Monday, March 11, 2013


League for Innovation, Day 2

This year’s drinking game at the League would be to drink whenever someone uses the word “data.”  You’d be out cold before lunch.  It’s all data, all the time.  Or pretty much all the time.  We’ll have to crunch the numbers first.

I missed the opening session, since I had to call in to a staff meeting back on campus.  The lesson learned there is never call into a staff meeting on a cell phone.  Most sentences sounded like “so the duck says...Obama...HA!”  But the first session I made, “The Walking Dean: Surviving the Budget Apocalypse,” was entirely worth it.  

Paul Starer and Lareen Balducci, from Foothill College (CA), opened with various images of zombies, carnage, and a post-apocalyptic wasteland, which made for a nice segue to the California state budget.  After an extended discussion of California’s budget cuts and the ways it handles community college budgeting -- the short version is, you don’t want to know -- an overflowing table of administrators traded hints for trying to keep people moving forward when the money isn’t.  (The fact that a discussion on handling budget cuts drew an overflow crowd is telling.)  In brief, I wish the bloggers who like to imagine deans as evil figures rubbing their hands with sadistic glee while counting the ill-gotten gains from exploiting adjuncts had been there.  The group had no magic answer, but was absolutely serious about the question.

Attendance was weirdly sparse at a discussion by Dave Szatmary, a Vice Provost at the University of Washington, on a low-cost online bachelor’s degree completion program.  The entire audience was five people.  You may make of that what you will.  The good news is that UW is actually consulting with community college people before building out its program.  And since it’s online, it’s open to people from other states.  (The U will waive the out-of-state premium for this program.)  It’s starting with Early Childhood Ed, since the Federal mandate for 50% of Head Start teachers to have bachelor’s degrees kicks in this Fall, and many locations are behind.  And yes, the program will draw heavily on data analytics.

I was able to corner poor Georgia West Stacey, an admirably good sport, at the CCRC booth and pick her brain on my current obsession, which is why men over 25 return to college at such drastically lower rates than women over 25.  I haven’t seen any good studies on it, though it seems to be true pretty much across the country.  (Most of the research I’ve seen on gender, students, and higher ed focuses either on recruiting women into STEM fields, or on improving success rates of young men of color.  Both are valid concerns, but neither really sheds light on this question.)  I had hoped that the CCRC or someone similar had cracked the code.  

Alas, no.  The only theories I’ve heard so far that make sense to me are incarceration rates and opportunity cost.  Men are incarcerated at higher rates than women, and men in prison generally aren’t also in college.  That strikes me as true, but I don’t know that the numbers are big enough to answer the question.  The “opportunity cost” argument is a sort of sexism penalty.  If men without degrees generally make more money than women without degrees, then the hit to a family for the man to go back to school would be greater than the hit to the family for the woman to go back to school.  The flip side of the male wage premium is a male opportunity cost penalty.

But that strikes me as more persuasive in, say, 1993 than in 2013.  28 year old men without college degrees generally don’t make much now; the old unionized gigs are either gone or held mostly by the 50+ crowd with two-tier contracts that permanently shut out Gen Y.  Construction still exists, but the whole industry has been suffering since 2008.  

It’s true that health careers are often the draw back to college, and those tend to draw more women.  But that seems to beg the question.  Why do they draw more women?  

Anyway, gatherings like these are opportunities to bounce questions like those off some very smart people.  

Happily, the day ended with some useful ideas of which, as Dizzy Dean would say, I hadn’t thunk.  Linda Davis, from St. Clair County Community College, gave an overview of a “courageous conversations” model that her college uses to engage the faculty and staff in major issues facing the college.  I admit that I showed up expecting the talk to be about racism or homophobia; instead, it was about data.  SC4 (that’s what they call it) set aside a room and put up posters of charts and graphs of relevant internal data, and invited people to walk through and write comments or questions.  By putting the data out for all to see, and soliciting both questions and explanations for it, they were able to shift the conversation on campus.  

I admit loving this idea.  Among other things, it offers a chance to debunk some widely held assumptions.  And it does so in a non-preachy way.

Finally, Heather Van Sickle, of the National Center for Community College Entrepreneurship, gave a thoughtful and provocative discussion of what community colleges need to do to stimulate entrepreneurship in their communities.  The major takeaway was that having a degree or certificate in “entrepreneurship” is aiming too low.  Students often decide to start businesses after they’ve discovered a passion, and sometimes finding that passion takes a while.  The goal instead should be to ensure that every student gets some sort of basic financial and business savvy in the course of studying other things.  Then, when they fall in love with ceramics and want to open a boutique, they’ll have a sense of where to start.  

