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A brief introduction
 
It's a normal afternoon for college students. They sit down at a lunch table with their friends after class to get something to eat and catch up with each other. Given that it is 2013, their conversation could go anywhere. However, chances are that at some point or another, some aspect of social media will be brought up. Whether it's "Oh, did you see who Tweeted this?" or "Hey, did you see what she wrote on Facebook?". The truth is, this is the new norm.
 
In this day and age social media has become a part of our culture, so much so, that it's considered a social norm, used by anyone for any reason. With the growth of technology, even over the past few years, social media has found countless platforms to allow its users to immerse themselves in a vast network of online news, blogs, social interactions, and countless other venues. Since the dawn of social media, it has evolved into a primary method of communicating, getting our news, and promoting a culture dominated by technology and the Internet. When considering these facts, one can't help but stop and think how this might be affecting higher education and what impact it has had on students and the institution itself?
 
From my perspective, social media has taken over higher education in many ways, none of which I would say is negative, as social media is now being used by faculty and staff just as frequently as students. All across college campuses throughout the country, social media is becoming an integral part of day-today life for the entire campus community. . Just in the past three years that I have been in college, I have seen social media everywhere I go. Nearly every club and organization at Anna Maria College uses some form of social media to market their club, communicate between club members, and reach out to other students, as well as advertise for their events. Social media is even evident on the professional level just as much as it is on the student level. The admissionteam relies on the benefits of social media to help them connect with prospective students, as well as share the wealth of information about the School. Just on the admission page alone incoming freshmen can find links to pages on the Anna Maria website that directly brings them to their point of interest, whetherr one is looking for residence life, student activities, how to deposit, or even how to find email addresses to talk to admission councilors or faculty members. Students can also find Anna Maria on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Google +, and Instagram, as well as Linkedin.
 
This is just a small example of how social media has found itself at the center of higher education. I hope to discuss more about this in my next blog...

Posted by on in President's Blog

A couple of weeks ago, my blog included an op ed piece I wrote for the local newspaper. The focus of the editorial was a critique of the proposed federal government scorecard for colleges. My main argument was that not all colleges are the same and not all college students are the same. Therefore, a unitary system is neither fair nor accurate when determining an institution’s success.

Most readers agreed with my perspective. But many readers objected to one of my contentions that all students deserve a college education. Some argued that not every child in America deserves or is qualified to attend college. I had been thinking about this issue when I came across a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan.

Whether or not every high school graduate should attend college, no one I know believes that disadvantaged students of ability should be denied access and opportunity. And this research study affirmed strategies that seem to be extraordinarily effective with this population.

For the past 22 years, a non-profit organization called College for Every Student (CFES) has focused on “raising the academic aspirations and performance of underserved youth so that they can prepare for, gain access to, and succeed in college.”  CFES currently works with 20,000 students in 200 rural and urban schools and districts in 24 states.

A team of researchers from the University of Michigan conducted a study to assess the effectiveness of CFES and its programs. Using a sample of 1,100 middle school students from 21 schools in 10 states, they found that 75% of the participants in the CFES program planned on attending a four-year college compared to only 5% of the students in their control group.

What are the strategies used by CFES? The three key elements of the program are early exposure to college, mentoring, and community service leadership. Participants in the program are selected by the individual school and are named CFES scholars. At the young age of middle school (or even elementary school), CFES scholars learn about the possibility of attending college and are encouraged to begin planning for this important step in their educational lives.

Over the course of several years, CFES scholars interact with mentors both in their schools and on college campus visits to receive guidance and to become familiar with the world and life of a college student. CFES scholars are also provided with the opportunity to exercise leadership in the community in order to develop both skills and confidence.

What is clear from studying the programs and services of CFES and the corroborating data from this research study is that the result is a student who gains confidence in his or her ability to succeed in college, and an inherent expectation that this is the logical and necessary next step after high school. In addition to the ultimate benefit of significantly more CFES scholars attending college, there is also ample evidence that while in the program, these students improve their academic performance, improve their behavior and improve their attendance.

For many disadvantaged young people in this country, a college degree is only a dream. While there will always remain challenges to earning a college degree, programs like CFES are helping us to better understand how to make some dreams become a reality.

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

Posted by on in President's Blog

Higher education has its fair share of myths, biases and stereotypes. Last week, for example, I provided some evidence to address the bias against the value of online degrees and the myths about on-ground (face to face) instruction.

