• 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

Year-round financial aid, Norway and more.

June 11, 2015

The MDRC just published a paper demonstrating what many of us on the ground have known for years: year-round financial aid makes a positive difference in both speed and likelihood of degree completion.

It makes sense. “Summer melt” isn’t confined to the high school years. January intersession can be a tremendous boon to students, since it allows extended focus on one thing. (It’s especially good for certain lab classes, since long periods allow for more ambitious experiments.)  

The beauty of year-round financial aid is that it’s conceptually simple, and it works in concert with the completion agenda. When students who are on a roll have to stop out simply because the aid clock won’t restart for several months, life gets more chances to get in the way.  

Year-round aid existed for a hot minute, but it came and went so quickly, and with so little fanfare, that many colleges didn’t get a chance to take full advantage. Now that completion is very much front-and-center, bringing it back would make sense. In 2015, it’s hard to argue with a straight face that national higher education policy should take the agrarian calendar as sacrosanct.  Let’s recognize reality, and realize the gains from continuity.


If you haven’t yet seen the Hechinger Report’s piece on college in Norway, it’s worth checking out, even though it buries its most interesting part in the middle.

Briefly, Norway does an admirable - enviable -- job of getting economic barriers to college out of the way. College is free to students, much like high school is here. But Norway is much less polarized than we are, so you don’t have the massive disparities among colleges that we have among high schools. Students even receive cost-of-living stipends.

Even with all of that, though, college attendance varies strongly with income.  

At one level, that seems like an argument for giving up on efforts to expand access. If access has natural limits, and we’re almost there now, what’s the point?

But the piece makes two points that make the fatalistic conclusion shaky.

First, Norwegian higher education doesn’t do much in the way of “student support.” You’re an adult; you sink or swim on your own. We do much more to try to help students avoid sinking. It may be that one cancels out the other, at least in part.

Second, though -- and to me, this is the smoking gun -- in Norway, it’s still relatively easy to make a decent living in a blue-collar occupation. College is free, yes, but it’s also truly optional.  

If we want to talk intelligently about higher education, we can’t separate it from the larger political economy. If we do, we’ll miss the point.


Farewell, Ornette Coleman.  

He was an unusual one, but a real talent. Anyone who would entitle his album “The Shape of Jazz to Come” is not messing around.

His music was a distinct blend of lyrical and abstract. I remember the first time I heard his “Dancing In Your Head,” and thinking it was either the smartest party music or the hottest chamber music I’d ever heard.  He was a huge influence on Pat Metheny, among others, even though the affinities weren’t immediately obvious. Nothing about him was immediately obvious.

Others will write about “Lonely Woman,” and that’s fine. But for me, it’s “Feet Music.” Even at his funkiest, nobody else sounded like him.   


Friday, June 12 is my last day at HCC. Thanks to everyone who made it possible to look back over seven years with justifiable pride. Now it’s time to heed the siren call of Jersey...


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