We (Southeastern Louisiana University College of Science and Technology – but it should be called Science, Technology and Math) just had our fall convocation. Normally, we would share departmental news (which we did) and introduce new faculty. There are no new faculty and haven’t been any new hires for quite some time now. Anyway, there are some things to report.
First, no one (not even the Dean) knows what is going to happen. No news is good gnus?
The LA Grad Act: This is a Louisiana state thingy that basically says we need to increase graduation rates. Here is the official site for the GRAD Act. Let me just quote one part from that page.
“Through this legislation, we want to increase graduation rates for students, so they have the skills they need to compete in the 21st century workforce.“
I think the politicians have it wrong here. They believe that college is about job training. It is not. They believe the correlation between college degrees and jobs is a causation – I don’t think it is. I have said this many times and in many ways – a college education is about becoming more human. If an education was about job training, would we need art? Would we need even math? (some say yes, but I say that very few people actually use math in their jobs – not saying that is a good thing, just saying..)
So what does the GRAD Act say? It essentially says that universities can increase tuition ONLY IF they first show that they can meet certain performance measures. What do the universities actually have to show? No one really knows for sure. One thing that is likely is an increased graduation rate. You know, because if you are graduating more students you must be doing a good job. You must be supplying more workers to the work force – right?
I think this is a terrible idea. If we are “graded” on our graduation rate, well we can easily graduate more students. It’s simple really. I don’t think this is what is best for the students, nor best for the state. Surely you can see the parallels between the GRAD Act and standardized testing in K-12, right?
What else is there? Well, there is some good news. It looks like current trends are towards science and technology fields. Every state wants to be more technical. The logical idea is to have more students in science and technology majors. If you DO think college is about job training (to be clear – I don’t think this) then it seems physics is a better major than history. NOTE: I am not trying to put down history. I want there to be history majors, I think it is a fine degree when done right. I am just saying that how many jobs out there depend on history?
One final thing. Where is our institution going? I think we are at a fork in the road. We can go left and try to graduate more students and focus on quantity. Or, we can go to the right and move more towards a research institution. I think we should be a research institution that uses research as a means of teaching. We should not be an institution that abandons teaching in order to chase after funding dollars.
So, what will happen? Where will be in 5 years? Will we even be here? Who knows. I certainly don’t.