President's Blog


Posted by on in President's Blog

As I write this blog, our students are in the midst of final exams. Everywhere I go on campus, there are students huddled over their computers, textbooks and notes working on their term papers and preparing for exams. The Spring weather has brought many students outside on the lawns and in groupings of bright red Adirondack chairs, preparing for their final days of the semester.

They seem to be focused on their reading and research. But what are they reading? A recent study presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association may provide some insights. Authored by SuHua Huang, an assistant professor of reading education at Midwestern State University, the study is entitled, “Reading Habits of College Students in the United States.”

The study was generated from Ms. Huang’s observations of her students … observations likely shared by many of us who teach today’s college students. She perceived that her students did not enjoy reading and did less reading than expected. The study attempted to provide empirical evidence.

The study represents the responses of 1,265 students from multiple disciplines who attended a public liberal arts university. Students were asked to self-report the amount of time they spent each week in activities like “academic reading, extracurricular reading, browsing the internet, working, sleeping, and socializing.”  The second phase of the study included follow up interviews of a select number of respondents as well as observations of students in several formal class settings. The findings are interesting.

Students report spending:

-       21 hours reading each week including:

·      8.9 hours on the Internet (primarily social media including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram)

·      7.7 hours on academic reading

·      4.2 hours on extracurricular reading (news, novels, nonacademic books, etc.)

The good news is that the results of this study indicate increased levels of reading than found in previous studies. For example, a study by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2007 found that Americans between the ages of 15 and 34 only spent an hour a week reading and that the reading of literature had dropped by 17% in the past decade.

But the distressing news (at least for those of us who value the reading of literature and expect students to read the assigned textbooks), is the percentage of time spent with technology. Students in this study complained that their textbooks were “tedious” and “time consuming” and they typically read their texts only if the material was going to be on an exam. Most of the course related reading took place during class time rather than outside of class.

For the author of this study, these results provide a reality that needs to be faced by today’s college professors. Ms. Huang is trying to integrate social media more fully into her pedagogy. She is also trying to use social media as a means to encourage reading through online book groups to discuss both her textbooks and other literature.

Social media and the Internet are a reality and a central part of our students’ lives. But the challenge is to engender a love of reading and to help our students find a balance between academic and intellectual growth and instant communication with their friends and family.

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

Posted by on in President's Blog

Last week was an important time for the Class of 2017 and the colleges that they will attend. May 1st is the typical deadline for college decisions.  Prospective students wait by the mailbox to see if they have been admitted to the college of their choice.  For generations there have been competing theories about the interpretation of the size of the envelope (Does a thin envelope mean you were admitted or denied?).  Admissions Directors also wait by the mail to see if the expected students’ deposits arrive.

A recent study conducted by the Princeton Review provides interesting perspectives on the college application process from students and their parents.  Entitled, “College Hopes and Worries,” the 2013 survey includes the responses of 14,125 people (9,555 prospective students and 4,170 parents) from every state and several other countries.

First, this is a very stressful experience for both students (70%) and parents (67%).  In fact, only 2% of the respondents reported low or very low stress during the college application process.  What is interesting is that the reported stress level has increased by 13% since the survey was started.

The cause of this increased stress may relate directly to the next two issues: the economy and the cost of education.  Seventy-nine percent of the students and their parents say that the economy has impacted the decision about applying to or attending college.  This is an increase from last year (+4%) and the impact is perceived at a higher level by the prospective students (81%) than their parents (74%).

A vast majority believe that the cost of a college education will exceed $75,000 (84% of parents; 83% of students).  An additional 10% of parents believe the cost will be greater than $50,000 (19% of students) and only 1% of the parents (4% of the students) believe the cost will be less than $25,000.

It is no surprise that 89% of the respondents indicate that they will need financial aid (loans, scholarships and grants) to pay for their college education.  In fact, only 2% of the parents indicate no need for financial aid.  Clearly, both parents and students are worried about affordability and may not have a complete understanding of financial aid opportunities and actual costs.

What is gratifying from this study is the perceived benefit of a college education.  While half of the respondents correlate a college degree with a potentially better job and/or higher income, 25% see the value in exposure to new ideas and the remaining see education in and of itself as the primary benefit.

While prospective students and their parents seem to share similar degrees in regard to their hopes and worries, there is one area of marked difference.  Parents would prefer that their children attend a college closer to home.  Over half of the parents would prefer their child to be within 250 miles from home.  Over 60% of the students would prefer to be further away and a third would even want to be 500+ miles away from home.

The college decision is a challenging one for everyone involved.  Despite the levels of anxiety and concern, the hope remains that each member of the Class of 2017 will find the right fit for his or her educational and personal values and needs.

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

First, I have a confession to make. My blog for last week (April 22nd) was written two weeks ago, just before my wife and I left for a trip to Italy. We were out of the country from April 13th through April 21st conducting business for the College and enjoying a few days of vacation.  We never expected there to be such dramatic events deserving more immediate comment and reflection while we were travelling.

Needless to say, this was a challenging time to be away from the United States, from the Boston area and from the campus.  The news of the Boston Marathon bombings was covered extensively by the international press in both the print media and on television.  We made several phone calls each day to family, college personnel and friends, and viewed internet sites for additional information and details.

