanent, labor; of setting your own path, not following the path of a established bureaucracy; and of preparing, always preparing, not for the present, but for the as-yet-unimagined-job-that’s-next -- will be a good one, an equitable one, a world they’ll want to join. Or that will include a place for them, even if they do.

The problem with making your own luck is that it requires so much previous luck. To be nimble, to be ready, to have the excess emotional capacity to take future self-driven employment by the balls -- you need to not already be tired, scared, in shelter-mode. To risk more, you have to have not lost too much already. Or at least: not having lost too much already really, really helps.

Many of my students are not the unluckiest, but neither have they been that lucky. They are willing to work, but too tired to hustle. And that used to be enough.

Nicole Matos is associate professor of English at the College of DuPage, in Illinois. Her writing credits include Salon, The Rumpus, berfrois and numerous other literary and academic journals.

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Sociology professor whose course was questioned will return to Boulder

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Patti Adler will stay on at U. of Colorado, but blasts the way the university questioned a class lesson on prostitutes.

Getting High School Dropouts to College

A new report from MDRC, a nonprofit social policy research organization, describes promising efforts to help the 39 million adult Americans who lack a high-school credential successfully transition to college. The report looks at three general types of adult education reforms: efforts to increase the rigor of adult instruction and the standards for earning a credential; GED-to-college "bridge" programs; and interventions that allow students to enroll in college while simultaneously completing the requirements for a high school degree. LaGuardia Community College has a particularly successful GED bridge program, according to the report.

Cengage Teams With Knewton for Adaptive Learning Technology

Cengage Learning, the second-largest higher education publisher in the U.S., on Tuesday announced it has formed a partnership with Knewton to provide adaptive learning technology in a handful of its products. Cengage will use Knewton technology in the company's MindTap platform, an interactive textbook reader. The technology will first appear in the management and sociology disciplines, a Knewton spokesman said.

The partnership is the latest in a series for Knewton, which provides its technology to publishers such as Cambridge University Press and Pearson. Cengage is in the midst of restructuring after the company filed for bankruptcy protection in July.

The Pulse podcast features popular iTunes U. chemistry course

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This month's edition of our monthly technology podcast features an interview with Ohio State University's Matthew W. Stoltzfus, whose chemistry course enrolled 100,000 on iTunes U.

Colleges start new academic programs

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Essay analyzes two recent disputes over academic freedom

During December, the two most-viewed stories carried by Inside Higher Ed concerned academic freedom. The first reported on Shannon Gibney, a professor of English at Minneapolis Community and Technical College. The second was about Patricia Adler, a professor of sociology of the University of Colorado at Boulder and the recipient of awards for both her teaching and her research.

As I think about these two women with very different careers at very different institutions, I hear Big Bird singing a new refrain: “Two of these things are so like the other; two of these things seem so the same.”

Academic freedom is an old issue. In The Lost Soul of Higher Education, Ellen Schrecker reminds us that the concept arose in 19th-century Germany: One part, “freedom to learn,” she tells us, “had to do with the freedom that German students then enjoyed to shape their education to their own desires, while swinging from one institution to another, drinking beer, dueling and attending classes when so inclined. The other half, ‘freedom to teach,’ belonged to professors and not only gave them autonomy within their classrooms but also barred external controls on their research.”

Schrecker, like others, also reminds that academic freedom has had a checkered history in the United States. Mention the term and I think of both the witch-hunts of the McCarthy era and the foolishness of fundamentalist colleges that forbid instructors to suggest that Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution is superior to creationism. Both topics are controversial in some quarters and some administrators are most likely to commit transgressions against academic freedom when instructors broach topics or introduce teaching methods that may displease donors, trustees, legislators, or parents or arouse a furor in the media.

What’s new is the nature of these instructors’ alleged academic malfeasance. When Gibney discussed racism in her class, some white men felt uncomfortable, even offended. Administrators referred her to the college’s diversity officer for sensitivity training even though she had specified that she was talking about institutional racism, not individual racism (Perhaps neither the students nor the administrators understood the distinction and Gibney’s lecture did not go far enough.) 

Adler’s sin was different: In a class that had attracted 500 students, Adler’s teaching assistants, some of whom are undergraduates, performed an interactive skit about the social stratification of prostitutes. Consider the administrators' initial account. (They have offered multiple versions of how Adler provoked retribution. The initial account is revealing, because it announced what CU officials believed would play best.)

In that first version, the university claimed that more than one student in the room felt ill at ease -- sexually harassed, they claimed.  The relevant federal statute specifies that sexual harassment occurs when simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents about sex or gender are so frequent or severe that they create a hostile or offensive work environment.

That definition of hostile environment is very difficult to substantiate, and Colorado officials have continued to change their story anyway about what upset them.

