The April session of ProVisions Teaching and Learning Series was titled Academically Adrift? Conversation & Reflections on the Futures of Higher Education. The three presenters talked about the future of higher education and their beliefs as to whether our nation’s higher education is academically adrift.
Dr. Mark Sullivan, president of the College of Saint Rose, started his presentation by discussing the book Academically Adrift by Richard Arum. Dr. Sullivan stated that Arum’s book has shaped the conversation nationally on what liberal arts colleges are based. Dr. Sullivan then went on to discuss the different parts of this conversation (including different view points). The first discussion point was on the value of higher education versus the cost and debt-burden of higher education. Dr. Sullivan mentioned two different viewpoints in his discussion: the extreme view and the moderate view. Those with the extreme view believe that colleges are ‘wasting our investments.’ Those with the moderate view believe that colleges need to start doing things such as predicting the earning potential of different fields and students should stay away from liberal education and focus on the vocational. Dr. Sullivan said that basically this conversation comes down to what he calls the ‘Bi-Polar Opposite Strategy.’ This means that people want the cost of education to be low yet they want more access to technology and to compete with the higher education in other countries. Dr. Sullivan said that Saint Rose’s solution is to stay true to its mission. There is a balance between liberal arts education and pre-professional preparation, promote active learning, focus on skills-based outcomes, and use technology where it is needed instead of using it everywhere.
Dr. Kelly Meyer, Director of Academic Advising, discussed three main points to the conversation on Academically Adrift; which he said ‘confirms the public’s worst fears. The first point was about the public ambivalence about higher education and the split perception on what college should be. Some people believe college is too costly while others believe it is worth the expense. There is a difference of opinion as to what colleges should be providing and whether or not what they provide is worth the money. Dr. Meyer’s second main point was the role that Richard Arum’s novel Academically Adrift plays in the publics ambivalence. According to Arum, a high percent of students fail to improve in learning while in college and those that do improve only improve slightly. This according to Arum is from lack of “rigor” and an excess stress on retention and engagement. Dr. Meyer next discussed three “yes, buts..” which were “structural obstacles to improving,” “student expectation obstacles to improving,” and “there are limitations to Arum and Roksa’s primary assessment tool (the “Collegiate Learning Assessment” [CLA]).” Finally, Dr. Meyer discussed how all of this relates to academic advising and reshaping student expectations. He gave three examples of how to reshape these expectations. The first example was pursuing the question of value in liberal arts education with students who don’t understand the necessity of taking liberal ed courses. Discuss how the courses can relate to personal and professional lives and explain how some weaknesses the students see are actually strengths. The second example was on student dissatisfaction with a faculty member’s teaching style. Becoming acquainted with numerous teaching styles helps a student become more flexible and prepares them for real life where they won’t have a choice in what teaching styles they will encounter. The third example was on student dissatisfaction with hard courses. There are reasons students need to take different courses.; many of them will end up having professional or personal importance to the student. These examples show that advisors have a chance to teach their advisees important lessons.
Dr. Aviva Bower, Associate Professor of Educational Psychology, discussed the differing discourses of intellectual development and the preparation for the job market. Students do not see the relationship between their liberal education courses and their career preparation courses. Dr. Bower moved on to discuss two concepts that can help students and professors alike see the connections. The first concept was cognitive apprenticeship which basically means that when a student is learning a skill from an expert they are also acquiring the thinking patterns of that expert. Dr. Bower believes that all types of ‘knowing’ involve using problem solving skills and that people should be able to transfer the skills they learn for one type of knowing to another type of knowing – such as transferring soccer problem solving skills to education problem solving skills. Furthermore, she believes the first step in doing this is for professors to share their own thinking with students and ask their students to connect the skills they are learning in class with other areas of their lives. Dr. Bower then mentioned the concept of ‘high road transfer;’ which is the concept of finding similarities between two differing contexts of learning. Dr. Bower’s final remarks were that of encouragement towards helping students find the connections between different knowings.
Dr. Bower’s Presentation (high-lighted sections correspond to slides from Power Point)