San Jacinto offers U.S. history for vets

San Jacinto College will offer a U.S. history course section exclusively for students who are military veterans.

Kearby Lyde, who specializes in military and diplomatic history, will teach the section of History 1302, which covers U.S. history from Reconstruction  through the 20th century. “I have found that my veteran students are, most often, more serious about their goals and their education,” said Lyde, who’s taught at the college for almost 40 years.

 “I think the difference between this course and others will be the veterans themselves and their shared military experiences. They will be able to relate to what their fathers and grandfathers went through, and will be able to look at events in a ‘big picture’ sort of way, finally seeing the long-term effects of decisions made 50 to 100 years ago.”

Veterans who are new to campus will “not feel so out of place” in an all-vet class, said Claudia Milton, a Navy veteran.

The college is providing opportunities for veteran students to build supportive networks, said Eugene Bernard, veteran success coordinator on the South Campus. Veteran students “have started taking classes together and forming study groups amongst themselves. This history course that is exclusively for veterans is a great opportunity for that camaraderie to be extended.”

It’s time for a smarter (and cheaper) sheepskin

High-tech start-ups are retooling college instruction, writes venture capitalist Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, in The New Republic. We need to “make certification faster, cheaper and more effective too,” he writes.

. . . a diploma is essentially a communications device that signals a person’s readiness for certain jobs.

But unfortunately it’s a dumb, static communication device with roots in the 12th century.

We need to . . .  turn it into a richer, updateable, more connected record of a person’s skills, expertise, and experience. And then we need to take that record and make it part of a fully networked certification platform.

There’s a lot more to college than earning a diploma, responds Michael Gibson, who works for the anti-college Thief Foundation, in Forbes. To lower the debt to party ratio, we need to consider “all the friendships formed at school, the esprit de campus, all the networks.” What about beer pong?

College consists of: the clock tower, the stadium, the frat/sorority house and the admissions office, Gibson writes.

Taken together this is like an awful cable TV package. To get HBO, you also need to pay high prices for all those unwatchable stations like the Hallmark Channel. The future of higher education will involve unbundling this package and offering cheaper, higher quality substitutes.

The clock tower represents the amount of time spent studying a subject.

 Classes are measured in hours per week; exams are given in hour length chunks; and students need some requisite number of hours in any subject to signal mastery. It is remarkable that we still use the hour as a substitute measure for learning to this day.

. . .  we are on the cusp of having the technology to unbundle and decentralize this piece of the college puzzle. Coursera, Udacity, and other massively open online courses are only getting started in their effort to demolish the clock tower and provide the customized certification Reid Hoffman describes. What the fireplace, another medieval invention, is to the cold, the clock tower is to learning: proximity used to matter. And now it doesn’t. Central heating is better.

The stadium represents the tribal experience, which is very important to alumni. The frat house represents the friendships that lead to future networking. The admissions office confers status. These will be harder to replace than the clock tower, writes Gibson.

In the near future, the residential college experience will become a luxury item, I predict. Most people will decide it makes more sense to hang out with their friends, play beer pong, root for a professional football team and earn a low-cost career credential.

College readiness isn’t just academic

Reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic skills aren’t the only thing students need to succeed in college, writes Jessica Pliska in the Huffington Post. For low-income students, college readiness must include coping skills.

Only ten percent of low-income students complete college, a staggering statistic that becomes even more compelling when one notes that, today, fully 55 percent of low-income students start college. As a nation we have expanded access to college for more students than ever, a tremendous accomplishment. However, we have failed at making sure they can graduate.

Low-income, first-generation students need three key skills to survive the challenges of college, Pliska writes.

Self advocacy is critical.

Imagine you are the first in your family to attend college. The bursar calls and says your financial aid hasn’t arrived so you can’t register for classes; you miss three weeks of class waiting for the check. . . . Students need to develop the confidence and communication skills to set up meetings, advocate for their right to attend class and resolve the situation expediently rather than waiting for it to resolve itself.

Downtown College Prep, a San Jose charter school for the children of Mexican immigrant families, employs a counselor to help graduates cope with financial aid delays and registration mix-ups that might derail their progress. (Here’s more on the school.) After studying graduates’ college challenges, the school published I Am The First, which analyzes the factors that influence college success for low-income, first-generation college students.

Money management is another key skill, writes Pliska.

. . . your study group is meeting at a local café, but you don’t have $5 for a cup of coffee. Students need to know how to build and manage their own budgets, but they also need to learn how to manage all of the social situations on campus in which money matters.

