Tag Archives: higher education

I Can Read The Writing On The Wall*

Universities, public and private, are wrestling with affirmative action. Not just ‘still’ but seemingly more so than ever.  For most colleges, having a well-rounded student body is a priority.  Efforts are made to seek out and (sometimes) care for students that might not find their way to the institution on their own.  There are development programs, public and private, that partner with higher education to help nurture underrepresented students and increase their chances of academic success.  Universities should always look to create a student body that is representative of the world at large.  But the fact that they must go to the efforts they do (to seek them out) suggests that there are qualified students who are not bubbling up to the top.  Once out of K-12 and nurtured in the university, these recruited students do quite well (why wouldn’t they?)  Interestingly, college and university classes and life are far more challenging than anything in K-12.  Ability is not the issue here, preparation is.

What does it say that in 2012 the K-12 playing field is so clearly inequitable that higher education affirmative action efforts not only need to exist, but need to increase?  Yes, there will always be parents who have the means to throw every enrichment opportunity upon their child.  And yes, there will always be children who simply do not have a stellar academic acumen.  But then there’s everyone else, which really amounts to an awful lot of children.  At a time when as a group we believe that higher education is the path to work-life success, can we allow for such disparities in preparation?  Variety and rigor in science and mathematics courses vary widely across school systems.  There are schools at which writing (not penmanship, but writing) is not taught beyond the rudimentary.  High school students are not always assigned a smattering of classics to read.  Now before the eyes start rolling; the reason an educated child needs to be exposed to the classics is not so they have something to discuss with grandma at Thanksgiving, but because it fosters their understanding of the world and culture and is a building block for higher level studies.

There are school systems that have all the technological bells and whistles that property taxes will allow.  That’s fine, and maybe even results in higher comprehension, but it’s the sizzle of the issue not the steak.  Curriculum and teacher talent is at the heart of the issue.  Are there enough excellent teachers at each and every school in this country?  Are there tutoring opportunities, effective guidance counselors, and an atmosphere of optimism?  If we are sincere about wanting all children to succeed and want our nation to have a robust economy, it might be time to stop ignoring the inequities in public education and leaving it to colleges to amend.

*Kodachrome – Paul Simon (1973)


Posted by on April 2, 2012 in Education


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Grand Old Ivy

Families around the country are (hopefully) beginning to wade through college acceptance letters.  The conversations are getting a bit strained, and perhaps a few bedroom doors have been slammed.  For the teen, deciding on a college feels excruciatingly personal, and one that her/his parents should really not influence.  For the parent (who may be footing the bill) the decision feels as important (if not more) than any 17/18 year old is equipped to tackle.  If we open our windows and listen very carefully we can probably hear strains of; “Fine! Then I won’t go to college at all.”  “Don’t think you’re going to live here (we’ve promised your room to your 30 year old brother.)”  Okay, you probably didn’t hear that last part, but it was implied.

A million years ago, the school selection ritual was a bit easier.  High school students applied to less than a handful of schools.  What they could afford dictated where they applied.  Schools differed in their disciplines and robustness of research, but not on their housing and dining and extra-curricular activities.  Support services (of any kind) were few and far between.  Parents often never even saw the school of choice until graduation.  It was a different time.  Today there are so many choices and so many people involved in the decision.

Complicated aid packages, unlimited special interest programs (i.e., public service, study abroad, merit scholars, etc.) luxurious living accommodations, and multiple support services are just some of the changes that parents may not recognize.  These same parents are expected to visit the school (before enrollment) and sit through Q&A designed just for them.  They are expected to deliver their child to school and stay for days for an orientation designed just for them.  No sooner do they get home and gas up the minivan, than they are expected back on campus for “Family Weekend” (previously known as “Parents Day.”)  And that’s just the first two months of freshman year.  For better or worse (and who are we kidding?) parents are also attending the college their child chooses.  Just walk through any campus bookstore (or online store.)  There is as much apparel and paraphernalia for parents as there is for students.

