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Posts Tagged ‘Success’

AA Success

The social and academic success of African American (AA) students within our current educational system continues to be an elusive goal. Social success deals with the idea of being wanted in the environment – the belief that you actually matter.  Academic success is the A, B, Cs – the appropriate matriculation through the system.  In any environment, the academic and social should be closely partnered. There is a convincing positive correlation between social engagement and academic success for all students.  This suggests that students who feel comfortably accepted in their environment tend to perform better academically. 

There is huge difference between being comfortably accepted and attempting to be accepted, or attempting to belong.  Current data demonstrates that AA students who aggressively “attempt to belong” show lower levels of academic success than those who do not.  It would suggest therefore, that part of ethnic minority student lack of success may lie in the amount of energy focused toward the polar opposites of engagement or disengagement from the social environment to the predominantly white institution (PWI).  Notice, I am not talking about the act of engagement or non-engagement, but the amount of energy employed in the process…energy that may be better spend on academic pursuits. Students who actively and aggressively alienate themselves from the predominantly white environment as well as those who try to fully engage seem to be less successful than those negotiate between those two poles.  

Many reasons have been put forward as part-explanations for the high drop-out/stop-out rates of AAs at PWIs.  These include financial insolvency, feelings of marginalization, low academic preparedness, coming from single-parent or broken homes, et cetera.  It is also true that despite these challenges, many AA students are successful.  The question, from a strengths-perspective becomes; “What factors can be identified as responsible for success in this population?”

Felice (2006) interviewed 10 first-generation, sophomore, AA male students at a Midwestern PWI, to determine the skills that each indentified as responsible for his success.  Students were interviewed independently.  Themes were then drawn from each interview and collapsed.

Results indicated that successful male AA students;

  1.  found/created social enclaves within the environment of the university,
  2. only engaged with the university to get specific needs satisfied,
  3. retained very close ties with their home environment (parents and/or friends),
  4. suggested that they saw themselves as representatives of friends, family, or cultural group that did not have that opportunity, and
  5. were committed to a sense of deferred gratification – each was going through current discomfort for a better tomorrow.  

The creation of social enclaves and the strong retention of ties to home and family, run counter to Tinto’s (1997) assertion that students who transition successfully invest time and energy in attempting to assimilate into the larger culture.  Successful AA students find a safe space.

This study does not reject Tinto’s findings.  It simply suggests that this may not be the process for successful AA students at PWIs.  If AA students do not see the potential for reward in their efforts to engage they would, quite justifiably, find spaces of emotional security until better could be done. We may, therefore, consider creating the environment for the development of these social enclaves.

In another study looking at AA versus White students’ feelings of connection to the university, Felice (2009) found that;

  1. 51% of White students interviewed indicated that they attend sporting and other University events versus 8.8% of Black students
  2. 67% of White students indicated that they wear their school colors around campus versus 21% of Black students
  3. 97% of White students felt themselves very connected to the University versus 62% of Black students, and
  4. 72% of White students identified themselves as a (mascot name placed here) through and through versus 25% of Black students.

It is interesting to note that despite feelings of disconnect, 40% of Black respondents suggested that they would consider giving money back to the University versus 49% of White.  Additionally, of the population interviewed, only 14% of White students identified themselves as first-generation versus 55% of Black students. This is of particular interest because a very different posture must be taken in engaging first generation students versus second-generation students – despite ethnicity.

Readiness for Academic Engagement:

There is also the concept of readiness for academic engagement – and the social culture that that perception breeds on campus. 

It is true that many of our AA students do not enter colleges and universities with the necessary level academic skill acquisition and academic competence as determined by the accepting institution. 

  1. This is many.  This is not all.  Many and all are two very different words, and as there is no way to identify the difference within the institution it raises everybody’s anxiety.
  2. This is also very true of many white students.  Yet it is not accompanied by the anxiety of the null hypothesis.
  3. Although the numbers of under-academically prepared white students is probably much higher than Black students, the percentages are much lower.  For example: If we have twenty out of one-hundred AA students under-prepared (20%), that is a much higher percentage than the three hundred out of ten thousand white students (3%). 
  4. This truth and perception leads to inter- and intra-anxiety amongst AA students and how they perceive themselves to be perceived by whites and each other. You begin to observe these students separating “themselves from themselves” on campus.  There is a lack of acknowledgement of each other in classes and on campus.

This separation of self from self is what I call the “Affirmative Action baby” syndrome.  It seems as if AA students, particularly males, are saying to themselves: “I am not an Affirmative Action baby.  You may be.” This area needs more research.

Notice we are talking about the emotional anxiety around the perception of academic preparedness.  The question therefore is “How do we shift that perception?” Given that perceptions are very well defended (stubborn), our positive changes must be aggressively marketed.

Demanding a Better Product…or Else:

Last time I checked, academic readiness for full inclusion into our environment was the forte of the high schools.  It is from these high schools that we draw our product. If the quality of the product is not as we would wish, we have four options.

  1. We accept the product.  Once we accept the product, knowing that it has deficits, it is our responsibility to fill those gaps. We have accepted the responsibility.
  2. We demand a better product from our wholesalers.  We do have the choice here of engaging in the preparation of the product, relative to our needs.
  3. We expand our recruiting umbrella.  In this instance, we search-out and create relationships with competing wholesalers. We no longer offer our current wholesalers the comfort of sending us sub-quality products.
  4. We establish our own wholesale producers.  In this instance, we actually establish a high school which meets the requirements for full inclusion into our environment.    

