SiestaMy grandfather immigrated to the United States from Spain in 1917. I remind everyone of this when I recline in my office for a much-needed afternoon nap, the Siesta. For me it is hereditary, that is my excuse and I am sticking to it.

But now, the very existence of the Siesta is in jeopardy. With Spain in an economic crisis, the government is now taking seriously a push to end the afternoon two-hour lunch and nap, in an effort to make the country more productive.

Productivity NapsIn a recent New York Times article, Ignacio Buqueras, an outspoken advocate of eliminating the Siesta states, “Spain has to break the bad habits it has accumulated over the past 40 or 50 years.” This is followed by comments from a working mom and Lawyer, Paula Del Pino, “Spanish society is still old-fashioned. The ones who rule are old-fashioned, and here, they like it like it is.”

Wow, I think I have said those exact words about higher education! If Spain actually jettisons the Siesta, there might be hope for change in higher education. Until then, I need a nap. Wake me up if there is any change.

Last month President Obama convened over 100 college presidents and leaders of organizations, foundations and companies that service higher education. The goal was to increase the opportunities for low-income students to attend college. The 47-page report released after the meeting is rife with humor if you understand the dynamics of the changes in higher education. If you are not aware of the changes, it has all of the components of a great political gathering to “share ideas”.

Here is what the White House gives as reasons why improving access to higher education is important for low-income students:

  • The share of jobs that require postsecondary education has doubled over the last 40 years, as jobs require more skills.
  • In 1990, the U.S. ranked first in the world in four-year degree attainment among 25-34 year olds; today the U.S. ranks 12th.
  • While half of all people from high-income families have a bachelor’s degree by age 25, just 1 in 10 people from low-income families do.
  • Colleges have grown more competitive, restricting access. While the number of applicants to four-year colleges and universities has doubled since the early 1970’s, available slots have changed little.

And the interventions proposed:

  1. Connecting low-income students to colleges where they can succeed
  2. Increasing the pool of students prepared for college
  3. Reducing the inequalities in college advising and test preparation
  4. Breakthroughs in remedial education

Call me silly, but isn’t this that what community colleges do already? While the White House will not release a list of the attendees, you can see by the list of those signing commitments there are very few representatives from community colleges on the list. One explanation given is because community colleges are already doing this, the White House needed commitments from those who are not actively focused on low-income students. Again, why give the attention to those who are doing it or have them present to the group what is working in the field? Nope. Let’s have a summit and gather those with little or no experience to help set the policy and focus.

Frois Gras for Everyone

Foie Gras for Everyone

Second, the College Board – you know the group that administers the SAT test and who also runs test prep programs to help students score better on their tests – well, the College Board has agreed to provide four college application fee waivers to income sensitive students who take their test. How about the College Board waiving the cost for the test to low-income students? And if the College Board was really going to go all in, why not give low-income students the test prep for free also? Oh wait, that cuts into their profits. Low-income students don’t have the resources to pay for expensive test prep programs like wealthy kids and this in itself puts them at a disadvantage. Maybe colleges should stop using SAT tests for low-income students as part of the admission process. This is a novel idea!

And good news! Yale, Harvard, Princeton and the University of Virginia are teaming up to send 300 low-income students back to their home communities to talk about their experience. Plus, they are going to mail 20,000 pieces of direct mail to low-income students and hold 18 sessions in cities where Ivy League applications are historically low. It’s a bit like taking foie gras to a soup kitchen and telling them this delicious meal is what they should be eating. Are these schools opening up more slots, displacing legacy students and high income, high SAT students? Yeah, that’s funny too.

More to come on this topic but please, White House, consider hosting a summit for community college presidents, faculty and students if you really want help with reaching more low-income students. Maybe the biggest laugh yet. I kill me.

Media - Technology

An interesting thing happened this past Sunday morning. I attended Wave Church, a mega-church with multiple satellite locations throughout the Tidewater region of Virginia and a couple of locations in North Carolina. The message was delivered by a pastor of a church in Texas via video feed and broadcast on the multiple video screens throughout the sanctuary. The pastor of Wave, Steve Kelly, commented, “If I thought I could deliver the message as good as this guy, I would do it.”

Media - TechnologyAs I listened intently to the video message, the correlation between what is happening in churches all across America and our colleges hit me. While the average congregation in the United States is about 70, these massive mega-churches, with tens of thousands of people attending every week, are exploding. In higher education, we have hundreds of small colleges with unsustainably low enrollments that struggle every year for their existence yet other colleges are exploding with enrollments.

The common denominator is technology. Pastor Kelly even made a comment to his congregation who gathered to watch a video of another pastor at a church a thousand miles away, that if Jesus walked the earth today, he would use media, too. I think I would have substituted the word technology, but you get the idea. Having attended both small churches and several mega-churches with multiple locations [coincidentally also called campuses], I can attest that people who are accustomed to their small local church simply cannot imagine going to a large venue to watch a video or to participate in a service with five thousand other people. Just like in higher education, where the validity of online education is still doubted by many traditional faculty and administrators, we may never be able to convince traditional church goers that this alternative worship service is as good.

So how do we combat this lack of appreciation for what technology can do in both higher education and churches?  Numbers can tell the story. The pastors at Wave Church claim that over three thousand people became Christians last year through their efforts; a pretty good barometer of success in a church. Online programs are showing gains in graduation rates, retention rates and gainful employment, some even rivaling and surpassing their on-campus cohorts.

But alas, we must finally concede that opinions are seldom overcome by the facts, particularly when they are as deeply rooted as religion and education.