Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Dual Credit Dilemma

I attended high school in the 1970s.  Yes, ancient history for a high school student today.  It was a time before standards and standardized testing.  It was during an era where the philosophy of education including the exploration of many diverse and varied subjects, including subjects within subjects. You might remember them as "electives". The last half of my senior year I had earned enough credits that allowed me to have completed my day by noon.  However, I had to either take electives or work in order to comply with graduation requirements.  I opted to work.  I also played softball so I was still very much connected to high school.  I would have been the perfect candidate to take college course had such an opportunity existed.  

Dual credit course have become a way of life for students in New Mexico.  A dual credit course is a course that satisfies both high school and college requirements.  These courses are often identified in agreements between the college and the high school and the terms of participation are spelled out.  New Mexico was the first state that required high school students to take either an AP Course, an on-line course or a dual credit course to satisfy high school graduation requirements.  In theory, exposing high school students to college courses may help them realize that they can be successful in college.  The hopeful result is that more students will go to college because they have been exposed to college and know they can be successful.  

Presently a debate is taking place in New Mexico and through out the United States about the success of dual credit courses.  I suspect the answer is really dependent upon the definition of success.  The purpose of this post is not the debate the definition of success nor share the data from my college around the metrics of dual credit courses as we track them.  The purpose of this post is to raise another question.  Are we unintentionally robbing our children of their childhood?  

I am not the first person to have raised this question.  Dr. David Elkind in his landmark book, The Hurried Child raised just such a question.  Dr. Elkind drew attention to the dangers of exposing children to overwhelming pressures, leading to a wide range of childhood and teenage crises. Dr. Elkind demonstrated that blurring the boundaries between age appropriate expectations and adult expectations too soon forces kids the grow up too fast.  Dual Credit has the potential to become another initiative that forces kids to grow up too fast.  

I am not trying to throw the baby out with the bath water so to speak.  I think dual credit courses can provide wonderful opportunities for high school students to explore the rigorous of college while satisfying both high school and college requirements.  Allowing high school students to take the "right" dual credit courses can provide them with a very strong foundation in general education that can be a tremendous asset when they do matriculate to college after their high school graduation.  In some instances, dual credit courses that begin to move high school students toward a business or industry recognized certificate can also shorten their time between graduating high school and moving into a meaningful job or career.  

However, some high school students may not be ready for the pressures of a college course or the content of and exposure to topics and issues that some college courses or programs include.  Health related courses and careers may be one such area.  Certainly, health related careers are very attractive to the parents of high school students.  In some cases high school students know they want to pursue a health related career.  Health care employers often include very specific criteria for employment in addition to the necessary certification.  One criteria often includes age.  

Consequently, I think one of the discussions missing from the dual credit initiative is a deep discussion about readiness and whether or not certain courses and programs of study are appropriate for high school students.  Additionally, I have yet to find longitudinal research pertaining to the career success of high school students who took dual credit courses in a career path, then entered that career upon completion of the college requirements.  I think it will be important for us in the future to engage in longitudinal research that follows these high school students who began their college experience early to examine the long term effects.  I'm not ready to say all dual credit is good or all dual credit is bad; however, I do believe we need to continue to raise questions and explore the data to determine if the dual credit initiative is just another one of the activities that Dr. Elkind warned us about.  

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

What Is In a Name?

How many of you know the meaning of your name?  Renay means "renaissance" - a new birth.  The meaning certainly has foreshadowed me in so many ways.

The Vietnam Veteran Memorial in Washington D.C. was designed by Maya Lin.  Her design, at the time, was a bit controversial for a variety of reasons, but was ground breaking for her inclusion of the names of all 57,931 people at the time of the unavailing.  As of Memorial Day 2013 there were 58,286 names on the wall. Maya Lin felt the names were significant. Since the memorial was unvailed in 1982, her concept of including names has transformed the development of memorials since then.  The names have drawn many survivors of the Vietnam War to Washington D.C. to honor and remember their fallen comrades. 

