The Completion Agenda

I recently read an intriguing article by Debra Humphries of The Association of American Colleges and Universities, or AAC&U (1) about the national trend to adopt the “Completion Agenda”. This agenda started as a laudable effort, spurred in part by support from the Gates and Lumina Foundations, to address the fact that community colleges in particular were not seeing their students through to the completion of their degrees or certificates – they were focused on attracting students to attend, but not following through with programs that allowed them to finish. The agenda has become a misplaced focus on the part of state and federal officials to use graduation rates alone as a measure of institutional success, beyond the community college world to that of 4-year institutions.

Humphreys observed that this can become a misplaced focus, because in many applications it looks at only the graduation rate as the factor most crucial in assessing an institution’s success. States often connect funding with the graduation rate measure, and national rankings consider graduation rates as one of the most important components of an increased ranking.

The main problem with this is that a focused attention on graduation rates may cause us to look primarily at credit completion rather than the more important point of educational attainment – how fast we get done rather than what we learn in the process. It also ignores many of the underlying causes of lowered graduation rates – college readiness, K12 preparation, an economy that requires more and more work outside of school for many students, a response to perceived employer demands that students be more quickly trained for the workforce, and other important considerations.

Humphreys references the AAC&U statement from The Quality Imperative:  “the quality shortfall is just as urgent as the attainment shortfall”.  An important connection to this statement is that there are many reasons that students are taking longer to complete a degree. As she points out:

There are, in fact, two dimensions to the quality shortfall. First, too many students are making little or no progress on important learning outcomes while in college; second, the increasing complexity of our world is adding to what a well-educated person must know and be able to do. Drawing on the findings from recent research commissioned by AAC&U, Carol Geary Schneider (2010) has noted that “success in today’s workplace requires achievement in at least six new areas of knowledge and skill development, which have been added to the already ambitious learning portfolio required in earlier eras.” Employers themselves are, for instance, asking for greater emphasis on such traditional outcomes as “communications, analytic reasoning, quantitative literacy, broad knowledge of science and society, and field-specific knowledge and skills.” They are also asking for graduates with high levels of “global knowledge and competence; intercultural knowledge and skills; creativity and innovation; teamwork and problem-solving skills in diverse settings; information literacy and fluency; and ethical reasoning and decision making. [Bolded emphasis is mine]

We must pay attention to graduation rates… it is important that our students complete their degree, and it is important that they do so in a reasonable amount of time (for economic reasons, among others.) We must also pay attention to what requirements we are putting in front of students that may require them to stay longer than is necessary. But we must also pay very close attention to the quality of the education (not just training, but education) that these students are receiving. Surely employers want graduates to enter the workforce as quickly as possible, with as little on the job training necessary as possible. But they also want graduates who understand the complexities of society, who can analyze the market and problem-solve, who have an understanding of global pressures and influences, who can work in teams and get along with their co-workers. They want broadly educated individuals, and sometime this broad educational process takes a little longer than the workforce training that our political officials are often focused on.

(1) What’s Wrong with the  Completion Agenda—And What We Can Do About It, Debra Humphreys, Liberal Education, Winter 2012, Vol. 98, No. 1

Veterans as Students

The numbers are telling:

  • About 4% of all college students are veterans. For the 2011-12 academic year, OSU has 1776 veterans enrolled (seriously… 1776). This is an increase of 13% from the previous year. This is easily the largest number of veterans enrolled in any school in Ohio. In fact, Mississippi State is the only public school that enrolls more. In addition, we have nearly 1000 employees who are veterans.
  • These veterans account for nearly $17M in tuition, fees and books, and another $8.2M in room and board.
  • Students using GI Bill benefits are up almost 900% from 2008, and up 40% from last year.
  • 2.3M military members served in Iraq and Afghanistan since the beginning of those conflicts. 1.3M of these service members have re-entered civilian life. Ohio has about 900,000 veterans, and 13,300 are using GI Bill benefits. With the state’s GI Promise and other education benefits provided in Ohio, this number is undoubtedly going to increase in the next few years.
  • Veterans are unemployed at rates between 3% and 11% greater than other members of our society. Many of these veterans, and in an increasing number, are choosing to take advantage of their education benefits to go back to school.
  • The Post-9/11 GI Bill allows veterans to transfer their benefits to their dependents. Already, we have about 100 or so dependents enrolled using a transfer of benefits. The astounding number is that 400,000 pre-college age kids, from K-12 have had their parents benefits transferred to them so that they can use them when they head off to college.
  • These students are by definition non-traditional OSU students, and hence require different levels of support than do most students here: half are married and half of these have children, 84% are over 24 years of age (50% are over 30), and 50% have at some point contemplated suicide.
  • And the saddest number of all of these: in 1991 we established a veterans service office at OSU, with 1 FTE employee. By 2001, we had increased this number to 1.75 FTE. These <2 employees are responsible for processing all of the paperwork, and meeting all other needs of this dramatically increasing student body.

