Wednesday, May 14, 2008

NSU Idea of Retention Does Not Add Up

Assistant Professor of Mathematics has left a new comment on your post "Schools Budgets Aren't Flush":

Ummm...what, exactly, is "CSF1 = [(P x A = SL) x T]"? I can tell you one thing for damn sure: it isn't an equation. Hell, it isn't even a well-formed mathematical statement.

Assistant Professor of Mathematics has left a new comment on your post "Schools Budgets Aren't Flush":

By the way, this is also complete gibberish:

CSF1 = 1565 X 52.1% = 815 headcount x $18,190 = $14,824,850

So, you mean to tell me that 52.1% of 1,565 (of anything, apparently...units, please?) amounts to $14,824,850?!

The above comments have given me a great deal of pause the past week. I have been determining what to do with them. Not because they criticize what I wrote because they do not. The explanation of the formula was in the article as well and could be more fully explained in the short, yet valuable book Customer Service Factors and the Cost of Attrition. (Picture included) Besides, I was a college president and was a rather source of pin the typo on the donkey. That is the game we academics play when we cannot find an honest basis for disagreeing with an idea. I was, and am a good source for pin the typo since I am a horrid typist. Anyone who has received an email from me has already read my disclaimer. For those who haven’t here it is.

DISCLOSURE: In high school, Mrs. Burns, the typing teacher, told me I would not need typing when I signed up for it to be the only man in an entire class of young women. She said I would be an executive or something of the sort with a young woman doing my typing for me. I would be better of with something like philosophy to get into a good college. As a result, I went to Umass-Boston. I never learned to type as such and use a quite fast, yet at times creative, two finger typing method often leading to interesting neologisms (i.e. typos). I am my secretary. And spell check can be as bizarre as my typing. So if you are bothered by typos, tell Mrs. Burns.

I have no issue with the comments on the formulas outside of their being incorrect and unhelpful to the discussion of the issue. My math endowed colleagues tell me the formulas are fine. They work. I concur I was not an algebra whiz as discussed in the article on Dr. Tafi Tanimoto, a wonderful professor who was an exemplar of academic customer service, but years of Excel have helped me put together working formulas.

What kept me from posting the comments for a while was my sincere disappointment that the comments had nothing to do with the ideas. They did not say anything about the concepts expressed in the article on how colleges need to focus more on retaining students than simply bringing them in. That is deeply disappointing.

The issue is an important one that goes against deeply embedded academic beliefs that have hurt many colleges, faculty and students. Colleges lose revenue. Faculty lose jobs and the feeling of success from being effective teachers. Students lose most of all. They lose the chance to become a more productive and successful member of our society. They also lose some of their self-value and esteem when they leave a college. Even if they leave because we failed them, they recognize they made a mistake somewhere along the line. And finally, they lose the money and time invested which will make it ever more likely they will not complete at another college. But there are times when leaving can be better than staying.

All this came to me ever more strongly after reading Students Fail and a Professor Loses a Job, a piece in today’s Inside Higher Ed. The piece discusses how Steven D. Aird lost his job teaching biology at Norfolk State University because he failed too many students. It is important to note that nowhere in the piece did anyone make any claims that giving passing grades to students who did not deserve them was considered customer service. That’s good because it isn’t as has been previously discussed in other articles here for example.

What was discussed is how an administrator turned down Professor Aird for tenure because he failed students for violating University attendance policies and/or failing tests and quizzes. It appears that Dean Sandra J. DeLoatch turned down his tenure because he failed her unwritten rule that that 70 percent of students should pass a course. The University’s position is that it is a school of opportunity for students of color who it will “whip into shape” according to its spokesperson Sharon Hoggard.

Whip them into shape by not making sure they attend classes and learn anything? Whip them into shape by coddling them and making them believe they are prepared for the world ahead? Whip them into shape by rewarding them with passing grades for doing the very things that will get them fired in their jobs after college? That’s not whipping anything except some cover to keep students in school to meet bills under the guise of helping them.

This is an issue that could have been raised by the anonymous comment maker. (Oh by the way, why do so may people hide behind that anonymous or in this case Assistant Professor label? That is just such a symptom of our basic academic cowardice. We love to make comments but seldom have the fortitude to let people know we are making them. Why is it that academics claim a love of academic freedom when and only when you agree with me? This is especially so in comments on the internet though after decades as a college administrator I was sort of getting used to unsigned notes, accusations, allegations and disagreements slipped under my door or into my mailbox by Professor Anonymous. C’mon folks. If you have something to say, say it. And then stand behind your comments with your name. If you are so afraid that someone will disagree with you or each through the internet and grab you, you may have bigger problems than perhaps even basic spinelessness.)

Anyhow, back to the topic. The use of methods such as those employed by Norfolk State University are not what honest, sincere folk who talk about retention are referring to. Norfolk State is not retaining. They are deferring. They are cheating students and the society. This is not serving students. It is serving them, their families and their future a lie. They are also giving all other schools that serve a primarily student of color or neo-traditional students a large brush that educational bigots can and will use to paint all of them as inferior and their graduates will have their diplomas tainted as well. This will be especially so for those graduates of Norfolk State who earned their success through study and dedication.

So my friend Assistant Professor, if you wish to disagree with me go ahead and do it. I welcome comments especially ones that make me rethink my ideas since they open dialogue that can make whatever I or anyone else put forward better through contrariety and even compliment. I wish for comments, thoughts and examples. But falling back on math formulas….c’mon. The issues are bigger than that. Just ask the students at Norfolk State.

AcademicMAPS has been providing customer service, retention and research training and solutions to colleges, universities and career colleges in the US, Canada, and Europe as well as to businesses that seek to work with them since 1999. Clients range from small rural schools to major urban universities and corporations. Its services range from campus customer service audits, workshops, training, presentations, institutional studies and surveys to research on customer service and retention. AcademicMAPS prides itself on its record of success for its clients and students who are aided through the firm’s 413.219.6939

No comments: