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Posted by on in President's Blog

This will be my final blog as President of Anna Maria College. More on that at the end of this blog. With the celebration of Commencement this past weekend, it seems like the logical point to end this weekly dialogue. In other words, let’s end on a high note!

Commencement is always a wonderful experience for everyone. It is a time for our graduates and their families and friends to celebrate their success. It is the opportunity for faculty and staff to see the results of their efforts to educate and support these students in so many ways. And for the President, it is an honor to congratulate each and every graduate and wish them well as they go out to transform the world.

Every Commencement has stories. More than names in a program, these graduates are men and women who achieved success through hard work and perseverance. I know so many of these students personally.   I know what they had to overcome to attend college. I know what they had to overcome to succeed at college. I know what the College did to provide second (and third) chances, to support them academically, spiritually, socially and personally so that they could reach this point. I know the sacrifices that were made. And on Commencement morning, we all see the rewards.

This past week, the results of the Inaugural Gallup—Purdue Index were released. A study of 30,000 graduates from all types of colleges, the most significant result was as follows: “College graduates, whether they went to a hoity-toity private college or a midtier public, had double the chances of being engaged in their work and were three times as likely to be thriving in their well-being if they connected with a professor on the campus who stimulated them, cared about them, and encouraged their hopes and dreams” (Scott Carlson, The Chronicle of Higher Education).

For me, this is research that simply validates what we have known for decades, and why so many of us want to work in small colleges. Because while this research focuses on the role of professors, we know that this culture of support … this nurturing environment … is created and sustained by every member of the college community. When I speak to our graduates, they identify key faculty members who helped them, but also support staff, administrators, counselors … everyone on campus. They recognize, acknowledge and appreciate that everyone cares about them.

So, Commencement is the day to celebrate our students, but also the men and women who work at AMC and continue to live the mission of this student centered institution. Congratulations to our graduates. Thank you to our faculty and staff.

Finally, writing this weekly blog has been a great experience for me. It has forced me to make time every week to read, to think and to reflect. It has allowed me to share research and opinions about higher education, social issues, Catholic education and the Church. Some of you have enjoyed the blog. Some have disagreed regularly. But the point has always been dialogue and discussion. And if it has caused you to think and reflect from time to time, it was a success.

Thank you for your interest and support over the past seven years.

 

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)

Posted by on in President's Blog

When I was a freshman in college many years ago, I came home for the holidays and broached the subject of transferring to another institution. I was still in the process of adjusting to college life and many of my friends at other institutions seemed to be having more fun.

The conversation with my father was brief. After listening to my story, he reminded me that I had been accepted at several colleges and picked the one I was attending. Therefore, that was the choice I would live with. End of discussion. And by the middle of the Spring semester, I couldn’t even imagine leaving Boston College for anywhere else.

Today, students transfer from one institution to another readily. In fact, more than one-third of all undergraduate students are transfer students (i.e., started at one institution, but moved to a second or even a third institution). Most students transfer after their freshman or sophomore years, but a significant number make this decision during their final two years.

The reasons for these decisions vary. For some, it is part of their overall plan. Start at one institution for cost reasons (e.g., a community college) with the intention of graduating from a four-year institution. For others, they were not admitted to their original school of choice and start elsewhere to develop evidence for a re-application. These students are typically called “transfer by design.”

Others transfer because they are asked to leave their initial institution (e.g., academic failure, disciplinary issues). Some transfer because they can no longer afford their initial institution. Still others transfer to be closer to home (or further away) or to study in a program that their initial institution does not offer. These students are described as “transfer by default.”

A recent study conducted by Noel-Levitz provides helpful information about what these students need from the receiving institution. Based on the responses of 1,708 transfer students to the national survey, “Second-Year Student Assessment,” this study found that transfer students had specific needs and requests for assistance and support in the following areas: academics, advising, career planning, and finances.

