Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Discussions that Didn’t Happen

I admit that I didn’t catch every panel or discussion at AACC.  With concurrent panels, those pesky laws of physics kept getting in the way.  That said, I was struck by some discussions that didn’t happen, or at least didn’t happen conspicuously.

The most striking was the near-total absence of discussion about the idea of free community college.  It’s all the rage in the civilian world, but barely mentioned here.  Even in the give-and-take between Donna Brazile and Cal Thomas on opening night, it barely registered.  I expected at least some effort to address it.

State and local funding strategies were mentioned, in passing, but mostly treated like discussion of the weather.  Yes, it’s cold, but what can you do?  I’d like to know what we can do.  What have people done that has worked, either to slow the decline or, ideally, to reverse it?  Context matters, obviously, but some lessons may be transferable.

Relatedly, and for the umpteenth year in a row, I didn’t hear any discussion of the most intelligent or least harmful ways to cut budgets.  I understand the reticence; it’s easy for angry people to portray “if you must cut, here’s the best way” as “you’re advocating cuts.”  But cuts are a fact of life for many of us, and having some sort of research base to fall back on would be helpful.  In terms of the research, we’re largely flying blind.

I continue to wonder when someone will do some research or present some successes on bringing adult men back to college.  Every place I’ve been, the gender skew among students over age 22 has been strongly female.  Among 18 and 19 year olds, the gender split is about even.  But among the older students, it’s mostly women, and by a large margin.  If we don’t get the guys by about age 20, we don’t get them.  I can imagine some possibilities -- better-paying gigs that don’t require degrees raise the opportunity cost of returning to school, say, and incarceration rates are disparate -- but those are guesses.  And from a practical standpoint, I’d love to hear from colleges that have found ways to get the guys back.

Developmental education has received a great deal of attention, and rightly so.  It raises both pedagogical and policy issues, and colleges and researchers all over the country have devoted useful attention to it.  But I can’t say the same about ESL.  At least at this level, it mostly goes unmentioned.  And that’s a shame, because it’s a tremendously important service to a large population.  I’d love to see some thoughtful attention paid to it.

On a personal note, I had the personally unprecedented experience of sitting in the audience during the q-and-a of one panel and hearing a questioner quote an entire paragraph from my blog, apparently without knowing I was there.  She quoted it approvingly, which was nice, but I can’t deny that it felt just a little awkward.  Not bad, of course -- what writer doesn’t like having readers? -- but awkward.

And finally, major kudos to Brookdale’s own Sameerah Wahab, who was recognized by PTK as one of the top twenty community college students in the country.  And she has younger siblings!  I foresee some recruitment efforts…

Back to the ranch.  Here’s hoping next year’s discussions pick up on some of this year’s loose threads.