It’s time that our University responds to this special population, and provides a level of service that is consistent with the commitment they have shown to us.

The Value of Exploration

These days of August contain various reminders of the rhythms of the University. One such reminder is the group of incoming students, and their FYE leader with a bullhorn, on the steps of University Hall, and other groups scattered around the oval involved in all different kinds of team building activities. Other reminders include the small groups of student(s) and parent(s) walking the sidewalks with name tags, maps, and red resource binders, as the exceptional OSU incoming student orientation process progresses.

I have the fantastic opportunity of interacting with these parents of our new students in FYE’s “Family Matters” orientation session (I just finished the last one for the year yesterday… I’ll miss this interaction.) Very often, in private conversations with parents before and after the sessions, I have heard concerns such as “My daughter is coming to Ohio State, but she has no idea what she is going to major in. She needs to decide right away.” My response always centers around the reality that, in many cases, the fact that the student is undecided is not a bad thing, but really might be the best of situations. Many times students, having interacted with a less than knowledgable high school counselor, or having taken a personal interest traits survey, have chosen a major and embarked on a career path that is not at all right for them. Once they’ve started on this path toward their degree, it becomes increasingly difficult to move to what might be a more appropriate path.

MSNBC recently reported that 80% of all college students either haven’t yet chosen a major, or will have changed their major at least once before they graduate. At a university like Ohio State, the wide range of options, and the existence of a broad general education component of all students’ majors, allows and encourages students to “explore” the different directions that will ultimately result in a good choice. In fact, we have a group of advisors with a wide range of knowledge about all of the options that make this process easier for students. They are in a unit that is appropriately called University Exploration. Undecided students, who number approximately 20% of each incoming class at OSU, enroll in University Exploration in which they select a track that corresponds with their general interests and that leads them through the process of selecting a major. University Exploration also provides special career guidance that is linked to the selection of a major, and they also work with transfer and re-deciding students.  (

I can’t help but reflect on my own path through college, as I try to allay some of the concerns that these parents are expressing. When I was in high school I worked summers as a surveyor on a highway department road crew. I naturally developed an interest in this activity, and when it  came time to decide on a college direction, I enrolled in a junior college in California to study in a technical major called “Land Surveying”. One of my first semester classes in this major was an advanced applied math class, and I fell in love with the kinds of approaches to solving and the theories associated with significant problems in mathematics. So I spoke with my counselor, and I changed from the technical surveying major to a major in math studies. I transferred to a 4-year institution so that I could continue studying toward a baccalaureate degree in mathematics, and also added chemistry as a minor, until I was faced with the complexities of organic chemistry. I dropped the minor, and in fact again changed my major to math education, given the exposure I had to the wonderful professors that I came into contact with.

The education part of the major, while it was something that I loved, required an investment in courses like education psychology and pedagogy, which took away from the time I could spend with the math, so I changed again, and after graduation I enrolled in the graduate math program. During that course of study, I began experimenting with computers, and after graduating with a Masters degree in math, I changed  majors again and went on to study computer science, got another masters and started teaching both math and computer science. I became intrigued with an area of computing related to graphics, and went back to school in yet another entirely different major area, computer animation.

