The coddling of college students

By Christopher Harper

Instead of readying college students for the rough-and-tumble world of work, it appears that a growing number of professors want to enhance the coddling of this generation.

In an article in the faculty union newsletter at Temple University, where I teach, Amy Lynch of the College of Public Health argued for an emphasis on “trauma-informed teaching.”

Following is some of the pablum she preaches:

–Do not have any penalization for students who feel unsafe attending a class in person.

–When possible, have students sitting in a large circle or square, with no one’s back facing another individual.

–Offer choices to students concerning assignments. “You can complete this assignment as a written paper of 2,500 words, or you can submit a flipgrid with at least 4,000 words.”

Note: I had never heard of a flipgrid until now. Here is a definition: Flipgrid is a website that allows teachers to create “grids” to facilitate video discussions. Each grid is like a message board where teachers can pose questions, called “topics,” and their students can post video responses that appear in a tiled grid display.

–Show unconditional positive support for students, directly to students, and in conversations with colleagues about students. 

–Actively acknowledge and discuss when current events trigger emotions related to systematic oppression….

–Educators can promote student resilience.. [by] celebration of “missed successes,” [and] with warm compassion-based “social autopsy,” growing together with the discovery of what went wrong…. 

Note: I had never heard of a social autopsy. Here is a description: A social autopsy is a problem-solving strategy designed to support social skills. Students with difficulties understanding social interactions can use a social autopsy to analyze the social errors they made. Examples of where social autopsies may be used include:

–Ignoring others’ greetings
–Asking a question in a class without raising a hand
–Continuing to talk on the same topic
–Sneezing without covering one’s mouth

For more information, see https://buildingmomentuminschools.blog/2016/02/05/social-autopsy-and-other-social-teaching-tools/

If my colleagues and I follow this plan, Professor Lynch argues, “the seeds of trauma-informed education are planted with the hopes of a full forest of trauma-informed education stakeholders soon to emerge.”

If a student has difficulties, I always want to help. But I am not a psychologist; I am a teacher. I make suggestions to students on how they can seek help outside of the classroom for difficulties they might have.

For the 26 years I have been teaching, I always encouraged students to get outside of their comfort zones. That was the best way to prepare oneself for the tough job a journalist had to do. Now it appears I’m supposed to make students feel more comfortable.

Simply put, It’s unlikely that graduates will enter a “trauma-informed” workplace once they leave the comfort of college. 

The pandemic hit to higher education

By Christopher Harper

Higher education is facing a severe crisis of confidence and money.

That’s not bad news. Colleges have become overpriced with tangled bureaucracies that often don’t prepare students for the real world.

I hope that higher education will face the stark economic outlook because the pandemic will force colleges and universities to strip away the fat that has become rampant. 

Overall, the number of undergraduates shrank by 4% in the fall, while first-year student counts fell by 16.1%, according to new data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. The tally includes 9.2 million students, from more than half of schools that report data to the Clearinghouse.

Enrollment declined the most at community colleges, off 9.4% overall and 22.7% for first-year students. Enrollment at four-year public colleges and universities fell by 1.4% overall and 13.7% for first-year undergraduates. At private, nonprofit colleges, those declines were 2% and 11.8%, respectively.

The falloff in first-year students may reverberate through the entire undergraduate population for the next few years as students seek alternatives to the high cost of education, such as apprentice and training programs. 

But there’s more. New international students enrolled at U.S. universities online or in person fell by 43%, according to a survey of more than 700 schools. That’s the largest decrease recorded by the Institute of International Education, which has been publishing data on international enrollment since 1954.

International students pay full costs to most institutions, making these individuals crucial to the bottom line. 

The pandemic has forced universities large and small to make deep and possibly lasting cuts to close widening budget shortfalls. By one estimate, the pandemic has cost colleges at least $120 billion, with even Harvard University, despite its $41.9 billion endowment, reporting a $10 million deficit that has prompted belt-tightening.

Even before the pandemic, colleges and universities grappled with years of shrinking state support, declining enrollment, and student concerns with skyrocketing tuition and burdensome debt. 

Throughout the country, colleges and universities have cut back support staff and even tenured faculty members. For example, here in Pennsylvania, the 14 campuses in Pennsylvania’s higher education system have lost roughly a fifth of their enrollment over the past decade. As a result of the declines, including the one during the pandemic, Pennsylvania plans to cut about 200 full-time faculty out of 5,000 systemwide. 

One option to cut additional costs is to learn from the mistakes of moving online earlier this year. Most faculty members have resisted the notion of teaching online, which ultimately can save both students and universities a lot of money. Moreover, higher education could attract more older students who are working full time. 

Although I have a great deal of respect for some administrative staff in higher education, the number of people has grown significantly in recent years. 

In my college at Temple University, I used to know the first names of almost every staff member who worked there. Now there are so many vice deans, assistant deans, and assistant chairs that I know fewer than half of the administrative staff. 

I hope the pandemic has provided an opportunity for higher education to think about the waste that has accrued and to rethink colleges’ and universities’ missions throughout the country.