What makes a good school, and who gets to decide that?
A group of students from the Community College of Baltimore County set out to answer such questions and pull back the curtain on higher education for students through their podcast.
Appropriately titled Good School, the podcast dives into the framework of higher ed from the application process to rankings and faculty experience and how each portion impacts the student’s perception of and experience attending their institution.
For professor Beth Baunoch, the podcast is a form of narrative exploration from community college students as well as an experiential learning project, highlighting that student success can come from any institution, not just a “good” one.
Behind the podcast: Baunoch and a team of 12 students launched the podcast in fall 2020 after she received a $40,000 grant in 2019 from the Mellon/ACLS Community College Faculty Fellowship program to launch a podcast production studio.
“My proposal was to create a podcast production house in Baltimore to remove perceived barriers from creating media, in the goals of bringing more inclusivity into the podcast industry,” Baunoch says. “And since I am a professor, the goal was to start with students and teach students how to create podcasts.”
The subject of “good schools” came up in a brainstorming session, and it quickly became clear the topic was important to both the students and their peers.
The podcast follows what Baunoch calls an “audio documentary, journalistic-style,” which requires more skills and training than an interview, talk show–style production.
Each student has a title—associate producer, producer and editor are a few examples—which was important to Baunoch, because it gives them résumé experience to talk about with future employers.
The nature of a two-year school means few of the original students are still working with Baunoch on the project, and it has instead moved to “season two” of its cast and crew, so to speak.
Definitions of success: The podcast serves two key purposes. One, it’s an opportunity for dialogue led by community college students who are disadvantaged by rankings and the prestige of “good schools.”
Community college students are at a disadvantage in their postgraduate success when they compete for internships and jobs against graduates of “good schools,” Baunoch explains.
“The system is set up to keep people out,” Baunoch says. “Through our research, that is what we have learned, that is what we’re dealing with here. It’s not just about getting a good education, because you can get a good education anywhere. But when you’re going to find a graduate from CCBC versus a graduate from Harvard, who are they going to hire?”
But, maybe more importantly, it’s a demonstration of the talents and efforts of community college students.
Attia Robinson and Andrea Alvarado are two students currently working on Good School with Baunoch. Robinson is a biology student and Alvarado studies digital media production, and they were both drawn to the project as an experiential learning opportunity.
What started as a fun project for the two students has grown into a deeper understanding of the business of higher education and the forces at play in a student’s journey to gain a college degree.
“I think the main takeaway from the whole podcast is there’s not necessarily a good school—it’s just that there are schools that are good for you,” Robinson says.
A secondary consequence of the project is the two students’ desire for change in higher education.
At their own institution, Robinson and Alvarado want more funding for media studies, tenure for faculty, commuter student facilities, expanded dining services, additional personnel for student services and a board of committees that recognizes their campus’s unique community and needs.
The students also recognize the backward allocation of resources for students related to success: only after an athletics team wins the championship will their program receive more funding, or after a club earns an award will it gain new equipment. Robinson and Alvarado want that to change.
“They look for student success after we succeed. Like, we already made the podcast,” Robinson says.
The impact: The podcast has sparked important conversations around the value of education, student success and, of course, the definition of a good institution among both Baunoch’s students and the higher education community.
“I think it’s really opening [the students’] eyes to what they’re going through on a daily basis and why it is the way it is,” Baunoch says.
Robinson and Alvarado have both learned and implemented new skills as part of the Good School team. While both serve officially as producers, Robinson has also done voice and postproduction work, and Alvarado edits.
“It’s been really insightful. It’s the first time I’ve ever had to work on a project with people and have to be, like, official,” Robinson says. “I’ve never had to do so many meetings, and just having to work with the people around me to make a product is difficult, but it’s pretty fun.”
Robinson and Alvarado believe the work improved their research and interview skills as well as taught them better time management as they coordinated meetings. Both have presented at conferences and as panelists, building confidence in their public speaking and communication skills, too.
“I’m learning so much, I’m like, ‘OK I can handle it, I kinda like it,’” Alvarado says.