There are also many myths, biases and stereotypes related to classroom instruction. For example, most people inside and outside of higher education tend to believe that the quality of instruction is better with full-time (tenure track) faculty rather than adjunct or part-time faculty. But the results of a recent research study conducted at Northwestern University challenges this preconception.

Last week, the National Bureau of Economic Research released a paper entitled, “Are Tenure-Track Professors Better Teachers?”  The study was based on data drawn from over 15,000 students who attended Northwestern University from 2001-2008. It focused primarily on instructional quality in introductory courses, the courses every student is required to take.

According to the authors of the study, there was “strong and consistent evidence that Northwestern faculty outside of the tenure system outperform tenure track/tenured professors in introductory undergraduate classrooms.”  These qualitative differences were consistently found across disciplines and subject areas. The differences were even more pronounced for students of “average” ability and those “less qualified.”

The data also revealed other interesting trends. Students who took an introductory course taught by an untenured instructor were more likely to take a second course in that same discipline than those instructed initially by a tenure-track/tenured faculty member. Students taught by untenured faculty tended to earn higher grades as well.

Critics of the study point to the facts that it was conducted at a single institution and one that attracts students who are not necessarily reflective of the entire college-bound student population. However, while the authors accept these limitations, they state, “Our results provide evidence that the rise of full-time designated teachers at U.S. colleges and universities may be less of a cause for alarm than some people think, and indeed, may actually be educationally beneficial.”

From my perspective, this study’s greatest benefit is to help break down the myth or stereotype about adjunct faculty. I doubt that any college or university will use this study to dismantle its full-time, tenure-track faculty. But many institutions utilize many part-time faculty and this study corroborates what some of us already know.

Good teachers are good teachers. Whether full-time or part-time … tenure-track/tenured or adjunct, colleges and universities have great instructors and those who are less inspiring. The common element is not the type of contract or employment status. Rather it’s the knowledge and understanding of the material, the creativity and dedication to effective pedagogy, and the abiding commitment to serving the educational and learning needs of the students.

College students are fortunate to have so many wonderful instructors who enter the noble profession of teaching for all of the right reasons. Some pursue their teaching careers full-time … others part-time … but they all share a love for teaching and a dedication to student learning.  

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

Posted by on in President's Blog

More and more colleges and universities are offering online degree programs. The rationale in most cases relates to accessibility and flexibility. Online degrees are accessible to students from anywhere in the world and are not restricted by geographic boundaries and proximity to campus. Online degrees allow learners to engage in the course material at flexible times that better meet the needs of their hectic lives with competing expectations and obligations. Anna Maria College has been offering online degrees for a number of years.

Questions that often get raised relate to the quality of these degree programs. Are they of the same quality as an on-ground (face to face) learning environment? Are they perceived by the public as valid and credible? The educational quality issue has been answered repeatedly through extensive research. Quality learning has much more to do with the instructor, course content, pedagogical approaches, levels of student engagement, etc. than with modality (on-ground or online). Perhaps I will return to this topic in a future blog.

But there is less evidence related to external perceptions. So I was interested in a recent headline that read, “Employers View Online, Traditional Degrees Equally.”  The article compiled data from a number of research studies conducted by credible organizations … some that engage in online educational programs and services and others that address more widespread higher ed issues. The article itself was sponsored by an institution promoting its own online university. But I think the data is both valuable and valid.

According to studies conducted by the Zogby International Survey and Inside Higher Ed.com, the U.S. News and World Report, the Sloan Consortium, the Society for Human Research Management, and the Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, employers and recruitment professionals view online degrees and traditional degrees equally if they meet three criteria.

The first criterion is accreditation. Employers and recruiters feel strongly that only online degree programs that are accredited are equivalent to traditional programs. It is interesting to note that U.S. News and World Report, which publishes a list every year of the ”Best Online Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree Programs,” will only include those that are regionally accredited.

The second criterion is that the online degree program is offered by a college or university that also has a traditional campus. While 70% of academic leaders in the Sloan Consortium Study expressed some confidence in online only institutions, the percentage increases to 89% if the online program is offered by an institution that also has a traditional campus. This high level of support for programs from colleges and universities with a traditional campus was also expressed by HR Directors, CEOs and hiring managers (Zogby Survey).

The third criterion relates to brand. Online programs are viewed more often as equal to traditional degree programs if the institution offering the program has an established brand. If the college or university has name recognition and a good reputation, the online programs are judged to be the same in quality as the traditional programs.

