New book argues that students involved in campus protests over controversial speakers or ideas should instead support a marketplace of ideas in which all notions are heard and the best rise to the top.
Nearly every college and university in America has refocused its attention on “student success.” Like many institutions, Cleveland State University, where I work, has erected an entire enterprise devoted to this endeavor. We have reorganized ourselves administratively, invested in new staff, updated technology and taken a deep dive into institutional data to ensure we are best positioned to make sure all our students have a high potential to graduate. We have improved as a result.
People outside academe who witness our urgent efforts might justifiably ask, “Why all the fuss? Isn’t student success what you were supposed to be focused on all along?” In truth, the student success agenda is a recognition that higher education has not delivered on its promise to all students. The six-year graduation rate for first-time, full-time college students at four-year institutions is less than 60 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Education. For students who are minority, low income and first generation, it is markedly lower.
This newfound attention to student success has created a measure of perplexity within the academy as well from faculty and staff members who, for decades before it was fashionable for their institutions to do so, have considered themselves devoted to assisting students on the margins. These quiet champions generally operated from the premise that their colleges and universities were, at best, apathetic -- and in some cases, hostile -- to the students who were struggling most.
In response, these faculty and staff members served as advisers outside the formal advising structure. They created informal mentoring programs and sometimes intervened with systems on their campuses and off to advocate on behalf of students. One only need to listen to the stories of minority alumni from past decades to understand how these underground interventions operated and to appreciate their significance in helping students succeed.
Today, many of these underground advocates are still at their institutions, and some are still skeptical of their college or university’s commitment to students who traditionally have been left behind. Their skepticism is exacerbated by the fact that many generally believe they have not been acknowledged, affirmed or consulted in this overt student success push. In some cases, the opposite has happened: We have discredited their tactics in our rush to embrace new policies and practices as part of our institutions’ “legitimate” student success strategies.
As institutions seek to advance and accelerate their student success agendas, it is imperative that they reconcile the efforts of longtime student success pioneers with the emerging practices and data that are informing higher education strategies today.
I have witnessed this tension between old-school guidance and cutting-edge assistance around the issue of credit hours. At Cleveland State University, as at many institutions, we have adopted a strict policy to drive students to take 15 credit hours a semester. The effort comes from compelling evidence that when students fall short of a 15-credit hour, eight-semester schedule, and it takes them longer than four years to graduate, their likelihood of graduating diminishes. In combing through institutional data a couple years ago, we discovered that African-American students were more likely than other students to take fewer than the 15-credit expectation.
One explanation has become apparent: for years, black students were counseled to do just that by a network of underground advisers. Their rationale was simple: time and time again, they had intervened with black students who were struggling because their course schedules were weighted down unnecessarily with math and science courses during their first semesters. Inevitably, students would perform poorly under the pressure, become discouraged and drop out. Convinced that many in the institution’s student advising corps were not sensitive to that reality, these informal advisers would quietly encourage students to drop one of their classes, keeping them at full-time status while relieving the pressure to give them a better chance of remaining in good academic standing.
We now know the best solution for students is a course load that keeps them on track to graduate in four years, along with attentive advising, more creative pedagogy and better support systems to increase students’ chances of succeeding in introductory math and science courses. However, some old-school advisers have not felt as though we have respectfully responded to their apprehension over whether those improvements are adequately in place. Instead, they too often only receive messages that they are out of compliance with the institution’s directive and that, in fact, they’re doing students more harm than good. The translation for them is that the administration, in its newfound wisdom, now thinks it knows more than they do from their years of experience about how to help these students succeed.
Similarly, as new insights come our way, we are quick to overlook those who have been articulating them for years. For instance, research in the past few years by David Yeager, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, and others shows how racial and ethnic minorities are hindered more than others from academic success by negative mind-sets that institutional conditions impose on them. It is old news to these underground champions who, without compelling data, were sometimes dismissed as apologists for raising such concerns.
As a consequence of these slights, many underground advisers are not enthusiastic about aligning with institutional directives around student success. Continued progress, however, will require deeper levels of participation and synergy among everyone who touches students’ lives across our colleges and universities. If we are not all on the same page -- especially those who are motivated to be engaged -- we will not maximize the opportunity.