We experienced the same emotional roller coaster as so many of you did … shock and deep sadness, fear and concern, and finally appreciation and support that the issue was resolved.  But there is a different perspective when you are over 4,000 miles away from a situation, and I would like to share a few thoughts.  Hopefully, in the coming days as our region and our country return to some semblance of normalcy, I too will return to blogging about events in higher education.

First, I was impressed with the levels of leadership exercised by so many during this crisis.  So much of the media attention has been on the outpouring of support and community spirit.  And that is laudable.  But I was impressed to see so many people in state government, law enforcement, and on a more local level, the AMC campus, exercise clear and decisive leadership during challenging and difficult times.  We too often criticize failures in leadership.  This was a case study in effective leadership by many.

Second, it was heartwarming to experience the compassion and concern for Boston and America from all over the world.  Our travels in Italy put us in contact with many people from different countries, cultures and traditions.  But whenever someone came to know that we were from the Boston area, there was great empathy and support. In a world where our focus is too often on our differences, it is important that so many people from throughout the world share common values and beliefs.

Finally, I have to admit our continued concern about the overwhelming presence of media and social media.  It was apparent from the first events on April 15th through these past few days that so much of what was reported was false, inaccurate or incomplete.  Parents lost the opportunity to prepare their children to deal with these realities since it was impossible to avoid the images, sounds and commentary.  We need to find a balance between freedom of speech and access to information … and the responsibility for accuracy, fairness and civility.

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

Posted by on in President's Blog

This semester I have been teaching an undergraduate course on Leadership.  My students are primarily freshmen and this is their first real study of this topic. Aside from the fact that they are not always ready to learn at 8:00 a.m., it has been a great experience.  I have learned from them, and hopefully, they have learned a few things from me.

As we move towards the end of the semester, I asked them to write about the most important things they have learned in this class. I told them to reflect on what they have read in the textbooks, the discussions in class, their observations of leadership in the world, and the in-class material.  I found their responses interesting.

A common response was their growing appreciation that there is not one right way to lead, although a follower (and a leader) may have a preferred style.  I have tried to help them to better understand the complicated and delicate balance between leaders and followers.  We have studied a number of motivational and leadership theories and approaches.  They seem to better understand that there are all types of successful (and unsuccessful) leaders.  Leadership is neither simple nor uniform.

They also have come to understand that leadership should be the result of thought and reflection and that it should be intentional in nature.  Good leaders think about their organizations, their followers, their goals and objectives, etc., and determine how best to lead. At the beginning of the semester many of these students confused leadership with personality.  They have come to appreciate that good leaders use different strategies and approaches that are consistent with their values and skills.  Leadership is and should be a conscious decision.

But I was most surprised that so many students identified “the power of 51” as an important lesson.  Whenever I teach leadership, whether at the undergraduate or graduate level, during the first class I write on the board the number “51.”  My goal is to help them understand that if effective leadership is measured by the accomplishment of goals, you have to be realistic about what is necessary to bring about action or change.  The ideal may be consensus, but this is not realistic.  Having a vast majority in support makes things easier, but it may not be achievable.

The fact is that 51% is a majority … and with a majority … even a slim majority … you can lead.  Needless to say, our discussions and observations of political leadership and elections helped to demonstrate the power of 51.  These students are becoming more realistic about leadership, the challenges of leadership and their own potential to lead.  That’s an important part of their college experience. After all, these are our future leaders!

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

Last week I introduced a study related to the growing number of students who choose to double major in college. I referred to these students as “overachievers.”  The study, “Double Majors: Influences, Identities and Impacts,“ authored by two sociologists at Vanderbilt University, classified them as either “deepeners” (double major in similar disciplines for a depth of study), “spanners,” or “Renaissance students” (double major in disparate disciplines for a breadth of study).

As I indicated last week, the study also poses and answers two important questions:

1)    Are these students over-extended?

2)    How should institutions better support these students?

For those who discourage students from double majoring, it is common for the concern to be over-extending, which will negatively impact performance. This study reaches a very different conclusion. This research indicates that students who double major “are classic ‘do more, do more’ students.”

These students are more involved in co-curricular activities than their single majoring counterparts; they more often assume leadership positions in clubs, organizations, SGA, athletic teams; are more involved in service programs and volunteerism; regularly attend outside activities like lectures, exhibits, discussion groups; and, are more likely to engage in research projects with faculty, independent study and research, and honors programs.

The concern raised by this study is that colleges and universities in general and faculty in particular do too little to encourage and support double majoring.  Since these students are often the best and the brightest, some faculty are parochial, preferring these students to remain within their discipline. The study found little evidence that advisors and faculty help these students to optimize their integrated learning and better connect the disciplines they choose to pursue.

My own belief is that we should encourage, not discourage, these interests. I applaud students who do their best to maximize their educational experience inside and outside of the classroom.  But I think it is important to do two things.

First, we need to help these students to better understand why they are choosing to double major.  If it is simply an attempt to build a transcript and a resume for future job viability, that would lead to a different choice than a genuine interest in learning and in liberal education.

Second, I think double majors need to have the opportunity to meet with an advisor who can help them to see the relationship between the various areas of study.  Understanding and appreciating the connection between art and science, history and math, science and philosophy require a depth of knowledge and an appreciation of learning that may not be readily present with undergraduate students.

So my advice regarding overachievers … teach them even more!

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