Inclusive Excellence: The Prologue – Revisited
Universities are Businesses:
Universities are businesses. They are in the business of selling both their college name (Harvard, Brown, Columbia) and what may accrue from having had an educational experience at their institution. Universities are recognized for their area of expertise – or projected area of expertise. We can all agree that it is easier to sell a degree in some aspect of Technology from MIT than a similar one from Florida State. Conversely, it is easier to sell an experience as a four-year starter on the basketball team at Florida than it is from MIT. Universities make their names and sell on the strength of those names. This is not unlike any popular brand of shoe or restaurant.
The best advertisements for a type of car are the consumer reports. Ask the people who drive them or have driven them.
The best advertisements for a restaurant are the consumer reports. Ask the people who frequent there or have frequented that restaurant.
Similarly, the best advertisements for a university are the consumer reports. Ask the students who attend there or ask the alumni.
There is a popular listing called the “Who’s Who” on which a number of universities are prominently displayed. Universities are judged on the number of alumni they have listed in the Who’s Who of American life. There can be a Who’s Who of prominent athletes or entertainers, academicians, or top 500 company executives. This is, rightfully, part of the selling tool for any university. That you can identify a number of people in the Who’s Who of American life, suggests to your recruits that they have a better than average potential of finding themselves in this rarest of groups. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education (1996) identified Harvard as number one with a total listing of 17, 428. Columbia ranked second with a listing of 12,159 citations. Northwestern University with its 5,591 citations ranks third.
If listing in the “Who’s Who” of American life is a selling tool, if the size of your endowment is a selling tool, if the dominance of your football of basketball team is a selling tool, if touting the beauty of your campus is a selling tool: if all of these things are selling tools – then let us be very clear that “Education is a product to be marketed and universities are in the business of selling the promise of an educative experience.”
Not everyone who purchases a product will be satisfied with either the product itself and/or his/her experience with purchasing that product. Not everyone gives good reviews. Not everyone who goes to a restaurant is satisfied with either the food or the treatment. Similarly, not everyone who attends a certain college or university will be satisfied with his/her experience. However, we probably would agree that any place of business (other than congress) with a forty, fifty, or sixty percent-satisfactory rating would not survive very long. In a recent study (Felice, 2010) a number of African American and White students attending a PWI were surveyed about their connection to the university.
- Sixty-seven percent (67%) of White respondents indicated that they wore their school colors around campus. This compared with 21% of Black students.
- Seventy-two percent (72%) of White respondents identified themselves as “A (insert school mascot name) through and through.” Twenty-five percent (25%) of Black students identified closely with their school.
- Ninety-seven percent (97%) of White respondents described themselves as “very connected to the University.” This compared with 62% of Black students.
- Of great interest was that 14% of White students identified themselves as first-generation whereas 55% of Black students suggested that they were.
Determining the level of connectedness to campus between first and second-generation African American students may be of interest. We may also wish to ascertain the levels of connectedness perceived by African American students at HBCUs versus African American students at PWIs.
How then do colleges and universities with African American and Latino retention rates in the forty, fifty, or sixty percent range survive? The answer is that colleges and universities are businesses. African Americans and Latinos are not a market that challenges the success of that business. In other words, there is no appreciable loss of income to accrue because of the low retention rates. There are also no external regulatory bodies that hold these schools accountable. Higher education is a business. The rules of business must apply.
Before any new product is brought to market, a need is determined and target population is identified. The product is then thoroughly researched and piloted within that target population. Products are only sold within viable markets. If there is no target population, or if the target population is too small to sustain a viable business, the product will not be sold within that market. For example; there are certain television channels and programs within the New York market that do not exist in Wisconsin. In a recent study of 88 Dish channels in Madison Wisconsin, (Felice, 2009) only 10 (11.4%) had any identifiable African Americans either in program or advertisement.
If the market exists and there is market demand, the product will come. The evidence of a market and the potential for financial gain (given investment) will bring the product to market. There is no need to create a product or sustain a market if there is no potential for financial reward.
Forbes magazine has identified Madison, Wisconsin as “second in the nation in overall education.” Madison, Wisconsin is well known as a college town. It would be wise, therefore, to consider bringing the business of education to Madison, Wisconsin. A brief review of colleges or universities either situated of holding a branch in Madison reveals – The University of Wisconsin, Edgewood College, Madison College formerly MATC, Madison Media Institute, Herzing University, Cardinal Stritch, Concordia University-Madison, Globe University, Lakeland University, Upper Iowa University, and the University of Phoenix. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madison,_Wisconsin#Education). Despite having one of the ten largest public universities in the country, these other businesses survive. If there is a viable market, the product will be brought.
