Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Day Eleven in America - 12 February 2008

Gateway Community College - New Haven, Connecticut - 12 February 2008

Wilson Luna - Dean of Students
email: wluna@gwcc.commnet.edu

I met with Wilson at 8:30am at the Gateway Community College and following introductions, we discussed our roles. Wison told me about a fairly recent (2001) government act entitled, "No Child Left Behind" which all schools are now bound by. Although this is supposed to increase standards and accountability, Wilson argues that there isn't enough funding to realise the results and the act does not recognise where the students have started from. The closest to this in the UK is the league tables. We argue that league tables do not measure distance travelled and can also encourage 'picking and choosing' when it comes to recruiting students. This US act is the same.

Wilson described the management at the Gateway Community College. He stated that it was 'decentralised' and that the faculties have a lot of autonomy. In terms of the organisation, there is a chancellor who works in Hartford and manages all 12 campuses across Connecticut. Each college has a president (principal) and then a cabinet (senior management team) which is made up from deans of administration, students, research and development, continuing education, workforce development, a director of human resources, public relations and finance. Wilson explained that 'no day is the same', and like us all, is experiencing more and more emails to deal with. On a day to day basis, he deals with personnel issues, student issues and programme issues. There are ten departments that Wilson supervises. He has to deal with funding, discipline, working with the president. Above all, he has to ensure that he is visible in the community; this is incredibly important to all the community colleges that I've visited to date.

In terms of policy development, this ultimately goes to the Board of Trustees (Board of Governors) for final ratification.

The Cabinet Meeting - 9:00am

I was fortunate enough to be invited to a cabinet meeting to meet the president and members of the senior management team. The meeting started with an introduction from the president, Dr. Dorsey L. Kendrick (dkendrick@gwcc.commnet.edu). Dr. Kendrick stated that all community colleges in Connecticut have 46,000 students in total and that the colleges are strategically located. The Gateway is, in fact, the second largest college in the region and has 5,944 students on its roll at present. Dr. Kendrick explained that the community colleges have not always enjoyed the level of respectability that it now does, as they weren't always seen as a credible route, however this perception has been changed through the fact that there are now robust partnerships with 4 year institutions in order to provide seamless routes through to degree education. This is seen as a major strength.

The college has 80 different programmes including more unusual programmes in health, motor vehicle, nursing and a culinary arts programme that provides catering facilities for paying customers.

Dr. Kendrick explained that the graduation day is exceptional. The students gain so much from walking across the stage to receive their graduation certificate.

The president's proudest news is the new build project at downtown New Haven. This is the largest project in Connecticut and all staff and students will eventually transfer to the new build in 2012. There are all the same issues that need to be faced as with our co-location project, including ensuring transport routes. Students and staff will have difficulty parking and therefore the culture needs to be changed in order to ensure that more public transport is made use of.

The college has been through change. In 1992, it merged with the vocational college. There are still residues of historical cultural practices, even now! However, the perception of the college has changed for the positive and this is testament to the excellent PR work that takes place in the community, reinforced by the seamless transfer to university. There is now established a very clear path for lifelong learning.

Dr. Kendrick ensures that graduates are showcased. There are photographs of them on the wall and some of these actually now work at the college which demonstrates that it is possible to gain an excellent career following the community college educational route.

School partnerships have been developed in order to tackle the poor levels of literacy and numeracy skills of new recruits. Common programmes are being developed to ensure that school leavers have the necessary skills in order to access the credit based programmes, rather than the developmental programmes.

The president talked about the changing needs of students and we touched upon the notion of personalised learning. She asked how we, at Shrewsbury, were developing teachers in readiness for this revolution in teaching and learning. I explained the training programme that we have, and the mandatory CPD of 30 hours that need to be maintained each year, by teaching staff. All staff in the UK now have to register with the Institute for Learning (IFL) and this body records the CPD carried out by teachers. Dr. Kendrick referred to an initiative that was in place before, where faculty staff were to take 6 credits every 2 semesters. This, she feels, was very good practice in terms of keeping teaching staff 'fresh' to the notion of lifelong learning as well as keeping their skills up to date.

I was asked about tutorial and explained the system in the UK of all full time 16-18 year olds receiving tutorial once per week. Although there aren't direct similarities between community colleges and UK colleges in this respect, at Gateway there is a system of peer tutoring which works extremely well. Dr. Kendrick referred to Dr. Brookfield's study of this.

A recent associate economic impact study was undertaken in Connecticut, which will soon be published, which looked at how many who studied in a connecticut community college now work in the Connecticut region. The impact on Connecticut is that those working back in the region generate $305 million for the region!

