Saturday, April 6, 2019

#96 / The Key To Success Is Engagement

In a recent article, The Wall Street Journal provided some advice on "The Right Way to Choose A College." This was, of course, a timely article, in view of the recent college enrollment scandal that has revealed how the wealthy and well-connected have been bribing all the "best schools," to gain entry for their offspring. 

Since The Journal tends to cater to the business elite, to exactly the kind of "wealthy and well-connected" persons who have, apparently, been bribing school admissions officers on behalf of their kids, this article can be read in a rather cynical way. It can, in other words, be a kind of apology that is intended to let the rest of us know that the bribing scandal "doesn't really matter very much." The point of the article is that all those "best schools" aren't really "best" in terms of providing a good education, and giving students a step ahead in the post-college world of employment and achievement. So, if your kid has been edged out of Stanford or Yale by a rich and well-connected person who bribed the school to gain admission for his or her child, consider yourself lucky!

Probably, that level of cynicism is not what motivated The Journal to run this article, but I felt impelled to note the cynical possibilities. I think the article is well worth reading, and that it is actually correct in its conclusions. 

What the article says is that "engagement," both inside and outside the classroom, is what leads to post-college success. The "best schools" often don't do a good job of fostering such engagement, which means that a young person could actually be better off eschewing prestige for a school that involves and engages the student in a participatory brand of education. 

Here are the factors that Denise Pope, writing in The Journal, identifies as keys to student success post-graduation:

• Taking a course with a professor who makes learning exciting
• Working with professors who care about students personally
• Finding a mentor who encourages students to pursue personal goals
• Working on a project across several semesters
• Participating in an internship that applies classroom learning
• Being active in extracurricular activities

According to Pope: 

As important as these various forms of engagement seem to be, relatively few college graduates say that they experienced them. While more than 60% of graduates strongly agreed that at least one professor made them excited about learning, only 27% strongly felt that they were supported by professors who cared about them, and only 22% said the same about having a specific mentor who encouraged their goals and dreams. Just under a third strongly agreed that they had a meaningful internship or job or worked on a long-term project, while just a fifth were actively involved in extracurricular activities.  
Given the research on what matters in college, the best advice for choosing the right one would seem to be finding a place where the student will be engaged, in class and out, by all that the college has to offer. The good news is that engaging experiences of this sort can happen at a wide variety of colleges, regardless of selectivity, size or location. And with over 4,500 accredited degree-granting colleges in the United States, students have plenty of options from which to choose.

I am a big fan of "engagement," in education and politics, too. I also think, now that I have had some experience with college teaching, that the factors listed by Pope are, indeed, key. My wife, who has been recognized, officially, as a "distinguished educator," has provided me with a role model for my own teaching of Legal Studies courses at UCSC.

Marilyn taught, for the most part, at DeAnza Community College, though she taught at UCSC, too, during the time she was doing her graduate work and for a couple of years after gaining her doctorate; she is now back on the local campus, teaching in the Crown College Core Course, aimed at first year students. Neither DeAnza nor UCSC are the kind of colleges that have been caught up in the "bribery scandal," and yet some of the students my wife has taught have gone on to really impressive success, post-graduation. Marilyn taught a student who is now the Editor of Critical Inquiry, the most prestigious literary journal in the nation. She taught a student who went on to become Poetry Editor of The Atlantic. She taught a student who is now the Vice President of Foothill College.

"Engagement" is the key for students.

"Engagement" with the students is the key for the teachers!

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