Current Issues

Merit

Posted on July 6, 2009

I very much enjoyed this piece in the NY Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/05/magazine/05fob-wwln-t.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&ref=magazine

Many of our alumni openly share that they value their education here because we “took a chance” on them.  Indeed, SNHU resides in a  middle tier of universities that is not selective in terms of admissions.  This very large group, perhaps the largest group within higher education, includes (in my view) UNH, U.Mass, most state colleges, all community colleges, and privates that range from St. A’s to Franklin Pierce to Colby Sawyer to Bryant and Stonehill and Bentley.

Sure, there’s a bit of range in the average SAT scores and GPAs of the entering classes, and our best students would be at the top of their entering class anywhere, but we as a group overwhelmingly serve the great middle tier of high school students.  These are B students (in an age of grade inflation) who often have a smattering of C’s. 

I spend a lot of time thinking about how we serve these students and how we should frame our mission around them.  I like to think that when our graduates go on to become CEOs or CFOs, head not-for-profits, create new businesses, or become leaders in their communities, that we have realized our mission: to find the merit that is not first or perhaps readily evident in transcripts and application forms and to help students realize their potential once they arrive in our classrooms (physical or virtual).  That often starts with helping them find their passion.

I think it’s this last key quality that high school so often stomps out of kids.  It often replaces that passion with the ability to take tests, to give back what the teacher wants, and for the best of the students, the ability to speak in an “academic” manner — the qualities that the column’s author describes.

My hope for our new General Education program is that it reawakens excitement for learning.  The best program will also demand remarkable teaching to create the kind of engagement for which I hope.  In that combination of “what” and “how” factors, there is possible a kind of magic that the highly selective institutions rarely see.  Thise institutions take the top 1% of high school and graduating classes and make those students better?  Those students hardly need those institutions.

Our students need us.  They need us to be extraordinarily good  and thoughtful about pedagogy.  They need us to light a fire they may not first bring with them.  They may need us to provide them with skills so basic that we might wish they had mastered them long before their senior year in high school.

I look to places in SNHU where that work seems to be happening now.  Maybe in Sports Management or Psychology or Marketing or the Three-Year Preogram — all majors where I hear students speak with a kind of excitement and energy I hope for all of our students.

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