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This week’s blog showcases an interview with Sarah Collins, a senior and Music Education Major at AMC.  Sarah is very active on campus and is the President of the Music Education Club, Publicist and Pit Director for the Zecconian Players and a former SGA Senator for the School of Visual and Performing Arts

Here’s what Sarah had to say:

Why did you choose AMC?

When I was in high school looking for colleges, my band director suggested AMC because of its strong music program. He got me in touch with the band director at the time and we really hit it off. I came for my audition for the music program and met many of the professors and knew it was the right fit for me.

What did you like about AMC when looking into this school?

One of the best aspects of AMC is that it's a small school where you're not a number, but you're a person. During my time here at AMC, I have been able to get specialized help on various subjects due to small classes and professor availability. I also like that when I came for my audition, the professors and students alike wanted to get to know me and came right up and introduced themselves. Once I officially decided to come to AMC and when I came back, the professors and students remembered me. That's what's important to me.

What are your favorite aspects about this school?

One thing that I really like about this school is how involved the students are with the Student Government Association (SGA) and all the clubs we have on campus. I have been a very active member of the SGA and have worked with various people around campus to make this school the best it can be.

Recently, the school redesigned the library and we now have an Information Commons above the library to study and use the computers and printers. It has been a great addition to this school to give us more opportunity to study and do homework.

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Anna Maria College is a great choice for continuing your education. It offers a variety of majors within six different academic schools: Business, Fire and Health Sciences, Justice and Social Sciences, Education, Humanities, and Visual and Performing Arts. The class sizes are small so you are able to get to know your professors and receive more individualized attention.

Anna Maria College also offers 17 Men’s and Women’s athletic teams and a diverse group of clubs one can join. More importantly, students go to college to further their education and to gain the knowledge and experience to start a career. AMC has the programs and resources to assist students successfully enter the workforce. The College also has a Fifth year option for students to obtain their master’s degree.

Another positive is Anna Maria College’s affiliation with the Higher Education Collaborative of Central Massachusetts. This organization allows students to take classes at 11 other schools for no additional cost, which means you can take a class of interest to you that might not be offered at AMC.

Finally, AMC is a great choice because you will get a great education and it will set you up for a successful career.

Last week, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette published an opinion piece I wrote regarding liberal education. Since so many of the readers of this blog do not read the Worcester newspaper, I thought I would share it with you.

As always, your comments are welcome!

If Education is a Commodity … At Least Get the Facts Straight!

A few weeks ago, President Obama made headlines when he said, “I promise you, folks can make a lot more, potentially, with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree….I’m just saying you can make a really good living and have a great career without getting a four-year college education as long as you get the skills and the training that you need." (January 30, 2014).

In this case, the President has widespread bi-partisan support. Similar disdain for majors in the liberal arts has been expressed by Mitt Romney, former Governor of Massachusetts and Republican presidential nominee, Rick Scott, Republican Governor of Florida, and Patrick McCrory, Republican Governor of North Carolina.

In every one of these cases, and somewhat prevalent throughout the current criticism of higher education by government and the media, a college degree is unfortunately being reduced to a commodity. It is being narrowly defined as a means to an end … a good job … higher pay. I hope all of our graduates find the employment of their choice and earn a living wage. But this narrow perspective both demeans the value of education and is factually incorrect.

The value of liberal education centers on the balance between open, free, and critical inquiry and research dedicated to the advancement of knowledge and learning. A college education provides intellectual hospitality through which we value and celebrate the compassionate community of learners, who passionately search for truth, in order to transform society and ourselves.

The goal of liberal education is to develop an understanding and appreciation for culture and society, our responsibilities as citizens of the world, and the value of lifelong learning. Quality liberal education is marked by the development of critical thinking and analytical skills, the ability to communicate effectively, and the formation of moral reasoning, value development, and decision-making. Do we need any more evidence of the critical need for values, morality and leadership in our society?

But even if you do not share this philosophy, there is ample evidence that a liberal arts degree does, in fact, result in high levels of employment and increased earning. A recent study entitled, “How Liberal Arts and Sciences Majors Fare in Employment,” analyzes U.S. Census data from 2010 and 2011.

The report reveals that immediately after earning their four-year degree, majors in the humanities and the social sciences earn more on average than those who majored in science and mathematics, but less than other pre-professional degree programs. However, by the time they reach their peak earning ages, those graduates with social science and humanities degrees earn more annually than others with professional and pre-professional degrees. The report also reveals that those who earn a graduate degree outpace their less educated peers. Imagine that … more education contributes to high employment and increased earnings.

