OJT

 

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That’s what they used to call it: on-the-job training. In the professional discipline of architecture, it was common for people to become architects by being an apprentice in an architectural office. After 12 years of apprenticeship, a candidate could sit for a state licensing examination—on-the-job training leading to professional certification.

Over time, a combination of formal education and apprenticeship became the norm. Currently a professional degree, typically a Master of Architecture and two years of internship experience (aka apprenticeship) followed by an examination, is required. This hand-in-glove relationship between formal education and on-the-job training is a powerful one-two punch to prepare people for productive careers in fields ranging from architecture to zoology.   Internships and apprenticeships, mandatory or voluntary, paid or unpaid, are important topics of discussion on many university campuses – including what components make internships most valuable.

The combination of formal training with internships in contrast to a more traditional apprenticeship with little classroom exposure is growing. In 2014, President Obama wanted apprenticeships to grow 100% in five years so that by 2019 there would be 750,000 apprentices. President Trump has also authorized a $200 million increase to apprenticeship programs. This issue is nonpartisan and originates from skilled worker shortages nationwide, especially in the fields of construction, healthcare and information technology. The distinction between skilled worker and manager is diminishing. Rather than white or blue collar, light blue is becoming the destination color.

Many college students say hands-on work is “very” satisfying. The intellectual ability to identify, diagnose and solve problems comes in many forms and is in high demand.  Inspired education and training allows students to gain experience applicable in any setting. Joseph E. Aoun, in Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, says that anyone who creates a new “thing” or process becomes invaluable in the marketplace as well as “robot-proof.”

Internships and apprenticeships create appreciation for the consequence of a hierarchy.  Organizations are not flat, pancake-like structures. Not everyone is equal. Operational workplaces have workers and decision makers functioning with different roles dispersed throughout. In addition, both up and down the chains of command, accountability and effectiveness flow in both directions. This may be the most important lesson that anyone learns in any work setting. Unlike a college classroom, which is a pancake-like structure where all students are equal and guided by a single faculty member, the workplace demands complex interdependencies. Effective leaders and workers understand this interdependency as necessary to accomplish goals. In formal educational settings, the abilities and accomplishments of an individual are typically elevated above collaboration, as they should be. This makes the combination of the workplace and the schoolhouse powerful.

The apprenticeship model, with indentured servitude mindsets embedded in history, is just that—a historical artifact. Apprentices were functionally important and produced goods or services of value. Today, too many internships rely on and count shadowing, watching and observation as “work.” Such experiences do provide insight and knowledge, but very little experience with the real responsibility for the production of goods, ideas or services; in a word—work. Room to Grow: Identifying New Frontiers for Apprenticeship, from Burning Glass Technologies reinforces the impact of apprenticeships and their contribution to individuals and industries.

Effective universities build more opportunities to incorporate on-the-job training in both apprenticeship and internship settings as a pedagogical extension of the classroom. All areas of study would benefit from a model of internship/apprenticeship that combines learning and doing. Providing enough mentors and meaningful experiences for students to bridge the gap between learning about something and working is a challenge.

Many institutions and corporations provide unpaid internships, which seem to be a “win-win” situation. However, the model falls short because of the old adage, “You don’t value what you don’t pay for.” An unpaid worker, not to be confused with a volunteer (another subject altogether), provides questionable value to both the individual and the organization beyond networking—important for sure but not a substitute for work.

There is little, serious argument about whether or not either of these experiences contribute to positive knowledge and insights and future employment. One study at Southwestern University showed that 13% of the students engaged in internships were more likely to find employment. One in three of the students engaged in internships were “very happy” with the experience. In the African-American and Latino student populations, over 70% of the students were so positive regarding work experiences as part of the curriculum that they believed on-the-job training should be required. These observations were from a survey of 50,000 college students and graduates.

