Since June 2013, I have been on close to a dozen campuses. When I am on campus for whatever reason, I always talk with students. Sometimes the students are invited by the deans and other times, I just wander and talk with students as I see them on campuses or in offices. I expected to hear a lot of dissatisfaction because of all the media about the high-costs of college and fears about an adequate return on the investment in higher education. I ask students questions about their future plans and whether or not their expectations were are being met at their chosen college or university. Students were more upbeat than I expected and out of all of these campuses and the number of students I spoke with, only one student said “they don’t care about us” when I asked if the college was supportive of students. When I asked why a student might think the college does not care about students, the student said that the college cares about students in regard to how well they do because it makes the college look good. The student also said that the college seemed more like a corporation interested only in the bottom line—dollars.
I think we need to ask ourselves—“What are we doing that might cause a student to think this way about any college?
In preparing a speech for the annual conference for orientation directors, I talked to many people about their views on the value of orientation and what should be included in the program and what they think would make orientation most effective in preparing students to be successful. In one conversation with the president of a large research university in the Midwest, he described the value of orientation in this manner:
Orientation is the most important moment in the matriculation, retention, and graduation process. It sets the tone for what the campus is like, expectations, social press, and culture.
I was impressed with this view of orientation, so I asked the president how the effectiveness of orientation might be measured. This was the president’s response: “I see yield as a proxy measure of success.”
When I shared these quotes with more than a thousand attendees at the annual orientation conference, I asked them how many of their presidents would have the same or a similar response. I may not have been able to see everyone since the stage lights were in my eyes, but as I looked out at the sea of orientation providers, I did not see a single hand raised. I was stunned. I came to two conclusions. One thought is that the president I spoke with is not the norm and other presidents don’t link orientation to enrollment yield. Another thought is that orientation providers do not know what the expectations are for their work.
In describing associative thinking as a strength of people with autism, a researcher described how one could easily create new coding language. For those who associate things in a particular way, it is not considered “creating” a new language, but rather the fact that one language is known means, “you’re just putting new words on the old thing.”
This comment brought to mind how lightly some of us in higher education rename programs and practices in order to reflect the jargon of the day, the buzz words, or what’s trending. The old thing is capriciously relabeled as if it’s something new without appreciable change or progression to legitimate the change. We should be wary of mislabeling because when we do have something innovative to share, it may be ignored because of our previous practice of adding names without substance.