Despite the rhetoric from politicians, pundits and self-proclaimed experts, there is a high correlation between higher education and success … in whatever way you choose to define success.

In preparing his remarks, President Obama apparently neglected to read the May 2011 study conducted by the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project. With responses from over 13,500 arts majors from 154 institutions, over 90% were employed in the position of their choice and a vast majority reported high levels of satisfaction with their careers. Even those who did not pursue an arts related career expressed the value their degree had for both their lives and their careers.

Perhaps President Obama had a negative experience as an undergraduate. His alma mater, Columbia University, is one of the few institutions in America that requires all students to study art history. Of course, higher education served him well with both a bachelor’s and a law degree.

In the end, there is no denying that a college degree is expensive and not always the ticket to immediate success. It is also true that many students graduate with significant debt. But it seems to me that it is much more important that young people study what they love, pursue their dreams and be made aware that whatever program of study, their degree will provide a quality of life both personally and professionally that will bring satisfaction and fulfillment. After all, isn’t “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” fundamental to the American dream? I think I studied that in a social science class I took at college!

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I last wrote about MOOCs well over a year ago … November 2012, to be exact. For those unfamiliar with the term, MOOC refers to Massive Open Online Courses. These are courses that are available to anyone who has an internet connection. Most MOOCs are offered free of charge, some for a nominal fee. More and more MOOCs can now be completed for certification or even some form of credit.

The concept of MOOC really began over a decade ago when MIT began its OpenCourseWare program. The idea then and now is to provide knowledge and information to the widest possible audience. Many institutions have joined this effort and the number of courses has grown exponentially. MIT, Harvard and the University of California Berkeley originally formed a collaborative called edX, which offers free online courses. Other institutions have joined this collaborative (e.g., University of Texas, Georgetown, McGill). Harvard offers its MOOCs through HarvardX, MIT through MITX.

MOOCs continue to be a topic of both interest and criticism. The interest comes from those who want to explore the best ways to use online education to reach the most people … and to do so effectively. Criticism typically points to the low completion rates and questions the efficacy if “students” only participate partially.

In late January, researchers at Harvard and MIT released a study in an important step towards moving the discussion of MOOCs from opinion to data based. Their premise is important. They contend that course certification and completion rates “are misleading and counterproductive indicators of the impact and potential of open online courses.” Here are some of their findings and their analyses.

Based on data drawn from the study of 17 MOOCs offered by MIT and Harvard in 2012 and 2013, here are some key findings:

  • 841,687 people registered for the 17 MOOCs from Harvard and MIT.
  • 5 percent of all registrants earned a certificate of completion.
  • 35 percent never viewed any of the course materials.
  • 54 percent of those who “explored” at least half of the course content earned a certificate of completion.
  • 66 percent of all registrants already held a bachelor’s degree or higher.
  • 74 percent of those who earned a certificate of completion held a bachelor’s degree or higher.
  • 29 percent of all registrants were female.
  • 3 percent of all registrants were from underdeveloped countries.

What the researchers contend is that MOOCs should not be assessed in the same way that we assess conventional courses either on ground or online. Further, they agree that MOOCs are not a replacement for a traditional college experience on ground or online. But, they argue that MOOCs are both important and valuable based on these data.

MOOCs are intended for an audience different than those interested in earning a degree. They provide an inexpensive, accessible and flexible way to learn something about some topic of interest. They provide a way for tens of thousands of people to gain valuable knowledge and information without spending large sums of money and without leaving their homes. For some, they may even serve as a precursor for enrolling in a degree program.

According to one of the researchers from Harvard, the best image for a MOOC is a “blank canvas.”  “It’s reaching a completely different set of students, with different intentions, perhaps, and different ways of seeing instructors and the content of the course.”

How MOOCs will be connected or even integrated into credit bearing and degree granting programs is yet to be determined. But access to knowledge and information is always a good thing. After all, isn’t that the fundamental definition of education?

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

Posted by on in Rick's View

When I was a senior in high school and looking at colleges, there were a number of factors that were important to me. The first, and one of the more important factors was that I wanted to go to a smaller school. I didn’t want to go to a college where I was just a number in a huge lecture hall. I wanted a school where my professor would know my name and face, and where I could get help if I needed it.

Another factor was the athletic department. I was a member of the golf team in high school and I wanted to play in college. Anna Maria College helped me achieve that goal, and I have had a great time with my fellow team members.

I was also looking for a school that had a variety of majors to choose from because I was unsure if a degree in business was a good choice for me. Because AMC offers so many choices, I was able to take business classes and criminal justice classes to see where I fit best. I decided that business was the right major for me.

Next week I will discuss why I think you should choose Anna Maria College.