Internships and apprenticeships have amplified value when the student is engaged in real work that depends on and grows from the classroom learning experience at the university. Benefit is chrome plated when there is tangible output from the labor. That is what people should mean when they say on-the-job training.

Dual Credit

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Dual credit or concurrent course credit allows high school students to take courses to earn a high school diploma and college credit simultaneously. Strong opinions abound on both sides of dual-credit discussions. This approach especially helps poor and first-generation students. The discussion heats up when any student—rich or poor, gifted or challenged—graduates receiving a high school diploma and an associate’s degree concurrently.

In some states, community colleges offer dual credit; in others, senior institutions participate. There are many permutations. In the Texas Panhandle, 22 students graduated from Borger High School and Frank Phillips Community College simultaneously in 2017, and 11 of them enrolled at West Texas A&M University. The 17- or 18-year-old high school/community college graduates-, having selected courses carefully, enrolled in junior-level classes at senior institutions. This is where contentious discussions start.

Questions regarding emotional maturity, watered-down college credit, genuine college readiness from an intellectual and emotional standpoint and a multitude of other concerns are legitimate. However, if dual credit in high school affords early and serious career, study and readiness assessment, students will likely benefit from thoughtfully applied dual credit.

Growth in dual-credit subscription is born in a number of places. Chief among them is the increasing cost of university attendance. High prices and perceived stagnant quality drives students and families toward a deliberate, personally managed approach to reducing the costs of education.

While visiting high schools in the Texas Panhandle, I met a young man who within one week was simultaneously graduating from both Bushland High School and Amarillo College. In front of the audience, filled with 200 of his classmates, I offered him a WT scholarship. He declined the offer on the spot. I asked him why. “I will be attending Columbia University in the fall,” said he. I asked him if he had a scholarship. He replied, “I have a full scholarship.” I responded, “I cannot compete with that,” and then I asked him of the 60 dual-credit hours he earned, how many would transfer. He said, “Six hours would transfer.” Clearly, the efficiencies and pragmatics of gaining a degree in a shorter time were not his first priority. After the assembly, the principal affirmed to me that he was one of the brightest students she had ever met.

One student looks for challenges, while another seeks expediency and some pursue both. Variety in student motivation exists at every turn. Public universities must be responsive to a wide range of student interests and aptitudes, including the costs of education. It is our business. Policies, exaggerated expectations and legislative pressures for the past half-century imprudently advocated that everyone should go to college, even if they were neither motivated nor prepared.

Coupled with irresponsible lending, universities frequently focus on income generation, which is sometimes masqueraded as social concern rather than student well-being. The marketplace is voting with its feet. Dual credit can reduce time and cost without sacrificing quality. The value of an excellent educational experience, if too much debt is incurred in achieving it and too little benefit is found in its attainment, is under assault on many fronts. Careful analysis confirms this. Further, according to Brookings, “jumbo” student loans spray gasoline on the fire like the housing bubble.

Dual-credit programs are growing rapidly. The Dallas Independent School District determines that soon thousands of students will graduate from Dallas ISD with earned associate’s degrees. These are not necessarily junk degrees, but opportunities to increase access and reduce the cost of higher education. Many of these combined degrees are rigorous and thoughtful. The wave is coming. University leadership can resist it; they may claim it inferior or antithetical to a “real” university experience. Histrionics fail. The marketplace is at work, and the motivation in many cases is that these community college degrees are at low or no cost to the student.

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) has proposed that 60% of all Texans ages 25-30 will have earned some type of post-secondary credential by 2030. The THECB has defined dual credit’s role. This is an ambitious goal. It is a serious commitment to improve the quality and nature of the Texas workforce. Business as usual is failing.

Dual credit with “wailing and gnashing of teeth” will become part of the solution. The measures of student ability, indicators of grading procedures and mastery of subject matter all contribute to serious challenges that universities, community colleges and secondary schools must address. In some states, such as Minnesota, efforts are afoot to require the preponderance of high school students to take at least one dual-credit course. This could be an enlightened approach if the dual-credit courses meet rigorous intellectual standards.

