As the president of a sectarian college and a former Theology professor, I am interested in observing how people define religiousness. On a college campus, for example, it is fairly common for students to see “being religious” as a synonym for being involved in service or in helping others in the community. They do not necessarily relate religion with formal worship or explicit moral/ethical positions.
Last week, a book entitled, God Is Alive and Well: The Future of Religion in America, was released. Written by Frank Newport, the editor-in-chief of Gallup, this book reflects the findings from a large public opinion survey. Gallup has conducted an annual survey on the topic of religion since 2008. This book reflects the analysis of over 1 million Gallup interviews over the past four years.
While I await the arrival of the book, I have read several excerpts and the results of the recently released 2012 Gallup poll on religion. This past year’s poll reflects data from 326,761 telephone interviews with adults, 18 years or older, in every state. The results are very interesting:
- 69% of adults self-report that they are very (40%) or moderately (29%) religious
- Being religious is defined as agreeing that religion is part of a person’s daily life and regular attendance at a church, synagogue or mosque
- Religiousness increases with age … least religious at age 23 and most religious at age 80
- Women are significantly more religious than men regardless of age, race or ethnic group
- Blacks are the most religious race or ethnic group
- Mormons are the most religious group, Jews are the least
- Religiousness is highest in the South and lowest in the Northeast
- The higher the education level and income, the lower the religiousness
- Republicans are more religious than Democrats or independents
- 77% of Americans identify themselves as Christians
One of Newport’s contentions in his book is that the importance of religion will remain high or even increase in the future if only because of the rise in the population of people over 65. But as I read these data and portions of Newport’s study, the question that remained for me was, what does being religious really mean?
One could argue that attending religious services regularly is a good sign of religiousness. It is interesting to note, however, that the self-report of those interviewed every year by Gallup does not correlate with the church attendance figures released by almost every religious denomination and group. Most religious groups report declining attendance in services and programs.
Does Gallup’s second criterion, “religion is involved in a person’s daily life,” mean that religion is more evident in the way people act and think? Do you see evidence of this in the world today? While we often see random acts of kindness and charity, we also see regular and ongoing evidence of illegal and immoral behavior.
Even more concerning is the way in which religion divides us more often than unites us. Specific church teachings of any religion can be used as weapons against the common beliefs of all religions related to peace, justice and charity. One would hope that the 69% of Americans who self-report the importance of religion would find common ground for advancing human rights and a moral/ethical society that serves the Common Good.
During this special time of the year for Christians and Jews, I will continue to look for signs of religiousness… in myself and in others.
(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)
Last week I had the opportunity to meet with two interesting groups. The first was a meeting with recent graduates of AMC. These young professionals completed their degrees at the College in the past five years, all are currently employed, and some are pursuing graduate degrees. Most of their questions were about the changes at their alma mater. Most of my questions were about how AMC had prepared them for their current careers.
To a person, they believed that AMC had prepared them well. What was interesting, however, was that they had a more difficult time describing the aspects of their education that most highly correlated with their professional success. They spoke of personal attention, great professors, a supporting environment, but little about any specific knowledge or skills that helped them to land and keep their first positions.
Later in the week, I was in a meeting with several representatives from major businesses in the area. I asked them what they value most about new employees and their responses were clear, concise and consistent. They were less concerned about knowledge and more interested in attributes. They looked for people who could think and write well, possessed a strong work ethic, and were willing and able to learn.
Their responses were consistent with the research. Study after study reveals the priorities of employers to focus on skills and abilities more than knowledge and facts. Just a few days ago, for example, CACEE (The Canadian Association of Career Educators and Employers) released a study that included the responses of 450 major companies throughout their country. CACEE is a national non-profit partnership of employer recruiters and career services professionals. Their mission is to provide professional networking and development opportunities, information, advice, and other services to employers and career service professionals. Their reports reflect good research, are well written and certainly relevant to graduates and employers around the world.
Consistent with the results from prior years, the five most important skills for graduates and new employees are:
- Teamwork skills (works well with others)
- Problem solving skills
- Communication skills (verbal)
- Analytical skills
- Strong work ethic
The reasons that these are the most valued characteristics for employees are fairly obvious. Employers recognize that the knowledge base of their industry will change. The information explosion in the world has brought new knowledge, new techniques, new strategies, new challenges and new opportunities. In few cases is any business or industry doing things the same way today as they did a decade ago. Employers know that the knowledge and techniques can and will be taught as employees are retrained and constantly engage in professional development.