The cabinet were extremely welcoming to me and it was clear that they were student focussed and passionate about their work.

Areas of learning:

  • Strategically located colleges
  • Excellent attention paid to graduation day
  • Much use made of the success of graduates, in terms of PR
  • Successful change management post merger
  • School partnerships and common development of literacy and numeracy curricula
  • Peer tutoring programme
  • Impact analysis of college upon the revenue generated in Connecticut

David Cooper - Dean of Corporate and Continuing Education
email: dcooper@gwcc.commnet.edu

My conversation with David focussed on the history of the community college and the nature of academic versus skills based education. David stated that New England was a very traditional area that dates back to a private education system. Historically, academies concentrated on developing religious leaders, accountants, lawyers and doctors. Community colleges started in the Mid West when the Morrill Land-Grant Act was passed in 1862. These were more vocational than the usual medicine, clergy and finance developing programmes. In 1960s the community colleges were bourne. These represent the first 2 years of a 4 year degree programme and are academic by nature. The tradition is still academic. David believes that community colleges should also offer skills based courses and sees skills as important as academic development. We spoke about Work Based Learning in the UK. David wants to develop a centre which specialises in energy systems, heating, ventillation etc. Noone else in Connecticut does this. This approach reminded me of our own Centre of Vocational Excellence (CoVE) in construction.

We spoke about the fact that skills are critical for the 21st century, and how the Bauhaus education was a good model which combined skills with theory. I spoke about Sandy Leitch's Review of Skills in the UK, and how this, in terms of Further Education, is a big movement. Leitch Review of Skills. David and I spoke about the notion of embedding critical functional literacy and numeracy skills within vocational education. A big movement in the UK. I promised David that I'd send some information:

David stated that academic education is less expensive than vocational education, because if colleges have workshops, you are less able to have large class sizes. Also, if theory is taught early on, there are more likely to be drop-outs, and this increases failure rates for the college and society. He also believes that integrating literacy and numeracy within the vocational, skills based education, is important. There are very few vocational labs within the Connecticut Community College systems.

David is thinking strategically about education within the 21st century as not only preparing students for university, but also preparing them for work.

Areas of learning:

  • Refocus educational programmes to include more skills based learning
  • Front loading the teaching of technical skills to ensure student engagement
  • Development of a centre teaching energy efficiency vocational skills
Clara Mena - Assistant Director, Centre for Educational Services
email: cmena@gwcc.commnet.edu

Clara explained what the centre in which she worked actually did for the students. It provides additional tutoring, at no extra cost. Students can enjoy small group work. I saw a group of three students who were benefitting from additional tutition in algebra. Students also use the centre to practice their skills. The strength of the centre, Clara explained, is the fact that the students can meet with their regular professors in order to receive more tutition on the subjects that they've been studying in classes.

The centre caters also for English speakers of other languages (ESL) and Clara explained that she too, was a student of the centre and is now a successful member of staff. She is a true advocate for learners within the centre!

There are a number of Macintosh computers within the centre, running system 10 (and a virtual Windows platform too). Clara explained that many of the students are developing their computing skills, and it was felt that Macs are more intuitive and less threatening than windows based PCs. The computers have pre-installed programmes including DVD tuition in maths, typing tuition (Mavis Beacon) and the Accuplacer software for placement testing. The Accuplacer programme does not have a time limit. Students can take as long as they like; the only goal is to find out which level they are at in order to place them on the most appropriate courses for them. The test works at three levels. Students (in groups of no more than 10) work on the first level. If they are OK at this level , they can progress to the next, and so on. All information from the Accuplacer is uploaded to the student information system (Banner) so that professors can pull down the results about their students.

There are programmes to help students to develop their Microsoft Office skills.

There is also a writing centre for composition and research activities. Students wanting to use the facilities generally sign in at the front desk, which is manned by a student worker, who is paid minimum wage for about 3 hours per day work. Student workers can also take advantage of the services within the centre and get on with homework / studies. It is a win win situation for them!

The one thing that really impressed me about the centre was that there was a popcorn machine! At about 3:00pm, the director fires up the popcorn machine; many students will be hungry and from poor backgrounds. This is a fun and caring touch to help students feel 'at home' and welcome. Students obviously feel cared for and the service is second to none here.