I took advantage of the exposure that a comprehensive university allowed, and was able to “explore” my options and head in directions that I never even considered or knew were possible. I’m sure that I would have had a rewarding life as a land surveyor, but because I didn’t lock myself into a major, I have been presented with all kinds of employment opportunities that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

My favorite iPad apps

I am admittedly and unashamedly an Apple fanboy, so you have to take this evaluation in the spirit of that devotion. When I first bought my iPad over a year ago, I couldn’t justify the need for the device… certainly I wanted it, but I couldn’t say that I needed it. That has changed. It is now so much a part of my daily life, and I rely on it for many things that I do, I can now say that I need it.

The biggest contribution to my work life comes by way of the de-cluttering of my day. I attend many meetings as part of my job, and each meeting has a set of documents: the agenda, the background documentation, the pre-reads, the data summaries, the notes page, etc. I used to have them all printed and placed in my daily folder. I’d then carry them to my meeting and shuffle through them as appropriate. Enter the iPad…

One of the first apps that I came to use on a frequent and daily basis (besides Angry Birds) was GoodReader. actually rated it #2 in its list of magnificent mobile apps, calling it the “Swiss Army knife of awesome”… I agree with this assessment. At its basic level, it does what its name implies… it provides a means of reading documents. But it is much more than that. It provides a great way of accessing all kinds of documents, arranging them using its own database, organizing them, searching them, bookmarking pages of important information in them, highlighting them, and of course reading them. It syncs with many other apps, such as Dropbox and Mail, so that I can access files from those apps and choose to open them in GoodReader. I can connect GoodReader to many different remote servers for WebDAV or ftp access, GoogleDocs, upload and download, and automatic sync. For example, for my personal files I sync it with my MobileMe iDisk as a way of making certain that the same files are accessible from home, desktop, iPhone or iPad.

The biggest capability for me is the PDF connection, which I use all the time. If I want to read a web page later, I create a PDF file of it (which is trivial on the Mac). Our copier creates PDFs from scanned documents, and I often merge related PDFs. I can read very large PDF files, and I can highlight and markup the files and otherwise annotate them, cut and paste from them, zoom into them to take advantage of the PDF resolution, and I can encrypt and protect them. When I save the file all of these annotations and highlights are also saved so that I can see what I did later on my desktop computer.

The key for making this an essential tool for work is connecting this app with my work files stored on our office network server, from anywhere my meeting takes me. I use a VPN connection and an app called FileBrowser to access the secure server. This gives me the assurance that I am paying attention to the security expectations that OSU has for my network usage. Once I have established my VPN connection, I access FileBrowser and all of my network servers and the files on them are available. One of the nice things about FileBrowser is that I can stream or execute files on the remote server, so I don’t necessarily need to transfer them to the iPad to view them. And, it connects cleanly with GoodReader!

No meeting would be complete without the associated notes and to-do lists. I use the Penultimate app for taking notes. This app lets me take handwritten notes, which is fabulous for the fast-typing challenged person that I am. I use a stylus (I use the Targus stylus, but there are lots of comfortable ones available) to write as if I am writing with a pen. Penultimate allows me to change the “weight” or color of the ink, and provides an erase and clear function in an easily accessible menu bar. I can draw on the page, or write, or annotate a previous document with different colored ink. Documents are organized as “notebooks”, which I can upload or send via email. (One weakness in my view is that there isn’t a clean connection with Dropbox.) My to-do lists are managed with an app called Todo, which I sync with my calendar so that additions are accessible from whatever device I am using.

The combination of Dropbox, goodReader, FileBrowser, Todo and Penultimate have really changed the way I organize, access, and use documents on a daily basis. It has reduced the use of paper significantly, in that I don’t have to print all of those hefty pre-reads for my meetings just in case someone refers to them… I can access them online. So I have created a workable file storage and organization process on our secure server, and all of the documents for my meeting are stored there.

Now, if I can only find a NEED to upgrade from my iPad to the iPad 2…


Words are amazing things. Some words really describe what they are associated with, some are ambiguous (as Evan Morris, the Word Detective points out, the word sanction can mean both “allow” and “forbid”), some are very beautiful, and some really are very grating, like fingernails on a blackboard. One of the latter is the word rubric. I really dislike the word rubric. Let me be clear: I dislike the word, not the concept that it represents. It raises an image of a pain in the redneck. (ok, that’s a stretch, I know (groan)… go look up the definitions of rube and rick.)