One of my college roommates had no family support (she was an orphan) and almost no money.  Her scholarship included a book allowance. If she didn’t buy a textbook, she could go out for pizza with us. We changed the way we socialized so she could be one of the gang without blowing her book budget.

Successful students — and graduates — know how to build networks.

Every college student needs a robust network that includes peers who can lend emotional support through all-night study sessions; professors and faculty advisors who can help navigate the university bureaucracy, and career-oriented contacts who can help put in place the stepping stones to post-college employment. Low-income and first generation students find the network building process particularly unfamiliar and intimidating. They need training and practice in order to cultivate relationships with professionals.

“These skills are teachable,” Pliska writes.  “For first generation, low-income students they can make the difference between a diploma and a dropout.”

San Jacinto expands Men of Honor

Houston’s San Jacinto College is expanding its Men of Honor program, which provides mentoring, networking and counseling for African-American males.

The college was shocked to learn that only 8 percent of black male students returned for a second semester. Since Men of Honor started four years ago, passing and retention rates have improved for participants.

June 2013-Men of Honor

Aaron Moore earned an associate degree in air conditioning technology. Photo credit: Rob Vanya

Once a gang member “running the streets, using and selling drugs,” Aaron Moore decided in prison to change his life. After his parole, he enrolled at San Jacinto and discovered Men of Honor. “I found mentors, and began to follow their good examples,” he said. “I also shared experiences, hopes, and plans with fellow Men of Honor members. We learned from each others’ experiences, and we would check on each other for accountability.”

Moore hopes to run his own air-conditioning business. He earned an associate degree in air conditioning technology in May and plans to study business at the University of Houston.

Not everyone wants a cheap, no-frills degree

Higher education’s financial squeeze will worsen, predicts a Moody’s report. All the traditional revenue sources — tuition, state and federal funding, endowments and philanthropy — are under pressure.

The end is not nigh for U.S. colleges and universities, argues Robert J. Sternberg, provost and professor of psychology and education at Oklahoma State, in the Chronicle of Higher Ed.

Some people want the cheapest education possible that will get them the job they want. Others want much more: nice dormitories, diverse student activities, world-famous professors, top-flight institutional reputation—and are willing to pay for it. An advantage of the higher-education market is that financial aid is often available to help students reach beyond what they normally could afford.

Second, students are not merely consumers of higher education; they also actively construct their college careers. They develop a plan for their coursework, their project work, their extracurricular activities, and their social network.

. . .  two students going to the same college may produce entirely different educations.

Top German universities charge much less than comparable U.S. universities but offer no “university-sponsored athletic teams or facilities, fraternities, sororities, student clubs, dormitories, meal plans, or other accouterments,”  Sternberg writes. If German students want activities, they organize and pay for them.

American universities can reduce costs by greatly lowering their overhead, as do the German universities, or by having professors do some or even all of their teaching online. What students may lose, however, is much, or even most, of the informal curriculum of college—the networking and the face-to-face personal interactions that many people feel are so important to the college experience.

Some will choose a cheap, no-frills college degree, but others will pay more for an academic-and-social degree, Sternberg suggests.

Community college students forego nearly all the frills, using far less student aid than those who opt for “the college experience.” Should taxpayers be asked for fund students’ social life?

Connect to succeed

“Drive-through education” — go to class, then go home — won’t lead to a degree, writes Isa Adney in Community College Success. Connecting to classmates and professors, building a network of friends and mentors, is the key to success.

That’s not easy for a first-generation student, as I write in U.S. News.

“I had a lot of fear” in the first semester, Adney says. “Professors are incredibly intimidating. They’re up there. They know all this stuff.”

When a professor wrote “see me” on her paper, she was terrified. It turned out he wanted to tell her about the honors program.

First-generation community college students may not understand their instructors’ expectations, concludes Rebecca Cox, a Seton Hall education professor, in The College Fear Factor: How Students and Professors Misunderstand One Another. Students in introductory classes told Cox they feared being exposed “as too stupid for college classes” if they spoke up in class or asked for help.

“Everyone’s scared” at first, Adney says. “It’s about the courage to take that first step.”

Once students connect with friends who’ll share information, they’re more likely to feel at home on campus and stay in school, researchers have found.

Students also need to think through why they’re in college, so they can set goals and develop an education plan, Adney advises. Like driving through, wandering doesn’t work well.

Success can start at community college

On her first day of community college, Isa Adney cried, she writes in her new book, Community College Success.  She didn’t want to be at community college, but her parents couldn’t afford the private college of her dreams.  She felt “alone, dejected and lost.”  Adney cried at her graduation too, when the president announced she’d won a $110,000 Jack Kent Cooke scholarship to pay for her university education. She earned a bachelor’s degree and will complete a master’s in education this spring.  “The secret to success isn’t good fortune or a high IQ — it’s people,” she writes.