However, there must also be the potential for financial loss if the product is sub-standard. Without that leverage (potential for financial loss) there will be no motivation for change…regardless of title.
If there is to be any fundamental change in the marketing of education to any particular population, you must first demonstrate to the university how that shift is in its best financial interest, or lack of shift will cost. These are ultimately financial decisions that balance on costs-benefits analyses.
A Shift in Rhetoric:
We have seen a shift, over time, from the rhetoric of Multiculturalism to one of Diversity, to our most recent alliteration – Inclusive Excellence. We must recognize that the success of this movement hinges on our ability to demonstrate to our university how this investment makes financial sense to them.
Williams & Wade-Golden (2008) offer a brilliant chronicle of the development of what they describe as the “three related diversity systems” through the Affirmative Action and Equity model, the Multiculturalism and Inclusion model, to the Learning and Diversity model. (Please see Williams & Wade-Golden – 2008 for greater explication of the models.) What strikes me is that despite the shift in rhetoric and the increased attention given to different populations, African American and Latino students continue to be so terribly outpaced relative to their ability to successfully matriculate through a higher education program. These students continue to be woefully behind in graduation rates at most major institutions of higher learning. Despite the terms we use, therefore, the interventions must be targeted to the unique challenges faced by each population. Consider the training regimen of a professional football athlete. You won’t train a tight-end the same way you prepare a running back, or a wide receiver. Similarly, as much as we recognize that there are similarities in the discrepancies that each population faces relative to access and/or success, each must be identified individually and the targeted intervention must be particular to that population or sub-set of that population.
We now have a new rhetoric of Inclusive Excellence (IE). What does that mean? How is this new or newly minted effort not pre-destined to the same poor fate of all the other wonderfully titled models? And what does this have to do with a university being a business?
Over the past twenty years, the concept of Affirmative Action has been successfully marketed and sold (to all of us) on the pretext that one particular group (African Americans) was getting a leg-up…an unfair advantage on the competition. It has been suggested that these students were not competent and were given the space of some more readied White student. This is far from the truth. But the rhetoric of Affirmative Action overcame the reality of it. Eventually, the rhetoric became the reality. Over the past two decades we have witnessed the dismantling to Affirmative Action to the point that the term is now rarely used.
This has had a very negative, yet lasting effect on the psyche of African American students at Predominantly White Institutions (PWI). The term Affirmative Action Baby has been coined and used in the pejorative to identify all African American students on certain predominantly white campuses. The effort to vilify and marginalize has been amazingly successful. Relatively recent court decisions (Gratz v. Bollinger, 2003; Grutter v. Bollinger, 2003; University of California v. Bakke, 1978) and propositions (Proposition 209, CA – 1996; Proposition 2, MI – 2006) have dramatically affected the number of African American applications to and students being accepted at a variety of institutions. Affirmative Action is a contentious issue that has affected the way many faculty, staff and students view African Americans on campus – and the way African Americans have come to view themselves and others like themselves.
In a recent study of forty-two (42) AA students on a PWI (Felice, 2010), students were asked if they agreed or disagreed with the following statement: “Many times I notice that Blacks do not acknowledge each other on campus. They walk past each other.” Thirty (30) of the 42 students agreed with the statement. Although no follow-up was asked, a number of students delayed long enough, seemingly with a need to expand.
One male student offered;
“It’s just two of us in the class…and he lives in my dorm. It’s as if he’s scared to acknowledge that he’s Black. Like they will take his grades or something. It happens all the time on this campus.”
Other students nodded, many of them sharing their own experiences.
It would seem that AA students have both internalized and projected the poison of Affirmative Action onto others like themselves. There seems to have been a strong inter- and intra-ethnic separation around the issue of Affirmative Action being played out on our predominantly white campuses. More research on the effect of Affirmative Action of the psyche of African American students on Predominantly White campuses is needed.
One would recall that the messages of many of our leaders who benefitted from Affirmative Action, and declared so, were either not advanced or summarily dismissed. Recall some of the rhetoric around the advancement of our newest Chief Justice, our current President and our current First Lady. (If you wish to read further on this issue please follow http://www.nationalcenter.org/AA.html.)
Given these challenges (University of Michigan, Berkeley, et cetera) we no longer speak loudly and aggressively of Affirmative Action, and have shifted our rhetoric to more inclusive language of Multiculturalism and Diversity.