Actually, the origin of the word is more likely associated with the color red, as one of the several latin words associated with red is ruber (or rubra). It was originally used to define letters and words that were printed in red in a manuscript, such as the title, a heading or the first letter in a chapter. It later was used to refer to instructions in a body of text, which were used to clarify, such as a direction in a hymnal as to how the music should be played. But recently it has been used in education circles to refer to a set of guidelines for assessing whether a work or performance was successfully done.

Heidi Andrade, an expert in formative assessment, referred to a rubric as a scoring tool that lists the criteria expected of a piece of work, or “what counts” in the determination of that success. She calls these tools instructional rubrics, and lists not only the expected criteria but also the gradations of quality. So there is clarity in defining what is expected, and also clarity in terms of how those expectations will be evaluated. Everyone can be on the same page… the student can self-assess in terms of determining what the instructor wants to see, and the instructor has clear guidelines and justifications about how the assessment is done.

I recently returned from an institute in San Jose on assessment and the general education. Believe me when I tell you that I heard the term used over and over and over (and over). At the institute teams from higher ed across the country came together to learn how best to determine whether students have successfully achieved the learning outcomes that are associated with different courses that comprise the core of the general education at their universities. Not just that a student got a passing grade in the course, but did he or she effectively learn the content across the courses and the GE categories?

As much as I dislike the word, I realize that rubrics are a great tool for clearly articulating these learning expectations, and will give us a clearly defined set of measures for accomplishing the evaluation of these goals. I guess I’m going to have to get more comfortable with the word… I’ll no doubt be hearing it used more often.

I still wonder about this usage word and its relationship with its origin… is it referring to the red ink that is often used when a paper is graded?

STEM Challenges

I recently received a flyer from the Office of Naval Research advertising the Naval STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) Forum, that highlighted 12 points of dubious distinction regarding STEM education in the U.S. This flyer listed 12 “facts” that contributed to the shortage of STEM graduates from U.S. colleges and universities. (I have added a few notes to some of these, thanks in part to a list compiled by Prof. Anna Endreny of Syracuse University.) While we do somewhat better than the national average in STEM preparation at Ohio State, it is still an area of national concern and hence it concerns us as well. The Office of Academic Affairs is convening an advisory effort, through the Office of Undergraduate Education, that will enlist representatives from all of our colleges, and several important OSU partners, to do an assessment of where we are and what we might do to respond to this “crisis”. I am repeating this list below, with the appropriate references:

1. Jobs requiring math are increasing four times faster than overall job growth (Program for International Student Assessment test, 2004). (Note: Many job openings will not be filled by United States citizens (Business-Higher Education Forum 2005). However, foreign STEM graduates are working less in the United States due to increased immigration regulations and increased resources in their countries of origin.)

2. Only 33% of eighth graders are interested in STEM majors and careers and only 6% of high school seniors will get a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field.

3. Only 18% of high school seniors are rated as science proficient and 33% as math proficient (Digest of Education Statistics, 2009).

4. 30% of high school mathematics students and 60% of high school physical sciences students have a teacher who did not major in that subject or is not certified to teach it (National Center for Education Statistics). (Note: Some projections exist that indicate that 280,000 new math and science teachers will be needed by 2015.)

5. The U.S. is ranked 27th (out of 29) for the rate of STEM bachelor’s degrees awarded in developed countries (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 2009), 6% of undergraduates major in engineering in U.S. compared with 12% in Europe, 20% in Singapore, and 40% in China (Rising above the Gathering Storm). (Note: The U.S. was classified as “statistically below OECD average” in both science knowledge and mathematics in the 2006 PISA survey of 400,000 15-years-old students in 57 countries.)

6. In 2007, men earned a majority of bachelor’s degrees awarded in engineering, computer sciences and physics, (81%, 81%, and 79%, respectively) (National Center for Education Statistics).

7. Undergraduate programs in science and engineering report the lowest retention rates among all academic disciplines, with fewer than half of undergraduates who entered college intending to major in a STEM field and completing a degree in one of those subjects (National Center for Education Statistics and National Science Board). (Note: Less than 40% of students intending to major in STEM fields upon college entrance actually complete a degree in these fields. For underrepresented minorities the rate is below 25%.)

