Ten days ago, the world read with fascination and interest the interview conducted with Pope Francis six months into his papacy. For Catholics and non-Catholics alike, Pope Francis has been interesting to listen to and observe as he reveals more and more his approach to leading the Church.
Many, who are often uncomfortable with the grandeur of the hierarchy in contrast to the message of the Gospels, are energized by Pope Francis’ choices to live in community and in a more simple lifestyle. His spontaneous and never-ending pastoral approach and his smile are infectious.
But what is more important is to listen … to really listen to his words. While clearly conservative in his theology, Pope Francis seems determined to reframe the world’s understanding of the message and meaning of the Church rooted in hospitality to all and a spirit of hope.
The headlines ten days ago focused on the Pope’s concern that the focus of the Church in recent years has been too limited to teachings related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraception. While clearly affirming these teachings the day after his interview was released, Pope Francis called for “a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the Church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”
As one would expect, the news reports simply highlight only the most surprising comments made by the Pope in this interview. I would strongly urge those seriously interested in Pope Francis and his leadership to read the entire interview, readily available online. It helps us to understand better the depth and spirituality of this man. It also helps to understand Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s life (For Italian opera fans like me, it was wonderful to read the Pope’s reference to Puccini’s great work, Turandot, in his response regarding the importance of hope!).
Over the past two weeks, the reactions to the Pope’s statements have been relatively few from within the Church. Hopefully, his vision of the Church will be embraced in word and deed by dioceses all over the world. But I wonder?
On the same day that the Pope’s interview was released, the House of Representatives in Washington voted to cut $40 billion dollars from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly known as the Food Stamps program. The rationale for this draconian decision was the improving economy and the waste in the program.
If waste was the primary criterion for reducing government programs, they should all be cut immediately. Administering federal programs of this magnitude have an inherent element of mismanagement and abuse. The fact is that a high number of Americans still cannot afford food and basic sustenance. The percentage of families in Worcester County who qualify for food stamps is 20%. There may be signs of an improving economy, but not among the poorest of our neighbors.
In light of Pope Francis’ speech, I have been waiting to hear the American Catholic Church speak out against this potential cut in a critical program in this country. I scan the web and news reports regularly, but have yet to find any statements from Church leaders. I was hopeful when I found an article entitled, “Food Stamp Cuts a Cruel Proposal.” But this well written critique of this potential congressional decision was authored by political strategist Donna Brazile.
Maybe Church leaders have been silent because they assume this legislation will not pass the Senate. But maybe they are silent because it does not relate to the limited moral issues so prevalent in the rhetoric today. Maybe it would help if they would read the interview with Pope Francis. Because I wonder … if Pope Francis was an American Cardinal … what would he say? Actually, I think I know!
(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)
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.)
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.)
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.)
The Scorecard May Not Tell the Score
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.
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.
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.
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.