• 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

Scenes from an Open House

Messages for prospective students and parents.

November 7, 2016
 

Brookdale had its Fall Open House on Sunday. I didn’t have a speaking role, and I dressed for the weekend, so I was able to move about inconspicuously and just listen.

For various reasons, we tried a new format this year. In the past, it was held in the arena with rows of booths, like a trade show. It was easy to see representatives from everywhere, but you didn’t get much of a flavor of the campus. This year it used the entire campus, with faculty in their own program’s areas on campus. It involved more walking, but the weather cooperated, and visitors got to see the entire place and the facilities.

My favorite comment of the day, overheard coming from a Dad: “This isn’t what I expected. (pause) It’s _nice_.”  

It kicked off with a welcome from the president in the arena. I sat in the back, behind a family of four. When she mentioned that 60 percent of our graduates finish debt-free, I noticed the Mom make a face at the Dad, the Dad make a face at the Mom, and a simultaneous nod. They scanned the program carefully, apparently with a clear idea of which program they wanted to see.  

I heard murmurs when the president mentioned that our tuition is about one-tenth that of a popular local private university. It struck me as a much smarter way to present tuition than a dollar figure. And she made the point -- obvious to incumbents, but not necessarily to everyone -- that students can, and do, transfer on to high-toned places later and get the same degree for much less. Parents throughout the audience perked up at that.

Walking from station to station was the highlight. At one point, in the visual arts building, I popped into the photography area to see what was going on. Shortly after, a family came in; apparently the Mom knew the professor. When the professor mentioned brightly “we still have darkrooms!” the Mom did a fist-pump and yelled “Yes!” Darkrooms don’t often get that response, but this one did.  

The poli sci faculty put out their life-size cardboard cutouts of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. If you aren’t expecting the cutouts, they’re a little unnerving. The dean took my picture with the Trump cutout, which may come back to haunt me at some point. History will decide.

Having faculty in their own areas, not hemmed in to a small booth in an arena, seemed to pay off. They were mostly happier with it, from what I saw, and better able to talk to students who wanted to talk to them. And in areas where facilities matter, they were able to show off what we have, instead of asking students to take their word for it.  At the end of the day, there’s no substitute for a professor talking to students directly about her field, and showing them what the place has to offer. Spreading people all over campus reduced the auditory crowding, and made real conversation possible. That’s the heart of the whole thing.

As a first foray into a new format, naturally, some areas for fine-tuning quickly became apparent. But that’s fine; we can do that. And there’s something fulfilling about putting your best foot forward.

Next year I start the college tour with TB, so I’ll get more of a comparative perspective then. But in the meantime, I’m hoping my wise and worldly readers can offer the benefit of experience. Have you seen a particularly successful approach to a college Open House? Any tips we can steal to make the next one even better would be most welcome.

 

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