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Brian Ellison May 3, 2007 Advanced Education Approaches: What’s Not Working, Why, and How Do We Fix it? I. Introduction The university experience is changing in many ways, but this isn’t a problem just for the students who attend. This also requires the attention of faculty and university administrators who contribute to the social and intellectual environment in which learning happens. In an essay, anthropologist and Northern Arizona University professor Cathy Small evaluates these newer realities and provides some interesting observations regarding their larger implications on the university system and its approaches towards the development of learning structures and support systems.1 Expanding upon her idea, this paper will provide an overview of several related issues. In Part II, the current realities of the university education system will be examined, looking not just at the changes over time of the student populations, but also at the perceived roles of the various players that impact and influence this environment. Part III reviews current academic literature to ascertain what is and what isn’t currently working in the university system and presents the variety of opinions about what should change to make thee system better. In establishing the academic foundation, Part IV will represent the larger policy problem that this measurable shift has created and will highlight several variables that can be mined, as well as discuss areas of institutional review and further study that will be beneficial in the development of future university policies.
Small, Cathy. “My Year as a Freshman: Connections to the Paths Ahead.” Phi Kappa Phi Forum. Vol. 87, No. 1: 3-7.
II. Current Realities in Higher Education When conceptualizing the university environment it is easy to fixate upon an idealized and antiquated notion of academic life. However, the observations that Dr. Small reported in her research mirror those of several other higher education scholars2 who also find the modern university environment bears little resemblance to these ideals in several key areas.
Student Community Fragmentation: Despite the best efforts of student affairs professionals, the sheer variety of options within both the academic and social realms creates, rather than resolves, the problem of a missing connection to the larger cultural community of the institution and actually facilitates the development of smaller social networks of two to six homogeneous persons (generally similar in age, ethnicity, class and nationality) who are connected in real and virtual space and time.3
Multiple Pressures and Time Management: The average student today has to juggle a much greater burden of external responsibility than those of previous decades. Not only is there more competition for academic resources because of the sheer growth of the average university student body,4 but because of certain
Wilding, John and Bernice Andrews. 2006. “Life goals, approaches to study and performance in an undergraduate cohort.” British Journal of Educational Psychology. Vol. 76: 171-182. Accessed online: May 2007. www.bpsjournals.co.uk Tasker, Mary and David Packham. June 1994. “Changing Cultures? Government Intervention in Higher Education.” British Journal of Educational Studies. Vol. XXXXII, No. 2: 150-164. Accessed: May 2007. http://links.jstor.org/sici? sici=00071005%28199406%2942%3A2%3C150%3ACCGIIH%3E2.0.CO%3B2-A 3 Smith, p. 4. 4 Breland, Hunter et al. March 2002. Trends in College Admission 2000: A Report of a Survey of Undergraduate Admissions Policies, Practices and Procedures.
demographic and policy trends outlined below, part- and full-time employment is increasingly a necessary component of the college experience. These multiple time demands force students to be practical and efficient in the scheduling of their courses, rather than concerned with the content or relevance of the courses in which they are enrolled.5
Academic versus Real World: There is also a disconnect between the perceived relevance of the content of the academic curriculum and the students’ understanding of the implications and applications outside the classroom and students report they are more likely to value and remember those courses that were connected to ‘real world’ applications.6 This poses further problems, as employers are increasingly frustrated with degree holders who don’t have the capabilities of deeper analysis and interpretation that are expected to come from a university education.7 These contextual realities of the modern university system have developed
because of (and sometimes in spite of) changes in other factors within student populations and institutional structures and policies. These commonly understood factors underlie the disconnection between the institutional learning practices and the students outlined above. Certainly the change in the demographics of the student population has had a significant impact. In addition to the significant increase in overall student enrollment in post-secondary institutions (between 1970 and 1996: 66% increase in Produced jointly by ACT, Inc., Association for Institutional Research, The College Board, Educational Testing Service, and National Association for College Admission Counseling. Accessed online: May 2007. http://airweb.org/images/trendsreport.pdf 5 Smith, p. 5. 6 Smith, p. 6 7 Wilding, et al.
higher education enrollments),8 there is also a prominent shift in the general student populations within institutions of higher learning in the United States across various demographic measures. These demographic changes highlight larger issues in the US educational system and political philosophies for which these tertiary educational institutions have had to increasingly attempt to accommodate.
