• 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

Hooray for Herb Alpert! ITT. Springsteen.

August 25, 2016

Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d write: Hooray for Herb Alpert!

He just donated over 10 million dollars to fund free tuition for music students at Los Angeles City College. I’m guessing he made most of his money from A&M records, as opposed to “Spanish Flea,” but I can’t prove that.

Anyway, he’s giving this extraordinary gift in the name of providing sustained access to a quality program that reaches students of all races and income levels. Nationally, community colleges enroll over 40 percent of all undergraduates, but receive less than 2 percent of the philanthropic support in higher education. Alpert is bucking a terrible trend. Philanthropy has such greater dollar-for-dollar impact at this level, but it’s a well-kept secret.

So yes, Hooray for Herb Alpert.  Kenny G, the ball is in your court…


The Feds cut off access to Title IV financial aid funds for new students at ITT Tech. Barring an immediate reversal, that should have the same effect on ITT that it had on Corinthian. I’m expecting a formal death notice soon.

ITT won’t be particularly missed. But it would be a mistake, I think, to jump from “for-profit colleges are closing” to “for-profit higher education is closing.”  

Those are not the same thing.

Instead, investors have switched vehicles. They used to either build or buy colleges that resembled traditional ones. Now they’re likelier to invest in “boot camps,” training providers, publishers, ed-tech vendors, and all manner of support services.  Instead of trying to copy and adapt the college model, they’re breaking the model into pieces and running each piece separately.  Instead of many paths to one destination, now it’s many paths to many destinations.

The move to “boot camps” strikes me as interesting, but ripe with danger. Some boot camps are partnering now with public colleges in the name of gaining Title IV eligibility. At the risk of showing my age, I’ve seen this movie before.

I’m not theologically opposed to for-profit higher education, but I’m thoroughly convinced it can only work in the presence of “patient capital.” That means resisting the temptation to sell stock. Venture capitalists aren’t known, as a breed, for patience.  

Watch this space. The sector is morphing, rather than shrinking.


Meanwhile, in happier news, TW and I caught the Springsteen concert on Tuesday. If I’m counting right, it was her fifth and my sixth; my first was in 1984 in Buffalo, on the “Born in the USA” tour. This was his best show since then.

Catching Bruce in his natural habitat -- New Jersey -- is the way to do it. The crowd responded to several Jersey references in the lyrics, and even to a monologue mention of the ice cream stand “Jersey Freeze” in Freehold.  (He actually laughed when we did that.)  

The concert was just shy of four hours long, without an intermission, including a fifteen-minute-plus version of “Shout” in which he did the old James Brown routine of being too tired to continue, having his bandmates wrap a shawl over him, retreating, and then coming back at full speed.  The crowd ate it up.  I’d forgotten how much of a showman he is.

TW is a born-and-raised Jersey girl, so she sang along, with gusto. “Sherry Darling” may be her favorite Bruce song ever, so she was thrilled when he did it. Later, he even did “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” which I’ll admit I hadn’t expected at a show in August.

He made a few minor concessions to age. There were more monologues than in the past, which presumably allowed for rest. I noticed several slow songs in a row towards the middle, which I assume was for the same reason. During “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” the reference in the lyrics to Clarence Clemons (“When the change was made uptown, and the Big Man joined the band…”) triggered a photo montage of Clarence on the jumbo screens, followed by a few pictures of the band’s late organ player, Danny Federici.  Clarence’s nephew Jake handles the sax duties now. He’s a better player than Clarence was, but he isn’t the comic foil Clarence was.  I was touched when the screen focused on Steve Van Zandt during “Bobby Jean,” though I don’t know how many people caught the reference.  Steve seemed to, judging by the look on his face.

The setlist wasn’t all hits. He didn’t do “Thunder Road” or “Born in the USA,” instead doing “41 Shots” and “Because the Night.”  “41 Shots” remains depressingly relevant after all these years, though the frat boy in the row in front of me rocking out to it didn’t quite seem to catch its meaning. The version of “Because the Night” was the best I’ve ever heard.

Inevitably, and perfectly, the concert closed with a cover of “Jersey Girl,” and fireworks.  

Okay, Boss. You win. We’ll toast you with our milkshakes at Jersey Freeze.


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