Institutions can generate this comprehensive level of collaboration by inventorying such quiet efforts -- past and present -- and acknowledging that they contributed to the success of students in need even before we had offices assigned to do so. Indeed, if they hadn’t been doing what they were doing, higher education might have done an even poorer job with underserved students.
In addition, institutions should consider holding information forums on student success that specifically enlist these quiet champions. That would allow the veterans to share insights from which others can learn. It would also provide an opportunity to share with them new data and best practices that are informing institutional strategies, as well as to identify practical ways to enlist these champions more effectively in the overall student success agenda.
There are no quick fixes or easy answers for the tremendous challenge of eliminating racial and economic disparities in academic performance and persistence. It will take every ounce of innovative thinking and creativity our people can muster -- that which has prevailed quietly in the past and that which we are boldly implementing today. Integration of the two will not occur by happenstance. It will require deliberate acts of leadership.
Byron P. White is vice president for university engagement and chief diversity officer at Cleveland State University.
A new study in the journal Across the Disciplines highlights the importance of "multimodal" teaching and learning. The term refers to more than one way of communicating information or teaching that does not rely only on speech or the written word, but also uses images, video and other tools. The survey finds most faculty members do engage in this form of teaching, and find that it helps students.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration will spend $10 million on a grant to Arizona State University to encourage the development of personalized, digital online courseware in science education, the university announced this week.
The money will help fund a five-year project, led by faculty members at Arizona State, who seek to build on their experimental work with adaptive science courses, which respond to individual learners. A few years ago, Ariel Anbar, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the university, created a popular online course, dubbed Habitable Worlds, which introduces nonscience students to space exploration, climate science and the search for life beyond Earth. The course uses adaptive technology from Smart Sparrow, an adaptive learning company.
Lindy T. Elkins-Tanton, director of ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration, will lead the work with Anbar and other experts to "develop a new way of learning and teaching through exploration of the unknown, at scale, via a digital learning platform," Arizona State and Smart Sparrow said in a written statement. The courseware then will be available for distribution among a coalition of colleges and universities focused on adaptive science courses.
Initially the project will be focused on astrobiology. NASA's Science Mission Directorate Education Committee is the source of the $10 million grant.
“The aim is to help learners become problem solvers capable of exploring the unknown, rather than just mastering what is already known,” Anbar said. “It is learning science as process and as a universe of questions rather than as a dusty collection of facts.”
I am four months away from completing my 200-hour registered yoga teacher certification. As part of that certification, I am required to complete a 10-hour yoga teaching practicum. No big deal right? I’ve been teaching college success strategies to undergraduates for a decade. What could I possibly have to learn about teaching? A lot, apparently.
I took my first yoga class when I was eight years old. I was a competitive swimmer and my very intense coach thought that learning yoga would make us swim faster. I’ve been practicing on and off since then and developed a near-daily practice in the past couple of years. Yoga is a part of who I am.
As higher educators, teaching and learning are part of who we are. We forget that this isn’t true for everyone else, including our students. Learning may be something they do, not something they are.
As I teach my practicum courses, I ask my students if they’ve ever done yoga before. Some say that it’s their first class. I try to remember this as I introduce poses. I can’t just tell them to enter Warrior II; I have to show them exactly how to get there. Throughout my yoga classes, I return to the idea of beginner’s mind, remembering how to teach by first forgetting what I know.
Our students need and want us to be seasoned experts who live and breathe education, but they also need and want us to remember what it’s like not to be.
When I planned my first yoga class, I amply sprinkled child’s pose into my sequence. Child’s pose is a resting pose, where you begin on your hands and knees and then release your bottom onto your heels, stretching your arms forward and lowering your head to the ground. It’s one of those poses that I never want to come out of, so I figured it would be a great fit for a gentle yoga class filled with beginners.
I was wrong.
Child’s pose is a great pose for me. What I learned within two seconds of introducing it to my students is that for certain body types, this pose is incredibly challenging. There went that plan. I moved my students out of the pose and offered them another option for rest.