Age. While the majority of students entering colleges and universities are entering as freshman subsequent to their senior year of high school, since the 1970’s there has been an increasing enrollment of ‘non-traditional’ students (generally understood as age 25 or older9) in post-secondary educational institutions. The burdens and demands placed on older students are quite different from the traditional 18-22 year old who typically doesn’t have domestic, financial and other commitments that conflict with current post-secondary institutional structures.10
Gender. There also has been a marked shift in gender representation in higher education. In 1970, 59% of students were male and by 1996, that number had dropped significantly to 44% of the total student enrollment. There is also a shift across the type of post-secondary institution, as more women are increasingly
Karen, David. July 2002. “Changes in Access to Higher Education in the United States: 1980-1992.” Sociology of Education. Vol. 75, No. 3: 191-210. Accessed via ERIC: May 2007. 9 The definition of a ‘mature’ or ‘adult’ student has varied over the years and has not been uniformly applied across institutions. Some include undergraduate students as young as age 21, and graduate students aged 25 or older in these non-traditional populations. (Richardson et al., p. 65) 10 Richardson, T.E. and Estelle King. January-February 1998. “Adult Students in Higher Education: Burden or Boon?” The Journal of Higher Education. Vol. 69, No. 1: 65-88. Accessed via ERIC: May 2007.
enrolled in 4-year institutions versus 2-year institutions at the post-secondary level, though women are still less likely to attend more selective schools.11
Race/Ethnicity. Increasingly there are more minority groups represented in the student populations. Significant shifts are occurring in Black and Hispanic/Latino populations within both 2- and 4-year institutions; the traditional student aged population (consisting of both Black and Hispanic groups) is expected to increase from 20% in 1985 to 39% by 2020.12 Further compounding this issue is the average lower income, socio-economic status and quality of secondary educational opportunities within these specific groups.13
Employment. Additionally, students entering tertiary education increasingly have jobs that compete with time previously reserved for university-related activities (whether academic or social in nature). While there is a wide variance across measured populations, there are some startling realities. Though a “weekly average of 14.2 hours during term-time [was reported by one study], 6% of working students were undertaking more than 25 hours a week; [another study] identified a weekly average of 15 hours, with 30% of students working 20 hours per week or more.”14 This issue is further compounded when looking across social classes: 17% of student with professional parents work during term-time
Karen. 2002. Castle, Evangeline McConnell. October 1993. “Minority Student Attrition Research: Higher Education’s Challenge for Human Resource Development.” Educational Researcher. Vol. 22, No. 7: 24-30. Accessed via ERIC: May 2007. 13 Allen, Walter R. and Angie Y. Chung. November 2000. “Your Blues Ain’t Like My Blues: Race, Ethnicity and Social Inequity in America.” Contemporary Sociology. Vol. 29, No. 6: 796-805. Accessed via ERIC: May 2007. 14 Moreau, Marie-Pierre and Carole Leathwood. February 2006. “Balancing paid work and studies: working (-class) students in higher education.” Studies in Higher Education. Vol. 31, No. 1: 23-42; p. 24. Accessed via ERIC: May 2007.
versus 50% of those with parents from blue-collar backgrounds, and variances in hourly wage rates fall along similar patterns.15 In addition to these changes amongst student subgroups, there is a change in terms of how social and cultural experiences are now developed and perpetuated within and across the university environment itself through its various admissions, enrollment and student support systems. There are some calling the current state of post-secondary education a ‘crisis,’16 and believing that the complexities of the new environmental demands placed upon modern universities challenge the previously held notions of work and organization, as well as requiring new cultural practices and perspectives that can balance the various roles it that it now expected to assume. There are three main issues at work here that help to define these complexities: increasing market pressure, policy and practice, and defining a distinct identity.
Market Pressure. There is an increased demand for higher-level education not just in the US, but globally. This change in demand has also caused an increase in the overall affordability of the institutional offerings and places additional demands upon students who are expecting to counteract lower salary growth rates, and higher unemployment rates.17
Policy and Practice. The current post-secondary practices (both public and private) with regard to recruitment, admission and retention (student support)
Ibid, p. 24-25. Considine, Mark. 2006. “Theorizing the University as a Cultural System: Distinctions, Identities, Emergencies.” Educational Theory. Vol. 56, No. 3: 255-270. Accessed via ERIC: May 2007. 17 Sadlak, Jan. May 1978. “Efficiency in Higher Education: Concepts and Problems.” Higher Education. Vol. 7, No. 2: 213-220. Accessed: May 2007. http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=00181560%28197805%297%3A2%3C213%3AEIHECA%3E2.0.CO%3B2-P
have demonstrated very little variation over the 30-year period between 1979 and 1999 (i.e., high school GPA, admissions tests, high school courses, letter, essays and achievement tests).18 There has also been a trend within institutions to reduce financial aid to many different qualifying groups, such as to athletes, racial/ethnic minorities, and academic talent and only a small number (4%, all private institutions) consider financial aid a factor for admission.19
Distinct Identity. It is argued that “the identity of all social institutions resides in their selectivity” and that universities have now “become sites where everyone must at some point think about everything…scholarly demands are now infused with managerial values and goals, pedagogical actions are now dominated by organizational imperatives and the life of the student is increasingly intersected by the priorities of work, finance and future returns.”20 It is further noted that this identity shift is deeper than simply a change in environment, but rather has become increasingly imbedded in the culture that the university systems establish and encourage.21
III. Does All This Merit Change? In reviewing the literature, there are some significant arguments for institutional change to be made. Various authors suggest various methods to overcome some of the challenges brought about by the previously outlined factors. Many encourage increased reciprocity among students and between students and faculty to promote active learning and prompt feedback, which can be important factors in enhancing student motivation
Breland, Hunter et al. Ibid, p. 9. 20 Considine, p. 258. 21 Ibid, p. 257-261.
