“A building is not just about itself, but the place where it resides.”-Craig Dykers
Did you hear the one about the college president’s view of how to handle struggling students? Reportedly his suggestion was to “drown the bunnies.”
No, that’s not the setup for a bad joke. According to a recent article in Inside Education that is what a college president said (though, the president says he can’t remember his exact language) when discussing ways to increase retention numbers for his institution. One such method put forth: Encourage those who might fail to withdraw early in the semester—and protect retention numbers for the institution.
Where does one even start with such a sentiment? Let’s hope in this case the president was incorrectly or inaccurately quoted. If not, is this what happens when the institutional management thinks they have become the institution?
Students bring their academic and non-academic challenges with them when they step on campus. Any college is more than its bricks and mortar. The college is the community it serves. Of course, not all students will be successful. Colleges (like community colleges) that have open admission policies agree to take on 100% of their applicants. Some will not be successful–and many will. And it often takes longer than one or two semesters for students to find their footing and transition into the ethos of higher education.
The campus is not about the president, professors or custodians—it’s about the community. To be sure, all of those people (and more) make up the community. We need transformational leaders and effective faculty. But we need to examine the mission. Has it come to be directed by and for retention numbers on an Excel spreadsheet rather than the human lives that cross the threshold each day?
I know first-hand that colleges across our great nation have a plethora of resources available for student success. Colleges like San Jacinto College have an interest in the student as a total person. Florida State College at Jacksonville has a program to steer students toward important resources during the critical first semester. Northern Virginia Community College “is committed to helping students reach their goals with a network of support services.” And the list goes on and on around the nation. These higher education institutions definitely see more than “bunnies” to be quickly dispatched.
A concomitant question: What admission criteria do colleges and universities use?
As presented on CBS News last week, according to a recent report titled “Turning the Tide,” colleges and universities are starting to review their admission criteria. Traditional benchmarks (ACT/SAT, for instance) are being questioned for their efficacy. This conversation eventually connects to retention of students from one semester to the next.
Perhaps the unfortunate wording and/or sentiment of one college president may help to further the meaningful conversation about who the college admits, under what circumstances and with what promises for assistance and chances for success. Access without opportunity is hollow. What markers spot potential and which ones don’t?
I read the quote that opens this post in the February issue of Fast Company. The issue is the magazine’s 2016 leadership issue. I believe it applies to our college campuses across the nation where our students depend on effective and meaningful leadership and teaching.
It’s not about us. It’s about them.
Make it a wonderfully successful week—H.T.R.B. as needed.
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(c) 2016. Steve Piscitelli. All rights reserved.