The major findings of the study were:

-       49 percent of college transfer students newly enrolled at four-year public institutions requested tutoring support in one or more of their courses;

-       42 percent of transfer students at four-year private institutions wanted help with study skills;

-       50 percent of transfer students at two-year schools wanted help in developing a written plan leading to graduation;

-       63 percent of transfer students at four-year public institutions wanted help in discussing options for financing the rest of their college education;

-       78 percent of transfer students at four-year public institutions requested information about internships in their majors; and,

-       62 percent of the transfer students at four-year private institutions asked for information about advantages and disadvantages of their major and career choices.

With this in mind, the author of the study suggests the following strategies:

-       Transfer student orientation programs similar to those offered to first-year students with targeted programming designed to support transfer students during their first year on the new campus;

-       Trained academic advisors who can advocate for the maximum transfer of credits as well as provide information about internships and employment opportunities in each major;

-       Scholarships and college-financing options designated for transfer students; and,

-       Career resources provided directly to transfer students early in their transfer experience to validate their career choices or help them determine new directions.

While almost all colleges and universities have specific orientation and service programs for freshmen, less than 65 percent offer any similar initiatives for transfer students, and these are often limited.

These are our students, too. And they deserve every effort to support their academic and social success. They may not come to us as freshmen, but they deserve to graduate!

 

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)

A week ago, my wife and I flew home from a trip to Italy. The most common question asked upon our return was about our experience at the canonization ceremony of John XXIII and John Paul II. Our experience was the same as most of you … we watched it on TV, in our case from the Rome airport as we awaited our flight to Boston.

At the risk of offending those devoted to these two former popes, I found the entire process and analysis of this special canonization somewhat frustrating. The fact that the process and rules for determining “saints” have been repeatedly adjusted diminishes the validity for me. This was no more evident than during the tenure of Pope John Paul II who proclaimed 482 saints, more than in the previous 600 years combined. In the case of these two most recent saints, both time limits and evidence of miracles were waived and redefined to allow this process to go forward because of public demand (“santo subito”). Apparently, public demand works better on the naming of saints than the modification of policies that exclude too many people from the Church.

The analysis recently related to Pope Francis’ decision focused mostly on these canonizations as being more political than spiritual. Many argued that by simultaneously canonizing both the person credited with initiating Vatican II and the person credited with helping to bring the downfall of communism and the expansion of the Church’s popularity, Pope Francis provided graphic evidence of the breadth of the Church both in terms of its more liberal and conservative wings. But couldn’t this have been accomplished through a speech? An encyclical? Visits to countries and communities reflecting the breadth of the world and the various perspectives?

I must admit that I have always had mixed feelings about Pope John Paul II. While I respected his commitment to freedom and his charismatic leadership to which so many responded, his failures related to the scandals in the Church and his arch conservative views toward the roles of women and the laity were repeatedly disappointing.

While Pope John XXIII lead the Church while I was a young child, my appreciation of his vision and leadership relates to my continued respect for and belief in the teachings of Vatican II. The Vatican II documents describe the Church I love and the faith I cherish. Without Vatican II, I would never have had the opportunity to serve the Church as a lay leader for the past 40+ years.

But what is the real meaning of a saint? If there is no need to provide evidence of miracles and no need for a waiting period, then it seems a saint is best described as someone who follows Jesus Christ and lives to the best of her or his ability according to the teachings of the Gospel.

And if John Paul II and John XXIII are saints, then so are the countless unknown faithful who begin each day in prayer living lives of service to the Common Good. And if we are all sinners as Pope Francis reminds us, then saints include all of us who struggle to live up to the model of the Gospel each and every day.

For me, the saints in my life are people who provide me with inspiration because of their values, their beliefs, their lives. When I pray for guidance, I reflect on the people who helped shape my life and continue to play a role in who I am, what I do and what I believe. They are models of discipleship … of people who journeyed on their walk of faith throughout their lives.

If millions of people have increased faith because of Saint John XXIII and Saint John Paul II ,,, and if this faith translates into a deeper commitment to gospel values and serving the Common Good, that’s great. But when I get up in the morning and begin with prayer, I will continue to reflect on the saints in my life.

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)

Posted by on in President's Blog

For the past several years, a new term has found its way into the lexicon of higher education. “Undermatching” describes the situation where students enroll in colleges that are less selective than those they might aspire to based on their academic qualifications.