One of my favorite assignments to give my social studies methods class was to have the students identify a monument or memorial on campus, including the name of a building and conduct research about the monument, memorial, event or person and then turn that activity into a lesson plan that they could teach.  I learned a great deal from my students about the people and events that were commemorated on campus.  Since then, I have moved into administration at a community college. At both of the community colleges I have served, I have noticed an absence of the similar types of monuments, memorials and buildings named after people that are so common on a university campus. I believe that it is important to capture the history of an institution. There is much to be learned about the institution from its history. The community college movement is relatively young compared to the long established universities and hasn't had an opportunity to capture the rich history. Consequently, I believe it is important for us to begin to capture the history of DACC for future generations to learn about and learn from.

Friday, August 26th we celebrated a first for Dona Ana Community College. We named a building after our first president, Dr. Alex Sanchez.  It was not the first time we have named something at the college after someone important.  Previously we named our Adult Learning Center the Quintana Learning Center after president Dr. Patricio Quintana, the second president who served from 1978 to 1988.  He was instrumental in bringing high school completion and adult basic education to our institution and so we named the Adult Learning Center in his honor.

The naming of our main building after Dr. Alex Sanchez was particularly appropriate because he founded the college from idea to reality.  He saw a real need in the community for career and technical education and worked closely with New Mexico State University, the three public school districts, the community and the legislature of New Mexico to make the college happen.  He hired the first faculty who were committed to career and technical education.  He secured funding, He worked to pass the first capital bond.  He brought programs to the community to meet needs in nursing, water technology, radiology, and construction.  The foundation he laid for collaboration, faculty dedication, and commitment to career and technical education live on at DACC.

So, what is in a name?  Often the characteristics that influence a person and the culture that surrounds them.  In this case, Dr. Alex Sanchez represents many of the values DACC continues to hold dear - a commitment to career and technical education, collaboration, and our students.  So as you enter the Alex Sanchez building, please remember fondly our roots and recommit yourself to them.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Skills for the "New Economy"

As the fall semester begins, many of us at the community college watch enrollment.  After all, our budget is impacted positively or negatively based upon enrollment.  Several weeks before the start of the semester, student services personnel call students from previous semesters who aren’t yet registered for the fall semester to see what they can do to help the student get registered.  Those overseeing this task report out their findings and we review processes and procedures accordingly.  This year a new trend began emerging for me.  This semester several students reported that they were not coming back to school because they believed there was not a job for them after graduation.  They just didn’t feel like going to college was going to result in a better paying job. 

I suspect many are frustrated by the “new economic normal” that has evolved.  Computers have replaced people in a variety of jobs and other jobs have moved off-shore leaving people to wonder what the future holds for the middle class and whether or not good paying jobs will return.  I suspect what we in the higher education sector need to understand is the nature of the “new economy” and how we can better prepare our students to enter this new reality.  The axiom, “What was good enough for me so it should be good enough for you” is no longer true.

The quest to understand the economic world that our students are entering unveiled a number of interesting ideas.  First, the labor market of the future will require that our graduates be proficient in solving ill-structured problems, synthesizing information and performing non-routine tasks for which there are no step-by-step processes.[1]  Second, we need to be prepared to modify our teaching so that we help students become proficient with those skills.  However, building proficiency in problem solving, synthesizing information, and performing non-routine tasks requires that we build upon other skills.  According to James Heckman the ability to acquire skills is dependent upon skills developed at an earlier age.[2] So, will the students arrive to us with the necessary skills they need in order to gain proficiency in these 21st century skills? 

In order for students to develop proficiency in solving ill-structured problems, they need to arrive to us being able to read expository text carefully and critically, search for information efficiently and know what information is reliable and relevant, develop logic models for understanding cause and effect and then be able to communicate their solution so that others can understand. 

More than ever it is time what we re-examine our education framework to ensure that we are preparing our students for a global and technical economy so that we remain competitive. 

[1] Levy, Frank and Murnane, Richard J., Dancing with Robots: Human Skills for Computerized Work.  (Third Way, 2016), p.  15.
[2] Ibid, 19.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Weathering a Financial Storm