I immediately translated that into “gen ed outcomes,” and started thinking about freshman seminars and financial literacy.  More to come here.

Now it’s back to airline bingo, since campus business beckons.  Thank you, League, for the chance to hear from some very smart people and take a step back from the day to day.  

We have a course on financial literacy, but it is not a gen ed class and it doesn't deal with running a business.

Maybe what we need to do is replace a few of those "Don't do drugs" classes in middle and high school with some basic economics so they would know to go looking for more when they get to college.
I am still thankful for my financial planning required class in college. It was required for my family counseling program. Took it as a freshman and it's still helpful ten years later.

Maybe others will take the hint from SC4 about data and transparency.
"I am still thankful for my financial planning required class in college. It was required for my family counseling program. Took it as a freshman and it's still helpful ten years later."

Were you thankful at the time? Would you have taken it had it NOT been required? In my experience, graduates talk about their non-academic undergraduate training in one of two ways:

1) Ruefully. "Man, I wish I had paid more attention to XYZ, gone to the career center more/at all, pursued an internship, taken that financial literacy seminar." This is because retrospectively, they SEE the value of these things, and the more self-aware among them recognize the missed opportunity.

2) With outrage. "How come the UNIVERSITY doesn't offer training or skill development for internships, career planning, financial literacy, retirement planning, insurance, etc.?"

When told that, in fact, it does offer these things, and the graduate likely ignored said offerings, the response is generally, "Well, how come it's not REQUIRED?"

And the quick answer to that is that everything in college that's not expressly required, is completely optional. The longer answer is that if there is no institutional will (including faculty buy-in/approval), then the best you're left with is "encouraging" and "supporting" student education in these areas.


Actually Geoff, at the time, we also said how great it was. I'd like to think we were a fairly enlightened group of students but after the first week of meticulously watching what we spent as a part of a budgeting assignment, we saw the value.

From our perspective as counselors, it was vitally important because many family problems have money at the root (usually the lack or mismanagement of it).
every student gets some sort of basic financial and business savvy in the course of studying other things

I disagree - people retain more if they are learning something they know will have an immediate practical application. Also, some of the information would “expire” e.g. employment law, accounting, tax law etc. so you’d want to have a course that was based on what’s current right now!

I think what you want is to have a crash course that people can take on an almost plug and play basis. This should be offered on weekends and at night and the curriculum should be chosen based on information from small business owners based on their answer to the question, "in your first year, what's the thing you wish you knew before you started". If you really want to connect to the business community, have one of the courses be writing up a business plan and have a contest where the best business plan gets funded by a bank/VC. Work with Grameen America if you have one in the area or your local workforce investment board if you have low income / low skill people that are ready to take the plunge. Try to find a way to match business mentors to aspirants so that the new folks can get some help an encouragement. Document every outcome so that when people ask why you are sucking away their property taxes you can respond that you added xx million dollars worth of new businesses to the community over the last 5 years. If the courses incidentially lead to completion of a semester towards an AA in economics or business, great! But don't expect a wet behind the ears 20-year-old to be able to appreciate the importance of taking these classes - or to appreciate or retain the material long enough for it to matter.
The people who need these courses are parents with multiple minimum wage jobs who are trying to start a business to give their family a better life. Time is a premium that they can’t afford to waste (imagine if you had 2 jobs and your wife did as well and you lived with your Mother-in-law so there’d be someone to watch the kids – that’s the reality for the people you are talking about) Think taco truck, cleaning service, liquor store, restaurant, a stall at the farmer’s market, Laundromat – what do people starting those businesses need to know?
I'd love to see your take on airline bingo. I know it's not the take-away here, but if it's anything like seminar bingo (, it should be a hoot.
Wow, Dean Dad MR sure was right about "more to come here" concerning financial literacy. I must not be the only one who steers freshmen toward a course like that because of the huge impact on loans on students today.

But I was hoping someone would pick up on the connection I saw between the success SC4 had with their approach to campus data and the problem of dealing with State budget cuts or less income due to dropping enrollment. Opening the books was a key part of how my campus dealt with budget cuts and priority setting, not just the equally important area of whether success with the outcomes in one class leads to success in the next.
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