The term Multiculturalism has held much better than Diversity. There is very little negative press on it, but it clearly has not advanced the academic progress of African Americans much more than would be expected with natural regression to the mean. It is clearly a popular term. There are currently Directors of Multicultural Centers, multicultural offices, multicultural dinners, multicultural classes, et cetera. The problem with Multiculturalism seems to be that it has been easily marginalized. You send students to that center in that office over in that building, or you have that one class that focuses on that one thing, or you have this one dedicated space on campus where all the multicultural student offices are housed. There seems to have been no attempt at integration or “inclusivity.” This, therefore, does not challenge the rest of the campus to participate other than to come to a dinner during Black History month, or to take a class in Women’s Studies or African American History or Counseling. These centers and dinners, classes and dances, provide an important outlet and opportunities for students and staff to recognize “other.” It has brought African American students in touch with African students, Hmong students, Latino students. It has offered greater opportunities to dialogue and share ideas and histories. It has played its safe role.
Diversity, on the other hand, has become that “catch-all” term that seems to identify any and all differences. A brief Google search for Diversity yields plant diversity, business diversity, bio diversity, jurisdiction diversity, planet diversity, animal diversity, insect diversity, seed diversity, fauna diversity, and dance diversity among many many others. Whereas diversity was meant to capture the process of becoming more inclusive, it has become a “catch all” term for any- and everything.
The term “Inclusive” attempts to bring everyone into the conversation. It is similar to “multiculturalism” but more expansive…more inviting of ethnic, social, and cultural difference. It expands to recognize gender, sexual identity and learning differences. It is a brilliant “catch-all” phrase which, conversely, can be used to select and de-select.
I will use an analogy to explain the challenge we have with the concept of “inclusivity.” Think that you visited your favorite farmers’ market and purchased a variety of beans to make a beautiful soup later that day. What you have brought into your kitchens are different beans that cook at different temperatures. Putting them all into the same pot at the same time is a wonderful idea, except that some of your beans will not be ready while others will probably have melted into the soup. Creating a wonderfully inclusive soup or frappe with all these wondrous beans would be tremendous – but we would have to pre-prepare some of them first. This is the same with the concept of “inclusivity” when attached to dealing with students. We have enough evidence to tell us that certain populations are, on average, more readied than others to engage fully in the process of higher education. If all are put at the starting line and left to fend for themselves, many will remain uncooked. We have the data. It is compelling.
The concept of “excellence” suggests that we are not compromising the academic integrity of our institution for anybody: And we must not. As with the analogy of the beans in the pot, this suggests that we must pre-prepare our students to engage fully in the experience of “inclusive excellence.” We have four (4) choices available to us.
- Make different types of soup in separate pots. Just buy one type of bean and make that soup.
- Put all the beans in one pot. Who cooks will cook. Who does not, will not.
- Pre-select your beans. There may be some of these beans that have the potential to cook closer to each other. This way we get the flavors of each bean.
- Pre-prepare your beans. Have some readying while the others are in your slow-cooker.
- Make better selections – where and from whom you purchase your beans.
- Get into the business of planting your own beans. Create your own farm.
Let me quickly move these from beans and pots and make your choices relevant to our students’ success.
- Define your college or university clearly and be very particularly about the type of student you want in your school.
- Bring students in on any pretext and make as much money as you can. They succeed, you take credit. They fail you blame them, their upbringing, the government, the school district…anyone who would sit long enough for you to tag them with the responsibility.
- Be more selective with your students. If you want inclusivity and you want excellence then (a) establish the profile of a student who will be successful in your environment, (b) know that you want difference…that you are seeking difference, and (c) go search for that student. You know that success is not simply academic. Go search for that student.
- This is like the PEOPLE program and the Posse program and TRIO and all those other programs that aim to ready first-generation students for higher education. These students need particular support. Put the supports in place, clearly identify the students, place them in the programs, and ensure that they use them. Appropriate use must be one of the conditions toward retention.
- Search the country for schools that do a great in preparing first-generation science students, or ethnic minority math students. These school and school districts exist. Find them. Partner with them. Use your leverage. Use your name…if you have one.
- Start a private school for ethnic and social minority and first-generation kids. Create your own farm!
I opened with the comment that “universities are businesses.” I would strongly advise that you take that to heart. There are monies to be made, financial supporters to keep calm, and wallets to pry open. If you want a university to purchase the concept of Inclusive Excellence, not simply as another initiative or a fancy looking letter opener, demonstrate to the university how the business of inclusive excellence will benefit them financially.
The question is, “How do we marry a socio-cultural perspective with a business-marketing model?”
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