The overall revenue at DACC comes from primarily three sources.  Sixty percent of our revenue comes from the state of New Mexico, 26.4% comes from tuition and fees, 13.2 percent comes from the local mill levy.  The remaining less than one percent comes from grants and gifts to the College.  Consequently, the two most important goals for the College are to focus on enrollment (directly related to tuition and fees) and completion (directly related to state funding that is based on course completion and degrees and certificates awarded).  As of my communication today, the number of new freshman beginning at DACC for the first time this fall is ahead of last fall’s census day numbers.  The number of undergraduate transfer students beginning at DACC this fall is ahead of last fall’s census day numbers.  The Student Services team has done an amazing job at recruitment – they are to be applauded.  Our main challenge is retention.  Presently we are just under 300 students less than census day numbers last fall.  These are students who were with us last fall who are not registered this fall.  Also, we have a number of our students who are taking courses both with us and with other campuses in the system. That means tuition revenue from the courses begin taken at other campus is not coming to DACC.  We need to understand how we can better provide a schedule that helps these students stay at DACC.  Last, the number of students from campuses within the system taking courses with us has declined – this may be directly related to changes in mathematics on the Las Cruces University campus.  After census day we will examine this data to see what might have occurred and whether or not we can respond to what we learn. 

While enrollment is something we can impact and control based upon our own actions and initiatives, changes in state revenue is something we can’t control.  Present projections pertaining to revenue for the State’s budget are much less than expected when the State budget was passed in February 2016.  As a result, it is possible that a special session will be called to address any revenue shortages.  The impact of decisions at the special session to DACC are yet unknown, but even last February we were told that we should not be surprised if a mid-year cut were to occur.  I am watching these events vigilantly and will communicate information as facts become known. 
How must we proceed as we anticipate a reduction to state revenue to our budget.  First, we need to reaffirm our mission and commit to that mission.  Second, we must focus on the two most important things which are enrollment and completion.  Third we must identify our values for making decisions and act on those values.  Forth, we must identify the "must have" versus the "nice to have" programs and initiatives  Fifth, we must prioritize the "must haves", and last, we must make the hard decisions. 
Jacob Lew once said that "The budget is not just a collection of numbers, but an expression of our values and aspirations".  We must also keep in mind that we can't just cut our way through a fiscal storm, but that we must carefully invest in people and programs to grow our enrollment.  John Hoeven said that, "Businesses must invest in products and people in order to create new wealth".  Often higher education institutions continue to do that same old things over and over.  We must recognize what Gary Hamel said, "Businesses fail when they over invest in what is over what could be".  As state revenue sources continue to decline, we must take a lesson from business in how to address revenue and expenditures in order to continue to serve our constituents. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Why Career and Technical Education Matters Even More Today

Recently I had the opportunity to provide a welcome for a group of counselors and high school teachers who attended a Career and Technical Education Conference at DACC.  The purpose of the conference was to provide attendees with a sense of what is available in career and technical training and how that training correlates with the job opportunities within the State.  Here is a portion of what I shared. 

Many of you may not know that I began my career as a middle and high school social studies teacher.  During my five years in the public education classroom I had many opportunities to talk to my students about attending college.  During all of those conversations I encouraged them to attend four-year colleges or universities.  Of course, I often "plugged" my Alma matter.  I suspect this behavior has not changed much since I left public education to teach in higher education in 1989. 

 Today there still appears to be a strong emphasis on preparing to attend a four-year college or university.  I'm not here to say that is good or bad.  However, what I want to do in the few minutes I have with you is to encourage you to add another consideration to your conversations about college with your students.  I want you to consider adding a conversation about the value of two year associate degrees and certificates so that your students can consider all options open to them. 

Why do I think this option is important for you as high school counselors and teachers to consider? Let me illustrate:

Many of us were educated around the same era.  Many of us were encourage to attend a four-year college or university by our family, counselors, teachers and other important adults in our life; all of whom believed we would have a better life than they did if we attended college.  Many of us in this room earned four-year degrees and graduate degrees.  We hold good jobs and "we made it".  So it makes sense for us to share with our students the advice we received - after all it worked. 

However, the new economy of the post 2007-2010 recession is different that the economy you and I prepared to enter.  Consequently as you work with middle and high schoolers you need to help them realize their future will be much different than your past.  For example, consider the top five growing jobs in New Mexico.  They are:
1. Nursing including LPNs and Nurse Assistants
2 Radiological Technicians
3 Dental Hygienists
4. Building Construction Managers
5. Residential Advisers

 All of those jobs require either an associate degree or a certificate.  All of those jobs pay a living wage. 