The growth in online education has been exponential. The reputation of these programs has been negatively impacted by too many for-profit institutions that are viewed as being “diploma mills.”  What is clear from these studies is that employers and recruiters are more discerning and assess a person’s degree carefully. If the degree is awarded from a traditional college, regionally accredited, and well respected, the online degree is equally valued.

As more and more well respected colleges and universities expand their online degree options, this can only be a good thing for those interested in quality education in a more flexible and accessible modality. It is nice to see that students have more and more choices. It is nice to know that these students’ efforts will be respected … if they make the right choice!

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

Posted by on in President's Blog

 The Scorecard May Not Tell the Score   

After the recent bus tour by President Obama proclaiming his new assessment proposal for higher education, I wrote an op ed piece raising some of my concerns about this approach. The piece was published in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette on Friday, August 30, 2013. I thought you might find it interesting. I would appreciate hearing your comments.

   




Friday, August 30, 2013


Scoring higher ed's success

AS I SEE IT

By Jack Calareso


In recent days, President Obama has unveiled his plan to reform higher education. The plan includes a "report card" for every college and university that measures affordability (tuition rates and increases, scholarships, loan debt), access (percentage of students eligible for Pell grants), and outcomes (graduation rates, transfer rates, graduate earnings, graduate school admissions). 


The federal government is not alone in promoting this simplified grading system. For years, families have used published rating systems from magazines, book companies and educationally related organizations to determine college rankings. Ranking systems abound so that you can not only find the college with the highest graduation rates, but the institution that parties the most. 


Scorecards and rating systems have become a phenomenon. Self-appointed experts frequently publish lists and assessments based on partial and unsubstantiated data and analyses that are not fully explained or vetted. Sadly, these get published (often self-published on the Internet), read by prospective students, and add to the confusion of college choice. 
Clearly, colleges and universities need to be transparent about their success and held accountable for their performance. Furthermore, access, affordability, success in graduation, etc., are important variables. But they simply do not tell the whole story and hardly provide the right score for every prospective student. 

The fact of the matter is that all college-bound students are not the same. President Obama has often said, and I agree, that every American should have the opportunity for a college education. I would go further and say that every American should have the opportunity to earn a bachelor's degree. But not every student is academically able, and some will need more time and extra support. 

My advice to every parent and prospective student is that if you can be admitted to Harvard, Yale or Princeton - and can afford it - go. If you want to be further away from home, Stanford is not a bad choice either. But not every student can either meet the admission standards or afford an Ivy League school. And thankfully, there are colleges and universities willing to admit these students and help them to succeed. 
The point is that the missing factor with these scorecards is the profile of the student population. At a highly selective college, it is no surprise that graduation rates are high. One would expect them to be close to 100 percent. But perhaps a college that admits and educates more at-risk students is equally or even more successful if it graduates 60 percent or 70 percent of its students. 

President Obama's plan also calls for colleges to be penalized for low performance with less federal financial aid. While this seems to be a logical outcome to a scorecard approach, I wonder if this will cause colleges and universities to become more selective and only admit students who demonstrate a greater ability to succeed. 
Who then will educate the more marginal students? Do they not deserve the opportunity for a college education? What are the implications for this country with a less educated population? 
It is certainly important to review academic and retention statistics and financial obligations, as well as other similar information when exploring a college or university. But this is only part of the necessary assessment of a college or university. 

The most important variable for students and families to consider when looking for the right college is fit: will the student be able to connect academically, socially and emotionally with the academic programs, campus life and values of the institution. If these aspects of a college search aren't priorities, the possibility of a student not succeeding in college life is compounded, no matter the grade the college or university received from some rating system. 

Students along with their parents need to have serious discussions prior to undertaking the college search process. What is the goal for the college experience? What institutions offer the academic programs and rigors that fit the student's goals and past achievements? What values are students and families looking for in the living and learning environment of a college? How will the financial obligation of attending college impact the student and the family? What is the ability of the student? 
Once these and similar questions are answered, students and families should visit the campuses of the institutions that will best meet their goals and objectives. And it is when you are on these campuses that you should explore and gain a better understanding of the data and statistics of the institution that can then be analyzed as part of the entire experience. 

As most qualified researchers know, statistics can vary depending on the sources used, methodology and analysis procedures. Don't let skewed data and grading systems compromise the college search process. Use all of the accurate information you can obtain from qualified sources, as well as the college or university itself, and then visit, visit, visit before you make your decision. Not every college is Harvard - but Harvard isn't for everyone.