Who’s accountable for Education?

Michigan, my home state, is one with an elite educational system at the university level. University of Michigan (http://www.umich.edu/), Michigan State University (http://www.msu.edu/), Wayne State University (http://www.wayne.edu/), and others are great schools. Michigan also has a number of private colleges that serve the citizenry, such as Kalamazoo College (http://www.kzoo.edu/) and Lawrence Technological University (http://www.ltu.edu/). I’d like to talk about one private school in particular: Baker College (http://www.baker.edu/). Maybe I’m ignorant, but I think that a college should be able to graduate more that 19% of its students (http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2006604170386), but that’s exactly (well, the *exact* rate is 19.2%) the graduation rate at the particular institution. Why is this? How does this happen? Let us attempt to address these questions and others.

There are millions of possible reasons for a student to go to a college and not finish it by graduating. Some may argue the legitimacy of these claims, but they are what they are. Ones I’ve heard have been, but are not limited to:

1. “It was too expensive.”
2. “They didn’t have anything that really interested me.”
3. “I wanted to move back home.”
4. “I had a child.”
5. “School is not for me.”
6. “This is hard/I don’t feel like I can succeed here.”
7. “I’m not getting the support I need.”
8. “I don’t like the students/faculty/staff here.”

I list these here to say that there are plenty of reasons (or excuses, depending on your perspective) to start and not finish college. Some are personal, others financial, others institutional. I envision a world where we eliminate financial and institutional barriers to education, leaving only the psychological to be dealt with on an individual basis. My reasoning for this is that if a system exists to distribute education as a common good, it should then minimize things that inhibit the public to receive that goods’ benefits. The analogy is your local power company. If there is a power company that charges you for electricity, it is up to them to run wires in a way that is accessible to you as a paying customer. They should not run cable up to 1 mile away from your house and then expect you to connect that last mile. That is essentially what is asked of people who want to be educated and cannot afford to: it’s here and it’s great, so find a way to pay for it! My conservative friends may see this as calling for educational welfare, but I see it as common sense. It is criminal to dangle something that a person needs in front of them when they do not have the means to get it and you can just give it to them!

With all of that said, let’s take a look at some quotes from the article and go a bit deeper into what’s going on.

“In Michigan and many other states, ‘money is directed at getting people enrolled, rather than getting them degrees,’ said Joni Finney, vice president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education in California. ‘Michigan is getting the results it is paying for.'”

What this is describing is classic misappropriation: using a resource in the wrong way. This happens all the time in life with money, emotions, energy, and all sorts of things. A prime example or mis-spent money, as given to me by a good friend of mine today, was her description of a woman she saw who had purchased her three year old daughter a Louis Vuitton purse. If the reason for this being asinine are not apparent to you, please email me at TheSuperSpade@gmail.com for further explanation. Digressing from that, my point is that people do this, and the government does as well. This is normally the result of a lack of focus on what’s important. Instead of focusing on more pressing domestic issues like the situation in New Orleans, our current administration has prioritized these concerns below our interests in Iraq. As made painfully clear, misappropriation of anything leads to someone or something getting hurt, badly hurt. In the case of Baker, and the approach of the state of Michigan to higher education, the victims are students who have been able to enter into the collegiate ranks and then feel as though they’ve been left to fail. My conservative friends may see this as calling for educational welfare (yes, I did repeat this statement on purpose), but I retort by saying that anyone who needs help, or wants help, in any situation [including education], should be able to access it.

“One question is whether Michigan’s ultra-tight budget can afford to pay for students to try college rather than to finish college. Those who would like to see changes in higher education have said that Michigan should set graduation standards and allocate tax dollars based on specific results.”

Again, this is dealing with what the state’s focus is or should be. People who are really big on empirical evidence driving their decisions (often called technocrats) will find this data hard to ignore. But let me be clear in saying that it is not wrong to spend large sums of money to get kids into college. The suggestion made in the quote could be a valid one if it is instituted fairly. Unfortunately, ideas like this one have a history of being corrupted by personal bias and systemic prejudice. Therefore, such a system would have to have very careful oversight. That is highly unlikely given that Baker College is in the state that it is in due to lack of oversight.