Areas of learning:

  • Student workers manning the additional tutition center
  • Addition tutition with familiar professors in small groups
  • Macs utilised due to the userfriendly interface for students with low levels of IT skills
  • Pre-loaded, interactive basic skills programmes in maths, typing, Office
  • Initial assessments with no time limit, carried out in small groups
  • Initial assessment results are automatically loaded onto the SIS
  • Popcorn machine in the centre!

Roberta Prior - Director of Student Activities, Office of College Life
email: rprior@gwcc.commnet.edu

Before I met Roberta properly, I was invited to a student luncheon. This was an opportunity for students to listen to a talk from a lecturer, which inspires debate, followed by a tastey lunch! The talk was presented by Professor Theresa Jeffries (email: tjeffries@gwcc.commnet.edu) and was entitled 'Addressing Oppression through Leadership'. An incredibly interesting talk about, mainly, racial oppressions. Most of the students withing the room were of colour, and following the talk, all had very interesting contributions to make over lunch!

Theresa's talk included 2 very interesting facts; the 'Willy Lynch solution'. Basically, he stated that in order to keep the slaves from revolting, if he segragated them (or encouraged segragation) based on tone of colour, nose shape, gender and any other differences, there would be less solidarity since there would be division. It worked. Also, Theresa talked about 'Juneteenth', called this because many slaves did not know that a law had been passed overturning slavery, and were still being used as slaves; no one told them! The act was passed some time in June, hence Juneteenth!

A handout that Theresa passed around can be found here.

All students of Gateway Community College pay $5 when they enrol which goes towards student activities.

I met with Roberta following the luncheon, and was guided by a very bright young man (student) called Tom. He was full of energy and clearly very interested in politics.

Roberta oversees the student government, activities and clubs and there is a very strong feeling that staff and students are equal. Roberta is very energetic and incredibly busy, having to cope with last minute cancellations (due to the snow) and students.

We go along to a student governance meeting, which is very formal! There are minutes, representatives, new members are sworn in, minutes are checked, agendas are followed and this is all chaired beautifully by a student (Chair's email: gw-sga-president@gwcc.commnet.edu)! This is excellent for encouraging student responsibility and all appear to be 100% engaged and involved with this activity. All clubs run by the student governance have to be reported on during the meeting. There are a lot of clubs and groups, and tonight there was a scheduled 'open mike' event (with a meal) that had to be cancelled (much to the students disappointment) due to the snow. Students also have to manage their budgets for the clubs and groups; again, this encourages responsibility.

At the college, within the state AND nationally, there are sports teams that play against each other. This is a serious sporting matter and students are really well involved. It was explained to me that this does wonders for bonding with students from other backgrounds (socio-economic and race).

Tom, the student who was showing me around, was preparing for a 'Family Feud' (Family Fortunes) event, based on the TV show. He was surveying 50 students on Black African questions, e.g. name a black african oscar winner. The event will attract many students, and I felt that this was a great way of getting students from different races together to talk about achievements. I believe that Shrewsbury College students could benefit from a similar type of approach!

Me with the student governors

Left Wilson Luna and right, Tom (sorry Tom, didn't get your surname!)

Areas of learning:

  • Student luncheon focussing on moral issues which encourage debate
  • $5 fee paid by students for activities
  • A strong student governance with official meetings, chaired properly!
  • Many clubs and groups with associated budgets managed by students
  • Sporting competition a big aspect of any college student's life, breaking down barriers!
  • Family Feud (Family Fortunes) event focussing on Black African achievements

The college had to close at 5:00pm due to the snow! I had a very slow drive back to Cheshire!


Richard Booth said...

Interesting mix of activities and support for their learners in the community college.

I like the idea of the 'family fortune' event and the 'breaking down of barriers' work which has been achieved.

Jon said...


In what detail did you discuss embedding with David Cooper? He seems to be committted to it, at least in principle, but how are they approaching it over there and what progress have they made? Like us, are they encountering some resistance from some vocational tutors, who may lack confidence and commitment and/or need up-skilling themselves? How have they assessed and prepared tutors and how are they promoting it? Interestingly, in a 1:1 with an ESC yesterday, we discussed a problem concerning a highly reputable vocational tutor who has been enthusaistic and worked hard to embed some literacy skills into her course, but, having worked closely with her, the ESC has now realised that the tutor's own literacy skills are significantly weaker than they need to be. So, despite the planning and commitment, it is not proving effective. Our experiences thus far have led us to believe that the most effective approach, in general, might be to get literacy and numeracy specialists to up-skill in the vocational areas and take on the vocational units and do the embedding that way, rather than try to make literacy and numeracy specialists out of the vocational tutors!