8. Students with bachelor’s degrees in engineering had the highest average starting salary offers compared with students with bachelor’s degrees in other subjects (National Asso- ciation of Colleges and Employers). The median salary of STEM workers is more than double the median salary of the total U.S. Workforce (NSF, 2010).

9. More S&P 500 CEOs obtained their undergraduate degrees in engineering than in any other field (“2004 CEO Study: A statistical Snapshot of Leading CEOs,” 2005).

10. 89% of middle school students would rather do their chores than their math homework (Raytheon Survey, 2010).

11. More than 30% of current DoD Science and Technology professionals are expected to retire by 2020 (Seng, Institute for Defense Analysis, 2009). For security reasons, DoN must rely on U.S. citizens for classified technology work, which presents a unique challenge. Half of all engineers in the U.S. will retire with the baby-boom generation (U.S. Congress, 2006).

12. Scientific innovation has produced roughly half of all US economic growth over the past 50 years (NSF, 2004).

2011 Denman Research Forum

This week marked the 16th version of the Denman Undergraduate Research Forum, which was again held in the RPAC. I can’t say enough about the meaning of this event, particularly what it means to me personally.

First, it is huge. We had 580 students exhibiting in the forum, presenting 539 projects. The projects were presented as posters, and they were spread over two full-size gymnasiums in the RPAC. It was incredible to look down from the 3rd floor exercise level onto the projects below. It really brought home how big it actually was.

According to the Honors website, “the Denman is a research competition that provides a means for undergraduate students to share their research with members and friends of the OSU community; to recognize the significant contributions to research by OSU undergraduates; and to facilitate exchange between students, faculty, and the public.” It succeeded in all three purposes.

We had over 25 judges that were from corporations, all with an interest in what our undergraduates are contributing through their research. They came from all over the region, and from as far away as California. Additionally, 365 faculty gave up some of their busy day to assist with the judging. Each project is assigned to three judges who are familiar with the area of research, and each judge is responsible for multiple projects across the area. They read the posters, and interact with the presenting students to get a sense of their interest, commitment and the significance of their contribution. I heard only positive comments from this team of judges, about the student work and about the experience of interacting with the students.

Based on these assessments, the “winning” projects were awarded 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place status, and the students were awarded cash prizes. Sixteen students were selected as 1st place winners. I totally agree with Dr. Carol Whitacre from the OSU Office of Research, who pointed out in her speech that every single one of the participants were winners. The quality of the projects was exceptional, across the board, and I’ve never been around a more articulate group of students who were excited to explain what they had done.

I also had the extreme pleasure of having dinner with Rick and Marte Denman, who were responsible for establishing the forum, and who remain committed to its success. They are OSU alums, and truly are two great friends of the University. Plus, they are just really good people!

I have to offer up my respect and admiration for the students who are engaged with their undergraduate experience, as shown by their work. And I have to offer up my respect and appreciation to all of the participants, from the staff of H&S and URO, to the faculty and industry judges, to the corporate sponsors and individual financial contributors. All of you truly made this day a success!

For more information about the Denman, and a list of the awardees, go to the Denman website at

Excellence to Eminence – Be Here Now

Someone asked me to share the commentary that I wrote on culture change that was published in OnCampus a few months ago, so here it is.

“The pathway from excellence to eminence is not the easiest one to traverse, although it is the right path to take. President Gordon Gee has aptly pointed out that one of the first items on our agenda along this path is culture transformation, and I quite agree. There are many aspects that are highly relevant to this process — accountability, personal behavior, teamwork and the “blue-chip” mindset, to name a few. But none is more logical, yet in many cases more difficult to realize, than the concept of “Be Here Now.”

In the mid-1980s, I worked in an industry that demanded constant attention to the business at hand. My boss was energetic and dynamic and provided that constant attention. But it came with a cost. During important group and individual meetings, he would answer telephone calls, step out of the room to discuss unrelated topics with others, turn to his desk to sort through and look at his mail and be visibly distant as important conversations took place.

Trade magazines were an important component of our business, and it was necessary to keep up with them. He would bring a stack to meetings to page through them as the meeting progressed, thinking of course that he was being very efficient. He was clearly “not here now,” and his lack of presence had a very negative impact on the morale of the people that worked for him. Even his marriage failed as he continued this practice when he left the office and went home.