Did you know that last month in our county that there were openings for over 80 truck drivers?  Did you know that a truck driver can start at Walmart making $80,000 a year? You may or may not be aware that the Santa Teresa area and port of entry has become a large and growing logistics hub.  The Boarder Industrial Alliance reports to me that they need workers in the following areas: 

1. Manufacturing workers & technicians
2. Truck Drivers
3. Welders
4. Managers and Supervisors

All of those jobs require either an associate degree or a certificate.  All of those jobs pay a living wage. 

White Sands Missal Range is a large employers in our area.  They reported to me that they need civilian employees in the following areas: 

1. Electricians
2. Robotics technicians
3. Aerospace technicians

All of those jobs require either an associate degree or a certificate.  All of those jobs pay a living wage. 

However - these jobs may not be the top five jobs five years from now. After all, how many of us had the option to prepare to by a data base programmer, or a Cisco network technician?  I believe in our new economy that many of the workers will train for many different jobs in several different sectors.  I have been fortunate to spend my entire career, just over 30 years, in one sector.  My father spent 36 years at one company.  I believe those days are over. 

Consequently we need to guide our middle and high schoolers toward the idea that they need to consider the impact of their choices today on their future opportunities. This is no easy task for adolescents whose social, emotions and moral development is about there moment not the long term. This is no easy task for us who may only know one sector and one way of life. 

As mentors of youth it is imperative that we be well versed about the relationship between education and ones economic reality.  We need to help our youth develop skills that are transferable to many different jobs and careers.  We may need to help our youth understand that they may return to college or the community college many times throughout their career for additional training.  After all, we have several students who attend DACC who have already earned a four-year degree or even a masters degree, but are now studying in a career or technical program. 

 I suggest that as mentors and advisers of students we need the following knowledge, skills, and dispositions to be successful:

Successfully guiding the student entrusted to us will require of us a deeper understanding of the fast changing business and industrial climate.
Successfully guiding the students entrusted to us will require of us a greater understanding of the educational programs available in our community.
Successfully guiding the students entrusted to us will require of us a skill set to help our youth make educational choices that creates for them opportunities rather than a fixed career or a dead end.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Addressing Student Concerns

As the end of the semester approaches and the stress mounts for students, we in the Office of the President, begin to see an increased number of student calls, communications, and visits pertaining to their concerns regarding their courses, campuses, individuals, etc. Let me take this opportunity to provide a few observations that might focus us as a caring community upon strategies that may support student learning while remaining appropriately responsive to students. 

Myth Buster # 1:  “Isn’t It Best to Start at the Top?”

President Scott says, “No!”  Here are several reasons why, when students come to our office with concerns, we send them back to the unit with the responsibility to solve the problem.   Why?

First, the businesses and institutions we serve expect us to prepare our students to work within a professional setting.  Business and institutional leaders who hire our graduates expect them to follow the rules (policies and procedures) of the organization and the institutional chain of command.  I believe that we can assist our students in developing those skills by ensuring that while they are in our care, we are responsible to teach our students to follow the protocols set forth for handling concerns. 

Second, if we allow students to go straight to the top, I believe it is disrespectful to those who are responsible for ensuring the application of procedures or administering the unit that students want to voice complaints about.  I strongly believe in those we hire to solve problems in an appropriate and timely manner.  After all their job descriptions and our policies and procedures define them as the appropriate party to address the concern.

Myth Buster # 2:  “They only way to get anything done is go to the top.”

President Scott says, “Not really.”  Complex organizations with well-developed policies and procedures and job descriptions have clearly outlined the scope of responsibility.  Further, policies and procedures include a complaint and appeal process.  Consequently, when someone begins at the top and is given time to outline their concerns it appears I am saying I will get it addressed. Yet in order to get it addressed I refer the situation to the unit head to address and they in turn call the student in who then repeats the very information they shared with me earlier. When this happens we are wasting time of the concerned student.  Students see this as the “run-a-round” and the reputation of the institution can be harmed.

Myth Buster # 3: “Dr. Scott won’t meet with me!”

President Scott says, “I will meet with you after you have addressed your concerns through the appropriate channel(s).”  This is extremely important in many instances because depending upon the nature of the complaint; I may have a defined role in the process as the final step in an appeal process.  Consequently, getting involved TOO EARLY in the process may compromise my objectivity and call into question my involvement as the final arbitrator. 

