(The following are comments made during a Department of Education Open Forum to take public comment on the President’s College Affordability proposal on November 6 at CSU Dominguez Hills.)
I am Jeanne Ortiz, Vice President and Dean of Students at Whittier College, a private liberal arts college with about 1,700 students located about 15 miles east of downtown Los Angeles. We were founded by Quakers more than 125 years ago, and while we are no longer religiously affiliated, our mission and ethos are still guided by principles of tolerance, respect for diversity, and service. Our students, faculty, and staff are richly diverse – ideologically, culturally, and socio-economically.
Today our student body is “majority-minority” and we are a Hispanic Serving Institution; 33% of our student body is Latino and another almost 20% identify as coming from other under-represented groups. Additionally more than 17 percent of our student body is first generation, one-third is Pell grant eligible, and more than three-quarters of our students receive need based financial aid. This is a sign of our commitment to providing access to populations not historically well served by higher education.
Not only does the composition of our student body reflect the state of California and the future of the nation, at Whittier we deliver on our promise to our students by providing a rigorous, but supportive educational environment that is committed to their graduation. For example, nationwide Latino students have a college graduation rate of 50%, at Whittier it’s 72 percent.
How do we accomplish this success? It’s through high impact practices such as faculty-student research, faculty-led study abroad courses, small classes, writing intensive courses, and extensive co-curricular programming. The inherent advantages of a small school are that students get individualized attention at every level from matriculation to commencement that yields significant results, particularly increased competitiveness upon graduation.
Given our results, we believe that these high impact practices are good investments. However, they are not cheap. The bottom line is that an institution like Whittier that offers a private liberal arts education with significant faculty-student interaction has higher overhead costs than one that delivers its programs to larger or more homogenous groups of students.
It is imperative that the presidential scorecard takes into account that value and affordability are not synonymous terms. The value of a private liberal arts education is exponential because it prepares graduates not only with the knowledge and skills employers want, but with a commitment to civic engagement for the common good.
If the scorecard seeks to address this nation’s interests, why don’t we look at what skills employers seek in their new hires? Multiple studies show that employers from across industries want students who think critically, communicate clearly, and are able to solve complex problems. These are the habits of mind fostered by liberal arts colleges like Whittier.
One such recent study, conducted by the American Association of Colleges and Universities shows that 74 percent of business and nonprofit leaders report “they would recommend a twenty-first century liberal arts education to a young person they know in order to prepare for long-term professional success in today’s global economy.”
Yet another survey shows that 60% of liberal arts graduates feel well prepared for the workforce, compared to 34% who graduated from flagship public universities.
Let’s ensure the scorecard values these skills as much as employers, students and their families and can communicate the characteristics of schools that provide them
And while Whittier graduates are definitely prepared for employment in a wide variety of fields, we do not believe their starting salaries are the only appropriate measure of their success, as proposed by the scorecard.
The top profession Whittier graduates contribute to is education, with public service of other types another very common occupational path. These are noble professions that fill a national interest. However, they undoubtedly skew downward our graduates’ earning potential, particularly at the beginning of their careers. The scorecard should not devalue the very professions that deliver the highest impact for the benefit of our society.
I want to be clear that at Whittier, we applaud any efforts to improve quality of education and support the nation’s students. We fear, though, that any scorecard is incomplete if it focuses on earnings upon graduation and does not address the complexity of assessing the transformative nature of the education provided at Whittier and colleges like us.
Moreover, we fear the scorecard has the potential of disproportionately penalizing schools with smaller endowments and comparatively limited resources, like Whittier, the very schools that are working so hard to grant access to the underserved.
Liberal arts colleges have long argued that ranking systems based solely on numerical values do not tell the complete story. Embedded in the fabric of who we are, weeducate our students to look at a variety of factors to understand the fullest picture. We urge the scorecard to do that same.
Thirteen years ago, I chose to move from a research university to a deanship at a liberal arts college because I really wanted to be at institutions that stressed the importance of teaching and mentoring undergraduates. I was lured to Whittier College five years ago to be Dean of the Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs in large part by the dedication of Whittier’s faculty to this mission—and at graduation time every spring , I am always so impressed by what Whittier’s faculty help our students to accomplish.
Thus, the idea of “teaching with technology” might seem worlds apart from the idea of “close mentoring” and “discussions of ideas and ideals.” But in fact, our faculty’s understanding of pedagogy and the need for innovation has led many of them to think about how the appropriate use of technology can enhance student understanding and learning. Whittier has followed a pattern of development typical in higher education: we have had a group of innovators and early adopters who are at the forefront of the changes taking place in using digital technologies to enhance their pedagogy, and we now have an imminent “second wave” of adopters who are not only curious and ready, but also eager to learn and integrate the use of such technologies in their teaching and scholarship.
Associate Professor of English Andrea Rehn exemplifies one of our advanced technology users, and her work is notable because it is in the Humanities. In partnership with the library’s Instructional Media Designer, Sonia Chaidez, Professor Rehn’s first foray into digital pedagogy was a digital storytelling assignment in an upper division literature course. In this class, students were asked to create an introduction to Dickens’s Great Expectations, first through mapping the spatial and social mobility of the characters, and then by creating two-minute videos linked to the characters and the places on the map. By engaging in this exercise, students gained a deeper understanding of the relationship between place, character, and social mobility—all essential elements of Dickens’ work. (Click here to see it in action.)
Whittier College was also fortunate to be part of a liberal arts consortium—the “Next Generation Learning Challenge (NGLC) supported by the Gates Foundation and EDUCAUSE and run through Bryn Mawr College. Six faculty members from very different departments—art, biology, English, mathematics, business, and social work—attended this conference, bringing home ideas about blended learning and integrating digital approaches in their courses.
