Friday, April 06, 2007


Looking for a Hook

In a few days I'm flying out to Red State for an on-campus interview and presentation.

They want 15 minutes on “issues facing higher education in America today.” They're a cc.

I've got more material than I know what to do with, literally. So, faithful readers, help a blogger out:

If you were looking for a new admin, and the candidates had to present on “issues facing higher education in America today,” what issues would you want to hear addressed?

Well, OBVIOUSLY, every issue facing higher ed today is a trojan horse for our need for more money.

So, DD, how you gonna show us the money?
Good luck to you during your campus visit. Sure, there are lots of issues facing higher education today, but the corner of that world you have dedicated your teaching and administrative life to is the community college, and the perspective is unique and undeniably important because of its potential to serve those with the greatest need (need defined in many ways--economic, stratified, a thirst for knowing, or even a counterbalance for a lifetime of hard luck).

A specific issue besides that of the role of the community college would be that of forced K-12 NCLB testing and the potential it has for a generation of higher-ed students who excel at the test but lack experience with creating new knowledge or adapting to new situations outside the test. If this is a concern of yours, you undoubtedly have thought about it already and will have no problem thinking of what to say. After all, you are one articulate dude. Good luck!
Motherood; Equal opportunities for women:
This is probably stating the obvious. I think the first anonymous brings an excellent point...somehow you need to talk about funding, even if it is behind the guise of another issue. You need to emphasize that there are so many issues to choose from and this is just one of many.

What I would want to hear when you present is---how much have you researched our school and how do you contextualize the problem you are presenting with our institution and what kind of vision do you exhibit; ie, not just presenting the facts but the solutions.

I told you it was obvious. However, I have heard administrative candidates who didn't exhibit vision and thus didn't sustain our interest.
Well, there's the boilerplate issues, the one that any competent candidate would include: budget crunches, increasing adjunct-ification, conflicting perceptions of the value of CCs (vo-tech vs. college transfer prep vs. "grade 13").

Then there are the issues that will set you apart as a visionary, the ones that will mark you as a Dean of Distinction.

"Today's Students: Lazier or Stupider?"

"The Ever-Growing Zombie Menace and How to Protect the Campus from Their Shambling Threat."

"Water Fluoridation, the First Step Towards Communism."

Trust your brother. He knows the score.
Accountability, accreditation, and how we show the "customers" what they've received for their money.

a personal bugaboo, even though I'm not with a CC any more, is retention. I propose aligning retention data with meeting a student's goals, i.e., if a student's goal is to return to get a brush-up on computer skills or to learn a new language, if that student does not complete a degree, then said student should not be counted as non-retained. How to work out a mechanism for doing this is your job. ;-)

You may want to link this with a critique of Sanjaya on American Idol. Or maybe not. :-)
Is the interview at a CC?
Wow! Keep 'em coming, folks!

The point about motherhood is excellent.

Yes, it's at a cc.
Retention, completion rates, money and how to deal with post-secondary ex-kiddos who have been trained to salivate and cypher when presented with standardized tests--these would be somewhere in the mix. But if you're gunning for an administrator's post (uber-dean?)I think that anonymous, above, hit the mark:"how much have you researched our school...and what kind of vision do you exhibit; ie, not just presenting the facts but the solutions." I've been part of interviews where the bright'n'shiny candidate gave no indication that he or she had even looked at our college catalogue. One favorite forgot a couple of times which school she was at; it was nice to be confused with a larger and maybe more prestigious institution, at least. Moral of story? do your homework--and get some rest before the job talk. good luck!
How about something on the challenges of being a CC, which is very place-bound, in a world with increasing interest in online education? "A Sense of Place: Local Colleges in a Global Education Marketplace". (Early registration $125, includes opening-night reception. Gah, I've been reading too many conference announcements.)

OK, all kidding aside, I think that's one of the big things cc's have to offer: almost all of the convenience of an online school, almost as cheap, but with value-added aspects.
yup, I should have read more carefully.

Or online as an advantage? Our cc is apparently now offering all of the AA requirements without ever coming to campus.
How about how it's getting harder to receive money for student loans through the application process and how the interest rates keep going up. I can't even begin to put a dollar amount to how my girlfriend owes. But hopefully it will be paid off in the next 20 years...
I'm surprised, you seem more like a blue state kinda guy.

Given the insightful advice you've posted yourself, and the excellent suggestions above, I really have nothing useful to offer. But I do want to say that I'm fascinated, this saga is way better than television. I hope you'll be able to share some details of your experience, and the results.
I think money is the big one, and hte ways that students at all levels are increasingly shut out of higher education.