Adding to this dramatic change in the landscape is that many students are attending college who might not have fifty years ago.  As a group, freshman are not as self sufficient or mature as they once were, but there are also many freshman with specific qualities that need to be addressed and supported.  Students with; learning disabilities, physical disabilities, emotional disabilities, chronic diseases, and eating and substance abuse issues, may have stayed closer to home in the past.  Many colleges have invested in a multitude of support services, but there will always still be reason for concern.  Sending a child away to an institution with new academic and social demands and little behavioral oversight, can be a treacherous formula.  Parents of these students have every reason to be very involved in every step of the college process.

So once the tempers subside, and everyone comes out of their respective rooms, it’s time for rational decision making (caution: charts might be involved.) Might I suggest a framework for the discussion:

  • What are the student’s interests/goals
    • Rate the school as to its ability to successfully deliver the student to the next step (i.e., medical school, engineering job, stage and screen)
  • What are the financial needs (include traveling to and from home and any and all fees for supplemental programs)
    • Rate the school separately as to their contribution and the student/parent contribution (e.g., “A” for grants “A” for loans, but “F” for no work-study program)
  • What are the support/living needs the student has
    • Rate the schools accordingly

An attractive, and perhaps color-coded chart should result.  Of course this analysis is only relevant if plenty of homework is done.  Hhmmm, who amongst those sitting around the dining room table, is well versed in homework?  The student should have done as much (if not hopefully much more) legwork before this discussion can occur.  Yes, it is all quite confusing and complicated, and even the most well executed chart is no guarantee.  And yes, this is all very expensive and important, but there is no race.  Leaves of absence, transfers, community colleges and the like exist for a reason.  We learn from experience and from our mistakes, but making informed decisions, makes the learning much more profitable.


Posted by on March 18, 2012 in Education


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Mind The Gap

As the college visit tours wind down and collected brochures, flashdrives, t-shirts are filed, many family’s thoughts turn towards next steps.  Never before have so many high school seniors had so many choices.  For all our national bemoaning of the flaws of higher education, we have in fact an embarrassment of riches.  I have no doubt that the majority of ambitious and motivated teens will find themselves just where they need to be.

But what of those teens who may not have much support, and/or exposure to a world larger than their own?  Across this country there are teens; in foster care, in chaotic homes, in shelters, in insular communities and in survival mode.  What’s to become of them?  Four centuries of public education in this country, speaks to a collective consensus that educating our society is a good idea.  Most of us would agree that a high school degree is not what it used to be (either in substance or in currency.)  And despite the plethora of college choices and amounts of students attending, it is still its own unique experience.  Being a college student is actually quite different from being a high school student.  The choices alone are mind boggling.  What school?  What major?  Where to live?  How to pay?

As daunting as these choices are to many, they are a luxury that teens in survival mode rarely have.  We have all heard or seen stories of the teacher, case manager, caring adult, who intervenes and changes a teenager’s life.  It happens, it does.  But the reason these stories make for (potentially) compelling television or film, is their rarity.  We do not have a national systemic approach to caring/mentoring/guiding teenagers post-high school.

So what if we instituted a national mentoring system?  Adults could volunteer to be trained and then serve as mentors.  The “corps” would be comprised of; financial advisers, education experts, life-skill advisers, counselors.  (I picture a “peace corps” experience for retirees.)  Identifying at-risk teenagers is a bit more challenging.  Certainly high schools would be a good place to start.  Like anything, the earlier we catch the problem, the better.  But mimicking our military should not be ruled out.  Clearly we already have a national program that has mastered outreach to a segment of our young population.

Politics aside, we really can’t afford to have any ‘child left behind.’  For every teen who ages out of our current support system, there is potentially one less adult contributing.  The waste of human potential and the implied economic toil should not be acceptable.  Most health insurance policies now cover dependent children until age 26.  What I propose is not that much different and potentially much more impactful. Done in a thoughtful manner, this “gap” program would draw attention to inequities and systemically combat them.  It might not be the sexiest of administrative programs, but I believe it could change our world.

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Posted by on October 19, 2011 in Education


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