One example is Professor Dan Duran’s business class “Sustainable Development and The Triple Bottom Line.” This class focuses on the identification, development, and implementation of new technologies and applications specific to sustainable development. Professor Duran makes extensive use of Moodle and conducted virtual team activities, such as posting audio/video segments, quick/real time surveys and research projects. In addition, he has created academic wikis on specific subjects and uses several smart phone/PDA apps (e.g. Instagram) to assist academic activities. Throughout the class, alumni and professionals who are active in sustainable development will lecture as guest speakers via Skype. This approach has been proved very helpful for students to interact with people outside the classroom regarding the class topics.
Perhaps most exciting is that we just learned recently of the successful funding of our proposal to the Mellon Foundation for $750,000 to support “Using Digital Technologies to Advance the Liberal Arts Curriculum.” (Click here to read the full press release.) This represents the culmination of over a year-long process that involved almost half our faculty in one way or another throughout the course of the 2012-2013 academic year—a truly collaborative effort. This funding will strengthen the College’s liberal arts curriculum by empowering faculty to make full and better use of the digital technologies that are reshaping pedagogical approaches and transforming faculty and student research throughout the liberal arts.
This grant embodies our thinking about the future. We plan to have 30 new or significantly revised/updated usages of digital technologies as a result of the three-year work plan outlined for this program. We anticipate that many of these will cluster around common themes that transcend departmental lines—the type of interdisciplinary approach that is a hallmark of a Whittier College education. One of the most important resources this grant will provide is the bridge funding for a permanent “Digital Scholar” position who will promote the innovative and evolving use of technology to advance the liberal arts curriculum at Whittier College.
Summer is here, and David and I are taking advantage of a little bit of down-time to travel to Spain. Right now we are in Barcelona and spent some time wandering down La Rambla near the port and admiring the mimes (see photos). We have been coming to Spain since the 70s and watched with fascination as Spain changed from a dictatorship to a democracy and as social mores changed in revolutionary ways. But the mimes always show up on La Rambla! Tomorrow we leave for the Pyrenees to start our bike trip. May you have good adventures this summer as well.
In what has become a yearly tradition, the pledges of the William Penn Society stopped by yesterday for a lively serenade on the steps of Mendenhall lobby.
In the “small world” department: Here are Whittier students getting a lesson from an executive of one of the biggest hand bag trading companies in the world, who happened to be on the crowded subway that our students were riding the other morning. Trustee Edwin Keh ’79 recognized his former colleague from Taiwan, and his colleague was happy to talk to the students about doing business in Asia. And students were happy to ask about doing internships with him!
I urge you to watch the Youtube video of Jimmy Kimmel showing clips of Los Angeles weathermen and women ”freaking out” about the unusually cool temperatures that we’ve been experiencing in LA.
Well, early one morning last week I took my own video of our hardy women’s lacrosse team practicing in “relatively” cold, windy rain. Take that, LA weatherpeople!
Just the other day I called attention to Whittier’s Janterm travel courses on this blog — and then almost immediately heard from another professor, Andrea Rehn, traveling with her class and Professor Doreen O’Connor-Gomez’s class to Spain and Morocco. Professor Rehn said they ”ran into the King of Morocco.” I will assume that the English professor did not intend that message to be taken literally. You can read many quick posts of class members’ experiences — including descriptions of the sights they are seeing and meals they are enjoying — at blogs.whittier.edu/eng390. And see the article on Janterm trips in this week’s QC as well.
I wrote a little while ago about Whittier’s Nixon Fellowship that each year awards grants to talented students interested in exploring public policy issues, as well as careers in public service. On Monday, through their Fellowship, Daniel Kulick ’13 and Carlee Shults ’14, have the opportunity to attend President Obama’s inauguration. I hope they wear their Poet gear and we can pick them out of the crowd. See the story about more of their fellowship experiences here: http://www.whittier.edu/News/Articles/InaugurationNixonFellows2013.aspx
I probably repeat the phrase “I want to be a Whittier student” three or four times a week, but never more than during Janterm or Mayterm when I hear from students who are participating in one of our intense travel study courses. What an opportunity to study somewhere around the world in a small group, guided by a Whittier professor and mentor. I would have a hard time deciding whether to study art and architecture in Greece and Rome, biodiversity in South Africa, jazz and culture in Cuba, politics in Argentina, multinational business opportunities in China or Chile, or — closer to home — Arts in LA, among other courses. And this is just the beginning, as Whittier expands the catalogue of courses we will offer in the years ahead. Last night I received the photos you see here from Professor of Business Administration Jeff Decker and Trustee Edwin Keh (the former SVP of Walmart, Global Procurement, who is helping students learn about the rise of China as a world business force), showing class members posed after a walk along Shanghai’s Bund and in a seminar on Sunday morning at their hotel. Students and faculty out there in the world: Send me photos and stories of your experiences and make me even more jealous.
One hundred years ago today, Richard M. Nixon was born. His birthday is being celebrated in Washington and through news accounts, such as this one in our local paper: http://www.whittierdailynews.com/news/ci_22335641/president-richard-nixon-still-reviled-revered-100-years. We on campus celebrate our most famous alumnus in a number of ways, but most significantly through our annual Richard M. Nixon Fellowship competition, awarding talented students a stipend to undertake an internship or a research project anywhere in the world. I can think of no better way to continue the President’s legacy than to inspire young people to explore careers in public service.