I learned a lot from this experience, and when the company relocated, I reflected on what I had learned and chose not to accompany my boss. His work-life structure was out of balance, and his relationships suffered as both his family and co-workers struggled to keep his attention and even be heard. The stress associated with the job was magnified many times over as his focus was elsewhere. The employees felt that they were not listened to, that their presence and their needs were secondary to his priorities and they struggled to see that he valued their input. Yet over the entire period, he saw his “multi-tasking” as a positive trait, one that allowed him to move upward in the business world.

“Be Here Now” requires that we be present in the moment. It requires that we quiet our minds and keep our focus on thoughts that are relevant to the conversation or activity that is taking place. It requires that we listen without judgment and with an open mind — or listen to understand. It requires that we be aware of our current environment, including those people and activities that expect our attention. It requires that we minimize the distractions that take us away from each of those requirements. When the distractions divert our attention, our minds wander, and we are not able to focus on important words and actions that are so critical to the present situation.

This is not easy, particularly in our current state of connectedness. Text messages and e-mails continuously arrive, and we get phone calls when we are at lunch, in the car, in class, walking across the Oval or in an important meeting. Expectations for responding to these intrusions are elevated: “I sent you an e-mail 10 minutes ago, and you haven’t responded. What’s up?” Couple this with the current environment of change, the demands that are placed on us and the need to respond in a timely fashion, and the ability to “Be Here Now” is diminished.

It is not possible to totally keep out the distractions. Our thoughts are naturally moving from one topic to the other. But if we can minimize the distractions, and if the impatience, anxiety and inattentiveness that accompany the distractions can be kept in check, we can be more effective at what we are presently involved with when we need to be more effective. We will be able to fully contribute to conversations, and our performance will reflect the attentiveness we bring to the present situation. We will convey to others that their presence and input is valued and considered.

I don’t know what my old boss is doing now, but my guess is that, as successful as he might be in business, there is still not an appropriate balance in his life, that people around him are still feeling that they are not valued and that his attention is not in the present moment. He has certainly missed the fulfilling experience of ‘Being Here Now.’ ”

Note: The entire collection of “Excellence to Eminence” editorials can be found online at he OnCampus site at:

Are 3 years enough?

The governor has language in the new Ohio budget bill that has universities in Ohio providing a clear pathway to a baccalaureate degree in three years. It is certainly understandable why a three year degree pathway might be attractive to some students and state officials – college is not inexpensive, and this helps achieve the priority goal of college affordability.

This is not a new idea. There have been discussions about three year degrees for a long time, with more emphasis beginning in 1991. The President of Oberlin proposed the idea in an op-ed piece in the NY Times. It gained more traction recently as former Department of Education secretary Lamar Alexander spoke and wrote about the need to take a hard look at this concept.

The main debate about this idea settles into discussions about the way that a 3-year degree program is configured. One idea, albeit not a popular one among academics (and accreditation bodies), is to eliminate some credit hour requirements, such as general education requirements, to reduce the total credit hours to a level that they can be done in three years instead of four. Another approach, also not so appealing, is to require more credit hours each term, with maybe some additional credit hours in the summer, to complete all of the four year requirements in the three year period.

Still another approach, in fact one that can presently be done, is to complete many of the degree requirements while still in high school. Ohio has several programs (Senior to Sophomore, PSEO, dual enrollment or Early College programs) that allow a high school student to take college level classes before graduation. Advanced Placement courses are another way that a student can arrive at the university with completed material that can be assigned college credit.

OK, so the requirements can be completed in three years after high school graduation. That isn’t my biggest concern. (Having said that, I am concerned that the learning takes place out of the classroom or lab environment, without the interactions between faculty and student or student and peer group, or that the rigor that is expected of a college class might not be there.) My concern is more about what a student gives up in order to get into the workforce more quickly.

If we assume that the preferred pathway is paved with credits obtained in high school, I am concerned about the high school experience that must give way to the requirements associated with the completion of the college credits. Not to mention that I have my doubts that most high school students are mature enough or prepared to make the very import decision about what their career will be, and what courses are important and relevant to the major that will get him or her there.