As dual-credit students enter universities, especially WT, quality measured by academic achievement and attainment of life aspirations will be tracked carefully. We owe that to our students, communities and state: It is a public responsibility.

Studying and Working

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We create false dichotomies. “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop; idle lips are his mouthpiece,” from the Book of Proverbs. At 14 years old in 1964, I heard, “Idle hands do the work of the devil,” while working to reset jumps at a horse show and unquestioningly doing as I was told. This utterance to an old man, I think he was 20 but that seemed old and worldly to me at the time, who was smoking a cigarette.

I carried the nobility of working, thinking and learning with me from that day forward. I can still see the stables in Long Island, behind Mrs. Sachie’s silhouette. I remember her proclamation for its sincerity and wisdom. I knew her neither before nor since.

Studies abound that extol the virtues of modest working commitments for college students. Every one of them misses the point. We do not work so we can go to school to learn. Rather, we work to learn and we study to become skilled at learning. Each provides operational and intellectual skills that have value in any setting if we but listen and look.

Work is not an interruption of study, but an extension of it. Internships are important to this principle. When studying architecture, the value of working in an architect’s office to see how things are done is nearly incalculable. However, tending bar or waiting tables has high value, too. Each complements the other…nothing gets in the way except through false dichotomies.

Students themselves often identify the benefits of working while they are in college. The short list, surprising to no one, includes not only experience but also a reduction in college debt, increased cash flow, acquisition of money management and time management skills. All of these provide advantages when seeking employment upon completing college. Students also see benefits in jobs that do not require advanced education — babysitting, barista, and retail sales, for example.

Of course, the current tragedy is that only in the rarest cases will students be able to pay the whole tab from working while they study, according to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.

Additionally, some groups of students experience disadvantage by working too much while going to school, according to the Chicago Tribune. African-American and Hispanic students, who are fearful of loans, frequently work more than they should and experience adverse impacts on academic performance. The negative impacts of over-working while going to college are easily summarized: lower academic performance, non-eliminated college debt, lower retention and completion rates (no doubt, due to fatigue and burnout) and frustration. Working between 15-20 hours per week has a positive impact on social behavior, academic performance and the reduction of costs for attending college. Invariably, when students do not work at all, important aspects of college life wane.

With a structured approach to work and study, where the two are complementary, many of the adverse impacts diminish. Work is an extension of education, rather than solely a means to get an education. Even flipping hamburgers can produce benefits for a future brain surgeon or rocket scientist. For example, earning the means to help meet daily needs, demonstrating creativity, developing a sense of satisfaction, relating to others, realizing the power of purpose and responsibility and working in a team environment have real value. Moreover, all of these capabilities are necessary without exception at McDonald’s, MD Anderson and Boeing.

There are persuasive long-term benefits to internship involvement while attending college. The National Association of Colleges and Employers reports 60% of college graduates who participated in internships received a job offer. Not a job application, but an offer of employment. Moreover, 80% of employers claim their internship programs are not a public service, but an effort to recruit the best and brightest. Benefits of working while studying apply to both senior and community colleges.

Responsive universities in the 21st century encourage students to work because work informs study and that mindset empowers economic development and personal satisfaction. Hard work is frequently dismissed. People who work diligently are labeled “workaholics,” equating industriousness with a medical condition. A course on the value and benefits of work would likely be futile. Courses in American History and political science are required, yet distinguishing between the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution or the three branches of government are fools’ errands in the minds of too many graduates.

Universities could help students by diminishing distinctions regarding work and study. Correctly approached, both provide benefits regardless of field of study or the nature of the work.

Study and work are hand in glove.

Campus Life

 

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Every spring, countless families from across the nation make determinations about where students will live while attending college. Four-year institutions require one or two years of campus residency for new college students. Exceptions for veterans, students who live at home, or with relatives often occur. These are typical campus living policies and exist for good reasons.

