Blog posts tagged in Presidents Blog

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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.)

I try to restrict my blogging to issues related to higher education.  From time to time, I write about topics related to the Catholic Church from the context of my experience as the President of a Catholic College.  But the first anniversary of the papacy of Pope Francis and his recent meeting with the President of the United States has really caused me to reflect on the difference between perception and reality.

On March 27, President Obama visited the Vatican and spent close to an hour with Pope Francis.  I am not sure why the President asked for this meeting, but spending time with the most popular leader in the world cannot hurt a President who has approval ratings hovering at or slightly above 50%.  President Obama has been an outspoken advocate for social issues and his efforts are clearly laudable for those of us concerned about the Common Good.

After the meeting, both sides issued separate reports on their time together.  In byzantine language familiar to both Washington, DC and the Vatican, the summaries of their discussions were different and somewhat opaque.  It seems to me that the perception that was promoted is that these two leaders had a friendly conversation and share a common agenda focused on social issues. 

President Obama clearly has a concern for social justice.  In fact, his sentiments are rooted in his experience with the Catholic Church.  Anyone interested in this history should read the March 22, 2014 article in the NY Times by Jason Horowitz entitled, “The Catholic Roots of Obama’s Activism.” 

In the mid 1980’s, Obama arrived in Chicago to work as a community organizer.  According to Horowitz, Obama was deeply affected by the writing and speeches of Cardinal Joseph L. Bernadin, who first developed the concepts of a “consistent ethic of life” and the integration of life issues and social justice into a “seamless garment.”

But despite these roots in a Catholic notion of life and justice, and the good work he is trying to do, the President holds many views contrary to the teaching and belief of the Catholic Church and its leader, Pope Francis. 

There is a perception vs. reality confusion with the Pope as well.  His personal approach, his humility, his outreach to the poor, his smile, etc., all seem genuine.  His direction to focus less on the issues of contraception and homosexuality has been welcome to those who believe that the Church has become too fixated on certain issues to the exclusion of the broader social gospel.

But the reality is that the Pope has said nothing and done nothing to undermine the fundamental beliefs of the Church related to life issues.  In fact, while he has broadened the agenda and invited a more intimate relationship between the Church and the faithful, he has been consistent theologically with his predecessors.

Perhaps the one clear sign that we need to pay more attention to reality rather than perception can be found in the gift exchange been Pope Francis and President Obama.  Pope Francis gave the President a copy of his recent apostolic exhortation, “Evangelium Gaudium.”  The President promised to read it.  If he does, he will quickly realize that while the Pope and the President share some views, they are very different in many other values and beliefs.  And that’s just the reality of the situation!

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

For the past twenty years, a consistent concern of faculty is the limited writing proficiency of incoming students.  Sometimes we relate this to the perceived lack of writing training in high schools.  More recently, we surmise that the way students communicate through social media with acronyms, abbreviated words and short statements limits their ability to write sentences and paragraphs.

Colleges like AMC address this concern in multiple ways.  Writing is central to the Colleges summer bridge program which is offered to incoming freshmen.  Most freshmen take a writing course in their first semester.  The Success Center provides multiple opportunities and resources to assist students with their overall writing skills and their specific assignments in their classes.  The good news is that we see the results of these efforts in the increased writing proficiency of our students throughout their undergraduate experience.

With this as the context, I was interested in a recent article regarding the self-assessment by freshmen of their writing skills.  While described as an impressionistic picture of the views of incoming students rather than a formal or scientific study, the results were surprising to me.  This may explain why some freshmen resist the multiple offers of assistance to improve their writing until they receive repeated feedback from their instructors.

The Conference on College Composition and Communications, the Two-Year College English Association, and the Council of Writing Program Administrators collaboratively organized conversations between students and faculty members on a number of campuses.  The results reflect information generated last Fall from 63 professors teaching 2,200 students.

A vast majority of the students who participated in these conversations believe that they arrive on campus with college-level writing skills fully formed.    They also state that they write about 25 hours per week.  They define their writing time as being related to their coursework and not primarily texting or other social media activities.

This self-reported assessment is consistent with the findings from the CIRP Survey which I wrote about a few weeks ago.  In that national Freshmen Survey, only about 15% of the respondents thought they would need tutoring in writing and over half thought that their writing skills were above average as they entered college.

Even those faculty who believe students are relatively proficient in their writing when they begin their college education, raised concerns about the meaning of writing proficiency.  What was clear from these responses is that most students view writing as a performance rather than a process.  If they can earn a satisfactory grade, they can write.

Those who teach college-level writing see writing as a process through which students develop a number of skills (e.g., creativity, flexibility, persistence, metacognition) as well as the ability to write in different ways for different audiences.  Most faculty view writing as developmental where improvement is continuous without necessarily reaching mastery.  We can all improve our writing even bloggers.

Our responsibility is to do our best to insure that graduates have both the ability and appreciation for critical thinking, analysis and writing. Whether they come to us more or less proficient, the key is that they graduate ready to use these abilities and open to continuous improvement.


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