Of course, there’s another possibility: Talking about the institutionalized racism and sexism that are embedded in the social organization of prostitution (and in many other occupations) makes students feel uncomfortable. As true of Gibney’s class, Adler’s interactive lecture discussed practices that many students would like to ignore. The infringements on academic freedom committed by Minneapolis Community and Technical College and the University of Colorado at Boulder are indicative of a greater problem: These institutions refuse to realize that social science challenges preconceptions. As Peter L. Berger once put it in Invitation to Sociology, “It can be said that the first wisdom of sociology is this: things are not what they seem. This too is a deceptively simple statement. It ceases to be simple after a while. Social reality turns out to have many layers of meaning. The discovery of each new layer changes the perception of the whole.” Social science and the humanities analyze aspects of life that some students would rather not know about, especially if a discipline’s generalizations appear to apply to them.

Perhaps making students uncomfortable is now academic malfeasance. After all, an administrator might think, the students (or their parents) pay for their college education — what too many call their training for jobs. (That education is increasingly expensive and financed by loans whose cumulative amount is now larger than the debt involved in the mortgage bubble that led to the Great Recession.) As some administrators see it, students are higher education’s customers. Their reports of their experience may influence application and yield rates and so the economic well-being of a college or university. 

Punishing professors whose content or teaching methods make students feel uncomfortable may be “just” another aspect of higher education’s accountability regime – a politics of surveillance, control and market management disguising itself as the scientific and value-neutral administration of individuals and organizations, as I discussed in Wannabe U: Inside the Corporate University. Pleasing students seems to have become what corporate managers call a best practice -- “a commercial or professional procedure that is accepted or prescribed as being correct or most effective,” as an online dictionary put it. And if one were to believe the administrators at the University of Colorado, best practices trump academic freedom. 

As the Adler controversy continued, a University of Colorado spokesman suggested that she might teach her course if her peers in sociology and perhaps in other disciplines reviewed it and “that review resulted in an O.K. of the course and its materials and techniques, or recommended structural changes acceptable to her.” That review took place and she has now been cleared to teach, although she remains concerned about what happened, and hasn't said if she'll go back. The spokesman did not explain why a course that had been taught for over 20 years should be subjected to review. Faculties review courses before they are offered, not after, unless, as the Colorado conference of American Association of University professors explained, there is  a compelling reason.

Meanwhile I wonder whether either the Minneapolis Community and Technical College or the University of Colorado has even tried to learn about instructors who make passes at students, behavior that the EEOC regards as quid pro quo harassment -- not whether procedures are on the books, but whether they are used. How many of their departments maintain an atmosphere that is hostile to women, people of color, gay people, or any of the other groups covered by EEOC regulations?

Gaye Tuchman, professor emerita of sociology at University of Connecticut, is author of Wannabe U: Inside the Corporate University and Making News.

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More Saylor Courses Lead to Credit

Six more online courses from the Saylor Foundation can now lead to college credit, the foundation announced Thursday, bringing the total number of free, potentially credit-bearing courses it offers to nine. The National College Credit Recommendation Service (NCCRS) and New York's Regents Research Fund reviewed exams from the six courses and recommended that colleges issue credit for students who successfully complete the $25 assessments. Saylor, which is a nonprofit group, has created more than 300 free, general education courses.

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Ryerson professors scramble to handle exam blunder

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What if a professor gives a test and accidentally gives out the answers -- but only to some students?

 

U. of Colorado Continues to Shift on Deviance Course

Officials of the University of Colorado at Boulder continue to offer new reasons for why they told Patricia Adler, a tenured sociology professor, that she could no longer teach a popular course on deviance that attracts hundreds of students every semester (although they now say she could teach again if the course undergoes a review). The objections concern a lecture on prostitution in which Adler seeks volunteers from her assistant teaching assistants to dress up as various kinds of prostitutes and to discuss (in character) their lives. First, Colorado said that the university was concerned that the activity required approval by an Institutional Review Board. After many professors (and Colorado's IRB) noted that institutional review boards don't review classroom activities, Colorado acknowledged that there was no IRB issue, and said that some students complained that they felt pressure to participate in the exercise (which Adler and many past participants denied).

Then on Wednesday at a press conference, officials said that their primary concern was that some students in the class had their photographs taken (or videos made) of the class without their consent, The Daily Camera reported. Adler told the newspaper that students know that the class -- like many classes -- is videotaped, and that no complaints have been raised. She said come participants ask for copies of the videotape. The press conference followed a closed, emergency faculty meeting called to discuss the Adler case. The Daily Camera obtained a recording of the meeting, and said that "many faculty members angrily expressed their concerns and frustrations with the situation surrounding Adler."

 

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