But the innate skills and characteristics of team work, problem solving, communication, analysis, and a strong work ethic are immutable to the success of every business and industry. The values of these skills never change.
So whether they realize it or not, our graduates experience an education at AMC that develops and emphasizes these skills. Our graduates may not realize it. They may not be able to articulate it. But they certainly benefit from it. And that’s good for AMC and good for the employers who hire our graduates.
(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)
If you have never heard the term MOOC, you are like a vast majority of people. If you know a little bit about MOOCs … you are like most people, who pay attention to higher education. And if you think you are an expert on MOOCs, especially what the future will hold, you may be the only person with this ability to prognosticate!
MOOC refers to Massive Open Online Courses. These are courses that are available to anyone who has an internet connection. Currently, you can take a MOOC for free. Currently, few of these courses provide credit.
The concept of MOOC really began over a decade ago when MIT began its OpenCourseware program. The idea then and now is to provide knowledge and information to the widest possible audience. Many institutions have joined this effort and the number of courses has grown exponentially. MIT, Harvard and the University of California Berkeley have formed a collaborative called edX, which offers free online courses.
In the past two years, MOOCs have become part of a more organized educational initiative. A company called Coursera was formed in 2011 by two Stanford University professors and now includes 33 well-known universities that offer online courses for free. Companies called Udacity and Udemy have joined the field.
The growth of MOOCs has been applauded by some for the very essence of increased and easy opportunity for learning. But the following logical questions have arisen:
1) What is the quality control of these courses?
2) How can students earn credits?
3) How long can MOOCs be offered for free?
4) What is the impact on more traditional college and university curricula?
The issue of quality control is receiving much attention and is also the subject of widespread debate. Some point to the current online programs that are regularly assessed and lauded for their quality. But MOOCs typically lack the structure of other online courses and rarely include the central role of the instructor. Those concerned see the current iteration of MOOCs as self-guided learning, valuable but hardly comparable to formal education.
The issue of MOOCs becoming credit bearing is beginning to take shape. For example, a company called StraighterLine is charging students a modest fee to take courses and has partnered with 30 institutions willing to accept these courses for credit. The American Council for Education (ACE) recently announced that it will begin to research the appropriateness of Coursera courses earning credit. Of course, in the end, the decision to accept credit rests with the home institution, and it is unclear how and when most institutions will embrace MOOCs.
Most colleges engaged in offering OpenCourseware and MOOCs see this as a way to demonstrate social responsibility and to create an identity. But if these courses are made more robust in terms of accountability and assessment, and if these courses begin to bear credit, there will certainly be a fee. What is interesting, however, is that the cost of development and delivery of MOOCs is a fraction of other courses and curriculum, so the fees should be modest.
Clearly, there is both curiosity and concern about MOOCs from much of the higher education community. If and when students can complete degrees, certificates and badges through MOOCs, there will likely be some impact on enrollment at traditional institutions. Less selective and smaller institutions may feel the impact first.
This educational phenomenon cannot be ignored. Colleges need to study this emerging trend and determine how to embrace this form of learning. And decisions will need to be made quickly. After all, there is a MOOC coming to every computer soon!
(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)
For the past several weeks I have been sharing some ideas about ways to change (improve) higher education. While I look forward to reading the creative solutions that are proposed in The Chronicle of Higher Education contest about reinventing higher education, I will conclude my thoughts on this topic with my own proposal.
In my opinion, all of the ideas proposed in The Chronicle’s series are worthy of consideration and have some value. But none of them fully address the two main issues facing higher education … access and affordability. Higher education can always benefit by ideas related to programs and initiatives. But the future viability of colleges and universities may require something more radical.
Simply said, there are too many colleges in America all trying to duplicate the same programs and services. As we compete for students, we do our best to offer all of the curricular options, co-curricular programs and services, and facilities and resources that our students demand. And our students have these expectations because they see and hear about them on other campuses.
New majors, new programs, new services, new faculty and staff and new facilities require increased expenditures. Increased expenditures require increased tuition and fees. Increased tuition and fees make access and affordability a greater challenge.
The only real solution may be significant collaboration between and among colleges. Rather than duplicating programs and services, we should aggressively look for ways to offer programs and services together, sharing resources in every way. Let me offer some examples of what I mean.
Few small colleges can afford to offer a robust foreign language program. Even though we know our students should have the opportunity to study Spanish, Arabic, Mandarin, and Sign Language, as well as the traditional romance languages (and even a classical language too), we are reduced to selecting which languages to offer and/or only offering introductory courses.
