18.9.17

GETTING THE MISSION RIGHT.

From the local newspaper we read, "NIU keys on academic reputation amid enrollment decline."  For instance, "It also received special recognition last year by the Brookings Institution as one of the few universities in the nation to produce important research while aiding students from low-income families."  We documented that here, with commentary.  Apparently doing it right still requires deanlet-speak.
One boost to the university’s academic reputation was that the incoming class posted the highest mean grade-point average in more than a decade at 3.28.

“We’re doing a much better job of promoting all of the wonderful things that are happening on campus,” [vice president for enrollment management Sol] Jensen said. “As we delve more into digital promotions, I know there’s more opportunities to be more targeted in populations and receive immediate and influential feedback and metrics.”
Put another way, the digital generation doesn't toss its cookies and launder its caches rapidly enough.

Unfortunately, being a vice president of enrollment management doesn't require competence in comparative advantage.
“Providing education for the state of Illinois and generally for our service region are of great importance,” Jensen said. “Students who come from Kishwaukee College are extremely important to us for a number of reasons, but mainly because they grew up here and could also be working here.”
Yes, but when Gary, Indiana, is beating Chicagoland out for factories, there's more to do than raising the university's academic profile.

A Vox essay suggests that doing right by pluggers and strivers is a good idea.
While more Americans are going to college as a whole, the gap between the affluent and poor has widened — and the value of a college degree is declining.

It starts in high school, where poor kids are less likely to earn a high school diploma than their richer peers.
Hell, it starts before kindergarten, with the moneyed folks enrolling their spawn in Harvard Prep Day Care, while their neighbors in humbler circumstances entrust Squirt to grandma or an uncle or aunt.

Then Vox author Alvin Chang summarizes in two sentences something I've been arguing, repeatedly, and at length, for fifteen years on this site, and for longer when I was on curriculum committees or the like.
Part of this gap can be attributed to students from poor families being more likely to go to colleges with lower graduation rates and lower admissions standards. These schools tend to have fewer resources compared to more selective schools and flagship state universities.
In Cold Spring Shops terminology, that's "rendered unemployable by access-assessment-remediation-retention."  Look, I don't care how they phrase it as long as they're writing about it.

There's still room for him to refine his argument when he gets to the Deeper Implications.
[T]here’s also something about the American college environment that betrays students from lower- and working-class backgrounds.

Some of it is financial, but there's something else going on — something that is perpetuated by the beliefs and values of upper-middle class people. This ranges from big-picture things, like what we think the purpose of college is, to more mundane things, like our eating or vacationing habits. And when mixed with this country's imprecise way of talking about class, it creates a toxic environment that stunts the performances of students who are trying to climb the social class ladder.
Once upon the time, the common schools would inculcate the values of the upper middle class, but that doesn't happen as much any more, because of some imagined -ism or something. But the upper middle class still passes those values along. You know how that's going to play out. "In other words, the very way we think about college makes it a finishing school for people from affluent families — and a glass ceiling for everyone else."

There's some social science that follows, which might reward careful study.  Toward the end Mr Chang suggests the land-grants and mid-majors and regional comprehensives still have a problem.
Sociologist Annette Lareau followed dozens of children for a decade and found in her 2003 book, Unequal Childhoods, that more privileged children tend to be raised to reason with and question authority.

She named this parenting style "concerted cultivation," and found that the skills that these children develop translate well to a middle- and upper-class environment.

And it's those people who fill the quads and administrative buildings on college campuses, and they come with a certain worldview about how successful humans should act. This is also true of second-tier schools, where students come from less affluent backgrounds, but administrators still come from upper-middle class backgrounds and exhibit upper-middle class expectations.

So all of this means there is a mismatch between these disadvantaged students and the college environment.
A mismatch it might be, and yet a mismatch that the people running the common schools might be able to address long before the thick envelopes go out.
When students were told in a mere one-hour session that their class backgrounds shape their college experiences — and that they need to cater their actions accordingly — it influenced their ability to get caught up to everyone else.

It doesn't mean their experience wasn't harder. After all, they tend to work more in college, have more family responsibilities, and have larger financial barriers. Rather, it just means someone needed to tell them about the biases of higher ed they will have to overcome.

"In my research, first-generation college students are impressively resilient and optimistic," Gibbons said. "They belief in themselves, and have a desire to persevere.

"They wouldn't be in college if they weren't."
Yes, and they deserve the same intellectual environment as their counterparts in the finishing schools enjoy. I used to quip to students that they'd have to work twice as hard at Northern Illinois to get half the recognition their counterparts at Harvard or Northwestern got, but fortunately that wasn't difficult.

Let me finish by proposing a small change to Mr Chang's concluding remarks.
Still, the way we think about college — and perhaps more importantly, the skills we insist we need our adults to have in order to be part of the dominant social class — has poisoned higher education for those who need it most.

Preaching the virtues of mobility and education are one thing. It's another to realize that one thing standing in the way might be the very values and attitudes that shape our identities.
More precisely, it might be that Influential People who hold those attitudes for themselves are OK with those values and attitudes not being passed along to their less fortunate neighbors and contemporaries whose circumstances are less favorable.

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