The Truth Is:  “I don’t know who to talk to.”

President Scott believes that this is probably more true than not.  Consequently, as a teaching and learning enterprise, it is important that each of us recognize the teachable moment when students approach us asking this question.  I would ask that you familiarize yourself with the student complaint process so that when a student comes to you and request information about how to get their concerns addressed that you can direct them to the student compliant process.  I have included the student complaint process link on the DACC web site below. 

Student Complaint Process

I know you would never do this but…..

I have been fortunate enough in my career to see this only once.  What was it, you ask?  I had a dear friend who was a graduate student who was pulled into a situation by her graduate professor and chair of her Master’s Thesis. The situation my friend was pulled into involved the elimination of a department at the University. She shared the situation with me because she felt she could not say no to her Thesis chair and she was seeking advice.  From her perspective she was forced to write a letter using her professor’s template to send to the Dean of the College supporting her professor.  I watched my friend agonize over the situation as she really didn’t want to get involved in the politics of the institution, but she also didn’t want to cross her thesis chair.  I have confidence in our employees that we would never put our students in this type of a situation. 

Thank you all in advance for ensuring that we demonstrate our care and respect for students by helping them learn the soft skills for success that are also learned outside of the classroom and getting them focused on the process that will help them get their concerns addressed in a timely manner consistent with policy and procedure. 

Friday, January 30, 2015

The Skills Gap

According to Nicholas Wyman, "Today around thirteen million Americans, some with college degrees, are unemployed, and that does not include those who are underemployed....Yet three million positions remain unfilled, and a quarter of American businesses say they have trouble finding people with the practical, technical, job-ready skills they need." (1)  This reality is known as the "job-skills gap". 

As a young person in high school I continued to hear from my family, teachers, counselors and even my pastor about the importance of going to college.  I listened and attended college and obtained my degree. I entered the workforce as a teacher.  The message about going to college and getting a bachelors degree is still prominent in society today.  However, many college graduates tell me that they are frustrated upon graduation that they can not find a job or that the job they have is unrelated to the field of study they pursued in college.  As these frustrations mount, additional burdens grow as these college graduates are faced with paying off student loans based upon incomes much less than expected due to underemployment or without any income because they are unemployed. The economic and business landscape has changed much between the time I attended college in the 1980s and now.  Today a bachelors degree does not guarantee employment. 

This is not the desired result that we want.  So, what is the solution?  According to Nicolas Wyman, people today need to add to their college education the practical skills necessary to align with the needs of employers in the economy of the 21st century.  Students need to learn to work as a team, navigate the day-to-day challenges of employment, and gain practical experiences.  This means students pursuing a bachelors degree should consider seeking an internship or working jobs while attending college to gain practical skills and experience that can enhance their education. 

I would build upon Wyman's suggestion and encourage students to learn the importance of being on time to class, attending regularly, being prepared, and being attentive. Additionally, I would also suggest that as educational leaders we begin to educate potential students about the relationship of degrees to workforce clusters.  This entails providing information about what degrees and certificates are necessary for employment in the sectors of: Agriculture, Architecture & Construction; Arts, AV Technology, & Communication; Business Management & Administration; Education; Finance; Government & Public Administration; Health Science; Hospitality & Tourism; Human Service; Information Technology; Public Safety; Manufacturing; Marketing; Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics; and finally Transportation, Distribution & Logistics. Further, I would encourage students to consider exploring what jobs are available and what jobs are expected to become available in the near future.  Equipted with this knowledge, and these habits a student can tailor their studies to align with the needs of employers. 

For example, a student may love sociology and wish to pursue a degree in sociology.  However, a bachelors degree in sociology may not be directly related to a job.  Consequently, this student may want to consider attending a community college first and obtaining a job credential before going on to seek a degree in sociology.  Many of the jobs that are available to potential employees today do not require a bachelors degree.  Often these jobs require some type of certification or on-the-job training.  As leaders in society, I believe we need to do a better job in providing information to middle and high school students about what jobs and jobs skills are needed for employment today.  This is the first step in beginning to address the job skills gap. 

1. Nicholas Wyman. Job U: How to Find Wealth and Success by Developing the Skills Companies Actually Need. (New York: Crown Business, 2015), 2.