Posts Tagged ‘graduation’

Recently, there has been a flurry of articles and reports about higher education and the policy choices that will affect its future. As a communications professional, I would normally welcome the attention to higher education; the whole sector is underreported, in my humble opinion. However, this recent coverage has centered on the wrong questions and the wrong debates—and is diverting attention from some really important trends and problems.

Both the Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times have recently published forums on the question, are too many students going to college? This is the kind of question editors love because it makes it easy for them to line people up on either side of a seemingly important debate. But the answer to this particular question is pretty clear-cut: for any individual student, going to college is clearly better than not going. This is why students are flocking to colleges of all sorts—two-year, four-year, for-profit, not-for-profit, public, private.

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Could it really be this simple? Okay, of course not. But two recent events—President Obama’s speech to schoolchildren and the release of a new book on college completion—reminded me of a simple, but often unacknowledged, educational truth: More students are capable of higher levels of achievement, but we need to challenge them more to get them there. They need to put in more time and more effort; and if we create educational pathways that require them to do that, more of them will succeed. AAC&U tried initially to convey this simple message through our Greater Expectations initiative, and it lies at the heart of LEAP as well.

President Obama actually said something very similar in his address to the nation’s schoolchildren. “At the end of the day,” he noted, “we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world—and none of it will matter unless . . . [you] put in the hard work it takes to succeed.” Astonishing though it is, this simple truth is rarely spoken by educational leaders or reinforced by our practices and policies—which makes it all the more regrettable that, what with all the coverage of Obama’s “lying” to Congresspeople and “indoctrinating” our kids, so few people actually got to “hear” that message from the president. Read the rest of this entry »

In a recent cleverly titled article, “Let Them Eat Workforce Training,” Keith Kroll and Barry Alford present a compelling and biting critique of President Obama’s new American Graduation Initiative.  They criticize the administration’s “business-centric education policies” and the view of community colleges as “21st century job-training centers.”  Much of what they say is true—thus far, the President’s initiative is alarmingly narrow in its focus.  But I haven’t given up hope that it can prove useful in advancing very worthy educational goals.  Kroll and Alford’s analysis also suffers from a very common American malady—either/or thinking.

They are quite correct to suggest that community college students—no less than their fellow four-year college students—deserve a full-fledged liberal education that extends far beyond narrow job training.  But Kroll and Alford present “liberal education” as the opposite of education or training for a job.  And, of course, they reflect a long-held misunderstanding that liberal education must be, by definition, nonpractical.  I don’t actually think it ever was purely nonvocational and it certainly isn’t so today. (See my longer article on this topic in AAC&U’s journal, Liberal Education.)

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