Wednesday, February 28, 2018
The Award I’d Like to See
The AACC named its finalists for excellence awards this week. I read the list, noting with pleasure that I know personally both of the presidents who are finalists for “best CEO/Board relationships.” (They’re both great.) But then I noticed the geographic distribution of nominees.
Going down the list, the nominees for the various awards come from:
With the arguable exception of one nominee from Maryland, the entire Northeast got skunked. On the map of awardees, everything from Delaware and Pennsylvania northward and eastward could be marked “there be dragons.”
I doubt that it was a conscious snub; that’s not how these things typically work. And I don’t deny the merits of any of the nominees. But the pattern was striking.
At the same time, the Chronicle featured an article detailing the demographic challenges facing Maine specifically, and New England generally. In a nutshell, it comes down to a declining number of 18 year olds. The piece notes that the birthrate fell off a cliff in 2008, so the slow decline of 18 year olds should become a precipitous drop in 2026. Add to the demographics the fact that this region tends to have highly unionized faculty and staff, and administrations are squeezed between inexorable trends and inflexible rules.
As I mentioned recently to a colleague from the South, only half-jokingly, her colleagues are playing the game on the “easy” setting. We’re playing it on the “black diamond” setting.
That’s not to deny that other states have challenges; certainly, Illinois should get full credit there. But it’s also easier to excel when you aren’t fighting accelerating demographic headwinds and an abundance of private colleges. Growth forgives many sins.
As a sector, we’re good at noticing how measures like graduation rates tend to favor institutions that screen out anybody high-risk. But we don’t seem to apply that lesson to ourselves. I’d like to see serious attention at AACC and the League to colleges that have coped well with negative demographic trends.
So, the award I’d like to see: “Best Management of a Significant Enrollment and Funding Drop in a Collective Bargaining State.” The winners of that one could really teach us something useful.
Your move, AACC...