• 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

Context, a technology "sandbox," ITT's students and more.

September 2, 2016

Pro tip from someone who learned the hard way: If you want to annoy a fifteen-year-old, just say “Drake sings like his voice is changing.”


IHE’s own Scott Jaschik gave the convocation address at Brookdale this week. It was great to see him, and the speech went really well, but I was especially struck by the audience comments later. The common thread was that it was nice to hear someone provide context.

It was, but I was struck that people reacted as if it were unusual. Food for thought.


Shameless brag: the “sandbox” opened on campus this week. It’s a dedicated room filled with all sorts of tech, and staffed by someone trained in its use and operation; it’s intended for faculty and staff to be able to play with various tools to see what would make sense for their use.

I dropped by to see it in action. The 3-D printer was producing a double helix model of DNA at the time. I thought the support guy was playing Ornette Coleman in the background, but it turned out that the printer sounds like free jazz. Who knew?

The coolest use I saw this week involved 3-D printing of “artifacts” for an anthropology class.

Yes, the external situation can get stormy. But having a place for faculty and staff to play with the latest tech and start coming up with new ideas for classes is something we can actually do. And it’s close to the mission of the place. The best teachers are the ones who are excitedly learning something themselves. And the “maker” impulse is contagious.  

It’s a small thing, relative to the size of the college, but I see it as a concrete investment in optimism. Optimism is trading at historic lows; now is the time to buy.


Now that ITT is barred from accepting new students, I assume that it’s circling the drain. As the circles get tighter and faster, community colleges will probably start seeing refugees showing up.

Ashley Smith gives a good and mostly true overview here. (She implies, incorrectly, that DeVry isn’t regionally accredited.  It’s accredited by HLC.) The core of the issue is that most community colleges are regionally accredited, but ITT isn’t, so they may be disinclined to accept the credits. For students who have burned both time and financial aid already, having credits suddenly devalued is a real problem.  

This may be a strong argument for Prior Learning Assessment. CLEP and DSST are probably the most widely used examples, but it can come in non-standardized forms, too.  

PLA, done well, offers a morally defensible way around the dilemma of transferring credit from for-profits of dubious quality. If a student can show that she learned what she was supposed to, she gets credit.  

As more for-profits shed students, whether through attrition or outright closure, PLA will take on a new urgency. I hope community colleges are up to the task.  



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