Thursday, January 28, 2010

"Doing More with Less"? Cold Fusion and Education

In today's LA Times, January 28, 2010, Carla Rivera reports on the Board of Trustees latest meeting in which they announced their plans to speed up graduation. According to the article, the consensus opinion among the BOT and high administration officials is that the university needs to remind students of why they're in school. The problem isn't that students can't get the classes that they need and that many have not been well-prepared for college level work. The problem is that we've been too "laissez-faire" with dawdling students. The problem isn't drastic budget cuts, fewer faculty members, larger classes, higher fees, and fewer classes. No, the problem is wayward students who don't know how to navigate college and are spending too much time taking classes they don't need. As if that were the main problem!

The notion of doing more with less, which is the code phrase for budget cuts, furloughs, layoffs, program elimination, and restructuring from administrators, reminds me of the notion of cold fusion: that you can get energy from nothing.

From the story:

Students attending California State University may be in for a dose of tough love as they are asked to choose majors more quickly, be more disciplined about attending class and be willing to sacrifice family time and outside activities to earn their degrees, several campus presidents said Wednesday.

They spoke during a meeting of Cal State's Board of Trustees at which university officials formally announced an ambitious initiative to raise graduation rates, particularly for students who are from minority groups and low-income households.

Cal State is setting a goal of increasing its six-year graduation rate 8% by 2016, raising it to 54%, as well as cutting in half the achievement gap in degree completion by under-represented minority students. Each of the giant university's 23 campuses is scheduled to have a plan in place by this fall.

Although each campus will implement a plan that fits the special needs of its student body, some common themes emerged Wednesday: Students will be given more individualized support such as counseling, more information about required course work and resources such as online tracking of their progress.

But the students will have to be more focused about their goals and understand that, given the university's fiscal constraints, the longer they stay in school, the less opportunity there will be for others to enroll, the presidents said.

To some extent, campus administrators have been "enablers" for many students, allowing them to dawdle in choosing majors and progressing toward their degrees, Cal State L.A. President James M. Rosser said in an interview.

"We're looking at how we've done our business and whether we've become too laissez faire," he said. "In high school they have workshops on how to get to college. We want to tell students how to get out of college. That might mean some intrusive advisement.

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