One of the most important things I’m learning in my yoga instruction is that no two bodies are alike and that similarities on the outside can mask differences on the inside. Rounder bodies might find poses where body parts are tightly pressed against one another (e.g. child’s pose) to be very challenging, while straighter bodies might find these poses to be restful. Some knees bend more deeply. Some shoulders are tighter. Some hips flex too much, others not enough. My job as a yoga teacher is to help my students journey into their own bodies and to respect their unique anatomical structure. Yes, all knees serve the same purposes: to enable us to bend down, straighten up, and to walk or run. But within these overarching purposes, there are billions of knees with their own individual knee stories.
Are brains any different? Increasingly, I’ve come to believe that our most important job as teachers is to help students journey into their own minds to understand how they learn best. Remembering that this will be an intensely personal experience with infinite variation can help us do a better job serving as a guide on these journeys.
Off the Mat
Before last week’s class, one of my students told me that she’d started doing some of the yoga poses she’d learned with her children. Another woman told me that she’d taught her mother cat/cow pose. One student shared that she’d been practicing some of the chair poses we’ve learned at her desk while at work.
I didn’t know how good it would feel to hear how my students are taking our yoga classes off the mat and into the world.
Isn’t this what learning is all about? What good is it if our students can correctly answer our test questions if they can’t apply what they’ve learned outside the classroom? Whether this application is with their hands, their minds or both, I want my students to carry their learning experiences with them when they leave, rather than leaving their learning at the door on the way out.
Higher education can and must do a better job of making learning move. Too often it remains static, stuck within the walls or shells of our land-based or online classrooms. Are your students thinking about, writing about or using what they’ve learned in your course in other courses, at work or in their personal lives? If not, what’s the point?
Where do I end and where do my students begin? Am I too soft? Do I serve them better by saying yes or no? I’ve been asking myself these questions for 10 years. I am, and always have been, a professor who believes in going the extra mile to help my students succeed. I am encouraging, flexible and supportive. But do I sometimes go too far? When it feels like I’m working harder for their success than they are, that’s usually a sign that I need to take a step back.
When teaching a physical practice, the recognition that we cannot do the work for someone else becomes even more apparent. I can show you this challenging pose. I can offer you modifications that might be better suited to your fitness level or body type. I can suggest that you move your foot to the left. Some instructors will even use hands-on assists. But no matter what we do as yoga instructors, we cannot enter the pose for our students. That experience is theirs and theirs alone.
What I’ve also come to realize is that sometimes not feeling settled in a pose can be as important as the alternative. Perhaps a student needs to learn to not push herself so hard while another student could challenge himself a bit more. It’s their body, their mat and their yoga. There comes a point when, as teachers, we have to let go.
Yoga teaches us to pour our hearts, minds and souls into our actions, and then to release our attachment to the outcomes. While we have tremendous influence over our students, we do not have control over them. Understanding and accepting this important distinction will serve both our students and us.
There is great challenge, and great honor, in teaching. Ironically, it is a challenge most fully met when we are always ready to learn more about ourselves.
Karen Costa is a Massachusetts-based adjunct instructor. You can follow her on Twitter @KarenRayCosta.
“Look to your left and look to your right. The odds are one of you is not going to graduate.”
Many of us who attended college in years past will recall receiving some such an admonition from a professor or adviser. The message was simple: our job is to give you an opportunity; your job is to take advantage of it. If you don’t, oh, well.
It was a fairly straightforward arrangement that for decades buffered higher education from a harsh reality that only recently has come under public scrutiny: more than one-third of students who begin their degree never finish. Those in higher education didn’t think too much about it because we did not consider ourselves responsible.
You’re either college ready or you’re not, we reasoned. And if you’re not, don’t blame us. The fact that those who did not make it were disproportionately less economically privileged and more likely to be a racial or ethnic minority was simply the way it was.
Today, colleges and universities are not getting off the hook so easily. The public is demanding that we do a better job of not only admitting students, but ensuring that they complete. Gains are being made but they have been glacial. There is general agreement that President Obama’s goal of the United States attaining college completion rates comparable to the most successful nations in the world by 2020 will not be reached until, at best, another decade.
