Nothing New Under the Sun: ID Policy Edition

So, just the other day as I rode home on the train, I was thinking to myself how nice it is not to have to be fighting about paper and copiers anymore, a thought that came to mind as I walked out of the building and saw the signs taped to the doors saying students would not be let in without their IDs. “This again,” I thought as I walked by, which drew my mind into other policy battles of the past (e.g., the Great Copy/Printer battles of 2012). Happily distracted by thoughts of gratitude I didn’t think much of the new ID policy, knowing that our active and effective Faculty Council was on the case and, surely, this wouldn’t be a thing again.

And then, just yesterday, I had a student show up at the very end of her class’ first examination, in the last two minutes of class, actually, apologizing and worried. She remembered having her ID with her at home in the morning, but somewhere between that memory and her arrival at school, she’d misplaced it. Unfortunately, she didn’t have ten dollars with her, nor a bank card to get some, so she had to go back home, get a check, get to a bank, cash it, return to school, pay the ten bucks, get a new ID and then find her professor and hope that she could get a make-up (which, as you surely can imagine) is not a guarantee for any college student.

In other words, this young woman could easily have lost the chance to pass the class (while, nevertheless on the hook for paying for it because she misplaced her ID one morning and goes to a school that refuses any other means than $10 to verify that she is in fact a student at the school. Had she been allowed to log in to Blackboard or on her phone or on a computer in the lobby, the security guards could have easily verified her status and purpose.

Talking to her, I had a tremendous sense of deja-vu. This policy is a policy that creates problems for our students by solving a problem for…whom exactly? Security? Administrators? Who? And then it hit me. We’ve seen this one before. And I wrote about it before. So I went back and found my post about the last time this happened, and re-read it, and found that EVERY SINGLE CRITICISM  applies now. Was SGA involved? Was Faculty Council (hint: No)? Is there data supporting broad HWC community desire for this policy (or some other reason–legal, safety (has there been a spike in thefts by unidentifiable visitors?)? Is this the plan to make up for the service-sucking state-budget-created black hole of a problem one Hamilton at a time? What problem is it solving and for whom? Who knows? So, why now? Good question.

Last time, in September of 2014, Margie “postponed the implementation of charging $10” for people without their ID. I guess that “postponement” ended the first week in February. But it’s not any less of a stupid policy. My student got her make-up exam and an apology from me for a school policy that made an already difficult and challenging day much much harder. That seems like the opposite of what our HWC values and aims are.

I just don’t get why this is a thing.

Non-Random Readings: Calculating the Value of College

From this week’s New Yorker and just in time for the September board meeting comes a timely review of the arguments made on behalf of (and against) various theories of the value of a college degree, which in one writer’s estimation lead to a conclusion similar to the one we’ve been trying to make in various ways since 2010:

Perhaps the strongest argument for caring about higher education is that it can increase social mobility, regardless of whether the human-capital theory or the signalling theory is correct. A recent study by researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco showed that children who are born into households in the poorest fifth of the income distribution are six times as likely to reach the top fifth if they graduate from college. Providing access to college for more kids from deprived backgrounds helps nurture talents that might otherwise go to waste, and it’s the right thing to do. (Of course, if college attendance were practically universal, having a degree would send a weaker signal to employers.) But increasing the number of graduates seems unlikely to reverse the over-all decline of high-paying jobs, and it won’t resolve the income-inequality problem, either. As the economist Lawrence Summers and two colleagues showed in a recent simulation, even if we magically summoned up college degrees for a tenth of all the working-age American men who don’t have them—by historical standards, a big boost in college-graduation rates—we’d scarcely change the existing concentration of income at the very top of the earnings distribution, where C.E.O.s and hedge-fund managers live.

Being more realistic about the role that college degrees play would help families and politicians make better choices. It could also help us appreciate the actual merits of a traditional broad-based education, often called a liberal-arts education, rather than trying to reduce everything to an economic cost-benefit analysis. “To be clear, the idea is not that there will be a big financial payoff to a liberal arts degree,” Cappelli writes. “It is that there is no guarantee of a payoff from very practical, work-based degrees either, yet that is all those degrees promise. For liberal arts, the claim is different and seems more accurate, that it will enrich your life and provide lessons that extend beyond any individual job. There are centuries of experience providing support for that notion.” 

Read the rest to see how he got there…

The Remediation Question

Did you see this article in the Sun-Times this week?

To wit:

Leaders at the City Colleges of Chicago are considering overhauling the education system’s “open-door” admissions policy, including possibly rejecting high school graduates who don’t meet minimum standards to do college work.

Those students, City Colleges’ new chancellor and new board chairman say, might be better served through programs run by so-called alternative high schools rather than through “remediation” courses at City College campuses.

Interestingly, this topic came up once before during our discussions of remediation (here, specifically), and I remember being surprised that it didn’t get much of a rise out of people one way or the other. I wonder if it will now.

I wonder if anyone will ask the question at today’s Q and A? As I said before, I think there is a really interesting argument to be made for the other side (I call Chairman Chico’s position the “other” side since it is not the traditional position of CCC or community colleges in general), but to feel good about it, I’d have to know that our current situation was drastic (as in absolutely untenable) OR that there were comprehensive reforms in other institutions that could pick up the slack.

Remediation has always been a part of the mission of HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) and other institutions of higher education that have made educating the otherwise underserved populations (including women, immigrants, etc.) their mission. It is a crucial (and perpetually difficult/inefficient) societal need if higher education is to be a means of economic and class mobility in our society. Without remediation, huge portions of our society (with a few exceptions, granted) would have been effectively denied the life that higher education promises due to the historical oppressions of centuries past, even if those oppressions no longer exist.

At the same time, it doesn’t seem quite fair or right that so much of our resources that might otherwise go to providing college educations to college ready, but nonetheless underserved, populations get drawn off to people who are not yet ready for college. An analogy of sorts occurred in my department about 8 years ago. When I first started at HW, there was an English 101 eligibility requirement for Humanities 202. There were lots of sections and they all filled, but the success rates were pretty bad and the retention rates were worse. So the department discussed raising the pre-requisite to completion of 101. There were concerns about whether the pre-req would affect enrollment (at least in part because those multiple full sections helped to subsidize some of the smaller, slower enrolling sections in our department and others), and some fear that there might not be enough eligible butts for our seats.

Still, we made the change. The classes filled anyway, and the success and retention rates improved (the data for this is in our Self Study, in the section on departmental assessment; it was included in a watered down form because there was some confusion about our data, but if anyone is interested, I can include the comprehensive draft version here once I get to school and manage to find it).

In other words, it might be valuable to think about all of the students who don’t get served, who might otherwise be able to avail themselves of our services, not to mention all of the students we currently serve but might be able to serve better–students who are no more among the haves of society (except in terms of academic preparedness) than the students we would turn away.

Now, I’m not saying that I’ve crossed over to the “other” side; I haven’t. I just want to suggest that it’s not as atrocious or counter-missional of a position as it might first appear.

What do you think?