“Baker Chief Executive Officer F. James Cummins said last week it’s misleading to judge the school on graduation rates because the college attracts many students with ‘formidable hurdles to retention.'”

Ok, so Baker takes on students that have challenges. That is admirable. In fact, all you need to get into Baker is a diploma. But stories like this make me question Baker’s policy for accepting any and everyone. Are they really doing it because they believe education is a basic right and need? Are they doing it because they genuinely believe that any student who graduated from high school can graduate from college? Are they doing it because they get a truckload of money from the state for each student they take? The motivation is difficult to discern and is probably some combination of these three and others. On its face, Cummin’s statement may have merit. Compare it to what Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point (haven’t read it yet, but I plan to) and Blink (interesting book, worth a read) calls The Pitbull Paradox. This basically says that Pit Bulls bite more people in part because they are more ferocious, but also because they are even-tempered; what people often overlook is the even-tempered part. Similarly, Cummins is saying that we graduate less students because we take on the students that lots of students in general and lots of students with “formidable retention hurdles.” The engineer in me says that his argument maybe has a hair of merit. The human that dominates me says that Cummins is looking for a cop-out to explain his schools poor performance. I’d like to hear what you all think and if I’m being unfair.

“‘I’m not happy with it,’ Cummins said. ‘I’d like to see it north of 30%.'”

This is just sad because of the low expectations. I’m no educator, but I’d like to think that if I ran what could be referred to as an educational institution, I’d be able to ensure the successful completion of at least half of my students. Cummins here is saying that he wants to step up from 1 in 5 students graduating to 1 in 3. Improvement is improvement, I’ll give him that. I think it is time to take big steps and not baby steps.

One Love. One II.

Garlin Gilchrist II

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About Garlin Gilchrist II

I am the City of Detroit's first ever Deputy Technology Director for Civic Community Engagement. My job is to open up the city's public data and information for the consumption and benefit of all Detroiters. I currently live in Detroit, my hometown, with my beautiful wife Ellen and our twins Garlin III and Emily Grace. I'm from Detroit. I created Detroit Diaspora, and was formerly the National Campaign Director at MoveOn.org. I also co-hosted The #WinReport on "The Good Fight," a an award winning, nationally syndicated radio show that was one of Apple's Best of 2013. After graduating with degrees in Computer Engineering and Computer Science from the University of Michigan, I became a Software Engineer at Microsoft. By day, I helped build SharePoint into the fastest growth product in the company's history. On my personal time, I sought out opportunities to connect my technical skills with community building efforts across the country. This led to my co-founding The SuperSpade: Black Thought at the Highest Level, a leading Black political blog. I served as Social Media Manager for the 2008 Obama campaign in Washington, and then became Director of New Media at the Center for Community Change. I spent two years creating and implementing a strategy for the Center to take it's 40 years of community organizing experience into the digital age. I speak before diverse audiences on effective & responsive government, empowerment in revolutionary new organizing spaces, increasing civic engagement & participation through emerging technologies and protecting civil rights in the age of the Internet. Full bio here.

One response to “Who’s accountable for Education?”

  1. Monique says :

    They are all accountable. The state/government and the school are responsible in making sure funding is available and these schools are equally accessible to everyone.The school in particularly has a responsibiity toward quality education. A quality educational system means helping students eliminate those things that are typical graduation barriers funding, housing, child care, drug abuse and etc. They should have more and better academic advisors then. They need afforable family housing. (What a concept??) They need free psychological counseling. As an educator I see these barriers everyday. We have on staff psychologist and drug abuse counselor. We have art therapy for things like anger management. We have case managers for housing and child care issues. We have transitional/career counselors. Did I mention we are a high school? We do this so the only thing the students have to focus on is their motivation to graduation. We even try to push that. There is no reason why a college is not assertive in attacking those barriers to help their students be successful.
    I think America needs a major educational overhaul. Without being responsible for their retentions rates they clearly will not strive for better ones. How hard was it for me to track down student of color retention rates at the University of Michigan in 2001 (I was doing english paper)? Pretty difficult and for a reason.

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