Second? How to get the faculty to work TOGETHER.

I live a blue island in a red state, it can be very nice.

Anyway, although I do not know which red state you are going to but remember that the south and west red-blue or purple tend to be growing faster and facing different issues than the slower-growing true blue northeast.

More students, more students period. So the issue of how to deal with population growth, enrollment growth. The role cc's play in preparing ESL students for higher ed, vo-ed, etc. Here a big deal is cc's working very closely with employers to prepare students for very specific careers and other aspects of "workplace readiness".

Make sure that you know where the money comes from for the cc you are looking at, there can be some interesting arrangements in red states, often funding is strictly through a district-wide property tax, so wide variations in funding of cc's in different parts of the state.

Good luck!
I just last week heard a jobtalk for Dean of College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, so I'll give my reaction in case that's useful. The candidate talked about issues facing higher education (I think they were funding, student-centeredness, a third thing can't recall).

The talk overall was disappointing, because: 1) the structure was a bit rambling 2) too many (good) quotations from (good) big name thinkers, but without an emphasis on what the candidate thought 3) not enough attention to the particular issues facing MY school and what the candidate might do about them 4) overall sense of vagueness rather than concrete examples. Faculty I spoke to agreed with me--and in the Q&A, faculty basically said "here's an issue that WE have, how would you deal with it?" We also wanted to know what the candidate's priorities would be as dean, though we didn't really get that.

Like someone else said, I wanted to hear a vision. The upside of this disappointing talk was that we were pretty sure this would not be a dean who would run roughshod over the faculty imposing their own way.

So even if they said "issues facing higher ed" I would conceive of it as "nationwide issues facing this particular institution". I don't think you need to provide solutions (for fear of running roughshod over faculty/tradition) but I suspect that I at least would have liked to hear a talk that covered "these are the challenges this school faces--this is the national context for these challenges--these are some options we can choose from--here is how I solved this challenge in the past--here are some factors particular to this school that need to be accounted for in any solution."

Sorry that's long and doesn't really answer your question, but I hope it's useful. Regular reader, not sure if I have commented before.
My brain explodes with possiblities, too. Motherhood and mommy-tracking is a good possibility (I have a link to that and a parallel point, at

I don't think anyone's mentioned assessment, yet, but particularly with the Spellings report and the recent responses to it, that seems fairly pressing.

And I'll also agree that local conditions are the best. They'll want to see not only that you're intelligent and reflective (which we already all know) but also that you're thinking yourself into *their* institution, right?
Best of luck!
I think that the whole assessment movement will be one of the most pressing issues that a community college (plus a lot of other colleges and universities) will have to face in the future. In order for students to get financial aid, community colleges will have to show that they have an approved assessment system in place. There is an implicit threat that if colleges and universities do not set up an acceptable assessment system on their own initiative, the federal government will step in and force one on them. In the future, schools might be forced to teach a "canned" curriculum, one which can be readily assessed, instructors will end up teaching to a standardized test, and academic freedom will essentially have disappeared. Faculty will be reduced to onstage performers, delivering material written by teams of instructional designers, and they will be judged based on how well their students do on a battery of standardized tests.

Not a pretty picture. It will be a challenge to do this right, to ensure that students are indeed learning and yet not take out the spontaneity and joy in learning.

Having been through the hiring of two chancellors (functional equivalent of president in a multi-campus system) and two A&S deans, I'd advise making sure that whatever you address, you find wome way to discover what the local situation is. Talking about money constraints on a campus for which funding is expanding rapidly (e.g., a brand-new campus which the state has chosen to pump up) is probably not a good idea. But there may be specific issues--loss of a major employer and the institution's response, student financial aid, articulation with 4-yrs--that is a big deal.

Knowing your audience, once again.
I think you could use the topic of retention as a way of showing you've done your homework and know something about the student population -- and show that you care about the students' needs, etc.
At the Presidential level, money. Money and management style. (Do you have a non-interference directive, a rational budget scheme that isolates the college from external fluctuations, managing growth or the lack thereof, parking, marketing.)

Provost Level: Learning. Technology, for Better or Worse? (hey, gotta blog on that) Retention of "prep" students. Assessment. Adjuncts.

Local problems: Having a 76% increase in applications (seriously) can be as dangerous as a 20% drop when you don't turn anyone away, so know your future CC's situation.
How about the fact that cc's are supposed to be all things to all people. Out here in CA, my cc does ESL, remediation, transfer, voc ed--including responding to the needs of the local business community and training police, firefighters and paramedics--community education, and probably a few more things that I can't think of. We accept anybody with a HS degree and everybody over the age of 18. When we get lots of money from the state, we usually spend it wisely, and when we get less money, we make do.
I've been an observer of a few dean searches at my R1, and Dance may as well have been sitting next to me at the presentations. He/she described the responses of my colleagues and I exactly.