A student life adviser at Seminole State College — and a blogger — Adney offers nitty-gritty advice geared to first-generation college students. If you go to class and then go home, you won’t make it, Adney writes.  Join a club or a team. Form a study group. Create a network of friends who’ll support you when you’re struggling and help you enjoy the good times.

What I miss most about college is getting to be around those friends all day, every day. Embrace this time in your life and make the most of it. Not only will those connections lead you to job opportunities, they will also lead to self-discovery. . . . Choose your friends wisely and realize the people you choose to surround yourself with will have a tremendous impact on your life. Choose people who challenge you to be better.  Choose people who want to go far in their lives and who won’t let anything get in their way. Choose people who lift you up when you’re feeling down and will tudy with you, encourage you when you get a bad grade, and call you when you’re not in class … and have the courage to let go of the friends who don’t.

New students need to learn the “college language,”  Adney warns. The book offers specific advice on where to sit on the first day of class (front row) and how to behave (read the syllabus before asking questions, pay attention).  The second week is covered too and the rest of the term.

The book tells students how to use office hours:  Don’t wait till you’re failing to go in.  Talk to your professor — here’s how — even if you don’t need help. But “don’t suck up.”

Choose a major as soon as possible, she writes, but go with what you’re good at, not where you think the money is.  Reach out for help on where to transfer.  Some of your professors could turn into mentors. And get to know the administrative staff too.

Once you transfer, take the initiative to connect with students and faculty at your four-year institution. And don’t forget reaching out to alumni who could help with career advice or internships. Once again, Adney offers very specific advice on how to solicit an informational interview that might — or might not– lead to something more.

This is all excellent advice.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see the book adopted for student success courses.


Gates invests in social media to link students

Inigral‘s Schools App, which promises to create a virtual college community, received a $2 million investment from the Gates Foundation last week. It’s the first time the foundation has invested in a for-profit company.

Eleven colleges and universities use the app, including Maricopa Community Colleges in Arizona.

Can social media keep students in college? NPR asks. The Schools App, which uses the Facebook platform, helps new college students quickly build a network of friends with similar interests — and perhaps the same courses — says Michael Staton, the CEO of Inigral.

Only students can gain entry to these sites, and they’re invited in the moment they are accepted to a school. The feel is supposed to be small and intimate, unlike schools’ fan sites on Facebook, which are open to everyone and don’t inspire much networking.

Colleges pay a small fee to Inigral to build the site with hopes the app will engage students and reduce attrition rate.

“We have some indication that first-time freshmen who opted to participate in the application were highly more likely to be retained for the next semester,” says Kari Barlow, an online administrator who spearheaded Arizona State University’s experiment with Inigral’s Schools App.

Peer support and a sense of community help students persist in college, but it’s not clear that social media can make a difference. Students who reach out to classmates online may be those who reach out in person too. But if social media does help build community, that could be especially helpful at two-year colleges with few campus-wide activities to link students.

Why to consider a community college

High school students looking at four-year college options should consider a community college, writes Owen Sutkowski, director of the Transfer Resource Center at Central Piedmont Community College, in USA Today. While most know community colleges charge much less than four-year schools, there are other benefits:

1. The small college feel with the resources of a university is a campus experience many students seek. Community college classes are commonly less than 50 students and many campuses are the same size as a small private four-year college. . . .

2. Connecting to and networking with professionals in the field continues to open doors for internships and interviews. Many professors at two-year colleges work directly in their field . . . .

3. The ability to transfer from a community college to obtain a bachelor’s degree can be a seamless transition. Many states offer guaranteed acceptance into a public four-year college for students who complete an associate’s degree at a community college. . . .

4. Community colleges offer a variety of hands on experiences for students to apply the skills they learn in the classroom. Many classes have required internships, co-ops and other valuable experiences that get students out and into the field. Two-year colleges also work to build relationships with businesses in the area so students can work with companies while still in class. . . .

5. The ability to earn a credential or certificate in as little as one semester means students can get into their professional field of interest sooner, rather than later. Many two-year college students earn several credentials on their way to an associate’s degree . . .

On the negative side:  Because so many students are part-timers, there may not be a “college feel” on campus. It’s hard to network with adjunct professors because they’re not around much. The “seamless” transfer is not always a reality. Many community colleges can’t offer enough classes to meet student demand.