National studies indicate that students who live on campus perform better academically.  Campus engagement networks increase the opportunity for students to participate positively with others. However, while detrimental distractions diminish, they do not disappear.

Jobs are healthy attractions and lead to academic success. Students employed between 10 and 19 hours per week while attending college, perform better academically. A future-oriented university could give priority consideration for on-campus student employment to students that live on campus. Living plus working on campus has a greater impact on academic performance than off-campus work, and provides a one-two punch for learning. 

A library, Internet access, food service, bill paying, tutoring, recreation centers, healthcare, entertainment, cultural interaction and a number of other necessities and opportunities are included in on-campus living. Walking, bike riding, and university shuttle services eliminate the need to use a personal vehicle on a day-to-day basis. This is all cost-saving and convenience generating. Millennial and younger populations tend to value convenience. In addition, the costs are competitive. Nationally, average costs of room and board for 2017-2018 at public masters’ universities exceeds that of West Texas A&M University, for example, by 25%. Check costs carefully – campus by campus.  

When calculating the cost of on-campus living versus off-campus living, students and families should look at the whole picture. Putting four students in a two-bedroom apartment can provide a significantly lower cost alternative to on-campus room and board rates.  But, the hassles of splitting bills, buying and preparing meals, transportation and other factors abound, and the total costs may not be as different as a cursory review indicates.

Some areas adjoining campuses have high crime rates.  No campus is completely safe and a false sense of security is misplaced. Students need to walk in twos or threes at night whenever possible, stay in lighted and highly traveled areas, and report activity suspected to be criminal, no matter which university they attend.  I regularly read campus police reports and find that effective campus security provides a jump-start for safety, without which, academic experience is diminished.   

Students who live off-campus are more likely to engage in risky drinking than students who live on-campus. This does not suggest that students who live in dorms will not drink, use drugs or engage in risky behaviors of every sort.  They do.  Risky alcohol consumption by university students, many of whom are underage, leads to significant problems while attending college and sometimes long afterwards.  As the number of drinks consumed in a week increases, the GPA’s of students decrease. An incontrovertible fact.

Typically, off-campus lease agreements are for 12 months, and premiums are paid for semester-by-semester arrangements with summer considered an additional contract. The lease approach creates transient arrangements, sublease, and other complicating factors.

Meal plans contribute to on-campus living costs. Frequently, as students advance from freshman to senior status, the number of meals eaten per week on campus decreases, reducing the cost of on-campus living. In addition, some universities may decide that a “cold food” meal plan would be of interest to students. This might include a menu with very limited options. In student-populated apartments, the four food groups are Cheerios, doughnuts, bologna and Top Ramen.  Campuses should reflect on every opportunity to reduce costs, and focus on the power of a good education, sans frills. 

My university experience began in 1970 when I arrived at Texas A&M University as a community college transfer from Long Island, New York. I graduated from SUNY Farmingdale – 40 miles from midtown Manhattan, just off the Long Island Expressway – a long leap to Texas A&M University, seemingly in a state of suspended animation – 40 miles from nowhere – somewhere between Houston and Dallas. 

A Greyhound bus dropped me off at Ralph’s Pizza on Eastgate.   As I trekked up New Main Drive toward the stately Administration Building, dragging my drab green footlocker and my mother’s pale blue Samsonite suitcase, I thought to myself, “What have I done?” 

I headed for a dorm room, a new experience that began the transformational process of changing me from a “damn Yankee” in to a born-again Texan. I would not trade my campus experience for the world, a dorm room without air conditioning, communal bathrooms, institutional food (that wasn’t bad) and a myriad of other elements that I experienced all so that I could become an architect. I didn’t know this was “going to college.’

The experience was priceless.  “What had I done?”  Made the third best decision of my life.  One and two?  Another time, another place.

