Blog posts tagged in President's Blog

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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.

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.)

I have written regularly about the growing interest in online education throughout higher education. It has certainly become a major emphasis at AMC and will likely become even more important in the near future.

One of the best sources of keeping up with the trends in online education is the annual report conducted by the Babson Survey Research Group. The eleventh annual report was published a few days ago and provides insightful data about the attitudes towards online education and the role it plays in the higher education landscape.

This report, entitled “Grade Change: Tracking Online Education in the United States”, is a national study. All active, degree granting colleges and universities are invited to participate. Of the 4,726 colleges and universities invited to participate, the analysis reflects the responses from 2,831 institutions (59.9%). Because so many of the non-responding institutions are very small in size, the analysis in this report represents 81.0% of all higher education enrollments. Here are some of the major findings:

-     In Fall, 2012, there were 7.1 million online enrollments. This means that over 7 million college students took at least one online course. These enrollments represent 33% of total higher education enrollments (21.3 million). This reflects a 6.1% growth from the prior year (an increase of over 411,000 students).

-     66% of the responding institutions identify online learning as “critical” to their long term educational strategy. This is slightly lower than last year, but this slight decline actually reflects the consistent number of institutions that still have no online courses or programs. For those who have any online education, the importance to the future has remained high with over 70% reporting that it is “critical”.

-     A majority of chief academic administrators believe that the learning outcomes for online education are “as good as or better” than those for face-to-face instruction (74%). While this is slightly lower than last year (77%), the decrease again reflects the consistency of the views of those who do not offer any online instruction.

-     Regarding the future of online education, the results were somewhat mixed. When asked whether or not a majority of college students would be taking at least one online course within the next five years, 90% of the respondents thought this “likely” or “very likely”. However, close to one-third of the respondents believe that concerns about the relative quality of online instruction will remain.

-     A majority of respondents (68.9%) believe that it takes more discipline on the part of students to successfully complete online courses. What is interesting in this finding is that those who felt the most strongly about this issue are institutions offering associate degrees. Yet, these are the institutions with the most positive views about online education in general and have the highest online penetration rates. Clearly, their belief in the need for more discipline is not a deterrent to offering these programs.

Online education is not only here to stay, but represents a growing presence in higher education. Whether a single course, part of a hybrid program, or a complete degree program, more and more students are choosing to enroll in online education if this option is made available to them.

The time to oppose online learning is past. Our responsibility is to make sure online courses meet the academic standards of our institutions in terms of content, learning objectives, academic rigor and assessment. This is our future and we must take it seriously.


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