What if multiple colleges joined together their language programs … pooled together their resources and shared the costs of faculty, learning materials, etc.? If the institutions were in close geographic proximity, classes could be offered on each and every campus with students provided with transportation. A shared bus is a better investment than separate and individual programs.
But even more efficient would be the use of technology. There’s no reason why students couldn’t be sitting in a classroom on one or more campuses (or even in their rooms or homes) taking a class being offered by a professor on a different campus. We do that now with online learning. In this model, our students would now have a full and robust foreign language program with a fraction of the cost for the individual institution. This model could work for any discipline or course of study.
We also need to consider collaboration of administration and facilities. If institutions with 10,000 students function with a single Controller, for example, why couldn’t four institutions of 2,500 students function the same way? This systems approach would bring incredible efficiencies to each institution while maintaining individual identity. There’s no reason why we cannot build, manage and share facilities as well. So many of our facilities are underutilized and with better planning, we could share these resources.
The fundamental challenge in higher education may be the autonomous way we approach most things. Thinking about systems, collaboration and partnerships may be the best and only way to control costs and increase access. But it will take bold leadership on the part of the higher education community. I wonder if we are ready?
What do you think?
Finally, let me wish each and every one of you a happy and blessed Thanksgiving! I hope you and your families have a restful and happy time together during this holiday weekend
(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)
I want to continue my discussion of ideas related to changing higher education. Last week I addressed the issue of faculty appointments. This week, I want to pick up on two more of the essays included in The Chronicle of Higher Education series that are related to the quality of the educational experience … picking the right college and learning the right things. I think these essays point us in important directions, but don’t go far enough.
In an essay entitled, “High-Tech College Counseling,” the proposal is made to increase the use of technology in college guidance. According to recent data, the average student to high school counselor ratio in public schools in the United States is 459:1. Obviously, few students receive the kind of personal guidance necessary to navigate the complex process of applying to college. This problem is likely exacerbated for first generation and minority students, who may not have the family structure or experience to assist in this process.
The article suggests that more and better use be made by technology. There are already emerging software systems and programs that engage students in the process from beginning to end. These sites remind students about deadlines and requirements; they provide basic information about types of colleges and financial aid; and, they are beginning to become more interactive allowing prospective students to connect online with counselors.
Certainly there are many college-bound students who need this type of basic help. Despite what often appears to be endless communications about admissions requirements and the multiple opportunities for assistance in preparing applications, preparing for exams, etc., navigating the process is only part of the college search process. In fact, I think there is something even more important.
Students and families need more than basic help in determining how to apply for college. They need much more help in deciding why to apply to a specific college. There are hundreds of great colleges that provide extraordinary opportunities for a quality education. But the key to success for students is more often based on fit rather than admission. This is not a case of better or worse, it is about finding the college that meets a student’s educational and personal needs… a place where s/he will thrive educationally and personally.
Data indicate that the student’s first visit to campus is the key determinant in the college decision. Some studies suggest that the decision about fit is made in the first ten minutes on campus. The best decisions … the right decisions … are not typically made on first impressions. Students need to work through a much more reflective process to better understand the type of learning environment, the campus culture and the geographic location that will best serve their needs … especially after the “10 minute impression” wears off.
Once a student arrives at the right college, the next important question relates to curriculum. In an essay entitled, “An Old School Notion: Writing Required,” the suggestion is made to return to an approach popular a decade ago called writing across the curriculum.
This idea was embraced by many colleges that embedded writing requirements (and therefore writing instruction) in every course and in every discipline, rather than only in writing specific courses. These writing assignments took many forms including papers, short essays, journals, etc.
I remain amazed at why these programs seem to be less popular today despite the persistent concern raised by all faculty that incoming students do not write well. But I think we need to do more than writing across the curriculum. We need to consider thinking across the curriculum, research across the curriculum, analysis across the curriculum, etc.
We speak eloquently about the value of liberal education and the need to prepare our students to be lifelong learners equipped with the skills for both professional challenges and citizenship. And yet we often relegate these important skills to specific courses, continuing to focus on discipline-based content that we all know will be less important and likely outdated in a short time after graduation.
High schools and colleges need to work together to better assist college-bound students to make the right choice. And colleges need to rethink their curriculum to make sure these students are well educated and fully prepared for the challenges that will face them. These ideas are worthy of further discussion. These ideas are necessary for the future of higher education.
What do you think?