Inclusive Excellence:

The question becomes: “How do we attain a sense of inclusivity while retaining academic excellence?”  This will be the topic of another piece.

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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? 

Affirmative Action:

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.   

Multiculturalism:

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:

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. 

Inclusive Excellence:

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.

  1. Make different types of soup in separate pots.  Just buy one type of bean and make that soup.
  2. Put all the beans in one pot.  Who cooks will cook.  Who does not, will not.
  3. 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.
  4. Pre-prepare your beans.  Have some readying while the others are in your slow-cooker.
  5. Make better selections – where and from whom you purchase your beans.   
  6. 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. 

  1.  Define your college or university clearly and be very particularly about the type of student you want in your school.
  2. 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.
  3. 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. 
  4. 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. 
  5. 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. 
  6. Start a private school for ethnic and social minority and first-generation kids.   Create your own farm! 

Closing Comments:

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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I was recently re-reading a piece by Williams & Leonard (1988) on graduating Black undergraduates.  It is interesting that we, 21 years on,  are still struggling mightily with this issue – whereas some schools like Stanford (84%) and Northwestern (75%) seem to have it all figured out.  I’ve chosen those two schools because (a) Northwestern has a comparable percentage, and (b) Stanford has much higher numbers of African American students that we.  Harvard’s success rate is in the mid-nineties, but they have such smaller numbers of African American students than we do.  

The authors note that “The problem of retention of Blacks seems no longer to be solely a question of retention but, rather, of academic progress toward graduation in their major fields of study.” A review of the most recent data within our System gives signature to this challenge.  African American and Latino students are more likely to require remediation in requisite math and courses, and are more likely to be unsuccessful at these remediation efforts (see UW-Oshkosh Equity Scorecard data).  On face value the fact that I am citing a twenty-one year old paper and we seem to be stuck in neutral should give us pause.  However, know that Williams & Leonard probably did not use our schools as their data profile.  Our schools may not, at that time, have moved to the state of acknowledging this as a challenge.  Our recognition may be more recent.  Our need to recognize may be more recent.  In fact, there are many school districts in Wisconsin where there are no African American students.  For the vast majority of my academic career, I was the only student of color in my classes.  That’s my excuse and I’m sticking with it.

However, that we are now fully aware and have been for some time, offers three points of review.

  1. It is as we would like it to be.  We argue, we feign concern, and we do the dance only insomuch as the cameras are on.  There is a benefit, to us, in both the dance and the retention of status.
  2. If the challenge is truly the gateway courses, as has been suggested for a subset of our population, then a critical review of the need for those “gateway” courses might be in order.  If they lend nothing substantial to the degree, other than being a gate, then move the gate.  Put a bridge.
  3. With a remediation course, you are trying to move a student from point -5 to a point +2, using the former as a point of knowing very little or nothing, and the latter as a point of minimal academic readiness.   If we are unsuccessful at moving sufficient numbers of African American and Latino students from point “a” to point “b” (despite non-academic struggles) it suggests that those students have had poor readiness within the K-12 environment. 

As a point of discussion, I will reject #1, despite its very realness.  Number 1 is very, very real but if we find ourselves in a discussion about #1, we enter into an emotionally laden vortex with very few data points as landmarks to base our argument on.  Additionally, we want, at all costs, to avoid arguing.  We want to encourage discussion on and of the data.  It is hard to pull data on #1, so let’s put that aside for now.  However, if another twenty years passes and we are still sitting right here discussing the same issues, checkout #1.  Number 1 will be your default position.  Know also, that under any discussion around student recruitment, retention, and success lies an analysis of costs and benefits…the costs of doing something/nothing/very little, versus the benefits that may accrue to us for doing nothing/something/very little.  I am not denying the moral imperative here.  I am simply stating the fact that we have a university to run, a board to appease, and big donors to keep “happy.”  So as we present on preparing our students for tomorrow and the diverse world they will have to learn to navigate, never lose sight of the dollars and making some sense of it.

Moving on. 

#2:  Is there data to suggest that students who succeed at these gateway courses are statistically more likely to continue on to graduation?  In essence, is there something about the structure of these courses that offers us insight into the students’ ability to matriculate successfully?  Is there a high enough positive correlation between passing these courses and matriculation that we should hold status for everybody, despite field of study?  If the answer is an unequivocal “yes”, then let’s hold.  If the answer is “maybe”, let’s review.  Let’s see if there is another gate that’s possible.

#3:  This is about us putting pressure on, not just complaining about or just having meetings with, our K-12 feeders.  If we are their outlets of prestige, then we must take more control in product development.  There are three ways to take control of product development.  The first would be our participating in the schools (see PEOPLE program; see Posse program; see Information Technology Academy).  These programs need to be cleaned-up but that is the general idea.  The second is to start a charter school.  We compete directly with the school district.  Let them complain if they want.  We make our own feeder school.  After much complaining and chagrin, I promise they will magically begin to produce better products.  Works every time.  Even just the threat works.   The third is to search for schools, within and without our district which focuses on an area of technology or business that we want to promote ourselves in.  For example, if Whitewater focuses on business, and Stout focuses on fabric and design, then we locate schools that teach with those as central themes.  There may be a school in Florida, or North Carolina.  We make those schools our little sisters. 

Moving on #3 does a lot for us.  It actually affects #2 also.  It saves us investment while putting pressure on our current providers.  It markets us to a wider audience and moves us as the school-of-choice for business or technology or whatever we choose to focus on.  This way, we can choose diversity as a starting point, or develop diversity as the relationship develops.  We also move our graduation rates without all the drama we’re dealing with right now.

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