My biggest concern , though, is what isn’t experienced at college. As I mentioned recently in an interview with the Cleveland Plain Dealer, we know what employers are looking for from our graduates. They want people who can think through problems, find creative approaches or solutions to these problems, communicate them effectively, and who can interact with others in and out of their organizations in an effective way. These critical thinking skills, these problem-solving skills, and these interpersonal interaction skills come from teamwork, collaborative activities, and living with other people, experiencing the highs and lows of personal relationships, and working closely with mentors, such as the advisers, faculty, student-life directors, etc. We want to provide more of these kinds of experiences, not fewer. Co-curricular activities, leadership opportunities and experiences, athletic involvement, study abroad, service-learning activities – all are examples of the kinds of collegiate experiences that would be missed, at least 25% of them, with a 3-year college investment.

Some students will be just fine with this. Others will be challenged when they move to the next phase of their life. I have always maintained that there is more personal growth and maturity in the senior year of college than all of the previous years of education combined. That will be what a student will forfeit. I’m not sure it’s worth the financial savings.

I hope our General Assembly is paying attention as they debate the positives and negatives of these and other higher education related issues that are in the budget bill.


Earlier this week I travelled to Champaign-Urbana to the University of Illinois to meet with the Undergraduate Deans from the CIC (Big-10) schools, and to attend a conference on transferring to a four-year institution. I learned a lot about the issues facing a student moving from the experience of a two-year community college program to the often overwhelming environment of a school like Ohio State. I also learned that the economic challenges that we are facing in Ohio, and the potential impact on higher education, are challenges that our sister colleges in the Big 10 are facing as well, and in some cases are already part of their reality.

When I was leaving to come home, I had to wait at the University of Illinois Willard Airport for my flight. If you’ve never been in that airport, it is an experience… it is a new building with 2 gates, with flights only to O’Hare, Dallas and Detroit. And not many of them, it turns out. I followed the restaurant/bar sign, and it led me to a line of four vending machines. But they have free wireless, and I had no problem finding a seat, since there were only four of us waiting for the commuter plane.

While I was waiting, I couldn’t help overhearing a cell-phone conversation between a young woman and her mother. She was a student at UI and was traveling to check out a graduate school assistantship opportunity at the University of Colorado. It seems that her mother had sent her a package to the wrong address… actually she sent it to the apartment complex, but hadn’t put the apartment unit number on the label.

After ending the call, she started a conversation with me by apologizing for talking so loudly. Her frustration with her mother centered on the idea that her mother just didn’t get the complexity of her life at college. She laughed when she told me that she was from a really small Illinois town, and the concept of an apartment with more than one unit was absolutely foreign to her mother.

Our conversation turned to the fact that she was a first-generation college student, and her feeling was that this was the reason that there was no understanding of her experience at college. I asked her what the other important misunderstandings were, and she launched into a Letterman-esque Top-10 list of questions that tell the story: 10. Why can’t you go to a college closer to home? 9. Why can’t you continue to date your high school boyfriend (who didn’t go to college)? 8. There are no classes on the weekend, so why can’t you come home? 7. Are you sure you want to be friends with those foreigners on campus? 6. Dad wants you to work in the store when you’re done, so why do you need that degree? 5. How will a major in Comparative and World Literature get you a job? 4. What do you mean you get course credit for working with the poor? 3. You were never stressed at home. What can possibly cause so much stress there? 2. What’s that new music you’re listening to?   1. So, you feel you’re better than us now, huh?

All of these things resonated with me… I, too am a Gen-1. I left my very small town in rural Idaho to go to college in California. My parents, my friends, and really nobody in my town had any understanding of what I was experiencing. How could they?

It was a shock for me as well. I was hardly prepared for what I encountered when I got to campus. There had never been any conversations in my house about life in college, or what to expect when I got there, or how to budget my time, or the importance of making connections with faculty, or the diversity of ideas and people I would encounter. And I too had to deal with their perception that I felt I was superior to them.

We boarded our plane, and I wished her the best. The fact that she is going to finish her degree and go to graduate school means she has cleared many of the not-so-insignificant hurdles of a Gen-1 student. But she still faces a future of explaining the intricacies of her college experiences to family and friends that may never really get it. To that, I can attest.