• 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.

Title

Friday Fragments

Day one of graduation, a new connection between research and practice, and The Boy discovers that gas costs money.

May 14, 2021
 
 

The first of two days of drive-up graduation at Brookdale were glorious. The weather was perfect, the setup worked as planned and the scenes at the stage were utterly charming.

I’m firmly in the camp of “this is better than before.”

One car at a time approaches the staging area in a parking lot. The student gets out and is escorted to the bottom of the ramp, where a staffer takes their card and learns the preferred pronunciation of their name. The staffer then tells the name reader on stage. Meanwhile, the rest of the family gets out of the car and comes right up to the foot of the stage, from which point they can take all the pictures and/or videos they want. (There’s also an official college photographer and an official videographer.) The student’s name is announced, the student walks up on stage and the president gives the student their diploma. The president and the student pose for pictures. The student gets a rousing ovation from the platform party both upon reaching the stage and upon leaving it.

After leaving the stage, the student reunites with their family.

From the perspective of the platform, we see each family and each student. The love from the families is palpable. In a few cases, members of the families got up on stage and got pictures with their student. Crying parents (and grandparents) weren’t rare. One young boy -- I’ll guess about 3 years old -- yelled “Go, Mommy!” when his mother got her degree.

If that moment doesn’t bring a smile, you’re in the wrong business.

A few observations:

We only had one dog on the stage on Thursday, though I’m hoping for more today.

A couple of students wrote their Venmo accounts on the side windows of their cars, presumably to solicit gifts from passersby. I hadn’t seen that before.

A colleague pointed out that the shoes this time weren’t generally as flamboyant as in previous years, but the eye makeup was much more so. I’m guessing that’s because the eyes are visible above masks.

On to Friday!

--

I was heartened to see an announcement of an interorganizational collaborative to work on connecting research to practice within community colleges. It’s called the Community College Practice-Research-Policy Exchange.

Okay, the acronym needs work. But the underlying idea is excellent.

I plan to carpet-bomb their site with suggestions and encourage others in the trenches who wish for more useful research to do the same. We could use some help.

For instance, although there has been a great deal of research on developmental education, research on ESL remains at an early stage. Many of us would love to have good studies on how to cut institutional costs in ways that do the least damage; the topic is radioactive precisely because it’s relevant. Are there techniques that college leaders can adopt that tend to lead to greater legislative support? How do early-college high school students perform when they get to four-year schools (and how many credits do they lose)? Are there shared governance models that lead to better results? (The political theorist in me has some thoughts on that one.) Are there alternatives to time-based credit hours that don’t exacerbate achievement gaps? Are shorter semesters generally beneficial to student success?

Too often, research is either too abstract to help or too specific to one setting. We need comparative studies. That’s where the good stuff is. But those require sustained time and attention, as well as enough contextual knowledge to know the questions to ask.

I wish the CCP-R-P-E much success, and a much better acronym.

--

TB made it home! He was able to find an open gas station somewhere near Charlottesville and get enough gas to make it back.

Upon discovering that $30 wasn’t enough to fill it, he’s starting to see the wisdom in picking cars based on mileage. Money has a way of clarifying certain things.

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