 

 

 

Town-Gown Relationships

 

Downtown Canyon, Homecoming, From the WT Archives

Communities and the universities they host are married to each other. When one partner grows and prospers, so does the other.

This has been true for a long time. In European universities during the 1100’s, lecturers rented spaces in town and offered classes to students in various locations. In Paris, faculty shared teaching spaces on the Left Bank of the Seine River that eventually gave birth to the la Sorbonne in 1240, later known as the University of Paris. Instruction was in Latin, and the area became known as the Latin Quarter. The interaction of students and faculty with members of the extended host community was dicey. History confirms the ebb and flow of a myriad of marriages between universities and communities has been uneven.

Town-gown relationships in smaller rural communities, where the university may be the single largest employer, become even more important. When disregard toward the community by the university is present – and vice versa – relationships falter to the point of breaking.

And, of course, nobody wins.

Larger cities tend to absorb universities. Some urban institutions are so highly integrated they are indistinguishable from the metropolitan fabric creating a 21st century equivalent to the Latin Quarter.

The challenges of these relationships are not new, and are pervasive to this day in universities around the world. Kim Griffo, Executive Director of the International Town and Gown Association, suggests that off-campus student issues such as “housing, code enforcement, neighborhood relations which are still at the forefront of town gown relations” have been fertile soil for discontent.

One of the benefits of a powerful relationship between town and campus is that it is free. Communication, understanding and a desire to cooperate are the prerequisites.   These relationship traits, unlike the bricks and mortar of a library, laboratory or a football stadium, rest on a sincere commitment to mutual service and few, if any, capital costs. It is a bargain with benefits. Experience tells me that the key ingredient of thinking ahead and planning is cooperation.

Even this cost is too high for some. The Princeton Review identified ten cities where town and gown relationships are strained. This top-ten list includes universities of every type in every setting – none are in Texas. The folks at Princeton review should have talked to the Canyon/Amarillo communities, university and school districts to see how cooperation for mutual benefit is working. However, there is no rest when chasing excellence.

Some university/community relationships are groundbreaking. St Lawrence University in Canton, New York, is the subject of study for a beneficial town and gown relationship.  Factored into the equation for success are the quality of the K-12 schools, good healthcare, affordable daycare, attractive housing and a growing tax base.

The Campus Compact, a national organization of nearly 1000 college and university presidents, highlights service learning, civic engagement and community service as the glue of town-gown relationships. The intersection of university students and community, added to an evolving sense of the importance of public service, contributes to both student educational outcomes and community economic development.

A new, more positive face of opportunity might replace the cynicism of many towards government when students engage in community service. President Reagan had it right, “We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone.” Engagement, one person at a time, need not be “big” government but a big personal commitment that engages people and organizations, both public and private.

Strong university-community partnerships lead to growth in philanthropic endeavors. It seems alumni and other benefactors value a strong relationship between institutions and community service.

Establishing relationships with community-based employers provides the opportunity for student internships and productive work relationships that benefit students and the enterprises that host them.  Shared visioning exercises can have a powerful effect on the health and prosperity of both campus and community. The University of Michigan at Flint and the City of Flint have worked diligently to create a robust shared vision.

I believe a conscious effort to build strong town-gown relationships increases economic vitality and offers valuable educational experiences for students. In addition, fruitful relationships between campus and civic leadership provide a strong voice to state government in expressing needs and aspirations in a geographic area through a resonating harmony rather than a cacophony of competing consternations.

The ingredients for a productive relationship are simple. Communicate regularly and often with leadership on a two-way street. Recognize that the health of one partner depends on the health of the other. Demonstrate sympathy toward important issues in both directions. When challenges occur run toward them, not away.

A productive town-gown relationship should be highly prized for the contribution it makes to the academic enterprise and learning experiences that benefit students and for the prosperity it helps create for the community.

Strong town-gown relationships create strength for both partners.

Just like a marriage.