If you can avoid the feeling that this is a "stump speech", and instead make it relevant to the institution, that would be great.

Good luck, DD!
Another possible approach you might take is to ask the CC to try and figure out who their customer is. Is it students? Is it parents? Is it employers? Is it the accrediting agencies? Is it state legislatures? Is it federal agencies in charge of financial aid? Perhaps it is a combination of all of these, but which is most important? Who do you have to keep satisfied in order to stay in business?

In the business world, lots of companies fail because they misidentify their customer or because they don't really know who their customer is in the first place.

I would talk about the academic underpreparedness of all college students (not just cc) and how the university has become a sort of "finishing school" or "the 13th" grade. What will you do with all the students who don't even have the basic reading/writing/test-taking skills to survive? (Personally, I think SO many universities are behaving unethically by accepting students who don't have a chance in hell but DO have a warm body and an open checkbook. But I'm not trying to dazzle a committee, either.) From an instructor's perspective, one of the biggest issues facing higher ed? The Internet and plaigarism. You know what? Listen to everyone else. I know nothing.
Lots of good things here, but besides money, I think many boil down to "who are we and why are we here?" CCs especially have been caught in the trap of trying to be all things to all people, and are churning out mission statements that reflect that confusion. But if an institution doesn't know its purpose, how can it impress that upon the under-prepared students who have no frakkin' clue? And how are those students to take an institution seriously if the institution itself seems muddled?
Direct from left field:

The textbook market. At most CCs and state schools the cost of books is rapidly approaching that of tuition. That is because you have a market where she who specifies (the professor) is not he who pays (the students). Textbook publishers are becoming fiendishly clever at finding ways to cut the used book market dead (homework systems that self mark, the profs like that) while charging the students heavily for access if they don't buy new books.

My second issue is NCLB, or how to kill public schooling in 10 years or less. You now have an entering class that knows all the tricks associated with feeding back the answer the test is pushing them towards. Unfortunately this is in the direction of a mile wide and an inch deep.

I am a ph.d. student and as such cannot really give you advice here... But, I wanted to comment for two reasons.

One, I, too, want to hear more about this experience and want to thank you for sharing.

Two, in my short time in the academic world, I am floored by the "politics" that go on among faculty, so I like the idea of addressing how to get faculty to work together rather than against each other.

Thanks again for sharing!
I'd try to stick with a legitimate issue, but choose from among issues that you think matters to this CC. Search the web, their campus newspaper, the local newspaper, and see if there have been any timely events in the past year that are relevant to the question.

I'm not saying "tell them what they want to hear" without pause (most people see through that really quickly), but to do some background research to learn what topics may (or may not) be of interest. It may also help you avoid a topic that might resonate in a bad way.
Don't know if this will be helpful in your job search, but the community college that I attend suffered a major financial blow recently when a funding referendum was defeated by the voters in the district. One reason given by detractors is that the school is confused about its mission. It has veered off into being a "junior college" and is putting most of its effort into educating transfer students.

Which means that technical and nontraditional, continuing ed-type students get short-changed during registration/scheduling. The only classes that are reliably NOT dropped are those which cater to ordinary college freshman/sophomores. Since it's the other (technical, non-trad) half of the student body who are more likely to be property owners, no wonder so many voted no. They are disgruntled. The school is not living up to its marketing materials when it comes to offering viable classes in its technical programs, which means that graduation is prolonged for many people who simply can't get the classes they need to finish....

This school also had a Dean quit recently (got fed up, I suppose), so perhaps you are interviewing with us...?
not to be a) predictable and b) an outlier but I think some attention to changing technology and how that affects student and faculty rights might be important.

especially to the extent that various state (and federal) interests can be enforced or extended w/r/t things like people's immigration status, attitudes or acts are seen to implicate homeland security, or acts that publishers think are violations of their monopoly (without respect for historic and important educational exceptions).
Find a way to include the phrase or concept "sustainable and green" into the talk, and/or "underserved populations in our community." Why shouldn't CCs get on the bandwagon?
I want to welcome you to the red states and wish you luck. All of the above are great suggestions, although I must admit that I now am in love with your brother! :-)

Oh, and you probably should **not ** lecture on the usefulness of their future administrator blogging about them from time to time...
Tension between efforts to increase access to college and the fact that many high school graduates are pretty much unprepared for college-level work. How you can tackle the increasing need for remediation while keeping costs down. Specifically, where you see this CC going.
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