The shiny names, the big teams, the fancy diploma. Oh wait, you went where? Measuring learning is something our society and higher education continue to struggle with. We want our kids to go to ‘big name university’ so it looks good and some where along the way, we began to equate the ‘big name’ with a ‘big education’ only to sadly find out it merely included a ‘big price tag.’ I don’t have two legs to stand on in this case since my degrees are from those perceived ‘big names.’ I will tell you this: I spent two years at a state school or community college and I have to say, I received the best teaching and more education in those two years than I did during the rest of my BS educational experience.
Why are we scoffing, turning up our noses, and pitying those who want to earn their education, get specialized attention, and pay a reduced tuition? I saved a TON of money going to state school for two years. I was in classes with only about 30 students. I got a lot of one-on-one attention from all of my teachers. I didn’t know what a TA was until I transferred to big box U and my GPA plummeted like dropped pie my first semester.
A teaching university or college is just that. They specialize in teaching. A research university says they combine both, but can they do it consistently and do it consistently well? Me thinks not all of the time. Sure, you can hire a laundry load of TA’s, GRA’s, and GTA’s, but those folks are there to mostly do research, complete their advanced degree, and segue way into a post doc, or another advanced degree program.
To meet the rising numbers, decreased funding, and lack of space, we’ve gone virtual. We’ve gone part time. We’ve hired over 100% more adjuncts and instructors here at my university in the last year. I love a good teacher and I tip my hat to these folks because these are the people WHO LOVE TEACHING. There are those faculty on faculty lines who love teaching too, but the national trend is shifting and TT positions are disappearing like pizza in a dorm. Instructors and adjuncts do the heavy lifting of teaching much of the time with marginal salaries, no benefits, and little thanks. Their jobs are always ‘up in the air’ depending on funding and that’s no way to live. While I watched NBC’s education nation this fall, I became more inflamed while parents would bitch about their kids lunches, their kids gym, their kids everything, but never assume any kind of responsibility for their child but instead, leave it up to the school to raise their kids. Compounded with the facebook posts I saw about parents complaining that they had to watch their children grow for 8 weeks of summer vacation **gasp** what a travesty to have to spend time with the child you had!
It does take a community to raise a child. It takes great teachers, cooperative parents who do challenge but don’t undermine, and it takes a solid place for that to take place. Parents send their kids off to college and hope they get a great education at these ‘big box’ universities, but what happens when they get spit out after four years with no other skills other than computer tests and office hours? I have done a lot of mentoring with students on job skills, job searching, research interests, and even life things like comfortable and affordable heat/AC temps, where to go when you need a check up, and how do students handle work vs. roommates when they need to study. I am happy to help any student, but I can’t help but wonder, where are the parents? Do they think that big box U will do it all for their kids since they have relinquished their responsibilities the day they dropped them off?
I am a faculty at a big box U and I know plenty of other faculty who LOVE teaching like I do but once you look at a tenure packet and realize that teaching is NOT the priority, it really begins to shape your future and very quickly. I would be so far fetched to say that students and faculty may be better off at a smaller institution where they can get the attention from great teachers and these teachers will be there because they love teaching, it’s their passion, their muse, and their craft. Parker Palmer says, “Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.” We should all strive for that as faculty and begin to rethink the proporitions of teaching vs. research. Let faculty hired as researchers conduct their research, and those faculty hired as teachers should teach predominately.
Where’s the balance? How can we restore it? How can we give students knowledge and job skills that will last a lifetime? As a new faculty, I ponder this one quite a bit. I meet with students each week with big ideas, but no skill set on how to carry them out. I try my best to help them, but then I stand there and wonder, how come at age 18-21, this is the first time they’ve heard this stuff? Who is or isn’t doing their job along the way? What will it take?