and involvement in the academic environment.22 It is further suggested that the integration of academic and social life would require substantial shifts in the relationships between the faculty and the institutional professionals to work with the way students form communities within university life and in consideration of the demographic and contextual variances that arise within those communities.23 However, there are also the voices of dissent; those who would ask why would you not want to make changes to the institution? Some academics would argue that the premise of post-secondary educational ‘crisis’ was itself absurd and overblown in a review of postwar literature. While not denying the internal and external stresses that higher education has withstood, it would be unreasonable to assume that some growing pains wouldn’t occur with such considerable, but incremental, “economic, social and technological change” since the Second World War.24 Others would argue that these changes are thwarting the scholarly intent of the higher learning institution through various organizational changes that deconstruct the central elements of the system: the shift in hiring faculty based “not so much [on] the fruits of scholarly learning and research but rather the fruits of their experience in working environments,”25 “the expansion of alternative schedules (part-time, distance learning) not only “compound the
Chickering, Arthur W. and Zelda F. Gamson. March 1987. “Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education.” AAHE Bulletin: 1-7; Smith, p. 7. Accessed online: May 2007. http://learningcommons.evergreen.edu/pdf/fall1987.pdf 23 Smith, p. 7. 24 Tight, Malcolm. December 1994. “Crisis, What Crisis? Rhetoric and Reality in Higher Education.” British Journal of Educational Studies. Vol. XXXXII, No. 4: 363376; p. 363-364. Accessed: May 2007. http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=00071005%28199412%2942%3A4%3C363%3ACWCRAR%3E2.0.CO%3B2-H 25 Bridges, David. “The Practice of Higher Education: In Pursuit of Excellence and of Equity.” Educational Theory. Vol. 56, No. 4: 371-387; p. 375. Accessed via ERIC: May 2007.
problem of holding the staff…together as a fact to face interactive community… but traditional higher education requires sustained (authors own italics) study and attention” that become disrupted with these non-traditional formats.26 VI. Conclusion: Areas of Future Research In establishing the appropriate research methodology, it is first important to establish which policy orientation is preferable. Policy makers who believe that the scholastic and academic nature of the institutional framework are at risk would do better to focus on primary and secondary education policy approaches as well as socioeconomic factors that would ensure that students were academically, culturally and financially prepared for the rigorous and demanding schedule of the post-secondary educational environment. However, there is an established lack of connection between K12 and higher education that is rooted in US educational policy and which doesn’t readily allow collaboration or consistent standards.27 While that methodology might be institutionally improbably for a single university to undertake, there are applicable variables and research that could be applied to better enable a university to encourage proper pre-enrollment preparation. Surveys and observations of high school students during the recruiting processes could be implemented, and feedback given to secondary administrators regarding the overall perceived preparedness of the student populations with regard to admissions criteria: grades, essay, standardized tests, admissions examinations and suggested college preparatory course work. Data could also be collected with regard to age, gender, socio26 27
Ibid, p. 376. Kirst, Michael and Andrea Venezia. September 2001. “Bridging the Great Divide Between Secondary Schools and Postsecondary Education.” Phi Delta Kappan. Vol. 83, No. 1: 92-98. Accessed via ERIC: May 2007.
economic status, race/ethnicity, and geographic area and compared to access to collegepreparatory courses, access to student advising services, (in)consistencies in format and content of standardized assessment tests, in order to compare and evaluate current institutional needs in managing these issues.28 However, given that the majority of these problems traditionally lie outside the scope of influence of the university, there is little that this research could provide in terms of prescriptive treatment, and would primarily be useful in evaluating the effectiveness of current institutional practices in dealing with these changing demographic factors. In looking towards the other possible policy direction – towards significant institutional change – post-secondary institutions have a much greater potential for proactive and beneficial action. Statistical data, collected through surveys or observation, regarding age, gender, race/ethnicity, socio-economic status, living on or off campus, married/single, employment status and part-time or full-time enrollment could be compared to more qualitative data and feedback regarding the institutional structure, culture and connectivity. Several comprehensive survey models already exist for this use, providing both qualitative and quantitative data across a variety of variables, and could easily be adapted for specific institutional use.29
Ibid. Borden, Victor M. H. and Jody L. Zak Owens. 2001. “ Measuring Quality: Choosing Among Surveys and Other Assessments of College Quality.” Produced by American Council on Education, Center for Policy Analysis: Washington, DC and Association for Institutional Research: Tallahassee, FL. Accessed online: May 2007. http://www.airweb.org/images/measurequality.pdf