Thursday, June 13, 2013

Clouds of Optimism

I am on an advisory board for a local for-profit college which is part of a national chain.  It's one of the sister schools to my employer, which is also a for-profit college.  Many of the people who come to the advisory board meetings are potential employers for the students, so I often spend part of the meetings feeling like I have nothing of value to add.

How short-sighted of me!  Yesterday's meeting proved that there's more to college than employability at the end.  Of course, many of us already knew that.

We spent a lot of time talking about what would make a community centered college.  We talked about volunteering and other ways to make the college and its students more rooted in the community.

I mentioned how odd it was that we were at a for-profit school talking about how to make that school a deeper part of the community, while just down the road, the community college seems to be trying to make itself more like a university.  I talked briefly about the way it used to be, when the community college was a place to get training to be a refrigerator repair person or an electrician or transfer credits or any other number of outcomes.  Part of the mission of community colleges was short-term training for jobs that needed immediate filling.

Now we see a shift.  Some for-profit schools, with their medical training especially, are taking the role that used to be served by community colleges.

I didn't have the nerve to bring up the price of tuition.  A college that wanted to be rooted in the community might think about ways to keep the cost of the education more affordable--deeply affordable, by which I mean $1000 a term (not a class, a term) or less.

Then we talked about soft skills, skills that can be as simple as showing up when you're scheduled to work.  We talked about how to impart those skills.

I brought up the class that we've recently launched, the Psychology of Personal Effectiveness, a class designed to teach some of those soft skills:  getting along with people, conflict resolution, time management, setting and meeting goals.

Some of you might be shaking your head and saying, "You can get college credit for that?"

Yes, you can.  And you'd be amazed at how many students arrive at college without these basic skills, without the discipline that it will take to be successful.  There are days I'm still shocked.  I understand a lack of math skills, but not turning in work and still wondering why your grade is low?  The two are actually tied together:  students often don't understand how a zero will drive their grade downward far faster than a 65 or a 55, the grade they'd get for substandard work.

The meeting went long because we all had so much to say.  One thing that fascinated me was how many employers talked about their need for people who can write grants.  I must remember this fact for the future.  I know several people who have had some success with grants writing; should they need work, I want to remember this suggestion.

It was also great to be there in an advisory capacity.  I could make suggestions and leave it to others to figure out implementation.  Usually I'm the one receiving the laundry list of problems and the expectation that I can fix them all.

It was also good to be with such a diversity of people, all of whom seemed to want the best for graduates.  The morale was good.  If anyone was feeling dispirited, they didn't talk about it.  I liked being surrounded by optimism.

Now if I can just corral that optimism, a cloud to surround me throughout the day and the weeks to come!

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