To accelerate the pace of reaching this goal, we must abandon once and for all the college-ready paradigm that has allowed higher education to deflect accountability. It is time that we fully embrace the burden of being student-ready institutions. After all, not only is the notion of college ready an excuse, but new practices in student success have exposed it as something of a farce. It turns out the problem was not as much about the students as we thought. It was largely us, uninformed about what it takes to help them succeed or unwilling to allocate the resources necessary to put it into practice.
These new interventions are exposing the fact that colleges and universities, for the most part, have been equipped to serve one fairly narrow population of students, which institutions have conveniently defined as college ready. Meanwhile, for decades, higher education has passively accepted the conventional wisdom that minority, low-income and first-generation students disproportionately underperform other students because they are the unfortunate casualties of inadequate systems -- low-achieving public school systems, poor neighborhoods, unsophisticated households -- that leave them woefully unprepared for college success.
However, we are beginning to acknowledge that our institutions have been inadequately equipped to assist students from these populations. The revelation comes not so much from our altruism, but from new pressures from policy makers, employers and civic leaders who demand that these students succeed. Permanently distressed urban neighborhoods and a burgeoning prison system, perpetuated by a poorly educated underclass, are causing unbearable social and economic stress on the nation. At the same time, more jobs require higher levels of education, and there are not enough educated citizens to fill them.
At the same time, the pool of prototypical college-ready students -- recent high school graduates from high-performing schools whose parents have had a successful college experience -- is shrinking due to demographic shifts. That means more institutions are looking to so-called underrepresented students to meet their enrollment goals. That, combined with the emergence of performance-based state funding formulas, which reward public colleges and universities based on the number of students they graduate rather than how many they enroll, has made it a financial imperative that we succeed with students we previously deemed unfit to be in college. As Cleveland State University President Ronald M. Berkman has said, “We have a responsibility to educate students as they are, not as we wish they would be.”
Colleges and universities are showing success, and strategies that are working are largely driven by changes in institutional behavior rather than dramatic shifts in student preparedness. Organizational reforms such as incentivizing students to take 15 credit hours, pushing enrollment in college-level courses and establishing structured course schedules are producing improvements in student retention and graduation rates. Use of technology and predictive analytics now allow us to anticipate academic challenges before they occur so that they can be addressed through focused support.
In light of these advancements, it appears that the line that defines who is deemed college ready routinely is drawn at a point that conveniently aligns with the capacity of colleges to have success. Thus, predictably, folks on one side of the line do well and folks on the other side do not. We’re now learning that with the right investment the line can be moved to embrace more students.
Holding on to the college-ready paradigm serves only to provide a crutch that prevents us from putting forth the full measure of creative energy, resources and accountability required to significantly expand college attainment. It is time to abandon the college-ready myth and adopt, wholesale, a student-ready paradigm, which means rejecting policies that label students as “remedial” and discarding the notion that initiatives to assist them require some extraordinary act of charity that is beyond the legitimate role of higher education.
That does not mean colleges should have no thresholds for entry or that students bear no responsibility for their own success. But as we accept our capacity to educate a broader group of students -- and commit to graduating every student we admit -- we can establish those thresholds in ways that discriminate less against a predictable demographic. Doing what it takes to graduate them would become the new normal, not an exceptional act. It would motivate us in new ways and drive strategy and resources accordingly.
The college-ready paradigm may have always been a myth. Now it is one we can no longer afford to perpetuate.
Byron P. White is vice president for university engagement and chief diversity officer at Cleveland State University.
Wake Forest University will offer new programs in biomedical sciences and engineering, the university announced Friday. Students will study in Wake Forest Innovation Quarter in downtown Winston-Salem, N.C., a hub for biomedical sciences and information technology. The university is preparing space adjacent to the Wake Forest School of Medicine’s newly renovated facilities, which are scheduled to open this summer.
The programs, which will be offered starting in 2017, include a B.S. in engineering, a B.S. in biochemistry and molecular biology, and a concentration in medicinal chemistry and drug discovery.
Wake Forest is pitching the new programs as a solution to the growing need for undergraduate biomedical science and technology graduates. Between 2012 and 2014, the university says, demand has grown by 58 percent nationally.
By the time the programs are fully operational, in 2021, around 350 undergraduates will be enrolled. They will split their time between the main campus and the new classrooms and labs.