Some analyses indicate that this phenomenon is more prevalent with lower income students. Statistics seem to show that these highly talented students are enrolling in less selective institutions even though they could succeed at the best colleges in the country. More recently, there is research that these students also have lower graduation rates and decreased satisfaction in their educational experience.

Needless to say, most of the literature concludes that “undermatching” is a bad thing. For these students, they may miss the opportunity to be fully challenged academically and to have access to a wide and deep range of resources, programs and services typically available at highly selective institutions.

But a recent study provides a more complete analysis and a balanced interpretation of this phenomenon. “Selectivity and the College Experience: How Undermatching Shapes the College Experience Among High-Achieving Students” was authored by Kevin J. Fosnacht, a research analyst at the National Survey for Student Engagement. His findings were presented recent Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association in early April.

Fosnacht study confirmed that “undermatched” students experienced a less challenging academic environment. They also had a lower opinion of their college. According to Fosnacht, these findings could explain why these students also have lower graduation rates.

But Fosnacht also discovered that there are a number of positive factors related to “undermatching.” He found that these students are more likely to engage in “active and collaborative learning activities.” He also concluded that these students have more frequent interactions with faculty members.

These findings are important because of the plethora of research supporting the correlation between high quality education and both active/collaborative learning and faculty interactions. Students can have a great educational experience at any institution, regardless of selectivity.

The issue of “undermatching” has become political with calls from the President and the Department of Education for selective institutions to work to eliminate “undermatching”. The primary solution suggested is to make highly selective institutions more affordable for lower income/high ability students.

But the term reveals the most important factor … the match. Students do best when they attend the college that is the best fit … academically, socially, culturally, financially, spiritually, etc. “Undermatching” suggests that students are being underserved if they enroll in a college that may be less selective than their academic record suggests.

However, it seems to me that the most important statistic is student success academically. Every college has the responsibility to challenge each and every student to reach her or his academic potential. A quality educational experience is the match that counts.

 

NOTE: This blog will not appear for the next two weeks because of the Easter break. It will return on Monday, April 28, 2014.

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)

Posted by on in Matt's Corner

As I come to the final month of my time at Anna Maria College, I find it almost overwhelming to reflect on my four years here. In 2010 when I was fresh from the classrooms of my high school, I found myself in a new era of my life that I had not adequately prepared for. During my first semester, I struggled to keep up with the increased demand of succeeding and I thought that I may not be able to reach my goals. However, being at such a small institution, I quickly found myself surrounded by the right group of students—both upperclassmen and those in my own class—who showed me how to get the most out of my Anna Maria College experience and turn myself around.

As the years went by, class-by-class, semester-by-semester, I finally reached my senior year. As I sat in my first class as a senior, I looked back and realized how much I had done in what seemed like such a short period of time. Through being an orientation leader alone, I had worked with various freshman classes and saw in a lot of them what I saw in myself when I was in those students’ shoes. Some were confused, some were prepared, and some were in-between. I was able to reassure them that even if they didn’t know exactly what they wanted to do in life, they had plenty of time, resources and support at AMC to help shape their future.

In addition to learning from my peers, I have been blessed with the opportunity to work with various administrators at Anna Maria College. Many have become my mentors, as well as some of the greatest advocates for student success that I know. I remember vividly President Calareso’s speech on move-in day in August of 2010. He encouraged us to absorb everything and anything we could while at Anna Maria College. I’m certainly glad I took his advice.

Now, with graduation being merely a blink away, I look to the next phase of my education. I’ll be attending the Higher Education Administration graduate program at Merrimack College, where I’ll also be part of a fellowship program in the Office of Academic Enrichment. My undergraduate experience at AMC helped shape my intended future and I look forward to making a career out of helping students make their transitions into higher education.

I often remind myself that I more than likely wouldn’t have gotten to this point in my life if it wasn’t for my experiences, support and growth at AMC. It’s amazing how much can change in just four years. Between the friends you make, the ones you lose, the goals you reach, and the new goals you set, the Class of 2014’s upcoming commencement is a culmination of what each of us achieved as individuals over these critical last four years.